Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review Round-Up: Books for Beginning Readers, June 2016

Easy Readers

I was thrilled to see reviews of some favorite vintage easy readers this month! Liz's Book Snuggery featured Little Bear, while Becky's Book Reviews highlighted the Frog and Toad books: Days with Frog and Toad, Frog and Toad All Year, and Frog and Toad Together.

Jean Little Library reviewed two nonfiction titles: Ellis Island and Weird But Cute: Barn Owl

Other easy readers reviewed this month were We Dig Worms (Prose and Kahn), The Real Poop About Pigeons (Flying Off My Bookshelf), Duck Duck Porcupine (Kids Book a Day), The Long Dog (Waking Brain Cells), and the Bradford Street Buddies series (here at Story Time Secrets.)

Chapter Books

There was lots of variety in the chapter book reviews this month!

I reviewed a whole bunch here at Story Time Secrets. In my Recent Library Reads post, I featured Amy Namey in Ace Reporter and Triple Pet Trouble from the Judy Moody and Friends series, Mouse Scouts, Race the Wild: Savanna Showdown, and Misty Inn: Welcome Home! and in my Summer 2016 edition of a new feature called Chapter Book Check-In, I reviewed these new and soon-to-be-published titles: Angel Wings: New Friends, Cody Harmon, King of Pets, Meet the Bobs and Tweets, Pearl's Ocean Magic, Backyard Witch: Jess's Story, The Toad, Slingshot and Burp, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?, Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony, and Chime Travelers: The Strangers at the Manger.

Jean Little Library had three chapter book reviews: Stella and the Night Sprites: Knit-Knotters, Silver Pony Ranch: Sparkling Jewel and Stick Cat 

Other chapter book reviews included Bea Garcia: My Life in Pictures (Ms. Yingling Reads), My Weird School Fast Facts series (Mom Read It), Little Dee and the Penguin (Waking Brain Cells), MVP: The Gold Medal Mess (Kids Book a Day), The Great Mouse Detective: Basil of Baker Street (Geo Librarian), Bucky and Stu Vs. the Mikanikal Man (Prose and Kahn), and Lighthouse Family: The Otter (Flying Off My Bookshelf)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, June 2016 (with Spring Picture Book Reviews!)

This post is a bit lengthy, but since I posted only board book reviews last month, I wanted to talk a little bit about what the girls are reading before launching into the spring picture book reviews so I don't fall too far behind.

Reading Mommy's Old Favorites

This past month, Miss Muffet has started to take an interest in five particular books, three of which were my favorites as a preschooler/early elementary reader, and two of which were special favorites of my sister, Miss Muffet's aunt and godmother. It started with We Help Mommy, which is included in a collection of books illustrated by Eloise Wilkin that my sister gave to us in order to ensure that her favorite book would be shared with her nieces. Miss Muffet knows just where to find that story in the book, and she asks for it frequently by name. Her favorite part, it seems, is when Martha, the little girl who is the narrator, makes a small pie for her father, and says, "Roll, pat. Roll, pat. I'm making a treat for Daddy." As it was just Father's Day, we have all been repeating these lines a lot, sometimes substituting the names of other people (and objects, like "lettuce") for Daddy's name.

With We Help Mommy on my mind, I was reminded of The Tub People, which my sister also loved as a kid, so I dug out the used copy we bought a few months ago. It's pretty wordy for a two-year-old, but Miss Muffet has listened to me read it, as well as an audiobook recording, and she has just fallen in love with it. A few times now, I have heard her yelling "Help!" from her bedroom only to check in and find that she is just "reading" the dialogue for this story.

The other three books Miss Muffet now loves, which were among my favorites at her age and a little older, are Mrs. Wobble the Waitress, Sarah's Unicorn, and The Pea Patch Jig. She refers to The Pea Patch Jig as "rig-a-jig-jig," which is very cute, and she has become very interested in learning the names of all of the vegetables shown on the endpapers. She has also become fond of saying "ptooie" which is the sound Baby Mouse's pea shooter makes in the story. She hasn't had too much to say about Mrs. Wobble yet, but she requests it a lot so I'm sure as she gets to know it better, she will have favorite moments in that story as well. Sarah's Unicorn is an easy reader, and I borrowed it from the library for nostalgia's sake, and not necessarily to share with Miss Muffet, but she asked for it once, and after that she was hooked. She can now name all the characters and even give an accurate summary of the plot. She seems a little bit concerned about the meanness of Sarah's aunt, Mag, early in the story, but she is not scared enough to avoid the book, so I think she is probably handling it okay.

The Indestructible Book

Little Bo Peep is now crawling and almost pulling up to stand, and since she can get around and reach for things a bit better now, we now have to watch her more carefully around books. Thankfully, a friend had the idea to give us an Indestructible, so whenever she feels like biting, pulling, bending, or otherwise abusing a book, we just hand her Baby Peekaboo and let her give it her best. The book is fairly crumpled at this point, but the binding is still intact, and no corners have been chewed off, so I would say it lives up to its name quite well. Bo Peep is also very fond of the book, since it has a baby's face on the cover, and she does occasionally take a break from trying to tear it apart to have it read to her.

Spring Picture Book Reviews

Finally, we received several picture books for review during April, May, and June. Here are our reviews:

I requested The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits (9781499801040) for review mostly because of the author, Douglas Florian, but I didn't find it quite as clever as his well-known poetry books. The rhyming works fine - there are no awkward lines or gratuitous word choices - but there was something boring about the text overall. The book doesn't really teach a lot about rabbits. Rather, it gives a vague list of "habits," many of which could apply to nearly any species. Miss Muffet did ask for me to read it aloud to her a few times when it first arrived, but though it is still among her books in the living room, she doesn't look at it much now that the novelty has worn off. I did consider using it for my recent spring-themed story time, but ultimately went with the reliable favorite, Home for a Bunny.

I requested Cuddles for Mommy (9781499802030) also, this time because of the owl characters. The story is told almost entirely in dialogue between a mother owl and her child as they try to determine precisely which kind of cuddle the little girl should give her mommy. The illustrations are very sweet, and of course our owl lover, Miss Muffet, is drawn to those, but the plot seems to go on too long, and the owls are clearly awake in the daytime, which is jarring and strange. There is no real reason for the characters to be owls over anything else, so if they're not going to be nocturnal, I see no point in using them to illustrate the book. Still, though, the story would work for a Mother's Day story time, or one on an owl theme, and Miss Muffet regularly "reads" it to herself alongside Hoot and Peep and Owl Moon.

We received two copies of Blue Boat - the full-length picture book (9780451471413) and the abridged-by-one-page board book (9781101998533). This ended up being a perfect arrangement, as Bo Peep could hold the board book while Miss Muffet and I read the picture book uninterrupted. I liked the book initially for the artwork, and because it reminded me somewhat of Sail Away by Donald Crews. I've read the book aloud a few times now, too, and though some of the lines drag a bit, for the most part, the rhythm and rhyme of the text works well. I shared the book at a recent story time, and the kids were a bit young for it, but I think with the right group of three- and four-year-old boys who are really into transportation and rescue heroes, it would become an instant favorite. Miss Muffet is not that in to transportation right now, but I am keeping the book around for a while to see if she becomes more interested as she gets a bit older. And Bo Peep naturally thinks the spine of the board book is delicious!

The Perfect Dog (9781101934418) was a surprise hit with Little Miss Muffet. Though the book came to me unbound, which usually means I can't easily share it with her, we read it together multiple times, and every time I went to put it away, she would ask for it to come out again. I think what she liked most was learning the names of the different dogs shown on the endpapers. She also really responded to the predictable structure of the text, in which a little girl tries to find the dog of the perfect size, shape, and style, but determines that each one is too loud, too big, too fancy, etc. We are not a pet family, so there is never any chance we will go through the experience of the girl in this book, but Miss Muffet seemed to enjoy living vicariously through the book well enough. For me, this is a book I would use at story time because of how it is written, but it's not something I would choose to add to my personal collection.

Last, but decidedly not least, A Dark, Dark Cave is probably my favorite of the picture books we received this Spring. It follows two children into a dark, dark cave where they encounter creepy creatures crawling the walls, and yellow eyes lurking in darkness, all of which turns out to be the product of their imaginations. The illustrations are richly colorful, and once you realize what the cave actually is, there are details in the illustrations and on the endpapers that support that realization. The depiction of siblings who play nicely together is also a nice addition to the book, as many stories focus on rivalries instead of cooperation. Miss Muffet is not quite old enough to fully understand the book, but she has asked to hear it many times, and her little eyes grow wide each time something just a little bit more scary appears on the page. For story time, I might pair it with something like A Mighty Fine Time Machine by Suzanne Bloom or Not a Box by Antoinette Portis for a celebration of imagination.

I received finished copies of The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits and Cuddles for Mommy from little bee books, finished copies of The Blue Boat and A Dark, Dark Cave from Viking Books for Young Readers, and an unbound galley of The Perfect Dog from Crown Books for Young Readers. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Story Time Q & A: Attendance, Community Culture, and Planning for Groups of Different Sizes

Today I'm answering the third and final batch of questions from the list I received following my "Tips for Story Time Success" webinar. If you'd like to see more Story Time Q &A, please email me your questions. I would love to make it a regular feature! 

Q: I'm having trouble with attendance. How do you find preschoolers in a rural area?
A: Here is the short version of some of the tips I mention in my book that may help drum up some more interest in your story times:
  • Publish your story time schedule in local newspapers, on Internet forums for local events (including Facebook), and by word of mouth to every patron you see who knows or has children. Also put up flyers in public places that parents and young children are likely to go - grocery stores, doctor's offices, daycare centers, etc. Include contact information so they can follow up with you if they have questions. Also see if your community has any moms groups that might be willing to help you put the word out. 
  • Reach out to local daycares and preschools and see if they would be interested in a story time for any of their classes. Offer to go to them, or arrange a library "field trip" where they travel to you. If the partnership looks promising, make it a regularly scheduled activity that occurs monthly during the school year. 
  • If you're focusing only on preschoolers (I consider this to be ages 3-5) and not having much luck, consider focusing on babies (0-12 months) or toddlers (1-2 years old) instead. Sometimes one age group is just not well-represented in your community in a given year and you need to skew things older or younger in order to find a consistent audience. And the nice thing is - if you start off with a core group as babies, they might stick with you until they reach school age.
Q: I am interested in hearing more about judging and fitting the storytime with the community culture.
A: Tailoring your story times to your community's culture is something that occurs slowly over time. When I first start out at a new library, I find that my new coworkers are always more than willing to tell me what our patrons are like, and usually those impressions are pretty helpful for getting me off on the right foot. I also find it useful to spend a lot of time at the public desks in the first few weeks in a new position. Having short conversations with patrons at the desk on a regular basis starts to give you a pretty good impression of who is in your community and what is important to them.

If you have been working with a community for any length of time, you probably already have a gut instinct about what would go over well at story time and what wouldn't, just based on your observations and your experiences sharing different materials with them. If you feel you would like to know more, I think casual conversation with patrons about what they might like to see added to story time, or a more formal survey of the needs of your story time attendees are both great ways to gather that kind of information.

Q: What are some best practices for researching and determining community values when doing outreach story times for different and unfamiliar communities?

Doing outreach story times is a little bit different from getting to know your regular library community. Working in a library all day every day makes it easy to observe how the community uses the library, what materials interest them, and when kids are available for programs. You also have the benefit of coworkers' institutional knowledge - any time I have been a newly hired librarian, other staff members have been quick to tell me their impressions of the community, and that has really helped me get off on the right foot. 

When you take on new outreach opportunities, however, you don't always have the benefit of anyone else's background knowledge. In those situations, I try to find out as much as I can about the organization I'll be working with. I do ask others if they have done story time there before. I also Google the organization and see if there is a mission statement or other indication as to the focus and purpose of the group. I also make sure to ask my contact person at the organization what he/she expects from the story time. That kind of open-ended question is probably the best research because it allows the organization to let you know what they truly want and need, and gives you the chance to tailor your plans to their expectations. 

For an outreach story time at an unfamiliar location, I would probably also plan a lot more material than I needed. That way, if I find that longer books don't work for them, or they don't like to sing, or they are very quiet, I have a bunch of back-up activities to meet those needs.

Q: How does your planning change for a small story time (for maybe 4-10 children) as opposed to a larger one (over 15 children)?

A: The biggest difference I see between small and large groups is in how much you have to manage their behavior. My story times for large groups (and large for me has occasionally been upwards of 100 kids) are very heavily structured and we move quickly from one activity to the next so that I don't lose their interest. I will use lots of transitional songs and rhymes with large groups to make sure they are never given the chance to get bored and start misbehaving. Smaller story times, though, are usually calmer and quieter experiences. I can read more books to a small group, and I find it easier to use props when there are only a few kids to handle them. I do still include a movement activity at the halfway point in a smaller story time, and I always sing a song when I collect any props so that the kids understand that the activity is over, but otherwise, the session is more loosely structured when there are fewer kids. I will also say that sometimes smaller groups are shy about participating because the kids feel very conspicuous with just a few peers around. If I know a group is inclined toward shyness, I don't push the interactive stuff. I still read and sing, but I make it possible for them to watch and enjoy without feeling pressed to perform themselves. Sometimes those smaller audiences just don't get involved, and I think that is just the nature of kids in small groups at that age. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Story Time Q & A: Early Literacy, Supervisor Support, and Organizing My Repertoire

Today I'm answering the second batch of questions from the list I received following my "Tips for Story Time Success" webinar. 

Q: Can you talk about the early literacy benefits of storytime? There is a push in the field to focus on early literacy, as if there was a right and wrong way to do storytime.  What do you think? Early literacy-focused vision of storytime vs. a FUN-focus?

A: There is definitely a big push in the field to focus on early literacy, but it has not caused me to change how I present story time. Every time we read, sing, play, or talk with a child, we are helping her work on her early literacy skills whether we say so explicitly or not. Story time has always accomplished this, even when librarians didn't talk about it all the time. It is definitely helpful for librarians to be aware of what children need to know before they can learn to read, and to incorporate a wide variety of activities into story time, but I am not a story time presenter who ever announces to the audience which early literacy skill we are practicing at a given moment, nor do I share asides with parents as part of my story times. I also don't consciously plan activities to match each skill.

Certainly story time is more than just entertainment, but it is also not school, and for me, the push for early literacy instruction at story time feels more academic than is necessary for kids under five. The job of small children is to play. If we make story time a playful and fun experience, they will learn all of those early literacy skills without even realizing it - and their parents will repeat story time activities at home, not because the librarian says to, but because the child enjoys them and wants to experience them again and again. So I am not big on early literacy focused story times. It's one right way to do story time, but definitely not the only way.

Q: How do you find success without promotion/support from a branch manager or director?

A: It can certainly be difficult when the vision that a manager or director has for the library does not include support for children's programming, but this does not mean you are doomed to failure. Sometimes an indifferent or uninvolved supervisor can be a blessing in disguise, because their lack of interest in story time frees you up to do what works for you and build up the program yourself. Often, after you do this, the supervisor is forced to become more invested in story time because other members of the community (prominent patrons, library board members, local officials, etc.) begin to recognize your success, and the supervisor doesn't want to look like he is out of step.

If your supervisor is involved with the work of the children's department, but is specifically not interested in having story time, or not convinced of its importance, this can be a bit trickier to navigate. In that situation, I might try a few things. I might tactfully make the case for story time, using articles in professional publications and books like mine to justify why story time is so important to public libraries and why it should be a part of your library's service to its patrons. If you have an existing story time schedule, you might ask the patrons who do attend regularly to fill out comment cards or surveys indicating the importance of story time to their families. This way, your argument for focusing more heavily on story time is justified by patron interest, not just your own.

Ultimately, though, I have never felt that a supervisor's involvement was a key factor in how successful my story times are. It's certainly nice to have a supervisor who appreciates story time and values your work, but it is possible to succeed in spite of a supervisor who does not have that outlook.

Q: How do you organize your repertoire of story time resources/ideas? 

A: My organizational system involves three websites:
  • this blog, where I post all of my story time plans; 
  • my wiki, which houses all of the lyrics, tunes, and links for the songs and rhymes that I have used; and 
  • my Goodreads account, where I shelve all the books I read at story time according to theme, with notes about when I read them and links to the corresponding blog posts.
I also have a large Rubbermaid container in my garage at home filled with flannel board pieces and stick puppets, which is organized by category using a bunch of manila envelopes labeled with different subject areas (people, animals, food, clothing, etc.) 

Do you like this feature? Would you like to see it continue? Email me with your own story time question at 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Read Around Town: The Bus

Read Around Town is a series where I highlight picture books that celebrate the people and places in a young child's immediate community. Today's post focuses on buses and bus drivers.

School Bus by Donald Crews
Follow the daily travels of a school bus in this boldly illustrated title from Freight Train creator Donald Crews.

The Wheels on the Bus by Maryann Kovalski
While two kids wait for the bus with their grandmother, they sing the favorite children's song so exuberantly they forget to board the bus.

The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom
At the bus stop on the first day of school, Tess asks her friend Gus whether each of a series of vehicles is the bus or something else.

The Babies on the Bus by Karen Katz
In this vibrantly colored book based on "The Wheels on the Bus" the driver and passengers on the bus are all babies!

Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson, illustrated by R.G. Roth
This historical picture book relates Brewster's experiences being bused from his primarily black neighborhood to a white school.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
When the driver must leave the bus for a moment, he instructs the reader not to let the pigeon drive the bus, but the pigeon is not very compliant.

Bus Stops by Taro Gomi 
A public city bus travels its route, picking up and dropping off various passengers throughout the day.

My Bus by Byron Barton
A bus driver picks up and drops off groups of feline and canine passengers in this companion to My Car. (Read my review here.)

The Seals on the Bus by Lenny Hort, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
In this silly version of "The Wheels on the Bus" wild animals noisily ride the bus all around the town.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
As CJ rides the bus home from church with his grandmother, he expresses his frustrations over having to take the bus, not having the latest technological devices, and living in a poor neighborhood, to which his grandmother responds with kindness and patience. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Story Time Q & A: Repetition, Large Groups, STEAM, and Behavior Problems

Today I'm answering the first batch of questions from the list I received following my "Tips for Story Time Success" webinar. These are the questions that could be answered in just a paragraph. There will be two more posts this week and next which will include answers to the more involved questions. 

Q: I repeat a lot of games and songs when it comes to my preschool storytime, mostly because the kids learn them and love them, is that okay?

A: Since we know children learn best by repetition, I think it is a great idea to repeat the same material over the course of several sessions, or even at every session you present. If you enjoy it, and the kids enjoy it, and it works for your story time, keep it up!

Q: If possible could I get some aesthetics pointers for very large groups (my storytimes are usually have between 60 and 75 in attendance) [Note: This question refers to the section of my presentation where I talked about the appearance of the materials you use in story time.] 

A: It can definitely be hard to make sure everyone can see when a story time is this large! Here a few pointers:
  • Choose books with bold lines, bright colors, and solid backgrounds that help the figures to stand out on the page. Books where a single, simple image appears on each page, and fills the entire page, are easiest to see at a distance.  
  • If you can manage it smoothly, try using big books, or using a projector to show book pages on a screen or wall. 
  • Substitute physical movements for visual aides. Instead of singing a song with a puppet, find hand gestures to accompany it, or use your fingers instead of flannel board pieces to count five little ducks, monkeys, flowers, etc. 
  • Use very large flannel board pieces with distinct features and bold lines. Avoid flannel board stories that require a lot of pieces to occupy the board at once - instead, tell simple stories without a lot of moving around of figures.
  • Tell stories without the book and make them visual in some other way - hand gestures, full-body movements, facial expressions, etc.
Q: Have you added STEAM elements to your story times?

A: I have always done STEAM programming separately from story time, but I do have a list of story time starters for STEM themes that I created to go along with the Fizz, Boom, Read summer reading program in 2014 that might be of interest!

Q: How do you address problem children? It is difficult when the parent is sitting in the same room but refuses to calm her child down, who is then riling all the other children up to misbehave as well!
The entire last chapter of my book is devoted to story time problems, and there is a big section in there about child behavior. In the specific situation you mention - a parent refusing to calm down the child - I would probably address the parent in the moment in a friendly, but firm way. Something like, "Whoops, this little guy needs to find his mom." That lets the child know you see what he is doing, and the parent know that you expect parents to handle those types of behaviors. If it escalates beyond that, I would probably have to ask the parent not to bring the child anymore, or at least to leave with him when his behavior gets out of control. I would try to have a supervisor or colleague in on that conversation if at all possible.

Do you like this feature? Would you like to see it continue? Email me with your own story time question at 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Read Around Town: The Laundromat

In my Read Around Town series I'm highlighting picture books that celebrate the people and places in a young child's immediate community. These would work well for preschool classes or homeschool groups taking tours of local businesses, or for any child interested in learning about his or her neighborhood. Today's books are all related to doing the laundry and/or visiting the laundromat.

A Pocket for Corduroy by Don Freeman
When Lisa brings her stuffed bear, Corduroy, with her to the laundromat, he is meant to sit and wait for her, but instead he becomes fascinated by the concept of a pocket and wanders off to search for one for himself, winding up in a stranger's laundry bag.

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
On the way home from the laundromat, toddler Trixie becomes very upset as she tries to communicate to her dad that her beloved Knuffle Bunny has been left behind.

The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash by Trinka Hakes Noble
A little girl recounts the various exciting things that go wrong on her class trip to the farm, all of which can be traced back to classmate Jimmy's boa constrictor.

Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash by Sarah Weeks
In Mrs. McNosh's barrel of laundry, which she hangs out to dry every Monday, there are the usual shirts, pants, and stockings, as well as many strange items, including the newspaper, the dog, and the telephone.

Wishy-Washy Clothes by Joy Cowley
Mrs. Wishy-Washy hangs her clothes on the line. The cow, the pig, and the duck decide to wear the clothes. Though Mrs. Wishy-Washy seems angry at first, she can't help but laugh at how silly they all look.

Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara
When a witch must rid a haunted house of its ghosts, she washes and dries them and puts them to good use.

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle by Beatrix Potter
A little girl named Lucie loses three handkerchiefs and a pinafore and is shocked when she learns they have been taken and washed by the animals' laundress, a hedgehog named Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

Laundry Day by Maurie J. Manning
A young boy who shines shoes sees a red piece of cloth fall from a clothesline and goes around his neighborhood of diverse immigrants trying to find its rightful owner.

Washday by Eve Bunting
A young girl and her grandmother do the family's wash in the late 1800s, before the invention of washers and dryers.

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook
The articles hanging on clotheslines help readers identify the chosen jobs of their owners.

Doing laundry with your kids? Try some of these early literacy activities specifically for the washing machine.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Welcome, Webinar Attendees!

Welcome, Tips for Story Time Success webinar attendees! I am so glad you were able to join me on Tuesday, and that you have found your way here to the blog. In the coming weeks, amidst my regular blogging schedule, I will be devoting a few blog posts to answering the questions I received from webinar attendees. (If you submitted a question in the webinar chat window, or via email, and I did not answer it during the webinar, you will hear from me directly, prior to my answer being published here.)

In the meantime, here are some of the resources available on this site that directly connect with what I discussed in my presentation:

If you missed the webinar, keep an eye on the archive page on the Booklist website. It will be available there soon! 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Kids' Nonfiction Books for Exploring The Great Outdoors

June is Great Outdoors Month. On top of that, it is also the month when many libraries will be kicking off their On Your Mark, Get Set, Read! summer reading programs, which will focus on exercise, play, and enjoying nature. Therefore, this is the perfect time to highlight a few books to help kids get excited about being outside.

The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry
Edited by J. Patrick Lewis 
2015; National Geographic

This comprehensive collection of nature poems is beautifully illustrated with amazing National Geographic photographs. Though some of the poems were old favorites of mine ("The Pasture" by Robert Frost, "maggie and milly and molly and may" by E.E. Cummings, and "To Make a Prairie" by Emily Dickinson, etc.), there are also lots of lovely pieces which were previously unknown to me. There are ten sections all together, and the categories make it very easy to find a poem to suit a particular theme, such as the sky, the sea, or the forest We used this book on our very first poetry picnic, and it has become one of our go-to poetry books.

National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.
by Sarah Wassner Flyyn and Julie Beer
February 9, 2016; National Geographic

This book is a great resource for families, and a fun read for upper elementary audiences. Maps, fun facts, and full-color photos show all the beauty and excitement of America's National Parks. This would be a great companion to take along on a family vacation during which you might pass by or stop at any of the parks, but it's equally perfect for armchair traveling, and for helping kids appreciate the beauty of different areas of our country. There is also a companion book for adults: National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States. 

Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World
by Julia Rothman, with help from John Niekrasz
2015; Storey Publishing

We received this book as a Christmas gift from my sister, and it was a pleasant surprise. It's basically a collection of illustrations of various natural phenomena. Types of clouds, the differences between snowflakes, kinds of feathers, water bugs, and the anatomy of a fern are just a few of the many topics explored by illustrator Julia Rothman. Though the book is not really directed at children, it definitely appeals to Miss Muffet, who finds something new to be excited about every time she flips through it. It;s a versatile book, with equal appeal to toddlers and middle schoolers, that will be a great companion on hikes and other outdoor excursions.

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature
by Nicola Davies; illustrated by Mark Hearld 
February 2012;  Candlewick

This collection of simple poems, geared toward ages three to seven, provides a basic introduction to the world of a child's own backyard. Davies's poetry describes everything from squirrels and bees to tracks in the snow and worms in the rain. Though the text is decent, it is the illustrations that are truly evocative. The pictures fill the page with vibrant colors which evoke the four seasons and the weather associated with each. Miss Muffet was less than two when we borrowed this book from the library, and she loved poring over the pictures. We never did finish reading the text, but it was still a great way to introduce the basics of the natural world.

I received review copies of National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry and National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A. from the publisher.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Reflections on Library Service to Unattended Children

In my first two and a half years of parenting, I have become increasingly supportive of the idea of Free-Range Parenting. After a local couple was repeatedly harassed by CPS for allowing their kids to play unattended at a neighborhood park, I started thinking about the way communities treat children in the absence of their parents. Naturally, with my library background, I eventually came around to considering the treatment of unattended children in the library.  Many libraries have unattended children policies, and this post is not meant to put those down in any way. Libraries have to have rules in order to fairly accommodate all users, and my own state has a law about unattended children which heavily influences library policy. This post is not about handling unattended children who are in violation of library policy, as every library will have its own disciplinary code for handling those situations. Instead, my thoughts today are about serving children who are lawfully unattended in the library.

Mind your own business.

Or, more to the point, do not mind that which is not your business. Everyone has personal feelings about kids being left to their own devices in public places. The fact is, however, that it is the responsibility of a parent to determine when it is appropriate for a child to venture out on his or her own. Because librarians do not act in loco parentis, their business with unattended children extends only to library use and library policy. It is not appropriate, for example, to ask a child who is lawfully using the library without a parent where his or her parents are. Most children will probably answer such a question because they perceive the questioning adult to be an authority figure, but it is not your business why his parent is not in the library. It is also not up to the librarian to determine whether the child is allowed to read certain books, view certain websites, or slack off instead of working on homework, unless the child's activities are against library policy. It is never the business of a librarian to comment upon a parent's choices, or to penalize a child for them.

Do not become emotionally involved.

Most people who work with children love children and enjoy spending time with them. It makes me uncomfortable, however, when librarians say they treat the kids in the library as if they were their own. For me, children in the library are customers in the same way that adult patrons are customers. I can speak to them warmly, welcome them with a smile, and even offer hugs and high fives, but I never think of myself as something other than a community helper providing a particular service. When librarians become sentimental over the kids who visit their library, they begin to lose their objectivity. Suddenly, they are invested in things that are not their concern - who the kids hang out with, whether particular kids are dating each other, if a certain child's parents are going through a divorce. It may sound heartless to say a librarian should not care about those things, but if we are truly in the business of protecting and respecting privacy, we should not insinuate ourselves into the lives of young patrons and begin thinking of ourselves as surrogate parents or guardians. If a child shares with you, listen with the same sympathy you reserve for adult patrons with tales of woe, but keep your personal feelings - and advice - to yourself.

Do not assume the worst. 

Not every unattended child in the library is there as a result of neglectful parenting. Some parents really do want their kids to learn how to interact with others in a public space without help from their parents. While some kids definitely hang out in the library because they don't have anywhere else to be, there are also kids visiting the library every day because there's nowhere else they'd rather be. If a child is not disruptive, or otherwise in violation of library policy, it is wise to act as though she or he is in the library for a positive reason. When your default assumption is that an unattended child is a problem, your overall spirit of customer service is diminished, and your library, by extension, becomes less friendly to the very patrons that keep it in business.
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