Search Results for "virtual school"

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

We are joining the blog trend of Monday posts about what we have read during the last week (4/6/20-4/12/20).

Annamarie’s Reading

First Chapter Books

Everything Else

Note: Same as last week–still plugging through a mix of eBooks (including eARCs) and physical first chapter books I took from work (there may have been quite a few of those). Got some great eARCs and book ideas from the Middle Grade Magic Virtual Conference on Wednesday–did anyone else get a chance to attend?

Michala’s Reading

Note: Yay, I’m back and survived the plague! Not 100% better, but enough that I’m not dying both literally and figuratively in my house. I’m still quarantined, but I’m here! Not gonna lie, even reading is slow for me right now, but I made it through a few books and hope to be back to reading lots of things for the weekly posts (and feeling super chagrined that I never manage to post anything else) very soon!

***I apparently love exclamation points***

Virtual Program: Weird But True Trivia

Does anyone know why all of the Weird But True books have been checked out with long holds lists since the pandemic started? I know Disney+ expanded the National Geographic TV show, and these books have always been popular, but our books have been checked out for months, and nearby larger systems also have very high circulation rates. If you have an idea why, let me know in those comments–otherwise, read on for everything Weird But True Trivia!

My live audience was small for this one, though it slipped past me that this event didn’t have a Facebook event or any advertisement beyond our website. My handful of players definitely spanned all ages, so this had a different kind of appeal than some of our past trivia events.

Discover More Trivia Fun:

Disney Trivia
Dog Man Trivia
Pokémon Trivia

Weird But True Trivia Content

I shared the questions via screensharing a PowerPoint on Facebook Live (details below under Logistics). Twenty questions, followed by going back through the twenty questions faster to review the answers.

As always, if you would like any editable files, please send us an email at bookcartqueens@gmail.com or comment below.

Watch the full video here:

View and Download the PowerPoint below. I used Century Gothic and Cartoonist fonts:

Download the full PowerPoint here.

More links:

Weird But True At Home Fun Printable Packet

Reserve Weird But True Books

Weird But True Printable Answer Sheet

Weird But True Trivia Certificate

Weird But True Trivia Logistics

Like many of our live school age programs, Weird But True Trivia took place on Facebook Live, though this could easily be translated to whatever platform your library is using for virtual events.

There are many great tools out there for trivia. Kahoot is a particularly popular tool that I’ve seen used frequently. That tool asks participants to play along on their phone or another device while watching the livestream, and the system times the questions and ranks participants. While I like that concept for an adult or maybe teen trivia, when there are no prizes involved, I don’t like that system for kids. Plus, it involves a second piece of technology, and for families playing along, it may be especially difficult to have each kid play individually.

I added the questions to PowerPoint, shared to Facebook using their livestreaming screenshare technology. Some detailed tips for those interested in trying a program this way:

  • Make your slides “widescreen” so they fill up the viewers full computer, phone, or TV screen. Do this by going to Design – Slide Size in Microsoft PowerPoint.
  • I don’t like the clunkiness of viewers seeing me open my powerpoint after going live. To always just have the powerpoint shared on your screen:
    • In PowerPoint, start the “Slide Show” mode, making your PowerPoint full screen.
    • Use the Windows key (not ESC) to exit the Slide Show presentation view. This key leaves the presentation open in the background.
    • Start your Facebook Livestream. Instead of sharing your entire screen, just share one application — the Slide Show view of PowerPoint.
    • Return to the Slide Show view to change slides for your participants. Always use the Windows key to exit. If you use the ESC key, you won’t be able to restart the slideshow without creating a new livestream.
  • Using the steps above, you cannot easily see the comments during the presentation without toggling back and forth (and creating the risk of you using the ESC key and having to start a new stream). I have my phone nearby with the livestream running, allowing me to see questions and comments as they come in. A coworker posts links and types responses to the comments, and I respond verbally as I can.

These are supposed to be 30 minutes, but I talk too much, and this, like previous similar programs was closer to 45 minutes. An easy way to shrink the length of the presentation would be to run through all of the answers immediately after the questions, instead of going back through them again later.

Virtual Program: Baby-Sitters Club Membership Kits

We’ve been exploring different ways to provide virtual programming to our patrons. Many libraries have been providing make-and-take kits, but, unfortunately, due to our library’s curbside setup and our patron demand, that isn’t an option for us. It really isn’t possible to add anything larger than a piece of paper to our already cramped holds area. Mail-to-you programs were born, and Baby-Sitters Club Membership Kits were a wonderful way to get patrons engaged.

Mailing things to patrons wasn’t my idea, but I happily stole the concept after my coworkers had some success with their amazing Unicorn Rescue Society Program. Luckily for us, at this point anyway, the postage cost for these type of activities doesn’t come from our youth budget.

I loved making the Baby-Sitters Club Membership Kits, I am quite proud of the final product, and the patron response was amazing. With that said, I went overboard. This is probably the real reason I shouldn’t be left alone too long.

Looking for more Mail-To-You Kit Ideas? Check out:

Camp Half Blood Welcome Kits
Teen Bubble Tea Kits

Why Mail? Why Baby-Sitters Club?

Mail is convenient, though costly. It lets us reach our patrons who can’t come into the physical building, but it also lets us reach patrons who can’t come to the library, period. There are still limitations here: you need access to a phone or internet to register for the program, and access to the internet to be aware of the program in the first place, but it still opens up a lot of possibilities.

I am especially happy with Baby-Sitters Club Membership Kits because this was one of my first programs that was truly born from COVID and thinking about what virtual programming can do. This wasn’t an adaptation of a planned in-person program–it was very much a last minute calendar addition after the release date for the Netflix series was announced and seeing the excitement my Graphic Novel Book Club kids had for the books and upcoming TV series. This was something that would have been fine in person, but I think worked better as mailed packages. This wasn’t a substitute for an in-person event–it felt like something entirely its own.

I loved this kit because it was about joy, passion, and fun; not school. Yes, I know that kids are struggling and will continue to struggle with school, kindergarten skills, learning to read. All of those things are important, and there are ways we can help. But. But getting an email from a mom about how her child screamed with pure joy when she got her envelope in the mail–kids need that joy right now. Even if there is no school this fall or for the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year–we will figure it out. The world will.

Kids are being super strong right now, while they watch their grown-ups fray at the seams. Kids are dealing with no friends, no trips, no regular activities, honestly better than many grown-ups seem to be. Kids will, soon enough if not already, be buried in school work and education and people desperately trying to teach them through a computer. I’m not a teacher; I’m not a preschool educator. I can try to help, but my skills only go so far. But, if I can bring those kids joy and fun, if I can make them think their favorite book and TV characters created a kit just for them, filled with activities that could keep them busy for a few days, even if that excitement lasts for just one afternoon–well. That’s my contribution to all of this. That’s what I can do.

Oh and why Baby-Sitters Club? There is the obvious release of the Netflix series, but is there a series–other than the one by that author we don’t talk about anymore–that has transcended generations in such a way? These kids’ parent’s remember reading these books, and they will find their own joy in this packet. Right now, a nostalgia trip isn’t such a bad thing. And this series manages, especially in the Netflix series that I can’t stop talking about, to be wholesome while also confronting and discussing real issues. It never gets as hard as it could–as hard as it might get as the series expands and those babysitters finally age–but it feels real. It feels legitimate and relatable and all of those things that kids look for in good stories.

Baby-Sitters Club Membership Kits: Content

As I mentioned earlier, I went overboard. And I’m not sorry. (I was when I was making them but that falls under “logistics.”) Do I suggest you do this much? No. But here we are.

Downloads for most items can be found in the downloads section. Post a comment below or send us an email (bookcartqueens@gmail.com) for editable files. I’m happy to share!

Each child received their own envelope, even if there were multiple kids in the same house registered. This made it more individual–not just that the oldest or youngest got to open the package from the library. I considered more envelope decorations and doodles, but that didn’t happen due to time.

Baby-Sitters Club Membership Kits contained a general membership kit, in a document envelope, as well as five individual bags, one from each babysitter.

The general membership kit included:

  • Personalized welcome letter from the Baby-Sitters Club
  • Personalized Membership Card
  • Guide to Babysitting (borrowed liberally from the Red Cross Guide)
  • Readalike Books (listen to me talk about these titles in this YouTube video)
  • Swag: Bookmarks, Flyer, Trivia Sheet, Which Baby-Sitter Are You Quiz, Membership Profile

Kristy’s Bag focused on leadership and included:

  • Letter from Kristy
  • Leadership Packet

Claudia’s bag (the most fun, obviously) included:

  • Letter from Claudia
  • Mini sketchbook and glitter pens (leftovers from previous programs, but could easily be printed yourself)
  • Friendship bracelet materials and instructions
  • Art Project Ideas for Babysitting (double as activities great to do with supplies you may have at home)

Mary Anne’s bag focused on organization:

  • Letter from Mary Anne
  • “Pocket” Calendar (This is a bit bigger than pocket size.)
  • Musical Recommendations (with book recs on the back)
  • Dry Erase Calendar (not pictured, only in select kits due to expanded registration)

Stacey’s bag included:

  • Letter from Stacey
  • MASH Instructions
  • Cootie Catcher Instructions and 2 sheets
  • Healthy Snack Suggestions (cook book recommendations on the back)

Dawn’s bag included:

  • Letter from Dawn
  • Nature Scavenger Hunt
  • ECO-BINGO

Dawn’s kit was meant to include an environmentally friendly craft, ucycled craft, or craft to be donated, but I was out of funds, time, and envelope space.

Each kit (up to a certain number of days before sign-up) was personalized. Imagine the child’s name where the word “Babysitter” is in most of these pictures.

All activities were meant to also be able to be completed by the program participant at home. So, you could go on a nature scavenger hunt with someone you are babysitting, but you could also do this with your family during COVID times.

Baby-Sitters Club Membership Kits: Logistics

Obviously, these bags contained a lot. Part of this would have been significantly easier if I had been in the physical library regularly. I have a printer at home that I will use in a pinch, but not for this kind of quantity and ink. This meant that a lot of designing happened at home, but essentially all assembly had to happen in one very long work day.

As I mentioned earlier, I would repeat most of this program, but one thing in particular I wanted to highlight was the organization method. The feedback from caregivers was very positive, especially praising the organization and that everything could fit in the document envelope. They really appreciated not receiving a bunch of lose odds and ends.

Now, things I would do differently:

  • Personalization: So much happiness came from these kits being personalized, but wow, sorting and stuffing took so much longer because of it. Due to necessity, for future, similar events, I may just personalize a membership card and general letter, not each and every piece.
  • Folding the letters: There was no reason for this, which just took extra time between double-sided printing and folding. I realized halfway through folding that I could have easily called them stationary and not folded. But by that point they were printed with names on the back, and I was halfway done.
  • Get a long paper stapler that works: I lost hours restapling. HOURS. There was anger. So much. I’m not sure exactly what was wrong, and I was hesitant about asking to use the basement machine because of COVID and germs. But goodness. The amount of staples I had to remove because they were sticking out? I don’t want to talk about this anymore.

Downloads

This is what you are here for right? You found the gold. Everything should be downloadable from the links below. All files are PDFs, though please email me (bookcartqueens@gmail.com) or post in the comments if you are interested in the originals for editing. They are all Publisher files, and I used a lot of unique fonts.

Response

Patron response to this program was absolutely lovely. Some of my favorite quotes and feedback are below.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

We are joining the blog trend of Monday posts about what we have read during the last week (8/17/2020-8/23/2020).

Annamarie’s Reading

Picture Books & Readers:

Graphic Novels:

Everything Else:

Note: In an effort to simply keep up with the volume of books I have right now, I haven’t been doing the best job really focusing on own voices titles (other than continuously realizing how few diverse books are by own voices authors). One step I have taken to move in that direction is only listening to own voices audiobooks. I am happy to say I am back on the audiobooks train–though at a much slower pace than when I was on a committee–and I am enjoying the ability to speed up titles. I’ve been intentionally selecting titles that are by own voices authors, particularly those chapter books that I never seem to have the attention span for reading at the moment.

I’m also trying to prioritize physical books I have checked out that have holds–which sometimes align with own voices books…and sometimes don’t. This focus can leave me with a huge stack of eARCS…which I tried to make a dent in this week, really throwing off my own voices count. I did walk out of the library once this week without a single new book (and I didn’t leave any available holds behind!), so maybe the wave of new books will slow, allowing me to dig into some of the stuff that has been piling up.

Stats for the Week:

  • 62 Books Read This Week
    • 30 Books with Diverse Main Character (48%)
    • 15 Books by Diverse Authors (24%)
    • 10 Books by Own Voices Authors (16%) (to the best of my knowledge)

This week’s reading highlights:

Michala’s Reading

Note: In this to win this. Got my first school “visit” locked into place for September. While virtual is not my norm I played with it during summer school a few months ago, so hopefully this time the kids leave their cameras on so I don’t think they’ve fallen asleep. 🙂

Summer Reading Promo

Like so many libraries, we are re-examining our Summer Reading Program through a virtual lens. At the end of 2019, we moved our reading program from software designed and managed in-house to the ReadSquared platform, kicking off using that service with our first Winter Reading Program in December. Personally, I can’t say I love ReadSquared, but it gets the job done.

We don’t have answers to many of the questions that I see being asked in Facebook Groups every day–how are you distributing prizes? Will any part of the program be available in person? What about people without Internet?

My library doesn’t have all of those answers, and I surely don’t, but I did get tasked with making a video to replace our annual school assemblies. A few years ago, we were able to start visiting 15+ elementary schools in our service area during May for assembly-style presentations where we got kids excited about summer reading. In Ohio, the kids didn’t go back to school after mid-March, so those assemblies obviously were not going to happen. However, we did want to send the schools something to supplement those visits.

Enter the summer reading video.

This took me a few full days worth of work to make, with the bulk of the work taking about 8 hours (filming, editing, screaming at my computer, etc.). Finished product is below:

…and the how-I-did-it follows.

Summer Reading Promo Preparation

General Idea

I knew I wanted to create a summer reading promo video that mimicked the general style of YouTubers–short quick cuts, lots of humor. That seemed like a safe, approachable direction that should appeal to elementary students, and it also meant that I wouldn’t have to (1) memorize really long chunks of text or (2) read from a script (a pet peeve of mine–it is always obvious you are reading, and it always pulls me out of whatever I am watching).

During my storytime videos I just talk freely, but I wanted to make sure I got my words exactly right in the summer reading promo video because so much of our program is up in the air, and people remember what we say. I don’t want to talk about how the kids get to choose their own prize books (a normal staple of our program) when that may not happen this year. We just don’t know.

I was a bit lost for direction on this until a coworker sent me a lovely video made by a school librarian advertising their book fair. I think her humor and silly motions gave me a much better idea of what I was aiming for (and an answer to the dreaded “how do I start?”).

Storyboarding

Storyboard Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Back in the days when I made videos more frequently, I got into the habit of storyboarding. I knew I was going to need some sort of direction for this video, as I was planning for a lot of short clips/scenes to keep the video moving.

I didn’t draw out a full summer reading promo storyboard, but I did write out a simple word document breaking the film into clips including my general ideas for props, background, and more:

Some of this changed before the final run through–I couldn’t find free green screen software quickly, so I dropped the space bit. The Spongebob rainbow imagination hands didn’t translate when filming either. However, this gave me a place to start.

PPT Text

I transferred big chunks of the summer reading promo text to PPT slides, broken into the small bits that were going to take place in one cut. I was going to use this as a script behind the camera to read from, though, as mentioned before, I hate reading from a script, so I ended up just using this to help practice before saying whatever came out of my mouth on film.

Props & Supplies

Mostly, I didn’t need too many props…except for the bits where I attempt to be funny near the beginning middle. (Yes, that is supposed to be a tiger king joke. No, I don’t think it hits home.)

I worked with what I had on hand. For example, the book fair video started with that school librarian playing a trumpet and using a toy megaphone. I have neither. I made a paper megaphone and leaned into the awkward by writing MEGAPHONE on the side.

After the experience I had filming my summer reading promo video, I would suggest less props. I think I started to lose my mind when I started swapping out all of the props on the storage unit behind me for each of the “funny” bits (tiger king, Harry Potter, Frozen). This took much more time than it was worth (maybe 10 seconds of camera time for 20-30 minutes of setup and destroying my house).

Filming

Background

I don’t really have a house that is setup for filming anything. The easiest room for me to film in is a spare bedroom, which was essentially a storage space before this. To avoid the mugshot effect (filming against a bare wall), I hiked upstairs the best piece of furniture I could stage–a 3×3 cube unit (that had once been holding craft supplies…that are now all over my house). For storytimes, keeping this unit on the floor works well–it isn’t very tall, but I was trying to focus on the rhymes and my stuffed bear “baby.”

For this video, I wanted my background to be more engaging. So, suddenly, the cube unit is precariously on top of a trunk, and I am rearranging the items on the unit to appeal a bit more to the 6-11 year old crowd instead of the 2-3 year old audience I normally have.

I also had to figure out placement. For storytimes, I am typically a bit further away from the camera–for baby storytime, I want my lap to be in the shot to show when I am touching my baby’s feet or bouncing; for toddler storytime I need to have enough space around me to hold up a flannel board or book. None of that mattered here–it was all about me being engaging, and, following the pattern of YouTubers everywhere, that meant making myself more of a central part of the frame. Figuring out how to position myself with roughly my shoulders and head filling the frame with a background that was engaging but not overpowering took more time than I would like to admit.

Equipment

The particular equipment I use included:

For my particular device, I think the audio in the smartphone is sufficient (no need for an external mike). I have a few issues with lighting on particularly gloomy days, but 90% of the time, natural lighting is the best option when filming. Just make sure your window isn’t directly behind you.

Being on Camera

I read about the struggles of being on camera for many librarians, and, unfortunately for any readers out there, I don’t have too much to add to that conversation. I think I’m actually a little more comfortable in front of the camera at this point than I often am in front of patrons.

My tips for getting comfortable:

  • Don’t watch yourself while filming. If you tend to overthink everything you do, turn your phone around and film with that much higher-quality camera on the back of your device. I started doing this for live storytimes because, on an Android device, you can’t flip a livestream so that the words in a book are facing the right way for the audience on your front-facing camera. And it is freeing. I stare at that little circle on my phone and release any tension–I can’t see comments, I can’t see my weird hand gestures, I can’t see anything–and it is all out of my control now. Embrace the chaos. It let me stop overthinking every motion.
  • Picture that one storytime kid. You know the one. The one that comes to all of your storytimes, and hopefully appears at some virtual ones too. I know that Miss Julia is always watching–and she is who I am presenting too. If no one else comes, I know Julia had a blast–and that is all I need.
  • Get silly. I am always, always, so self-aware in storytimes. I can move past some of it, especially with a bigger crowd, but when I have just a few adults and kids staring at me, it makes me very aware of my every motion and every time a story, song, or joke doesn’t connect. I am always looking for reactions–and here, I have to give that up because there are no reactions (at least that I can see while presenting). It is just me. So, mentally, I tell myself that every single thing hit home. There is nothing to tell me otherwise–so gosh darn it I am going to believe that the viewers LOVED every second of it. This lets me get sillier than usual. There isn’t a mom in the corner silently judging me (more likely spacing out completely out of exhaustion, but our brains tell us we are the center of the universe so…). It is just me dancing like no one is watching.

Editing

Oh, editing.

Your success and frustration with editing is largely going to depend on your computer. Do you have a high-powered computer? Preferably a Mac? The fastest, best internet humanly possible? You should be set.

Oh, you are like the rest of us mortals, and you don’t have all those things?

Join the club.

I have a decent-ish (Windows) computer now, but it was still a struggle at many points in the editing process. I don’t suggest you buy a new computer for this, so use what you have.

I used OpenShot video editior. This is free software that gets the job done. It is not very intuitive–not nearly as intuitive as, say, iMovie (available for free on a Mac)–but it has the bells and whistles if you know where to find them. I had to do a lot of Google searches to figure out how to do most tasks, but there are many really accessible tutorials out there. Just be ready for the time commitment and learning curve, especially the first time you use it.

Music

I didn’t worry too much about music being copyrighted, except for whether YouTube would demonetize a video vs. block it entirely. Most popular songs lead to demonetization, which as a public library not making any ad revenue anyway, this really isn’t a big deal. (Some songs do lead to a Youtube video being blocked in most countries, which is depressing after all of the effort you put in to make it.)

I was able to download both songs I used for free from Freegal using my library card. I also regularly pull Royalty Free Music from bensound.com for introductions and such.

So many of us are filming our own videos now…what are you doing? What questions do you have? Virtual programming isn’t going anywhere anytime soon–how are you making it work for you?

Book Review Tuesday

Lots of great books this week! Read the book reviews below, and learn more about my favorite reads:

Black Brother, Black Brother

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Gr. 4-7. Donte and his brother Trey attend the same elite, private middle school. But, when they first started, most of their classmates didn’t recognize that they were brothers. Trey takes after their white dad, with light skin. Donte takes after their black mom, with dark skin. Trey is loved by everyone. Donte is, at best, tolerated, and, on the bad days, Donte is bullied by his peers and feared by his teachers. After getting sent to the principal for something he didn’t do, Donte gets frustrated and throws his backpack. Donte was just mad, didn’t hurt anyone, and didn’t intend to hurt anyone–but his principal called the police anyway. Suddenly, Donte is in jail, is suspended from school, and has a court date.

Donte is frustrated, alone, and confused. He decides to confront the school’s bully–“King” Alan on Alan’s turf–fencing. Donte discovers that a past Olympic fencer works at the local Boys and Girls Club. After some convincing, Donte has a fencing coach, and eventually a team, that teach him how to fence, how to be part of a team, and how to live with and fight against the racism he is surrounded by.

A good story that will appeal to sports fans. (with a great introduction to fencing). Donte’s character development is well written, though it does follow predictable patterns. I hope there might be more in this universe someday, as I wouldn’t mind hearing from Donte’s teammates or even from his brother’s perspective.

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Brown Boy Joy by Thomishia Booker (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Brown boys are beautiful, amazing, and happy. Features brown boys finding joy in everyday activities. Recently featured on Netflix’s Bookmarks.

An adorable, simple, and necessary read. Features a black boy in a wheelchair as well as different family makeups, including two moms. Great addition to any collection.

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Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj
Gr. 4-5. Karina’s biggest worries are what photo she will pick for the upcoming photography competition and if Chris, the boy next door, is as much of a jerk as the kids he hangs out with. When Karina’s grandfather moves in and starts tutoring Chris in math, Karina and Chris slowly become friends. Suddenly, Karina’s quiet world is turned upside down when Karina, her grandfather, and Chris are violently attacked. This hate crime puts Karina’s grandfather in the hospital, and both Karina and Chris are trying to wrap their heads around what happened and what they can do next.

This was good. Dually narrated by Karina and Chris, there was merit to both of their voices, though I personally liked Karina’s voice a bit more. I was always a bit hesitant with Chris–I like hearing his thoughts as he grows, but there was also a lot of pity sent his way for also surviving the attack. While he was there, Chris is white. If he had happened to have been walking alone that day, nothing would have happened to him. He was also a victim, but it’s different. I wish that element had been fleshed out a bit more.

The overall message is a good one, even if I wish this had been a bit more nuanced. Will be recommending.

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Grandmother School by Rina Singh (picture book)
Gr. 1-2. In Phangane, a remote village in India, grandchildren walk their grandmothers to a special grandmother school. As children, these grandmothers watched their brothers go to school. As mothers, they sent their own children-sons and daughters-to school. Now, as grandmothers, they are finally learning to read and write themselves.

Wow! Told from the perspective of a granddaughter, this beautiful book tells the story of real women in India who are grasping their chance to learn to read. Great choice for an elementary read aloud.

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Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood by Tony Hillery (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Young Nevaeh’s school is across from an abandoned lot, or, as she calls it, the haunted garden. This haunted garden is filled with trash, until the day a visitor, adult Tony Hillery, comes to their school and decides to help. Soon, with the help of the students and the community, the haunted garden is a real garden filled with beautiful plants and growing food.

An inspirational true story in an easy-to-read picture book format. Great choice for preschoolers interested in gardening or as a tool to inspire young kids to participate in a community gardening initiative.

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Hello, New House by Jane Smith (picture book)
Gr. PreS. Callie and her family move from their old home in the city to their new home by the beach. While some of her belongings are familiar (old bed, old blankie, old towel), a lot of things are new (new sounds, new shadows, new weather). Could there also be a new friend?

Simple story to ease a child into moving away from home. Though if you aren’t moving to a house on the beach, maybe this will give kids unrealistic expectations? (Perhaps I’m just jealous.) Features a diverse family.

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Jack and the Beanstalk by Carly Gledhill (board book)
Gr. PreS. Simplified retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. In this version, Jack is retrieving items the giant stole from his family. (Jack is not a thief stealing items from the giant.)

I appreciate that this series of fairy tale board books features diverse characters, though these may have worked better as picture books. The illustrations are quite detailed and small in board book format. The choice to have this story take place in a city is original, but I also question the author’s motive (Jack appears to be black and now lives in a city–is he pictured in a city because he is black?). The story is a good introduction to the fairy tale, though its simplicity leaves a lot of things unanswered (like how the giant was able to steal Jack’s items without a beanstalk, but cutting down the beanstalk makes the giant go away forever). 

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Move by Elizabeth Verdick (board book)
Baby. Babies move in many different ways! This short board book contains alternating pages, half with brightly colored descriptions and half with black and white photographs of diverse babies. Most descriptions include actions that are easy to do with a baby (push, scoot, climb, bounce). Physically, this board book is smaller than usual, though it would still work well in a virtual storytime setting. My copy is in both English and Spanish, making this title more accessible. Includes movement tips for caregivers on the last few pages.

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Ruby’s Birds by Elizabeth Verdick (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Ruby’s neighbor, Eva, introduces her to bird watching in Central Park. Ruby learns how to stay quiet and still, move carefully, and pay attention looking for tiny movements in the leaves. Later, Ruby teaches her family the tricks she has learned, and they spot a rare bird together.

A great book to pair with the free Merlin Bird ID app during a STEM storytime. Includes back matter about how to find birds in your neighborhood or city as well as information on birds you might have seen in the book and that you might also find near your home.

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Sharko and Hippo by Elliott Kalan (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Sharko and Hippo are excited for a fun day of fishing! But every time Sharko asks Hippo for an item, Hippo gives him something else–instead of a boat, Hippo hands Sharko a goat. Instead of a pole, a peel and a pail. Instead of keys to the car, Sharko receives cheese from a star.

Filled with humor and a bantering that is a little reminiscent of Elephant & Piggie, this funny book would work well as a conversation starter about wordplay, rhymes, and starting letters. And in the end, all of Hippo’s mistaken items were intentional–in an effort to help save those fish they would have otherwise caught.

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The Three Little Yogis and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath: A Fairy Tale to Help You Feel Better by Susan Verde (picture book)
Gr. K-1. In this reimagining of the Three Little Pigs, a wolf has lost his huff and puff. The wolf spots a calm little pig doing yoga by a straw hut. All the wolf wants to do is blow the hut down. When the pig hears the wolf’s wheezing, she offers to help him get his huff and puff back through breathing exercises. The wolf continues practicing breathing and yoga poses as he meets each of the three little pigs, all eager to help.

A great fit for a yoga storytime or any storytime focused on mindfulness and emotions with perhaps a nicer, more thoughtful message than the original tale. Nice inclusion of a pig with gender-neutral pronouns as well.

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Unicorns Are the Worst! by Alex Willan (picture book)
Gr. PreS. Unicorns are the worst! At least, that is what Goblin thinks. Goblin spends their days in pursuit of serious magic, collecting magical ingredients and creating spells. Goblin is not happy when unicorns move in next door with their glitter and tea parties. Why are unicorns so well loved while goblins are so underappreciated?

Funny story perfect for fans of unicorns, magic, humor, and new friendships. Bright illustrations will draw in young readers and also make this a good book to share virtually.

Virtual Program: Graphic Novel Book Club

I am not a book club person. I read a lot, and I love to talk about books–but I don’t enjoy book clubs. So why did I start a virtual Graphic Novel Book Club this summer? The short version is that I like graphic novels, and a few years back I had this vision of a book club event culminating in a Skype visit with Raina Telgemeier where the kids who attended the club could ask questions but anyone could come. That program didn’t happen then, and that isn’t what happened here either.

Overall, I would say this went okay. I had 2-4 consistent kids who were excited and talked most weeks. There were also a lot of barriers here due to this being virtual, particularly with this being a new club. My library hasn’t really had a standing book club for kids in at least three years, so there wasn’t a following or just a transfer of format like Michala’s teen advisory board meetings.

We didn’t really have any of those “ah-ha” moments or meaningful conversations that I’ve heard happen at other book clubs–but, I would also say, that everyone is feeling the stress right now, and kids don’t really want to talk about their feelings or the meaning of this color palette right about now. They want to talk about drawing Pokemon and the cheetah cubs Diana (Wonder Woman) takes care of in one throwaway panel. If they want to talk at all. And that’s cool too.

Graphic Novel Book Club Details & Program Outline

For nine weeks in June and July, I met virtually with 4-10 kids, ages 8-14, for about an hour. Graphic Novel Book Club was advertised for ages 8-11, though I had three older kids sign up (though only one of them came more than once). The program registration was capped at 15 kids, registration only ever reached 13, and I only ever had at most 10 kids at a time, with an average of 5-6 kids each week.

Our library uses GoToMeeting for online meetings, and I used that for Graphic Novel Book Club as well. Other than some issues with my personal computer overheating, I had no problems with the platform (and the kids didn’t seem to have any problems either).

We only read graphic novels available on Hoopla, which worked fine for the summer but is quite limiting long term. This service is ideal for book club titles, however, because everyone can download each book at a time most convenient for them (no waiting or holds lists) and everyone can check out the same title at once (unlike Overdrive or Cloud Library). A few kids did have physical copies of some of the books, purchased by their parents (this wasn’t encouraged; it just happened).

Our Graphic Novel Book Club reading list included:

Hoopla works well while we are stuck in a virtual world, though it has its frustrations. Of course, it doesn’t have every graphic novel, and it is very, very short on diverse graphic novels. There are so few own voices kids graphic novels in the first place, and Hoopla is particularly lacking. If this book club continues, I’m going to work on coming up with an alternative way to get books to kids.

My kids are avid readers and would actively admit (1) that they had already read these books (more often) or (2) that they didn’t finish a book (less often). Some of them became frustrated toward the end of Graphic Novel Book Club because they had read all of the remaining book club books weeks in advance or before book club had occurred. These kids really wanted the newest graphic novels (and 17 of those new books at a time), which left me especially frustrated with the limitations of Hoopla.

Book Clubbing Virtually

So getting back to my struggles with book clubs, which were exacerbated by being virtual. I had some personal technical issues, but those situations are often specific to your tech and can happen no matter how well you plan. Other unique elements of book clubbing virtually:

  • Kids can and will turn their cameras on and off.
  • Kids can and will get distracted by pets, home life, etc.
  • Kids can and will say nothing for the entire meeting (or the entire meeting for all seven weeks they show up).

I have strategies to encourage conversation in person that simply don’t translate online. I also don’t want to force kids to talk in any situation. As I said to the kids sometimes, THIS ISN’T SCHOOL. Graphic Novel Book Club, or any library program, isn’t a punishment, it isn’t an assignment, and while I want to encourage learning, you are not going to be quizzed at the end of this meeting about the book, your understanding of shading in the panel, or your drawing ability.

With an effort to respect kids’ decisions on how much they want to participate, I was often left feeling alone and sort of like I was putting on a show. When I ask “who was your favorite character?”, and all six cameras immediately turn off, and we sit in silence for three minutes, I’m left having to crack a joke, give my own response, and try to shift gears. Repeatedly, for an hour, week after week. It is exhausting and makes me respect teachers even more.

Now, some of this behavior is probably due to my choices with how I want to run Graphic Novel Book Club. I could have required kids to talk, pulled names out of jar, made everyone fill out a character analysis worksheet each week, forced everyone to sit in silence until someone shared a discussion question. But, again, my mentality toward librarianship, especially during current times, is that we are trying to create a love of learning and reading. Forcing kids to do assignments or activities or even forcing participation goes against that. I will stop ranting now and get on to the important things you are reading this for.

Graphic Novel Book Club Weekly Schedule

Kids were asked to bring blank paper and a pencil to each meeting.

Each week we followed this approximate schedule:

  • Introduced Myself (Librarian) (1 min.)
  • Explain/Review How GoToMeeting Works (1 min.)
    • How to mute and unmute
    • How to turn off your camera
    • Chat feature
    • How to see everyone instead of just person talking
    • Librarian can share her screen
  • Library Updates (3 min.)
    • Summer Reading Program
    • Upcoming Programs
    • Reminder to doodle as you like!
  • Introductions (5 min.)
    • Share your name
    • Share anything you’ve been writing or drawing
    • Answer this week’s Would You Rather Question
    • *Answers could occur verbally or in chat. Not everyone participated each week.
  • Warm-Up Game (10 min.)
  • How Book Club Works (5 min.)
    • Review weekly schedule
    • Decided guidelines as a group and reviewed them each week:
      • Be kind and respectful.
      • Everyone gets a turn to talk without being interrupted.
      • You can raise your hand if you want to talk. You can also just talk as long as you aren’t interrupting someone else.
      • You only have to talk if you want to.
      • Have fun!
  • Discussion (10-15 min., intended to be 15-30 min.)
    • Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down Book Vote
    • Tell me what the book is about (10 words or less)
    • Kids offer questions (never happened but always asked)
    • I ask about 3-5 questions, steering conversation where it makes sense.
  • Let’s Talk Comics/Drawing Activity and Sharing (15-20 min.)
  • Wrap Up (2-3 min.)
    • Next week’s title
    • Reminder about programs

Would You Rather Questions

The kids really seemed to enjoy the Would You Rather questions. Sometimes these connected to the book of the week, sometimes they didn’t. Questions we used included:

  • Would you rather have edible spaghetti hair that regrows every night or sweat maple syrup?
  • Would you rather be a superhero or a wizard?
  • Would you rather have a unicorn or dragon as a best friend?
  • Would you rather have super speed or super strength?
  • Would you rather live sometime in the past (you get to choose when and where) or sometime in the future (except you don’t know what the future looks like)?
  •  Would you rather have awesome super powers—but have to live in secret on an island with no other kids—or would you rather have a normal life (but have no superpowers)?
  • Would you rather have to fight 100 pigeon sized zebras or one zebra sized pigeon?
  • Would you rather have a horse’s tail or a unicorn horn?
  • Would you rather have a hamster-sized elephant or an elephant-sized hamster for a pet?

Weekly Warm-Up Games

Each week, we played a different warm-up game as a group. Some of these games included:

Fonts didn’t carry over for any of these PPTs, even after trying to edit to a common font. My font of choice for this program was ObelixPro.

Guess that Character: Identify the popular character from their silhouette.

Mad Libs: Asked kids to write down a series of words and then read the words in the Mad Lib aloud. (*Not very popular. Only two kids participated.)

Name that Tune: Guess the song from just a few seconds of music. Used this playlist.

Pixelated Book Covers: Identify the blurry book cover.

Scavenger Hunt: Find items around your house that fit certain categories like “something that is orange” or “something that starts with the letter M.”

Two Truths and a Lie: Share three piece of information, two true and one a lie. Everyone has to guess. (*Not very popular. Few kids participated, though they enjoyed guessing.)

Zoomed In Images: Guess the item or cover from the zoomed in image.

Discussion Questions

I learned pretty quickly that deep discussion questions weren’t going to go anywhere, so the longer the series went on, the less I worried about these, and the more light I kept things. I chose 3-5 questions to focus on each week and let things go where they wanted.

General Graphic Novel Questions:

  1. Is reading a graphic novel different than reading a text novel? How?
  2. Would this book have been better or worse without pictures?
  3. How does the art make you feel and why?
  4. What did the creator show? What wasn’t shown that your brain filled in?
  5. What does the story or character remind you of?
  6. What surprised you most?
  7. What would you change about the setting or characters if you were writing this book?
  8. What is something you don’t want to forget from this book?
  9. Which character most reminds you of yourself?
  10. If you could ask the author a question, what would you ask them? (I sent these to the authors via Twitter each week, and some of them actually responded!)

Anti/Hero:

  1. Sloan vs Piper – who did you like better? Who do you think you are the most like?
  2. Page 16 – Compare Sloan and Piper’s lives. What do you learn from the images?
  3. Who would you want to switch bodies with?
  4. If you did switch bodies, what would you do?

Diana Princess of the Amazons:

  1. Before reading this book, what did you know about Wonder Woman?
  2. Themyscira is a pretty cool place. What would you like most about living there? Least?
  3. When Diana is bored, she says “It seems like I’m either too old or too young for everything. Stuck in the middle.” Do you ever feel like that? When?
  4. Mona convinces Diana to do some things Diana knows are wrong—like steal food and make fun of other people and skip class. Have you had a friend like that?
  5. Quick Sketch: Draw the scariest monster to come out of Doom’s Doorway!
  6. Diana grows up to become a superhero! Who is your favorite superhero and why?

El Deafo: (*Most robust discussion!)

  1. The title of the book is Cece’s superhero name. What would your superhero name be?
  2. This is a memoir. What does that mean?
  3. Why do you think Cece Bell made the characters rabbits?
  4. Our world is designed for those capable of hearing. What are ways you notice that the world is hard for people who are deaf?
  5. Cece’s first best friend Laura is kind of mean. Cece dreams about ending the friendship, but she doesn’t because being friends with Laura is better than her “bubble of loneliness.” Do you agree?
  6. Cece doesn’t want to learn sign language. Why do you think that is?

The Lightning Thief (graphic novel):

  1. Who has read the chapter book? How did these two compare?
  2. What do you have to think about when adapting a chapter book into a graphic novel?
  3. Who is your favorite character?
  4. You all had some great things you loved about Themyscara. What would you like most about Camp Half Blood? What would you like least?
  5. What magical powers or elements would you like to control? If you could be related to one mythical Greek god, who would it be?

Lumberjanes Vol. 1:

  1. Look at the Lumberjanes cover. What do you think the book would be about based on the cover? Should people judge a book by its cover?
  2. Who is your favorite Lumberjane? Why?
  3. Why do you think they included so many snippets from the Lumberjanes manual and information about Lumberjanes badges?
  4. Let’s talk about characters. How do their names “fit” or “not fit”? How do their names influence our perceptions of the characters? (April, Molly, Ripley, Jo, Mal, Jen)
  5. In the “Message from the Lumberjane High Council” in Volume 1 it says: “…Whether you are a dancer or a misfit, career girl or a social elite, you have a place at this camp — no matter how different you feel.” How does the story and the characters reflect this?
  6. There are 13 Lumberjanes Volumes and nearly 80 issues, spin off books, chapter books—what do you think happens next?

My Video Game Ate My Homework:

  1. What does this story remind you of?
  2. What do you think of the artwork, especially how the characters are drawn?
  3. If you got a magical video game superpower – what would you want it to be? (page 28)
  4. What would you have in your own clubhouse? (page 19)
  5. What video game or imaginary world would you like to enter? What world would you never want to enter?
  6. Dewey has dyslexia, which makes it hard for him to read. We all have things that make some things harder for us than others. If you want to share, what is something that is harder for you?

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy

  1. How does this feel different than other graphic novels we have read?
  2. Did this feel preachy or did you not notice you were learning something?
  3. Would you want to read a book like this in school?
  4. What school topics would you like to learn about as comics?
  5. Is this book funny? How?
  6. What do you think of this book’s coloring?

New Kid: (We didn’t really get to any of these, as this book seemed to be a bit too old for the kids who attended that week, who all admitted to not finishing it.)

  1. Which five words best describe New Kid?
  2. Why do you think Jerry Craft drew Jordan’s sketchbook drawings completely differently than the rest of the book?
  3. What makes being a new kid so challenging for Jordan?
  4. Have you ever been the new kid somewhere? How was your experience the same or different from Jordan’s?
  5. Jordan’s Tips for Taking the Bus (pages 56-57): Why does his behavior change—how he looks and dresses as he moves around? What is different in each panel?
  6. What does this book say about friendship? What makes a good friend?

Phoebe and Her Unicorn:

  1. Are you more of a Phoebe or a Marigold Heavenly Nostrils?
  2. If you had one magical wish, what would it be?
  3. These are collections of comic strips. What makes this book different than the graphic novels we have read before? 
  4. Think about how Phoebe and Marigold met. What stands out about that scene?
  5. How does the friendship between Phoebe and Marigold change and grow throughout the story? How do you see that difference in the illustrations and the text?
  6. When the story starts, do you like Phoebe and Marigold equally? How does that change?
  7. Page 111: Is there anything more embarrassing than parents?

Let’s Talk Comics

This is the part of Graphic Novel Book Club I feel like I bungled the most. I didn’t come in with a clear week-to-week plan, and this ended up being the part of the program the kids were the most excited about.

About three weeks into the program, I found these resources, which I highly recommend using to frame your own series:

My weeks were much more haphazard, with essentially a random drawing challenge each week. These included:

  • Random Creature and Action
  • Random Setting
  • Story of meeting your magical creature best friend (4 panels)
  • First Day at a New School (include dialogue and more than one panel)
  • Egg Challenge (draw what comes out of this egg)
  • Combine animal + food = Character!
  • Drawing Motion (guest artist – fellow librarian)
  • Think about your favorite character from a book, show, or movie. Choose to adapt or expand their story in at least three panels.
  • Dog Man Challenge: Draw 5 creatures. Take the head of one and the body of the other and merge them.

I did include a few more detailed activities/”lessons” some weeks, including:

Fonts didn’t carry over for any of these PPTs, even after trying to edit to a common font. My font of choice for this program was ObelixPro.

Adaptations vs Universe Expansions

Characters (Taken heavily from the Digital Comics Club resources)

Graphic Novel and Comic Overview (Taken heavily from the Digital Comics Club resources)

Graphic Novels You Should Read

Virtual Reader’s Advisory

Our library is closed to the public, including for browsing. Our county COVID numbers just dipped low enough for us to allow for appointment based services, but, sorry to all of the school districts that decided to start the school year with blended learning at the last minute, but I do the same math the governor’s team does every day, and our county numbers are increasing. Again. The reason any of that is relevant to this post is that the public will not be browsing our shelves anytime soon…meaning reader’s advisory is not the same experience.

And browsing is something we hear about frequently. Kids in particular often don’t know what they want to read (or they know EXACTLY what they want to read and will take nothing else). Parents are trying to homeschool or supplement in-person schooling, and they are eager for beginning reading books in particular. How can we recreate the browsing and reader’s advisory experience for our users?

New & Awesome Books to Reserve

These short clips are designed to be Instagram posts or Instagram stories (identical, vertical versions are used on that platform, all under 15 seconds to accommodate Instagram story rules). There seems to be a positive response to these reader’s advisory tools–the first Instagram post got a lot of happy feedback (I think people missed seeing inside the library). The most recent Instagram story (first chapter books) got more click-through response than other stories I had created in the past.

I really wish there was a way around the 15-seconds, or a way to make it easier for viewers to see titles and immediately put them on hold. I recognize the books in the video, but I can’t imagine many parents do without having to put in the effort to watch multiple times and pause a clip.

New & Overflow Books (July 2020) (this was a first attempt and this video is longer than most)

New Books (August 2020)

Beginning Readers

First Chapter Books

Parent Teacher Collection Titles

Virtual Reader’s Advisory

These reader’s advisory videos have a few purposes:

  • Reader’s advisory tool to supplement the lack of browsing
  • Possible substitute for in-person book talks that take place in local classrooms

We’ve had an okay response to these reader’s advisory YouTube videos. I hope that these are useful to teachers and students, especially as the school year progresses (and post-COVID too!).

My book talk video filming tips:

  • Film in Short Clips. My filming structure involves me talking for 1-2 sentences before cutting to a new clip. I find this really valuable when I am trying to get my words exactly right (especially important when sharing books that talk about racism, neglect, or aspects of a culture that isn’t my own). I don’t memorize what I’m going to say, but this quick structure makes it a lot easier for me to redo a clip as needed. Refilming something 20-30 seconds long is easier, and it is much less frustrating than getting to the end of the clip and messing up a pronunciation.
  • Add visual interest. Add images from the book whenever possible. Some books are chapter books without images where this doesn’t make sense, but whenever I can, I add images and change them regularly. An adult has about an 8-second attention span in non-COVID times. Watching me sit and talk at a screen for even just a minute is boring. Images help.
  • Talk about books you like. Always. I only book talk books I’ve read, enjoy, and can vouch for. I’m not this strict when I’ve got an in-person reader’s advisory experience, with a patron in front of me asking for Wonder readalikes, but when I’m only able to take a handful of books to a classroom, or in this case, select what books I want to put my time and effort behind highlighting, I want to make sure they are books I genuinely enjoyed and think kids will enjoy too.
  • Recommend diverse books. Following the last tip, this means you need to be reading diverse books. Hopefully you are. I don’t care how white your community is–even if your community is made entirely of clones of one Christian, straight, physically and mentally able white boy–there is a whole world out there that those kids need to be aware of and empathetic toward. (Also, if you are living in a community filled with cloned children, I would suggest you stop reading now and run. Fast.)
  • Look up those pronunciations. Author names, illustrator names, character names, settings. Look up them all. Don’t be the Annamarie of three years ago who mispronounced Amina’s name repeatedly in a book talk video for Amina’s Voice that still makes me cringe every time I see it on YouTube.
  • Of course, all the regular technical things:
    • Film with the highest quality camera you can access
    • Good lighting (don’t sit in front a window, avoid shadows)
    • Good sound
    • Consistent feel/intro/conclusion
    • Easy access for a viewer to put the book on hold in your catalog

I’ve made a lot of videos, and this post is already long, so I’m going to try to highlight grade level playlists and list links to specific titles underneath. Many books appear on multiple grade levels because they appeal to multiple ages.

Book Talks: Preschool
We are focusing on books for the ages we regularly book talk to in the schools (Grades 2-6), so there are fewer videos for this age.

Book Talks: Kindergarten
We are focusing on books for the ages we regularly book talk to in the schools (Grades 2-6), so there are fewer videos for this age.

Book Talks: 1st Grade
We are focusing on books for the ages we regularly book talk to in the schools (Grades 2-6), so there are fewer videos for this age.

Book Talks: 2nd Grade

Book Talks: 3rd Grade

Book Talks: 4th Grade

Book Talks: 5th Grade

Book Talks: 6th Grade

Collection Videos
These videos cover more than one title connected by a common theme. These seem to be getting slightly more views, but, be warned, they take a lot longer to make. A 10 Readalikes Video is essentially the equivalent of making 10 individual book talk videos–a lot of effort for what feels like less of a result. I’m going to keep chipping away at these, but they are exhausting, so I don’t make them as frequently. Maybe I’ll focus on these more when I feel like I am slowing down on a regular pool of titles to book talk individually.

12 New Graphic Novels (published in the first half of 2020)

10 Baby-Sitters Club Readalikes

10 Dog Man Readalikes

Book Review Tuesday

Lots of great books this week! Read the book reviews below, and learn more about my favorite reads:

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Animal Showdown: Round Three by Stephanie Warren Drimmer (nonfiction)
Gr. 3-4. Which animal is most acrobatic? Loudest? Most venomous? Lives the longest? Find out in the newest round of animal matchups.

I like that this series isn’t quite as clear cut as the Who Would Win books. While some of these questions have just one answer–like the loudest animal–the book makes the reader look at the stats and facts to figure that out (or, in the cases of less clear cut matchups, the answer is up to the reader). A great design paired with beautiful photographs and, of course, fascinating information, makes this series a win.

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Goldie Vance: Larceny in La La Land by Hope Larson (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-8. Goldie Vance is back and taking Los Angeles by storm! While her best friends have glamorous lives as movie stars or are off working at fancy internships, Goldie has to figure out her own summer plans. When she stumbles across a grown-up female detective, Goldie knows she is meant to spend the summer solving real mysteries! After a bit of convincing, Goldie manages to land her dream assistant job where she is quickly caught up in a pair of intertwining mysteries involving both sentimental and very lucrative thefts.

Goldie is back! Move aside Nancy Drew–Goldie Vance is the queen of teen detectives. I love the sweet alternate reality that Goldie lives in (that essentially looks a bit like a Hollywood version of the 1960s without racism, the Vietnam War, and all of those real-world issues). Goldie and her friends exude the diversity that is much needed in modern comics but probably wouldn’t have worked out well in real life at the time–Goldie is biracial, gay, curvy, and amazing (she also drag races, though that isn’t featured in this book). Her friends are equally unique and awesome. Plus these comics are just fun–a combination of Sherlock Holmes meets Nancy Drew mystery, a few high stakes action scenes, fun side characters to flesh out the plot, and a great color palate that brings the setting to life. More please!

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Move, Play, Learn: Interactive Storytimes with Music, Movement, and More by Alyssa Jewell (professional development)
Adult. Make your storytimes active through movement, music, and play! Think about how to make all parts of your storytime, not just some elements, an active experience, engaging little ones and caregivers throughout.

I wish I had read this book pre-COVID, but I am still glad to have found it now. Lots of great messages and ideas here (and a great list of children’s musicians!). The theory and research in this book help me put into words what I’ve been trying to do with my storytimes before and after COVID–create an active, engaging experience. The less passive listening, the better.

While I don’t agree with everything–I’m really not a theme person, and those are emphasized heavily in this text–the below paragraph really stuck with me, so much that I wanted to include it here to refer back to. I had a core set of storytime materials that I used pre-COVID, and I didn’t put that much effort into revitalizing those materials. While I still use a bit more repetition than is highlighted in this book, I’ve been taking a much more thorough effort into planning and carefully selecting materials for my virtual storytimes–finding quality materials that I enjoy that highlight new voices, cover an early literacy skill, and fit the appropriate developmental level. I’ve wondered a lot about the time commitment involved with this and how this will fit into my job when I am back on desk with the public many hours a week, and I’ve been coming to the conclusion that storytime content needs to remain a priority. Author Jewell sums this up nicely in her text:

“For me, selecting the best materials for storytime is at the core of what it means to be a good children’s librarian. My job is to showcase the best of what the library’s collection has to offer. This means not only keeping up to date with the newest books and music, but also performing rigorous searches of the collection for each storytime theme, as there are sometimes hidden gems published years ago hiding in the stacks and begging to be brought to life. This is not always easy to do if you, like most librarians and teachers, are strapped for time. Everyone falls into bad habits at some point, such as rushing through material selection, gravitating toward comfortable materials that you or others have used time and time again, or choosing materials that you think are cute but are really not developmentally appropriate for your storytime. If you find yourself falling into any of these behaviors, take a step back and remember: the building blocks of storytime are the materials you select. If you are not putting energy into that process, then your foundation will be shaky.” – page 51

Queen Of The Spelling Bee - (Ellie Ultra) By Gina Bellisario (Hardcover) :  Target

Queen of the Spelling Bee (Ellie Ultra) by Gina Bellisario (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Life isn’t always filled with daring rescues for young superhero Ellie Ultra. She has to go to school, and sometimes those school days are filled with spelling bee practice! Ellie is sure that her super talents will make her a spelling bee champion, but when Ellie decides she doesn’t need to practice, things don’t work out as planned. But is there more to this new substitute librarian than meets the eye? Something seems to be off about the plans for the upcoming school-wide spelling bee…will Ellie need to save the day?

Ellie is a cute, spunky young superhero. I prefer Mia Mayhem’s everyday adventures to this series, but, reading level wise, this would be a good step up from the Mia Mayhem books. I’m not sure if these books have to be read in order (no series number on the spine), but I definitely felt a bit confused by many of the references to what felt like previous books. This felt a little disjointed at times with a heavy focus on the fast-paced action, but I see the kid appeal, and I appreciate any diverse young superhero.

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Rick by Alex Gino
Gr. 4-5. Rick has always gone along with his best friend, Jeff. Even when his best friend is mean–best friends stick together, right? Now, Rick is in middle school. He learns that maybe things don’t all have to be one way, especially when a new friend leads him to a meeting of the school’s rainbow spectrum club. The kids in this club seem to be so sure of who they are (or they are comfortable in being not so sure). Rick longs to be just as understood–but can he figure out who he is while still keeping his life as it has always been?

This was fun and so sweet! I loved the call backs to George–even though its been a while since I read that title, hearing Melissa introduce the talent show with a few loud “salutations!” was lovely. Rick was a particularly great perspective to explore. While George was a bit stronger of a book for me, I like that Rick was–and still is–questioning who he is. That questioning is normal and such a part of growing up that isn’t focused on quite as often as the kids who “know” something about themselves. Rick’s relationship with his grandfather was particularly strong and nuanced. Looking forward to more books!

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School for Extraterrestrial Girls #1: Girl on Fire by Jeremy Whitley
Gr. 5-8. Tara Smith longs to be extraordinary–but, when she said that, she dreamed of becoming an astronaut, not spontaneously combusting in math class. She wanted to travel to space–not find out she is really an alien. She wanted her parents to be a little less routine-oriented–not really be kidnappers that tore her away from her home and hid Tara’s true identity from her for years.

But, things don’t always work out the way you expect. Such as when you discover all of these extraordinary things about yourself, while also finding out that you still have to go to high school (but now a high school for alien teenage girls). New friendships, drama, and confusion seem to follow Tara wherever she goes as she tries to figure out where she fits in among the big, wide universe.

A new series by the author of Princeless! This wasn’t quite as amazing as Princeless, but I am definitely looking forward to the sequel. Tara’s emotional ups and downs felt very real, and I’m excited to see more of the world created in this series, including the multitude of alien species (more cat people please!). I’m also ready for the strength of a united Tara, Summer, and Misako–their new school isn’t going to know what hit them.

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There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
Gr. 7+. Ashish was recently dumped by his (now ex-) girlfriend. Ever since the breakup, nothing is working–he can’t seem to flirt anymore, he never feels happy, and basketball just feels routine. Even though he can’t ever imagine it working, he agrees to let his parent’s set him up with a new girl, hoping that a little bit of a flirting and a few dates (without the pressure of making those things happen himself) might help him find his groove again.

Sweetie doesn’t think too much about romance–she is too busy beating everyone on the track, hanging out with her friends, and singing in the shower. When Sweetie finds out that Ashish’s parents want to set the two of them up, she is mildly interested–until Sweetie’s mom denies the match because Sweetie’s traditional Indian mom thinks Sweetie is too fat for an attractive, rich boy like Ashish.

Sweetie is furious. She doesn’t care so much about dating Ashish, as she hates how her parent’s insecurities about Sweetie’s weight make them control her actions. She tracks down Ashish and proposes a deal–that they date, in secret, behind their parent’s backs. He gets his mojo back, and Sweetie proves that fat girls are datable. Ashish agrees. Obviously, love follows.

I love all of Sandhya Menon’s sweet romance novels, and I’m glad I saved this one for last (of what she has currently published). It was fun to see familiar characters again, but Ashish and Sweetie just have a great dynamic. Contrary to their names, Ashish was the one who was a little too sweet for me at times, especially toward the end of the book, but Sweetie’s self-confidence and determination make this book shine. At so many moments, Sweetie could have crumbled–but she never does, no matter who is trying to hold her back, because of her faith in herself. So much fun to read.

Innovation Academy: Tech Fair

After receiving a grant for some technology items two years ago, I’ve been running registered, monthly technology programs for upper elementary school kids (roughly ages 8-12).

These were great programs, except for a few recurring issues:

  • Each program focuses on one topic or device, and I have a limited number of devices, so a limited number of kids could attend (max. of 20, sometimes as few as 10).
  • This means that these programs had to be registered. Registration often filled up within 30 minutes of it opening (two weeks before the program date), even when I was offering 2-4 sessions in a month.
  • Each program, I have a new set of kids with different abilities. Some have coding skills well beyond my own; others have never heard the word “coding” before walking through the door. This made it hard to plan anything too advanced.
  • While programs were designed for ages 8-12, I often have parents sign up their 5-7-year-olds for my programs. While I am glad they are excited about tech, it makes it even more difficult to teach basic coding to a group of kids with mixed abilities when a few of them can’t even read yet.

This summer, I decided to try something different. Instead of offering weekly registered tech programming, I offered a monthly tech fair. I put out as much technology as could fit in our space and work with the number of tablets we own. I wasn’t sure what to expect with attendance or participation, but overall the programs were a success.

Tech Fair Content

During each month’s tech fair, I strategically planned out how the room was laid out to accommodate the most technology. Almost all of the technology we own was used at some point during the summer–it was a great bonus to see everything out of the cabinets and being used by the public.

Tech I used at least once over the three programs included:

Each technology item was at a different station with a loosely structured activity. As the sessions went on, I realized that structured activities really weren’t necessary. Kids explored the technology in deeper and more creative ways when they had the time to do that on their own without having to focus on specific steps in a task.

Family Engagement

An unexpected outcome of this program was the multi-generational experiences and learning that took place. During my monthly registered tech programs, sibling partners often worked together, but, with rare exceptions, adults stayed outside of the room.

Since the tech fair wasn’t structured in the same way, adults were welcomed into the tech space. Little siblings came too. Third graders showed grandparents how to build a video game with Bloxels. Parents explained to kids how Ozobots use sensors to read color patterns that tell them to complete certain actions. Five-year-olds who didn’t yet have the skills to use the Blocky app with Dash helped create an obstacle course, and an older sibling explained to them how their code worked.

Families walked out of the program with some hands on time with new technology after thinking creatively about ways to take a simple challenge or activity to a new level.

Tech fairs are simpler for me to plan than monthly programs. I am essentially pulling from our supply of tech, charging and pairing everything, and leaving the rest up to our patrons. Registration and age requirements are no longer issues. However, the simplicity in program planning is not why I want to repeat this series–the learning that came from family engagement made this series something to remember.