Search Results for "virtual school"

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.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten, Part 2

After over a year of planning, I finally launched my library’s 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program! These blog posts often focus more on day-to-day or week-to-week library activities, like reading, programs, and storytimes, but on any random day, I’m also working on a lot of large behind-the-scenes projects too. I’m thrilled to finally be able to share one of those projects with you.

Part 1 focused on the logistics of the program as well as our physical workbook. In this post, I’ll focus on our online component run through ReadSquared.

What is 1000 Books?

1000 Books Before Kindergarten is a nationwide initiative, adapted by many libraries and educational institutions, to promote reading and encourage child/caregiver bonding through reading.

The goal is simple and pretty self explanatory: read 1000 books together before your child starts kindergarten.

Why run a 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program?

A child is more successful in school when an adult actively read, spoke, and engaged with them during the 0-5 years. The more words children hear at young ages, the larger their vocabulary, and the more prepared they will be to learn to read. Setting a high goal with a concrete reward system—like reading 1000 books before starting kindergarten—encourages adults to actively and continuously engage with their children. Children who start out ahead typically end up ahead. Studies show that these early language needs are even higher in lower socioeconomic households.

Other benefits to a 1000 Books program:

  • Brings a sense of ownership and pride to reading. After completing this program, kids know they accomplished something big.
  • Builds caregiver knowledge and interest about their role in school readiness.
  • From a library statistics perspective, 1000 Books programs boost circulation numbers.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten: ReadSquared Program

ReadSquared is one of a handful of online reading program management tools your library can purchase. Using a system like ReadSquared for your online reading program management takes away some of the freedom you would have by creating your own in-house summer reading management website, but, in exchange for unlimited customizability, you get a website that is hosted offsite with a great tech team that is always available to help you fix glitches and change the design of your page.

There are a lot of pros and cons to various online reading program management tools. This isn’t a post about that, but my quick feelings about ReadSquared are that (on the positive side) you do have a lot of customization options compared to its top competitor, Beanstack, and (on the negative side) the core layout of the website isn’t really negotiable, it looks a bit dated overall, and the back side is a bit of an organizational mess. Make sure someone on your team is familiar with basic HTML and has the time and patience to dig through many menus to find the exact editing tool you are looking for.

My library uses ReadSquared for our set-your-own-goal summer reading program and our BINGO-style winter reading program. 1000 Books is our first attempt at a year-round program, and I’m really happy with where we ended up. All the programs are supposed to be able to run smoothly at the same time, though we haven’t tested that out in full quite yet.

See my library’s ReadSquared login page here.

Signing Up

Every 1000 Books reader needs a ReadSquared account. They don’t have to use it for recording, but they do need an account so that library staff can keep track of their prizes.

If a family already has an account from a previous summer or winter reading program, they can log in with that account to sign up for this program. Kids can all be linked to the same account, making for easy book logging for the caregiver.

I’m not going to screenshot every element of this process, but to make an online account, we require that participants provide their first and last name, their email address, and a username and password.

Once they login or register, they will be taken to the home page:

Home Page

Families can immediately record their reading on the home page or they can use the various navigation menus to access other features. The home page also includes:

  • Progress Bar
  • Sponsor Information
  • Most Popular Books (books recorded by other participants recently)
  • FAQs

One important note for libraries considering ReadSquared for a 1000 Books program: at the moment, ReadSquared does not allow for public users to log more than one book at a time. So if a family read 20 books in one day, they do need to add 20 individual books. However, library staff, using the admin side of ReadSquared, can add any number of books at once with one click. So, if a caregiver does not want to type in 100 book titles, they can just stop by or call the library and ask library staff to record the reading for them.

Logging a Book

Families can log a book from the Home Page or the Logging page. When they select “Log Reading” they will be asked to add some information about the book (title, author, review). All of this information is optional–they could just push “Submit” and the system will log one book read.

Logging History

The Logging History page lets families see how many books they have logged (and which titles, if they provided that information).


That is all the technical content, what about the fun stuff? For our program, readers earn virtual badges whenever they receive an equivalent in-person prize (one for getting started (when they get their workbook) and another badge for every 100 books read). These match the sticker images that they will earn for their workbooks.


Our physical workbook contains a bunch of early literacy tips for different age ranges, and we wanted to convert that information to our online format (while also promoting other library services and programs). These turned into Missions. Missions don’t earn participants physical prizes, but they do earn a virtual badge.

Our missions and activities include:

Read Together: From birth, your baby can start to learn about reading, like how to sound out words and what direction to hold a book.

  • Ages 0-2 – Read together…even if just a few pages: Choose a time when your baby is relaxed and happy. Read for as long as your baby is interested. Just a page or two is fine! Try one of these
  • Ages 0-2 – Join us for baby storytime: For a schedule of live storytimes, visit the library’s events calendar. Or watch on demand whenever is convenient for you with pre-recorded storytimes on our YouTube channel.
  • Ages 0-3 – Read a board book: Show your baby a board book. (A board book is made of thick cardboard pages.) Let them explore on their own, even if that means books get chewed on or thrown.
  • Ages 0-3 – Show babies other babies: Babies love to see other babies! Check out books featuring large, bright photographs of other babies from this list.
  • Ages 0-5 – Take a picture walk: You don’t have to read the words on the page! Talk or sing about the pictures instead. Identify the animals or colors or make up your own story–time spent with a book helps your child learn how books work. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Sign up for free books: Fill your home library with books! Mailed to your child monthly until their 5th birthday, each book is a free gift for your child to keep. This service is made possible by the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library. Learn more.
  • Ages 0-5 – Watch a storytime video: Explore book retelling videos by your favorite librarians. Watch one of these videos.
  • Ages 0-5 – Take a book; leave a book: A wooden box filled with books, a Little Free Library is a mini collection you can browse any time of day. Take home whatever catches your fancy and if you want, bring back one of your own to share with others. No library card required. No fines. No need to return what you borrow. Learn more.
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a nonfiction book: Read a nonfiction book together. Nonfiction books help babies and toddlers attach words to everyday objects and help preschoolers realize that words represent other things. Try one of these.
  • Ages 0-5 – Point out the words: Run your fingers under the words on the page as you read them. Little ones will begin to understand that those shapes on the page mean something. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Make books part of your daily routine: Make books part of everyday experiences. Place a bag of books in the car or near the table for meals, or read a book each day for a week before naptime, bedtime, or bath time.
  • Ages 2-3 – Join us for toddler storytime: For a schedule of live storytimes, visit the library’s events calendar. Or watch on demand whenever is convenient for you with pre-recorded storytimes on our YouTube channel.
  • Ages 2-5 – Read…and repeat!: Read the same books over and over again. Pause before a predictable word and ask your toddler or preschooler to guess the next word. Or ask what happens next in their favorite story.
  • Ages 3-5 – Read…upside down!: When reading, hold a book upside down until your preschooler notices. Show them how to hold a book. Talk about the book’s parts, like the cover, pages, title, and author.
  • Ages 3-5 – Join us for preschool storytime: For a schedule of live storytimes, visit the library’s events calendar. Or watch on demand whenever is convenient for you with pre-recorded storytimes on our YouTube channel.

Sing Together: When you sing, you slow down words. This helps your child hear the smaller sounds, learn syllables, and develop vocabulary. Singing also helps develop listening and memory skills. Singing together is a fun bonding experience – whether you’re a good singer or not!

  • Ages 0-5 – Dance together: Dance to music that you and your little one enjoy. Try these dance party favorites, free to stream or download with your Westerville Library card. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Listen to your favorite (grown-up) music: Listen to your favorite music – your baby may recognize your grown-up tunes. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Sing together: Sing a tune or nursery rhyme together. For a new song every day, visit
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a singing book!: Some books have a natural rhythm or rhyme that are great for singing. Read one of these.
  • Ages 0-5 – Watch a video: Bounce to the rhythm or try out one of these favorite storytimes songs. Watch one of these videos.
  • Ages 0-5 – Make up a song together: Create songs about everyday activities, such as changing a diaper or putting on clothes. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Adapt a tune: Adapt the tune “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” to “This Is the Way We…” (put on our pants, wash our hands, etc.).
  • Ages 0-5 – Clap your name: Clap or tap your child’s name. Focus on each syllable. Encourage your toddler or preschooler to try this too–you’ll be surprised how quickly they can find the syllables themselves.
  • Ages 1-5 – Shake!: Shake to the beat of a familiar rhyme or tune. Grab an item that your baby can grasp, or make a shaker out of an empty water bottle filled with baby-safe items.
  • Ages 1-5 – Clap to the beat: Clap the syllables of words as you sing. Breaking down words into smaller parts is a useful skill when your child starts reading. 
  • Ages 2-5 – Sing fast and slow: Sing the same song at different speeds to help your little one get used to rhythm and tempo. Try singing familiar tunes faster and faster, then slower and slower.
  • Ages 2-5 – Freeze dance: Freeze songs are a great way for your child to practice self-control, focus, and listening skills. Turn a favorite song into a freeze dance by starting and stopping the music at random.
  • Ages 2-5 – Pause: “The Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the water….spout!” Pause while singing to allow toddlers and preschoolers to fill in the missing words. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Create silly songs: Create silly songs by making up your own words for familiar tunes. Let your child choose unique animals for “Old McDonald Had a Farm” and unique actions for “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
  • Ages 3-5 – Print the lyrics: Help your little one recognize that songs are made up of words. Print out the lyrics to your favorite song, then run your fingers under the words on the page as you sing them together.

Play Together: Playing encourages your child to put their thoughts into words, tell stories, problem-solve and imagine. All of these skills will help them become better readers and writers when they start school.

  • Ages 0-2 – Play peek-a-boo: Play peek-a-boo! Peek-a-boo helps babies understand that just because they can’t see something, that object still exists.
  • Ages 0-5 – Visit the story trail: Enjoy the fresh air, a stroll…and a story. This literacy adventure builds reading skills and creates memories, from start to finish. For all ages. Visit again and again; you may find a different story waiting for you. Learn more.
  • Ages 0-5 – Watch a video: Looking for playtime ideas? Watch one of these videos.
  • Ages 0-5 – Play with mirrors: Play in front of a mirror and point to your little one’s body parts.
  • Ages 0-5 – Borrow a learning kit: Play, sing, write, read, talk and have fun with your favorite little ones while using tip cards to practice early literary skills. Learn more.
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a playing book!: Some books include games or other interactive elements that are great for encouraging play. Read one of these.
  • Ages 0-5 – Visit the imagination station: Located in the kids department at the library, this interactive display is regularly transformed into a themed exhibit intended to actively engage, entertain and educate young visitors of all ages.
  • Ages 0-5 – Play and learn around the house: Running out of ideas? Try these easy activities you can do together with common household objects. Watch now.
  • Ages 0-5 – Play…and repeat!: Repeat the same game or activity over and over again. You might feel bored, but your little one feels reassurance and builds important connections through repetition. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Play with music: Dance to an action song like “The Hokey Pokey.” Songs that name body parts build physical awareness. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Play with words: When playing, use big words and small words. Use as many words as you can! The more words your child hears, the easier it will be to identify those words when they start reading. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Moo, honk, beep!: Make noises for different toys, like trucks, baby dolls, or animals. Hearing different sounds and experiencing pitches, tones, and volumes helps your little one develop the basics of language.
  • Ages 2-5 – Play on the go: Play wherever you are! Play “I Spy” on a long car ride or in the grocery store. Introduce new vocabulary each time you play.
  • Ages 3-5 – Make open-ended art: Explore open-ended activities. Encourage imagination and problem-solving with art supplies for the sake of play, not to make a specific craft.
  • Ages 3-5 – Go on a letter hunt: Pick a letter and find five items around the house that start with that letter. Try a new letter each day!

Talk Together: When you talk to your child about different events and ideas, it helps them learn new vocabulary and to use words they know.

  • Ages 0-3 – Say my name: Babies focus on the word spoken immediately after their name. Instead of saying, “Julia, would you like to read a book?” Try saying: “Julia, book! Would you like to read a book?”
  • Ages 0-3 – Talk with sign language: Babies understand more than they can say. Using gestures, including American Sign Language, is a great way to communicate with your child. Practice words like more, stop, and no. Learn more with these books.
  • Ages 0-5 – Narrate your day: Talk to your baby all the time, even if they can’t respond quite yet. The more words your baby hears, the larger their vocabulary will grow. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a talking book!: Some books encourage talking. Read one of these.
  • Ages 0-5 – Watch a video: Try some of these games and activities to encourage asking questions. Watch one of these videos.
  • Ages 0-5 – Pause for 10 seconds.: Pause. Toddlers and preschoolers need 7-10 seconds to process what you asked and create a response. Give them plenty of time to think before moving on to another question. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Ask open-ended questions: When playing, ask your child open-ended questions, such as: 
    • What do you think will happen if…
    • Can you think of another way to…
    • What else can you build…
      Give them plenty of time to respond. Some responses might not be verbal. 
  • Ages 0-5 – Notice excitement: Your child will let you know what interests them by using actions, facial expressions, and speech. When they point out a window or give you a questioning look, put their action into words: “Yes! That’s a squirrel. Look at him running along the fence.”
  • Ages 0-5 – Talk with your eyes: When talking to your little one, actively make eye contact. Babies and toddlers learn to recognize emotions from facial expressions. 
  • Ages 2-5 – Dial a story: Hear a story read aloud by your Westerville librarians. A great way to entertain kids at bedtime, in waiting rooms, or on rainy days. Available via phone 24/7. Call 614-665-9696. Learn more.
  • Ages 2-5 – Oops!: Make mistakes on purpose when singing familiar songs or completing familiar activities. Let your toddler or preschooler correct you. Make sure your little one is very familiar with your activity before trying this – you don’t want to confuse them. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Talk about books: Look at a book together. What direction do you hold a book? Identify the parts of a book like the cover, title, author, and illustrator. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Tell a story: Work together to tell a story. Put a series of events in order, tell a familiar story from the pictures, or make up a story using just your imagination. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Talk about new words: Preschoolers learn new words best in context. When you discover some new vocabulary, discuss it at that moment. Try relating the word to a word they already know. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Follow directions: Encourage listening with games that include clear directions, like Simon Says. 

Write Together: Giving children opportunities to write, even if it is just scribbles, helps children understand that print can represent spoken words. It can also help children develop eye-hand coordination and the fine motor control they need to hold a pencil.

  • Ages 0-3 – Pick up sticks: Practice activities that build finger muscles, such as picking up Cheerios and grasping toys.
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a book about shapes: Learning shapes helps children more easily recognize letters when the time comes. Read a book about shapes.
  • Ages 0-5 – Watch a video: Practice a fingerplay to build the muscles needed to hold a pencil. Watch one of these videos.
  • Ages 0-5 – Read a writing book!: Some books encourage writing. Read one of these.
  • Ages 1-3 – Crumple paper: Practice activities that build finger muscles, such as crumpling paper and grasping small objects like shakers, straws, spoons, and more.
  • Ages 1-5 – Explore shapes: Explore shapes. Letters are made of shapes, so identifying shapes is a first step towards recognizing letters. Go on a shape scavenger hunt, finding three squares, three circles, and three triangles around your house. 
  • Ages 1-5 – Color and scribble: Encourage your little one to color and scribble. You don’t need a coloring page–coloring outside the lines is just as beneficial as coloring inside them. Grasping a crayon helps build the muscles needed to hold a pencil in school.
  • Ages 1-5 – Play with letters: Build finger muscles and learn to recognize letters by playing with them! Make letters out of playdough or explore letter magnets. 
  • Ages 2-5 – Complete a puzzle: Challenge your toddler or preschooler with a simple puzzle with shape cutouts. Looking for something homemade? Create a DIY puzzle out of baby-safe around-the-house objects.
  • Ages 2-5 – Write while playing: Incorporate writing into play activities. Write a pretend grocery list. Help your child pretend to take your order at a restaurant. Sign pretend receipts when you play store. 
  • Ages 2-5 – Play with tweezers: Make pick-up games more challenging with a pair of toddler or preschool sized tweezers (plastic child-safe kitchen tongs might work too). Use the tweezers to sort pom poms, cereal, dice, or other small items. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Write about your art: Ask your preschooler to write about their drawing. Even if they aren’t writing letters, this helps them recognize that written words stand for spoken words.
  • Ages 3-5 – Use scissors: Build writing muscles by practicing an important kindergarten skill: using scissors. Consider one of these activities or make up your own:
    • Cut lines in the top of a paper towel tube to create silly hair (don’t forget to draw a face too).
    • Cut along the lines separating paint chips.
    • Cut through rolled strips of playdough.
  • Ages 3-5 – Make dots with glue: Create a sheet of paper filled with evenly spaced tiny dots, about the size of the tip of a pencil. Give your child a bottle of liquid glue with a squeeze-top, and challenge them to limit the amount of glue they use–just enough to cover a single dot. 
  • Ages 3-5 – Write together: Keep a journal for you and your child. Encourage them to draw a picture of something they did that day or something they are excited about. Ask them to tell you about their drawing, and write down what they say underneath. Read their words back to them, drawing your finger underneath the words as you say them.

Reading Lists

Our last bonus feature on our ReadSquared page is our 1000 Books Reading Lists. Approximately 40 Reading Lists are filled with book suggestions to help families keep reading. Topics include:

  • Animals & Pets
  • Baby Faces
  • Baby Favorites
  • Bedtime & Bathtime
  • Beginning to Read
  • Being Kind
  • Change the World
  • Dinosaurs
  • Early Literacy: Play Together
  • Early Literacy: Read Together
  • Early Literacy: Sing Together
  • Early Literacy: Talk Togeter
  • Early Literacy: Write Together
  • Explore Outdoors
  • Family Love
  • Family Read Alouds
  • Favorite Characters
  • Getting Dressed
  • Growing Up
  • Holidays & Celebrations
  • Kids Like Me
  • Laugh Out Loud
  • Learn Colors
  • Learn Shapes
  • Learn the ABCs
  • Learn to Count
  • Lift-the-Flap & Pop-Up
  • Nonfiction Fun
  • Potty Training
  • Preschool Favorites
  • Real Stories: Biographies
  • Seasons
  • Siblings
  • Starting School
  • Talk About Race
  • Things That Go
  • Time to Eat
  • Toddler Favorites
  • Unicorns, Fairies, and Everything Magic

Access those lists and more here (without logging in).

…and that is it! All of the different parts of our ReadSquared 1000 Books website. What kind of recording do you use for your library’s 1000 Books program? Share in the comments!

Learn more about our program on our website and via the first post in this series that focuses on the physical workbook.

2020 Favorite Graphic Novels

It’s book list season! I’ve read a lot this year, and I am excited to highlight my favorite releases of 2020. I’m thrilled to share my 2020 Favorite Graphic Novels.

I love graphic novels! I wasn’t a graphic novel reader until library school, but I have dived into this genre–graphic novels consume most of my reading (only beat by maybe picture books). The mix of text and illustrations creates such a unique experience that is different from reading a chapter book. At my library, we shelve graphic novels together in their own area. These circulate extremely well–I review this section for condition and circulation each year, and at most I find a handful of titles that have only checked out three times. Many books check out ten times or more (even during a pandemic year!). Some of our most popular series include Dog Man, Baby-Sitters Club, Amulet, and anything written by Raina Telgemeier.

These lists are personal. The graphic novels that stand out for me may not be your favorites–and that is okay! We each have our own reading preferences. Also, I very well may have missed some great titles that were released over the last year–so make sure to check out all of the great lists all over the internet, and please share your favorites in the comments!

2020 Favorite Graphic Novels Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir (9780062685094):  Ha, Robin, Ha, Robin: Books

Almost American Girl

by Robin Ha
Gr. 7+. Robin never expects her family’s vacation to Huntsville, Alabama to turn into a permanent move–all of her friends, her belongings, and her life are back in Seoul, Korea. Robin doesn’t understand English, but suddenly she is dropped off at a new American school where she struggles to keep up. Home isn’t any better–her stepfamily doesn’t seem to like her, and Robin does not want to talk to her mother after she forced them to move. This memoir explores the very real struggles of trying to adjust to life in a new country.

Anti/Hero: Quinn, Kate Karyus, Lunetta, Demitria, Gil, Maca: 9781401293253: Books

by Kate Karyus Quinn & Demitria Lunetta and illustrated by Maca Gil
Gr. 3-5. Piper and Sloane don’t travel in the same friend groups at school. Piper is filled with energy and loves sports; Sloan much prefers getting nearly perfect grades in her classes. Their lives at home are very different too, with Piper living with her loving Abuela, while Sloan is determined to come up with the extra money to help her struggling single mom pay the bills. But they both have their own secrets, and when they end up on the opposite sides of a heist gone wrong, a fancy piece of tech causes them to switch bodies. Can they work together to figure out how to get their lives back?

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Aster and the Accidental Magic
by Thom Pico
Gr. 3-5. Aster expects moving to the middle of nowhere to be super boring. Her parents are busy with some work project and her house is just surrounded by hills and more hills. When Aster starts to wander those hills, she discovers birds and trees and sheep and…magic? When Aster runs into a mysterious old woman herding dogs, Aster starts to realize things are a little strange. But when Aster discovers a trickster spirit in the forest who gives Aster three wishes…well, things are about to get really interesting and a whole lot more fun.

Beetle & the Hollowbones | Book by Aliza Layne, Natalie Riess, Kristen  Acampora | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

Beetle & the Hollowbones
by Aliza Layne
Gr. 4-6. Beetle just wants to sneak out of her homeschooling to hang out with her best friend, the quiet Blob Ghost. Blob Ghost hangs out at the local mall, which he is forced to haunt due to….something neither of them can figure out or discover. When Beetle’s old best friend, Kat, returns to town for some witch training with Beetle’s aunt, Beetle wants to spend even less time at home with the perfect Kat. Things grow even worse when Blob Ghost’s mall might be torn down. If they can’t figure out what tethers Blob Ghost to the mall, when the mall is destroyed, Blob Ghost will be too. Forever.

Cat's Cafe: Tarpley, Matt: 9781524855048: Books

Cat’s Cafe
by Matt Tarpley
Gr. 5+. Meet the adorable patrons of Cat’s coffee shop. Each has their own troubles–from anxiety to coffee addiction–but no matter what the situation, Cat is always ready to lend a supportive ear. Absolutely adorable and filled with love, friendship, and acceptance.

City of Secrets: Ying, Victoria: 9780593114490: Books

City of Secrets
by Victoria Ying
Gr. 4-5. Ever Barnes protects the Switchboard Operating Facility, an amazing building that connects the people in his city, but also holds its own secrets. Hannah, the daughter of the switchboard building’s owner, finds Ever intriguing, and with the help of an employee, Lisa, she manages to track him down and convince him he needs a friend. Soon, the two realize their lives are more tangled than they could have imagined, with Ever being chased by menacing assassins, Hannah’s dad keeping his own secrets, and their co-conspirator Lisa being much more than they thought. In fact the whole city has its secrets—and it’s up to the kids to figure them out, fast.

Class Act: Craft, Jerry, Craft, Jerry: 9780062885500: Books

Class Act
by Jerry Craft
Gr. 5-8. New Kid was my dream Newbery winner, and the sequel does not disappoint. Readers get more detailed glimpses into the lives of Jordan, Liam, and especially Drew, with even a touch more character development from Andy. Drew takes center stage here, with a different perspective on his classmates than Jordan. So many real issues are discussed in ways that never feel preachy, with Craft’s appealing artwork balancing humor and reality (race, bullying, class differences, microaggressions, friendship, and more).

Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of YOU:  Brian, Rachel: 9780316457736: Books

Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of YOU
by Rachel Brian
Gr. 3-6. Learn all about consent, body autonomy, how to set boundaries, and ways to respect others in this amazing, colorful guide. Think about your own behavior and how you need to practice consent every day. Perfect beginning guide for kids and families.

Corpse Talk: Groundbreaking Women: DK: 9780744023572: Books

Corpse Talk: Groundbreaking Women
by Adam & Lisa Murphy
Gr. 4-7. Join your host (and author) Adam Murphy in a talk show starring the corpses of astonishing women throughout history. Each star receives a two-page spread following the style of a typical talk show (including the standard puns and bad jokes) before another spread or two detailing an element of their time or life, such as the layout of the building Anne Frank lived in, an overview of Mongolian wrestling moves, or an explanation of the golden ratio. Features 17 women from an Egyptian pharaoh to empresses, queens, pirates, con artists, and more. Dancing at the Pity Party (9780525553021): Feder, Tyler: Books

Dancing at the Pity Party
by Tyler Feder
Gr. 8+. Follow Tyler’s journey with her mom–from her mom’s first oncology appointment through her cancer treatment and to life after her mom’s death. Filled with so, so much emotion, but I particularly appreciate that the voice here is young. So heartbreaking, but also filled with moments of humor and joy that will resonate.

The Deep & Dark Blue – Niki Smith

The Deep & Dark Blue
by Niki Smith
Gr. 4-7. A political coup that leaves their beloved grandfather murdered causes twins Hawke and Grayson to run for their lives. They hide among the new trainees in the Communion of Blue, taking on new identities as Hanna and Grayce. While they try to piece together what atrocities led to their home burning to the ground, the twins also learn more about themselves. Hawke longs to return to his old life, but Grayce realizes she wants to stay in this world that lets her be herself.

Diana: Princess of the Amazons (Wonder Woman): Hale, Shannon, Hale, Dean,  Ying, Victoria: 9781401291112: Books

Diana: Princess of the Amazons
by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale and illustrated by Victoria Ying
Gr. 3-4. Diana loves her life on Themyscira, but lately she has been feeling more and more alone. She really wants another kid to play with, but that is impossible–or is it? When Diana makes her own wish on some clay, and it turns into a living girl her age, she is delighted. But also confused. Her new friend is great, but they aren’t the nicest, and sometimes they encourage Diana to do things Diana is pretty sure are wrong. What has Diana created? Displacement (9781250193537): Hughes, Kiku: Books

by Kiku Hughes
Gr. 7+. When on a family vacation to San Francisco, Kiku suddenly finds herself dramatically body-swapped with a young woman at a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. Kiku slips in and out of the modern day and the past, not sure what is happening. Eventually, she realizes that her time in the past is connected with her late grandmother, Ernestina, who was forced to live at the very camp Kiku keeps time-traveling to. Dog Man: Grime and Punishment: From the Creator of Captain  Underpants (Dog Man #9) eBook: Pilkey, Dav, Pilkey, Dav: Kindle Store

Dog Man Grime and Punishment
by Dav Pilkey
Gr. 2-4. Yes, I know you are aware of Dog Man, but I am a huge fan of this series, and this particular book left me teary eyed. Dog Man has all kinds of villains to defeat in this book, and he needs the help of all of his friends. Petey has moved through quite a redemption arc, and this book gets quite serious with a deep conversation about forgiveness and loss between Petey and Lil Petey over the actions of Petey’s father and the death of Petey’s mother. Please don’t write these books off as something slapstick or just a Captain Underpants spinoff–there is so much heart here, in this world of living spray and cloned kittens.

Dungeon Critters: Riess, Natalie, Goetter, Sara: 9781250195470:  Books

Dungeon Critters
by Natalie Riess & Sara Goetter
Gr. 3-5. Meet the Dungeon Critters: Juniper – The healer. Nervous in large crowds. Loves botany. Terrible at lying. Looks eerily similar to the reclusive Duchess Helena von Fancypaws. Rose – Arson loving cat. Doubles as a defense attorney when needed. May have a tiny crush on Juniper. Prince Chirp – Heiress to the throne of the [redacted] Kingdom. Impulsive. Hates to apologize. Tends to not think before acting. Avoids responsibility. Goro – Gentle giant. Generally quiet, but when he speaks, his words are profound. These four, with the occasional assistance of other creatures who are quickly forgotten (even by the four main characters), are determined to discover the nefarious plot of the (maybe?) evil Baron Foxworthy. Flamer (9781627796415): Curato, Mike, Curato, Mike: Books

by Mike Curato
Gr. 8+. Aiden is just trying to survive another summer camp with his Boy Scout Troup. It’s the summer between middle school and high school, which is a particularly big jump for Aiden, because he decided to leave his Catholic middle school to attend public high school (his first time attending a public school). Aiden got picked on a lot at his old school and by his fellow Boy Scouts here at summer camp. They call him gay–among other terms–because his voice and behaviors often seem feminine. But Aiden is confident he isn’t gay because gay boys like other boys. Plus, gay boys get made fun of. Gay boys can’t serve mass in Catholic church. Aiden can’t be gay because being gay is unsafe.

Go with the Flow: Schneemann, Karen, Williams, Lily: 9781250305725: Books

Go with the Flow
by Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann
Gr. 5+. Friends Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are tired of their school’s administration. Money can always be found for the football team, but pads and tampons can never be found in the bathrooms. After Sasha gets her period at school and is short on supplies, Abby, Brit, and Christine adopt her into their friend group, and pull Sasha into a world of friendship and activism to make sure everyone who menstruates is treated fairly.

InvestiGators by John Patrick Green

by John Patrick Green
Gr. 2-4. Mango and Brash are both alligators and detective agents of the organization SUIT. Prepared for anything with their Very Exciting Spy Technology, these two investigators travel by toilet and sewer to solve crimes all over their city. They are on their first mission as a team to find out what happened to the missing Chef Mustachio. But after an explosion at the Science Factory, they are now trying to solve two mysteries at once. Plenty of laughs and so, so many puns will keep you at the edge of your seat.

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian: Probert, Tim, Probert, Tim:  9780062990471: Books

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian
by Tim Probert
Gr. 4-5. Bea is happy with her magical life as the adopted granddaughter of the renowned Pig Wizard. One day, when walking in the woods, Bea meets Cad the Galdurian—a thought to be extinct species. Cad thinks that the Pig Wizard can help him find his people, but when the two of them return to Bea’s home, the wizard is nowhere to be found, leaving behind just the all important Endless Flame and a mysterious note. Soon, Bea and Cad are off on an adventure across the kingdom to track down the wizard. The further they travel, they more they realize that something is very wrong—Bea’s guardian may be in trouble and much of the world is slowly being clouded in eternal darkness

Long Way Down | Book by Jason Reynolds, Danica Novgorodoff | Official  Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

Long Way Down
by Jason Reynolds and illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff
Gr. 7+. Will’s older brother was shot and killed outside of their apartment building. Will is determined to follow the rules passed down to him by his brother: (1) no crying, (2) no snitching, and (3) get revenge. Will has his older brother’s gun and, early the next morning, starts down their building’s elevator to get revenge on the person he is sure is his brother’s killer. But this elevator trip is like no other, with each floor revealing a new ghost from Will’s past, all with something to say. Max Meow Book 1: Cat Crusader (9780593121054): Gallagher, John:  Books

Max Meow: Cat Crusader
by John Gallagher
Gr. 2-4. Max was just a regular cat in Kittyopolis until he accidentally bites a radioactive space meatball. Suddenly Max has super powers—flying, strength, and more–and becomes the Cat Crusader. But Max’s new superpowers make him cocky, and he quickly leaves his best friend behind in his quest to save the world.

Measuring Up: LaMotte, Lily, Xu, Ann: 9780062973863: Books

Measuring Up
by Lily LaMotte and illustrated by Ann Xu
Gr. 4-6. Cici just moved from Taiwan to Seattle with her family. She isn’t so sure about their move, especially since she will be missing her grandmother’s 70th birthday. Since she can’t go to A-ma, Cici decides to win the $1000 grand prize in a cooking competition to pay for A-ma’s plane ticket to come visit Cici in the United States. Cici loved to cook in Taiwan–she cooked with her A-ma a lot. So this should be easy–right?
The problem is, Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese food, and that isn’t going to work for every round of the competition. Can Cici find a winning recipe? And just maybe, can she make a new friend along the way? Mellybean and the Giant Monster (9780593202548): White, Mike:  Books

Mellybean and the Giant Monster
by Mike White
Gr. 2-4. Lovable pup Mellybean loves to play games, even if her three cat housemates prefer to nap while their humans are away. While preparing to bury a shoe in the backyard, Melly discovers that her hole is a bit deeper than she could have imagined. She slips through into a magical world filled with kings, knights, and even a humongous rabbit named Narra. Narra isn’t so fond of humans, as they spend their time hunting her for the gold that flakes out of her eyes. But Melly is sure not all the humans in this magical world are bad–maybe they just haven’t yet discovered the power of a Good Sit.


My Video Game Ate My Homework
by Dustin Hansen
Gr. 3-4. Dewey is prepared to ace his science project by making the world’s coolest volcano, but everything goes wrong when his friend’s new video game system swallows his project. Literally. They turned on the games virtual reality software, and the game sucked his homework into a portal. And the only way to get it back? Dewey and his friends must enter the game, get new identities—and powers—and win.

Primer: Krajewski, Thomas, Jennifer Muro, Lusky, Gretel: 9781401296575: Books

by Jennifer Muro & Thomas Krajewski and illustrated by Gretel Lusky
Gr. 8+.  Ashley has a dark past, as the child of a supervillain who used to help her dad with his crimes. In her latest foster home, she discovers her guardians have a secret–special body paint that give the wearer superpowers. Of course Ashley has to try them out, but when the news catches her performing her superhero act, a lot of people are suddenly very interested in Ashley. Real Pigeons Fight Crime (Book 1) (9780593119426): McDonald,  Andrew, Wood, Ben: Books

Real Pigeons Fight Crime
by Andrew McDonald & Ben Wood
Gr. 2-3. Have you ever looked at a pigeon? Watched it do pigeon things? Pigeons might act kind of strange, but that’s because they are busy fighting crime and saving the world. This team of pigeons will use their disguise skills, superstrength, and more to solve extremely important mysteries such as where have all the bread crumbs gone? Who is kindnapping the city’s bats? And why is there chaos at the local food truck fair?

Science Comics: Crows: Genius Birds: Vanderklugt, Kyla: 9781626728028: Books

Science Comics: Crows: Bird Geniuses
by Kyla Vanderklugt
Gr. 8+. There are many wonderful non-fiction graphic novel series, and Science Comics is an excellent place to start. Each volume introduces a different topic: dinosaurs, the solar system, bats, cats, robots, and more, with at least four or five new books published each year. Crows is a particularly fun addition to the series, where your main character—a crow—teaches a local pet dog all about what makes crows special as the two team up to track down some especially delicious treats. Learn about how crows are able to make their own tools, lead complex social lives, never forget a human face, and more.

Séance Tea Party: Yee, Reimena: 9781984894151: Books

Seance Tea Party
by Reimena Yee
Gr. 4-6. Lora feels left out as all of her friends seem to be growing up without her. Lora doesn’t want to grow up, and she is thrilled to discover a new (though also old) friend living in her house. Ghost girl Alexa is around Lora’s age, haunting Lora’s house, and just looking for a friend. The two become inseparable even as Lora begins to grow up on her own, and Alexa grows more and more curious about the past that she can’t remember. The Sewer Rat Stink (Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novel #1)  (9781338587302): Stilton, Geronimo, Angleberger, Tom, Angleberger, Tom:  Books

The Sewer Rat Stink
by Tom Angleberger & Elisabetta Dami
Gr. 2-4. You might think you know all about Geronimo Stilton, but I promise you have never seen him like this. In this all new interpretation of this familiar face, Geronimo is determined to solve another mystery. A horrible, stinky smell is taking over New Mouse City. No mouse can live like this-in fact everyone is moving out fast. Geronimo and Hercule head into the sewers beneath their home to investigate where this stench is coming from and who exactly is buying up all of the houses and businesses that have been deserted as people move out of town. Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery (9780358311850):  Treml, Renee: Books

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery
by Renee Treml
Gr. 2-4. The royal blue diamond—the world’s largest gemstone—is missing from the State Natural History Museum! It’s up to museum resident Sherlock Bones to take the case. Sherlock Bones is, well, bones. He’s a tawny frogmouth skeleton on display at the museum, assisted by his trusty sidekick, a stuffed blue Indian ringneck parrot named Watts.
The game is afoot as these two must figure out who is stealing important items from the museum and how the thieves are getting away with it. Is their new assistant, Grace—a very real racoon with a craving for chocolate—an innocent bystander or guilty of the crime? If they can’t find the missing gem, the museum may be forced to close—meaning Bones and Watts will be packed away into storage.

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer (Shirley & Jamila): Goerz, Gillian:  9780525552864: Books

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer
by Gillian Goerz
Gr. 4-6. Jamilia is getting ready for a lonely and boring summer living in a new neighborhood, until she meets longtime resident Shirley. Shirley’s a little strange and extremely perceptive, but Jamilia takes her up on her offer to get Jamilia out of science camp this summer. Soon, Jamilia is drawn into Shirley’s side job—as the neighborhood kid detective. A friendship and crime-solving partnership is born, starting with the case of the pet gecko that went missing from the local swimming pool.

Snapdragon: Leyh, Kat: 9781250171115: Books

by Kat Leyh
Gr. 4-7. When Snapdragon goes searching for her dog, they meets the local Jacks doesn’t seem to be a real witch, but she sure is different—she collects roadkill, cleans their skeletons, and sells them online. Snap finds this creepy but also a little fascinating, and when Snap finds a group of abandoned baby opossums, they immediately go to Jacks for help. But the more Snap gets to know Jacks, the more Snap realizes that Jacks may have some real magic after all.

Twins by Varian Johnson


by Varian Johnson & Shannon Wright
Gr. 4-6. Twins and best friends Maureen and Francine have always done the exact same things—until they start middle school, when Fran is determined to set herself apart form her sister. Before she knows it, Maureen’s hurt feelings spiral into anger—and suddenly the girls are running against each other for Class President. Friendship lines have been drawn—but can either twin really win if it means hurting the other?

Yen Press Announces Svetlana Chmakova's “The Weirn Books"

The Weirn Books: Be Wary of the Silent Woods
by Svetlana Chmakova
Gr. 4-6. Allis goes to a special school for children who are weirn–kids who have a supernatural astral attached to them or other special abilities. Her friends notice a light at the creepy old schoolhouse where a bunch of children disappeared a few decades before–and suddenly, kids start disappearing again. Allis and her friends are determined to figure out what happened, and rescue everyone trapped inside that haunted house.

Witches of Brooklyn: Escabasse, Sophie: 9780593119273: Books

Witches of Brooklyn
by Sophie Escabase
Gr. 4-5. Effie has lost her mom, her old home, and everyone she knows. She is dumped on the doorstep of two mysterious aunts she’s never met. The women are odd—working as herbalists and acupuncturists, creating all kinds of mysterious concoctions in the basement. Effie is just becoming comfortable with her new home and making a few new friends at school, when things take a particularly odd turn. Effie’s pop idol, musician Tily Shoo, arrives needing help. Effie learns that her aunts are well-known witches, and their magic might be the only thing that can save Tily. But as they all struggle to solve this mystery, they discover that Effie might have inherited some magic of her own.

The Worry (Less) Book: Feel Strong, Find Calm and Tame Your Anxiety by  Rachel Brian - Books - Hachette Australia

The Worry(Less) Book: Feel Strong, Find Calm and Tame Your Anxiety!
by Rachel Brian
Gr. 3-6. Everyone feels worried or anxious sometimes–but this book is here to help! Use this guide to practice identifying your anxiety and understanding how you can make sure it doesn’t control you, so you can always find your calm again.

Doc McStuffins Storytime

Doc McStuffins Storytime

Another themed Saturday storytime special, this time celebrating the one and only Doc McStuffins! I didn’t have much knowledge about the young toy doctor before my deep dive for Doc McStuffins Storytime, but I genuinely enjoyed the episodes I watched. I’m surprised she isn’t more of a focal point in pandemic times, as she has a series of songs that align perfectly for kids and current times–songs about handwashing, playing outside, and even one about not being able to hug your friends right now so you don’t spread germs.

Doc McStuffins Storytime Preview

I made another “commercial” for this program, which you can view below:

To help continue the Doc McStuffins fun at home, I curated a PDF packet that we shared with event participants. Download it here.

Doc McStuffins Storytime Video

Unlike past storytimes, I didn’t create individual YouTube videos portionsof of this storytime. Most of the storytime included a lot of Doc McStuffins music, and the internet does not need more videos of me dancing along to music without clear motions.

I am going to risk the wrath of the copyright overlords and share a video of the complete storytime. This may be removed in a few weeks, but I am particularly proud of how this storytime came together, and I think it will make more sense in its full effect:

*The storytime starts about 5 minutes into the video. We start our livestreams early to allow viewers time to login and make sure technology is working.

Doc McStuffins Storytime Outline

Little ones were encouraged to bring their own stuffed animal to storytime.

Doc McStuffins Theme Song Intro: We got ready for storytime by dancing to the original Doc McStuffins theme song.

Book: Guess Who, Doc!

Disney Doc McStuffins Guess Who, Doc! (1): Disney Doc McStuffins:  9780794430054: Books

First Patient: Stuffy

After a quick explanation of how our program was going to work, I accidentally knocked down Doc’s Big Book of Boo Boos and Doc’s stuffed dragon, Stuffy. Poor Stuffy was instantly flattened, and we had to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it.

(How to do: Stuffed Stuffy was on the bookcase. Paper Stuffy was on the floor since before storytime began. I “accidentally” knocked stuffed Stuffy onto the floor with the Big Book of Boo Boos. When I bent down, I picked up paper Stuffy. We talked through our activity and song, and then put Stuffy down so he could stomp his own feet. After the song, we picked stuffed Stuffy back up.

Doc McStuffins Storytime: Stuffy's Flat!

During Stuffy’s turn as a patient, we:

  • Gave Stuffy a checkup with our Time for Your Check Up Song.
  • Diagnosed him with Squished Flat-a-tosis.
  • Cured Stuffy by moving and grooving to shake out his stuffiness by dancing along to Doc McStuffin’s Dinosaur Stomp.

Second Patient: Gustav the Gator

Now that Stuffy was all better, we checked into our waiting room and discovered Hallie Hippo had a patient for us: Gustav the Gator! Gustav has been warned in the past by Doc about eating the right foods for him, and we had to talk to him again about foods he should sometimes eat versus foods he should always eat.

Doc McStuffins Storytime: Gustav's Getting a Check-Up!

During Gustav’s turn as a patient, we:

  • Gave Gustav a checkup with our Time for Your Check Up Song.
  • Talked to Gustav about what he ate that morning.
  • Diagnosed him with Stuffedfulliosis.
  • Taught Gustav about foods he can always eat and foods he should just eat sometimes as a special treat.

For our Always vs. Sometimes activity, I divided a magnetic cookie sheet in half, and we sorted chocolate chip cookies, apples, french fries, bananas, carrots, and ice cream (doughnuts and water were cut for time).

Doc McStuffins Storytime: Sometimes vs. Always Foods

Third Patient: Lambie

Now that Gustav was feeling a bit better, we let him rest. We were about to check in on our waiting room again, when we started to smell something odd. Lambie was covered in mud! We needed to give Lambie a bath to get her nice and clean, and then we also practiced washing our own hands.

Doc McStuffins Storytime: Lambie Needs a Bath!

During Lambie’s turn as a patient, we:

  • Gave Lambie a checkup with our Time for Your Check Up Song.
  • Diagnosed Lambie with Filthy Icky Sticky Disease.
  • Gave Lambie a bath with the song “This Is the Way We Wash Our Legs.”
  • Practiced washing our own hands to the Doc McStuffin’s Wash Your Hands song.

We sang “This Is the Way We Wash Our Legs” to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”:

This Is The Way We Wash Our Legs
This is the way we wash our legs,
Wash our legs, wash our legs.
This is the way we wash our legs,
Wash our legs, wash our legs,
When we are nice and dirty!

We continued with our arms, bellies, and heads.

Fourth Patient: Chilly

We realized that we were missing one of Doc’s friends! We hadn’t seen Chilly all morning. Doc left us a clue with a guessing game activity. We found a picture of Chilly behind a picture of a white bear, and we found the real Chilly behind the real stuffed bear in our waiting room. Chilly was a bit nervous about seeing so many people for storytime, but we helped him get over his nerves by finding ways to say hello virtually.

Doc McStuffins Storytime: We Found Chilly!

During Chilly’s turn as a patient, we:

  • Played “Chilly, Chilly, Where Do You Hide?” to find Chilly.
  • Found stuffed Chilly behind our white bear.
  • Diagnosed Chilly with a case of The Shy Guys.
  • Said “hello!” three different ways with the song “We Wave and Sing Hello!”

We played our own version of the storytime classic, Little Mouse, Little Mouse, by checking behind various toys to see where Chilly might be hiding. We used the words:

Chilly, Chilly, where do you hide?
Are you behind the _______________? Let’s look inside!

After we found Chilly, we taught him different ways to say hello:

We Wave and Sing Hello
We wave and sing hello!
We wave and sing hello!
With all our friends at storytime,
We wave and sing hello!

We continued with: Sign and Sing Hello, Smile and Sing Hello

Fifth Patient: Hallie

All this time, we had left poor Hallie in the waiting room, but we realized that she hadn’t been talking much. We found out she was very tired today, even though she slept a lot last night, and we realized she might need some exercise to get some new energy.

Doc McStuffins Storytime: Hallie Needs a Check Up!

During Hallie’s turn as a patient, we:

  • Gave Hallie a checkup with our Time for Your Check Up Song.
  • Diagnosed her with No-Talk-A-Tosis.
  • Cured Hallie by doing some exercise with the Doc McStuffin’s Ready for Action song.
  • Showed off Hallie’s talking skills (she is a squeeze and talk stuffed animal).


We wrapped things up by reviewing everyone we helped today, talking about our Doc McStuffins School of Medicine Certificates (in those Doc McStuffins At Home Packets), and dancing along to the Doc McStuffins Theme Song – Toy Hospital Edition.

I wasn’t sure about attendance at this program, as the Doc McStuffins tv show ended in April, but this was my second highest Saturday Special attendance yet (after Baby Shark). Lots of Doc love, and now that I’ve spent some time with the character, I see why.

Innovation Academy: Coding 101

The Innovation Academy series began as monthly tech programs for kids ages 8-11. Since then, it has evolved into a series that lets school-age students explore different skills, art forms, technology, and more. One of my favorite program themes is Coding 101. In just an hour, with kids with a wide range of coding skills, we covered the basics of block-based coding and how computers work.

Learn about how I made this program virtual in this post.

The PowerPoint I used during this program is below:

Inside of a Computer

We started by talking about how computers work. I have an old computer tower and some extra parts from our computer services department. We discussed what each piece did. The kids loved getting their hands on all of the small parts and looking at them up close.

Eventually, our conversation shifted from hardware to software, which led us to coding.

Group Coding Practice – Jelly Sandwich

After talking through some coding vocabulary, we discovered key coding concepts by completing a group activity. I was the “robot” and the kids told me, step by step, how to make a jelly sandwich.

Things quickly got quite ridiculous. The kids always seem to start this activity by telling me to “get some bread” or “open the bread” which leads to me promptly tearing open a bag of bread in a way that causes bread slices to fly everywhere.

Afterwards, we discussed how this activity connects to the coding practice they will be doing later. The kids catch on quickly to coding skills such as having to be very specific and learning that they will spend time making and correcting mistakes–and that is okay.

Activity 1: Drawing with Dash

I have been presenting fewer technology programs lately. I’m burnt out on them, and I think a lot of my growing disinterest is doing the same activities over and over again. My regular kids get bored, and so do I. We can only do so many obstacle courses. There are only so many challenges that the kids find fun that also work well for a mixture of kids with differing abilities. Every program, I have those few kids who have attended every one of my technology programs, mixed in with those kids who have never heard of the word “coding.”

This month, I pulled out an activity I have done before, but with a bit of a twist. We used Dash robot LEGO connectors and rubber bands to build a marker attachment for Dash. This takes a majority of the activity time, though there is always that one group that eventually realizes that two rubber bands will work just as well to hold a marker in a standing position as the most elaborate LEGO arm.

After attaching their marker, kids then pulled a variety of drawing challenges out of a jar. They used the Blockly coding app to try to create everything from letters to simple shapes to more elaborate and ridiculous creations (like a sloth or a banana–which end up with some interesting pictures).

Activity 2: Sphero Bocee Ball

This was a first-time activity for me and a smash hit with attendees. Kids worked in pairs to play an abbreviated version of bocee ball. The goal: get your SPRK+ robot as close as possible to the center of the target as possible.

All teams started in the same place. Once the game started, no one could stand in the playing field or physically touch any robots. Robots can hit other robots, (hopefully) pushing them away from the target. Robots can only be moved via code through the Sphero EDU app.

Each round was timed carefully to keep things moving.

Pairs had two minutes to practice their strategy and familiarize themselves with block-based coding via the Sphero EDU app. Giving the kids practice time was vital to let them realize exactly how far the robot could go in a short amount of time at a high speed.

The competing pairs played a round of rock, paper, scissors. The winning team decided whether they wanted to go first or second.

The team going first had one minute to finalize their code. After Team One’s turn, the second team then had another minute to work on their code.

We repeated this for three rounds.

Kids got very competitive trying to see who could get their robot closest to the center of the target (preferably knocking other robots out of the way in the process).

Book Talk – 5th Grade Reads

My library has a fantastic relationship with our local school district. We regularly partner with teachers, principals, and entire school buildings in variety of ways, from daily public library delivery and end of year summer reading assemblies to quarterly book talk and storytime visits.

I love book talking in classrooms–it gives me an opportunity to talk to a captive room of kids about the library, but it also provides me with a chance to talk to students about what they want to see their library offer and about the kind of books they really like. It also gives me a chance to show that yes I have read the newest Dog Man, and I can discuss the evolution of Petey’s character throughout the series. No, librarians don’t just say shush and only read the “classics” you are forced to read in school, thank you very much random Westerville third grader.

Our book talks vary from school to school and classroom to classroom, but on average we talk to 50-100 kids at a time, typically all of the students in one grade at that school, for about 30 minutes. I bring along a PowerPoint that includes visuals to help students see the books that I am holding up (especially in those rooms with 100+ kids). We all bring bookmarks for each student with the cover of the books we are highlighting as well as information about library services and upcoming programs.

Watch Virtual Reader’s Advisory videos, including 5th grade book talk videos, in this post.

Selecting Book Talk Titles

My powerpoint for this week’s fifth grade presentation is displayed above. A lot of these books overlap books I would recommend to fourth graders, as we are still at the beginning of the school year.

I am very particular about how I curate the collection of books I select for a particular book talk. Our marketing team recently revamped the bookmarks we distribute at these visits, so we have to present either 6 or 9 books. My ideal 30 minute book talk is 7-8 books, but I am settling into book talking 9 titles each time I visit.

Each of my book talk collections must include:

  • Fiction and nonfiction (typically 5 fiction and 4 nonfiction)
  • At least 2 graphic novels, preferably at least 1 fiction and 1 nonfiction
  • At least 1 book with a male main character
  • At least 1 book with a female main character
  • At least 2 books with diverse main characters (preferably more)
  • At least 1 school story/realistic fiction title
  • At least 1 fantasy/science-fiction title
  • I have to have read every title.

I also like to include at least one creepy book, one book with cute things (often animals), and, for grades 2-3, one book about poop or farts. These requirements are more personal preference than standards I hold myself to.

Some books can overlap many of these categories–for example, The New Kid by Jerry Craft is one of my favorite book talkers, and that book has a diverse male main character, is a graphic novel, and is a school story.

I focus on selecting books that are good but that are also books kids will like. The Gamer Squad series is definitely not going to win any awards, but Pokemon Go is still quite popular where I live, and the kids respond positively to that series. I want to see kids reading, and I want to connect them with a book that actually sounds appealing to them. In my experience, kids pick up fun, new books with situations they can relate to than books that are beating the reader over the head with “important topics” or books that I remember from my childhood (which are often outdated and sometimes filled with problematic plots–Maniac Magee, anyone?).

5th Grade Reads

This particular book talk was designed for 85 5th Graders during their first quarter in school. After talking about library services and upcoming programs, I book talked the following nine titles:

I’m not going to type my book talk blurb for all of these (because this post is already pretty long), but my spiel for my favorite is below. This is also a great book to promote in October in general.

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

If there was ever a perfect book talk title, this is it. It is the perfect combination of horror and mystery, with an excellent cliffhanger to leave students wanting more.

Ollie is riding her bike home from school, when she finds a strange woman yelling by a river. The woman is holding a book and threatening to throw it into the river. Ollie likes books and manages to distract the woman long enough to rescue the book and ride away. When she gets home, she discovers the book is a little strange–it is called “Small Spaces” and appears to be a diary about two brothers from a long time ago who loved the same woman. One of the brothers dies, and the other brother makes a deal with a smiling man to bring him back to life.

Ollie shrugs the creepy story and goes to school the next day. Her class is going on a field trip to a local farm. Things start to get strange. Ollie discovers that the woman who runs the farm is the same woman she saw by the river. While wandering on the property, Ollie discovers three hidden gravestones, with the same names as the two brothers and the woman from the book she rescued. Even stranger yet, their substitute bus driver is very odd–he just keeps repeating “avoid large spaces, stick to small.” Over and over and over again.

Ollie is relieved to leave the farm with her class, but as they drive away, their bus starts to slow down and eventually breaks down. It is getting darker, and no one’s cell phones have a signal. Their teacher decides to walk back to the farm to get help. It keeps getting darker and foggier, and the bus driver just keeps saying “avoid large spaces, stick to small.”

Ollie is very nervous now. She glances down at her digital watch. This watch is very important to her–her mom was wearing it when she died a year ago, and Ollie has been wearing it ever since. The kids on the bus are being loud–their teacher is gone after all–and no else seems to notice that it is much too dark and much too foggy for early evening. Ollie looks down at the cracked screen of her digital watch, and instead of numbers, it shows one word: RUN.

So she does.

(Insert gasps from the entire classroom here, followed by groans as I tell them to pick up the book.)

Book talking is a great way to help alert students and teachers to awesome new titles they might be interested in (I’ve had two teachers use Small Spaces as a classroom read after my book talk). It is also a fun way to show kids that libraries are more than books and librarians don’t just read the stuffy books kids associate with classroom assignments–we read the fun stuff too, and we enjoy them (I am the first hold on every new Dog Man release). It is extremely rewarding for everyone when a kid stops by the library specifically to ask for books a librarian brought to their classroom, and then sees that same librarian while they are visiting. They can chat about all kinds of awesome books and programs and topics–and, hopefully, that kid leaves thinking of the library as a welcoming place filled with interesting books and people.

Book Review Tuesday

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

Agent Moose by Mo O’Hara (graphic novel)
Gr. 2-3. Agent Moose (aka Anonymoose) recently lost his credibility after claiming the moon was moon-napped during a lunar eclipse. Instead of solving his 100th case, Agent Moose and his assistant Owlfred became the joke of Woodland HQ. To make things worse, they both have to attend Camo Chameleon’s Party–celebrating Camo Chameleon’s 100th case solved! The party isn’t all play, however–Anonymoose and Owlfred also have to track down a missing animal, Terrance Turtle, a key witness in a recent robbery (solved by none other than Camo Chameleon). But when Anonymoose and Owlfred arrive at the party and start talking to witnesses of the turtle-napping, all is not as it seems…

Another great readalike for fans of Dog Man, Agent Moose is sure to be a winner with kids looking for animal crime-solving humor. Lots of fun disguises and puns paired with cute illustrations and an easy setup for a longer series. Will be recommending.

Grandpa Grumps by Katrina Moore (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Daisy is so excited to meet her Yeh Yeh (grandfather), visiting from China for the first time. She has so many great ideas for all of the ways they will have fun together…but he seems really grumpy. Daisy is about to give up on getting a smile from him before he goes home, when the two finally bond while cooking together.

Adorable depiction of family dynamics, especially when cultural differences are added to the mix. Sweet ending that may invite a welcome sequel.

I Am Brown by Ashok K. Banker (picture book)
Gr. PreS-1. Gorgeous! Stars brown children from around the world showing all of the different, amazing things that they do, the clothes they wear, the places they are from, the languages they speak, and more. Vibrant, warm colors keep the reader engaged. Holds a wonderful, uplifting message about the normalcy and awesomeness of being brown.

I Love Us: A Book About Family by Luisa Uribe (board book)
Toddler-PreS. Board book depicts various families having fun together. Features diversity in skin color and family makeup (kids raised by grandparents, single parent homes, possibly a family with two dads (not clear)). I would’ve preferred this book in a larger, picture book format, as the words and detailed illustrations would work well for a preschool storytime. Includes a mirror at the end, followed by a blank family tree encouraging readers to add the names of people they love.

In the Garden by Emma Guiliani (nonfiction)
Gr. 1-3. Siblings Plum and Robin explore and take care of their garden all year long. This physically giant book is filled with flaps for additional learning, letting readers see inside of fruits and flowers and get a peak underground. Plenty of interesting info on what tasks need to be completed in a garden during each season as well as how plants grow. Rare nonfiction book starring diverse kids.

Internet Animal Stars by Rebecca Felix (nonfiction)
Gr. 1-2. Simple facts about various animals, with a focus on their Internet popularity.

While this series is cute and definitely has cover appeal, I do wonder about their longevity. Animal facts are sparse, with not quite enough details to cover the required information for the average animal project. The design has a definite rainbows-and-cuddles Lisa Frank vibe without looking too dated (for the current moment anyway). I’m not sure how long that style, or the chapter starring animal memes (“meme break!”), will stay relevant. Still, it is pretty darn cute.

Jake the Fake Keeps His Cool by Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach
Gr. 4-5. Jake’s mom is pregnant! Jake isn’t sure what this means for him–will his parent’s stop paying attention to him now that he will be the middle child? Will the baby keep him up all night? Will Jake have to share his room? Jake quickly gets distracted by a new, pretty classmate that Jake is desperate to impress, even if that means stretching the truth about his cooking and haircutting skills.

I still enjoy this series, even if neither sequel reached quite the same hilarity as the first book. This book felt a little more disjointed than previous titles in the series, with the baby storyline only appearing when it needed to make a point. Even with that, I appreciate any own voices books that are great readalikes for fans of Wimpy Kid and Big Nate.

Leap Frog by Jane Clarke (picturebook)
Gr. PreS-K. Tiny Felix Frog is trying to make his way home across the jungle. Along the way, he runs into a variety of rainforest critters whose unique sounds make Felix jump! Help Felix make his way home by counting, bouncing, and repeating phrases before turning each page.

Vivid illustrations with bright colors make this a storytime standout. Turn the animal-sound reveals into a guessing game for preschoolers or kindergarteners, especially if paired with a non-fiction rainforest or jungle animal title.

Mia Mayhem and the Super Family Field Day by Kara West (first chapter book)
Gr. 1-3. Mia Mayhem finally gets to see her superhero parents in action when her Program for In Training Superheroes (the PITS) hosts a family field day. Mia knows everything is for fun, but she really would like to win that trophy…

I adore the Mia Mayhem series SO MUCH. At their heart, these are well-written, fun first chapter books combining superhero antics with everyday elements of growing up, including friendship struggles, balancing home and school, overcoming challenges, wanting to win, and more. The diversity in our young superheroes is unparalleled, with Mia having close friends of not just different races, but a friend who is blind (with a super guide dog) and a friend who has two prosthetic legs. We learn in this book that one of her friends has two dads. And its all so seamlessly included in the text that this series is far from issues books–they are just kids in everyday (superhero) situations.

Mummy, What’s In Your Tummy? by Bernadita Romero (board book)
Toddler-PreS. In this board book, a child imagines what might be growing in his mummy’s tummy. Originally published in Chile in Spanish and translated to English. I wonder if the translation has to do with the inclusion of a whale as one of the animal guesses–a logical guess for a small child, but maybe not a word every expecting mom wants to use to describe her belly? (Or an elephant for that matter…) Diverse family featured throughout.

Rockin’ Rockets: The Adventures of Allie and Amy by Stephanie Calmenson (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Allie and Amy are are inseparable, until new girl Gracie moves into their neighborhood. Gracie doesn’t want to come between Allie and Amy, but when Gracie is only allowed to have one friend over at a time, she is forced to choose. When Gracie accidentally promises both Allie and Amy her extra ticket to the Rockin’ Rockets concert, suddenly Allie and Amy are fighting over who gets to go, and their status as best-friends-forever is in question.

The Allie and Amy series is cute, if a little shallow. I appreciate the diverse friend group and that the girls live in apartments (something not often shown in kid’s lit). I wish their friendship struggles had been more fleshed out in this book, as these kinds of fights do happen in real life, and they aren’t often resolved by getting an additional free ticket because your other neighbor just happens to be the mysterious new drummer in your favorite band. A good readalike for the more nuanced Craftily Ever After and Miranda and Maude series.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat: Sing Along with Me! by Nosy Crow (board book)
Baby-Toddler. Cute, though short, board book adaptation of the song Row, Row, Row Your Boat. The chunky sliders and pull tabs will appeal to babies and toddlers and are sturdy enough for repeated circulation. I prefer Jane Cabrera’s adaptation for storytime purposes, as it has very similar verses with larger, less dense illustrations. The interactivity and small details make this ideal for a one-on-one reading.

Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-5. Lora feels left out as all of her friends seem to be growing up without her. Lora doesn’t want to grow up, and she is thrilled to discover a new (though also old) friend living in her house. Ghost girl Alexa is around Lora’s age, haunting Lora’s house and just looking for a friend. The two become inseparable even as Lora begins to grow up on her own, and Alexa grows more and more curious about the past that she can’t remember.

Beautifully illustrated and filled with all the feels, Séance Tea Party is a sweet story about how friendships change, what it means to grow up, and keeping the magic of childhood alive. Be prepared for a bittersweet, authentic ending that may leave you tearing up.

Speak Up by Miranda Paul (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. When you see something that doesn’t feel right, when you make a mistake, when you can help someone in need, use your voice and speak up!

While this book’s message is simple, it approaches kindness, activism, and using your voice in a tone perfect for preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first graders. The book shows real situations kids may face in school such as a teacher mispronouncing a classmate’s name, kids spreading rumors that mud on a child’s pants is really something else, litter covering the playground, classmates goofing around, and more. A diverse class reflects the faces of real kids who spoke up and made a difference, as shown in the last few pages along with brief information on how those kid’s made a difference in the real world. Perfect choice for a kindergarten storytime.

Target: Earth (Klawde, Evil Alien Warlord Cat) by Johnny Marciano and Emily Chenoweth
Gr. 3-4. Klawde,–the Evil Alien Warlord Cat from Planet Lytterbox trapped on Earth as punishment–is moving on to another evil scheme. Klawde has decided to take over his new home–Earth. Using the technology skills of his evil minion cat, Klawde programs a new cybercurrency, Kitcoin, and uses his new wealth to buy virtual reality headsets that allow him to control Earth’s squirrels. Combine those headsets with a dozen or so satellites, and Klawde is on his way to world domination. Except, humans aren’t quite as easy to conquer as Klawde might believe.

Ridiculous and funny, this is a perfect step-up series for fans of Dog Man, Captain Underpants, and even Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The balance of Klawde’s evil villain commentary and Raj’s everyday concerns (and fear of and love for his all-powerful cat) keep reader’s engaged and eager to know what will happen next. Cute messages about friendship and technology make this series feel a little preachy, but that is easily pushed aside when paired with Klawde’s pure villainy. Looking forward to many more Klawde adventures.

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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Five Little Ducks: First Book of Nursery Games by Ailie Busby (board book)
Ages 1-5. A collection of rhymes, old and new, commonly used at library storytimes. I appreciate that this is not a collection of Mother Goose Rhymes, which, while developmentally appropriate, are often quite dated in vocabulary and content. This does feature old favorites, like Five Little Ducks and This Little Piggy, but also includes rhymes that feel a bit more modern like Zoom, Zoom, Zoom and I Had a Little Turtle (his name was Tiny Tim). A great companion book to send home with parents after a storytime.

I appreciate the diversity in the illustrations–there is even a little one in a wheelchair depicted. Except, the attempts at diversifying feel a bit pushed aside by the inclusion of “I Have Ten Little Fingers” — not all children do. Other words were changed throughout the book for a modern audience, and this rhyme could have benefited from a change of the word “ten” to the word “my.”

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I Love My Tutu Too! by Ross Burach (board book)
Ages Toddler-PreS. Ten animals are ready to show off their fantastic tutus in this funny, rhyming, counting book filled with wordplay fun.

Ohhh I liked this! I love any book with a rhythm, and this one has that, plus vibrant colors, so much wordplay fun, and counting on each page that will help toddlers stay focused during a storytime. I’m looking forward to using this one in a virtual storytime soon.

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Max and the Midknights: Battle of the Bodkins by Lincoln Peirce
Gr. 3-4. Max is back! Though, she isn’t so sure about knight school at the moment–everyone seems to be doing so much better than her, and her teacher definitely has it out for girls. Her friends all seem to be discovering their passions–Kevyn even started a library! But when Millie uses magic to make identical copies of Kevyn’s first book, one of those copies turns out strange–and releases an evil force into Byjovia! Suddenly evil twins–bodkins–are running rampant, and it is up to Max and the Midknights to sort out good from evil and once again save the day.

I needed a visit with Max and the Midknights! Not quite as fun as the first book, but still an enjoyable listen.

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My Friend! by Taye Diggs (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Two best friends celebrate their friendship with a secret handshake, playground games, music fun, and holding one another accountable.

I love the scene where one of our lead characters holds his friend accountable for purposely tripping another kid in gym class. That isn’t okay, and this book shows a great example of how to call out a friend.

But, while I love the vibrancy of the illustrations, I am concerned about the skin color of the girl who appears of Asian descent (during the Chinese Checkers game scene (the only scene where this character appears in full (which also raises a question for me), though that skin tone is used elsewhere for hands reaching into a scene, for example)). The coloring is clearly yellow (with a white kid across from her with distinctly paler skin). I think much of this is due to the vibrancy of the color palette used throughout, but her skin color is really similar to the color of the Chinese Checkers board and even her bright yellow dress. While her eyes appear to be of the same shape as other kids on the page, her skin color makes me concerned. Yellow skin on Asian characters isn’t okay.

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Nico Bravo and the Cellar Dwellers by Mike Cavallaro (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Nico Bravo’s adventures continue as a returning visitor to Vulcan’s Celestial Supply Shop gets mixed up with a villain determined to steal a secret artifact. Suddenly, a “Misery”, with the ability to turn everyone to stone, has been released from the God of Misfortune’s pouch, and Nico has to adventure farther than ever before to try to save the shop (and the world). But with multiple universes colliding–will Nico discover an even bigger secret about where he came from?

A fun continuation of Nico’s adventures. There is a great pace to these books that will keep fantasy-loving readers engaged.


Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham (picture book)
Gr. PreS+. “Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed. Everyone who went outside…went inside.”

The experience we are all living, pulled together in such a simple, beautiful book. The word virus isn’t used until the back matter–neither are the words “covid”, “quarantine”, or “vaccine.” But the message is clear and beautiful and–well it made me cry, and it will probably make you cry too. Wonderful recognition of and dedication to those first responders and essential workers whose sacrifices are always saving lives.

The hardest part of reading this right now is the clearly hopeful message at the end–where spring comes, and we can all be inside – and outside – together again. I hope this book sends us the luck we need that come springtime, this ending fold-out spread proves true. I’m saving this one for that first in-person storytime many months from now. <3

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Rise Up and Write It: With Real Mail, Posters, and More! by Nandini Ahuja (picture book)
Gr. 1-2. Farah wants to bring the butterflies back to her neighborhood. After some research, she learns that butterflies need flowers. Her neighborhood has lots of great people, and many great places to find food, but few flowers. Farah and her friends are determined to convince the city to turn the local lot into a community garden–and they work as a team writing letters, creating a petition, holding a community meeting, and more along the way.

I love this book, though, from a librarian perspective, it irritates me to no end. This is an excellent story and would be my go-to book for young activists. It has great examples of how a kid and a community can make change and physical pieces that show those steps–a sample letter, a sample petition, a flyer advertising a community meeting, a sign to hold at a protest. But the way these physical pieces are included–as lose items inside of “pocket” envelopes inside the book–makes this nearly impossible to circulate. Could this be re-printed with a library edition where those pieces are illustrations instead of lose parts?

I’m going to try to make it work for a program anyway, but it is frustrating that I can’t recommend it to patrons since they can’t check it out.

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Snap!: Stick Out Your Tongue by Bob Barner (board book)
Ages Toddler-PreS. Learn a simple fact about five animals who have unique tongues. Pull a tab to see the animal’s tongue and let the tab go for a satisfying “snap” back into place.

This is really cute and feels surprisingly durable. Filled with Bob Barner’s illustrations and vibrant colors, the board book on its own would hold a young child’s attention, but the unique snapping tabs make the book even more intriguing. Hoping for more in this format.

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Stella’s Stellar Hair by Yesenia Moises (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Stella’s hair just isn’t right. Today’s the Big Star Little Gala, and she needs her hair to look perfect. But…what can she do to fix it? There is only one thing to do: hop on her hoverboard and surf the solar system, visiting her aunties for some help finding a new hair style.

This book is gorgeous. Bright and vivid illustrations, a beautiful cast of characters, and an empowering message about loving your hair and yourself. And author/illustrator Moises goes even further above and beyond with back matter connecting each hair style with each planet Stella visits. This book sets high standards for all the picture books to come in 2021.

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Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Old Swashby likes his peaceful life by the sea, but when neighbors move in, they make noise. And want his attention. And they take up room on his beach. Can Swashby convince them to go away, so he can get his quiet back? Or does the sea have other ideas?

This is cute! Grisly Captain Swashby is quite a character, well matched with the young girl who slowly becomes his friend. Fun wordplay in the illustrations as the ocean meticulously deletes just a few letters from each of Swashby’s messages in the sand.

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Tiara’s Hat Parade by Kelly Starling Lyons (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Tiara’s Momma makes gorgeous hats, but when another hat store puts Momma out of business, Momma is determined to lock her dreams away forever. Can Tiara figure out a way to help her Momma make her dream a reality again?

Such a sweet story about the relationship between a mother and daughter as well as keeping hold of your dreams. Make sure to check out the author’s note and back matter for additional perspective and details on famous Black milliners.


The True Definition of Neva Beane by Christine Kendall
Gr. 4-6. Neva Beane has a lot going on. First, she is twelve, and her body is changing. She has to wear a bra now, and while she is happy with how her body looks, she isn’t sure how she feels about how other people react to her as she gets older.

Second, her best friend Jamila is going on an amazing trip to see her extended family–all while Neva’s parents have left Neva and her brother with their grandparents while Neva’s parents travel internationally on a music tour. Also, her brother Clayton is busy with activist work that Neva doesn’t fully understand, and her grandparents don’t seem to support. Her grandparents aren’t much help generally–their old fashioned views seem to make it harder for Neva to find new friends and figure out where she belongs.

Neva has one thing to keep her grounded–her trusted dictionary, which helps her understand the new words and ideas always being tossed her way. Can Neva figure out how to be herself–and who she really is?

I really enjoyed this slice of life book about a budding young activist determined to understand the world around her on her journey of self-discovery. Author Kendall provides a great voice for Neva who struggles in ways that are honest but also not often discussed in kid’s lit–especially some of those realities of younger girls experiencing puberty. Will be looking for more!


The Un-Fairy by Melody Mews (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Itty Bitty has a new friend to help: fairy Bree! All the fairies in Lollyland have very particular jobs, but Bree just isn’t enjoying her life in the kitchen. Itty Bitty is determined to help her new friend find the perfect job for her.

Another cute Itty Bitty adventure! This series is sure to please with its friendship-filled stories, messages about kindness, and kitty, unicorn, fairy, and glitter-filled illustrations.

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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The Alphabet’s Alphabet by Chris Harris and Dan Santat (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. The letters of the alphabet are each unique–but they have a lot of similarities too! Just like the way you might look a little like members of your family, all of the letters share some small details with other letters. After all, isn’t an A just a H that couldn’t stand up straight?

This is a cute book exploring shapes, lines, and letters. I wouldn’t give this to a child that isn’t completely confident in their ability to recognize and write letters, as the images morphing one letter into another are very likely to confuse a preschooler. I was a little disappointed with some of the examples–K felt a little hard for me wrap my head around, and S’s lack of a letter buddy felt a little disappointing. Older kids may explore making the letter comparisons, and this could easily evolve into an art lesson exploring the alphabet.

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Animals at Large by Patricia Reilly Giff and Abby Carter (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Tori is excited to have her cousin, Sumiko, come to visit Tori’s home on Zoo Lane this summer. But things are getting a little strange at the zoo–there are rumors of a missing animal, but Tori can’t quite catch word of what, exactly, is on the loose. Combine a missing animal with strange noises coming from Tori’s backyard–definitely a friend pulling a prank–and there are plenty of mysteries for the local zoo kids to solve.

Another book in the Zoo Lane series. These books are a great fit for animal lovers just moving from beginning readers to first chapter books, with extra large text and black-and-white illustrations. The plot is a little tedious, especially with the “mystery” of what animal is missing from the zoo–a zoo with a real missing animal would send out a lot more notice than one posted flyer–and at any point Tori could have just asked any adult what was going on. Advanced first grade readers will enjoy the predictable quietness of this book, but I’m not sure the series will hold appeal with older readers.

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Attack of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman and Pete Oswald (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Young Cole is thrilled to be a new Assistant Knight of the Round Table. When the mighty Underwear Dragon defeats every real knight, it is up to Cole to try to save the day.

This had the potential to be cute and funny (dragons! underwear!), but I feel like I was left with a lot of unanswered questions. Why was the dragon wearing underwear? Why did we focus on the fact the dragon couldn’t read but never return to that? If the princess could knock Cole out with one punch, why didn’t she fight the dragon? If the dragon defeated all the knights, including the one that trained Cole, how, exactly, was Cole able to use their training to save the day? I’m sure I’m reading too much into this, but I was left more puzzled after reading.

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Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann (nonficion)
Gr. K-2. Follow a summer honeybee through its 35-day lifecycle–from birth to helping the hive and finally flying, exploring the world, and bringing back the tools needed to produce honey for the colony.

Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann once again make an amazing team, creating an educational and visually engaging book through a story that would work well as a read-aloud. The oil painting illustrations almost make me want to look at bees more in nature (almost–bugs are definitely not my thing). The continued question about if the bee is ready for flying serves as a great hook to keep young readers and listeners engaged.

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I Like Animals … What Jobs Are There? by Steve Martin and Roberto Blefari (nonfiction)
Gr. 3-4. A fun exploration of twenty-five jobs involving working with animals. I appreciate the variety of jobs shared here. So many of these kinds of books focus on jobs that, in reality, are a bit more obscure–like puppy bowl referee or panda keeper. This collection spans from jobs a kid may be able to have right now (like dog walker or pet sitter) to jobs that are more common (pet vet, dog groomer, and pet adoption counselor) and still some jobs that are competitive but not quite as rare (pet portrait artist, animal actor agent, and wildlife filmmaker). Each page or spread contains a simplified “day in the life” of someone with that job as well as the best and worst parts of the selected career.

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If Your Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. A child writes a letter–a book–to invite aliens to come to earth and give them a glimpse of what they might encounter.

Sophie Blackall creates a beautiful summation of earth with her recognizable artwork. While the message is lovely, for something inspired by Blackall’s work traveling the globe, I wish there had been a bit more diversity present here. There are different cultures and races depicted, but the actions feel very white and western-centered (a picnic in a park, sitting around a dinner table, the clothing and structure of students in a classroom, and more).

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Kits, Cubs, and Calves by Suzie Napayok-Short (nonfiction)
Gr. 2-3. Akuluk visits her family in Nunavut off of the Arctic Ocean. While she doesn’t know what to expect at first, she is quickly swept away into the magic of nature, learning about beluga whales, polar bears, and even seagulls.

A beautiful book that follows a family as they teach about and discover a plethora of Arctic animals and talk about the need to respect nature. While the story is engaging, there is a lot of content here, making this a little long for a readaloud, but great for one-on-one reading with a child already fascinated by Arctic animals.

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Let’s Dance! by Valerie Bolling and Maine Diaz (picture book)
Gr. Toddler-Preschool. Groove along with young dancers showing off a variety of dance moves, often in culturally specific clothing. Try the moves yourself before learning more about each dance with details in the back of the book.

A good in-person toddler or preschool storytime pick. (I don’t think I could attempt some of these moves on camera with just the top half of my body showing in a virtual storytime.) I might choose to have separate notes from the backmatter to talk about while sharing the different dance moves to provide a little more context about what is going on in each spread.

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The Old Truck by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey
Gr. 1-2. Follow life on a small farm through the aging of a truck that is already old when our story begins. Over a lifetime of hard work, that truck, and the family who owns it, age, grow, and change. The weather and the increasing age of the young girl turned woman show the passing of time, but other details do as well–the size of the trees in the background, the seasonal yellowing of grass and plants, and the way the color of the wood of the barn fades over time. In addition to the simple story enhanced by the illustrations, it also breaks stereotypes by featuring a diverse family and a young girl who eventually takes over the farm. This is a gem I haven’t seen much buzz about, but I hope it gets some recognition come award season.


The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam (picture book)
Gr. 3-4. A wordless picture book following a family escaping war-torn Vietnam through a small fishing boat. The family tale is woven together with a family of ants also making their own journey across the water in a paper boat.

While the illustrations are powerful, especially when examined again through the lens of the author’s note, this book didn’t speak to me quite as much as I had hoped. By transferring the illustrations to ants instead of people once they entered the boat, some of the harder parts of the journey may be easier for young eyes to examine. However, the shift in narration felt a bit confusing in the moment, until looked at again during a re-reading. For older elementary or middle school readers.

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Rent A Boyfriend by Gloria Chao (teen)
Gr. 10+. Chloe just wants her parents to stop trying to set her up with Hongbo–a very wealthy guy from their community who is also, well, quite an asshole. Her parents have taken wishes of a courtship a step further, regularly talking about Chloe’s marriage to a person she despises. Chloe has told them, again and again, how much she despises her supposed suitor, but no one will listen. So, she tries a new tactic. She hires a fake boyfriend through Rent for Your ‘Rents, a company specialized in providing fake dates to impress traditional Asian parents.

Drew’s parents cut him off after he dropped out of college to pursue his passion for art. Being a Rent for Your ‘Rents employee (or “operative”) keeps the bills paid while also letting Drew pursue his dreams while never having to do more than hold a stranger’s hand and say the right words (though those can be tricky depending the parent you are impressing).

Chloe meets Drew on the way to her parents’ house for Thanskgiving, prepared to use him to convince her parents that they can stop pressuring her to accept Hongbo’s proposal. Neither of them expects sparks to fly–or for them to want to get to know the person hiding behind each other’s mask.

This was fun! I’m always ready for a fake-boyfriend trope, and this one delivers that but also so much more. The romance is predictable (maybe a little too predictable in places), but there are some great conversations about toxic parent-child relationships, specifics to the Asian American immigrant parent-child relationship, and a lot of much-needed dialogue about how dropping out of college isn’t something to look down on. I wish Drew had a bit more personality? Dynamic? I love that he lets Chloe take the lead and recognizes that she doesn’t need saving, but he had a right to be very frustrated at multiple points, and instead his answer was always “I am here for you; how can I help.” That is wonderful–and something lacking in so many teen romance books–but there is also a point where it seems a bit over the top. No one in a relationship needs to be fully self-sacrificing. While their relationship sometimes felt one-dimensional, their text banter was always outstanding. I sort of wish the entire book had occurred via text. Will be loved by teen romance readers looking for more books with the energy of When Dimple Met Rishi or even new adult romance readers who don’t mind if their romance reads don’t contain much physical intimacy.

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Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin (picture book)
Gr. K-2. An eight-year-old is about five times as tall as this book–but an ostrich is taller than two eight-year-olds standing on each other’s shoulders! But of course an ostrich isn’t as tall as a giraffe, which isn’t as tall as an oak tree. But even the tallest tree–a redwood–is dwarfed by the Eiffel tower. The tallest skyscraper is tiny compared to Mount Everest–but even Mount Everest doesn’t reach outer space.

I’ve heard a lot about this book, and I understand why! Chin blends a picture book about size with an epic nonfiction story giving us a glimpse of our place in the universe. Make sure to read the whole thing before choosing this one for a readaloud–I thought about trying to make this work for preschool storytime, but it does get a little more dense once it enters the scale of galaxies, galaxy clusters, and the cosmic web (not a bad thing–just shows the intended audience of the book). Small factoids and labels add additional content to each page, and back matter extends the experience with even more details and a list of sources.

2020 Mid-Year Review: What Am I Reading?

You might have noticed from those What Are You Reading? posts that I read. A lot. I read a lot of picture books (which I know many people don’t count in reading totals). I also read a lot of graphic novels, which can generally be considered “faster” reads than chapter books. But, even with those considerations, I know I read a lot.

I’m privileged in the time I can dedicate to reading–I only work one job and reading is directly related to that job (though not something I really ever get to do on the job). My job gives me easy access to free books, without having to go out of my way to pick them up or even to track down a list of new releases. I don’t have kids or the responsibilities that come up with taking care of young people. Even though I go through slumps, I genuinely enjoy reading. And I’ve had particularly a lot of time for it during the pandemic.

I pride myself on reading books featuring diverse characters. I didn’t really do this as a child, beyond the books that won awards or were regularly in recommendations from school and public librarians. I didn’t think about what the characters in my books looked like until I started library school. (More privilege. I’m just chock-full of that.) I had some pretty phenomenal professors that pointed my head in the right direction, and since then, especially in that last few years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to read diverse kids books.

I know that I’ve made a specific effort to book talk titles featuring diverse characters–though, now that I look again at my process, 3/9 isn’t as high a ratio of diverse books to white/non-human books as I would like. Especially when I put the research in and discover that two of those three books are written by white authors. I’ve been trying to correct that by focusing exclusively on own voices in more recent video book talks — but I’ve already felt the itch to book talk a non-own voices book, and I’m afraid once I open myself to that, I’ll once again not promote own voices books as much as I should.

I also know that my storytimes do not feature enough diversity. I tend to blame this on my typical age group–babies–and the overall lack of books that I really feel is ideal for those wiggling one-year-olds. While the industry definitely has issues, that lack of diversity in my storytimes is squarely on me, and something I’m looking at.

So what is this post about? I want to look at what I’ve actually read so far in 2020.

If anyone has a recommendation on how to do this that is simpler than creating a spreadsheet and reviewing each title one at a time, please let me know. I mark a lot of these things through Goodreads shelves, though, for reasons I do not understand, Goodreads will not show me all of the books I read this year in a way that was easily sortable–it kept dropping off the last 100, which left me with incomplete data.

My own voices data is particularly questionable, as it is subject to searching for a Google image of an author I wasn’t sure of, and then going to their author website if I still wasn’t sure, or if I was genuinely surprised by their whiteness (more often than not unfortunately). I’m hoping to rectify this by making this a more regular effort instead of trying to quickly sort 720 books in one weekend.

Some of the data doesn’t quite add up the way you would imagine, as some books are in multiple categories. For example, there are some picture books and graphic novels also tagged as non-fiction titles.

The breakdown is below.

Mid-Year 2020 Reading Statistics

  • Format/Intended Age:
    • 329 Picture Books (46%)
      • 129 diverse main characters (39% of picture books)
    • 191 Graphic Novels (27%)
      • 44 diverse main characters (23% of graphic novels)
    • 80 First Chapter Books (11%)
      • 45 diverse main characters (56% of first chapter books)
    • 50 Beginning Readers (7%)
      • 20 diverse main characters (40% of beginning readers)
    • 34 Juvenile Fiction Chapter Books (5%)
      • 13 diverse main characters (35% of juvenile fiction)
    • 8 Teen Fiction Books (1%)
      • 4 diverse main characters (50%)
    • 4 Adult Fiction Books (0.5%)
      • 0 diverse main characters (0%)
  • Fiction/Non-Fiction/Genre:
    • 66 Non-fiction (9%)
      • 29 contain diversity in “characters” (picture books/graphic novels teaching facts), biographies, memoirs, or focus on racism (44% of non-fiction)
    • 19 Biographies (3%) (also included in NF)
    • 653 Fiction (9%)
      • 231 contain diverse main characters (35% of fiction)
  • Author Makeup:
    • 475 Books Written By Female Authors (66%)
    • 238 Books Written By Male Authors (33%)
    • 153 Non-White Authors (21%)
  • Diversity:
    • 260 Diverse Main Characters (36%)
    • 132 Diverse Main Characters Written By Own Voices Authors (18%)
    • 28 LGBT Main Character (4%)

Breakdown: Format/Intended Audience

  • 329 Picture Books (46%)
    • 129 diverse main characters (39% of picture books)
  • 191 Graphic Novels (27%)
    • 44 diverse main characters (23% of graphic novels)
  • 80 First Chapter Books (11%)
    • 45 diverse main characters (56% of first chapter books)
  • 50 Beginning Readers (7%)
    • 20 diverse main characters (40% of beginning readers)
  • 34 Juvenile Fiction Chapter Books (5%)
    • 13 diverse main characters (35% of juvenile fiction)
  • 8 Teen Fiction Books (1%)
    • 4 diverse main characters (50%)
  • 4 Adult Fiction Books (0.5%)
    • 0 diverse main characters (0%)

I know I read a lot of picture books, and those inflate my overall reading count for the year. I am pleasantly surprised that picture books only make up 46% of my reading for the year (though when I include the similarly-sized Beginning Readers, those types of books make up a combined 52% of my reading so far this year). I’d like to continue to try to keep my picture book reading to under 50% of my overall books for the year, to make sure I am digging into those older age ranges.

Graphic novels have become my comfort zone, particularly for the speed I can read them and their popularity with our patrons. Next time, I would like to break this number down further with the age range the graphic novels are aimed at. I’d like to hold this count steady around 25% of my reading.

During quarantine, I made a particular effort to increase the first chapter books I read, particularly diverse titles. I think that is reflected here. Even with first chapter books being only 11% of my total reading for the year that is much higher than previous years (based on my knowledge of my reading not any formal stats).

These three areas are my weakest reading age ranges

  • Beginning Readers: I struggle with these because I love a good story, and these are not written with the “good story” angle in mind.
  • Juvenile Fiction: I knew my juvenile fiction chapter books have been weak this year, but ouch. Only 5% of my reading has been traditional chapter books–I’m going to work on that.
  • Teen Fiction: If I thought my middle grade reading was low, teen books are abysmal. Though, I will try to defend this a little because at least 30% of those graphic novels are for teens. I don’t program for teens, and we don’t get as many reader’s advisory questions, and…I’ve let this age range slip. Badly. (Michala go write a teen book blog post!)

The second piece of this category I wanted to examine was diverse main characters at the format-level.

While the wait for census numbers will probably take much longer than usual due to the pandemic, the projections for 2020 have remained the same for years: the expectation is that of children in the US (under the age of 18), 49.8% will be “non-Hispanic White.” My reading reflects the books I talk about and share, and my reading needs to, at a minimum, reflect the races of kids today too. I would like to have each of these categories be comprised of at least 50% books featuring diverse main characters.

That isn’t going to be easy–the majority of books published are very white-centered or animal-driven, and while that has been improving a little, it hasn’t improved to the point of enough new titles to necessarily let me increase my reading across these categories without intentionally not reading any other books in those categories. I also need to realistically consider what my reading will look like post-working-at-home. Fifty percent in each category is not likely to happen this year–but maybe it can happen in one or two categories this year, and more over the next few years.

Next Steps:

  • Continue reading any diverse picture books and first chapter books I can access.
  • Actively look for more diverse beginning readers and graphic novels. These are two areas that I’ve always felt are weak proportionately in diversity, at least in my library. Dig harder here.
  • Read more juvenile fiction chapter books, focusing on diverse titles. There have been 10 beside my bed for a week. Actually read them.

Breakdown: Fiction/Non-Fiction/Genre

  • 66 Non-fiction (9%)
    • 29 contain diversity in “characters” (picture books/graphic novels teaching facts), are biographies or memoirs, or focus on racism (44% of non-fiction)
  • 19 Biographies (3%) (also included in NF)
  • 653 Fiction (91%)
    • 231 contain diverse main characters (35% of fiction)

I don’t like non-fiction. Sorry world. I never enjoyed reading non-fiction as a child, and I very, very rarely do as an adult.

Since I struggle with non-fiction (and biographies) so much as it is, I’m going to try to make sure that the books I do read include diversity. I have a tendency to only read non-fiction books about animals, and I want to shift that towards more biographies and memoirs. Poetry is wrapped up in non-fiction too, and while I don’t think I will ever actively enjoy poetry, it is very easy for me to commit to reading diverse poets and generally avoiding white ones.

I can’t even out all of my reading percentages, and this is one that, while I know it is an issue from a reader’s advisory perspective, I am going to set aside for now, though keep it in the back of my mind. I will keep an eye out for reading lists containing great diverse non-fiction for kids, and try to focus on those.

Next Steps:

  • Keep an eye out for more diverse non-fiction titles.
  • Read more biographies – increase biographies read during the year to at least 6%.

Breakdown: Author Makeup

  • 475 Books Written By Women Authors (66%)
  • 238 Books Written By Male Authors (33%)
  • 153 Diverse Authors (21%)

Again, I have to choose what I want to work on, and I’m going to let my female-male breakdown go. I’m reading more books by female authors than male authors. I would like to dig into non-binary authors and authors that identify as multiple genders (and, honestly, some of the authors on my list may do that–this was not the best researched spreadsheet).

I do need to focus on reading books by diverse authors. I’ll get into this more in the next section, but the disproportion between books I’ve read written about diverse kids and books written by own voices authors is alarming. (Only half of the diverse main character books I read this year are by own voices authors! Half!) Having 21% of my reading reflect books written by diverse authors is a start, but it is far from where I would like to be. I want to focus heavily on that number during the second half of this year.

Next Steps:

  • Read more books by authors who are non-binary or identify as multiple genders. Not really examined here, but read more books by transgender authors too.
  • Read more books written by diverse authors. Aim to get that percentage to at least 33% by the end of the year.

Breakdown: Diversity

  • 260 Diverse Main Characters (36%)
  • 132 Diverse Main Characters Written By Own Voices Authors (18%)
  • 28 LGBT Main Character (4%)

These were the numbers I was really looking for. I’ve been actively seeking out books with diverse main characters, so I’m glad this number was a bit higher than I expected when I started looking at titles (but not as good as I secretly hoped). This is exactly why I need to actually look at the data though–because if I had to make a guess a month ago, I probably would have said that 40-50% of what I read is diverse, and that is not the case.

The real rude awakening for me, particularly over the last few weeks, has been how many books featuring diverse main characters are written by white authors. That hurt because, in the fake world in my head, I had assumed that the increase in books featuring diverse characters, that I was seeing and reading each year, also meant more diverse authors were getting published. This has never been true, and while the information was right there for me to find, I naively believed otherwise for far too long.

I’ve noticed the own voices dilemma in my own reading and book talking as I’ve started to make virtual book talk videos, focusing on own-voices titles. So many books I recommend regularly or put on displays–Bad Babysitters, Sanity and Tallulah, Zoey and Sassafras, Molly Lou Melon, Lola and Leo, Jabari, Emma on the Air, Katie Woo, and so many more–are all by white authors. Some have connections to the community they write about–the author of Emma on the Air is married to a man from the Dominican Republic and has two mixed children–but it isn’t the same.

I need to do more research when selecting books to read, and make more of an effort to read those books actually written by own voices authors. The other books can be good too, but the own voices books need to take priority.

Next Steps:

  • Prioritize–in reading, book talking, and dispalying–books by diverse authors featuring kids that look like them.
  • Increase the amount of books read by own voices authors to at least 25% by the end of 2020.
  • Increase the amount of books featuring LGBT characters to at least 8%.

Final Thoughts

Overall, these numbers weren’t as bad as I expected but also weren’t as good as I secretly hoped.

I’m interested to revisit this at the end of the year and see where these numbers end up. I like creating specific steps to move toward my goals, but I also tried to ground my goals in smaller increases because, once I go back to in-building work full time, my amount of reading overall will decrease. I can also tell that I am starting to hit a reading roadblock–I keep trying to push through, but I can already tell it is much harder for me to get through a chapter book than a faster picture book or graphic novel right now.

There are so many more elements of my reading I could examine. How does my reading breakdown over typical genre lines? How does diversity breakdown over genre lines? How about male vs. female main vs. non-binary main characters? I really didn’t dig into LGBT characters and authors as much as I could have here. This list focuses on the books I’ve read this year–can I examine what I used in storytime? What books I book talked or used in programs? All the books I’ve ever read?

This is a new process for me, and a daunting one, though necessary. How do you examine your reading? How do you keep track of what you do–and don’t–read enough of?

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