May the Fourth Be With You: 2013

May 4th is on a Saturday next year and so help me, I’ll be planning and implementing a large scale, fun for the whole family “May the Fourth Be With You” Star Wars nerdamondium party that will be so awesome I may just explode.

Other libraries have done it with much success. You can get free cosplay storm troopers etc from your local branch of the 501st legion which is really the thing that’s going to make the party. The idea is to have a wide range of activities that would appeal to all ages, bringing in families as well as single adults. Additional ideas include:

Do you think you’d have a Star Wars party at your library?

Stifled: or, the exact wrong way to think about storytime

Oh, dear sweet baby Picard Jebus, there’s a rage making thread on pub-yac about a children’s department being forced to do all of their storytimes the same. Here’s a quote:

[…A]ll the storytimes for one age group should be the same because:
Patrons get disappointed when they can’t get into a certain storytime because its registration gets filled.
Using personal props, puppets or flannels is shunned because you may leave the library one day and the library patrons will be familiar with those items that were personally yours.
If you are out sick, another librarian will need to cover the storytime and the patrons will be disappointed if “Miss Tina” isn’t there and the librarian covering the storytime will feel bad, because the group is disappointed.
That the staff of librarians have different levels of performance ability and because of  that they should all work together to be about the same or at least contain the same materials.

My first flippant thought was, “Welcome to Camazotz storytime. All storytimes are equal. Now for 1.5 minutes of literacy time.” My second, equally flippant thought was, “Sounds like Amendments 211, 212, and 213 got passed at this library. Soon we’ll be seeing library job postings for a staff Handicapper General.”

When I was still working as a preschool teacher, there was a big movement away from genuine praise–instead, we were supposed to say things like “You did it!” No qualifiers, the only thing we talked about was done and not done. Which also ties in with our current climate of “Everyone’s a winner!” “A+ for trying!” And I can understand the impulse. You don’t want kids or people to feel bad. But by making everyone equal, we’ve done the exact opposite– when we don’t allow children, or staff members, to find out what they excel at, then we have a society full of people who aren’t really good at anything. Not allowing people to fail has caused so many people to never find out what they are truly good at, and by making everyone equal, we’ve inflicted a great injustice on many.

Equality isn’t about what we are–it is about how we are treated, and how we are utilized in society. Those who have talent and work hard at developing and applying it should be lauded, of course, but not at the detriment of others.

Forcing more talented staff to perform at the level of your least talented staff is demoralizing for all involved. Why would anyone do this? I think a smarter approach would be for your staff to try out presenting different programs to different groups and seeing what works. Not every group wants or needs a high energy, jazz hands style presenter. I actually think baby time/lapsit benefits from a calmer, more methodical approach, perfect for shyer or perhaps older librarians.

If you end up with a staff member who is incapable of successfully presenting to any group, in any style, well, then, that’s another discussion. But stifling the creativity and joy of your other staff to meet imagined needs of a public is simply poor management. If I were working with whomever created those guidelines above, I’d be on the lookout for a better situation.

This situation also reminded me of Mel’s recent, excellent series on the elements of storytime, which is as elegant and perfect and precise as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I highly recommend anyone who currently performs storytimes or wants to in the future read the entire series. And library school educators, you might just want to incorporate it into your curriculum–with proper credit, of course.

Boundtracks: Pete the Cat and “New Shoes”

Oh, Pete the Cat! I can practically recite you from memory, and there isn’t a group of kids and adults in existence who aren’t magically swept up in your bouncy tale of sloppy shoes. (Although some more savvy color mixers insist that first your shoes should turn pink then purple but I call it a quick charming lesson in suspension of disbelief.)

As I await the arrival of Four Groovy Buttons (having not been terribly impressed with Rockin In My School Shoes, ymmv), I’ve been revisiting the original Pete the Cat, and during my commute this morning I thought that Paolo’s song “New Shoes” would be a great pairing (ha! pairing! shoes! ahem) during a storytime. You could have the kids just get up and dance, or if they need a bit more encouragement, pass out shakers or dancing scarves to help them find the groove.

Videos:

 

Muffins with Mom

Years ago, at one of my first library jobs, I had a weekend morning program that I called “Doughnuts with Dad.” I believe it was around father’s day, but it might not have been. All I did was brew some coffee, buy some doughnuts and juice, gussy up the tables with some table cloths, throw out some toys, crafts, and books, and I called it a program. Dads and kids of all ages came to eat, drink, and be merry. I circulated, talking to families, promoting our programs, and generally just having a lovely time.

I’ve done this at my current place of work several times now, and I’ve expanded it to include a Mother’s Day version I call “Muffins with Mom.” (One year it was Milkshakes with Mom. That was a nightmare. The milkshakes, I mean.) It’s the same gist as Doughnuts, but around Mother’s Day and with muffins.This year in addition to our cute Mum themed craft, we also took pictures of Moms and kids and I’m going to be turning them into custom READ posters. I also had some leftover blank board books from National Library Week, and a couple of moms actually used them to write their own family books!

Which is another thing I like about this program–if you can get your library to market it outside of just the children’s department, it’s a great inter-generational program. Crafts and treats aren’t just for kids! We actually had an adult mother and child pair, and I was so happy to see them! And allowing the adults to do the craft projects was great fun, and has great value for everyone. Why should kids be the only ones who get to enjoy the relaxation of coloring, cutting and gluing? If you have enough supplies, go ahead and let the grown ups join in!

I like these kinds of programs for several other reasons, too. I like that it’s on the weekend, which I think is a time that many librarians don’t think to do programs. I think for a lot of families, weekends are just a better time to come out. Often people don’t want to go out again on a weeknight if they don’t have to, and the pull will have to be pretty spectacular to get them in the doors–I’m thinking Lego Master Builders or a magic show. But the weekend is a little less hectic for some families, and a good time to try some programming. I’ve noticed we get some of our regulars, but I’ve also noticed a lot of people that I never see at any other programs.

Another thing I like is that it’s a passive program, where I can relax (to a degree) and interact with people without being on stage. So often as a children’s librarian I have to be “on” which really taxes my normally introverted personality. At these programs, I am still on but in a much more low key way, being a hostess and making sure everyone gets coffee, a pastry, and has enough materials for their craft project.

I also like this program because it allows people to do something nice for Mother’s Day that is free. So many places offer expensive Mother’s Day brunches and the like, which not everyone can afford. I always make sure to have nice food (this year we got some donations, which always help), something that’s nicer than what people might buy for themselves, just to make it special.

This is what I like to spend time and money on, rather than ebooks*. I think it’s a smart investment.

*I’m mad about ebooks and all the time librarians spend talking about them and thinking about them and blah blah blah and this is my passive aggressive way of complaining about them.

Beginning Reader Storytime, Art Adventure: The Final Countdown

So now the kids have their backgrounds and their characters.

Then they just had to glue them down and voila! Their very own Eric Carle-esque creations!

Has anyone else managed to do a long term author/illustrator based program like this one? Ours went off pretty well; for those with attendance concerns, this is a registered program and we did stress that regular attendance was important, but for kids who missed some sessions we just caught them up as best we could, and no one seemed the worse for it.

If you’re interested in my Beginning Readers Storytimes, I’ve begun collecting them under their very own category, so they should be much easier to find.

Beginning Reader Storytime: The Write Stuff

During this session of beginning reader storytime, we’ve been focusing on writing. We wrote on dry erase boards, created an alphabet book where we wrote words, made letters out of pretzel twists, and this week we wrote in shaving cream, which was, frankly, just a whole lot of fun in addition to being a great outside of the box literacy activity. For the entire 15-20 minutes we played and wrote in the shaving cream, the kids and parents were laughing up a storm. (If you do this, you might want to remind parents to keep their shaving cream at home extra out of reach for a little bit, lest it tempt their kids.) Next week we’re going to be writing in rice, which is another great way for kids who aren’t great with conventional writing materials to practice writing.

Even with all of the typing we do, handwriting is still an important skill in our culture that has many benefits beyond simply communicating. Writing is also one of the five Every Child Ready to Read skills. How do you foster writing in your library?

Listen, I’m Telling You Stories

Funerals are not for the dead, they are for the living. They are for those left behind, to act as a comforting play in which we know all the roles and there is no twist in the second act.

My mother would have hated her own funeral. It was a maudlin, religious, church bound affair, with a sermon by the very affable ginger haired priest, and some hymn played by the equally affable church organist. If I hadn’t been wracked with grief–if her death hadn’t been such a surprise and a shock–I would have known to have cut the hymn and played a recording of Mama Cass singing “Dream A Little Dream” or perhaps the Beatles singing “I Don’t Want to Spoil The Party.” The church location was fine, I suppose; it was the same church where her own mother had been the organist until her death, but the rest of it…ugh. My mother was many things, but she was not overtly sentimental or sappy. Where other mothers might have sent a card featuring a plucky kitten grasping a tree branch, with the sentiment of “Hang in there!”, my mother tended to send cards with lines like “Don’t forget that you’re the shit!”

So her funeral, with its heartfelt speeches and quiet sobs, would probably have galled her. “Jesus Christ on a crutch!” she’d say. “Don’t you have anything better to do? This town has bars, you know.”

My mother had grand aspirations as a girl. When I was young, I found some of her poetry, and several lines of it have stuck with me since I first read them:

Laying in the Weeds

Sing a song of love
Sing a song of hate
Sing a song of dreams
That always have to wait.

Simple, and not very good, you might think; but what might my mother have become if she hadn’t dropped out of college to move back home and work at the town factory? What if she hadn’t met my miserable, mentally ill father, who managed to charm her into marriage, and after that made it his mission in life to make her miserable?

Once, during a phone call, one of the few times I ever heard my mother cry, she said her terrible marriage had been worth it, because she’d gotten her four children out of it. To give me and my siblings life, she’d abandoned her own–her dreams of being a poet, a singer, a college graduate, the life of being a girl who met her girlfriends in the cemetery for picnics of pizza and beer–she replaced these with four children who tried her patience but whom she loved fiercely, and owed their existence to a man who was as cruel as Bluebeard but not half as sane.

I learned recently that even after birth, for decades after, fetal cells can remain inside the mother, and sometimes will act as positive agents, fighting diseases or repairing tissue. I wondered tonight, as the rainstorm lashed outside and I could not sleep, whether or not my baby cells fought to save my mother’s heart when it was slowing, breaking, and ultimately stopped early one morning in 2007. I hope they did. I hope they tried, because I would have, if I had been there.

I was not ready for my mother to go. Are we ever ready to lose the life of one we love, who sacrificed everything for us? Do we ever recover from the pain of losing them, or the joy of knowing that someone, once upon a time, loved us so much, and so deeply?

My memories of my mother are inextricably intertwined with certain stories. I discovered Stephen King by raiding my mother’s bookshelves, and to this day I still rue the loss of her limited edition copy of The Eyes of the Dragon, signed by the author and chewed by dog and lost in a house fire when I was fourteen. Whenever I watch Labyrinth I spend a moment of two thinking of the morning I woke up at five a.m. and wandered downstairs to find my mother and my little brother watching it because neither of them had been able to sleep. Sometimes I will listen to George Carlin’s Classic Gold album– which I really don’t have to any more, since I have it practically memorized– and remember the time my mother was listening to it in the car on our way to the Indian Head Supper Club to have lunch with my Aunt Pat, my mother’s bitchy, long haired chain smoking sister.

These stories–these connections—are what is vitally important to our lives. I don’t want us to forget that. We tell stories, and we keep stories, and we create stories so we can become ourselves, and remember the people who helped us along the way.

That’s what matters.