top 11 posts of 2011

When I first started this blog, I had no grand aspirations. I am passionate about the library field, child development, and children’s literature, and I wanted to have a place to express my thoughts, and I hoped that I would garner at least a dedicated, engaged readership. Fairly early on, I experienced the Elizabeth Bird bump, and for that I’ve always been grateful. I appreciate my twitter friends for all their conversation and ideas, and frankly, without them I probably wouldn’t be writing much at all.

Looking at my top posts, I realize that people love it when I write about things that a lot of librarians are probably thinking but are too scared to talk about, and my programs for children. I’m going to make an effort to write more about these topics in 2012, and also write more from the gut and the heart, no matter what the topic (my angsty review of Ingenue being an example of this new goal).

Thank you to all my readers for commenting, emailing my posts to your colleagues, and generally being awesome. Let’s do more of this in 2012.

top posts (excluding static pages):

11. Meow Mix. I think this is solely because of the cat picture, although I think my cat who doesn’t know how to meow storytime through line is pretty awesome.

10. Make it Happen: Teen Space. Pretty much an airing of grievances post that also allowed me to congratulate and laud a fellow librarian. Now complete with a comment I didn’t initially approve because it’s super negative, but hey, whatevs. Different strokes for different folks.

9. New Storytime Favorites. Why is this so popular? I dunno. Probably because I mention cats and I’m a librarian. The cat/librarian diagram is so venn it’s almost just a circle.

8. Tales of the Madman Underground: A Love Letter. This was a very personal post and book review, and I almost didn’t publish it. But this book is amazing and I think that librarians—much like teachers—need to fight for the right to be real, flawed, human people with pasts and problems like any other people. Just because we work with children doesn’t mean we’re all Mary Poppins, and we shouldn’t be punished for being real people. But seriously, read that book.

7. The Ethical Librarian. This one is me totally ranting and raving on my high horse while my horse is standing on a soapbox. You might as well call me the Bughouse Square librarian. I took an information ethics class in library school, one of the few actually challenging courses I took, and it ruined me forever. You’re welcome.

6. #makeitbetter. I just hate bad librarians. Sorry if you’re one of them.

5. You might not being doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better. Ah, my screed against library schools. I might not get so worked up if I weren’t $50,000 in debt, but that ship’s sailed, huh? Good times. And by good times I mean kill me.

4. Librarian, Weed Thyself! Wherein I apply the CREW and MUSTIE methods to people. I am a monster. A pudgy, cuddly, hyberpolic monster.

3. Beginning Reader Storytime. A warm and fuzzy post about how I revamped my library’s preschool storytime. How…charming.

2. How to Become the Best, Most Versatile Baby & Toddler Programmer Ever. Babies and toddlers are tricky audiences.

And, unsurprisingly, the number one post of 2011 is…

1.  Summer Reading, Pain in my a**. So many people enjoyed my rants about the sacred cow of summer reading, which really pleased me. I love when people reassess long running programs with a fresh eye. Can’t wait to see what people do with their 2012 summer reading programs.

Happy new year, everyone!

Love,

Miss Julie

story hacker

So this week on of the books I was using for my outreach storytimes wasn’t quite working for my groups for some reason. It seemed to be missing a crucial action in the text, which made it not quite pop for the children. It was as though there was a three step action sequence missing step two. So the second time I went out with it, I added the text I thought it needed (“and they pulled, and they pulled, and they pulled, but!”), replete with action, and read the rest of the text verbatim, and the kids seemed much more engaged with the story and seemed to understand it more.

I’m always a little conflicted when I do this. Part of me is a text purist, and I try to not abridge or omit if I can help it, because it seems a little bit like censoring to me. But when I’m performing a storytime–and I am performing in the belt it out, jazz hands, shuffle ball step sense of the word–I sometimes feel that to deliver the material well, a bit of improvisation is in order.

So, storytimers, do you do this? How often? And how do you feel about it?

how to become the best, most versatile baby & toddler programmer ever

1. Buy all of John M. Feierabend‘s* books. Pay special attention to The Book of Tapping & Clapping, The Book of Bounces, and The Book of Wiggles & Tickles.Read them. Find the taps, bounces and wiggles that you like and can perform without feeling too self-conscious. Memorize them.

2. Buy all of Hugh Hanley’s Circle of Songs CDs, which come with photo-illustrated books. Repeat the same process as with the Feierabend books.

3. Buy all of Annie Kubler‘s board books. Revel in the simplicity of the drawings, the diversity of the babies, and the clarity of the nursery rhymes and classic children’s songs such as “I’m A Dingle Dangle Scarecrow” and “Row Your Boat”.

4. Buy all of Helen Oxenbury‘s board books. Enjoy the adorable babies and simple actions that are easy for parents to do with their child during storytime.

5. Buy some simple toys. Baby and toddler storytimes should be half program, half playtime. After all, children learn through play! Play time is also a great time for parents and caregivers to talk, share information, and make friends. Building community is just as important as building emergent literacy skills.

6. Build on the first five steps as needed. This is a solid foundation for baby and toddler program, and a great place to begin if you’ve never presented a laptime or toddler story time before. With these materials in your arsenal, you should be able to present a wonderful program at the drop of a hat, while continually adding new books, rhymes and toys to keep things fresh.

As for the actual storytime, I have my regular opening routine. For babies, I’ll read one book, then go through a sequence of bounces, tickles, wiggles, and songs (I play songs on the guitar, but you can easily sing songs without accompaniment). The order of these doesn’t matter too much. I try to read the babies as much as I can. Some babies love bounces, so I’ll do more bounces. Other babies love singing, so we’ll sing more. I’m happy to cater to their preferences.

For toddlers, I add one more book in the mix, sometimes two more if they’re particularly attentive.

*I just realized he has music CDs as well. You should probably go ahead and get those, too.

In case you’re wondering, at my library, the ages for baby times are 4-18 months, and toddler times are 19-47 months.

P.S. Do your baby and toddler times need revamping or freshening up? I’d be happy to come talk to your staff in person or via skype about programming for these ages. If you like, I’ll also throw in a 30 minute musical storytime for your patrons! Drop me  a line if you’re interested!

you might not be doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better.

Part One: Education

I’ve been reading Steve’s posts over at Go Librarians about the changing role of reference librarians and degree relevance and I actually started leaving a comment on one of them when I realized it was going to be a huge chunk of text, and decided it deserved to be it’s own blog post instead.

It was this line that sent me off the deep end: “The MLIS is the minimal requirement and should be regarded as such. Its sustained relevance and its value to developing librarian positions is the onus of library school administrators. They’re smart people. I trust them.” (Emphasis mine).

Oh, lucky people who had a rigorous, edifying library school experience. I was not so lucky. Sure, some of my classes and professors were great; but when you’re paying as much as I did for my degree, I think every single class should be above and beyond excellent. My intro class in library school was taught by a last minute hire who’d never taught a class before. We spent the entire time looking at awkward power point presentations and joke websites– I remember there was one about the danger of water or oxygen or something, and it was supposed to be an example of how we need to tell valid information from invalid. Which is fine, I guess, except in every subsequent class, when a professor said “As you learned in your intro course….” I often had no idea what s/he was referring to.

I just went through the course catalogs of four of the top library schools (according to US News) and the school where I got my degree, and I was unimpressed. One school offered a class on making mobile apps. I think that, and a class about access and advocacy in youth services, were the most interesting classes that I saw. The top curricula still rely heavily on the old standbys of cataloging, reference, reader’s advisory, and materials for children and young adults. Which–don’t get me wrong–is fine. Like the title of the post indicates, you might not be doing it wrong–but you certainly could be doing it better.

Children and teen librarians need to take courses in Child Development. The one class period spent during a materials class is not sufficient. In addition to Child Development courses, we need courses on using music with children, using art with children, and working with special needs kids. Children’s librarians need to know that forty-five minutes is generally too long for a preschool story time, that 100 kids in any storytime is too many (yeah, way to be popular, but that’s not developmentally appropriate), that four year olds should be able to cut with scissors and that three year olds should be able to follow two step directions (pick up your bean bag and put it on your foot). We need to know how children learn to read, how they learn to write, and how to disperse this information to parents and caregivers. When a parent has a concern or question about their child’s development, we would be much better equipped to help them find resources and refer them to social agencies if we knew about child development ourselves.

All librarians should have the option to take theater courses so we’ll have the ability to improvise, think on our feet, and shed our inhibitions. The library world needs performers and teachers, and not just in the children’s department. Wouldn’t booktalks be all the more exciting if you could really act the parts?

And maybe, just maybe, we should suck it up and instead of hiring social workers, librarians should be able to have a specialization in social work. It’s happening anyway– we’re helping people look for jobs, apply for jobs, search for government assistance and apply for that assistance, why not take the next step and be experts in finding what they need and how to get it?

While I’m at it, I’d like to see more library school professors who are actually still working in a library, so that they’re better able to have their curriculum address the realities of working in a library.

If I had my way, people would get a master’s degree with the option of adding a certificate of library and information sciences. So, you’d have someone with a Master’s Degree in Child Development, or Film Studies, or Social Work, with an LIS certificate; perhaps the LIS certificate would be broken out into Public, Children’s/Teens, Academic, and Special. But the MLIS as it stands today? Boring, borderline irrelevant, and doing a pretty mediocre job at preparing people for actual library work.

But that’s just my opinion….what do you think?

Summer Reading, pain in my…*

Summer Reading. We spend all year working on it. We can’t escape it.

I hate it. I hate summer reading.

But…but…it helps kids retain their reading skills over summer vacation!

You know why we even have a summer vacation?

So kids could spend the summer months helping out on the farm.

Wait…your kids don’t live on farms? They live in the suburbs? Or the city? Or even if they do live on a farm, it’s such a large farm that their meager help isn’t necessary during the summer months?

“Why operate on a calendar designed for the economy of the last century?” Kelly Johnson, communications coordinator for the National Association for Year-Round Education, asked Education World. “As we head into the 21st century, I don’t know of very many children who must work on family farms. So why do we continue to implement a calendar which has no educational advantages?

There’s no reason for summer vacation. Sure, it’s nice. Teachers love it, and probably want to punch me in the face right now. But really, why are we holding onto something that is nice but ultimately detrimental to our children and families? It has to be terribly difficult for working parents to find child-care for three months out of the year. I’m assuming a lot of kids just stay home unattended, or they get dropped off at the library for eight or more hours a day, without even a snack. Rarely will a child spend all of that time reading. Most of it is spent talking with friends, playing on the computer, or rolling around on the ground, rending his garments and crying “I AM SO BORED!”** Wouldn’t that time be better spent in school?

Are American schools serving up a quality education for all students? Although we provide students more years of formal schooling than any other nation, our school year is short, usually only 180 days. The world’s average is 200 to 220 days per year, and Japan’s is 243. (See “Give Kids More School,” USA Today, August 31,1992.) Over time, this difference can add up. [emphasis mine]

Further, in Chicago (where I live but do not work), our school days are among the shortest in the nation. We spend fewer days in school and even on the days we’re there, we’re not there for very long. And how many of those days are no more than an hour long?

Don’t worry about it, though! Summer reading will fix everything! Prizes from Oriental Trading and reading logs are an amazing cure-all for YEARS of educational neglect!

When a child is struggling with reading, I think the last thing s/he wants to do is spend the entire summer being forced by a well-meaning parent to read. Because that’s all it is– we give them a piece of paper or a database log-in and say, Here ya go! Read! Maintain your skills! What if Billy’s an eighth-grader and his reading level is only at the second grade? What good does it do for him to maintain that? How is he supposed to begin reading at his grade level without support, direct instruction, intervention–you know, SCHOOL?

The library is NOT school (no matter how many of my little patrons call me teacher), and most librarians are not equipped to teach children–or anyonehow to read, and I believe this is a major failing of most library school programs. How do we expect people to be invested in the library when they lack the one skill that makes it worthwhile? And even if libraries move away from storage and preservation towards content creation, how can we expect illiterate people to create content? How can we document community stories when the majority of the population lacks the ability to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end? If we’re going to be putting on this “program” that is supposedly going to keep kids from falling behind in school, shouldn’t we know how literacy is developed, how kids learn how to read, how adults learn how to read? How many librarians reading this right now have a clue as to how any of that works, and how to apply it in a library setting?

This doesn’t mean I am opposed to fun programs at libraries, especially for children. I love programming and telling stories, and filling the library with whimsy. I think decorations kick-ass. I just think that libraries should do that sort of thing ALL YEAR, and not just spend all of their time, effort, and money during the summer, when, frankly, most people are just there for the chintzy prizes. Kids that want to read will read, regardless of how charming and well crafted your summer reading program is. Children who can’t read and don’t like to read won’t read, and your posters, prizes, and logs won’t help them one damn bit.

Much like a Vulcan, I can’t stand things that I find illogical, and I find the Summer Reading Program, with its high minded, idealistic mission, to be a completely illogical artifact of the past. I also never participated in it as a child, so I don’t adore it slavishly out of misplaced nostalgia. Yet I am an above average reader and writer, so I guess the lack of summer reading really didn’t hurt me any, did it? And I was one of those farm kids who was so urgently needed on the farm during the summer, one of those bare-foot, dust covered urchins that summer reading was supposed to help so much. Perhaps all that time I spent listening to my father ramble on about hog prices and what the neighbors down the road were up to helped my literacy skills more than I knew.

In summary, I do believe that the average summer reading program is little more than a crutch for the failures of the average American school system. What do you think?

NOTES

School calendars around the world

This article has a ton of links at the end about school calendars, start times, etc.

*to the tune of “Summer Lovin'”

**This is only a slight exaggeration.

storytime specials

in the night kitchen
I am reading In the Night Kitchen during a Sendak/Where the Wild Things Are storytime

One of my favorite programs to present are the Storytime Specials. Currently these specials are for children 3 years-1st grade, and the primary attendance is the 3-5 year old range. The program runs 45 minutes, and includes a storytime (replete with songs and fingerplays), a craft or a game, and a treat. Sometimes the themes are broad, such as Apples or Animals, and other times I choose a story or author, such as  Where the Wild Things Are or Eric Carle. Over the next few weeks I’m going to post about some of these programs. It should be fun. If nothing else, it gives me a goal  for the next month or so, which is something I could sorely use to get through the tail end of winter.

Beginning Reader Storytime

I get bored easily. I think that’s why I work well with toddlers and teenagers– we all have a similar hunger for new experiences and pushing boundaries. I was tired of doing the same old preschool storytime. I mean, I loved it, but like I said, I get bored easily. I want to try new things. I want to explore, experiment, and expand my programming horizons. So I changed my preschool storytime into Beginning Reader Storytime. You can read the full story of how my Beginning Reader Storytime began here. This post is going to detail a bit more how I run this particular program.

As I often love to brag, I started out in the working world as a preschool teaching assistant, and eventually worked as a lead preschool teacher for a while as well. My preschool teaching experience has served me extremely well in my career as a librarian and I put it to good use for my Beginning Reader Storytime (after a couple of sessions I changed the age range to 4 years through 2nd grade, and put three year olds into toddler time. This has been a much better fit for both storytime groups).

Nametags are a staple of every storytime, and always having nametags is actually a great literacy activity–learning to recognize your name is the beginning of your experience with letters.

After children have their name-tags, they come in and sit down and I go through my normal storytime opening routine. This is followed by the Storytime Message. On my dry-erase board easel, I write out a message:

January 1st, 2011

Dear Friends,

Tonight we will be reading the book Snip Snap!

I read the message out loud to them–or one of the older kids does it for me–and then I shuffle through their names to choose children to find the letter of the day. For this storytime, I focused on the letter S.

After we circled all of the Ss in the message, I read the book and then we sang the song “Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree.” I’m really brutal with that song; I have the monkeys on the monkey mitt, and they actually get eaten by a fairly realistic looking alligator puppet. The kids love it, though. But if you take this approach, be cognizant of more sensitive children in your group and tailor your bloodthirst accordingly.

Then we went to do our table activity. To transition from rug to table, I sing “Willoughby Wallabee Woo”, asking the children to listen for the rhymes in their names. This week I had story paper, an Ellison cut letter S, a glue stick, and markers. I told the children to glue their S down where they liked on the top half of the story paper.  Then, they could either create an S creature and tell a story about it, write down some words that began with S, or draw anything they liked and write a story about it. Some parents will balk at this open ended sort of thing, but most will go along with you.

Other table activities have included name writing (for 4’s and 5’s who can’t write their name from memory yet, this means copying their name that is written out on sentence strips), alphabet bingo, and lacing with lacing letters. Sometimes the activity is putting together an alphabet floor puzzle, writing on the dry erase board, or playing with magnet letters on the magnetized side of my easel.

If you clicked on any of these links, you’ll see that Discount School Supply is a great resource for literacy games and materials.

I love this storytime. It’s great to give older kids an opportunity to listen to some great picture books, and it really allows me to show parents that early literacy is NOT Your Baby Can Read or Hooked on Phonics, but rather nurturing a love of literature in children by taking the time to share stories, talk, and write.

If anything needs clarifying or if you want more information, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments, or start a conversation with me on twitter or facebook!

-Miss Julie

if you liked “not just cute”…

…here is another child development/early childhood blog that you might find interesting and useful: Janet Lansbury, Elevating Childcare (and, yes, she is somewhat related to Angela Lansbury).  Here’s her introduction/description:

Raising a child is one the most important and challenging jobs we will ever have. It brings a considerable amount of joy. It can also be confusing, discouraging and haphazard. My goal is to provide clarity, inspiration (and maybe a smile or two) by sharing insights I’ve gained through my parenting classes, my experiences as a mother, and studies with my friend and mentor Magda Gerber. This blog is dedicated to her memory.