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!


Miss Julie

Book Review: I Spy with My Little Eye

I’m certain that I Spy with My Little Eye by Edward Gibb will become a storytime staple. It follows the classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear formula of guessing what animal comes next, with color being the major clue, with the added treat of peering through a hole die-cut in the pages. Each page also provides a word bubble clue (“I have a very long trunk”) to give kids an extra clue about the next animal.

The pages are printed on a heavier paper, which will certainly help the longevity of the holes in the center of each page. The illustrations are digital but have the appearance of ink and watercolor. This book is also a nice size, which I appreciate. Large enough to show off the pictures during storytime, but not hugely awkward to hold.

This is a book you should definitely add to your collection and your storytime rotation.

Reviews referred to:

Time Out New York Kids 

Kiss the Book

new storytime favorites

Preschool-2nd grade storytimes

Square Cat by Elizabeth Schoonmaker

I love cats. I love cats in boxes. I love weird books. So, it seemed inevitable that I would love Square Cat by Elizabeth Schoonmaker. Eula is the square cat of the title. She is, literally, square. She wishes she were round like her friends Patsy and Maude, but she is not. Being a square, when she tips over, it is hard to get back up. Mouseholes are impossible. Red shoes make her look short. Her friends try to help her become rounder in several ways, my favorite being the two panel spread wherein all three cats sing “oooooooo” with rounded lips, skip in circles, and eat doughnuts. In the end, Eula makes peace with her squareness, and all is well. When I read this aloud, I ask the kids if Eula’s tactics are working, giving them a chance to answer that she is “still a square.” Great for a cat storytime, a shape storytime, or a storytime about friendship.

Banana! by Ed Vere

If brevity is the soul of wit, then Banana! sets a new standard for the witty picture book. There are only two words in the entire story: banana, and please. The telling of this tale entirely hinges on the acting skills of the storyteller, so set your inhibitions aside and really FEEL the pain of these two monkeys–one in red and white stripes, the other in blue and white–as they scream, cry, and whisper their way through the story. The monkey in blue has a banana, which the monkey in red wants. With his one word refrain, the monkey in red goes from excitement over the banana, to questioning, to an all out banana crying fit.  When the text reads “Banana!!” with two exclamation points, and the background is all bright colors and jagged lines, and the monkey’s face looks like the quintessential toddler tantrum face, you need to bring it to your performance, or you might as well not read this book aloud at all. This book would pair well with The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog.

Pouch! by David Ezra Stein

I’ve been reading Pouch! and Banana! together, drawing attention to the exclamation point that is part of each title. I’ll say the title with exclamation point intact, and then I will cover it up and repeat the title without the same fervor. I don’t push the point (ha! see what I did there?) but it is a nice, informal away to start introducing preschooolers to punctuation. Pouch! is the tale of a Joey who is ready to leave his mother’s pouch in search of adventure. Each time he leaves the pouch, he hops a bit farther afield, but is always scared by the creatures he encounters, causing him to shout “Pouch!” and jump back in to hide away. When I read this aloud, I have kids stomp out the number of hops that Joey takes. Stein’s loopy crayon and watercolor illustrations suit the story perfectly.

Baby times (4-18months)

In my baby times for the past year, I’ve been using Annie Kubler’s supremely adorable board book renditions of nursery rhymes. It’s very easy to adapt the rhymes for adults to perform the actions with their babies. I usually read the book through two times. I love Kubler’s illustrations because she includes a wide variety of babies, including babies with hearing aids and babies with glasses, in addition to the wide variety of skin tones. I also use Kubler’s books with the toddlers.

Musically, I’ve taught myself how to play “Stop and Go” by Ella Jenkins . I play it using G, C, and D. I’ve used it with toddlers and kids up to second grade, and it’s been a hit every time.

Are there any other musical librarians out there? What do you play? How do you use music in your library work? Let me know, I’m curious as all get out.

-Miss Julie

All books reviewed from library copies.

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

summer reading.

I have a complex relationship with the institution of summer reading. I never participated in summer reading as a child, which may explain my lack of zealous enthusiasm for it. I do see its value, and I do love that it gets kids into the library, but there is something about the entire exercise that ultimately leaves me feeling a bit letdown.

I’m trying to make the summer reading program experience a bit more worthwhile for our youngest patrons. What does that mean? Well, it means I created a summer reading log for pre-readers (at my library, four months – Kindergarten and by request*) that demands a bit more from the people who use it: summerpreread3

Previous logs for pre-readers involved little more than listing titles read. With this log (based in part on a version the Bartlett Public Library produced) I’ve asked that the parent or adult reading to the child take the time to incorporate activities that will help their child master the six early literacy skills.

I don’t think asking parents to interact with their children while they read will place an undue stress on them. In fact, I might just be giving them a more precise vocabulary and concise description for things they are already doing with their children. But for the parent that is unaware of how much these simple activities and interactions can help their child, I think that this simple little summer reading log could provide valuable information and service.

I have high expectations of myself as a librarian, and I also have high expectations of the parents of the children that I serve. I believe that if people are shown that a summer reading program can be more than getting free toys and a free book, they will find more value in it. I want my summer reading program to be more about the process rather than the prize. I do not think that this is a philosophy that other librarians share. If they do, I surely would like to hear about it. I feel like the cheese, standing alone,  starting to stink.

What are your thoughts about summer reading? Is it all about the number of people you get in the door, or is it about the experience itself? Or somewhere in the middle?

*By request means that if there is a person of any age who feels that the pre-reader program best meets their needs, they are welcome to sign up for it. I mostly think that this will apply to older children/adults with developmental delays.

Miss Julie

pigs & pancakes

At my (awesome) library, we’ve been using letters of the alphabet to structure our preschool storytimes this spring. I borrowed the idea from Motherreader and tweaked it to my own tastes. Here’s my letter P storytime:

Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore by David McPhail

This Little Piggy fingerplay

If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff

Blow the Balloon/Sticky Sticky Sticky Bubblegum

I’m Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems

Letter P party: name things that start with letter P.

I love Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore. If you’re not familiar, it is the story of an Everydude who is, one night, swarmed by hungry, messy pigs (oh, the stereotyping!) Eventually he makes peace with the pigs, and after they clean up the mess they made they all enjoy a slumber party. (While I may not be the world’s best summarizer, it is just that weird). We talk about how those words–aplenty and galore–mean a WHOLE BUNCH of pigs. Some groups really lose it during the underwear part (Pigs from England,/ Pigs from France,/ pigs in just/ Their underpants) and other kids don’t even notice. Depends on how u-word centric they are, I guess.

If You Give a Pig a Pancake is one of the entries in Numeroff’s “If you” series, which intends to educate small children everywhere about the subjunctive mood tense, second person pov, and the dangers of being TOO GIVING. The pig eats her pancakes with syrup, and becomes sticky, so of course I follow this book with “Sticky Bubblegum.”   I learned blow the balloon and sticky bubblegum  from Hugh Hanley.*

I’m Invited to a Party is an easy reader, but it works surprisingly well for preschool storytime if you have an attentive group of kids and you read it in such a way so as to help them follow the sometimes slight changes in the characters’ appearances. At my library, we actually have made a flannel board set, and allowing the kids to actually see the layers of party clothing be added helps them recognize the absurdity of it all.

Then, of course, we end by naming a bunch of words that begin with P, and I write them down on the dry-erase boards. I have a couple kids who couldn’t care less about the stories and songs–they want to tell me all of the words they know, and pronto (PRONTO STARTS WITH P MISS JULIE!).

What are some of your favorite words that begin with the letter P? I like prelapsarian and potentate.

*I hereby COMMAND you in my most authoritative librarian voice to buy all of Hugh Hanley’s books and CDs (three altogether, and if you buy all of them you get a shipping discount). With these CDs in your professional tool-kit, you will never be at a loss for songs and fingerplays. Also, you should listen to all of them in sequence a few dozen times to absorb Hanley’s masterful ability with sequencing and creating a dramatic arc out of a series of songs. Trust me. Do it now. Further, you’ll be supporting an independent musician, which is always a good thing, right?

6 by 6.

The Johnson County Library has an excellent program called 6 by 6. The objective is to permeate all of their children’s programming (and even their library spaces) with ways to help kids master the six early literacy skills that they should learn by six years old to help them become successful readers for life. JoCo is doing some amazing stuff–they have videos up of nursery rhymes and fingerplays, they are using twitter to keep in touch with their patrons (I found out about the videos via my sister via twitter), and they have wonderful spaces that reinforce the concepts that are being presented during storytimes and other library events for kids. I couldn’t be more pleased that my nephew gets to use the Johnson County Library, and I hope that all residents of that area are utilizing this excellent resource.

I actually witnessed a nursery rhyme time at one of the branches* and I was very impressed. The librarian used slides to great effect, displaying the rhymes she was using up on a big screen so everyone could read along, and the music was integrated with the display. Pretty glitch free, too, which is admirable (and the fear of a technical fail is something that gives me pause about using slides in my own storytimes, but it is something I want to utilize eventually).

I can’t say enough good things about this early childhood literacy program. The mission, the storytimes, and the marketing (check out their twitter avatar for gosh sake’s, so cute!) are all being done extremely well. Go take a look around the 6 by 6 site and I guarantee you’ll find something awesome. I just looked at this page and got chills, people. Chills!

So good work, Johnson County Library!

Does your library or a library you know of have a similar program? Please let me know!

*Blue Valley Branch. *waves*

Book Crave*

I am somewhat of a thematic programmer, but I am also a weirdo who connects books, rhymes and songs the way Thelonius Monk improvises– it makes glorious sense, but not in the way you’d usually expect.

I needed a new story time to take out on some preschool visits, and I was blanking on what I wanted to present. I’d recently read aloud to a group of third graders for a Day of Reading, and I’d taken some books from our woefully under-utilized folk and fairytale collection: The Talking Eggs by San Souci, illustrated by Pinkey, and Gobble, Gobble, Slip, Slop: A Tale of a Very Greedy Cat, told and illustrated by Meilo So.

I’d wanted to use more of So’s books with kids ever since I’d discovered the wonderful Tasty Baby Bellybuttons (have I told you about how a colleague and  I told that story using stick puppets? Remind me to do that, will ya’? It presents interesting problems regarding fair use, copyright infringement, and whether or not small children should be exposed to handcrafted stick puppets).

Anyway. I read that book to the 3rd graders and we all fell in love with it. The watercolors! The ontemontepeia! The decadent grossosity of that greedy, greedy cat! The classic fairy-tale trope of cutting your way out of a greedy creature’s belly!Read More »

Space…the library frontier

After seeing this post at ohdeedoh (which is a surprisingly good source of ideas for youth librarians), I decided that my ideal childrens’ department would have to have a wall made entire of felt, a wall painted in chalkboard paint, and a wall with magnetized paint (and a wall of lick-able wall-paper, if it weren’t completely impossible and, when you really think about it, rather gross).

I learned about BCPL’s Storyville at the ALA conference in July, and ever since I’ve daydreamed of being able to create such a space at my place of work*. Go poke around their virtual tour; I’ll be patient.

Isn’t it gorgeous? It is a perfect early learning space, and we (Americans) are in desperate need of more spaces like it. According to Early Learning Left Out, 2nd Edition,

[…] per child investments are smallest in the critical birth-to-three years—where brain growth is most rapid—and remain small in the pre-school years in comparison with the school-aged and college-aged years.

Let me rant here for a bit. We spend so much money on EVERYTHING else, and if you read Ghosts from the Nursery, you’ll realize that 0-33 months is the most crucial time in a person’s development, and we hardly invest in it AT ALL (to cite ELLO again, “for every $1.00 invested in a school-aged child, 52.1¢ is invested in a college-aged youth, but only 21.3¢ is invested in a pre-school aged child and 8.9¢ in an infant or toddler.”). 9 cents for infants and toddlers, if you are generous and round up. NINE CENTS. 52 cents for college students who are most likey too hungover to appreciate all of the money being invested in them.  Sorry, but most people are lost causes by the time they reach college. Even middle school is too late to prevent most social, emotional, and intellectual problems, and trying to intervene is pretty much a lost cause as well.


Children of all ages don’t have enough spaces that are FOR THEM. Yes, they are omnipresent in the big box stores and on the plane and on the bus and in the CoffeeShops and at the movies and sometimes even the libraries (usually unattended and running riot, but that is another story for antoher time), but with the exception of that last space, none of those places are good for kids, unless you think it is good for a child to be barraged with STUFF to WANT, loud noises, and the contact high of freshly ground coffee beans. Kids–from infants to high schoolers–need spaces where they can be challenged in appropriate ways, where they can exist safely, both physically and emotionally.

Think of the children, and when you do, imagine them in some awesome, safe spaces…and then think about what you can do to make those spaces a reality.

*I also often chuckle about the use of the name Storyville, but that is because I am a strange person.