Saturday, May 20, 2017

Summer Means More School-Aged Programs!

Unfortunately since I started working on my MLIS degree I haven't been able to keep up with regular posts on this blog, especially book reviews, because even when I have time to read, I don't have time to post a review! Right now I'm taking a Multicultural Lit class that is taught as a super-intense 3-week class (ridiculous, I know!), and I have to read and review quite a few books for class, so once the class is over I hope to have time to post some of them on here.

The other thing I'm looking forward to in the summer is school aged STEAM programming! Yay, I get to put my previous degrees to use and "get my teacher on". I love library programming because it has all the fun stuff about teaching, with none of the crap! Last year I just did one official program, and did test runs of a couple of others at home. This year, I'm doing around 8 programs for various groups. I will be repeating the Doodlebots program with a couple of new groups, and doing the Kaleidoscope program with several different groups.

But, I will be doing two new programs as well, one of which I am in the process of developing right now, and I think it's going to be pretty cool. I hope the kids think so! It will be coming up the latter part of June, and the second new program will be in July (but I have no idea what we'll be doing for that one yet; suggestions welcome!). So check back, as we go into summer, full STEAM ahead!

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Well, I'm happy to report that despite coming down with a stomach bug overnight (fortunately very mild and symptoms controlled with PeptoBismal), our presentation on early literacy (for early childhood teachers) today went much better than the last one! Not that there isn't always a little room for improvement, overall I was very pleased with it.

We applied the lessons we learned from the last time, and I scrapped the slides from before (which was recycled from someone else's presentation due to time constraints) and started from scratch, greatly reducing the number of slides, the amount of text on each slide and eliminating repetition. I had time to really think about what I was going to say and what examples to show, and we carefully selected which books and items to take so we weren't so overwhelmed. I think it was just about right this time, and while I was still a tad nervous, I was much more relaxed than last time.

It helped that we had an audience that seemed much more engaged than our previous one, and I'm happy to report that no one in the first session went to sleep! In the second session there were a few that were nodding off at times, but I think that had more to do with the fact it was after lunch, very warm in the room, and the attendees had been there since around 8:00 am, than it did our presentation. At least no one decided to just put their heads on the desk and blatantly take a nap like last time! We had more questions and comments than before, and quite a few attendees complimented us and sincerely thanked us for coming. 

Would I do anything differently next time? I don't really think so. I think this time I had the slides just right, and my delivery was much better, so it's just a matter of continuing to get experience and becoming even more comfortable with public speaking. 

In case you're curious, our presentation covered what early literacy is (and isn't!), early literacy skills/components, the five practices (talk, sing, play write, & read), tips for selecting books for preschool read alouds, tips for keeping kids engaged in a read-aloud, how your library can help you, and other resources.

The other cool thing was I got to meet John Archambault, co-author of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom! He was the keynote speaker for the event, and was very gracious, posing for pictures and talking to everyone, and he autographed the sign that was on the door of our presentation room.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Let's Try This Again...

Last fall I had the opportunity to challenge myself and give an early literacy presentation for child care workers and preschool teachers, along with my manager. I am always looking for opportunities to expand my repertoire and gain new skills and experiences, so I was glad to do it. Unfortunately, it didn't quite go as well as I'd hoped.

To start with, we only had 2 weeks to put it together, and with me being only part-time and my boss being a very busy outreach manager, that amounted to very little time! We did the best we could, but it just really wasn't enough time to prepare adequately. I knew the material well, but I did not have the actual presentation of it down. Plus, I got a little nervous, and when I'm nervous I tend to talk too fast. I forgot to pause and show examples, and realized it was too repetitive, and the slides were way too text heavy. To make matters worse, two of the attendees blatantly put their heads down on their desks and went to sleep! 

Fast forward to this spring, and we were asked to do a similar presentation for another early childhood "summit" by another group, which is this coming Saturday. This time around I hope I have learned from the mistakes the last time. The slide presentation is shorter, much less text, and larger fonts, and is more focused. Also, we fortunately were asked to focus on just preschoolers, whereas last time we covered birth through age 5. We've also had more time, so hopefully I will know the presentation much better. I'm really hoping I'm more relaxed, too! I am not afraid of public speaking, and right now the idea of doing it doesn't make me anxious in the least. But then when the time comes, the nerves start to kick in!

But one really good thing is that my manager is much more accustomed to public speaking and does a great job. The other great thing is that our session is not until 10:15am, versus 8:00 am the last time! So I can get a little more sleep, and get there early enough to have time to set up without feeling rushed, and have a chance to relax. I am just not fully functional at 8:00 in the morning!!

So, anyone have any advice for keeping the nerves at bay and keeping the audience awake? Short of an air horn, that is 😈

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mirror, Mirror - STEAM Program

Today I did a relatively simple, low-cost STEAM program for a group of kids ranging in age from 6 to 12 years old, using mostly items you probably already have on hand, making homemade kaleidoscopes. I'll admit, when I first saw this on Buggy and Buddy I was skeptical, but it really does work surprisingly well, as you can see from the photos of my test model above. I did make a couple of changes, substituting a cheaper and more readily available material for the reflective surface, and covering with paper rather than painting. 

I also started the program with some seriously cool demos also using mirrors (I'll describe these at the end of this post, be sure to check them out!). Click on any picture to see a larger image.

Recommended Ages:  5 to 12

Time: 1 hour, including demonstrations

Budget: Approximately 35 cents/scope (not counting items purchased for demonstration)


  • Mirrored Scrapbook Paper (also called "mirror board," basically foil covered cardstock), see picture and label above
  • Cardboard tubes, recycled or can be purchased as "craft tubes"
  • Flexible Straws
  • Colored Paper 
  • Cardstock
  • Markers
  • Assorted stickers
  • Tape
  • Glue Sticks
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Ruler


First, determine the size the reflective inserts need to be by measuring the length and diameter of the cardboard tubes you are using (any length tube can be used; just keep in mind the longer the tube, the more mirror paper used and the greater the expense). The reflective insert will be 3-sided, in the shape of a triangular prism. I'll save you the geometry involved in determining the length of each side of the triangle and tell you to just multiply the diameter of your tube by 0.866 😉.

 I *highly* recommend cutting these out ahead of time so the expensive mirror paper doesn't get wasted. Though it will vary, our tubes were 100mm long and 42mm in diameter, so each face of our insert was 36mm X 98mm long (just to be sure no sharp points were sticking out).

Our sheets were 12"x12" ($2 ea) and I got enough for 8 scopes out of each sheet, with only two thin strips left over. I measured and marked it off on the back with a ballpoint pen, with firm pressure to score the lines to be folded, then cut out all three sides together as one piece when possible. The remaining pieces had to be cut by two's, then simply taped together. (The extra sliver leftover on the end pieces can be left on to make a handy flap to fold over and tape, or trimmed off so they are all the same). Below is one of the precut pieces, mirrored side up, showing the visible lines where it will be folded (and the grid of our ceiling tiles!).

Next, pre-cut colored paper to the size needed to cover the tubes, and cut out circles from cardstock. We used the template Buggy and Buddy provided, which are about 3.75" in diameter, and found them to be just a bit too small, so I would recommend cutting 4" diameter circles. Have enough for each child to do 2 or 3 if they wish and time permits.


1. Give each child one cardboard tube, one mirrored piece (although the one pictured is pre-folded, let them do the folding), one piece of colored paper, one straw, two paper circles, scissors, and a pencil. Provide markers and assorted stickers as well.

2. Tell the kids to do any drawing they wish to do on the paper to decorate their kaleidoscopes first, reminding them there will be some overlap at the ends. Then when they are ready to apply it to the tube, to tape one end to the tube to secure, and also apply some glue (use gluesticks) to the underside as well, then roll up tightly, and secure the other end with tape. Stickers can be applied now if desired (this avoids waste by having stickers on the overlapping part).

3. Now, take the piece of mirror paper, and fold along the scored lines, MIRRORED SIDE IN, and tape together at the top. Carefully insert into cardboard tube; it should fit snugly.

4. Trim ends of straw so that there is about 1/2" past the flexible portion of the straw on one end, and 2-3 inches preceeding it on the other. Extend the flexible part, then tape the straw to the outside of the tube so that the flexible portion extends just past the end of the tube.

5. Make designs on the cardstock circles using markers (some kids also embellished with stickers). Experiment with different patterns, either dividing the circle into sections with different patterns, or doing the whole circle in the same pattern (you can utilize both sides, too). They really can't go wrong with this, the only caution I would give is to use at least two colors, the monochromatic patterns weren't as impressive. 

6. Poke a hole in the center of the circle with a pencil, and carefully thread it onto the flexible portion of the straw (The accordian folds help keep it in place; you could also put tape around the end of the straw, but then you could not interchange discs).

7. Stand in well-lit area, and hold kaleidoscope up to your eye with one hand, look through while turning the circle with the other. 

Here are pictures I took looking through some of the kids' kaleidoscopes. They made some impressive and interesting patterns! 

I love how everyone's turns out totally unique, and they all made some really cool patterns, regardless of whether they were the child who put lots of thought and meticulous drawing into it, or the child who rushed through with random scribbles and dots! This is a great activity for a fairly wide range of ages and abilities. The kids really seemed to enjoy making them, particularly once they got to see how neat their patterns were and liked looking at each others' as well. Only the youngest needed any assistance, and that was minor. Here are the kaleidoscopes themselves:


I was looking for something else to show using mirrors and reflection and found out about a couple of neat items: an infinity mirror, which creates an endless tunnel effect; and a mirascope, which uses two parabolic mirrors to project a 3D image. I found incredibly inexpensive versions on Amazon, and though I was a bit skeptical, they really worked!

Here is the mirascope I bought from Amazon for about $9 (though the price tends to fluctuate):

This thing is seriously cool! Look closely at the second and third pictures....would you believe me if I told you that frog and that ring are NOT really there, and neither is the mirror they appear to be sitting on? It is really just empty space over a hole, as the last picture shows! The mirascope is two curved pieces with an inner mirrored surface. When you put a small object inside, on the bottom, the reflections bounce around and end up projecting a 3D image above! It is so convincing, you cannot resist the urge to touch it, even when you KNOW it's not real. Kids and adults alike will be amazed!  To really see how well it works, check out this video, demonstrating several different objects:

The infinity mirror is from a DIY kit for kids that I found on Amazon for $12, though supplies are extremely limited. There are other tutorials online for making them, but I didn't have time to hunt down supplies, and I thought this would be much cheaper in the long run. It is basically a shadow box with a regular mirror on the bottom and a two-way mirror on top, with a string of LED lights around the perimeter in between.

When the LED lights are off and the room lights are on, it just looks like a mirror. But when the room lights are dimmed, and the LED lights are on, it looks like an endless tunnel. Unfortunately, the photograph really doesn't do it justice. I jokingly told the kids it looks like a mirror, really a portal to another dimension! One precocious boy figured out how it worked right away, and explained that the reflections just keep bouncing back and forth between the mirrors, creating the effect, and we can see it because the top glass is only partially mirrored.

I explained that mirrors could be used to make these and other kinds of illusions and special effects, and that they are sometimes used in magic tricks and used to be used for special effects in television and movies before CGI, and are still used for live stage performances.

The kids really seemed to enjoy the program, and I came across a couple of other special effects using mirrors I'd like to incorporate in the future. The demos did add about $25 additional expense, but can be used again. I bought them personally, because I wanted to be able to keep them myself. Excluding the demonstration items, this is still a great low-cost STEAM program that uses readily available materials, most you probably already have on hand.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

And The Winner Is...

How do you feel when it's time for the Youth Media Awards? Or when you read any of the award and "Best Books" types of lists?

I know some librarians get excited about it and look forward to seeing if their picks won, but I'm always left feeling a mixture of frustration, inadequacy, and WTF?? when I see these lists. I always find that even though I read quite a bit (never as much as I'd like!), I've only read about 3-4 of all the winners and honorees, and I'm only familiar with probably another half-dozen or so. This is what makes me feel frustrated and inadequate. As an almost children's librarian, I feel like I should be more "in the know" and in sync with what others in the profession think are the best books. While I do try to read books if several people mention it, usually I just grab what interests me off the "New" shelf when we get them. Clearly, the people on these awards committees and I have very different tastes! 

So for the next couple of months, I'm playing catch up and trying to read (or at least flip through) as many of the winners and honorees as I can. Some of them I find I really like a lot and see why they were chosen, but then many others I look at and and I'm completely underwhelmed and baffled why it was chosen. I often wonder what am I missing here? Am I out of touch? Or am I just more focused on what kids would like while the committees are more interested in prioritizing diversity, promoting alternate formats (free verse, graphic novels, wordless books, etc.), and leaning more towards what appeals to adults??

This is often particularly true of the Caldecott winners and honor books. I rarely like them! I can sometimes appreciate the artwork and the story and find it appealing to adults, but usually I can't imagine them appealing to a child. I haven't even seen the winner (Radiant Child) because my system doesn't even own it because it was felt it wouldn't circulate (and I'm sure it won't after all the librarians and teachers have seen it). They All Saw A Cat was okay, but seemed like a good idea that could have been executed much better. I found the text dull and awkward, and the artwork sloppy. 

Du Is Tak? was cute at first, but went on too long, and I feel like this kind of thing has been done before. Plus the illustrations were very small. I wouldn't use either of these in storytime. Freedom In Congo Square is one I don't know would particularly appeal to kids, though something a teacher might select. I know storytime use certainly isn't the only purpose for picture books, but it does tend to be the metric I'm interested in, and I don't think I've ever been excited to use a recent Caldecott book in storytime. I am also very disappointed that Ida Always was not at least an honoree!

I tend to fare a bit better with the Newbery's, though sometimes I still think they are just ok, and nothing special. I did like all of last year's honorees, and though fantasy and magical realism aren't my thing, I did find The Girl Who Drank The Moon to be a very well-written and beautifully told story and I enjoyed it quite a bit, and think it will appeal to some kids, but not others. 

I haven't had a chance to read the honor books yet except for Freedom Over Me (also a Coretta Scott King honor book), which I thought was ok, but I'd rather know real stories of slaves, rather than fictitious ones, and I wasn't impressed with the artwork. As Brave As You (Coretta Scott King honor book & Schneider winner) was pretty good, reminded me a bit of Gone Crazy In Alabama.

I was pleased to see Girl Mans Up as a finalist for the Morris award for first-time teen lit authors, though disappointed it wasn't in the finalists for the Stonewall award for LGTBQ literature. I did think the Stonewall winner for YA LGBTQ literature, If I Was Your Girl was also a very good book. It was a very well-told story, and while it might be a little unrealistic in a couple of points (which the author addresses in the endnotes) I think it sends a needed positive and hopeful message to transgender teens, though I think it's a good story for anyone to read. I was, however, a bit surprised that the Hammer of Thor was the middle-grade winner. 

The Printz winners and honorees are almost always too bizarre or depressing for me, but I was pleasantly surprised to see The Sun Is Also A Star as a Printz honoree and King/Steptoe Newcomer Award winner, as I enjoyed that one quite a bit. I love how it tied up all the loose ends and had an ending that gave closure, yet was still open-ended. I hate loose ends and unfinished storylines! 

Well, that's it for what I've had a chance to read so far. I've included links to my reviews of any books mentioned that I've reviewed, and you can also go the the SLJ article to get the complete list, with covers and links to SLJ reviews for most of them.

So how did you fare with this year's winners? Were you left feeling vindicated and confident in your librarian skills, inspired to read some great books you had missed, or left feeling like you're a bit off the bubble and struggling to catch up like me?