Friday, July 29, 2016

Another Day At The Desk...

Yesterday was my last official shift at the desk of summer reading, though things won't really quiet down until after school starts in two weeks. It was pretty dead when I first started my shift after lunch, but steadily got busier as the day progressed.

I had several people turn in reading logs, and even one take one to start with just three days left, but no procrastinators looking for books to fulfill their required summer reading for school (which was a bit of a surprise). I got slightly flustered when I accidentally closed the circulation software and couldn't get it to open again, but our wonderful IT tech came down right away and saved me within a few minutes, thankfully. 

My little chubby-cheeked friend I made a few weeks ago came in, and was having a much better day that the last time I saw him. The last time, he had checked out some teen superhero graphic novels, which his father didn't approve of and dragged him back in and made him return. I wouldn't want a kid of mine checking out the teen books that young, either, but I hated the way the father handled it, lecturing him and embarrassing him in front of me and making him check out stuff he had absolutely no interest in instead of letting me help him select something age-appropriate that would interest him.

But yesterday I was happy to see him cheerfully returning a whole stack of juvenile superhero chapter books and graphic novels that he had read; fortunately he had been able to find something superhero that his father would allow. He proceeded to check out a new stack, and has gotten pretty good at navigating the catalog and the shelves by himself, with just a little help. He is normally so cute and cheerful, we all like having him around.

I also noticed a couple looking all around, and then taking pictures. I had my suspicions about who they were, which were confirmed when I asked them if they needed any help. The woman somewhat sheepishly said they were from out-of-state and were in town on vacation, and as I suspected, she was a librarian! I laughed and told her I was just about to ask her if she was, because only librarians go sight-seeing at libraries when they're on vacation, and she certainly wasn't the first. We chatted a bit and I answered their questions about some of our programs and the building, and suggested that they might want to check out our local/regional history room on the reference floor. It's always nice to talk to librarians from other systems and find out how they do things in their library.

And so Summer Reading 2016 comes to a close, and everyone can take a month or so to catch their breath, and then start planning for next year!

Monday, July 25, 2016

37 Things I Love by Kekla Magoon

37 Things I Love (In No Particular Order) by Kekla Magoon. October 15, 2013 (originally published May 22, 2012). Square Fish. 240 pages. Ages 13 & up.

Ellis is approaching the end of her sophomore year, but unlike her classmates, her thoughts do not revolve around making fun summer plans. Instead, Ellis has spent the past two years dealing with her father being in a permanent vegetative state following a fall at a construction site, and now she is reeling at her mother's suggestion that it is time to remove life support and let him go.

Ellis finds herself unable to talk about what is going on with her two best friends, the pretty, popular, and self-absorbed Abby, and the sometimes too loyal Collin, who is besotted with Abby and lets her take advantage of him. Ellis is growing more and more disgusted by Abby's selfish, insensitive, and sometimes downright mean, behavior and with Collin for putting up with her abuse and letting her use him. As she begins to distance herself from Collin and Abby, she begins to renew her friendship with Cara, a childhood friend she and Abby had seemingly just drifted away from.

As Ellis' relationships with Abby, Collin, and Cara change and she struggles to accept her father's death, she turns to Cara for comfort more and more, and discovers the real reason their friendship was interrupted.  

My Thoughts
To be honest, I can't quite decide what I think of this coming of age story, or whether I liked it or not. In some ways, the writing and dialog are really good, but in other ways parts of the story just didn't seem to be integrated smoothly and there really wasn't any resolution to much of the conflict.

I found Abby to be a very unlikeable character, and I really would like to have seen Ellis and Collin finally get fed up with her crap and be done with her. I can't believe how much they put up with from her. Then adding in Cara turning out to be gay and Ellis suddenly becoming sexually confused, just seem to muddle things, especially since nothing was really resolved. The book just stopped.  Did Abby and Cara manage to remain civil so Ellis wouldn't have to choose between them? Or did Ellis and Collin finally tell Abby to take a hike? Are Ellis and Cara friends, or girlfriends? I like books to have more of an ending than that. I felt there was no real closure.

The other thing that annoyed me a bit, though certainly no fault of the book or it's author, is that I read it because I thought it was a recent book by the author of our community read this year, How It Went Down, which I enjoyed and found very powerful, because it was labeled as a "New" book. But as it turns out, it was only newly purchased, having actually been publish 4 years ago. 

I would recommend this book to teens interested in coming of age stories, particularly those interested in difficult and changing friendships, and interested in or open to LGBTQ storylines.

Other Books By This Author
Kekla Magoon is the author of several young adult novels, including the award-winning The Rock and the River and the above-mentioned How It Went Down, as well as non-fiction books on social issues and historical subjects that interest her.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

DoodleBots - STEAM Program

Yesterday I got to do an awesome STEAM program with a group of school-aged kids, making DoodleBots (also known as ArtBots or ScribbleBots), which are simple robots that can draw using magic marker legs and a vibrating motor to produce movement. Electric toothbrushes from the Dollar Tree proved to be an extremely cost effective resource, providing the motor, battery case, circuit, battery, and switch, all for a dollar. There are many articles on the web about these, but I first got the idea from Anne of "So Tomorrow" and followed the link she provided to another article by the Cheshire Public Library.

Recommended Ages: 5-12    

Recommended Group Size: The smaller the better, maximum of 20. 

Time:  1 to 1-1/2 hours  (we managed in an hour, but I would strongly recommend 1-1/2 hrs)

Budget:  $1.50-$2.00 per bot


  • GB or Luminant brand electric toothbrushes from the Dollar Tree ($1 ea)
  • Foam pool noodles, cut in 4.5" pieces ($1 ea, one noodle makes 10 pieces)
  • Markers, 3-4 per person ($1/set of 12?)
  • Rubber bands
  • Electrical tape
  • Duct tape
  • Glue, glue dots, hot glue
  • Misc. craft supplies (googly eyes, pom-poms, pipe cleaners, feathers, jewels, etc)
  • Large rolls of art paper (the smoother the surface, the better)


*Note - Although this program worked ok the first time, the second time we did it with a larger group, we had significant technical difficulties with the tape stretching and causing the connections to loosen and the motors not to work properly.

If you are working with teens who can deal with trouble-shooting themselves, then you might want to stick with this method so they can really see the motor and circuit, but if you are working with younger and/or easily frustrated kids, then skip steps 1-5 and follow the alternate protocol.*

1. Start with the cheap Dollar Tree toothbrush, which comes with a AA battery, and disassemble it by pulling off the cap containing the switch, then remove the battery holder and motor. I found the easiest way is simply to bang the bottom once or twice against the table to get it to come down to the end and gently remove. 

2. You will end up with the brush (which can be discarded or saved for another use), the motor, the battery case, the cap with switch, and the battery. If you're careful, the motor and battery holder with spring should come out still connected, but if not, re-connect the spring to the right-hand terminal, and hook the metal piece on the outside to the left-hand terminal.

3. Tape the motor and battery case together and insert battery into cap, positive end up.  

4. Turn the switch to "On" and push cap and battery into motor assembly until you get good contact between the two metal pieces, as evidenced by strong vibration from the motor. 

5. Tape the cap & switch in place, being sure to maintain a good connection. Turn off and set aside.

For kids 8 & under, I would do this part for them in advance, and just prep one as a demonstration so they can see what the parts are, where they came from, and how they work together, unless you have lots of adults to help. For older kids, part of the fun is taking something apart and turning it into something new, and part of the learning process is figuring out the connections and troubleshooting, so let them do it all themselves (allow a little extra time). 
*Alternate Protocol
Instead of removing the motor and additional circuit components from the toothbrushes, leave them in, and simply cut off the toothbrush head, leaving everything nice and cozy inside the handle so that connections can't loosen. I used a bandsaw, but you could use a handsaw or heavy duty snipers as well. Be sure to at least show the kids what the whole motor assembly looks like and how it works.

Next, take a 4-1/2" piece of pool noodle and use 2 or 3 rubber bands to attach 3-4 markers as legs [you can later experiment with the number of legs, placement, and length to see how it affects the patterns your bot draws]. If desired, the markers may be taped or hot glued permanently in place, or left with rubber bands so they can be changed.  

Now, get creative and decorate your bots using whatever random arts and crafts supplies you have!  One note of caution: resist the urge to over-decorate, or your bot may end up being too heavy to move. Pipe cleaners are great to make arms, antennae, glasses, or coils, and can be stuck right into the foam.

After the bots are decorated and all the glue has dried, it's time to test them out. Cover a large table or floor with paper, take the caps off the markers, turn the motor on, insert into the center of the pool noodle, and turn it loose! See how each one will draw in a slightly different pattern, and that patterns will change when the marker positions are changed even slightly.

(This one is a "peacock from Hawaii")

(The video below was accidentally shot in slo-mo)

Leftover toothbrush heads can be used for cleaning, spatter painting or bristlebots (I have not tried these yet.)

There is always the possibility of a dud motor or dead battery [though out of 24 toothbrushes and batteries, we didn't have any duds], so it's a good idea to buy a few extra, and test the toothbrushes to see if they work before continuing.
The most likely problem you will run into is loose connections. If your motor seems to be weak, or it stops working after previously working well for a short time, it is almost certain to be a loose connection, usually where the metal piece from the battery holder connects with the metal piece from the cap/switch. Remove the tape and see if you can push the two pieces back together to get good contact and regain motor function. If so, re-tape while holding it in that position. You may have to repeat this. If this doesn't work, double-check the connection to the motor itself, and if that doesn't work, try changing the battery.
Other issues may require adjustment of the marker positions and attaching them more securely if they are slipping too much, or trying glossier paper.

How It Went 
The only problem we had was with loose connections due to the electrical tape stretching and loosening after I had pre-assembled all the motors a few days earlier. I am going to have to play around and try to prevent that by using different tapes, or maybe even a couple of dots of hot glue in addition to taping [I also might try just cutting the toothbrush heads off and retaining the handle as a case to keep everything together]. It required some scrambling and re-taping during the program, but the kids were all good sports and didn't get frustrated (though I might have a little!). Other than that, the program was a hit!
We had 10 kids, ranging in age from 5 to 12. I started the program by reading Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri, a fun story about a boy pretending to be a robot, then using a secret formula to turn himself, everyone else, and even the book into robots! They all seemed to like the story and thought it was neat how the book had a hidden cover folded into it that transformed it into a robot book.  

The kids seemed to really like all parts of the program: the story, decorating their bots, and the bots themselves. Some of them really got into the decorating! I really liked how this program had technology and art both, allowing them creativity in decorating their DoodleBots, and the art that their Bots created. Several of them asked if we would come back next week and do it again, and said it was the best program ever! I even got a couple of hugs, which I didn't really expect from school-aged kids.
This was my first school-aged program, and my first STEAM program, and I was very happy with how it went, and I plan to do it again with another group, once I get the loosening-tape issue worked out (and stock up on more toothbrushes!).

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ice Cream In A Bag - STEAM Program

What better day to share this easy, cheap and yummy program idea than National Ice Cream Day?? This is a fun "Kitchen Chemistry" experiment that just has a few easy to obtain ingredients and supplies, is easy enough for the little ones, but will appeal to older kids as well. What's better than a chemistry experiment you can eat?? And yes, it really works!

Ingredients & Supplies

  • half & half
  • sugar
  • vanilla extract
  • salt, preferably kosher
  • ice
  • pint zip-lock bags (heavier freezer bags recommended)
  • gallon zip-lock freezer bags
  • sprinkles, mini choc. chips, or other mix-ins (optional)
  • fruit juice (optional alternative to dairy)
  • towels or gloves/mittens
  • thermometer (to check starting and ending temperatures)


1. Add 1/2 Cup half & half, 1 Tablespoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract to small zip-lock bag and seal. Shake to dissolve sugar.

2. Fill gallon zip-lock bag about 1/2 full with ice (check and record the starting temperature of the ice) and add 6 Tablespoons salt and shake to evenly distribute.

3. Place smaller, sealed bag containing cream mixture inside the larger bag containing the ice and salt mixture, add a little more ice and seal. Shake entire bag and contents for 5-10 minutes (5 is usually enough for soft ice cream). This gets very cold, so it is recommended to either wear warm gloves, or wrap the bag in a towel (a towel will also help insulate and keep it cold).

4. After 5-10 minutes, ice cream should be ready! Carefully remove inner bag containing ice cream. Check and record the final temperature of the ice/salt/water mixture. You may be surprised by how much it dropped!

5. Ice cream will be creamier if you quickly but gently squish it around a little bit in the bag. Not too much though, or it will melt!  You can add desired mix-ins, such as chocolate chips, cookies pieces, etc. at this point as well. Ice cream may be eaten directly out of the bag, or spooned into a dish, and garnished as desired. It will begin to melt immediately, so dig in!

6. An alternative to ice cream is to make sorbet from fruit juice. Juice can be used straight out of the bottle, but I like to dilute it slightly with a little water and add a teaspoon of sugar, as it seems to taste less sweet when frozen. This is a great option if dairy allergies or lactose intolerance are an issue. I have not tried non-dairy milks, such as soy or almond, but I would imagine they would be more icy and not creamy. 

Sorbet made with cran-raspberry juice.

So, how does this work? The chemistry of this is a little tricky to explain, but it has to do with phase-changing and the lowering of the freezing point of water by the dissolved salt.

The ice begins to melt, providing just enough liquid water to start dissolving the salt. The dissolved solute depresses the freezing point of the solution, allowing the temperature to continue to drop rather than remain a constant 0 degrees Celsius. The temperature drops because the remaining ice absorbs some of the energy (in the form of heat) from the salt water as it continues to melt (an endothermic reaction) . You can explain the chemistry either in the beginning, during the shaking time, or after. 

This experiment does not take very long, so you could do ice cream first, and have time to try making sorbet (those who already made sorbet due to dairy issues could try a different flavor), or combine it with other simple "kitchen chemistry" experiments. A couple of good ones to pair with this would be the old picking up an ice cube with a string trick, and making butter from heavy cream in a jar (or small plastic container).

For a library program, display books for check-out with other simple at-home science experiments, fiction or non-fiction books featuring or mentioning ice cream or the dairy industry, and cook books (especially any explaining the science of cooking).

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Today At The Desk....

Today was a little less harried at the desk than it has been lately, and I was very glad of that because it allowed me to devote my time and attention to a sensitive reference question that came up.

A patron approached the desk, and asked if I could help her find books for young children about death and grieving. When I gently asked if she could give anymore information about the situation they were dealing with, I found out that their had unfortunately been a pregnancy in the family that ended in miscarriage, and the kids were having a hard time understanding what had happened and that there was no baby anymore, even though a significant amount of time had passed.

I cautioned her that we probably would not have anything on that specific situation, but that I would pull together what I could find and bring them to her to look over. Unfortunately, as I suspected, most of the children's books we had on death and grief dealt with the loss of a pet or a grandparent, and tended to focus on the idea that they had lived a good life and to take comfort in memories, which wouldn't be helpful in this situation. I did find a couple of general books on explaining death, which I gave to her. I also told her that if they googled "how to talk to kids about miscarriage" there were several web articles that might be helpful.

As I continue to search online to try to find a book title or a particularly helpful web article to recommend, I luckily came across one that mentioned two titles of books for children about miscarriage. I was thrilled to actually find that a book existed on such a specific topic. They were both out of print, but one looked like it could be purchased used for a reasonable price. I also said ILL would be an option as well, and I wrote down the titles for her and told her just to let us know if she wanted to try to get them through ILL.

As I continued to look on Amazon, I found three other books listed under "What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item" that looked even more promising as they were either more recent, or had customer review, and one is still available through Baker & Taylor, so we are going to order a copy for the collection.  Here are the titles I found, starting with the one available through B&T:

  • Molly's Rosebush by Janich Cohn, 1994
  • We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead by Pat Schwiebert, 2003
  • Something Happened: A Book for Children and Parents Who Have Experienced Pregnancy Loss  by Cathy Blanford, 2012
  • Goodbye Baby: Cameron's Story by Gillian Griffiths & Lindsay MacLeod, 1999

I felt very bad for this family having to deal with such a loss, and I can imagine how hard it would be for young children to understand. I was so glad I was able to find some titles that might be helpful, even if they weren't in our collection, and glad for the atypically slower day that allowed us to talk quietly and privately, and the time to devote to keep digging and digging, until I found something.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Magic Cabbage Juice - STEAM Program

Here's a quick and easy STEAM program that falls under the "Kitchen Chemistry" heading. This experiment uses mostly things that people might have in their kitchen already, or could be easily obtained the next time you're grocery shopping.

In this experiment we will make a natural pH indicator from purple cabbage. The pigments that give purple cabbage its color are in the anthocyanin family, a group of color-changing, water-soluble cyclic compounds. They may appear red, purple, or green depending upon the pH. pH-sensitive anthocyanins are also found in other brightly colored fruits, vegetable, and flowers, but purple cabbage has pigments that cover the broadest range of pH and produces the most color changes.

[For a quick chemistry refresher, pH is a numeric scale that rates the acidity or alkalinity of a solution, based on the concentration of protons. Neutral solutions have a pH of 7.0, acidic solutions have a pH below 7.0, and alkaline solutions have a pH greater than 7.0. Acids like to donate protons (in the form of hydrogen ions) and bases like to accept protons.]

To Make Indicator Solution: 

  1. Chop 1/4 of a head of purple cabbage (about 2 cups).
  2. Place in blender with enough boiling water to cover.
  3. Carefully pulse blender to very finely chop cabbage (cover lid with towel and hold).
  4. Let steep for about 10 minutes.
  5. Strain solution through wire mesh strainer to remove large particles.
  6. Strain through coffee filter placed in wire mesh strainer to remove very fine particulates.
  7. Pour in storage container and allow to settle and cool.
  8. Solution may be stored in refrigerator up to one week.
The resulting solution will be about the color of diluted grape juice, the intensity and exact shade will vary depending on the amount, exact pH, and temperature of the water used. If the solution is very dark, so that you can't see through it at all, dilute with more water. This is about what it should look like, but a little lighter is okay, too:

Now, we are ready to experiment! 

Pour some of your indicator liquid into each of several small clear cups, glasses, or test tubes. Try to keep the amounts consistent.

Gather various household solutions for testing. The solutions should be clear and almost colorless for best results, and safe for kids to handle in small amounts. Suggestions for acidic solutions: distilled vinegar, lemon juice, clear carbonated beverage, apple juice, white grape juice, cream of tartar dissolved in water. Suggested alkaline solutions: baking soda, antacid tablets (Tums), washing soda, ammonia (demo only). As you can see, kid-friendly acidic solutions are much more readily available than basic ones. Ammonia must be handled carefully, and only by an adult (or mature teens with gloves and safety glasses in a well-ventilated area).

Test the solutions by pouring some of the desired test solution into one of the indicator solutions and observe the color change. Pinkish-purple is slightly acidic, pink is moderately acidic, and red is very acidic. Blue is slightly alkaline, green is moderately alkaline, and yellow is very alkaline. Yellow cannot be achieved with kid-friendly solutions, but an adult can do a demonstration using ammonia. It will appear light green at first, but over several minutes will become almost yellow. Be sure to keep one container with just the cabbage juice extract as your neutral control. Arrange your test containers in order of most acidic to most alkaline.

*Click on picture to see full-size version*
Left to right: distilled vinegar, apple juice, lemon juice, cream of tartar, Sprite,
neutral control, baking soda, Chlorox Clean-Up, washing soda, ammonia.

In the picture below you can see how the alkaline solutions continued to change color over time, with the washing powder and ammonia solutions become more yellow:

*Click on picture for full-size version*

For a library program, I would make up a large batch of the cabbage extract ahead of time, and just make one small batch as a demonstration. For the solutions to be tested, I would have the powders already dissolved in water (about 1 teaspoon/1 Cup), and have numbered cups (be sure you have a key) with them already set out at each place, but be sure to instruct them not to touch until told. Then distribute the cabbage juice.

Don't let them know what is magical about the cabbage juice ahead of time, just tell them to add the first solution (preferably once of the stronger acids or bases to get a dramatic change) and watch their reactions. Then explain how it works before testing the rest of the solutions, one at a time. Be sure to tell them NOT to mix solutions!

To dispose of your experiment, pour out the ammonia first, diluting with plenty of running water. Then dispose of all the others, pouring one at a time down the sink with the water running. For convenience, you may pool the smaller quantities of like solutions in one container to transfer to the sink.

You can also try making your own "litmus" paper by saturating filter paper or a coffee filter with the cabbage extract, allowing to dry, and cutting into strips. This works better with a more concentrated extract, so use less water in your preparation. Then either dip into test solution, or drip drops of test solution onto the strips. Try extracting anthocyanins from other colored fruits, vegetable, and/or flowers, and see what color changes they produce.

This could be a shorter program by itself, or combined with other "Kitchen Chemistry" experiments in a longer program and/or for older or more advanced groups. Display fiction books featuring mad-scientists, magic vegetables, or cabbage; as well as non-fiction books with simple at-home experiments and biographies of chemists for check-out.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia. 2013. Amistad. 288 pages. Ages 8-12. Coretta Scott King Award Winner

Delphine and her sisters return from their summer in Oakland visiting their estranged mother, Cecile, to find their home full of change and conflict. Their father has begun dating Miss Marva and is acting like a teenager, and their grandmother Big Ma definitely doesn't approve. Uncle Darnell returns from Vietnam, but has changed and sleeps all the time, instead of finding a job. Big Ma is still upset that Louis sent the girls to visit their mother, and blames her for any of their perceived indiscretions

Delphine and her sisters struggle with living under Big Ma's restrictive and outdated expectations, based on her growing up in the segregated South and living in fear of racially-motivated violence. Big Ma just doesn't understand that Brooklyn is different. Big Ma and Pa argue more and more, about Miss Marva and about Uncle Darnell, and things come to a head when Darnell steals the money the girls have been saving to go to the Jackson Five concert.

Throughout all this, Delphine struggles to make sense of everything, and is challenged by both Miss Marva and her new exchange teacher at school to re-examine some of her beliefs and behaviors. Delphine turns to corresponding with her mother, Cecile, who often offers some meaningful advice. Cecile ends each letter with "P.S. Be eleven.", to remind Delphine she is not an adult and does not have to be responsible for everyone else, and should take time to just be a kid.

My Thoughts
Another great story about the Gaither sisters. Like the others, this book is well-paced with wonderfully written characters and a very believable story of a family struggling with change and conflict, during a time of great change and conflict for the whole country, as well. Though still set during the Civil Rights movement, this story focuses more on the family's internal conflicts, as the father begins dating and suddenly re-marries, the uncle returns from Vietnam a different person, and Big Ma refuses to change with the times.

I liked seeing the relationship develop between Delphine and Cecile, with Cecile actually giving her some meaningful advice, though I did find it very ironic that Cecile kept telling Delphine to just enjoy being a child when it was her fault Delphine was put in the position of being responsible for helping raise her sisters to begin with. I also liked seeing how their stepmother proved to be a positive influence, easing into a mothering role and relieving Delphine of the burden of always being responsible for her sisters, and showing everyone that Vonetta could take on more responsibility, as well as advocating for the girls to have a little bit more freedom and make some of their own choices.

I did find it very hard to like Big Ma in this story; I found her to not only be completely close-minded, overly rigid, and heavy-handed, but borderline abusive. I was horrified when she smacked Delphine, hard, just because some white woman told her Delphine was rude. She didn't even bother to get the girls' side of the story. I get that it was out of fear for her safety, much like you or I might spank a child for running out in traffic and scaring us to death, because in the South it was dangerous for a black person to call attention to themselves or to cross a white person, no matter how trivial the offense. However, they weren't in the South and Big Ma had lived with them long enough to know things were different there. But I do think that was probably very realistic to the times, and helped set up some of the other conflict in this book and the next.

I would recommend this book to those who like historical fiction, persons who are interested in the civil rights era from a child's perspective, and anyone who just likes a well-written, thoughtful story about family, and particularly sisters. Fans of books by Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) or Christopher Paul Curtis (The Watson's Go To Birmingham) would likely enjoy this and other books by the same author.

Other Books By This Author
This is the second book in the Gaither girls series, preceded by One Crazy Summer and followed by Gone Crazy In Alabama (I hope there will be another!). Rita Williams-Garcia has also written several YA/Teen novels as well.