Professional Development during COVID-19 Closure

It’s now been nearly ten weeks since my library closed due to the spread of coronavirus, but people in both of my departments (children’s services and adult services) have been doing plenty of work from home. One early request from a department head was that we find one webinar of our choice each week to “attend” and share notes with the rest of the staff. Here are brief summaries and takeaways of some of the webinars and programs I’ve attended/watched over the past couple months – maybe they’ll be useful to you as well.

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“READ WOKE: 5 Ways to Identify a #ReadWoke Book—and 3 #OwnVoices Authors to Diversify Your Collections,” Cicely Lewis, School Library Journal, October 23, 2019

Cicely Lewis, who started the #ReadWoke movement, introduced and moderated this panel of three authors: Kao Kalia Yang (A Map Into the World), Melanie Gilman (Stage Dreams), and NoNiequa Ramos (The Truth Is).

Read Woke books:

  • Seek to challenge the status quo 
  • Have a protagonist from an underrepresented or oppressed group
  • Challenge a social norm
  • Give voice to the voiceless 
  • Provide information about a group that has been disenfranchised

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement was cited, as well as #OwnVoices (“stories about diverse characters written by authors that are a part of that same diverse group”).

Author quotes:

  • Yang: “Want to write about things that matter. Write the kind of books that kids can grow up/old with. Books that make the world a more beautiful place.” 
  • Gilman: “It’s important for everyone to have access to their own history.” (Not the whitewashed version in textbooks)
  • Ramos: “Our whole society is built with white supremacy and systemic racism in place…homophobia….those things leak into everything.”
  • Gilman (re: school librarians worried about pushback): “Do you value the lives of the children who are going to be looking for books like this in your collection? Do you value the responsibility of libraries to have a book for everyone who walks through that door?”

Article: “‘Read Woke’ School Reading Challenge Makes an Impact,” Cicely Lewis, School Library Journal, March 29, 2018.

After this webinar, I developed a “Read Woke” middle grade book list for the library blog, and worked together with our teen librarian to put together a “Read Woke” book for teens as well.

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Libraries and COVID-19: Providing Virtual Services, American Libraries Live, March 26, 2020, with Jason Griffey, Francisca Goldsmith, David Lee King, and Lindsey Gervais

I didn’t keep close track of who said what during this webinar, but here are the main takeaways:

  •  Don’t worry about fully replicating the experience of being in the library….any service you can provide is incredibly appreciated by the public…. Don’t try to be perfect…just meet your patrons where they are. Remember, we’ve been providing “virtual reference” by phone (and e-mail and chat) for ages!
  • Make use of existing resources. Where do you already have an online presence? What digital resources do you already offer that you can advertise heavily now (e.g. databases, Overdrive/Libby, hoopla, Ancestry, etc.)
  • Check other libraries’ websites to see what they are prioritizing and how they are communicating; consider having an FAQ on your landing page (e.g. “What do I do about overdue materials?”)
  • Best practices for managing staff collaboration when many are working remotely? “Reset expectations.”
  • Ask: What are your patrons’ needs? What is the easiest and simplest way to reach them?
  • What about patrons who don’t have access to computer/internet/phone? Leave library wifi on so people can use it from outside; lend out hotspots if you can; partner with local radio and TV stations.
  • How is virtual reference different from in-person reference? It’s harder to remember to be open-ended in our initial inquiries. (Figure out what they actually want to know, not what you first think they want to know.) There is less personal connection when you can’t rely on eye contact, body language, tone of voice. Be more tolerant. People might be more frustrated, having already done some online searching. Communicate when it may take you some time to answer a question. Use a variety of formats to reach your patrons.

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SLJ Middle Grade Magic: A Virtual Event Dedicated to Middle Grade Literature, School Library Journal, April 8

Twitter: #middlegrademagic

Cover of Ways to Make Sunshine

1pm Lunch keynote: Renee Watson, Ways to Make Sunshine

Renee Watson is a captivating speaker who grew up in Northeast Portland (OR) and was a reader and writer from an early age. She said that “magical spaces that nurtured me” included the library, her neighborhood, and the theater, and said, “Miracle and magic come out of desolate places…it’s a realistic thing to dream big.” 

Watson said, “The work we are doing as librarians and writers and educators makes a difference, you don’t always know [the impact you’ll have],” mentioning the teacher who encouraged her to keep a journal in second grade, and the teacher who produced a play she wrote in eighth. 

I really enjoyed two of the author’s previous novels (Piecing Me Together and Some Places More Than Others) and am looking forward to this one, when I can get my hands on it.

Cover of Prairie Lotus4pm Closing Keynote: Linda Sue Park, Prairie Lotus

In Prairie Lotus, Park wrote a book for herself as a young girl, reading the Little House on the Prairie books and wishing she could see herself in them. But she began her talk by showing illustrations of characters knitting in picture books: some were holding their knitting needles in a way that would have made it impossible to knit, while others were holding them correctly. Though it’s a small thing, “I still think it matters….because these pictures show, to me…that knitting isn’t important. It’s not important to get it right. And that feels disrespectful….They could have gotten it right (as Christian Robinson does) if if mattered to them.” And then she did a Brilliant Teacher Pivot and said, “This is just about knitting – but what if it’s about your culture? What if people don’t care enough to get it right with those kind of things?….Then you’re in the kind of territory where a book can actually harm a reader.” Though it’s not possible to get everything right, “We have a responsibility to try.”

(Let me just say, if I was a student, and a teacher started a class this way, I would be hooked. I would take every class they offered for the next four years.)

Park talked about “The danger of the single story,” the title of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk. She said, “The essence of Prairie Lotus for me is to try to dismantle the single story of that era of history.” In historical fiction, first question is, “Who else was there?” (Gilman also raised this point in the ReadWoke presentation.) The single story “is easier. It’s easier to tell that single story….The real story is more complex, more difficult, it takes more time. And it is worth every minute of that time.”

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Libraries and COVID-19: Considering Copyright During a Crisis, American Libraries Live, April 3, with Lesley Ellen Harris, Jill Hurst-Wahl, and Kenneth D. Crews

I attended this webinar mainly because I was interested in what they’d have to say about public libraries offering virtual storytimes and read-alouds. They did discuss that – as well as getting students and teachers access to materials – but because of the nature of Fair Use, they didn’t offer hard-and-fast rules. Instead, they suggested (1) documenting all decisions you’ve made so far and that you make going forward; (2) applying Fair Use principles consistently; (3) being in touch with the library director and Board of Trustees; (4) using public domain, Creative Commons, and open access materials instead of copyrighted works whenever possible; and (5) keeping careful records – we will be looking back on this in the future.

  • “Now is a time to think about copyright but not obsess about copyright.”
  • “Make your decisions today with a view to how you’re going to reflect back on them.”

My take: Most publishers have relaxed their copyright restrictions temporarily, and have put forward specific ways their copyrighted materials can be used. (Here is the SLJ COVID-19 Publisher Information Directory.) Overall, they seem to prefer a closed platform (such as teachers may have in place with their students already), but realize that that may not be possible, so they generally allow posting to public platforms as well, if the material is taken down after a certain period of time, and if they’re notified by e-mail and/or tagged on social media.

Cover of Lift

Authors want their books to be read and shared during this time, and publishers are highly unlikely to sue libraries for putting storytimes online while most of the country is under some version of a stay-at-home order. (Personally, I bought a copy of Minh Le and Dan Santat’s lovely picture book Lift from one of our local independent bookstores after my daughter and I watched Santat read it online the week before it came out. Book sales seem to be doing pretty well right now.)

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Demo & Overview of Beanstack Mobile App and Web Service: “Make a Splash with Project Outcome: Measuring the Success of Summer Reading Programs,” April 13

This was a quick, thorough demo of how the Beanstack platform can be used for summer reading programs through the library. Different programs can be set up for children, teens, and adults; in keeping with library privacy values, minimal information (name and age) is required (the library can choose to add additional fields). Participants earn badges throughout the program, for books read and activities completed; the library can award prizes or have it just be for fun. Patrons can print their reading logs if they wish. There is also an “offline reader” mode.

Beanstack seems easy to use for both staff and patrons, and they claim to be “obsessed with [customer] support!” It can be used throughout the year for other challenges as well, such as 1000 Books Before Kindergarten or winter/spring vacation reading.

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“Supporting Family Literacy While #SocialDistancing,” Mackin, April 30, with Jennifer Plucker, Deidra Purvis, and Greta Schetnan

The intended audience for this webinar was classroom teachers, but there were important takeaways for children’s librarians in public libraries as well. Classroom teachers have established relationships with students and parents, and a direct channel of communication (one hopes), but in terms of providing access to resources, public librarians can help prevent “summer slide” as well.

COVID-19 presents new challenges: increased time away from school and the “faucet” of resources; increased stress; the opportunity gap (some families have internet access and enough devices, others don’t); separation from support systems; and an exacerbation of existing inequality.

Just as classroom teachers and school librarians can, public librarians can provide access to “high-interest titles that serve as windows and mirrors,” and communicate with caregivers that they are their children’s first teachers. Literacy doesn’t come only from reading, but also from talking, singing, writing, and listening; many everyday activities (like cooking and baking) can build literacy skills.

Finally, though, “Time spent reading is the biggest predictor of reading achievement.” Ensuring access to high-interest books is paramount if we are to grow a generation of readers.

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Form-Based Readers’ Advisory: When Your Readers (and Staff) Are At Home,” NoveList, April 29, with Angela Hursh (NoveList), Melissa Andrews (Boston Public Library), Monique Christian-Long (Dallas Public Library), and Kristy Lockhart (Weymouth Public Library)

Three public librarians spoke about the personalized, form-based readers’ advisory services their libraries offer. Each has a different brand (Shelf Service, #DPLWhatsNext, BookMatch) and a slightly different process, but all three use a LibraryAware template/newsletter to send results to people who use the service (LibraryAware and NoveList are both EBSCO products).

Form-based RA is a great service to offer while the physical library building is closed; patrons get a personal touch, which is extra appreciated in these times, and librarians can make sure that the titles they recommend are available as ebooks or digital audiobooks. Though it wasn’t mentioned, I believe that the Williamsburg (VA) Public Library reader preference form was the original model for these libraries’ forms. (It is long and thorough, and can only be used by library cardholders.)

One of the most important questions is the first one an in-person readers’ advisory interview is likely to lead off with: What are some books/authors you love (either recently, or all-time favorites)? When sending suggestions back, include an explanation for “why we thought you’d like this title” – make a connection with something they wrote on the form.

With or without LibraryAware, form-based RA is something most libraries can offer, tailoring the variables (see below) to suit their capabilities and patrons’ wants/needs. Consider:

  • The number and type of questions on the form
    • Which questions are required and which optional; is the form open to anyone, or only cardholders?
  • Turnaround time (how long between a patron submitting a form and receiving a response? One week is good)
  • How many titles are suggested (usually between 5-10)
  • How many library staff will answer the forms (is there a strict rotation, does it depend on current workload or RA strengths?)
  • How is the form built? How are the replies generated? LibraryAware is one option, but a Google form and e-mail work too
  • How will you advertise this service? How will you handle “surges”?

I loved answering these forms at my last library, and my current library is about to launch this service too.

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“Trivia Pursued Remotely: Hosting Online Trivia Contests in a Time of Social Distancing,” Massachusetts Library System, May 12, presented by Mikaela “Miki” Wolfe of the Sharon (MA) Public Library

Ingredients for a successful trivia night: host, technology, content, audience.

Host: Miki was already hosting in-person trivia nights quarterly at the Sharon Public Library; now she is offering virtual trivia twice monthly, on Saturdays at 8pm, to give people a fun way to “hang out.”

Technology/gameplay: Miki said that the transition from in-person to online was fairly easy; they use the presenter view in Zoom to share slides with questions. The chat feature is used for questions and comments, NOT for answers; teams self-score(!) and a designated person from each team reports their score in the chat at the end of each round.

Content: There are three rounds, with 15 questions per round (one per slide), plus a picture round and some bonus content. Miki creates most of her questions from scratch (she generously shared years’ worth of questions), and while she recommended a few trivia sites to find questions, she warned against trusting what you find online – it’s always wise to cross-check. She also varies the difficulty of the questions.

Audience: Audience feedback is key to make sure the audience returns! (They had 50+ people at each virtual trivia event so far.) Each registered participant receives a survey, which can be shared with teammates.

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cover image of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHarry Potter Trivia, Arlington (MA) libraries, May 13

Luckily, the day after Miki’s presentation, I got to attend a virtual trivia event through my town’s library – also using Zoom, also having participants self-score. It was low-key and fun, and with 10+ participants, there was room for casual chat (all related to Harry Potter). Fox Branch Manager Amanda Troha ran the event; she started by “sorting” participants into Houses by pulling slips of paper out of a hat – a great way to start while waiting for those who show up a few minutes late.

There were three questions per slide/round, and there were eight rounds, plus two picture rounds. Each slide of three questions was followed by an answer slide. The program lasted about an hour, and at the end, Amanda asked the participants (mostly kids/tweens) if they’d liked it, would they come again, were there other things they’d want trivia about? (Yes; yes; Star Wars, Disney, Marvel superheroes, Percy Jackson, Keeper of the Lost Cities, etc.)

After hearing about and experiencing virtual trivia with self-scoring, I am a convert! I’ve already started to work on shifting our planned Harry Potter trivia for late July from an in-person to an online event.

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Are you a librarian working from home? Have you attended any webinars you’d recommend? Read any fantastic articles? Please share!

Book lists galore

What kind of work do librarians do from home? We plan summer reading (it’s online, but still awesome), keep in touch with colleagues, stay current on book reviews and publisher news, take professional development webinars (and share notes, of course – librarians are all about sharing), host virtual storytimes, suggest fun STEAM activities, and make lots and LOTS of book lists. Here are a few I’ve put together for our library:

For kids

For adults

I also hosted a virtual book chat, which was about the same as the in-person ones I’ve done, attendance-wise (i.e. not crowded), but we discussed a LOT of books! The complete list of titles and authors is below, sorted by genre. I had prepared a list of new novels and nonfiction, all published in 2020, but we ended up talking about plenty of older titles as well as new ones.

Covers: The Starless Sea, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Glass Hotel, Rodham, A Good Neighborhood, Voyage of Mercy

Books Discussed in the Book Chat, Friday, May 8, 2020, 1pm

Literary Fiction
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Ann Fowler
American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Normal People by Sally Rooney
 (author of Conversations with Friends)
Ann Patchett (any!)
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The Language of Flowers and We Never Asked for Wings
 by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow
 (Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet)
Gold by Chris Cleave (novel, London 2012 Olympics, love triangle)
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
 (YA)
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano

Speculative Fiction (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Dystopia)
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. McGuin
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (first in a trilogy, all three have been published)
Martha Wells series of novellas (Murderbot Diaries; Murderbot books have “sarcastic tone, funny”
)
Seanan McGuire, Wayward Children series (Every Heart A Doorway, etc.)
The Age of Miracles
 and The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz (time travel, history, feminist)
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (novella – short, poignant, with a twist)
Shirley Jackson (We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Haunting of Hill House 
“The Lottery”)
Stephen King
The Changeling, Victor LaValle
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
 by 
Charles Yu

Romance
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Historical
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (set during the Blitz, three main characters)

Thriller/Suspense
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Nonfiction
Voyage of Mercy, Stephen Puleo (author of Dark Tide)
Peabody Sisters
 by Megan Marshall
Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner (if you liked Downton Abbey, etc.)
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
 (well written, a lot of research; author of 
Dead Wake, Devil in the White City)
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (family/mental health)
The Lost Family by Libby Copeland
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

We also talked about how our reading habits and tastes have shifted (or not) during this time. Many of my reader friends and colleagues find themselves unable to concentrate on new titles, and have turned to re-reading old favorite books, listening to audiobooks, or picking up short stories, essays, or humor; others continue their reading as usual. Either way, you’re not alone. Donalyn Miller wrote “Reading Joy in the Time of Coronavirus” for School Library Journal (April 10, 2020) and Sarah Wendell (of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) wrote “For A Lot of Book Lovers, Rereading Old Favorites Is the Only Reading They Can Manage at the Moment” for the Washington Post (May 2, 2020).

My reading habits have stayed pretty much the same, and I’ve even read some “pandemic” or pandemic-adjacent fiction: Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I’d highly recommend both, but your mileage may vary – it may be that reading about the Black Plague (or the “blue sickness”) isn’t your cup of tea right now, and that’s okay!

 

The TBR pile grows: boosting upcoming spring/summer titles

All industries have been affected by the massive economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Publishing and bookselling are certainly not immune, so I thought that one very small thing I can do is to champion the books and authors I’m excited about this year. Books are still being published (and written and represented and acquired and edited), and people are definitely still reading.

Libraries’ physical locations are closed in most places – or if they’re not, they should be – and while some staff are working from home and being paid, others have been furloughed or laid off, or forced to use their PTO or do unrelated (and sometimes risky) jobs (for no hazard pay). If you are in a position to do so, please consider supporting your local library by donating to their Friends group, contacting Town/City management to express your appreciation and support, or donating to the EveryLibrary HALO Fund (or any of the EveryLibrary initiatives).

Okay, on to the books! It’s looking like 2020 might not be the best year (politically, pandemically, planetarily, take your pick), but there are always good books being published. Titles in italics are those I’ve already read and would recommend; the rest are those I’m looking forward to reading in the coming months.

Adult

  • 19 Love Songs by David Levithan
  • You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy
  • The Genius of Women by Janice Kaplan
  • Weather by Jenny Offill
  • A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
  • Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
  • Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit
  • The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
  • Go to Sleep (I Miss You) by Lucy Knisley
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey
  • Show Them A Good Time by Nicole Flattery
  • A Map Is Only One Story, edited by Nicole Chung
  • Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
  • Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan
  • Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Or What You Will by Jo Walton

YA/Middle grade

  • On the Horizon by Lois Lowry
  • The Thief Knot by Kate Milford (Greenglass House)
  • The Night Country by Melissa Albert (sequel to The Hazel Wood)
  • Just Breathe by Cammie McGovern
  • Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann
  • Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
  • Almost American Girl by Robin Ha
  • Chirp by Kate Messner
  • Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker
  • Show Me A Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
  • Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
  • We Dream of Space by Erin Estrada Kelly
  • The Sisters of Straygarden Place by Hayley Chewins
  • Music from Another World by Robin Talley
  • Goodbye from Nowhere by Sara Zarr
  • Catherine’s War by Julia Billet
  • When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Mohamed Omar
  • Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
  • Wink by Rob Harrell
  • The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
  • Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk
  • Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar
  • Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen
  • Folktales for Fearless Girls by Myriam Sayalero

Picture books

  • Beehive by Jorey Hurley
  • The Only Woman in the Photo by Kathleen Krull
  • In A Jar by Deborah Marcero
  • World So Wide by Alison McGee (this would make a great gift book for any family with a new baby!)
  • My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano
  • Charlie and Mouse Outdoors by Laurel Snyder
  • Just Like A Mama by Alice Faye Duncan
  • The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard
  • Only A Tree Knows How to Be A Tree by Mary Murphy
  • The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee
  • One Little Bag by Henry Cole
  • I Can Be Anything by Shinsuke Yoshitake
  • What About Worms?! (an Elephant & Piggie book) by Ryan T. Higgins
  • The Next President by Kate Messner
  • Lift by Minh Le
  • Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey by Lori Mortensen
  • Things That Go Away by Beatrice Alemagna
  • What If Soldiers Fought With Pillows? by Heather Camlot
  • In My Anaana’s Amautik by Nadia Sammurtock
  • Under the Lilacs by E.B. Goodale
  • You Don’t Want A Dragon! by Ame Dyckman

Looking even further ahead: Alix Harrow’s new novel The Once and Future Witches comes out in October of this year, and Kate Milford’s The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book comes out in 2021. Still waiting on the final chunk of Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust trilogy, and the rest of Alba De Tamble’s story from Audrey Niffenegger…

Remember that you can borrow e-books and digital audiobooks for free from your library, and most indie bookstores are offering local delivery or some sort of contact-less pickup option. Keep calm, wash your hands, and read on.

Virtual storytime with buddies

I miss doing storytimes! And my kiddo misses her friends. So, we planned a Saturday morning virtual storytime with four of her buddies. We used Google Hangouts to “meet.” I used my usual storytime format, with fewer books, assuming that it might be harder to hold their attention, even though they’re older (4.5 years) than my usual group (2- and 3-year-olds). And yeah, I have a song cube at home.

Song cube, books, shaker egg and maraca

  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • “Where Is Thumbkin?”
  • Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen: A long lead-off book, but one or two of them were already familiar with it, and it seemed to hold their attention pretty well.
  • Song cube: “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands”
  • Only A Tree Knows How to Be A Tree by Mary Murphy: I planned yoga poses to go along with this, which my kiddo was happy to demonstrate as I read the words to the story and showed the pictures. (Yoga poses: Tree, cat, dog, fish, mountain.)
  • Song cube: “I Had A Little Turtle” and “I’m A Little Teapot”
  • A Rainbow of My Own by Don Freeman: We got this book from a friend relatively recently, and it struck me right away as perfect for storytime. I had been planning to read Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer as the third book today, but swapped it for this one. (I also had The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak as a backup, but there are already great videos of the author himself reading it online.)
  • “Shake Your Sillies Out” (I had told the parents ahead of time that the kids could each “bring” a musical instrument, so we had shakers, a harmonica, and a tambourine as accompaniment.)
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary

I hope everyone is staying safe and doing okay in this strange time. Wash your hands, stay inside (and go for walks in non-crowded places), connect virtually, and hang in there.

 

STEAM activities for home

Our library closed on March 15 due to the spread of COVID-19, and will be closed through April 6, if not longer. Librarians have been working from home on professional development activities and creating content we can share online. We’ve been making lists of book recommendations (with links to e-books and digital audiobooks, of course), advertising our other online resources (such as access to newspapers), providing timely and accurate information about COVID-19, and bringing a little fun and entertainment to families with kids at home. Here are a couple booklists I’ve worked on:

Audiobooks for the Whole Family

March & April Adult Fiction Titles

Over on my personal blog (there’s some overlap…I write about books and early childhood activities in both places) I did a round-up of many of the online resources we’ve been using or planning to explore: Kid resources and activities for quarantine. One activity we had fun with was “Sink/Float,” which is a great activity for kids (mine is four and a half, but younger kids will still enjoy the sensory aspect, and older ones can make better predictions). All you need is a bowl of water and a dozen (or more) objects that can get wet. If you happen to have a copy of Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis or Ice Boy by David Ezra Stein, those would be great companion books for this activity.

My kiddo hasn’t ever been the type to spend a lot of time drawing by herself, but we had a great time yesterday morning doing some mixed media art: we used crayons to color on watercolor paper, then used watercolor paint over the crayon (which resists the paint). It was colorful and fun, and we worked on them together for almost an hour. (You can also sprinkle some kosher salt on watercolor paint before it dries and observe the neat effect!)

Today we watched a couple of short videos by SciShow Kids about simple machines and “The Coolest Machine Ever!” a.k.a. a Rube Goldberg machine. (Shout out to the Portland (ME) Public Library, which had an excellent exhibit on Rube Goldberg a few years ago.) Then we raided our recycling bin and arts and crafts supplies to make our own Rube Goldberg machines. Great companion books for this activity are Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, and Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty. (For older kids, Beaty has brought Rosie and Iggy into the chapter book realm in her Questioneers series.)

We’ve also been doing Cosmic Kids yoga every day: host/teacher Jamie takes viewers through a fast-paced half-hour routine, telling a compressed version of a story from a movie or book (e.g. Frozen, Moana, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). I happen to have a beautiful 1946 edition of Alice (from my mother-in-law’s basement – thanks, Nana!) and we began reading that aloud as well. There may be a tea party in the near future…

Speaking of tea parties, baking is a great activity to do with kids. Wash your hands (we all have plenty of practice with this now, if we didn’t before), put on an apron, and pick out a recipe from a cookbook or one of the many sites online. (I’m partial to King Arthur Flour recipes.) Make sure to read the recipe all the way through first, and make sure you have all the ingredients you need before you begin. Even really young kids can be helpful in the kitchen, unwrapping sticks of butter or stirring eggs with a fork or whisk. When you think about it, baking is math (measuring), science (chemistry), literacy (reading a recipe), sensory/art, and, of course, nutrition!

And if you feel like growing your own food, now’s a great time to start a garden. Seed packets should have information about when to plant seeds, whether they can be started inside and transplanted or not, and how long before you can expect them to sprout (“days to emerge”), as well as what kind of care they need in terms of sunlight and water. You don’t need anything fancy – you can start seeds with potting soil in egg cartons. Many herbs, like chives and basil, are easy to start from seed.

Chives and basil seeds in egg carton seed tray

I do miss doing my weekly storytimes, and will be excited to return to those once it’s safe to do so. Luckily, the #kidlit world has really stepped up to make sure that kids still have access to books, and publishers have temporarily eased restrictions on public performance of copyrighted works so that authors and others can read books aloud to share. Two children’s librarians at my library put together a “virtual storytime,” and many other libraries and authors are doing similar things, so check your local library’s website and social media, as well as Storyline Online, Mo Willems Lunch Doodles (Dan Santat, author of The Adventures of Beekle, makes a guest appearance in the March 25 episode), and Story Time from Space. (Also, here’s B.J. Novak reading The Book With No Pictures.)

Do you work at a library? What have you been creating/sharing from home? Do you have kids at home? What are your go-to activities?

Bookmatching: Readers’ Advisory for Developing Readers

In January, the Youth Services Interest Group (YSIG) hosted librarian Rhonda Cunha to present on the topic “Understanding Literacy Acquisition for Targeted Reader’s Advisory” at the Woburn Public Library. Rhonda is the Early Literacy Children’s Librarian at the Stevens Memorial Library in Andover, MA, and her presentation was detailed and thorough. I’m going to try to condense six pages of notes into a coherent overview here, starting with an important definition:

Reading is making meaning from text.

In the public library, Rhonda often overheard misconceptions about how children learn to read; her presentation corrects some of those misunderstandings. As children’s librarians, we are ideally placed to promote literacy, help children love reading, and help parents.

Early Literacy Skills slide

Early literacy skills include print motivation, phonological awareness, vocabulary, narrative skills (storytelling), print awareness (how books work), and letter knowledge. Two major ways that public libraries help children develop early literacy skills are through storytime programs and readers’ advisory services: talking with readers and helping them find books they’ll love (ideally, talking directly with the kids; talking with the parents is second best).

Readers’ advisory is more complex for children than for adults, because they are still developing these literacy skills: the book’s content needs to be interesting to them, and the book needs to be the right level. However, we don’t “level” books in the public library, for several reasons. Part of helping kids see themselves as readers and develop a love of reading is supporting them, not labeling them. (Benchmarking is a teaching tool for teachers to evaluate what the kids know, determine the point of need, and enable them to teach to the child’s need. “Levels” – Lexile and Fountas & Pinnell are two common ones – should not be shared with the kids themselves, let alone their parents.) A young reader’s background knowledge might enable them to read a book more advanced than their designated “level,” or they might want to pick up a book that’s easier – and that’s fine.

How to Help Kids Choose Just-Right Books for Them:

  • Helping children develop independent reading identities requires respect, trust, and lots of patience.
  • Encourage kids to vary their reading diet, in terms of genres and interests. Give them what they want, and slip in a few extras.
  • Provide lots of choices.
  • Encourage them to abandon books that don’t “sing” to them: “Good readers abandon books!” If you don’t like it, don’t read it. (But give it a chance – start with 10-20 pages, and if you don’t like it, stop. This goes for adult readers, as well.)
  • Use the 5-finger rule. Open a book to a page and start reading; put a finger up for each word they don’t know. (1=easy, 2=still easy, 3=okay, 4=challenging, 5=too hard)
  • Knowing what they don’t like is as important as knowing what they do like.
  • Use the acronym BOOKMATCH: Book length, Ordinary language, Organization, Knowledge prior to book, Manageable text, Appeal to genre, Topic appropriateness, Connection, High interest

Self-efficacy is key! Children need to see themselves as capable readers and to believe they can succeed. There are four steps to self-efficacy:

  1. Mastery experiences (reading to themselves without difficulty)
  2. Social models (seeing adults reading and writing)
  3. Social persuasion (encouragement and cheerleading, “I know you can do it!”)
  4. Mood

“While children are learning the skills of reading, they must also develop a positive reading identity or they will not become lifelong readers.” –Donalyn Miller

Advice for Parents:

  • Reading aloud to children builds receptive vocabulary, which becomes expressive vocabulary. Additionally, kids’ listening comprehension level is usually higher than their reading (print) comprehension. Reading aloud is the most important thing parents can do!
  • Social modeling: Kids should see their parents reading and writing (writing grocery lists, to-do lists, thank you notes, etc.).
  • Read familiar books to keep success high. (“If they want to read Wimpy Kid sixteen times, let them!”) Read predictable, repeating texts and short books. Read the books they bring home from school to bolster confidence.
  • Make reading a special daily ritual – try for at least 20 minutes a day/night.
  • Keep it fun and positive. Balance corrections with story flow (focus on one thing each time). If the kid is reading aloud and gets stuck on a word, count to 5 (silently) and supply the word so they can move on.
  • Name the strategies they are using.* Reread the same sentence/book if decoding is slow. Use the language that the school uses when recognizing strategies.
  • Readers who self-correct are checking for comprehension (this is good!).
  • Be aware of cognitive overload** – it’s okay to take over. Make them happy about reading/being read to.
  • End on a positive note.

*Recently, I was reading Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill to my four-year-old, and we came across the word “weary.” I asked her if she knew what it meant, and she said no. I read the whole sentence again, and asked her to guess what it meant. “Tired?” She got it! I was so excited. I explained that what she’d just done was figure out the meaning of a word from context – the words around that word. She was really pleased and proud.

**Cognitive capacity: you have X amount. How much are you using for decoding, how much for comprehension? Accuracy and fluency are important, so readers aren’t using all their cognitive capacity for decoding. Phonics will only get you so far; 40% of the words in English cannot be decoded.

Reading is making meaning from text, so how do we learn to do that? Here are some decoding strategies used in school:

  • Ask: Does that look right? Does it sound right? Does it make sense?
  • Get your mouth ready to say that word. Skip the word and read around it (to get context – see above).
  • Ask: What would fit there?
  • Break the word up into smaller known words or sounds (families, blends, compounds).
  • Look at the picture for clues (Cunha said, “There are pictures in books for a reason! There is no cheating in reading”).
  • Before you start reading:
    • Activate prior knowledge (e.g., “What do we already know about dolphins?” Look at the book’s cover – what do you see, what do you notice?)
    • Preview difficult or unknown vocabulary and/or take a picture walk.
    • Be present to notice behaviors, give support, and watch for burnout.

More advice and strategies for reading and reading together:

  • As books become more advanced, cognitive demands on the readers increase. The more a kid has in their head already, the less dependent on the text they are (top-down vs. bottom-up processing).
  • The way children acquire language is through a direct connection with people they’re conversing with (“serve and return” communication).
  • When a kid reads aloud, you hear their mistakes, which are informative; in order to teach, you have to hear the errors.
  • Monitor for meaning: Ask big-picture questions, not detail questions (e.g. “How do you think he felt?” vs. “What color was his shirt?”)

Want to learn more? See below for more resources.

Cover of Reading Picture Books With ChildrenRecommended reading:

The Reading Zone: how to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers by Nancie Atwell

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Reading Picture Books With Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

BOOKMATCH: How to Scaffold Student Book Selection for Independent Reading by Linda Wedwick and Jessica Ann Wutz

Reading teacher newsletter from International Literacy Association: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/

“Learning, Interrupted: Cell Phone Calls Sidetrack Toddlers’ Word Learning,” American Psychological Association, November 21, 2017

“Thinking Outside the Bin: Why Labeling Books By Reading Level Disempowers Young Readers,” Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal, August 28, 2017

Step into Storytime, March 9

We had low turnout at storytime today – just three kids at the beginning, with two more joining them in the first few minutes – which could be due to coronavirus fears, but could also be chalked up to the gorgeous weather. Anyway, the show must go on…

Picture books in foreground, mouse house game in background

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” with ASL (Jbrary)
  • Hand-washing song discussion
  • Song cube: “I’m A Little Teapot”
  • Name song (“___ is here today”)
  • How to Cheer Up Dad by Fred Koehler
  • Stretch: up, down, sideways
  • Shake A Leg, Egg by Kurt Cyrus
  • Song cube: “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” (regular speed, fast, slow)
  • I brought two books about dogs named George; I showed them at the same time and said we’d read both, and gave the kids a chance to vote for which one they wanted first, by raising their hands. Only one kid voted. And that’s democracy.
  • Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer: This one’s a hit. It’s got animal sounds and surprises; at this age, kids like discovering and pointing out things that aren’t right, e.g. when a dog says meow instead of arf!
  • Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton: It’s always interesting to hear their predictions about the ambiguous ending.
  • Mouse house game
  • Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett
  • Explanation of traffic light game and variation
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL (Jbrary)
  • Traffic light game #1: Essentially Red Light, Green Light, starting at one end of the room and getting to the other. Traffic light game #2: Unusual colors! Blue = clap, orange = hop, pink = twirl, purple = touch toes, and red = stop.

All of today’s books were relatively short, which meant more time for open-ended questions while we read them (e.g. “What did Little Jumbo do when he didn’t want to wear his overalls?” and “What do you think George did?” and “What is the weather like outside today?”).