MLA 2019: The Greatest Job on Earth

The Massachusetts Library Association’s annual conference theme this year is “the greatest job on earth.” And I guess we can claim that, because a quick internet search shows there’s not a lot of consensus on the issue. Moving on!

The keynote speaker was Dr. Deborah L. Plummer, Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer at UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial and author; her presentation was called “Radical Respect in Troubling Times,” and it was followed by a “Communicating Across Differences Workshop.” Plummer spoke about how to turn “Us and Them into We” through conversation – and not just conversation with the people you already agree with. It’s easy to respect people who look / think / talk / behave / worship / vote like you; it takes work to get out of your echo chamber. But bumping up against difference is how we learn about others and about our own identities. 

The paradox of diversity, said Plummer, is that (1) we are unique and like no one else (personality); (2) we’re each like some other people (similar backgrounds, views, genes, etc.); (3) we’re all like everyone else (i.e., human). And we don’t each have one identity; we have multiple and intersecting identities. We may emphasize or project one or another of these depending who we’re with. “Identity pulling” is okay if you’re the one choosing to do it, but it’s not okay for one person to do it for someone else.

Plummer gave the attendees strategies for successful “bumping”: (1) Focus on being respectful rather than being right; (2) Check your assumptions, and de-escalate if necessary by saying something like “I’m sorry, I made an assumption”; (3) Mirror the other person’s style by “grabbing their handle” – figure out if they are coming from the head, the heart, or the gut/soul; (4) “Take a helicopter ride” and observe from a distance if the other person doesn’t have the capacity to change their viewpoint or behavior.

Plummer also listed her three components of radical respect:

  1. Admiration: “Wouldn’t it be great if we treated differences like a challenge instead of a threat?” (We have different physiological responses to these: we react to a challenge with adrenalin, and to a threat with cortisol.)
  2. Civility: Listen for understanding, rather than for rebuttal
  3. Dignity: Honor that needs and concerns exist. Where do they come from?

one vase or two facesThere was a break after the keynote, and then the next set of morning sessions. I chose to stay with Plummer for the “Communicating Across Differences Workshop,” which included some of the same material as her keynote with additional exercises and examples, starting with a few of the classic Psych 101 images to demonstrate our ability to make perceptual shifts. You can’t actually hold multiple realities or perspectives at once, but you can shift back and forth between them – and if you don’t see another reality on your own, sometimes you can once someone points it out to you. (Ah, see what she did there? Clever.)

In this session, Plummer spoke about the traditional approach to difference compared to the contemporary one, and used an analogy of an hourglass: If the sand in the top is the dominant culture (white, male, Christian, healthy and able-bodied, adult, heterosexual, upper-class, educated), those on top are afraid of simply flipping the hourglass; “we have a better chance for creating equity if we tip the hourglass on its side.”

Communicating successfully across differences is tricky; Plummer’s “Intention vs. Impact” slide shows how a sender’s intended message might impact a receiver. If the impact is positive, we have effective communication; if it’s negative, we need to acknowledge and clarify. Intent and impact are both important; one of Plummer’s examples was a Black Lives Matter display. Some people thought it was an anti-police message, which wasn’t exactly the sender’s intended meaning (it was more like, Black Lives Matter too).

intention vs impact flow chart slide

Following this slide was one with a number of conversational “bounce backs,” ways to recover and things to say when a conversation goes wrong, such as “Help me to understand…” and “My experience has been…” Everyone will make mistakes, and these can help move the conversation forward if done with a degree of cultural humility and commitment to learning.

diversity petalNext was a “diversity petal” exercise: we identified the dominant or “up” identities for race, gender, age, mental/physical ability, sexual orientation, class, education, and religion and then our own identities within each category, then placed a check mark next to any category where our own identity matched the dominant one. Plummer pointed out that marginalized people know more about the dominant culture; part of privilege is not having to learn about how life is for others. “Black people know a lot more about white people than white people know about Black people. Women know a lot more about men than men know about women. People who have a disability know a lot more about the world that’s designed for people who are healthy and able.”

We came back to the “multiple realities” images to hammer home the point that just because you don’t see (or experience) something doesn’t mean that it isn’t there (or doesn’t exist). Plummer is a champion of cross-racial friendships (Some Of My Friends Are…), and pointed out how going through life with people who are different than you can highlight the ways in which you experience the world differently (or ways in which the world treats you differently).

All of this is ongoing; no one has “arrived,” but we can commit to continuing the conversation.

To Be Continued (more sessions from Monday, and sessions – and a presentation library website usability testing – on Wednesday)

 

 

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Step Into Storytime, May 13

Stack of storytime titles

This morning was the last Monday Step Into Storytime for the spring; our summer schedule is different, and I’ll only have a couple of all-ages storytimes until the regular schedule starts again in the fall. I will miss seeing these kiddos for storytime every week!

For our last storytime, I requested enough copies of the book Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson so that every adult/child pair could have one. It’s an interactive book (tap, pat, swish, tilt, shake, etc.) so I wanted all the kids to have a chance to be involved throughout. (I borrowed this idea from Miss Lauren, who did it with her 3- to 5-year-old storytime group.) There are plenty of other interactive titles, too, if this is something you’d like to try in your storytime, or if this is a type of book your kid likes; see list below.

Copies of Tap the Magic Tree

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel: This is a storytime favorite because it allows for a lot of interaction, like checking clothing for spots and stripes, and saying hello to friends and neighbors sitting nearby.
  • Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson: Copies for everyone. This got loud (which is fine!) as kids and their grown-ups explored each page.
  • 88 Instruments by Chris Barton: Because we were pretty loud already, I handed out instruments (shaker eggs and jingle bells on sticks) for this musical story. (Storytime tip: if the group is loud, getting everyone to make the same noise makes things more manageable.)
  • Song: “Shake Your Sillies Out” (then collect instruments)
  • Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig: We did this one just a couple weeks ago, but it works so well. Kids can do a movement to go along with each page of the story: kneading and stretching dough, tossing it, spreading oil, sprinkling cheese, etc.
  • Song cube: “ABCs”
  • A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes: Five of the kids got to put an elephant on the felt board, and those who didn’t got to come up and give the elephants pats to make sure they were stuck up there firmly. Then we marched round and round, trumpeted, yawned, and stretched.
  • The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith: Kids could come up and say hello to the donkey puppet before and after the story. (Note: some kids like being nibbled on, and SOME DON’T. Keep it to “hee haw” and ear wiggling!)
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Clean up mats, put out butcher paper and crayons, hand out surveys* to adults, remind everyone about summer schedule.

*Surveys: I’ve been wanting to do a brief survey for this group for a while, to see if there was anything I could tweak to improve the program. I based my four-question survey largely on Jbrary’s Sample Evaluation Forms. LibraryAware also has a long post about feedback on programs.

Seven adults filled out and returned the survey; two of the seven said that the books/songs/movement/crafts were “not engaging enough”; the other five respondents felt that the books/songs/movement/crafts were “just right” for their children. I may try to do fewer, longer stories in the fall (three or four books instead of five or six), still with plenty of songs and movement. Then again, it could be a different group in the fall. We’ll see!

A few other interactive picture books:

  • Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson
  • Press Here and Mix It Up by Herve Tullet
  • Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter
  • Bunny Slopes and Hungry Bunny by Claudia Rueda
  • Tickle Monster by Edouard Manceau

Step Into Storytime, May 6

This is our second-to-last Monday Step Into Storytime before our schedule changes for summer (which seems optimistic, as spring has barely arrived, but so it goes). A few a my favorite families were there, which made it extra special, and all of the books really lent themselves to movement and interaction (though we still did plenty of extra songs and movement in between them as well).

Stack of picture books with bag of shaker eggs on top

  • Welcome, announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex: Chu’s fakeout sneezes got some laughs. If you are looking for humor in books, sneezes are a sure way to go.
  • Yoga: stretch to ceiling, touch toes, repeat; step feet apart, touch toes; touch opposite toes (e.g. left hand to right foot – cross-body exercises stretch the body and the brain!)
  • This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson and Suzy Lee: Perfect, as we’ve been having plenty of gray and rainy days and very little sunshine. “Beautiful” is in the eye of the beholder. And there’s some built-in stomping and toe-tapping.
  • Yoga/music: “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”
  • Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton: The BEST thing happened at the part where George sees the cat: When I read “What will George do?” one of the kids called out “He ate the cat!” which made everyone burst out laughing. (Don’t worry, cat lovers: no cats were eaten in the reading of this book.)
  • Song cube: “I’m A Little Teapot” and “Wheels on the Bus”
  • Yoga/music: Make stars with bodies (feet apart, arms out) and sway to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”
  • My Heart Is Like A Zoo by Michael Hall: I brought out the flannel animals one by one and the kids yelled out what they thought they were. Pretty high accuracy on this, actually, and even when someone called out “a heart!” they weren’t wrong – all of the animals are made out of heart shapes.
  • Now by Antoinette Portis: Another book with some built-in opportunities for participation/movement, plus an audible “Awww” from lots of the grown-ups at the end (“And this is my favorite Now / because it’s the one I am having / with you”).
  • Song cube: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”
  • Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett: With animal impressions, of course.
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Clean up mats, hand out shaker eggs, put on music (“Shake Your Sillies Out” and “Wheels on the Bus”), dance! Collect eggs afterward.

Interview with Miss Lauren: What makes a good storytime book?

Doing “Step Into Storytime” (my library’s name for its weekly storytime for two- and three-year-olds) has been a hugely fun experience. Over the past eight months, I’ve developed a long list of picture book titles that seem to work well for this group: longer lead-off books and shorter books for when the attention span starts to get wiggly. Funny books and serious books. Stories with repetition or rhyme and those with more complex plots. Animal books, counting books, color and shape books, peekaboo and surprise books, #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

I read a lot of picture books at home with my daughter as well, and others by myself in the library. Some of these are a little longer; they work beautifully one-on-one with a kid in the right mood, but they probably won’t hold the attention of twenty toddlers at once. (Other books rely on their illustrations for much of the story, which is fabulous if you are looking at the pages up close and can take your time, but works less well in a large group.)

My friend/mentor Miss Lauren currently does a storytime for three- to five-year olds. We have some overlap in the books we read (I definitely got Just Add Glitter and Harold Loves His Woolly Hat from her, and we both love Bark, George! and Oh No, George!), but she’s able to read longer books with her group. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about storytime books and audiences. Thank you, Miss Lauren!

What do you look for / what do you think is most important in a read-aloud book for younger kids (2- and 3-year olds)? What about for preschool-aged kids (3-5)?

This is such an interesting question. I am amazed how many times I’ve asked other librarians their go-to story time books and how everyone’s are unique. Now that I have been on both ends of story time (the reader! the listener!), I’ve really come to appreciate the power of the reader. The best advice I got from one of my mentors in grad school was to read books that you love and to know them inside and out. The excitement and familiarity translates into very positive energy for the audience.

With that said, when evaluating books as the reader, I always find myself looking for an opportunity for participation. Engaging the audience to join in the story in some way is both fun and energizing. It may be an ongoing, intended part of the story (such as whispering “Shhh” and shouting all the loud sounds throughout Valeri Gorbachev’s) or something small I add on my end (for example, if a story involves eating something, I invite the listeners to take a big pretend bite of that food too). It is nice to give kids an outlet for a wiggle or noise release when they are sitting and listening. Plus, it’s fun to growl / stick out your tongue / pretend to sleep / blow out the birthday candles / vote to go or not go into the big dark cave / etc.

What makes a “good” storytime book? How do you gauge whether a book is a storytime success, or maybe better for one-on-one?

The biggest element of a story that has tripped me up is length. The illustrations are beautiful! The story is wonderful! I want to jump into the pages! But my audience is losing it! These days, I can tell pretty quickly if there is too much text for the listeners in front of me. (Please note I’ve never had a problem with a book being “too short”). This changes with an audience of kindergarteners or older; but, for pre-K, I am extra sensitive to length. Like many librarians, I lead with the longest book and look for a wiggle or noise release to add in.

Other elements I find myself evaluating: does the text have a good rhythm / flow or does it feel clunky to read aloud? Do the illustrations reach the back of the room? Does it check the boxes of good rhythm, illustrations that work with and for the story, opportunity to participate AND leave me with a warm and happy feeling? Home run book. A few of my home run books from recent story times for ages 3-5 are Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers, Little Gorilla by Ruth Bornstein, and Blackout by John Rocco.

What are some of your favorite go-to storytime books (for either age group or both)?

A few of my favorites for the 3-5 year olds:
The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats
A House in the Woods by Inga Moore
A Boy and His Bunny by Sean Bryan
Tiny Little Fly by Michael Rosen
Lizard from the Park by Mark Pett
How To Be Friends With a Dragon by Valeri Gorbachev
Where’s Teddy by Jez Alborough
Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig
Can You Make a Scary Face by Jan Thomas
Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson

Finally, what’s your favorite source for storytime research?

Observing other story times in action is extraordinarily helpful.  Easier to do now that I have my undercover partner… [Ed. note: even if you don’t have a kid you can bring with you, plenty of librarians would be happy to let you “audit” or observe their storytimes; just ask first!]

Thank you, Lauren! Happy storytiming, everyone!

Step Into Storytime, April 29

IMG_20190429_095418
Storytime books and scarves for Huff & Puff

It has been a very wet and windy April, but today was sunny and we had a slightly smaller group – I imagine some others were taking advantage of the weather to go to the playground. But we had a great time at storytime, with several regulars, a couple of younger siblings, and a pair of older kids (older kids are almost always less shy and more able to answer questions like “What’s this animal?” so I like having them in the group).

  • Welcome, announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Name song (“___ is here today”): I usually do this if there are 10 kids or fewer, as was the case when we started today (a couple more came in later)
  • Hugs From Pearl by Paul Schmid: I chose to use this as a lead-off book because it’s on the longer side for this age group, but it’s got a gentle humor and shows good problem-solving.
  • “Sun and rain yoga”: stretch up to the sun, then bring the sunshine down to your toes; stretch up to the rain, bring the rain down to your toes
  • Huff and Puff by Claudia Rueda, with scarves for the huffing and puffing parts. (We keep our scarves stuffed into empty tissue boxes.)
  • Song: “Where is Thumbkin?”
  • Song: “Kookaburra” (I put the words up on the whiteboard, along with a picture of a kookaburra)
  • Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig: This one is fabulous for incorporating movement into the story, as the kids pretend to knead their pizza dough, toss it in the air, spread oil on it, decorate it with tomatoes, sprinkle it with cheese, and slide it into the oven. Yum!
  • “Pizza yoga”: sit in a forward fold and “spread” oil, sauce, cheese, and toppings over your legsIMG_20190429_095346
  • Bark! Park! by Trudy Krisher: Simple, minimal words but plenty going on in the pictures, and an opportunity for kids to join in (“Bark, bark bark!”). Someone actually checked this out afterward, hurray! I brought out four dog puppets/stuffed animals for kids to come up and pet before and after the story.
  • One Very Tired Wombat by Renee Treml: They were super wiggly and kind of noisy during this one; I’m not sure how much is due to the book itself (a kind of counting book of Australian animals, with illustrations in mostly black and white, and somewhat detailed) and how much it had to do with the book’s place near the end of the lineup.
  • Song: “Kookaburra” reprise, to start cementing it in memory so it becomes part of our regular rotation. Maybe I will make a new song cube…
  • Spots in a Box by Helen Ward: A favorite, with simple text and a lot of visual interest, and a nice message as well: “So the best spots to choose if it’s friends that you seek, are the spots that you find put a smile on your beak.”
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Clean up mats
  • Spots/dots craft: using gluesticks to stick spots to butcher paper

IMG_20190429_104359

Step Into Storytime, April 22

Yet again, a minor sore throat/cold caused me to lose my voice, and it still wasn’t at full strength today – but I explained to the kids and they were SO QUIET. It was astonishing.

Our magical puppet/stuffed animal closet once again delivered, so we had Mr. Panda and the patient penguin from I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda. I also borrowed an idea from a parent/child yoga class I went to at another library recently, and we made stars with our bodies (feet apart, arms out to the sides) and rocked back and forth (balancing on one foot at a time, or just swaying) while singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

  • Welcome, announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL, from Jbrary
  • Edward Gets Messy by Rita Meade: This story has a lot of words per page for this age group, but whether because of my quiet voice or the easily graspable subject matter, the kids sat and seemed to be listening!
  • Yoga
  • Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian: A sweet story of two worms who just want to be married – and eventually they are, because Worm loves Worm.
  • Who in this room has thumbs? Okay, now hide your thumbs behind your back. “Where is Thumbkin?”
  • I’ll Wait, Mr Panda by Steve Antony, with panda stuffed animal and penguin puppet.
  • Yoga/song: Stand in “star” pose, balance/sway, and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle”
  • Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes
  • Carrot and Pea by Morag Hood
  • “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”
  • Perfect Square by Michael Hall (tie-in activity at the end)
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL, from Jbrary
  • Clean up mats, put out project: Paper squares to tear, crumple, and glue

Bird's-eye view of kids gluing squares to paper

We still did six books as usual, but a little less singing (still, five songs/rhymes including our hello and goodbye), and wrapped up a little bit earlier than usual. The project was popular, though next time I’d cut the squares a little smaller; I had cut sheets of colored construction paper into six pieces each (not exactly squares, but close). With older kids, they could have worked on their own projects and used scissors and a hole punch to recreate some of the pictures in Perfect Square, if they’d wanted. Michael Hall’s books really lend themselves to craft tie-ins!

Step Into Storytime, April 12

Today I covered our Friday session of Step Into Storytime, which skews a little younger (more twos than threes) and a little smaller.

Spines of storytime books

  • Welcome and announcements (closed next Monday for Patriots Day)
  • “Hello friends” song with ASL
  • Name song (“____ is here today”)
  • The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld: Kind of a quieter lead-off book that I might not have chosen if I’d known the book beforehand, but it worked okay.
  • “Kookaburra”: I thought I’d introduce a new (old, actually, 1932) song. I printed out the lyrics and put them up, along with a picture of a kookaburra (we didn’t have a kookaburra puppet, believe it or not), and also made small copies for the grown-ups.
  • Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • Yoga flow – and we sang “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” while we were doing it, because I saw a kid put her hands on her head.
  • Want to Play Trucks? by Ann Stott: This simple little story shows kids playing together, solving problems, and ultimately agreeing about the main thing in life: WE LIKE ICE CREAM!
  • “Happy birthday” song and putting candles on flannel board cake. It didn’t look at all like I envisioned and that was perfect.
  • When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano: This might not be a book you want to read over and over to your own kid, but it’s perfect for a group – you can put a ton of expression into it.
  • Yoga flow – using both sides of the body and the brain.
  • Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett: Probably one of my top five storytime books for this age group. It’s got a sing-song repetition AND animals. What more could you want?
  • “Kookaburra”: We sang it again (repetition helps learning), and I dropped in an early literacy tip (“If you’re wondering why we do so much singing in storytime, it’s because singing breaks words down into parts and introduces new words, all of which helps literacy development”). Plus I just love this song.
  • One Woolly Wombat by Rod Trinca and Kerry Argent: A counting, rhyming book full of Australian animals.
  • “Goodbye friends” song with ASL
  • Clean up mats
  • Color with crayons
  • Handout for grown-ups

Flannel board cake and candles