I made this handout to give to caregivers who attend my storytime at the library, and thought I would share it here as well. This is by no means an exhaustive list – it’s more like the tip of the iceberg. Enjoy! (And please add your favorites in the comments.)
The theme for tonight’s Arlington Author Salon, an event held quarterly at Kickstand Cafe in Arlington, was “Love in Tumultuous Times,” and the three featured authors were Whitney Scharer (The Age of Light), Jenna Blum (The Lost Family), and Christopher Castellani (Leading Men). The Arlington Author Salon is supported by the Arlington Cultural Council, which is in turn supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. I’ve only been to two events so far, and both have been packed.
Whitney Scharer was up first, showing slides and then reading from her debut novel about Lee Miller, known as a model for Vogue and surrealist Man Ray’s muse, though she was a photographer in her own right, and co-inventor of the technique of solarization. (Aside: Every student should have a project like the one mentioned in Meg Wolitzer and Holly Goldberg Sloan’s new middle grade novel, To Night Owl From Dogfish, “Give the right person the credit.”) Scharer discovered Miller at an exhibit featuring Man Ray at the Peabody Essex Museum in 2011, and was interested in the two of them “being in love and making art together.” (Miller went on to be a war reporter; she reminded me of Robert Capa’s partner, Gerda Taro, who was killed while documenting the Spanish Civil War.) Scharer read a scene from her novel in which Miller describes what she calls “wild mind”: her ability to set any expression on her face while modeling, yet thinking of anything she wants, setting her mind free. The scene (possibly the whole novel?) was in present tense.
Next, Jenna Blum (The Stormchasers, Those Who Save Us) talked about and read from her new novel, The Lost Family, set in New York and centered around a Holocaust survivor, Peter, who lost his wife and daughters. He now owns and runs a restaurant called Masha’s, after his late wife, and has sworn not to get involved with anyone again – but, of course, he does. The novel is about Peter and his second wife and their daughter, “a whole family trying to put its arms around a loved one’s PTSD.” Blum didn’t have slides, but she did share a cocktail of her own invention, and cream puffs called “Masha’s Little Clouds”; she said that she invented and kitchen-tested all the menu items in the book.
Finally, Christopher Castellani (A Kiss From Maddalena, The Saint of Lost Things, All This Talk of Love) talked about his newest novel, Leading Men, which imagines a party thrown by Truman Capote in Portofino in 1975, the guests, and the aftermath. Castellani said that people always want to know “how much is true and how much is not true,” so he explained that the party did happen, and that Tennessee Williams and his lover Frank Merlot really were invited, but that Williams’ journal does not mention the party in the days or weeks following it. Using both “real and invented people,” Castellani imagined and invented “between the cracks of what was known about these people.” Merlot is his main character; Williams isn’t a “point of view character” largely because he is too well-known, has written and been written about too much; Merlot, though not obscure, is less of a known quantity. Castellani admitted that it was daunting to write dialogue for characters like Capote and Williams; he would often use an “anchor quote” from their writings in order to get the tone of the dialogue and scene, and would sometimes remove the “scaffolding” once the scene was finished.
Though the book I’m currently reading (Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess, who, like these three authors, also has a Grub Street connection) is firmly speculative, I do love historical fiction and all three of these books are on my to-read list now. Thank you, Arlington Author Salon! (If you’re local, the next one is July 11.)
Last Friday, I went with our teen librarian to a one-day conference put on by the New England Round Table of Teen and Children’s Librarians (NERTCL) at the beautiful Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen, MA. The conference was called “Transform Our Communities, Transform Our World,” and featured Rita Meade (@ScrewyDecimal), a panel about drag storytime, Luke Kirkland from the Waltham Public Library talking about “Selling Social Justice Programs to Your Teens and Your Community,” and another panel about spaces and programs for the library’s youngest patrons (birth-5 years), as well as round table discussions before and during lunch. It was a fantastic day!
Rita Meade: “Keep Calm and Transform the World”
Rita began her presentation by acknowledging that the “do more with less” message that library staff so often hear is frustrating and unhelpful. (Actually, she began by mentioning her anxiety, and the fact that she almost turned down the offer to come speak to us. I’m glad she didn’t!) Then she gave her background and the path she took to working in a library: working as a page, then later getting a teaching degree, and only later turning to library science. She reviewed for SLJ and wrote for Book Riot, and also started a blog: “It’s frustrating and it’s tiring to always have to defend your job….Basically I kept running into people who didn’t understand what librarians did. ‘Oh, libraries are still a thing?’ So that’s where the blog came from.”
Now, she works at the Bay Ridge branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, where she believes that “Our job is to respond to community needs. It’s a balancing act….We fill a lot of gaps in society – We are being asked to fill a lot of these societal gaps, but we don’t always have the resources to do so….You can’t make everyone happy but our job is to try.” Because LIBRARIES ARE FOR EVERYONE, Rita is always working to counteract her own assumptions and biases, work against intolerance and ignorance, promote diversity in staffing and collections, and promote underrepresented voices. “Make inclusion the default. Err on the side of inclusion. Think about how your choices might affect the people in your space. More often than not, people are not telling us something.” She gave examples of ways that libraries can be political without being partisan: a march against hate, or a display about migration, illustrated with butterflies (“Migration is brave / essential / gorgeous”).
To our group, Rita emphasized that big changes don’t happen without risks, and normalizing helps promote acceptance. “One program at a time, one small thing at a time. These small steps lead to big changes.” (Here’s a small example that everyone can do: make your descriptions more inclusive: instead of “men and women” or “boys and girls,” say “people/everyone/friends.”) Programs she mentioned included drag queen storytime (about which more below), Genderful, and TeleStory. “We are in a unique position to be a positive influence.”
Drag Storytime Panel and Presentation
We heard from four people about their different experiences hosting drag storytimes: Megan McLelland from Sturgis, MA; Jennifer Billingsley from Middletown, CT; Hillary Saxon from Cambridge, MA; and Alli T. Ultimately, my favorite quote from the session was this one from Alli T.: “People in fun costumes reading beautiful stories to children is not a new concept.”
“People in fun costumes reading beautiful stories to children is not a new concept.” -Alli Thresher
Each librarian who decided to host drag storytime at their library approached it carefully and thoughtfully. All were aware of the possibility of pushback from the community, and the importance of administrative support, but all felt it was worth it: “Reading to kids isn’t really what it’s about, inclusion and making everyone comfortable is what it’s about.” Overwhelmingly, the drag storytimes were well-attended, joyful events.
Here are some of the book titles mentioned:
- The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak
- 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Rex Ray
- Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato
- Some Monsters Are Different by David Milgrim
- Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
- My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, illustrated by Suzanne DiSimone
- It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
- Red: a crayon’s story by Michael Hall
If you’d like to host drag storytime at your library, and you have (or can get) admin support but are lacking funds, try The Awesome Foundation, or, if you are a bit edgier, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Luke Kirkland: “Selling Social Justice Programs to Your Teens and Your Community”
Luke is the teen librarian at the Waltham Public Library, and his presentation was about how to foster social justice in the teen population. Waltham is far more diverse than many other towns and cities in New England, so one of the questions that came up during the Q&A is how to start these conversations about social justice and racism that white kids might not already be having; how do you get them to ask the questions? Luke pointed back to the “Fandom Trojan Horse,” approaching a subject or topic they’re already interested from a social justice angle, as well as the documentary Accidental Courtesy, a TED talk by a former white supremacist, and even the picture book Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller.
One interesting project Luke presented was a presentation on “The Birth of Hip-Hop.” Nestled inside this attractive topic was a history of Jim Crow, fair housing protests, and redlining; see the Mapping Inequality project for more info.
As librarians, “We do research, we build community, we encourage civic dialogue.” Frame activism as a project-based learning activity. In Waltham, the library partnered with several other organizations (“lots of community collaboration takes some of the pressure off”) in the For Freedoms project, covering the front lawn of the library with yard signs. (Luke is planning to do this again, and noted that, while yard signs are expensive, the price drops when you order in bulk. Contact him if you want in!)
Additional takeaways: Libraries are not neutral; privilege has a way of reinforcing privilege; human rights are not partisan.
Early Learning Spaces and Play
The last panel of the day featured librarians from four different libraries. Rachel Davis from the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, ME, and Kayla Morin from the Goodwin Library in Farmington, NH, both spoke about becoming Family Place Libraries. Core components of Family Place libraries include: having your parenting collection near/next to/with the children’s materials; parent/child workshop series; specially designed spaces to play, learn, grow, and explore; and programs for babies and toddlers (focusing on the birth-3 years age group). In order to become a Family Place library, one youth services librarian and one administrator from the library must attend a four-day institute, complete an online training, and commit to the core components. Kayla said that becoming a Family Place library involved “retraining staff and patrons to think of the library as a welcoming space for everyone, including small kids.” Rachel said that once parents had time to socialize outside of storytime, they became more engaged during storytime (rather than talking to each other).
Seana Rabbito from the Waltham Public Library talked about turning an unused room into a PIE room (Play, Imagine, Explore) with a “Mind in the Making” grant. (Side note: What libraries have these unused rooms lying around??) The PIE room encourages play, nurtures curiosity, and fosters a lifelong love of learning. Theme-related learning activities hold attention and spark curiosity. It supports early literacy through play; book displays accompany each theme. Each different playspace helps build vocabulary, increase subject knowledge, hone communication skills, develop problem-solving skills, and improve gross and fine motor skills. Seana said the rotating display/theme does take a lot of work, but it’s hugely popular and has revitalized the space.
Finally, Katrina Ireland from the Northborough Free Library, MA, spoke about Mother Goose on the Loose (MGOL). Developed by Dr. Betsy Diamant-Cohen, the program is intended for kids birth-3 years and their caregivers. Katrina offers a series of 10 sessions of the 30-minute program, which includes opening rhymes, a drum sequence, Humpty Dumpty, and two developmental tips for adults; 80% of the content changes week to week (some repetition is key). MGOL embodies all five practices from Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR): singing, talking, reading, writing, playing.
Overall, it was a day full of fantastic ideas from presenters and attendees (particularly the table of Rhode Island librarians I was sitting with, most of whom I’d seen present at NELA last fall!). And the nice thing about the library world is that, while we care deeply about citing our sources, we’re always happy to share ideas – or as Rita said, “Steal the ideas, steal them all day.”
Happy April! Today was a super fun storytime. We had a great group of about 14 kids and their grown-ups, and I was excited for our activity/craft to go with A Parade of Elephants. Initially I was planning to read The Rabbit Listened, but ended up swapping it out for Z Is for Moose.
- Welcome and announcements
- “Hello friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
- Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel: I’m tempted to lead off with this book every time. It always elicits engagement from the kids and provides so many opportunities for moving and thinking.
- Wolfie the Bunny by Amy Dyckman and Zachariah Ohora: This was a little long, but funny, and it doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go. The kids stuck with it (one of them took one look at the cover and observed, “That doesn’t look like a bunny!” Correct, kiddo.)
- Yoga flow: mountain pose and forward fold, feet apart and gentle twist
- I Am Josephine by Jan Thornhill and Jacqui Lee: In general I like to stick to books that have some kind of story (and forward momentum), but this one has questions and animals, which worked out pretty well. It’s also a good one-on-one book to discuss the different categories: living thing, animal, mammal, human being.
- Song cube: “Itsy-bitsy Spider” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”
- Goose Goes to the Zoo by Laura Wall: The last goose book until she writes a new one. The best part of this one was the page with all the honking: one kid yelled “It’s a car horn!” (It’s not. It’s geese.)
- Yoga flow: tree/flamingo pose (there were flamingos in Goose Goes to the Zoo), Warrior 1 and 2
- “ABC” song to get ready for…
- Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky: If you’ve never read this aloud before, give it a few run-throughs first, to decide how you’re going to do the interruptions by Moose and Zebra. So funny, and a sweet ending.
- Song cube: “I Had A Little Turtle”
- Clean up mats
- A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes: We cleaned up the mats first because I wanted clear space for marching and parading. I also turned the flannel board around so everyone could see the flannel elephants, and lots of kids came up to touch them, take them off, and put them back on. Then we read the book and marched!
- “Goodbye friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
- Craft: using glue sticks to glue paper elephants and stars to butcher paper on the wall. I drew a path for them to use if they wanted but we ended up with beautiful chaos, of course. The kids spent a long time doing this – gluing is always a fun activity.
It was a beautiful day and a BIG group in our little storytime room today – about 18 kids plus a baby or two and accompanying grownups. It was a correspondingly loud storytime, so when possible, I used techniques to harness and direct the noise: CAW-ing like a crow in Harold and His Woolly Hat, HONK-ing with Goose Goes to School, lots of songs from the song cube.
- Welcome and announcements
- “Hello Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
- Harold Loves His Woolly Hat by Vern Kousky: I got a little brown bear out of our stuffed animal/puppet closet and let the kids pet it after the story. Hat tip to Lauren at the Robbins Library for reading Harold at her storytime a few months ago.
- Yoga: forward fold to touch toes, stretch to touch ceiling
- Goose Goes to School by Laura Wall: Again, Goose was a hit. I don’t know if it’s the bright colors or the text-to-illustration ratio or what, but it’s magic.
- Song cube: Itsy-bitsy Spider, I Had A Little Turtle
- Alfie Is Not Afraid by Patricia Carlin: Nearly all of the humor in this book comes from the juxtaposition between the pictures and the text, so I mentioned that upfront as something to look out for.
- Yoga: Seated forward fold, stretch toward the ceiling, stretch to either side
- When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes: An informal poll shows that EVERYONE likes jumping in puddles.
- “Shake Your Sillies Out” with shaker eggs (and scarves, because I ran out of eggs)
- The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson
- Song cube: Zoom Zoom Zoom, We’re Going to the Moon; I’m A Little Teapot; Where Is Thumbkin?
- Just Add Glitter by Angela DiTerlizzi and Samantha Cotterill: This has textured pages, which I let the kids feel after the story.
- “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
- Clean up mats, get coloring sheets (I drew two different types of hat and made copies), color with crayons, come choose a colored pom pom and get a dot of glue.
I’ve missed two weeks of storytime – there was a snow day on March 4 and last week I was on vacation – and it felt like ages! It was good to be back today and see some familiar faces and some new ones. Today’s books were mostly on the shorter, simpler side, so we managed seven(!), as well as lots of songs and yoga.
- Hello, welcome, announcements
- “Hello Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary (skipped the name song because we had a big group – about 15)
- Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel: Still one of the best lead-off books I know of – so many opportunities for getting kids engaged (“Who’s wearing stripes? Who’s wearing spots? Can you wiggle like an octopus?”)
- Yoga flow: resting pose, mountain pose, forward fold, tree
- Goose by Laura Wall: This went over splendidly. It has the perfect amount of text on each page for this group, and the simple illustrations on brightly-colored backgrounds work really well for a group.
- Song cube: “If you’re happy and you know it,” “I had a little turtle”
- Shh! We Have A Plan by Chris Haughton: I’ve done Oh No, George! several times in storytime but this was the first time I did Shh! and it was excellent! There is “shh”ing of course, which keeps things quiet, but also counting, and also pointing (“Where’s the bird? Did they catch it?”), and it’s funny.
- Yoga flow
- Carrot and Pea by Morag Hood
- One Little Blueberry by Tammi Salzano, illustrated by Kat Whelan
- Song cube: “Itsy-bitsy Spider,” “I’m a little teapot,” “Zoom zoom zoom, we’re going to the moon”
- Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton: We were running ahead of schedule and I had a little extra time, so I used this one from my pile of backup books. Always a favorite. What WILL George do?
- My Spring Robin by Anne and Lizzy Rockwell
- “Goodbye friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
- Clean up mats
- Coloring sheet: I traced the robin from the last page of My Spring Robin, enlarged it by 20%, and made copies for kids to color with crayons. (One kid didn’t want the robin so I gave him a leftover Wonky Donkey. Leftovers never go to waste!)
It really was good to be back. And here’s one more new resource I heard about through one of my book groups: Diverse BookFinder. If you’re looking for picture books featuring people of color or indigenous people of color, this is a tremendous resource, including books from 2002 to the present. The design is clean and clear and easy to navigate, and I’m looking forward to discovering new picture books using the Diverse BookFinder.
As I think I’ve said before, I have rediscovered middle grade novels over the past year and have a new appreciation for them. Lately, I’ve read many graphic novels for this age group, and they are excellent – plus, some readers will pick up a graphic novel more eagerly than a traditional one. (Graphic novels: the gateway drug of reading.)
Raina Telgemeier, Svetlana Chmakova, Victoria Jamieson, and Shannon Hale depict the real struggles of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders – the interpersonal conflicts and developments with friends, parents, siblings, and teachers. They address bullying and kindness; they know that middle school is a time when people are figuring out who they want to be, when what most of them want desperately is to fit in – and often, they act in ways they aren’t comfortable with in order to achieve that goal. (Hale’s Real Friends is autobiographical, as are Telgemeier’s Sisters and Smile).
New Kid by Jerry Craft covers that territory as well, but adds complexity by addressing race; Jordan Banks is one of the few Black kids at his New York private school, and while for the most part he doesn’t face overt racism, the microaggressions pile up, and it takes him some time to make friends he can talk to.
“So far, being a teenager is no fun at all.” -Smile, Raina Telgemeier
“I wasn’t sure leaving the group was the right choice. At least I’d had friends. Now sometimes I was so sad I could barely breathe.” -Shannon Hale, Real Friends
“I just…I feel like I don’t know who you are anymore.” “Well…maybe I don’t know who I am either!” -Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson
“Kindness is the truest form of bravery.” -All’s Faire in Middle School, Victoria Jamieson
“Life is more complicated than sports. It’ll throw a lot of curveballs at you. You win some games and lose others…but in the end, it’s who’s on your team that really matters.” -Crush (Berrybrook Middle School), Svetlana Chmakova
“Oh, I see…it’s okay that this stuff happens to us…It’s just not okay for us to complain about it.” -New Kid, Jerry Craft
The past few months have also brought us graphic novel adaptations of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. The former is YA rather than middle grade, and the art is quite different from the books above; Emily Carroll did an absolutely haunting job translating Speak into a new format. Melissa’s silence, the claustrophobic atmosphere of menace, and the slow healing and emerging that takes place are rendered in a way that honors and enhances the original.
“If you’re tough enough to survive this, they’ll let you become an adult.
I hope it’s worth it.” -Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson
The Giver is often read in late grade school, though it’s one of those books that is thought-provoking no matter when in life you encounter it. Unlike the rest of the books here, it is set in a different reality than our own, a futuristic place of Sameness. P. Craig Russell produced the graphic novel version; cool blues and grays prevail, until Jonas’ moments of “seeing beyond” introduce flashes of color, and The Giver’s memories do the same. The Giver himself looks less Kindly and more ominous than I had pictured him, and the whole community has a 1950s vibe (on purpose). It’s very hard to improve on the original, and as one of the first utopia/dystopia novels that young readers encounter, it’s not in danger of falling by the wayside, but if this version of The Giver finds a new audience, all the better.
“We gained control of many things, but we had to let go of others.” The Giver, Lois Lowry