#MiddleGradeMay

Abby the Librarian’s #MiddleGradeMay wrap-up made me think of all the middle grade books I’ve read this spring (and of course it lengthened my to-read list; I’m especially excited to get my hands on Dear Sweet Pea, Pie in the Sky, and Roll With It).

My reading has certainly shifted along with my job in the last couple years; when I was the adult fiction buyer for my library, I read mostly adult literary fiction, young adult fiction, and some nonfiction (I was also the “speed read” buyer, for especially high-demand titles). Now that I’m working partly in children’s, I’m reading a lot more children’s books, especially middle grade books. In May, I got to go along and give book talks to classes of fifth graders in two different elementary schools in town – not about their required summer reading books for middle school, but a list of books we’d come up with that we thought they’d really like. (There’s actually a little bit of crossover with their middle school list, which is great.)

Some of the books I book-talked most enthusiastically at the schools were: New Kid by Jerry Craft (graphic novel), Blended by Sharon M. Draper (realistic fiction), The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (realistic fiction), To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (epistolary realistic fiction). I also really liked Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (realistic fiction), We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (science fiction), and It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (realistic fiction) but my co-worker talked about those ones. Teamwork!

Here are some of the (mostly new) books I’ve read so far this year. Books on our list for students entering sixth grade next fall are in bold.

Cover image of Night OwlNew(ish) middle grade books:

  • Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (2017)
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2017)
  • The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (2018)
  • Breakout by Kate Messner (2018)
  • Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks (2018)
  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (2018)
  • It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (2018)
  • Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live In A Castle by Hilda Eunice Burgos (2018)
  • So Done by Paula Chase (2018)
  • The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn (2018)
  • Blended by Sharon M. Draper (2018)
  • Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (2018)
  • Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018)Cover image of Paulie Fink
  • You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino (2018)
  • Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever, edited by Betsy Bird (2018)
  • The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (2019)
  • To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (2019)
  • We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (2019)
  • A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata (2019)

This kind of diversity did not exist in kid-lit when I was a kid. There is so much here and it’s wonderful. These books tackle issues head-on: contemporary racism, poverty and wealth, restorative justice, Deaf culture, historical fiction that isn’t set in WWII Europe or the American home front…lots of mirrors, lots of windows.

Classics:

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)
  • Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, and Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary (1955, 1968, 1975)
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971)
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996)

These all stand the test of time with flying colors. I read Frindle in print on a friend’s recommendation, and listened to the audio of the others; Stockard Channing reads the Ramona books (and Neil Patrick Harris reads the Henry Huggins ones!). I appreciated The Phantom Tollbooth more as an adult than I did as a kid (“it goes without saying”), and I’d never read Mrs. Frisby before but it’s pretty timeless.

Cover image of New KidGraphic Novels:

  • Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin (2014)
  • Awkward, Brave, and Crush by Svetlana Chmakova (2015, 2017, 2018)
  • The Babysitters Club (Kristy’s Great Idea, The Truth About Stacey, Mary Anne Saves the Day, Claudia and Mean Janine) by Ann M. Martin/Raina Telgemeier (1986/2015, etc.)
  • Little Robot, Mighty Jack, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke  (2015, 2016, 2017) (See also: Zita the Spacegirl)
  • Bingo Love Vol. 1 by Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge, Joy San (2018)
  • Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, Giovanni Rigano, Chris Dickey (2018)
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019)
  • Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero (2019)
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry/P. Craig Russell (2019)

The rebooting of classics like Little Women and The Babysitters Club and The Giver is an interesting trend. In some cases, the graphic novel adheres closely to the original (e.g. The Giver). In other cases, there’s a major update and overhaul: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is set in present-day New York, the Marches are a blended family, and…I don’t want to give too much away, but some other major plot points change as well. (I really liked it. That said, I’m not a die-hard fan of Louisa May Alcott’s version.) The Babysitters Club books fall somewhere in between, but closer to the “faithful to the original” end of the spectrum. (There is also, for those who are interested, a funny podcast called The Babysitters Club Club. More for a teen or adult audience.)

Cover image of The Poet XYoung Adult:

  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)
  • Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (2018)
  • The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (2018)
  • Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (2018)
  • 500 Words Or Less by Juleah Del Rosario (2018)
  • With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo (2019)
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019)
  • Sunny by Jason Reynolds (2019)

I’ve been reading less YA lately but I absolutely loved both of Elizabeth Acevedo’s novels. I read With the Fire On High in print, and listened to the audiobook of The Poet X, which the author reads – I’d highly recommend the audio version.

And what about adult literary fiction? I still love it, and there are a bunch of new novels coming out this summer and fall that I’m excited about, but that’s a post for another day.

 

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NERTCL 2019: “Transform Our Communities, Transform Our World”

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 ScrewyDecimal Twitter bioRita 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.”

Libraries Are For EveryoneNow, 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.”

Nevins Memorial Library interior
Nevins Memorial Library

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.

IMG_20190329_093707
Nevins Memorial Library

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.

Hungry Caterpillar for Reading
A display outside the Nevins library children’s room

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.”

Middle grade graphic novels

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

Cover of SpeakThe 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

Cover of The GiverThe 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

 

2018 Reading Wrap-Up

Here’s the 2017 reading wrap-up, with links to all previous years (through 2013). This year, I read a rather astonishing number of books: 597. But let’s start breaking down that number…

Partially-read and Started-didn’t-finish: 19. Some of these I read a few pages of, others a few chapters or chunks; there were some cookbooks, gardening books, and how-to books that I didn’t read cover to cover, as well as a novel I gave up on, a book of essays, and a book of poetry I read parts of but didn’t finish.

Early reader: 35. I created this new tag in LibraryThing this year as I started reading these with my daughter. They have more words than most picture books – certainly more text per page – but they still have illustrations on every page.

Picture books: 359. Yeah, here’s where it gets crazy. Almost all of these I read with my daughter, most more than once (some many times), and I probably used a few dozen in my storytimes.

Now we’re down to a much more reasonable 184 books this year, especially when you consider that a lot of those are middle grade or young adult:

Middle grade: 44

YA/teen: 41. (Some books (8) were tagged both middle grade and YA, because I don’t have a “tween” category.)

Graphic novels: 18. Nearly all of these were middle grade or YA, and thus are included in the numbers above.

Audiobooks: 25. These are also included in other tags, mostly children’s, middle grade, and YA, with the exception of one Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express), Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman’s The Greatest Love Story Every Told, and Morgan Jerkins’ This Will Be My Undoing.

That brings the number down to 107 adult fiction or nonfiction books.

Nonfiction: About 32, including some how-to books on gardening, sewing, quilting, cleaning, and cookbooks, along with Big Biographies and Serious Works of Nonfiction and Critical Essays etc etc etc.

Fiction: 36

Short stories: 11

And people said I wasn’t going to be able to read as much once I had a kid!

Math whizzes will notice that the numbers don’t entirely add up; that’s due to overlapping tags.

 

Pie chart showing author gender
For as long as I’ve been a LibraryThing member (about 6 years now), my “author gender” pie chart has been very close to 50-50, tipping definitively female just last year. That trend continues this year.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: I started using this tag in LibraryThing toward the end of 2017. I use it for books by authors of color (AOC) or about characters who are diverse in some way – their race, socioeconomic status, nationality, immigration status, abilities, etc. In other words, if it’s not straight, white, middle-class America, I’m trying to use this tag.

Five-star ratings: 36! I was much more generous this year than last year. Of these, 16 are picture books or early readers.  (Blog post about favorite books read in 2018 to come.)

Re-reading: As a kid, I re-read my favorite books all the time. Now I re-read less, in no small part because I worked in publishing after college and realized how many new books there are, and now I work in libraries and am surrounded by them every day. But I do believe in the pleasures of re-reading, especially after many years have gone by (or not). This fall I re-read the entire Harry Potter series start to finish (including The Cursed Child) and it was delightful to zoom straight through them all without having to wait years for the next one to be published. I also re-read some of Kate Milton’s Nagspeake books this winter, Ghosts of Greenglass Hosue and Bluecrowne. I re-read John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down because I read it so fast the first time, and I re-read Mandy by Julie Andrews, which I barely remembered at all but loved all over again. I re-read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, which I hadn’t read since my first semester of college, and The Princess Bride by William Goldman, and of course I read many, many picture books over and over.

Another year of reading is off to a great start – 21 books already in January, include Kelly Link’s excellent story collection Get In Trouble, which I’ve been meaning to read for years, Kelly Loy Gilbert’s astounding YA novel Picture Us in the Light, and Laurie Colwin’s 1988 book of food essays/memoir, Home Cooking.

 

 

Accio Firebolt! Harry Potter trivia at the library

Cardboard Hermione
Cardboard Hermione says: Have you done your homework?

Several months ago, I was talking to the Assistant Director at our library, and then I found myself planning an all-ages Harry Potter trivia event at the library. (Does this happen to you?) Last Saturday was the big day, and all our preparation paid off! It helps that Harry Potter is perennially (permanently?) popular, so registration filled up well before the day of the event, and we had a long waitlist. Nearly everyone who had a spot came, which meant we had just over 60 people, and everyone seemed to have a great time – kids, teenagers, and adults alike.

Here’s what we did, so you can do it too!

Preparation

This is not a program that one person can run alone, at least not the way we did it. Figure out the scale of your event, then how many people you need (or, figure out how many people you have, and then how much you’ll be able to do). This event can scale up or down; we had three staff people at the event, and decided to do food and drink, music and some decorations, and a photo frame, but you could skip those and just do the trivia, or you could make it even bigger (see: Brookline Public Library).

Here are the tasks we carried out before the day of the event:

  • Figure out a point person, who will visualize and organize the event, match people and tasks, and make sure everything is ready (that was me!)
  • Make up the questions! We had seven rounds (one for each book) of five questions each. Some were multi-part and worth more points. We also had a couple of practice questions, and some between-rounds questions (no points for those).

    img_20190112_134921
    Door prizes: House-themed tumblers (Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Slytherin)
  • Buy (or make) prizes. We got door prizes (House mugs) and prizes for the winning team (Harry Potter themed candy). The candy came with temporary tattoos, which we put out for all attendees to take and use.
  • Set up the scoring spreadsheet. We used Google Spreadsheets.
  • Test the tech. I had a hand-held mic, and played music from the soundtrack of the first movie using a projector as our CD player.
  • Add the event to the calendar on the library website, and manage registrations/waitlist.
  • Promote the event on library social media. We use Hootsuite to push to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (I posted several warm-up trivia questions to Facebook to gauge interest in the program before we officially put it on the calendar.)
  • Plan and prepare food and drink. One of our children’s librarians caters on the side, so she did 100% of the food and drink prep, including pretzel wands, “cauldron cakes” (pumpkin cookies), and Butterbeer (non-alcoholic, of course).
  • Design and create a photo frame. We have a very artsy teen librarian, who transformed mat board and paint into the front page of the Daily Prophet.
  • Make “quills”: Our teen librarian found fancy feathers and metallic tape to make Bic pens into magical quills (we also put an anti-cheating spell on them, of course).
  • Gather other decorations. I had access to a life-size cardboard Hermione, several owl puppets, some wizard hats, and some Golden Snitches.

Day of Event

Here are the tasks we handled in the hour before the event, during the event, and the hour after the event:

img_20190112_133021
Golden Snitches flying above the doorway
  • Set up chairs in clusters of twos, threes, and fours. (Some people also sat on the floor.)
  • Set up tech: Start the music and do a mic check. We had the soundtrack to the first movie playing at low volume throughout the event. A mic is essential for accessibility (and so that the MC doesn’t lose their voice after two hours).
  • Food and drink: Set up snacks and butterbeer, attend the snack table throughout the event, and clean up afterward.
  • Decorations: Hang up Golden Snitches, place owls and wizard hats around, set up cardboard Hermione.
  • Photo frame: Show people how to take pictures with the photo frame (get verbal consent – or signed waivers, if that’s what your library requires – to post any photos on library social media).
  • Greet attendees: I set up a small table at the door to the room so I could check people off the registration list as they arrived, then explain how to enter the door prize raffle, and give each team a quill and half a pad of post-its.

    Gold-tipped feathers attached to pens
    Quills (pens with fancy feathers attached)
  • Introduction, announcements, and reading the questions and answers! Make sure to point out emergency exits. And give people a few minutes to come up with a team name before the practice question.
  • Scorekeeping: We ended up conscripting a volunteer (thanks, Mom!) to assist our scorekeeper; see “what we’ll do differently next time” below.
  • Draw door prize raffle winners (a good time to do this is while the final scores are being tallied).
  • Announce winners and hand out prizes.
  • Clean up!
  • Post pictures to social media.

Budget

This can be really flexible, but here’s about what we spent:

  • Food and drink: about $100 for ingredients, including “Butterbeer” (about 70 cups; cream soda, whipped cream, butterscotch syrup; 1 bottle of soda, 2 cans of whipped cream, and 1 bottle of syrup left over), “cauldron cakes” (60 pumpkin cookies, none leftover), pretzel wands (80 chocolate and 80 plain; pretzels, chocolate, sprinkles; about 6 plain ones left over); “Every Flavour Beans” (3 bags of Jelly Belly jelly beans, none left over).
  • Prizes: Mugs for door prizes were $17.50 each ($70 total for four), and the candy and tattoos were $30.
  • Art supplies for photo frame and decorations: about $20 for the mat board and feathers (cost of paint and paintbrushes not included)
  • Total: About $220, not including staff time

What worked

Really, almost everything. We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from attendees so far, and most things went pretty smoothly – we even ran on time! It was really helpful to gather advice from other librarians who had run similar programs before, and let staff who were helping with the program play to their strengths/interests. We also had a lot of enthusiasm and support from our awesome Assistant Director! And the questions, it turned out, were neither impossibly hard nor too easy. However, there are always little improvements to be made, so…

What we’ll do differently next time

  • Questions and scorekeeping: The between-round questions were originally intended to be for points, but our scorekeepers were having a little trouble keeping up (there were 14 teams, all running up the answers to each question on post-its), so I made the on-the-fly decision to have those be hands-up questions for no points; most teams got a chance to answer at least part of one of the between-rounds questions, just for fun. Our scorekeeper said afterward that having a separate page for each round of questions and answers would have helped a lot (i.e., Round One questions and answers on one page, Round Two questions and answers on the next page, etc.).
  • Allow more time for everyone to enter and get settled. As I said, we ran on time, but that’s mostly because we definitely didn’t spend 2-3 minutes per question as I had budgeted. We opened the doors about five minutes before 2pm, and didn’t really get started until 2:15. It took a while to check attendees against the registration list and explain how the door prizes worked, and meanwhile people were taking pictures with the photo frame, getting snacks, forming teams, and choosing team names.
  • Remember to read the answers after each round! People want to know. Also, one of our answers had a mistake in it (eek! I had S.P.E.W. standing for the Society for the Protection of Elvish Welfare when it should have been the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare. No surprise that the team that corrected me on that was the eventual winning team!).
  • Also, read the team names aloud. After round one would be a good time. They were so clever! We didn’t announce the scores halfway through like they often do at pub trivia, but you could do that if your scorekeeper is caught up.
  • Prizes: The door prizes were a great idea (yes, I’m patting myself on the back for that one), but it would have been nice to have prizes for the top three teams instead of just the winning team. The HP-themed candy is cool, but there’s not a lot of bang for the buck, so I’ll try to find something else for next time – Harry Potter coloring postcards, maybe?

So, we didn’t get 320% on our Muggle Studies exam like Hermione, but Harry Potter trivia at the library was definitely a success, and I’m already looking forward to running it again later this year, perhaps around Harry’s birthday – ten points to your House if you know when that is!

Library social media (Facebook, Twitter) posts from the day of the event:

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#Libfaves18, or, Top Ten Books of 2018

#Libfaves18 is a Twitter phenomenon in which librarians tweet out their favorite books published in 2018, one a day, for ten days, and someone compiles a list. Librarians love their lists, and in fact we already have a “Favorite of Favorites” list from LibraryReads, but librarians just love talking about books. And also, the year wasn’t over yet when the “Favorite of Favorites” list was published – there’s still more reading time in the year! (By that logic, we should wait till January to make our year-end lists – some of us do.) Another difference is that, to nominate books for Library Reads, you need to get galleys, read, and nominate them ahead of time; with Twitter, anyone can jump in.

Here are my #Libfaves2018:

  1. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (adult fiction)
  2. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (young adult fiction/fantasy)
  3. The Witch Elm by Tana French (psychological mystery/suspense)
  4. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (picture book)
  5. Transcription by Kate Atkinson (adult fiction/historical/suspense)
  6. The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis (middle grade fiction/fantasy)
  7. I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell (memoir)
  8. Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love (picture book)
  9. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll (young adult graphic novel)
  10. Call Them By Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit (nonfiction essays)

This list may look quite different from my list (coming soon-ish) of best books I’ve read this year, because many of those were published before this year. For example, I just finished listening to the audiobook of Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, narrated by Jim Dale, and it was magical, but it’s from 2011 and therefore doesn’t qualify for #Libfaves18.

What are your favorite books that you read this year? Published in 2018 or not?

Updated 12/19/2018: The blog RA for All has a more thorough explanation of #Libfaves18, and past lists are hosted at EarlyWord.

Imagine it changed

Follow my breadcrumb trail…from a Booklist e-mail to “Maggie Reagan’s fantastic long-form review of Laini Taylor’s Muse of Nightmares” to this part:

In her Printz Honor acceptance speech, Taylor discussed the importance of fantasy, now more than ever. “Human decency depends on empathy,” she said. “Empathy depends on imagination.” And what fantasy gives readers, especially young ones, is the ability to imagine worlds that can be remade. They can look at a community that mirrors our own and imagine it changed, and only by imagining it changed can we hope to change it.

That reminded me of what Neil Gaiman had to say on the topic of fiction and empathy. I’ve quoted from this speech of his before, but here it is again, slightly abridged:

“And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy….You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed…

You’re also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this:

The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.

….Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”

The bit above in bold (emphasis mine) is crucial. I included it in a slide when I presented on “Readers’ Advisory in an Age of Uncertainty” at MLA last spring, alongside recommendations of fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, and other speculative literature.

Personally, I haven’t encountered anyone who has flat-out declared that fantasy books are lesser than other books. Certainly, there are people who say they don’t like the genre, and that’s fine – every reader their book, etc. – though in closing oneself off to entire genres, one is likely to miss some great stories.

Cover image of Strange the DreamerBut Taylor makes a good point about fantasy being important “now more than ever.” I went looking for the full text of her Printz honor speech and couldn’t find it (let me know if you can!), but I did find a post by Karen Silverman about Strange the Dreamer on the SLJ blog “Someday My Printz Will Come.” Between Silverman and Reagan, I’ve been convinced to make Strange the Dreamer my first Laini Taylor book (finally!) and continue straight on to Muse of Nightmares.

As a side note, SLJ and Library Journal are pretty much the only places on the internet where the comments are constructive, intelligent, interesting, and relevant. Elsewhere, I usually stop scrolling at the end of the article and pretend comments don’t exist.

On the topic of fantasy, The Atlantic recently ran a piece entitled “Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories.” I forwarded it along to all my children’s/YA reader/librarian friends, and while a few objected to the competitive aspect of the comparison (“There are so many good books on both sides of the pond!”), I won’t hesitate to admit that many of the magical books I loved as a kid (and still love) start with that tear in the fabric between our world and the other: “A tear in this fabric is all it takes for a story to begin.”

Of course there are incredible, magical, fantastical books from the U.S. and the U.K. (never mind all of the other countries in the world). But I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, read by Jim Dale, and I shivered when I heard Wendy ask, “Boy, why are you crying?” Pure magic.