How We Do Library Tours (Grades 3 & 4)

We did it!  We finished another school year of library visits and tours! Lessons were learned, improvements were made, and tons of kids, teachers, and parents visited our main library and our branch library for tours and outreach. I previously wrote up the process of how we do tours for our K-2 visits and people have found that post really helpful so I decided it was FINALLY time to write up the next entry in the series.

I’ll go over some of the basics, but a lot of that is covered in my K-2 tours post, including all of my amazing inspirations (check the comments there’s great stuff there too!) so definitely go over there and take a look.

Nothing has made my life – and my staff’s lives – easier than getting our tours down to a routine! This is the #1 thing I’d like to stress about however you want to handle tours: make it routine.  Get to the point where you can pull out a standard tour schedule without blinking.  It will make you more receptive to saying SURE YOU CAN COME without panicking about it and it gives an overall much better experience.

My main disclaimer, as last time: yes, our tours take a lot of staff.  (in fact, we have them down to such a routine that now our biggest problem is figuring out the scheduling parts.) But we get a lot of yield out of that staff.  The majority of these tours are the entire grade from a local elementary school, 2-3 classes of kids. That means it’s usually 45-65 kids plus a minimum of 12-15 adult chaperones. That’s a big program so it warrants a big staff investment.

We make great contact with the schools and help encourage visits through our Celebrate A Grade Initiative. Our 3rd-4th grade tours have lots in common with our K-2 tours – but we gear up everything for our older kids, especially the skills lessons.

As with the K-2 we invite the 3rd & 4th grade classes/grades to visit for one hour.  In this hour we rotate through three stations, each lasting twenty minutes.  Most often the classes/grades come in groups of three, which make this rotation simple but if they come in groups of two, we rotate them through the first two stations and then have a big storytime as a final activity.

Here are the three stations we’ve created for the 3rd & 4th grade tours.

Tour! Since these kids are older, we give them a slightly more in-depth tour.  Some of their favorite things are: going outside to see the book drop, seeing the inside book drop and where things end up (notice a trend), hearing about and seeing the hold shelf, and hearing about our circulating art collection. (We check out framed paintings – kids love knowing about this.  So, if you have a cool/unique collection, think about adding it to your tour!) We usually spend this part of the tour talking to them about how the library works/touring the adult department. (Our children’s department is on another floor, lucky us.) I have thought about adding in a tour of the kid section, but they enjoy the larger behind the scenes picture of the WHOLE library and I think that’s important to learn about. But we shall see!

We also have an art gallery on the third floor and when there’s a kid friendly show up there we sometimes take kids on a tour of that instead.  They like hearing about how many people visit the gallery and what it means to have a gallery inside a library.  And they love getting to go through the exhibits. They have come during Youth Art Month when the gallery is all art from local students and when the local photographer’s club have their work up and those are two favorites.

Dewey Decimal Activity! This is the simple craft (color your owls) station for K-2.  But we think the 3rd-4th graders are ready for some Dewey Decimal lessons. We start by watching this Capstone video about BOB THE ALIEN.  The kids freaking love Bob the Alien because … we have no idea! This video is slow enough to read along out loud and since it doesn’t have commentary, we can add our own extra info. There’s even a book about Bob, should you be so tempted and want to use it as part of your tours. (note that’s a whole series from Capstone covering book/reading topics, so it could be of use in school libraries/tours.)

After watching the video, the staff member running this station talks a little bit about the Dewey Decimal system.  Usually we’ll talk about how learning Dewey is sort of like learning a new alien language … but with the numbers and letters we already have! Then we all hop up to do an activity.

My amazing colleague Melissa came up with a fun activity where the kids become books and put themselves in order. We usually start by just alphabetical order, which they are used to.  They make a line and call out all their names and they love it. THEN they get …. their own book spines.

spines 1

Melissa originally just printed out slips of paper for this activity but … REPEATABLE ROUTINE! Instead, these are laminated and taped onto big Popsicle sticks, so we can use them over and over again.  And the kids love them, of course.  We have 30 – more than we need for any one class but it’s always good to have some extras. They are real books from the collection, which we make sure to mention. We always slip in some high interest titles: oooh, you have Minecraft books?  COOL! Here’s an up close:


This activity makes the kids work together and pay attention to detail. They also get to see that Dewey means more than just the first three digits. We tell them that they are books and they must make sure they are in the right order so people can find them to check them out and this makes them giggle but also think seriously about why it matters where books are. It also gets them moving, gets them talking and working together, and helps them pay attention to the Dewey Decimal system in a hands on way.

We have an answer guide to check their work, which we have them call out, and that makes it easy and quick to check their work.

check sheet

Their take home for the visit is a Dewey Decimal bookmark.  We buy the oversized Dewey bookmarks from Upstart and the kids really love them.  They’re worth the money.

dewey 2 dewey 1

Storytime! We like to have a story as a part of all the tours for K-4th. (for the upper grades we do booktalks – more about that in the next post!) I mean…it’s a library tour.  Much like the K-2, we use this station as a chance to talk about what they can do/find at the library : things like where they can talk loudly and play games and where they have to be more quiet to study and work.  We talk about looking for people with nametags to help, how they can read anything they want and we have so many cool things (video games, magazines, computers to game on if your parents say it’s OK, tons of comics and manga) And even though they are older, we still sing some songs, which they get into even when they are sure they won’t, of course.

We can do longer books with more imaginative play/word play with this group, so we have three main choices we rotate through, all of which I highly recommend!


Quiet! There’s A Canary in the Library by Don Freeman. Yes, this old classic! This Don Freeman classic from the late 60s is about a girl imaging how if SHE ran the library, she’d have all the animals come in and it’d be just great…until…maybe… I like this one because we can talk about what you would do in your library and some of the rules about how we use our library.  Also, the older kids get that this is her using her imagination, which is a good bridge for talking about how stories and libraries let us imagine all kinds of wonderful things.

library book for bear

A Library Book for Bear by Bonny Becker. Bear doesn’t want to go to the library with mouse.  He has seven books at his house, he doesn’t need any more! But maybe he can find some treasure at the library.  The kids love grumpy old Bear, his love for pickles, and the scene where he gets to SHOUT. (lots of fun to read.)  Gives us a chance to talk about how you can find a book about every thing you might be interested in and, yes, even programs that are just perfect for you. (And this is just one book in the series about Bear and Mouse, so we can talk about series books too.)


No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou by Rhonda Gowler Greene.  Pirate Pete wants the treasure hiding in Seabreezy Library, but Library Lou says she’ll only help him figure out the map if he learns her code…it’s full of strange symbols and letters besides X. There might even be a clue in all those books on the shelves. I HIGHLY recommend this slightly longer book for the older kids. I just did it with about to graduate 3rd graders and they were with me every page. It’s told in rhyme and is, of course, about a pirate who learns to read (and then works his way through subject areas/genres) and comes to love reading.  Lots of chances to talk about how the library works/different kind of books and for the kids to figure out what’s going on and a sing-song pirate speak is fun to read. Also, I dig that he does not marry the librarian at the end.

The other thing about all three of these books is that if you have younger 3rd graders, older 2nd graders,  not enough time to do the Dewey Lesson (or they already cover that at school etc) you can easily make the third station crafts connecting back to the books .  We’ve done color your own pirate/bear bookmarks, respectively, to go with these and they were hits.

As I said – we do still do a song or two with these kids so besides opening with something to warm them up, I like to close with everyone standing up, shaking a little bit, and then doing Form the Orange, which even if they know it, sends them into fits of delight. Sometimes we also do this version of Put Your Hands Up High (thanks to Jbrary!) which also cracks them up and can then be done again in slo-mo (a favorite) or super fast.

And that’s about an hour!  We had a great year with the older kids touring and, again, having it all down to a routine has really made it a breeze setting one up.  Once we got the Dewey station set up with more solid props, that just added to the overall experience. Teachers, parents, and kids definitely notice that we’re prepared and I think it absolutely makes them feel more welcomed and excited about the library.

I’ll hopefully have one more post in this series, covering what we do for the upper elementary (and sometimes even middle school – the entire 7th grade of our town usually stops by once a year, oh boy!) but in the meantime, I’d love to talk tours with YOU!  How do YOU do tours and class visits?  What works for you?  What have you had to discard?  How often do you get class tours from your schools? Tell me all about it in the comments – and if I left out anything you’d like more info about in this post, let me know – or chat with me on Twitter.


Rainbow Fairy Magic @ Your Library

In a way, this event exemplifies everything I think these one day stand-alone programs can be: no matter what you might see, you don’t have to spend a TON of money and endless staff hours creating something that looks like it came out of a party planning book.  You don’t have to limit attendance just so you’ll have enough dowels or can provide elaborate party favors as if at a children’s party.  We invite everyone in and work with what you have! You can have events like this on small budgets, using upcycled material or cheaper supplies like … sequins.  It’s not about making it look like Pinterest or Martha Stewart.  It’s about opening up the library as a place for families to create and make and showing kids, with no judgment and great enthusiasm instead, that we have piles and piles of the books they love and know about ones they haven’t even heard of yet. That’s the most important part and it’s worth everything.

Which one is your favorite?  I think mine is Lara the Black Cat Fairy because FOR SOME REASON this is in the Magic Animal Fairies series even though black cats aren’t actually magical and the other fairies in that series are, like, unicorns and phoenixes! And how is there even also a series about PET fairies.  I mean …

Well, I guess that sums up why we decided to have this event.  Because we have shelves of the darn things, because kids check them out in stacks literally up to their eyes.  Because they are great safe chapter books that build confidence and passion in kids which helps them become dedicated readers. BECAUSE RAINBOW MAGIC FAIRIES, come on.

This was one of the VERY FIRST programs we ever did as a single stand-alone the summer we started making a big switch to them.  THAT turned out to be one of our greatest learning experiences – we scheduled it for two hours and we quickly learned that’s FAR too long for these events!  We scaled them down to an hour after me and my co-worker Melissa spent 2o minutes dancing in a circle doing a song Melissa made up on the spot (“The Fairy Hokey-Pokey” –  put your wings in, put your wings out!) to kill time. So, since it had been a few summers, we decided repeating Rainbow Magic Fairies as a stand-alone was OK.  Here’s what we did!

20 minutes of story

birthdayAs you probably know, all of our events start off with a story.  It’s why we’re all there, after all, and it gives us a chance to come together as a group and talk about books and all the neat stuff the library has. When it comes to bigger properties/characters, I like to focus on a SPECIFIC title because it makes it easier to tie everything together and really focus on something.  We lucked out with Rainbow Magic Fairies because at last there are beginning reader titles!  Jackpot for reading out loud, baby!

I chose The Fairies’ Birthday Surprise because … uh they make a cake in it? I knew we could have an easy/all ages craft station for a cake. And I loved that at the end, they cut into it and it was ALL colors, wheee! Simple predictive text that satisfied the kids when the inside of the cake was revealed. (if you don’t have these readers, there’s five all together, I highly recommend them and they’re worth every penny of the library binding.)

40 Minutes of Activity

At almost all of our events, we include a look and find scavenger hunt around the youth services area.  This is a good way to keep our active kids moving and it splits up the crowd.  We print out 10 images related to our theme and hang them up around the library and send kids out with a sheet to look and find for them.  I always recommend having this as an activity – it’s simple and the kids loooovveee it.  We chose the seven fairies from the book and three ingredients to make cake (see the theme’s usefulness?)

We also usually have some kind of activity station – a bean-bag toss or knock-over or a balance relay but we decided the look and find would be enough for this one. (especially since there was no mention of Jack Frost in this reader, but if you did a knock-over station, it’d be easy to do Jack Frost/icicles as targets.)

We had three craft stations and a photo booth (we love photo booths, if you have the space I always recommend throwing one up, it’s a great way let patrons share/spread word about your events FOR you.)

Station One: load up muffin tins with pony beads – make sure you have some cool ones mixed in like pastels and glow in the darks – and have the kids make themselves rainbow necklaces and bracelets as their hearts dictate.  This is always a popular station. It’s also gotten a lot easier since my colleague Melissa came up with the genius idea to set it down on the floor.  No more kids crowding around a table as pony beads roll to the ground  and then they chase after then.  Now we all sit down on a sheet (to contain them all) and relax and bead.  Super-easy change that makes a big difference, even in the vibe.

rainbow beading

(yes there are boys down there beading because of course there are, because of course they came, because all kids like beaded bracelets and did I mention there were glow in the dark beads?)

Station Two: make your own wands. BUT we never do registration for our events, so we’re never sure how many people will show up. So I wasn’t going to invest in a ton of dowel rods to make wands, which is a common thing you see.  Besides, we have tons of material (specifically calendars – I love old calendars!) waiting to be recycled so why not use those?

We let kids choose their own pieces of calendar paper and then, starting at a bottom corner and rolling tightly, we rolled it into a wand.  If you look at this tutorial, we used these basic instructions.  We used glue sticks instead of two side-tape and we stopped at the part where she starts hot glue-gunning.  Using the calendar paper was decoration enough.  We used some of our fancy scissors to cut other calendar pages into rickrack and included some strips of ribbon which we let the kids glue inside to give them something fun to swish around.  They loved it, of course. Lots of swishy.  The stiffer calendar paper made the wands more substantial, which lead to a lot of fun.  And since they weren’t stereotypical princess wands, everyone felt comfortable making them.  Most of the pics we got of them were actually in action, but here’s an OK shot of one. (note beaded necklace)

rainbow wand

Station Three: here we are, back at the theme with a decorate your own cake! I found a free coloring page that looked like a delightful, giant cake and we put out sequins, more of our homemade rickrack, colored pencils, and crayons and let the kids go to town.  If you look at the little girl in the Hello Kitty shirt you can see a pretty typical cake in process.  And if you look to the back at the little boy in the stripes is literally pouring an entire container of sequins on his cake.  He couldn’t even pick it up.  Ah, library magic!

rainbow cakes

I also put out some Rainbow Magic coloring pages at this station, since it felt like a good place to have coloring and creating.  Here’s what the cake I chose actually looked like – the layers made it perfect for decorating and it EVEN looked a little like the cake in the book! color cake


We had about 35 kids and assorted grown-ups attend and everyone loved it.  I made a big display of FOR FANS OF RAINBOW MAGIC! books and they all got checked out. We’d definitely do it again, but we might wait a summer or two to put it back in rotation.  As per usual, it could have never happened without my fantastic staff, who dressed up and were game for everything! (and yes, in case you can’t tell, I am obviously wearing wings.)

rainbow staff

Are there any questions about our event I didn’t answer?  Let me know!  Have YOU had a Rainbow Fairy Magic event at your library?  I’d love to hear all about it!  What books did you read?  What crafts did you make?  How did your patrons react?  Did you make a read-alike table (what could read as wonderfully as these masterpieces?) and if so, what other books did you share?  I want to hear all about it, so share in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


How We Do Library Tours (Grades K-2)

One of the questions I see come up most often online is “how do you do library tours?”  And I understand why because I struggled with this too. How did we make classes visiting our library an actually productive experience instead of just come check-box for teachers to kill an hour? I did a lot of thinking about this and, as always, I sought out the experience of my awesome colleagues.  The incomparable Bryce‘s writings about class field trips was essential to my thinking. To begin, read some of Bryce’s writing on this Preschool Field Trip Adventure and Tour It Like You Mean It are two of her best.  The fantastic Dana and Lindsey at Jbrary have a round-up of posts about tours which is also super helpful.

I also realized we needed a change in how we did tours and class visits because we were seeing an increase in them during the school year – and that was GREAT.  And, in fact, I wanted to boost those numbers even more.  I’ve written about our Celebrate A Grade initiative before and it is a big driver to motivate teachers to bring in their classes for visits.  Since I am regularly sending e-mails inviting teachers and classes to tours, I felt like that was a commitment I was making to ensuring the best experience.

Now, we have tours down to a routine.  That means we can pull them together without a huge investment of staff time or panic.  It means that we deliver a consistent experience across the board and everyone feels more comfortable with tours, which means less stress!

Here’s my major disclaimer: we do these tours with a lot of staff.  Well, sometimes we can do them with just two of us but sometimes it takes four of us – and that’s not counting whoever has to cover the desk (assuming they are visiting when we’re open to the public.) Why so many people?  Partially because we want the tour to run as smoothly as possible but also because we have an entire grade visiting us.  Our town has five elementary schools and each grade level has 2-3 classes.  Often, they all come together.  With that many kids – between 35-60 – having more than one staff member gives us the ability to break them into their classes and really give them an hands-on tour. So, I’m not claiming this is the ONLY way to do larger groups but for us it’s certainly been the most efficient for us. It’s worth the staff time investment!

As I mentioned, most of the tours come by grade level.  We very rarely have mixed grade levels coming for tours. I realized we could standardize a program by grade. We came up with three basic tour plans: K-2, 3 & 4, and 5 & 6. This blog will go over our outline for K-2, but I plan to post the plans for all our tours.

So, how does a K-2 tour go?  Here’s our plan!

  • All tours are made up of three stations: a story, an actual tour through the library, and a craft. This gives the kids a chance to move around (too much sitting in this age group is a killer), engages all different kinds of learners in an activity they’ll connect with, and gives the kids a chance to see lots of different elements of the library.
  • We ask teachers to plan for an hour at the library – which gives us 20 minutes to rotate through each of the three stations.
  • If the teachers have two classes in their grade level, we do the tour and story separately and then come together to do the craft in the final 20 minutes. If the teachers have three classes in their grade level, we just rotate one by one through the stations.
  • We try to keep the tour part for the K-2 level fairly simple.  For the older kids we talk more about the mechanics of the library.  For the K-2 tours we focus more on where their collections are located, where they can sit and play/read/color, where they return books.  This is basic intro to your library 101.
    midnightAt the story station we read the book The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara.  This is the perfect book for this age group, not too long but still with lots of funny parts. AND it’s another great intro into what the library does/what you can do when you visit the library (there are areas to be louder and areas to be quieter, you can get a card to take books home, the librarian can help you find the just right book!)  We count the assistant owls, laugh at the funny voices of the animals, notice the details. The story station is also where we spend a little bit of time talking about how glad we are they are here visiting, how we want them to come back to see us.
  • At this station we also take some time to learn a song/rhyme or two.  It both helps the kids focus and burns off a little energy which gets them ready to sit and listen to a story. The teachers really like this part too and it makes the kids more comfortable with you.
  • The craft station is … make your own owl assistant!  We have created a simple owl for the kids to color and we make them into lanyards.  This also gives them a fun thing to take home.  We’ve seen so much creativity when the kids are let loose on the owls.  Sometimes they add books for the owls to hold – since they’re library assistants.  Sometimes they make it night behind them – since that’s when they work in the library.  I’ve seen owls with muscles, owls in trees, owls in dresses, and even a demon owl.  If the kids finish coloring, we suggest they draw a picture on the back of something they love to do at the library.  Let’s have some adorable pictures!


tour 3

Want the template for the owl?  (We get four on a page) Download it here from Google docs or leave your email in the comments and I’ll send you the word doc.

And that’s just about an hour.  As they are finishing their coloring we call attention back to us and thank them for visiting us and ask them to come back and see us and generally do a wrap-up/thank you/goodbye cheer.

We get great feedback from these tours: teachers compliment us on how well run they are, kids often come back and shout DO YOU REMEMBER ME? I know that me and my staff certainly appreciate how much easier to manage, organize, and implement the tours are.  We stress a lot less over them now because we know what works and we know how to set it up and what we’ll need to pull one off.

We’ve already had five visits this year (many of which were due to the fact we built a new branch library – so it was even more helpful to have this plan down to a routine!) and I’m looking forward to even more as the school year goes on.

In my next posts for this series, I’ll write about our plans for the other grades

How do YOU do tours and class visits?  What works for you?  What have you had to discard?  How often do you get class tours from your schools? Tell me all about it in the questions – and ask about anything from this post you want more info on – or chat with me on Twitter.


HomePages – Homeschooling Book Club

Like many of you, I want to provide the homeschoolers in my community with programming relevant and interesting to them.  Many homeschoolers are heavy library users so it made sense to design a program for them.  Anyway, we’re always looking for more school year programs for school age kids so why not use this demographic?

As always, I looked to my friends and colleagues for inspiration!  Abby has the smartest blogs about programming for her homeschoolers and the many different things her library has tried and what they’ve discovered each time. Please take some time to read her blogs tagged homeschool.

One thing I decided early on was that I wanted to build the program around books.  There are so many things you can do for homeschoolers, but books seemed like a thing that could really promote the library’s strengths and offer something unique to draw this crowd in.

Hence: HomePages!  I also had a specific vision I thought could make HomePages unique: we would read and discuss the same book and … it would be a Newbery winner.  This is another draw to many homeschoolers: literary merit!  Children’s classics! Also as a side benefit there’s lots of Newbery winners in print so if a family wanted to buy their own copy (again, many homeschoolers build home libraries) it was easy and cheap to lay hands on one.

We tried this out for the first time a few years ago and it was a moderate success.  I geared it towards the tween crowd (since teens are invited to regular teen programming like our teen advisory group) and really aimed hard for that 8-12 year old crowd.  It worked … mostly.  But once a few families drifted off, the program floundered.

After some moderate interest from patrons, I decided to start it again.  But with some modifications with the hope we could get more patrons interested and keep coming.

  • Rotate Newbery winners with Caldecott winners.
  • Open the Caldecott sessions to 6 year olds.
  • Combine the Caldecott sessions with hands-on art in the style of the winning illustrations.

This was an instant shot in the arm! Parents loved that they could bring younger kids every other months which made them more understanding of the months where we had only older kids.  The older kids loved having their own book club sessions. And all the kids loved making the art and connecting it with the style of art in the books.

We did Snowflake Bentley and did styrofoam printmaking. We did Joseph Had A Little Overcoat and created mixed media collages. We did Knuffle Bunny and made our own scenes mixing photographs and illustrations. We did The Snowy Day and created cut paper collages.




Note I say “did” instead of read – that’s another idea I had to enhance the process. Instead of all trying to read the picture book before hand or just having it read by staff, we watched the amazing animated versions from Weston Woods and Scholastic Storybook Classics series, which turned out to be  a great use of these DVDs and a fun way to highlight that collection. We often paired that with some videos about the artist’s process or interviews with the artist so kids could see the illustrators were REAL PEOPLE WHO DID REAL ART – just like them!

For the Newberys, I tried to mix it up, especially with titles they might not have read before.  Last year we read Adam of the Road, Dear Mr. Henshaw, Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH (the perpetual favorite, you guys), Sarah, Plain and Tall and Thimble Summer.

Attendance wasn’t always great.  Sometimes the Newbery sessions would only end up with 4-6 kids. The Caldecott sessions ALWAYS got higher attendance than the Newbery sessions.  But I was (and am) still committed to making the Newbery sessions an important part of the program as a whole.  I love the way patrons get involved during the Caldecott sessions, I love the connections with art and illustration we make, I love sharing picture books, I love the age range.  BUT.  I love the book discussions that happen around our Newbery choices, I love have something that really is JUST for those tween kids, I love the Newbery books introducing these readers to new genres they may never have explored on their own.  It’s worth keeping and we’re not abandoning it!

We just launched this year’s season!  I definitely think we’ve got lessons to learn and I have ideas for how to grow the program this year too!

  • We’ve gotten great response from a local Facebook group of homeschoolers.  I highly recommend you check to see if your community has something like this.  BUT I’d like to work harder on reaching out to the crowd not on Facebook, so I’m collecting email addresses AND urging all the families to pass along our info.
  • We’re going to do more IN HOUSE advertising – not always the greatest for reaching new people, I know, but I think we could hit a demographic of heavy library users who are homeschoolers who might not be on Facebook or are new to town/homeschooling.
  • More promotion of HAVE YOU READ IT YET? DON’T FORGET! during the Newbery months not just right before the club meets to help keep parents and caregivers on track.

I also decided on all our of choices ahead of time and worked rough ideas of what kind of art project we would be doing for each, which has helped a little. (and made sure we have all the DVD versions!) And we made this year’s flyer have the WHOLE YEAR of selections to give parents a little plan ahead time too.

HomePages flyerOverall, this has been a great program for homeschoolers and our own programming for this age range.  It doesn’t take a lot of time to plan or pull off and most of the art projects use things we already have on hand. I think it’s encouraged more homeschool engagement with the library – lots of the parents sit around and chat outside the programs and I know they appreciate having the space and a chance for the kids to socialize and learn.  As I suspected, the parents love that it’s based around literature and they’ve come to really trust us as experts, which makes connections with them about all their learning needs much easier!

If we continue to get steady numbers this year, I’m definitely thinking about expanding the types of programs we offer during the school year for this demographic (maybe more STEM and research based kinds of thing like Abby has tried) and MAYBE even try to run some during after-school hours to build on the homeschool base but mix it up too!

Do YOU have programming for homeschoolers at your library?  What kind of programs have been really big hits? Have you had programs, like ours, that floundered and then got restarted?  What worked and didn’t work each time?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of programming, collection development, and working with your homeschool community! Leave me a note in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


Paperbag Theater @ Your Library


One of my co-workers called this “the perfect library program” and I have to agree!  It’s also SUPER SIMPLE and BASICALLY FREE and has a huge age range appeal.  What’s not to love!?

We opened a new branch library after years and years of planning. (My library system only has two locations – our larger main location where I work most of the time and our smaller branch library in the town at the bottom of the hill, about 15 minutes away.) It’s an amazing, open building with tons of new shelf space and an amazing stage area for reading and storytimes.  It’s located right next to the youth activity center, a playground, and a skate park.  As you can imagine – that means we CAN’T WAIT for tons of kids to visit the library.

As part of our opening – right after our summer programs ended – we added a special week of programming at the new branch library as a way to get people from both towns through the doors.

One of the programs I desperately wanted to add since we have A STAGE now was a paper bag theater.  I came on this idea after our Mo Willems program this summer.  (more about this soon!) Our Elephant and Piggie station was making Elephant and Piggie paper bag puppets (this is a very popular craft!  You can find some templates at this blog) and seeing how the kids interacted with them.  They LOVED making them talk to each other and telling stories with them.  I thought  – how simple and how fun.

When I saw our new library had a great stage area, I knew this was meant to be a program.


  • Buy a bunch of regular sized paper bags.  You could go look for colored ones or white ones, but we used the piles of brown paper bags we already had on hand.
  • Find some paper bag puppet templates you like.  These were easy enough to find on Pinterest.  (Check my Pinterest page) We decided we wanted to do ALL “color your own” but there are plenty out there that are already colored if you want to skip that step/have some of those on hand. We decided on a sea turtle, two dinosaurs, and an octopus.  (We had Elephant and Piggie and some parts to make monsters – left over from our monster party earlier in the week – but the kids weren’t as interested.)
  • Make some cool examples. (KIDS NEED TO SEE WHAT YOU MEAN!)


(my ever game student interns)

  • Build some kind of stage. Originally I thought of making something out of some large boxes … but I felt like those might be too stifling.  Ideally, I wanted this to be a program for older kids (ages 7+) so I didn’t want them to feel stuffed/squished/baby-ish.  Instead, my co-worker Chelsie found a pattern for some simple “stages” made out of butcher paper.  Basically, you just cut squares out of the butcher paper and could decorate it as you wished, then hanging it up where you wanted the stage to appear.  Perfect.  We made three.

That’s it!  That’s all you need.  Get some scissors, colored pencils, and glue sticks and you’re ready to go! (we chose colored pencils because we thought they would give the coloring more definition and again, seem “older” – but you could easily use crayons and/or markers too.)


Low and behold when we got to the library we discovered that in the all-purpose program room they had …. taken the doors off and the shelves out of the three HUGE cabinets in the room.  It was almost like they knew we were coming. (they were really fixing some things but what a divine coincidence!) Chelsie immediately knew that instead of worrying about how we’d hang things up on the stage we could just use these perfectly sized cabinets now with now shelves!  So, the stages were hung!


(see how there’s a little room to the right for kids to get inside?  It’s like they were built for this, I say!)

We chose to read stories that had lots of dialogue and could be “performed” by two library staff members.  This was fun and got them excited about acting out their own stories.

Perfect reading choices: any Elephant & Piggie book, This is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat BackYo! Yes? and Ring! Yo? or Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack. (I am sure you can think of other great examples with two characters having conversations!)

Then we let the kids loose to color and create their puppets.  We encouraged them to make two for dialogue and they all seemed on board.  If anything, they rushed through to get to the dialogue, so I’d watch that and encourage they take their time to make them look great.

Then they went inside and the fun began.  My co-worker Melissa called out some prompts for them when they got stuck – “The turtle is angry with the T. Rex, what does he say?”  or “The Octopus lost something and needs the dinosaur’s help!” but once the kids started, the giggling and the conversation flowed.

two turts

dino turt

dino roar

turtles talkin

I MEAN WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE.  The kids didn’t want to leave as we were cleaning up and every single one took their puppet home to play with some more. Afterwards, Chelsie did say it was “the perfect library program” – and I knew just what she meant.  It involved creativity and re-telling stories and acting them out to understand what they’re about. It connected directly with stories and play and it was FUN!

We also were SO EXCITED to get an older crowd (we have tons of successful programs for 0-6, so whenever we can get the 6-12 year old school age crowd into a successful program they’re really into it just feels great.) who really got to play and work their imagination muscles during the program.

We’re definitely going to do this one again and I can’t recommend it enough – you could even make it themed around books, a seasonal program, or any specific theme.  It was more about getting kids to play and imagine than about one specific puppet. It was cheap, easy and quick to implement, and fun! A dream library program!!

Have you ever done a program around creating simple puppets?  Do you have a puppet theater or stage at your library?  How do you see kids playing with it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts/inspirations.  Leave me a note in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


Proposed Program: STEM Meets Diversity

I was brainstorming for summer reading when I came up with this program.  A lot of the inspiration came from What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Raymond Obstefeld.

color my world

This book traces the history of several African American inventors who are not widely known.  As I was thinking about creating a STEM program for the summer I thought … why not make the STEM program based on the work of real scientists? (yes, this thought was helped by the fact my town is filled with ever so many real scientists and many kids here have scientist parents.  As they always say: the best place to look around for ideas is your own community!)

This could help the kids, especially school age kids, put the experiments and science into a real world context – hopefully making a stronger and more lasting impact on them. As you may know, I love putting things in a real world context as it is a way to show kids that learning really is all around them and extending learning beyond the library and beyond library programs.  So connecting STEM programs to actual scientists and actual discoveries and actual inventions seemed like the perfect fit.

And once I thought of that … I instantly thought of this book.  What if we created a STEM program that was based around real-life inventions and scientists … of color.

Some advantages:

  • kids probably won’t be familiar with these scientists and their work, so you’re not just repeating things about Newton they’ve heard twenty times already. New!  Exciting!  Interesting!
  • you INSTANTLY have another diversity program that also covers STEM programming: two areas most libraries are looking to develop in.
  • it’s chance to take on STEM in a new way  – when I was creating our ScienceFest week of programs, I found a lot of the same stuff.  WHICH IS AWESOME but this is a way to approach STEM from a whole new direction and expand STEM to cover history and biography too.
  • I relish any chance I have to educate caregivers too – this could be a great chance to explain to caregivers WHY you are having this program, HOW they can help have conversations with their children about diversity and discovery. We can be the facilitators and leaders in these conversations about diversity and this program, which will have hands on experimenting and FUN is a perfect gateway.

Here are a few inventors and experiment pairings:

And those are just a few – I am sure there are tons more.  My original idea was to call the program Colors of STEM, but when I thought of also adding (white) women who were lesser known inventors I realized it didn’t quite fit.  So, I don’t quite have the right name yet: maybe something about discoveries or diversity or broadening your STEM horizons.  I also thought you might do this thematically by month – so you could have Great African-American Inventors in February or Women Inventors in March.  That would be another way to make those celebrations and displays get active in your library.

So what do YOU think?  Have any great names for this program?  Have some good ideas of  inventors/projects you think could go together and fit the theme?  What are some ways you could expand your STEM programming to be more diverse or more real world relevant? Comment here or chat with me on Twitter

Oh and one thing I definitely know – you could wrap the series up (especially if you do it in summer…) with a water gun party. After all Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker, is African American! 🙂



Thrive Thursday February 2015 Round-Up

thriveWelcome to Thrive Thursday for February the month of love.  It’s a perfect month for me to host, because I LOVE THIS ROUND-UP and I love this community!

There’s TONS of great content this month, so let’s get going!

  • Mallory has a BRAND-NEW blog (aw yes new bloggers, welcome and keep writing!) and she wrote this great post about her World Record program and it sounds totally do-able and amazingly customizable.
  • Lindsey at the legendary Jbrary wrote about her adventures booktalking.  I loved her lists AND there are included Powerpoint presentations!
  • Brytani has a wonderful new addition to the list of character events with … a WINNIE THE POOH party! Um, yes.
  • I am OBSESSED with Lisa’s super-simple and super-wonderful Car Day program. All you need is tape and imagination!  I’m definitely doing this one!

Another amazing month of school-age programs.  If you wrote something in January that fits, let me know in the comments and I’ll add it in.

THANK YOU to everyone who wrote and submitted something – you are all inspirations to program for this age and share ideas about it.  We CAN serve this age group just as well as we do babies and teens.  Let’s keep the conversation going!

If you’re interested about learning more about the wonders of Thrive After Three and the monthly blog hop you can:

  • Check out the schedule here.
  • Pinterest board: Find roundups and themes for your after school programs here.
  • Join in on the after school fun with the Facebook Group.

Thrive On!


Noon Year’s Eve @ Your Library!

Last January, I first heard about libraries hosting Noon Year’s Eve parties for kids on New Year’s Eve, celebrating the new year at NOON instead of midnight.  My only regret was that I was going to have to wait a whole year to have the event at my library. I like to have at least one special event a month – the kind of after school or weekend programming we do regularly during the summer: school age programming as it were. It keeps the staff in practice and, I hope, it keeps patrons thinking of us year round.  It’s good to make sure they have us in mind year round and not JUST in summer as the place to go with their kids for celebration, connecting, community, and fun.  Noon Year’s Eve, I knew, was the perfect event for December.

I was inspired by this post from Erin about her library’s Noon Year’s Eve and I saved it allllllllll year until it was time to have ours.  The other thing that drew me to this program was I KNEW we could make it relatively low maintenance. Here’s how we did it!

As per usual, I invited our local news source to come take pictures.  They got some great shots of all the action, so start by checking those out.

We ran the event from 11:00-12:30.  This didn’t give us a lot of time for stations since we wanted to do the countdown at noon – but that was fine, it kept things moving.  We built in time at the end for latecomers or if people just wanted to stay and keep playing. We had approximately 45 minutes at the activity stations.

Activity Stations

  • SCAVENGER HUNT After proving to be a hit EVERY TIME we offered it, we decided to ALWAYS have a search and find on your own time hunt through the library.  We printed out ten New Year’s related pieces of clip art (party horns, confetti, a clock) and hid them around the youth services area.  The kids go hunting around for them with a visual map of what they’re looking for, checking them off as they go along.  This scavenger hunt is SO POPULAR – it works for a great age range, it gets people moving instead of stuck at just one station, and whole groups of families/friends can do it together.  Once they completed this they got a temporary tattoo.  We use lots of clip art from the great site My Cute Graphics.
  • NEW YEAR’S CROWNS As you know if you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, I love Teachers Pay Teachers and Teacher’s Notebook. For free or just a few dollars (which goes right to teachers) you can get activity packs themed around just about anything you can think of.  I’ve purchased so many games, worksheets, and matching sets from there.  BIG timesaver. If you haven’t already subscribed to their weekly newsletters, I highly recommend it. I guessed there’d be some units about New Year’s and I found a great one for under $3 that had coloring and activity sheets and a wonderful crown template.

nye crown

Great, right?  So we set up our craft tables and had the kids color and cut out crowns.  We explained resolutions to some of the older kids but we didn’t really stress that part.  Here’s a picture of the craft wildness in action!


No one was really interested in anything other than the crafts, but we also had out some of the other activity sheets from the kit for older kids or take homes. This was lots of fun and got packed quickly.  We also had a station to make our own noisemakers (because I had forgotten to order them from Oriental Trading!) this was definitely more trouble than it was worth, so you’ll hear more about it in Lessons Learned!

  • GAMES GALORE! We decided since one of the things grown-ups do at parties is games and since who DOESN’T like games, we’d just have a station for games and Legos.  We put out all our Legos and many of our family friendly board games (memory games with only 24 cards for our younger players, Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, Kerplunk!, Animal Upon Animal, etc.) and let the older kids and families game and build together.  Cheap and effective, can’t go wrong.We put this up along side our newest favorite area – BABY TOWN!  After we realized our events didn’t have anything for the youngest patrons – and our youngest patrons were DEFINITELY expecting to be included since we bill it as for all ages and families and we have great family attendance at everything we do, whoo-hoo – we set up an area filled with blocks, stacker toys, shaker eggs, and sensory balls.  This has been such a hit.  The parents love having a place for the littles to play while their siblings might be out making crafts and the parents with just the younger kids like having an area to explore.  I MEAN JUST LOOK AT IT.


  • PHOTOBOOTH! We turned our giant bulletin board into a photobooth.  We made some props and bought some giant frames from Oriental Trading. Need I say more?


My fantastic-unbelievable-amazing-beyond-words staff – without whom of the magic is possible!  (that’s me, Melissa, Stephanie, Jared, and Chelsie.)


My friend Jackie’s adorbs little girl.  I KNOW Y’ALL, I KNOW.

So, as you can see – relatively simple stations. From there – it was on to the countdown!

We gathered everyone in our giant rotunda (which you have seen in many pictures before and which has its negatives and positives for programs – but for this program it was a BIG WIN.) and had a countdown projected on the big wall. We talked about the new year and new chances and how we were going to be SO EXCITED and have SO MUCH FUN and we REALLY wanted all the grown-ups to help with the countdown.

And, above us, I knew that we had planned a balloon drop.  I realized with our PACKED crowd this could turn into real chaos. So I knew we’d need grown-up help. At that point, I made it as clear as possible that ALL grown-ups should look out for ALL kids.  That felt good (and necessary) to say. Here’s a view from above before the drop.

so many

They, of course, loved the countdown and shouting and then the balloon drop.  We went straight into music after that, playing Shake it Off which they liked OK which we then cut off for Happy which, as always, they went wild for and really started dancing and throwing the balloons and some of the larger confetti around during. (see those 2″ circles on the ground?  Much easier to clean up than REAL confetti!)

We thanked everyone for coming, wished them a happy 2015 (at 12:01 on December 31.  Yes, it felt a little weird) and invited them to stay to take pictures, color, and play games.

In all, it was a whole lotta bang for not so much effort or money. (we spent a lot on confetti and glitter wands that we ended up not being able to use since there were SO MANY people there but we’ll save ’em!) We had over 100 people attend and there were lots of families, including many we’d never seen before (the most exciting library  demographic – new peeps!) and even more grandparents – many who seemed to be visiting/have visiting grandkids and were looking for something to do.  It was a great confluence of patrons looking for an event and us having just the right thing at the right time.  But you know we had lessons learned …

Lessons Learned

  • Noisemakers: we tried to make a project we found on Instructables about making easy noisemakers using only a piece of paper and a straw but let me make it clear that “easy” doesn’t mean the same thing when it comes to 5 year olds.  Just so you know.  Getting them together and the straws cut the right way was hard enough but trying to show the kids how to blow on them?  Impossible.  (and spitty!) So – either buy some cheap noisemakers, find another kind of make, or just skip them.  The kids didn’t seem to need them, the energy was enough.
  • Crowns: best part of the crowns?  We used some of our left over piles of foam to make the bands.  A MILLION TIMES EASIER TO ADJUST THAN PAPER and way more solid too, so they didn’t just rip right off or slide right off.  Meaning the kids actually didn’t mind wearing them, which was extra fun. We cut strips of differing lengths ahead of time and then did a quick measurement (or let parents) on each kid and then did a few staples and they fit right on.
  • Photobooth: We didn’t have the kind of participation at the photobooth that we were looking for, though several families had a great time taking tons of pics there.  We realized afterwards it just wasn’t clear enough about what the area was for.  So, next event we want to work on more signage about TAKE PHOTOS HERE! SAY CHEESE!  SHARE YOUR PICS! POSE WITH PROPS! along with a few examples of what poses can look like.
  • Timing: It was ABSOLUTELY necessary to have the countdown at exactly noon, but we were glad we did. It gave specific focus to the rest of the event and made sure everyone was on the same page (families playing games, shepherding kids through the scavenger hunt, etc.) I definitely would have liked to see more people stay around afterwards to play games and just hang out, but there were plenty of attendees who, no matter what we did, were clearing out for naps and lunches.  If anything, we’d maybe start a half hour earlier to give some more time for the stations but I don’t think ANYONE felt that rushed. That was the bonus of more simple and self-explanatory crafts!
  • Balloon Drop: The kids LOVE getting things dropped on them from above.  If you’re looking to have one of these events, this is the part I think you should strive to recreate the most.  This was just the apex of delight and really made it feel like a party. We do have a good – but not perfect – space for it, so that helped.  We put buttons in the balloons (!) to help make them drop but that was another little detail.  Maybe it’s time to invest in a balloon net.
  • All ages: This was obviously an event that worked best for 0-9.  Even the 10-12s were a little edgy (well, they liked the countdown and they liked the Legos!) and teens – forget it.  I wish we could have some teen component but the library closes at 5:00 on New Year’s Eve so … I mean, I’m not sure what we could fit in for our older crowd (do teens want to have a wild NYE at 4:45 PM?) but it’s on my mind for next year!

That was Noon Year’s Eve 2015 – an unqualified success. It was cheap to put together with a hugely positive response and tons of attendees. We will do it again?  In a heartbeat.  Should you do it?  Heck yes!

I know tons of libraries had their own Noon Year’s parties this year, hooray. I’d love to hear all about what you did: what worked and what didn’t, what lessons you learned, what you’d advise other libraries to do or avoid, and what you can’t wait to do again! Leave a comment here all about it or talk with me on Twitter.




My Little Pony @ Your Library!

Summer is already in swing at my library.  We are having great return numbers on our reading logs, we had a HUGE crowd for our kick-off show (easily over 300 people), and even our regular programs have had an attendance surge.  We launched our Lego Club to FANTASTIC numbers of almost all boys aged 7-14 every week and our early literacy storytime (ages 4-7) is BOOMING. (more about that soon)  But summer didn’t REALLY feel like it had started until we had our first massive single day stand-alone program.  You can read my post from last summer about why we have these programs and what they mean as part of our summer programming.  Linked in that post are all the other posts I’ve written about these events.

This year’s kick-off was My Little Pony and it was a raging success!  We had about 55 kids of both genders, ages 3-12, and around 40 adults – so it was a HUGE event. Everyone had a great time and here’s how it went.

15 Minutes of Intro & Story

ponyreadingWe read Meet the Ponys of Ponyville, a My Little Pony reader.  This was a great choice.  As in many cases with these events, reading this wasn’t about the excellence of the story, it was about the characters and letting patrons know, yes, we have material for you to check out about this stuff. This one was great, though.  It gave an intro to each character with a few facts about each pony and lead easily from one character to another with enough info/peaks to have the kids guess who’d be revealed next. They looooved shouting out who each of the ponies was.  When we were done reading, I had them clap for who their favorite pony was.  Surprise: they voted for them all.

30 Minutes of Activity

In a canny PR move, I invited our local newsource to the event to take pictures.  They loved it and got some really great pics of our activities, which illustrates lots of these stations in action quite well.  Check them out here.

As per usual, we set up a variety of stations so that kids can rotate through everything and there’s an activity for every kind of personality.  We also named them after special Ponies!

Applejack’s Harvest Toss

Applejack is the pony with an apple farm.  Naturally.  So, as the name implies this was our bean bag toss station.  We’ve found it’s always important to have a bean bag toss/knock-down station of some kind for our more active kids and it helps with fine motor skills and burning off energy and all that.  And hey, it’s fun.  So, we set up baskets and let ’em toss! (older kids are encouraged to aim for the baskets, younger kids to aim for the hula hoops around the baskets.)

Rainbow Dash’s Hoof Decorating and Cutie Marks

Fan favorite pony Rainbow Dash is brightly colored, so this station was all about colors. I bought a bunch of cheap child-safe-scented nail polish at Ross (total cost $4) and everyone was invited to get their “hooves” decorated.  BIG, BIG hit for a little investment.  Many said this was their favorite part.  And, yes, some boys came over and got their nails painted too.  We also had a bunch of My Little Pony temporary tattoos I purchased at Party City (total cost $5) and each person was assigned one randomly and a mom volunteer then applied it to cheeks or hands to be their “Cutie Marks” (yes, their little butt symbols now have a name.) We made sure to tell them to do this station when they were willing to sit for a bit to have their nails dry.  Low cost, big love.

Rarity’s Necklace & Bracelet Creation Station

Rarity is the fancy pony who loves fashion.  (She has curly hair and long eyelashes.) So, her station was the bracelet and necklace creation station.  For this, we used one of our classics: the bottlecap necklace.  We bulk purchased bottlecaps from Etsy years ago and are still working through them.  We purchased some reproducible My Little Pony art from Etsy in bottlecap size, cut them out, pre-glued bails to the back of the bottlecaps, and then let the kids choose a pony and some beads.  We used glue dots to get the art inside the bottlecaps and then topped them off with Epoxy dome stickers.  THAT assembly part was relatively quick (once they settled on a pony) no glue involved and let the kids concentrate on their beading, which they loved. Lots of necklaces and bracelets came out of this and I’ve already seen kids wearing them outside the program, which is always good word of mouth for programs.

Fluttershy’s Design Your Own Pony

The shy and kind pony, Fluttershy, loves animals.  I decided that meant her station would be creating their own ponies.  While I had some coloring pages with the ponies already on them, I also found some blank bases on DeviantArt.  This was easy enough, since designing your own digital ponies is a thing. I simply printed out the blank ponies (there were some without eyes, SHUDDER, but I thought that was a little too advanced for the kids) and let the kids go to town with markers, stickers, and sequins. ALL ages loved this and we heard the MOST elaborate stories about the ponies they had created. They really settled in and concentrated on this station.

15 Minutes of Snacks & Wrap-Up

We wrapped up with cookies and lemonade, as always, and we handed out their take-homes here.  I had swooped up a ton of pencils and stickers from Michael’s Dollar Spot (a great place to keep an eye on for pop culture products, I also loaded up on Star Wars and superhero stuff.) and they each got a pencil and three stickers.  We did have to individually bag these up, which I wasn’t crazy about the waste but it did make it easy to ensure we had enough (just barely and just because some brothers passed) and no one fought over anything. We talked about everything we did and showed off what we’d made, always fun.

A Few Notes About My Costume

As you might know if you know anything about me … well, I love dressing up.  So for this event … well.  I had to be a pony.  I wore gobs of pink lip gloss, a rainbow sherbert crown (for I am always the Queen, you see) and some of my brightest and flippiest clothes but I needed a tail.  Soooo… I started with some of the cheap “hair extension crowns” for children from the Dollar Tree.  I could have even used more and if I were going to make another one, I probably would, just to make it even fuller and more colorful.  I layered them on top of each other and then wrapped a ponytail holder around all the hair.  I scootched it down a little and then cut right above the holder, creating in single swoop a single ponytail with all the strands together.

hairOnce I had that tail, I used one of my cheap belts and with book tape and a safety pin, by costumer (er, co-worker!) Melissa managed to get it attached to the inside of the belt and fall the right way. It didn’t even ruin the belt forever (but use a cheap belt if you’re scared – the pin does need to go through.)

close up tail

From there?  Oh, it was magical!


In all, it was a great event.  Thanks to all the lessons learned from our previous events, this one went pretty smoothly.  We had lots of staff and volunteers on hand, we did a lot of prep work for the crafts ahead of time, and we kept it simple.  If anything, we can look at making these events 10-15 minutes longer … but then you start spiraling into TOO LONG (what happened the summer we started having them … but maybe now we’re ready to try that now that we’re more organized).

And, as always, it’s fun to be doing something that’s very popular and the exact right time. This was a great launch of our BIG summer programming blitz and got us in the right mood for everything we have next!

Have you hosted a My Little Pony event at your library?  I was inspired to do this, in part, by the teen event Renata had for her teens.  But we chose to gear ours to a younger group, which changed everything but still pulled in the zeitgeist of the moment.  HOWEVER it also means this is a program with HUGE age range appeal – if you had a crowd that was into this fandom you could easily do it at your library for teens. Gotta love a program with this wide appeal across age and gender!

Are there any questions or details about the My Little Pony event I didn’t answer or that you want more info about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here or talk with me on Twitter)


American Girl Rebooted: What We Did & How It Worked

The key to unlocking American Girl was understanding that I had to understand the material AND that I should let the material guide me and guide the program. And not just the material as in American Girl but the material as in the specific girl I’d chosen: Rebecca.

In reading the Rebecca books (I’m speaking here of the seven books that make up her canon, not the additional mystery titles) and really thinking about what I wanted this program to do and what it was our patrons were drawn to about it in the first place I came up with this: we want to make it an experience.  We want to create an immersive experience that they can’t get anywhere else and (this part is key for me) that ties directly into the books.

With that in mind, I pulled some key elements out of Rebecca’s story.

  • Rebecca is part of a large Jewish family living in New York in 1914.
  • Rebecca’s family, her grandparents and her aunt, uncle and cousin, are Russian immigrants.
  • American Girl describes Rebecca as “a lively girl with a dramatic flair”.  She loves being the center of attention, play-acting, and staging skits.
  • One of her cousins, Max, is an actor in silent film and an entire book revolves around her visiting the set of a silent film and acting as an extra.

I hope you thought of what I thought of.  For me, it was clear:  we were going to put on a show.

BUT MORE THAN A SHOW.  We would create an experience that would let out participants really learn about Rebecca and her life. AND we would connect with our community so that they could see the things they had in common with Rebecca. These things would not only be immersive and unique but connect them deeply to the character and the entire series of books.

Over the course of six days (two of them at our branch library, the other four at our main library) we created a real experience for the kids participating – and I think it’s the sort of school-age program all libraries should try to create.  Knowing the material, letting it guide us, really focusing on our vision, and keeping to a locked-down schedule helped make it much easier on staff and more fun for the participants. Here’s how we broke down those days.

The Week’s Activities

  • The participants would  prepare for their show by rehearsing with basic choreography two songs from Rebecca’s era (two giant hits from 1914 that are still well-known: Take Me Out to the Ballgame and Aba Daba Honeymoon).  They would also create basic props and set decoration.
  • In-between these activities they would learn about early cinema, life on the stage, and Rebecca’s heritage.
  • Rebecca’s heritage would be covered by a community volunteer (who happened to be a retired library worker) whose direct ancestors were Russian-Jewish immigrants who lived in New York in 1914.
  • Learning about early cinema was covered by a library staff member, who showed them scenes from Charlie Chaplin films and discussed silent movies with them.
  • Life on the stage was covered with a field trip to our local community theater, where we got a behind the scenes look at everything from stage backdrops to costumes and props.

All of this culminated in an end of the week show performed at the library for families and friends and topped off with a cast party.

We vastly simplified the crafts but the participants didn’t really mind because through preparing for the show they still got the feeling of doing something BIG.  We also made sure that the whole week and all the activities tied back to each other so that nothing felt like it was happening in a vacuum.

We started off by reading from the book Meet Rebecca. We made sure to read every day, not just from the Rebecca books but from picture books about Russian and Jewish culture too.  We decided to focus on matryoshkas, Russian nesting dolls.  Why?  Because our volunteer (my former staff member) has a huge collection of them and she was going to bring some in as part of her visit.  (again: here’s where the pre-planning and tying everything together comes in.)

Thursday & Friday

We kicked the program off with these two days held at our branch.  We wanted it to be the beginning of the journey for some participants, but also stand-alone if they couldn’t make it for the whole program.  (another big fix from our old days of – “Whelp, this is gonna take all week to get half-done, don’t miss once!”) The staff member conducting these two days happened to be an early cinema buff but as I pointed out in the last entry, doing your research isn’t THAT hard.  We are librarians, aren’t we? We started with discussion of Rebecca and her world.  T staff member (my great former colleague Ellie who went back to working for the schools, sob sob) talked to them about the whole week’s event as well, giving them a preview of sorts.

On day one there was lots of discussion of Rebecca, the era she lived in, and her heritage.  That’s also when the participants began their two day project, coloring and cutting a set of paper matryoshkas.  One of my student workers who is an artist drew me a set which we then photocopied together to create a reproducible folding set. (I also found a template of matryoshkas online to use with our younger group.  We have a single day spin-off junior version of this program for 6-7 year olds.  This year the 6-7 group made matryoshka puppets. If you don’t have an amazing artist working for you, there’s no shortage of matryoshka crafts and templates online and, as we learned last summer paying few bucks to download a template off Etsy is a great solution.) With the precise cutting and detailed coloring, it was just the right level of craft.


You can see how these patterns and cutting them  would easily take two days!  So, on Friday the participants returned (if they couldn’t, they just took their pattern home to finish on their own, ta-dah) to finish coloring and cutting while they heard a little bit more from Meet Rebecca. They also started their lessons about early cinema this day.  Ellie showed them selections from Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid and talked about what silent cinema looked and felt like.  They also got to sample egg cremes, a treat from the era (which they just hated, hah) as a treat. [If I were re-creating this program now, I would also share Matt Phelan’s amazing Bluffton, a graphic novel about young Buster Keaton and read the picture book Rifka Takes A Bow, which is about a young girl involved in Yiddish theater.  If only they’d been released then!]


Monday was our 6-7 year old American Girl program.  Our invention this year was to combine the two programs instead of trying to have the 6-7 year old program on an entirely different day. We also then invited the older girls to come and be our Rebecca Helpers (the way Rebecca helps her immigrant cousin Anna!) so they got another day of program and we got enthusiastic older helpers.  Bingo, a multi-ages program with no extra day in the summer required.  We read from Meet Rebecca and then read a picture book about matryoshkas while they crafted. As I mentioned, the younger girls made a set of matryoshka puppets.  As we discovered last summer, younger kids love this craft and it really lends itself to storytelling.  It can’t be easier, either.  Color, cut, glue on popsicle sticks and start telling your story.




On Tuesday we took a field trip to the Los Alamos Little Theatre. It’s a short walk from the library and one of my friends is on their board.  This was a lot of fun and not something we’d ever done before.  But – see above – I wanted to reinforce that the participants had something in common with Rebecca, that they could be interested in and learn about the same things she did. The trip was a big hit and it gave me language to use for prepping for our performance. And did I mention it strengthened library and community ties, aw yeah!  The participants favorite part of this was getting to stand on the stage, seeing the back-drops and DEFINITELY walking through the costumes and props room. (we also had siblings and parents come along for this part, which NEVER happens with this program: already proof it was turning into a more multi-generational program, whoo!)


This is the day we began learning the songs and the simple choreography.  Here’s some notes Melissa, my co-collaborator on this giant project wanted to pass along about this element: We made sure the participants knew we would have the lyrics hanging up for them during the show  so they didn’t have to worry about memorizing them.  But we still practicing singing them together often with and without the simple dance moves we had worked out. I bought cheap karoke versions of the songs, which were easy to find on iTunes and Amazon and they provided the perfect backing tracks which helped with them learning the words. The participants were super into this, of course.  We did explain that if any of them didn’t feel comfortable performing, there would still be plenty for them to do, like make the sets and props and help behind the scenes.  But they liked the thought of being a group together and, of course, our enthusiasm for it helped a lot too.

We also began the work on the “sets”.  Since we had been to the theater and read from Rebecca at the Movies, they already knew about these elements and were ready to create.  In the scene in the book, Rebecca is in a film scene that takes place at night and has a vase of flowers, so they would be creating paper flowers and painting a night scene.  They LOVED the painting, especially painting on the stars.  (note their lovely work making shooting stars.) Again, such a simple craft that didn’t take ages but something that really mattered to them AND connected back to the program.



The flowers … haha … those turned out to more labor-intensive than we’d imagined.  Only a few determined participants stuck around to crumple and glue and wrap the paper flowers.  We also invited them to create smaller flowers with strips of paper and a thousand pounds of glue that we then hot-glued onto bobby pins.  These were their “costumes” and another favor they got to take home.  They liked making these smaller flowers much more (and they were much easier to create).  Note how we assigned them randomly by number (they got random numbers that assigned them their flowers) to keep from fights ensuing. This also contributed to the “we’re all working on this FOR each other and TOGETHER!” element.




This was our community member visit day.  This was definitely an idea I soaked up from online sources and library trends.  I wanted to, again, give a bigger picture of Rebecca’s life and context.  My former co-worker Bev stopped by to talk to the participants and show them some selections from her matryoshka collection.  Bev has some pretty darn cool dolls (like a Harry Potter set, for instance) and everyone LOVED them, especially since we’d spent days reading about them and crafting out own.  This was another part that invited in whole families and siblings and even just people hanging out in the library!

Bev also told them about her grandparents, Russian-Jewish immigrants, and about what it was like for HER growing up a Jewish girl in New York (although not in 1914, lol!) She brought one of her menorahs and challah bread for them to snack on.  She also answered questions they had and taught them a few words of Yiddish.

This was an AWESOME addition and, again, brought Rebecca to life and brought her world into OUR world.  It really made me think, again, about what we were DOING with this program and this was a day I really felt these changes. Again, can’t recommend enough that if you have a chance to put a visit like this into one of your programs: DO IT, DO IT!!

We also finished up some flowers on this day and rehearsed our song and dance again, just to remind the participants that TOMORROW WAS THE SHOW and all this work was going to pay off the next day.  We had created simple invitations to the PERFORMANCE and let me tell you, all our participants strutted out with them held high – ready for the show!!


THE SHOW THE SHOW THE SHOW!!!  The participants arrived about half an hour before the show.  First, they acted as “crew” for stage prep and helped us move furniture and hang up their backgrounds.  Then they had another few rehearsals before they put on their “costumes.”  (Some put the flower pins on their shirts because they had brought baseball caps for the Take Me Out to the Ballgame number – a suggestion, not requirement.) 

Then they went on! And the topper of this program?  We had a huge audience of families and friends.  There were at least 55 people there to watch the performance. You couldn’t ask for better. Staff came out and introduced what the group had done during the week, pointed out the flowers as props and costumes and the painted backgrounds, talked about what we’d learned and created and practiced together.  Then they came out and sang the songs.

The applause was wild.  Many standing ovations were called for.  And we topped the performance off with a classic game of the era … charades.

AND OH BOY CHARADES.  Have you ever played this with a group of 8-12 year old children? Well, let me tell you – they are absolutely in love with it.  They wanted to do this forever.  They loved acting out for each other and trying to get the right guesses out of the crowd and having the larger audience watch and sometimes even participate a little.  It, again, tied in with Rebecca’s love for playacting and the dramatic and everything we’d learned about theater and early silent cinema. ALL THE KIDS wanted to play charades, even the ones not in the program.  When it was over, almost every participant asked if she could take the left-over clues home to play on their own.

Then we wrapped it all up at the cast party, we had snacks, most of them themed from the books or from Jewish traditions.

Back in the old days of American Girl we’d top off the program with a giant tea party.  There were concerns that maybe there wasn’t going to enough RAZZLE-DAZZLE and special-ness without the tea party. So, after the show and before the snacks we also took a minute to call out the name of every participant and give her a chance to bow in front of the crowd.  They each got a carnation with a ribbon tied to it.  And let me tell you, this individual cast call was more than enough special.

Oh, and of course, there were other audience members who loved every minute of the performance and, well, were a little bit of set decoration …


What We Learned

  • DON’T BE AFRAID TO START ALL OVER.  Starting all over gave this program new life and new excitement.  It also gave us a chance to really explore these books and many other library books too – from books about Russian life to books about putting on shows, we got circulation every day just by talking about everything we were learning and creating and daily sharing books.
  • Don’t be afraid to think outside of the programming box for all-new-to-us things: a field trip to a place in our community, a speaker who came in and shared a collection and stories of her culture.
  • Don’t worry about what you used to do – concentrate on what we are GOING to do.
  • Remember that creating an EXPERIENCE is your ultimate goal.  And that doesn’t have to involve intense, complicated crafting or staff time.  We had activities as simple as gluing, coloring, and painting and it mattered more that it was part of the experience than they were making something very fancy or complicated.

Basically, we learned to NOT BE AFRAID.  This was an amazing and interesting school age program that we can’t wait to recreate this summer … in a totally new way, of course! 🙂

Does your library host American Girl event? How long have you offered it?  What parts change?  What parts are consistently successful?  Have you rebooted a program from the ground up?  How did it go?   What do you think about our big changes?  Do you have ideas for our program? Are there any questions or details about our American Girl program I didn’t answer or that you want more info about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here or talk with me on Twitter)