Spy Night @ Your Library

As many of you know, especially if you follow me on Twitter, one of my greatest fears in life is that all these cool and amazing programs we have – especially the ones during summer – miss out on working parents.  Everything we have starts at 2 PM? Well, what about if you don’t have a nanny or you don’t have a parent who stays at home or you don’t have a grandparent/uncle to take you to the program? What if both your parents work and you’re in day camp? I just can’t abide this.  I can’t.  It’s why, years ago, I added a Saturday morning session of our Music & Movement program – this stretched staffing but it gave us a whole new audience of grateful families who would never have been able to participate otherwise.  It’s why I’ve started adding monthly Saturday storytimes (4th Saturday and, yes, we get asked about them often) and, if I could, I’d do them every Saturday.

It’s also why this year I decided we had to add more evening programs to our SUMMER EXTRAVAGANZA.  Yes, in the midst of our busiest season, when we are constantly overloaded with programs and patron visits, I decided to add programs.  Just to see.  Just to see if anyone would actually come.

Guess what?  They sure do.

In my SUMMER EXTRAVAGANZA preview, I wrote some of the evening programs we were trying and why.  So far the other programs – the STEM Film Series and the Craft Evenings – are VERY popular (wheeee!) but even they pale in comparison to the WILD SUCCESS of Spy Night, which was set up the exact same as all of our one hour stand-alone parties, only it happened at 6:00 PM instead of 2:00 PM.  The result?  Our biggest party attendance of the summer, shattering My Little Pony’s attendance and coming close to being our largest party ever.  WOWZA, THAT’S SOME RESULTS!

Here’s how it happened! (As per usual, lots of this planning came from trolling mostly birthday parties on Pinterest and then modifying and cobbling something together that fit our sizes and spaces.  This wasn’t inspired by any specific series or popular trend I was observing at a particular time at my library … but who doesn’t like spies and secret agents, right?)

15 Minutes of Intro & Story

stachesUpon arrival, the kids were given nametags with codenames and fake mustaches for their disguises.  The codenames were all actual codenames used by the Secret Service for Presidents/Presidential candidates and family. (I got this idea from some blog – sorry I can’t remember which!) The kids loved this, especially when they heard they were REAL names from the Secret Service. The mustaches were 7 for a dollar at the Dollar Tree.  But since we had such a HUGE crowd, we ran out of both code names and mustaches (and we were prepared for 35 kids!)  You can buy the Dollar Tree mustaches in bulk and since mustaches are SUCH a thing with our kids right now, I’m considering it for a multitude of prizes and programs.

Then we settled in for the story.  It was hard to find a good book to read!  When I asked the day of the program, I got some great suggestions for spy picture books on Twitter.  But either my library didn’t have them or they were checked out/at the branch.  So, there’s a good lesson for planning ahead. 😉

I chose to go with a book from the Adam Sharp series by George Stanley.  Thissharp is a cute little tongue in cheek early reader series about an eight year old super spy.  They got a big kick out of how he goes to elementary school in a tuxedo and the gifted program is really a SPY program. I worked extra hard to get them engaged in the story since it”s a reader series.  It actually worked well since we had older kids there too. And all the Adam Sharp books checked out after, hooray! After getting code names and disguises and reading a few chapters, it was time to rotate to our stations to begin training for SPY SCHOOL.

30 Minutes of Craft & Activity

We had set up four stations, which turned out to be SUPER HELPFUL for the huge crowd!

Code Breaking

Much bigger hit than we anticipated!  I translated some messages using three simple codes: the classic pigpen cipher (this was the easiest one I found since it doubled up the letters in a box and was easier for the kids to read that way), a very simple number cipher (A = 1, B = 2, C = 3), and the basic substitution cipher as seen here.  We also talked at this station about other kinds of codes and how these codes had been used in history and how you could make them more complication.  HUGE HIT. They took home all our samples even after they’d cracked the codes.  Two of the codes had X Files taglines (yes really) like BELIEVE THE LIE and THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE, which many parents got a kick out of and kids thought sounded plenty mysterious.  One code was a joke where you had to decode the answer (Why did the spy stay in bed?  Because he was undercover) and again, much love by all.  And, yes, all our code books checked out!


Your basic, “Put 10 items on a tray, give everyone a minute, cover the tray up and see what they can remember” party game, which we explained was for working on your observation skills, a spy necessity.  This station was a mixed bag, it was hard to lure them over to it, but it was fun once they got there.  We also encouraged parents and kids or siblings to play together, especially if the kids couldn’t write yet, they could still describe what they say which would help build recall.

Hot Potato Bomb

A game of hot potato using a silver spray painted styrofoam ball meant to represent a bomb.  We played the Mission: Impossible theme as they tossed the bomb around and whoever was holding it when the music stopped was out.  Simple enough, right?  But no.  We needed WAY MORE adults in this station to make it work.  The kids were both throwing it WAY TOO HARD (naturally) and then instantly dropping it when the music stopped as if that meant they wouldn’t be out. My amazing student intern Stephanie (who I will someday convince to be a librarian, just you wait) did a great job trying to control this, setting down rules about how they couldn’t drop it and they were instantly out if they threw it, but it was just too chaotic.  Heed these warnings if you try to repeat this station, or the hot potato game in any form, with older kids.  (and if you have any strategies for how to better manage this game, please share.)



Without a doubt, the biggest hit was the laser maze.  (Here’s my student worker Dillon – who I will also make a librarian, just you wait – posing in the middle of one. The student workers loved setting this up, a great task for teen volunteers and workers) I had seen this all over Pinterest, but no birthday party could offer a spot for the laser maze as cool and perfect as between library shelves.  SO!  We set up two, one slightly simpler using crepe paper streamers and the other slightly harder using red string.

Everyone went WILD for these. The kids went through them over and over and they didn’t rip them down (even accidentally – book tape did the job!) and they didn’t cheat (we made sure they couldn’t just slide through on their stomachs by placing some low on the ground) they just had a great time. Liz, my co-worker who was working this station, made loud BUZZZZZ’ing every time they brushed across one which, of course, made them just shudder with delight.

15 minutes of Wrap-Up

Usually, we wrap up with sitting back down with drinks and cookies but I decided to put a spin on this.  We called the group back together and I told them there were FINGERPRINTS hidden through out the library and when they brought one back, they would be full fledged spies. I had printed out fingerprints from Word’s ClipArt and hid them all around YS.  As I’ve mentioned for all these events: the look and find is, without a doubt, the kid’s favorite thing to do.  We could do this SIX MILLION TIMES and they’d go for it every time.  It fit perfectly with the theme!  They returned with a fingerprint, got their two cookies and congratulations, and were then permitted to go look for more fingerprints.  (I debated having “official spy” certificates as a final prize but decided against it, the kids haven’t seemed to want those as much.  BUT if I were doing it again, I’d do it in conjunction with the hunt, i.e. they’d find be able to keep any/all of  their found fingerprints and attach them to their certificate.  I think they would have REALLY wanted the certificates then!)

In all, it was an amazing night.  We had almost 100 people (!) attend and the crowed skewed slightly older than many of these events we have during the day, which was great.  And dozens of the parents thanked me for having it at night.  We had whole families come and some people I knew as great patrons but had never seen at a program before.  Our spy books flew off the shelves and the entire YS area was hopping with the circulation and summer reading returns that always go with a program but this time it was AT NIGHT for once.

 I covered a lot of my lessons learned in the post (so much learning from mistakes!) but one thing I certainly learned was this kind of program, the summer extravaganza the stand alone party type,  is definitely worth having at night even with the way it stretched staff and scheduling. I WILL be repeating this, at the very least, during next summer and perhaps even more regularly.

Have you had a SPY event at your library?  What lessons did YOU learn or books did you read and highlight?  Any tips for how I could have made some of the games or stations run smoother? Do you have evening or weekend programs like this at your library? How do you present and promote programs, even passive programs. for working parents and families?

Are there any questions or details about SPY NIGHT 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)




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)


Music & Movement – BABY DANCE!


Without a doubt, the most popular program our library provides is our Music & Movement program.  It’s SO popular that we have it four times a week, including a session at our branch library. And even having it four times a week isn’t enough, we could have it every day and people would come.  We get 30-100 people (children and adults) at EACH PROGRAM. (especially in summer, the attendance skyrockets.) Music & Movement or, as it’s informally known, BABY DANCE is our best attended and loved program for many reasons.  One of them is that we relish the fun of it all and we let it be one wild and crazy time – it’s not a program where we crack down on rules. Another is that it really is a program that shows off the library as a community space: families come and hang out, new immigrant parents meet other new immigrant parents, it helps connect people.

Those are two of the most important keys for M&M’s success.  But there’s more!


I swear on all the things I love I really am going to write a professional article about all this for submission to Children & Libraries.  I am.  And I want all of you, dear readers, to keep holding me to that! I want you to keep asking about it and keep telling me to write it.  FOR REAL.  But at the same time I also see tons of posts and requests for playlists and, well. not only do I want to share BUT … maybe writing a playlist will help get me in gear for the REAL article and get some discussion going that can motivate me into writing it!

SO!  This is going to be a post with JUST SOME of my playlist favorites.  However!  I am only one of the people who presents this program at my library – different staff has different favorite songs and even different regular songs. (But you should know WHAT your co-presenters do, because while the kids will begin to recognize you by “your” songs they will also feel free to request other songs they love/know.  So stay on the same page, discuss songs you use and why often!)   And, hey, even different days and different crowds (is it an older crowd?  A bigger crowd?  A rowdier crowd?) can change a playlist in a second.

Some general notes:

  • All staff who present have moved to using playslists on either our phones or iPods, which means we can have hours of songs to choose from.  I can’t recommend this enough – it really frees you up.
  • We don’t use a microphone … yet.  It’s a possibility for the future.  Right now, we plug right into speakers, turn it all up, sing our hearts out, and go. (and, yes, we sing along – not always, but often.  Be prepared to belt this out even if, like me, you have the worst voice.)
  • We DO use props: parachutes, scarves, rhythm sticks, and even 100+ bath sponges (a Dollar Tree 2 for $1 score!). We also use instruments (we have a lot of great instruments purchased with funds from our Friends – they LOVE to be hit up for programs like this!) but those can be SO tricky when we have HUGE crowds.  The patrons love them but, oh, it’s such chaos getting them all handed out and avoiding stampedes and the like. Sometimes we just have to leave them out.
  • We have this program before the library opens, which helps with worrying about noise.  We also have it on Saturdays, which is a really popular day for whole families to attend.
  • Each session is about 30 minutes, but we never feel bad if one needs to only be 20 minutes or sometimes goes 35 minutes.
  • Where do we get the music? We’re always browsing, looking for Parent’s Choice Awards, watching YouTube videos. This whole program was created to spotlight our music collection, so my library a lot of children’s music we’re always promoting to patrons! We LOVE Kimbo Educational and if you’re not familiar with their great catalog, take some time to browse because they have tons of wonderful educational music.


With that: you will notice I use A LOT of children’s music, educational music, and even “old” children’s music.  

This program does not exist to make sure the parents have a magical rock concert experience.  This program is here for kids.  Sure, we sometimes throw in contemporary music , especially for instrument or stick songs, but this program works because we do listen-and-follow-and-learn songs, because we find out elbows and knees and toes, because this is predictable, repeatable,  music – many would even say formulaic – that is not confusing to children and is easy to follow along. (and along and along and along … did I mention we have it four times a week?)

If that isn’t your dance party groove, that’s fine.  But that’s how ours work, by and large, and it works well.

I have about 35-40 songs in my playlist so I have lots of selections.  While we love repetition, we also try to add new songs. For this sample playlist, I have included samples or audio of the songs I’m discussing and album titles as needed.

Personally, I always start with the same five songs.  I call this my warm-up and I think it helps set some familiarity up and get everyone ready to listen and follow and say HELLO!


Good Morning by Greg & Steve

Simple and classic, we clap all the way through and say hello to all our friends and talk about what we will do together and sing, sing, sing.

Reach for the Ceiling
Roll Your Hands  by Carol Hammett

Both from the amazingly named Toddlers on Parade – great and simple listen and follow.

Wheels on the Bus

Choose your version!  The kids LOVE this one, go WILD for it.  I can also connect the rolling our hands in the song before to rolling our wheels on the bus.

The Music in Me by Greg & Steve (from Fun & Games)

Another good listen and follow but now with new sounds that MAKE grown-ups participate as they start to drift off – whistling, snapping!


Here’s where I switch it up depending on audiences.  Some favorites:

Jump, Jump by Joanie Leeds

AKA the song I shared at Guerilla Storytime in Summer 2013.  This one gets them going and is pure delight for an older crowd.  Not much for babies to do but bounce but, man, until you’ve seen about 30 toddlers going to town on this one you just haven’t lived. (scroll down to I’m A Rock Star for the sample)

There’s A Little Wheel Turnin’ in My Heart and The Airplane Song by the legendary Laurie Berkner

I could do a whole program with JUST Laurie Berkner songs.  But my most often used in this portion are For Wheel  we have good practice singing the refrain and with “wheel turning.”  They scream with glee when we WAKE UP from sleeping to the truck honking.  Airplane Song is one that’s actually requested by our kids.  They love to put their arms out and be planes and, in our town of frequent travelers and often moved families, everyone likes the bit about “come sit down in your own hometown.” And though I don’t use them as regularly, I also suggest My Energy (great for burning off energy) and Monster Boogie. (better in smaller, older groups.)

Clap, Clap, Clap and Shoo Fly by Carole Peterson

I think Carole Peterson deserves a much bigger audience.  We get great responses from these songs, they’re nicely paced and have the actions repeated many times so the kids can really master them.  Clap is from Sticky Bubblegum and Shoo Fly (love that banjo!) is from Dancing Feet.  But she’s got tons of great songs, I highly recommend her.

Arms Up! by William Janiak

A big Kimbo hit.  This might be THE most known song across the whole program, because almost all presenters use it.  It’s basically perfect: fun movements that are a little complicated, good beat, lots of repetition. Our crowds love this song, it’s challenging (watching them balance on one leg!) but familiar too.  I’ve had at least three parents email about “what’s the song with the arms up?” because their kids want to hear it – even on vacation.

Let’s Shake by Dan Zanes

I listen to Dan Zanes’s children and folk music just because I love it.  But ,any of them are also great for programs.  If you’re having a special one-off Toddler Dance Party, I think it’d be incomplete without this song.  Listen to it several times ahead and practice your versions of the dances mentioned and then get ready to rock.  (from Catch that Train – and, yes, the album version has much less jammin’ and gets straight to the song.)


After we’re warmed up and we’ve done two-four songs, we move on to the props: scarves, sticks, parachute, or sponges.  I have a few regulars for these.


Mariposa Ole  by Dan Zanes & Barbara Brousal

Sure, it’s all in Spanish.  But many of our patrons understand Spanish.  And everyone feels the rhythm.  You can also hold your sticks up high and make butterflies as you tap along to the guitar.

Three Little Birds covered by Elizabeth Mitchell

MY PERFECT STICKS SONG.  Elizabeth Mitchell is a treasure!  She was the first children’s artist carried on Smithsonian’s Folkways label and her latest album Blue Clouds has illustrations from Remy Charlip and liner notes from some dude named Brian Selznick.  So, you know.  This song – oooooh, I love to belt this out to the kids (every little thing’s gonna be all right!) and they love to click along to this version of it, having sticks on the song really helps them with following the cues and the music.  Just delightful on every level. If you’re looking for really magical folk music (from several cultures) for children, Elizabeth Mitchell is a must.


I could lie and tell you I use lots of cool body identification/color identification songs for scarves.  But I don’t.  I’ve gotten better about using them for some play before we launch into the song, I think that’s really helped (especially for the babies). But 99.9% of the time use the same song and it’s a ton of fun.

Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz) by Laurie Berkner

We get to dance and shake our scarves, we go down low to our toes and then pop up high to the sky when she says BUZZ, we get to make the buzzzzzz ourselves as we trail scarves along for peek-a-boo. It never fails me!

I don’t really use the parachute since I don’t like the space we’re in and I worry about parent participation, but my co-workers usually use either a popular music song or just skip music and do narration.

After a single song using the sticks or scarves (I usually do one or the other, not both) we move right on to the instruments.


This is a hugely popular part of the program.   However, we’ve recently stopped putting out the instruments during summer because we just have too huge of a crowd and here’s an area where the chaos works against us.  That is to say: we have a toddler stampede and it’s not good.  No matter how much we beg for help, parents just don’t seem to engage in this, so we have tons of kids running for instruments.  Sometimes we try holding on to the bins and then passing them out ourselves but with huge numbers that’s difficult.  If YOU have a better instrument distribution plan, I’d love to hear it!

Instruments are a great time to do a popular music song so we’ve done everything from Gangnam Style (our Korean parents loved this!) to Happy. We also did I Want to Dance With Somebody when Whitney Houston died and the Ghostbusters theme when Harold Ramis died.

With the instruments (and the sponges) I almost always do a start and stop/freeze song.  It’s good practice for the kids for listening to musical cues and understanding “stop” and “go” and it’s easier to hear the “freeze” part when instruments are involved.  And boy do they love it when they get to start playing again.  My favorite is by my bros Greg & Steve.

The Freeze by Greg and Steve

Cleaning up from instruments always takes time, even if there are no major crying incidents involved. So, this is a good chance to practice saying “see you next time” to the instruments, singing the clean-up song, and giving all the kids loads of praise for being such good helpers!


By this time. we’re just about wrapping up the half hour.  Each of the presenters has their own goodbye song.  I use something simple and easy to sing along with.  I sing Twinkle!

Twinkle, Twinkle from Six Little Ducks by Kimbo

 I think you could do any version of this song: it makes a nice closer and gives everyone a chance to stretch and cool down.  But I use a specific one because there’s about 30 seconds of instrumental in it after the first verse of Twinkle and I use that time to talk to the crowd.  I tell them what a great time we had “singing, talking, playing, and growing!” and how I am SO PROUD of them.  Then, right before we sing another verse I say, “You’re all superstars!  Let’s sing together, friends!” They LOVE this part and so do I – it’s great reinforcement of everything we’ve just learned and it’s a chance to make the kids feel really special and excited about what they’ve just learned.

And, hopefully, it makes them want to come back for more!

There you have it!  A basic (well perhaps a little more than basic …) overview of a typical Music & Movement program.  Do you have a program like this at your library?  If you don’t, seriously consider it.  Why?  It’s more than just how it can supplement your other early literacy programs and storytimes.  It’s more than just how it will boost your statistics.  I think every library should offer this program because of how I’ve seen it foster and create community in our library, because of how I have seen it turn the library into THE destination for families to network and connect.  THAT’S what I’ve come to accept about the chaos and exhaustion and disorganization of M&M as I get frustrated with it all – this program makes our library a community builder and that’s worth it all.

Also, dancing babies.

Now!  Keep pressuring me to write and present MORE about this!  I’ll rely on you!  And talk to me about YOUR library dance parties and toddler music programs.  What do you do?  What works?  What do your patrons love?  Are there questions about Music & Movement that I didn’t answer?  What else do you want to know about what we do and how we do it? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here, send me an email, or talk with me on Twitter!)


Summer’s Coming & I Can’t Wait

And I mean it.

Fellow YS librarians!  I know that this is our most stressful time of year: this lead-up to summer reading when all things converge into one mass of school visits, school tours, preparing publicity, lining up programs and getting ready for the crush of all those endless days of patrons, programs, and mayhem.  I know! I know this is when that dark part of you starts whispering how useless this all is, how no one notices all your hard work, how patrons don’t appreciate all your effort and money and time. I know!

Last year, I wrote a piece for the amazing site Letters to a Young Librarian (y’all should submit pieces! Let’s get lots of YS voices featured!) that was specifically about summer reading and this soul-suck.  It’s inspiration and solace for new librarians and it’s called You Will Survive Summer Reading.  This letter to a young librarian has this as a thesis: Summer Reading is the certainly most exhausting time to work in Youth Services but also the most dang fun!

And because I truly believe this I am SO EXCITED for another summer of chaos and exhaustion. Our summer programming begins the very second school gets out which, for us, is in a mere THREE WEEKS. We run full-on all the way through June and July and then take August off.

We’re just about all lined up (with a few last minute details flying in, of course, because that’s how I do!) and I am starting to feel the real pressure and EXCITEMENTS of summer and everything new we have coming.  I thought this would be a good time to preview some of our upcoming summer activities…and that I’d have something to revisit after surviving summer.  So, here are some of the things I can’t wait for in summer 2o14!

  • Fizz…Boom…Science on Film! Our branch library has a weekly Family Friendly Film Series in the summer.  We show movies and have popcorn and lemonade.  They’re usually pretty well-attended (between 30-80 people, depending on the film.)  This summer I decided we’d have a film series – an actual theme instead of just trying to dig up random children’s films.  And what better theme than one that fits with this summer’s theme: MAD AND WACKY SCIENTISTS? We’re watching movies like Flubber (with Robin Williams, but either would do), Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and Meet the Robinsons (and just think how many movies would fit – Megamind, The Nutty Professor…I think this is going to be an especially fun connection to summer reading and a great way to motivate more people to come to the film series regularly. But there’s more!
  • We’re trying out some more evening programs.  I realized last summer that we have so many fun and great things during the day … but what about if you’re a working parent?  So, we’re trying out a more participatory kind of summer evening programming and part of it ties directly to the film series.  A kid’s film series about science?  What a perfect time for STEAM programs!  Before each film screening, we’ll have a short storytime/STEAM activity.  It’ll be a chance to tie in some books and science programming WITH the films and gives parents/families an activity to go with the film or even just a quick hands-on, fun night program if they don’t stay for the movie.  I love the idea of modifying an existing (popular) program by adding just a little extra that can fulfill several needs. I hope it will gain popularity as the summer goes along and can become a regular part of our summer programming: activities, books, movies all for families and all after 5:00 PM.
  • We’re also adding Craft Creation nights in July at our main library – which I hope will give us a chance to burn off extra supplies 🙂 and create a fun drop-in-maker-station kind of vibe. Nothing too staff-intensive, but something that will give families a place to hang out together for a bit and make something.
  • Our PARTIES!  Last year, I wrote all about our school-age standalone single day events.  Here’s my blog about how ours are set-up and why I think they are an essential part of programming for libraries year round but especially in summer.  This year we are back with a whole new slate of single day events I can’t wait to test out! Our single-day events this year are: My Little Pony, Geronimo Stilton, and Pete the Cat. I’m really excited about Geronimo Stilton because I love trying things for this specific age range based on those early chapter books.  We’re plotting out activities and timing right now and we’re scanning Pinterest and modifying to fit out format.  These are very popular characters here, so I’m expecting good attendance.
  • I’m excited to try another year of our relaunched American Girl. I posted about how we relaunched the program and it’s great to see that, even in a second year, this has helped staff enthusiasm for it AND patrons are still as curious as ever.  As I wrote, the program is now even MORE experience based, so I’m excited to try that out again this year.  This year we’re doing Kit from 1934 and I’m excited to see how this new format holds up on a second year.
  • We’re launching a week’s worth of CAMP HALF BLOOD/CAMP JUPITER programming.  I just thought this was a trend we could no longer ignore – I don’t know about y’all but our Percy Jackson books are never checked in and we have dozens upon dozens of them.  So, here we go.  We’ll have a week worth of programming around the universe of Percy Jackson.  I feel sure my #1 challenge will be keeping them from full-contact physical force against each other…so any tips on that are totally appreciated.
  • FROZEN SING-ALONG!!  This is another one we can’t stop the momentum on – so why not harness it.  Not just a showing of Frozen but a chance for the kids to come in costume and sing along and out-loud and not worry about being shushed.  Some theaters have done this so I thought it’d be a great chance for a library to offer it for free.  Also … Frozen!!!
  • Remember the best librarians borrow, modify, and credit each other!  So, this summer I’m trying out Amy’s Book Bunch Picnic Lunch because it’s an amazing program and because I wanted to have something else for that age range on a weekly basis.  I’m excited to see what ages show up and how it works. Thank you, Amy!  You’re a glorious goddess!
  • I’m also excited that we’re moving our early literacy storytime for ages 4-7 back to once a week.  We launched this program last summer to great success and we’ve tried to keep it up during the school year, but attendance has plummeted. SO to have it back at once a week with much higher participation is a big thrill. It’s a wonderful chance to build our early literacy skills with an older group.
  • Another new program this year: a middle-grade book club.  We’re having a special book club for 6th-8th graders.  We’ve struggled with middle school programming over the past few years, having big ups and downs, but I thought this would be a good chance to try to find some new almost-teen readers and try to get them involved in programming year-round while also getting booktalking in.  We’re reading Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand AND we’re Skyping with Claire Legrand, so that’s verrrrry exciting.
  • Total revamp of the teen program!  Yes, we struggle mightily with getting teens involved in summer reading.  So, here’s another reboot!  (never stop throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks, man!) We’re encouraging them to come in for weekly drawings instead of just one big end of summer drawing and are giving away books AND small gift certificates, a new addition.  We’re also doing TWO book clubs that will have authors Skyping in to chat with us since that has been popular in the past.  We’re reading The Vicious Deep by Zoraida Cordova and Charm and Strange by Steph Kuehn.  I’m also adding FANDOM NIGHTS, not quite during “after-hours” but a little later than previous programs.  This is because at our last teen Lock-In we had AMAZING turnout and lots of it was due to the fact that we themed it around Doctor Who and Sherlock and a younger teen demographic was really drawn to that and boosted our numbers.  We want to make those teens our future and keep them coming!  So, I am trying to  be cautiously optimistic that our numbers will boost up in the teen area.  BUT we’ll keep trying new stuff until it does!!

WHEW, I AM EXHAUSTED EVEN THINKING ABOUT ALL OF THIS, AMIRIGHT! But I am also really excited.  That’s the thing! I know Summer Reading is exhausting – believe me, I totally do, I’m not kidding that this post is exhausting to think about how it’s all going to be implemented. (which … it  … will be, I’m sure!) AND YET.  I also know that the summer will be full of rewards and learning lessons and great successes (and failures too). We put lots of effort into Summer Reading but we also get high returns.

As I was once again exhausting myself over every single tiny detail, I was browsing through the Summer Reading Manual when I found the world’s most adorable picture.  It’s part of the Early Literacy program and its drawn by this year’s superb artist, Dan Santat.  It IMMEDIATELY calmed me down and, more than that, it reminded why we do all this, why we push through all this and try so hard to CREATE something.  Because of this picture of a baby and a book and pure joy. It matters.  We matter.

What do YOU have planned for Summer Reading that you just can’t wait for?  What are you trying new?  What familiar favorites are you welcoming back?  When does all the fun happen for you? What suggestions for me for OUR programs do you have?  Are there any questions or details about these programs I didn’t answer or that you want more info/samples about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here, send me an email, or talk with me on Twitter!)

Let’s get out there and take a bite out of Summer Reading!



Passive Programming for Teens: Shelf-Talkers

I had such a great response to my passive programming post, I thought I’d do two complimentary posts for some of our teen passive programming.  These programs have a little more staff involvement but you can easily scale them for what works with your staff time and patron interest and response. Both of these ideas center around the same idea: teens recommending books to teens.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think that nothing can replace a librarian’s expertise and constant booktalking and interacting with teens.  We should be THE source in our library for our teen patrons. But. The fact is there are just some teens who will never feel comfortable interacting with staff or teens who primarily want info/recommendations from their peer group or teens who just pop in, pull books off the shelf, and go on their way.  AND we should be promoting that conversation whenever we can – teens promoting books to each other is amazing and creates a conversation and excitement around books and reading that’s irreplaceable.

So, how do we support this? One is the way we promote and support the Teens’ Top Ten program, which I’ll discuss tomorrow. Today, I want to discuss our first successful idea: our teen shelf-talkers.  We created a small recommended card and are constantly encouraging teens to fill them out.  We hang them up on the shelves themselves underneath or beside the books. What’s great about these cards?

  • Since there’s only room for a few lines, it’s not a lot of pressure on teens to write an in-depth review.  (which many teens feel reluctant or shy about.)
  • You can keep them on hand to quickly bring out during conversations with teens or during programs to capture their immediate thoughts.  Again, since it’s only a few lines – maybe something they’ve already just said – it’s not as intimidating.
  • Our cards read “TAG RECOMMENDS…” TAG standing for our Teen Advisory Group, which is another way to promote this program to teens who might not know we have this group/program.  It also lets anyone who fills out one of the cards feel like a member of TAG, further encouraging them to attend meetings.
  • Even the simplest of summaries or descriptions works because, well, teens see that other teens have read/written about a book and that alone can be an icebreaker or encouragement.
  • These shelf-talkers let the shelves do the talking!  Teens who might feel hesitant to interact with staff can still get recommendations and maybe even see that the library welcomes this kind of input and dialogue. It also makes the entire teen collection feel more open – this is a place where lots of talking about books happens, just look around!

So, let’s take a look at the shelf-talkers!  We’re constantly soliciting these, of course, but our Winter Reading program for teens this year centered around winning prizes by writing the shelf-talkers.  This worked great, we got more entries than ever!  I’ve scanned in a few of my favorite samples.

One of my patrons, Desy, is my dynamite superstah when it comes to these blurbs.  She has a real feel for phrasing the summaries as questions, which of course is very enticing and very much “if you want to find out what happens, read the book!” which really does work in booktalking for many teen readers.  Desy’s good at really short too, which encourages other teens to try their hand at writing summaries. Here’s a handful of her greatest hits.



Another one of my superstars is my teen worker Dillon (who you’ve seen before on this blog and who wants to grow up and be a librarian, wheee!) who has a totally different style from Desy.  She writes slightly longer reviews that try to deeply convey her love for books. This is a great counterpoint and also really works for the teens who want longer recommendations. Here are some of her best reviews.



Here are some of Desy’s and Dillon’s together.  You can tell whose is whose even without the writing. And, yes, this is the kind of thing other teens pick up on too. (it’s hard to say which I love more: Bestest! or the amazing card for Freak Show.)


But even the shorter reviews can work. Here’s a good sample of shorter reviews, some that are just summaries.  These are from some of our younger teens but, again, they still work on a number of levels as I outlined above and (best of all!) encourage all ages of teen readers to get involved.  You’ll also see that we let them write reviews of popular books too. I mean: does anyone need a shelf-talker for Uglies or Divergent ?  Not really.  But the review for Divergent is great and it shows off some love and affection for a popular book/series. The Uglies pitch is just right too.  They both say, “You might already know, but we do too!  Come talk to us!” And THAT’S  just exactly what we want to be encouraging and promoting with these shelf-talkers. (Also the summary for Antsy Does Time might be some of my favorite teen commentary of all-time. Just a reminder that teens always know what’s up.)



As you can see from my scans, we make sure the cards are all on brightly colored cardstock.  The teens don’t fill out their names, but sometimes they sign them with a first name.

Do you do this kind or ANY kind of shelf-talking or teen recommendations in your teen area?  How do your teen patrons respond if so? Have you had teens positively respond to feedback from other teens in a way they don’t to feedback from staff? Tomorrow, as I said, I’ll do a post about how some of that “teen recommendation” interest/appeal drives our Teens’ Top Ten promotion and display. In the meantime,  are there any questions or details about this displays/programs I didn’t answer or that you want more info/samples about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here, send me an email, or talk with me on Twitter!)


Two Quick Passive Programs for Spring

We just wrapped up our Spring Break.  Last year, as you might remember, we experimented with doing a week worth of mostly school-age programming.  We had mixed results, but I’m glad we tried it.  You can read all about what we did during that week here. But I was going to be out of town this Spring Break (along with another staff member) so we didn’t really have the staff to do this kind of programming again.  AND YET!  I still loved offering something for our families or drop-ins who were in town and looking for something to do and somewhere to be. I want them to think of us year round, after all, and that’s what programs are there for.

So, inspired by some ideas I’d seen floating around Twitter, I whipped up two quick passive programs for families and kids to do over the course of the week in their own time.  All together these took a few hours to create and less than an hour or so to set-up.  The results were more than worth it.  We had dozens and dozens of families and kids on their own participating over the course of the week for very little staff time. Here’s how they worked.

1. The Great Character Hunt! (geared at families and kids aged 2-6, but open to all)

I printed out nine characters from famous picture books (and here were some complications – I wanted to make sure there were female characters represented and characters of color too … easier said than done, eh?) and then had a fellow staff member hide them around Youth Services.  Participants got sheets at the front desk and then walked around looking for the characters (maybe even learning about picture books and becoming more familiar with Youth Services as they walked around…)  and recording their locations.  When they brought the sheets back they got small prizes: a scratch n sniff bookmark, a plastic pirate treasure coin, and a color your own sticker.  (Nothing big and all stuff we already had lying around.) They also got to sign their name to the I COMPLETED THE GREAT CHARACTER HUNT! poster, which let us track their work and gave us a great in-house visual. Let’s take a look at some pictures!


Madeline hid out by the doorway of our dollhouse! (notice in the next pic how she looks almost like a doll for the house…)

madeline full


Where’s Waldo in our dino mural?


Pigeon was located on puzzle stand – a good place for families who play with puzzles to see him and ask what he was doing there, inviting them into the hunt!


Max blended in with the background when he went on the window.

complete sheet

Here are the signed complete sheets: you’ll notice the book covers from where our characters are from.  And can you spy Peter hiding by the last place someone might look?

2. The Epic Quest (for the older kids, suggested for ages 7-12)

This was a basic scavenger hunt that required kids to use the catalog and explore our resources.  They had to physically go to some locations (“The library subscribes to many magazines!  Find one and write the name down.” Maybe you didn’t know there WERE youth magazines!) and just use the catalog for other questions (“What is the name of the author of the book Better Nate Than Ever?”) which involved not only using the catalog but then figuring out how to decode the information from the catalog.

This worked well with the character hunt because it also had the look and find elements but felt “older” because there was catalog work involved.  When they completed, they received the same simple prizes and got to sign their own sheet. (as you can see above.)

Want to do this at your library?  I can’t recommend it enough!  And to get you started here are examples of the sheets we used.  They’re linked through Google Docs, feel free to modify and save them for your own work. (if you want Word copies, email me and I’ll be happy to send them along.)

Great Character Hunt Key

(helpful note: the exact same images on this sheet were  what I used for the hidden images.  No need to send them looking for another version.  Unless you wanted to make it a little more challenging!  Participants received a sheet with the names of each character with a line next to it for them to write down location. These were the character key sheets they took on the hunt with them for recognition and were encouraged to return – but we definitely could have modified them into TAKE US HOME TO READ ALL OUR BOOKS! bookmarks/flyers.  Next time!) 

Epic Quest Questions

The second passive display also ties into National Poetry Month!  I think I saw someone mention or allude to something along these lines in the #titletalk chat (you should definitely participate in TitleTalk, it’s one of my most favorite Twitter chats) about poetry and I ran with it the very next day.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but I wanted to give it a try.  What is it?


Yup, we basically cut out some tree shapes out of brown butcher paper, cut out some leaves out of green cardstock, wrote some poems on them, and then left the shapes out for people to compose their own poem/leaves and hang them up.  The very day the trees went up I immediately talked two teenagers into sitting down and writing the first poems for us.  The concept is so simple to grasp, it looks so cool with a set of poem/leaves already up, the leaves are RIGHT THERE – well, it’s hard to resist!

They’ve been up for a few weeks and we’ve seen lots of fun stuff as our trees have gained leaves!  Silly haikus and rhymes from teenagers.  Meditative poems about nature and leaves from middle schoolers and high schoolers. And, one of my favorites, parents sitting down and talking about poetry, forms of poetry, rhythm, rhyme, and figurative language with their very young children and writing poems together.  (well, maybe the parents do most of the writing and the kids say a few words or phrases, but they do it together and it’s pretty darn amazing.)  The POETREES themselves frame one of our larger display shelves, so it’s also a great way to spotlight poetry titles and get them circulating.  Pictures, I say!

poetree 1

One tree from the distance (this one is mostly full of poems we wrote out, but has some from patrons too.)

poetree 2This tree is mostly patron poems, but has a few others scattered in AND our Explanation Apple!

up close poetree 1Here’s an up-close of some leaves – note the one with little kid scrawl is one that the parent and child wrote together!

up close poetree 2

More up close of patron poems of all ages!

leaves basket Our leaves basket for patrons.

poetrees full

The poetrees in full bloom!  Note the shelf full of poetry books between them.

There you have it!  Two quick programs with not a ton of staff time involved (though the hunt and promoting it did not run itself!) but with HUGE returns. Both of these programs/displays gave patrons a chance to participate in their own time, create together, add something fun to the library’s landscape, and learn about the library and our resources.  (as well as build early literacy and information literacy skills, don’t forget that part!)  Overall: big successes we learned from and definitely want to repeat, in different ways, throughout the year!

Have you done this or any kind of passive programming at your library?  What worked?  What didn’t?  How do your patrons like passive programming and how do you tie it into larger events like Spring Break or National Poetry Month? Are there any questions or details about these displays/programs I didn’t answer or that you want more info/samples about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here, send me an email, or talk with me on Twitter!)


MINECRAFT IRL @ Your Library!

Why did I decide to host this event?   Oh, if you work in a library and with children and teens you know why.  You know that, for them, Minecraft rules their imaginations.  At my library, the kids will play Minecraft for hours at a time.  They play it together, they watch each other play it, and they watch YouTube videos of other people playing it.  This summer we have had kids in the library who play it for literally hours on end, taking breaks only when they are kicked off the computer because someone else has reserved it … most likely to play Minecraft.  Then they sign up and wait their turn to do it again. And I’m guessing if your library has public Internet access, well, you have kids who do the same thing.

If you feel as clueless as I did (and still usually do) about Minecraft I suggest you start with the Minecraft Wiki.  Minecraft is a building game and, as one of my patron’s dads told me, “It has kid’s favorite two things – building stuff and breaking stuff.” It encourages creative play and creative thinking.  While the game is highly customizable  it also has a great shared universe that includes detailed terminology that weaves its fictional world together.  It’s the kind of game you can easily lose yourself in for hours.

For all these reasons, I knew that meant it was time for my library to host a Minecraft program! But I didn’t just want to have a program where the kids got together and played Minecraft.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that – but they were already doing that in the library every day on their own.  Why would I need to “host” that any more than I already was?

So, the goal of this program was to really expand the Minecraft community at our library outside the computer consoles. We wanted to avoid any gameplay.  Again, not because there’s anything wrong with gameplay but because that wasn’t the program we were creating.  Really, the goal was the same as for the other single day events: to make fans feel welcome in the library, to let them know this was a place that spoke their language and welcomed their enthusiasm.  It just so happened that these were fans of a computer game and not a book.  We’re still ready to be welcoming!

With that in mind, Melissa and I spent as much time as we could both trying to decipher the mysteries that are Minecraft and talking to all the kids and teens we knew who gamed it so we could create this event. (more about that shortly)

Here’s how Minecraft IRL happened.

15 minutes intro

Yes, we usually start our programs with a story and I’d loved to have done that here  … but there are no Minecraft books.  (PUBLISHERS MAKE SOME MONEY ALREADY!) so we decided the way to kick this program off was with some Minecraft videos.  This is actually a big part of the fandom – watching and creating videos about specific gameplay or pop culture parodies.  So this felt like a good entry point and a good way to get everyone thinking and coming together as a group (which is an important element of events like these!)

We projected them onto our big screen and everyone sat around and watched.  Melissa and I chose the videos after consulting with our student workers, talking to several 8-10 year olds, and YouTube searching for big hits.  Our biggest problem here was finding videos that had a wide appeal AND were appropriate for all ages as we knew the age range for this program would be all over the map.

Melissa ran this part of it and selected most of the videos, so here is her verdicts on what the kids thought:

  • Revenge– More kids had NOT see this one than had. They enjoyed it and laughed quite a bit.
  • Flying Machine Contest– most hadn’t seen this one. It was a good choice because it was music only and the kids could explain what was going on and talk about what they thought might be built next.
  • Don’t Mine at Night– they all knew this one and could sing along. But it was fun to see it as a group and on a big screen.
We could have added one or two more videos, especially a few more construction style, both for timing and because they were into this!  They enjoyed this and were properly engaged and enthralled – there was room for singing along and commentary about the construction.

30 minutes craft and activity

Since Minecraft is an 8-bit based that makes it, visually, PERFECT for papercrafting.  So, we went on the hunt for the right patterns.  This was, again, harder than it seemed.  (again, I guess no one wants to license things that could MAKE THEM MORE MONEY).  So Melissa and I searched site after site and changed up keywords and decided on certain characters we were committed to actually creating.  That part really helped – we needed narrow definitions.  We ended up with three characters so there would be some choice but we realistically knew they’d probably only get through one (if that).

Melissa is my craft expert, particularly when it comes to papercrafting, so I let her make the final decisions on which patterns would actually work.  Here’s the links to the three projects we chose with her notes on how she found them:

  • Steve – I enlarged it to 2 pages to make the cutting and folding easier.
  • Creeper
  • Ghast (I found these two  by doing Google image searches by character name and the word folding).
(We sent them off to our printing department and they came back printed on light cardstock which was really helpful.)
Yes, we were initially nervous that they wouldn’t be interested in the “crafty” part … but once they saw what the finished products looked like – like actual Minecraft characters they could hold in their hands IN REAL LIFE – they jumped right on it. We had made enough that the kids could take home one of each but we told them to concentrate on only one.  To keep them all together, we made use of the leftover file folders from the Ninjago program and they each got one of those for a take-home with their patterns and pieces. They went right to work cutting and were not at all intimidated by the scale of it all.  THEY WANTED THOSE CHARACTERS.
at work
Assembling (note gluestick) on her take home folder
all the pieces
(handful of all the pieces for the creeper)
(yes, of course that kid is wearing a WESLEY CRUSHERS t-shirt.  Naturally.)
more assemble

(they liked working together, even for an “independent” craft)

assembled creeper(an assembled creeper enjoying snacks)

But we didn’t let them linger on the paper-folding, though I think they would have been happy to.  No, we had to move them along to the other activity … the element hunt.

In Minecraft, you need elements to make the world happen.  Gathering and combining them  in the right recipes (which is called “crafting” in the game) is a huge part of gameplay and how you build your world.

After browsing complicated Pinterest parties about Minecraft, I decided  was going to simplify that and the other part of our event would be IRL crafting.  I decided on our elements, all elements needed in the game: gold, coal, cobblestone, diamonds, wood, and brick.  One of the activities kids love the best is the look and find scavenger hunt through out the library. This, I decided, was the perfect combination.  So we cut several hundred small squares of colored paper and hid them all through the library.  Kids were then tasked with collecting three of them to craft a real-life recipe for a real-life prize.  (a mini-candy bar in this case).

Using one of our tables, I created an actual crafting box.  It was as simple as using masking tape on a table.  They didn’t care, they got excited from the second they saw this, instantly recognizing it.

board(here’s an example of  some of the elements on the board.)

We also created a recipe board.  They not only had to collect three specific elements they had to combine them as they were shown on the recipe board.   In other words: even if they found three cobblestones it wouldn’t be enough to “make” a candy bar.  Again, this fits with actual gameplay in the game – you really do need the right amount of elements and you really must arrange them in the right order.  Here’s our recipe board.  I used images from the game of the elements – another thing they just went wild for.

recipe board(note the examples of Steve and the Creeper attached to the board.  They LOVED them and this was just the kind of “this is how it will look if you take the time to do it!” example)

dillon board(student worker Dillon with the board: note that Dillon has deliberately dressed like Steve.  Because those are the kind of student workers I have been lucky enough to hire, you see.)

And no, there was no real order to it – I just randomly combined them in ways I thought looked cool.  I did have to reuse some of the elements but that wasn’t a problem.

Naturally, they loved this.  They loved gathering the elements through the scavenger hunt part, they loved crafting the recipes as show on the board, and they loved getting the candy bars!

We had some extra time after the hunt (more about that in the lessons learned!) so we let them go back to working on their papercrafts, which they were happy to do. We rolled out the snacks at our usual time.

15 minutes of snack and wrap-up

This is an event we did themed snacks for. Again thanks to the skills and attention to detail of “people who have more time and money than any library ever will but who do have good ideas I can modify” on Pinterest, I came up with easy snacks.  They WERE a little more expensive, but it was worth it.

All of the food, of course, represented items in Minecraft.  There were pretzel rods as sticks, carrots, and two pieces of Hershey’s chocolate, wrapped in gold and silver, representing iron ingots and gold ingots. The kids squealed and called out in recognition as I showed them each food.  This food cost around $15.

They loved the themed snacks and they loved talking about the whole day and using all their arcane Minecraft slang on each other in a fever pitch of excitement about how they were all going to game together.  They all seemed intersted in another session and gave us suggestions for more videos to screen.   Many of them chose to stay after the hour was over so they could finish working on some of their papercraft or keep hunting for elements.

Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned

  • I was soooo totally off with the numbers on scavenger hunt.  My main mistake was not consulting a mathematician, man. (Especially since, you know, one of my best friends has a master’s degree in math and my boyfriend minored in it at MIT.) We hid HUNDREDS of squares (as I said) which I thought planned through for each kid to craft one candy … but I definitely lost the thread, so we didn’t have quite enough for them to play for two pieces of candy (this is tied to the no registration pros/cons I mentioned previous) but it also meant there were SO many squares (because I thought we’d need that many) that they were easy to find rather quickly and the kids didn’t care what they made, really, they just wanted to make something. So they whipped through this much more quickly than I’d planned and then I couldn’t really let them do it again, even though they loved it and definitely wanted to.
  • All the cutting and pasting was a little messy, so we were left with picking up lots of little bits of paper.  In an optimal world, I would have been able to have them all do it over tables/in a room I could sweep up in.  But space is what space is.  Still, something worth noting if you’re planning to do the papercrafting.
  • We should have put a more specific age limit on it.  It wasn’t a HUGE problem, but the younger kids (we had 6 & 7 year olds) needed a little more attention and help.  We should have listed something more specific about parents staying or about “must be ____ years old.” It might also have been good to have some SLIGHTLY simpler crafts so they could have some instant gratification.  But even the younger kids were happy to focus on making the characters because they were pretty darn cool.
  • Talking to kids about it was a requirement.  It not only helped us learn the terminology but it gave ides about certain things about the game they were really into.   This was another event that we couldn’t go into with no preparation – letting the kids get hands on in what we were going to watch was the best move we made, it saved us a lot of time.  It also let them know we actually want to know what THEY wanted to do and weren’t just going to have some “Anyway …. Minecraft?” event.
  • Making sure that we billed this as Minecraft IN REAL LIFE was really important because it gave us some clear parameters of what this event was going to be.  We didn’t feel the pressure of “but when are we going to play it!  Why don’t you have a server!  I want to play!”  and if we got push back about that, well, we pointed to the name: IN REAL LIFE, after all.  (again: not that there’s anything wrong with having a gameplay program and not that I wouldn’t LOVE to set up a library server, which I am interested in, but this just wasn’t that program.   Having THIS program allowed us to meet different goals and was helpful for building enthusiasm and goodwill while tapping into the trend without needing to have the dedicated tech resources to host a gameplay event.)

That’s how Minecraft IRL happened.  We had a great turn-out: 30 kids and 5 grown-ups in attendance.  We had a huge age range and the genders were pretty well-mixed, though boys did SLIGHTLY dominate.  We also got  HUGE program attendance from the 9-12 cohort, a group we were really trying to connect with.  It was a bigger hit than I ever anticipated – not only did the program actually come together but it made sense with the actual game, something Melissa and I both worried about since we’re not exactly Minecraft Experts.  Total staff needed for this one was a little lighter, with Melissa and I taking the adult staff roles while Jared and Dillon directed everyone and walked them through crafts.

Are the kids at your library obsessed with Minecraft?  How are you programming for it?  Do you think your patrons who love Minecraft, or any other computer game really, would be interested in a “real life” version of it?   Are there any questions or details about Minecraft IRL 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)

I was happy to see that one of our biggest daily Minecraft players, a kid who spends hours and hours playing, actually stopped playing Minecraft and, instead, participated in the event and had an amazing time.  Before he left, I saw him over by the crafting table I’d made.  I walked over to see what he was doing and found that he’d laid out parts of his snack on the board.  He was chuckling to himself.  “Look,” he told me, grinning.  “I made a gold shovel.”

gold shovel(note the Hershey’s gold ingot and the pretzel rod sticks)

And so he had. Everything that happened in that moment was just too perfect: the way he connected the two worlds and how he was actually trying to play the game in real life  to the way he was just plain enjoying the program and the fun we had been trying to create. Now that – that is a programming moment I’ll cherish long after this trend has passed.



Magic Treehouse was another event I decided to have based on the popularity of the books.  These books remain wildly popular at our library and the fans remain as dedicated and intent as ever.  We have multiple copies of each title and sometimes they are ALL checked out.   I figured with a fanbase this big it was worth having a special event.

And since Magic Treehouse is such an enormously well-known and best-selling series (21 years in print!) I thought that finding activities and parties with the theme would be easy.  But most of what I found shared online fell into one of two categories: more in-depth classroom activities focused on certain historical eras and longer, reoccurring regular library programs concentrating on historical eras. There were also a few over-the-top birthday parties that weren’t really feasible.  It wasn’t like I had a whole semester or several months of repeated programming to make this one afternoon happen and be engaging.  So it turned out to be MUCH harder to plan than I anticipated and that means I am even more proud of the cobbled-together event we created for this.  Not only that, I could totally see using this formula to repeat the program or make it more regular.

Here’s how Magic Treehouse happened.

15 minutes of intro & story

The problem with Magic Treehouse is working around all those darned story arcs.  As you might know, Magic Treehouse is themed around story arcs – sets of four stories tracing a certain theme.  This is the kind of things kids love but it does make programming stand alone problems a challenge.  After flipping through the books and reading the backstory and summaries, I realized we were going to have to concentrate on a specific arc.

I chose Penny’s Spell, the newest complete arc. This encompasses books #45-48.  In this arc Merlin’s beloved pet penguin Penny has been turned into stone and Jack and Annie are trying to find all the ingredients for a spell to turn her back. (Yes, let’s all take a moment to savor the sentence I just typed.  That’s another thing I love about this series – anything is possible, man!  Love that sense of wonder in history: history is right there for you to explore and be part of it – it’s real, accessible, fun, and, yes, a little weird!  Merlin has a penguin!  Sure!) We started, logically, with A Crazy Day with Cobras – the first book in this arc.


30 minutes of craft & activity

Remember in my last post?  Where I said what I learned was to never have less than three stations?  Well, here’s another summer reading lesson: there are no rules. The Magic Treehouse program was held at our branch library, where we always get a lower attendance.  I knew we wouldn’t have a crowd the size we get at the main library so we wouldn’t need to break the kids up to manage their sheer size.  I was right (that having been said we still got a much larger crowd than usual for the branch for this – I attribute it to the sheer draw of the theme) and having only two stations worked.

One station was cutting out and assembling a paper Penny and then gluing her to a foam sheet. They decorated the foam sheet with some of our winter foam stickers.  (Boy, they love those damn foam stickers, amIright?!)  I found a very adorable and simple pattern on the Internet (lots of trolling Pinterest – penguins are a big thing!) and enlarged it to be full size 8.5 x 11.  It was easy to cut out, only a few colors, and did I mention ADORABLE?!


 To fit the COBRAS the other station was the classic paper plate coil snake.  (We didn’t even use the template this time but pasting it on the plates makes it easier for the kids to cut it themselves.) I think kids could do this craft a thousand times and never get tired of it.  I have used it at least four times at different programs and they love it and do creative things with it every single time.  They love the way it bounces. To decorate the snakes this time we used our secret craft superstar: foil candy wrappers.


 Wait, what? Yes. years and years ago – outside of anyone in my department’s memory – someone donated (or perhaps we purchased) several BILLION of these foil candy wrappers.  They are GLORIOUS.  They are just the right size for little hands, they are shiny and smooth, and they tear easily.  They are perfect for sensory play. You can crumple them up or smooth them out. We use them all the time for dozens and dozens of projects of all kinds.  Kids of all ages, teens too, are drawn to them. They easily glue (smoothly if kids take the time) to a wide variety of surfaces and they stick once glued down.  The strangest part is that we never.seem.to.run.out. of them. Melissa and I suspect they reproduce at night. This craft was the big hit – they loved the snakes. It’s that foil, man. I know it’s not cheap, but I’ll buy more when we run out.  Worth every penny!

15 minutes of snacks and wrap-up

Same old snacks: grapes, cookies, lemonade.  Same old price tag, around $15: only the grapes were expensive – we buy the cheapest of cookies – and the kids were happy as always.  Melissa read more of Crazy Day with Cobras to them as they snacked and they were happy to hear more. We also allowed for some time for them to suggest other Magic Treehouse books for us to have events around – giving them a chance to talk about all their favorite Jack & Annie moments (hint: all of them).

Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned

  • Look how adorable Penny is!  Look at that tiny hat and her arms! Yet she was a hard sell to the kids and some of them even messed her up without our direct instruction. Why?  Because we accidentally forgot the example at the main branch.  Without that example, they just weren’t interested in Penny.  This re-enforced the lesson that we ALWAYS need to have examples on hand – it not only helps kids figure out how all the pieces go together it also gives them something to get excited about.
  • This was another lesson about making sure you know the canon of what you’re presenting.  Look, I don’t take MY fandoms lightly – so I should give 8 year olds the same respect of caring about their fandoms. Knowing about the wild canon world and events involving Jack and Annie was important.  We didn’t have to know ALL the details but as we learned with Ninjago … faking shows and, hey, it’s lazy.  We’re here to be enthusiastic and interested so that we can get kids excited.
  • Focus-focus-focus – like with Fancy Nancy we knew we had to focus on a certain book/character/plot arc.  Otherwise we were just rambling around.  It wasn’t just about the craft, it was giving the kids a specific moment in canon to concentrate on. Related: it doesn’t have to be THE VERY NEWEST book in the series.  That doesn’t dull the excitement, they felt the love and excitement throughout the whole event and thus across all the books.

That’s how we created a Magic Treehouse event that worked for our library and our program offerings.  All together we had a crowd of about 25 kids and 7 adults.  It was a MUCH larger crowd than we usually get for our branch offerings, which was super-exciting.  (Maybe it’s just me but it seems like you always feel extra positive when you can do something special for the branch.) Another great positive was that it was a crowd with a large age range – there were very little kids all the way up to 12.

Has your library had a Magic Treehouse event or ongoing program?  I’d love to hear from any libraries that did a more concentrated focus on the books over a longer period of time. I could definitely see this being a reoccurring program or an after-school/out of school day event during the year.  Are these books still as popular at your library as they are at mine?  What other ways can you think of to engage the SUPERFANS of the series?  Are there any questions or details about Magic Treehouse 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)

Tomorrow: ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE! (and yes I realized we had MORE EVENTS than I originally thought of – it will take me more than four days to cover them all.  Um, so I can’t count, sorry.  But hooray, more content for all! That also means the much buzzed about MINECRAFT IRL post will be coming on Monday.  Please stay tuned!) 


FANCY NANCY @ Your Library!

This program was a modified repeat of a program we had two years ago.  (Yes, you can offer the single-day programs again!) I know lots of libraries that have hosted Fancy Nancy events and I really suggest it. Fancy Nancy remains very popular at our library – often there are simply no Fancy Nancy books even checked in.  Two years ago this program was enormously popular – like almost more people than a single program could hold popular  – and when we had it again this year … surprise, we got the same GIGANTIC turnout.  In fact, besides our summer reading kick-off this was our largest event of the summer.

And, before I go any farther, I want to mention that this was not a “prissy” program.  (which makes sense because the Fancy Nancy books aren’t prissy books!  Don’t judge them by their covers!) Besides that we got a HUGE number of boys at this event.  Boys in top hats, boys in ties, even a boy in a fancy pink princess dress.  We had a set of brothers dressed as the Justice League (a full Batman costume, Superman and Green Lantern shirts) accompany their dressed-up sisters. It was such fun that it definitely inspired me to host a more general DRESS-UP day for next year.   You can never give kids enough chances to engage in imaginative play – the library is the natural place for it to happen!

Here’s how Fancy Nancy happened!

15 minutes of intro & story

Not a lot of backstory needed for this, but it was good to spend some time complimenting how FANCY and awesome everyone looked, that was lots of fun and it made the kids just puff up with delight and pride.  I did further prep the crowd by telling them we’d be learning and practicing MANY fancy words and I’d appreciate their help.  Since Fancy Nancy is an empire and the theme of “fancy” is just too overwhelming to focus on, so we choose a single Fancy Nancy title and program around that.


 This year I chose Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid BalletI think the Fancy Nancy books are actually quite lovely:  they’re not about the fancy things she owns and wears but about her learning and growing.  In this one, she learns to be genuinely happy for her best friend Bree when she gets a better part in the ballet than her and she learns to love her part too.  Lots of chance for dramatic play in this one and the audience loved the chance to practice along with her “fancy” words.  (These books are also great vocabulary builders!)

Here’s a great shot of reading to the crowd.


It was also a chance for the whole staff to get as fancy as possible.  This is another thing to love about these titles – there’s a huge range of what FANCY means and how it looks. (That’s why we had Batman in the audience, after all). Here’s the Youth Services crew all fancy’ed up.  You’ll note that I am very mismatching but I SPARKLE!


 (l to r – my unstoppable right-hand Melissa, me with my sparkly Hello Kitty shoes,  student worker superstar Dillon, reference cross-server Emily who loves Youth Services – bless her, and retired head of Youth Services Liz  -who still works as a substitute librarian and is a bad-ass who frequently saves my life.)

30 minutes of craft and activities

Here’s where picking a single Fancy Nancy theme comes in handy – now you have a specific focus.  Last time we did Bonjour Butterfly and did butterfly crafts.  This time we were only set up for two craft stations, both of which used almost only supplies we had on hand.

One station was simple sequin decorating.  We had a variety pack of jumbo foam shapes from Oriental Trading (it doesn’t seem like they stock them any more) that included stars, hearts, butterflies, and flowers.  You know kids love them some foam shapes!  We put out some of our sequins assortment (say no to glitter – it’s way too messy and imprecise.   Sequins are easier to handle, easier to clean up, and more impressive!) glue sticks, and markers and the kids were free to design and sequin their hearts out.

The other station involved one of my great discoveries of the summer: Etsy’s digital stamps. For a mere $3.65 I got these cool hand-drawn, perfectly formatted mermaids digital stamps.



There are thousands of digital stamps, hand-made clip-art, and original illustrations on Etsy for relatively low prices.  They’re instant downloads and you can use them for non-commercial purposes and the money goes directly to the artist. What’s not to love?  This was a great summer find.  The kids loved these mermaids.  Our printing department shrunk them (so that we could fit four on a page) and printed them on cardstock and we encouraged the kids to color them and glue them to popsicle sticks to make puppets.  That was another discovery of the summer: popsicle stick puppets are big hits! We did them in two separate programs and they were successful both times: the kids went right along with gluing them to the sticks and, almost instantly, they began using them in  imaginative play featuring dialogues and storylines.

15 minutes of snacks and wrap-up

This marked the debut of our food distribution via cups.  It was such a relief and a timesaver and it made it easier for any adults that wanted to help us hand everything out.  We’ll never go back to plates/buffet lines!  Cups only, cups forever! We did do special themed snacks for this event: graham cracker and icing sandwiches.  It was just fancy enough and this is a great snack. We supplemented this with a few more cookies and, as always, grapes.  And pink lemonade, of course!  This was an easy wrap-up.  We repeated some of the fancy words we learned in the book and I gave everyone a chance to stand up in place and do a little twirl or bow in their outfit.

Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned

  • One of the HUGE changes we made in our summer programming this year was doing away with advance registration for events.  We found that it just hadn’t worked in the past – people forget and staff sure didn’t have time in the middle of SRP business to do reminder calls.  And … we’re not a HUGE library.  I have never turned the 26th kid away.  I never would.  So why waste the staff time? In all – this was an awesome change and a real relief.  It changed the tone of everything and saved us time and confusion.  We didn’t feel any major blow-back from it – yes we were over-prepared (supply-wise) for some events but it worked out fine.  EXCEPT FOR THIS EVENT. As I mentioned the attendance was HUGE.  There were at least 45 but probably closer to 55 children there(part of this, yes, was that a woman brought her daughter’s entire birthday party to the event.  I can’t even go into what a beyond belief insult this was – I didn’t find out until later or I would have pulled her aside to talk about it with her as she, an adult woman, was sitting at our craft station and making extra crafts as favors for party guests.  Beyond belief!) We ran out of mermaids!  We ran out of star and flower shapes!  And it was … it was pretty chaotic.  I think some people ended up leaving after the story because, even with everyone split into stations, they couldn’t face the sheer size of the crowd.  I’m not sure what the solution to this is.  And suggestions?  Would I have traded the 25 extra attendees for registration?  I … don’t know.  I don’t think so because BOY everyone was so happy! Is the solution to have the event twice?  But how can you know which ones will get 13 kids and which ones will get 50? I’m not sure what we can do or even if there is a clear solution – maybe the answer is just “be ready to roll with it!” But I am open to any ideas!
  • Thank goodness for a set of mom volunteers who are regular library patrons and, coincidentally, elementary school teachers.  When this event quickly spiraled into GIGANTIC size they stepped in and took over the mermaid puppet station. They saved the day! One thing I learned from this is to recruit and train these parent volunteers earlier in the summer so that I can have them confirmed and lined up for specific events.  Next summer, I am making having parent volunteers on hand a goal of my entire summer programming.
  • ALWAYS HAVE AT LEAST THREE STATIONS.  I alluded to this in the Ninjago post but this is where we learned the lesson.  We only had two stations, which could never have accommodated the number of attendees.  Melissa and I jumped right in and, on the fly, created an impromptu DANCE PARTY station.  (on the fly is sometimes how Melissa and I work best!) She took over in there while the parent volunteers went to the mermaids.  I was then free to address the food situation (cups!) with one student worker while Liz and the other student worker handled the foam shapes station. But we definitely learned after this we needed to have at least three stations for events we thought were going to have SUPER-SIZE attendance.  We had suspected it from the previous Fancy Nancy event but we hadn’t actually planned for it and THAT was where we got caught.

That’s how we survived Fancy Nancy!  Just like the first time, it was a special event and lots of fun for all the kids that participated.  It was a good chance to promote all the books, we got to show off the longer chapter book series to some older readers that had never seen them before,  learn new words, and engage in dramatic play (yet another thing I LOVE about the books – Nancy’s flair for the dramatic can be so fun to act out and encourages children to explore the meaning and actions of complicated words and concepts.)

It was hard to get an accurate count!  In all, however, I’d say approximately 50 children attended with 20 or so adults in attendance.  As well as Emily as desk staff we needed three staff members, (Liz, Melissa, and me) two student workers  (Jared and Dillon), and those two awesome mom volunteers to REALLY make it work.  We used a lot of supplies on hand (glue, foam shapes, sequins, popsicle sticks) so  the total cost was low, mostly in food for so many people. It was about $35 total, including the purchased illustrations.

Has your library hosted a Fancy Nancy event?  I know they’re popular!  What kind of things did you do and observe at your event?  What do YOU do when a program is larger than you expected?  Do you do registration for your summer events?  How do you handle it if not? Are there any questions or details about Fancy Nancy 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)



NINJAGO @ Your Library!

I was inspired to have a Ninjago event because it was a word I heard over and over again on the lips of our 6-12 year old patrons.  This was my sweet spot of ages this summer, so it was in the back of my mind.  Then I read Sara‘s amazing and inspiring blog about how her library hosted a Ninjago event and used it as my template and motivation. I couldn’t have planned my event without her guide, so you’ll see lots of her ideas, some modified and some not, here.  SHE IS A GODDESS.  For real – her school age programs have been a huge inspiration and motivation for me.  I can’t thank Sara enough.  Everyone follow and adore her!

15 minutes of intro & story

When everyone arrived, they got a name tag for their favorite ninja.  Far and away favorite was Lloyd.  (Yes, the bad-ass ninja is named Lloyd.  Please contain your snickers of disbelief, children love Lloyd.  He becomes the Ultimate Spinjitzu Master, how could you not love him?!)  We had to do some extra into here because several children were just there – they had no idea what Ninjago even was.  This did actually turn out to be a little problem, because the NINJAGO SUPERFANS felt almost insulted by this – so we had to do some peacemaking.  A good strategy was encouraging the SUPERFANS to tell the others what was cool about Ninjago.  However, it also meant staff had to be UP on the Ninjago world.  Make sure you know what you’re talking about – read the Wikis, watch some videos, but don’t try to fake it – there’s dense mythology happening here and kids WILL call you on it.

We read from The Golden Weapons, one of the books in the Ninjago series.  (Even if you’re not planning an event, your library should be stocked up on Ninjago titles.  There are graphic novels too! They’ll circ!)  This was out of any kind of order, but it fit the theme because there was lava in it (which would be featured in an activity station) and an appearance of the character Nya AKA Samurai X, the only girl who gets to participate in all the Ninjago fun.  I thought this was important because, well, I was dressed up as Nya.


(more about this costume in an upcoming post about costumes and makeups for programs!)

Now The Golden Weapons is not going to win the Newbery but it set the scene and got the kids all hyped up and immersed in the Ninjago-verse. (And, of course, it let them know we have Ninjago books.) After this, they were ready for the fun and games.

30 minutes of crafts and activities

Stolen right from Sara, we had four Ninjago stations, each one named after a Ninja.

There was Kai’s training course, which was a great physical activity.  They went through here several times. We have a cool hallway in our programming area, so we created it straight down there. The course had taped down hula hoops to jump across, a masking tape hopscotch-ish like board, and a straight line to walk.  There was red duct tape on every side and in some of the squares and they had to avoid it … since it was lava, of course.




There was Zane’s targeting station with color-coded buckets for each Ninja.  While looking for activities  for this event I also made great use of anything pinned at Pinterest with “Ninjago party.”  However lots of these were obstacle courses in outside settings and way more complicated than we could do.  Also, lots of this Ninjago stuff is right on the edge of Japanese stereotype, so I DEFINITELY wanted to avoid that.  But I got this station and the villain knockdown ideas from Pinterest parties, so it was worth looking up.


Here, the kids took turns throwing Ninja stars into the bucket.  They loved this – loved throwing the stars and loved that each bucket had a Ninja character and was color-coded. They also loved that the throwing stars matched Zane’s weapons. We also had a take-home tutorial for anyone who wanted to try to make the stars – we were going to possibly have them as a craft station, but once my co-worker Melissa tried making one we realized it was FAR too complicated for the kids. (which is why we’ve learned to ALWAYS try the craft beforehand and maybe even have a child volunteer try it for us!


There was Jay’s gadget station, which was basically just building with our Legos.  Of course this was a hit, kids would have stayed at this station the whole time.  This station was also staffed by one of my student workers who loves Legos and building, so it was easy for him to engage with the kids about what they were making and why.  Lots of ninja stars here.   Sara’s guidelines of making a gadget with the fewest number of blocks was genius because it made sure there were plenty of Legos for everyone.

There was Cole’s Villain Knockdown.  Last year we ended up with several hundred of these small boxes and, in true librarian hoarder style, we saved them.  Since then we’ve used them for a few things but they are BEST for the knockdown stations.  We had one like this with Stormtroopers/Clonetroopers at our Star Wars Day.  Here, I printed out some Ninjago villains (again: learn who is who!) and had volunteers tape them to boxes, a few of which we weighed down, and we set them up for the kids to knock down with beanbags.  They LOVE LOVE LOVE the knockdown. (as they did last year.)  They cheer for each other, target specific villains, and really celebrate when they knock them down.  Even the kids that knew very little about Ninjago loved knocking down the targets. I think we could do this at every event and they’d line up for it.


 This was plenty to keep everyone busy for thirty minutes, so much that most kids only got on.  We made sure everyone got at least one chance to try everything but they would have kept up, over and over, at everything.

15 minutes of snack and wrap-up

This was easy enough: cookies, grapes, generic Chex Mix, and lemonade.  This was the last event we used the buffet line at and that’s when we had REAL back-up. It was straight-up cups from here on out.  All together, the food cost about $15.  The grapes kick the price up, but you’ve gotta have some fresh fruit.

There was really no other costs associated with the event: we re-purposed and used what we already had for everything else.  Because of that, I thought it was worth spending a little more money for the take-home.  I had seen lots of projects on Pinterest involving cut-outs of the Ninjago eyes.  People used them on favor bags and balloons and no wonder – they’re a great, easily recognizable icon.  I decided to use them as our take-homes but balloons and bags weren’t going to work, so I bought a box of 100 folders.  This cost about $15 at Office Depot, but there were no whites or blacks, so I bought a few of those individually.  (Of course we didn’t use them all, but used more during Minecraft and will craft some into lapbooks for our early literacy storytime. ) This way kids could get a folder matching their favorite Ninja (but since they all loved Lloyd and all the girls wanted to be Nya, I could have saved money and only bought red and green!) and then paste a set of Ninjago eyes on them.  It took only a few minutes to do the pasting (I had volunteers cut out the eyes ahead of time) but the kids really liked this.  Probably because it ended up looking cool and was impossible to mess up.   I have to admit, it looked even better than I’d imagined – the folders really made the eyes pop and they looked downright … ninja-ish.


 (I just spent a few dollars to buy a sheet of eyes from an Etsy store, there’s tons of them, but you could create your own sheet of them)

Superstah Students

 (we couldn’t have the program without our superstar student workers!  More about them in an upcoming post about student workers.)

Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned

  • One mistake we made was I numbered each of the villains and made a sheet for the kids to identify them.  Why was this a mistake?  The non-SUPERFANS couldn’t have cared less (which was fine) but the SUPERFANS were into this.  It started some really great conversations as they raced to fill out their sheets.  They were intent and focused. Awesome! Except then that held up the entire knockdown station as they spread out in front of it filling out their sheets and discussing it in-depth.  I should have separated out these two activities  and had another station that was just puzzles and trivia.  SUPERFANS love stuff like that.
  • This event was also walking a delicate line between the SUPERFANS and “my parents saw this on the calender and thought it would be a fun way to kill an hour!” It’s a line you walk often in these events. The best solution we’ve found is to know enough about the material to engage everyone and to let the SUPERFANS cluster together and amuse each other while you stand in awe at their vast knowledge, encouraging them to carry on even longer conversations. Not everyone has to be a superfan BUT we do keep focused, discussion-wise and enthusiasm-wise, on the theme or else what’s the point?  If you hate Ninjago but just want to play the games, well, here’s some info about our other events, maybe one of those fits your interests more.
  • Using numbers on the back of the Ninjago cut-out eyes we were going to do a door prize drawing to give away a bunch of discount Ninjago stuff I found on discount. But we had too many eyes and then too many kids – it sort of descended into chaos.  We ended up saving the prizes for an end-of-summer giveaway.  We definitely came down on the side of deciding door prizes are not the way to go for an event this size.

That’s how we did Ninjago.  Overall, it was a great hit and some really excellent school-age outreach.  There were some very passionate boys cross-eyed with delight, always a happy sight.  This event, held in July, tied in well with the fact that we’d started a Lego Club in June – they were great active, creative programs.

Overall attendance for the program was 35 kids and about 8-9 adults.  As well as our awesome desk staff, we needed two regular staff members (me and my partner in crime and creativity and right-hand woman Melissa) and our two student workers (pictured above) Jared and Dillon to host the event properly.

Are your patrons feeling NINJAGO?  Have you had Ninjago event at your library or another Lego event?  What was your experience with it?  Are there any questions about our event I didn’t answer that you want more info about?  Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here or talk with me on Twitter)

Tomorrow: FANCY NANCY!