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!



American Girl Rebooted: What We Did & How It Worked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Week’s Activities

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

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

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

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

Thursday & Friday

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

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


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


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




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


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

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



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




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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What We Learned

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

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

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



How We Saved American Girl: Rebooting a Program for Success

Does your library host an American Girl program?  For many years, our library has run American Girl during the summer.  It was as close to a core program as our library has ever had hosted and certainly the closest to a core program for school-age.  And yet.  I watched as year after year it spiraled out of control and gave us less than satisfying results.  I tried a few new things and there were slight improvements but, overall, I knew we weren’t maximizing this program.  Now let me say this was never the kind of thing that patrons were complaining about (at least not to us and not in such explicit of terms) and we were dropping numbers – it was a larger discontent on MY part.  Why?  Because I knew this program COULD be so much more.  I knew if we could get a handle on it, really have a vision and a goal for it, we could turn it into a shining star – an outstanding example of a school age program.  But HOW?

The answer came to me almost in a flash and it was startling in both its simplicity and its audacity: we had to throw out everything we’d ever done and start all over again.

Shocking, I know.

Say you want to do this for a program you’re struggling with but still see merit in?  I can’t recommend it enough, the results for us were dramatic and rewarding ON TOP OF being instructional.  How do you do that?  Here’s how we did it …

Step One: Identify What’s NOT Working

American Girl is a program structured around the series of books of the same name.  Each summer, our library chose a specific girl and era and made her the focus on the AG programming. Participants aged 8-12 were invited to spend several days in the program working on crafts related to the girl and era and then join us for a wrap-up tea.  But what was going wrong?

1. We didn’t have enough time. Our American Girl program ran for approximately four days.  We used to have two sessions, one at the branch and one at the main library but a few years back we streamlined the process and turned it into a six day program with two sessions being held at the branch.  The problem with the four days was that almost all of our craft projects were WAY too complicated both for the skill level of particpants we were working with and the time we had.  We ended up neglecting other areas of the program (reading from the books, discussing the characters – the fun stuff!) on a mad scramble to finish the crafts!!!!  Which we mostly never managed anyway, so the participants went home with half-finished projects that sort of made the sad trombone noise. It always felt both rushed and incomplete, which is no fun, AND as if you missed a single day you’d be way behind.  This is the opposite direction we’ve been moving Summer Reading, so why keep it up here? 

2. We didn’t have enough focus. We thought just saying “We’re doing the American Girl Molly!” was enough focus.  But running a program for this age range that’s engaging – much less over so much time – requires more than just that. This tied back to the lack of time, starting multiple projects, not really having every day planned out (i.e. “We’ll just finish the project today.”) the lack of focus just drug everything down.  We had spent too long relying on the theme to carry us through – “You know, Molly!” that we’d become complacent and it was showing.   We didn’t have a larger VISION for what this program was supposed to be.

And now that we know what’s NOT working, well, it created a clear path forward.  Maybe not the easiest path forward, but a clear one.  It was time to start all over. How?

Step Two: How to Start All Over

1. Become OVERLY familiar with the material

I thought I knew the American Girl narrative well-enough to play loose with the books.  WRONG!  Since we had chosen Rebecca as our featured girl, it was time to become a Rebecca expert.  This took tons of time.  No, just kidding.  It took one night to read all the books in her series and by the time I was done not only did I have a fuller picture of what could tie into the book but I was inspired in a totally fresh way by the material.  Don’t take for granted that you know everything.  Be ready to learn!

2. Make a concrete plan

Here was our biggest Achilles heel. We’d come up with a craft or activity but it would end up stretching over too many days or ending too early. To sustain this program and make it satisfying, we had to have this nailed down to an exact day by day agenda. I know, man!  That’s hard for me too! But this kind of time management ended up actually giving us more freedom.  We weren’t as rushed to finish projects or as confused about what we should be doing and when. The exact day agenda wasn’t a second-by-second agenda, so there was still flexibility for us.

3. Make the theme do the work for you

We’d spent too long letting the theme just float out there.  But think: what’s the point of doing a themed program if you’re not making the theme work for you? So no matter what kind of program we’re talking about here, whether it’s tied to a character property or just a wider theme, make the theme do your heavy lifting. Our biggest breakthrough here was realizing that REBECCA was our theme, not just American Girl. And now that I’m overly familiar with the material, I’m ready to make the material do the work of the program planning.

4. Sell it with enthusiasm

This is not just for the patrons who are familiar with this program but for your staff too.  When you’re approaching a long-term, well-known program (like this is for us) it’s imperative to get staff buy-in on these changes.  Luckily, I had some new staff on board at the time, which helped.  But the other way I approached these changes with staff was by pointing out how much time this kind of planning and structure was going to save us.  We often felt frustrated by the incompleteness and frenzy of the program – these changes were going to get rid of all of that.  Laying it out like that, believe me, helped with the pitch. And for patrons?  See, as ever, step one.  With my new found mastery and excitement about the material I was an excellent salesperson for the program.  I actually knew what I was talking about (in great detail!) about the theme and about the character: this made it easy to create talking points for my staff and for me, personally, to share my vision.

Because, yes, this was the ultimate key!  This program now had a backbone and a structure, which was going to save time and make it a genuinely more pleasurable experience.  But perhaps most importantly – the program now had a vision. 

So…what exactly did we do?  How did the program run? And…did it actually work?

Tune in tomorrow for the nitty-gritty of how the program happened (and how I think YOU can make it happen at your library), what we learned, and how we’re going to apply it to this summer’s programming!



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 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!


It’s A Party! Hosting Stand-Alone,Themed Events @ Your Library!

A few years ago, our library made a significant change in our summer programming offerings.  We switched from focusing mainly on sustained, multi-day programs to single day standalone events.  (We still have some of the multi-day programs and I plan to write about all the positive ways we’ve changed them!) We themed these days around familiar and popular characters that also had connections to books.  It was a great change – it really allowed us to offer a larger variety of programs to that had wider appeal.  It also helps us offer programs that are easier to just drop in on and less committed, which works well with summer schedules.  For instance, grandparents with grandkids visiting for a week or two love this kind of programming.  Another big bonus is that it helps us stay really current with trends.  We might never have a Ninjago event again but we had one when it was THE thing our kids were talking about which earns us a ton of currency and cool points.  These are the kind of programs kids talk about and easily recognize, we hear them begging their parents to come.

Over the past few years we’ve offered these single day programs themed around, among other things, Pinkalicious, Star Wars, superheroes, and robots. We love this kind of programming so much and it’s so popular with our patrons we even had similar programs during our Spring Break programming extravaganza (read about it here) we created Clifford and Amelia Bedelia programs.

In summer, these programs explode.  We get attendance between 15-50 kids per event and, often, parents stay with them. (They’re open to all ages but if you’re under 6 a parent must stay with you.  Let me also note that these are great school-age programs, when the theme is older, we get tons of school-age kids all the way up to 12.) This is a lot of return on time, which is great.  And these are really well-loved programs – they produce great feedback and enthusiasm from patrons.  In our messaging and publicity, staff tends to call them “celebrations” or “explorations” of certain characters/themes/books. But  our patrons really do think of them as parties – that’s just the vibe they have.  And you know?  I’m OK with parents and kids thinking of the library as a place THAT fun.

Since our summer reading programming is only eight weeks long (only June and July) we sometimes end up doubling these programs up in one week. That’s rough, but it keeps momentum going.  In a dream world, I’d stretch them out even more, not just for the break time in-between for staff but to give an even wider time window for participation.  For the past few years we’ve had four of these programs, but I’ve been considering adding one or two more. (Shhh, don’t tell my staff!)  Especially after this year we added a fifth, a  Minecraft IRL Day, and it was a big hit that brought in a whole new demographic.

Interested in having events like this at your library?  This week I’m going to tell you ALL ABOUT how we put ours on this year. Each day this week I’ll run you through one with specifics, pictures, costs, and links. The themes we chose this year were: Ninjago, Fancy Nancy, Magic Treehouse, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, and Minecraft IRL Day.  I’m going to skip a lengthy explanation about How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? because we basically just lifted the program wholesale from the amazing and wonderful Brooke‘s fantastic Dinosaur Day and it was a huge hit.  If you want to do a dinosaur event, use Brooke’s blog!  It was simple, engaging, and fun and our kids LOVED it.  Instead, I’ll be focusing on Ninjago, Fancy Nancy, Magic Treehouse, and Minecraft IRL.

We hosted three at the main library and two at our branch.  The branch, as always, had much lower attendance but we were happy with each turnout. Overall attendance at each of these stand-alones was up from last year’s set.

Here’s the general outline of how we run these programs and what we’ve learned along the way.

We’ve established a simple formula for these programs: 15 minutes of story, 30 minutes of craft and activity, 15 minutes of snack and wrap-up.  We’re pretty committed to bringing them in at exactly an hour (not counting prep time) after our first year of experimenting with a WAY TOO LONG time of two hours a piece.   Again, this makes these events much more manageable for staff and patrons.   Here’s how the hour breaks down.

We take about five minutes to get everyone welcomed and settled in.  We include a short discussion about whatever theme we’re covering.  Again, this usually takes no more than 5 minutes.  (Again: we work to stay on schedule!)

Then it’s right into reading.  We read from a book from the series or something thematically related.  To me, the story, connecting why we’re having this  event to a book, is the core of ALL of these programs – without this, you might as well be planning a event at Chuck E. Cheese.  Even if the book is one of those not-exactly-Newbery worthy generic series titles I think it’s important for kids (and parents) to know that, yes, the library has books on pop culture stuff and yes, we encourage you to check them out for sheer pleasure reading for your child.

After the story we split into craft and activity stations.  Let me stress the importance of having at least two stations.  In fact, I think three stations is ideal.  We spend about 30 minutes rotating through these crafts and activities.  Kids work at their own pace, but we try to make it not SO complicated: we want them to actually have chance to finish/try everything. We try to make sure one station is an activity, something physical for them to both burn off energy and focus attention on if they’re not in a “make something” mood.

We wrap up with a snack.  Now, sometimes we make this thematically connected but more often we just do cookies, grapes, and lemonade.  We used to have them move through in a buffet line but it took forever and we had to gently suggest “Gee sweetie, maybe you don’t need 20 cookies!”  So, at our biggest event (Fancy Nancy) we switched to cups: two-three cookies in one cup, a handful of grapes in another, and a glass of lemonade.  This lets us limit the portion and makes distribution much easier!  (We have reusable plastic cups so we don’t have to worry about wasting paper and washing them is a good job for volunteers.) 

As we sit around and snack, we have time to either do some more reading  (never enough promoting books!) or talk about what parts of the event the kids liked the most and what parts they might want to do again.  This is good time to calm down AND gather feedback for the next event.  This is also time to hand out any take-homes (coloring sheets, stickers, erasers) and point to all the books we have available for check-out.  We give one last cheer/hooray and send everyone on their way.

All together (thanks to sticking to our schedule and adequate prep) the actual event takes about an hour. The prep does take a little longer, but since we’ve really nailed down the timeline of activity it’s helped narrow the prep focus: we no longer prepare needless activities and since we stick to our schedule it’s MUCH easier to know how much time the kids will be crafting and thus how prepared we need to have the projects.  And we rely on our student workers and our volunteers to get a lot of prep work done.  We’re also lucky enough to have a county-wide media services department and they take care of a lot of the printing for us.

But after that hour of actual programming the library turns into a hive of activity as parents and kids and siblings are hyped-up and feeling the library love.  There’s a dramatic increase in traffic and a general change in the atmosphere in the library.  It’s loud and exhausting (especially since we’ve just finished presenting an event) but I love this part!  This is the point, of course, and what marks the program as a success! But make sure you have extra staff on hand to work the desk and attend to a wave of of summer reading activity.  

That’s how we run the programs.  Do any of you have similar single-day themed programs like this at your library?  If so, how do you run yours?  What are some of your popular themes?  Do you think programs like this would fit in with your summer reading?

Now…onto the nitty-gritty and lessons learned about the actual programs.

And, for your convenience,  here are direct links to all the blogs about each event!

Fancy Nancy
Magic Treehouse
Minecraft IRL
Elephant & Piggie
American Girl  


Spring Break Programming: We Did It (and so can you)

This year I decided it was time for our library to try out Spring Break programming.  I’d be reading about all these amazing youth programs happening at libraries, getting all inspired and fired up, and I decided five days with no school just seemed like too big of an opportunity to pass up.  Maybe we’d get really low turn-out, too many people traveling, no one really coming out during the week.  But my hope was that we’d give parents with several children, now all at home, a little break and maybe even see some new faces.  It also seemed like a good way to start promoting summer: you think this is fun?  We’ve got two months of this coming!  I decided it was worth the effort to try.

And boy was it!  We had about 150 people attend our five day Spring-Break programming spree (not counting our regularly scheduled programs for the 0-5 set,  Music & Movement and storytimes, which continued on during Spring Break).  This was a GREAT number for us, far beyond my original hopes.  So, here’s what we did and here’s what we learned.

We had programs for children/parents on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  All our programs began at 2:00, a tradition we carried over from summer.  It’s hard to find a non-nap-non-snack time that works but we’ve found 2:00 is going to be as good as it gets.  Here’s how the week broke down.

  • Monday – Game Day! We put the Wii out and hauled out our board games.  This was a moderate success: about 20 adults and children gamed.  Three 7-10 year olds rocked out on the Wii with Guitar Hero and Super Smash Brothers and the rest all played board games: Memory, Animal Upon Animal, Don’t Spill the Beans, Operation, Chutes and Ladders, and Kerplunk were some favorites.  As always, the slightly older set (6-10) loved the loud games (Operation and Kerplunk) and the slightly younger set (3-5) loved the simpler games (Chutes and Ladders and Don’t Spill the Beans).
  • Tuesday – Teen Day! Our usually scheduled Teen Advisory Group met and then we had an evening screening of The Avengers.  Not great attendance at either, ten total, so  not the worst, but it’s always hard for us to get teens to show up on days there aren’t school, but it was important for us to include teen programs!  Avengers had high interest – we got tons of questions about it and it prompted me to decide to have a summer screening of it for all ages!
  • Wednesday – Clifford’s Birthday Party!  Like many libraries, we decided to celebrate Clifford’s 50th birthday party.   This was our best attended program, a big hit. We had a daycare group show up for this, which added to the complications, but hey, we rolled with it!  About 50 people, adults and children, attended this program.
  • Thursday – Amelia Bedelia’s Birthday Party! We decided having two birthday parties for two beloved characters back to back was a good plan.  This crowd skewed older than Clifford, though we still had younger patrons, which fit well with the Amelia Bedelia jokes.  It was another happy success. About 45 people, adults and children, attended this program.
  • Friday – Makerspace! We launched Makerspace with this program – three craft CreationStations and our Lego-Duplo blocks out.  The CreationStations involved beading, paper weaving, and cutting and gluing. The Duplo blocks, making their debut appearance before this summer’s Lego Club, were an runaway hit – they were used in a lot of active play and used to build fences, skyscrapers, birds, and airplanes.  This was a slower program, but we still had about 25 children and adults attend.

makerspaceMAKERSPACE CreationStation products

What did we do at the birthday party events?  We structured them around our very successful stand-alone summer programs.  Over the past two years we’ve shifted away from “attend every day for a week!” or even “attend every Wednesday!” summer programming and shifted to, instead, one day events focused on a certain theme/book.  I think we’ve seen a lot of gains from that – far more flexibility and variet, more drop-ins, and less pressure about attending (but I can’t come every day!) are a win-win in my book and I think for patrons too.  The Clifford and Amelia Bedelia events were structured the same way.  Here’s the agendas:

  • We read the first Clifford book – it still got lots of giggles and laughs and audience participation, they loved it! “She’s washing him in a swimming pool, how silly!” 
  • They went on a bone scavenger hunt. Our kids LOVE scavenger hunts – it’s always a favorite at events.  We cut out and taped up 50 paper bones all through out the youth services area. They peeled them off and brought them back. They could do this over and over so I recruited some older attendees to re-hide them so the fun just kept going.  I honestly think most kids could have done this the whole hour!
  • They had two simple crafts and this was a big mistake, I learned over this programming extravaganza it’s MUCH better to have more activities than less. Too few and they finish WAY too quickly and start to get restless. One craft was to color and then cut out a bigger bone and then go tape it up on a Clifford birthday cake. (You’ll see from the photo it was pretty adorable!) They also used paint and Q-Tips to paint Clifford, which was a big hit but, again, not enough.
  • We wrapped up with a snack time: red punch, strawberries, cheap cookies, and Chex mix. Nothing too fancy, the strawberries were a little pricey, but I thought splurging for fruit was worth it.  We fed about 30 kids for under $25.

bone cakeBONE CAKE!

For Amelia Bedelia the structure was very similar  but I’d learned from the mistakes the day before and did a better job separating the craft/eating stations (a huge mistake from the day before –  there must be space!) and having more activities on hand.

  • We read the very first Amelia Bedelia.  I admit, I had a staff member in the audience to be a ringer and prompt the laughter and we had a little time to stop and talk about the book.  “Draw the drapes can mean to make a picture of them or to close them!  Which do you think Mrs. Rogers meant?!” I also had a third grade helper in the crowd and that worked quite well, he was a good leader.  Still, the kids got into it as it went along, even the younger ones, and by the time we got to the chicken in suspenders and socks they were practically dancing with anticipation to see what she’d done.  It was rewarding to see the book really work with them and worth the conversation and engaging.  Made me totally fall in love with the cleverness of the books all over again.
  • Their crafts were to decorate the wings of a BUTTERfly, to cut out and color clothes to dress our giant chicken, and to create their own pie and write about what it had inside in little mini-books.  It was just the right amount of crafts: plenty to do for some, enough to focus on just one for other.  Overall, a big improvement from Clifford BUT we were dealing with an older crowd!
  • Snacks were the same but with grapes instead of strawberries.  Even more pricey but…fruit splurging!  They were also in a separate area from the crafts, which took a lot of pressure off all involved!


book display






(The BUTTERfly template: big wings to decorate and color, Amelia Bedelia book display, my student worker all wrapped up in a story.)

I’d be happy to share .PDF or editable files of anything we used for anyone interested.  My amazingly gifted student worker who is also an artist created many templates for us and I bought the pie unit for $3 on Teachers Pay Teachers, the one site I never mind spending money on.

Some takeaways:

  • Mini-books are where it’s AT!   They weren’t really on my radar until I started visiting teacher sites and talking about teaching methods with my roommate the third grade teacher but I love them!  I think they’re great for early literacy and understanding story, and parent-child activity, and EVERYTHING LIBRARY.  I am definitely going to incorporate more into programs and even storytimes.  Anyone else use them and have ideas to share?
  • Love to the publishers, Scholastic and HarperCollins, for promoting the birthdays and creating such fun event kits.  (Clifford /Amelia Bedelia) The event kits were really good motivators and idea sources.  More of this, please!
  • Tied into that: seeing the books check-out was a real highlight and very gratifying   Almost all of them were checked-out at both events.  On Friday, one patron came back to tell me that she and her parents had baked the cake from Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off.  How cool is that?
  • We had the most success in the middle of the week.  I think there was some traveling happening on Friday (it was a slower day in the library in general).  I don’t think it was JUST that those were the events people were interested in, though that was a factor I’m sure,  it seemed like the real momentum was the middle of the week.  Having something every day was easier for promotion, though, and gave us chances to talk everything up.
  • Related: being able to promote things on our newly created (well, a few months ago) Facebook page really helped – posting every day kept it fresh in people’s minds that SOMETHING was happening today and several items got shared by our local online news source which has a few thousand followers.

In all, Spring Break programs succeeded beyond all my dreams!  I’m glad we decided to take a leap and try something new out.  There were a lot of really great, rewarding, library moments: the mom who brought her tiny baby to Clifford and Amelia Bedelia and held him during reading and colored with him in her lap, the older kids volunteering to help during the two events by putting out chairs and hiding bones and helping younger kids color, hearing the marbles crash down during Kerplunk as kids giggled, parents we don’t usually see during the school year telling us they couldn’t wait for summer, parents in general thanking us for being there during the week off, grandparents having a chance to attend programs, Duplo planes zooming around in younger children’s hands while older siblings made beaded necklaces.  It doesn’t get much more inspiring than that!  It was worth the leap of faith – thanks to all of you out there blogging and tweeting about what you do, it makes me want to try. 

Does YOUR library do Spring Break programs or programs on days your school districts are off?  Have you been inspired to try them?  Most importantly: what ideas do you have to share?