Dinosaurs @ Your Library!

Last summer we repeated one of our popular standalone programs – DINOS!  It had been a few years since we did this program and, as many of you know, I recycle these themed programs at least every 2-3 years.  (unless it’s something very pop culture-y that has dated.  But that’s a rarity.) Since last summer was all about Jurassic World this felt like a good time to bring dinos back.  I also like this theme because it’s somewhat generic and not tied to a specific property, which I think you should ALWAYS throw some non-property related events – it makes you feel less like some kind of marketing firm. So, this time we made it an evening event.  Again, I’ve written about how I think it’s very important to have evening events – even when they stretch staff – so that working families can make it.  Dino Night was a huge success. Here’s how we did it.

15 minutes of story and intro

We made a giant pile of fiction and non-fiction dinosaur books to have out for patrons to check out – which we do for all these events … if you’re not here for the book what’s the point? But I chose to read When Dinosaurs Came With Everything by Elise Broach,  delightfully illustrated by David Small. This is a slightly longer picture book that requires a little more imagination, has very silly pictures, and makes grown-ups have to deal with dinosaurs for making their children suffer through errands.  What’s not to love?


We also threw in a staff sing-along of Five Little Dinosaurs– which is basically Five Little Ducks but WITH DINOSAURS.  Instead of mother duck calling “quack quack quack”, mother dinosaur calls “roar, roar, roar” – and of course the crowd must roar along with us or else the little dinos will never make it home.  They loved this! We made one verse “flap, flap, flap” for the flying dino and the chance to flap our hands!  Here’s my awesome staff in action calling those dinosaurs home.

dino yell

Melissa made foam dino feet – which I chose not to wear because I would have literally tripped over them and cracked my head open in 2.5 seconds.  But they were easy to make, so you could make them as a costume and they COULD be a cute craft – but we didn’t have enough foam and we really didn’t want to sit with each kid measuring their feet one by one.  (we like to keep it fast!)

dino feet

45 minutes of craft and games

Of course we had a scavenger hunt (dinos, dino hunt leaders, feathered dinos) as ever.  We print out ten images, tape them up around YS, and send kids to find them with a look and find sheet. Always a huge hit and a good way to split up the crowd.

DINOSAUR MASKS! Kids colored their dino masks and then attached them to popsicle sticks using glue dots (two must haves: putting the masks on popsicle sticks is such an improvement over trying to get them around kid’s heads with string and glue dots over glue sticks are the ultimate.) Fun stuff.  Note: we do lots of masks and headbands/crowns as crafts.  Do kids ever get sick of them?  I don’t think so.  They are such a fun prop and they encourage the best imaginative play.  It feels like a fun costume, even, and it’s a good take home.  I highly recommend them as an activity. Here’s one of our favorite library patrons with his mask.

dino mask

DINOSAUR EGGS! This was a fun, easy craft that also used up a bunch of our brads, whooo-hooo! Kids liked having a craft that moved, so that was neat to see.  And getting to put the brads in required a little more hand-eye concentration and parental involvement. Using this idea, we found an egg template and some cute little dinosaurs and let kids go at it. They colored their eggs, used the brad to attach them, and glued in their dinos.  Here’s a delightful kid made example with, yes, an upside down dino.

dino egg 1

dino egg 2

DINOSAUR TAIL KNOCKDOWN! The site with the egg craft also had an amazing idea for making dinosaur tails using stuffed garbage bags.  Well you know I wanted some of that! Melissa, as always, experimented until she made it work.  Our tails have pool noodles inside (ah, the handy stuff we have around in a YS department) as well as plastic bags, which gave them a little more backbone. Here’s Dillon and Melissa modeling them. (note we decorated ours)

dino tails

At this station, kids strapped on the tails and tried to knock over trees. (coffee cans and Pringles cans, some of which were weighed down to really make it hard.)  This station was a hoot, of course.  The problem was the really littles struggled under the size of the tail … which just made us insist they have their GROWN-UPS try it on for a swing.  Which … yes. The kids loved it and tripped themselves in circles to get to the trees.

tail action

DINOSAUR TOSS! This was a simple modification on one of our popular bean bag toss stations (another station we have often – this works because kids across ages/mobility levels can participate in their own ways and it’s easily modifiable.) Basically, we printed out some dino pictures and made circles according to their size and put points on them (the smaller the dino, the smaller the circle and the higher the points) and let kids toss away and try to get the beanbags in the circles.  We also had facts about the sizes/species of each dino, which was fun to add in.

dino toss

And that’s it!  Two crafts, two activities, one scavenger hunt, a storytime and song, and a big giant pile of books.  We had almost 100 people attend – including whole families because it was a night event – and all ages from 3-4 year olds all the way up to 11-12 year olds.

I am SURE we’ll do a dinosaur event again.  Since it’s not tied to a specific property and it’s a perennial topic of fascination for kids, it makes for a great program. We didn’t repeat any of the activities from the last time and we probably wouldn’t have to the next time – there’s just so much to do with dinosaurs! (trivia of some kind?  sensory bins to dig through?)

Do you have any questions?  Do you want to borrow any of our templates or have any questions about our event? Have you had dinosaur events or activities at your library?  What worked and what didn’t work?  What ages came?  Let’s talk all about it!  Leave me a comment here or chat with me on Twitter. (and thanks to everyone on Twitter who voted in my poll to make this my next blog topic! I always like knowing what kind of content you’d like to see here, so definitely let me know!)


Rainbow Fairy Magic @ Your Library

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

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

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

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

20 minutes of story

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

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

40 Minutes of Activity

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

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

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

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

rainbow beading

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

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

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

rainbow wand

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

rainbow cakes

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


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

rainbow staff

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


Paperbag Theater @ Your Library


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

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

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

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

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


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


(my ever game student interns)

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

two turts

dino turt

dino roar

turtles talkin

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

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

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

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


Noon Year’s Eve @ Your Library!

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

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

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

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

Activity Stations

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

nye crown

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

so many

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

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

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




FROZEN @ Your Library!

There’s no way to escape Frozen.  And hey, why would you want to?  Of all Disney products, it’s not the worst.  In fact, there’s some pretty great parts.  What’s not to love about a heroine with ice powers and another heroine who saves her? The idea for this program really started growing when I noticed a group of four year old girls playing this really elaborate fantasy game about going on a hunt for Kristoff at the same time another little girl was sitting at the coloring table and narrating to her mother how the picture she was coloring was Elsa’s castle.

I want in on that kinda elaborate fantasy life! Accordingly, we decided to end our summer of programs with a Frozen sing-along.  We’ve done this kind of media-ish event for teens before, but this was our first attempt with the 3-12 year old crow. (yes, it was a huge age range.) But how hard could it be?  Just throw in a DVD and press play, right?  But, of course, we learned some lessons.  Here’s how we put it all together!

First, let me say this event would have been impossible to pull off without the help of my three student workers: Jared, Dillon, and Stephanie. They did tons of the prep work for it, cosplayed on different levels for it, and helped manage it the day of.  You’ve seen them before on the blog because they make our programs happen but this event, especially, depended entirely on them since – literally – the rest of my regular staff was on vacation.  In fact, this is tip one: have staff that is willing to play along.  We wanted to make this a real event not just something they could watch at home on their giant TVs. So this made it so much more fun for all the kids!

First question: Were we going to watch it with the subtitles on? 

When we did this at the end of July, there was no Sing-Along version. There’s also no way to turn the subtitles on and off without going to the main menu, so that was obviously out.  The subtitles were also just regular subtitles, which means small and yellow.  We decided they were more distracting than worth it.  So … no subtitles.

But GOOD NEWS – if you’re having an event on or after November 18, you can use the official SING-ALONG version. I haven’t seen any clips or anything, but I am imagining the songs will be like this one from the UK sing-along version.

I still don’t know if I’d bother with that, though.  Besides the fact we had many pre-readers (and many families/kids that have limited English) and the kids mostly knew all the songs … that dancing Olaf head is sort of  distracting.  It might make it feel more SPECIAL EVENT-Y, though. But at least now you have the option!

But we were worried about the lyrics.  So we made up some lyric books.

lyric books

(Dillon posing with the lyric booklet)

We laminated the sheets and put them together using binder rings.  They went in order of how the song appear in the movie. As you can see, they were not fancy and they were mostly meant for the adults.  We expected a huge crowd, so we didn’t make enough for everyone, just enough to go around. Mostly parents were uninterested in them.  It was dark in the room and they didn’t really want to follow along anyway.  They wanted to keep them after though, haha. So maybe you could make them as take-home favors?  Otherwise, we definitely wouldn’t do this again.

Second question: How to decorate? What about costumes?

Remember, the goal was to make this AN EVENT: something worth specifically coming to the library for, something they couldn’t just do at home.  (as long-time readers of the blog know, this is one of our main goals for these kind of events, no matter the theme.) And you know what events have?  DECORATIONS.  So, we made a big purchase. We bought stand-ups of Anna and Elsa and Olaf so we could set up a photobooth. We bought them from Amazon (closest party store didn’t have them in stock) and, as you can see, they were expensive.  BUT. BUT.

This is one of the most successful pieces of marketing we’ve EVER done.  And we didn’t have to do a darn thing besides set it up.  Because every parent and grandparent and caregiver that came took a ton of pictures of their charges posing and then did what we do with pictures these days: shared them.  Shared them all over and said it was at a library event and everyone saw them and then there were conversations about the library and library programs and how amazing the library is for families. (I am friends with some moms on Facebook, so I saw those and that was great- and I know there were many more all across social media and personal sharing.) There were parents there with professional grade cameras, taking pictures that will be part of their child’s story for a LONG time.  And that will ALL tie to the library. It was worth all the money.

We took the stand-ups and all my leftover holiday wrapping paper (now’s the time to pick up that snow wrapping paper!) in blue and silver and used our Ellison to make some snowflakes. With some white butcher paper and cotton batting, all on hand, we created the world’s greatest photobooth/posing area.


We were originally going to give these away as door prizes, which could be a way you could justify the cost. But we decided to keep them both in case we have another Frozen event and also to possibly use in display and promotion – imagine the reaction to them hanging out in the YS area with info about programs! Overall?  If you have the budget for the stand-ups I say go for it.  But even if you don’t spring for them: having a photobooth is a must.  Make one with snowflakes, wrapping paper, and posters – just make it clear that this is an area for posing. This, of course, encourages the kids to come in costume, which is another huge draw of making your event special.

And yes, that brings us to costumes.  Oh, if you know me, you know a costume’s coming.  But this time I lucked out, my whole staff dressed up.

group 1 P1020354


Here’s what was great: we had all different levels of cosplay happening to take the pressure off.  Stephanie wore something as simple as a Frozen tshirt.  Dillon matched her outfit to Anna’s thematically/color wise. Jared and I went to a fuller cosplay level, with Jared taking it to a con-worthy outfit. The kids LOVED IT.  They asked Jared to be in pictures with them and they giggled with delight on seeing us ALL.  For me, the biggest choice was Elsa’s hair.  It’s hard to find an adult wig for her that doesn’t look cheap.  So … I had a friend make this amazing knitted creation. (You can buy them on Etsy in all sizes, another bonus.) Kids loved it too, it was very approachable.  And yes, I did Elsa make-up: another huge hit.  (bright purple eyeshadow, light blush, tons of red lipstick.)

elsa faceWe had TONS of kids in Elsa costumes – from 2-3 year olds to 9-10 year olds, hand-made to fanciest of the store-bought. We had fewer Annas, but they were also representing.  We had a family come in costume, with a 4 year old Anna and the dad wearing antlers to be Sven and the older brother as Olaf. We even had a kid dressed up as the Duke, complete with black glasses made out of pipe-cleaners.  The costumes were a real highlight, so I would make sure to highlight and encourage that element in your promotion. If you’ve ever wanted your chance to be a Disney character that kids want in their pictures, well!  Today’s your day!


Third question: would we have handouts/favors/props?

At a lot of our themed events we have crafts and things the kids take home.  But we weren’t doing anything at this one besides watching the movie, so I didn’t mind (clears throat) letting that go. Not every program has to be the same program, after all.

BUT.  I did want them to have something.  I was worried about the kids who were going to show up without costumes.  I wanted them to feel part of the event, part of the FEELING, anyway.   We created something cheap that turned out to not only be a photobooth prop but something for them to have at the movie.  All we needed was our stash of popsicle sticks, white paper, and our snowflake diecut again. That’s right: everyone got snowflake wands!


The event was held on the third floor of our library, where we opened our three giant meeting rooms into one room.  It’s set up with pretty sweet surround sound and has a giant screen.  We created a white butcher paper runway with blue cellophane over it leading to the photobooth/posing area.  When the kids came up the stairs or off the elevator, they got a snowflake from the ice block and a greeting from staff, errrr … the citizens of Arendelle. They went to the photobooth area and then headed in to sit on the floor in the meeting rooms.  (it was about a thousand degrees, ironically, so we had to quickly set up fans.) Here’s some fans posing with their wands:


The other instructions/use for the wands helped make the kids feel a little more relaxed and involved during the movie: we encouraged the kids to hold them up high and move them back and forth as they were singing along.

As they became more and more enchanted with the movie, they lifted the snowflakes up and swayed them side to side. It sure was something to see.

When the movie was over, we gave all the attendees one last parting gift – an Anna and Elsa paper doll set.  I found a really talented artist named Cory Jensen. He makes beautiful art. He also makes free (as long as you don’t use them commercially, of course) PAPER DOLLS.

elsa doll

He has several different sets of Frozen dolls on his Facebook page, but we chose these because there wasn’t a lot of cutting around their heads and faces. It was a good thing to give on the way out and as a take-home. The parents LOVED paper dolls and when we showed kids the ones we’d prepared, they couldn’t wait to try out this brand new technology of dolls made out of paper with interchangeable clothes! We had them printed on cardstock by our print shop but they came out a little grainy at full 8 x 11, so I suggest doing a test print.  I think we’d do them again, but I could easily see trading it out for a color-at-home crown or a packet of coloring sheets. The take-home part was more important than the fancy/color paper dolls. The take-home was a good way to bring everything to a firm conclusion.

Final Thoughts

What an event! We had around 130 people, parents and kids and whole families, in attendance and more people talking about it for weeks and weeks after.  There were definitely some snags and here’s a few things to consider as you plan:

  • The temperature of the room was boiling, so that was difficult.  (Facilities issues, amIright!) We also had to have the majority of people sitting on the floor, sorry but it was the only way to get them all in. So, ahead of time: think about the physical location of where you’ll be having this, what the room will feel like, how to set it all up. Be prepared to talk to patrons about if they’ll have to sit on the floor or explain why the room is set up the way it is – most were understanding.
  • There will be latecomers, there’s no way around it.  But we were firm on starting the movie on time. The con of course was people stumbling in while the room was dark and crowded, but … well at some point you HAVE to start, so make it on time.
  • If you decide you’re going to have a photobooth/photo area, decide and decorate ahead of time.  You’ll note in one photo we added an X for where to stand, that helped. It helped us have this separated off, don’t have it too close to the screening area.  We left the photo area up for just in case after shots. (but we found toddlers knocking over the stand-ups as they wandered out of the movie, so make sure you rope it off/clean it up if you won’t have staff near it.)
  • Took the kids a song to two to warm up, but if you have a grown-up singing/into it up front, it helps – as did our staff’s enthusiasm, costumes, and willingness to play. But d0n’t sing OVER them (an issue me and my big mouth had to learn.)

In all, it was a great topper to our summer program.  This program was about much more than a movie kids loved, it was the exact kind of event that we KNOW the library is all about and we dream of finding a way to tell the world we’re all about. It was a day of play, imagination, love of story, community and … FUN!

The best proof?  Here’s some video my student intern Stephanie shot of our crowd singing Let It Go.  You can hear me shouting, of course, but just listen to their voices.  Watch the gentle rise of snowflake wands, hear how they invest this moment with ALL THE HAVE inside them.

If this isn’t why we do what we do … well, what is?

Have YOU had a Frozen event or something similar based around a fandom or movie for this age cohort at your library? Are there any tips and tricks for events like this that have really worked for you?  If you’re planning an event like this what are you working on and when do you think your patrons will be the most interested? Did you want clarification or expansion about anything I mentioned in this blog? Leave me a comment here or let’s talk on Twitter.

Now start practicing those songs!


A Week of ScienceFest Programming

My town loves science!  Of course we do – we’re where the atomic bomb was built and, since that time, we’ve had a national science laboratory here in our town that fills up our community with scientists from all over the world.

For the past few years, our town has celebrated a yearly Science Festival.  Over the years, the name and length has changed all building up to this year, which was eight days of events all across town.  There were all kinds of events all over our community – at museums, parks, schools and more. There were author talks and live demonstrations and lectures and hands-on demonstrations of tech – you name it. It all culminated in an ExpoDay with booths, music, live demonstrations, the whole she-bang.  You can view the entire festival schedule online here.

Since STEM is so important in libraries right now – rightfully so for all the ways it encourages different literacies and engages our growing users, I decided this was the perfect chance to stick our toes into STEM programming in a major way.  So, I announced our library would participate by integrating STEM activities into our regular weekly programming for ages 0-6 AND by adding extra afternoon sessions for 7-12 year olds AND by having a special teen session to go along with our monthly TAG meeting AND having a booth at the actual ExpoDay.  You know me: go big or don’t bother.

How did it go?  What did we do?  What did we learn? Let me share!


Program: Mythbusters

Ages: 12-18

Source: I first saw the idea on Bryce‘s Sneaky STEM blog and then I raided Pinterest and the actual Mythbusters site for ideas.

Total Cost: Under $2o

Attendance: 14 kids

How Did It Go? The idea was that this would be teen centered programming before our monthly Teen Advisory Meeting where the teens come to hear about the newest books.  I was worried about it because it was the first TAG of the school year, so I knew we’d have new teens (I hoped!) and wasn’t sure what it’d be like.  But why not try?  So, we had Mythbusters RIGHT BEFORE TAG, giving us only half an hour to run the program.

We had three activities planned and we posed them as questions on sheets of paper taped to the wall.  The kids had to come up BEFORE each experiment and write if they thought it was a myth or not.  After we tested it we wrote BUSTED or CONFIRMED on the paper.  Easy way to track it and fun visual too!

The activities were: buttered toast always falls face down (the one we didn’t get to test), Pop Rocks make your stomach explode, and a substance can be a liquid and a solid at the same time.

We ended up rounding up a mess of 12 year olds (with a few 10-11s mixed in) to supplement the program, because most of our older TAG kids were not impressed.  I think because they’d seen a lot of it before and because they were there for TAG, darn-it. But even they got a little nervous with the Pop Rocks, which was hilariously fun.  We made them measure it out and use different amounts of Pop Rocks and Coke and I shook some of them up, which sent the kids running – convinced it would explode. The younger kids loved digging their hands in the Oobleck and watching it go from solid to liquid as we added more water and cornstarch.




What Did We Learn? This would be a tons of fun program to host for tweens and younger teens. And I’d definitely recommend staging that incarnation of it for a longer period of time. And we maybe shouldn’t have piggybacked it onto TAG … but a lot of the 12-13 year olds stayed and they might not have if they hadn’t had the science part first.  Making our decisions about if it was a myth or not was fun and added interest for sure. Talking about how each was busted or confirmed was a good STEM conversation with lots of questions and speculation from the kids. Good time, would do again!


Program: Sensory Bags at Baby Time

Ages: 0-4

Source: I have been transfixed by this idea since seeing Kendra‘s Baby Art in a Bag and Brooke‘s Baby Art. This is also a popular activity for older kids busy bags on Pinterest, so it kept coming up.

Total Cost: Around $20

Attendance: At least 30 parents and babies during the 30 minutes we had the stations open



I did something different than art.  We took bottles of hair conditioner and hair gel and mixed them in bags  with a little bit of food color.  We taped them down to the floor and taped down “work mats” for the babies to sit and crawl on. Then we let them at the bags.  They mixed colors, they stepped on them, they smushed them in their fists. They felt the texture.  They even sat on them. I COMMAND YOU TO LOOK AT THIS ADORABLENESS.


toesies(look how she’s putting her little feet on it!  LOOK!)


(one of the bags post mixing – the lasted a really long time and no babies managed to get inside.)

premixing 1(bags waiting to be mixed. Oh and it should be obvious that besides the mixing, the babies loved crawling, walking, and feeling these cheap plastic tablecloths we taped down.  It was a sensory experience itself!)

What Did We Learn? OMG THE SMELL. The smell of the conditioner and gel was overwhelming to me.  I wish we had done it in one of our rooms with windows that opened. Other staff said it wasn’t so bad but basically everyone in YS area that day mentioned it smelled like a beauty shop. I think it gave me a serious headache the next day.  So, be warned. We also learned to NOT USE SHAMPOO.  It quickly melted into a soupy mixture that actually made us gag a little! It just wasn’t thick enough.

BUT using the conditioner and gel over the paint did let us experiment with different textures/mixture levels of gel and conditioner.  The babies were especially drawn to the gel (that’s the one they liked sitting and walking on the best) and the way it color mixed.

I think the fact it was a thing most people have at their house made it feel more replicable to the parents, so that was a bonus.  This is the program where I got one of the best compliments of my professional life when a mom said, “This is like a Pinterest idea come to life!” YEEEEEEEEES!

I’d definitely do this, or something like this, again.  (like with paint this time!) The parents loved it, the babies REALLY loved it, and it gave me a good chance to mingle and talk with them about how even this kind of play is science, how their babies are learning from everything, how sensory play enriches all their learning and even the youngest children can engage in it. Also I got to see tiny babies hammering away with their tiny baby fists at sensory bags so WINNER!

Program: Magnetic Slime

Ages: 7-12

Source: My colleague Melissa ran this program.  Originally I had scheduled something about volcanoes because who doesn’t love that but Melissa wanted to try something new.  So sure! She found the idea on a blog via Pinterest.  (I highly recommend you follow Melissa’s craft board on Pinterest, she is our guru of this!)

Total Cost: We did have to buy the magnets (but then they just wanted to use our magnet wands) and the black iron oxide.  That was about $2o. We found them on Amazon. With the rest of it, the glue and liquid starch, I’d say it was all about $3o – but that made plenty.

Attendance: 10 kids.  We had this at our branch, where we usually get much smaller attendance, but Youth Activity Center has been temporarily set up next door so we actually had kids show up.  This is exciting for when we’ll build our new branch in JUST MONTHS and the YAC will be nearby.  Yes!

How Did It Go? Much messier and chunkier than the blog made it look (shocker).  The kids didn’t mind this, of course, but it did end up making clean-up basically being throwing lots of stuff away.  They liked making the mess just as much as seeing it was magnetic.

slime 2


What Did We Learn? MOAR MESS!  As we discovered with Mythbusters: the best programs for tweens are the ones where they can get elbows deep in making, touching, and creating stuff. It didn’t even have to be about the mess, it was just as much about the mixing and watching the reactions. We tweaked the formula a little too – more iron oxide made it more magnetic but we didn’t want it to become TOO liquid-y. Also there was no way we were having them put this near their mouths like on the blog.  Leave that to actual guardians, hah.


Program: BristleBots

Ages: 7-12

Source: Library programs and maker-movements worldwide.  Years ago I saw this demo’ed at a library conference and always had it on my list. We had done robot kits before and always had the BristleBots on our list so, again, another perfect chance.  There’s lots of tutorials online: this is the one we used the most.

Total Cost: You can buy whole kits to make them, but they’re hard to find (sold out in every place I looked, shipping in 10-45 weeks) so we just bought parts.  All together it cost a little over $30 to make 10.  I got toothbrushes at the Dollar Tree, we used mounting tape, lithium coin batteries, and small pager motors. Here’s Melissa on why she chose to use the pager motors: “Having the copper leads already attached was crucial to this project. Otherwise we could have been doing all the attaching ahead of time or while the kids waited- it’s too fiddly for most 7-8-9- year old hands.”

Attendance: Exactly 10 kids.  How perfect was that? (we don’t do registration, so this was a fingers crossed!)

How Did It Go? They were even MORE interested when Melissa hauled out the Legos and let them put the motors on the Legos.  So there you go!  But what’s not to like about tiny little vibrating robot?


What Did We Learn? Yeah, we obviously needed smaller batteries, as you can see.  OR we should have cut longer stems from the toothbrushes like in the guide we found.  We also discovered that hot glue worked on the batteries as well, but it wasn’t as malleable. The fun came from putting the motors on other things too – like the Lego monsters or paperclips – to see how it worked. (but they really did like the toothbrushes.) And we could have made a better racing course or mazes for them, but that could be a second program with them. We’d definitely do it again and it was good to have a program for a slightly older skewing crowd that still appealed to and was possible for 8 year olds.


Program: Geyser Science at Toddler Time

Ages: 3-5

Source: One of the amazing Amy‘s ALSC blogs from last year was about doing a Geyser Science session for school-age kids.  I thought “Hey, why not age that down?!”

Total Cost: I guess about $16 for all the Alka-Seltzer tabs, heh. My boss drinks about a million mini-water bottles (8 oz) a day, so we have piles of them.  They were perfect for this because they were just the right size for littler hands and didn’t need as much water.

Attendance: We had this session twice: once at our branch’s Family Storytime where we had about 20 parents and kids participating at our main branch Toddler Time where we had about 40 parents and kids participating.

How Did It Go? Amazing, amazing, amazing.  The kids loved it, the parents loved it: they did it over and over, they wanted to take sets home, they raved. One of the things that was great about this experiment was that it gave us some flexibility in presenting and talking about science concepts. When we had the Family Storytime, my colleague Chelsie chose to focus on sick day stories.  This gave her a chance to talk about how germs are spread and to then segue into how Alka-Seltzer – or bubbly drinks – can sometimes help our stomach feel better when it’s upset and how liquid medicine can act quickly.  BIG science concepts, right, but approachable by even young kids … especially when they get to see how that medicine works in a quick and bubbly way!

When I did the same experiment at Toddler Time the next day, I chose to focus on opposites instead.  Why?  Because the experiment would show us what reactions happens what opposites – bases and acids – come into contact. It would really give the kids a visual on what OPPOSITES mean. All of my stories and songs were about opposites.

Chelsie did her storytime outside over concrete and I did mine inside over buckets.  Like I said: easily modifiable for the space you have to work with or other themes you can think of.  (I think this would be a fun activity to do with stories about bubbles too.)

I started by showing them the most basic of opposite reactions: the classic vinegar and baking soda.  Many of these small children had never seen it before and they. were. blown. away.



Then we were set for them to try.  We set parents and kids up over these giant Rubbermaid containers.  We made it clear that this was a perfect chance for parents to get directly involved because there was no way we could do it with every kid.  They were pretty responsive and engaged which made it easy.


Here’s a Mom helping her kid hold her hand over a bottle.  Note baby brother





The wild leftovers.  This bin was literally still fizzing it had so much Alka-Seltzer bubbled over in it.

Of COURSE that’s a girl in a full princess outfit with a crown on digging her hands in.  OF COURSE IT IS.  That’s the magic of science!

What Did We Learn? Don’t be afraid to scale activities down.  Don’t be afraid to tackle big scientific concepts even with small kids – we had 2 year olds who were putting their hands over the bottles and watching them spill over.  And even though Chelsie and I did totally different themes we used the same activity – with slight modifications, giving us a lot of interpretation room on either side.  It was easier getting the parents involved when it was a one-on-one scenario.  If it had been 10 kids around a bottle it would have been much harder all round  but the individual bottles made sharing the Rubbermaid containers easier.  On the way out all the parents and kids asked when we were doing a science activity again.

Program: Airplanes in Action

Ages: 7-12

Source: I saw a paper airplane kit at the Dollar Tree (y’all know how I feel about the Dollar Tree) and decided it would fit ScienceFest programming.  I bought several sets.

Total Cost: $4 for the kits.  Cheap!

Attendance:  Like the magnetic slime program – and like most of our school year afterschool weekday programs – we had a low number show up just for the program.  So!  We  went around the library and rounded up kids hanging out and pulled them into the program.  That gave us 11 kids when it was all over and they didn’t want to leave once they started having fun.

How Did It Go? We had some simple hand-outs about why airplanes fly and why pieces of paper don’t so we opened with a discussion about that and simple aerodynamics.  The kit had patterned paper and instructions to make cool looking planes and once we actually practiced the patterns so we could show them to the kids, it was actually pretty cool.  The heavier paper made the planes fly longer and straighter and the kids loved the shapes and patterned paper.  Inside each kit was a landing strip with points.  We laminated them and set them up and had the kids aim for points.  We also made a super-simple target made from a single piece of posterboard with holes cut out and scores on it (another Pinterest idea) and the kids LOVED THAT.  They would have stood there all day trying to get the planes through the specific circles.


Here’s a sample of the runways and the patterns. Good value! Go check out your Dollar Tree in the craft aisle to see if they have some.

We took Friday off since we didn’t have a regularly scheduled programs and we get lower attendance (school age) on Fridays.  And we had to rest up for ExpoDay!


Program: Is It Magnetic? at ExpoDay

Ages: All ages

Source: my burning desire to use magnet wands.

Total Cost: $13 for the set of six magnet wands.

Attendance: Over the course of four hours, we outreached to at least 250 patrons and performed the experiment with around 175 kids, teens, and adults too.

How Did It Go? We created simple testing sheets for the kids to make their hypotheses on.  Then we handed over the magnet wands and let them test each item and record the findings.  We did something similar a few years back with WILL IT SINK OR FLOAT and I just think these are the best kinds of experiments for all ages – it gives you a chance to explain what a hypothesis is, how science is about testing and not being right or wrong, how you can only find out the RIGHT answer by doing the testing yourself.  And we got to celebrate with all the kids about how they were scientists, which they loved and is great language to use. When they completed they got some cheap prizes we had left over – parachute people, foam gliders, balloons, and stickers.

They LOVED using the wands, they loved being surprised (by the pipe cleaner and the soda tab – that one got them all and lead to lots of great conversations), and they loved being right too.

In a career highlight moment, one parent stopped by, observed the kids hard at work with the magnets and testing sheets and then asked if we were from the National High Magnetic Field Lab (a real thing in our town!) HAHAHA NO SIR BUT THANK YOU FOR ASKING, HAVE A BALLOON!


Hard at work doing SCIENCE! (the objects we chose were: a pom-pom, a penny, a paper clip, a soda can tab, a pipe cleaner, and a screw.)


The set up of our table.

We also had some containers (see right side of the table) that had pieces of pipe cleaners and pom-poms inside.  One was a glass vase, one was a giant plastic bucket, and one was a smaller plastic bottle.  We let the kids drag the wands along the sides to show how the pipe cleaners followed along.  This was great to have on hand for the younger kids (I literally had to pry it out of the hands of a toddler at one point.) and no matter their age, they loved playing with the big plastic bucket. This was a Pinterest idea I expanded/modified a bit and it was a last minute addition, but I was so glad we had it! Everyone was absolutely fascinated and delighted with this!

magnet bucket


magent bucket 1

WHEW!  So there you have it!  Our Chamber of Commerce reported that over 9 days there were 90 events with over 5,000 people attending.  That seems like most of the people who showed up at the library. 🙂 In all, we had a great slate of events.  While there was definitely some prep time for each program, it wasn’t anything that felt out of control. Ditto with the costs.  And, of course, I was helped by my great team of colleagues and facilitators – Chelsie, Melissa, Stephanie made these events possible.

I’m not sure WHAT we’ll offer for next year’s ScienceFest, but I know we’ll be part of it.

What’s the number one thing we learned?  I think it’s that STEM activities really CAN be put into all the programs you already offer and for all ages and that they fit right in with what a library offers to a community of children and teens and, well, learners. I think we also discovered that we could both find great inspirations and try changing them in a variety of ways so why not JUST TRY?!

You might not have a ScienceFest in your town (or a National High Magnetic Field Lab) but you can JUST TRY too.  If you have questions about any of the programs I laid out here, suggestions or stories about what kind of STEM programs work for you or that you want to try – I wanna hear all about it! Leave me a comment here or talk to me on Twitter.


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)


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.


ELEPHANT & PIGGIE @ Your Library!

Again, this is a program I chose to offer because of the sheer popularity of the books.  Perhaps you are noticing a trend! Perhaps this has helped get you started thinking about what series/characters are super popular at YOUR library that could be turned into a single day event/celebration!  (that’s what I hope anyway…) So BESIDES the fact I think Elephant and Piggie are the perfect early reader series (honestly, perfect in every way!) they are enormously popular at our library and, again, are hardly ever actually on the shelves.  Also one of the local elementary teacher recieved a grant to program around the series this school year, so they are ESPECIALLY in our patron’s popular imagination!

Also, just like the Ninjago party was kickstarted by thoughts from Sara, Elephant & Piggie was moved along thanks to inspiration from Abby.  Abby is SO AMAZING and her blog about her library’s Elephant and Piggie event not only inspired one of my crafts (as you’ll see!) but inspired me to get around and do this event.  She’s just got that kind of motivating mojo.  She’s another librarian you should follow and adore!

I wanted to do this program to harness the popularity but also to have one of our single day events that was deliberately geared at a slightly younger audience.  For one thing, I wanted to see how it went and how it differed.  Of course we still expected a handful of 8-12 year olds – but we wanted Elephant & Piggie to be one for the youngest kids – an event celebrating a book and an author who is THEIRS. (and Mo Willems  is THEIRS.  All hail Mo Willems, king of the 2-7 year olds!)

Here’s how Elephant and Piggie happened.

15 Minutes of Intro & Story

With a younger crowd we didn’t really need a lot of intro: “Today we’re going to read a story about two best friends!” Again, we took benefit of focus: choose one book and program around that.  I chose a personal favorite: There’s A Bird on Your Head.


Reading these books are a joy.  And we approached it in a way I can’t recommend enough.  Liz and I read it together, each one of us with a copy of the book, each one of us as a character. (Liz, mentioned in the Fancy Nancy post, is a substitute librarian for our library – she helps with programs when my regular staff is off or when I need extra hands. She’s also the last person who had my position!  Yup, I am lucky enough to get to work with the person who had my job before me – and she’s AWE-SOME.  She’s a wonderful storyteller, excellent at crowd control, always able to present and program.  She’s a bad-ass, basically, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with her!)

I wore grey and was Gerald, Liz wore pink and was Piggie.  The children…went…wild.


Rarely have I heard children laugh as uproariously as they did when I was running around and screaming or Liz was dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief.  This was such an engaging, dynamic way to read these books that are so reliant on their banter.  If you can, I really encourage you to try a team-reading.

30 minutes of craft & activity

We made sure we had three stations this time, which helped, even though we found our younger crowd, not surprisingly, took longer and didn’t mind focusing on one station.

I loved Abby’s bird-on-your-head craft, but I was worried about the bowls and about our littler kids getting the paper cut out bird to stand up right in it.  Instead, I modified the craft to fit on a single sheet of 11 x 17 paper.  Ahead of time, we had volunteers punch holes in each page and string the yarn through.  Then, using Abby’s genius idea of making the bird in question be OMG THE PIGEON we made copies of a Pigeon coloring page (page 12 of this event kit) and had those cut out too.  Children colored Pigeon and then glued him to the paper.  For the nest, I used a Dollar Store superstar product – natural shredded paper.   The shredded paper is a great sensory experience for younger kids and there’s a TON of  it.  It’s easy to pull apart and glue down.  We used gluesticks, of course, and I told everyone to make sure they gave it at least 20 minutes to dry … that way more actually stuck on and, best of all, it left the “tying it on a kid’s head” part all up to parents!  Kids did love this activity – they loved seeing Pigeon, they loved the feel of the shredded paper and the chance to squish it down and use the gluesticks.  And, yes, they loved the way it looked.


I also wanted to make some puppets because, again, these books are so great for learning about dialogue and conversation and it’s a perfect chance to encourage play and creativity.  Also, we have a billion paper bags, so let’s get those things used!

While Pinterest’ing for a pattern, I found a mom who had a great Elephant & Piggie party for her kid and had made really cool templates for puppets.  The only problem was she didn’t seem to have ever actually turned them into a .PDF as she said she would.  So I did what children’s librarians do best.  I winged it!

I saved the images on her blog and then saved them as 8.5 x 11 Word documents.  I printed them out and decided the size was good enough.  (Piggie’s head could have been slightly larger, but kids didn’t mind!) But they printed out in color, see.  SO!  Then I traced the shapes onto a white piece of paper and used THAT as a template for my student workers to run off on colored paper.  I was so, so proud of this hack!  And it worked really well – they were easy enough to cut and assemble and paper bag puppets are always a big hit.  If you want a copy of MY template, please let me know!

Our third station was an activity but, fitting with the target age of the program, it was a little scaled down from our others.  It was an egg relay!  Kids had to carry plastic eggs over to buckets and drop them in.  We let them work in teams, compete against each other, go at their own pace, whatever.  This was really popular with all ages, from the littlest kids who went slow and steady (good for developing motor skills – I can see a lot of ways we could use modified relays in early literacy activities!) to the older ones who kept trying to go faster and faster without dropping their eggs.  It was very adorable to watch, as you might imagine, and is a good reason for you to snap up tons of plastic eggs the next post Easter sale that rolls around!


15 minutes of snacks & wrap-up

You have, of course, guessed that we had our standard cookies, grapes, and lemonade as our snack! It was just as well-received as every other time.  It’s a classic! 🙂 We also had a hand-out for this time, which were coloring and activity pages from the official event kit. The children reacted as if they had been given small lumps of gold – again, these are books that encourage creativity and our crowd was itching for a chance to show theirs off.  We also had all the steps you see covered in Mo Willems books and the stampede to get at them left me fearing for my bodily safety.

Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned

  • Team reading is fun!  Don’t be afraid to interpret a reading or a book in a new way.  Give the books a chance to shine in the way that’s best for them. I wish we’d thought of this for Ninjago, for instance.  This could have made the text a little less stilted.  We brought Gerald and Piggie to life with this reading and that just added something special.
  • Yes, a younger crowd WOULD be interested in an event like this: if we picked the right characters and if we made the activities and crafts on their skill level.  Yes, a younger school age crowd of 2-7 year olds COULD start associating the library with this kind of programming and interactivity, just exactly the same as what we’re shooting for with these events geared at 8-12 year olds.
  • Related to that, this was an event that required that participating children have a little more hands-on time with their grown-ups/caregivers. But we could start ADVERTISING it as such – we could have one of these events that was really targeted as a family event.  That would make it something special from our other events AND it would let us build on family programming.  I had a lot of chances at this program to really talk with parents about how Elephant and Piggie is great for their children’s emerging literacy skills and actually explain why AND WHAT EMERGING LITERARY SKILLS ARE.

That’s how we had our first Elephant & Piggie event.  It was a big hit Total attendance was about 36 kids and 20 adults – a much different ratio as you can see. We’d definitely consider having this event again. Besides food the only real new cost we had was a few dollars on the bags of shredded paper and, really, that was just to save time and to give the kids a richer sensory experience.

Has anyone hosted an Elephant & Piggie event?  Are your patrons as obsessed with these books as mine? What about a Mo Willems event? Mel hosted a great Mo Willems Day that definitely gave me lots of ideas after seeing how well THIS one went for us. Do you have any successful stand-alone, book-based programs for the 2-7 crowd?  What strategies do you have for mixing those in with programs geared at older kids? Are there any questions or details about Elephant & Piggie 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)

On Monday I’ll wrap this series up with the long-awaited MINECRAFT IRL post.  In the meantime, y’all, let me just thank you for sticking with me this week!  I am so proud of myself for actually sticking to my “post every day” proposed schedule – and I could never have done it without your encouragement and interest.  Special thanks to anyone who has commented, linked, or tweeted about any of my blogs this week.  It really meant a lot to me since I’ve put in a lot of work on this week. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE.  Thanks for reading along! Until Monday …