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!


Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part One: Passive Programs

WE DID IT.  We survived summer!  Ah summer! The most exciting and exhausting time in a public youth services librarian’s life.  Even when you’re pulling your hair out, every day has a moment or two that reminds you why you’re doing this whole thing.

This summer I decided I wanted to make some BIG and fundamental changes to our library’s offerings.  This included through programs and through the traditional reading program.  Over the past few years, I’ve been making incremental changes so this just seemed like the next step. We learned a lot of things, had some successes and some failures too and it’s just made me EVEN MORE HUNGRY TO CHANGE. I decided one of the best ways to reflect on all this was to write up some accounts of the changes we made and this is the first of the series.

You can find the other entries here: Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Two: Redesigning the Logs & Fixing The Prize Problem and Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Three: Super-Action Play Packs (prizes)

I wanted ways for EVERYONE who came into the library to participate and to have something to interact with.  One of the first things we added this year was the WEEKLY SHOWDOWN.  This was passive programming of the simplest kind and it encouraged the MOST fun conversations and engagement across all ages. Whole families participated, the kids who are on the computer every second participated, little kids and teens, everyone loved this. What’s Weekly Showdown?  All we did was decorate the large area across from our desk and, every Monday, put up two blank pieces of paper and a VERSUS for people to vote on.  Let the fun ensue!

Here’s the categories we used:

Weekly Showdown

Shout-out to Robin Marwick for some of her great suggestions!  I tried to avoid pop culture ones because I wanted it to be something for all ages/backgrounds.  No one seemed to mind! (and yes, that’s 957 votes which is AWESOME.)

Here’s what the whole display looked like:



Note the clever reference to Highlander, lol. As you can see, it looked like a lot of fun and encouraged everyone to participate.  We posted images of each competitors at the bottom of each sheet and tried to do a rough count every Monday.  We were always right?  Of course not, but we got a good base figure of how many people participated every week – a great addition to our “who REGISTERED??” ritual of summer.  It was fun to see patrons debating and whole families encouraging each other to look at what was new.

We also have a weekly challenge.  When kids/teens complete the challenge, they earn a piece of taffy.  As you might imagine, they will do anything for a piece of taffy!  So we try to make the challenges fun: put out a sign language book and have kids learn a sign and show it to the librarian, put out a pair of dice and have the kids record how many times it takes them to roll a number higher/lower than their age.

And of course – lots of chances to MAKE ART AND CREATE STUFF.

Two of our biggest hits this summer were squiggle pictures and complete a picture.  These are familiar activities in classrooms for early finishers or to develop creativity.  Why not bring them to a library?

There are lots of resources online, but this was my favorite example of squiggles pictures, which we printed out on cardstock.  We went through HUNDREDS on them in the course of a week.  Kids and parents just kept wanting to create with them.  Here’s a look at some of what they created:



The “complete a picture” design I chose for this summer was from one of my favorite sites that’s full of great printables, Picklebums. I chose WHO BELONGS TO THESE LEGS for robots.  As you can imagine, we got a ton of great responses.  Like the squiggle pictures, this was an activity that all ages could do. Note the different skill levels in these two pictures:


And finally, my new favorite addition of the summer!  I read about Marge’s library building a sticker robot based on visits and I knew I wanted to do something similar.  Again – it was tied to the idea that we would work on making coming to the library – JUST PLAIN COMING TO THE LIBRARY – a fun/incentive.  (Another post in this series will look at the other changes we made to the program including YES the “prize dilemma”)

We are lucky enough to have a neat display space – an art gallery with great display boards.  We made eight themes for the eight weeks of the program.  They had themes like JUNGLE – PLACES TO GO – FIREWORKS and we used corresponding stickers we had left over from Oriental Trading and some I bought from Lakeshore Learning.  It really wasn’t that expensive and we cleared out a lot of old, musty stickers. Every time a kid came in with a reading log, they got to put up a sticker on the weekly collage.  As you may guess, the kids loved doing this and we always made a big deal about it. Not only did they love it, but it was (another) informal way for us to track who was coming in.  AND it was cool decoration. What’s not to love? Like the voting, we didn’t get it right every time, but there was a measure.  Here’s a few looks.





(note that kids chose on their own to make a school of fish who were being fed by multiple fish food bottles. Also see how we ran out of fish and had to just add other stickers in.  Big ocean this week!)

We also decide to have one for the middle and high school kids too.  It didn’t change every week but they LOVED doing it.  BECAUSE OF MUSTACHES.




Over the course of eight weeks we had close 1,000 returns.  A great stat, yes, but also something more than just “how many completed? how many finished?  how many walked off with a log?”  Well – we can collect that too but now we know that over eight weeks we had almost 1,000 visits to the library.  THAT’S a number that tells the REAL story of what summer at the library is.

These passive programs were great additions and helped me achieve goals on several levels:

  • engage new library visitors.
  • show a more accurate picture of what summer is like at the library.
  • add something to summer events without adding a lot of staff time and effort.
  • have a way to informally track summer participation and library visits.

And, oh yeah, it was a ton of fun. Can’t forget that part!

Have you ever done these kind of passive programs?  What ways do you think they could work in your library as part of summer or any time programming?  What additions can you think of for any of these programs or displays? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or you can chat with me on Twitter.

(and stay tuned for more posts in my re-vamping summer series!)


Proposed Program: Meet the Music

It all started with Little Melba!


Little Melba and Her Big Trombone was one of my favorite books of 2014!  This swinging picture book biography (winner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Frank Morrison, yay!) tells the story of Melba Liston, a girl in the 1930s who was told little girls couldn’t play trombones.  Of course, Melba picked that trombone up and mastered it – becoming the first woman to play trombone in big bands of the 1940s. After I read, and fell in love with this amazing book, I thought just one thing –


After jamming out to Melba Liston, I started thinking about how I could share this book in programs.  It’s a little too long to use in a story time, even one of our early readers sessions (which are geared at 4-7).  But I knew kids would love the illustrations and love the story of Melba’s creativity, determination, and successes.  So….where and when to use it?

Then I thought waaaay back to one of my first summers programming – all the way back in 2009. That summer, I built a program around one of my favorite American artists – Jackson Pollock.  Specifically: we had a school-age program in the summer – it lasted about an hour and we were always looking for programmings.  I read the book Action Jackson and then we spread out paper, listening to some jazz and did Jackson Pollock proud.

The kids had a BLAST – I could actually see them splattering to the music – just like Jackson Pollock did. The book and the art and the music all came together in this tangible, memorable way. It was an awesome program

pollock(me, rocking it in 2009 with Action Jackson and the kid’s art. See how long I’ve loved my job?!)

I thought about Melba Liston’s music and then I thought about that paint splatter and summer and school age kids and combining different literacies and … then I thought about all those cool picture book biographies about musicians that it’s sometimes hard to find the right reader for and …

MEET THE MUSIC was born!

What’s MEET THE MUSIC?  Let’s look at a program outline!

  • When: Once a week during the summer programming blitz, when we have lots of kids and families coming in and looking for programs to share.
  • Who: School age kids – old enough to listen to longer stories and discuss them but still young enough to love picture books and being read to.  We’ll have it open to ages 7+.
  • Why: Developing multiple literacies (music literacy!  visual literacy!  multicultural literacy!) and giving a spotlight to some books that might get lost in the biography section.  Also – these biographies do a great job highlighting multicultural and diverse lives and achievements. (So many POC, heck yes! And two of the books I selected are Schneider Family Book Award winners, spotlighting disabled protagonists who were successful musicians.)
  • What: Every week we chose an artist!  We read a biography about them and then listen to some of their music. TA-DAH. That’s it, program done.  NOW you could build out from this.  You could encourage the kids to talk about the music afterwards: did it sound like they thought it would from the book?  Did the writer do a good job describing the music and the way it makes you feel?  How would THEY describe the music and the way it made them feel? What about the pictures?  How do music, words, and pictures all work together? You could extend that to an art activity – draw during or after the music.

I talked about this ideas with some of my favorite librarians at Midwinter – Kendra, Laura, and Cate (among others) and they each came up with ways this program might work in their communities.  Kendra thought about adding live music and turning it into a longer family program featuring community musicians.  THAT’S AMAZING! (see why I have the best PLN both online and when I get really lucky IRL?!)

And that’s another thing I love about this program – it’s flexible and it can grow and to fit YOUR library.

Don’t believe you have enough books to power this program?  More like you don’t have enough weeks to cover all the books.  Here’s just a few of the titles I thought of. Look at the genres of music they span! Look at the different faces and illustrations!

And, of course, the cute program name: kids will be invited to meet the musicians by learning about their lives through the text and then meet the music by listening to it.

I can’t wait to start the introductions!

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  This program is DEFINITELY read to be stolen and implemented at your library! Do you have modifications for the program that might work at your library or make it more engaging?  How about other suggested titles that might fit – I’m sure there are some awesome picture book biographies of classical musicians, for instance.  Do you think a program like this would be successful at YOUR library? Are YOU ready to meet the music?!

Leave me a comment here with all your thoughts 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!


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)


Summer’s Coming & I Can’t Wait

And I mean it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



American Girl Rebooted: What We Did & How It Worked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Week’s Activities

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

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

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

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

Thursday & Friday

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

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


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


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




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


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

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



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




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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What We Learned

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

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

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



How We Saved American Girl: Rebooting a Program for Success

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

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

Shocking, I know.

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

Step One: Identify What’s NOT Working

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

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

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

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

Step Two: How to Start All Over

1. Become OVERLY familiar with the material

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

2. Make a concrete plan

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

3. Make the theme do the work for you

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

4. Sell it with enthusiasm

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

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

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

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