Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Three: Super-Action PlayPacks


Previously in this series
Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part One: Adding Passive Programming & Tracking
Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Two: Those Darn Prizes 


No more cheap plastic crap!  No more cheap plastic crap!  Keep saying it to yourself (and your administration!) until it is imprinted on your brain.  Your summer programs don’t need it, your patrons don’t really want it, and everything will be so much easier once you get rid of it.

We still give away what you might think of as small prizes – but they are items that can be OF USE. Everyone likes that.  Pencils, bookmarks (especially the scented kind), erasers, earbuds, lanyards.  For the littles we always have some stickers and that’s about as close to “useless” as we get.

That was a great first change.  But I knew we could do more.  So the second I saw the amazing Abby‘s post about switching over to Science Activity Packs as prizes, I new that was a change we were making for summer 2015.  FINALLY a chance to give kids a prize that could encourage play and learning and activities.

I took several of Abby’s wondrous ideas and added some – especially more focused on art and creation so STEM wasn’t the only topic.  I also added some choices for younger kids. As I covered in part two of this series, we revamped our summer program to have levels and goals. We decided that kids would earn these packs after finishing their reading goal.  That was 25 hours of reading for a Super-Action PlayPack.  That seemed like a reasonable number to test this out for the first year.  To add to the fun, we made a menu of their choices for the kids to pour over. Let’s take a look at the menu and inside our Super-Action PlayPacks!

board 1
board 2

board 3

As you can see, we had six choices.

Our far and away most popular choice was CREATE A CHEMICAL REACTION. It was inspired by my boss’s copious tiny water bottle habit and the amazing experience we had during a special Toddler Science Time. All it cost us was the Alka-Selzer!

fizzy 1

fizzy 2

The kids also loved WRITE YOUR OWN COMIC.  We found some comic templates and bought a case of colored pencils. This was a big hit, especially after our summer Comix Club.


One of the packs for the younger kids was PLAY A MATCHING GAME.  I bought some superhero/ine clip art from Etsy and printed out sets of my favorite matching cards and put them together as sets for kids to play memory games or pattern matching.  Parents mentioned liking these to have “games to go” on hand.



Another choice for the younger kids were sets of superhero/ine finger puppets that we bought from the Upstart catalog as PLAY WITH FINGER PUPPETS. These weren’t as popular as I thought, I think because it was an abstract concept.  If we brought them out and played with them, kids wanted them – but otherwise, it was hard to show them in action. We’ll probably end up using these in a program and not recycle them into a PlayPack. They were super-cute though!



A choice that we thought would be for the littles but then surprised us with its popularity  was MAKE A TEXTURE BOOK.  Along with the classroom pack of colored pencils, we also bought a classroom pack of crayons so they were all fresh and new and then made a little booklet of paper.  So many of the kids wanted these and they were packs we saw getting played with RIGHT AWAY as kids started texturing around the library.



This program went up to kids in 5-6th grade, so we wanted to make sure there was stuff for them too.  (like the comic book pack.)  Our older kids are into origami and we had tons of origami paper hanging around, so we had FOLD AN ORIGAMI ANIMAL. The older kids were definitely drawn to this too.



Another all ages appeal pack was BUILD WITH MARSHMALLOWS.  This was just toothpicks, which we had tons of on-hand, and a few packs of marshmallows.  We had to make sure they were sealed up tight. The good part about these was some of the older kids really dug them.  The bad part was most of the younger kids just wanted to get some gross half-dried marshmallows, haha.  So … we probably won’t be doing this one again.



We didn’t have any MAKE A BALLOON ROCKET left!  But to create them, we just followed Abby’s instructions.  Of course the kids LOVED this one.  We bought kite string and non-bendy straws, which was a great decision … but I would have spent more for the “longer” balloons.  And make sure your balloons are new, haha, we used older ones and many were dried out!


  • This was too much fun!  Talk about people not missing cheap plastic tchotchkes! Kids felt like they were getting a REAL TOY and parents loved that it wasn’t another piece of junk to throw out after it broke on the way to the parking lot. Kids definitely wanted to earn more than one.
  • Each pack was in a self-contained Ziploc baggie, so there were no pieces falling out or anything of the like.  Then they were stacked up, by group, in a single storage bin behind the desk.  When a kid chose from the menu, it didn’t take us too long to find one to fish out. You could separate them out further though, if you had the space or were worried about the time commitment of finding one.
  • We made 25 of each pack to start off with, decided we were just going to have to see what was popular and refill from there. We only had to refill two or three one time over the two months of the summer because, well, kids liked the choices.  (most popular: Create a Chemical Reaction, Make A Balloon Rocket, and Write Your Own Comic.) Our delightful student interns assembly-lined the packing over the course of a day, but this would be a great volunteer task.
  • It wasn’t SUPER cheap – we did have to make a few big investments like the class-packs of crayons and colored pencils, but we’ll use those for lots of giveaways and even some programs. And there were other things: the kite string, the Alka-Selzer, the finger puppets.  BUT we had other stuff on hand – the bottles, the origami paper.
  • Overall, it was a great value because it was easy to replicate on a big scale once we made an initial investment.  And it was SURELY worth more than buying 700 sticky hands from Oriental Trading!!
  • We did not have this option for our middle/high school program.  The end of their reading goal was a free book.  I don’t think we’d have the budget to invest in packs that would interest them and they were happier with books anyway!

We’ll definitely be bringing the PlayPacks back (maybe with a less superhero/ine oriented name?) even if we make some changes to which activities/packs we have available. And we might even make it so the kids can earn more than one.  We’re doing MUSIC as our theme this year (since I hate that stupid sports theme) so we might add something related to music – and that’s another bonus, you can customize these by program theme.  I got some great ideas from searching for BUSY BAG ACTIVITIES on Google and Pinterest and many parents recognized the “play and go” packs as these kind of activities and they LOVED it.

What do YOU think about activity packs as an incentive or supplement for your programs?  How are ways you might use it in your program in summer or year round? Do you have a take-home component that your patrons love? What kind of activities, games, or experiments do you think your patrons might like for this kind of incentive?   Do you have any questions I didn’t answer here? Let me know about it all here in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Two: Those Darn Prizes


Also in this series: Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part One: Adding Passive Programming & Tracking

Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Three: Super-Action Play Packs


It is the eternal question of youth services in a public library.  What the heck do we do about the darn summer reading prizes? How do we stop kids from cheating?  WHY are we even giving prizes?  Why do we have so much plastic crap?  How can we get kids interested in the program without incentives?  How do we stop parents from cheating?

Yes, if you do youth services in a public library of any size, you have asked yourself these questions over and over.  And I truly believe there is no one answer. More than that: I truly believe that you can keep trying and finding new answers and tweaking it. You are NOT locked into “that’s what we’ve always done” or “people will hate the change!” Will it be hard at first?  Will there be bumps?  Will you get a few complaints?  Sure – maybe.  But for one: that’s no reason not to make a change.  For another, believe me, for the most part people are just happy to have a fun, free program to participate in with their kids and kids LOVE new stuff.

We’ve been making tweaks over the past few years as I strove to move our program away from the curse of CHEAP PLASTIC CRAP that instantly breaks, costs too much money, and has never motivated a single kid to read one single thing. Because of this, I like to think about our program as a work in progress.  This has really helped ease my anxiety about things: we can try things out!  We can learn!  We can change!

We still use paper logs.  I think this needs to be addressed up front.  We just don’t have a high enough population or summer participation to warrant the cost right now of switching over to software that keeps logs and tracking online. I hope that in years to come, this software will become cheaper (and, errr, a little easier to use) and we can switch over, but for now we’re still using paper tracking.

In 2015 we made our most radical overall yet: changing the entire program to incorporate MORE than just reading. I had been wanting to make this move for some time and I finally realized it was time to take the jump.  I want to thank all the librarians who have shared their MORE THAN READING programs, not only did it give me an outline of what I wanted, it gave me the courage to make the change.  You should start with their amazing, wonderful blogs, as I used them as inspiration’templates.

Summer LIBRARY Club from Library Bonaza

Summer Prizes – Goodbye! from Tiny Tips for Library Fun

Summer Reading Booklets from Hafuboti

I loved all the elements I saw there (and in other places) but I realized I had two major problems that had kept me from trying to make these shifts.  I think if you live in a smaller town, you might have similar problems.

  • We don’t have anything like a minor league baseball team or a water park or anything I have seen as a giant “experience” incentive in other programs.
  • My library is part of the county government and, as of now, we’ve run into many bureaucracy problems about getting local coupons and discounts. There’s just SO MUCH red tape about it.  Sigh. And many of these programs use these coupon books as a key component and incentive.

But then I realized instead of thinking about the things we DIDN’T have to build a new program based on experiences and not just checking off “I read ____ minutes” boxes, I should look at what we DID have and build around that.

  • We have a generous Friends organization!  So I bought a lot of cool, new, high interest books from Scholastic FACE to give away as prizes – and we set up one of our program rooms as a bookstore for the kids. (Sadly, our town doesn’t have a bookstore anymore, so kids might not always get the chance to have the delight of browsing a bookstore.  But one fun thing we could do was create a similar experience.
  • We have the Aquatic Center – and they not only part of the county but part of our same division.  They love to cooperate with us by giving us children’s passes as a way to encourage whole families or groups to come.

I figured I could use those to create something that would work for our library and our community.  The next step was setting some goals for what I wanted to new program to achieve and WHY.  I think that’s very important before you begin ANY program revamp. It gives you focus and drive.

Our NEW summer goals:

  • Make the program include more than just reading – but keep reading a key element.
  • Add in something for actually showing up to the library. We want to get people in doors and at programs – so why not have the program reflect that?
  • Have it easy to adjust to individual needs, i.e. make it as customizable as possible.

To me, one thing that would address all of these goals was to ADD LEVELS.  That had elements of gamifcation on a level I liked. In this new configuration, patrons could choose to participate as they wanted.  They could try to finish ALL the levels to earn a trip to our “bookstore” and pick out a free book (they also got a plastic bookbag and some scented bookmarks) or they could just finish one level and get the prize for that level. 

At this point, two great things happened – we had Rebecca’s amazing superhero art to use and we had awesome in-house design skills.  Kate is a former full-time librarian at our library in both circulation and reference but she went to on-call/substitute status when she had her baby.  She’s AMAZING at design. (you can find her Teachers Pay Teachers page here – she’s just launching so you’ll want to follow her NOW.) She took all of my half-formed ideas and created something totally cool. Why don’t we take a look??!
Kid 2

Kid 1

Worth noting:

  • Instead of NUMBERING the goals (What order do we do these in?  Can I start on #3 before I finish #2??) we named them after fictional superhero/ine locations. (and heck yeah we used Themyscira, the island Wonder Woman is from.)
  • For many years our paper logs were 8 x 11.5 sheets of paper – we folded these so they made small “booklets” with SpiderKid on the front. This made it feel more like a game piece and more personal “that one is MINE!” over just a sheet of paper. And it let us tie the passport theme with the locations.
  • The reading goal prize for kids is “A Super-Action PlayPack.” What’s that, you ask?  Here’s the post all about Super-Action PlayPacks!

Kids and parents LOVED the booklets.  I talked in my first post about re-vamping the program about how we added sticker collages to reflect weekly visits – these were tied to the passports.  They got a stamp in their booklet under the Asgard goal and then went and put their sticker up. This was practically prize enough and kids LOVED collecting the stamps. BUT we still gave away “small prizes.”  I think this is a way you can bridge “but how will we survive without any prizes? Patrons will complain!” with “Ugh, no more useless junk.”  

It can be transitional OR you can change what you give-away as “small prizes.”  One of our greatest changes was letting go of stuff like sticky hands, slinkies, plastic animals and the like and moving to things we can feel OK with as “small prizes.” That means bookmarks, pencils, stickers, and erasers.  That’s IT.  Things that can be of use to children, things that are connect to the library.  No more junk!

The Asgard goal meant: get a stamp in your passport, put a sticker up on the weekly collage, and get whatever the small prize of the week was. (another big help was rotating the weekly prize and keeping it to just one thing per week.) You needed to do that at least five times to complete Asgard.

Also helpful: setting specific times for the “store” to be open.  We gave everyone a whole month to come shop and the opening day wasn’t until after the first month of summer activities had passed.

We wanted to do something very similar for the teens.  So, again using Rebecca’s art and Kate’s design skills we made them DOSSIERS instead of passports.  (Shout-out to a log shared by Andrea Scherer in Storytime Underground, we modified that to get our superhero/ine symbols for the reading objective.) Teen 1

Teen 2

You’ll notice that we just had a few tweaks but kept the format very similar.  But we used different words: objectives instead of goals, dossier instead of passport. Teens earned the same things: passes to the Aquatic Center, a free book, and small weekly prizes for visiting the library. Their weekly prizes were erasers, earbuds, bookmarks, and puzzle cubes, and lanyards. (my gosh they loved those stupid lanyards!) They also got a big “end of summer” treat – finish all the goals and they could come to our after hours lock-in.

Teens definitely had a harder time managing to remember to bring the log – which is of course a consistent problem for teens. I know that’s something we have to work on and for this summer,. I’m definitely considering keeping ALL the teen’s paperwork AT the library.  It might be worth it.

And yes, we had an early literacy component too!  Previously, our early literacy element was for 0-5 but I could definitely feel parents (and even the kids) of 4-5 year olds being restless.  It felt much more natural to set the literacy goals for 0-3 instead.  They worked with the board all summer (we let them put up stickers on the attendance collage too because hey, why not! Another fun way to make them feel included) and got a bag full of early literacy goodies when it was done: a song book or board book, a pass to the Aquatic Center, some crayons and paper, a bib, and some bubbles. Baby Board 2

Baby Board 1

Overall: we definitely learned some lessons!  We needed to be more precise in our wording in places.  We struggled, as always, with kids and parents losing their logs. But guess what?  No one complained about how it “used to be.”  No one wanted the junky prizes back.  Yes, some people wanted to be out of town all summer and still participate and we explained that they were welcome to do that and still get two levels of prizes. That was an actually justifiable answer, when it came right down to it, even if it wasn’t always the one they wanted to hear.

I think we turned the program into a true Summer Library Club, not just a reading program of checking off minutes and getting tiny whats-its for every box.  And we have more work to do – but now it all feels so much more possible.

How have YOU changed and re-imagined your summer “reading” program?  What do your patrons respond to? How do you manage lost logs if you still use paper – do you have a brilliant solution I’m missing?  What fun things have you done to re-imagine what your program can be for your community?  Do you have any questions I didn’t answer here?  Let me know about it all here in the comments or chat 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!



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 …



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

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

Here’s how Magic Treehouse happened.

15 minutes of intro & story

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

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


30 minutes of craft & activity

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

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


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


 Wait, what? Yes. years and years ago – outside of anyone in my department’s memory – someone donated (or perhaps we purchased) several BILLION of these foil candy wrappers.  They are GLORIOUS.  They are just the right size for little hands, they are shiny and smooth, and they tear easily.  They are perfect for sensory play. You can crumple them up or smooth them out. We use them all the time for dozens and dozens of projects of all kinds.  Kids of all ages, teens too, are drawn to them. They easily glue (smoothly if kids take the time) to a wide variety of surfaces and they stick once glued down.  The strangest part is that we of them. Melissa and I suspect they reproduce at night. This craft was the big hit – they loved the snakes. It’s that foil, man. I know it’s not cheap, but I’ll buy more when we run out.  Worth every penny!

15 minutes of snacks and wrap-up

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

Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned

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

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

Has your library had a Magic Treehouse event or ongoing program?  I’d love to hear from any libraries that did a more concentrated focus on the books over a longer period of time. I could definitely see this being a reoccurring program or an after-school/out of school day event during the year.  Are these books still as popular at your library as they are at mine?  What other ways can you think of to engage the SUPERFANS of the series?  Are there any questions or details about Magic Treehouse I didn’t answer or that you want more info about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here or talk with me on Twitter)

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


FANCY NANCY @ Your Library!

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

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

Here’s how Fancy Nancy happened!

15 minutes of intro & story

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


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

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


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


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

30 minutes of craft and activities

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

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

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



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

15 minutes of snacks and wrap-up

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

Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned

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

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

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

Has your library hosted a Fancy Nancy event?  I know they’re popular!  What kind of things did you do and observe at your event?  What do YOU do when a program is larger than you expected?  Do you do registration for your summer events?  How do you handle it if not? Are there any questions or details about Fancy Nancy I didn’t answer or that you want more info about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here or talk with me on Twitter)



NINJAGO @ Your Library!

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

15 minutes of intro & story

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

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


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

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

30 minutes of crafts and activities

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

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




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


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


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

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


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

15 minutes of snack and wrap-up

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

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


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

Superstah Students

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

Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow: FANCY NANCY!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fancy Nancy
Magic Treehouse
Minecraft IRL
Elephant & Piggie
American Girl