Sunday, November 15, 2020

Early Literacy To Go! - November

While this is of course a very difficult and challenging time for everyone, as children's librarians we face the formidable task of finding a way to provide early literacy programming - a concept which is rooted in personal interaction, forming relationships with kids and adults, modeling behaviors, providing a place for kids and caregivers to socialize - without physically being in the same space together. It's very counter-intuitive, but unfortunately necessary to protect our own health, as well as that of our patrons and the community. And in addition to being a professional and logistical challenge, it is an emotional and personal one as well, since most of us thrive on the interactions with our patrons and without that we've lost much of the joy we normally find in our job.

I find this challenge particularly difficult because I am jumping into this new programming reality 6-8 months after everyone else, and I also have to consider that many in my new service area do not have internet access at home, or if they do, they have limited devices which must be used by older siblings for school. My manager and I discussed a few options, and though initially toyed with the idea of trying outdoor storytime, I felt that it was not the way to go at this time due to rising Covid numbers and dropping temperatures as I didn't think we would be able to do it consistently, and I wanted to invest my time in something I could offer consistently in the hopes I could build a following.

Since the digital divide is very evident, I decided to first focus my efforts on some kind of "grab & go" bag, since those have proven to be successful for older age groups at this library. I asked what kinds of things others were including in similar grab & go bags for this age group in a youth services Facebook group, and got a lot of great ideas. After mulling things over for a few days, I decided to provide caregivers with a list of easy activities they could do with their child at home that supported developing early literacy skills, categorized under the ECRR2 five early literacy practices of talk, sing, read, write, & play. 

This would include a list of suggested books (including an alphabet book and a counting book, and trying to include at least a couple that are available in digital format for those with access), words and motions to 2-3 songs/fingerplays/action rhymes, instructions and materials for 2-3 crafts/activities, a couple of coloring/activity sheets, and information about other library services or upcoming events. I also mention how the included activities support development and literacy, and I will focus on one practice area each time with more detailed info. I don't want to overwhelm parents with too much or sound too "preachy", and I also want to keep things as simple and basic as possible, to show them how easy it is to incorporate into everyday activities and things they already do. I decided to develop one per month, as it is time consuming to plan and assemble them, I have other programming to work on developing, and I am a one-person children's department.

So, what does my first kit look like exactly? Keep in mind this was thrown together rather hastily, and I hope to be a little more intentional in the future, and I'm sure it will evolve and become more polished as I go. Since it was November, I somewhat themed it around fall and Thanksgiving. This month's kit included:

Early literacy to go, early literacy grab and go kits, early literacy take and make

  • Sheet with all the suggested activities on the front; songs/fingerplays/action rhymes and instructions for included craft/activities on the back, along with a plug to follow our Facebook page for info and virtual programming.
  • Book Suggestions:
    • The Very Busy Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri
    • Mouse Loves Fall by Lauren Thompson
    • Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
    • The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
    • Run, Turkey, Run by Diane Mayr
    • I Know and Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson
    • The Dinosaur Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta
    • Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3 by Bill Martin, Jr.
  • Songs/Rhymes/Fingerplays:
    • Have You Ever Seen a Pumpkin
    • If You're a Turkey & You Know It
    • Ten Little Turkeys
  • Included Craft - Tissue Paper Tree
    • construction paper
    • 2" tissue paper squares in shades of yellow, orange, red, & green
    • (Did not include glue or crayons as we didn't have the means this time)
  • Included Activity - Sorting & Stringing Beads
    • pony beads (a small Dixie Cup roughly 3/4 full, so maybe 100?)
    • 4 pipe-cleaners, assorted colors
    • 2 pieces of yarn, about 2'
  • Coloring sheets
    • pumpkin 
    • turkey
  • Bookmarks with info on library services (not pictured)
    • digital resources
    • custom book bundles
  • Die cut pumpkin & turkey (just as a bonus, since we had the dies and it was quick & easy)

Below is a closer view of the front and back of the info sheet, and if you click on it you should see it even larger:

It's pretty basic, the graphic design and layout are not as slick and polished as others I've seen, but considering how quickly I had to get it together amidst learning everything else that's been going on and learning all the new software and policies & procedures that come with a new job in a new system, I think it's not too shabby. I really hope families come to pick them up. I've listed it on our calendar and promoted it on our Facebook page, as well as asking staff to offer them to anyone with young children, and to include them with any curbside pick-ups that include picture books (we have been open to the public, with restrictions, but are going back to curbside only in a couple of days).

I also did a short live video to introduce myself to the community and share some of my favorite picture books, and I'll probably do one more targeted to school-age kids and talk about some of my favorite middle-grade books (so hard to pick just a few!). I will continue the monthly early literacy grab & go kits, but I am also going to start virtual storytimes next month for those that do have access and see how it goes. I miss the performance aspect of reading aloud in storytime, and though virtual isn't quite the same without that audience feedback, it's better than nothing, so I hope there will be some interest despite mass screen fatigue. 
I'm really hopeful that in the spring we can revisit the idea of outdoor programming.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

New Picture Book Mini-Reviews


Great picture books

Now that I am done with library school, finished with job hunting, and have a general idea of what I what direction I want to go in with programming for now, I am working on trying to catch up on the new books that have come out this year that I've missed. Yesterday I looked through all the newer picture books my branch had gotten in the last 6 months that were on the shelf (though some may have been published earlier), and there were a few that really stood out:

The Box Turtle by Vanessa Roeder. February, 2020.

This is a cute story about being different, learning to be comfortable in your own skin, and appreciating what makes you special. Torrence is a young box turtle who was born without a shell, so his parents help fashion one out of, what else, a box. It fits perfectly, does the job, and at first Torrence is happy with it, until the other turtles start making fun of him.

A cute story with a positive message and appealing illustrations, including gratuitous pics of a cute little turtle tushie ;).

Bo the Brave by Bethan Woollvin. April, 2020. 

Bo's brothers are fierce knights who hunt monsters, but tell Bo she is too little to go with them. But wanting to prove her brothers wrong, Bo sets out on a monster quest of her own to show how brave she is. She encounters a gryffin, the Kraken, and a dragon, but discovers they are not horrible monsters after all, just misjudged and misunderstood by humans. Can she help rescue the baby dragon her brothers have captured and return it to its mother?

A great story about showing compassion, not making snap judgments or fearing others just because they are different. The illustrations remind me a little of Zacharia Ohora's work.

I Will Be Fierce! by Bea Birdsong & Nidhi Chanani.
April, 2019.

A strong message about being yourself, having courage, being confident, being adventurous, expressing yourself, and being the hero of your own story.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book and the strong, positive, empowering message it sends to young girls, and all children. Highly recommend!

Help Wanted: Must Love Books by Janet Sumner Johnson &
Courtney Dawson. March, 2020.

Shailey loves stories, especially when her dad reads them to her. But when her dad's new job starts taking all his time, attention, and energy, Shailey announces he is fired as her bedtime story reader and places an ad to find a new one. But the candidate pool proves to be less than impressive, forcing Shailey to add new requirements to her posting. Finally, the perfect candidate applies, and there is something very familiar about him....

A story that is mostly funny and entertaining, but also sends a not-so-subtle message to adults about work-life balance, putting the phone down, and spending time reading with your kids. The personal statements from some of the applicants included at the end are a nice touch.

The Button Book by Sally Nicholls & Bethan Woollvin. January, 2020.

This is a must-have interactive storytime book! I haven't seen a picture book I was excited about as a storytime book in quite a while, so I was really happy to discover this one. Throughout the book, the characters encounter buttons of various shapes and colors. Here's a button; I wonder what it does? Should we press it? 

Highly recommend!

There's an Alien in Your Book! by Tom Fletcher & Greg Abbott. June, 2020 

This is another awesome interactive storytime book, and better yet, it is part of a series. In this one, an alien has crash-landed on earth and the audience must jiggle, bounce, turn, and more in order to launch him back into space. The illustrations are absolutely adorable, and it makes such a fun group read-aloud.

This series also has books with a dragon, a monster, and an elf, with a witch book and superhero book due out in 2021. I highly recommend this whole series.

Born Curious: 20 Girls Who Grew Up to Be Awesome Scientists by Martha Freeman & Katy Wu. February, 2020.

Okay, so this one really doesn't qualify as a picture book, it is very text heavy with only a few illustration and has an older target audience, but I liked it so much I had to include it.

This is a collective biography of twenty different women scientists to inspire young girls and show them that STEM is for women, too. I love the cover art with it's modern style, portraying some of the subjects as children, which makes it much more relatable and attractive to the target audience. Also, it shows great diversity. There is an afterword that talks about how to become a scientist, a glossary of terms, and index, and references at the end. Highly recommend!

I know I still have a lot of catching up to do, and it seems my library system doesn't get items until they've been out for a few months, so if you know of some other great books out the last few months, especially good storytime books, please tell me about them in the comments. I'm hoping to start virtual storytimes next month, so I'm looking for some great new books to wow them with!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Change Is Not Easy - New Job, New Place, New Reality


The tree in Marty Kelley's Fall Is Not Easy was right; change is HARD! 

Like that tree, I've had to make a lot of big changes this fall, and it has not been easy. It has been, in a word, overwhelming! I've been at my new job for two weeks, and it has been a huge adjustment on many levels. First, I had to pack up and move across the country, so I am adjusting to leaving my family and pets behind (hopefully to follow me out here eventually), a different climate, living at high altitude, a different culture, not being able to find the same stores or brands I used to buy, and living alone for really the first time ever. 

The first week at work I was so completely overwhelmed with all the new information dumped on me all at once my head was spinning, having to learn not only the culture and policies & procedures of a new system, but having to learn all the new rules and procedures related to Covid-19 as I hadn't worked since the initial shutdown in March, signing up for benefits, a billion different new accounts with logins and passwords, codes for security, codes for the safe, a new ILS, different workplace culture, virtual programming, a new community, trying to maintain social distancing, working all day wearing a mask, wiping down every surface over and over.....

Probably one of the biggest adjustments has been getting used to working full-time as it has been a very long time since I worked full-time. For the last seven years I have worked part-time, and before that I was a work-at-home mom for several years and could set my own schedule. Plus, I had not worked at all since the pandemic shutdown in March, and had developed a bad habit of staying up really late at night and sleeping late in the morning. Working full-time has been EXHAUSTING! I do fine up until the last hour or so, then I completely crash by the time I get home. Of course, having to work wearing a mask all day and adjusting to living at high altitude doesn't help.

I don't know how people get anything else done when working full-time, much less complete an MLIS. Many props to those who have/are! By the time I get home, fix myself some dinner, and clean up the kitchen, I am beat and have maybe an hour to relax before I have to get to bed, and by then I am way too tired to read or do anything other than veg in front of the tv. On the weekends I'm torn between the need for down time, wanting get out and get some exercise and explore my new surroundings before it gets too cold, feeling like I need to get caught up on reading, and the necessity of cleaning, laundry, getting groceries, and running other errands.

The library itself is a big change, too. I went from working at a very large, busy suburban branch with a very diverse, highly educated, and somewhat affluent community with a very strong reading culture to a very small branch with a less diverse, working-class community where the digital divide is very evident, and people seem to use the library mostly for computer/internet access and movies, and not so much for books. This system does some things very differently; for example, they have a floating collection rather than each branch having their own collection, which makes learning the collection and reader's advisory particularly challenging because you never know what might be on your shelves on any given day. Another thing they do differently that seems really bizarre to me is that there are no spine labels for fiction, which makes shelving much less efficient and makes finding specific items more difficult. However, my new manager and co-workers all seem great, and really work well together as a team.

Right now the biggest specific challenge is figuring out what to do for programming, and getting something going ASAP. My predecessor left in July, so this branch has been without any type of programming for the under 5 crowd for a few months, and of course haven't had a real storytime since early March. The central youth services department sends out activity kits for older kids once a month, and a co-worker does additional programming and kits for teens and tweens, so my immediate priority is early literacy. I had assumed I'd be doing virtual storytimes, but since so many in our community lack internet access my manager felt that was not the best way to go. We've talked about outdoor in-person storytimes, but with our temperatures going down and Covid cases going up, I'm not sure that is the best way to go right now, knowing that small children are not capable of staying in one spot and maintaining social distancing.

I've had dozens of ideas swirling in my head, and I finally decided to start with a simple grab & go kit with some early literacy tips, suggested activities, a couple of songs/fingerplays, coloring/activity sheets, and materials for 2-3 crafts or early literacy activities, as grab & go bags have been pretty successful with the older kids at this branch and it was something I could do fairly quickly. I'm working on my first one now, and will share more about that once I get it going. Once I get that out, I'll start exploring additional early literacy programming, and I also would like to start doing something STEM related for the 5-10 year old crowd. I'm still not sure what will work, and it may be a difficult period of trial and error. Families lack internet access, but at the same time, few are coming to the library.

This is such a challenging time for all of us, but especially those of us who are in new positions. I feel pressure to get programming going and generate numbers to justify my existence and making my position full-time (I did not realize it had only been part-time previously). It was expected that the person in this position would be able to start doing a lot of outreach to the schools and community after being made full-time, which is desperately needed, but there was some naivete about how long-lasting the pandemic was going to be when this was decided. I would love to do outreach, but as I am high-risk I am not about to set foot in a school or childcare center until an effective vaccine is widely available, though I do plan to see what other kind of support the library could possibly provide to educators and families through the schools.

My hope is that by the first of the year I will have some regular programming in place and be much more settled and no longer feeling overwhelmed, and I really hope that once I am more used to working full-time, wearing a mask, and the altitude I will not feel quite so exhausted at the end of every day and have more time for reading. I feel like I've missed out on this entire year's worth of new books.

Have you found any other type of successful alternative programming besides grab & go kits or virtual storytimes? Is anyone able to do any kind of outreach? Anyone else in their first professional position and scrambling to figure out how to do their job in this new reality? I feel like everyone else has had 8 months to adapt, and I am scrambling to catch up!