Beyond pencils and stickers: Making the most of an Elementary School visit

Last week I had my first official school visit in my new location. I attended a local elementary school’s Reading Night event, where I was offered the opportunity to set up a table with library resources. I’ve done my fair share of sitting at booths for the library. Sometimes I feel a little bit like a vendor peddling my meager wares of free pencils and stickers while trying to give my “elevator pitch” about what the library offers. This time, I wanted to try something different, while still keeping things fairly casual and laid-back. I wanted to try to avoid Doing Too Much, as this sometimes tends to be my downfall. While talking with one of the higher-ups in my organization, she shared an idea from her YS days and now I’m sharing that with you.

It’s super simple and interactive with multi-purpose benefits. I had a giant pad of paper with the prompt “What are YOU reading?” and asked kids to add their favorite books or a book they are reading right now. Not only was it a good ice breaker, but it gave me insight into what the kids are actually reading–Harry Potter? Goosebumps? No surprise there, but I learned a few new titles, too.


My favorite part? The next day, I compiled the list and emailed it to my contact at the school, inviting them to share it back with the students and teachers or possibly print it in an upcoming newsletter for the families. I also plan to use the titles in a display next month, highlighting them as “Recommended Reads” from the students at that school. Like I said, super simple with multiple uses.

I liked that it put the power in the hands of the kids, rather than me coming in trying to be the all-knowing librarian with a list of books they “should” read. I’ll definitely do it again.

What’s your go-to school visit activity?


Play space: Feelings faces

I wanted to share one of the recent additions to my library’s play space. One of the permanent pieces in our children’s area is a child-size floor-length mirror that is meant to be used with dress-up clothes. However, when I started there were no dress-up clothes to be found (and honestly I have a bit of an ick-factor with offering dress-up clothes). The mirror  stood lonely and forgotten beside some manipulative play boards. So I decided to turn it into an early literacy activity!


Behold, the Feelings Faces mirror

I’ve seen similar ideas for the front of circulation desks and thought it would be a great way to utilize the mirror. It encourages kids and grown-ups to talk about feelings, read the words associated with the faces, and have fun practicing the faces together. I plan to swap the images/emotions out every couple of months to keep it fresh.

Faces and images of real people are stimulating to little ones, even from infancy. Babies are hardwired to recognize faces, which helps them connect with their caregivers early on. Research shows that newborns will look at pictures of 3 dots longest if they are arranged as a face (2 dots for eyes and one dot for a mouth). How cool is that?

I put this up on Thursday and came back to work two days later to find the images all moved around and the frames nowhere to be found. At first I was bummed and annoyed–this is why we can’t have nice things!–and then I realized that this was evidence that it had been played with. That’s a good thing! I am always happy to see books removed from a display or gaps where things have been pulled off the shelf, so why not allow myself to feel the same way about the play area being in slight disarray? I decided to let the frames go, even though they’re so cute, because they took awhile to hand laminate and ain’t nobody got time for that. 🙂

A few of my favorite 2016 things

It’s that time of year again! Time for me to gripe about how I haven’t posted enough to the blog, give some (*reasonably legitimate) excuses as to why, and then reflect back on the year’s events. Let’s just skip right to that last part, shall we? That sounds like more fun.

10 Favorite Professional-Life Things

10. I got a new job!


So, remember when I said I had some *reasonably legitimate excuses for not posting to the blog more? Yeah I’ve had some pretty big life changes this year. One of the biggest is that I got a new job! In May, I started as a Youth Services Librarian with Hennepin County Libraries.

The new job is simultaneously one of the best and most bittersweet things of the year. For my personal life, it was pretty fantastic, as it meant moving back to Minnesota where many family and friends reside (more about that in the Personal-Life Things section). And in many ways it’s also pretty great for my professional life, as HCL is one of the leading library systems in the country. I feel very honored and proud to be able to say I work for such a well-renowned and in many ways cutting-edge library system.

But it was really hard to leave Wisconsin.

cardI loved my job–the small-town community, the ability to be creative and try new things,
the crazy busy programming schedule, and above all else the kids and families I worked with. I also loved the life my husband and I created there. We were renting a place on a lake, exploring new things together, and enjoying each others’ company–just the two of us most of the time, since family and many close friends were a good 4+ hour drive away. We knew it was temporary, though. Since we moved out to Wisconsin in 2012, our plan was always to make our way back to Minnesota sooner rather than later. It was happy news to learn I was hired at HCL. But it was HARD. Hard and exciting and sad and wonderful and bittersweet.

I have experienced some pretty big growing pains in my new position. I was used to being a medium-sized-fish-in-a-smallish-pond and suddenly I was a teeny-tiny-fish-in-a-much-larger-pond. I learned with a significant degree of sadness that single-handedly planning, marketing, and executing 8-10 youth programs a month isn’t necessarily the norm and that sometimes what looks shiny and beautiful from afar can be rough and scratchy up close. But I also learned that I have a lot to offer and a lot of room to grow professionally. I am learning that I have the ability to guide my career the way I want it to go. And that’s exciting.

9. Attending the MLA Conference in Duluth

Another thing I’m adjusting to in my new job is that going to conferences is kind of a rare opportunity unless you’re a supervisor or on the executive team (or you’re presenting). So I was surprised and thrilled when I was accepted to attend the Minnesota Library Association Conference in October. A few spots opened up and librarians were invited to submit a paragraph of interest, so I thought “Why not?” and threw my name in. It just goes to show that it doesn’t hurt to try!

I did my undergrad at UMD, so it was fun to visit my old stomping grounds. Another fun perk was that a friend who also happens to be a former Wisconsin librarian newly transplanted to the Twin Cities was attending the conference and staying in the same hotel, so we got to catch up and swap library stories.


Sometimes you have to skip the morning session and get some wave therapy at Park Point. 🙂

8. 16 Personalities test

I love personality tests and found this one to be eerily accurate. It’s essentially a free Myers-Briggs test that places you in one of 16 different personality types. I’m an INFJ-T, or “The Advocate.” A lot of the stuff it says about various aspects of my personality and life are spot-on. OK, so this might not be *directly* related to work, but I learned about it through a conversation thread on our staff web, and my work style very much reflects upon my personality type, so I think it applies. Take the test if you haven’t already!

7. Quiet Revolution newsletter

quietQuiet Revolution is an online community I learned about after having read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I subscribed to the weekly newsletter and have found many of the articles to be helpful and enlightening in both my personal and professional life.

6. Discovering my work style and advocating for it

One of the things I was looking forward to in my new job was that I wouldn’t be the only YS person anymore. I’d have a team of people to support me and together we’d be able to do more! I wouldn’t have to spread myself so thin! I could bounce ideas off others and vice versa!

I quickly learned that that is just not how I operate.

lone-wolfTurns out I like to be somewhat of a “lone wolf” when it comes to my job (Speaking of #7 and #8…). It’s not that I don’t work well with others or enjoy a good brainstorming session now and then, but I’ve found that I do my best creative work when I’m on my own. I need quiet time to work through the ideas in my head and formulate them thoughtfully. I don’t like sharing an office. I don’t like being constantly available to my office-mate’s every thought and question. I don’t like thinking on the fly and having to come up with an immediate answer. It’s nothing personal! It’s just not me. I tried adapting to the situation while also suggesting things to make it a more tolerable work environment, but in the end it was pretty clear that I was not going to thrive in that environment.

Which leads me to #5…

5. Transferred to Northeast Library

One of the benefits of working for HCL is that it is fairly easy to transfer to other branches. I put my name on the transfer list in the hopes of a) finding somewhere that was a better fit for me and b) reducing the length of my commute. A few weeks later I was given the option to transfer to the Northeast Minneapolis branch.

I took a tour, met with the person who would be my future supervisor, and absolutely loved it. It’s a smaller, diverse, community library in the heart of the arts district with a cozy, laid-back vibe and lots of big windows that let in natural light. AND… I’d be the only YS person. Say no more! I’ve been here almost two months and haven’t been happier with my job since moving to the Twin Cities.

4. Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

Enough about me. Let’s talk about books! This year I took on Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, which led me to read outside my comfort zone and expand my boundaries. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to tackle this year’s challenge.


3. Books!

Speaking of books, here were my faves this year (not necessarily published in 2016, just read by me in 2016).

Picture books: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen, Penguin Problems by Jory John, Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, and One North Star: A Counting Book by Phyllis Root

Middle Grade: Drama by Raina Telgemeier, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, and Pax by Sara Pennypacker

YA: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (this was a re-read for me, but I enjoyed it just as much the second time!), and Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Adult: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

For the complete list of books I read this year, check out my Year in Books on Goodreads.

2. Protect Your Peeps

The last “Monday Madness” program I did with my teens before leaving for Minnesota was Protect Your Peeps. I got the idea from the fabulous 52 Weeks of YA Programming resource put together last year by the Youth Services Section of the Wisconsin Library Association.

You can read more about program specifics on the 52 Weeks link above, but here’s the gist of it: The teens split into teams of 2, built fortresses out of recyclables to hide marshmallow Peeps inside, then took turns catapulting marshmallows to try to knock down the other teams’ Peeps. I planned the program for shortly after Easter so I could buy the Peeps on sale. Luckily the program date fell on an unseasonably warm April day, so I set up outside.

The teens surprisingly followed the rules quite well throughout, but once I called the winner it immediately evolved into an all-out marshmallow war on the library lawn. At another time I may have tried to stop the madness, but since it was my last teen program and I was feeling especially fond of them I joined in and chucked my fair share of marshmallows too.

1. Less on my plate

Like I said, my programming schedule is a lot less hectic than it was in Wisconsin. A big factor is that HCL has access to Legacy-funded programming and system-sponsored performers and partners are hired to carry out many programs, especially during the summer months. I came on during the beginning of Summer Library Program and was shocked to find that the YS librarians were not running around like chickens with their heads cut off (What do you mean, people come in to do the programs for us and all we have to do is welcome them, make sure they have what they need, and help keep things in line during the program?!). While in many ways it was a relief, it was also disappointing, to be quite honest. I love developing and carrying out programs. It was one of the biggest joys for me in my last job and one of the things I excel most at.

But as I settle into my position and talk with my new supervisor, I am realizing with relief that yes, I am allowed to do my own programs in addition to the ones we bring in. And while I can’t see myself going back to the crazy busy programming schedule I used to have, I am also realizing that I am kind of okay with that. It is okay to be strategic and intentional about the programs I offer, adding just a bit to my plate at a time as I assess the needs and wants of my community.

Having less on my plate has allowed me to pursue professional development opportunities, join a few system-wide sub-teams, work more closely with the collection and the space, and reflect. I expect that in the near future I will look back on this time of reflection longingly as my plate will be filled with making community connections and exploring new programming endeavors, but for now I will enjoy it while it lasts and look forward with anticipation for what’s to come.

10 Favorite Personal-Life Things

10. Moved to Minnesota

As I mentioned, my husband Alex and I made the move from Wisconsin back to our home state of Minnesota. We are excited to be back closer to family and friends and our goal this year is to make sure we continue to carve out time just the two of us to explore and adventure together–and also to just sit on our butts and binge-watch Netflix (See #3).

9. Bought a house

We started seriously looking for our own home this fall and were lucky enough to find The One on our first day of showings–in fact, it was the very first one we walked into(!). But it couldn’t be that easy, right? After lots of unforeseen back-and-forths over the span of a few nerve-wracking weeks, we finally got the house. We closed on Halloween and managed to unpack our boxes and hang stuff on the walls in time to host a housewarming party in early December. We love our new home, especially the big back yard and mature trees. Can’t wait to continue making memories in it together this year!

Image may contain: 2 people, tree, house, plant, sky and outdoor

8. Genevieve Louise & Kendall Paige

On my very first day of work at HCL on May 31, my sister/best friend Kari went into labor with her first child. To channel the great Chandler Bing, “Could the stars be any more aligned?” I was honored and fortunate enough to be present for the birth of my niece (and goddaughter!) Genevieve Louise that night. What an amazing and unforgettable experience. She is now just over 7 months old and has such a sweet, determined, fun-loving personality. Another bonus to our new home? It happens to be about 3 minutes away from them. It has been such a blessing to live so close that we can be around to spend time with Gigi as she grows and changes.

We also got another new niece this summer! Alex’s sister and brother-in-law (who were kind enough to house us for several months before we bought our house) had Kendall Paige on August 6, the same day my family participated in a walk to raise awareness for Huntington’s Disease for my mom and uncle. Alex and I were able to help out with our godson Cameron while his parents rushed off to the hospital, and we got front row seats to the first few months of Kendall’s life since we were living under the same roof. Wonderful timing to be living back near family!

7. Good times with family

The biggest family event that stands out this year, aside from the two I just mentioned, is that my niece Nicole got married. Kari and I were the Matrons of Honor and had a blast showering Nicole with love at a fancy bridal shower brunch and a nautical-themed bachelorette party. The wedding was at an apple orchard in September and could not have been more beautiful. I love weddings! The anticipation, getting all dressed up, the expression of love during the ceremony, eating, drinking, speeching, celebrating, and dancing the night away. The best part was seeing the love Nicole and Tony have for each other. They were both absolutely beaming with excitement. I can’t even handle how sweet they are together. Did I mention that I love weddings?

6. Good times with friends

Living in Minnesota has allowed us to spend a lot more time with not only family but friends, too. I joined a book club Kari started a couple years ago with her friends and have since coerced a few of my friends into going, too. Alex and I have played endless rounds of Marbles & Jokers with our closest pals (have you heard of this game? It’s like an addicting combination of Sorry and Chinese checkers) and have just barely started to tap into Minneapolis’s micro-brewery scene. Looking forward to doing more of that this year.

Another fun thing I did with friends since moving back is an Escape Room. You may have heard about this phenomenon, as lots of libraries are creating them for Teen programming. It made for a fun ladies’ night, too. We didn’t successfully escape the room in an hour, but had a lot of fun solving puzzles and cracking codes until the clock ran out!


We ended the year on a high note by hosting an Anchorman-themed New Year’s Eve party (inspired by our ’70s wood-paneled basement) complete with Minute-to-Win-It games. Stay classy, Minnesota!


5. Traveling 

In March, Alex and I (along with Kari and her husband Levi) visited my parents in Rockport, Texas, their new winter home-away-from-home. We enjoyed spending Easter with them (including a balmy beach day, what?! This Midwest gal had never before gotten a suntan on Easter), joining my mom for yoga, eating delicious food, and sight-seeing as they showed us around their town.

In May, our good friends Jon and Amanda got married in Sarasota, Florida and we spent a few days exploring and celebrating with them and another friend-couple. I had never been to Florida and wasn’t sure what I would think of it, but I have to say that my cold-blooded self was in love with the heat and humidity. Aside from the wedding festivities, we did some deep-sea fishing, shopped, and most importantly soaked up the sun. Can I go back now?

In September, we visited Alex’s parents in their new home near Denver, Colorado. We had an adventurous time zip-lining and white-water rafting, saw the Redrocks amphitheater, drove around Rocky Mountain National Park and took the New Belgium brewery tour. A busy but fun-filled vacation!

4. Boating and enjoying the lake house

We got in our fair share of good times at the lake house this year before moving back to Minnesota. We sure will miss that place, but are thankful for the time we had there. And Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, so it’s not like we’re exactly hurting for opportunities to get out and about this summer. 😉

3. Parks and Rec

OK so I’m a little late to the party here, but OMG PARKS AND REC. We started binge-watching the series this summer and just finished it up last month. It is no exaggeration to say that I felt like I lost a good friend when the season finale was over. Alex can attest to the fact that I was down in the dumps and in withdrawals. Sometimes I talk about characters from the show as if they are real people. That’s normal, right?

Image result for parks and rec crying memes

Me when we finished Parks and Rec

2. Walks with Patch

One of my goals for 2016 was to do 100 walks with my dog, Patch. We only made it to 71 (my fault, not his–he would’ve done 365 walks if he could have!), but the goal definitely got me out and about more than I would have otherwise. It was fun enjoying the paths at each of our three homes this year in all kinds of weather.

I listened to many audiobooks and podcasts on these walks as well as just enjoying the sounds of nature. Patch enjoyed sniffing lots of smells, swimming, and “hunting.” We stumbled upon deer, prairie dogs, sandhill cranes, mallards, great blue herons, hawks, snakes, and little rodents of all types.

Looking forward to another year of walks with Patch, whatever the number may be.


1. Adventuring with Alex

adv5One of the things I admire most about Alex is his enthusiasm for trying new things. Once he gets into something, he goes all in. While I admire and appreciate this about him, I have to say that I don’t always fully understand the draw of some of his hobbies. However, one of the things I tried with him this year and got pretty into was mountain biking. I don’t consider myself to be a real adrenaline-seeking person, but I am hooked! I am looking forward to trying out more trails this year.

Here are some of the other fun things we did together in 2016. Can’t wait to do even more together this year!

Thank you for reading! I hope you, too, had an adventurous 2016 and that your New Year is off to a happy, healthy start.

Science Saturday: Candy Science

About every other month, I’ve been doing “Science Saturday,” a program for school-age kids. Each time we do a different theme–the first one was Spooky Science, as we did it in October. We did experiments like blowing up a white balloon with a ghost face using a solution of baking soda and vinegar, making magnetic slime, and a lava lamp. The most recent one I did was shortly after Valentine’s Day, so we did Candy Science using discounted Valentine’s Day candy. Here’s what we did!


Experiment 1: Skittles Rainbow

20160220_112049In this experiment, we explored density using Skittles. We dissolved a different number of each color Skittle into separate jars in the same amount of water, then determined which was the densest (the one with the most Skittles) and which was the least dense (least Skittles). We then used a syringe to carefully pour the liquid from densest to least dense into a new jar, creating layers resulting in a Skittles Rainbow.

What went well: This experiment was nice because it gave each of the kids a chance to help out with at least one aspect. I chose volunteers to help me count the Skittles into each jar, to put the jars in order of least dense to densest, and to squirt each color layer into the jar.

What I’d do different next time: There were a few kids on the younger end (around 7 years old?) who had a tricky time carefully transferring the liquid using a syringe, so our “rainbow” became somewhat murky. When I made the sample one earlier in the week, it turned out pretty cool, with distinct colors. I should have provided a sample so they could see the final result even if there’s didn’t turn out so great.

Experiment 2: Floating M’s

20160220_112057Did you know if you dissolve an M&M in water, the M will eventually float to the top? That’s because it’s made out of edible paper which is more buoyant than the water. Cool, huh?

What went well: Each person got to do their own personal experiment for this one, and since the candy took different amounts of time to dissolve, we could move on to the next experiment while keeping our eye on our M&Ms. When someone’s M floated to the top, we all gathered around to see. It also provided a good opportunity for a little math, as I asked the kids to keep track of how long it took their M to float to the top. In general, it took anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

What I’d do different next time: A few kids had less-than-successful results, due to choosing an M&M that didn’t have a full M on it. Next time, I would let the kids put more than one M&M in their cup so they had more chances of a successful experiment.

Experiment #3: Rock Candy

20160210_155032 (2)Using a base of sugar rolled onto sticks, we grew rock candy in a supersaturated sugar water solution colored with food coloring and flavored with different extracts for good measure. The crystals making up rock candy take several days to form, so I had the kids label their sticks and left the candy on a tray in my office to grow. After about a week, I called everyone to pick up their finished candy.

What went well: Ahead of time, I had made enough rock candy for every kid to have one while they worked. Seeing an example of the final product added to their excitement and enthusiasm.

What I’d do different next time: Not the end of the world, but next time I think I’d send them each home with their own jar to grow the rock candy at home. For one thing, it would be cool for them to be able to observe the subtle changes each day. And as I figured might happen, a few of the kids never came back to pick theirs up and it resulted in a bit of sticky clean-up for me.

20160220_112808Experiment #4: Dancing Hearts

For this experiment, we dropped Alka Seltzer tablets into water filled with conversation hearts, then watched as the hearts bobbed up and down as the gas bubbles pulled them to the surface and burst. It was pretty basic, but the kids marveled over the colored foam the hearts made and enjoyed adding more tablets to keep the reaction going.

Experiment #5: Lifesaver Lights

This experiment is super easy–all you need is some Wintergreen Lifesavers, a mirror, and a dark room! If you chew up the Lifesavers with your mouth open, you can observe little “sparks” of green light as electrons are ripped from the sugar molecules. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a very dark room and I didn’t think it would be appropriate to relocate to the restroom or a dark closet (ha!), but I sent the kids home with a handful of Lifesavers each and told them to try it on their own. A few kids came back after the fact and told me they had done it at home. They got a big kick out of it!

Last minute, I took the opportunity to make a mini book display, with science experiment books and extra instruction sheets for kids to take home. I was pleased that many people checked out books, which isn’t always the case. I put the rest of the instruction sheets out in the children’s area for anyone who wasn’t able to come but wanted to have some sciencey fun at home. Almost all the sheets were gone within the week!

I don’t consider myself to be a very big science person, so for awhile I was pretty hesitant to lead a program with the word “Science” in the title. But after attending a few STEM-themed presentations at library conferences and talking to some librarian friends, I gained the confidence to give it a try. One sentiment that stuck with me is that science is all about asking questions, and since kids are always asking questions they are natural scientists!

Another thing that I like to remind myself of is that putting on a science program doesn’t mean you have to be the expert. Prepare a few facts ahead of time–write yourself a script if you have to (I did!)–and let the kids deduce the rest. BONUS: If there is a question you don’t know the answer to… Boom! You’ve just found yourself in the perfect situation to demonstrate the use of library resources to figure it out. But in my experience, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise, as the kids are too busy being blown away by the awesome experiments and discoveries they are making.

Storytime – You Choose

For the last storytime of the 8-week session, we did something a little extra special. Full disclosure: I totally adapted this idea from something I saw on the Storytime Underground Facebook page (Have I mentioned how much I love librarians for being so willing to share their awesome ideas?)
If you’re feeling not-so-jazzed about doing yet another themed storytime, I highly
recommend trying out a You Choose storytime!

20160224_110114So here’s the basic idea: You have two baskets – one for books and one for songs/fingerplays. In the baskets are a variety of objects that represent different books, songs, and fingerplays. Then you let the kids take turns pulling items from the basket to determine what book, song, or fingerplay you will do next. Super easy and super fun!

20160223_104617We typically start our storytimes with a Letter of the Week, but this week I had a question mark on the board. Verrrrry mysterious…. The question mark added a certain amount of excitement to the storytime before it even started, and it was a great literacy experience too! As the kids and their grown-ups found their seats, I heard several of them talking about the question mark. “What’s that on the board? It’s not a letter today, is it? It’s a punctuation mark! Is it an exclamation mark? No…It’s a question mark!”

For this storytime, instead of having one Letter of the Week, we had lots of letters! In the spirit of “You Choose,” I brought my ABC Exercise cards that I usually bring to my outreach storytimes. You can print your own set of ABC Exercise cards for free on Homeschool Share. Each card has a different action associated with it: B is for Balance on one foot, etc. I let three kids pick letters for us to do the actions to before we started our storytime.


Here is the list of objects and potential books/songs/fingerplays I had.


  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. (mini teddy bear)
  • Get Out of My Bath! by Britta Teckentrup (rubber ducky)
  • First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (egg shaker)
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. (tree from the train table)
  • I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry (fish toy)
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff (plastic cookie)
  • Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett (ball of yarn)
  • We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems (mini elephant stuffed animal)
  • Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox (sheep toy)


  • The Wheels on the Bus (LEGO wheel)
  • Shake Your Sillies Out by The Wiggles (rattle)
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (star plush toy)
  • Two Little Blackbirds (black Angry Bird toy)
  • Icky Sticky Bubble Gum (pack of Bubble Tape)
  • The Goldfish Song by Laurie Berkner (Goldfish crackers)
  • The Butterfly Song by David Landau (crocheted butterfly)


It was kind of funny how it worked out. Despite the fact that I did this with two different storytime groups on two different days, both sessions ended up being almost identical. We repeated the book Get Out of My Bath! for both sessions and the two songs we did were the same for both sessions–Shake Your Sillies Out and Icky Sticky Bubble Gum. I guess the kids were just drawn to the same objects (Bright pink pack of bubble gum? No surprise).

To end our storytime, we did a super easy and fun craft, torn paper collages. No muss, no fuss. Can you tell that Miss Katrina was ready for a storytime break? 😉 My favorite thing about the craft–besides the fact that it required little to no prep–was that it gave me a natural way to share an aside with the grown-ups: “Tearing paper is a great way for children to work on those fine motor skills that they need to someday write with a pencil!” Just make sure if you do this at home to make it clear what paper is okay to tear up (junk mail, old magazines, etc.) and what is not okay (library books, for one).

So how did it go? Overall, it went really well! The grown-ups and kids seemed to get a big kick out of the “You Choose” concept, and it brought another level of excitement to our final storytime of the session. The only negative aspect I felt was the fact that not every kid got a chance to pick something. I made sure to tell the kids at the beginning that I would only pick them if they were sitting criss-cross applesauce with their hand in the air quietly and patiently waiting, and I kept to that rule, but some of the kids following the rule still didn’t get a chance. I know that life isn’t fair and storytime is a good place to learn school-readiness behaviors like compromising and turn-taking all that, but I still felt like a meanie. I kept the baskets out after storytime so those who didn’t get a chance to pick still got to peek inside the baskets and explore the objects, though.

Lastly, I have started to write a literacy message on the board each week. I find that it’s an easy way to drop some knowledge on folks without feeling like I’m, well, dropping knowledge on them. Here’s the one I used for this storytime. Quite fitting for the “You Choose” theme, I thought.




Tween/Teen Writing Group

I wanted to share about a new program I started up this year for teens and tweens. Shortly after I started working at my library, I discovered that there were a handful of kids interested in writing, which got my wheels turning… I was one of those nerdy writer kids and still daydream about maybe one day getting paid to be a nerdy writer adult.

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I have been writing stories ever since I can remember. When I got caught up in a story, I could get lost writing for hours. I would bring my notebook with me everywhere. Rosy, a dog-loving kid with a pageboy haircut, is the first main character I can remember (and yes, it was Rosy not Rosie. I remember getting real upset when a friend of mine went through my notebook and “fixed” Rosy’s name by crossing out the ‘y’ and replacing it with an ‘ie’ everywhere it was mentioned). Once I got to middle school I focused on teeny-bopper dramas in comic form. Mostly I wrote a recurring strip called ‘Yo-Jay’ because the main characters were named Yolanda and Jayme. At one point, several of my friends were reading it and constantly hustling me for the next installment. Scribbling away at Yo-Jay, tucked not-so-subtly beneath my math or science book was one of the highlights of my middle school and early high school years. I took some fiction writing classes in college and wrote a few things I’m pretty proud of (but mostly things I’m embarrassed to read now). I guess what I’m saying is that I would have loved a monthly writing group when I was a kid, and am pretty excited to be able to offer one to the teens and tweens at my library.

Late last year, I partnered with a local author to provide a three week writing workshop for grades 5-12. This was my way of kind of “testing the waters” to see what the level of interest was before I attempted to start a regular writing group. It was a huge success! So I polled the attendees of those workshops to see what the best day/time would be for a monthly writing group and last month we had our first meeting.

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You guys, ELEVEN kids showed up. That’s a pretty big number for our small-medium sized library! Especially for a program that doesn’t have the words “Candy” or “Science” or “LEGO” in it! Here’s what we did:

  • Intros: What’s your  name? What grade are you in? What do you like to read/write?
  • Discuss what we want from the group: More/less structure? Sharing our work and receiving feedback? Writing exercises? Writing-related crafts? (The answer to all of these questions was: YES. I have a pretty enthusiastic crew)
  • Brainstorm names for our group because “Teen/Tween Writing Group” is kind of a mouthful. And kind of lame. So far, the most popular idea has been “The Writing Ninjas” but we’ll vote on a name at our next meeting.
  • 10 minute writing exercise: Three writing prompts were written on the board and I let the kids choose one and write for ten minutes, then share with the group if they wanted to.

Towards the end of the meeting, I shared a state-wide writing competition opportunity with them. I plan to continue keeping them up-to-date with opportunities for submitting their work and will make myself available to give feedback on their submissions if they want. I sent them home with an optional writing exercise from The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer. Speaking of, here are my favorite books for getting those creative juices flowing:


The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer

The Young Writer’s Companion by Sarah Ellis

The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspiration for Writing by Monica Wood

The next meeting is this week. I can’t wait to see these kids again and become inspired by their endless creativity and enthusiasm. And who knows? Maybe I’ll still become the famous writer my childhood heart longed to be.

These are a few of my favorite things…

I think I am on the naughty list this year, because I have been a very bad blogger… I guess I took a break after Summer Reading and just kind of never started back up again. I’m not going to make any grand statement by promising that I’ll post more regularly in the New Year, but I’m hoping to do a better job of working it into my 2016 routine. That being said, I’d like to round out the year 2015 by celebrating a few of my favorite (library and non-library) things.

For the record, I totally jacked this idea from the amazing Miss Meg, who posted about her Top 10 faves earlier this week. It struck me as a great way to reflect back on the year and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I thought I’d make my own. Thanks for the inspiration, Meg!

So without further ado, here are my favorite things of the year.

10 Favorite Library Things

10. Finding my own rhythm

2015 was my first full year as a full-time Youth Services Librarian. I can’t quite put it into adequate words, but I feel like I’m finally starting to “come into my own” as a librarian. Now that I’m settled in, I feel empowered to assess the things I’ve been doing and make changes as needed. And *knock on wood,* but I feel like I’m finally starting to overcome the “imposter syndrome” that so many new (and seasoned) professionals experience. You know, that pesky bugger that whispers in your ear, “They can’t possibly be entrusting this whole department to YOU, can they? Soon enough they’re going to figure out you are not qualified…” Yeah, I think I’m doing a better job of squashing that little guy now.

9. Books!

Too hard to just pick one. Of the books I read this year, my faves were…

Picture books: The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak (surprise, surprise), Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre, Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead, and Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky

Middle grade: Space Case by Stuart Gibbs, Roller Girl
by Victoria Jamieson, and Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

YAI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, and Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

8. ALA-Midwinter Conference in Chicago

I love conferences. Not only did I get lots of new ideas and the chance to surround myself with like-minded people in the library profession, but I got to see Jason Segel and Levar Burton! WHAT?!

7. Science Saturday: Spooky Science

I started a new semi-regular program called Science Saturday (shout out to my super awesome library buddy, Alexandra Collins for this idea!). The first one was in October, so of course the theme was Spooky Science. I’m not a huge science geek, so I was a little intimidated to start this up, but with a little research and a lot of preparation it went off without a hitch! It was a blast and the kids were geeking out and exclaiming all sorts of excited things that made my heart swell. I wish I could share the pictures of their awed expressions, but these pics will have to do.

6. I found my Tween/Teen writing nerds!

Since meeting a couple of young aspiring writers at my very first Tween Book Club meeting last year, I have wanted to offer a writing workshop of some sort. I knew there would be at least two kids interested, but wasn’t really sure how to identify more. This fall, I brought in a local author to teach a three-part writing workshop for 5th-12th graders. It was a huge success! Take-away: the key is local celebs. 😉 After seeing how well that went over, I decided to take the plunge and start offering a monthly Tween/Teen writing club. The first meeting is in January, and I am so super stoked! This is something that I would have LOVED to be a part of when I was their age, so I can’t wait to try out all sorts of fun writing exercises with them and just generally give them a space to share what they are working on and get feedback from peers.

5. Cleaning out the Storage Closet

This might sound ridiculous, but tackling the giant mess of a storage closet was a big goal of mine this year and it felt SO GOOD. My library is pretty small, so we  use just about every inch of space we have. Organizing that closet took the majority of my 8-hour shift, but it was so worth it! (Cue my husband asking me why I can’t get this excited about being organized at home…)

4. First Summer Library Program under my belt

Although I experienced a Summer Library Program in my first post-grad school job, this was the first one I completely planned and executed on my own. I did some fun stuff (see slide show below), kept some stuff the same, and made some changes–the most prominent one being moving away from physical incentives to a charitable-giving model. Read more about it in this blog post if you’re interested.

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3. Saying YES to things

Things I’ve said “yes” to this year:

  • Being the Communications Chair for the Friends of the CCBC
  • Presenting at local organization meetings, like Kiwanis and Rotary
  • Pulling a question out of a hat and answering it in front of my peers at a Guerrilla Storytime session (If you haven’t participated in a Guerrilla Storytime yet, I highly recommend it! It’s a great way to pick up new ideas, share your own ideas, and feel supported by fellow children’s librarians)
  • Being interviewed on CWTV about the role libraries play in building Early Literacy and Kindergarten Readiness skills. That’s right, I’m gonna be FAMOUS! Well, local/library-famous at least. 😉 I’m so glad my friend Holly of Let the Wild Rumpus Start agreed to do it with me!
  • Being the official “feedback giver” for the local 4H club’s Communication Arts Festival next month
  • Helping start up a Storytime Underground Local Chapter for the Madison, WI area with some library pals–yay, Holly and Mary! If you’re in the area, look for more information about this soon.

OK, so I’m kind of a yes-man. If asked to do something or presented an opportunity, I rarely say no. But that doesn’t mean I’m super comfortable doing All The Things. It can be overwhelming, uncomfortable, and sometimes just plain scary. This year, I’ve tried to be strategic about what I say yes to, but it’s still something I’m working on. Which brings me to #2…

2. Saying NO to things

This is hard for a yes-man to do, but I’m working on it. I recently had a big win in this area, and it felt so good that I’m considering running around and shouting “NO!” at the top of my lungs like a toddler who just learned the word. Alright, I guess I won’t go quite that far. I guess what I’m getting at is that saying no is good sometimes, even if it’s hard.

1. Bringing Tween Book Club back to life

When I started my current job about a year and a half ago, there was already a pretty well-established Tween Book Club in place with 4 or 5 very loyal attendees (which is pretty darn good for a book club that’s not for adults). It quickly became one of my favorite programs to plan and run. However, when the school year came to an end I realized something horrible: Next year, my Tween Book Club kids were all graduating to 7th grade, which meant they were going to be… TEENS. *gasp!* When September came back around and no one showed up to book club, I was a pretty sad librarian. So I reached out to the middle school librarian and asked if I could arrange to visit the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classes to promote book club. The next week, I talked up the program to 10 different groups and suddenly there was a waitlist for the next month’s book! The next book club meeting brought six new members to the table, and the month after that? NINE KIDDOS showed up! I successfully saved the beloved Tween Book Club from fizzling out, and for that I feel very happy indeed.20151119_155123.jpg


10 Favorite Non-Library Things

10. Binge-watching Star Wars *for the first time*

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This was me up until like a month ago. It took me several tries, as I kept falling asleep (not because it was boring. It was like the music and sound effects were a strange lullaby to me), but I did it! AndNoIHaveNotWatchedTheNewOneSoDon’tRuinItForMe.

9. Chicago with my love

Chicago was another first for me. What’s even better is I got to travel by train! As mentioned above, I went there for the ALA-MW conference, but happily my hubby got to join me, so we did the whole tourist thing too. By “tourist thing” I mostly mean we ate deep-dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches, watched the Super Bowl at a bar, and saw ourselves reflected in “The Bean.” We happened to be there when a giant snowstorm hit, so we didn’t get to go to any museums or the aquarium like we had hoped, but now we have something to look forward to next time!

8. Craft brews with good crews

The Midwest is a great place to be if you’re into craft beer. The husband and I have decided that instead of displaying china like real grown-ups, we’re going to collect and display tasting glasses and growlers from brewery tours. This year, we hit up more breweries than I can count–both within and outside the Midwest–and we’ve just barely scratched the surface. Whether we’re with friends and family or just the two of us, tasting amazing beer is always a good time.

7. Discovering the joys of audiobooks and podcasts

For awhile there, I’d kind of gotten into a bit of a reading rut. I didn’t have the attention span to sit down with a book and just dive in like I used to. It worried me. What if I could never get back into it? Isn’t reading kind of a *requirement* to being a librarian? And then I discovered the joys of “reading with my ears,” as the great librarian and audiobook expert Sharon Grover puts it. Now I can read while in the shower, while walking the dog (something I’m happy to say I’ve done a whole lot more of this year!), while driving to and from work, while doing the dishes… I would talk your ear off about reading with your ears, but then you’d… have no… ears to listen with, so…

Favorite podcasts:

Books I read with my ears this year:

6. Crafting and discovering new ways of making

I’ve always enjoyed making stuff. Painting, drawing, writing, crocheting, you name it. But this year, I came to the conclusion that making stuff is one of the things that makes me happiest. Among other things, I attended my first Paint Nite after being invited by the mom of one of my TAB members, made a rustic-chic wall-hanging after being inspired by metal cut-outs of the states I love, and took a needle felting class which may be the beginning of an unhealthy wool obsession.

5. California trip with friends

This summer we visited our friends Jon and Amanda in California (yes, I took a vacation during Summer Library Program. No, the library didn’t explode.). Our friends Gabe and Leann came, too. We crammed as much fun into those couple days as we could: Lots of wineries, breweries, amazing food, sea kayaking, and we were even on The Price is Right! Sadly, none of us were asked to “Come on down,” but it was still a crazy cool experience.

4. We bought a boat!

We are currently renting a house on a lake, and after experiencing one summer on the lake without being able to actually get out on the lake, we decided to “take the plunge” (pun very much intended) and buy a boat. Best decision ever! We spent every chance we could get out on the water–floating, boating, and drinking gin gimlets all summer long with the dog, friends, and family. Also, due to the persistence of my husband and brother-in-law, I finally got up on skis for only the second time in my life. Whoop, whoop! Can’t wait for another fun summer in the sun.

3. My sister Angela is cancer-free

My sister beat her breast cancer and just completed her reconstructive surgery yesterday! She had such an amazing positive attitude throughout the entire process and always maintained her goofy sense of humor. Love you, Angel!

2. Negative Huntington’s diagnosis for my siblings and me

Last November, we learned that both my uncle and my mom have Huntington’s Disease (HD), a genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It affects things like mood, movement, and memory. HD has been called a mix of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS and as of now there is no cure. In short, it sucks. The good news that we received this year, though, is that my siblings and me (who each had a 50/50 chance of having the Huntingtin gene) all received Negative test results, which means we are HD free and cannot pass it on to our children. While navigating this new reality has made it an oftentimes difficult year for our family, knowing that we kids do not have it makes it easier for us to care for and provide support to my mom and other relatives affected by the disease. To learn more about HD, visit

1. Getting more in touch with my Zen side

Speaking of the crazy rollercoaster ride of a year I’ve had, I learned a few tricks for managing stress and anxiety. Right around the time I was dealing with all the “getting tested for HD stuff,” I started a yoga class. It felt so good that I got a yoga mat and started doing it on my own at home, too. Although lately I’m about as good at doing yoga as I am at blogging. I think one of my New Year’s resolutions will be getting back into yoga. 🙂 I have also been dabbling in meditation, which helps me tap into my emotions and clear my mind. If you are interested, I highly recommend the Headspace app (yes, there’s an app for that!). Yoga, deep breathing, meditation, Sleepytime tea, and going for walks with the dog have helped me get through this crazy year. Along with my supportive husband, friends, and family of course.

With that, I’d like to say happy holidays to you and yours. May 2016 bring even bigger, better, and more favorite-y things!

Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite library and non-library things of the year? Even if you don’t share it publicly, I challenge you to come up with your own list. It’s a great exercise!