Adult Book Club

As Branch Librarian I also run adult programs, the most regular of which is book club. I really enjoy book club as it encourages me to read different adult books. I worked in schools for so long that it seems I only ever read children’s or YA books, so I was (and am) way behind on my adult reading. Book club makes me read those books everyone else read 3 or 4 years ago, like The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society, Olive Kitteridge and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

The other books we’ve read this year are:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Wells

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by  Susan Vreeland

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Safe from the Sea by Peter Geve

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup

The current book club group is composed mostly of retired women, many of which are 75+. Hearing their stories is wonderful, and I greatly appreciate this opportunity to meet with the older members of the community.



STEAM or STEM programs are one of my favorite programs! For those who do not know, STEM programs are common in libraries and schools across the country and stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Some choose to incorporate art into their program, making it STEAM. I added the A into our program this September.

Why is STEM (or STEAM) so important? According to the National Math and Science Initiative, “STEM job creation over the next 10 years will outpace non-STEM jobs significantly, growing 17 percent, as compared to 9.8 percent for non-stem positions.1 Jobs in computer systems design and related services – a field dependent on high-level math and problem-solving skills – are projected to grow 45 percent between 2008 and 2018. The occupations with the fastest growth in the coming years – such as biomedical engineers, network systems and data communications analysts, and medical scientists – all call for degrees in STEM fields.”

But I’m not a teacher, how can libraries encourage STEAM education and development? I will fully admit that I am not a scientist (despite my master of science in library science) nor am I good with numbers, so I focus on early STEAM activities if I run them myself, or I bring in local talent for more hard science programs.

For example, my first STEAM program was an invisible ink science experiment. We tried different types of invisible ink (lemon, milk, honey, and vinegar) and different types of heat sources (hair dryer and light bulb). We talked about what makes the ink invisible, and made several hypotheses about which ink would work better and which heat source would work best. When the children made their hypothesis we talked about why he or she thought the hair dryer would be a better heat source than the lamp or why vinegar would work best as an invisible ink. By doing this, the children 5-8 learned how to think critically, which is incredibly important in STEM classes and jobs later in life.
For our second STEAM program, we focused on architecture, and built gingerbread houses. Again, this activity encouraged the kids to think critically about what they were doing, and how best to make their visions come to life. One girl built a series of ledges and supports to hold her landing pad for Santa’s sleigh, only to watch it all fall down as she overestimated the strength of her supports.
In March, a local Lego Robotics instructor joined us at the library. He brought his equipment and taught the children how to program their Lego Robots. This is the type of program I do not feel comfortable leading myself as I’ve never programmed Lego Robots, but the children loved it! I was super impressed with the ease in which they fell into their programmer roles. This program is also great because the programming is fun, which is more likely to spark a continued interest. Maybe one of these program attendees will remember the library program and look into Lego Robotics at school next year, which could spark a lifelong interest in programming.
The other STEAM programs held at my library are:
Heart Science: We made stethoscopes out of two liter bottles and paper towel tubes, and listened to our heart beats standing, after light exercise and after more intensive exercise.

Pirate Science: Jello, baking powder, water, and various beads/trinkets, were frozen in ice cube trays. The pirate scientists (ages 3-8) had to figure out the best way to get the treasure out of the “treasure chest.” They especially enjoyed watching the chests fizz once vinegar was added. After retrieving their treasure, the pirates had to distribute their loot, working on math and sorting.

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Build a concert venue with toothpicks and marshmallows: The structures were modeled on different concert venues, and they talked about the different designs and the best way to build a solid structure.

Coding: Patrons discussed the Caesar shift code, and binary code. Patrons made their own code wheel and binary code bracelets. This program focused on patterns and simple math.

Storytime Favorites part 1

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney: This book works wonderfully in a multilingual setting. The story is in English, but preschoolers love shouting out the words the foreign equivalent of “red” or “pajama” or “mama” when we come to that part of the story.

Hunky Dory Ate It by Katie Evans: The rhythm of the story is wonderful for Phonetic Awareness, and younger students love “reading” along with me when we reached the “Hunky Dory ate it” portion of the story. I also heard lots of stories about the student’s dogs and what they ate.

Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See by Bill Martin Jr: Again, the preschoolers used this story and feltboard activity to practice their French, Spanish and Chinese. We also had a lot of fun making the noises and faces for each animal.
Down by the Bay feltboard activity: The silliness is fun for all ages, but the older students had a lot of fun coming up with different animal rhymes after the last line, “Have you ever had a time

When you couldn’t make a rhyme?”

Book Character Dress Up Day

Mardi Gras is BIG deal in Louisiana. We even got a week break over the holiday! As a northerner, the culture surrounding Mardi Gras was fascinating. I knew I had to incorporate the holiday into the library in some way, and in the end, we came up with Book Character Dress Up day. Parades and costumes play a large role in Mardi Gras festivities, so dressing up in costume made complete sense, we just added a literary spin to the proceedings. On the Friday before Mardi Gras break, students (and staff) dressed up like their favorite book character. My first year I dressed up as Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter, and in my second year, I dressed up as Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Seeing the kids embrace their favorite characters was so much fun! Of course, there were a ton of Katniss, Harry Potter, and Superhero costumes, but it was really fun to see the range of characters the kids chose. The White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia, Pinocchio and Horrid Henry come to mind as some of the more unique costumes seen.

Middle and High School Book Club

I started a middle and high school book club in my second year as the school librarian in Louisiana. We had a small group, but each student actively participated and came up with their own questions, and encouraged discussion amongst the group. Overall, my role was pretty limited. Watching the leadership and teamwork develop was pretty wonderful. Over the course of the year, we read:*

The Giver by Lois Lowry

“The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.”

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

“Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’ s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.”

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

A brave and beautiful story that will make readers laugh, and break their hearts at the same time. Now with a special note from the author!

Steven has a totally normal life (well, almost).

He plays drums in the All-City Jazz Band (whose members call him the Peasant), has a crush on the hottest girl in school (who doesn’t even know he’s alive), and is constantly annoyed by his younger brother, Jeffrey (who is cuter than cute – which is also pretty annoying). But when Jeffrey gets sick, Steven’s world is turned upside down, and he is forced to deal with his brother’s illness, his parents’ attempts to keep the family in one piece, his homework, the band, girls, and Dangerous Pie (yes, you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is!).

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf–her wolf–is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human … until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human–or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Inside Out and Back Again by Lai Thanhha

Inspired by the author’s childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.

Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope—toward America.

This moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing received four starred reviews, including one from Kirkus which proclaimed it “enlightening, poignant, and unexpectedly funny.”

My favorite part of book club, was seeing book reviews by students who claimed that the book club books were their favorite books. One girl cited Stargirl as a positive influence on her self confidence and another wrote that Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie encouraged her to be more patient with her hyperactive brother, because it “could be so much worse.”

*reviews from

Mo Willems Author Study

Mo Willems characters

Pigeon, Elephant and Piggie, Knuffle Bunny… who doesn’t love Mo Willems? While still at the school in Louisiana, I conducted one of my all time favorite programs for Kindergartners through second graders: a Mo Willems author study. We read all the books by Mr. Willems in the library, discussed the characters, the storylines, the humor and the illustrations. We learned that Piggie, Elephant and Pigeon are all a bit dramatic (major understatement here), the characters like to talk to the reader, and Mr. Willems has a very distinct artistic style. The children recognized his books even if they didn’t know the characters (Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator, for example).

After reading and discussing his books, each class and I began our project. Kindergartners drew pictures of Pigeon, Elephant and Piggie, first graders came up with new ideas for Pigeon books or Elephant and Piggie books, and second graders wrote letters to Mr. Willems. This unit worked out perfectly as second graders were about to learn how to structure letters, and loved coming practicing their greetings and salutations.

At the completion of this unit, I gathered all their letters, drawings and story suggestions and mailed them to Mr. Willems. And he responded! He said he’d take some of the story ideas (Don’t Let Pigeon go to Disneyland and Don’t Let the Pigeon have a Donut) into consideration. He even sent the school a signed and illustrated poster.

The students loved reading their letter from Mr. Willems, and he definitely gained some life long fans. Combining elements of fun and curriculum made this one of my most successful school program so far.

I’m back and some background

I’m back to blogging! Hopefully this blogging business will stick this time… back in Louisiana, I had so much going on figuring out my first professional role, a new school system and a new state! Now that I’m established in my current position, I think I’ll have more time to blog about my library experiences. That, and I find library blogs incredibly helpful when looking for program and storytime ideas. Hopefully I’ll be able to help others as well!

But first, a little background, and then I’ll dive right into the catch up posts.

I went to college in Milwaukee, WI at Marquette University and majored in Journalism and Writing Intensive English, with a minor in History. I had dreams of becoming the next Carrie Bradshaw, then one summer I started an internship at a local library. The job posting described the internship as a communications position, where I’d help advertise library programs, instead, I worked as a typical library volunteer– shelving, holds lists, shelf reading etc– and I loved it! Especially when I worked in the children’s area. Once I went back to college (actually, I went to England for my semester abroad), I began researching library programs and graduate schools, which led me to Boston, three weeks after finishing undergrad.

While at Simmons College in Boston, I earned my Masters degree in Library Science with a focus in Youth Services. While in school I worked part time at a local high school, where I implemented skills and best practices I learned in school. Unfortunately I did not find a job in the area once I finished my Masters degree in August 2011, so I moved back home to Minnesota for a few months and worked at Pottery Barn. While Pottery Barn is not exactly related to Libraries I did learn a lot about customer service and working with the public… and I scored some awesome furniture…

Anyway, shortly after moving to Minnesota, I was offered, and accepted a school librarian position in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So off I went, to basically build a library in a small, private, trilingual school. This position offered all sorts of new and exciting challenges, being new (no policy, no budget), and trilingual. Over the course of my time there I weeded and then expanded the collection in French, Spanish, Chinese and English, and created programming for students in preschool through 12th grade. I learned so much about storytimes and programming in this position, and while I loved my students, I’m a northerner to my core and I could no longer handle the heat and humidity, so back to Minnesota I went.

Back in Minnesota I served as a Reading Tutor for Minnesota ReadingCorps, a statewide AmeriCorps program. I served in a charter school where the student population was mostly Hmong and Karen immigrants, and approximately 90% of student received free or reduced lunch. Watching these students was both heartbreaking (some were homeless) and inspiring (they were so excited about school and learning!). After my year of service, I started a position as Branch Librarian in a smallish library in eastern Minnesota, about 15 miles from Wisconsin. As Branch Librarian I do a bit of everything, programming, reference, maintenance, and relationship building with the community. I love that I get to do a bit of everything in this position. Catching up on my adult reading has been so much fun!

Now that we’re all up to date, I have a series of posts highlighting my favorite programs, books and events from past positions.