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Posts by Susan


So Long and Farewell

Posted by Susan on September 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM in
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I wasn't sure what to say in this final Booklights post, so I went to my library and asked my favorite characters for advice.

Mo Willems' pigeon begged me: "Let me WRITE the POST!!!!" but I wanted to do it myself.

David Wiesner's frogs said they'd get back to me on Tuesday.

Richard Scarry's Goldbug told me he'd help, but I couldn't find him.

I tried to collaborate with Doreen Cronin's cows, but I don't have a typewriter.

I almost brokered a deal with Karma Wilson's characters, but the bear wanted more.

Dr. Seuss' sock wearing fox started to dictate but my fingers got tied in knots.

Virginia Lee Burton's Mike Mulligan and Mary Ann tried to dig me out of my writer's block, but they couldn't do it in one day.

I spoke to Gene Zion's dog Harry about cleaning up some parts of the post, but he ran away.

I asked E.B. White's Charlotte for advice, but she was too busy writing for some pig.

I finally came to the conclusion that I'd have to write the ending myself. So, here's a fond farewell from all of us here at Booklights. Happy reading!



Posted by Susan on September 6, 2010 at 12:00 AM in
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As we say goodbye to Booklights, I'd like to share with you three of my favorite memories related to the blog.

In June 2008, I was at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Disneyland and was hosting a dinner at a pizza restaurant for children's literature bloggers. During dinner, Jen Robinson told us all that she had been asked to write a blog for PBS Parents. She had done a guest post several months earlier, and was now being asked to do a regular blog. Excitement flowed around the table as we all congratulated Jen on her wonderful news.

The next night was the Newbery/Caldecott banquet. Jen and I attended together and were interviewed by Betsy Bird, sat next to incomparable and groundbreaking librarian Effie Lee Morris, were wowed by Brian Selznick and mesmerized by Laura Amy Schlitz. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, Jen told me that she hadn't been able to mention it at dinner the night before because the details were still being worked out, but PBS wanted me to write for them too. Of all the amazing events that evening, that's the one that took my breath away.

Fast forward to a much more recent memory. I was at another ALA conference, this time it was the Midwinter Meeting in Boston in January 2010. I was attending a huge Tweet-up for children's literature folks that use Twitter. I had registered late and didn't have a pre-printed tag with my Twitter identity printed on it. I grabbed a marker and a blank nametag and just wrote "Susan" and "Booklights" on it. I found myself in a throng of people and started to introduce myself. A woman I had never met before looked at my name tag, stopped me mid-sentence and said that of course she knew who I was... she was a regular Booklights reader. I said "Really? You read Booklights?" and then blogger Liz Burns who was in the group, turned, looked at me and said "Susan, we all read it." I was amazed and grateful then (and still am) that what was being written on Booklights was being read by so many people.

And lastly, the best memory of all. I was sitting at the reference desk at my library talking to a patron. I had already helped her find the books she was looking for when she mentioned that she thought I looked familiar. Did she know me from the library, I asked? No, it was her first time there. We talked about places we might have in common... my son's elementary school, the pool, etc. And then she realized she recognized my picture from Booklights. She told me that she read the blog all the time, used our advice and recommendations with her kids and that it had helped her a lot. Of all the memories, that one means the most, because it shows that we accomplished our mission helping parents instill a love of reading and books with their children.

Blogs are very public... and yet as writers, we only hear from a very small percentage of people who comment on posts. I hope that Booklights has helped you in some small way and that you've enjoyed reading what we've had to say. We've definitely enjoyed writing it. Thank you for all the memories.


Another slice of cake

Posted by Susan on August 29, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Fun and GamesPicture Books
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It's time to start our going away party here at Booklights. Time to reminisce and say goodbye. But, before we go any further, it's time to offer you a piece of cake.

One of the posts I enjoyed writing the most for Booklights, was this one about cakes based on children's books. I've searched long and hard to come up with more books good enough to eat.

I've got just the thing to start us off. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful cake.


No revolting recipes here. Look at this amazing Roald Dahl masterpiece by Cake Doctor Lise Bonin. It's five books in one cake!

Roald Dahl.jpg

Look how Lise manages to to capture the spirit and essence of The Cat and the Hat with this wonderfully chaotic cake.

Cat in the Hat cake.jpg

Lise also made this incredible, edible version of the Wonderful World of Oz, complete with a blue gingham background. (I found all three of these cakes separately, and was amazed when they turned out to all be made by the same person!)

Wonderful World of Oz.jpg

Speaking of The Wizard of Oz, here's the nicest Wicked Witch of the West I've ever seen. Check out the tutorial on the baker's website, it's amazing how much detail work went into this cake. All of that effort, and it was made for a school bake sale!

Wicked Witch cake.jpg

Here's a lovely, creative version of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. The poor tree has given all it can, and now it's going to be eaten!

Giving Tree.jpg

I've saved the best for last. Here it is, the pièce de résistance.

Favorite Children's Book Cake.jpg

Here's a look at every angle of this unbelievable cake, made for a Children's Care Awareness Expo, and large enough to feed 300 people!

Parting is such sweet sorrow... but hopefully this post has helped make it a little bit sweeter. And remember my motto: you can have your cake and read it too.

Now, will someone make a cake for me? =)


Read with Rocket

Posted by Susan on August 23, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Picture BooksRecommendations
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img98697.jpgKnow a child just starting to learn to read? How about one who is having trouble with the process or is discouraged? I've got the perfect book for them.

Tad Hills' wonderful new picture book How Rocket Learned to Read is just right for beginning readers, struggling readers, and picture book fans of all ages.

Beautiful, vibrant and silly paintings fill every inch of the book. Tad did countless sketches of his dog (who just happens to be named Rocket) Tad Hills.JPGand you can see the results throughout the book. There's Rocket in the snow, in the mud and taking a nap (not for long!) He seems ready to leap off the page and into your lap and along with his wonder and excitement about learning to read.

Rocket sets just the right tone for starting school. If anyone asks where you heard about the book.... just tell them a little bird told you.

Tad is also the author and illustrator of the Duck and Goose series, books that are well worth checking out.


2010 Newbery Caldecott Banquet

Posted by Susan on June 28, 2010 at 9:46 AM in AwardsBanquet
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Last night I attended my fourth Newbery Caldecott Banquet at the American Library Association Annual Conference.

I can tell you all about it... or I can show you.

ALA Annual 2010 074.JPG

Did you attend the banquet? Did you hear about it? Do you wish you were there?

Please, please, please leave a comment on this post (even if you've never commented on anything else ever before) and help me document this incredible and historic evening.

You can also share comments, photos and links here and tweet about it here.
Thank you so much!


Flannel Board Stories

Posted by Susan on June 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Librarian Job DescriptionLibraries
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Blue Hat.jpgThis post is part of a series about what children's librarians do all day. Very few people seem to know what the job entails, so I thought I'd shed some light on this wonderful and often misunderstood field. For the rest of the posts in this series, click here. Got a question about something a children's librarian does? Please post it in the comments and I'll feature it in one of my upcoming posts.

Do you know what a flannel board story is? That's when you tell a story without the book, using pieces of felt to represent the characters. Teachers and children's librarians make these all the time. Getting dressedA felt story can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. You can make five felt apples (or anything else), put them on the flannel board and do a song or a story about them. But then there are those small or out of print books that you really want to give a second life to.

That's when you go all out.

Start by picking a book. Okay, this sounds easy, but there are only certain books that work well as flannel board stories. They have to be repetitive and have a relatively small number of characters. The book I picked for this one is Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton, because it's a small board book about important concepts. And, let's face it, it's downright adorable.
In process
Once you've got your book, making a super complicated, exactly-like-the-book flannel takes no time at all.

Nope, I lied. It takes forever, and then a little longer. But, the good news is that it lasts forever too. You can keep a flannel story for a decade or two (or more!) if you treat them nicely. So, my feeling is that it's always worth the extra effort to make it great.

Now, this certainly isn't the most glamorous part of the job. It involves a lot of mess and glue and patience and then more mess, glue and patience. But it's incredibly rewarding when the kids see characters on the flannel board that they recognize instantly.

Blue Hat Final
How did I do? Please ignore the fact that I accidentally put the green hat on the bear instead of the moose, and that the elephant isn't wearing his shoes....


A Summer of Reading

Posted by Susan on June 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Librarian Job DescriptionLibraries
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This post is part of a series about what children's librarians do all day. Very few people seem to know what the job entails, so I thought I'd shed some light on this wonderful and often misunderstood field. For the rest of the posts in this series, click here. Got a question about something a children's librarian does? Please post it in the comments and I'll feature it in one of my upcoming posts.

makeasplash.jpgBooktalks are finally over. Public children's librarians can breath a sigh of relief. No longer will they have to explain the summer reading program 10 times a day.

Because, now it's time to explain summer reading 300 times a day. Kids from all over come to sign up for the program and each one gets a personal explanation of how many books need to be read, what the prizes are, what the deadlines are, etc. If you poke a librarian in their sleep in mid-July, they'll be able to tell you, without waking up, how many books a second grader needs to read to complete the program and what day summer reading ends.

Every summer reading program is different. Some count the number of minutes the kids read, other count the number of books. One prize can be given out at the end, or lots of prizes can be distributed throughout the summer. You might need to fill out a reading log or complete a game board. The prizes might be toys, coupons, books or something else. Some libraries may host one big program such as a magician or a puppet show, others might have a program each week.

makewaves.jpgHowever, there's a few things all library programs have in common.
~They all promote the joy of reading.
~They're all free.
~They all have a theme. This summer, it's all about water and fish.
~They're all an enormous amount of work. Planning starts for summer reading at the end of last year's program and takes the entire year.

Why does every public library in the country have a summer reading program? For a few reasons: to keep kids from losing reading skills over the summer, to make sure kids know there's a place they can get books while their school library is closed and to show kids that reading can be fun. For more details, see the New York State Library's research findings on the subject.

Find out what your library has to offer this summer. And sign up today!


Let's talk books

Posted by Susan on June 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Librarian Job DescriptionLibraries
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This post is part of a series about what children's librarians do all day. Very few people seem to know what the job entails, so I thought I'd shed some light on this wonderful and often misunderstood field. For the rest of the posts in this series, click here. Got a question about something a children's librarian does? Please post it in the comments and I'll feature it in one of my upcoming posts.

It may be hard to catch a glimpse of your children's librarian during early June. That's because they're at the local schools doing booktalks. Don't know what a booktalk is? (That's okay- almost nobody does, hence the reason for this post).

BooktalksThe first part of a booktalk is basically a summer reading pep rally. The public librarians go to the elementary schools and explain the summer reading program to the kids. We tell them all about how to sign up, the rules of the program, and all the exciting events we have during the summer. Then comes the fun part. We also bring lots of cool books with us to tell the kids about. The goal is to tell just enough about a book to whet their interest without giving anything away.

And then the next grade comes in, and we do the whole spiel again, with different books. And then we do it again. And again. And again. We see each grade separately, so that we can tell them about age appropriate books. At the school I went to yesterday, we talked to almost 600 kids over a six hour period. Finally, the day is over (booktalks are exhilarating but completely exhausting)... which means it's time for tomorrow and another round of booktalks at a new school. And so on, and on and on, until we've talked to every class of every public elementary school in the county.

Magical Ms. Plum.JPGHere are a few examples of booktalks I've been doing this year:

Ms. Plum is the best teacher at Springtime Elementary School. Why? Nobody's quite sure, but everyone wants a chance to go into her supply closet. Discover what's hiding in there... everything from incredibly organized squirrels, to a tiny horse to an extremely talkative parrot. Read The Magical Ms. Plum by Bonny Becker to find out what's waiting for you in the closet.

Never Smile at a Monkey.jpgCan everyone smile? Be careful not to do that when you see a monkey because they interpret it as an aggressive gesture and respond violently. Check out this book by Steve Jenkins and learn many other important things to remember the next time you're in the wild. Find out why you shouldn't pet a platypus, step on a stingray, bother a blue-ringed octopus or confront a kangaroo. And remember, Never Smile at a Monkey!

Curious what this looks like? Ask your child's school media specialist if there are booktalks at your school from the public librarians this year. They're well worth watching (they really end up being quite a performance) and you get lots of great book recommendations.

Ever seen a booktalk? Ever give one? Please leave a comment and tell us about it.


How to Write a Booklist

Posted by Susan on June 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Librarian Job DescriptionLibrariesRecommendations
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librarian3.jpgThis post is part of a series about what children's librarians do all day. Very few people seem to know what the job entails, so I thought I'd shed some light on this wonderful and often misunderstood field. For the rest of the posts in this series, click here. Got a question about something a children's librarian does? Please post it in the comments and I'll feature it in one of my upcoming posts.

Need a new book to read? Librarians are here to help! One of the ways we provide guidance is through booklists. How does a booklist get created? Having just finished work on an immense booklist project, I can tell you exactly how it works. Warning: these projects can take anywhere from a a few months to a few years (and involve dozens of spreadsheets, meetings, phone calls and e-mails.)

booklists.jpgWhere to start? Let's say we're writing a recommended booklist for two year olds. The first thing to do is to think of all the books appropriate for two year olds. This involves reading the books that are brand new, browsing through the shelves, brainstorming with colleagues and remembering all of your personal favorites.

Got your list? Good. Let's divide it into categories. Take a good look at your list. Do you have several books about cars and trucks? Make a transportation category. How about a spot for books about animals, friends, family, etc? Next, assign a category to each book on your list. Now check all the books for age appropriateness. The best way to do this is by pulling every single book off the shelf and checking if it's right for two year olds (or whoever you're writing the list for.)

Once that you've eliminated several titles, go through the library's catalog. Check every last book to make sure that the title, author, and call number appear on your list exactly the same way they do in the catalog. Then get someone (ideally someone who hasn't been involved in the project) to proofread everything for typos and mistakes you may have missed.

Printing press.jpgYou now have your beautiful and perfect list. But wait, aren't you forgetting something? You've got to print it. This involves designing it, laying it out on the computer, finding the cute pictures to go along with it, working with a printer, selecting paper size, type, color and quantity. Then you need to check the proofs from the printer and (assuming that you have the budget for it) get the lists actually printed. This is one of the hardest parts.

Finally, after months of effort, you're holding the completed list in your hands. What to do now? Pass it out to every single person you can. Then, start the process from the beginning in a year or two. It's important to update them regularly in order to keep the lists relevant and current.

Want to see the results? Click here and check out all of the Arlington Public Library lists for younger and older readers. For the younger folks, we've got Shower Your Baby With Books, Tales for Twos, 3, 4 Read Me More, and 5, 6, 7 Read it Again. For elementary school kids, take a look at our lists for kindergarten and first grade, second and third grade, fourth grade, and fifth and sixth grade. But wait, there's more! We also have a Historical Fiction list for first through sixth grade.

Also, check out Terry's excellent post featuring suggestions of where to find many more terrific booklists for kids.


Librarian or Mind Reader?

Posted by Susan on May 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Librarian Job DescriptionLibraries
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Last week, I began a series of posts about what children's librarians do all day. Very few people seem to know what the job entails, so I thought I'd shed some light on this wonderful and often misunderstood field. For the rest of the posts in this series, click here.

How are librarians like mind readers? Because we get asked questions all day long on every subject imaginable and are expected to come up with accurate answers. Here's some examples.... all are real questions I've gotten at the reference desk.

Wrinkle in Time original.jpgQuestion: What's the name of the blue book with people standing in circles on the cover? Answer: A Wrinkle in Time, first edition, cover designed by Ellen Raskin.

: What's that book where a chicken takes a plane? Answer: Olvina Flies by Grace Lin.

Come on, challenge me, people.

Now, here's a great question from a few days ago. All the quotes from the patron are real. I couldn't make them up if I tried.

Elementary school patron: I want that poetry book with a hippo on the cover.

Librarian: Hmmm.... okay, nothing springs to mind. A search on poetry and hippos yields nothing. Neither does a look through the covers of all the books by Allan Katz and Jack Prelutsky (if any poets would use hippos on their covers, it would be them.)

Patron: I think the hippo might be holding a lemon.

Librarian: After a catalog search, Google Image search, and intensive questioning of my colleagues, I'm still drawing a blank. Is there any other possible piece of information you remember about the book?

: I think it had something to do with the number five.

The librarian does a catalog search for poetry books about the number five. The patron recognizes the picture of the book in the catalog.

Monster Goose.jpgAnd the mystery book is: Monster Goose by Judy Sierra. Here's the cover. You can't help but notice that there are no hippos, lemons, or the number five anywhere on the cover. The only reason it came up in the catalog at all is because it was described as a book of "twenty-five" poems. The fact that it was the right book was completely serendipitous. (And yes, it was the right book. I asked the patron about ten times to be sure.)

Children ask for books in different ways than adults do. One of the great parts of being a children's librarian is when you figure out what the patron is really asking for and find the right book.

Come on, Google. I dare you to find Monster Goose based on that description.

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