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Susan: April 2010 Archives


When I was your age...

Posted by Susan on April 26, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Classics
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Here's a common situation that happens several times a week in the children's section of the library and the bookstore.

Dinosaurs Before Dark.jpgA parent or grandparent comes in and says that their child loved the Magic Tree House series (or another series at a similarly easy reading level), but now can't seem to get them interested in something else. When asked what they tried next, the answer is almost always Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys or Dick and Jane, because the parent loved to read them when they were growing up.

I've got nothing against these books. Lots of people (me included) learned to read with Dick and Jane or tried to read every single Nancy Drew book when they were a kid. There are still kids that like them and enjoy them, but these books are far less requested these days.

Secret of the Old Clock.jpgAn adult's memory of reading a book or series may be wonderful and magical. But when recommending a book the important thing is to make sure that it's the right book at the right time for the right kid. For more about the right time, see my post about reading Charlotte's Web to my five year old son.

I'd recommend the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew to third graders and above who enjoy mysteries and long series. If you hand it to a kid that has just finished Magic Tree House (grades K-2) they are going to be completely overwhelmed. Take one of those yellow or blue books off the shelf at a library and read it again. The books are triple the length and the vocabulary is much tougher. For a kid interested in early chapter books, I'd try something from this list instead. Or, if they're really interested in the subject matter, there are now multiple Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series in early chapter format and with contemporary characters.

Children's literature is an always developing and ever changing field. A lot has happened since I was a kid and there are thousands more choices available now than there ever were before. Let your children revel in all the great new books.

Of course, there are classic books that are always recommended, but read them again or ask a librarian before handing them to a child. They were all products of the time in which they were written, reflect those attitudes and prejudices, and they might be harder, easier, longer, or shorter than you remember them. There are those wonderful magical books too, that do hold up when you reread them. Books like Winnie the Pooh and Charlotte's Web have been in print for decades because they're timeless and a joy to share with a child.

I Am Going.jpgSo, sure, Dick and Jane gets the job done if you're teaching a child to read. But why not use Dr. Seuss or Elephant and Piggie? Both Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems revolutionized the beginning reader field with books that not only contain good, easy to read vocabulary, but that are also bright, silly and funny. If your child is very interested in something, there are now books for beginning readers available on nearly every subject. They can learn to read with a controlled vocabulary book about Star Wars, princesses, riddles, trucks and lots more. Picking something that they want to read will make all the difference.

It's impossible to keep up on all the changes in the children's book field. Here's where a librarian or a children's bookseller can be very helpful and do something that Google and Amazon can't. We know the new titles, we know what's hot, we know what sits on the shelf, we know the latest award winners, we know which books parents and kids come back for again and again. We're also extremely experienced in listening to readers about the things they like and the books they've previously enjoyed and helping them find something new. And we're happy to help you.

Got a book you remember loving as a kid that didn't hold up when you re-read it as an adult? How about one that was just as good or better than you remember it? If you shared it with you kids, what did they think about it?

Need a recommendation for your budding reader? I'm all ears... please leave a comment below.

And if you read the books mentioned above as a child, here are the complete lists of the original series in order for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Enjoy!


Baby Storytimes

Posted by Susan on April 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Libraries
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Question: Did you read the title of this post and think it was a typo? Did you wonder how on earth it is possible to do storytimes for kids that little?

Answer: Actually, libraries do baby stor times all the time. (Sometimes they're called lapsit programs.) Personally, they're one of my very favorite things to do as a children's librarian. No matter what you do, the babies never complain.

Here's some commonly asked things you may be wondering right about now...

Question: What do you do in a baby storytime?
Answer: Lots of things, including songs, nursery rhymes, tickles, bounces and lullabies.

Susan Kusel storytime.jpgQuestion: Do you read books?
Answer: Yes, but usually only one or two (as opposed to three or four books in a preschool story time). If books are used, they're typically very short or they're sung aloud.

Question: How old does the baby have to be?
Answer: Ask your librarian.... but the answer is almost always that there's no age limit. Newborns are fine.

Question: What if I bring my baby and they take a nap through the whole program?
Answer: Let them sleep. Baby storytimes are as much for the adults as they are for the kids. Children's librarians are great at offering tips, teaching songs and making recommendations to help adults use books and songs with babies.

Question: What if I'm exhausted and haven't gotten out of the house for a week?
Answer: Then baby storytimes are the perfect place to go... because all the other adults are just as tired and worn out as you are. It's a great place to meet other parents and caregivers experiencing the same things. Plus, it's nice to have a reason to get out of the house.

Question: Does my local library have a storytime for babies and toddlers?
Answer: Find out! Check their website and call or e-mail the children's department. Better yet, stop by... there's almost always a story time schedule flier available.

How much do these programs cost?
Answer: You get a trained librarian familiar with child development and early literacy skills, plus a thoughtfully planned, fun and educational program for the low, low, low price of: nothing. Library story times are always free.

Question: Have you ever been to a story time designed for babies? Did you and your baby enjoy it?
Answer: I'd love to hear all about it! Please leave a comment.


Thank a Library Worker Today and Every Day

Posted by Susan on April 13, 2010 at 9:57 PM in Libraries
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Ah, National Library Week. It's one of my favorite celebrations. The best part of the week is always National Library Workers Day. It was yesterday, April 13, 2010, but I celebrate it at my library every day.

National Library week 2010.jpgLibraries are enormous and complicated systems to run. It would be impossible to have a library if not for all the amazing people that work so hard. Some of them you might see regularly, such as librarians or people at the circulation desk, but there are so many unsung people you may not even know about. Here are a few I'd like to highlight. All of these positions exist in my library system and I'm sure they do in yours as well. At smaller libraries, there might be one or two people who play several of these roles.

Let's take a walk around the library and meet some of them. We've got to start with the custodians. I can't begin to tell you what a valuable part of the team they are, particularly in the children's section. They take care of all kinds of spills and accidents that happen all day long and they also set up for various events. There's the security people who keep the library safe for children and everyone else. And the facility managers and repairmen who make sure that everything is in working order and up to code.

Let's go in the back room and say hi to all those great people who work in circulation. You only see them when they're at the circulation desk, dealing tirelessly with a variety of issues and patron complaints and keeping numerous policies straight in their heads. But they're not done when they're off the desk. They also spend quite a bit of time checking in returned books and processing holds and transfers.

Shelver.jpgWave hello to the shelvers as they sort and place in order all the books, DVDs, CDs, and everything else on their carts. Then they'll go shelve them... something that takes a surprising amount of time, particularly with thin picture books. This picture of a shelver is from the Abilene Public Library.

Stop by and meet the branch manager. This is the person responsible for everything happening in their branch including budgets, schedules and fire alarms. They're who the staff call if there's ever a major (or minor) problem. At smaller branches, these folks also do circulation, shelving, reference and everything else.

Here are the people who deal with interlibrary loan. They get books and other materials from all around the country for you, usually for free or at a low cost. You'll also see lots of green boxes back here for audio books for the blind and physically disabled. WTBBLgreencassettes1.jpgThis picture is from the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library in downtown Seattle. Did you know that many libraries also provide service to home bound patrons?

As long as we're back here, do you see that enormous bookcase full of DVD and CD cases, with each one missing a disk? Be sure to thank the folks who handle the audiovisual problems and match up the hundreds of disks returned with their empty cases, so that the material is still available for the rest of the patrons to use.

Hey, look at all the brand new books on the shelves! They didn't appear there by magic. Let's walk over to the technical services department, which is usually at a library's central branch. Don't interrupt the selectors, they're incredibly busy reading reviews and new books. As they purchase, they are trying to make a balanced and current collection for the library and to stretch every dollar of the materials budget. Often there are only one of two selectors for the entire library system.

Look at all those boxes of new books. Someone has to unpack them, pay the invoices and report problems and damaged books. The catalogers and book processors are over here too. They make sure that every book has correct labels, stickers and an accurate catalog record.... an extremely time consuming job. Then the books have to be sent to each individual branch.

Step onto the loading dock. Here's the driver who visits every single branch, every day and brings new books and holds. They also pick up and return all the books returned to branches other than the ones they were borrowed from. (The drivers in this picture are from the Metropolitan Library System).

Also, back here, there's a spot where books get repaired so that the library can hang onto each book as long as possible. The irreparable books that have fallen apart are being replaced constantly so that the materials can be made available to more patrons.

Let's go upstairs and say hello to some more unsung heroes. Here we can find the people who answer the phone, order the supplies, pay the bills and keep the library humming. Thank the tech support department, who work tirelessly fixing endless computer problems and keeping the website current. Did you attend a good program at the library recently? Thank the person who put all the effort into coordinating and planning it. Odds are that you heard about the program because of the work of the publicity department. They find ways to advertise everything happening at the library, in a variety of different ways including Facebook, Twitter, blogs and press releases. The human resources, training, and budget departments are also invaluable pieces in the puzzle. Here's the library system's director... the person who has to make tough budget and management decisions and who works with the community and elected officials to advocate for the library.

Let's walk out to the reference desk. Here we can meet the people (librarians, library assistants, library associates and substitutes) who answer every kind of question you can possibly imagine. Listen in for a minute: "Where's the bathroom?", "Where's the nearest store that sells a particular product?", "I have a problem with my water bill. Who do I call?", "What book would who recommend for a second grader who reads on a fifth grade level and likes fantasy?", "What's a good, new mystery novel?", "I recently got diagnosed with an illness. Can you help me find everything there is to know about it?", "I just invented something. What do I do next?", "I need a county map from 1850", "Can you give me a list of local daycares?", "Which tax form do I use?", "What's the name of that new blockbuster movie that came out last week? Can I put the DVD on hold?"

Lots of public libaries have archives and goverment records. Take a look at the work room where the archivists preserve and take care of all the original documents, maps and pictures. Do you see all the storage? There are lots of documents back here that don't fit on the shelves.

book sale.jpgDon't forget to thank a friend... the Friends of the Library. These tireless volunteers sort used books for book sales and help with shelving and circulation and much more. They also do various fundraisers... and every penny goes back to the library. This money helps provide all kind of programming such as summer reading and author visits that wouldn't be a possibility otherwise.

Our tour could go on forever, you would be amazed at how many people it takes to run a library. We only met a few of them today. The next time you're at a library, take a moment to thank these folks. Even if you don't run into them, realize how much work it takes to get each book on the shelf, every day.

And then, tell someone about it. Let the branch manager or library director know. Let your elected officials know. In these troubled economic times, virtually every library system in the country is facing reduced hours, major budget reductions, staff layoffs and branch closures. If your library is important to you, speak up to the people who can do something about it.

Thank you to every single person at the Arlington Public Libraries. I am in awe of the work all of you do everyday. Without you, there would be no library.

Is there someone at your library that stands out? Do you work at a library? What do you do? I'd love to hear all about it.


Children's Book Quilts

Posted by Susan on April 7, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Fun and GamesPicture Books
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A few months ago I got a package in the mail. Inside were two handmade quilts from my wonderful Aunt Joan. But these weren't just any quilts. These were special. They were made them from children's books.

Okay, not literal books, but she used book-inspired fabric. Take a look at this amazing Very Hungry Caterpillar quilt that she made for my son.

Very Hungry Caterpillar Quilt by Joan Scherf

Wait, there's more! Look at the back. It's Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Brown Bear Brown Bear quilt close-up by Joan Scherf

It's an incredible quilt because my son feels like he's sleeping inside the books. I can't tell you how much fun it is to read these two books as we point out every detail on the quilt. And we can tell the stories without the books too.

Here's the second quilt she made. This beautiful baby quilt is for my younger son. Doesn't it just make you want to curl up under it and read books with your kids? (The lump at the top is the baby sleeping under it).

Baby book quilt by Joan Scherf

Want to make your own? You can find the material from Andover Fabrics. Not only do they have fabric from Eric Carle's books, there's also Maisy and Olivia. If you look around, you can find fabric for Angelina Ballerina, Peter Rabbit, Paddington, the Poky Little Puppy and more.

There are many great children's books about quilts, but one of my very favorites is a book that actually is a quilt itself. Several quilts, in fact. Take a look at Anna Grossnickle Hines' beautiful book 1, 2 Buckle My Shoe. For an in depth and fascinating look at the creation process (which was far more complicated than you can imagine) head over to her website. Click on the picture of 1,2 Buckle My Shoe, and then scroll down to the link that says "see the step by step process." Her account is also an excellent description of how picture books are made. You can also find more information on her website about the other quilt books she's created.

Do you have your own picture of something you made based on a children's book? Tell me about it and e-mail a picture to It doesn't have to be a quilt... I'm fascinated by all kinds of creative things, such as cakes.

All quilts pictured above were created by Joan Scherf.

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