Art Attack: Suncatchers

This is a really popular idea that I first found on Pinterest, where there are pretty much endless variations. I’ve done this project twice: once for Mother’s Day with butterflies, and again for an Apple-themed fall storytime. I like this project because it has an interactive, sensory process, but also a really beautiful product that stands out from all the other glue-sticks-and-construction-paper stuff that toddlers can make. Some of the strongest positive reactions I’ve gotten from parents have been to this art project; both times, all my extras went home with them for siblings or friends to finish.

For the butterflies, I hand cut the frames out of colored paper (crazy, I know – after this I swore to stick to die-cuts). Next, I cut my contact paper into 8×10 rectangles – smaller than the edge of the frame, but bigger than the butterfly. I peeled off the backing, stuck the butterfly frame to the contact paper, and reapplied the backing for storage until it was time for the program. To make the colored ‘glass,’ I used multicolored cellophane. I crinkled it, then cut each sheet into small, semi-random shapes. The process was exactly the same for the apples, but with the use of my friendly die cut machine.

If you run out of contact paper like I did with just a few frames left to prep, packing tape works well – it’s just much harder to set up since you have to line up all those strips of tape and it doesn’t come with a built-in non-stick backing.


Stuffed Animal Sleepover

I created this slideshow for a Stuffed Animal Sleepover at my previous library. We hosted this as a two-part registered event limited to 25 children. My partner and I hosted both events and took the photographs together; the evening after the Drop-Off event, I created this slideshow, which I told as a story at the Pick-Up event. When I do this again, I will certainly use a digital camera and a laptop with Power Point, but at the library where I worked at the time, those resources were not really an option. Instead, I took all the photos with an iPad Mini and used the FlowVella app to make the slide show.

Drop-Off event: Tuck in your animals and leave them at the library along with a short survey (we asked about the animal’s favorite games and foods, so we could take pictures that matched the child’s interests). We did a storytime-style event with a few songs and a book: The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty.

Pick-Up event: Enjoy a snack and watch a slideshow story of what your animal did in the library overnight. I told the story as the slideshow progressed; when it was over, they demanded an encore.

Hide and Seek: can you see the hidden stuffed animal?!

It was a truly enormous amount of work, but the overwhelming positive reactions from children and adults made up for that. More than one of the adults in attendance actually took the time to email the department and thank us for the excellent program. The slideshow presentation has since then managed to collect over 870 replays – I have no idea how it got so large, but I’m thrilled! If you’re interested in doing a Stuffed Animal Sleepover, be warned – it takes a lot of work to do it right, but your patrons will love you for it.

Minecraft Mania

big tree house

the challenge was “20 minutes to build a tree house,” grades 3-5.

Specs: Max registration of 20 participants (with a waitlist of 5). Two sessions for grades 3-5 and one for grades 6-8. We do this combination of three classes as often as possible based on the library’s schedule and the availability of the room/computers, which is usually 2 times per quarter.

Techs: We use Minecraft EDU software and the Lab computers (a set of laptops purchased by the library for program use). Each participant gets their own laptop and joins a shared Minecraft world (server) that is exclusive to the program.

Recs: You cannot run a Minecraft program ‘cold.’ The kids who sign up will eat you alive. You must spend significant time playing on your own first; an absolute minimum of 5 hours will give you enough familiarity with controls, materials, and situations to get by, but keep in mind that many of the kids who sign up will have been spending all of their allotted daily screen time on this for months, even years, and they will know more than you. The more you play, the better this program will go. If you don’t have five hours of off-desk time to spend in-game, give up this dream, or give it to someone who does.

As much as they may beg you, do not let them run wild for the whole session in PVP. It’s a waste of your valuable time and expensive resources. Create a curriculum for your Minecraft program that is worth the energy and expense required to present it to the public. Pick a STEAM objective to focus on and let your curriculum flow from that starting point:

  • Science: Set up a world where the children will act as scientific explorers of an uncharted world. Like real scientists, they need to Survive the elements, Discover new things about the environment, and Record their findings.
  • Technology: ComputerCraftEDU
  • Engineering: Build roller coasters, obstacle courses, or complex labyrinths using redstone.
  • Art: Challenge them to create pixel art or work together on a group build.
  • Math: Use a timer and do speed challenges – 5 minutes to build a symmetrical 4-sided pyramid; 10 minutes to build a circle; 15 minutes to build a sundial. Or, challenge them to make an in-game graph to represent data that you provide (or better yet, data they gather themselves). Don’t forget that Minecraft uses an X/Y/Z grid to create coordinates for every block: an easy, built-right-in math concept that you can use.

If you are struggling to generate ideas on your own, my favorite curriculum planning resource is the MinecraftEDU World Library. Even if you don’t have the EDU version of the game, you can still browse these user-created worlds for ideas that you can use in your own programs.

I hosted a similar program on a much smaller budget at my previous library. You can read about it here.

Storytime To Go: a baby present

Addi’s binder

A pal of mine has a daughter, Addi, who just celebrated her first birthday. I wanted to give a handmade gift that would reinforce early literacy techniques and that Addi would love playing with. My first idea was to make a quiet book, but it proved too difficult and took too much time. What I came up with instead was easy to make and quite affordable: a Storytime To Go binder!

I bought a zip-around trapper keeper and a set of six zip pouches from Amazon for about $20 total. From the craft store, I bought a stack of $0.49 felt sheets, some soft blue and black flannel, and pieces of 8.5×11 foam board. I wrapped one board in black and one board in blue flannel: this involved some trial and error, and neither piece is perfect, but they should hold up ok for a little while at least. I used an ordinary glue stick as an adhesive, since the fabric adhesive I bought for that purpose turned out to have some VERY frightening warning labels that I hadn’t noticed at the store.

Inside the binder

Inside the binder

Each zipper pouch contains the felt pieces for a song/rhyme/game and a printout (glued to cardstock for durability) of any necessary lyrics/instructions. The pouches:

  1. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (various sizes and colors of felt stars)
  2. Little Mouse (classic)
  3. Five Little Baseballs (this family are big-time baseball fans, so I made up a baseball rhyme for them to enjoy)
  4. Shapes (with ECRR2 techniques to help the parents use free play as a learning opportunity)
  5. Bonus: a ‘page’ with a rainbow of zippers sewn to a piece of stiff felt. I tied long ribbons onto the zippers for her to grab and pull.

Five Little Baseballs

Zipper Pulls

Zipper Pulls

Addi absolutely loves her gift and her parents were thrilled by it as well! She started playing with it as soon as her mom unwrapped it, and I’ve heard from her mom that she’s played with it every day since. Mission: accomplished!

Rainbow Magic Fairy Party

choreography fairy

The Plan:

  • 5 minutes of getting settled and greeting (get a snack on your way into the room)
  • 10 minutes of reading aloud from Vanessa the Choreography Fairy
  • 30 minutes of craft time: Make your own Fairy Wings
  • 15 minutes of dance party
  • …with a photo booth open throughout

(This formula gets a lot of mileage at my library: it’s the same thing we do for New Year’s Noon, and we’re using it again for the Elephant & Piggie Party this fall)

everybody dance now!

everybody dance now!

The Budget:

  • Crafts for 30 children – wings and stickers: about $80
  • Cupcakes and juice boxes for 30 children: about $25
  • Decorations for the room and photo booth: about $75

I’m lucky enough to work in a library that can bear such expense, but it can be done exactly the same for as little as $43. Here’s how:

  • Nix the decor purchases and reuse whatever brightly colored tablecloths, toys, posters, and decorations your library has kept in storage (you could even create a rainbow backdrop for your photo booth out of multicolored copier paper)
  • Trim the craft budget by buying only the wings; reuse stickers from your craft closet or just let children color with markers
  • Don’t serve food


Do you have even less than $43? Make a different craft: magic wands out of dowel rods or pencils would be nice! Or staple blank paper into mini-books and print out pictures of fairies to glue inside or on the cover: each child can name the fairies and write stories about them.

Why should you do this program?

  1. It’s an easy-peasy crowd pleaser. This was one of the easiest and most successful programs that I’ve presented in my entire career. Caregivers and staff alike were over-the-moon complimentary; children were awed, thrilled, and amazed throughout.
  2. It celebrates literacy. The Rainbow Magic Fairy books are just that: books! They’re outrageously popular and they don’t have a tv show or movie to propel that success. Children love reading about the adventures of the fairies and the talents that make each one special, and I wanted to reinforce for these kids and their parents that these books are VALID and GREAT, no matter what fairy prejudices you might have.
  3. It’s inclusive. In promotional text, I specifically noted that this party was “for boys and girls.” When I got questions about whether it was “just girl stuff,” I was careful to always say the party was “for children of all genders who are interested in fairies.” At the program, I talked with all of the children about the talents that each Rainbow Magic Fairy has, and asked them what their talents would be: the answers I got ranged from Gymnastics and Football to Arts & Crafts and Reading. I drew their attention to talents we all have: Listening, Being a Good Friend, Taking Care of our Pets, etc. I wanted each one of them to think about what makes them special, and it was FREAKING. PERFECT.
  4. And then, we danced! Librarians love dancing because it’s a perfectly fun free-form exercise that gets parents and kids moving together. I like combining physical activity with mental activity in my programs, especially for this age, K-3 grade, which is when lots of curricula and programs start sitting them down for more serious brain-work.
Miss Maggie is ready. Bring it on!

Miss Maggie is ready. Bring it on!

I’m indebted to Literary Commentary and erinisinire for their great ideas and commentary on this program, as well as to my spectacular colleagues Ms. E and Ms. S who helped me pull it all off. Librarianship is truly a collaborative field where we all support each other and make each other better. Y’all are the literal best. And I love you.

This Month(s) in School Services


To promote the 2015 SRC, my library pulled out all the stops. Hundreds of work hours went into the promotional video (which is a triumph – the rain of rubber duckies makes me giggle every time). Throughout May, we trotted out to all the schools in our district and presented an assembly to every student in grades K-4.

6 librarians | 3 cities | 14 assemblies | 5 schools | 2276 students

programming: sometimes you're Ariel, sometimes you're Eric.

programming: sometimes you’re Ariel, sometimes you’re Eric.

What I learned: I have a very casual approach to presentations – even those in front of large audiences. I am comfortable with ad libbing and going off-script. Over-rehearsing bores me. I should do programs with other extemporaneous presenters, not with the more rigidly scripted and shy librarians. When you’re doing presentations, know your style and own it! And more importantly, communicate that knowledge to your co-presenters. I had 6 people in my group, but most libraries will only have one school liaison, maybe two. If you’re stuck presenting with someone who has a different style, talk about it beforehand so that you can reach a compromise that pleases both of you.


SRC launch: 6/6

SRC Kickoff Party: 6/14 Hundreds of people came to our free concert / free ice cream / free craft party. It was a crazy, but 100% satisfying day. We love seeing this many happy patrons!

School loans ongoing: A few designated teachers of summer school classes and preschools still receive teacher loans during the summer, so we are still pulling books and prepping loan totes.

SRC: Something for everyone!

Booktalk This: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

SteelheartAn edge-of-your seat thrill ride, this novel is as close as you can get to a summer blockbuster between the covers of a book.

There isn’t much subtlety – ok fine. There isn’t any subtlety in this book. But we’re talking about Junior High book talks in this series, so are you looking for subtlety? Gods, I hope not. David, our hero, is ‘just an ordinary dude.’ He’s made it through his teen years in dystopian Chicago as an orphan; his father was murdered by the villain Steelheart when David was a child. This is a universe very similar to that of X-Men, where some individuals, seemingly at random, have unique superpowers (or a combination of them). Instead of mutants, Sanderson gives us Epics. While mutants offer a powerful parallel to the real world struggles of marginalized groups like homosexuals and persons with disabilities, Sanderson’s Epics are a lot more simple: all Epics are Evil. Period. David joins up with a rebel group of Epic-hunters to dole out vigilante justice against the monster that killed his father (and thousands of others).

Highlights for booktalks:

  • This is a readalike for comics like X-Men, the Avengers, and Batman. If you love any of those comics or their big-screen adaptations, this book will feel very familiar to you.
  • Non-stop action with a lot of thrills. This is definitely not for the faint of heart!

Recommended for grades 7 and up.