Storytime Success

Part of my storytime responsibilities at my current library are planning and performing baby and toddler storytimes each week.  I have two classes, Babytime and Mini-Movers which are for children up to 3 years old.  I love seeing the smiles on these faces and we always have a great time together singing and playing.  It’s also a supportive outlet for parents and caregivers to have some ‘adult’ conversation time.  I’ve met some great families along the way and am glad they continue to choose my classes for storytime.

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell.  Visit him at

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell. Visit his website at

This fall for one of my September Mini-Movers classes, I chose a newly published picture book called, Hug Machine by Peter Cambpell.

At first, I thought, this is probably more appropriate for a Valentine’s theme, but as soon as I read it  was hooked!  Hug Machine is a delightfully simple story about a little boy who declares himself, the Hug Machine.  He then proceeds to go around town and hug everyone and everything in sight, spreading love, joy and kindness to all.  At the end of the day, he finds himself too tired to hug, and then is surprised by a huge hug from his mom.  The story has been compared to Shel Silverstein poem “Hug O’ War,’ a modern classic indeed.  This book illustrates with soft, gentle and warm colors the feelings and emotions one gets when reading that poem.   It’s a fantastic author debut from Cambpell and has received much critical acclaim from Kirkus, School Library Journal and hundreds of reader reviews at Goodreads.

Reading the book with a cozy puppet in hand and letting the children hug him, made for an even warmer story.  Asking the kids if they like hugs and can they hug someone they love, were easy questions and provided an attention grabber for wandering toddlers.    Adding in a simple fingerplay further illustrated the theme of friendship and even added counting and math concepts.    It was an all around, heart-warming and fun storytime.  Books such as these make great selections for reading aloud and sharing with children of all ages.  I can’t wait to see what Cambpell comes out with next!


In The Beginning…Great First Lines

TheOnce Upon a time first line of a fantastic book.  It can be simple, just a few words that grab you into a story such as, “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” Don’t you want to continue reading to find out whose hand this is in the darkness and why is the hand holding a knife?  I know I do.  Neil Gaiman continues this suspenseful type of storytelling throughout his 2009 Newberry Award winning book, The Graveyard Book.   Definitely a mysterious, suspenseful book adults can enjoy as much as young adults.

Or that first line, can be complex, full of description and adjectives that provide such clear imagery in your mind, you want to keep reading because you are so engrossed in the story already.  For instance, this first line from master classic storyteller, J. R. R. Tolkien writes in the first line of The Hobbit, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort,” he provides us with such a description we can smell and feel the dirt, the wet mud, the stench and we want to find out:  who is this Hobbit?

One of my most personal favorites is from the classic children’s picture book, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans in which he writes, “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines,” serving as a charming beginning to this most beloved tale.  What could be more enchanting than an old house in Paris covered in vines? Read it again as an adult and I know you’ll love the magic created.

Woman Reading Book

Woman Reading in a Study, by Mary Ferris Kelly

Two books I’ve enjoyed and were completely surprised by, from the very first line include:

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan was so unexpected, it quickly became a favorite book of mine.  A fast paced, unique story with interesting characters helped in keeping this book top on my list. I found this book inventive, quirky and creative. The book is stylistic and just so interesting to read visually and through its language.  Try it!

Still Alice by Lisa Genova was again, another surprisingly lovely book. A unique narrator gives us the first hand glimpse into a woman who struggles from Alzheimer’s at an early age.  It is a spectacular read.

When you take the time to choose a book to read this year, try selecting from just reading the first line.  Learn what type of stories you enjoy reading, from what first lines keep you engaged in the book.  Do you like those that keep you on edge by creating suspense on that first page?  You may like those that use such incredible description, you get enthralled by the setting or characters outlined by the author.

Looking for the classics or more great first lines?  Try this great article about the Best 100 Opening Lines. 

It’s a year, with new books to try.  Try that first line, first paragraph, first page, first chapter.  You may be surprised at the story that unfolds.

Holiday Reads for Book Lovers

The holiday season is upon us, which means endless parties with family and friends, tons of delicious food, and mounds of piles of presents to wrap.  Hopefully, amongst the busyness of the season, you are able to find some downtime to relax and enjoy, and perhaps even read a book (or two) for fun.

I’ve created a booklist of holiday stories, many are classics, some you can share with the young children in your life, and some you’ll want to keep just for yourself.  Several of these stories began as movies, or have become movies, and I find it interesting to compare how the two relate or differ from one another.   I’ve tried to include a variety of books for all interests and tastes, as the appeal is for a wide audience of readers.  However, if you really enjoy a specific genre such as romances, or mysteries, or children’s picture books and want some holiday suggestions, let me know! I’ve also included links to Google Books so you can check out the books from your library or find out where to purchase them.

I hope you’ll find a new favorite in the list, rediscover an old or once loved story, and perhaps even begin making some new traditions this holiday season with a good book.

Holiday Reads for Book Lovers

The movie White Christmas is a classic holiday movie filled with song, dance, and 1950’s flair.  Originally created as a song by Irving Berlin, and made famous by Bing Crosby in 1941, it has been the best known Christmas song in history.  This picture book by Michael Hague called, White Christmas, uses beautifully drawn, and colorful renderings to depict the magic of snow that brings us a White Christmas.  It’s a wonderful accompaniment to the movie as there is even sheet music of the song included so you can sing along.

The 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street depicts a classic holiday tradition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is also for many, the official start of the holiday season.  This adaptation by Valentine Davies, who also wrote the original screenplay, includes stills from the movie.  This particular edition of the book even won an award for Best Design from the American Institute of Graphic Artists.

The story for the more recent film called, Christmas with the Kranks, was taken from the original book called Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.  In this novel, a couple decides to skip the craziness of the holiday season and take a vacation.  However, when their daughter surprises them with a visit, the hilarity of the season takes off.  A quick and casual read for those looking for a nice break.

A Christmas Story written by Jean Shepherd introduces the world to a little boy named Ralphie.  Now in regular rotation around the holiday season, the 1983 movie brings to life this humorous tale from the point of view of a kid who just wants a BB gun for Christmas.  Shepherd tells his autobiographical story with wit and charm and captures the essence of what it means to be a kid at Christmastime.

No matter which holiday you celebrate (or wish to forget), the book Scenes From a Holiday by Laurie Graff, Caren Lissner and Melanie Murray will bring some humor and delight to your days.  Three stories by three different authors follow three different women along their journey to survive the holiday season.

Those looking for a story that will warm your heart, you’ll want to read the tearjerker called, The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere.  It’s a story about a little boy in search of a gift for his dying mother and is the first in a series of books by VanLiere.  This book will have you believing in not only miracles, but also the magic and goodness of people around you.  This book was also made into a 2002 film, and adapted into a song in 2000.

Another story about hope and faith is the first in a series by Debbie Macomber named, Angels Everywhere.  This book was also the inspiration for the TV series, Touched by an Angel.  The story is about the adventures of three angels named Shirley, Goodness and Mercy as they make their way through New York City helping those whose hearts needs a little help.

Those looking for some mystery will want to read Decked by Carol Higgins Clark, which is also the first in the Regan Reilly Mystery series.  Regan, a private detective, just wants to enjoy her class reunion, but ends up investigating her roommate’s murder.  This novel is full of suspense and anticipation that has made this a bestselling series.

Classic enthusiasts will enjoy the classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens published in 1843.  Although retold in many forms, this is the original.  There are many versions of the story including films, plays, and even graphic novels.  This edition from Signet Classics takes on the novel in its original form and includes additional Christmas stories by Dickens.

Many people only think of The Nutcracker as a beautiful ballet to see around the Christmas season.  Yet, it was originally a tale from 1816 written by E.T.A. Hoffman and again adapted in 1845 by Alexandre Dumas.  It wasn’t until 1892 that the story became globally known when the Russian composer Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned the story into the famous ballet we know today.  Even then, it wasn’t popular until the 1950’s in America.  Rediscover the many lands visited by Clara (or Marie as she is originally written) and the magic of the story this season.

In my family, the holidays are always filled with traditions and celebration and so below this first list, I’ve included a few additional selections that I find to be favorites.  Growing up in an Italian-American household meant we celebrated Christmas Eve with going to mass, placing baby Jesus in the manger crafted by my Papa, ate tons of fresh fish, and opened presents!  The books I’ve chosen below represent a taste of what I most fondly love about the Christmas season.  I’d love to hear your family traditions so please do share them in the comments!

In my family, food is one of the main topics of conversation.  When we are eating breakfast, we are talking about dinner.  Celebrations are no different, and always meant wonderful cookies and desserts!   This cookbook, Mangia, Little Italy by Francesa Romina, is one of my favorites for hard-to-find recipes for Italian treats.

Strega Nona is one of my favorite characters in children’s literature and was created by the master writer and illustrator, Tomie dePaolaMerry Christmas, Strega Nona will not disappoint as he uses his hand-drawn and colorful illustrations to depict the story of Strega Nona, Bambolona and of course, Big Anthony preparing for the big Christmas celebration.

Living and growing up in Chicago meant we always visited Marshall Fields, especially to see the windows at Christmastime.  This book from the Images of America series called, Christmas on State Street, has wonderful photos of this most beloved store including those great green clocks, the corner that you saw when approaching the store and so much more.  While it doesn’t replace actually visiting, it brings back great memories.

Enjoy reading and have a very wonderful holiday season full of delight, magic and surprise!

Summer’s End and Fall’s Fantastic Beginning!

The month of August was quite busy this summer, although I did enjoy the lazy and dog days of the warm sun.  The fall season is now upon us, and my September is already beginning to be an exciting time.  I must say that this time of year in Chicago and Northern Illinois is one of my favorites because there is such beauty to discover in wonderful simplicity like the changing seasons.  I have the best memories from childhood of fall in Chicagoland, like the smell of back-to-school supplies and sounds of big piles of crunching leaves.

August found me not only job searching, but also working hard at my internship.  The youth department there has many great ideas, but just hasn’t had the resources or staff to put them into action.  I was very excited to take on the challenge given to me of creating a blog for the Early Learning Center’s early literacy programming.  Their programming consists of 4 different groups of programs, targeted to children at select ages.  For instance, there is a Terrific Twos program designed just for two-year old children to have fun with music, singing, talking, playing and stories.  The blog is called Ready…Set…Read! and was just launched to the library public last week!  Each of the programmers provide me with an outline of their class including the rhymes, songs and books to be shared with the kids. I am then compiling all the information, often times adding even more rhymes and songs and also creating themed booklists for each post. The feedback received has been great so far and the word is getting out to patrons to use the blog as a resource.  I’ll be expanding it to include family storytimes, and possibly additional blogs for other age groups.  It’s a work I’m very proud to share that I hope parents will enjoy reading as much as I’ve enjoyed creating the blog!

I also was honored to be featured in this article posting by the Director of Youth Services at my internship.  When she told me she was a guest writer on the ALSC blog, and wanted to include me in her story, I didn’t know what to expect.  I was so happy to see that most importantly, my photo was good!  She also made me even happier and humbled with such a complimentary article, and I was eager to share with everyone I knew, including here on my site.  Enjoy!

More to come this September!

Recap: Community Outreach Events

I had the pleasure over the past month to take part in two community outreach events through my internship.  What a rewarding and wonderful experience to bring the joy of the library to kids who otherwise may not be able to either visit the library or have access to books and learning outside the classroom.

The groups of kids we visited were both in the local neighborhood, one was in a community clubhouse and the other a school.  All the kids were about 3rd through 5th grade, although I’m sure there were some younger ones too.  What was amazing is that these kids were as my colleague said, “hungry” for books!   They literally attacked the books when it was time to choose new ones to take home.

Both programs were essentially the same format and highly successful.  Attendance is volunteer, so these kids want to be there! The theme was tied in with the summer reading program and began about 4 weeks ago.  While there were new children in attendance, many had been attending each week and were familiar with the flow of the program. Each program began with an educational session in which we interacted with the children about knights, princesses, castles and medieval weapons (to go along with the Midsummer Knights Read theme). Many hands went up when questions were asked and they were excited to hear what the topic for today would be which was court jesters!

There were lots of smiles and wide eyes as a story was read and then the children worked hard on a craft.  There were also crossword puzzles and coloring sheets.  The kids loved all the activities.  For an hour long program, it was packed full of fun.

One of the two groups gets to choose books to take home and return ones they’ve read.  It’s done on an honor system and they were all very respectful of returning the books.  It seems to work similar to a bookmobile model where we bring the books to the kids because there is really no feasible way for them to get to the library.  The community these children live in is essentially an immigrant neighborhood, with lower income families, where there is no bus service and it’s a bit of a long walk, especially in the hot Chicago weather.  To be able to bring to them a “mobile” program each week and feed their strong desire for learning and books is what will keep them hopefully interested in learning throughout their childhood.  It also brings them a positive experience of reading and learning that they may not be getting at home or in school.

When I saw these children run for the books, attack the stacks we had, and search for something particular because they liked a series or a subject it was a event I never saw before!  I loved it!  What was disappointing to me and them was when we didn’t have enough of a subject or the next in a series for example because of the limited resources.  Yet, once I knew what they liked, I could find another book in the piles that would probably appeal, and except for one or two instances, they took it home.  I wanted to make sure these kids, who were so incredibly “hungry” for books to not find one they would like!

I can’t think of a more rewarding experience as a librarian then to see these young people RUN for books and learning opportunities!

Programming Recap: Fractured Fairy Tales

For what has been a few months now, I have been assisting in weekly programming events in the Youth Services department, especially in “Medieval Mania” as part of the summer reading program events.  The best part of this experience is that I was given the chance to plan, implement and run a program of my very own. I had 60 minutes to entertain children in 3rd through 5th grades and I was so excited (as much as I was nervous about being sure I had enough to fill the time).

What they don’t teach you in library school, however, is the fine art of children’s crafts!    The stories I chose to read, games to play and activities during the program came second nature to me.  Yet, OH how I deliberated, searched online and in the library’s enormous and stocked craft storage for what was going to be my inaugural craft of the summer!  How I laughed with my friends and family that I was nervous of these kids liking my craft because I not only wanted it to fit the theme of “Fractured Fairy Tales,” but also be a simple and fun activity and age appropriate.

My program was a huge hit!  The children loved the story titled, “The End” by David La Rochelle and understood both the humor and the sarcasm in the book.  The story is a simple and original fairy tale, told backwards beginning with the words, The End and ending with Happily Ever After.  It was inventive and the kids laughed when we read it aloud.  This was a great choice for a read aloud story because of the humor, as well as offered an alternative to the traditional fairy tale, which can sometimes be either too commercialized or too complex for storytime.

The game we played was a relay race, and the twist was that the race was backwards!  With about 40 children in attendance at the program, there were at least 7 teams; each team had to walk backward with a spoon holding a ball.  In retrospect, this was a bit tough for the kids to play and I would have had another game as a backup.  However, some of the kids really liked the game and even chose to play again!

The craft was a Hansel and Gretel Gingerbread house.  Using a die cut machine, I cut out craft foam houses and luckily used them all!  Then, the children had access to glitter glue, ribbon, beads, foam shapes, buttons and markers all in a large variety of colors.  I even had small self-stick magnets to put on the back if they wanted to make the house into a magnet for their refrigerator or desk.  This was a great craft because each child could be creative and use their imagination, while it also connected to the Fairy Tale theme.  Boys and girls alike loved inventing their own house and many surprised me with just how thoughtful they were in their placement of objects.  I also allowed about 5-10 minutes at the end of the allotted time to give children who didn’t finish the craft, time to finish which turned out to be a great strategy.

Turns out, 60 minutes quickly expires when a program is run well!  I would attribute it to not only observing my fellow librarians over the past weeks to see what works and what doesn’t, but also research and planning!   In addition, my many years in event planning really paid off in being able to control the crowd, keep things moving along and engage the children.

Knowing at least 3 weeks in advance was also a big help in determining what I could test out to be sure it would run smooth.  Questions I kept in consideration included asking myself:

  • if the activity would hold the child’s attention span
  • is the craft or game too easy or too difficult
  • will the story make sense to a child of this age
  • what is the flow of the program and is the scheduling fluid to accommodate on the spot changes

When I asked the kids as they were leaving if they had fun, the majority said YES…what I think is a fairly good gauge of a good time!

Check out my Gingerbread House example.

Program Outline:  Storytime, Game and Crafts by Jennifer A. Peterson

June 2011; Grade 3-5/Ages 8-10  Theme: Fractured Fairy Tales

Program Description

The program will begin with a general welcome and question to the kids if they know what a fairy tale is and what their favorite fairy tale is.  A fractured fairy tale will be briefly explained. Aproximately 10-15 minutes.

The story, The End by David LaRochelle will be read.  The question will be asked if they know the tale of “Hansel and Gretel.”  Aproximately 15 minutes.

Then a game will be played.  10-15 Quotes such as “I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff” will be given and the kids need to guess which famous fairy tale person said the statement.  Aproximately 10-15 minutes.

The craft will follow the question game.  It consists of a craft foam blank gingerbread house decorated as the kids wish, with buttons, glitter glue, markers, beads, ribbons.  Aproximately 15-20 minutes.

A relay race game will be played but backwards!  Teams will be divided and each child will race backwards with a spoon and a ball.  If kids don’t want to play the game, they can continue to work on their craft.  Aproximately 10-15 minutes.

Additional books and crafts will be used if time allows:

  •  Beware of the Bears by Allan Mac Donald.
  • The Truth About Hansel and Gretel by Karina Law.
  • The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palatini.
  • The Frog Prince Continued or the Stinky Cheese Man story both by Jon Sczieka.
  • Additional craft to make will be an origami frog.


Gingerbread House:   Using the die cut maker, various colored foam in the shape of a blank gingerbread house will be available.  Materials such as buttons, beads, ribbon, markers, glitter glue, and foam shapes will be available for the kids to use to decorate their house.  Small magnets are also available if the kids want to stick them to the back of the house to create a magnet.

Origami Frog:  Square sized, green and red paper, small google craft eyes, black markers.  There are two types of origami frogs the kids can choose to make, one is more simple than the other.

Materials Needed:

  • Craft foam, decorating materials, glue, scissors for craft; Approximately $1 in cost per craft
  • Large spoon and ball or round object for the game
  • Power point and laptop for the question game

Room Setup: 

  • Three tables on the stage for craft
  • 1 table on the floor for miscellaneous
  • Computer for power point game

Internship Fun (out of) the Sun!

I am so excited to write to you today about my experience this summer in my internship at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, IL.  Not only has the exceptional Youth Services staff embraced me as one of their own, but the work I am doing is truly helping the young customers at this fantastic library.

I’ve been interning here since January, 2011 on special projects yet, this summer with more available time on my hands, began regular weekly hours.  With the advent of the summer reading program, it was the perfect time!  Gail Borden has outdone itself with adapting the theme of “A Midsummer Knight’s Read,” the iREAD theme for this year.  The library, and especially the Youth Services department has been transformed into a medieval dream complete with a castle in the center of the lobby area!  Registrations began on May 24, 2011 and I was there in the booth to help kids of all ages from Pre-Readers to Middle Schoolers sign up.  On the first day, it was nonstop, and it was a joy to see the smiles on the children’s faces as we gave them their reading log plus encouraged them to check out some books to begin their summer journey.  Since the first day, the registrations have been steady and I’ve been in the booth helping ever since! It is a truly heartwarming and worthwhile experience to see kids excited to read and know I’ve had a part in bringing that to their world.

Another project I’ve delved right into is regular weeding and development of the collection.  I began with the Fairy Tale NonFiction collection.  The most challenging aspect of this particular collection is one can see merit in almost all fairy tales as many offer a unique version of the story.  Some considerations I took when evaluating were:

Is this author, title, story unique to the collection?  In some instances there were books that were clearly not appealing in cover art appearing dated and old, yet because it was unique, I debated whether or not it was worthwhile keeping the book.  Most often I looked within BWI to find a newer or alternative version that would be more appropriate, but there were instances when it was not possible.  In those cases, I then checked the circulation numbers and had to make a decision of whether or not to weed the book.

Is the book able to be repaired?  These books that could be repaired and were worthwhile to the collection were then sent to tech services to be fixed.  In some cases, the age of the book was new but was such a well-loved story that I ordered a new book to replace the worn one. However, the challenge became when the book was too damaged to be repaired, and it was no longer in print to order.  I then had to go back to my previous decision making of uniqueness and alternative authors and stories.

This was a great project and I’ve since been able to work on other similar collection evaluation and development processes.

Next week, I will be showcasing my program to children in grades 3rd through 5th at the weekly Medieval Mania event.  My theme is fractured fairy tales and I have stories, a gingerbread house craft and games planned for this hour long segment.  It has been so fun to plan the crafts and games, organize the flow of the event, and choose stories to read aloud.  I can’t wait to share the success of the program!

More to come this summer so stay tuned for additional posts!