Children's Programs and Services

Natalie Cole and Virginia A. Walter share insights into transforming summer library programs

Summer 2018 might be winding down, but children's and YA librarians are already beginning to think ahead to next year's programming. In their recent book Transforming Summer Programs at Your Library: Outreach and Outcomes in Action, Natalie Cole and Virginia A. Walter detail case studies of several California libraries that have successfully reimagined their summer initiatives. These include Summer Matters, which works to provide equitable summer learning opportunities, and Lunch at the Library, a public library summer meal project. In this interview we discuss their collaborative approach, the biggest challenges to summer outreach and participation, and the inspiring lessons librarians can draw from the summer programs the book covers.

Was this your first writing collaboration?

Virginia A. Walter: We collaborated on a youth development manual for Los Angeles County Library almost authors Natalie Cole and Virginia A. Walter with their book "Transforming Summer Programs at Your Library: Outreach and Outcomes in Action"twenty years ago! More recently, along with Eva Mitnick, we wrote an article for Public Libraries (March/April, 2013) called “Outcomes + Outreach: The California Summer Reading Program Initiative.” But yes, Transforming Summer Programs at Your Library is our first full-length published monograph.  

Tell us a little bit about how the book project started and what it was like working together on it.

Virginia A. Walter: Like so many good ideas, I think it started at lunch. We had both been so inspired by the ways in which California librarians have taken these new ideas and put them into practice; we just wanted to share the story more broadly. We are a good team. Natalie has all of the first-hand experience through her work at both CLA and the California State Library. She is a great administrator and a natural change agent. I always say she could be running whole countries if she set her mind to it. I’ve got the academic background from my PhD in Public Administration and my years of teaching graduate students so I can articulate the theories behind the practice. It was easy to divide up the chapters that played to our individual strengths. We each took the lead on our assigned chapters and reviewed what the other had written.

Describe the biggest challenges to summer outreach and participation.

Virginia A. Walter: Change is always hard. The summer reading program has been a tradition in public libraries for more than a hundred years. It is a popular program in most libraries, with large numbers of participants. It has always been about reading promotion, but the new focus on “summer slide” from the education community highlighted a big problem. The very children who would most benefit from summertime reading and learning were often the ones who were not participating in large numbers. This growing awareness led to a need for more outreach, and that created another challenge because outreach takes time and resources. Outreach requires looking at the community in new ways, designing programs that will appeal to underserved people, and promoting those programs in appropriate ways. Taking on this extra effort can be challenging for librarians who are already working hard and serving large numbers of children who have already developed the reading and library habit.

How have libraries in California tackled these challenges?

Virginia A. Walter: Training, training, training. We have conducted many workshops and webinars that help librarians develop strategies for assessing their communities, identifying underserved people, finding effective ways to reach out to them, and evaluating their outreach efforts. We provide training on developing community partnerships. And we encourage people to “think small” at the beginning.  Can you reach five Spanish-speaking families this summer?  Ten Somali children who have never set foot in the library before? The success of the outreach and outcomes approach has also been helped tremendously by the group of librarians from around the state who have been advising us since the beginning. They are the best advocates for taking the time and trouble to do the right thing with summer programming.  Their testimonials are inspiring. These librarians also contributed in a major way to the development of four Quality Principles and Indicators that serve as practical guidelines to implementing an outcomes -and outreach- oriented summer reading program. (They're in Chapter 6 of our book.) Together, the quality principles and indicators make it easy for librarians to engage in reflective practice.

What was the genesis of the Lunch at the Library program?

Natalie Cole: The Lunch at the Library program grew out of great work being done in public libraries! Several years ago, my colleague, Patrice Chamberlain (director of the California Summer Meal Coalition and co-author of the book's Lunch at the Library chapter), and I became aware of a few California libraries serving summer lunches to children. We saw immediately that libraries are ideal spaces for serving free meals while school is out: they are trusted and welcoming spaces at the heart of the community, providing learning and enrichment activities, free of charge, all summer long. So we worked with a team of librarians to develop a program that would expand best practices and successes statewide (and in some cases, beyond!).

Are there any positive outcomes of the program that have really surprised you?

Natalie Cole: The program has grown more quickly than even we imagined! This year, meals were served at almost 200 library sites in California, and the number of meals libraries served increased from 21,800 in 2013 to 228,600 in 2017. The program has fostered new community partnerships and collaborations for libraries. And we consistently hear positive feedback from families. A positive outcome that we didn’t plan for at the start is the teen development component. Lunch at the Library provides great volunteer opportunities for teens—giving them workforce readiness skills and helping support their social-emotional development.

Have the programs you cover in the book affected overall library usage? Did you see increases in visits by new patrons or repeat visits by existing patrons?

Natalie Cole: Across the state, summer meal programs are bringing new families to the library and providing library staff with great opportunities to connect families with library services. Each year, around 90% of the children, teens, and adult who fill out Summer @ Your Library surveys tell us they plan to return to the library after the summer. And many of the case studies we feature in the book describe creative book cover for "Transforming Summer Programs at Your Library: Outreach and Outcomes in Action"summer programming that has increased both program quality and participation in California libraries.

What are some of the ways libraries can extend the successes of these initiatives to the remainder of the year?

Natalie Cole: The strategies we describe to help library staff carry out outcomes-based planning and evaluation, conduct community outreach, and develop community partnerships can easily be applied to library programming for all ages and at any time of year. Once libraries have honed these techniques during the summer, they will definitely be able to apply them at other times! Similarly, the tenets included in the quality principles and indicators framework—building strong communities, providing opportunities for learning, celebrating reading and literacy, and designing programs that are intended to reach and engage everyone—can guide program development and support reflective practice at any time of the year. More specifically, we encourage Lunch at the Library sites to offer after-school snacks, too, to help ensure children in our communities are nourished and engaged all year round.

Learn more at the ALA Store.

Storytimes creator Rob Reid discusses his new "greatest hits" collection

Original and adapted fingerplays, poems, activities involving movement and music, participation stories, felt stories, imagination exercises, spoonerism stories, and library raps: Rob Reid's book 200+ Original and Adapted Story Program Activities is packed from cover to cover with fun ideas for storytimes. And it happens to be his thirteenth book for ALA Editions—surely a lucky number in a writing career that spans more than two decades! We were thrilled to talk with him recently about his time with ALA Editions, how he chooses picture books for storytimes, and his tips for being a great storytime leader. 

You’ve described this book as a kind of “greatest hits” collection. How was working on this book different from your previous ones?

This time around, I had the luxury of selecting my favorite creations that I wrote for my ALA programming author Rob Reidbooks as well as various magazine articles. I updated some of the lines in different song lyrics and fingerplays to reflect the alterations that naturally occur from years of presenting them to families (like a folktale changes over time). The project also inspired me to write a few more new movement rhymes.

If you could time travel back to 1995, when you published your first ALA Editions book Children’s Jukebox, what advice would you give yourself?

I think instead of advice, I’d pat my younger self on the back for choosing the ALA family. The different editors, publishers, and crew have been so good and nurturing to me over the years – we are talking about 23 years of working together. How rare is that? Many times, we would finish one book and the editor would immediately ask, “What ideas do you have for another book?” Often, I would look around to see what has already been published, and more specifically, what has not been published, and try to fill those holes.

In your introduction you note that for these story programs you’ve taken care to limit your use of picture books to those published between 2012 and 2017. Did that pose any challenges?

I thought it would be more of a challenge than it turned out to be. We are so lucky to have such a rich collection of books out there on the market that many times, the more recently published books made an even tighter fit with a particular rhyme I wrote than the older books. I was also glad to be able to add more culturally diverse books this time around, something that was much harder to do even ten years ago.

As a storytime leader, getting over one’s fear of being silly and acting ridiculous seems really important! What are some good ways to loosen up and ward off self-consciousness?

I come from a theater background and think of how actors get into character while they are still backstage book cover for 200+ Original and Adapted Story Program Activitiesand then walk onstage ready to go. That can transform into the story program. Be excited to start before the kids even come into the area and hit the floor running. Your energy will help set the mood. That’s why I wrote many of the Hello activities – to set the mood for the program. In my workshops to librarians, I also tell them to give themselves permission to go with their strengths. If they feel most comfortable with felt stories, go heavy with felt stories. If they like musical activities, sprinkle a lot of music throughout. Don’t feel that you have to do everything. For example, I like oral storytelling and music but I’m not comfortable with puppets. So, I finally told myself, I don’t feel like I need puppets. For those who like puppets, go for it.

What advice can you offer storytime leaders for preventing kids and their parents from getting distracted?

Add variety to a story program and keep it moving. Don’t read more than two books in a row without adding an activity like a song or fingerplay or everyone-stand-and-move activity. Keep up your own energy and that will influence the audience. If there are some kids/parents who are not into what you are doing, don’t worry. Focus on the kids who are totally with you. I’ve often been surprised by kids who I didn’t think were having a good time come up to me afterwards and talk about a book or activity we shared together.

Learn more at the ALA Store.

LGBTQAI+ books for children and teens: an interview with Christina Dorr and Liz Deskins

There is a rich and varied body of literature for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, asexual/allied and intersexed young people; in fact, within the past decade there has been a veritable explosion of new titles. A new book, LGBTQAI+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for All, surveys the landscape, not only spotlighting dozens of recommended books but also offering guidance on how to share them with young people. We caught up with authors Christina Dorr and Liz Deskins to talk with them about how their book came together, ways in which reading builds empathy, and some "desert island" picks for their favorite LGBTQAI+ lit. 

So, this is your second book together. What was the genesis of the project? Was anything different about your collaboration this time around?

We are both passionate about human rights issues, and gay rights is a large part of that. It was amazing ALA at 2015 San Francisco Pride Parade; photo by American Librariesserendipity that we were at the ALA Annual conference in San Francisco in 2015 on the day the Supreme Court handed down the ruling making marriage legal for same sex couples. We saw the celebrations in the streets and the Pride Parade, and realized that the time had come to provide a resource that would support and encourage public and school librarians, as well as classroom teachers to provide and share quality LGBTQAI+ literature with their patrons and students. This book was an amazing collaboration, as we both worked on all chapters, adding titles and annotations. Some of the ancillary portions, we divided and conquered.

Why is this topic so personally important to both of you?

This book was truly a labor of love for both of us. We each have someone near and dear to us in the gay community and saw the challenges they faced growing up. In a joyous event last summer, Liz’s son married his partner in a legal marriage. As school librarians we do our best to choose books to be windows and doors for all of our students. We believe in the power of empathy and understanding through good literature, and are hopeful this book will encourage other librarians to make these books available as well.

You’ve mentioned that LGBTQAI+ books act as mirrors and windows—what do you mean by that?

This is a concept put forward by Ohio State University professor emeritus, Rudine Sims Bishop, under which we both studied. She contends that It is so important for children to be able to see themselves in book cover for LGBTQAI+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for Allbooks, to know that they are not alone. But it is just as important they read books where they see characters different from themselves. Reading builds empathy and understanding, two qualities worth cultivating.

What advice can you offer libraries that are dealing with community objections to LGBTQAI+ books or outreach? Or who may be self-censoring to avoid potential conflicts?

Our job is not to only promote those books we like or find interesting; our job is to present a whole and balanced curated collection of materials. In this case, the issue is respect and basic human rights for everyone. Sexuality and gender identity are types of diversity, among many, but neither of these are the impetus of for this book, or the books we suggest. Everyone has a right to see themselves in a book, or their family, or their friends. And everyone has the right to be treated with understanding, empathy, and respect. Our book shares quality titles, conversation starters, and other resources that could assist in the defense of the book, if you should need it.

Okay, desert island time! If you could choose only three LGBTQAI+ titles to recommend, what would they be?

Christina’s picks: This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman (for young children), The Best Man by Richard Peck (for middle grade children), and Queer, Here, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager (for teens); Liz’s picks: The Straight Line Wonder by Mem Fox (for young children), The Misfits by James Howe (for middle grade children), and Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (for high school).

Learn more about the book at the ALA Store.

Building literacy skills through creative writing: a conversation with AnnMarie Hurtado

Decades of research show that children learn to read through writing. Creative writing in particular encourages children's'imaginations to take flight. In this way, a form of play can also build literacy skills. First-time author AnnMarie Hurtado explains this approach in her new book 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing: From Aliens to Zebras.

So … your first book! Congrats! What was it like? And what did you find the hardest about the process? How did you stay motivated?

I really loved working with ALA Editions. I would love to write for you again. Jamie Santoro was my acquiring editor and she was a gem, offering a lot of feedback and support throughout the writing. And my hats off to Angela Gwizdala, who has been taking the draft and all my ideas for the handouts, and working with the designers to make everything come together!

I submitted a proposal to ALA Editions in late 2016, and after my proposal for the book was accepted, I dove into the research. I wanted to know all about how creative writing impacts children’s development of reading fluency and overall academic success. The things I learned for the writing of this book have continued to benefit my work at the library to this day. I have tried as often as possible to share those insights with parents who come to the library. I think that’s what kept me motivated, to tell the truth; the feeling that this book needed to be written. The more I read about how reading and writing go hand in hand, the more I sensed I was hitting on something librarians are not told enough in library school. We don’t get a lot of training on how people learn to read, but teachers do, and through organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English I was able to tap into an ocean of materials going back to the 1980s on the connection between reading and writing.

Research was a lot of fun, and it was all-consuming for about two months. I had numerous ILLs and lengthy visits to Pasadena City College Shatford Library. I would say that knowing how to do research and find current and historical information on a topic is a great skill for any writer, and that if you’re a librarian who has considered making the leap into writing and publishing, you should know you already have a strong skill set that will help you, not to mention a supportive community of fellow librarians (like the librarian who helped me at PCC).

The hardest part was probably switching from research mode to writer mode. Jamie often counseled me that the research was great, but I needed to also find my own voice and convey my own insights. Her help was invaluable. I worked hard on it in whatever snatches of time I could find at home, on weekends, in coffee houses, in libraries, and in the break room on my lunch breaks at work. The bulk of the writing took about six months. Having a detailed proposal at the start ensured that I never had writer’s block. It just wasn’t always easy finding time (because I have two small children at home). Fortunately I had supportive family who were able to lend a hand now and then.

How did your work at the Pasadena (California) Public Library inspire this book?

When I started working in the Youth Services department of the Pasadena Central Library five years ago as a children’s librarian, I was putting on writing workshops for tweens using prompts inspired by good middle grade books. Having a young daughter of my own I started to notice a gap in the programs libraries provide to kids as they age out of traditional preschool programs and yet are too young for advanced tween programs like some of the STEAM programs I did or the writing workshops. In many ways children in kindergarten and 1st grade are also a little too young for traditional book clubs or book discussions. The primary grades are difficult to reach because kids are becoming independent readers and writers, and yet the books they are interested in are too hard to read. Instead, craft programs tend to be the afterschool program of choice for public libraries wishing to offer something to early elementary school kids, and it’s not hard to see why—it gives them fine motor skill development while also giving them range to learn and express their creativity.

drawing of creative writing lessonBut when their older siblings were signing up for our tween creative writing workshops, many younger kids and their parents were disappointed that they were considered too young to write stories. They knew what I would soon learn—that they were old enough to make up stories of their own. I realized I needed to develop something that would be more catered to the primary grade student’s growing abilities. I started a creative writing program just for kids 5-8 years old. I’d choose a picture book, print out clip art and coloring pages, and spread the printed images all over the tables, along with scissors, glue, crayon and markers. I bought blank books for kids to make their own stories, which they illustrated with those glued-in clip art printouts. Having the images sometimes helped kids to come up with something fun to write about. It was almost like a craft program about making your own book.

I saw kids who hardly spoke a word of English at our first meeting come every month to draw, cut and paste, and write a few words, and within six months they were writing their own funny sentences in English, inspired by the books we read. I saw boys and girls collaborate on exciting pirate stories the same way I did when I was a kid playing with my sisters. And it struck me that this sort of creative writing program was something that other libraries could benefit from, replicate, and modify, to reach our goal of promoting literacy—Talking, Singing, Playing, Reading, and WRITING.

Yes: one mantra you repeat throughout the book is that children learn to read by writing. At what age do you get kids started? And as librarians and educators, *how* do we start?

I’ll include parents in this as well: as soon as your child can hold a pencil or crayon, start asking them to tell you what they are drawing and helping them to write it down. Ask the child to tell you stories and write the stories down for them. Model writing for them—be an adult who writes and who models for your child how valuable it can be to be able to express something important by scrawling symbols on paper. Then encourage them to write down their own stories and letters without help (these stories will look like illegible scribbles at first). Ask them to read the stories to you. And of course, read, read, read to them often.

One of the researchers and authors whose work was immensely important to me as I was researching this book was Lucy McCormick Calkins, who wrote about how reading and writing develop hand in hand, around the same time in a child’s life. Invented spellings, for example, (writing “pupe” to indicate a puppy) is an important step in the learning process for the development of decoding skills. Just as crawling precedes walking and babbling precedes talking, scribbling and invented spellings indicate a person who is well on their way to becoming truly literate. We can talk about the phonetics of the words but it is very important that we not discourage kids. We are here to help them to appreciate books and add their own ideas to the world of literature, and through that engagement they will develop their ability to read and write, to construct meaning. Kids have to feel that their early efforts at writing are meaningful and fun, just as babies need to feel that their early attempts at communication are giving them connection with their parents. You don’t understand everything your five-month-old is saying, but by pretending you do, you show them that you are listening and you care. Do the same thing with your five-year-old’s writing. That connection is what’s most important for the young child; refinements such as standard spelling will come with practice.

I’m sure some children’s librarians are thinking, gee, kids can get really rambunctious! So when you’re doing a storytime, how do you channel that energy productively into creative writing activities?

It’s certainly a challenge, yes! I recommend involving the kids in a group writing activity or a group brainstorming activity, and letting it be as long and as energetic as possible. Spend at least ten minutes on the group writing (and if you can spend longer that’s great!). Get their ideas flowing. Ask the kids lots of questions. Let them be the experts and you the scribe. Get your pen flying all over the whiteboard to capture their suggestions. If you are enthusiastic and focused, you will help to ignite and focus the children’s enthusiasm. And after they have been focused on the group writing activity for at least ten minutes, they’ll be ready to do some individual writing. The room will not likely be a quiet one—kids will be talking, sharing their ideas, asking you questions. My workshops are usually very noisy, but vibrant!

I also recommend making the writing activity as “crafty” as possible for the kids. Give them supplies to color, cut, glue. Break out the glitter now and then. Kids need to have a variety of activities available, and they need a wide range of artistic expression when illustrating their stories.

When working with older children, how do you vary the approach?

Older kids don’t need quite so many different segments or activities in their workshops—they can focus on writing for a longer time, and they rarely need to do illustrations. But I think the really surprising thing is how much of the approach is actually the same for older kids. Instead of cute blank books I give them legal pads, but many of the writing prompts I give them are similar to what I’d give the younger kids. That might be because I never like to underestimate what younger kids can do.

book cover for 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing: From Aliens to ZebrasOlder kids don’t need quite as much help or scaffolding when it comes to generating their stories or writing things down, but the use of a mentor text to center our discussion on the writer’s craft is essentially the same approach with both groups. I always read excerpts from stories at the very beginning—usually from a middle grade novel, but not always. A picture book can be a surprisingly effective mentor text for teaching older kids advanced concepts about writing, such as plot. It’s hard to break down the plot of a novel in a fifteen-minute discussion, but it’s not so hard with a picture book. So several of the picture-book-based writing workshops in my book will actually work quite well even with older kids. For example, one of my workshops uses the picture book Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrae as the center of a lesson on The Hero’s Journey. Once they make the connection to their favorite hero stories from other books and movies, older kids are generally able to learn the steps and then get to work crafting their own epic plots. I’ve also used the poetry workshops from this book with older kids, and they loved it.

I have an adult friend who has special needs, and every other week we get together to do some creative writing. It gives her practice with her reading and writing skills so that someday she can get her GED. Sometimes I use workshops from this book. She and I are currently writing a very funny story about her and her dog getting in a time machine and ending up on a medieval battlefield. We read books about knights for research and inspiration, and then we take turns writing alternate sentences of the story. It’s an approach I’ve used with kids that seems to be surprisingly effective with my adult friend. Perhaps approaches don’t have to vary quite so much by age or grade level—perhaps at our core, we’re all creative beings who enjoy stretching our imaginations to write something funny and weird and nonsensical every now and then.

Lastly, one chapter in your book is titled “All You Need Is a TERRIBLE Idea” … what’s the idea behind that?

As I was compiling my list of picture books and ideas for writing prompts for my book proposal, I noticed something—many of the really funny picture books I love are about characters doing something silly or foolish, or putting two things together that normally aren’t. And it just started to make sense to me: all you need for a good story is a really terrible idea. Books like that were easy to create writing activities for, because they work on an imaginative sort of logic that prompts multitudes of possibilities. But I also noticed that those silly picture books are intrinsically appealing to kids, and that if you give a kid a book about something that makes no sense, they will be curious to see what happens and will anticipate laughs and fun along the way. Furthermore, if you give a kid a writing prompt that is rooted in nonsense, you free the kid’s imagination to do anything they like with that premise—imagining a parade of snails, for example, or trying to teach an alien how to use the toilet. In the end, the child writer bring herself and her ideas to it, and pretty soon she is creating something she never would have dreamed she’d be creating.

Now, some teachers will prefer to encourage kids to just write about themselves and their experiences, and there is definitely a place for that. But when you have a group of kids who don’t know each other, as we usually do at the public library, you have to tickle their funny bones. It’s the quickest way to their creativity!

Read an excerpt from the book at the ALA Store.

Books hot off the press, Meet the Authors at the ALA Store in Orlando

Located just inside the Shuttle Bus Entrance at the Orange County Convention Center, the ALA Store offers products that meet the widest range of your promotional and continuing education/professional development needs—as well as fun gift items. Make sure to carve out some time in your schedule during the conference to stop by and examine the many new and bestselling items available!

ALA Store hours:

  • Friday, June 24            12:00 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, June 25       8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Sunday, June 26          8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Monday, June 27        9:00 am – 2:00 pm

ALA Graphics will feature a selection of popular posters, bookmarks, and promotional materials, including new 2016 Teen Read Week and Banned Book Week items. And stop by early to get your pick of conference t-shirts—they sell out fast! We’ll also be introducing several brand new items and exclusive gifts:

  • Libraries Transform Expert Badges
  • CSK Book Award T-shirts
  • CSK Book Award Pashmina (limited quantity and only available at the Conference Store)

ALA Editions and ALA divisions are excited to offer several new titles hot off the press, such as “RDA Essentials,” by Thomas Brenndorfer; “Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice,” by Debra J. Knoll; and “The Librarian's Nitty Gritty Guide to Content Marketing,” by Laura Solomon. Come by the ALA Store for these special Meet the Author events:

Saturday, June 25      

Sunday, June 26      

Remember that you can now find titles from ALA Neal-Schuman and Facet Publishing in the ALA Store. You can also get free shipping on all book orders placed in the ALA Store (posters, bookmarks, and other gift-type items are not eligible for this offer).

Stop by the ALA Store to learn more about our eLearning opportunities. You can also arrange for a live demo of RDA Toolkit—just contact us by June 20 to request an appointment.

Prices at the ALA Store automatically reflect the ALA Member discount, so there’s no need to dig out your Member number. And remember that every dollar you spend at the ALA Store helps support library advocacy, awareness, and other key programs and initiatives!

Back-to-School with Coteaching: Reading Comprehension Strategies and Instructional Partnerships

For this guest post we welcome Judi Moreillon, author of several books including the recent ALA Editions title Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact.


All across the country the new school year is getting underway. As school librarians consider their unique contributions to learning and teaching in their schools this year, they can make time to review and recommit to their role in reading.

The American Association of School Librarian’s published a position statement on the School Librarian’s Role in Reading that notes: “Guiding learners to become engaged and effective users of ideas and information and to appreciate literature requires that they develop as strategic readers who can comprehend, analyze, and evaluate text in both print and digital formats” (AASL 2007) More recently, AASL published an infographic based on the findings of a National Center for Literacy Education research study that opens with the charge for school librarians to strengthen their commitment to building collaborative cultures in their school learning communities.

So how can school librarians maximize their impact on student learning outcomes this school year?

In school districts and states where the Common Core State Standards are being rolled out with a strong emphasis on English Language Arts (ELA) or where other literacy initiatives are being promoted (see TEKS ELA-Reading Figure #19), improving students’ reading comprehension proficiency is a top priority.

Research in the field of school librarianship has consistently shown that when school librarians collaborate with classroom teachers the results are evidenced in reading scores on standardized tests. Library Research Service has recently posted an infographic that illuminates the strong correlation between students’ reading scores and the work of school librarians.

In my professional books for school librarians and classroom teachers, I provide background information on seven reading comprehension strategies that can be applied across content areas, with multiple text formats, and with different genres. These strategies are aligned with the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner (see my alignment charts here and here). Each of my books, one written for educators serving at the elementary level and the other for those at the secondary level, provides twenty-one sample lesson plans that specify how educators can coteach in order to motivate, model, guide students’ practice, and coassess the students’ progress in applying these strategies. The ALA Editions Web Extras for these books include downloadable graphic organizers, sample student work, rubrics, and other assessment tools—in short, everything school librarians and classroom teachers need to implement these lessons on Monday morning (see below).

If you are a school librarian who is committed to helping students become effective users of ideas and information and producers of knowledge, then aligning reading comprehension strategies with information literacy is a win-win-win situation.

A win for students who can learn to independently analyze texts in all formats and content areas; a win for classroom teachers who have a partner with whom to teach these essential strategies; and a win for school librarians who can use their role in teaching reading comprehension to demonstrate their value as leaders on their school’s literacy teams…

Check out these essential resources:

Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (ALA Editions, 2013) and the Web Extras

Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (ALA Editions, 2012) and the Web Extras

Children’s Programming Monthly Subscribers: November Issue Ready for Download

Children’s Programming Monthly subscribers can access the November issue and our 12-month archive at

The November issue, Me, Me, Me, focuses on one of a child's favorite subjects: ME. From exploring how the body moves and putting names to feelings to becoming more independent, the programs, listed below are spot on.

  • The Name Game
  • Feelings
  • Me Baby
  • Where is Your Belly Button / Donde esta tu ombligo?
  • All About Me
  • Name Necklaces

Not a subscriber? Learn more and subscribe today.

Get the Picture: A Great Hands-On Activity to Celebrate Back-to-school

Whether you work in a school or public library, celebrate the beginning of school year with kids with this great hands-on activity to pair with Mouse Views: What the Class Pet Saw by Bruce McMillan (New York: Holiday House, 1994)!

magicA classroom mouse escapes and takes a tour of the school in this guessing game story.  Close-up, full-color photos show a common classroom item from the mouse’s point of view, and readers must guess what it is.  A turn of the page shows the item in a more conventional view. 

Follow the story with a discussion of the importance of using your eyes and paying attention, then show the kids “mouse-eye” views of items in the library and have them guess what the items are.  In preparation for this activity, take ultra-close-up photos of the items using a digital camera, then either print the pictures or connect the camera to a TV screen to share them with the group.  Then let the children take turns taking close-up pictures of items (with help) and having the others guess what the items are.  This is a wildly popular activity with kids of all ages, and the hands-on component enhances confidence for kids of every ability level.  To extend the activity even further, print the pictures and place them on a bulletin board with the close-ups hanging over the regular views, so that others in the school or library can guess and then lift the top sheet to check their guesses.

Find more great activities for school and public library programming in Kindergarten Magic: Theme Based Lessons for Building Literacy and Library Skills by Kathy MacMillan and Christine Kirker, available now!

Visit Kathy and Christine online at

Carpet Squares: Not Just for Sitting on Anymore

Those good old standbys, carpet squares, can be so much more than just a seat!  Check out these cool new ideas for using carpet squares in your programs.

1) Surfboards: Spice up a summertime or ocean-themed program by inviting the kids to climb aboard their carpet squares and surf along with your favorite Beach Boys tune!

2) Color Action Game: If you have carpet squares of different colors, use them to play a color recognition action game.  (If all your carpet squares are the same color, put processing dots of different colors in the corners.)  Then sing the song below and invite the kids to perform the actions (to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”):         

If your carpet square is red, pat your head.
If your carpet square is red, pat your head.
If your carper square is red, then go ahead and show it.
If your carpet square is red, pat your head.
Blue…touch your shoe…
Yellow…wave to a fellow…
Brown…jump up and down…
White…curl up tight…
Green…do a forward lean…
Black…scratch your friend’s back…
Grey…shout “hooray!”
Any color…give a holler!...

3) Play a life-sized board game: Set up a path of carpet squares around the room, randomly mixing up colors.  (Again, if your carpet squares are all one color, mark the corners with different colored processing dots.)  Designate a starting and ending square.  Create cards of each color by cutting up pieces of construction paper (or put dots on index cards if you are using the dot method.  If desired, mark some squares with pictures relating to your theme and make cards to match.  (For example, a Fall storytime might include a pumpkin, apple, leaf, and tree.)  Have the children line up at the starting square and then take turns drawing a card from the pile.  If a child draws a red card, he or she goes to the first red square.  If a child draws a picture card, he or she must go to that square, even if that means going backwards.  Keep playing (reshuffling cards as needed) until everyone gets to the end.

Literacy variations:

Alphabet matching: Mark the squares with letters of the alphabet and make cards to match.  (Or use a set of magnetic alphabet letters and have each child draw one out of a bag on his or her turn.)  Be sure to ask the child to identify the letter and match it to the correct square.

What’s that sound?: Mark the squares with letters of the alphabet as above, but make cards with simple words that begin with different letters of the alphabet.  On each child’s turn, read a word aloud without showing it to the child, and see if the children can guess the first letter by sound.  If they have trouble, show them the card and help them identify the first letter and its sound before moving to the correct square.  (Make sure that the letters on your cards and squares are consistently uppercase or consistently lowercase to avoid confusion.)  

Big and Little Matching: Mark the squares with uppercase letters of the alphabet, and make cards showing the lowercase letters.  The children must match the letters to find the correct square.

4) Make Your Own Flannelboard: Give each child a carpet square and a set of simple felt shapes, and invite them to tell the story along with you as you use the large flannelboard.  This is a great activity for baby storytimes, as it encourages one-on-one interaction between parent and child, and gives parents a useful model for storytelling with their little ones at home.  A simple flannelboard story such “Dog’s Colorful Day”, based on the book by Emma Dodd, is ideal for this activity. (Download a free flannelboard pattern by artist Melanie Fitz here.)

For older children, consider using this activity with a tangram story.  Tangrams, a traditional Chinese puzzle and storytelling form, are easy to make and can yield thousands of different shapes.  Check out one of the books below for stories and instructions on how to make a tangram set:

Grandfather Tang’s Story: A Tale Told With Tangrams by Ann Tompert.  New York: Crown, 1990.
Grandfather’s Shape Story by Brian Sargent.  New York: Scholastic, 2007.

5) Lilypads: Liven up a froggy storytime with this rhyme, performed on carpet square lilypads.

“Lilypad Rhyme”      
I am a frog, lovely and green
I sit on my lilypad, calm and serene
Until a fly comes whizzing by
Then I LEAP in the air so high!
I stick out my tongue and SLURP.
Down goes the fly and out comes a burp.
I like being a frog, so I don’t think I’ll stop
Because it’s so much fun to hop!
There goes another fly, I really must dash.
I hop into the water with a great big SPLASH!

Follow up by inviting the kids to hop from lilypad to lilypad around the room while you play a frog song such as “Jumping Frog” from Pretend by Hap Palmer (Freeport, NY: Educational Activities, Inc., 1998).

6) Tuffets: Invite the kids to imagine that they are Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet and act out the silly rhyme below.

“Miss Muffet’s Tuffet”.  
Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet
Eating her curds and whey
Along came a spider and sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
But she came back around and sat back down
And continued then to eat.
Her toes got cold, so she was told
To put the tuffet on her feet!
Miss Muffet was done, she’d eaten a ton
But she didn’t care.
The spider came back and jumped on her back
So she waved her tuffet in the air!
It started to rain, she said, “What a pain!
I don’t want my hair to get wet!”
So she lifted her hands like that, and made up a hat
She put the tuffet on her head!
The rain started to slow, and the spider had to go
So she said, “I’ll see you around!”
She put the tuffet on the floor, and then once more
She sat herself back down!

Kathy MacMillan and Christine Kirker are the authors of Storytime Magic: 400 Fingerplays, Flannelboards, and Other Activities
and Kindergarten Magic: Theme-Based Lessons for Building Literacy and Library Skills (forthcoming).  Find more great storytime suggestions from Kathy and Christine Kirker at

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