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    Think Outside the Stacks is an email newsletter where I share inspiration and information for youth services librarians from outside the library world. I seek out content from a wide variety of sources and fields to make your job easier.

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    Book Lists Books Readers' Advisory

    Pop Culture Readers’s Advisory: The Flash


    The Flash is a hit, and one of my new favorites. It’s the story of Barry Allen, a slightly nerdy forensic scientist who finds himself with super speed due to a lightning strike and some scientific irregularities. Barry isn’t the only one who was changed that night and not everyone wants to use their powers for good. Add in some unrequited(?) love, a team of super smart scientists, and a whole bunch of secrets and there’s plenty to jump off from for readers’ advisory.

    As I was working this list a common theme became characters that are in extraordinary situations who might be in over their heads and probably don’t have the whole story.


    Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson

    heroHero by Perry Moore


    Adaptation by Malinda Lo


    Sight by Adrienne Maria Vrettos

    boy nobody

    Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

    last thingThe Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan

    how to lead

    How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller


    The Christopher Killer by Alane Ferguson


    Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan



    Early Childhood

    Why I Will Never Cut Blobs for Felt Board Pieces Again

    This past Christmas I decided to make my daughter (1), niece (1.5), and nephew (2.5) felt boards and felt board sets as gifts. As a crafter with no actual ability to draw or cut a straight line I went looking for a better way, and I found it in this tutorial from Keeping Life Creative. I will never cut blobs out of colored felt again.

    I know that other librarians have used this method before, but I don’t see it used widely so I wanted to share.

    First, you need some cute clipart. These are the sets I used for my project:

    • Monkey Business, Cars and Trucks/City Transport, and Brown Bear sets from MyClipArtStore
    • Farm Animals, Woodland Animals, and Sea Animals sets from PixelPaperPrints
    • Star Wars and Cute Kids sets from Dorky Prints

    I’m planning to do some other themed sets for holidays and birthdays as well.

    Then you need Avery Inkjet T-Shirt Transfers, an iron, and some white felt.

    I used Publisher to fit as many images on one page as I could and printed them out on the transfer paper. Don’t do what I did here, if there is text you need to flip your image so it comes out right when you iron it on.


    Iron the transfer face down on your felt. It takes a pretty hot iron, no steam, and a lot of pressing. I was singing verses of songs while I was doing the ironing so I wouldn’t get impatient and pull away too quickly.

    Here is what they look like on the felt sheets:


    Then you just need to cut around the characters. I left a little bit of the white border because I liked the way it looked. If you are doing a lot of sets be sure to leave yourself time for a break, the cutting got to be hard on my hands.

    And voila:


    You can make your own flannel board by stapling some felt over an artist’s canvas.

    I store our felt pieces by slipping them into page protectors in a three ring binder. For most of the sets I slipped some rhymes in the sheet protector as well.


    There you have it. For me this method has so much better results that it is worth a few extra steps.

    Take It and Run

    Countdowns Beyond Advent

    Take It:

    This isn’t actually my daughter’s first Christmas, as she decided she couldn’t wait until New Year’s last year, but it’s the first time it makes sense for us to start some family traditions, including an advent calendar.

    Pinterest is full of advent calendars. There are knitted advent calendars, origami advent calendars, paper advent calenders. Advent calendars with activities for each day, with a book for each day, or with a treat. The options seem nearly limitless.

    And Run:

    Now, I think there are very good reasons for limiting certain holidays in the public library, but that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace some of the ideas and use them to promote our mission.

    At its heart the advent calendar is a countdown, and there are many ways you can use countdowns in the library. It depends on your patrons and what you’re looking for, but you could set your countdown up as a bulletin board, a take home activity sheet, or a passive program.

    Countdown to Kindergarten – Starting a month before school starts in your area offer a book title or kindergarten readiness activity for parents to share with their soon-to-be kindergartener each day. This would be a great bingo board style activity.

    Countdown to Summer Reading – This might be a little obvious, and it might seem like starting even earlier and we all know nobody wants to do that. However, it doesn’t have to be complicated and it’s a way to pull patrons who usually use the library during the school year into your summer program. I’m thinking of something simple like this board of cards from The Girl Creative

    countdown cardsYour library version could be something like “25 Great Things About Summer Reading”  and cards could include special program info, pictures of prizes, or “Read Anything You Want!” , “Open to all ages!”  as appropriate for your library. As you flip the cards each day you are revealing more and more information about your program. You can even let children take turns flipping each day’s card.

    You could also hang a series of boxes or bags from the ceiling with different objects related to your theme and open one each day.

    Countdown to TAB – Is your Teen Advisory Board getting ready for another year? Why not do a countdown (it doesn’t have to be a month long) of cool things the TAB has done in the past, or “Did you know TAB members help the librarian decide X?”. If you are starting a brand new TAB you could do a short countdown to the first meeting by asking a new question for teens to answer every day. The giant Post-It notes are great for this.

    Countdown to Thanksgiving – Thanksgiving seems to be one of the least problematic holidays to celebrate and the number of books on the theme makes it a good choice. You could set up any type of physical board, but I really like this tree idea from Pottery Barn Kids because a paper version would be pretty simple.


    Each day’s leaf could include a Thanksgiving book or other holiday themed material, something the library is thankful for, or an activity for families to do together. Travel related entries like “Audio books are great for long car rides” would fit well too.

    Countdown to a Book or Movie Release: Is there a big movie or book coming out soon that you want to highlight? Maybe you can’t do an entire traditional program, or maybe you’ve already planned one and just want to get the word out. Take your countdown set-up and fill it up with trivia questions, read-alikes, fun facts, and other things related to the book or author.

    Kid's Programs Take It and Run

    The Fourteenth Goldfish Book Club Event


    The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm


    I’ve long felt that truly great books for middle readers are deceptively simple. The Fourteenth Goldfish is no exception. What at first glance is a well-written, warm, and funny sci-fi story about a girl and her de-aged grandfather also has some serious thought provoking stuff on the wonders and dangers of both science and growing up.

    The general awesomeness and the science content of The Fourteenth Goldfish makes it a great candidate for the focus of a library program. You could add these activities to a more traditional book club meeting or do something all on its own.  My target age on this program would be 4th-6th grade.

    Of course it would be more fun to do this after everyone has read the book, but depending on your audience you could also do this program as an awesome introduction to the book with copies ready to be checked out at the end.

    Here are some activity ideas for your program. They could be done as a group but might also work well as stations.

    Observation:  Melvin teaches Ellie about the the importance of observation in science. Gather up some interesting objects and have the kids share observations about them. A mix of familiar and more unusual objects would be great. It would be even better if you were able to include a living fish, insect, or hamster to observe.

    Book Display:

    -Biographies of scientists, including those mentioned in the book.
    -Books of science experiments that can be done at home.
    -Read-a-likes about middle school, changing relationships, and fiction with science content.

    Technology: If you are lucky enough to have access to iPads introduce the kids to the VideoScience app. You can also watch the videos online if you have computers available instead of iPads. The Elements app is another great one to explore.

    Microscopes: It may be possible to borrow some microscopes and even slides from your local school’s science department.  Make your life easier and see if the high school science teacher can recommend a student in need of volunteer hours that can show the children how to use them.

    Questions: You can either use these for a verbal discussion or pick some to use as writing prompts.

    -Melvin teaches Ellie about the possible. What things would you want to make possible?  (You might need to prompt things like saving bees or polar bears, making sure everyone gets clean water etc.)

    -Would you want to stay young forever? Would you want to stay one age forever? Why or why not?

    -Melvin is passionate about science, Ellie’s parents about drama, and Brianna about volleyball. Have you found your passion? How do you learn more about it? (Great time for some reader’s advisory)

    -Ellie learns that not all scientific discoveries are ultimately good, and that Jonas Salk said “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”  How can we make sure we are good ancestors?

    Booktalks: Take a minute to promote some other great titles for fans of The Fourteenth Goldfish like Kate Messner’s Eye of the Storm or The Evolution of Calpurina Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. Non-report style science non-fiction like A Black Hole is Not a Hole or Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard would be nice tie-ins as well.

    Science Activity: This is a great time to include a maker activity that is science based.  There are endless options on Pinterest, but often they claim to be science actitivities without explaining the science behind them. I recommend Science Bob instead for a list of neat experiments with everyday items and an explanation with each one.