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    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.

    Kid's Programs Programs Teen Programs

    Go Big or Go Home Part 2: More Giant Fun

    Go Big or Go Home is easily the most popular post I’ve ever done, and I’m happy to say that I was able to round up a couple more ideas for giant activities for special library events. I’ve even found one or two for the younger set.

    Giant Version of LCR from DIY Showoff. You could also use red plastic plates for discs and save yourself a lot of work.



    The Apex HS Art Department has a full PDF explanation of how to create an amazing post-it note mural



    If you have some easily cleaned space try some spirograph-like  Pendulum Painting from Martha Stewart:



    How about something big for the little ones?  Studio DIY has a giant matching game.   



    Or maybe a giant game of Tic Tac Toe Toss like this one from Multi-Testing Mommy?

    Giant Tic Tac Toss

    There are many different ways to make large dice for all your gaming needs. I’ve had good luck with inflatable dice in the past, but I really like these fabric dice from Craftbits especially for younger kids.





    Teen Programs

    Ice Breakers for Teen Program Success

    Teens love to express their opinions, but most of us have had a TAB, book group, or other program where teens are just not talking. Like everyone else most teens are more willing to express themselves when they are comfortable with the people around them. If your group is made up of teens who don’ know each other or who know each other from school but don’t otherwise socialize you might try some ice breakers to warm them up.

    There are lots of icebreakers online and in books, but in my experience good icebreakers for programs:

    • Need little introduction
    • Require few materials
    • Do not require too much personal information
    • Do not involve touching more than hand to hand
    • Do not have a single winner, or preferably a winner at all

    Once a group is comfortable with each other you might move on to more complex team-building activities that sometimes go beyond these rules, but that’s a different post for a different time.

    Running icebreakers successfully

    • Know your audience. For example, if you have a lot of teens from conservative and/or homeschool families you might pass on games that require pop culture knowledge.
    • Be flexible. Yes, this is the number one key to youth services in general but it goes twice for activities with no import like icebreakers. If it’s not working well cut it off and try something else.
    • Participate! You want them to be comfortable with you as well as each other. If it’s something you don’t want to do chances are they don’t either.
    • Start slow. If you have a really quiet or shy group don’t jump into the high activity list right away.
    • Unless you know and trust the group “I Never” is a very, very bad idea.

    great group games

     This book is in my own personal resource collection and it has a lot of ideas from simple ice breakers to more complex team building games. Each activity lists the time it takes, supplies, set-up, and how to play. They also include questions if you are looking for deeper lessons in the activities. There is now a kid’s edition that looks like a good choice as well.

    A few favorites:

    Song Battle

    Split the group in two and pick a word that appears in a lot of songs like love, happy, or baby. The teams take turns singing a song with the chosen word in it until one team can’t think of a song that hasn’t been used.  Alternatively you can do this Pitch Perfect style where each team has to sing a song with a word taken from the song sung before it.

    Birthday Line-Up

    Without talking the group has to line up from youngest to oldest.

    Three Questions

    Have each person in the group write down three questions for everyone to answer.  Things like their favorite book, farthest they’ve traveled, favorite meal etc.   If needed warn the group that you are reading the questions and you’ll skip any that aren’t appropriate. Put all the questions in a bowl and draw them out giving everyone in the group a chance to answer.

    The Wind Blows

    Place the chairs in a circle. There is one less chair than persons. The person without a chair stands in the middle and says “The wind blows everyone who…” and finishes with something simple and not too personal.  “Is wearing blue”, “Had cereal this morning”, “Is in 9th grade” etc.  Anyone who fits the description has to get up and find  a new chair. The person left without a chair is now in the middle and has to come up with something.  I’ve never had it happen but it is possible the question could go somewhere unfortunate, a simple “try again” should get the point across.


    Pass around M&Ms and tell each teen to take a few. Once everyone has their candy tell them they need to share one thing about themselves for each candy they have. This is extra fun because being greedy totally backfires.


    The group sits in a circle and everyone says their name. One person is in the middle with a pool noodle or pillow. A name is called and the person in the middle has to whomp the person whose name was called on the leg before that person can say their name and someone else’s. If the middle person manages to whomp the person they switch places, if the person says two names first the person in the middle stays and the person whose name was said second calls out the next name.

    If you don’t have time to search for more on your own you can buy 21 mixers/icebreakers complete with graphics from Youth Leader Stash.

    Kid's Programs Programs

    The Land of Stories: Five Activity Ideas for Library Programs

    LOS1Chris Colfer's THE LAND OF STORIES

    Today the second book in the Land of Stories series, The Enchantress Returns, will be released.  I’m pretty biased when it comes to the author so instead of a review I bring you program ideas. This would be a great tween program as the audience for the book extends past it’s middle grade-ness.

    Versions of Fairy Tales

    Alex and Connor’s teacher talks about how the original versions of stories have been lost to modernization and Hollywood versions. Why not check your collection for various versions of the same story and have the kids compare and contrast? Do a little research and share the oldest version you can find as well. Sur La Lune Fairy Tales will get you started.

    Writing Activity:Fairy Tales from a Different Point of View

    “What the world fails to realize is that a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”

    Challenge students to write a version of a fairy tale from the point of view of the villain. You could share The True Story of the Three Little Pigs to get them thinking. How would the witch in Hansel and Gretel explain her actions? What about the tailor in the Emperor’s New Clothes?

    Fairy Tale Improv

    For a more active game get silly with favorite stories. Pick a couple of well known stories and several ways to perform them like fast forward, slow motion, super sad, cowboy style etc. Make a spinner with each of the styles and have participants spin the wheel and volunteer to act out the story in that particular style.

    Make a Map 

    Provide large sheets of paper and let kids create a map of their own imaginary world just like Chris Colfer did as a child. Here is the author’s childhood map of The Land of Stories and the professionally illustrated version from the actual book.

    Chris's map

    TheLandofStories_MAP (1)

    Fairy Tale or Literary Wanted Posters

    In The Land of Stories Goldilocks is a wanted criminal. Have students create a wanted poster for her or another literary criminal. This could easily extend beyond fairy tales to other literary bad guys like Count Olaf or Bellatrix Lestrange.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, my pre-order copy should be here any time.


    Doing More With Summer Reading Data

    Pretty soon youth services librarians across the country will heave a giant sigh of relief and wrap up their summer reading programs for the year.  Beyond soothing over-competitive or under-organized parents, making sure all the vendors are paid, and breaking out the wine and/or chocolate it’s also a time for evaluation and reporting.

    Traditionally we track the following things depending on the structure of your program:

    Number of registrations
    Number of participants reaching a pre-determined completion point
    Program attendance
    Circulation (You are including this in your SRP stats, right?)

    This is all important information, and numbers are essential when telling our story and advocating for our programs and services to administration and outside funding partners.

    However, given the wide use of Evance and other electronic registration systems there are some other numbers that can help us evaluate our offerings and possibly grow participation in the future. If you didn’t get this information this year don’t worry, it will be time to plan next year’s program before you know it. (Sorry)

    New Participants vs. Repeat Registrations

    Are you reaching your entire community or are you preaching to the choir? Of course we love our regulars, but those are the families who would likely read over the summer anyway.  If we really want to make a difference we want to reach out to families that might need the incentives, whatever they might be, to make reading a priority over the summer.

    One way to see if this is happening is to count the number of kids registered this year who have never participated in summer reading before. It’s true you would need data from previous years for this, unless you asked upfront if this is their first time, but it might be worth it.

    While you are doing that look for other patterns in new registrations such as school affiliation or location which we’ll talk more about below.

    Age Participation

    Usually we keep stats in two or three broad age groups such as preschool, school-age, and teen. Yet it might be instructive to look a little deeper at these numbers. If you run your program from birth to high-school are you actually getting participation from all of those age groups?  Looking for more detail will let you see who you are and aren’t reaching.

    Do you need to modify your teen program to appeal to high school students?  Do you need better publicity to get the word out to parents that their littlest ones can participate as well? Do fifth or sixth graders participate in your kids’ program or is it aimed too young?  You won’t know without the numbers.

     School and Location Information

    For libraries serving larger populations this can be very interesting, especially when these numbers don’t line up along socio-economic or geographic boundaries.

    What schools have the highest participation compared to enrollment? The lowest?  Gains or losses from previous years?   It might be wise to reach out to schools in the fall both to encourage and thank those schools with high participation and to see how we might better reach schools with low participation. Sometimes schools can help us overcome tricky problems like providing translations of program materials or contacts for summer programs where we might reach children who can’t get to the library.

    What branches have large gains or losses in registration? There may be new staff, schools that have opened or closed, changes in school staff, or competing programs that influence these numbers. How can under-performing branches plan for next year to improve their results? How can the library as a whole support both these branches and ones that are overwhelmed with participation?

    Obviously there are tons of factors to consider when evaluating your summer reading program and we know that the strict numbers only tell part of the story.  Still, it’s worth our time to get the whole story the numbers can provide. Now, go dig into that chocolate. You’ve earned it this summer.