Jumping Off the Holiday Ban-Wagon

Disagreement, while uncomfortable, is a normal and needed part of librarianship.  I know going into this that people will disagree with me.  And many of those people are librarians I deeply admire which in a way makes this post even harder to write. But I truly believe that disagreement is healthy and can be done respectfully. And it definitely shouldn’t stop us from sharing our opinions and engaging in conversations about our profession.

Two weeks ago, Kendra told us to Check our Holidays at the Door.  Kendra advocates against the type of inauthentic holiday programs that some librarians try to squeeze in in an attempt to be “diverse.”  And I am in total agreement that this type of holiday programming is tokenism and should be avoided.  And as someone who grew up in the United States, and is still aware of movements like this one, I can see why for some American libraries it makes sense to focus on seasonal themes rather than holiday ones.

But the problem for me is that this argument was then extrapolated to include all holiday programming in any library ever.  And I think whenever we use phrases like “all,” “any,” and “ever” we have to be aware of the implication of those words.

The reasons given for excluding all types of holiday programming are:

1. You are not an expert on all holidays.

2. Holiday programs exclude and alienate people from the library.

I’d like to address both of these arguments because after grappling with this topic for over a week, I’ve come to realize I simply disagree.  And as a pretty outspoken atheist, I can assure you it has nothing to do with any religious hidden agenda.

#1: Your Community is the Expert

Where I live –  Vancouver, British Columbia –  we take a an approach to holiday programming that encompasses the official government policy of multiculturalism.  As my colleague Tess Prendergast pointed out, we don’t do the whole “melting pot” thing here.

At the Vancouver Public Library where I work we follow a community-led libraries model.  This model was developed to reach community members who have traditionally not used the library due to social exclusion and other barriers.  In this model, the community member becomes the “expert” and helps guide the library in developing services and collections that meet their needs.  Different groups have different wants and needs and our programming should reflect these differences.

Using the community-led model means we work with community groups and other agencies to plan holiday programming which fit with my library’s stated mission to create an “engaged, informed, and connected city.” Recently, my library hosted a week long series of holiday programs called “The Day of the Dead, Coast Salish Style.”  Our VPL Aboriginal Storyteller in Residence, Rosemary Georgeson, has worked in years past with Latino artists from California on the intersections between the Day of the Dead and First Nations traditions around honouring ancestors and acknowledging the life cycle. Drawing on these conversations, she and other library staff decided to work with community groups to put on a week full of art workshops, storytelling, hands on crafts, and participation in a local parade.  This series of programs was a huge success and drew in many community members who have traditionally faced social exclusion from the library.

Here’s another example. At Surrey Libraries, librarians work with community groups to showcase Diwali.  They hosted a program that included a sari wrapping demonstration, a bollywood dance workshop, and menhdi by donation by partnering with a local South Asian women’s group. They also worked with a local arts club called Shan-E-Punjab to provide a Bhangra and Gidha performance.  These festive activities were chosen by the community groups as ways they publicly celebrate Diwali, and it drew a crowd of over 200 people.

Neither of these examples focus on religion; they focus on the cultural significance the holiday has for members of our community. These programs are not viewed as an assimilation tactic or an expression of cultural power or privilege.  In fact, I would argue they do the opposite. They help build partnerships with community groups and foster the belief that all of our cultural backgrounds are welcome and visible in the library.

Do these types of holiday programs happen all year round and for every major holiday from all cultures? Probably not. Like many other libraries, we experience a stress on limited staff and resources, in addition to an ever increasing list of job duties.  But it’s certainly what we strive for, and working with the community in general (not just for holiday programming) is always a top priority. My point is - it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing mindset.  We plan these programs based on community feedback and we try to the best of our abilities to reflect what is important to them.

#2: Every Program Has a Chance of Alienating or Excluding Someone

One of the commenters on Kendra’s post wrote this statement that summed up exactly what I was thinking.  Kate, if you read this post, thank you for this perspective:

…the exact same thing happens when our therapy dog visits, and little Johnny is allergic to dogs. The same thing happens when we don’t buy the hardcover book because we are using that book’s money on a downloadable audio instead; little Johnny with no device nor internet can’t read it. And the same thing happens when we have Lego club on Saturday, instead of during the week because then the Orthodox Jewish family cannot come. Exclusion happens whether we want it to or not (gosh we try so hard for not, don’t we!!), but it happens. Sometimes we don’t see it or know about it, and I think this is the entire thrust of ‘no holiday programs’ – just remove it all together and we won’t exclude (offend) anyone…well, except those that wish we had some kind of fun event because they can’t afford to take their kid to the paid event at the local mall, or don’t want to drag their kids through the department store to see Santa and have to worry about purchasing something. Yep, we’ve now excluded them too, because the library’s events are FREE and open to anyone who WANTS to come. It’s simple really – if you don’t want to come to THIS particular program, then don’t. There will be something equally fabulous some other day that you WANT to come to, not to worry.”

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be mindful of potential exclusion – we absolutely should and I think Kendra’s post gets that point across.  But the reality is some people don’t celebrate anything – holidays, birthdays, nothing – while other people would have a problem with Harry Potter programs because of witchcraft and magic.  So then it begs the question – why are we drawing the line at holiday programs when so many other things we do have a chance of offending/alienating/excluding?  If you look at it from an academic standpoint then the argument starts to fall apart.

Lastly, on a more philosophical level, when I think about the best possible community I imagine a place where ideas are freely exchanged, where we support diversity in actions and words, and where people are open-minded about each other. How do we achieve this? We have to bring people together, and to me the library stands as one of the most appropriate places to do just that. If people only celebrate within their own cultural group, then we’ve lost a chance to bridge a cultural divide and create an inclusive community.

So that’s my opinion.  This is what works in my city.

I’m thankful to all of my fellow library workers for starting and adding to this discussion.

Opposites at Storytime

Ever since we learned the song This is Big, Big, Big from Mel I have been on an opposites kick. Factor in the hungry bunch of toddlers I program for on a weekly basis and let’s just say I’ve developed quite a list. Side note: those toddlers can turn on a dime if they don’t get their fill of the opposites. If you know of what I speak read on, in, down and up!

To get us started I’ve chosen two Hello and Goodbye song combos which feature our friends The Opposites.

Bread and Butter Storytime Welcome and Goodbye Chant

So many great things about this song: like the word marmalade. But also the fact that you can adapt it to opposites which might make an appearance in your program like “let’s say hello like cats if we can” and then “let’s say hello like dogs if we can.” And don’t tell anyone but I also use this with almost every school age crowd I encounter and then challenge them to say hello like Fly Guy or Thea Stilton. Continue reading

One Story Six Ways: Go Away, Big Green Monster!

This past weekend my partner and I spent four wonderful days visiting our best friends in Oregon. They’ve got a 20-month-old, our nephew Ethan, who absolutely loves to read.  And it’s no surprise considering all the early literacy goodness in their home.


Books galore!

Practicing colours with Uncle Jon

Practicing colours with Uncle Jon

Of course we had to take a trip to the bookstore to pick up some new reads, but I also spent some time helping my friend make some felt stories for this TOTALLY AWESOME FELT WALL she created on the side of her kitchen.





We made some weather pieces so she could sing What’s the Weather? each morning, plus Little Mouse, Little Mouse as it is toddler gold.  Because we had bought the book Go Away, Big Green Monster!, I also made the felt version.  Expanding books with felt stories, props, and crafts is a great way to help kids retell stories which supports their narrative skills. They also help children internalize stories and can spark further conversations between parent and child.  And we know the benefits of repetition – repeating stories, songs, and rhymes helps children remember them and helps them understand the stories on different levels. I also love this article on the importance of repeated interactive read-alouds in preschool and kindergarten.

I’ve been wanting to try this out more in storytime. So here’s some different ways I’m going to try out telling Go Away, Big Green Monster! when my next storytime session starts in January.

1.  Read It!

Go Away, Big Green Monster!

In this book you build up the monster and then talk him apart piece by piece. I love having the kids yell, “Go Away” as we read it.  I tell parents that this book is great for helping kids overcome their fears and repetition of phrases is great for brain development.

2. Felt It!

The felt is super easy to make. You do not have to be precise and can use any colours you have on hand.  The best pattern I’ve found is from KidsClub found here.  And I have to share the following picture because we laughed for SO LONG when we came home from dinner one night to find the babysitter’s version. Bless her heart, but we were crying from laughing so hard.

A for Effort!

A for Effort!

3. Use the Puppet!


My library bought the puppet version here. But if you’re crafty you could make this on your own with some fabric and velcro.

4. Draw it!

My colleague Francesca introduced me to this method. If you have a whiteboard or chalkboard, you can easily draw the story and use an eraser to make the monster go away.  Check out this post by So Tomorrow for step-by-step instructions.

5. Use the App!

monster app

We’ve been using this app in our Parents’ Night Out on apps for preschoolers. I love how it has four different ways to read/listen to the story, and I guarantee once you hear the jazz version you’ll never be able to read it in the same voice.

6. Craft It!

We don’t do crafts after storytime at my library, but if we did I’d be all over these! Try creating masks, use this squash painting method, make a Letter M monster, make a paper plate monster, or simply cut out the shapes that make up the face and have kids create their own versions of monsters.  And this post and this post have even more ideas for all types of literacies!

Did I miss any?  What story do you like telling in a variety of ways? Let me know in the comments.

Passive Programs Throw Down!

Way back when, the teachers in British Columbia were on strike for VERY GOOD REASON which led to more kids in the library than we were used to in  June and September, and the Summer Reading Club (while so much fun) didn’t quite stretch far enough. It was at this time that I learned of the magic of Passive Programs. Through colleagues near and far I began to collect these gems and have finally sat down to share them with you. The images below are from some simple but clearly very popular passive programs our friends Alicia and Christie tried out in our backyard!


Getting crafty with bookmarks!


Books can be games too! Just add kidlets.

Origami Books and Paper

Origami= Forever Awesome.

First up, a quick note about why I love Passive Programs oh-so-much:

  • Passive Programs are always running. That means the kids who can only get to you late on a Saturday or Monday-on-the-way-to-picking-up-her-brother can participate.
  • These activities provide a sneaky, yet perfect opportunity to engage with younger patrons while they’re busy honing their ninja skills (just wait!) or heading off on a scavenger hunt. Have a conversation, point to a resource or simply learn a name. It’s all gold.
  • Collection connections! With the right activity or entry point you’ve Indiana Jones’d into the pile of treasure we know (and labour over) our collection to be.
  • Finally, while I wish there was another name passive or low impact programs are just that. Minimal work up front and then fairly easy to deliver and/or maintain. Easy peasy lemon squeezy for busy librarians like you’n’me!

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Pete the Cat Preschool Library Tour and Storytime

In my current position I work mainly with school-age kids, so when I get to do anything related to the 0-5 age range I get SO EXCITED.

This is my excited face

This is my excited face

Last week we had a preschool class come in for a tour and storytime focusing on how to use the library.  I had a really short time frame to plan this program, so the first thing I did was look through Dana’s library tours post to collect ideas. From there, I found Bryce Don’t Play’s Pete The Cat and His Groovy Field Trip Adventure!  I was completely sold. A huge shout out to Bryce for thinking up this amazing idea and sharing it with us all!

Here’s how I took that idea and adapted it for my group. The first half of the program is a modified storytime with a focus on how to use the library. In the second half, we toured the library using Pete the Cat as our guide.  The total program was 1 hour.  I tried to integrate my discussion of the library into the storytime itself.

1. Welcome Song: If You’re Ready for a Story

With new groups I always choose a song they will be familiar with to open the storytime. We did clap your hands, stomp your feet, jump up high, shout hooray, and sit back down.

2. Little Bunny in a Hat Rhyme

I introduced this puppet as the library bunny. When he popped out of the hat he was holding a piece of paper (which they all thought was a book!). We opened the piece of paper and it had the letter “L” on it. We brainstormed different words that start with the letter “L,” ending with library. Then I explained how we would be learning all about the library today.

3. Read Maisy Goes to the Library by Lucy Cousins


After we read this book, we talked about the different things you can do at the library. I held up things like DVDs, audiobooks, music CDs, magazines, plus some of our puzzles and puppets from the children’s area. I stressed that the library is a place to read and have fun. Having concrete materials to show the kids is really important for this age group, especially if they have never visited before.

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We’ll Link to That: Fall 2014

We are excited to finally share our column in YAACING Fall 2014! YAACING is published by the Young Adult and Children’s Services (YAACS) arm of the British Columbia Library Association and if you’d like to catch up on our past columns you can find them here:

While this represents only a snapshot of the amazing work being done by Youth Services professionals, we hope you stumble across new ideas and connect to new blogs. Here we go!

Awesome People Doing Awesome Things

Our Storytimer of the Season comes from slightly farther afield than the Pacific Northwest but we’d do just about anything for Abby Johnson because she does just about everything for our profession. Her recent post on the ALSC blog is a prime example of the everyday advocacy and awesomeness she is about. But she doesn’t stop there and neither should you, read up on her storytime ideas, her adventures in reading wildly and just everything else under the library sun at her blog Abby the Librarian.

Continuing on, we’ll start with awesome people making awesome things! Check out Mrs Todd’s newest storytime pals Lowly Worm and Huckle Cat both made from Richard Scarry patterns from the 1970’s. Her blog A Librarian Less Ordinary has (among so many other things) awesome craft ideas like Monster Bags! Another blog with wickedly fun crafts, especially for the school age crowd is Pop Goes the Page like these spooky shadow play puppets. And speaking of puppets Miss Mary Liberry recently posted a rallying cry for puppets as an early literacy tool including some really simple ideas for those of us less craftily inclined.

There are some new and very exciting things happening in the online world like our two new favourite blogs erinisinire by librarian Erin Davison and Hands On As We Grow by non-librarian Jamie Reimer. When it comes to quick catch-ups Beth Saxton has started to write weekly round ups on Noted, With Thanks that are perfect for staying current and Storytime Katie writes seasonal In Case You Missed It posts which are broken down into neat categories. The folks at Storytime Underground continue to rock and roll with the launch of Storytime University where you can enroll and start earning badges for professional development. And finally we love Flannel Friday and sharks in equal parts so when they held a special Shark Week themed round up and Anne used Scratch to create a video for Shark Week we could not have been more thrilled!

When it comes to advocacy we’ve got some heavy hitters in our Personal Learning Network. To start off with, Angie in response to the violence in Ferguson harnessed the power of twitter and in particular the hashtag #KidLit4Justice to curate a wishlist of books for the Ferguson Municipal Public Library District which was purchased within a day. Check out her post, the booklists and the amazing conversation taking place. This summer a very poignant conversation also took place at Storytime Underground about what it means to be an anti-racist library professional and is well worth a read. Finally, our pal Ingrid The Magpie Librarian put together a survey to gather  and document violations of the ALA Code of Conduct at ALA Conferences and events.  Read about her findings here. Continue reading

Family Dance Party!

This fall I started a monthly program called Family Dance Party. Inspired by the success of my Silly Songs Dance Party over the summer, this program is all about movement and music. Here’s my rationale behind the program:

  • Music programs promote our audio collection – both online streaming and Audio CDs – a part of our collection that is underused.
  • Dancing is a great form of physical activity and appeals to the kids who struggle with being still for long amounts of time. It’s important to offer programs that target multiple different ways of learning.
  • It’s intergenerational – little kids, big kids, aunts, uncles, grandparents – everyone is welcome!
  • And pretty much every single reason listed in this article: The Importance of Music for Children (I never thought I’d link to a Barnes and Noble article but they really hit the nail on the head).

The program lasts for one hour and is a combination of free dance, guided dancing, and musical games. I hold the program in our meeting room and clear everything out except for a table with books and CDs and some chairs in case an adult needs to take a rest. Here’s what we got up to – some of it is the same as my Silly Songs Dance Party, but I’ve added lots of new stuff after listening to over 50 children’s music CDs.

lets all dancelauriecaspar

Body Talk by Greg and Steve on Kids in Motion
This is a great song to begin with because it is slow paced and has the kids go through each of their body parts and warm them up.

Shake My Sillies Out by Raffi on More Singable Songs

Let’s All Dance by Will Stroet on Let’s All Dance
If you have never listened to Will Stroet’s music, stop everything and go listen. A fellow Vancouverite, he is an award-winning bilingual musician who is so flipping awesome. I love using this song because it has simple directions and it includes English, French, and Spanish.

Dance Break: Play Simon Says with Dance Moves
Be as ridiculous as possible. For example, I say things like, “Simon says do the worm” or “Simon says do the sprinkler.” I ask for a few kid volunteers to be Simon and their dance moves are usually LOL worthy.

I’m Gonna Catch You by The Laurie Berkner Band on The Best of the Laurie Berkner Band
What kid doesn’t like being chased?  This can get kind of crazy with a large group, but so far it’s been a huge hit as has everything by Laurie Berkner.

I Wanna Dance by Will Stroet on Let’s All Dance
This song goes through a series of children’s names, giving them the chance to show off their dance moves. I just shout the names of the kids at my program and give them a chance to bust a move.

Jump Up! by The Imagination Movers on For Those About to Hop
A high energy, quick song with lots of jumping and turning around.

All the Fish by Caspar Babypants on I Found You
I like this song because each animal swims a different way and we pretend to be each one. We also make the bubbles pop over our heads, though I could definitely see using this song with a bubble wand or bubble gun.


Dance Break: Musical Chairs
I always have extra songs on my playlist that I use for this game. I love playing music from the 1950s and 1960s. Some of my favourites are “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Rock Around the Clock,” and “Rockin’ Robbin.”

The Freeze by Greg and Steve on Kids in Motion
There are lots of freeze-type songs out there but this is the one I like the best. A huge shout out to Angie for exposing me to Greg and Steve!

Jump Up, Turn Around by Jim Gill on Jim Gill Sings Moving Rhymes for Modern Times
At this point it’s nice to offer a more mellow song that lets you catch your breath. This tune has simple actions so all the kids have to do is follow along.

Shaker Songs:
Time for some egg shakers! After passing out them out we do these three songs:

Shake it to the East by Kathy Reid-Naiman on Reaching for the Stars
Let’s Shake by Dan Zanes on Catch That Train!
Let’s Shake by Will Stroet on My Backyard

Free Dance:
After we have sufficiently shaked, I play a series of free dance songs. People are free to take a break if they need to or grab one of the music themed books on display. I keep dancing with the kids who are still full of energy. Here are some of my go-to songs:

I Really Love to Dance by The Laurie Berkner Band on The Best of the Laurie Berkner Band
I Love It by Eric Litwin
and Michael Levine on Rockin’ Red
Happy by Pharrell Williams on Girl
Horns to Toes by Adam Bryant and Sandra Boynton on Rhinoceros Tap
You Make Me Feel Like Dancing by The Wiggles on Hot Potatoes: The Best of the Wiggles

And that’s it! Right now the only prop I have is egg shakers, but as soon as I get scarves and rhythm sticks I will definitely be adding those into the mix.

Have you ever held a dance party at your library?  Let me know your favourite songs to play!

Don’t Be Shy: Using Puppets in Storytime!

We recently attended a Puppetry Workshop with one of our most beloved instructors from our MLIS, Allison Taylor McBryde, and what a lovely evening it was! Both Lindsey and I have been looking to dust off our puppets and use them in new and different ways and Allison’s workshop was just what we needed.  I thought I’d use this opportunity to share some of her puppet whispering ways, point out some of our favourite puppet songs, rhymes and resources, and see if anyone else has other puppety things to add.

First up if you’d like to experience the awesome that is Allison in (almost) real life check out this one hour video tutorial on Using Puppets in the Library. Some of things we took away from her workshop:

  • Puppets can be used to break down barriers between us and parents/kids, especially when working with vulnerable families. Whereas we can be viewed as a stranger, puppets are inviting and friendly.
  • Always use a story you love, a story you have heard many times and enjoy hearing again. Then find puppets to fit the story. When creating a voice for the puppet it’s not necessary to change your voice dramatically – you won’t be able to sustain and remember it in the long term. Try just going a shade softer or louder or grumpier. The puppet will draw their attention, not necessarily your voice.
  • When using an animal puppet really think about the animal – a turtle will speak slow while a wide mouthed frog will be loud and boisterous. Watch video clips of the animals on YouTube and observe the way they move.
  • Try using puppets with rhymes and poems. “Cheat” by having the puppet read the poem right from the book. You are modeling reading and making it easier on yourself.  Have a “poet puppet” that reads a poem at the beginning of every storytime or seek out poems with dialogue so the poem becomes a conversation between you and the puppet.
  • A couple unusual ways to use puppets in storytime: as cues or guides, like Sleeping Bunnies by showing them with the puppet what you’d like them to do. Or use puppets for readers’ advisory by interviewing a puppet from a story or having them share their favourite book!

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