Canadian Libraries Spotlight: Côte Saint-Luc Library

We can’t believe that we’re well into double digits in our Canadian Libraries Spotlight series, which aims to highlight the outstanding work being done in Canada to serve children and families. This week is particularly exciting as we welcome out first guest blogger from Quebec! Read on as Valerie Medzalabanleth from the Côte Saint-Luc Public Library talks about how her library has gone above and beyond to make the library an exciting place for families to be.

jbrary-flagThe Côte Saint-Luc Library is located on the Island of Montreal, but is independent, and not part of the larger Montreal system. We serve a bilingual community, but it is predominantly Anglophone. I started working at the Côte Saint-Luc Library about four years ago, and I noticed almost immediately that it was a vibrant and well-loved library with loyal users and a fantastic staff. When I arrived, our population of children and families was steadily increasing, and has continued to do so since then. At the time, we were also seeing more and more newcomers, often from other countries; understandably, not all of them came running immediately to the library. One of the things I envisioned was including these new families and helping them find a community here at the library.

Before I began working here, the CSL Children’s Department was known for its great baby programs, and it also had very fun special events. Over the past years, my goal has been to maintain that level of service, loyalty and satisfaction, while expanding the age demographic. I envisioned the department as a place where creative and fun things happened at any time, a place where families, kids, tweens and teens would find something engaging to do whenever they happened to be here. Accomplishing that, in my eyes, meant offering an array of fun programs, but also making sure that there is enough to do when simply visiting the space. If a children’s department is all about families, then we should embrace their presence, allow for the noise that comes with them, and do our best to keep them interested and entertained for as long as we can.

With creating a true community and family space in mind, I’ve been actively working to create and grow the range of opportunities for exploration and collaboration, and there have been quite a few successes. This past summer, we invited the community to complete a puzzle challenge. We left a puzzle out at all times and whenever it was completed, we took a picture of the team or individual who had done it and put it on our “Summer Puzzlers” display wall. To put it simply: this was a big hit. Even those who might not have looked twice at a puzzle before desperately wanted to be on that wall. After their puzzle was completed and their pictures were taken, kids, parents, and grandparents would often return to the library the next day to eagerly search for their picture. We even had a few “too cool for school” teens participating, and more than a few kids who usually came in just to use the computers were asking when we’d change out the puzzle so they could complete it again.

CSL Summer Puzzlers wallOne of the goals of our Summer Reading Club was to have kids want to visit the library on their own time and on a weekly basis. If they were visiting regularly, we hoped that they would also be tempted to read more regularly. To encourage this, we had a weekly treasure hunt, of sorts, which had kids scrambling through the department (safely, of course!) to find a letter X hidden in various spots. This simple game encouraged kids to discover parts of the department that they had perhaps never seen. It was also just plain fun. We never tried to trick the children; we wanted them to enjoy the process of searching for–and hopefully finding–the hidden X. We gave out prizes, but kids seemed to find even more satisfaction in completing the challenge as their parents looked on amused, trying not to give too many hints.

Those passive programs are just two examples of how we worked to get families excited about their library visits. While they were here, I also hoped to tantalize them to return for fun “active” programs. This fall, we had a sock-puppet workshop aimed at 5-to-9 year olds. The program was full; we even opened up extra spaces so more people could participate, reaching our max attendance for a children’s activity. One of the most exciting thing about the workshop was that whole families came. We saw sets of siblings, accompanied by parents and sometimes grandparents, working together and with other families, sharing the resources (glue sticks, fabric markers, etc.) and ideas. It’s incredibly rewarding to organize and lead a program that helps children unleash their vivid imaginations. We gave them the loosest of directions (let’s read this silly story together, then you can sketch out your plans, and make use of whatever material you want to make your sock puppets) and they created superheroes, dragons, princesses and a few entirely original beasties. One nice surprise: a few families posted pictures of the event on Facebook, which raised the profile of the department and our activities even higher.

Riding high on our puppet-makers’ desire to create, I began talking with some of our participants about an upcoming program that I have been really excited about: a parent/child knitting class/group. I have been an avid knitter for about seven years, coming to it as an adult after trying to get the hang of it a few times as a kid. There’s something really rewarding about creating something, and the sense of community that arises when you have a group of similarly creative people around you is like no other. Lots of libraries, including our own, have knitting groups for adults, and some have knitting lessons for children, but I wanted to focus on a cross-generational group. I had previously put out a call to find out if anyone in the community was interested, and almost everyone said the same thing: “My child and I really want to do this, but we don’t know how to knit yet.” This fall, we have started to solve the problem. We are leading two groups into a basic three-session intro to knitting. Afterward, all the participants will be invited to switch over to a monthly meeting. This community-building activity now has a healthy registration; based on early feedback, I’m optimistic that the class will definitely develop into a regular group, and from there, it can only grow!

Knitting-Together_2015-10_500pxWriting this post has been a lot of fun because it has made me focus on the various ways we have tried to keep our public engaged and invested in their public library. I like to think that our active programs help feed into the passive games and toys we have in the library, and vice versa. Just this past Sunday, our weekly storytime took an exciting an unexpected turn right when we were wrapping up, as a group of kids began using our giant tinker toys. It was great to see kids who would never have spoken to each other (despite just having finished a program that they were in together) turn into a team with an ambitious goal: build the tallest tower they possibly could. Looking on, I couldn’t help but think they were demonstrating what it means to be an engaged community by building a tower, and by offering that blend of programs, the public library was helping them get there.

Baby Storytime: Using a Parachute

In this post I’ll explain how and why I use a parachute in my baby storytimes.  I’ve written about it a little bit before, but I wanted to do a more in depth post.  Don’t forget to check out the other posts in our babytime series:

When I first started doing baby storytime, the idea of introducing a parachute was quite intimidating. Would the caregivers even like it? Would they be able to hold the edges and help me maneuver it? How would the babies respond? Do I even have time for it? I am happy to say that although using a parachute in baby storytime takes practice and patience,  I find it a very fun experience that’s been well received by my community.  Here’s the breakdown of how I do it.

My babytimes run for 30 minutes. The last 10 minutes are spent playing.  I think it’s really important to talk to caregivers about the importance of play and give them ideas for ways to play with their babies.  I rotate through egg shakers, puppets, scarves, and the parachute as the “play” part of babytime.  I talk about ways to recreate the parachute at home – with a towel, a blanket, sheets, etc.  I want the parachute to be a chance for them and their babies to explore something new and hopefully get ideas for how to do it at home.  I also use it simply because the caregivers and babies love it.

I’ve only used the parachute with a small to medium sized group.  Usually I get around 10-12 caregivers (+ their babies) at my babytimes and that number has been working well.  I don’t have the space or parachute to accommodate a bigger group, so if you’ve got big numbers you’ll have to access whether it is even plausible to use one. I think it would be, but I don’t have the experience to speak to larger groups.

For my group, I use a 12 foot parachute I purchased from Oriental Trading. I wish I had gone with the 20 foot one though because it can accommodate a growing storytime audience.

The Setup
The picture below shows how I like to set up the babytime when I use the parachute. The mats are for caregivers to sit on, but I also pull some chairs around for those who prefer to sit. I choose a circle layout so that when we start using the parachute we’re already sitting in the right positions.


It’s perfectly fine for babies to crawl on the parachute during the first half of the storytime. In fact, I encourage caregivers to point out the colours and texture the babies see and feel. When we are ready to start using the parachute, I offer these suggestions for ways to participate:

  • Sit baby in your lap and have them try to grab the parachute with you
  • Lay a blanket under the parachute and lay baby on his or her back
  • If baby can sit on their own, have them sit under the parachute
  • Place all babies in the middle of the parachute (works well with small groups and large parachute)

Here’s a video I found showing how to use a parachute with babies:

Unfortunately I can’t take videos or photos of my storytimes, so here are some pictures I found that illustrate what it can look like.

babies parachute
babies parachute 2

Parachute Activities

Once we’re all settled and caregivers have had a chance to get comfortable, we sing some songs and rhymes. Just figuring out how to use the parachute will be a challenge enough at first, so I use familiar songs and nursery rhymes. Just have the parachute mimic the actions in the songs. Check out our Parachute Pinterest board for more ideas, but here are some of my favourites:

  • If You’re Happy and You Know It, Give a Shake (shake it fast/shake it slow/shake it high/shake it low)
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • London Bridge is Falling Down
  • The Elevator Song
  • Hickory Dickory Dock
  • Grand Old Duke of York

I have not used recorded music in my babytimes yet, but my friend Laura says Hap Palmer’s “Slow and Fast” works great with the 6-16 months crowd.  There are also so many song suggestions in the resource links below – go read their blog posts!

I also love playing peek-a-boo with the parachute. We sing Rain is Falling Down and Peek-a-Boo, I See You to end storytime.

parachute babies

Check out these great blog posts for more ideas on how to incorporate a parachute into your baby storytime or other library programs:

Do you use a parachute in your baby storytimes? I would love to hear about your experience!  Please leave a comment with any thoughts or questions.

We’ll Link to That: Fall 2015

Every quarter we write a column for YAACING, a youth services newsletter published by the Young Adult and Children’s Services (YAACS) arm of the British Columbia Library Association.  This fall our column is all about our favourite spots to learn about new books, but make sure to check out the entire Fall 2015 issue! If you’d like to catch up on our past columns you can find them here:

One of our favourite parts of the fall season is learning about all the new books that are soon to hit the shelves. If you’re like us and work in a large system with centralized purchasing, you have to make a concerted effort to stay on top of new releases. Have no fear! In this issue we’re sharing ten of our favourite websites to keep up-to-date on children’s and young adult books, apps, and audio visual materials.

  1. Step Up Readers: The fabulous Storytime Katie has started a second blog and it’s all about those beginning readers your 5-7-year-olds gobble up. This part of our collection can be hard to stay on top of, but Katie comes to the rescue with overviews of series, publishing information, and new releases. She often includes her personal review of the quality and the level of difficulty.

  1. CanLit for Little Canadians: We love promoting Canadian authors and illustrators and this website is a goldmine. Helen Kubiw, a teacher librarian, maintains the site, creating fabulous booklists and making sure we’re all aware of upcoming publications by Canadian creators.

  1. The Nonfiction Detectives:  Run by a school librarian and youth service manager duo, this website is paramount for learning about exciting new information books. It’s the place where Lindsey learned about the new biography of her all time favourite poet that came out April 7, 2015!

  1. Forever Young Adult: If you’ve ever found reading reviews to be boring, you must visit this site! This group of ladies review teen fiction with pizzazz and humor. Not only that, they also recap popular teen TV shows and movies so you can still be hooked into teen culture. Before you start reading, check out their explanation of their book report grading.

  1. Literary Hoots: Emily is one of my favourite children’s librarian bloggers hands down. She posts very succinct and helpful reviews of picture books through YA, but in addition to that she also shares super cool reader’s advisory stuff like this super awesome flowchart for middle-graders. And if you read her blog regularly, you’ll get to see all her storytime and program ideas!

  1. Sense and Sensibility and Stories: If Canadian children’s literature had celebs, we think Rob Bittner would own the red carpet! His blog offers short, honest and extremely succinct reviews of new picture books right up to teen novels, with a focus on both diverse and Canadian materials.

  1. AudioFile: When we asked a colleague where-oh-where we could find reviews of children’s audiobooks she pointed us to AudioFile and we have never looked back. Using the “children” filter for new reviews you can browse what’s new and great or under Features check out AudioRex for children’s audiobook reviews by age category.

  1. Digital Storytime: This is THE authoritative review site for picture books apps. Started by Carisa Kluver in 2010 because she couldn’t locate credible ebook reviews when deciding what to buy for her family Digital Storytime has grown to a robust site searchable by category, age, price and device.

  2. School Library Journal: We know that you know about School Library journal. But, did you know they now host some of your favourite book bloggers like Betsy Bird, Teen Librarian Toolbox, and Travis Jonker? They can be counted on for solid content like Librarian Previews and Reviews (including apps!) but also much richer content like cool author interviews on Fuse #8 TV, The Yarn podcast (which is like Serial but for Children’s Librarians) and super hip Friday Finds.

  3. We Need Diverse Books: This is a hugely important resource for ensuring that we continue to build truly diverse collections and is the flagship of the current movement in children’s literature. Check out the Where to Find Diverse Books section for awards and review sites and the Summer Reading Series (we hope there’s a Fall one!) for great readalike ideas for popular titles and series.

    Do you have a favourite website for collection development ideas that we missed? We’d love to hear about it, give us a shout at


Canadian Libraries Spotlight: Winnipeg Public Library

We are so excited to share our first guest post from Manitoba!  As part of our Canadian Libraries Spotlight series, we’re highlighting the outstanding work being done in Canada to serve children and families. This week we’re learning about the amazing mobile makerspace programming happening at the Winnipeg Public Library.  Megan O’Brien, a youth services librarian at WPL, gives all the details about the five makerspace programs they developed for tweens.

jbrary-flagNo doubt by now you’ve seen some of the amazing makerspaces – physical locations dedicated to creating, making, learning and experimentation. At Winnipeg Public Library, we have taken a mobile approach to makerspace programming. Programs are centrally developed and curated, and the kits are then requested by and sent to any of our system’s twenty branches. Once the -40C degree weather hits, program registrants will only have to go as far as their neighbourhood branch to participate in quality makerspace programming, rather than travel through the snow across the city. This approach allows us to provide users all over the city with access to a wide variety of tech- and craft-based programs.

Another benefit of the mobile makerspace has been increased opportunities for staff to provide input regarding the programs we run. Programmers are invited to follow the included program outline when they receive the kit, but are also able to tweak the program to suit the needs and interests of participants. They then provide reports outlining what worked, what didn’t, and how the program was received by participants. This is a great way to keep branch staff invested and involved in the programs, and to ensure that our programs are meeting the needs and interests of our community.

This summer, we debuted five new makerspace programs for tweens: Making with Minecraft: Treehouse Challenge, Making with Minecraft: Papercraft, LEGO Story Makers, Cubelets Robotics, and Making with Magformers.

making with minecraftMaking with Minecraft: Treehouse Challenge is a tech-based program using a 12-unit Surface Pro lab. Participants can work in teams or on their own to build a treehouse in a closed-world Minecraft environment, which is monitored and run by the program facilitator. At the end of the program, participants show the rest of the group what they built. We weren’t surprised when the program filled quickly, but since the waiting list also filled almost immediately, the decision was made to run the program again, to meet customer demand. A successful program is more than just full registration; however, and I am pleased to say that throughout the entire three hours of the program, the tweens shared ideas, tips, triumphs and struggles, and took a genuine interest in the builds of other participants. When a question had them stumped, it was time to do some research!  The Minecraft books displayed in the program room were a great resource, and the internet helped with the questions that weren’t answered in the books. The tweens completed some very impressive treehouses over the course of the afternoon, and one comment that appeared on all program evaluations was “have a longer program next time!” I guess they had fun!

Making with Minecraft: Papercraft took Minecraft building off the computer and onto the table in front of participants, who were divided into groups and given a set of cubes to build creatures, scenes, or buildings. Once the base of the build was complete, they could add papercraft components such as creatures or decorations such as torches, doors, fences, and even beds and cake, to complete the look. This program originated as a one-off event run by a branch staff member, and used pre-cut Styrofoam cubes as the basic building form. To make the kit components more reusable and longer-wearing, it was decided that the reusable mobile kit would instead use plastic snap cubes. The pictures below are pattern-covered Styrofoam blocks, held together with tape.

paper minecraftsOur LEGO® Story Maker program gave tweens an opportunity to test their storytelling skills, and was a hit with participants. Listening to the kids brainstorm all sorts of wild and wacky plotlines was a lot of fun for program facilitators, and the participants loved using the LEGO® kits to build the scenes of their stories. After each scene was built, the tweens took a picture, which was then uploaded into the StoryVisualizer software we installed on a set of Surface Pros that are used for mobile program purposes. Once the images were uploaded, the software allowed the tweens to create graphic novel/comic book-style projects. Here’s a small example below, where text and a fire sticker have been added to the original image:

story makerNext up is Making with Magformers. Magformers are sturdy geometric shapes that snap together using very strong magnets.  These magnets are free floating in the shapes so that they will always attract and never repel, so any piece can be used in any way.  For this program, each of our five Magformers sets is a station with its own building challenge:

1.    How High Can You Go? (build a tower)
2.    Vroom Vroom and Zoom! (build a vehicle)
3.    Hard Had Required! (build a building)
4.    It’s Alive! (build an animal, creature or robot)
5.    MAGnificient Creations! (build anything you imagine)

Participants can work alone, or in teams. This program kit shipped out mid-June and was in constant use over the summer, only arriving back at the program coordinator’s desk in the third week of September. The bright colours and ease of use make this program appropriate for our 6-8s, as well as our tween demographic, and it never seems like there is enough time for the participants to do all the building they would like!

magformersmagformers 2The other new-comer tween program this summer was our Cubelets Robotics program. This program allows participants to explore some of the ways in which robots think, sense, and act (three key qualities for a machine to be considered a robot). The kit comes with LEGO® brick adapters, so once the tweens have had a chance to test the functionalities of different cubes, such as the distance sense cube, flashlight action cube, brightness sense cube, or inverse think cube, they can work on building their own robot, capable of thinking, sensing, and acting. The interactive exploring and experimentation involved in this program brings a lot of creative energy into the room, and received many positive comments and requests for more this summer! Below is a picture of a Cubelets flashlight using the flashlight cube, the light sense cube, and a battery cube.

cubeletsCurrently waiting for its first public run is the Duplo® Story Maker program for parents/caregivers with children 3-5 years. Similar to the LEGO® Story Maker program, Duplo® Story Maker is a fun way for young children to develop their storytelling skills by building scenes using the Duplo® blocks and the background scenes that come with the sets.

Winnipeg Public Library began developing its roster of makerspace programs in 2013, and the number of maker programs has risen steadily to now include 5 adult programs, 6 teen programs, 8 tween programs, 3 school-age programs, and 1 pre-school program.  The Makerspaces Programming Working Group is always looking for ideas for new programs, especially for younger children, and are excited to see what our next mobile makerspace program will be!

At Winnipeg Public Library, our goal with makerspace programming is to encourage excitement about and experimentation with learning by providing access to technology and materials in such a way that participatory, collaborative learning can occur. Along with strengthening reading, sequencing, storytelling, and social skills, these programs offer participants an opportunity to engage with multiple literacies. These can range from computer and technological literacy to information, visual and digital literacy. This approach encourages “outside the box” thinking by providing participants a framework in which they can safely try new things, without fear of judgement, thereby increasing the potential for innovative knowledge creation, as opposed to simple knowledge consumption.

By supporting the development of transferable skills and bringing together community members in a fun and positive environment, library branches become a destination of choice within the community. Makerspace programming is an investment in our community, and is a valuable addition to the traditional programs run at Winnipeg Public Library. The programs I’ve outlined above are just a few of our offerings, a list which will continue to grow to meet the needs of Winnipegers throughout the city.

Falling for Storytime: A Collection of Our Fall Favourites

We can hardly believe it’s here already, but with leaves which look as if they’ve been set on fire and cool, crisp mornings Fall has most decidedly arrived. We’ve had a couple folks on Twitter ask for some new ideas for fall themed storytimes and we are more than happy to oblige! Here is a collection of our favourite songs and rhymes, books and more.

Let’s start with songs and rhymes. While you can check our our Fall or Autumn Playlist any old time, we wanted to take this opportunity to show off our new favourites!

5 Little Pumpkins

This is a classic counting rhyme which can be done using the book, flannel board or even five little finger pumpkins!

Pumpkin Chant

This was first brought to our attention by the incredible Rebecca in her post about Pumpkins and Compost. Then imagine our delight when retired Children’s Librarian Jane Willis Johnston who wrote it gave us permission to record. And with that, we happily share what should be the pumpkin pie of your storytime!

Rain on the Grass

Please allow us to step away from pumpkins for one quick minute. We learned this one from Anne at So Tomorrow and think it’s the perfect way to sing about rain, sun, leaves and snow or whatever the fall is throwing at you.

Pumpkin, Pumpkin on the Ground

While not new, Lindsey and I were reminded of this little gem because of how often we get asked for songs and rhymes with sign language.  Use the sign language or encourage the children to use their whole bodies with this action rhyme.

When it comes to book we’re not even going to attempt a list because Rebecca, Queen of Fall, has put together an absolutely phenomenal and comprehensive list. It’s even divided into sections like leaves, harvest, apples, pumpkins, animals in autumn and OH MY GOSH STOP READING AND GO THERE RIGHT NOW! (And when you’re there scroll down to learn how to make pumpkin stew in storytime!)


Finally, if you’re looking for craft or extension activities check out our Fall Storytime Pinterest board for these plus lots of books, songs and rhymes. Now it’s your turn: what are your favourite songs, rhymes and stories to share in the Fall? Leave us a note down below!