Library person. Geek person. Extrovert person. Person about whom other adjectives apply.
Hobbies and interests include library as centers of community, narrative non-fiction (though strangely not most memoirs), fairy tales, Excel spreadsheets (weird, I know), baking way more than I should ever eat, west coast swing dancing, being a beverage snob, and probably too much Doctor Who. If you enter the world of my social media, you have been warned (pleasantly!).
I currently work as a Youth Services Librarian at a small suburban library, but I've done a bit of everything at a smattering of libraries around the Pittsburgh area, including academic and public libraries (check out my résumé for more detail). I think that libraries are centers of community and informal education, and think a lot about how we can measure that outside of program numbers and circulation stats, especially for youth services.
Outside of work, I'm enjoying learning about fine whiskey, good cocktails, and great people.
Copy of Little Blue and Little Yellow for each child.
For Frosting Station:
Blue food coloring
Yellow food coloring
Red food coloring
1 paper plate/child
1 popsicle stick/child
Small garbage bags, cut into bibs
For Paint Station:
1 small plastic bag/child
Yellow tempura paint
Blue tempura paint
For Playdough Demo (If there’s enough playdough, can be a take home activity):
Lots of handwipes
1 Day Before:
Make the blue and yellow playdough, if making your own. Use any recipe that won’t dry overnight.
Mix vanilla frosting with food coloring to create colored frostings.
Precut garbage bags into bibs, if necessary
Put tablecloths/newspaper down in each activity area.
Set up paper plates at the frosting station. Put some of each color frosting in the frosting station for parents to help their kids with. Put supply of bibs at this station.
Get blue and yellow paints in small bottles if available, so children can more easily squirt them in themselves. If only large bottles are available, ask parents to help. Put plastic bags near the paint.
Read Little Blue and Little Yellow together. Try to have enough books for each child and parent to have a copy as well. I used the board book version to make it stand up a little better, as our “preschool” crowd often verges on toddler. If you have colored lenses, you can use these to help children see the combination of blue and yellow in a way that separates back out. When you’ve read the book, as about colors. What happened when little blue and little yellow hugged?
Reinforce color mixing by showing them the two balls of playdough. What will happen when you mix them together? Start with a small blue ball and a small yellow ball (have a backup of each handy for the end of the story.) Have the children walk back through the story with you. When blue and yellow hug, mix the dough together. What color is it now? What colors make green?
When you’ve retold the story, have them try some mixing of their own. For mess-squeamish settings, the paint in a plastic bag can be cleaner, and yet still a nice sensory way to have children squishily explore color mixing. Squirt some of each color into opposite corners of the bag and seal it shut – reinforce with tape if necessary. Children can then squish the bag to mix the paint colors, creating spectrum of yellow, blue, and green.
At the frosting station, children can make a color wheel out of frosting on their plate. The addition of red at this table increases the number of colors they can have. Have a color wheel example on hand, but allow children to explain with color mixing in all forms. Let them take the plates home.
Parents and children can move between stations as they will.
What happens when blue and yellow mix?
What about other colors? Do they mix?
Can you mix other colors together to make blue, red or yellow? Why not?
These activities allow for some messy, sensory play that can still be contained in a library. Color is an easy way to introduce a variety of art activities that we will be doing in the coming weeks. Seeing that color works the same in various mediums (light, playdough, and paint) will help children feel more comfortable as they experiment with various art methods, as well as encouraging scientific observation and questioning. This is an easy way to help children who are used to normal library storytimes (the ones with books) transition into other learning activities and events at the library as well.
Encourage parents to show children how color mixing works. When making pancakes, for instance, adding food coloring can change the dough, and thus the pancake. A tasty learning opportunity!
Schwake, Susan. “Ice Drawings.” Art Lab for Little Kids. 2013. p 36.
“Primary Colors.” Ok Go for Sesame Street. 2012. http://youtu.be/yu44JRTIxSQ - 1:30 music video reinforcing primary colors as the basis of all color.
White Cover Stock
Prepared Ice Cubes (See “Preparation”)
1 week to 1 day before:
Fill an ice cube tray with water, dropping 5 or 6 drops of food coloring into each section based on the colors you want. Put the tray in the freezer. When half frozen, put craft sticks into each section to serve as handles. Leave some cubes without handles to be used directly with the hands
Cover tables and area around tables with plastic table clothes or newspaper. Food coloring stains!
Transfer color cubes into egg cartons for easier access.
Set out card stock at each station, making sure each station has easy access to an egg carton full of color cubes.
Talk to students about color mixing. Some will have mixed colors last week in the Little Blue and Little Yellow day. Ask them what happens when you mix blue and yellow. When they realize it makes green, ask about other colors. What happens when you mix blue and red? Yellow and red? Let them experiment with drawing a picture with the ice cubes, which will act like solid watercolors. Some may stick with the primary colors you’ve created, others may start by mixing. Explain that layering the colors mixes them, creating new colors, and encourage them to try this method. Encourage creativity and experimentation. For instance, does a green line look different if you go back over it a second time? What if you go over it with blue? Some students may begin to grasp the idea of primary and secondary colors.
What is a primary color?
What happens when you mix primary colors?
What happens when you add two lines of the same color?
This activity is focused on experimentation and experience. Children will create an artifact (their ice paintings) while discovering how colors interact with each other. While not all children will understand primary and secondary colors or the color wheel, this will form a concrete activity to begin thinking about this rather abstract concept.
Lay a paper or other canvas material inside the lid of a cardboard box. There should not be much extra room. If there is, make sure the canvas is secured flat against the bottom of the box so that the marbles can roll over it. Having paint in squirt bottles makes it easier to add to each box quickly.
Have two volunteers each pick an object. Ask the class which object will fall faster – which will hit the ground first. Record the guesses (hypotheses). Have the group count down from 3, with the volunteers dropping their object at the count of 0. Have the group watch to see which hit first. Was it the object they expected? Repeat this activity several times in order for students to make observations and hypotheses several times using different object comparisons. Have students draw each object and record which one fell faster.
(Note: As gravity will affect all objects equally, any discrepancy will be based on air resistance and the quickness of the volunteer in dropping them. If it becomes an issue, have the volunteers trade objects as a control.)
If facilities permit, have a chair or other platform available for those that want to be higher. A summer variation might include water balloons filled with different amounts of water.
Read Gravity. Ask students what they noticed in the book’s illustrations. What sorts of objects fall to earth? What happens when objects have no gravity? Where might there be little or no gravity? Ask them to think about environments where gravity might act differently for next week.
Start the Art Activity. Note that depending on class size, it may be wise to prepare more than one painting set. If possible, children should do this art project in groups of 2-4, although older students with more coordination may be able to do it on their own, particularly with smaller canvases.
Have students each hold a side of the box. Place the marbles inside the box and have them move the marbles by lifting and lowering the sides of the box. Remind them to keep the marble inside the box, but have them observe how the rate of movement changes depending on the amount of difference between the high end and the low end. (This will help prepare them for the simple machines unit). Once they seem to have a grasp of this (or when you are at least reasonably sure the marbles will stay in the box), add a squirt or dollop of paint to one section of the canvas. Have the students try to roll the marble through the paint and then around the canvas. After a few minutes add a second color, then a third if time allows.
Tell the students that this is gravity in action! Remind them to think about examples of places that gravity isn’t as strong.
Clean up and dismiss the class.
What is gravity?
What things fall?
What happened to each of the objects as they fell?
Why do you think that happened?
Is there any relationship between size and speed? Between weight and speed? Between height and weight and speed?
Can you categorize the items in any way at all?
Adaptations for Older or Younger Groups:
Have students compare a flat piece of paper and a crumpled piece of paper in the discrepant activity. Begin to lead their thinking toward air resistance and mass, reminding them of the space occupied by air (and so the idea that air is “in the way” of gravity).
Begin to lead their thinking towards the idea of mass. Define Mass [How big an object is.] Clarify that objects with different masses will hit the ground at the same time if an outside force (like air resistance) does not affect them.
Students can skip the written explanation on the “What Falls Faster” worksheet. For PreK and K children, the teacher and other adults may be used in place of student volunteers for the drop experiment.
Last week wrapped up the weather unit about tornadoes, including the building of a tornado tube. Students may remember that air filled up the bottom bottle (air pressure), and that water falls because it is heavier than air. Quickly reminding students of these comparisons and observations at the beginning of the class session may be beneficial and put them in the right mindset
Next week will be about defying gravity – floating in the water, jumping up, and the International Space Station. Consider leaving the items used in today’s dropping experiment for use in a water tank next week so that students can compare what happens when an object is dropped through air and when it’s dropped in water. What other forces are at work when something is dropped in water? What lifts it up? The movement up, and the amount of force it takes to escape gravity, will be the focus of discussion, aided by the use of the storybook Mousetronaut by Astronaut Mark Kelly, and culminating in the launch of a pop-bottle rocket with the group.
Schwake, Susan. "Fold Me a Print.” Art Lab for Little Kids. 2013. p 76.
For the Mirror Demo:
Household objects, some symmetrical, some not
For “Making Shapes” Take Home:
20 craft sticks/child
Markers in assorted colors
For “Fold Me a Print”:
1 Day before:
Prepare bags of 20 craft sticks each, along with instructions and one example set. Be ready to do this activity if there is time, but also make it understandable in case it’s a take home activity.
Cover work area with newspapers/table cloths. Create an example of the folded print.
Lightly draw a line of symmetry on the card stock, some vertical, some horizontal.
Set up each station with easy access to a palette of paint, a piece of cardstock, and a paintbrush. Children may choose to use their fingers instead. Have hand wipes available if this is the case. Pre-fold some of the card stock for those who can’t quite fold, making it easier for them to get a good symmetrical fold.
Paraphrase Let’s Fly a Kite for the group. Some things are the same on both sides of a line – like the beach blanket, the kite, and the sandwich. What about some other household items? Hold up things like a fork, a mug, and a picture of a pizza. Are they symmetrical? Why? Show them the line of symmetry on each item using the mirror. For non-symmetrical items, have them say what’s wrong (e.g. there’s 2 handles on the mug).
For the activity, have children look for the line of symmetry on their card stock. Ask them to fold it in half. It doesn’t have to be exact, but it should be close, so ask adults to help as necessary. Explain that things that fold in half exactly are symmetrical. Tell them to paint on just one side of their folded line. They can paint any shape they’d like, but after each color, have them fold the paper in half on the line again. After the first print, they will begin to understand that the mirror image of the paint will appear on the other side of the line. They can continue painting until their design is complete.
What is symmetry?
Can you find a line of symmetry?
Children can apply their understanding of color mixing, learned the past 2 weeks, to this paint and print activity. Allowing them to see their painting after each piece of color added gives them insight into the process of symmetrical prints, and to printmaking in general. Symmetry is an easy-to-demonstrate concept, but sometimes hard to grasp. By allowing them to see symmetry in things they create as well as things in the world around them, children will have a firmer understanding of this basic geometric concept.
Have children hold their hands in front of them, thumb to thumb. Ask them if the shape made by their hands is symmetrical. Show them that when they fold their hands together (palms pressing together), their hands line up perfectly – they are symmetrical, and the line of symmetry was the line between their thumbs. Are there other body parts that are symmetrical? Face? Feet? Ears?
Some days, you plan everything and it just doesn't work. Other days, you kind of forget about the fact that you're actually running storytime until the day of... (I've never done that, don't look at me like that...)
I grabbed some moose books. Yes, moose. We had just gotten "This is a Moose" by Richard T. Morris in, and that proud moose was perched atop the new picture books. It spoke to me, but was a little long for my toddlers. So I started searching.
There are SO MANY moose books.
I ended up using "Duck, Duck, Moose" by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, which is great for a small group. It only uses the three title words throughout the story, which leaves lots of room for interaction between the storyteller and the children as they figure out the story. The pictures tell of a very hyperactive moose who always seems to be messing up something that the ducks are doing. But when it's revealed that the ducks are trying to set up a surprise party for moose, they can't find him - he's too sad that he's in the way. But they good duck friends bring him back to the party - and there ain't no party like a duck and moose party!
Fair warning: this book is a little small, so if you have a bigger group, you may not like this one.
We also did "Looking for a Moose" by Phyllis Root. This is a kind of "Going on a bear hunt" in book form. All we know is we have never, ever, ever, seen a moose, and we really, really, really want to see one. The book takes you through hills and forests and swamps to look for moose. The kids loved this one - it gave them plenty of opportunity to look for signs that moose had been there, along with some great onomatopoeia and nonsense words.
We did some moose songs, too. They are sprinkled about the web (Check out my resources below, but this one went over best:
Action Rhyme : “Mr. Moose” (via The Door2Door Librarian) Mr. Mr is very tall (put hands to head for antlers) His antlers touch the sky (hand high up in the air) They make a real good resting place (put hands out to sides) For birdies passing by (flap arms like wings)
Really, what I discovered from this is that kids love to make moose antlers with their hands. Since we did this song before the books, I encouraged them to put up antlers every time I said the word moose during the first book, and everytime they saw a moose clue in the second book. The loved it.
We had a moose craft, too - make your own antlers! We just made construction paper headbands and had them glue on wavy horns that the adults cut out, but they really enjoyed getting to be moose for the rest of the day.
Since I took Ms. de Jesus and Ms. Rabey at their word the first time around, I feel compelled to do so again. I took them at their word the first time because I live in a culture that tacitly accepts microaggressions of all kinds because that's how it's always been. A culture that is so steeped in gender stereotypes (among many other kinds) that it's sometimes hard for a woman to recognize she's being slighted or even harassed. I hadn't been part of the harassment described in their blog posts and tweets, but I had seen it and felt it so many other times. It was a fact of life, not only in our profession, but it my daily life, and I had no reason to question their statements.
Now, since they have retracted their statements and made apologies, my thoughts turn to that larger issue that made us believe in the first place. I don't know the behind-the-scenes information that prompted the letters of retraction, nor do I imagine they were lightly undertaken by Ms. de Jesus and Ms. Rabey. The facts of this particular incident are only a side item in what is clearly the real issue.
The initial movement to support #teamharpy gained traction fast. This leads me to believe that others in the library field and beyond had seen this type of behavior before. Perhaps not with Mr. Murphy, but with other men and women who make conferences uncomfortable. And we all know that it's not limited to conferences. A recent chat with a colleague revealed that several members of her staff were "bearing up" under near-daily harassment from patrons at the front desk. Another friend recently confirmed that coworkers just told her it was a compliment when an older man consistently made her feel uncomfortable by commenting on her appearance and apparent singleness.
This is not limited to #teamharpy. Be angry if you want - we all have our reasons for disappointment. But don't for a moment believe that we are beyond this type of harassment. That we don't try to silence those who would come forward with veracity. That we are, as a female-dominated profession, beyond this. We see it at the front desk, in the conference room, in interviews, and at conferences. I see it from a rather privileged place, and my stories are tame compared to many that my friends and colleagues have experiences.
I've already seen the references to "The Boy Who Cried Wolf."
If the only way you can "raise awareness" is to lie and harass an innocent man, then perhaps your grievances are imagined. #teamharpy
But Ms. de Jesus and Ms. Rabey had little to do with that. They were a cry of wolf, and when the people showed up and it wasn't there, they said not only was there not a wolf now, but maybe there are never really wolves to begin with just a lot of bored shepherd boys. Rape culture works to insidiously discredit victims who would speak out before they are even harassed. Exceptions are claimed as rules and the experiences of myriad women are swept away as "compliments" or "lies" or "attention seeking." There's a wolf out there. Sometimes packs and packs of them. Don't ignore them because it's more comfortable.
I have been called a harpy and worse for talking about things that make people uncomfortable. I have been told I'm not telling the truth to the point I started to believe it. I have watched the same camps that are now screaming about this case fight time and time again. #teamharpy was the battleground this time, but let's not pretend that the fight is over.
Library staff are often crunched for time, particularly in the youth services department (although I may be biased here). To that end, getting the supplies and planning for a single science activity that can be used in multiple age groups has a real, measurable time and budget savings. It's important that these activities not only be adaptable in practice, but also in interest level. So to kick off this new occasional blog feature, I thought I should start with something everyone loves: silly putty.
I have a love of making silly putty. It's fun, it's easy, and you can change it up to suit the lesson you're trying to convey. I tend to use the very simple glue/Borax mix. (I know, I know, it's not actually silly putty. I'll address the chemical difference in the "Teen Program" section.)
- 1 8 oz bottle of Elmer's glue (brand is weirdly important here)
- 1/2 cup warm water, supersaturated with Borax (just mix in Borax until it starts to settle out of the solution)
- a plastic bag
NOTE: I don't ever measure it out as they do here. I tend to put some glue and some supersaturated Borax solution into a Dixie cup and stir. If it's too hard, add more glue, if it's too soft and sticky, add more Borax solution.
I used this silly putty for part of my color mixing curriculum. This recipe creates a white silly putty, but with a few quick drops of food coloring into the glue before adding the Borax, the kids saw how adding a bit of yellow to the red completely changed the color of their silly putty. After mixing it up initially, children can take their finished silly putty and mix it together. Create a batch of blue and a batch of yellow? Try to play with them together until you get some green putty. I've used homemade playdough for the same exercise, but this BOUNCES!
School Age Program:
My school age programs run grades 2-4 and 5-7. There's a huge range of science knowledge here, so I tend to keep my explanations pretty basic to allow for differences in school curriculum.
In simplest terms, a polymer is a long chain of molecules. You can use the example of cooking spaghetti to better understand why this polymer behaves in the way it does. When a pile of freshly cooked spaghetti comes out of the hot water and into the bowl, the strands flow like a liquid from the pan to the bowl. This is because the spaghetti strands are slippery and slide over one another. After awhile, the water drains off of the pasta and the strands start to stick together. The spaghetti takes on a rubbery texture. Wait a little while longer for all of the water to evaporate and the pile of spaghetti turns into a solid mass -- drop it on the floor and watch it bounce.
I haven't ever actually used spaghetti to illustrate this point, but depending on the program, you may want to. The reason why Elmer's glue is sticky are the polymer chains it contains, and this illustration really clearly demonstrates how these polymer chains behave when they are lubricated (the wet glue in the bottle) and when they are dry (the solid, bouncy lump of spaghetti).
It may take students a bit to understand this, depending on their grade level. Words like "molecule" and "element" might be beyond some of the younger students, so creating a glossary can be helpful.
For this age group, I often have them try to see if they can make a batch of "gak" - really stringy, liquidy putty, and a bouncy ball. Students can experiment with different ratios of glue to Borax solution, and might discover a few more tricks about how to make the solution more solid. For instance, the more you mix a batch of silly putty, the harder it will get. Want to know why, or have curious school age kids who do? Check out the teen program below.
Silly putty is great for a low-key program or a planned science class. Low key allows them to just work out their over-scheduled lives with a toy they probably had as kids. It feeds into the maker mentality because they made the thing they used to have to buy, as well as reinforcing the engineering design process as they try to make the silly putty just the right consistency. If you want hard science though, here's what makes our Elmer's/Borax silly putty tick.
Louisiana State University has a great explanation (with graphics!) of what's happening:
Elmer's Glue is made up of polyvinyl acetate, which reacts with water to some extent to replace some of the acetate groups with OH (alcohol) groups. The B-OH groups on the borax molecules react with the acetate groups on the glue molecules (relatively long polymer chains) to eliminate acetic acid and form new bonds between the borax and two glue molecules. The linking of two glue molecules via one borax molecule is called polymer cross-linking and it makes a bigger polymer molecule, which is now less liquid-like and more solid.
...Many of these borax cross-links occur to “glom” together many polymer molecules turning them into a pliable solid “silly putty”. This really isn’t the silly putty you buy in the store, since it will dry out. Real silly putty is an organosiloxane polymer that doesn't have any water in it so it doesn't dry out.
Get all that? If not, don't worry - this explanation is about on par with my high school organic chemistry class (and required a lot of refresher before I understood it myself. Essentially, the strings of PVA "spaghetti" get held together by the Boron molecule, holding them in place. The more places that the Boron connects PVA chains, the sturdier the structure and the more solid the silly putty.
Try this activity to give teens (and school age groups, if they're advanced enough) a clearer picture of how the Borax binds the PVA, also from LSU:
Have about 6 groups of 4 students hold hands and form glue chains. Have them walk around the room. These are your PVA chains.
Then send out 6 individual students to act as borax molecules to grab onto two glue chains – one with each hand. Tell the glue chains that once they are grabbed onto by the borax students that they shouldn’t try to break free. This should result in all the glue chains being linked together by the borax molecules (students). Now that all the students are linked together they represent the more solid “silly putty” that was formed in the experiment. This is a rather good physical analogy to the chemistry going on.
Quick note: while I've used the term Polyvinyl acetate, the reaction with water in glue creates polyvinyl alcohol. Dr. Richard Barrans from the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy at the Argonne National Laboratory put the difference between the two like this: "Poly(vinyl alcohol) is a polymer with the repeating unit (CH2-CHOH). Polyvinyl acetate is similar, except that it has an acetic acid ester in the place of the alcohol group: (CH2-CHOCOCH3). Polyvinyl alcohol is actually made from polyvinyl acetate, by cleaving the acetate ester." Down to brass tacks, both PVAs make our silly putty.
Interesting to note that the side effect of this reaction is the creation of acetic acid, which, when diluted, is better known as white vinegar. This can lead to further experimentation with acids/bases in your silly putty. For instance, what happens if you mix baking soda into it? Will it bubble and fizz like a baking soda/vinegar volcano?
Have other ideas for making this silly putty recipe appeal to various ages? Let me know. My library does class structures for a lot of the STEAM programs, so explanations and iterative experimentation are important. How do you do STEAM at your library? Any STEAM activities you wish you had better explanation for, or knew how to use with other age groups?
Image isn't mine, but I'm having a hard time pinning down the original source. Help me out.
Paper pieces like flyers, handouts, brochures - these seem to be my bread and butter for building buzz about the library. I also don't have the luxury of Photoshop. GIMP is great, but I'll admit I have a more familiar relationship with Publisher. (Publisher can still make good design pieces, I think. Just takes some fenangling.)
Graphic design is such a big part of my duties that I wish I would have had a better formal grounding in it. In lieu of that, here's some great places to learn and get assets for your design.
Canva is a free-to-use (pay-to-publish) graphic design tool, which can be useful in a pinch. What's cooler is the "design school" they offer - covering fonts, colors, etc, and it's all free with a free account.
This guide from UPenn was designed for a workshop on creating infographics, which is a great skill, especially in advocacy. Beyond that, the graphic design resources gathered here are clear, to the point, and free. Well worth exploration.
Created by the people at Influx (think DC Public Library and Sari Feldman's campaign site), this presentation slideshow has lots of examples. Remember that it was designed to be paired with an oral presentation, because sometimes explanations feel sparse. Still the images tell a great story and present amazing examples of various principles of graphic design in library settings. There's a call to perform a signage audit in your own library. Try it!
I'll admit that I love me some about.com. It's not always the best designed (ironic, yes?), but they usually pull together some great explanations and resources. There may be more here than you want to glance through in one sitting.
This is my favorite starting point for legal images, music, videos and more. Created by the people who brought us Creative Commons licenses, this tool is a one-stop-shop for finding CC images. Various online services have CC searches built in, and this tool is an access point to quite a few of them (Google Images, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Flickr being my favorites). Word to the wise: Be smart about using this - just because one poster says an image is CC doesn't mean they are the owner of the image. Use this as a starting point, then do your due diligence.
I discovered this site a decade ago and haven't looked back. The forums are great for helping you identify fonts, there are tons of free fonts available to use both personally and professionally, and it's all free. If your current font selection just isn't doing it for you, take a look through these.
Creative Market is like Etsy for graphic design assets. In a really excellent service, a handful of top-quality assets are offered for free every week. Go there regularly to get new stuff. Be aware that a lot of the files are designed for Adobe Creative Cloud products. If you don't have that suite, keep an eye out for non-vector images and fonts.
This magazine is a go-to for great graphic design information, and they offer lots of free stuff. I've gotten previous WordPress themes from here, as well as fonts and icons. Lots of good blog posts about design, including web design and graphic design, here.
I just discovered this one, but I'll be checking it regularly. Lots of free icons, mock ups, backgrounds, UI kits and more.
I Love Typography is a giant, beautiful love letter to typography as an art. Lots of history, insight into how fonts are designed and notes on why we choose to use them. You can get lost here.
I hope that these help get you started with graphic design, another one of those "other duties as assigned" that sneak up on us. Let me know if you have a favorite resource that I missed in the comments.
"Why are there more biographies about white people?"
I'd been helping a family find children's biographies to use for a family project on Black History Month, and the 7-year-old girl asked a great question. I quickly came up with the best answer I could: "Because for a long time people thought white people were more important to write about. We're just now fixing that." She nodded, taking it in. Her father didn't chime in, and I thought I might have given a satisfactory answer. "Will they write biographies about you?"
She didn't take a second to think about that. "Yep!"
"What will they say about you?"
"I'll make speeches! Great speeches!" Though she didn't know about what. With that, she took her books on Sojourner Truth, Madam CJ Walker, and Lebron James to the checkout desk.
But her question stuck with me: why are there still so many more biographies about white people?
Campaigns like #weneeddiversebooks seek to open people up to the idea that our books should reflect our reality. Far too often, we let our limited book selection influence our reality. If even in our library's biography section there are only white faces, rich faces, straight faces... what do we tell the kids who ask where the other faces are? That we were too lazy to order them? That there are so many more books written about white people that it's not worth seeking out the rest of the world's history?
Someday I hope someone does write about the speeches that girl makes, and I hope they don't get relegated to the "also ran" section of history. The section where we send those bits of truth that make us uncomfortable, or that interfere with the dominant narrative. I hope that when her biography is written, it sits among the George Washingtons and the Clara Bartons and the Daniel Boones. And I want people to know that her story is every bit as important as theirs - it's all part of our larger story together.
This came at a great time - after all, Jacqueline Woodson's autobiography Brown Girl Dreaming just won a Newbery Honor Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Robert F. Silbert Informational Book Award. The other Newbery books this year also represented severely underrepresented groups. So well done, us. But there's a lot more to do. I have a lot that I need to learn about diversity, and a lot I need to communicate about it to my patrons.
We've been writing one version of history, showing off one story, for so long that it seems normal. The status quo has sunk in. I'd like that little girl to come back next time and see faces of every color, creed, and race on our shelves. Biographies, certainly, but picture books, chapter books, videos, and more. We need diverse books. We need diverse minds.
I've been thinking about grinding lately. Grinding in video games, per Wikipedia, "is a term used in video gaming to describe the process of engaging in repetitive tasks during video games." It's an issue in gaming, of course, and there are numerouspostsaboutthat already. (I fall in the middle on that - some grinding is necessary and even enjoyable, but find a way to make it integrated into the plot. I don't wanna always be killing 10 more rats.)
But today we had our first meeting for the Teen Summer Reading planning committee, and we had a discussion about gamification. It was a brief discussion centering around our use of bingo boards last year. The bingo boards were not very popular, and we were trying to figure out where to go from there. How did we make it "fun" without the grind?
Now, my two cents on the matter is that while the world is full of fun things, and even fun ways to learn things, the truth of the matter is that eventually you have to grind at least a little. You have to go into a place you might not want to go and do something that feels repetitive to get the experience you need to move on. Once you're proficient, you can hop into bigger adventures, bigger challenges. Heck, you can even show other people the best way to get around that particular dungeon. But they'll come to their own grind eventually.
When I started baking, it was boxed brownies. All the time. No variation from the instructions. Dozens of boxes of brownies over the first couple months that I was learning to bake. It wasn't always fun, but it was nice to see people enjoying the product of my labor. Occasionally I regretted offering to make brownies for an event, but eventually it became no big deal. I could make a decent batch of boxed brownies in my 30 minute lunch from work (true story).
From what I learned making endless brownies, I figured out how my oven worked differently from the test ovens in the recipes, or how to modify it to make it fluffier or denser, how to tell by smell when sugar smells done but not burnt. I could use those skills on cookies, then cakes, then pastries. The skills built on one another, but it started with just a little bit of grinding.
We ask students to study and do homework to gain proficiency. It's not because we think that homework is so gosh darned fun. It's because that repetition with tiny variations help them learn. We ask for a certain number of practice hours with a supervising driving before getting a driver's license.
Sometimes we mix the idea of "paying our dues" in with grinding, and I want to be careful here. Paying dues indicates that you have to start at the bottom for a certain period of time, which is not something I'm necessarily in agreement with. I will, however, agree that that sometimes starting a new skill isn't always fun - it can have its fair dose of grinding. The important thing is to make the grinding seem relevant. If we want teens (or kids or adults) to learn new skills using the library as a resource, we need to make sure that the boring parts are made incredibly relevant. Just like the level ups you get from killing rats and looting chests let you beat the next boss, skill introductions need to have a visible and important benefit.
They're going to have to grind. Video game designers need to make it relevant to their game. It's our jobs as educators to make it relative to the goals of a learner.
I can't be alone in searching IMDB to find out who starred in my favorite things. I recently did this for Dragon Age. One of the voice actor's in that series - Claudia Black, who voices Morrigan - branched into recording children's audiobooks. Her first voiced series is The Keepers by Lian Tanner. Conveniently, my library owned the first book, The Museum of Thieves, and I have a long enough commute to crank through it. I'm guilty of sitting in my car longer than necessary, just to squeeze in a few more minutes.
Museum of Thieves is a great middle grade pick in the line of The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman or The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone - magic and mystery abound at quite a fast pace. The cast of characters is vast but memorable, and made more memorable by the distinctive voices used by Claudia Black. We are introduced to the city of Jewel, and to Goldie, a 12-year-old girl who wants nothing more than to finally be Separated. Children in Jewel are vastly overprotected, literally always attached to an adult or their bed via a chain tied to their wrists.
Jewel is a city that has resolutely pushed every dangerous thing away. Dogs might bite. Standing water might carry the plague. Children alone might get carried off by pirates. Little by little, Jewel has conquered their little corner of the world. But wildness will not be tossed aside so easily. In the tiny Museum of Dunt live all the wild forces that Jewel refuses to believe still exist. Most of all, inside the Museum is magic.
As Goldie learns about the Museum and the uses of wildness, she also learns of a truly terrible plan to destroy Jewel. Only the Keepers of the Museum can save the city - but only if the terrified citizens of Jewel will let them.
A very compelling book to listen to, with characters that leap out of the speakers. Black draws out characters both lovable and despicable - keep an ear out for Guardian Hope and Sinew, whose tones are unmistakable.
If my library didn't already own this, we would soon.
UPDATE: Random House has a site for The Keepers Trilogy with games, character bios, and even lessons from the Keepers! Well worth a look at this companion site.