All posts by Abby

Thursday update

It’s been a good week at the library:

The Clay Painting Workshop went off without a hitch.  The manager of Fire Your Desire ran the show, and she is fabulous.  The workshop was calm, orderly, and fun for all (including me!).  And the kids painted some great looking ornaments – I was really impressed by their creativity!  The workshop has inspired me, and I think I’ll gather together some of my female friends for a “Ladies Night” at Fire Your Desire; Fridays are their chick nights, where you can reserve a table for a large group of friends, or just drop in with a few friends, and paint up a storm.  Sounds like a lot of fun to me!

The first Teens n’ Tots Saturday Storytime went beautifully, with our first teen volunteer reading along with her mom to a small group of kids and parents.  They did a great job, and I have a lot of faith that Saturday storytimes are going to grow in popularity as we regularly run them.  Also, it looks like there are two more teen volunteers who will be helping out in the future…

And then there’s the Tuesday infant and toddler storytime.  Another huge turnout this week, the biggest yet.  It’s a LOT of fun, because it’s not just a storytime, it’s also a social event.  Most parents and kids end up hanging out in the children’s room for an hour or so after storytime ends, and it’s great to see friendships being made between both adults and children.  Next week’s Tuesday storytime should be even better, because Lois, the mother of our teen Saturday volunteer, will be helping me.  Two voices will carry better than one over the noisy crowd, and Lois reads a mean story (her undergraduate degree is in elementary education).  I’m so grateful to her for volunteering her time to make a popular event that much better!

Speaking of popular events, Joanne’s Story and Craft (on Mondays and Wednesdays) continues to be a local favorite.  Joanne is incredibly creative, and each week’s craft project is better than the last.  I love seeing the kids come up from the hour-long session with a big grin on their face, proudly holding their project, saying “Mom!  Look what I made!”

In other news, Children’s Book Week is next week (the 13th through the 19th), and I’ve put up a large display in the children’s room with the titles of the library staff’s favorite children’s books.  Come check it out, and tell me what your favorite is!

That’s the weekly update!  I’ll be posting the promised JE titles tomorrow or the next day, since there are some great new titles in that section

New J non-fiction

Hmmmm, not so long ago I was bemoaning the lack of good J non-fiction.  Methinks I spoke too soon, because there are so many fabulous – not good, but FABULOUS – J non-fiction books available right now that it can be hard to choose (oh, for a limitless budget!).  Here are some of my newest favorites:

The Cat in Numberland by Ivar Ekeland

For any of you who missed my post of a few weeks ago about this unique book, here’s another mention of it.  I LOVE this book!

Transformed: How Everyday Things are Made by Bill Slavin

Yup, I’ve mentioned this book in the past, too.  It’s now on the shelves in Harvard, ready to go; good for reports and for browsing.

Smart Feller, Fart Smeller by Jon Agee

This one is for my dear husband, who loves a certain joke: “One smart feller, he felt smart, two smart fellers, they felt smart, three smart fellers, they all felt smart.”  Try saying that several times fast, and see what happens.  Tee-hee.

Tomorrow:  some new early chapter books, the category known as “JE.”


I started at the library on November 7th of last year.  Within a week and a half, I was in charge of a huge after-school program (Harvard has “early release days” once or twice a month, and the library usually has programs on those days).  Over the years, this program has been called “Ornament Decorating Workshop” and “Claytime”; it’s the most popular early release program of the whole year.  Last year, there were two sessions of thirty kids each, all anxious to paint clay ornaments and coasters.  Lots of parents attend, too, so the program room was PACKED.  I have a memory of myself standing by the door, desperately trying to figure out which kids were there and which kids hadn’t shown up, and who might be crashing the party.  It was, well, awful:  I didn’t know a soul in Harvard, and no one knew who I was, and chaos reigned.  The worst part was as the kids finished, because I had to write down what type of ornament the child had painted and a description of the paint job (”Emily – flamingo – yellow with purple spots”), a totally necessary step so that the ornaments could be identified after firing.  And remember, glazes are a different color before firing than they are after firing.  Was Emily’s flamingo really yellow, or was it brown?  You try doing that with a mob of thirty kids you’ve never met before and with glazes you can’t identify.

So, guess what.  This clay painting workshop is coming up again, on Wednesday.  I’ve changed the name of it to: “Clay Painting Workshop with Fire Your Desire,” for two reasons.  I’ve changed vendors from Claytime of Shrewsbury, very nice people but too far away, to Fire Your Desire of Acton, also extremely nice people, and just around the corner from my house.  And I did have some complaints last year about this being described as an ornament painting workshop.  We’ll still be painting ornaments, but they’re not necessarily Christmas tree ornaments.  This workshop is for kids of all beliefs and denominations.

But what about the chaos?  I’m still a bit nervous about this event, and truthfully can’t wait for it to be over, but at least I know a fair portion of the kids and adults who will be attending.  And Fire Your Desire is making the logistics a lot easier for me; Susan, the owner, is letting me pick up all the paints, ornaments, and other supplies first thing in the morning, so I can take my time getting set up.  She’ll also be sending someone over to help out with the actual workshop.  Most importantly, Susan provides me with firing slips for all the kids.  I am SO thrilled about this!  I can write out the slips ahead of time with each kid’s name, and then there is room to jot down what two ornaments the child decorated, with descriptions.  Much, much easier.  I hope.

Just two final notes here:  a great big thank-you to Susan at Fire Your Desire, since she’s fabulous to work with AND she cut us a great deal, letting each child paint two ornaments for last year’s price for one ornament.  And a HUGE thank-you to the Friends of the Harvard Public Library for funding this event.  Too often the generosity of the Friends is under-recognized by program attendees; events like this one are free to all because the Friends work hard to raise funds and then generously give those funds to the library for programming and other uses.  Without the donation of the Friends, this workshop would cost $5 per child.  THANK YOU, FRIENDS!!!!!


On Monday night, my student “John” and I used Gail Carson Levine’s new book Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly as the basis of his lesson.  John is a really really bright fifth grader with a strong vocabulary, excellent spelling skills, and the ability to clearly and concisely verbalize his thoughts.  John just doesn’t like to put those great thoughts down on paper, and this is the reason that I brought Levine’s book along for this week’s lesson.  According to the bio on the book flap, she has presented writing workshops for kids many times over the years, and this book was born out of her experience teaching.  The first chapter of the book is titled “A Running Start,” and after nine lines of introductory text, Levine throws out some great story starters and instructs her readers to write for at least twenty minutes.

Turned out this was a fabulous way to get John writing.  He and I each picked a story starter, and then silently wrote for twenty minutes.  I turned out two pages of an unfinished story, and he wrote a full page of a great, finished short story.  This lesson was all about flow, getting words on paper, and keeping in the writing groove, so after reading our stories aloud, we moved on to read a bit that Levine has written about shushing our inner critics, and then we used another of her story starters to write for another twenty minutes.  Once again, though his hand was tired, John turned out some great writing; those thoughts of his got down on paper, a real victory for him.

We’ll continue to use this book for our next couple of lessons, and I highly recommend it to anyone of any age who wants help getting started writing.  It’s fun and wise and witty; a pleasure to read and to use.


I’m really not complaining, more just explaining.

Yes, I’m tired again.  And once again, my blog entries are suffering.  Days like these, I wonder how people manage to work as many hours as I do AND have children.  I really really wonder.  Because I certainly couldn’t pull it off!

Though it has been a particularly jam-packed couple of weeks, with one more overscheduled week coming up.  Here are some highlights of the week starting tomorrow:

I’m going to try out Gail Carson Levine’s new book on creative writing for kids with my student “John” tomorrow night.  He and I have been working exclusively on non-fiction writing, and he’s gotten pretty good at that, so now seems like a perfect time to try some fiction; and how fabulous that Levine’s book just came out and just arrived at the library.

Another highlight of the coming week is the second meeting of the Bagels n’ Books group for 4th and 5th graders on Tuesday afternoon.  Group membership has reached the nice round number of twelve (that will be the maximum, I’m afraid – perhaps I’ll have to start additional groups) and we’ll be discussing Edward Eager’s book Half Magic.  Should be fun!

Also on Tuesday, another infant and toddler storytime.  Since I worked this Saturday at the library, I was able to spend an hour or so cooking up a plan for this week’s storytime that (hopefully) will be engaging and fun for all.  I’m slowly building up my repetoire and gaining a sense of how many songs and fingerplays realistically can fit into a twenty-minute program.

And on Wednesday morning, the last morning session with “Josie,” one of my favorite students.  Josie has now finished Step 6 of the Wilson Reading System, and her parents think this might be a good time to phase me out so that she can sleep a little later on Wednesday mornings.  Josie and I have bravely and happily been meeting at 7:15 – before her school bus arrives, and before I need to go to work – and we’re both a wee bit exhausted!  I’ll miss working with Josie, though, since she’s a bright, engaged, hardworking, and happy kid.

So that’s my week in brief.  Next weekend I’ll get some sleep.  Then I’ll start looking for a new student…  : )

A new resource

I’ve discovered a great resource for locating new and fabulous children’s books.  While on Nantucket, I picked up a copy of the BookSense Autumn newsletter, children’s edition.  BookSense is an affiliation of independent book stores, and the newsletter contains reviews written by booksellers all over the country.  I took some time today and went through the newsletter book by book, looking up published reviews of each book in our library catalog.  Almost all of the books featured in the newsletter had received acclaim from journals such as Booklist, The Horn Book, VOYA, and School Library Journal.  And most of the featured books are so fresh to the market that almost no other libraries yet have them.

After considering all the reviews, gaps in our collection, and what consistently does well in our library, I ended up ordering about half of the books featured in the newsletter.  And I feel really great about what I ordered: some authors who are already favorites, some first-time authors who sound incredible, and, most importantly, I got a jump on these new books by following the advice of independent booksellers.  Definitely a powerful tool to learn about the best recent books.

The verdict is in…

Yesterday was the first Bagels n’ Books book group.  A great, enthusiastic bunch of fourth and fifth graders, a dozen bagels that rapidly and magically disappeared into eight mouths, and a lot of talk about The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  Guess what?  The kids didn’t like the book much.

These kids are well-versed in how to discuss literature, and though there were a few groans when I said it’s not enough to just say you don’t like a book, that you have to give specific reasons, they all provided clear and definitive reasons for why they didn’t like the book.  One girl said it was too easy and it didn’t take her very long to finish the book.  A boy chimed in that he read the book in, like, an hour.  Another girl said that there is no point to the book.  “Ah-ha!”  I thought to myself, “Maybe they haven’t delved deep enough into the book and that’s why they didn’t like it!”  But no, this girl went on to say, “I mean, I understand that it’s about Edward learning to love and getting back to Abilene, but what’s the point of that?”

A different boy, and the girl beside him, complained that the book didn’t have enough action.  They mentioned that Kate DiCamillo’s other books have action and excitement, and that The Tiger is Rising and The Tale of Despereaux are books that they enjoyed reading.  Other kids agreed vigorously to this comment.  One girl was brave and spoke up to say that she LOVES the book because of the language and style of DiCamillo’s writing; she also commented on the cyclical nature of the storyline and had as many bookmarks marking places in the text as I did.  Future English major, guaranteed.

I used Aidan Chamber’s technique of writing likes, dislikes, puzzles, and patterns on a big sheet of paper, trying to keep my mouth shut about my own opinions in order to let the kids fully express their thoughts.  Had we had more time together (our actual book discussion only lasted for a half hour), I could have gone on to guide the group to a deeper discussion of the book.  But I’m still not sure that I would have been able to change the minds of those kids who strongly dislike the book; and that was never my goal.

What fascinates me most is that a lot of the negative adult commentary I’ve read about the book has focused on it being too sad for children, too emotionally wrenching.  The kids yesterday really weren’t bothered by the sadness in the book, they were annoyed by the lack of action.  They had wanted a book that was going to take them on journey; I mentioned that well, Edward Tulane does go on a journey, and most of the kids just rolled their eyes at me.  “It’s not a REAL journey!”

Two things come to mind: this book is a very different type of fantasy than the fantasy that prevails in the publishing world today (I hesitate to say it: the Harry Potter type of fantasy).  Most of the kids in the book group yesterday are probably used to action-based fantasy with magic and heroes and sparks and blood.  Edward Tulane can’t speak or act, and thus passively endures all that happens to him, except for the growth within him of a heart and the ability to love.  His physical strength doesn’t change, and he doesn’t accomplish great physical feats in the process of learning to love; he simply learns to love.

The other thought that comes to mind is that any reader, young or old, has the ability to skip those parts of a text that he or she either isn’t ready for or just doesn’t want to deal with.  I do this all the time: when reading the sixth Harry Potter, I knew that someone was going to die, so I purposefully read the end first to find out who so that I wouldn’t be held captive by the suspense of the book.  Perhaps the kids in yesterday’s book group don’t want to read about loss and sadness, or perhaps they’re not ready for stories that deal with those issues in depth, and so the book seemed, to them, to be boring.  It didn’t address their concerns, and it didn’t appeal to them.

Notably, though, it was loved by one group member, the girl who was adept at locating subtleties in the text and who possessed the most sophisticated literary vocabulary.  I’ll go out on a limb here and say that she was ready for the text, and thus loved it.  Ready for the text, and also interested in what the text had to say.  “The right book for the right child at the right time.”  No one book can appeal to everyone.

At the end of the hour, I presented the book group members with seven books to choose from for our next meeting in October.  The choices were: The Tale of Despereaux, The Diamond in the Window, Love That Dog, Half Magic, Room One: A Mystery or Two, The Penderwicks, and The Search for Delicious.  The winner was:  Half Magic by Edward Eager, coming to the library on October 24th.

New library!

I got a really great treat today – a tour of the new library building-in-progress.  Mary, the library’s director, and Roy, one of the library’s trustees, took Lisa and me on a complete, bottom to top tour of the new library.  Over the next two weeks, Mary will taking all of the staff members on tours so that we can all begin to visualize the fantastic place we’ll be working in very soon.

The new building is so absolutely fantastic that I know I can’t begin to describe it accurately – but I’ll try!  For those of you who don’t know Harvard, the high school used to be housed in what is called “Old Bromfield,” a gorgeous old brick building with a slate roof and a cupola with trademark dragons.  Old Bromfield has been replaced by the new Bromfield high school building, and the older building has been vacant for a while.  To make the new library, the architects designed renovations to the Old Bromfield building, and they also designed a complementary addition that retains the spirit, lines, and integrity of the older building.  After my tour today, I think that this new library building will be the most beautiful, classy, and welcoming library building that I have ever seen.

The interior walls are not yet finished, but enough finish work has been done that I could really see what the new location will be like.  Every detail has been thought through, and there are ample spots for quiet reading and appreciation of the incredible view of Bare Hill Pond through giant floor-to-ceiling windows.  The children’s room will have its own large storytime room, which can accomodate smaller programs and movie showings in addition to book groups and storytimes and board game club meetings.  There are also two garden level doors off of the children’s room so that parents can escort their children out for a breath of fresh air in between study sessions or book choosing sessions.  And the younger children will have their very own corner, with a window seat and play table and the picture book and board book collections.  What a change from what we currently have!

The rest of the library is similarly well-designed: the large program room upstairs has a fantastic cathedral ceiling that has to be seen to be fully appreciated; the adult reading room is beyond stunning; and the young adults will have their own space that will hold comfortable spots to read and appreciate the ever-expanding young adult collection.  The circulation desk is open and welcoming, and the behind-the-scenes staff areas are an oasis of calm blue walls.

I am so excited about our move to the new building, and I only have one regret: some small part of me wishes that I could be a regular library patron and curl up in one of those inviting corners in a cozy chair with a great book, enjoying the view and perhaps the warmth of the gas fireplace.  But I’m more than content with the terrific children’s room and my own (!) office with the pond view.  Wow.  Harvard residents, you’ll be blown away when the new building opens!!


The hectic pace of summer is over, we’re gearing up for the move to the new library, and I’ve gone into organization mode.

Some people tease me a lot about my organization and list-making, but I’d like to make it clear that I’m not obsessed, really, I’m just more efficient when I’m organized and have a good list in hand.  Everyone works differently, and the key is to find your own personal style.  Back in college, I learned that if I spent fifteen minutes each day making my bed and tidying my room, then I got much more studying done.  Maybe it’s because I’m not distracted by mundane things.

So this week at the library I cleaned out the desk in the children’s room.  Arts and crafts things got put in the arts and crafts closet downstairs, ancient summer reading prizes got put into the boxes in the attic, and a few things got thrown out (nothing of value, I promise you!).  Now the desk has some empty space in the second drawer, which is just one more step on the road to the new library.  Less to do when it comes time to pack up and move.
And then there’s the issue of my lists.  I read an article in this month’s Real Simple magazine which states the case for getting rid of lists and living your life.  But it must have written by someone with a different list-writing style than I have, since lists for me are an enabler to life.  Each day at work I look at my list, rewriting it if necessary, and it helps me to stay focused, prioritize, and to silence the part of my brain that keeps whispering “don’t forget to do x, y, and z!”  If I write x, y, and z down, then I can focus on what I’m doing at the moment and not worry about forgetting something important.  Lists help keep me from becoming scattered, especially in a job where there are frequent distractions.

Lists and organization aren’t for everyone, but that’s not what matters, is it?  What matters is that we each find the way we work best.  And I’m really happy with my newly cleaned desk.

The hardest thing

Admit it, all of us have flaws – failings – things that we’re just not good at.  Most of us try to avoid situations where our failings are evident.  Why promote the negative, after all?  Much better to stick to the stuff you’re good at.

So when I talked to Mieke, my best friend from college, a while back and told her that my new job requires me to regularly sing in public, her response was, “Oh, my God, Abs.  Are you kidding?  Those poor people!”  Mieke, of course, has a fabulous voice, and sang all the time in college.  I, of course, have a horrible voice, and sang rarely.

But now I find myself needing to sing as part of my job.  In front of people.  Not just small children, but also their parents, some of whom can carry a tune very well.  And there’s really no way around it.  Story times for young kids need to have books AND fingerplays AND songs; it’s the way kids learn the rhythm of the language, which eventually helps them with reading multi-syllabic words.  Sometimes I’ll break out the boombox and play a song or two from a CD, but there are still times that I have to sing, and it’s pretty painful.

I read Stephen Fry’s autobiography last summer, and one of his phrases really resonated with me.  Fry talks about how he can hear music perfectly in his head, but that he can’t reproduce it; he says that he’s “not tone deaf, but tone dumb.”  That’s exactly what I am, since all those intricacies of the music are so clear in my head, and my inability to voice that music is utterly frustrating to me.

But now that singing is part of my career, what do I do?  I’ll admit to using the “my voice sounds rough because my allergies are really bothering me today” excuse a lot.  On particularly perky days I’ll play the role of cheerleader and say “I want to hear everyone sing this time!”  So far I haven’t yet admitted to being tone dumb, but that time may come.  And I’ve been practicing a lot, singing in the shower after my musical husband leaves for work.  I think I’ve gotten “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” down, but I’m still flummoxed by “The More We Get Together.”  And ”Five Little Ducks” is way, way tough.

Wish me luck.  My singing is definitely a work-in-progress.