Ideas for Your Library: Popsicle Stick Book Recommendations

Last night, as part of her stalling tactic, my 6th-grader pulled out a bunch of popsicle sticks and started drawing designs on the ends. They were so adorable we immediately tried to think of ways to use them. Kids could trade them with their friends, glue them together and make a mini message board or picture frame, use them as bookmarks, write inspirational messages on them and leave them for strangers to find, etc.

Then this morning as we worked on some more designs, I thought there’s gotta be a way we could use them in a library setting. After a few minutes, we had an Aha! moment. Why not use them as a way for kids to recommend books to one another?

You would need three small buckets from the dollar store — one for blank sticks, one for the done ones, and one for whatever drawing utensil you want the kids to use (we used my almost-20-year-old Creative Memories fine-tip pens, but you could give them fine-tip Sharpies or even colored pencils). You can have more buckets if you want to separate fiction from non-fiction, but in my opinion, the simpler the system, the more likely the kids will use it.

Whenever kids return a book they particularly loved, encourage them to design a book recommendation stick. They can draw a favorite character or an important symbol from the book, write down the title and the author, along with any other information you might want them to include — for example, their name, grade, or a call number if it’s non-fiction. When they are done, they can put the stick in the “done” bucket.

Now, when you are approached by kids that complain about not knowing what to read next, or think they have already read “every single book” in the library, you can point them to the recommendation bucket.

Below are the sticks that my daughter created…with three titles as examples.


Of course, there are PLENTY of uses for popsicle sticks in the library (just search for “popsicle sticks” on Pinterest), but I thought this was cute to share since my daughter inspired it.  🙂


Punch Card Reading Challenge Underway!

This week I kicked off the Punch Card Reading Challenge with the 3rd through 5th graders.  The students were excited about the program and the prizes that they will get to earn.  I have gotten some fantastic prizes from community partners, and these will be used to encourage students to:

  1. Return their books on time and check out something new;
  2. Display appropriate classroom behavior; and
  3. Read outside their comfort zone

For returning their books on time and checking out something new (a sneaky way to improve circulation!), students will “earn” small prizes such as ice cream/free kids meal coupons, gift certificates for free games of laser tag, and Rainforest Cafe temporary tattoos and slap bands.

For displaying appropriate classroom behavior, students will earn raffle tickets towards the weekly drawings.  I don’t tell students when raffle tickets will be handed out, or for what specific behavior, so hopefully students will try to stay on good behavior at all times!  Today, for example, I gave out raffle tickets while 3rd graders worked on their Powtoon presentations…but only to those who stayed on task.  The kids who didn’t get any during my first walk-around quickly wised up and got to work, in hopes that I’d be generous and give them a raffle ticket during my second walk-through (I was).

The main way students earn raffle tickets is for reading outside their comfort zone, i.e. for reading a genre that is on the punch card.  For accountability and assessment purposes, before I punch anyone’s card, they have to fill out a reading response card.  On the front of the card, they simply write their name, their teacher’s name, the title and author of the book, and the genre.  On the back of the card, they are asked to write at least 3 complete sentences about their book.  To help students figure out what to write, I’ve included writing prompts for both fiction and non-fiction that they can use.

Here’s a quick look at what prizes will be given out and when:


WEEK 1 – Intro to Punch Card Challenge (3-5th grades)

WEEK 2 – Review directions!  Rainforest Cafe tattoos

WEEK 3 – Zap Zone Laser Tag coupons; Drawing: Coldstone ice cream cakes (x 2)

WEEK 4 – Drawing: Coldstone $5 gift certs (x 4)


WEEK 1 – Rainforest Cafe slap bands; Drawing: Coldstone $5 gift certs (x 4) 

WEEK 2 – Drawing: Coldstone ice cream cakes (x 2) 

WEEK 3 – Rainforest Cafe free kids meal coupons; Drawing: Rainforest Cafe prize pack  

WEEK 4 – Drawing: Coldstone ice cream cakes (x 2); Coldstone free cone coupons

WEEK 5 – Grand Prize Drawing: Classic Lanes Bowling Parties for 10 (x2)

Hopefully this program will be fun for the kids and motivate them to add more diversity to their reading.  And hopefully it won’t take too much extra time to run in addition to everything else that is going on in the media center in February and March!

Observation: Baby Bounce! at the Chattanooga Public Library


Program: Baby Bounce
Target Audience: Babies ages 0 to 18 months and their caregivers
Time: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 10 am
Location: Chattanooga Public Library, located in downtown Chattanooga
Registration: None required
Staff/Librarian: “Miss Emmy”, staff in Children’s Department of CPL; 1st year library science student; appears to be in her late 20s or early 30s

Climate of the Building
The downtown branch of the Chattanooga Public Library is located on Broad St., with plenty of street parking as well as a parking structure across the street from the building. Patrons can also get to the library by bus or on foot. The building has a newly renovated fountain out front, a reading garden on the side, and a newly built café at the main entrance, with tables and plenty of seating. There are “Nothing Quiet About It” signs throughout the library to suggest it’s okay, even encouraged, for patrons to move around and interact with the staff or each other. The general climate of the library is welcoming and non-stifling.

The Children’s Department
The children’s department of the library is located on the second floor, and as you walk upstairs you are greeted by a large mural at the landing of different animals, people, and landscapes (farmland, oceans, mountains, etc.). Patrons can also go upstairs using the elevator, helpful for those patrons with strollers or patrons who are disabled. The second floor of the library is home to the teens and tweens as well, though the children’s section is in its own room, separated from the teens and tweens areas by a set of doors and glass walls. The glass walls leading into this area contain a colorful mural of animals reading, adding to the playfulness of the environment. The information desk is located around the corner from the entrance to the room. Patrons can obtain brochures about different programs offered at the library (and its branches), as well as interact with the librarian on duty.


Displays & Decorations; Layout of the Children’s Department
The children’s room is painted celery green, and there are tables, chairs, and benches of various sizes, fit for both children and their adult caregivers. The computers recognize the different needs of the patrons as well – there are regular computers with access to educational games, the OPAC, and the Internet, as well as computers with modified keyboards (with larger, rubberized, color-coded keys that are easy to find and press). Each lookup station comes with its own headphones. For the younger patrons, there is a play area with interactive game centers and activity islands, allowing them to manipulate various puzzles and moving mechanisms (gears, wires and beads, etc.). There are also a couple of caterpillar shaped book bins, filled with board- and touch-and-feel books. There are many whimsical decorations and displays throughout: hanging mobiles showing animals reading, window and wall decals (flowers, moon and stars, etc.), stuffed animals small and large on shelves, a tabletop fairyland model, and painted wooden cutouts of trees located outside the storytime/programming room. There are also a couple of tables set up with books on display, though they don’t seem to belong to a common theme. Children’s programs take place in a circular room. The wall is painted in a shade of green and features a mural of children reading in and under a tree, along with a tree house, a tire swing, and animals). The pastel colors lend a calm and dreamlike quality to the room. The circular opening leading into the room is closed off by gates. On the day of the observation, a table was set up in the front of the room with a CD player, a basket of scarfs and egg shakers, handouts, and a plush skunk. There were no books displayed in the room.

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Organization of Books
Picture books can be found on low shelves lining the two walls of the children’s room. Books are also displayed along the top of the low shelves, as well as magazine holders. DVDs and puzzles are located towards the entrance of the room. Juvenile fiction and non-fiction books are arranged on bookcases extending from the middle of the room to the far end of the room. Pop-up books and series such as the American Girl books have their own spots on the shelves, marked clearly with labels. The books are arranged by the Dewey Decimal system.

Children’s Physical/Emotional State; Response to the Librarian
The Baby Bounce program I observed took place at 10 on a Thursday morning. I arrived approximately 15 minutes early to talk to the librarian, Miss Emmy, about the program, as well as to observe the kids and caretakers as they enter. Most of that morning’s participants arrived a few minutes before the start of the program and spent time in the play area/game center. A few babies arrived in their strollers, but some walked/crawled with their caregivers. They appeared alert and happy, though one grandmother mentioned to Miss Emmy that her grandson was particularly cranky that morning because he missed his morning nap. Throughout the 25-minute program, I noticed that he was indeed a little fussier than the other babies. As participants entered the storytime room, they were greeted individually by Miss Emmy, given a colorful scarf and an egg shaker, and encouraged to play with them while they wait for the program to begin. All of the babies reacted positively to Miss Emmy, though during this time there weren’t much interaction between Miss Emmy and the babies/caregivers past the initial greeting. Miss Emmy had told me earlier that she was not very experienced with this age group and joked that she was a little scared of babies, and I wondered if this was one explanation for the lack of physical engagement with them.

The Program – Outline
Here is the outline of the Baby Bounce program, followed by some of my observations.

1. Greeting song: “Hello and How Are You Today?” – Miss Emmy repeats the song for each child in the room, personalizing it each time with the child’s name.
2. Fingers and toes song: calls attention to the baby’s fingers and toes.
3. 2 clapping songs
4. Sign language: Miss Emmy said this is a new segment they are adding to the program, then proceeds to teach 14 common signs. When asked, she provided reasoning for teaching babies sign language.
5. “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” – taught body parts
6. “If You’re Happy and You Know It” – taught body parts (clapping hands, stomping feet) as well as common emotions (happy, mad, etc.)
7. Bicycle song: the babies were placed on their backs and the caregivers moved their legs back and forth, up and down; this was modeled by Miss Emmy, using the stuffed animal, Skunky. Encouraged exercise of leg muscles.
8. “Hickory Dickory Dock”: Miss Emmy asked everyone to use their egg shakers for this song; taught rhythm, and numbers 1 to 3
9. “Ring Around the Rosie”: this song allowed caregivers/walkers to stand up. Pre-walkers are held by caregivers, and “dipped” during the “all fall down” part. This track repeated 3 times, with increasing speed.
10. “Let’s Fly a Kite”: Still standing, the caregivers are encouraged to “float” around the room with a scarf in their hands as though they were flying a kite.
11. Goodbye song: sitting down, Miss Emmy plays a rocking song to signal the end of the program.

The participants were encouraged to stay and play with the scarf and egg shaker longer. Miss Emmy stayed in the room to answer questions, though most participants did not linger.

What I’ve Learned: Observations/Level of Engagement/Body Language, etc.

• Except for the greeting song, the program is entirely done with the help of a CD – with songs selected by the main children’s librarian. The same CD is used for every Baby Bounce session for the year, though the librarian can skip or replay a song depending on audience feedback. Though the songs played one after another, the program seemed well-paced. While I understand the value of familiarizing kids in this age group with the same songs, I would maybe add a couple of books each week – themed or not – so that participants have an additional reason to come back.
• Most songs were only done once, unlike what we have discussed in class about teaching the song (and any movements associated) the first time, then repeating the song as practice. I can think of two possible reasons for this: time constraints and the fact that this program is repeated every week and the participants are likely already familiar with the songs. That said, because the program encourages drop-in patrons, the librarian might want to consider doing the song twice for new participants.
• I felt too many signs were introduced during the sign language segment, especially since this was the first time this segment was introduced. That said, Miss Emmy spent some time explaining the rationale behind this segment, and the caregivers responded positively. There was also a handout showing the words and illustrations of the accompanying signs, which can help caregivers practice at home during the week. These were given out at the end of the program.
• For most of the songs, Miss Emmy used Skunky to model the movements. This was a great way to show the caregivers what to do, as well as letting the librarian take a more active role in the program, especially since the program is primarily run on the CD.
• The children and their caregivers were engaged throughout the program. There were lots of smiles and the caregivers were focused and fully-participatory (i.e. not chatting with each other; not distracted with their phones, etc.). There was one particularly fussy child (the same boy mentioned above) who whined a bit and wandered in and out of the room during the program. Miss Emmy did not seem distracted by him – she simply carried on with the program without calling out the behavior, letting the grandmother take care of the situation. I thought this is a good practice for this age group, since a) the babies are too young to understand library “etiquette”, and b) this is clearly a case of a child being tired (having missed his morning nap), not him being openly defiant, disruptive, etc. It is more important for the librarian to foster a loving/caring/welcoming environment (where it’s okay for babies to fuss) and be flexible.
• I felt that more resources – books, handouts – could’ve been provided to the caregivers at the end of the program. A couple of board books during the program would seem appropriate (especially for the walkers of the group) and it would afford the librarian a way to model reading and the importance of pre- and early-literacy to the caregivers. Since sign language was introduced during the program, I expected some sign language resources available for caregivers to check out, as well. This would have further reinforced the benefits of teaching babies sign language.
• More interaction between the librarian and the participants (both babies and adults) would encourage repeat attendance and be a great first step to build long-lasting librarian-patron relationships. I felt though Miss Emmy was friendly, she could have spent more time with the participants before and after the program.

Resources: Programming for Schools/Libraries

Here are two professional resources for programming in schools and public libraries, one for K-5 and the other for middle schoolers, that you might consider adding to your library.  I have included my annotations as well as a review where available.

Stories NeverEnding: A Program Guide for Schools and Libraries.  Irving, Jan.  2004.  Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.  978-1563089978

Designed with elementary-school children in mind, this handbook includes creative ideas and detailed instructions for implementing book-driven programs in both school and public library settings.  The ten chapters cover topics such as art, math, food, storytelling, poetry, and American heritage, and each chapter ends with at least two full-scale programs for consideration.  The guide also contains helpful features such as annotated booklists for each topic, reproducibles and patterns, as well as an index and resource bibliography.

This sound professional resource will enhance programming in either the public library or the school media center. (Booklist)

Center Stage: Library Programs That Inspire Middle School Patrons.  Wilson, Patricia P. and Leslie, Roger.  2002.  Greenwood Village, CO: Libraries Unlimited.  978-1563087967

This third book of the Library Programs That Inspire Series focuses on programming ideas for middle-school patrons, with examples of successful events from award-winning Blue Ribbon schools that helped draw in even the most reluctant students.  Topics include different types of program focus, stages of program planning and implementation, as well as different resources on and off the web. The book contains over 70 programs, index, and various lists and templates.
Awards/Honors/Best Lists:
[This book] would [be] helpful in any university training program. Those already in practice who feel insecure about staging events or in need of revitalization should own [this] title. (School Library Journal)
Well worth considering for all middle school libraries. (KLIATT Review)
The authors provide a rich and valuable programming resource for middle school librarians. (VOYA)
A useful planning handbook, offering ideas for both student and professional development programs that would be of interest to educators….Those looking for a programming resource would be well served by this book. (Booklist)

What’s in the News: Using Newspapers in Your Library

One of the ways teachers, parents, and caregiver can facilitate a child’s love of reading is by modeling reading themselves.  Though it’s not always easy to compete with iPads and other electronics, books still take up the majority of our space at home, and play a significant part in our daily routines.  That said, “reading” needn’t be limited to books — nearly everything counts, whether it’s an online article (though again I try to shy away from this since there are so many distractions online!), a magazine, a comic book or graphic novel (yes, those count!), a recipe, a poem, a play, or a devotional.  The newspaper, for example, can provide many opportunities to practice reading comprehension skills, as well as other language arts skills such as figuring out the topic sentence and important facts or events, inferring/drawing conclusions, etc.  At home, with my 4th grade daughter, I will pre-read articles (to make sure it doesn’t contain anything age-inappropriate or too “scary”), and come up with some questions and new vocabulary or concepts that we can talk about (these can be written on an index card or post-it note and taped to the article).  I encourage her to use the highlighter as much as she wants — to make note of new words or sentences she might not understand.  After she reads the article, we talk about what’s on the index card, and If she seems particularly interested, we can do further research on the topic or have a more extensive discussion.

This “lesson” can be easily adapted to the school library.  Students can be given copies of the article to read on their own, or the article can be projected on the screen and read together.

Here’s one example from today’s Times Free Press (Chattanooga’s local newspaper):

Read “Aquarium adding otters in bigger space” by Barry Courtier (Times Free Press, 9/18/13, B1)

newspaper 091813 otterRemember: Highlight new vocabulary or anything you don’t understand.

As you read, think about:

  • Why is the aquarium renovating and adding space to their existing otter exhibit?
  • Why will the otters be separated by a wall at first?
  • What will the new exhibit allow visitors to do?
  • What sense will otters use to get to know each other?
  • Other interesting facts you might have picked up from the article.
  • How would you find out more information about otters or the Tennessee Aquarium?

Library Scavenger Hunt (Elementary)

I’ve always loved scavenger hunts and similar games (my family used to watch the Amazing Race together religiously before we got rid of our cable).  This is a hunt I’ve created for 4th- and 5th- grade elementary school students, the purpose of which is to help familiarize them with the library, the Dewey Decimal system, the different resources the library offers, etc.  And hopefully, the kids have fun in the process too!


  • Students complete X number of questions depending on time and level of expertise
  • Students can work in pairs
  • You can customize these questions according to the needs and set-up your library

1. Find one of your friends and tell him/her about one of your favorite books — could be a childhood favorite, or something that you just read this summer.

Title of the Book: __________________________________________________________

Friend’s Signature: ________________________________________________________

2. Go to the Biography section in the library and browse the shelves.  Write down the title of one of the books in this area that you’d like to read, and why.

I would like to read _________________________________________________________ because________________________________________________________________________.

3. Go to the Fiction area and find a book whose author shares the first letter of your last name — or better yet, someone who has the same last name! Browse this area and write down the title and author of one book you’d like to read.

Author: ____________________________________________________________________

Title: ______________________________________________________________________

4. Choose a number from 0 to 9.  Multiply it by 100, then browse that section of the Non- Fiction books.  (e.g. 2 x 100 = 200, so I would look at books in the 200s)

a. What is the non-fiction section you chose (000 to 900): ______

b. What are some topics covered in this section? _____________________________________

c. What is the title of a book you might like to read in this section? _____________________________________________________________________________

d. What is the call number of the book you chose? ________

5. Find a book in this library that has been turned into a movie (not Harry Potter!)  

Title: _________________________________________________________________________

I preferred the book/movie (circle one) because ______________________________


6. Find a riddle or a joke and write it down.

Title of book I found it in:  ____________________________________________________

Author and call number: ______________________________________________________

The joke/riddle:______________________________________________________________



7. Think of your favorite animal.  Then, look that animal up in one of our encyclopedias.

a. What animal did you choose?  _____________________________________________

b. Volume number and page number where you found the animal: ______________________________________________________________________________

c. Now try finding the same animal in our Non-Fiction section (e.g. animal books are in the 590s).  Write down the title of the book: __________________________________________________________________________

The author and call number :_____________________________________________

Which resource gave you more information — the encyclopedia or the book?  (circle one)

8. Find three books written by Patricia Polacco (hint: even though she writes for older students, her picture books are filed under “easy”).  

Book 1: _____________________________________________________________________

Book 2: _____________________________________________________________________

Book 3: _____________________________________________________________________

9. Find three books written by Cynthia Rylant (hint: she writes picture books, easy chapter books, and novels):

Book 1: _____________________________________________________________________

Book 2: _____________________________________________________________________

Book 3: _____________________________________________________________________

10. Write down the title and author of a MYSTERY series:


11. Write down the title and author of a FANTASY series:


12. Write down the title and author of a HISTORICAL series:


13. Help!  I am looking for a recipe to make for tonight’s dinner.  Please find me a cookbook and a yummy recipe!

Title of cookbook:____________________________________________________________

Author and call number: ______________________________________________________

Recipe name: ________________________________________________________________

Number of ingredients: ____________

Page number: __________

14. I just got a new pet!  Please help me find a book that will show me how to take care of it!

Pet: _________________________________________________________________________

Title of book: __________________________________________________________________

Author and call number: ______________________________________________________

One helpful tip: _____________________________________________________________


 15. I am an aspiring artist.  Please help me find a book about a famous artist!

Title of book: __________________________________________________________________

Author and call number: ______________________________________________________

Artist name:  ___________________________________________________________________

Year of birth/death of the artist: ________________________________________________

The title of a famous painting done by the artist:  ______________________________

The artist’s style (impressionism, abstract, cubism, etc.): ________________________

16. List 4 different kinds of REFERENCE books we have in this library, and how you would use them:

1. ___________________________________________________________________________

2. ___________________________________________________________________________

3. ___________________________________________________________________________

4. ___________________________________________________________________________

17. Find a book in the library about the state (or country!) in which you were born.


Name the states that border your chosen state:  _______________________________

Are there any state parks in your state?  If so, name one: ________________________

An interesting fact about the arts/literature/sports from your state: _____________________________________________________________________________

18. You would like to conduct an easy and safe science experiment.  Find a book of experiments and an experiment that uses materials you can find at home or school.

Title of book: _________________________________________________________________

Author and call number: ______________________________________________________

Experiment: __________________________________________________________________

Page number: _________________________________________________________________

Number of “ingredients/material” you’ll need to gather: ________________________

19. Find the magazine section.  Find a magazine you might enjoy reading.

Title of the magazine: __________________________________________________________

The title of an article in the magazine you might want to read: ________________________________________________________________________________

Skim the article…what is one thing you might learn from it? ________________________________________________________________________________

20. Your school is celebrating World Day by putting on an International Fair.  Which section of the library could you find books about different countries, their customs, foods, etc.? 

Section of the library where country books are located: ________________________

Title of a book about a country you’d learn more about: _____________________________________________________________________________

Author and call number: _______________________________________________________

Skim the book and write down one interesting fact about the country chosen: ________________________________________________________________________________