Teaching Early Literacy to Library Staff

"Play" and the objects that belong to that practice. [Image courtesy of the author.]

“Play” and the objects that staff decided belong to that practice. [Image courtesy of the author.]

My library recently gave me an incredible opportunity: thirty minutes of early literacy training with every staff member in our organization.

Everyone at my library is incredibly supportive of training and professional development, but not all 100 staff members are able to go to conferences or workshops regularly. Our administration staff and department heads worked together to create a “Year of Learning Opportunities” (YOLO) to give everyone the chance to learn some new skills. Six classes were chosen as mandatory sessions, including mine. Staff can sign up for additional non-mandatory classes including topics like Evanced, inter-library loan, local history, Arduinos, STEM, social media, and more.

But since my session was mandatory, I spent a lot of time thinking about what would be most beneficial for all staff to learn. Using Every Child Ready to Read’s five practices as a framework, I decided to focus on teaching everyone a few reasons why/how staff promote that practice in storytime and in the library.

To introduce “Sing”, I gave a few early literacy tips about why singing is important:

  • Singing slows down language which helps young children process what you’re saying
  • Each syllable/word gets a different note making it easier for children to hear individual sounds
  • Songs are repetitive (chorus) and children learn best through repetition

Next, I led the group in a discussion about how the library supports that skill; here’s what we came up with for “Read”:

  • Reading books in programming, like storytime (Kids&Teens)
  • Signs and postings around the library (Marketing)
  • Modeling reading (Kids&Teens, Adult, Circulation, and Technology Services)
  • Providing multiple formats to read on (Technology & Technical Services)
  • Having quotes on the wall (Building)
  • Hosting book-based programming like book and play discussion groups (Adult Services)
  • Providing books for check out (everyone — from Building staff who bring the boxes in to Technical Services who processes it to Admin who handles the bills to Kids&Teens/Adult recommending and finding the books to Circulation who get the books home

Last, I gave a few tips for staff to encourage that practice with young children; here’s what I said about “Talk”:

  • Greet all patrons, including young children who are often overlooked
  • Ask and answer questions — even if it’s an adult conversation, children are still hearing great vocabulary
  • Be patient and understand that tantrums/noises are a part of communication and can be the child’s way of trying to “talk”

The table full of early literacy tools, sorted by staff members. [Image courtesy of the author.]

The table full of early literacy tools, sorted by staff members. [Image courtesy of the author.]

And that was it for the formal presentation. Afterwards, I invited staff to touch and sort different kinds of early literacy tools according to the five practices to “test” their knowledge. I prefaced this “test” with the fact that each item could go in multiple practices, so there were no right or wrong answers. This was my favorite part — to hear the conversations between staff members made me feel like I had given them useful, practical knowledge.

What a gift for me!

If you’re interested in learning more, please feel free to email me [simplykatie.at.gmail.com] or to leave a comment on this post.

– Katie Salo
Early Literacy Librarian
Indian Prairie Public Library

Posted in Blogger Katie Salo, Early Literacy | 2 Comments

The Original Art Show


2014’s Gold Award winner, Benjamin Chaud for The Bear’s Song (Chronicle Books)

Each year, the New York Society of Illustrators hosts The Original Art, which showcases the exquisite work of children’s book illustrators in the previous year. If you live in the Northeast, the show, which is in its 34th year, is an absolute must-see.

“In 1989, The Original Art found a permanent home at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators in New York City. It also became a juried event, with a committee of art directors, editors, publishers and illustrators selecting the best books from among hundreds of submissions and awarding Gold and Silver medals to the top pieces.” NY Society of Illustrators 

Monday, December 8th was the Society’s fourth annual Reading Pictures event, a sold-out afternoon and evening seminar for librarians and children’s book lovers alike. Three amazing illustrators (Melissa Sweet, Barbara McClintock, and E.B. Lewis), all with pieces in the show, spoke at length about their backgrounds and creative processes. Melissa Sweet and E.B. Lewis even gave demonstrations of their techniques! Then art directors led groups on tours of the show, which fills two galleries with 166 works, to speak at length about the creation and successes of the art. Check out this year’s amazing artists!


Gary Kelley won the Silver Award for Harlem Hellfighters. This book was also a NYT Best Illustrated Book!

The show began on October 22nd and runs through December 20th. If you happen to be in New York in the next few weeks, I cannot recommend this experience enough! For anyone who loves picture books or art, the chance to see such exquisite work up close- to examine the minute pieces of paper in a Steve Jenkins picture or be overwhelmed by the size of a painting from Neighborhood Sharks- is a rare and wonderful thing. It’s also an excellent reminder that among the many attributes of the picture book, when you give one to a child, you are letting them hold a piece of art in their hands.

Posted in Blogger Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla, Children's Literature (all forms), Slice of Life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Diversity Matters

We know diversity matters. It is a part of our strategic plan, it is a major focus of our work and it is critical to our customers and our communities. Figuring out the best way to help increase diversity awareness in our communities and having this reflected in our libraries isn’t always easy. Libraries have been at the forefront of realizing the value of diverse content. Our communities are changing and it is challenging to build content that really reflects the world we live in today. It starts with our collections and our collections are dependent on what is available from publishers. ALSC has taken up this charge by organizing a dialogue around diversity with publishers in Chicago as part of the Midwinter meeting.

On the heels of ALSC’s invitational dialogue on diversity in publishing, Sunday, February 1, 2015 – 1:00pm to 2:30pm McCormick Place West W183b there will be an opportunity for all interested attendees to learn more about what we can do, as children’s libraries, to increase diversity awareness in our communities and to lay the groundwork for a more promising future. This session, entitled Diversity Matters: Stepping It Up with Action! will part of the News You Can Use series at Midwinter.

Join us! Bring your ideas, examples of what works where you live and help us create a real exchange between publishing and library work and further define what diversity means to us as a profession. Together is where change happens. The time has come.

Posted in Blogger - Ellen Riordan, Diversity | Leave a comment

Changing up the Curriculum

CSK Seal

CSK Seal

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was going to embark on a Coretta Scott King illustrator award study with my students.  I am lucky enough to be fully in charge of my own curriculum, so what I decided to do was to swap out the Caldecott study I had done in the past.

So far we have read 5 honor and winning titles including Beautiful Blackbird, Mirandy and Brother Wind, Uptown, Ellington Was Not A Street, and Jazz on a Saturday Night.  We will continue reading until winter break. After break we will work on our ballot and vote for our favorite of the titles that we have read.  Luckily, one of these classes has library during the award announcements and we will be watching the live stream.

The discussions about the art work have been rich and informed (“I think it’s collage”- “Wow…those pictures look so realistic!” -“Blackbird has brighter colors. Ellington Was Not A Street has quieter colors.”)  What has been more telling to me are the discussions about the content. While I cannot recall ever hearing a student notice “all the characters are white”, they have been noticing “all of the characters are African American.” These comments are the ones that let me know that I need to be making an even more conscious effort to diversify my book choices across the board.

Posted in Blogger Stacy Dillon, Diversity, School Library Media Specialist, Slice of Life | 2 Comments

Building STEAM with Dia

STEM/STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math for the uninitiated) has been the hot topic on many a librarian’s mind in 2014. ALSC’s Quicklists Consulting Committee has been working recently on creating a specific booklist that showcases the many, many books being published that have a STEAM connection. This STEAM list has a twist though! It focuses not only on STEAM but on another very important topic, Dia (diversity in action). Not only do these books provide a great look at STEAM ideas but they feature a wide array of multicultural backgrounds and experiences. Speaking as one of the members on the committee, this list was immensely fun to put together. It will be a handy collection development tool for anyone (librarian or not!) looking to diversify the STEAM experience for children. Here is a small preview of some of the titles on the list.

For the birth to Pre-K crowd, expect to see concepts set amidst different cultures and experiences.

  • In Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong and illustrated by John Parra, a little girl spends time in her neighborhood discovering shapes. This title is interspersed with Spanish words and a glossary at the end to help readers in their pronunciation.
  • Jennifer Vogel Bass’s Edible Colors will be a great jumping off point for children and caregivers to learn colors and talk about different food experiences.

For older readers, there is exploration and fun to be had in the titles the committee chose.

  • Yuyi Morales’ Viva Frida examines the artwork and creation process for Frida Kahlo in a kid-friendly story that will have readers itching to create art themselves.
  • In Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts, failure seems like an all too scary proposition for this small girl. Will it put a halt on her creativity?
  • Patrick Dillon examines the engineering and history behind several famous buildings in The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond. Be sure to have some craft sticks and glue or Legos handy as children attempt to create their own building!

These titles are only the tip of the iceberg! The multicultural STEAM possibilities for programs, storytimes, outreach events, and passive programs will seem endless with this list. And if you are having trouble brainstorming a great activity, the Quicklists committee will provide a few ideas to get you started. Look for the complete Building STEAM with Dia booklist on the ALSC website soon!


Our guest blogger today is Sarah Wethern. Sarah is a Youth Librarian at the Douglas County Library in Alexandria, Minnesota. She is a member of ALSC’s Quicklists Consulting Committee and is an active YALSA member too. You can find her on Twitter (@whtabtpineapple).

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

Posted in Children's Literature (all forms), Dia, STEM/STEAM | Leave a comment

Resources for Serving Special Populations

One of the things that I love about librarianship is that it’s a dynamic profession. It is an evolving field that challenges us to continuously learn and grow in our professional development to better serve our communities.  As a member of ALSC’s Library Service to Special Population Children and Their Caregivers Committee, we have a specific goal to advocate for special populations children and their caregivers.  We strive to discover, develop, and disseminate information about materials, programs and facilities that are available at the library for these groups of patrons.  One of the things that we suggest is that library staff at all levels participate in continuing educational programs and classes about serving these special populations.  Here is a current list of online resources available through ALSC, ASCLA, YASLA, and Webjunction for you to help you grow in awareness and competency in this area.

Be sure to also check out ALSC’s list of Professional Tools for Librarians Serving Youth.  You’ll find a lot of great information about access, advocacy, diversity, public awareness, and more.


Renee Grassi, LSSPCC Committee Member

Posted in ALSC Online Courses, Blogger Library Service to Special Population Children and their Caregivers, Blogger Renee Grassi, Library Design and Accessibility, Professional Development, Special Needs Awareness, Webinars | 3 Comments

‘Tis the Season (Again!) for Winter Reading Club

Last year, I posted about my library’s first Winter Reading Club. We had a lot of fun with it (and kept it SIMPLE!) and now we’re gearing up for Year 2, so I wanted to revisit that post and talk about how we’ve tweaked the club this year.

Photo by Abby Johnson

Photo by Abby Johnson

Our goals have shifted a little bit this year. Last year, we were all about getting families in the library and introducing them to library resources. We still want to do that this year, but the additional time we’ve spent working with students in our schools has really highlighted the need to help kids get their blocked cards cleared up. This year, we’ve tried to make it easier for kids to visit the library and read books to earn Fine Bucks to clear up their cards (more on that later!).

We’re again using the BINGO sheet format, inspired by Angie Manfredi, but this year we’re keeping it simple by having one BINGO sheet for all ages (Pre-K through 5th grade; our teen librarian runs a Winter Reading Club for grades 6-12). Instead of requiring folks to choose five boxes in a row, they may choose any five boxes to complete the program. Last year, we found that it was more complicated to suss out which game board (picture book or chapter book) kids needed and then it sometimes got complicated finding them, say, easy chapter book award winners. This year, everyone has the same boxes to choose from and anyone can read anything that fits in the boxes.

Last year, we offered a prize for a BINGO and a second prize for completing all the rest of the boxes. This year, we have one prize for checking off any five boxes on their sheet and then they may continue to read to earn more Fine Bucks. They can complete their sheet, read any number of books on their sheet, they can pick up a new sheet and read the same boxes again, whatever they want to do.

Last year, we really had success with offering Fine Bucks as a prize. Fine Bucks can be redeemed to pay off fines (or, this year, lost books) on Children’s or Young Adult cards. It costs us very little, if anything. We might lose out on a little revenue from the fines, but our Circulation Manager and Administration agreed that it was worth it to get kids using their cards again.

Children must read at least five books to be eligible for Fine Bucks and they earn one fine buck per book. They don’t expire, so even kids who don’t have a fine right NOW can save them for later or use them to keep a DVD a little longer at some point. We had Fine Bucks coming back throughout the year, so we know families are using them!

This year, we are also allowing children and teens to use fine bucks to pay for lost items. We didn’t do that last year because we wanted to encourage them to find and return those items! But we came to the realization that we may never see those items and we’d rather get the kids involved with the library again.

Children will also receive an activity pack when they have read five books. We’re repeating some of the activity packs that we offered over the summer. Again, the point is that we want to offer kids and families something interesting to do during these cold winter months.

And, of course, we’re putting up displays to help kids find books that fit the squares on our game board. This is a great way to highlight different areas of our collection!

Photo by Abby Johnson

Photo by Abby Johnson

We’ve also simplified it on the staff side. Because the only real statistic that we need is how many children actually participated and completed the program, we’re not registering patrons when they pick up their game board. We’re setting out the game boards and we’ll register them when they return a completed game board.

Do you offer a Winter Reading Club at your library? What do you do for yours? I would love to get some more ideas!

— Abby Johnson, Children’s Services Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN

Posted in Blogger Abby Johnson, Programming Ideas | 1 Comment

Checklist for a Successful Skype with an Author

As an author, I love that moment when I hit the “answer video call” button on my computer, and the smiling, wide-eyed faces of readers in Alabama or California or Montana pop onto my screen. Skyping with readers is a remarkably rewarding experience. I am, after all, Skyping right at my desk, and that means the readers get a personal peek into my writing world. I can grab my latest draft and hold it up to the camera to point out a specific line, or let the audience see the messiness of my writer’s notebook, or grab my guitar and sing a song that I’ve just written.

Nothing beats a “live” visit, but Skyping with an author is a great alternative for two reasons: it’s cheaper and it provides an opportunity that is often intimate. Surprise guests, such as the author’s dog, or cat, or spouse can make a cameo appearances; authors can pick up their laptops and show a quick glimpse of their desk, the rocking chair, or the favorite place to write.

If you’ve never tried an author Skype, the first thing you have to do is find your author. Many authors offer fee-based workshops or presentations as well as shorter Q-and-A sessions for a lower cost (or even free). If you have an author in mind, check the author’s website. Otherwise, there are sites that collect the names and contact info of authors who Skype, such as the Skype-an-Author Network.

Regardless of how you find your author, there are some tips and tricks that can help make the entire experience run smoothly and enjoyably. From the author’s point of view, here’s what you can do to be a great Skype partner. (You can also download an easy-to-use version of the checklist here.)


  • Try to list your information and questions in one email to reduce back-and-forth messages. Here are the typical details to clarify:
  • Put your library name and the word Skype in the subject line when contacting an author to set up a Skype session and in all subsequent emails so that the author can easily find the message(s) if s/he has forgotten your name and needs to search.
  • If the author has instructions on her/his website for scheduling a Skype visit, read and follow those instructions.
    1. Type of session: Q and A, workshop, or presentation
    2. Ages of participants
    3. Number of participants
    4. Length of session
    5. Date and time: Specify your time zone every time you communicate with the author
    6. Clarify if special materials are needed, such as notebooks and pencils
    7. Ask permission to photograph or make a video recording of the session, if desired
    8. Determine who makes the call; most author prefer the library to initiate the Skype when ready.
  • Include all your contact info in one easy-to-read list in every email you send:
    1. Your library name and full address
    2. Your name, title, library phone number, and cell number
    3. Your Skype name.Authors receive lots of professional requests as well the usual myriad of personal and junk-mail messages. Imagine getting an email with “one more question” as the subject line, which only consists of the message: “Do you mind if we increase the number of kids? More signed up than I thought! Just let me know!” If the author can’t recall who you are or what you’re talking about, s/he either needs to write you back asking for clarification or search through emails using your email address to try and retrieve the previous emails and figure out your identity. Either way, you’ve given the author an extra job to do.Add the author’s Skypename to your Skype contact list and send a request via Skype for the author to add your contact to his/hers.
  • Test your system–especially if you’ve never Skyped before–with someone. Call a librarian friend. Or your mom. If the author is Skyping for free or for a low rate, please don’t request a test call with the author.
  • Make sure your internet connection is good. The stronger and more reliable your connection, the better your session will look and sound.
  • If you will have a large group, an external microphone plugged into the computer can be helpful to pick up the speaking voices of the participants.
  • Read the author’s work. Participants will get much more out of a session if they are familiar with at least one book and know the author’s basic biography: how many books has the author published, what type of books does the author write, etc.
  • Prepare questions ahead of time for a Q-and-A. Asking each participant to write down a question on an index card often works well.

Questions that work best for Skype visits are specific questions related to one or more of the author’s books that do not require long, complex answers.

Examples of good questions: How long did it take you to write Invisible Lines? Why did you choose mushrooms as a recurring theme? How did you come up with the names of your main characters? If readers want to ask about the general writing process, please help them to be specific: Do you use outlines? Do you ever write with pen and paper? Do you ever ask anyone else to read your work before it is published?

Examples of difficult, hard-to-answer questions: How do you write books? Can you talk about the writing process? These are big topics that take a long time to answer.

  • Go over the questions ahead of time to make sure they are appropriate. Many authors appreciate receiving the questions via email at least one day in advance so that s/he can pull any related visuals.
  • Rehearse what you and the participants will do during the call. Where will they stand when asking questions?

Allowing individuals to step up to the computer’s camera and talk directly into the lens makes the experience much more fun for the author as well as the child or teen. Use this opportunity to practice public-speaking skills with participants. Focus on projecting the voice, slowing down, and speaking clearly.

  • Remind everyone that there is no way of knowing how many questions will be answered in the time allotted. Have a plan for the order in which the questions will be asked and how to deal with any disappointment if the group is too large to have all questions answered.
  • Don’t forget the Skype! If you come down with the flu that day, make sure to tell your stand-in what to do or else call the author and explain that you’ll need to cancel.


  • Have the author’s cell phone number on hand. If there is a technical problem, call the author’s cell phone and stay on the line until you solve any glitches. If you have to end the Skype call and try again, you can still be connected via the cell.
  • Position the computer’s camera so that it captures the whole audience, if possible. If you have pint-sized participants who will be coming up to ask questions, make sure to have a step stool, if needed. It’s frustrating for the author if all s/he can see is the top of a little guy’s head.
  • Begin the session by doing a “sweep” of the room so that everyone can wave hello. If the group is large and the camera can’t pick up everyone in the room, the participants sitting on the sidelines can feel left out. To avoid this, at the very beginning of the Skype, let the author know that you’d like to begin with a sweep. Ask the participants to say hi and wave as you physically move the computer from one side to the other, slowly, giving participants a chance to see the whole group waving on the screen. Then, set the computer down where it will have the best overall view and go on with the session. At the end, you can always “sweep” goodbye.
  • Repeat questions from the participants if the author is having trouble hearing.
  • Watch the time. Setting a timer can work well. Stop when the time is up.


Many readers mistakenly believe that all authors are rich and that every book they write gets published. This is far from true. Most authors don’t make a living wage from book sales. Many authors pay the rent by teaching writing workshops and giving presentations.

  • Please consider showing your thanks for the Skype session by supporting the author’s promotional efforts. Here are some ideas:
    1. “Like” or “follow” the author’s facebook page, twitter handle, pinterest boards, or other social networking.
    2. Write and post a collaborate book review online.
    3. Have readers write and videotape a fun review or creative commercial for the book. Share this video online with parental permission, if needed.
    4. Write an article about the Skype experience and send it to your local newspaper or publish/post it on your library’s newsletter or website.
    5. Tell colleagues about the author. Word of mouth really helps.

Finally, if there is something the author could do to improve the experience, definitely send that feedback. Writing is, for the most part, an exercise in isolation; authors take great joy in connecting with readers and want the experience to be the best it can be.


mary library portrait nj email

Photo credit: Ivan Amato

Our guest blogger today is Mary Amato, an author of fiction for children and teens. She also enjoys teaching workshops in creative writing and songwriting. Her latest series for ages 7-10 is Good Crooks. Her latest YA is Get Happy and features original songs. You can find out more about her at www.maryamato.com or www.thrumsociety.com

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.


Posted in Author Spotlight, Children & Technology, Guest Blogger, Programming Ideas | Tagged , | 1 Comment