Blogger Abby Johnson

The Library Lady is Here!

Our new school year is upon us and this week marks our return to doing library outreach programs at our local YMCA Afterschool sites. This is a partnership that we started last year and it’s been a wonderful success! It benefits the YMCA because it takes the pressure off the site staff entertaining the kids once a month. It benefits the library because it gives us a captive school-age audience for our programs and a chance to promote the library to kids that may not be regular library users. And, most of all, it benefits the kids because we’re sharing great books and activities with them!

Our YMCA Afterschool serves about 300 kids at 9 different sites throughout the county, and this year we will visit each site once a month. When I contacted them about providing programming last year, we started out with visiting each site every other month because I wanted to make sure my staff could handle the additional programs. It went so well that we’re happy to go every month now.

There were a few kinks to work out. Communication is key and we seemed to have a lot of missed communication last year, resulting in site staff that were unaware of when we were coming. Generally they were flexible and we could do the programs anyway, but at least once we were turned away because the kids were involved in something else. This year, I will send an email to the site coordinator weekly reminding her which visits are coming up that week.

We also had occasional crowd control issues with sites that had a large number of kids. I’m making sure to send two staff members to each of the larger sites. I’ve also suggested that the counselors give kids the choice of staying for the craft or doing another activity like going outside or going to the gym. This worked well for one of our larger sites last year and I’m hopeful that it’ll help with some of those crowd control issues we were having.

Last year, I switched up staff at each visit so that everyone would be familiar with each school. Now that we’re entering our second year, I’m aiming to keep staff consistent with which schools they’re visiting. I’m hoping that having the same librarian at a certain school each month will make the programs even more successful!

So, what’s our program like? Generally we read 2-4 picture books and then do a simple craft. We end up reading for 20-25 minutes and then working on a craft for 20-25 minutes. I am a firm believer in the importance of AWESOME READALOUDS, so we don’t really have themes, although I will pull at least one seasonally appropriate book. With a large group, I’ve found that it’s easier to do a simple art activity that lets the kids be creative rather than a craft that needs to be done step by step. The kids are in grades K-4, so they’re all over the map as far as craft abilities.

Some of the crafts that have worked for us:

  • Anything scratch art! Oriental Trading has a nice selection of magic color scratch art sets. Last year, we did postcards (no longer available?) and masks. They often have certain sets on sale, so if you keep your eyes out, you can get a good deal.
  • Bookmarks! Cut cardstock into strips. Bring crayons and stickers and let the kids design their own bookmarks. If you want to get fancier, you can bring paper punches, ribbon, and anything else you can think of for decoration. This can also be seasonal (February? Use red cardstock for Valentine bookmarks! October? Use orange or black cardstock!)
  • Leaf rubbings! We pulled this together last year when the very first craft we tried was WAY too complicated and we needed something easy. Some of the kids had already done leaf rubbings and when they said, “I’ve already done THIS before!” I told them they were Experts and would they please help their friends?
  • This year, we’re trying some new things: I Spy collages made from discarded magazines, flip books, and race cars!

I pull a bag of books to take as readalouds and we switch them out each month. My staff are all welcome to add books to the bag at any time. We keep track of the books we’re sharing in a special binder where we can also write notes about what worked and what didn’t and how the visit went. Having a bag ready to go and a pre-planned craft makes it easy for my staff and me to grab the materials and go, which is important if we’re doing 9 programs a month.

So, what books have been big hits with the kids?

Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall (Houghton Mifflin, 1977). This is one of my favorite readalouds ever! Although most of the kids had heard this story before, they loved hearing it again. The ones who were familiar with the story loved being on the inside of the joke.

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer (HarperCollins, 1991). I have long loved using this book with preschoolers. To my delight, it is a big hit with the school-age crowd, as well. The grade school kids get the surprise, humorous ending that goes over the head of some of my preschoolers. Definitely a crowd-pleaser.

Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Scott Magoon  (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2006). Kids get shivers of delight when they figure out what the gruesome end to this story is going to be. And someone always shouts out, “It’s a shark!” when Shiny Fish comes along.

Velcome by Kevin O’Malley (Walker Books for Young Readers, 1999). Months later (MONTHS), we still had kids coming into the library asking for “The Viper”. I am not kidding. This collection of slightly scary, funny stories was an October HIT with our kids. We are definitely bringing this book with us again this year.

There is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2007). The kids went crazy for Elephant and Piggie! The downside to these books is the small trim size, which makes them difficult to use with large groups, but I brought them out whenever the group size would allow it. Other Elephant & Piggie books that make great readalouds are I Broke My Trunk (2011) and I am Invited to a Party! (2007).

This has been a very successful collaboration for us! What kind of outreach programs does your library offer for kids? Any great craft or readaloud ideas for school age kids?

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

Books mentioned in this post:

Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall (Houghton Mifflin, 1977).
Bark, George by Jules Feiffer (HarperCollins, 1991).
Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2006).
Velcome by Kevin O’Malley (Walker Books for Young Readers, 1999).
I am Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2011).
I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2011).
There is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2007).




  1. kevin o'malley

    Thanks for the kind words about Velcome!

  2. kevin o'malley

    Have you seen ‘Once upon a cool motorcycle dude’?

    1. Jennifer Caccavaro

      Love this book! (Once upon a cool motorcycle dude) It is a great read aloud for school age kids. I have used it in storytime with great success. It also won the North Carolina Childrens Book Award a few years ago!

  3. Jen

    Bark George is perfect for any audience!

  4. Michelle M.

    I love collage projects, they are easy to prepare and fun for the kids to do. Basically these are the type of projects that have a theme and kids could use all sorts of craft supplies (foam pieces, tissue paper, construction paper, cut outs and more) to decorate their collages.

  5. Deb Marshall

    Oh my gosh…tween jobs right now and can’t wait to get back “in there”. Always love taking the library and the programming to the kids. Some great ideas you’ve shared, thanks!

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