Blogger Abby Johnson

Afterschool Redux

I posted back in the fall about our partnership with our local YMCA Afterschool sites and the programs my staff and I are doing there. Now that the school year’s wrapping up and our visits have come to a close, I wanted to give you an update on what we’ve been doing with the kids since September and what books have been a hit with our kids.

I came up with a regular schedule of visits (first Tuesday, second Thursday, etc.) that really seems to have helped with everyone keeping track of when we’re coming. Any crowd control issues we had at the beginning of the year were resolved fairly quickly by YMCA site staff. As I mentioned in that post, I split up the nine visit sites between four full-time staffers (including myself). For some of the larger sites, I send two people, meaning each of us visits two or three schools every month. As much as I can, I try to keep my staff visiting the same sites each month so that they’re able to get to know the kids and the kids are able to get to know them.

The two schools I visit regularly are just about as different as they can be. SR is a city school with a fairly small group (around 12-20), mostly boys who are very reluctant listeners. These are the kids who greet me with “Oh NOOO, not YOU again!” when I come in the room (I choose to believe they say this with love). FK is located in one of our wealthier suburbs and has a very large group in which all the kids are very attentive and look forward to library time. These are the kids who, when I came back after missing a visit because of ALA Midwinter, greeted me with “Miss ABBY!!! DID YOU GET A HAIRCUT!?” (I couldn’t believe they would notice or remember what my hair had looked like before!)

Although all the Afterschool sites we visit are great groups, I feel very lucky to have these two because I feel like each group stretches me in a different way. With SR, it’s a constant challenge to find uber-appealing books or present books in ways that would hold the interest of my most reluctant readers. With FK, I am able to bring some of the longer readalouds that I wouldn’t dare try with other groups because I know those kids will go along with whatever I bring.  I’m doing good to get through two or maaaybe three books with the kids at SR, while the FK kids will often sit through four or even five titles.

So what books worked the kids at these very different schools? I’ll start with the reluctant readers at SR.

Nonfiction is a big hit. How Big Is It? by Ben Hillman was my first hit with them. I didn’t read it straight through, but showed them some of the spreads and read them a couple of sentences from each spread. When sharing this one with a group, it’s a great idea to go through the book and pick out what you want to share with them beforehand. I had great success with Nic Bishop’s Frogs, too. I showed them some of the coolest photos in that book and told them a fact or two about the frog in question.

I also brought books that present facts in a more narrative way, like How Much is a Million? or If You Hopped Like a Frog by David Schwartz. I always explain a little bit about how Schwartz was able to come up with his estimations and ratios, and I tell them that they can always check out the book from the library if they want to know more!

A runaway hit with this group was Guess Again? by Mac Barnett. It took the kids by surprise and they loved the ridiculous illustrations. When I finished this book, they actually asked me to read it again, which is something this group had NEVER done. Another story they loved was Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude and its sequel Once Upon a Royal Superbaby by Kevin O’Malley. Since the narration switches between a girl and a guy, I like to do a high, valley-girl voice for the female narrator and a surfer-dude voice for the male narrator.

With FK, my choices are a little different. Sure, they like some of the same stuff that the kids at SR like, but I also know they can handle longer stories. I love to share with them stories that I loved when I was their age, like Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg and There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon by Jack Kent. They loved The End by David LaRochelle, a tale that starts with “The End” and works backwards to the beginning, and they insisted that I also read it from back to front.

They also loved What Animals Really Like by Fiona Robinson, a theatrical story in which animals are putting on a musical about the things they like. When the animals go off-script, their director gets a surprise lesson in what animals really like. One of the girls in this group is Mr. Hankins’s daughter (if you’re not following him on Twitter, you should be!) and afterwards he told me that she did some readers advisory and suggested this book to him!

This group is rabid for the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems and I try to always bring one to share with them. I find that (although I love each and every one of them) some of them are better readalouds than others. My favorites to read aloud are I am Invited to a Party, There is a Bird on Your Head, I Broke My Trunk, and I Will Surprise My Friend. We’ve been inspired by our Afterschool kids’ love of this series to offer an Elephant and Piggie Day at the library this summer.

Being able to visit the same schools on a monthly basis allows me to get to know the kids and tailor what books I read to their interests and abilities. If they respond well to a particular title, I might look for more by that author to share with them or books in a similar genre or on a similar theme. I always bring more titles than I think I can get through. That way, if one is a dud, I can stop it and switch to something different.

We also bring a craft each week and scratch-art has become our best friend. Since we see between 250-300 kids each month, we need something fairly cheap and easy. We generally have 15-20 minutes for craft time at each visit and we need to take something that’s not very complicated since the kids range in age from Kindergarten to fourth grade. Lately, we’ve been ordering scratch art from Oriental Trading for almost every month. It’s easy and allows the kids to be creative without creating a mess. I will say that we used to get wooden sticks with the kits and now they’re sending plastic sticks that do not work as well. Luckily, we saved the wooden sticks from previous kits (mostly because I didn’t want to leave these kids with pointy sticks…), so we’re bringing those with us.

All in all, our partnership with the YMCA Afterschool continues to be a smashing success. We have a captive audience for our books and we’re able to connect with many more young patrons at our visits to their schools. I think we’ve set up a format that works well for library staff and for the YMCA site staff. And after our summer break, I know we’ll look forward to seeing these kids again in the fall!

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *