Department Décor: Summer Reading Club Edition

As a child, there was nothing quite so thrilling as running downstairs on the first day of Summer Reading Club to find the children’s department transformed into a medieval castle, the snowy Arctic, or even outer space. As an adult, I find myself on the other side of the desk and responsible for orchestrating this transformation. As summer approaches, you may find yourself in a similar position. While I am not exactly Martha Stewart, I am a Martha who knows a thing or two about decorating a department for Summer Reading Club and I have a few strategies for making this project a little easier.

Divide and Conquer

Rather than thinking of your space as one big box, separate that box into different compartments. How do you want each compartment to work with your club’s theme? Are there any particular structural or physical considerations that will help or hinder your decorations? For example, we turned our fiction section into the Forest of Fiction because it had a pillar that was perfect for dressing up like a tree.

Our big tree in the Forest of Fiction
Our big tree in the Forest of Fiction

You can make your sections as simple or as complex as you want, depending on your space and resources. I usually assign a different subtheme or idea to each of my sections. For “Have Book, Will Travel,” each section was a different travel destination, such as the Picture Book Jungle, Computer Cove, and the Audiobook Arctic, among others.

To DIY or Not to DIY?

Handcrafted decorations are a double-edged sword. In many cases, I’ve been able to save money and stretch my budget using a cheaper DIY option from Pinterest. However, saving money can come at the expense of time spent laboring over a glue gun. Even relatively simple projects–like our paper bag trees from last year–can require a lot of planning, coordination, and help from other staff members. Before you commit to additional supplies or staff time, make sure you have a good understanding of what the project requires. Do a trial run if possible, and don’t be afraid to make modifications to expedite the process.


When you’re taking down decorations at the conclusion of the club, you may think, “When on earth am I going to use these inflatable monkeys again?” The answer may surprise you. Some of the supplies we bought last year will be making another appearance this year, which gave me a little more room in the budget. If you have the storage space, try to hang on to any reusable supplies for a future program. Your future self will thank you.

Repeat: It’s All Worth It

One of my favorite reactions to our decorations came from a little girl who asked if the penguins that had been in our audiobook section would be flying back for Winter Reading Club. I like to think about this story whenever things start getting hectic on the decoration front. Would it be easier to slap a poster on the wall and call it a day? Sure–you wouldn’t need a glue gun or a ladder, either. Does it transform your space in the same way? Not by a long shot.


Our guest blogger today is Martha Cordeniz O’Hara. Martha is a Children’s Services Associate at the Glencoe Public Library in Glencoe, Illinois. When she is not at the Glencoe Public Library, you can sometimes find her working at the Lake Bluff Public Library or attending class through the LEEP Program at the University of Illinois. She lives in Highland Park with her husband and two opinionated cats. You can follow her on Twitter at @marthacohara, especially if you are interested in pictures of the aforementioned cats.

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.


  1. Julie

    Note to self be sure to label the storage boxes clearly or you will run into a situation where the director and a guest walk in on you rampaging around muttering “I know there are monkeys in here somewhere!” The summer jungle monkeys were scheduled to appear as monkeys jumping on the bed (parachute) at storytime and couldn’t be found anywhere.

  2. Renee Perron

    I really struggle with this part of my job. In some ways, I love being creative and artistic in how I decorate the room. But in other ways, I struggle with lack of resources (no budget for decorations) which leads to everything being DIY or I pay for the decorations out of my personal money. And when I do spend a lot of time on decorating the room, I always worry that I am not spending my time wisely when there are so many other important tasks at work that need to be accomplished. I feel like decorating time is play time for me and I’m not really working! (even though I know that is not true:-)
    I love the images that were included in this post! I wish I could create things like that.

  3. Rebecca

    Great post! Now I don’t feel guilty about the time I’ve spent shopping for Fizz! Boom! Read! decorations and tracking silver glitter all over the house.

  4. Martha Cordeniz O'Hara

    Julie–It just goes to show: nothing is ever boring in the children’s department!

    Renee–Oh gosh, isn’t that the truth! It’s a delicate balance of frugality and creativity, and it’s certainly hard to focus on decorating when there are so many other things to do. If you can find little ways to make things easier for yourself, that can really help. I will never forget the day that I realized that if I typed up something and changed the font to an outline, it was approximately 5,000 times faster than doing everything by hand. Some of the pre-packaged craft kits can also work as decorations. I used a paper plate cat craft this year–made 10 or 12 cats and I just had to glue gun it all together. Thanks for your kind words about the pictures! 🙂

  5. Martha Cordeniz O'Hara

    Rebecca, glitter is definitely an occupational hazard! That and those spider webby glue gun strands!

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