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A Word from Pat Scales

September 02, 2013

September: Self-Improvement Month

by Pat Scales

September is Self-Improvement Month, and while the month long observance may have really been intended for adults, it’s also a good time for children and teens to think about ways they can improve.  Maybe it’s making a pledge to work harder it school.  It could be a focus on improving behavior.  And it never hurts for anyone to conquer something out of their comfort zone or acquire a new skill.  Here are things that a school or public library can try to encourage readers to focus on self-improvement:

  • Have readers learn a new skill and share it with others. Introduce books where a main character learns a new skill.  Then have them compare the skill they learned to that of the main character in the books.  Suggestions from Random House include:

I Can Draw It Myself, By Me, Myself (PB) by Dr. Seuss

Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle (PB) by Chris Raschka

Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine (PB) by Allison Wortche & illus. by Patrice Barton

Stitchin and Pullin:  A Gee’s Bend Quilt (PB) by Patricia C. McKissack & illus. by Cozbi A. Cabera

Magic Tricks from the Tree House (New Independent Readers) by Mary Pope Osborne & Natalie Pope Boyce & illus. by Sal Murdocca

Tae Kwon Do! (Step into Reading 1) by Terry Pierce & illus. by Todd Bonita

Super Surprise (Middle Grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

When You Reach Me (Middle Grade) by Rebecca Stead

Whittington (Middle Grade) by Alan Armstrong

Catwalk (YA) by Deborah Gregory

Lemonade Mouth (YA) by Mark Peter Hughes

Nightjohn (YA) by Gary Paulsen

How to Build a House (YA) by Dana Reinhardt

The Book Thief (YA) by Marcus Zusak

Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers (YA) by Walter Hoving & illus. by Joe Eula

  • Introduce readers to books where the main character tackles life experiences out of their comfort zone. Suggestions from Random House include:

Bears Beware (New Independent Readers) by Patricia Reilly Giff

The Mighty Miss Malone (Middle Grade) by Christopher Paul Curtiz

Wonder (Middle Grade) by R.J. Palacio

Hattie Big Sky (YA) by Kirby Larson

Hattie Ever After (YA) by Kirby Larson

  • Perhaps a reader chooses to make a change in behavior.  Book talk books where a main character improves their behavior either consciously and through the help of others.   Titles from Random House include:

Confessions of a Former Bully (PB) by Trudy Ludwig & illus. by Beth Adams

Liar and Spy (middle grade) by Rebecca Stead

The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 (middle grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

Small Steps (YA) by Louis Sachar

Revolution (YA) by Jennifer Donnelly

  • The national focus on good health may inspire a reader to set a goal for a healthy lifestyle.  Display books about diet, exercise, rest, etc.  A suggestion from Random House:

Be Healthy! It’s a Girl Thing: Food, Fitness, and Feeling Great (Middle Grade) by Mavis Jukes & Lillan Wai-Yin & illus. by Debra Ziss

  • Academic success should always be a personal goal. Students may be encouraged by the characters in the following novels:

 Darnell Rock Reporting (Middle Grade) by Walter Dean Myers

Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen (Middle Grade) by Donna Gephart

The Smart Aleck’s Guide to American History (middle grade) by Adam Selzer

  • The success of others is always inspiring.  Introduce books about people, whether real or fictional, who offer such inspiration.  Here are a few suggestions from Random House:

 Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child (PB) by Jessie Hartland

Brush of the Gods (PB) by Lenore Look & illus. by Mello So

Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson (PB) by Sue Stauffacher & illus. by Greg Couch

The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss (PB) by Kathleen Krull & illus. by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher

Song and Dance Man (PB) by Karen Ackerman & illus. by Stephen Gammell

  •  Reading always contributes to self-improvement.  Suggest that library patrons read at least one book a week in September.  Here are some reader favorites:

 Tomas and the Library Lady (PB) by Pat Mora & illus. by Raul Colon

Crow (Middle Grade) by Barbara Wright

Harriet the Spy (Middle Grade) by Louise Fitzhugh

Navigating Early (Middle Grade) by Clare Vanderpool

Scat (Middle Grade) by Carl Hiaasen

Mexican WhiteBoy (YA) by Matt de la Pena

Tiger Eyes (YA) by Judy Blume

  •  At the end of the month have readers write about how they accomplished the goals they set at the beginning of the month.
  •  Sponsor a Look What I Achieved! event at the end of the month.

August 06, 2013

August: One More Time

by Pat Scales

A third-grade student once said to me, “I wish I could spend a whole day in the library and read all my favorite books one more time.”   This student was an excellent reader, and I think she had the idea that once she became a fourth grader that she wouldn’t be allowed to read books that had delighted her during her first three years in school.  Instead of asking students to give up their favorite books, we should ask them to hold on to them.  This celebrates the power of books and the reading experience and offers clues about what titles to suggest next. There is also another side to this scenario.  Teachers and librarians shouldn’t be so quick to give up old favorites either.  Some books are just too good to miss, and many children or young adults may never find such literature without our guidance.

  • Make your own “Too Good to Miss” list and post it on the school or library website.
  • Ask readers to make a list of their favorite books from each of their school years.
  • Allow readers to write a  “Dear Reader” note on the end pages of their favorite books.  Ask them to focus on why it’s their favorite book.
  • Ask readers to write about a book they would most want in their personal library.  How many titles does the library own?
  • Suggest that readers make placemats about favorite books to be use in the school cafeteria on the first day of school.  For example, have second-graders make placemats for first-graders, etc.
  • School and public libraries should display favorite books so that other readers might discover them.

Here’s my “Too Good to Miss” and “One More Time” list from Random House:

Picture Books



Middle Grade


Young Adult


July 08, 2013

July: Don’t Know Much About Geography

Public libraries are well into their summer reading programs, and schools are out for the summer, but children and young adults have the world available to them through books that give them a sense of geography.  What prompted me to focus on geography is a newspaper article that said that students know very, very little about national or global geography.  I admit that I didn’t especially enjoy the study of geography in school, but books like Heidi, The Secret Garden, and the books by Lois Lenski caused me to ponder long moments over maps.  If the young are exposed to geography through story (setting) then they may be better prepared for a global focus in their studies.  Don’t think that incorporating geography into summer reading turns kids off to reading.  It likely will turn them on to books and all they have to offer.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask readers to share a picture postcard that has been sent to them or their family by a friend or relative.  Then ask them to hone their reference skills in the following way:
  1. Locate the state, country, and city on a map
  2. What are the bordering states or countries?
  3. Name the largest cities in the state or country.
  4. Trace the principle rivers
  5. Are there mountain ranges, deserts, etc.?
  6. What is the primary religion?
  7. When is the best time to travel to the state or country?
  8. What is the currency?
  • Teach very young readers how to look at maps by using There’s a Map on My Lap (picture book) by Tish Rabe. Have all readers draw a map from their school to their neighborhood.  How much detail should be included?
  • For younger readers, read aloud The Little Island (picture book) by Margaret Wise Brown & illus. by Leonard Weisgard.  Ask them (with the help of older readers) to look on a map and name the number of island countries in the world.
  • Introduce them to deserts by reading Why Oh, Why Are Deserts Dry (picture book) by Tish Rabe & illus. by Aristides Ruiz & Joe Mathiew.   In small groups, have them study a map and name the principal deserts of the world.
  • Display and book talk books that are set in locales that readers are likely to know very little.  Ask them to study sample questions on the National Geographic Geography Bee website. Then have them make 5 geography related questions from the book(s) they choose to read. Book selections from Random House may include:

                      We Planted a Tree (picture Book) by Diane Muldrow & illus. by Bob Staake – several countries are mentioned.

                      Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq (picture book) by Mark Alan Stamaty – Iraq

                      Enrique’s Journey (middle grade) by Sonia Nazario – Hondurus &  Mexico

                      Ice Island (middle grade) by Sherry Shahan – of the coast of Alaska

                      Laugh with the Moon (middle grade) by Shana Burg – Malawi

                                Along the River: A Chinese Cinderella Novel (young adult) by Adeline Yen Mah – China

                      I Am Messenger (young adult) by Markus Zusak – Australia

                      Nine Days (middle grade) bt Fred Hiatt – Hong Kong, Vietnam & the  China border

                      Shabanu, Haveli, & The House of Djinn (young adult) by Suzanne Fisher Staples – Pakistan

                      Mountains Beyond Mountains (young adult) by Tracy Kidder &  adapted for young people by Michael French – various countries that  have a high poverty rate

  • Don’t forget books set in our own nation.   Selections from Randam House include:

 A Place Where Hurricanes Happen(picture book) by Renee Watson &  illus by Shadra Strickland – New Orleans, LA

 Look Out Washington DC(easy reader) by Patricia Reilly Giff – DC

Next Stop New York City (easy reader) by Patricia Reilly Giff -  New York

 Chomp (middle grade) – Florida Everglades

The Mighty Miss Malone (middle grade) – Michigan

Navigating Early (middle grade) – Maine

The Beet Fields (young adult) by Gary Paulsen – North Dakota

 Lord of the Deep (young adult) by Graham Salisbury – Hawaii

  • Ask readers to make picture postcards that best represents the geographical locations of the books they read.  Then plan a postcard exhibit and invite parents and community leaders in to see the display.  Readers may also prepare a short presentation that includes the geographical facts they learned.



June 03, 2013

June: Male Role Models for Father’s Day

by Pat Scales

Though Father’s Day has been celebrated by many families since the early part of the 20th century, it wasn’t named a permanent national holiday until 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed it into law.   The family structure is very different today than it was when Father’s Day was first proposed.  Many children live in homes without fathers, but may have family and friends that provide them with male role models.  There are even Father’s Day greeting cards for stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and friends.   Father’s Day is a perfect time for libraries to promote male role models through books and special programming.  Here are a few ideas:

Help readers develop research skills by asking them to find answers to the following questions:

  1. Who was the driving force behind the establishment of Father’s Day?
  2. What city founded Father’s Day? What organization was responsible for the celebration?
  3. Why did Americans initially resist the celebration?
  4. Which President was the first to speak at a Father’s Day event?
  5. How many countries have a Father’s Day celebration? Use pushpins to mark the location of these countries?

Have readers pick a non-English speaking country that celebrates Father’s Day and have the make a greeting card that might be purchased in that country.
Ask readers to select a book for them to read together with their father or male role model.  Then have them share why they chose that particular book.
Have readers find a poem that best describes their feelings for their father, grandfather, or father figure in their lives.  Allow them time to share the poem with the group.
Suggest that readers read a biography or autobiography about a man that is a positive role model.  Suggestions from Random House include:

As Good As Anybody (Picture Book) by Richard Michelson & illus. by Raul Colón

 Child of the Civil Rights Movement (Picture Book) by Paula Young Shelton & illus. by Raul Colón

  First Kids (Early Reader) by Gibbs Davis & illus. by Sally Wern Comfort

Have readers share a favorite story about their grandfathers, or older males in their lives.  Then have them read books about grandfathers.  Suggestions from Random House include:

 How to Babysit a Grandpa (Picture Book) by Jean Reagan & illus. by  Lee Wildish

 Song and Dance Man (Picture Book) by Karen Ackerman & illus. by  Stephen Gammell

 Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (Middle Grade) by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

 Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It(Middle Grade) by Sundee T. Frazier

Belle Prater’s Boy (Middle Grade) by Ruth White

 Bud, Not Buddy (Middle Grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

Engage readers in a discussion about whether the father in the following novels is a good role model.  What is the relationship between the main character and the father?

 Navigating Early (Middle Grade) by Clare Vanderpool

  Chomp (Middle Grade) by Carl Hiaasen

  Heart of a Shepherd (Middle Grade) by Rosanne Parry

 Hokey Pokey (Middle Grade) by Jerry Spinelli

 Flush (Middle Grade) by Carl Hiaasen

  It’s Not the End of the World (Middle Grade) by Judy Blume

Laugh with the Moon (Middle Grade) by Shana Burg

  Liar and Spy (Middle Grade) by Rebecca Stead

The Mighty Miss Malone (Middle Grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

 The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Middle Grade) by Jeanne Birdsall

 Pictures of Hollis Woods (Middle Grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

 Revolution (Young Adult) by Jennifer Donnelly

Have readers locate and read a book that has a male role model other than a father.  Suggestions from Random House include:

                        Lord of the Deep (Young Adult) by Graham Salisbury

                        One Year in Coal Harbor (Middle Grade) by Polly Horvath

The Book Thief (Young Adult) by Marcus Zusak

 Mexican Whiteboy (Young Adult) by Matt de la Peña

 Small Steps (Young Adult) by Louis Sachar

April 30, 2013

May: Celebrating Grandparents

May is Older Americans Month.  While the purpose of this celebration is to honor older Americans’ contribution to their communities, it’s also a good time for the young to think about their relationship with their grandparents.  There is no better way than through books.  Throughout history, elder members of families have been the source of wisdom.  In some cases, grandparents were and are the primary caregivers to children.  As we think about older citizens in our society, let’s not forget the role of grandparents in other cultures.  The respect of the elder may well be a value that unites cultures.  Many schools celebrate Grandparents Day in May or other times during the school year.  Public libraries have a role too.  Here are programming suggestions, along with titles from Random House that focus on grandparents:

Ask the very young what they call their grandparents.  Read the following books to spark this conversation:

      I Call My Grandpa Papa by Ashley Wolff

      I Call My Grandma Nana by Ashley Wolff

Invite grandparents to the library to read to children.  Encourage them to select a book that is a favorite among the children in their family.  Or maybe they choose to share a favorite poem from their youth.

Ask children to share something they like to do with their grandparents.  Perhaps it’s a craft activity, gardening, a sports event, reading books or magazines, playing games, singing or listening to music, watching television, etc. Then have them locate a book that they could recommend to their grandparents about their favorite activity.  Suggestions from Random House include:

      Gardening – Two Little Gardeners by Margaret Wise Brown (picture book)

      Singing – Wheels on the Bus by Raffi (picture book)

             Picnics – Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold (picture book)

      Sports – You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? by Johah Winter & illus. by Andre Carrilho (picture book)

      Cooking -  The Magic Cake Shop by Meika Hashimoto & illus. by Josee Masse (middle grade)

Suggest that readers select a favorite book to share with a grandparent.  Let them know that if their grandparents live in another city or state that they might share the book via telephone, email or a letter. Then have readers write a one-page paper titled “The Book I Most Want to Share with My Grandmother or Grandfather.”

Introduce books where grandparents play a major role in a family.  Engage readers in a discussion about the relationship between the main character and her grandparent; how the entire family views the grandparent; what the main character learns from their grandparent.  Book suggestions from Random House include:

      Estie the Mensch by Jane Kohuth & illus. by Rosanne Litzinger (picture book)

            Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman & illus. by Stephen Gammell (picture book)

      Alida’s Song by Gary Paulsen (middle grade)

      Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb (middle grade)

      Belle Prater’s Boy by Ruth White (middle grade)

      Child of the Mountains by Marilyn Sue Shank (middle grade)

         Crow by Barbara Wright (middle grade)

      Faith, Hope and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (middle grade)

      Journey by Patricia MacLachlan

      Jump Into the Sky by Shelley Pearsall (middle grade)

      Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff (middle grade)

      The Lost Songs by Caroline B. Cooney

      The Secret of Gumbo Grove by Eleanora Tate (middle grade)

      The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (middle grade)

Whittington by Alan Armstrong (middle grade)

Suggest books where the main character is searching for a grandparent, or a surrogate grandparent.  Suggestions from Random House include:

      Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It by Sundee T. Frazier (middle grade)

      Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff (middle grade)

      The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (young adult)

Ask young adults to read a book that reveals the role of grandparents in other cultures.  Sponsor a panel discussion titled “Global Grandparents: The Similarities and Differences of Grandparents Across Cultures.”  Suggestions from Random House include:

            The House of Djinn by Suzanne Fisher Staple

            Written in Stone by Rosanne Parry




March 28, 2013

April: What’s So Funny?

There is no one who loves a good laugh more than the young.  They giggle over knock-knock jokes like they were the ones who created them.  They double over laughing at silly pranks, and look for hilarious stories to share with one another.  Since April is National Humor Month, I thought it appropriate to offer program ideas to help young patrons focus on the lighter side of life. The nation has been celebrating National Humor Month since 1976 with the idea of making the public aware of the importance of laughter.  Before searching for humorous books to recommend to the young, think about how the concept of “funny” changes as children get older.  You can discover this by asking various age groups to share something funny that happened to them in the past month.  What is so funny about what they share?  Is there a difference in how boys and girls see humor?  Do you see humor in what they are sharing?  After identifying the “funny” side of the young, try these programming ideas:

  •  Display books of humorous poetry.  Divide readers into small groups and ask them to select a poem to perform as a choral reading.  Suggest that they make a hat or a prop that best characterizes the humor in the poetry.  Books from Random House include:

For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to Tickle Your Funnybone (all ages) by Jack Prelutsky

Revolting Rhymes (all ages) by Roald Dahl

  • Many readers find humor in simple nonsense.  Ask readers to share a nonsensical book that appeals to their funnybone.  Readers of all ages may gravitate to books by Dr. Seuss.
  • Introduce humorous picture books to the youngest readers.  Select a few to read aloud and ask them to tell you why they think the books are funny.  Suggestions from Random House include:

Anatole by Eve Titus & illus. by Paul Galdone

 Erroll by Hannah Shaw

Hugo and the Really, Really, Really Long String by Bob Boyle

 Frederick by Leo Lionni

 Pirates vs. Cowboys by Aaron Reynolds & illus. by David Barneda

The Wicked Big Toddlah by Kevin Hawkes

  • Display humorous books for beginning readers.  Have them select one to read and then ask them to draw a funny scene from the book.  Suggestions from Random House include:

Are You My Mother? By P. D. Eastman

Have You Seen My Dinosaur? By Jon Surgal & illus. by Joe Mathieu

Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park

Porky and Bess by Ellen Weill and Mel Friedman & illus. by Marsha Winborn

  • Older readers respond to humor in many different ways.  Sometimes they find delight in specific scenes in novels, and other times they find humor in the characters.  Suggest that they locate several humorous books and identify the humor in each novel.  Suggestions from Random House include:

Chomp (ages 9-12) by Carl Hiaasen

Dogs Don’t Tell Jokes (ages 9-12) by Louis Sachar

The Elevator Family (ages 8-11) by  Doouglas Evans

The Fast and Furriest (ages 9-12) by Andy Behrens

Flipped (ages 9-12) by Wendelin Van Draanen

I Don’t Believe It, Archie! (ages 9-12) by Andrew Norriss & illus. by Hannah Shaw

The Willoughbys (ages 9-12) by Lois Lowry

Crash Test Love (YA) by Ted Michael

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop (ages 8-11) by Kate Saunders

My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan (YA) by Sean Rudetsky

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (YA) by Rachel Cohen & David Levithan

Spanking Shakespeare (YA) by Jake Wizner & illus. by Richard Ewing

Teen Angst? Naaah… (YA) by Ned Vizzin

  • Sponsor a contest called “What’s So Funny?”  Allow each reader to submit one title for the contest.  Then ask all readers to read the books and vote.  Have a winner for elementary, middle and young adult readers.


  • Enlist the help of readers of all ages to create a bibliography of “funny” books to post on the library’s website as a resource for families.