Feed them, and they will come.

We all know that food can bring in a lot of teenagers to a program, but is there a line that should be drawn at some point? Are we simply putting snacks out at a program that does not revolve around snacks just to get them to come, or should we be thinking more about food related programs that they will enjoy, and in turn make them want to come to non-food related programs?

I have seen both things done at various libraries, and I myself have put out snacks at programs that really didn’t need them. Based on how those programs went, I have decided not to put out snacks at a program if it does not fit with it.

“Why?” you might ask. For me the snacks took away from the actual program we were doing. If it’s a craft program they are too distracted by having the option to get up and get something to drink or munch on and do not participate in the program. Some of the kids did not even really want to do the project, but just wanted the food. Personally, I do not like this way of getting kids to attend, as they are not really there to enjoy it and it takes away from the kids that are actually there to work on the project. Also sometimes the program should not have food at it, depending on what they are working with (ex. bleach pen clothing, etc.). I know they are capable of washing their hands before eating, but the idea of having food and working with something that they should not ingest at the same program makes me nervous.

That being said, we can provide programs where food is an integral part and they can partake in that program while still eating. I do many food related programs, such as chocolate olympics, silent library, finals cafe, interactive movies, different types of cooking, various holiday snacks, and my book clubs. All of these incorporate food, but do not take them away from participating in what the actual program is. By attending these food related ones they will see the types of programs the library puts on, and will hopefully be excited to attend regardless if there are snacks or not. If these are the types of programs that work best for you, that’s awesome!

Ultimately you have to find what best works for your teens. If they want more food related programs, that’s great, ask them what type of programs they are looking for. Once I turned my programs into more food related ones and less just food being there, they participated more and were able to focus on what they were there to do, and enjoyed it. Both of my programs, food and non-food, are now well attended and they know what they expect to see when they come in.

What have you found works best for your teens with programs involving food?

Fab(rication) Friday: Fun Maker Websites for Teens and Tweens

While there are a lot of classic and well-known maker and craft websites, like Make and Thingiverse,  for this Friday, I want to highlight a few lesser known sites that I’ve had success with using with teenagers lately.

Music Lab Song Maker: An in-browser music design lab. While it’s not the most feature rich, it’s a great way to get started with DIY song writing.

Flipsnack: Zine Maker: Zines are back! Several of my students enjoy creating their own zines and have used Flipsnack for easy designing.

PBS Kids Design Squad:  This tween-friendly site helps young makers learn more about the engineering process while also sharing their creations and playing games. It’s got a lot of fidget projects, which are still popular with our middle schoolers (your milage may vary on that one). Teens, tweens, and kids can earn badges for learning new crafts and maker skills and sharing their work on this Little Bits affiliated site. There’s even an iOS app to make sharing easy!

High school projects on Instructables: Instructables is a great place to get ideas for new projects and learn new skills, but sometimes the projects aren’t appealing or just right for a teen audience. This page collects some teen friendly projects that several of our students have adapted for class projects.

What are some sites you have used in your makerspace lately?

So, You’re a King Arthur Fan…

I have happily noticed a new microtrend within the ‘retelling’ trend in YA (and beyond) and that’s to retell the King Arthur story in new fresh ways. I am a Certified King Arthur Nerd (literally, my senior honors thesis was the intersection of YA King Arthur retellings and the origins of the legend and I’m credited in TWO academic books for my work on the subject. It’s bad, guys). Anyway, I thought I’d offer a list of both new and older Arthur retellings that are at the top of their game and would be perfect for any teen wanting more versions of the legend.


First, you can’t start a discussion of Arthur retellings without the classic (which, admittedly skews more tween but still) and that is the Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. The series holds up pretty well, even if it is more derivative than some of the others. In places and entire books in the five book series, the Arthur connections are more hinted at that obvious. Still, knowing the legend greatly supports the series.

And the original Once and Future King by T.H. White is still amazingly readable for an older book. Obviously diversity and such are low but it’s a great place to learn the source material for a lot of the more modern takes.

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Okay, so many people might not consider this a classic and there are definitely problematic aspects (with her and the book) but the truth is, this book and this retelling of Arthur defined a generation of readers, especially female readers (because it centered women in the story), and those are the people who are now writing and publishing books (no, I don’t know for sure that any of our YA authors publishing Arthur retellings now read it but it is very possible). It has to be on the list for its cultural significance.


Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy is brand new and as gay as humanly possible (in fact, the authors both agree that they were happily surprised as some of the things that were allowed) but also fast paced, clever and laugh out loud funny (and tear worthy for the opposite reason). There will be a sequel called The Sword in the Stars out in 2020. Their Arthur is a teenage girl, their Merlin a teenage boy (ageing backwards), set in space (Ari is the 42nd King Arthur reincarnation). Their picks for what to include or not are well thought out and often not what you think at first.

The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White is not out until November of this year but should be on your radar as the first book in the Camelot Rising trilogy. The book appears to be taking a new and twisty take on Guinevere herself. White is well known in YA and will undoubtedly bring in new readers interested in Arthur. I’m looking forward to it!

The Once and Future Geek by Mari Mancusi came out last November. It’s aimed more for our middle grade friends but also hits our youngest teens. It’s the first in a series called The Camelot Code. It’s a cute modern day retelling where a young King Arthur accidentally time travels into the present and it’s up to Sophie and Stu, gamer friends who play a King Arthur-esque online game, to get him back where he belongs. Lots of time travel and shenanigans but really fun.

Oldies but Goodies:

Forever King by Molly Cochran and Warren Murphy. A trilogy written in the 1990s, featuring a reincarnated Arthur and his bravest knight, a messed up ex-FBI agent. It might be hard to find but it was a solid adaptation of the story with a relatively modern spin (I read it in 2008/2009 and it didn’t seem that dated, but we’ve come a long way in ten years).

Avalon High by Meg Cabot is purposely ridiculous and light but a lot of fun as a result. She’s a perennial favorite and therefore probably a good gateway. It features the Arthurian crew at a modern-day high school.

Lost Years by T.A. Barron straddles the line of tween and teen but is a well-known series that I have shamefully never read. It features a young Merlin as he grows up and finds his destiny.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart is also Merlin-centric series published starting in the 70s through to the 90s (five books). It takes place in 5th century Britain and grounds itself there heavily. It’s aimed for adults but definitely has teen cross appeal.

Any others you’d suggest or you think haven’t been too heavily dated?

Teen Cosplay Club Part 2: Headgear

My coworker had previously done a cosplay workshop, during which the teens made capes and Minecraft-inspired swords. I wanted to do a mini-series before our next library con, and I thought building different types of headgear would be interesting. In the end, I settled on doing ears and horns, both of which would be attached to headbands. Both were gender-neutral and could apply to many different styles of cosplay.

For the ears, I looked up a lot of different tutorials but mostly followed the ideas in this one from Instructables. However, instead of using cardboard as a base for the ears, I used wire mesh so they would be moldable and easier to “pose” in different shapes.

There are a lot of different techniques for making horns. You can use something like Worbla, which is pricey, or EVA foam, but both of those would require a lot of heat-forming. I needed something I could prep ahead of time, and I also wanted the headpieces to be as lightweight as possible, so I started researching foam options. The two main techniques I found were using craft foam sheets or expanding foam. I saw the words “expanding foam” and immediately latched on to the idea. 

Here are the supplies that I used for the ears and horns:

Fur: Let’s be real–I’m poor, fur is expensive, and I wanted fun colors. The only place I could find that sold a grab bag of fun color fur scraps was a Furry suit site, which I didn’t really want to explain to our administrative assistant. Instead, I went to Goodwill and bought some weird bears and let the teens hack them apart and use the fur.

Wire mesh: This is usually in the clay sculpting section of the craft store. You want something like this product.

Wire: I have random types of wire at my house for various cosplay projects I’ve done, but something fairly hefty like a floral wire would be best. Use wire snips to cut.

Headbands: I bought a pack of something simple and metal. Amazon has lots of different options for these.

Expanding foam: I bought a few cans of Loctite Titefoam. It’s like an expanding foam caulk that comes in cans. Here’s a link.

Cardboard: I work at a library. We are drowning in cardboard. I didn’t need to buy any.


Okay! Let’s move on to the crafts themselves. The ears are pretty fast and easy to assemble if you do something fairly simple and don’t shave the fur (as shown in the linked Instructable). None of the teens cared. I would also caution against using a sewing machine to join the fur pieces. One of the teens managed to “sew” their ears but with the presser foot up, thus totally jacking up the bobbin. I spent about 20 minutes taking the machine apart to fix it. Have you noticed the lack of pictures? Yeah, I was fixing a sewing machine.

Instead, we used hot glue. They love hot glue. Sure, it drizzles and drools and makes those weird stringy things, but they loved it! Proceed with your adhesive of choice; something like Fabric Fusion or even my standby, good ol’ E6000, would work.

To form your ears, have them create the shape on a piece of paper and transfer it to the wire mesh. Carefully cut out the wire mesh. This is your frame.

Next, depending on how they want their ears to look, cut two or four pieces of fur to cover the ears. If you only cut two pieces of fur, cut them slightly larger and cut smaller pieces of felt to be the inside of the ears. Attach fur and felt to each other and to the mesh using adhesive of your choice. If you are brave, use the sewing machine and slide the ears over the mesh.

I like to use the regular wire to attach the ears to the headbands instead of just using an adhesive. The headbands can then be covered with more fur or felt, depending on what the teens want to do.

To be frank, I would stop there. The horns that I did were … okay, but very labor-intensive. They also required a lot of work to make them look smooth, and the spray foam was fairly terrifying to use and also smelled absolutely terrible.

Tips if you want to go this route:

  • Make a frame for your horns using either cardboard or wire. I cut cardboard into curvy shapes that looked sort of like horns and used that as my base.
  • USE IN A VENTILATED AREA. I’m not kidding. This stuff is awful. Wear a mask.
  • The foam WILL EXPAND to be wayyyyyy bigger than it originally seems. After 24 hours, you will have bulbous growths of foam where once you had vaguely horn-shaped blobs.

The teens who wanted to make horns had to shave down the foam so that it was smooth and less pustulent-looking. You will need a large serrated knife for this. Again, if your teens aren’t good with sharp things, don’t do this craft.

Once they have shaped the horns, sand them. A lot.

Like I said, even with me prepping the horns, this was wildly labor-intensive and I would not recommend it unless you had a lot of time and patience.

Creating a New Collection: Middle Grade Fiction

It occurred to me a few years ago that our juvenile fiction collection (located in the Children’s Room on the first floor) was “out of date” for lack of a better term. Literature previously considered as either Juvenile or YA now had a new category that wasn’t being represented: middle grade fiction. 

Technically, middle grade fiction is usually for ages 8-12, or 9-13, depending on what age range the publisher has chosen. This range is usually based on content, voice, reading level, and character age/grade. The age of the character is typically in upper elementary or middle school.

What really made me realize the need for a separate collection actually had more to do with the cover art of my collection. I have 2 large shelving units that housed the combined juvenile collection. Each unit has a wooden endcap display. I was shelving books one day and thinking about how I would feel browsing these shelves as a tween. Would I be turned off by the fact that Junie B. Jones and Magic Tree House were on the same display as Harry Potter and The Graveyard Book? I experimented by switching all of the thicker books with darker covers to one display and the brighter, thinner books to the other. What a huge difference! My decision was made, but going about it was going to take some time.

STEP 1: Book Prep

My first step was to have my children’s staff (during downtime) take a pile of books and look up each title on Amazon and publisher sites to see what the recommended age & grade level was. They wrote this down in the back of each book before putting it back on the shelf. (Later we went back and added the Lexile level as well.) It took some time, but we pretty much have all of them done now, and new ones are added as they are processed. Some we couldn’t find, like older classics, so we kind of made it up based on similar titles. Others we found were clearly meant for teen readers and were switched over. The great thing about having the age, grade and Lexile in the back of the books is that it makes it easier for staff to help patrons find what they need, and it also helps patrons find what they need themselves.

STEP 2: Labels

This part turned out to be much harder than I originally thought. I couldn’t find middle grade fiction spine stickers through any of our regular vendors, or online. It took several failed attempts to get it right, but I ended up having custom labels made through Demco. If you do this, make sure to get extra boxes because they don’t keep a record of your custom labels! I had kind of wanted something with a little more pizazz, but it was better to go simple in the long run. We also had to decide what our call number (name of the collection) would be. Our juvenile collection all have big red J stickers and have J FIC on the spine label. We decided to use M FIC to keep it uniform and the stickers say Middle Grade Fiction. I considered a big M but decided I wanted the full collection name so people would understand what it was.

STEP 3: Sorting

This took a while and I did it myself. I had originally thought it would be easy to divide the collections once we had all the info in the back, but I realized quickly that it wasn’t such an easy task. Typical grade levels for younger readers is K-4th (some variation of that) and age range is 6-11. For middle grade, the typical grade range is 3rd-7th and age is 8-12, though again, there can be variations. I found that I had trouble placing EVERY 8-12 age range in middle grade for several reasons. 1) the book was a lower reading level 2) the cover art was clearly marketing for a younger age group 3) the age of the character was younger 4) the book was already popular with my younger patrons. For example, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway is recommended for ages 8-12 and grades 3-7. The Lexile level is 920, which is pretty high. All of this should mean it belongs in middle grade, but I kept the series in the juvenile collection because it’s most popular with 1st & 2nd graders. And if they enjoy reading a book with a higher Lexile level, that’s great!

I also took this opportunity to weed the collection as I went. I didn’t want to take up staff time to switch over a book if I wasn’t going to ultimately keep it.  So it turned out that my juvenile collection and my middle grade collection can’t exactly be divided by specific factors like publisher recommended age, grade, reading level, or the age of the character, or the content. It’s kind of personal to me and also to what I think works for my patrons. going like this, sending books up to Tech Services to be changed over in batches and then sending up another batch until I made it through the whole collection. At this point, all of the books were still alphabetized together but had either a J or Middle Grade Fiction sticker. I also began going through my YA collection and sending down some books that I thought belonged there more so than YA.

STEP 4: The Great Divide

Physically dividing the collection only took about a day and a half, with myself and coworker. It was definitely the most fun part of the whole process! And it was really interesting to see the difference in the two collections once they were separated. I made signs above each end cap that have a general definition of Juvenile Fiction and Middle Grade Fiction to help patrons. Not that they read them, of course! I think it’s been a really positive change and will be much easier for staff and patrons to find appropriate books from now on. The whole process took a couple of years, but I wasn’t in a rush and wanted to do it right the first time. I still have some books that I question, and some I have changed and then changed back! It’s not perfect, but it works for us.

There’s a part of me that thinks my YA collection should be split into Teen and Young Adult, but I’ll save that one for another time, I guess!

Do you have a middle grade collection or something similar? I’d love to hear about it!