Reading Widely in Summer

I know it’s hard to believe but we’re over halfway through April and I know many summer programs start in early June and some maybe as early as late May!

I suspect most of us are deep in the throes of summer prep and planning, unless you’re one of those who is a miracle worker and has already done. At my library, we’re finishing up our summer flyers (each age group gets one flyer for the whole summer on programs), working on our suggested summer lists by grade and working with the schools on a Dewey Decimal based STEAM list for our program which starts late June. And those are just the big projects! I’m still running my regular slew of programs, it was April Break here last week, the usual library world goes on but, in every way by the actual weather, summer feels just on the edge of the horizon.

I want to talk today about reading lists. Our suggested list is read voraciously by our summer regulars and it’s most of what a lot of them read during the course of the summer. Which means it has Influence.

For my three big projects listed above, the flyer was a snap (fourth year doing it, I have it down to a science), the STEAM list was pretty easy too because we started it back in January and so this week I’ve moved on to my suggested summer lists. For various long winded reasons, I am not in charge of the high school one, although I have input, but it’s also a good, huge and fairly diverse list. There is then a 5th/6th list and a 7th/8th list for our middle schoolers. I inherited these lists and have slowly been culling and adding new things.

As I looked over both lists this year, especially after the school asked me to remove Hush by Jacqueline Woodson from the 7/8 list for curriculum reasons (which YAY, reading diverse in school but boo, I have to remove a great book), I came to a terrible realization. Even though I’ve added some diversity to the lists, they are very, very white. And generally very, very male (although I’ve already shifted the 7/8 to be more female oriented already but not through a concentrated effort).

So my goal this year is to add only diverse books onto the list. If this is what my middle schoolers are going to be primarily reading this summer, I want it to more accurately reflect the world, even if the local population is generally pretty white. I’ve got a captive audience, to a degree, and not just having the diverse books in the collection is enough. I want them front and center, especially during our busiest season.

So I’m deleting much larger swaths of the current list than I have previously (extra copies were bought especially for these lists and so I’ve felt bad in the past deleting them but no longer) and installing at least a one to one ratio – for every book deleted, there will be a diverse one in its place. I’d like a two to one ratio but I’ll admit I have limited space.

This is just one small way that I can make sure diverse books of all shapes and sizes – I’m not limiting ‘diverse’ to mean different races, but also any character(s) who is different in some way from that default norm – get into the hands of my pretty default norm population.

What sort of changes have you or could you make to have an impact?

Late Spring and Early Summer Movies to Be Aware Of

With Black Panther breaking box office records like crazy, now more than ever we as teen service specialists should be aware of movies and their importance in the teen sphere and their culture. I know my teens are talking non-stop about upcoming movies for the summer and beyond, and with the pushed up release of Avengers: Infinity War, leaving for the first time in a long while NO movie opening during Free Comic Book Day weekend, things are getting more and more complex. I’ve pulled together below the highlights of the summer that my tweens and teens are talking about; share in the comments with yours!


Reader vs Reader: Heretics Anonymous

Welcome to Reader vs. Reader.  Two librarians who have read the same book will discuss it critically.  They may agree, agree on certain points, or completely disagree.  RvR will challenge your reading comfort zone and dig deeply into the text to find potential problems or subtle brilliance.  And maybe both.  

In April, Andrea and Jenni both read Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Reader vs Reader: Heretics Anonymous

Michael is an atheist. So as he walks through the doors at St. Clare’s—a strict Catholic school—sporting a plaid tie, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow nonbeliever at that. Only this girl, Lucy, is not just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

But Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism. After an incident in theology class, Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies. When Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom, or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.

The Quick Reactions:

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Jenni: I think the story overall was decent, and it poked fun at school rules without necessarily mocking Catholicism as a whole. It reminded me of Moxie (although I liked Moxie better).

Andrea: I thought the ending was a bit rushed and everything was tied up a bit too nicely, but I like the aspects of standing up, exploring religion, and even the focus on family life.


Snippet of our conversation (Warning: spoilers everywhere! This book doesn’t come out until August):


Taste Test Challenge Program

One of my first programs of this year was one I called Taste Test Challenge. For this I picked different foods that I know my patrons eat fairly regularly, and bought the name brand and the store brand. During this program they had to taste both and pick which one they thought was the store brand and which one was the name brand.

I had 11 different rounds: Cheez-Its, popcorn, fudge stripe cookies, chocolate chip cookies, frosted flakes, fruit snacks, cola, clear pop, Doritos, plain potato chips, and pretzels.

Each participant had a piece of paper with 11 rounds on it, a number 1 column, and a number 2 column. Each round one bowl or plate of the food was numbered and after they tried it, they wrote in the column which one they thought was which. They also got bonus points for writing down the name brand of the item they tried.

I did this with 7th to 12th graders. One of my coworkers assisted me and revamped it a bit for 4th to 6th graders. Instead of having them come up and try, she brought the food to them, as they tend to have a harder time settling back down. She also implemented a consumer report aspect to it, which I would like to do in the future. When she read their answers to them, she told them how much each one cost and what the difference between the two was. This helped them think about how similar of an item you can get, at a fraction of the cost.

They really enjoyed trying all the different foods and were often surprised by what they thought they knew. I had a boy who said “Oh, I know which one is the real one” about the Cheez-Its and at the end, he was wrong! The winners (who had the most points at the end, I had 1st, 2nd, and the 3rd place) all got candy bars (name brand!).

This might be fun to do with other types of foods, but if this is your first time doing something like this, snack foods are a great way to go!

Programming Fails

Everyone has that program that just crashes completely, or crashes gently. Some of our Agents share theirs and why it went so awry.


I’ve had a bunch of programs that have failed on some level. Mostly because somehow my tweens and teens take a science project I’ve done a million times and figure out how to make it not work. I’ve also had some programs that are super messy (see my post from last month about Stress Relievers) that I need to rethink so there’s less cleanup for everyone involved. To be honest, my biggest programming fail has been my book club. It has died a sad slow death over the last two years (it was implemented 2.5 years ago. The first half year, when it was a collaboration with the then-middle school librarian, was a qualified success). No matter how many ways I re-brand it, it just does not get enough kids to justify the program. I’ll be taking at least a year break come the fall and I’ll see what might bring kids back afterwards. Part of me feels bad that I can’t keep a book club going in the library, but another part of me understands that that’s just programming life.


I’ve had a couple awkward TAB meetings where teens come who I’ve never met, and who don’t know each other and I’ve also managed to not plan enough things to do or talk about and everyone ends up staring at the table or their phones. Book clubs are definitely high on my list of programs that didn’t work out. I feel like most teens have so much required reading for school that they aren’t interested in reading another “assigned” book, even though it’s for fun and most of the time we hardly end up talking about the book. I’ve a hard time keeping clubs of any kind going for very long. We all have a lot going against us when planning programs for teens between sports and other after-school commitments. Transportation is a big problem at our library. Most teens have no way to get to our library unless their parents drive them or they plan to take the late bus. Honestly, I think the majority of successful programs can’t really be attributed to my stellar flier graphics or PR skills. More like the aligning of the planets and REALLY good timing!

It’s funny now but was horrible then I tried to do a LIVE action clue game in my library, not realizing that my teens didn’t play it. I taped out a body and changed the clues to go all round our building and everything. Well they didn’t get it, and even worse started teasing a tween that the taped body was the actual crime tape from a murder. I had to calm down a parent over the phone and explain what was going on. Luckily the parent knew the game and thought it was neat. Program FAIL.

I, like Casey, have had lots of flubs and mess-up and just general programs that didn’t go well over the years. My biggest fails were probably when I tried to do the Adulting 101 and Career Talks. My TAG all said they were super into it, but when the time came to attend the turn-out was super low. We tried for two sessions or so, even playing with names, before giving up. OH! And open mic nights! I have tried several of these in the 9 years I’ve been a teen librarian and every single time I’ve had to cancel them! I can’t seem to get enough teens who are bold enough to get up there and “perform”.