DIY Smoothie Making Program

My teens LOVE food programs, and I’ve done a lot of the classics–candy sushi, cookie decorating, peep dioramas, etc. I was looking to change things up and try something a little less sugar-centric. I had the idea for smoothie making, and when I threw the idea out at a Teen Advisory Group meeting, my teens were here for it.

Our set up

Logistically, I knew this program could be complicated. Since it involved buying perishable food, I didn’t want to go overboard and waste anything, nor did I want a gigantic mess. I decided to do the program Chopped-style, and make it a competition. I divided participants into teams, and gave each group the same ingredients. I asked staff members to loan me their blenders so that I’d have one blender for every 4-5 participants.

Each team was allowed to spend about 45 minutes making different smoothies, tinkering with their recipes until they came up with something they felt was worthy of winning our contest. Once each team perfected their recipe, they made a batch to serve to the whole group. I provided small dixie cups so everyone who was interested could have a taste and participate in judging. We spent the last 15 minutes tasting each team’s creations, and voting on a winner. Smoothies were given a score between 1 and 10 for taste, appearance, and creativity.

Making a smoothie isn’t rocket science, but it’s important to include fruit (fresh or frozen), a liquid like milk, yogurt, juice, or coconut water, and ice

(if you aren’t using frozen fruit). You can also add a sweetener like agave or honey. I purchased a variety of ingredients to allow for a variety of flavor profiles, and threw in a few wacky things that I had left over from past programs that the teens could incorporate into their smoothies or use as a garnish.I also made sure to have dairy and peanut-free ingredient options available to account for any potential food allergies.

Overall, between shopping, set up and clean up, this program took a lot of energy, but it was extremely well-received. I’d definitely do it again in the future.

Here’s a list of what worked best for us:

  • Fruit:
    Frozen berries, frozen pineapple, frozen mango, fresh bananas
    *Frozen peaches did NOT work well. The pieces were really big and hard to break up in a blender
  • Thickeners/Liquids:
    Vanilla yogurt, coconut water, orange juice, apple juice, peanut butte
  • Extras:
    Chocolate chips, peeps (leftover from peep diorama program), sprinkles, oreos, nilla wafers, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce

Other tips:

  • Be sure to have plenty of clean up supplies on hand. I made sure each table had a bottle of hand sanitizer and clorox wipes at each station to keep things as clean and sanitary as possible. I also used disposable table cloths.
  • Have plenty of spoons, measuring cups, and dixie cups for each group.
  • Blender cords are very short! I was super grateful that I had thought to buy a few extension cords for this.
  • If you want to simplify this program, you could judge yourself or have a few staff members judge, rather than ask the teens to make enough smoothie for each person. I was pregnant at the time and didn’t want to risk it, but having participants make smaller amounts would have required less supplies.

Cyclical Slumps

So I’ve been a full time teen librarian for over five years (which also means that TSU just turned five last month!) and one thing I’ve noticed and am trying to come to terms with is cyclical slumps in programming.

By that, I mean this school year has been rough. I’ve been getting only just enough attendance to run programs where last school year, I often filled the same or similar type programs. At first, I thought I was doing something wrong before I really thought about it. In my five years here, this is not the first time this has happened. Sometimes it lasts a full school year, sometimes it’s only a season.

I get mostly tweens at my programs and I remind myself (on days like yesterday when my Advisory Board kids were all at least 10 minutes late and one 30 minutes late) that they are dependent on their adults for rides and pick ups and all sorts of things out of their control. I know I’ve lost regulars once they go to the high school because they no longer have the means to get to the library after school (our middle school is within walking distance, our high school is not).

People get sick. They have tons of other things clawing at their time – homework, after school activities, things like sports, music, church, art – anything! I definitely have kids who can’t make Thursday programs because of activities they’re paying for, for example.

I know come summer my numbers will rocket right back up to usual summer numbers. I know they’re a hard age to reach during the school year (and I’m grateful for my regulars that have so, so much fun at my programs and make the low attendance not seem like a bad thing). Still, it’s not easy to have a program you’re excited about and not know whether anyone will show up. Or have to cancel due to low enrollment vs. cost per kid.

In talking to others, I’m not the only one who experiences these cycles. I’ve tried to mix things up and try new things but other than my popular D&D monthly programs, attendance has been low.

In good news, we’re changing both how my flyers are done (so long, Publisher!) and what our calendar system is and how it works so I’m hoping that might help more people see my programs and get new kids. I’m also trying to get flyers into at least the middle school.

Starting next month, the middle school librarian and I are collaborating on a book club for grades 5-8 (our middle school age) which will hopefully get new kids in. We’re increasing our social media engagement and hopefully I can get some of my programs advertised on that. And if nothing else, summer will be a reset and next school year a whole new ‘cycle’.

Anyone else have any suggestions on how to combat these slumps?

Reading Around the World: Books Set on Each Continent

reading around the world

Many of the people I know enjoy traveling, but I do not. Instead of packing, flying, booking hotel rooms, and sleeping in a bed that’s not my own, I like to visit new places through books. Whether you love or hate traveling, there’s something to be said for books with vivid or unique-to-you settings. Those are the types of books I’m sharing today. These books would make for a great display or might be just the thing to hand to that teen who can’t wait to get on a plane and never look back.

Books Set in Africa

This Book Betrays My Brother by Kagiso Lesego Molope: Naledi has always looked up to her brother Basi, but when she witnesses him committing a horrific act, she is torn between exposing the truth and being loyal to her sibling.

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson: Sixteen-year-old Tina and two friends leave Kenya and slip into the Congo, from where she and her mother fled years before, seeking revenge for her mother’s murder but uncovering startling secrets.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor: Twelve-year-old Sunny Nwazue, an American-born albino child of Nigerian parents, moves with her family back to Nigeria, where she learns that she has latent magical powers which she and three similarly gifted friends use to catch a serial killer.

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney: After her tribal village is attacked by militants, Amira, a young Sudanese girl, must flee to safety at a refugee camp, where she finds hope and the chance to pursue an education in the form of a single red pencil and the friendship and encouragement of a wise elder.

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi: In 2172, when much of the world is unlivable, sisters Onyii and Ify dream of escaping war-torn Nigeria and finding a better future together but are, instead, torn apart.


Books Set in Antarctica

Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo: Devastated when her dream of becoming a professional ballerina falls through, seventeen-year-old Harper Scott takes a job as a research assistant, wintering over at McMurdo, a U.S. science station at the tip of Antarctica where, for the first time, she considers other possible futures.

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean: When her uncle takes her on a dream trip to the Antarctic wilderness, Sym’s obsession with Captain Oates and the doomed expedition becomes a reality as she herself is soon in a fight for her life in some the harshest terrain on the planet.

Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey by Joanna Grochowicz: The enthralling and harrowing true story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, with evocative photographs, and illustrations by Sarah Lippett.

Books Set in Asia

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh: The daughter of a prominent samurai in feudal Japan is targeted by a dangerous gang of bandits who want to prevent her political marriage, a situation that compels her to disguise herself as a boy and infiltrate the gang’s ranks in order to stop the individual behind the plot.

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine: In this loose retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, set in a reimagined industrial Asia, a ghost becomes obsessed with sixteen-year-old Wen, the daughter of a staff doctor in a slaughterhouse, who falls in love with one of the Noor, a despised group of men, racially different, hired as cheap factory labor.

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman: Fifteen authors of Asian descent reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia, in short stories ranging from fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge.

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho: After eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung, a nine-tailed fox surviving in modern-day Seoul by eating the souls of evil men, kills a murderous goblin to save Jihoon, she is forced to choose between her immortal life and his.

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena: In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, sixteen-year-old half-Hindu/half-Parsi Zarin Wadia is the class troublemaker and top subject for the school rumor blogs, regularly leaving class to smoke cigarettes in cars with boys, but she also desperately wants to grow up and move out of her aunt and uncle’s house, perhaps realizing too late that Porus, another non-Muslim Indian who risks deportation but remains devoted to Zarin, could help her escape.

Books Set in Australia

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde: Three friends go to a convention and find love–and themselves.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley: Teenagers Rachel and Henry find their way back to each other while working in an old bookstore full of secrets and crushes, love letters and memories, grief and hope.

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah: A story about the power of choosing tolerance by the award-winning author of Does My Head Look Big in This? finds basketball enthusiast Michael attending anti-immigration rallies with his parents until a friendship with a Muslim refugee newcomer from Afghanistan compels him to question his family’s politics.

White Night by Ellie Marney: In Bo Mitchell’s country town, a ‘White Night’ light-show event has the potential to raise vital funds to save the skate park. And out of town, a girl from a secretive off-the-grid community called Garden of Eden has the potential to change the way Bo sees the world. But are there too many secrets in Eden? As Bo is drawn away from his friends and towards Rory, he gradually comes to believe that Eden may not be utopia after all, and that their group leader’s goal to go off the grid may be more permanent – and more dangerous – than anyone could have predicted.

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak: Upon their father’s return, the five Dunbar boys, who have raised themselves since their mother’s death, begin to learn family secrets, including that of fourth brother Clay, who will build a bridge for complex reasons, including his own redemption.

Books Set in Europe

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi: Keeping close secrets in the wake of the Exposition Universelle in 1889 Paris, a wealthy hotelier and treasure-hunter is tapped by a powerful order to lead an elite team on a quest to track down an ancient artifact of world-changing significance.

The Summer of Us by Cecilia Vinesse: Told from two viewpoints, Rae, Aubrey, Clara, Jonah, and Gabe travel through Europe by train for ten days, working through their relationships just before setting off in different directions for college.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee: Two friends on a Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe stumble across a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt shaped by pirates, highwaymen and their growing attraction to one another.

White Rose by Kip Wilson: Tells the story of Sophie Scholl, a young German college student who challenges the Nazi regime during World War II as part of the White Rose, a non-violent resistance group.

Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch: In order to fix their shattered sibling relationship–and Addie’s broken heart–Addie and Ian take a road trip across Ireland filled with unexpected detours and a stop at a major music festival.

Books Set in North America

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline: In this futuristic dystopian novel for teens, the Indigenous people of North America are on the run in a fight for survival.

Disappeared by Franciso X. Stork: Four months ago Sara Zapata’s best friend, Linda, disappeared from the streets of Juarez, and ever since Sara has been using her job as a reporter to draw attention to the girls who have been kidnapped by the criminals who control the city, but now she and her family are being threatened–meanwhile her younger brother, Emiliano, is being lured into the narcotics business by the promise of big money, and soon the only way for both of them to escape is to risk the dangerous trek across the desert to the United States border.

The Go-Between by Veronica Chambers: Both of sixteen-year-old Cammi’s parents are stars in Mexico, but everything changes when her mother accepts a role in an American sitcom.

Color Me In by Natasha Diaz: A coming-of-age story of friendship, first romance and religious intolerance finds a 16-year-old girl in an affluent New York City suburb confronting her biracial identity for the first time when she relocates to her divorced mom’s family home in Harlem.

All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor: A long-awaited conclusion to the story that began in the Newbery Medal-winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry finds young adult Cassie Logan searching for a sense of belonging before joining the civil rights movement in 1960s Mississippi.

Books Set in South America

The Speed of Falling Objects by Nancy Richardson Fischer: When her dad calls with an offer to join him to film the next episode of his popular survivalist show, Danny jumps at the chance to prove she’s not the disappointment he left behind. Being on set with the hottest teen movie idol of the moment, Gus Price, should be the cherry on top. But when their small plane crashes in the Amazon, and a terrible secret is revealed, Danny must face the truth about the parent she worships and falling for Gus, and find her own inner strength and worth to light the way home.

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder: When his father is sent to jail after being falsely convicted of a crime in 1999 Bolivia, teen Francisco is forced to choose between living with his father in prison and relocating to the mountains, where people have lived for centuries without education or modern conveniences.

The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango: Living in a village in Ecuador, a Quechua Indian girl is sent to work as an indentured servant for an upper class “mestizo” family.

The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli: Having arrived in Candeia, Brazil, starving and footsore, after walking sixteen days to fulfill his dying mother’s last wishes, young Samuel takes up residence in an enormous, broken statue of Saint Anthony and finds that he can hear the prayers of the townspeople, despite his lack of faith.

What books would you add to this list? Leave a comment and let us know!

“Paying” Teens to Come to Programs: Yay or Nay?

When I say “paying” I don’t mean with ACTUAL money. That would be crazy! Although they would most definitely come to any program you had. The currency I am referring to is Community Service. Maybe some of you wouldn’t stoop so low and maybe you don’t have to – yay for you! But is it really as bad as it sounds?

Devil’s Advocate reasons to think this is a bad idea: 

  1. Really, you have to pay teens to come to your programs? Isn’t that a little degrading?
  2. Are they going to expect to get “paid” at every program they attend?
  3. You are defeating the whole purpose of “community service” and teens are not going to learn anything.
  4. If they are only coming to the program to earn service hours, then they don’t really want to be there in the first place.

Real-life Teen Librarian reasons to think this is the best idea ever:

  1. Getting teens to come to any programs at all is painful even at the best of times. I have no shame in bribing them to come to my programs. We do it with food, right?
  2. Not all of my teen programs offer community service hours. Typically only programs that have an educational spin or a TAB meeting where they are technically being “teen leaders.”
  3. We have a lot of teen volunteers and half of the time we have them do menial tasks or tasks that someone else has already done – like check the kids DVDs to make sure the right disc is in the right case. Finding things for teen volunteers to do can be a job in itself, especially when you have union employees and are limited as to who can do what. Essentially, allowing teens to volunteer at the library is kind of like OUR community service! By coming to a teen program at the library, they are not only helping us by giving us good attendance stats, but they are participating in their community, and may even learn something! Who said community service hours had to be just dusting books??
  4. Guess what: every teen volunteer who walks in this door (except those crazy ones who volunteer because they want to!) has been forced by their teacher, school, organization, and parent to come to the library. Some are OK about it, but some are clearly not. I would rather have a not-so-excited teen earn service hours at an educational presentation, than by sitting in the back of the storytime room looking miserable during a children’s program.
  5. (Yup, there are more than 4!) The benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks – if you can even call them drawbacks because I don’t! By offering community service at teen programs, I get the attendance stats I want, it brings teens (and their parents) to the library, they can see how much we offer, they might ACTUALLY learn something or (gasp) enjoy themselves! And believe it or not, I have witnessed this miracle more than once. And knowing that they are at least earning something for attending does make them a little less miserable!

All in all, it’s a win for everyone!

The Importance of Self Care: The Important-ing

It’s been just over a year since I first posted about the importance of self care, so I thought now would be a good time to remind everyone how necessary it is.  If you haven’t read the previous article, take a moment to do so, then come on back.

Alright.  So, now that you’ve read that and realized how bad we often are at self care and how important it is, let’s discuss a few small ways we can do it.


1 – Organize and reorder your office.

This may not be true of all of us – but for me, if my office, desk, or program supplies storage area is messy, it makes me anxious.  REALLY anxious. This is true at home as well, but doubly true at work. If I take an hour or two to tidy things up where I spend between four and eight hours a day, I feel a LOT better the rest of the day, week, etc.  Give it a shot – it might help!


2 – Go out to eat for lunch if you normally eat in, or stop for coffee on the way home.

Sometimes you just need to get out of the facility.  I know money is tight for most of us, but even eating a homemade lunch in your car, sitting at a park, rather than in the break room with dim fluorescent bulbs and the smell of someones’ cooked cabbage or tuna can be a form of self care.  Are you just DONE with the building and patrons this afternoon? Go for a walk outside, breathe in the fresh air, chow down on your sandwich, and remind yourself that we’re all in this together. I promise, you’re not alone in the struggles of librarianship!


3 – Run fewer programs if the ones you’re running are more time/effort intensive.

This may be harder to do if administration isn’t on board, but you could justify it by counting up the number of hours you spend planning, preparing, running, and cleaning up after the more intensive programs.  The number of programs shouldn’t be the definition of a healthy teen services department, nor just the number of hours spent preparing or number of teens that attended – it’s a culmination of all of them! Mentally preparing yourself for an hour or two before a big program is a good thing to do, and will likely help you stay focused while it’s going on.


4 – Never spend time outside of work on work-related tasks.

I can NOT stress this one enough.  Do NOT spend time outside of work on work-related tasks if you are not being compensated for it.  If you do, you will set an expectation that you’re personally okay with it, and also help foment that feeling throughout the institution and among your co-workers.  This is a sure-fire way to lead to burnout, and it starts with just one little errand – and then another, and maybe a couple a few weeks later, etc., until you’re working 45 to 50 hours and only being paid for 40.

If you’re already doing this, think carefully about the time you’re spending on work-related tasks outside of work and if they truly aren’t capable of being accomplished during your allotted work hours.  If you really don’t have enough time to get everything done, and you’ve tried communicating that to your supervisor and have gotten no guidance or assistance in trying to rectify the situation, that is likely not a healthy working environment.  I’m not saying rush out to find a new library to work at – after all, nearly every single one of us lives paycheck to paycheck, moving is expensive, and all the other considerations – but it’s worth starting to think about. Your time is your most valuable resource, and you shouldn’t give it away to your employer, even if you absolutely LOVE what you do.  You likely have other hobbies you’d love to spend time on…but if you don’t, you wouldn’t be remiss to develop some!


Self care is what will make it so you can keep doing what you love, and likely help prevent burnout.  Only you can prevent burnout…fires…with self care. Yep. That’s my closing line.

What other go-to strategies do you have for self care?  Sound off below!