Homer’s Great Reading Adventure, part 1

A few summers ago I went searching for a digital log that teens and adults could use to log their reading time during our all ages summer reading program. I needed a digital log that was free, well-designed, and easy to manage. Well, anything that met all of that criteria was hard to come by. I tried Survey Monkey forms, website forms, and a simple, free digital platform- all with limited success. I felt like I was in our Maker Club getting more and more frustrated with a design that wasn’t working. But surely multiple iterations of an idea had to yield something one day, right?

About a year ago, I heard about the Great Reading Adventure and the great summer reading work being done by the Maricopa County Library District (Arizona). I was thrilled to see a library-created, open source tool that just might be what I needed. I watched the demo, sat through a great presentation, and discussed the idea of using with my library’s director, the city’s IT director and a coworker. Just as we were all set to go for it, we discovered that we needed a new server. We didn’t have the money. Then we connected with some other libraries in the state and tried to make it work as a partnership, but that fell through. Summer moved on and I got distracted by endless programs and exhaustion. The idea was put to rest.

Photo credit: Homer Public Library

Photo credit: Homer Public Library

Earlier this year, the idea of using the Great Reading Adventure at our library came back to life thanks to my coworker @hollyfromhomer. We got to work setting up a customized version in time for Summer, using another library’s server, with the idea that we would pilot the platform for other libraries in the state. Holly is the mastermind behind making the platform user-friendly while I’ve been working on the program’s content. So far so good! Details about how the platform works for us will come in part 2.

One of the aspects I love about the Great Reading Adventure is perhaps one of the things that would give some pause; the log is digital. Up until now kids have used a small booklet filled with a place to track reading time, activity sheets and a calendar. I have wondered how families as a community would respond to an all digital log for kids specifically (as well as teens and adults). Wondering and questioning about technology isn’t a bad thing for a media mentor. It means that I am following my own advice and being intentional also. After careful consideration, as I recently discussed with a parent, using the digital log serves a few specific purposes:

  • It is a literacy tool that provides opportunities for families to talk about digital citizenship and how to use digital media in positive ways. Many families already have some kind of digital media plan and are using the digital log as a piece in the puzzle or as an example of digital media that supports learning. Intentional use of digital media is an important idea for kids and teens to learn. This tool has given me multiple opportunities to talk about digital media, kids and teens.
  • Unlike the expensive, multi-page, paper logs that we have created and printed in the past, the digital log platform is free and appeals to a broad range of ages. (We currently have over 400 kids, teens, and adults participating. Small by some standards, but a good size for our small budget and staff size.) The ultimate goal, while lofty, of the summer reading program is to encourage all kids to keep reading and prevent ‘summer slide’. We will be able to support more families each summer and, at the same time, save money to spend on the many free programs we offer.  This year, we will offer 50 programs in June and July including everything from storytime and puppet shows to author visits and the Maker Camp. These programs offer families, regardless of background and economic status, the chance to learn, play, and explore at the library. This is the first year we’ve used the digital platform and over time with families’ feedback, we will be able to further mold it to our community’s wants and needs.
  • Offering digital badges provides a way to recognize readers for their reading efforts as well as encourage kids to explore local parks or attend programs where they will find secret codes to redeem for specific badges. This piece has already been successful at connecting kids and their families with different parts of the community and offering no-cost incentives to stay active. Many families are looking for ways to support their children’s reading without focusing on the small incentives we gift for the first 10 hours of reading and the badges are a fun option. For families that spend at least some of the summer traveling or working remotely the digital log and badges provide a way for them to participate in our community’s program while they are out of town.
  • Over the past few years, families have asked us if we were going to offer a digital reading log. They were tired of losing the paper logs or trying to keep track of more than one in a house with multiple siblings. We are finally able to say yes, another way we remain responsive to community needs.

So far so good.

Details about the nuts and bolts of the Homer version of the Great Reading Adventure to follow in Part 2.

Becoming a Media Mentor

MediaMentor_FinalCVR.inddTo quote Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie, “We’re in a Book!”

Cen Campbell (LittleeLit) and I have been busy this winter. Sandwiched in between our day jobs, parenting, and what-not, we’ve been writing a book- Becoming a Media Mentor: A Guide for Working With Families! Cen and I created the cookbook of sorts on how to be a media mentor with the intention of continuing the conversation moved forward by the 2015 ALSC white paper, Media Mentorship in Libraries Serving Youth, which we coauthored with our friends Amy Koester and Dorothy Stoltz. With 12 excellent examples of ‘media mentors in action,’ current research, and incites from experts inside libraryland and beyond, we’re hoping the book will help make it easier for children’s librarians and advocates to become, and see themselves as, media mentors.

The book is working its way through the publication process and should be ready for delivery in late August, although it is available in the ALA Editions Spring Catalog now. Stay tuned!

We look forward to hearing what you think of it!

Playaway Launchpad Review

On behalf of the Alaska State Library, I recently reviewed the Playaway Launchpad, a new pre-loaded Android tablet created by Findaway. I looked at both the device and the pre-loaded content, and considered how the Launchpad would compare to other digital access opportunities I provide for children in our public library setting. Specifically, I compared the physical tablet to the AWE pre-loaded touch screen computer, the iPad Air and a Kindle E-reader. I evaluated the content included on the tablet, 12 pre-loaded apps, individually using my app evaluation rubric in part because none of the apps in the You Auto Know! pack were reviewed by industry-respected sites like Children’s Technology Review, School Library Journal, Horn Book, etc. I have included my overall impressions of the device and the app pack.

Overall Impression: The cost of the Launchpad device initially makes Findaway’s program seem like an inexpensive way to provide young library patrons and their families with access to digital media. The device was simple to use and seemed sturdy, however the content I reviewed was mediocre and comparatively expensive, diminishing the overall effectiveness of the device. The idea of predetermined app collections may appeal to some librarians and library staff who are new to curating apps and digital media, but the specific apps in the app pack I reviewed did not include any “award winning” or “best-selling” apps, as advertised. (This may be because the content is limited to apps available for the Android platform, for which only a limited number of quality apps, and apps in general, have been so far developed.) Without high quality, engaging content that encourages repeated use and helps grow readers and lifelong learners, a device for young children has limited value in the library setting.

Physical Device
+ The sturdy rubber case is rounded and not as slippery as the device itself, potentially reducing breakage from being dropped or banged. The bright orange color will make it easy to find.

7” size
+The small tablet size makes the tablet easy for small hands to hold (similar to iPad mini or Kindle E-reader size.)
-The small size may make it difficult to share the screen. When two or more users can easily share the screen and explore together, joint media engagement is more likely to occur.

$99.99-$149.99, avg. cost $119.99, according to Findaway rep. (compared with $249-379 for iPad mini)

No wifi access
+ No access to wifi helps prevent unintentional access to inappropriate digital content.
– No access to wifi could limit flexibility of device, restricting use to a specific audience, certain activities, and Findaway content.

No camera
+ Without a camera, the device will not store images of children using the device, helping to protect users’ privacy.
– Many high quality kids’ apps creatively incorporate the device’s camera into apps, increasing engagement and helping kids express themselves. Without the camera, potential content is more limited.

-The charging time is long if device is being used while being charged.
-The back of the device (which may be touching a young child’s lap) gets hot when the device is awake for extended periods of time (for example, 1 hour).
-When plugged in, the device will only go to sleep when the power button is tapped, using battery unnecessarily and creating the heat mentioned above.

+/-There are no accessible user settings for the device itself, beyond the reset option and avatar creation. Settings only exist within the individual apps and these settings vary in location, number and type. Limiting the device settings simplifies the user experience initially, but may confuse users as they navigate each app and attempt to adjust settings as they explore.
+The device includes a reset button on the home screen and supports
multiple users (with customizable avatars). The device would be easy to rest after individual checkouts if circulating outside the library or each day for in-library use.
+/-Using the device immediately requires that a child select and decorate an avatar. Many children will enjoy this element, but the avatar is isolated from the play experience within each app.

+Some stats are available from the home screen (Play Graph shows how
many sessions and if those sessions focused on English language Arts, Math, Critical Thinking, Science, Language Learning or Creativity. The Most Played apps will also appear.)

Content (Apps):
The tablet I reviewed came with the preloaded You Auto Know! app pack which includes 12 transportation themed game/toy apps. (The apps are widely available on Google Play, and in some cases Amazon Android.)
Cost of app pack (at time of review): $119.99 (avg cost per app is $9.99)
Intended audience: 3-5 years

App Overview:
The app pack includes game/toy apps (no story/book apps) which, in general, are of average or below average quality in overall design compared with the gold standard in the world of children’s apps. While the apps are technically sound and were all in-app ad and purchase free, the graphics in some cases are uninspired and many of them had only limited interactive features or elements that inspire kids, or kids and caregivers, to play together (for example multi-touch). Some apps do support STEM and some offer limited opportunities to use critical thinking skills, but their support of early literacy skills & practices (reading, singing, talking, playing and writing) is limited compared with other apps on the market. Most apps focused on earning points and a competitive format instead of the sandbox style play that is more likely to inspire creativity, imagination and exploration. (Pango Imaginary Car is an exception.) In fact the device itself is designed with a point system and opening certain apps rewards the user with “discovery points” which can be used to buy accessories for the user’s avatar. Some children may focus more on the point system than the actual app experience.
While the device thoughtfully offers users the opportunity to create an avatar that reflects their ethnic or cultural identity, and even their general individuality, these apps were all English language only apps and do not include opportunities to record narration, another way to support home languages.
Librarians are skilled curators of content, but this device’s model prevents librarians from selecting individual apps, like Pango Imaginary Car for example, for use by families and their young children and there is no way to hide unwanted apps or focus children’s attention on a specific app, as is the case with the AWE computer. In fact some of the Launchpad literature cites “No librarian research or app expertise required” as one of it selling points. As media mentors, children’s librarians should in fact research and understand all media they offer in the library or for circulation at home. Librarians are experienced curators and with some training, can easily apply their selection skills from print media to the world of digital content.

Family Storytime: Heroes, Flight & Gravity

This summer, we’re celebrating heroes in our summer learning program along with many libraries across the US. It’s quite a fun theme because it incorporates superheroes and comics on the one hand while also providing a great backdrop on which to celebrate the hero within. Many of the books and ideas I plan to share this summer during storytime will encourage kids to do great things. This week was no different.

I have been using letter cards at the beginning of storytime as a welcome activity to support letter recognition, to get kids physically stretching, and to break the ice, so to speak. My pack of letters has 26 cards (plus some duplicates) and each one has an uppercase letter and the picture of a child forming the shape of the letter with their body. I keep the cards in a bag and, one at a time, kids pull out the first card they touch. I hold it up so all can see and we say the letter’s name and then make the shape with our bodies. The cards include a diverse group of kids which I appreciate.

This week I decided to only have the letters that spell AIRPLANE in the bag. After we played the game, I organized the letters into the word as a hint for the storytime theme. I was glad that I simplified things because kids kept pouring into the room and I never would have had enough letter cards for everyone to pick a letter. Frankly, we would have been there all day playing just this one game if we went through the entire alphabet. During some storytimes in the Winter I can get away with every child who arrives at the start picking a letter because the crowds are smaller, but not in the Summer.

Once everyone was settled down on their storytime mat (with a little help from the song If You’re ready for a Story), it was time to read.

Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen (Photo source: Zoobean.com)

Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen (Photo source: Zoobean.com)

I recently came across the book Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen (Dial Books, 2008) and knew I had to read it at storytime for a couple of reasons:

  • Violet is a “maker” and designs her own airplane,
  • She stands up to bullies,
  • Her parents support her creative passion,
  • The story has several historical references to innovators, and
  • She is recognized as a hero when she rescues a group of boy scouts stranded in a river instead of competing in the airplane competition she was headed to when she discovered them.

The book also gave me a great opportunity to talk about flight and gravity, the focus of this storytime. Too technical for storytime and the 3-7 year olds who attend, you say? No way! I infuse STEAM in my storytimes every week and have found that breaking down big concepts, like flight or electricity, into bite size pieces can work. Kids may not be ready for rocket science, but everyone starts somewhere. Why not at the library storytime? We do that with reading, why not with science, technology, engineering, art and math?

Before I shared this book, I asked the group what we needed to fly. I was delighted when a girl said “lift and thrust.” The adults were blown away! Over the course of storytime I explained the ideas and what parts of a plane handle lift and thrust using the two books I read, the books’ illustrations and the experiments we did in the second half of storytime.

One thing I would do differently if I wrote this book is make sure the boy scouts are wearing life jackets in the rescue illustration. Drowning is a significant problem in Alaska (many families spent a lot of time on the water) and we are always driving home the idea that everyone needs to wear a life jacket when they are on a boat or dock (young kids). I took a moment to talk about life jackets when we got to that part of the story, but it would be nice to have the book model this important practice.

Kids were wiggly by the time I was finished with Violet’s story, perhaps in part to the large number of people, so we got moving. I had my phone and a portable speaker on hand with the storytime playlist ready to go. I also had my collection of shakers to use with Laurie Berkner’s The Airplane Song. I actually ran out of shakers for the first time ever, but the kids without them handled it well. The song is full of action and the movements work with or without shakers.

Flight School by Lita Judge Photo Source: simonandschuster.com

Flight School by Lita Judge Photo Source: simonandschuster.com

We then read Flight School by Lita Judge (Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2014). It’s the story of a penguin who desperately wants to fly, but can’t so he goes to flight school. While his body is meant for swimming and he can’t get airborne on his own, the other students get him off the ground, demonstrating heroism on a smaller scale and helping penguin fulfill a lifelong dream.

Time for experiments! I like to refer to this storytime as Physics for Preschoolers.

Boy, did I miss my summer assistant this week! With three stations going and over 60 people, I could have used an extra hand. She is on vacation so we made do without her…just barely. Designing multiple stations lets me offer a variety of activities and most kids will find at least one that appeals to them. It also helps to spread out the crowd a bit.

Gravity Painting

Station: Gravity Painting
I love painting during storytime. I can handle the mess and so can the families who come. Kids know to wash their hands as soon as they are done at the painting tables (there is a sink in the kids’ room) and caregivers often help clean up. I make t-shirts available, but they never get used. I stick with washable tempura paints to make things easy. Gravity painting was an easy leap for me. I modified a project I found at the Artful Parent, a great place to find ideas that can be adapted for storytime.

Gravity Painting ExampleBefore storytime, I built 12 stands for this activity. I used aluminum trays I have stored away and book ends. I taped the back of the tray to the book end to keep them upright. To paint, kids used eyedroppers to suction watered down tempura paint out of bowls on the tables and then squeezed it on to the 1/2 sheet of cardstock paper in the upright tray. The paint slides down the paper, thanks to gravity, and creates beautiful designs. Some families taped the paper in the tray until painting was complete. We talked about gravity in a very basic sense, remembering again, that we’re introducing big ideas in bite sized pieces.


  • aluminum roasting trays (1 per painter)
  • tempura paints in various colors (I had 4 colors at each table)
  • eyedroppers (1 per color)
  • bowls or containers for paint
  • book ends (1 for each tray)
  • packing tape (to attach tray to book end)
  • white cardstock (1/2 sheet)
  • pencil (for writing names on paper before painting)

Straw paper airplaneStation: Straw Paper Airplanes
We’ve made these airplanes at the library before and I love them. They seem ridiculous, but always fly. I got the idea from the DIY Network. The materials are minimal and I have a nice spot for creating an airstrip where kids can measure how far their play goes and practice throwing the plane. Some kids ended up adding wings and other decorative pieces and then tried to fly them again. Pretty cool.




  • Paper straw
  • 1″ x 10″ strip of cardstock for large circle (plane’s tail)
  • 1″ x 5″ strip of cardstock for small circle (plane’s nose)
  • Scotch tape (to attach circles to straw)
  • Blue painters’ tape for marking distances on carpet airstrip

Balloon PlaneStation: Balloon Planes
I spent the most time at this station since it it was the least self-explanatory. I used a similar experiment at a Maker Monday: Forces of Flight program for older kids last summer and thought it would be fun to show the younger kids. it was a hit! The idea is that a blown up balloon provides the thrust to push the straw it is attached to along a string. One end of the string is tied to a chair  and I held the other end. Kids or adults blew up balloons and we taped them to the straw. I talked to them about Isaac Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion and explained that the air escaping the inflated, but untied balloon would cause the balloon to go in the opposite direction. This helped them position the balloon with the tail towards me and the round, or top part of the balloon, int he direction they wanted it to go- towards the chair. I held the one end of the string so we could see if holding the string up higher or lower changed the speed at which the balloon and start traveled. Many kids tried this experiment over and over. Here is the balloon airplane in action.


  • Paper Straw
  • String (like kite string)
  • Scotch tape
  • Balloons
  • Chair
Robot Factory by Tinybop

The Robot Factory by Tinybop (Photo Source: tinybop.com)

As a nice compliment to the storytime activities, we offered the app The Robot Factory by Tinybop on our children’s library mounted iPad. While the app isn’t useful during storytime, it’s a nice sandbox style app that extends the tinkering and learning we did during storytime. The app was available throughout the week. (For more about my library’s mounted iPad and the curated apps I feature see this related post.)

The Robot Factory app is a design studio for young inventors & lets kids build robots from more than 50 parts that can be placed on a robot body in a variety of configurations. Once the robot is built, inventors can test the creation & its physics-driven movements. The design can then be modified as needed or added to a robot gallery. Individual profiles can be created for multiple builders. The app includes a parent dashboard w/tips & settings. :: $2.99 :: For ages 5+. (Source: Homer Public Library’s Kids App of the Week Pinterest Board)

#alsc2014: Tech Access on a Budget

The ALSC Institute was fabulous! My days were filled with interesting sessions, hilarious author talks, and spontaneous get togethers with new and old friends. I was awed by the children’s librarians around the country who continue to find creative solutions to their community’s problems, especially those related to early literacy. Librarians need to be at every local, state, and national discussion about early literacy and how we can make it accessible for all kids.

Here are the slides from the Tech Access on a Budget panel I was a part of. We shared lots of ideas about how to successfully integrate technology tools and programs into libraries big and small, urban and rural. Both sessions included great discussions about how children’s librarians across the country are using tech tools to foster early literacy, teach kids and teens programming skills, and promote collaboration and creative problem solving in the maker-friendly environments also known as the library. Look out digital divide, super librarians are here so your days are numbered!

Thanks to @MaryAnnScheuer for posting the slides and for wrangling us! Read her recap here.