Author: Amanda M.

Like reading, movies, and cooking. Love my family, friends, the beach and various pets Hate bad drivers, people who think they're cool and reality tv

Camp Tween – Confectionary Catapults

photo 1

Extra materials were added to give this machine more “umph.”

And here’s summer again! Which means another year of Camp Tween STEAM programs at my library. This year I’m focusing more on the T, the E, the A and shockingly the M in STEAM rather than S. I have something special planned in the fall in the S. Last week I kicked things off with Confectionery Catapults and it was awesome.

Ages: Grades 3-5

Planned for 24, 22 attended.

Staff: Myself, two teen volunteers

Supplies and Cost: Rubber bands I stole from the supply closet (FREE!), building supplies such as wooden tongue depressors, wooden bamboo skewers, plastic spoons, plastic cups, many bags of marshmallows (ammunition and building supply), balloons and stuff to set up a practice range and testing area.

This model was more for the aesthetic.

This model was more for the aesthetic.

Inspiration: A co-worker did a similar program with teens so I adapted one from Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction by John Austin and added an easier one I found on Pinterest and a simple shooter.

What Happened: I reversed things in this program. Usually I start simple and work up to more complicated but with this program I knew once they started testing their catapults and flinging marshmallows around it would get progressively harder to reign them in. So we started with the most complicated build and then got easier. We made the first two together, I handed out instructions and modeled how to make one with my volunteers helping out. As they finished I had them take two practice shots and then go back and tweak their design to make the marshmallows go farther or more accurate. We moved on to the next build and repeated the process, make, test, tinker. Then we took a break for snack and a quick chat about what they found worked or didn’t work or what other materials they could use to improve their design. Then they made the mini-marshmallow shooters and things got crazy. But it was the end of the program and they picked everything up so SUCCESS!

Take Away: Include more test areas for accuracy and have a wider variety of supplies to tinkering.





RLA-CE Maker Spaces on a Budget

On May, 30th I was part of a panel about creating Maker Spaces in libraries when money and resources are scarce. I spoke about low cost maker programs that can be modified for different spaces and budgets. I was joined by Mike Campagna and Elizabeth Ludemann who talked about their own libraries initiatives for Maker Spaces and great resources like Make it at Your Library. (If you haven’t check out Make it at Your Library, go now. Go right now. I’ll wait.)  We then broke out into smaller groups to discuss issues around maker spaces like staff learning curve and programming for adults. I learned just as much in those discussion as I shared in my presentation.

Check out our slides below and also visit for more great upcoming programs. Thanks again RLA-CE for inviting me to speak and putting together a great program and Schaumburg Public Library for hosting us.

Nerd Printz Update – Year 2!

Hi and thank you for reading my twice yearly blog updates! Ugh, I really should be better at this. It’s kinda like, what I do, blog. So besides failing last year at posting anything close to a regular schedule I also made little progress on my Nerd Printz Challenge. I started off strong, working through what my library owned on audio but then slowed considerably.

But this year, this year will be…probably more of the same. I’m taking the microscopic momentum I had last year and plan to build on it. To that end 2013 is only 16 days old and I’ve already finished a Printz! YAY! On with the review!

handler_webWhy We Broke Up, novel by Daniel Handler, art by Maria Kalman, 2012 Printz Honor.

  • Story: Min Green writes a long letter explaining why she broke up with her ex-boyfriend Ed Slaterton. She uses the letter to explain each item in a box that she is returning to him that played some role or had significance in their brief relationship. Through the letter we see how popular jock Ed and “don’t say arty” Min first started dating, the brief and rocky course of their relationship before the aforementioned break-up. Usually I don’t enjoy books that present the end and then work backward to tell the story. I like reading to figure out the unknown. But in this case the structure works because although we know Min and Ed break up we don’t find out way until well into their story. I also love the art and how each object opens a new chapter in the story. The objects represent a different aspect of their relationship, good, bad, bittersweet and pointed.On a roll of undeveloped film, “But we never developed them. Undeveloped, the whole thing, tossed into a box before we really had a chance to know what we had, and that’s why we broke up.”
  • Voice: Nailed it. Told in Min’s voice, Handler does an amazing job of creating a unique voice. Yes, it sometimes veers into overly complex but always maintains a conversational and authentic voice. One of my favorite parts of the book.
  • Style: Long form break-up letter with great art.
  • Setting: An  unnamed middle class town, an art house theater, a high school, two houses and a cemetery.
  • Accuracy: Sure, although it kept bugging me that the movie and cultural references weren’t real. Like I get why they were invented, so we all have the same frame of reference (none) but at the beginning I thought, maybe they are. Then I thought, for sure, not they’re not. Then I got sad because I would love to see Greta in the Wild.
  • Characters: Min – Maybe my one complaint of the book is how singularly we’re focused on Min. She’s a great character. Honest, vulnerable, naive, hopeful, lost, and yes, artistic. But by using the letter we only have Min’s perspective. I’m not sure I really need Ed’s but everything we learn about other characters, like her mom, her friends, Ed’s friends, are all from her perspective. Ed – Typical jock with hidden layers, like good math skills and ability to steal sugar from diners. I found Ed interesting but wish I could see him from another perspective from Min’s. We get some from his sister but not enough at times. Al – Min’s best friend. Joan – Ed’s sister. Annette, Jillian – Ed’s ex-girlfriends. Jordan, Lauren – Min’s friends.
  • Themes: Love, Relationships, Friendship, Heartbreak, Honesty.
  • Illustrations/Design: Incredible. I’ve already mentioned the art by Maria Kalman as amazing and tied very well with the story. The cover and end papers are also art by Kalman and set the story very well. The book is printed on heavy-weight, high quality paper which is rare in YA books but was necessary to showcase the illustrations. And the author blurbs on the back are stories of their own break-ups like David Levithan’s “The boy I loved didn’t know I existed. Then again, he was obsessed with Camus, so he didn’t know if any of us existed.” Very nice touch.

Thoughts: On the surface this book is in no way my cup of tea. Break-up story, told in flashback. But with incredible writing, sly humor and amazing honestly, I found myself liking it more and more. Not sure if this it hits all my buttons to be “the bestest book ever!” but it is a great read and I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Four out of Five Printzmobiles



And in other good news I’m re-reading Looking For Alaska for a book group so I’ll have my first re-read post going up. It’s been about six years since I’ve read it. Hope I still love it since I go on and on about it being John Green’s best.

Take Your Author Visit to the Next Level, Cosplay!

When I heard YA author Kendare Blake was going to visit my library I was way excited. Blake’s incredible Anna Dressed in Blood was one of my favorite reads last year. Anna is like a good Supernatural episode, sufficiently scary, hot male protagonist with just enough angst and a seriously awesome ghost. I snagged the ARC of the sequel, The Girl of Nightmares before anyone else and devoured it in a few days. So I was ready for our author visit, or was I?

I had an idea as soon as I read Anna Dressed in Blood. Anna would make an excellent Halloween costume.  Sure not many (or any) people outside of YAdom would get the reference but Anna is a ghost spooky enough on her own that I could pass as “creepy dead girl.” Anna is described in the book as having long dark hair and wearing an old-fashioned white party dress.  When she appears her dress starts dripping blood and her veins go black. Very cool. And very easy. Here are my simple steps to creating this look for very cheap.

My Supplies

White Party Dress – $20 on sale from TJ Maxx although any sort of white dress would work as long as you don’t mind it getting a bit bloody.

White Bloody Tights – A steal for $7 from Party City since I was still trying to figure out if I could find white tights and then how I could dye them to look like blood without it being a huge hassle or mess.

Long Black Wig – A $17 splurge also from Party City because I am currently very blond and didn’t think dyeing my hair black wouldn’t be terribly effective or attractive.

Bottle of Blood – Also $8 from Party City (I seriously love Party City. Its where I got all my stuff for my Hipster Thor costume last year). Get the big bottle. You’ll need it.

How To

I used a disposable aluminum pan to dip the bottom of the dress into the blood. I had my roommate help so I could hold up the top of the dress while she dipped just the bottom and make sure it distributed properly and looked bloody enough. Then I hung it to dry over the sink for a good 24-48 hours. The fake blood I got was slow to dry but looked realistic. The day of I just changed out of my work clothes (yes, I was technically on the clock for this. And what?) and threw on my get up. Luckily I’m a lovely shade of pale so I didn’t use white make-up although I probably will for Halloween and draw some dark veins on as well.  I bought my books for Ms. Blake to sign and waited patiently.

I was worried for a second what everyone would think, a grown women dressed like Halloween in August. And I did get some funny looks but mostly my coworkers laughed and were impressed. They’re used to me by now. And as things turned out Kendare and the fellow authors she was on tour with (the lovely Lisa Desrochers and Marta Acosta) loved my look as well and obliged me with a photo and an autograph. Everyone who attended had a great time and the authors were very generous with their answers and time, sticking around after to chat with fans and crazy librarian who dressed up.

PS – Big thanks to Tor Books and Lake Forest Book Store from bringing Kendare Blake, Lisa Desrochers and Marta Acosta to my library. It really was a great event to kick off the school year in our teen room.

The Perfect Baby Shower Present…BOOKS!

Confession time. If you invite me to your baby shower I will completely ignore your registry.  I’m not being mean, or willful. In fact I’m doing the best thing I can for your soon-to-be-child. I’m starting his or her very own library. I’m buying your kid books. Deal with it.

I know it’s popular to ask for a book instead of a card and that’s a great idea. But I don’t feel one book is enough. In fact I know one book is never enough. Do you give your personal childhood favorite? Go with a fancy new bestseller? Board board? Touch-n-feel? Softcover? Hardcover? All tough questions with a simple answer. All of them. You get all of them.

So here’s my go-to list of Baby Shower Book Gifts. I’m always adding to this list so feel free to add your favs too.

Board Books – Good for little hands and nibblers. Sturdy. Handy.  I recommend anything by Sandra Boynton or that has a manipulative feature like touch-and-feel or lift the flap. Some popular picture book titles also come in board book format but be weary, not all titles translate well to the format.

Picture Books – Classics

  • Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! by Dr. Seuss – I buy this for every single baby shower since it was my favorite book. I inscribe the cover to make sure no one returns it.
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown – A classic for a reason. Get the original, no substitutions.
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak – Hardcover only, wear and tear expected.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle – Or any title by Carle. Works well as a board book.

Picture Books – New(ish)

  • Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by Anne Dewdney – The rhyme is great and the story sweet.
  • Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems – Actually you can’t go wrong with Willems but these are nice because they can grow with kids when they’re ready for independent reading.
  • A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka – This 2012 Caldecott winner is a gorgeous, mostly wordless picture book that lets you and baby tell the story.
  • Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea – I believe the title says it all.

What’s the most fun is finding a book that I think the parents will love reading as much as the child will. Because for the first few years its you, my friend, that I want excited about reading and books. You’re the one who will pass on the love of reading and stories, not the books.

Urban Legends Program – Mythbusters meets Tweens

My second tween program this summer was Urban Legends. I conceived it as a fun program that incorporates learning about Urban Legends and creating some of our own.  My original brainstorming was inspired by a post for YA Program Activities blog which I highly recommend checking out.  I had 16 tweens that I divided into four groups evenly. Which made me super excited because that almost never happens.

  • Icebreaker: I like doing icebreakers since it helps the kids loosen up but I’m still hunt for the “perfect one.” This one was kinda silly which is what I was going for. Called “Shoe Factory” you make everyone throw their shoes in a circle and instruct them to pick two shoes that are 1) not their own and 2) do not match. Once they have shoes they have to find their mates and line up. Mostly they just found who owned the shoes until they swapped enough to get their own back. Oh well.
  • Introductions: I do this so they know each others name and I know their names but I make them say one thing about themselves to help break the ice. I also used this time to find out how much they knew about Urban Legends and if they knew any good ones.
  • Cleaning Pennies with Coke: Each kid received a dirty penny and a small amount of coke in a cup. I warned them to not touch their cup until the end of the program. This would give the coke about an hour and a half to “clean” the penny. I also warned them that if they got soda on the floor they wouldn’t let me do programs anymore. This scared them significantly and they didn’t touch their cups until the end.
  • Fact/Fiction Quiz: Each team had two sheets of paper, “Fact” and “Fiction.” I read a question and as a team they had to pick, fact or fiction. I got the questions from the Mythbuster’s website. Here’s the ones I used  (Urban Legends Quiz) summer/ocean/bug related questions. Seemed fitting. The winning team got candy. (I had other candy for snacks so everyone got sugar eventually.)
  • Two Lies and a Truth: I used a version of this icebreaker as an activity. I gave each team a true myth, most were from, and as a group they had to make up two “fake” myths. Then they acted the three myths out and the other teams picked the true myth. I gave them about 20 minutes to create and plan the skits and then another 10 to present. This worked well and they had fun being goofy.
  • Pop Rocks and Soda: Passed out pop rocks and more soda and let them test this myth. What I found hilarious was the few who were very concerned that they would be hurt. I didn’t want to come out and say, of course you’ll be fine, because that would have taken some of the “danger”  out of it. But one kid was so concerned I finally said, “Do you really think I’d let you try something that could hurt you?”
  • Mythbusters: While they were finishing their pop rocks and soda I brought out the rest of the snacks (chips, cookies and aforementioned candy). I let them serve themselves and we watched part of the Mythbusters episode that tested the pop rocks and soda myth. They were appropriately impressed and disgusted.

That took us to about the end of the two hours. I had a stack of pre-pubs and let them pick out one to take home. I had loads of fun planning this one and the kids had fun too.  For next time I’d probably have more props for the playacting part since they grabbed anything that wasn’t tied down in the room to use. And once again I was too busy running things to take any pictures. Some day.