November 9, 2017

Mermaid Tail Blanket

I sewed a mermaid tail blanket for my 3-year-old honorary niece. I had left-over fabric from the “Boo” costume I made her (sorry, no picture of that, she won’t pose for it) and thought she might like a new kind of sleep sack.

I didn’t have a pattern, so I looked at examples online and made one from newspaper.


First I used fleece and made the main part, 16 inches wide and 35 inches long, tapering down.  I cut a matching piece of the scale fabric for the front.  Putting right sides together of the 3 layers, I sewed the seam, then turned it right side out.  I cut one piece of the tail fin from fleece and one from the scale fabric and sewed them together (same method, right sides together)

I then sewed the fin onto the rest of the tail, tucking under raw edges.. I hand-sewed 4 lines leading from the base of the tail across the fin to make it look more fin-like.




I thought about putting elastic across the top but decided to simply roll the fabric hem to finish the edge instead. (If I put elastic in, I would make that bigger to create a channel to feed elastic through.)

I wish I could have been there to see her reaction- it was reported to be: “Aunty Jane knows I love mermaids!”

Well, doesn’t everyone?


August 14, 2016


A-Mazing  Mazes

Mazes are good for a STEAM program because they teach spacial relations and problem solving while being fun.

For our maker lab, which this time had a large amount of seven-year-olds, I kept it simple.  We made marble mazes, then used the Sphero with a drawing attachment to make our own trails.IMG_6034

Marble mazes use straws.  I only had regular drinking straws, but I recommend that you use thicker shake straws.  You can get a bag of marbles from the dollar store (from their floral section!).  The other materials are sheets of paper, tape and small boxes.  Gift boxes or shoe boxes would work, but boxes for holding paper are just right.   IMG_6044Have the children plot our their maze with a pencil.  Talk to them about making enough space for a marble to roll through.  They then tape the straws down to the paper, trimming when necessary.  Put the paper in the box, add a marble, and test!

The Sphero part of the program requires more prep.  For older kids, they can have a complete program in itself coding the robot to navigate around a maze that fills the room.  It also works as a remote-control device using the iPad app.  Don’t have a Sphero?  In this class, an RC car would have worked as well.

sphero carriageI found a file for a carriage for the Sphero on Thingiverse, and printed it out on the library’s 3-D printer.  Then I covered a table in paper, taped pool noodles to the edges, and there was our contained environment.

My plan was to draw a maze with a marker, then have the kids use the robot with the drawing attachment to try to navigate.  However, control of the sphero by this crowd was not that delicate.  It went wildly around the paper like a drunken gerbil ball.  sphero in drawing carriage

This was only an hour program.  If I was doing a day program or a series, I think making a life-sized maze from boxes would have been a lot of fun.


IMG_5983Zombie Party Planning

I almost left my brains in the fridge, but fortunately my clerk reminded me.  I think we all had a great time, and I only had to scold someone for throwing body parts once.

We’ve had several zombie events at our library over the years, and I have learned what works and what doesn’t.  We bring in professional make-up artists.  While it is possible to do DIY, you need to know what supplies to get, what makes what effect, and be comfortable getting right in people’s faces.  Also, having a IMG_5955professional in is a learning experience- the teens see a career in action, see what it takes to make the shows and movies they love, and get to talk with the artists about acting and costumes.

How to make your zombie event successful:
  • Have everyone under 16 have a permission slip signed by a guardian agreeing to make-up and videotaping.  All over 16 must state they have no known skin allergies.
  • Provide a secondary activity while makeup is being applied- we played Plants vs. Zombies on the x-box
  • Have lots of snacks
  • Have costume options- men’s button-up shirts from a rag-bag are best.  The fake blood is hard to get off of clothes.
  • Be prepared to take lots of pictures and video- this means planning a backdrop, scripting a simple scene or making sure your battery is charged.
  • Set up the makeup station with two chairs, a table, a garbage can, a plastic tablecloth on the floor and lots of room to move around.
  • Plan for an event that lasts at least 2 hours.

What do you do once all the participants who want to be are made up like zombies?  Some places do a charity walk.  Others hand it over to students to make their own film with their own equipment.  This time, we took pictures in front of a green screen, then filmed some basic scenes of mayhem in our small library.  The one that worked the best was the horde of zombies trying to get into the library, pressing against the glass door.  Remember that in film making you can take shots out of order.  I’m still looking for actual looks of horror from the “victims,” there was too much giggling going on.  The kids also just had fun pretending and live-action roleplaying (this was where I had to supervise, to make sure no one actually got hurt when they “attacked”).

zombie brainsWe served pizza, soda and Jell-o brains.  At the end, one of the boys apologized for any bad behavior he had ever done at the library, and wanted to come back for our weekly teen time.  Mission accomplished.

My daughter and I then stopped by a cemetery on the way home for a photo shoot.  I was able to sneak in some history lessons,  as well as a philosophy discussion, without being too obvious, as we walked around the tombstones.  She drove us home (on her learner’s permit) and I really hoped we didn’t get pulled over- I didn’t want to explain why I was letting a zombie drive my car.

Pokemon Party

The event of the week was our pokemon party.  I got a lot of ideas off Pinterest, of course.  There are so many creative people sharing what they do for their own children’s parties.  We had cupcakes, cookies, and drink boxes, because I ran out of time to make themed food.P1120771

Who’s that Pokemon?

I printed out pictures of pokemon, put them on a foam core board and numbered them, then gave out guess sheets.  At the end of the party we announced the answers.  The kids enjoyed this one, and even started using the books on display to help.


My volunteer made a Pokemon pillowcase, which we raffled off.  We also let the kids select 3 mini figurines from a large batch set I bought off of Amazon.  Having the kids choose what they got was more time consuming and contentious than I had anticipated.  I had them choose by age, with youngest first (the party ages ranged from 5-13).  My wonderful volunteer was able to identify each figure (I kept asking her dumb questions like “what’s this monkey with broccoli on its head?”) She also made origami Pikachus.  If you can find a volunteer who is an enthusiastic fan, grab them and make sure they’re appreciated.

Pokemon scavenger hunt

I decorated a large box of ping-pong balls as pokeballs, using red paint, black sharpie marker and ring binder reinforcement stickers.  If you plan to do this for your party, be aware of the number of participants.  A box full of these looks like a lot, but if you have 13 kids searching, they only get about 3 each.   I think I should have hidden the mini figurines we gave out as well.  We did have two specially marked balls that meant getting a special prize.

Make your own cardIMG_0133

There’s a great website for customizing your own pokemon card.  I took pictures of the kids using our iPad, then a volunteer sat with each kid and entered their powers, abilities and descriptions.  I then saved the picture and emailed it to my desktop.  I happened to have postcard paper left over from another project, which was perfect for this.  The website says to print it out and paste it to an actual card, we did not do that.  If we had, we would have to fuss with the exact sizing.

I had expected the kids to bring their cards and play and trade, but only 3 out of the 22 kids did.  If I do this again, I will get the local game store involved to help run a mini tournament with the 10-12 year old crowd.

July 12, 2015

Just Add Legos

My simple Lego party was a success!  The only thing I’d have done differently would be to have more food.

Lego gunship

The Lego company donated a box to our library, and all the libraries in our area.  At first we thought the bags with specific parts were kits, but then we realized none of them were complete or had instructions.  Since it came with a poster that said “Calling All Master Builders” I figured out that these random parts were for whatever creations kid’s imaginations could come up with, just like the Master Builders in the Lego movie.  I put out the bags of parts and told the kids to go to town.  Some of the creations were amazing, and everyone had a blast.

Side story: I did write to Lego when I discovered that I had a huge bag of bodies and legs, but no heads.  The outreach representative was very pleasant and sent me a box of heads in the mail.  I now had way too many.  So I contacted the other libraries in my system.  It was the most delightful email thread ever, entitled “I have a bag of heads”.  I sent heads to ten other libraries through our courier (apparently the same lack of heads occurred in the other donation boxes).  (Our youth services coordinator said she loved my email “heading”.  Groan.)  I don’t say this often, but it was great to send bags of heads to my peers.

I had the kids color their own Lego figure page.  I then went around the room and had each child put together their own figure from a box that just had figure parts and accessories.  We had two tables, with a big box of basic bricks in the center of each table, and we passed around boxes with specialized pieces.  I put the flat bases scattered around the table.  I didn’t have to prompt anyone for ideas, they just started creating at that point.  If you do have a reluctant teen or adult, suggest making a mural or picture on a base. I walked around and made sure everyone was sharing, and found that they were collaborating, asking each other for pieces, and showing each other their work.

Lego party tableLego party decorations

Lego face stencils link.

There are many amazing books out there- how-to books, art books, graphic novels made with pictures of builds.  I put them out on display to be checked out. I decorated yellow cups and bags with Lego faces, and served Cheese-its and Lego brick treats (Rice Krispie squares with 6 M+M’s each).  At the end of the party, I let each child take home one Lego figure, in their bag.  Next time I’ll serve pizza too.

When the builders finished their masterpieces, I made sure to take pictures of them to put on the library website and Facebook page.

The bigger libraries have expanded this basic get-together, using Lego Mindstorm kits that create programmable robots.  Another idea is to have each child make a vehicle and then run them down a track (we didn’t have enough wheels).

Lego creations

June 21, 2015

super hero training

Every Hero Has a Story

We kicked off the summer reading program at the library with an event called “Hero Day”.  We invited community heroes to come join us.  We had different stations around the library.  The police had a car seat check in the parking lot, and the fire department brought a truck for the kids to look at.  A teacher watched over the crafts and helped kids draw on the whiteboard with colored dry-erase markers.  Two nurses had a game of operation and a doctor’s kit and wore white lab coats.  The Army and Air Force had tables and gave away toys.  We had a local comic book artist do drawings with the kids.  Then we had a superhero training camp, run by teens in superhero costumes.  They challenged the kids laser mazeto go through an obstacle course, including a “laser maze”, a tunnel of chairs, hopping between hula hoops and knocking down cups with a ball.  We set up the course right in the adult fiction section (which irritated my staff trying to shelve- “I’m not dodging lasers to put away books!”) We served hot dogs, lemonade and cookies.

To decorate I put up a city backdrop and a photo stand-up.  We had summer reading posters and the comic-book-like words “bam!” “Pow!”  We also put up entries from our “Who’s your hero” contest, where kids from our local school made essays and posters about their personal heroes.  We got a lot of great drawings, essays and photos.  We gave out a gift certificate for three age brackets, with a randomly drawn winner so we didn’t have to judge.  All in all, it went pretty well.

super hero stand-up

January 24, 2015


Paper Crafts that work for Library classes

When I need to pull together a crafts class for the library at the last minute with little money, I usually do paper crafts.  There is a paper project for all ages and abilities.  For preschool crafts, just practicing with the scissors is important.  Sometimes, if the project is too hard for them to cut out and it has been done beforehand, we just cut up scraps to practice.


Don’t just assume since you have instructions in front of you that you can teach folding a shape.  Practice!  Make at least five or six so that you get a feel for how it needs to go together.  For a thirty minute class for children, have three shapes of progressive difficulty.  Have step-by-step instruction hand-outs, but don’t give them out until you start each shape. Ideally, you should have demo pieces in different stages of completion. Start by explaining the difference between mountain and valley folds, an important concept in creating origami.  Do the project along with your students, so instead of taking their project away from them, you show what to do on yours.  Don’t explain the next step until your slowest student completes the previous step.  The advanced students can go ahead by looking at their instruction sheet.  Have a display of origami books on hand for your students to check out when they’re done, and let them take home paper to keep practicing!

You can purchase origami paper at most craft stores.  For absolute beginners, I often use squares of colored copy paper, which is thicker and bigger, so easier to learn on.  To create a square out of letter-sized copy paper, take one corner and fold it down until the corner lines up with the opposite side edge, making a triangle.  Cut off the excess (which can be used for bookmarks).

I love making jumping frogs out of index cards.  Use colored index cards if you can.

Paper Models

There are some great free printable paper model sites out there.  My go-to site is Canon Creative Park.  Again, practice first.  Use the thickest paper that you can run through your printer, because regular copy paper doesn’t stand up as well.  Gauge your audience.  Can they cut around complicated edges?  Do they have the patience to hold pieces together until they are set?  If you are having a drop-in craft with mixed ages, be sure to have something simple as an alternative.


Most of the time I use glue sticks when doing paper models.  This has the disadvantage of not having a strong hold, but is less messy than liquid glue.

Paper Dolls

Everything old is new again.  My go-to site for paper dolls is Making Friends, which has a lot of choices for both genders.  I like being able to make a scientist doll.f_science


There are great books of craft ideas, especially in the juvenile section.  Stock your craft storage shelf full of paper, and keep a file of ideas on hand.  Take notes when you finish a class as to what worked and what you would do differently.

Today at the library we’re doing snowflakes, but I’m not running this one.  I think I will make some Star Wars ones at home, though.

Gross Alien Autopsy for kids!

Here’s a cool program that involves gross stuff and aliens, two things that kids love.  They examine an alien corpse and make scientific observations.  The “corpse” is a jello mold full of strange objects.


I got this idea from Catherine Brenner of Bethlehem Public Library, who made a presentation for our summer reading workshop.  She did a whole series of programs centered around “grossology”.


The gelatin mold above is actually a British import for a “giant jelly baby”.  Other options would be a gingerbread man cake pan.

The recipe I used has about a half-bowl extra, which was fine with my family.

  • 2 6 oz. packages of gelatin mix (orange or lime)
  • 1 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • small plastic toys, jiggly eyes and boiled spaghetti

Pour the boiling water into a large bowl with the gelatin mix, stir for two minutes, add cold water.  Spray the mold with oil.  Pour the gelatin into the mold along with the weird objects.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.


To un-mold, run a knife along the edges of the mold to break the seal.  Put mold in a bath of warm water (do not submerge).  I used plastic shoe boxes to store the aliens.  Moisten the inside lid of the box and carefully flip the mold onto it, peeling it off.  Aliens should either be stored in the fridge or a cool, dark place.

For the program, make your kids into scientists.  I recommend plastic aprons and plastic gloves.  Remind the participants not to eat their specimen (to avoid accidentally ingesting toys, and also, ew).  Before they begin dissecting, have your scientists make observations, notes, and drawings.  Ask them to use their senses to describe what they see without using emotional words like yucky or gross.

WARNING: this consistency of gelatin is as sticky as glue- it can stick the fingers of your gloves together if you get too covered.


Great tools to have for the autopsy would be plastic knives and tweezers.


My exuberant five year old demonstrated to me why this program is best for ages 8 and up.  He was all about the texture of the jello and mashing it between his fingers, sending it everywhere.  For his age group, an ooblek project would work better (non-newtonian fluid).

Pair this project with nonfiction and fiction books about aliens, and possibly some about surgery or anatomy.  P1100120


Librarian’s Summer Reading List Challenge

I’ve decided to take on a challenge, to go over the school’s recommended summer reading list, read at least two from each grade, and blog about it.

Every year I, a public library director, chase down teachers and school librarians for their summer reading list.  I have to track down leads, hound sources and twist arms, and still, I sometimes get a redacted list!

I have found that 6th grade fluctuates the most, those poor in-betweeners not quite ready for YA, but so done with kiddy stuff.  I’ll think I’m ready to help students come in and get a book for their optional assignment, only to find the list has changed without being notified.  Then instead of calmly purchasing books in spring, I’m scrambling to buy books, catalog them and get them on the shelf, or doing lots of inter-library loans.  I hate that- I want to be able to get the right book in their hands immediately.  On the other end of the spectrum, some grade’s lists haven’t changed since I was in elementary school, which was …quite a while ago.  With that I have to contend with out of print books and books that aren’t great enough to become classics and have lost their relevancy.

Every year some ambitious parent marches their child into the library to read everything on the list.  They don’t understand that these titles are examples.  If one book in a series is on the list, another can replace it.  There are wonderful books coming out each year, heck each month, that are excellent for your child and would be approved by the teacher if asked.

I have a big concern with assigned reading.  It should be presented as “here are some ideas”.  My goal is to increase the number of people reading for pleasure.  We want kids coming in and finding the book that fits them, that appeals to them.  The book they stay up late at night reading, and continue while chomping down their cereal in the morning. I love reading, but I remember some assigned books with horror- tedious, out-of date, mother dying and Nazi death camp stuff that made me miserable.  There are some great literary classics out there that should be discussed in class, ones that shaped culture, that have deep meaning.  Some kids would happily read these on their own during the summer, and that is wonderful.  Other kids need support reading such difficult books, and definitely do not derive pleasure from reading them.

ANY READING IS GOOD READING!   Let kids read what they want.  Gently encourage them to discover new series and authors, suggest read-a-likes for their favorites that are slightly higher in reading level, but most of all, put books in front of them that they can choose from.

This week I’ll be going over the Kindergarten list.  Each grade list is by the grade the child is going into in the fall, so the Kindergarten list is for preschoolers who are age 5 before September.


Stand back, I’m going to do SCIENCE!

We had a science expo at our library to kick off summer reading.  This year’s theme is Fizz, Boom, Read!  Instead of just focusing on encouraging reading, libraries want to get kids into S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art and math).  The way to do that is to make it hands-on, fun, and allow room for creativity and play

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Our library system lent us a Makey Makey kit, which is a controller that uses everyday objects to complete circuits.  So we could play Tetris using a banana, cucumber, tomato and orange.

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I am loaning my son’s snap circuit kit, which allows kids to create different configurations to power devices- a fan, a siren and a light.

We are fortunate to have two parent volunteers who are great at doing science demos.  The most popular experiment was making a “fake shake”, a foaming colored substance that becomes hard.  (I need to get the information on how it was done!)  My daughter’s example was a little over the top.  (heh)

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