All in the Golden Afternoon

alice reads at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016

This year marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and no one knows how to throw a party like the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress (and yes, that’s our very own Miss Joani depicting Alice)!

If you haven’t heard of the Young Readers Center, it opened with great fanfare in 2009. Located in the Thomas Jefferson Building, the Center is a series of rooms that house collections, exhibits, program spaces, and comfy places for adults and children to settle in and read. This spring, in conjunction with a number of Alice-related events, the Young Readers Center hosted a story time program that featured performances, activities, and exhibits.

additional exhibits at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016Interestingly, there is a connection between the original Alice manuscript and the Library of Congress. In 1864, Charles Dodgson (better know as Lewis Carroll) presented Alice Liddell, his child friend, with Alice’s Adventures Underground, a fantastical story he wrote and illustrated just for her. Later, the manuscript would be re-worked, illustrated by John Tenniel, and published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

When she was 73 years-old, Alice Liddell (now Alice Hargreaves) decided to sell Alice’s Adventures Underground. The manuscript was originally purchased by an American, Dr. ASW Rosenbach from Philadelphia. Later, Eldridge R. Johnson (also from Philadelphia) would own the book. But after WWII, a consortium of benefactors, led by Luther Evans, the tenth Librarian of Congress, worked together to purchase the manuscript. It was then gifted back to England, in reparation for the terrible toll the war had taken on the country. Evans personally delivered the manuscript to the British government.

In order to put together exhibits for their Alice events, Young Readers Center staff journeyed into the Library of Congress’ vaults. There they found rare editions, pop-up books, foreign language editions, and versions featuring a variety of illustrators. Additionally, the Young Readers Center reached out to the Arlington County Public Library, which brought a huge assortment of teacups, decor, stuffed animals, and dolls.

exhibit at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016After a reading by Joani (who also performed a song from the time period – you can listen to an earlier performance of it here at our Victorian Tea), everyone headed to the corridors for a “Caucus Race.”

caucus race at the LoC photo by shawn miller 2016Many got into the spirit of things by wearing their own costumes!

white rabbit at the YRC photo by shawn miller 2016In addition to the Alice story time program, the Young Readers Center partnered with the DC-based nonprofit Everybody Wins! DC. Fifth grade students from the J.O. Wilson Elementary School heard members of the International Lewis Carroll Society read from the book. Then, they chatted about what it means to be a professional hobbyists and book collectors. Each child was presented with a copy of the book to take home too.

fifth grade students and members of the lewis carroll society photo by shawn miller 2016The following day, the Center for the Book presented scholar and historian Leonard Marcus as their “Books and Beyond” speaker. His talk, which was titled “Lewis Carroll in the Mirror of Surrealism,” discussed the famous author and his place in surrealism art.

leonard marus at books and beyond lecture photo by shawn miller 2016Before we leave these adventures in wonderland, a quick word about Joani’s fantastic dress. It was custom-made by Princeton University  junior Julia Peiperl. Julia based her designs on Tenniel’s original illustrations, complete with the petticoats and pantaloons. She also made a smaller version of the dress, which was included in a Young Reader’s Center exhibit. Callooh! Callay!

alice costume by julia peiperl photo by shawn miller 2016

Photos courtesy of the Young Readers Center, Library of Congress. Photography by Shawn Miller.

To Be Continued

to be continued in cotsenI get lots of questions about my programs, but the program that consistently generates the most inquiries from Youth Services Librarians is To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-8. I invented the program in 2007, when I was looking to bridge the gap between Tiger Tales (our weekly story time for 3-5 year-olds), and Cotsen Critix (our literary society for 9-12 year-olds).

Here’s how the program works. Over a series of weeks, I read from a chapter book. At the end of the book (typically 6-8 weeks, depending on the length of the book) we celebrate with a hands-on project, activity, or field trip that is somehow related to the book.

coconut experiment smaller versionIn addition to listening to books and doing fun projects, kids can also earn books. Each time kids participate in the program, they earn 1 foil star sticker. When they reach 5 stickers, I buy them whatever book they want (up to $12.99 in value). I keep track of their stickers by tracing their hands on sheets of paper. All the sheets are kept in a binder, which I bring out at the end of each session.

sticker binderWhen it comes time to order the reward books, kids and parents can shop locally and put something behind the register for me to purchase, or they can send me a link to the book on Amazon. And by “book” I mean anything with pages! I’ve purchased Sudoku puzzle collections, bird watching guides, comics, blank writing journals, and the sheet music to Frozen. I’ve also purchased used books, out of print books, and books in other languages.

Oh, and I always wrap the books up like presents before I give them to the kids. Because who doesn’t want to get a present? Especially when it’s a BOOK!

So, how does To Be Continued go over? Fantastically. We have some really dedicated attendees that I’ve read to (and grown up with) for 3 years! There’s nothing more magical than opening a book and reading to kids. And to put a book they’ve earned into their hands and see them get excited about it? Man. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes.

Over the years, I’ve answered lots of questions about To Be Continued. Here are some of the more frequent ones, in no particular order. If you have any additional questions, e-mail me and I’ll add them to the list!

When do you have the program?

It’s every Wednesday from 3:45pm to 4:45pm year-round (with the exception of major holidays and the month of August). So it’s essentially an after-school program. Depending on when your school districts let out, you might want to hold the program earlier or later in the day.

This is after school! Most kids just want to run around and blow off steam! How do you keep them listening instead of wiggling?

Oh, let me count the ways!

I have a cache of enormous floor pillows I bring out 15 minutes before the program begins. As the kids arrive at the library, they pounce, drag, stack, and pummel the pillows. That definitely helps them blow off some steam. After about 10 minutes they settle down and the pillows become giant mattresses for them. I’ve actually had kids fall asleep when I was reading!

I also keep the kids engaged by reading the books like they’re radio plays. I use different voices for the characters, pause at dramatic moments, sometimes I even make sound effects. I’ll stop sometimes and talk to the kids about what’s happening in the story – get their opinions, ask them how they feel about something, or ask them to make a connection to something in their lives, etc.

Approximately 30 minutes into the program, we take a 10 minute break so the kids can stretch their legs, use the bathroom, talk, play with their friends…within reason of course. If they are acting totally out of control during the break, that’s not good for anyone.

Do you have any rules for the program?

There are two rules at To Be Continued. The first is “Listen or Leave.” If you’re not listening to the story, if you’re jumping on pillows when everyone else is settling in, talking loudly while I’m reading, or if you’re pestering someone, you must leave the area until you feel you can listen.

The second rule is “During the break, there is NO running, NO screaming, or NO stickers.” Getting the wiggles out after 30 minutes of concentrated listening is fine. But pounding around the gallery and shrieking at the top of your lungs is not.

And I always, always give kids a warning before I enforce either rule. That gives them a chance to regulate themselves. And it works! Especially rule number two. Losing a sticker is a big deal for the To Be Continued kids. In 9 years, I’ve only had to take away 2 stickers.

How did you come up with the title of the program?

The title is a nod to all those cliffhanger radio plays and television shows that ended with a suspenseful “To Be Continued!” In fact, when we reach the end of my program, I always close the book and say “To be continued!” and all the kids invariably shout “Noooooo!” But they perk up when I tell them it’s time to do the book-earning stickers. Sticker earning (and book awards) always come at the end of the program.

Do you serve snacks?

Our library doesn’t allow food or drink (we have rare books sharing the gallery with us), so we don’t serve snacks.

I would love to do the book earning thing, but we don’t have room in our budget for it. Any suggestions?

I award a 1 book for every 5 stickers earned. And I cap the purchase at $12.99. On average, kids order books that are $7 – $8. You could always expand the book-earning time frame to say, 10 weeks instead of 5. Or you could cap the purchase at $8. You could have them choose an inexpensive little toy from a prize box instead. I considered doing that (or giving out fun bookmarks). But I decided that my ultimate goal was to get as many books into the hands of kids as I can. And I’m very fortunate that my budget allows me to do that.

How many kids attend the program?

We’ve had as few as 2 and as many as 26. Typically, attendance is between 10-12 kids.

What do you do with siblings who come to the program?

Younger and older siblings are absolutely welcome to sit and listen to the story (and many do!). If we’re doing a hands-on project, they can join in. However, only 6-8 year-olds can earn books.

What happens when new kids join the program when you’re in the middle of the book?

I always begin the program by welcoming the kids, briefly explaining the program, and reminding them of the rules. Then I recap the entire book for them (not just what we read the previous week). When that’s done, I start reading. If there’s a new kid and something in the story needs a little more explaining, I’ll stop reading and quickly supply more backstory. From what I can tell, it only takes a few pages for new kids catch on to the story.

What’s your biggest challenge with this program?

The biggest challenge is finding books to read. You want a book that is appropriate for 6 years-olds, but intriguing enough for 8 year-olds. Additionally, our community is steeped in literature, so most of the kids have already heard “the classics.” There’s no way I can read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at To Be Continued. Everyone already knows it!

In my experience, the best To Be Continued books have some action and a story that moves forward quickly. A little spookiness, adventure, or mystery doesn’t hurt either! The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows was one of my personal favorite. It was so much fun to read aloud, and the kids LOVED it. Once girl loved it so much she requested all the sequels for her award books – all the way to the end of the series.

Here’s a list of all the To Be Continued books and projects I’ve posted on the blog thus far (to scan them visually, see our Pinterest board):

Nim’s Island: Coconut experimentation (and bowling!)
The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows: Shadow puppets
The Mysterious Benedict Society: Kate Wetherall bucket game
Measle and the Wrathmonk: Rubber cockroach magnet mazes
Igraine the Brave: Swords and shields
Charmed Life
: Herbal amulet and dragon’s blood identification
Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Rube Goldberg-esque mechanism
Horton’s Incredible Illusions: Magic show in a box
The Imaginary Veterinary: The Sasquatch Escape: Sasquatch search and certification
Floors: Box of puzzles, riddles, optical illusions, and ducks
Lily Quench and the Dragon of Ashb
: Tin foil black light dragons
Missing on Superstition Mountain: Visit to Dept. of Geosciences, pyrite, and singing rocks
Castle Hangnail: Gothic castle votive

Do you read entire series of books at the program?

Generally speaking, I’ll read the first book in a series, and then encourage kids to follow up on the other books on their own (and many do!). However, there was one exception to this rule. The kids unanimously voted to have me read Horton’s Incredible Illusions, which is the sequel to Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms. They really, really wanted to find out what happened to Stuart and April!

If, by the way, you’d like to hear my interview with Lissa Evans, the author of those fabulous books, follow this link. Another author I’ve interviewed from the above list? Mr. Trenton Lee Stewart, puzzle master extraordinaire.

Do you think the program is effective?

I do. I can see the kids listening, I hear them discuss the books as we’re reading them. I watch them become wrapped up in the characters and the plot. Also, I’ve also seen kids change from distracted non-listeners to very intent listeners. The change doesn’t necessarily happen overnight, but over the course of a few weeks (or sometimes months) the change does happen. Best of all, I’ve had parents tell me that the program has inspired more reading at home. YES!

Welcome Back, Potter

welcome back potterIt’s Harry Potter week at Pop Goes the Page! Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 will be released this weeked, and there will be launch parties and countdown events galore. I thought it would be helpful to compile all of Pop’s Harry Potter posts and projects, just in case you find something that might come in handy at your wizardly celebration.

Perhaps our most popular Harry Potter post is Magical Miniatures. It’s an interview with Sally Wallace, a miniaturist and artist who constructs astounding Harry Potter dollhouses and miniature scenes. Feast your eyes on Hogwarts!

greenhouse1 smallerHowever, if your magical real estate aspirations need to be on a slightly smaller scale, try this Gothic votive castle. See the greenhouse to the left of the castle? Peek inside and you’ll see that the mandrakes are ready for re-potting!

greenhouse3 smallerHerbology continues with this little dried herb amulet

amulet smallerAnd these dashing, yet simple, snapdragons. You only need a paper cup, construction paper, and pipe cleaners (more ambitious gardeners can try these magical “growing” box gardens).

get-snappy smallerAnother Harry Potter post I dearly love is this suitcase boggart. I designed it for a Defense Against the Dark Arts table. The secret to making the suitcase thump and bump convincingly? A battery-operated pet toy called “The Weazel Ball!”

the-perfect-boggart smallerWe’ve also made plenty of dragon and monster projects in the past, from this food chain to a black light tin foil dragon. Representing the forces of good, however, is this phoenix puppet. You can make it out of a tissue box, and stroll around with it cradled in your arms.

fantastical-phoenix smallerMoving on to school supplies, try these simple, but immensely popular, quill pens.

quill-pens smallerAlso necessary for any Hogwarts student is an inexpensive PVC pipe wands (with your choice of core, of course). There are also flying books, and things that fly OUT of books.

these butterflies can book

And don’t forget your wrist owl to deliver the mail (but not a Howler)! This handsome little fellow is made out of a toilet paper tube and pipe cleaner.


Once your school supplies are assembled, hit the classroom with the Chemistry of Magic!

chemistry-of-magic-web- smallerOr, learn some smaller spells. A pair of Slytherin students joined us at our School for Scoundrels program and taught kids Aparecium, Furnunculus, and Inanimatus Conjures. But Confundo was definitely the most popular.

There’s also this post, which features a DIY Harry Potter party put together by Hope, our kid tester. Here, you’ll find inexpensive decor ideas, templates, recipes, and useful links.

brick wallAnd what would Harry Potter be without some treats? Check out the gourmet pumpkin pasties crafted by Melody Edwards, a Princeton University graduate who is currently in culinary school. They were yummy. Yum-MMY!

happy birthday harryThose wanting a more academic perspective on Harry Potter (not to mention a look at some goodies from our rare books vaults) should check out the Harry Potter and the Mystery of the Author’s Name post on Cotsen’s curatorial blog. It shows the different ways J.K. Rowling’s name has been spelled (and misspelled!) over the years.

If you’re wondering about the image that started this post (like how I magically manage to appear 9 years younger?), it’s a promo photo from a Harry Potter event we hosted in 2007. You can read more about the image, as well as some of my hints for promoting programs, here.