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
y
: 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!

Weird Books

weird books I’m over on Cotsen’s curatorial blog today, sharing a collections education program we did with 9-12 year-olds. The program was titled “Weird Books,” and our goal was to show kids the unusual formats books can take (including this miniature book housed in a walnut shell). Intrigued?

Click here to go to the post!

Can’t get enough special collections stuff? You might be interested in this post on a pricey little doodle, this post in which I get to pet Charles Dickens’ writing desk, this post on what appears to be an ancient code (but is not), and this post about the very first Jemima Puddleduck stuffed toy.

Aliisa the Artist

self portrait_artwork by aliisa leeFor the past four years, I have had the privilege of working with an extremely talented Princeton University student artist. Her name is Aliisa Lee, and she has loaned her tremendous abilities to a whole host of artistic endeavors at our library – project templates, event posters, logos, illustrations for children’s stories and poetry, and more.

summer announcement logo_artwork by aliisa lee

Summer announcement logo

hungry caterpillar food drive logo_artwork by aliisa lee

Very Hungry Caterpillar food drive logo. Food drive title and art inspired by the work of Eric Carle.

bad hair day_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Bad Hair Day”

the dragon princess_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Dragon Princess”

Below you can see some steampunk templates she designed for a Journey to the Centre of the Earth event (later, I used the templates for a Rube Goldberg-esque mechanism and a fanciful steampunk airship story time).

steampunk hat

And how about these delightful vanilla-scented French pastry ornaments? Mmmm.

ornaments

Aliisa’s also worked on completely random (and sometimes rather strange) projects. She didn’t, for example, bat an eye when asked to make 80s paint splatter background.

welcome to the 80s

Or create a police line up of book damage perpetrators

lineup of book baddies

Or depict Hiccup and Toothless at the movies…?

hiccup and tootheless at the movies_artwork by aliisa lee

Last month, Aliisa graduated from Princeton University with a major in English and a minor in Visual Arts. I caught up with her to chat about her experience at Cotsen, her process for illustration, and what she’s going to do next (including – and this is important – continuing to freelance for us).


Tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up in the sunny state of Hawaii, but have since moved abroad several times. I am the fourth of six crazy kids, and all of our names start with A. It makes for some fun confusion when we are all together! In my free time, I love reading, writing, and (you guessed it), drawing. I especially enjoy drawing digitally by using my computer, Photoshop, and a Wacom pen and tablet.

Name a few of your favorite artists / inspirations.

I really look up to the artists of my favorite childrens’ books, like Clement Hurd, Mary Blair, Bill Peet, and Henry J. Ford. I am also a huge fan of Pixar and Studio Ghibli, with all their inspiring storytelling and fantasy elements. I follow many digital artists on tumblr, but I also just I love getting ideas from literature, dreams, and of course, my family and friends!

What have been some of your favorite projects for the Cotsen Children’s Library?

Hmmmm, that’s such a hard question. I’m a bit of a podcast nerd these days, so I loved doing the album art for the BiblioFiles.

bibliofiles artwork by aliisa lee

I am also a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth, so the Alice thaumatropes and the Digitopolis posters and logo were a great way to pay tribute to some of my beloved texts.

thaumatrope demo

digitopolis by aliisa lee

My favorite type of project is probably illustrating for our time’s new generation of writers and poets. If I have to choose one assignment that I especially treasure, it would be the art for “The Sun Lifted Me Away.” The young author’s father wrote to us later that his daughter loved the drawing for her poem; hearing that the young author was so happy with what I drew makes that illustration one of my favorite projects!

the sun lifted me away_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Sun Lifted Me Away”

You’ve illustrated kids poems and stories. What’s your process for selecting and illustrating specific scenes or phrases?

It varies piece to piece! Sometimes Dr. Dana will have a fairly specific suggestion for a scene, which has trained my eye and always helps with the process. When the illustration is more up in the air, I often read for specific lines and imagery that stand out, and draw fairly literally from that. (For example, a line from “The Pit,” that says “He clasped the edge and began his ascent.” A very dramatic, specific scene gets a very dramatic drawing.)

the pit_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Pit”

Or, if the piece has more atmosphere than narrative, I brainstorm for scenes or visuals that reflect that feeling. (For example, the poem “Autumn is a Color, Not a Season” is all about the feel of autumn. The drawing and colors reflects this.)

autumn is a color, not a season_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Autumn is a Color, Not a Season”

What surprised you the most about the process of developing, editing, and finalizing a drawing for Cotsen?

Before working for Cotsen, most of my art was just kept to myself or my personal site. When you are doodling in your notebook or drawing just to show your family and friends, you “finish” an art piece when you are satisfied or just get tired of it. One of the greatest things about working with Cotsen and an art director (Dr. Dana!) is having another pair of eyes to help look critically at a piece, then develop it with the ultimate goal of publication. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how that process and push to make polished illustrations has just made me a better critical thinker and artist. Plus, it is a ton of fun to draw for Cotsen!

storm_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Storm”

In your opinion, what’s the most difficult thing about illustration?

This has probably happened to anyone who has tried to make art: you get a beautiful, inspiring image in your head and you just think, “I NEED to draw this.” But after you sit down and draw, you realize your art just doesn’t measure up to the image your mind conjured up.

This happens to me a lot, especially since the poems and stories I read have such beautiful and creative moments. But it makes we want to work hard to be a better illustrator, since I want to close that gap between what my mind can create and what my hand can draw.

Still, I know that even if I was the best illustrator in the world, I could never quite pin down exactly what my mind envisioned. That could seem frustrating, but it is also kind of beautiful! The imaginations we are given are actually the best artists we could ask for, you know?

the enchanted machine_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Enchanted Machine”

Tell us a little about your senior show!

I would love to! My show was entitled “to wake” and included 80+ digital drawings, printed out in various sizes and placed around the space of the gallery. As you walked around left to right, the images sequentially told the story of a mother and daughter, plus a little bit of the fantastic as they traveled in the subway.

to wake 1_artwork by aliisa leeto wake 2_artwork by aliisa leeto wake 3_artwork by aliisa leeto wake 4_artwork by aliisa leeIt was very, very cool to have my own show, and to use the gallery space for both art and storytelling (two things I love!)

What are you going to do next?

I’m hitting the real world and getting a job. As a Princeton Project 55 Fellow, I’ll be working in communications at the non-profit International Schools Services, not that far from Princeton’s campus, actually. I can’t stop making art, so I will also be illustrating for Dana (and maybe a few other clients if I’m successful in expanding my freelance network). You haven’t seen the last of me yet! :)

poets_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Poets”


If you’d like to see Aliisa’s amazing portfolio, it’s online here. If you’d like to read a little more about her artistic process, she wrote a great post for Princeton University’s admissions blog here.

Thank you for 4 tremendous, tremendous years Aliisa! And here’s to many more!