August 2019

August 2019

It takes a Neighborhood to Nourish a Children’s Librarian

Dear Neighborhood,

Our Summer Reading programming is over, so a lot of this month’s newsletter will draw from and reflect upon new things that we tried, some with great success and others with… a bit less success. We are excited to feature more content from our readers. Be sure to check out Lauren’s great blog post reflection on the effect of using terms like “good guys” and “bad guys.”  Just last week I put the book Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos on hold to use for a storytime and thanks to Lauren’s comment, I was able to see the ways in which it perpetuates harmful stereotypes about who is qualified as “good”and “bad.” 

Our featured author this month is Alicia D. Williams, a debut author from Charlotte, NC. Allie and I both read “Genesis Begins Again” this summer and were blown away by her ability to capture the voice of a teenage girl with authenticity and realism. We immediately knew we wanted to share her work with you! We want to keep featuring debut authors, so if there is a new author you’d like featured in the Cardigan, send us an e-mail at and we will see what we can do.  

Thanks for being a part of the neighborhood! And as always, feel free to get in touch with any ideas, comments, or insight. 



Behavior Management Tip: Assigning Roles  

Deepen your knowledge on a topic related to Children’s Services.  


I have dreaded doing group-work and teamwork activities in elementary programming for fear of conflict and disengaged kids. While attending a training, I was amazed at a simple tool that can have a great impact on behavior management while doing teamwork activities: assigning specific roles/activities to the children.

During the training, the instructor treated us as if we were the kids attending the program so that we could experience the science activities in their shoes. One of the first activities she did once we were in groups of four was to write on the whiteboard four roles and explained each role to the group. 

  • The Supply Guru: In charge of all things supplies. The instructor had most of the supplies on tables at the front of the room and it was the Supply Guru’s responsibility to gather the necessary supplies for the group. This was helpful as there was no crowding at the supply tables and it didn’t require putting supplies on the teams’ table beforehand, which for me always results in children playing with the supplies and being distracted before and during instructions. 
  • The Collector of all Information: Recorder of all the information that we found from our science experiments. They were to write down what we did, how we did it, and the results. She made clear that while the collector of information was the person to write the information, it was the job of everyone to participate in what they wanted written on their recording sheet. I recommend using a pre-printed form that the group can work together to fill out, similar to what we shared with you all in the last newsletter in the Learn section about Documentation. 
  • The Speaker of the House: The designated presenter for the group. When it was time to share the results of the experiments, the speaker would be the one to use the notes from the collector of information to share with the group. 
  • The Clean Queen/King: Responsible to make sure that the area would be clean when the experiment was finished. If there were leftover supplies that could be used again it was their job to make sure that those supplies were set aside and the rest were thrown away. The instructor again emphasized, everyone will clean, but the The Clean Queen/King is the person that is responsible for making sure it gets done. 

After explaining the roles, she gave us the opportunity to discuss as a group what roles we thought best fit our personalities. After discussion, we wrote our names on the colored paper corresponding with the color she had assigned for the roles and created name tents to put in front of us so that the group (and our instructor) could see not only our names, but also our role. For example, if I were the Supply Guru, my name tent was in purple. If I was the Speaker of the House, my name tent was in red. 

I loved how this simple tool could be adapted to any program I was doing. I could either let the kids decide their roles or I could assign them as they came in by giving them a certain color to designate their role. Also depending on the activity, I might need different kinds of roles and this tool is flexible to that need. What I found is that when children know their specific job duties and roles, they are more likely to stay engaged in the activity and less likely to struggle with behavior problems.

If you’ve been following us on Instagram, you have seen our series of tips about Behavior Management Tips and Strategies. Many of the answers that have been shared are directly from our amazing neighborhood. Katherine and I have both found that unless your background is in education, there is little direct training on behavior management in library programs. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading tips from you all (and have used quite a few of your strategies). We encourage you all to follow us on Instagram for more great behavior management tips and other children’s programming content. 


Violent Fantasy Play

Play is a right! Learn quick tips to optimize play experiences in libraries. 


Consider these two events:

  • During playtime, a child grabs a toy, pretends it’s a sword, and starts “sparring” with another child.  Both children are engaged in the make-believe play scenario pretending to stab each other. 
  • In the Children’s play area, a child pretends like his hand is a gun and points it to another kid across the area, saying “pow pow I got you!”

These situations occurred within a few months from each other and made me uncomfortable, because I didn’t know how to address them or if they even warranted attention. We want libraries to be shining beacons of joy and peace, right? The energy and aggression of the children’s play disrupted and challenged my perception of what I thought play should be. 

I started reading more about violent fantasy play and was surprised to find out that violent fantasy play in children can be completely, 100% developmentally normal.  The more children engage in rough-housing, the less likely they are to engage in violent behavior as an adult (Brown, 2010). This is because play is where children sort out complicated messages they receive from the world (from the media, at home, etc.). Educator Kristine Mraz argues that when we shut down violent play, we communicate to children that the questions and desires they bring into a play scenario are bad and shameful. The questions get suppressed, and are more likely to manifest themselves in unhealthy ways into adulthood. So disrupting a violent play scenario by saying “stop don’t do that, we don’t do that here” shuts down what may be an earnest effort to understand something a child has witnessed at home or in the media. It can also simply be a form of big body play: a play scenario that lends itself well the kinds of big movements children crave. 

How do we respond then, as librarians when violent play occurs in our programs? I think a key consideration is whether or not both children are consenting to the play.  In the first scenario, both children were having fun and understood that they were playing pretend.  In the second scenario, the child being “shot at” had not consented, she was just browsing the collection. 

I’ve found the definition of violent fantasy play helpful when assessing whether or not to intervene.

Violent Fantasy Play is engaged in enjoyably and voluntarily, with reciprocal role-playing that includes aggressive make-believe themes, actions, words and weapons; yet lacks intent to harm either emotionally or physically (2013).

Personally, I’ve tried to avoid intervention entirely in the case of violent fantasy play, unless a child is clearly not enjoying themselves or has not consented to the play scenario. If this occurs, I might say something like “I don’t think Jackson is enjoying the way you’re playing with him. Jackson, do you want to keep playing this with Olivia or would you like to play something else?” 

This can be a very tricky topic, with lots of different aspects to consider. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve ever witnessed violent play in your library and how you’ve handled it! 


Paper Maché

Learn about an interesting program you can easily replicate at your library 


During one of our 2-day summer camps, we did Papier-mâché masks as one of the projects. Since our library’s summer theme was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, the children had an opportunity to make a mask inspired by a character from one of Maurice Sendak’s books. While initially Katherine and I were excited about this more in-depth art project, we also faced some unexpected challenges. 

The Supplies

Below are the supplies we used for the paper mache masks: 

Making the Masks

Before the children arrived, we taped the balloons to aluminum trays to help minimize the mess of the glue on our tables and to help keep the balloon in one place while children glued newspaper to the balloon. 

We started the program with discussing Maurice Sendak and his artwork and how they would be using his characters for inspiration for their papier-mâché masks. We encouraged the children to do a sketch first of their idea and then after they made their mask we printed a picture of their mask to compare their initial sketch and their final product. After they chose a character, children could start making their glue. Elmer’s Art Paste just needs water to be activated. After making their glue, children then spent the rest of the time gluing newspaper strips and other materials to create their masks. We challenged them with including at least one 3-D element and had various cardboard pieces for them to use. The foam brushes were really helpful in spreading the glue evenly across the balloon. Once they finished, we made sure their name was on their aluminum tray, and then had the masks dry until Day 2. On Day 2, kids were able to paint their masks and add other embellishments. We asked the children  to pop the balloon at home once the paint dried on the mask.  

Challenges and Tips

Challenge 1: Prep time- We thought by doing this program in a 2 day camp format it would give the masks time to dry. While the masks themselves did dry, we realized they needed a primer coat. The day of the program we spent a good hour (or more) giving each mask a primer coat of paint. If doing a primer coat, we recommend using acrylic paint.

Challenge 2: Balloons Pop- The most heartbreaking challenge of the program was when one of the kids’ balloons popped while they were gluing the newspaper strips on the balloon. We also experienced another balloon popping while we put a first coat of paint on the masks. Thankfully both the kids and parents were gracious about the situation and were able to start other masks, but the possibility of the balloon popping before the mask is dried and ready is a possibility. 

Challenge 3: The Glue– I’m not sure how many of the masks were going to keep their shape after being popped. Since we had the kids wait to pop the balloons until they got home, I can’t verify this information, but the variety of glue strength and how the kids spread the glue tells me some masks didn’t make it. 

Tip 1: Buy these Tablecloths. I’m so glad Katherine bought these tablecloths for craft programs and it was a lifesaver in the mess of this papier-mâché program. 

Tip 2: Provide plenty of dry-time. Our camps were Tuesday and Thursday with a break on Wednesday. While some kids’ masks were dry by Wednesday, some were still drying Thursday morning. 

Tip 3: Volunteers are helpful. We are so thankful we had teen volunteers helping with this program and really couldn’t have done it without them. Just having a few volunteers to help mix glue, design masks, and clean-up can make a difference in the success of this program. 

Have you done a papier-mâché program? We would love to hear about it! Email us at or DM us on Instagram (@thecardigannewsletter). 


Good Guys vs. Bad Guys

Libraries are for everyone! 


On a near daily basis, my two and a half year old jumps in front of me and shouts: “Mommy, I’m be a police! You be a bad guy!”  Maybe a child you know has asked you to join them in similar imaginary play. Maybe you’ve seen a toy or a show based entirely on the premise of law enforcement catching “bad guys” and putting them “behind bars.” Maybe you’ve read picture books to students or open and closed the flaps on a board book showing a toddler what “community helpers” do all day; and it may not have occured to you–as I didn’t to me for a long time–but an unconscious dichotomy between “the good guys” and “the bad guys” was taking root; a biased message that first responders are always good, their primary motive is to keep us safe and when they do so it’s because they got rid of the bad people.

We need to be aware of our language when discussing first responders in our communities or even the superheroes and villains of our imaginations. As caregivers and educators, it is important to be aware of unconscious bias in ourselves and in the media we are consuming and sharing, taking care to note who is being labeled as “good” and “bad.” (For today I’ll note, but put aside discussion of the gendered use of the term “guys.”) 

Keep reading Lauren’s blog post on this topic here. 

By Lauren Gibbs-Beadle, she/her, parent/educator, @lgibbeadle 


Alicia D. Williams

Discover new people to follow online 


Genesis Begins Again is a new middle grade novel by debut author Alicia D. Williams. It follows thirteen year old Genesis as she deals with her own internalized racism, her father’s addiction, and her family’s eviction out of their home. Genesis is a smart, introspective protagonist. I loved getting to know her, and am so thankful Alicia wrote this book. Allie and I hope you’ll purchase this book for your collection and share it widely with your patrons!

1. Tell us about your new book, Genesis Begins Again, and the inspiration for the book. 

This story is for anyone who ever felt like they weren’t good enough. Genesis is a 13 year-old girl who feels if she can be beautiful like light skin mom then Dad will love her more, so she goes about changing those things about herself that makes her unloveable.

There was no specific inspiration for this story, not initially. I was a first year graduate school student and had to write something. Originally the story was about a girl who was bullied because she was heavy weight, dark complexioned and had kinky hair. I was told that Genesis had too many issues to be middle grade. I was like, You don’t know real middle graders, they deal with a ton all at the same time! But perhaps, in writing it was too much or either I wasn’t executing it well. Either way,  the theme of beauty started taking over the story. And for Genesis, it was her dark skin and kinky hair. And why, above weight, was color an issue? Perhaps it was the memories of my childhood that danced around in my head or what I witnessed within my community. Perhaps it was the pictures scrolling across my social media feed, the gripes I had within the dating community, or even in magazine advertisements. Or, perhaps it was feeling the strain of it as an adult, still being made to feel insecure about my brown skin. But once colorism rose to the forefront of this story, I couldn’t ignore it.

Also while working in kindergarten, every year we’d notice children of color, regardless of ethnicity ashamed to use a multicultural crayon that matched their skin tone. I’d see them shading in their self-portraits with the lightest touch, color barely showing. I’ve seen five year-olds crying about their “big poofy hair.” As a writer,I thought, Where do I do with this information?” I write stories that I’m afraid to tell. I write stories that will change me, change others. 

2. What are some books that have had a great impact on your life and/or writing? 

Little Alicia found solace in Judy Blume books. I was a heavy set kid, so I closely identified with Linda in Blubber. Talk about being bullied, whew. I laughed from the wild antics of Fudge in Superfudge and Double Fudge. And through Margaret in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, I learned how to increase my bust, girl stuff that my mom didn’t want to necessarily discuss, and how to navigate friendships.  As an author, there are books that I cannot, will not part with. I usually pull them out as mentor texts to study some craft of writing that the author demonstrated well.

  • For voice I go to Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park (my kindergartners love it!) and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt.
  • For setting and character, I study Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and Things Fall Apart by Chinua AChebe
  • For story and character arcs, I love Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.

And, I’m intrigued by Robert Cormier’s writing, the first book I read by him was I Am the Cheese. And I was tricked into–whoa, no spoilers.  These are just a few of my faves.

3. How can our readers connect with you? (social media, website, etc.) 

Readers can find me on Instagram at aliciadiane70, or on Twitter at @storiestolife, and if on Facebook my author page is authoraliciadwilliams. Lastly, my website is


Dinosaur Books

Some of our favorite books. 


Thank you to everyone on the Instagram for all of  your great Dinosaur book suggestions! You all seem to already be experts in this area,  but please  enjoy the compiled crowdsourced Dinosaur Booklist anyway. Click on the image to be redirected to the full list.


Summer Slide

Where we reflect on the deeper questions. 


I can’t describe how quickly I clicked on this article after reading its title: “New Research Casts Doubt on the “Summer Slide.”  The term “summer slide” is so prevalent in the library world that I was curious to find out what this “doubt” could be. To summarize, the author sheds light on a new study by a policy professor at the University of Texas – Austin who attempted to replicate the landmark study from the 1980s that first identified the summer slide. He found that the study and its results could not be replicated, and that the size of the learning gap caused by a lack of reading and learning over the summer was overstated. He doesn’t toss out the idea of the summer slide altogether, he simply points out that the data and research aren’t up-to-date and can’t be used to make generalizations. 

Here are a few key quotes from the article:

  • “In a study published earlier this year, von Hippel found that the testing methods used three decades ago tended to distort student scores. Although students were ranked in the right order, the gaps between those students could shrink or expand—what he calls a “fun-house mirror” effect.”
  • “Had the original study been conducted a few years later, we’d probably still think of summertime as much-needed downtime and playtime.”
  • “If a child struggles during the school year, they can use the long break to catch up, von Hippel points out. But the kids who study aren’t getting much further ahead, and the kids who play aren’t falling much further behind”

This is such an interesting turn in the research and something to keep an eye on over the course of the next few years! You can also listen to an interview with the author of the study here. He claims that there are some good summer learning programs backed by evidence, yet their scope is limited because they are optional and tend to exclude kids who need them the most.  


We love connecting with great authors like Alicia D. Williams and can’t wait to send her book to one of our lucky readers! To enter, fill out this form. We will pick a winner next week! 

Content warning for Genesis Begins Again: Racism, Addiction, Self-Harm

Congratulations to ______ for winning last month’s giveaway book!

You can access a PDF of this newsletter in our Google Drive. This is where we will be storing all future newsletters. 

Logo by Thomas Freeman

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