January 2020

January 2020

It takes a Neighborhood to Nourish a Children’s Librarian

Dear Neighborhood,

We are back from a much needed break! Allie and I enjoyed spending time with family and are now back and ready to kick off 2020 with another edition of the Cardigan. Thank you for your continued support of our little newsletter; we are constantly scouring resources and the web to bring you the most thought-provoking and helpful tools. If there’s any specific topic you would like to see covered, please e-mail us at thecardigannewsletter@gmail.com. We would also love to hear any goals or resolutions you have for the new year – are there any specific skills you want to acquire? Any risk you want to take? Let us know so that we can all be inspired by your hard work 🙂 



Supporting Patrons and Looking Out for Yourself

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


I’ve been hearing the word “trauma” more and more in library services. It’s not clear to me if we are simply getting better at naming something that has always existed, or if the number of individuals experiencing trauma walking through our doors has increased.  Either way, there are tools at our disposal to be more sensitive to the needs of patrons experiencing trauma and also to look out for our own well-being. Emotional burn-out is real and we need to be mindful of our own well-being if we are going to make it to retirement! 

The following content is a list of tips and tricks that I have learned over the past few years.  The term “trauma-informed” refers to a specific set of practices and expertise that I am not formally trained in so for more information on this topic, I recommend checking out the blog of Librarian S Bryce Kozla who has written extensively on this topic. 

Working With Patrons Experiencing Trauma

  • Deescalating. When a situation with a patron is escalating (volume increasing, defensive posture), there are several steps you can take. First, place yourself at the same level as the patron. If they are standing, stand, if they are sitting, sit next to them. Second, acknowledge their feelings “I can tell this is very frustrating for you,” “I can see how you would be upset about this.” Third, set expectations “can you lower your voice for me?” Fourth, give them tools to meet the set expectations, “let’s take a deep breath together” “how about we walk to a quieter place to discuss this” “what can I do for you to help in this situation?” Following these steps usually helps a patron regain composure.  I want to fully acknowledge that sometimes these steps don’t work, and that if you feel like you are still in an unsafe situation, grab a coworker for help. 
  • Compassion. If you see a patron in a distressing situation (maybe crying, having a panic attack) approach them gently, being sure to not touch them (as to respect their bodily autonomy), and ask if there’s anything you can do for them. Offer them water, to make a phone call for them. My library doesn’t have any private study rooms, so in the past I’ve offered a customer to sit in an office room until they feel better. The library is a very public place and it can feel embarrassing for anyone to feel like they are “having a breakdown.” 
  • Anticipate Needs. Have resources available to share with patrons. One of my brilliant coworkers assembled packets with local information on housing and food that we keep at our reference desk. If a person comes in and asks about local shelters, we have everything compiled and ready for them to take home. The library system I work for has also been in the process of making all of this information available on their website. 

Working with Yourself

  • Shifting Our Mindset. When individuals are experiencing trauma, they can appear agitated, confused, or angry. This can cause us to feel impatient or frustrated ourselves. Real talk: I have often thought things like “why can’t he do this faster?” “I can’t believe she got so impatient” “why is this so complicated for them? This is such a simple task.” Patrons may be reacting to extremely stressful situations, such as homeslessness, violence, or a severe health condition. Acknowledging a patron’s trauma can help disarm our own emotions of defensiveness and impatience.  You may be familiar with the concept of shifting thinking from “what’s wrong with this person?” to “what happened to this person?” While this can be a great starting point, S Bryce Kozla points out this can lead to pity and she offers a more empowering alternative. Ask yourself, “how can we succeed together?”
  • Deep breathing. Taking a deep breath is proven method to lower someone’s heart rate and levels of stress. Inhale through your nose for a few seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for a few seconds. Repeat five times. Also, this is something you can do in front of the public without it appearing too strange! I’ve done this so many times and has helped me regulate my feelings. 
  • Set boundaries. In an effort to be accommodating, we can compromise our own well-being. If you are not getting anywhere with a customer, you can say “I think I’ve done everything I can do for you today. Would you like for me to grab another staff member and see if they can help you?” or “I understand that you’re very upset, but the way you’re acting isn’t ok in a library space. I’m going to have to ask you to leave for the day and we can try again tomorrow.” 
  • Asking for help. Having a difficult interaction with a patron can put you in a funk. It’s ok to ask a coworker to cover for you for a few minutes while you take a break. You can also talk about it with a coworker or supervisor to process the event. Sometimes, the emotional labor you put in at work can be on-going and stressful enough that it’s interfering with your everyday life. If so, consider going to therapy if it’s accessible to you! There’s no shame in looking out for yourself and your emotional health – the work we do is hard.

More Resources and Sources:


What Architecture Teaches Us About Play

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


As a children’s librarian, I have a vision of my programs being totally exploratory with little focus on directions or boundaries. I want the children to create and search with total freedom. 

However, I’ve been reflecting on UX Collective’s article about fenced-in playgrounds. The author cites research that showed when children were exposed to a playground without fences, they were not as likely to explore their surroundings and stayed very close to their teacher. When there was a fence, the children felt free to explore the playground without fear. In summary, boundaries made them not only feel more at ease, but also free to engage with their surroundings.

This dichotomy of how boundaries can make children feel more free has me thinking about my programs and our physical spaces we have in the library. I have had numerous families tell me they love our children’s area at our library because it is in a semi-enclosed area. I often thought it was because it does allow them to be a little louder since there is a wall that acts as a sound-barrier to the rest of the library, but I also wonder if it is because it sets a boundary for children to enjoy their play. 

Applying this to programs, this doesn’t mean we become rigid with directions, but it might mean narrowing down a problem for them to solve or down-sizing choices of art materials so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

Tell us what you think about the playground study! How do you use “fences” to help make children feel more free to explore in play? 


Civic Engagement Programs

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


I don’t think children are ever too young to be engaged in the conversation of the importance of being an informed voter and citizen of their community. In November, I had the pleasure of putting on a series of civic engagement programs with my Kindergarten-3rd graders. For three consecutive Mondays, we discussed what we liked about our city, what we would change about our city, and then presented the information to our County Commissioner who also led the kids through a conversation and activity about the importance of voting. Below are the details of each program: 

Week 1: For the first Monday, we discussed what we liked about our city. I read a couple of books that takes place in our city, as well as had some non-fiction books about our state. I then provided poster board and an array of art materials for the kids to draw, paint, and/or color their favorite part of our city. This ranged from our parks to our library to even their specific homes. I then asked if we could keep the paintings until the third week where we would have a “gallery opening” to showcase it to our county commissioner. 

Week 2: For the second Monday, we discussed what we might change to our city. I again read some books related to our civic engagement and then provided LEGOs and had them build their ideal city or what they would want included in our city. I also had them write a few sentences explaining their build and kept these until the next week so we could again showcase them to our county commissioner. 

Week 3: I am so lucky that our district’s county commissioner is so great with kids and so willing to spend an hour of their time helping with this program. For the first 10 minutes of the program, I had the children discuss both their paintings and their LEGO builds with the county commissioner. After the presentations, our county commissioner discussed what she does on a daily basis and the process of being elected. We then read two books: Grace for President and Monster Needs Your Vote. The children then “registered to vote” so they could vote for their favorite book. This just included creating a registration card. I then had printed out some “I Voted” stickers on some printer labels that I gave to them after they voted. The best part of the program was the live results. The children were so excited about seeing which book won. (Spoiler Alert: Grace for President won!) 

I had great feedback about these programs. As 2020 is an election year for the United States, this might be a great program to modify in October or November of this year. Civic engagement programs don’t always need to involve voting. I loved hearing what the children appreciated about our city and what they would want to see changed. It’s important to encourage our kids to have an ownership of their city and neighborhood. You can check out my full program plan for the voting program (including the ballot) here.


Body Positivity in Picture Books

Libraries are for everyone! 


We have a great opportunity in storytimes, displays, or in answering readers’ advisory questions to point our patrons to books with body positive messages. For so long, authors portrayed “fat” characters as lazy, weak, gluttonous, or the butt of the joke. When choosing books for storytime, consider if there is anything that might be stereotyping someone based on their body-size. I’m still uncomfortable with the old trope in children’s books of portraying a larger character as a hippo, pig, or elephant. Authors and illustrators can’t use a heavier llama or a giraffe? Even one of my favorite authors, Jan Thomas, has a book, What Will Fat Cat Sit On? Making a larger character the literal joke of the whole book doesn’t send any body-positive messages to our kids. 

There have been such a great push for more body-positive information for children and teens, but as Corin Balkovev from Book Riot writes, “…most of these books are working on unraveling the messaging of shame that have already learned by the time the reader picks up the book. Are there books that address these issues before those messages are internalized?” 

Thankfully, I think there are. Below are some websites that have already done a great job of collecting a list of picture books that encourage body positivity.  

I also really enjoyed reading Screwy Decimal’s blog about the word “fat” in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I encourage you to check it out! 


Nafiza Azad

Discover new authors!


1. Tell us about your new book and your inspiration.
THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME is my debut novel and features Fatima who works as a messenger in Noor, a city located on the border between a desert and a forest and ruled by a human maharajah and the Ifrit, djinn of reason and logic. When Fatima witnesses the death of her mentor, an ifrit by the name of Firdaus, her life is irrevocably changed. She finds out that she has djinn fire and inherits a power that lands her in the middle of a war simmering between the ifrit and the rebel humans who have allied themselves with the shayateen, djinn of chaos. To save the city she lives in and the people she loves, Fatima has to come to terms with the person she has become and the fire burning within her.

TC&TF was inspired by many things but especially the increasingly hostile rhetoric about minorities in North America. As a Muslim woman, I sought refuge in fiction and as the city of Noor formed around me, it became home to not just my characters who hail from various backgrounds and are of different races and cultures but also to me. I want everyone to find a home in Noor among the characters I have created.

2. What are some books that have had an impact on your life and writing?
Rather than the books that have had an impact, it is more the absence of the books that have had the most impact on me. For instance, books that feature Muslim characters being unapologetically themselves. I couldn’t find reflections for myself when I was growing up so I ended up writing a book that perhaps a Muslim teen could pick and be inspired by. That said, I read a lot of Enid Blyton, Margaret Mahy, L. M. Montgomery, Charles Dickens, when I was growing up. As an adult, I came across Kate Elliott, Alison Croggon, G. Willow Wilson, Merrie Haskell, Pablo Neruda, Haruki Murakami, Shailja Patel, all of whom I owe a lot as their works have largely informed my own. I’m still figuring out my style but I reckon these writers have inspired me the most.

3. How can our readers connect with you? (social media, etc.)
I’m on twitter as @Nafizaa and on Instagram as @nafizaaz I do have a blog but I rarely post on it. I feel like I will get around to a website sooner or later but until then, I’m on twitter most regularly.



Some of our favorite books. 


Click on the image to be directed to a list of books for your wintery and snowy storytimes!


SEL Fever

Where we reflect on the deeper questions.


The term Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is everywhere. Teaching children the skills necessary to their regulate emotions can only be a good thing, right? Fordham Professor of Education Chester Finn has a few words of caution in his article “Time to Put an Ice Pack on the Fever for Social and Emotional Learning:” don’t let SEL become a diluted fad, a fancy term to slap onto services to seem relevant. Specifically, he recommends, among other things:

1. Slow down and focus on getting it right.

2. Be clear about what SEL is and is not.

3. Make it a priority to develop valid, reliable, intuitive metrics for SEL—and be honest about their limits.

4. In celebrating “evidence-based” practices and encouraging further research, be wary of analysts who give short shrift to how their findings translate to the real world.

This article stood out to me because it reminded me of what has happened to the term “STEM.” It is used indiscriminately for anything remotely related to math or science. In doing so, we have lost what STEM was truly meant to be: interdisciplinary, inquiry-based learning (you can read more about this phenomena in this article by the NAEYC). 

I can see the temptation in repeating the past with SEL: read a book about feelings at storytime? SEL! Talked to a kid about sharing? SEL! Held a yoga program? SEL! I’m really excited for this new focus on SEL and think there’s a lot of potential for libraries to be a part of the movement, I just hope we can do it well and rely on evidence-based practices. The Harvard Graduate School of Education has also identified a lack of shared vocabulary in SEL making it extremely difficult to measure the success of a certain strategy:

“There is a clear link between what research suggests about how the outcome we hope to influence is related to a particular construct (the evidence), how we plan to develop that construct in students (the strategy), and how we will measure it to determine if our efforts were successful (the evaluation)… Importantly, however, it is the words we use – the specific terms and the meaning, or definitions, we ascribe to them – that maintain those connections. When constructs have multiple names and definitions as they do in the non-cognitive field, it becomes much harder to sort through such an extensive body of research to determine where the links between evidence, strategy, and evaluation really exist.” (Source)

In response to this problem, Harvard has put together a tool to compare and contrast SEL-related terms in educational frameworks. You can see just how varied everything is in this chart

I realize this is a lot of information to sift through, and I think the field is just getting started in the process of teasing out the research on this topic. I’ll do my best to keep my finger on the SEL pulse and keep the neighborhood updated!


Recorded Songs


One of our readers reached out to us with a great question: what are some engaging, modern, and short (less than 3 minutes long) songs that can be used in storytime? Click on the image to be redirected a list!


We love connecting with great authors like Nafiza Azad 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! 

Congratulations to Annika for winning November’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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