April 2020

April 2020

It takes a Neighborhood to Nourish a Children’s Librarian

Dear Neighborhood,

Hasn’t this been a month. Last time we released our newsletter, we had no idea we were on the brink of a serious pandemic, that we would be away from work (and unfortunately for some, out of work), and scrambling to take care of patrons with limited resources. Allie and I decided to release this month’s content a little ahead of schedule, since many of us are trying to keep busy at home! Allie did some great research on how to sanitize toys, I think this is a particularly relevant topic as we will hopefully soon be returning to our buildings and attempting to get everything clean for the public to use. 

I’m also excited for a new monthly contributor, Theresa Rodriguez, who will be sharing short storytime tips with us! There are already so many great resources out there on storytime, but we’ve noticed that it continues to be an evergreen topic and there is always more to learn. 

Another topic that continues to come up in discussion is food: how to talk to kids about food (particularly in regards to health) in a way that isn’t rooted in shame or fear mongering, and that takes into account children’s varying access to food. Reader Christina Carpino wrote to tell us about a partnership she developed with her local grocery store and had a great tip to talk about sweets: using the term “sometimes food.” I love this because it recognizes that good eating habits don’t categorically exclude sweets. It isn’t as simple as talking about “good food” and “bad food.” A balanced diet can absolutely include the occasional cookie or piece of candy! 

“We have a very successful following for several food themed programs we do with outside presenters. We contacted a dietician from a local grocery store who came out and talked about healthy eating with the kids. This blossomed into the woman starting up her own business focusing on fun and healthy foods for kids. She has the kids use fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain carbs, low-sugar yogurts and more to create cute “pictures” with their food that they then eat. One time they made fruit pizzas on whole grain tortillas with chocolate hummus and fresh fruits. Even picky eaters love it! I encourage other librarians to reach out to their local grocery stores to see who else offers similar programs that can incorporate cooking and healthy eating in order to build life-long habits.”

I hope you enjoy our April newsletter and we look forward to connecting with you again in May,




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


A picture of bed bug feces on a book spine. 

Picture borrowed from the ALA training “Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite

The unfortunate news for all of us is that it is not a question of if we will deal with bedbugs, but when. They exist all around the world, and every library is susceptible to a bed bug infestation just by nature of the service we provide: people take items home and bring them back. The key is catching an infested item as soon as it is returned. If an item is put back on the shelf with live bed bugs, the whole collection could become contaminated.

Here are some steps to take to avoid an infestation:

  1. Learn to recognize live bed bugs and bed bug “damage” (a nice neutral term to refer to the stain left by bed bug feces). 
  • Check the fore edge of a book for flat, dark brown spots. There is usually more than one spot. 
  • Check the spine for live bed bugs. They like dark spaces and are more likely to hide in the spine and book jacket. 
  1. Contain the situation. Have the tools necessary to quarantine an item in case you find some. Even if a book only has spots and no live bugs, it is best to get rid of it because there might be eggs hiding somewhere. My library uses heavy duty zip lock bags, and we also have latex gloves we can wear while handling an item. Don’t wait until the moment of need to have to run to the store to get supplies!
  1. Dispose or treat the item. There are various machines on the market available to kill bed bugs. You can chemically treat the item so it can go back to living on your shelves, or you can dispose of the item entirely and throw it in the dumpster. Your options will vary according to your budget.
  1. Document and educate. It is important to notify the patron that returned the infested item of the problem. They might not even know they have bed bugs at home. It is entirely appropriate to let them know their account will be suspended until the situation is remedied. You can also make a note on their account so that you have documentation. 
  1. Train staff. Make sure everyone on your team knows how to identify pest damage. The more eyes scanning the collection, the less likely you are to find yourself with an infestation. 

A librarian from the Wichita Public Library put together a wonderful training on this topic for the ALA, describing their own issues with bedbugs and how they handled them! You can check it out here

The topic of bedbugs can incite a lot of feelings. It is helpful to normalize conversations about pests and to use neutral language, so as to avoid making a patron feel embarrassed. There is a misconception that bed bugs only live in dirty environments which can lead to stereotypes. This is not the case; it can happen to anyone! However, treatment can be costly and a real financial barrier for people. It is important to broach the topic with compassion and gentleness. 


Cleaning Toys 

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


No one told me in library school how much time I would spend cleaning toys at the library. While we encourage children to explore with all their senses, that often means that we need to spend time cleaning and disinfecting our toys so that our families can play without fear of germs spreading. 

Cleaning vs Sanitizing vs Disinfecting 

The CDC gives a good overview of the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. Check out their definitions below:  

“Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. 

Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects.”

I really like Preschool Plan-It’s chart that they use to think about the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting: 

Types of Toys 

Since we have a variety of different types of toys, it’s important to check how the manufacturer suggests to clean them:

  • Plush or soft toys might need to be washed in a washing machine. 
  • Plastic toys can either be wiped down with a disinfectant spray or I have heard of some libraries using their dishwasher to wash these plastic items. 
  • Silicone and rubber toys can change shape with heat, so they should be wiped down with a disinfectant spray or soap and water. 
  • Wooden Toys are porous so moisture can get trapped and become a source of mold. MotherMag suggests a simple vinegar and water solution or a non-toxic multi-purpose cleaner, diluted with water. Don’t soak the toy, use a washcloth or paper towel to wipe it down.

How Often

Since we have a playtime twice a week, we clean those toys right after each playtime. The toys that we have in the children’s area are cleaned weekly by either staff or volunteers. We use Purell Disinfectant Spray to clean most of the toys. If we don’t have the time to put soft toys and scarves in the washer, we spray them down with Clean Smart’s Disinfectant. It kills germs on contact and doesn’t need to be rinsed out. 

Most websites and experts agree that weekly cleaning for high-traffic toys is ideal to maintain a safe and clean environment for families. 

Tell us how you clean and disinfect your toys! We know this is such a big time commitment, but I know we can all agree the importance of this routine task. 


Escape Rooms


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

Escape rooms are one of the most difficult types of programs to plan, prep, and facilitate, but patrons absolutely love them. An average family program for us usually brings in between 30-40 people, but when we recently hosted a Willy Wonka themed escape room we had almost 80 people participate, many of them new faces who highly praised the experience we created for them. However, it’s extremely easy to get overwhelmed when you’re first starting out. I’ve gathered some of my favorite resources, tips, and experiences below to help get you started.

Creating Clues

Pinterest is my go-to for finding both generic and themed clues and other DIY elements to add to my escape room. Here is the board we used when creating an “Escape from the Pharaoh’s Tomb” Egypt-themed escape room. Searching for “escape room clues” brings up a lot of generic clues that you can change to go with your specific theme.

Linear vs. Non-Linear Escape Rooms

When designing an escape room from scratch, we often become overwhelmed with placing clues and answers in the correct order. Here is a great explanation of the difference between linear and non-linear escape rooms, as well as their pros and cons.

Decorations & Immersion

If you’ve ever been to a real, paid escape room, you’ll know that they often contain elaborate decorations and advanced technology, such as magnetic props that trigger events and even entire rooms hidden behind secret doors. It is near-impossible to recreate those kinds of escape rooms in the library, especially with the budgets we’re usually operating with.

Instead, I like to focus on DIY decorations, borrowed props, and reusing furniture and other objects that you may already have. Pinterest is also a great tool for finding décor ideas – searching for “DIY décor + your theme” often brings up a plethora of ideas. Reach out to coworkers, friends, and other librarians for props and décor to help bring your room to life.

In our Pokémon-themed escape room, you can see we used a book cart, Pokémon graphic novels and guides, our storytime rug, chairs, and other furniture we already had to decorate. We borrowed the plants, printed out and taped together the life-size Nurse Joy, and printed the artwork in the “museum”. Here is a link if you would like to look at the room in more detail, as well as a step-by-step instruction sheet and setup guide if you would like to recreate the escape room.



Libraries are for everyone! 


“Don’t Yuck My Yum: Kids Books That Dismantle Orientalism & Food Shaming” is a comprehensive article describing the ways orientalism sneaks into children’s books about food, and how it perpetuates harmful and inaccurate information about American Asian and Pacific Islander individuals. I encourage you to read through the whole article, but I wanted to highlight one passage in particular called “stop calling our food dirty, unhealthy, and bizarre.” The author Ashia Ray points out the ways some books mock and demean Asian foods and restaurants by depicting them as dirty and unappetizing. The author identifies how the picture book “The Ugly Dumpling” in particular leans into this:

“In the story, steamer trays are served not from carts, but by hand. With no cover, and no plate underneath. This would be a disgusting, drippy mess. Which, I guess, explains why the restaurant has cockroaches all over the place.  Seriously! A cockroach is a main character! Yeah, they went there, with the whole Chinese-restaurants-are-disgusting-and-full-of-bugs bullshit. In this book, every one of your racist aunt’s rants about the local Chinese takeout place is true. Food is left out in the open, where cockroaches skitter around on it all day.”

Respecting cultures and their traditions also means learning about their food, and regarding it as legitimate, interesting, and worthy of celebration. There are *many* picture books about food, and this article asks us to apply a critical lens and interrogate their accuracy. It also reinforces the importance of reading “Own Voices” (if you aren’t familiar with this term, you can read more about it here). Who is telling the story? Do they have the authority and experience to do so? These are questions that should be at the forefront of our minds when selecting materials, particularly when they represent food. 


Janae Marks

Discover new authors!


I was in a reading slump one day, and asked Allie for a recommendation. She told me about  “From the Desk of Zoe Washington” and I listened to the audiobook in two days! Zoe is a smart and caring heroine; young and old readers alike are fortunate to spend time with her. I’m excited for you to meet Janae Marks and read about her inspiration for the story. 

1. Tell us about your book, From the Desk of Zoe Washington, and the inspiration for the book.  

From the Desk of Zoe Washington tells the story of Zoe, an aspiring pastry chef who dreams of competing on the Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge! show. On her twelfth birthday, she receives an unexpected letter from her father, Marcus, who’s been in prison her whole life. Zoe decides to secretly write back to Marcus, and they get to know each other through back-and-forth letters. Then Zoe finds out something surprising: Marcus may be innocent of his crime! Zoe decides to uncover the truth.

I was inspired to write this book after listening to the first season of the hit true crime podcast, Serial. It tells the story of a man serving a prison sentence for murder, who may actually be innocent of the crime. I also watched the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, which tells a similar story. I started thinking about wrongful convictions, and did some research. I read about The Innocence Project, an organization that helps overturn wrongful convictions. Then I started to wonder what it would be like to be the child of one of those inmates. Zoe Washington was born from there. I decided to make her a baker because I love watching baking competition shows in my free time.

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

I loved reading as a kid, and my favorite series growing up was The Babysitters Club. I also loved all of Roald Dahl’s books. My love of reading and writing as a kid led to me becoming an author today. In the past few years, I’ve been inspired by children’s books featuring diverse characters, written by authors sharing those identities. Some recent favorites are The New Kid by Jerry Craft, Just South of Home by Karen Strong, Blended by Sharon M. Draper and Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. In the books I read as a kid, none of the main characters were African-American like me. I’m so glad more of these stories are being published now, so today’s Black girls can see themselves represented in their favorite books.

3. How can our readers connect with you?

Readers can find out more about me and my books on my website: www.janaemarks.com. I’m also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook under the username @janaemarksbooks.



Some of our favorite books. 


April is poetry month! Here are some books that contain some fun poems to incorporate into your storytime! 

Click on the image to be redirected to the list!

If you don’t have access to these books, be sure to check out poets.org/poems-kids that has digital access to many of these poems (minus the illustrations). 


What are Librarians Experts In?

Where we reflect on the deeper questions.


When I began working with children in 2016, I was caught off guard by all of the health and parenting questions I received from caregivers attending my programs: “do you think my kid should be walking by now? Do you have any advice on how I can get my toddler to eat more vegetables? Does her speech seem off to you?” Over the years, this has caused me to reflect on how patrons perceive us. It makes sense that they would see us as literacy experts because of where we work. However, this perception seems to also broadly encompass general knowledge about child development. How can we clarify our role as connectors of information instead of providers? It’s difficult because we are expected to infuse programs with child development tips because caregivers may not be getting this kind of information anywhere else. I think this is good: we have a special rapport with our caregivers and it is a natural setting in which to provide some kind of parent education related to literacy. And for librarians who have children of their own, sharing their own experiences can be validating and helpful for caregivers.

However, I think we could benefit from clearer boundaries, in the same way that clear boundaries exist for medical reference: “Staff are not healthcare professionals. At no time should staff interpret or make recommendations regarding diagnoses, treatments, or specific health care professionals or health care facilities”  (source) 

One ALSC Competency states:

“Understands theories of infant, child, and adolescent learning, literacy development and brain development, and their implications for library service.”

I really like how knowledge of theories is described as informing services, not intended to be shared with patrons. I think this is an important distinction. We do need a basic understanding of how a child grows to develop programs appropriate for different age groups. How can we share our knowledge while maintaining clarity regarding our position and actual level of expertise?

I’d love to hear any personal experience or anecdotes you have about this! 

Feel free to e-mail me at thecardigannewsletter@gmail.com 


Guidelines for Storytime 

Theresa Rodriguez

Hello! My name is Theresa and I’m so excited to get to share monthly Storytime Ideas with you! Thank you to Allie and Katherine for allowing me to be a part of this great community! 

The first topic for this segment is Guidelines for Storytimes. Having guidelines during storytimes can make a big difference in how smoothly your storytimes go. You can call them guidelines or rules and essentially they are what Brene Brown refers to as boundaries, what’s okay and what’s not okay. One of my favorite quotes from Brene Brown is “clear is kind.” My co-workers and I found that being clear helped our attendees know what to do during storytimes.

We can begin creating guidelines by thinking about what behavior we want people to practice when they attend storytimes. What do we want them to do during the songs and stories? What behavior is disruptive to others? What about when a child becomes upset? We definitely want them to participate and have a really great time while being immersed in early literacy fun! We focused our guidelines on what we wanted our attendees to do.

Before sharing guidelines with your attendees it’s a great idea to:

  • Introduce yourself and your storytime partner if you have one. I once worked with a co-worker who was also named Theresa and when I would introduce us both, we could count on someone laughing every single time. It was a fun way to begin our storytime. 
  • Thank your audience for joining you. Thank them for wanting to share their time with you and choosing to celebrate early literacy. 

Share with your attendees how they can help you create a great storytime atmosphere.  We asked for the following:

  • Participate. Clap along, sing along, and move along with the presenter(s). This lets children know it’s okay to participate and have a good time together.
  • If a child becomes upset during storytime, take a break with them by stepping outside the storytime room. When the child is ready, come back in and rejoin us. 
  • If a child wanders to the storytime easel, simply come get them and return to your seats. 

When I went to work as a solo storytime presenter, I was able to use these same guidelines with success. Your situation may require you add a few guidelines for cell phone use, food related issues or something unique to only your library.  

Were you forwarded this newsletter by a friend? You can subscribe to get all future newsletters here: bit.ly/thecardigannewsletter

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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