May 2021

Dear readers,

We are excited to share this quarter’s newsletter with you! Since our own time for professional development and curiosity has been stunted recently, we’ve heavily relied on guest contributors. We are so thankful for Natalie Bota, Megan Jackson, and Melissa Schultz for writing and sharing their expertise. If there’s a topic you would like to write about in the future, please don’t hesitate to e-mail us! We love “sharing the mic.” 

As our second pandemic Summer Reading begins soon, it’s evident that we are still learning to adjust and modify our services. It’s been fascinating to see everyone’s creativity and innovation. At our library, we will continue to offer activity bags for children as well as online programs. We are also trying an outdoor scavenger hunt in our service area using geocaches, which you can read about below. The struggle to stay safe, healthy, and available to our community continues! We are proud of you for setting boundaries, showing up, and making it to work day after day. As a nod to Allie’s devotion to High School Musical, it seems fitting to close this intro out by saying “we’re all in this together!” (channeling that Zac Efron circa 2008 energy).


Learn: I am a Special Needs Resource Librarian

Natalie Bota

When I was working on my MLIS at Kent State University in 2010-2013, I always said I would be happy in any sort of library so long as I wasn’t in a school or working with children. The thing about life is that it’s unpredictable, and the thing about an MLIS is that it prepares you for everything and for nothing. Meaning, I had no idea that I’d work as a school librarian for 6 years, in a school with students from preschool through eighth grade as soon as I graduated from Kent. Further, I’d never heard of a Special Needs Resources Librarian, let alone envisioned myself in that position. However, that is my current title, in the Youth Services Department at Westlake Porter Public Library.  

I’ve been at Westlake Porter Public Library since June 2019. I love my work environment, my colleagues in the Youth Services Department, and especially, our patrons! As a Special Needs Resources Librarian, I plan and host programs for patrons with special needs. Uniquely, I work with all ages, which is one of the many points of my job that I appreciate. I love visiting special ed and inclusion preschool classrooms with 2 and 3 year olds as much as I like painting with adults from local group homes and day programs. Our Technical Services Department selects our materials, but I try to stay up on fiction and nonfiction that pertains to my position. Our Youth Services Department has a Juvenile Special Needs section with DVDs, fiction, nonfiction, and magazines about a variety of diagnoses, such as autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder, ADD and ADHD, Down syndrome, and more. We circulate two Kulture City kits, and Braille picture and board books, too. 

My usual (pre-pandemic) month consists of 2-3 Adapted Storytimes (often called Sensory Storytimes in other libraries, a good search term), typical preschool storytimes weekly, 2-3 programs for children (usually ages 3-7, or 8-12), and 2-3 programs for adults. I visit our local elementary school and two campuses for children with special needs during the school year. I supervise some excellent and efficient adult volunteers with special needs weekly. Since the pandemic, my storytimes are recorded or live on Zoom. My outreach to local schools has pivoted, too. I prepared 88 storytime kits for 8 classrooms at those 3 campuses monthly, consisting of a picture book for the teacher to keep, a storytime activity sheet for the teacher, and a corresponding craft kit for each child. My programs have become pick up kits and Zoom activities, and I host our Next Chapter Book Club meetings via Zoom. One volunteer is back in monthly, as she comes independent of a group home or day program. I look forward to transitioning some programs and storytimes to outdoors in June! 

I plan my storytimes and programs by considering: Have I developed this program with activities for all senses in mind? Have I incorporated fine and gross motor activities? Have I kept it consistent in terms of day, time, transitions and songs? Have I made the room as distraction-free as possible? Is there a quiet space or sensory break area? What accommodations can be suggested for songs and motor activities if a child or adult cannot move typically? Have I incorporated some social-emotional learning? 

Besides Adapted Storytime, my favorite programs are:  

  • Kids in the Kitchen, a hands-on cooking program for children ages 8-12, where no one has to eat the food, but everyone is encouraged to make it! 
  • Sensory Bins (or Kits, currently), where children ages 2-7 are encouraged to get messy while exploring bins full of fun, such as beans and rice, dyed pasta, water beads, and potting soil! 
  • Next Chapter Book Club, where a group of adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities and I read a chapter book together over the course of several weeks, while getting to know each other! One book club member was in the Special Olympics, and another is almost finished with college! I love the books we read, but I enjoy getting to know one another best! 
  • I work very closely with a local non-profit organization called Connecting for Kids, our county board of developmental disabilities, the Up Side of Downs, United Cerebral Palsy, local day programs and group homes, and other local organizations. 

Some books I have enjoyed recently include: 

  • Little Senses series of books by Samantha Cotterill. My favorite is Nope, Never, Not for Me! 
  • Sunnyside Plaza by Scott Simon (2020) 
  • We Could be Heroes by Margaret Finnegan (2020) 
  • Muffled by Jennifer Gennari (2020) 
  • One Red Sock by Jennifer Sattler (2019) 

Other orgnaizations: 

Kulture City – 

Next Chapter Book Club – 

Connecting for Kids – 

UCP – 

Up Side of Downs – 

Unlearn: A Conversation with One of the Authors of “Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race”


Thank you to Jessica Ralli for taking the time to talk to us about her book “Our Skin!”

Can you tell us about your new book, and what you hope readers will take away?

Our Skin: A First Conversation about Race is a board book for children ages 2-5 that starts the conversation about race and racism in clear, concrete language that young children can grasp, but structured in a way that makes room for discussion and even furthers grown-up thinking on the topic. The book starts with a child’s awareness and affirmation of self, then gives them simple and accurate language to describe diversity and difference, a beginning look at patterns of injustice as they relate to a young child’s world, and finally the inspirational and empowering message that they can act to make our world more just and fair. 

My hope is that grown-ups actually read this book with their kids, their library visitors, their classes, maybe even some grown-up friends that need to start here. I want people, I guess I am especially thinking about white people, to move through feelings of discomfort, or fear. To know that it’s ok to feel uncomfortable. It’s ok to make mistakes. It won’t be a perfect conversation, and you have more than one chance to do it! 

I would love for all kids to walk away feeling more seen, more safe, more aware, more empowered. I want white children (and adults) to develop the capacity to talk about race and racism, and to be able to respond to racism and injustice when they notice it in their world and if they see it happening.

What principles, concepts, or ideas did you rely on to inform the content of the book?

We wanted the book to be developmentally appropriate for young children, so we thought a lot about Developmentally Appropriate Practice (My co-author Megan Madison helped re-write NAEYC’s Position Statement on DAP), keeping in mind is that DAP isn’t static or universal. There are so many factors to consider!  What we do know is that the topics addressed in these books are appropriate for many, if not most, children in the United States aged 2-5 years old. We have lots of research evidence that, on average, young children are ready for conversations with the grown-ups they love and trust about race and racism. As early childhood professionals, we did our best to apply what we know from research and experience to develop text and illustrations that can support the conversations that so many young children are eager and ready to have.

I love that this book is accessible to very young children, but I imagine there were challenges distilling these concepts into short, clear sentences. What was that process like?

We really worked hard to use developmentally appropriate language that is concrete, simple yet specific, and that honors how young children really think and learn about their world. We really thought about young children for these books. A lot of books, even board books, say they are for young children but when you sit down to read them with a three-year-old, there is a disconnect. We wanted 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6-year-olds to really make connections. To see themselves, their worlds, and to read language they know already or language that we introduce but support with illustrations and examples they will recognize from their own experiences. 

There were a lot of draft reads to my kids who are 4 and 7 now. We definitely caught some problematic things we may not have caught, like the page where we talk about how much melanin we all have. After reading the draft of that page, my daughter who was three at the time was so upset that she didn’t have as much melanin as other people. I remember saying–you have just the right amount for you! And it immediately made her feel better. So we added that language to the book. We caught a few things this way–concepts that didn’t land, or words that had an unintended impact. These were mostly things that wouldn’t have mattered as much to an older kid but since our audience is so young, it really was important to pay attention to! 

The book clearly embraces intersectionality, depicting various abilities, religious backgrounds, and family structures. How did you go about achieving this representation in this book?

We talked a lot in the process of writing this book about making room for different identities, stories, experiences, and scenarios where this book may be read. There are so many intersectional identities people will bring to this book. We start each book with this sentence in the introduction: “It’s ok to take a break, leave something out for now, or weave in stories of your own.” We wanted to acknowledge that it’s a hard conversation to have no matter where you are having it or how you are coming to it, so it’s ok to take a break. It’s ok to read sections at a time. It’s ok to stop and tell a story from your life. We hope we made space for individual stories and experiences to be shared as part of the conversation.

The illustration process was so much about creating that diverse representation and continues to be throughout the rest of series. Together with our editor, Cecily Kaiser, and our amazing illustrator, Isabel Roxas, we decided on a “cast” for Our Skin. Within this central cast, we wanted to make sure we were including different skin tones, racial and ethnic groups, abilities, and gender expressions. We deepen and expand that cast in the rest of the series. We thought a lot about who isn’t seen in most books, and we wanted to make those kids feel seen!

In your years of experience working with children and having conversations about race, how do you gauge “success?” 

With this book and this series, we ended up creating the tool I had been looking for to have supported, intentional, honest conversations early and often about race and racism with my kids. As a white mother raising white children, I wanted them to have a vocabulary for recognizing and disrupting racism and other systems of oppression. I wanted them to have that racial literacy that I didn’t grow up with and that so many grown-ups lack.  I also wanted to give them language to describe the unfair patterns they were already noticing in our community, their schools, and the media. The conversations we have on a regular basis around all of this and more, is how I gauge success. I don’t think there is a destination, I think there is a daily practice of noticing, listening, and acting for change.

What recommendations do you have for librarians and caregivers wanting to incorporate this book into their programs or personal reading time with their kids? Any tips?

We are developing a storytime guide for librarians! It will be posted to our website soon. Our first tip in the guide is: Get ready! To talk about race and racism with young children, it’s important to start or continue the work of understanding it yourself so you are comfortable breaking it down. You may have learned that “race is a social construct,” but what does that really mean? And how do you explain it? Race is an idea that emerged in modern times, and that has no basis in biology or science. Racial categories were invented to advantage white people and to justify slavery, colonialism, and genocide. There are still many people who don’t know or understand this history.  Learn how to explain race and racism in your own words. This will help you find the right words to explain it to young children and follow their lead when they have questions.

We also offer some tips for reading Our Skin aloud to a group:

  • Think about pacing. There is a lot in this little book! Go slow, and take your time, but keep it moving so you don’t lose your young audience. Also, breathe. 
  • Ask Questions. There are lots of embedded questions in this book meant to deepen conversations and we encourage you to ask a few. Don’t feel you need to read this secondary text aloud unless you want to use them as conversation starters in your storytime. 
  • Focus on feelings. When it gets hard, show your emotions. It’s helpful for kids to know you feel that these things are deeply unfair and that it’s ok for them to feel those feelings too. You might say, “Wow, that is really hard to think about because it’s so unfair–it makes me sad and very mad too.” 
  • Introduce the backmatter. Grown-ups may be wondering where to take these conversations next–be sure to introduce the backmatter as a resource for them to make conversations like this one a part of their regular parenting or teaching practice!

How can our readers stay in touch with you and up to date on future releases? (website, social media, etc.)

We hope to build community through our social media (@first_conversations on IG) and our website ( We would like to hear from educators, parents and librarians on how these conversations are going, and to share that learning with our community. We feel like we lent our expertise and superpowers to creating these books, but it’s the kids and grown-ups who read them who are the experts in sharing them, and using them as a tool for transformational change. Tag us on Instagram, and/or use the hashtag #FirstConversationsRace. 

Our next book in the series, Being You: A First Conversation About Gender comes out July 13, 2021. This book will be followed by two more in 2022–dealing with Consent, and Body Positivity. More to come after that, I am sure!

Play: Geocaching


If your library is like ours, we will not be having in-person programming indoors this summer. Nor will we have any of our toys available in the children’s area. While the to-go kits can encourage play at home, we have continued to brainstorm ways to continue to encourage play in a safe way this summer. Katherine had the wonderful idea to celebrate summer reading by hiding geocaches! 

For those who do not know what geocaching is, geocaching is is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world. You can learn more about geocaching from their website: You can also create a “series” of caches. While the caches are hidden in different spots, they can share a theme. We decided it would be fun to have a series of caches related to the Summer Reading Theme: Tails and Tales! Each of our hidden geocaches is related to a classic “tale.” Our description for the series encourages geocachers to share their favorite books in the digital log after they find the cache: This series of caches is hosted by your friendly local Librarians at the Belle Isle Library! We are celebrating our Summer Reading theme, “Tails and Tales” with book-themed finds. Let’s share our love of reading by including our favorite book in the digital activity logs! This is a great series to do as a family or even with your book club.  

It’s been an interesting process as there are many steps to begin hiding geocaches. The official Geocaching guidelines have been super helpful. Below are some of things we‘ve learned along the way: 

  • Find at least 20 caches. In order to start hiding geocaches, Geocaching recommends that we find at least 20 caches. So over the past month, Katherine and I have enjoyed geocaching across our city. 
  • Finding the spot. I won’t lie that it was one of my favorite afternoons of work getting to drive around our city and find some good hiding spots for our caches. Something vitally important is that the caches must be at least .1 miles away from another cache. As geocaching has been around for 20 years, finding the right spots have been a little difficult. It’s been especially frustrating when we’ve realized the cache that is .1 miles away isn’t even available anymore. 
  • Approval to Hide the Cache. Once Katherine found 20 caches under her account, we began the process of reaching out to local businesses and our parks and rec department to seek approval for hiding caches on their property. In order for the caches to be added to the app, we have to list the person that gave us permission to hide the cache on their property. 
  • Buying supplies. Once we found the spot and got approval, it was now time to buy the supplies. While there is not a specific container we had to buy, it is important whatever the container is can survive outside in the elements. Here are some of the containers we bought: Metal Tins, Magnetic Nano, Keychain
  • Final Approval. Once we hide the geocache, we must get the exact GPS coordinates. Dropping a pin and sending it to ourselves have proven the most accurate for us. After submitting the cache for review, a community volunteer will review the cache to make sure it meets all criteria. 

We might be 20 years behind this play activity, but we’re excited to see some of our library families discover geocaching for the first time and maybe see some experienced geocachers re-discover the library. 

Plan: Inclusive Mother and Father’s Day Programming


Several years ago, I offered an in-person Saturday morning Storytime called “Dudes and Donuts” – for kids to attend with an important male figure. I’ve been wanting to replicate this program for a while, so this year I took on the challenge of adapting it as a to-go activity kit called “Donuts with Grownups.” I’m planning on offering these kits (limited to 1 per family) the week of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. 

The kit includes:

  • A free book
  • Supplies for a simple donut craft
  • Supplies to make “donut slime”
  • Two sleeves of store bought, pre-packaged donuts
  • Activity sheets (I Spy sheets and a Mad Lib)
  • A Book list 

I limited the kits to 25 for May, and 25 for June, and required sign up so that I could include a free book that was age-appropriate. The bags took a while to assemble so I’ll probably slim them down in the future but I’ve been excited by the feedback and enthusiasm from the public. Several grandmothers have signed up their grandchildren and have expressed gratitude for being included in what is typically a mother-centric week. It reminds me an analogy I heard at last year’s ASLC institute about inclusivity: think of your services as a taco bar, where each person can pick what is best suited for them, instead of a fancy sit down meal where you are trying to tailor the meal to each person’s dietary restrictions and preferences. Inclusive programming benefits everyone!


The Challenges and Successes of Book Bundles

Megan Jackson

When my library system closed to the public and restricted our services to curbside pickup last year, it quickly became apparent that caregivers were going to need extra help getting books for their children. Customers could only order items online, and because our system limits the amount of holds to seven items per card, this severely limited the access families had to our children’s collection. In addition to the limits on check outs, I noticed that many families were checking out the same books and series over and over. Because caregivers could only order books and no longer had easy access to librarian recommendations, they were forced to borrow books they were already familiar with; Pete the Cat, Fancy Nancy, and Peppa Pig books were always checked out, but the rest of our picture books sat stagnant on the shelves. So, like many youth librarians over the past year, I decided to start offering “Book Bundles” to families with three specific goals in mind:

1. Increase access to children’s books beyond the 7-item hold limit

2. Provide caregivers an easy way of getting their children quality,

developmentally-appropriate books

3. Expand children’s and caregivers’ knowledge of children’s authors and literature 

While other libraries chose to create their book bundles based on specific themes, such as “dinosaurs,” “princesses,” “bathtime,” etc., I decided instead to create bundles that would cater to specific age levels, as well as offering a Spanish language option. The age levels I decided on were: Babies (0-18 months), Toddlers (18 months-3 years), Preschoolers (3-5 years), and “Young Readers” (6-8 years), Each bundle contained 5 books with a wide range of topics and authors, as well as a bookmark with a QR code leading to a list of more recommendations for that age group. It was also important to me that each bundle contained at least one book that offered diverse representation of race, ethnicity, family structure, ability, or gender expression.

To make the process as easy as possible, we did not require reservations or calling ahead for a bundle. Instead, customers could simply request a pre-made bundle for a specific age group when they came to pick up their other holds. The new service was advertised to customers with yard signs posted near curbside parking spots as well as by offering it directly to customers who were checking out children’s books. During our first month of distribution, my branch sent out 360 total bundles, averaging 16 bundles per day. As our staff continued to advertise this new service and word of mouth spread, our numbers increased to 521 bundles checked out in the second month, or an average of 23 bundles per day. Customers frequently commented on how much they not only appreciated the increased access to children’s books, but how much they enjoyed exploring new books and authors. I began to see a greater variety of children’s books on our holds shelves, and it quickly became clear that if we were going to sustain this service for many more months, other staff members besides me would need to get involved in creating bundles. With my branch managers’ encouragement, I created training for circulation staff about what is included in our book bundles, how to select developmentally-appropriate books for the represented age groups, and how to identify quality titles that children and caregivers would enjoy. This training ended up having many positive outcomes, some that I didn’t even necessarily anticipate: not only was the work of selecting titles and assembling book bundles now spread across multiple team members, alleviating my work load, but staff also learned more about youth materials, and could better identify age-appropriate titles for children. Ultimately, staff reported feeling more confident about their ability to respond to reader’s advisory inquiries about children’s materials.

Our book bundle service has now been operating for 8 months and continues to be successful. We often receive customer compliments, which, along with carefully tracked statistics measuring book bundle circulation, has helped us justify the service to administration. We’ve even expanded the service to include “Lit Picks,” a smaller book bundle with similar goals for tween and teen readers. As we start preparing to reopen our building to the public, the conversation about children’s services in our branch has evolved: how do we continue the “spirit” of book bundles in a sustainable way? Providing quality book bundles that meet our goals takes significant effort, and with our branch transitioning back to in-person service, we’ll need to reshape our book bundle service into something that’s sustainable even as staff take on new responsibilities and resume old ones. However, the success of this service and positive feedback from customers has shown me that our book bundles fulfilled a need for caregivers that exists outside of the pandemic—a quick and easy way to find quality, developmentally- appropriate books for their children.

by Megan Jackson, Youth Librarian with Austin Public Library

Read: Female voices in AAPI Middle Grade Fiction

Melissa Schultz

Hello, my name is Melissa and I’m a Youth Services Librarian in Raleigh, North Carolina. I love sharing great stories with kids, and I’m addicted to the feeling of matching a perfect book with the perfect reader. Big thanks to Allie and Katherine for letting me contribute a Reader’s Advisory corner to The Cardigan!

This past year has been filled with loss, pain, and injustice for many of the communities we serve. As librarians, we have a great opportunity to promote diverse reading and push back against the single story in our Reader’s Advisory encounters. And so this May—Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month—I’m focusing on great AAPI middle grade books with strong female leads.

Meet Yasmin!: Faruqi, Saadia, Aly, Hatem: 9781684360222: Books

Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi (2018) Yasmin is a curious second grader who can solve any problem with the help of her multi-generational Pakistani family. This book has great illustrations and large text—perfect for kids just dipping their toes into chapter books. (And Yasmin Takes Charge just hit my desk today!)

For fans of: Bink & Gollie, Amelia Bedelia 

Stand Up Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim (2020) Yumi is ready for her stand-up comedy special, but there’s just one problem: She has major #shygirlproblems. I loved this story of overcoming fear of failure and learning that friends and family are the best people to have in your corner.

For fans of: Merci Suarez Changes Gears, The First Rule of Punk

Prairie Lotus: Park, Linda Sue: 9781328781505: Books

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (2020)

I’m still bitter this one didn’t win the Newbery! Park captures everything readers love about the Little House on the Prairie books in the character of Hanna, while offering a realistic look at the challenges and joys of prairie life for a girl of mixed race. 

For fans of: Little House on the Prairie, The War that Saved My Life

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire (Cilla Lee-Jenkins, 1):  Tan, Susan, Wulfekotte, Dana: 9781626725515: Books

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan (2017)

Cilla Lee-Jenkins is half-Chinese, half-white, and 100% spunk. Convinced that it’s her destiny to be a great writer, Cilla writes about grandparents who don’t get along, her worries about a new sibling (“the blob”), and friendship with her best friend Colleen.

For fans of: Ramona Quimby, Ivy & Bean

Great Picture Books to Share:

  • Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand (2021)
  • Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho (2021)
  • Dumplings for Lili by Melissa Iwai (2021)
  • Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim (2020)
  • Home is In Between by Mitali Perkins (2021)
  • Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon by Kat Zhang (2020)


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