En Route to CALCON14


Tomorrow I will be driving at a ridiculous hour up I-25 to attend the Colorado Association of Libraries Conference! I’m pretty psyched because I haven’t attended the whole thing in several years–last year I just ran in and out to help MC the Bell Awards program presented by the 2014 Selection Committee.

Not only do I get to hang out again with a whole crew of amazing Colorado librarians, I’m presenting with one of my favorite people, Carol Edwards. Carol’s a long time active ALSC superstar, fellow former CLEL Steering Committee member, and the one who had the inspiration for our current project, the Bell Awards. We’ve worked on a lot of stuff together (mostly because whenever she says, “You know what we should do?” I go, “OK, I’m in.”) and this presentation is a direct result of our partnerships over the years.

THIS time she said, “You know what we should do? We should present on how to get ideas and projects off the ground.” (“OK, I’m in.”) So we did! Our session is called, “From Light Bulb to Launch: Getting Your New Ideas to Happen.” I’m a little nervous because this is the first time I’m presenting off of the “youth services track,” but I’m super proud that a general conference program on strategies for innovation is being led not by library directors or IT staff…but by children’s librarians. Yahoo!

I’m ALSO going to earn my Guerilla Storytime badges and my Presenter badge for Storytime University. AND I’m going to go to a bunch of cool sessions. AND I’m going to room with @daisycakes. So I’m going to have a great three days all the way around.

AND I have creamsicle cookies to share, so find me if you want one!

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Last Month for Bell Awards Nominations!

How did the year go by so fast?

Fortunately it’s not quite over yet! There’s still one more month for you to nominate picture books for the 2015 CLEL Bell Awards for Early Literacy!


The Bell Picture Book Awards are a project of Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy and are an annual, national recognition of five high-quality picture books that provide excellent support of early literacy development in young children. In particular, we’re looking for those picture books that support and/or model the early literacy practices of read, write, sing, talk, and play.

What does that mean?

Well, think about a couple of our Silver Bell honor books: Press Here, by Herve Tullet, is pretty impossible to read without actually engaging in play–families find themselves playfully pushing the buttons and making discoveries almost whether they mean to or not. That’s great support for play: the book itself helps make playing happen. Another Play Silver Bell title, Pete’s a Pizza, by William Steig, is a great example of a book that models play. While reading the story together, families get a sneak peek at another family in the middle of an imaginative, open-ended play time.

Two more examples, from last year’s 2014 Talk Shortlist: The book Which Is Round? Which Is Bigger? by Mineko Mamada, supports caregiver-child conversations by incorporating dialogic reading questions (with intriguing answers!) right into the text. The 2014 Bell Award title for Talk, Moo! by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, models all sorts of reasons for talking, (with just one word!) including asking questions, expressing emotions, and making arguments.

So what books have you seen this year that help families and caregivers engage with their children around early literacy practices? What titles have reading, writing, singing, talking, or playing as part of the story?

Check out our nominations so far, then use this form to send in new nominations!

Nominations are open until November 15, 2014. Eligible books include both fiction and nonfiction picture books, published for the first time in the United States between November 16, 2013, and November 15, 2014.

We can’t wait to see what you choose!

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I’m a Freshman at Storytime University!

This summer, I enrolled in Storytime University, and I am having a lot of fun completing my homework!


Storytime University is the brainchild of the fabulous joint chiefs at Storytime Underground. It was created as a way to recognize the official and unofficial training and professional development we all undertake as children’s and teen librarians, and to encourage us and motivate us to keep that learning going, wherever we are on our career paths.

The chiefs have created a series of badges you can earn by completing activities. They range from small, easy things like, “Comment on the Storytime Underground Facebook page,” to big, harder things like, “Give a webinar.”

I love it. I think Kendra, Amy, Brooke, and Cory have done a great job. I love that there’s a lot to do, and I love that there’s a range of difficulty–so no matter where you are in your career or your professional development, you can jump in and find a next challenge that’s just right for you.

I’ve been a children’s librarian for a long time. It’s been almost 25 years since I started my career at an indie bookstore, and 18 since I got my degree and first library job. I’ve also been fortunate in my opportunities and have been able to pursue a lot of cool projects. Both of those things together mean that I’ve already had the chance to do a lot of the things on the SU badge list.

Now, the joint chiefs have made it clear that our past accomplishments totally and completely count towards current badges at SU. If you already run a blog, then of course you can mark yourself down for the “Write a blog post” badge.

But you know what? I decided I would challenge myself to earn all of the badges starting from June 2014. I figure I’m at a good halfway point in my career, and at the same time I’m starting fresh in a lot of ways as a brand-new supervisor. I think working on Storytime University stuff over the next year or so is going to be a fun way to jumpstart this next phase.

You can see where I am so far on my journey!

Are you enrolled too? If so, that’s awesome. What’s something new you’ve tried as a result of Storytime University?

If not, it’s never too late! To get started you can enroll on the Storytime Underground website. And have a great first day of school!

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Early Literacy Storytime: Paintbrushes

It takes a lot of time to master all the marks and strokes we use when writing letters!

When learning their writing strokes, children first scribble, then at 2-3 years work on first vertical (up and down) strokes, then horizontal (left-to-right), then circular strokes. 4-5 year old preschoolers then work on crosses/pluses, squares, diagonal lines, and Xs. Once children have practice creating and copying these types of marks they can start to put them together to make letters.

Since coordination of large muscles is often easier at first for children than coordinating small muscles, practicing these strokes with larger arm movements is one way to play with these ideas. In addition, tracing or copying letters or shapes on paper before children are ready to can be frustrating and counterproductive. Instead, we are going to use paintbrushes to “write” on our bodies! I got these from Lakeshore Learning; they are large and soft.


Choose a book about painting to read in storytime. Possible titles are:

Ain’t Gonna Paint No More, by Karen Beaumont
Mouse Paint, by Ellen Stoll Walsh
Art & Max, by David Wiesner
Bear’s Picture, by Daniel Pinkwater
Warthogs Paint, by Pamela Edwards
Blue Chicken, by Deborah Freedman
Blue Goose, by Nancy Tafuri
Tap Tap Bang Bang, by Emma Garcia

Afterwards, tell the children you are going to pretend to paint just like the characters in the story! Pass out one paintbrush to each child. Depending on the age of the children, you might:
o Ask them to “paint” long straight lines on their legs, or circles on their knees.
o Ask them to “paint” different parts of their bodies (as in Ain’t Gonna Paint No More)
o Ask them to paint zigzags, rainbows, straight lines on the floor in front of them
o Ask them to paint letters of the alphabet on the floor in front of them

When you’re all done, say something like this to the grown-ups:

“Parents, when you give your children crayons, markers, pencils, and paintbrushes to play with, they start to learn how to hold and use pencils and crayons and experiment with making different lines and shapes. This helps them become good readers because reading skills and writing skills support each other and develop together. Writing with your children will help them get ready to read.”

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Brain Boxes

Looking for something new to offer your young families? Something ready-to-go and research-based to support early learning? Do you have a little money or grant funding?

What about a Brain Box?

New Directions Brain Box

In 2013, my library hosted Dr Jill Stamm, the founder and director of the New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development. She came and spoke with parents and again with staff about her research and her book, Bright From the Start. It was a great program and I recommend reading her book–there’s lots of good information about healthy brain development for babies and toddlers.

Through Dr Stamm we learned about the Brain Boxes developed by the Institute. They are activity sets carefully designed for different ages: infants, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. They include materials and instructions to foster the caregiver-child interaction that builds healthy brains.

They’re on the expensive side, but there’s lots of research behind them, and you could easily spend an equivalent amount of money in staff time putting something similar together in-house. We bought a set after Dr Stamm visited, set up a set of procedures for our staff for inventorying and managing all the pieces, and got them in the catalog. In a year, they have NEVER been on the shelf. They’ve been a great addition to our collection and offer a unique early learning experience for our families.

What interesting early learning materials does your library circulate?

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You’re Invited to the Bell Awards Goodreads Discussion Group!

Do you love picture books?
Are you hooked on early literacy?
Do you love learning from other readers?

Come join us at the brand-new Goodreads Discussion Group for the 2015 CLEL Bell Awards!


If you’ve been reading Mel’s Desk for awhile, you know that some friends and I from Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy launched a new picture book award last year, to celebrate books that supported the development of early literacy skills in children. One of our goals for the awards is to be able to use picture books as a way to create some space for professional conversation around early literacy skills and practices.

So we’re meeting over on Goodreads! Twice a month, we’ll post five titles from our list of currently-nominated books for open discussion.

Have you used these books in storytime? Read them to your nieces? Where do you see early literacy skills and practices reflected in the content? Do you have a good idea for an extension idea?

Head on over! We’d love to hear from you!

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Flannel Friday: Lionni Mice


My contribution today is cribbed straight from Leo Lionni! These four adorable board books were re-released this year and I snapped them up for baby storytime. They are very simple, just one or two images on the page, lots of white space, and of course, the charming mice.

I made a few versions of the mice, because they are based on such simple shapes they are super easy, and once one of them appears on your work table it is hard to stop.


I just cut shapes freehand based on the pictures, but while I was searching for images, I found an activity sheet on the Random House pages that is pretty much all the pattern you need.


You could do a couple of things with these guys! You could reproduce all of one of the board book’s images in felt, and then use the flannelboard to “tell” the story (instead of reading the small book in storytime). Or you could use some of the pieces to play Little Mouse, Little Mouse, either before or after you read one of these books, or any other of Lionni’s mouse books–again, you could use images from the books to play. You could even use a flannel to tie one of these books more tightly into a theme, if you like themes, by playing hide and seek with some images from the book, but also adding in images that match your theme. You could make some for a free-play flannelboard to set out in your children’s room–the mice are quick to put together so they wouldn’t be a huge investment of time lost when they disappear or get worn out.

You don’t need to worry too much about face details or making each body shape unique–the arms and legs tell you everything you need to know. Here’s the sitting-up mouse from the group picture above, now a waving mouse! Have fun!


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Flannel Friday Round Up 9/26/14


Whoop! I get to host Flannel Friday again!

Here’s our fabulous contributors today:

Jennifer is joining us for the first time! HOORAY!!! She is now hooked on making flannels and shows us FIVE of her recent projects at her blog, The Librarian of Spark and Spirit. Thank you Jennifer and welcome to Flannel Friday!

Storytime Katie has more fingerpuppets–kittens this time–plus the name of the great etsy shop where she got the patterns.

Kelly’s here with pumpkin faces at Practice Makes Perfect, yes it is pumpkin time again!

But wait there’s MORE PUMPKIN at Fun with Friends at Storytime! WAIT till you see her creative idea for sharing the life cycle of a pumpkin–I am already brainstorming other ways to use this idea. (PLUS there are other pumpkin ideas too!)

Kim at Literary Commentary made a big and beautiful Chicka Chicka tree for her magnet board–lots of free play potential in this one!

At The Lion is a Bookworm, Carrie recycled some shapes from her files to pull together a neat 5 senses activity in an inspired-by-Flannel-Friday post!

And here’s my super-easy super-adorable (yes I say so!) Leo Lionni mice!

Thanks bloggers for your contributions to the round up and to everyone for spreading the Flannel Friday love.

Visit Flannel Friday on Facebook, Pinterest, and our webpage!

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Research Link: [Some] Sources

Well, today actually it’s lots of links!

On last month’s Research Link post, Brytani commented, “Do you search databases for this information or are you subscribed to journals?” Which I thought was serendipitous because just a few days before I had brainstormed a bunch of post ideas and one of them was to share some of the sources I rely on for learning the crunchy researchy bits.

These are also some of the starting points I used to gather the information I shared as my part of our recent ALSC Institute session, “Thinking Outside the Storytime Box: Building Your Preschool Programming Repertoire.” During the presentation, Amy C, Amy K, and Marge showcased some of their favorite literacy-based programs, then I got to jump in and provide a little bit of rationale for each one, showing how they connected to the ECRR six skills and five practices, and pointing to relevant research and articles. (Slides & handout for the session at the linked title; links to blog posts about the ALSC Institute at each name.)

So, these are just a few of my go-to spots. I am 9 million percent positive there are more, and I hope you share yours in the comments!

Bookmark These Sites

These are the two sites that really got me going when I first started reading more deeply about early literacy 5-6 years ago. They are both great pointers to further research, and I return to them again and again when I begin to pursue a new train of thought.


Center for Early Literacy Learning

CELL is an initiative of the Center for Evidence-Based Practices at the Orelena Hawks Puckett Institute, ultimately funded by the US Dept of Education. They are focused on putting research into practice, so they have a number of resources, including CELLreviews, which are overviews of a research topic, and Parent Practice Guides, which are super handouts for parents and caregivers. Spend a little time here!


SEDL is a nonprofit education research organization; the tagline on their website is, “Advancing Research, Improving Education.” This is an enormous site and to tell you the truth I haven’t investigated any of it except for one tiny slice. In 2000, SEDL published Cognitive Foundations of Learning to Read: A Framework, which is a summary of relevant research on how children learn to read. The framework is in turn supported by a list of the research evidence used to develop it. (If you take a look at the framework graphic, you will see the dual decoding/comprehension aspects of learning to read that are reflected in ECRR2.)

Now, what I love about this list of research is how it is presented:

SEDL Screen Shot

The findings are written out in very readable summaries, with the relevant studies listed below.

What I like about this is three things! It’s a nice long list of research (this is just a tiny screen cap); it’s super easy to learn things just reading through the list itself; AND you don’t have to agree or disagree with how the framework is constructed–you can just start here and begin reading on your own.

Just remember that the list isn’t current, since it is a bibliography of the research that was used to construct the framework 15 years ago. However, it’s been a valuable place to start.


These are a few of the newsletters, blogs, or sites that I have subscriptions to, are in my reader, or are bookmarked. This does NOT mean I read them all the time–I wish I could. But I do glance at headlines, and save stuff to read later, or come back to these sites to do more strategic searching when I’m trying to learn something specific.

Harvard Family Research Project newsletters and Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child newsletter

New America EdCentral

Reading Rockets and LD News

Early Years

Breadcrumb Trails

I also like to start with a nice overview article from a resource like NAEYC, and track down any studies that are cited at the end. THOSE studies will have citations to follow as well, but often what I read them for is the literature reviews sections. I find these sections are really fruitful reading in themselves, because that’s where the study authors put their own research in context of everyone else’s research.

Now I know lots of you are experienced researchers and are familiar with research studies and abstracts and lit reviews. However, not everyone is! If you are one of those someones who has been busy doing other fabulousnesses and hasn’t done a lot of this type of reading yet, the literature review of a research paper is where the authors say, “So, Colonel Mustard has studied candlesticks in the conservatory and found out this, and Miss Scarlet has studied ropes in the ballroom and found out that, but we’re really curious about candlesticks in the ballroom because reasons.” It’s a good way to start to get a feel for an area of study, because you will find quick summaries of related research all together in a few paragraphs. Then lots of times I skim or skip the research methods and stats, then read the findings and implications sections at the end. Ta-dah!

Surf and Search

The other thing I like to do is to take of the little tips or factoids that I’ve heard in presentations or at conferences or from other librarians, and try to track down if there is a single study or thread of research behind it. Our joint quest to find the stats behind the Mem Fox nursery rhyme quote is an example, or when I tried to find an article that talked about why fingerplays are good for building fine motor skills.

This is just basic librarianing–I start by searching a phrase or idea or question, then look for enough hints (names, proper search terms, journal titles) to try a more targeted search in Google Scholar or ERIC. Or I start in EBSCO’s Academic Search Complete, or Wilson or Library Literature, or ERIC, and noodle around with keyword searches. Sometimes I find stuff, sometimes I don’t! I must admit I don’t dig especially deep when I’m doing this, partly because I don’t have time to be more exhaustive and partly because I’m looking for the studies that have become more established wisdom and are cited the most. Also, even when I don’t find research-based findings, I often DO find professional blogs outside of the library world, which are valuable in and of themselves.

So, these are sources and methods I use most often. What have I missed? What do you love?

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En Route to the ALSC Institute!

Today I am sailing off to Oakland for the 2014 ALSC Institute!


I went for the first time 2 years ago and feel super lucky to be going back. Compared with ALA or PLA, or even with our state library conference, the ALSC Institute is an intimate and focused event. Everyone is connected to youth services in some way. The serendipity quotient is high and the conversations are fabulous!

This year I’m presenting with a personal dream team: Amy Commers, Marge Loch-Wouters, and Amy Koester, three incredible children’s librarians I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from over the past several years. We’ll all be in the same room for the first time ever to share “Thinking Outside the Storytime Box: Building Your Preschool Programming Repertoire.”

When our notes go live, I will share them!

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