Other Duties as Assigned

By Awnali Mills


A refrain we joke about here in the library is “The things they don’t teach you in library school…”, which is usually accompanied by an eye roll and a chuckle.  But it’s true: library school not only doesn’t teach you everything you’ll need to know to do this job, but it couldn’t possibly even come close.  I suspect that’s true with every profession.

But there seems to be an idealized idea of what a librarian does that may lead newbies to the field to experience shocked dismay.  Are you kidding me?  Somebody pooped in the middle of the floor?  Why, yes.  Yes, they did.  And because the custodian is off today, you’re gonna need to glove up and clean it up.  Surprise!

Today we had a puppet with a torn mouth.  I dug out my pins, needles, thread, thimble and scissors (yes, I keep these in my desk), and set to work repairing it.  And I got to thinking about all the different skills that I personally bring to the library table:

Sewing: From puppet repairs to crafting Elizabethan ruffs and hats, it’s not unusual for me to whip out a needle and thread.  I’ve also created puppets from scratch with and without patterns, and repaired seat cushions and clothing.

Custodian:  See poop above.  Yep.  And who knew that the ability to clean up puddles of vomit without vomiting myself would make me a valued co-worker?  I’ve also cleaned Sharpie off of concrete furniture, gotten mystery stains out of cushions, and pencil marks off of walls and furniture (yes, sometimes you can erase pencil marks on cushions—who knew?).  The amount of weird and mysterious things I’ve cleaned is too long to list here.

Firefighter: If you toss a lit cigarette into a container full of butts, sometimes the whole thing catches on fire, and your friendly neighborhood librarian has to put it out.  Just saying.

Animal Control Officer: Sometimes critters come into the library that aren’t supposed to be there.  Sometimes they need to be escorted out, and sometimes they need to be killed, with prejudice. (And one of my co-workers had to remove bees from a car—that was WAY beyond the call of duty).

Nurse: Ice packs, and ointment, and Band-Aids, oh my!

Lyricist: When you need a song about (insert topic here) and just can’t find one.

Computer Technician: No.  I have no idea why that website won’t take your information/your phone won’t switch from Spanish to English/your screen displays sideways/etc.  But I’m happy to take a look.

And the list goes on.

Did you notice that none of those things involved books or reading?  And I didn’t even touch on the soft skills like dealing with the homeless/special needs/mentally disturbed/people in need of a kind ear/immigrants/creepers/the guy having a heart attack/the kid having a meltdown…

Does that mean that if you don’t have those skills you should hang up your reading glasses and seek out a nice, quiet profession like carpentry?

Don’t be silly.  All it takes is a willingness to learn how to do things. We’re librarians.  If there’s anything we know how to do, it’s how to find out how to do stuff.  And yep, they teach you that at library school.

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Boxes Storytime 1/9/19

Today’s storytime was about boxes.  Entirely by coincidence, I moved on Saturday, and as a result, had plenty of boxes to choose from to bring in.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.  For now, the books I chose were Box by Min Flyte and Not a Box by Antoinette Portis.

Last week I discussed the weird fact that nobody in my storytime knew the song She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain.  I have since made a survey, and EVERYONE I asked knew the song.  So I thought, okay, it was just some weird coincidence.  I’m going to go ahead and make this my opening song for the session.  So, I do my opening, and ask who knows the song.


I’m not even kidding.

I finally got one grandmother to admit that she knew the song, but no one else.  Do you think they think I’m going to make them get up and sing it with me, and that’s why no one will admit to it?  It’s freaking strange is all I can say.

Well, I taught them the words and motions, and we did it all together.  Then, I pulled out a shoebox in which I had hidden the letter B and some pictures of B words.  We talked about those and then did the fingerplay A Little Box:

A little box (hold hands slightly apart)
A bigger box (hold hands farther apart)
A great big box I see (hold arms wide)
Now let’s count them.
Are you ready?
One, (arms wide)
Two, (hands closer together)
Three! (hold hands slightly apart)
Credit: http://sturgiskids.wikifoundry.com/page/box+storytime

We did that a couple of times, then read our first book, Box.  This is from our storytime collection, because it’s a lift-a-flap book.  So, it’s great for storytime, but wouldn’t hold up very well for circulation.  Then we sang the song Boxes Everywhere.

(tune: If You’re Happy and You Know It)
There are boxes everywhere, everywhere.
There are boxes everywhere, everywhere.
Some are long and some are square. Some are plain and some have flair.
There are boxes everywhere, everywhere.
                by Gayle Bittinger

Next, I did four rounds of What’s Hiding in the Box? From Jbrary.  First, you tap Shave and a Haircut on box, then say, “Here is a box and here is a lid, I wonder whatever inside is hid?” Then you give kids clues and have them guess animals.  I had buffalo, dog, koala bear, and elephant beanie babies hidden in the box.

Then, we read Not a Box and talked about how the rabbit was using its imagination to make different things out of the boxes.  I handed out scarves and had everyone tuck the scarves into their hands.  Then we said, “Jack in the Box sits so still.  Will he come out?  Yes, he will!” and then we pulled the scarf out and threw it up into the air.  Credit: Jbrary.

Since we already had the scarves and needed some activity, we did a scarf rendition of If You’re Happy and You Know It in which you wave your scarf, stir your scarf, and toss your scarf.

Our last activity was playing three rousing games of Little Fox, Little Fox.  Fox hides under a flannel box and I say, “Little fox, little fox, are you in the (red) box?”  The children helped me by shouting out colors and acting agonized when we guessed wrong. Credit: Anne’s Library Life.

And now the moving boxes.  I told everyone that I had brought some not-a-boxes in for them to play with.  I also brought box-ish toys—stacking boxes, blocks in boxes, and critters in fabric boxes.  All on their own, many of the children began using the boxes to recreate the games we’d played during storytime.  They hid under boxes and waited for me to tap on the box and say the Little Fox rhyme before lifting the box off of them.  Then, they started hiding inside the boxes shouting “I’m Jack in the Box!”  So I would close the flaps over them and say the rhyme, and they would jump out, giggling madly.  Some of the parents participated in the games, but several of the children were only interested in me interacting with them—which made it difficult to give equal time to everyone, since every child shouted “Again, again!” each time.  I also suggested that the boxes were caves, and that they should look for treasure in them, but the few children who took my suggestion insisted that they were the treasure and that I needed to come and find them.  Obviously, boxes are great for parent/child play!  As an extension activity, I’d say these plain packing boxes couldn’t be beaten.

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Cowboy Storytime 1/2/19

We started the new year off right with a cowboy storytime.  The books I chose were Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy by Jan Thomas and I Wanna Be a Cowgirl by Angela DiTerlizzi.

To start, we sang She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain.  Now, I’m just going to stop there a minute.  I had assumed that most, if not all, of my adults would know that song.  I grew up with it.  It’s an old folk song, and tons of fun for kids to sing.  But, boy was I wrong.  Not a single person knew the song (well, one little boy claimed to know it, but I question his sincerity).  So, maybe it’s just a regional thing.  After all, I grew up singing it in Arizona, but I’m in Virginia now.  And I know that there are other songs that other librarians assume that I’m going to know because, duh, I was a kid, right?  No.  I did not grow up singing Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, or If All the Little Raindrops.  I know!  Shocking, right?  All of which goes to show that music is a strong, intrinsic part of a culture, and a region.  It would be fascinating to take an international survey asking people where they grew up and what songs they sang as children, just to see it in color on a world map.  Could someone do that, please? (And, as an interesting little aside, Phryne Fisher solved a murder by putting Jewish adults alone in a room and asking them each to sing her the lullaby Raisins and Almonds.  I had never heard it before, which proves I’m not Jewish, and neither was the undercover assassin.)

End of digression.  We practiced the interjections and motions for the song, and then I played my uke while we sang.

She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain
She'll be coming round the mountain, when she comes (yeehaw! Wave your hat)
She'll be coming round the mountain, when she comes (yeehaw!)
She'll be coming round the mountain
She'll be coming round the mountain
                    C                            G7                               C
She'll be coming round the mountain, when she comes (yeehaw!)
She'll be driving six white horses... (whoa back! Pull on reins)
She'll be wearing red pajamas... (scratch, scratch! Scratch your itchy sides)
Oh we'll all come out to greet her...  (Howdee! Wave your hand)

Then my stuffed pony came to visit, bringing the letter H and some “H” pictures.  We did the flannel A Cowboy Dresses Himself with Care.  After dressing the flannel cowboy, we used our imaginations to put all the same clothes on ourselves so that we would be ready for our cowboy stories.

Our first story was Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy.  The kids laughed and enjoyed this one, as they tend to do with every Jan Thomas book ever written.

I pulled out my uke again, and we sang the Western Animals Song, being sure to have the kids jump around at the end.

 (Tune: Wheels on the Bus)
The coyotes on the prairie go howl, howl, howl, (It’s important to really hooowwwwl these!)
Howl, howl, howl, howl, howl, howl.
The coyotes on the prairie go howl, howl, howl.
G7            C
All day long.
The rattlesnakes on the prairie go Rattle, rattle, rattle,....
The horses on the prairie go Neigh, neigh, neigh,....
The cows on the prairie go Moo, moo, moo....
The jackrabbits on the prairie go Jump, jump, jump...
Credit: Perry Public Library
Then we held up our spread hands to do the fingerplay Five Spotted Cows:
Five spotted cows standing in a line.
The first one said, "I'm feeling fine!"
The second one said, "How do you do?"
The third one said, "Moo! Moo! Moo!"
The fourth cow said, "I'm grazing in this grass."
The fifth cow said, "I'm getting full at last."
The cows stood together and said, "We are through.
So let's take a bow and all say MOOOOO!"
Credit: Perry Public Library

I had pulled an old flannel out of our files that was for Cowboy Hat Matching.  All it is is printed cowboy hats that are all the same except for their different colored hat bands. 

I almost skipped this.

It would have been stupid to skip this.

The kids LOVED it.  I put the first set of hats on the board and then asked me to help them match the hats that I held in my hand (there were too many kids to have them each hold one).  Oh, my.  The shouting and pointing!  They had a fantastic time, and then we finished up by counting by TWOS.  That’s right.  Snuck a little math skills in there on them, I did.

Our next book was I Wanna Be a Cowgirl.  Then, we did the flannel Five Little Ponies.
Five little ponies, tan, brown and gray.
Down to the meadow, they went to play.
The first one said, "Let's roll in this field."
The second one said, "Let's kick up our heels!"
The third one said, "Let's run, run, run!"
The fourth one said, “That sounds like fun!"
The fifth pony said, "I'd like some hay."
So the five little ponies galloped away.
Credit: Perry Public Library

We finished up by doing the actions to Walkin’ Ol’ Joe from Songs for Wiggleworms.  I like this because 1) It has actions we can do as a group and 2) It has some rich language, like “mosey” which the kids understood and acted out instinctively because the music reflected how slow it was.

So, tell me.  Do YOU know She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain?

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Book Review – Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher

By Awnali Mills

Journey of the Pale BearArthur has no idea what the consequences will be when he snatches a rabbit haunch off a seaman’s plate and runs away.  He only knows that he’s starving.  But through a series of circumstances, finds himself in charge of a polar bear being sent from the King of Norway to the King of England.  Arthur is terrified of the bear, but feels a kinship to her, too.  The bear seems to see him as a strange sort of cub, and offers him no harm.  The two get shipwrecked together, captured, and eventually make their way to England.  But the sadness of her captivity saps the bear’s will to live.  Will Arthur be able to save her?

I love a good historical fiction, and ones written in the 1200s are scarce.  I appreciated Arthur’s uncertainty about the consequences he might face for some of his actions.  Modern day children might think he’s being melodramatic about wondering if he’ll be hanged for stealing a rabbit haunch, but that sort of punishment wasn’t at all uncommon.  I think it might have been a good thing if Fletcher had given us some examples to let us know that Arthur wasn’t exaggerating, but the fact that she doesn’t might open the floor to some good classroom discussions about crime and punishment (kids love gory details).  I think there’s also a lot of opportunity here for extended learning about the Tower of London, and the beginning of zoos. Oh, and bears.  I would suggest that adults be sure to warn children that bears should NEVER be assumed to regard children as cubs in need of protecting! (Although I did grow up watching Grizzly Adams, and never made that assumption, myself.)

Aside from extended learning, this is just a good book for adventure lovers and historical fiction buffs.  Give this to grades 3-6.

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Putting Piper to Sleep

Piper 1As I’ve said before, this blog isn’t only about books and storytimes.  Occasionally, I chose to write about my life.  This week, my family had to put our 114 pound German Shepherd, Piper, to sleep.  It was awful.

Ten months ago, we learned that Piper had degenerative myelopathy, for which there is no treatment or cure.  This disease kills the nerve cells from the tail forward.  We had noticed that Piper’s legs seemed…odd.  One leg flipped out funny, and his hips were swaying much more than is usual.  Unfortunately, the only way to establish a firm diagnosis is through an autopsy, but he displayed all the classic symptoms.  The prognosis was six to eight months.  We were devastated.  Piper was a total character.  Protective as all German Shepherds are, extremely vocal (he loved to sing with us), and very pack oriented, Piper particularly loved my husband and his over sized tennis ball which we named Wilson.  Until we put a stop to it, his favorite game was breaking out of the back yard and running across the street to play with the little girls there who adored him.

Once the vet gave us the diagnosis, we grieved.  Then we got into the routine of Piper’s illness.  There would be a rapid decline and then a leveling out period.  Some days were good and some were not.  He moved past the six month mark.  Then the eight month mark.  My husband questioned the diagnosis–he didn’t seem to be getting any worse, so maybe they were wrong?  Then he started falling.  His legs gave out and he knocked me down the stairs of our tri-level.  Then he fell and knocked my husband down the stairs.  We had to help him up the stairs, and he cried at every step, collapsing at the top and whining.  He had trouble relieving himself.  We knew it was time.

Piper 2

Piper with a young friend.

The hard part was that, other than the DM, he was a perfectly healthy dog.  He was still smart and funny.  Many days, after his muscles had a chance to warm up, he could chase a ball (even if he did fall down instead of stopping).  But we had promised him that we wouldn’t let him suffer, and it seemed that it was time to make the decision.

Attending the death of my beloved dog was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and I’ve given birth to two children and buried a brother.  I was unprepared for the emotional storm; after all, I’d had ten months to prepare myself, right?  Oh, no.  I was not ready.  I won’t go into detail, but my whole family struggled with this, and there was some interpersonal fallout I wasn’t expecting.

Today, I did the good librarian thing and researched how to deal with the death of a pet.  One of the suggestions was to write about it, so here I am, spilling my guts to the wide world.  I don’t know that it’s helped–at least not yet.  But I do ask for your kindness and understanding.

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Penguin Storytime 12-5-18

By Awnali Mills

Today’s storytime was all about penguins.  The books I chose were Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester and Something’s Fishy by Jean Gourounas.

So, while planning this storytime, I lined up my usual sorts of things.  Then, looking it over last night, I thought, “Um, I’m not sure I have enough stuff here.  It just seems…sparse.  Oh, well, I’ll just extend playtime a bit.”

Yeah.  Was I WRONG.  I didn’t even get to my second book.  Oh, well.  I’ll tell you the whole lineup and you can pick and choose for yourself.

I had a very participatory group this morning (after friendly badgering from me).  We sang our opening song, had a penguin puppet visit and do the letter “P” and p word pictures.  Then I talked about how tall emperor penguins are (4 feet!) and brought out a tape measure.  I let the kiddos measure themselves against the tape measure, and then got a very tall father to show how much taller he was (he stood WELL over 6 feet), and then how tall one of our female caregivers was in comparison to a penguin.  Then I measured for them the height of the smallest penguin (18”).  To continue our math, I handed out penguins with numbers on them and then had them bring up their numbers in order, and we all counted them together.

I read Tacky the Penguin for them.  Then we all stood up and did If You’re a Penguin and You Know It.

If you’re a penguin and you know it flap your wings (flap, flap)
If you’re a penguin and you know it flap your wings (flap, flap)
If you’re a penguin and you know it and you really want to show it
If you’re a penguin and you know it flap your wings. (flap, flap)

Catch a fish (clap hands)
Wiggle your tail (wiggle, wiggle)
Snap your beak (click teeth)

Then we did the fingerplay Two Little Penguins

Two little penguins sitting on the ice (hold up two fingers)
One bows once, the other bows twice (made index fingers bow)
Waddle little penguins. Waddle away. (put fingers behind back)
Come back penguins. Time to play! (bring fingers to the front)

Next, I acted out the flannel Pippa’s Penguin where a grandmother teases her granddaughter about making a stuffed penguin from all these different colors of fabric.  I used props and acted the whole thing out.  Then I handed out scarves, and we all danced to Miss Amy’s Penguin Dance from the CD Wide Wide World (because dancing is always better with scarves). I happened to check my watch, and (gulp) I was one minute past quitting time.


How did that happen?

I totally skipped over Something’s Fishy.  I skipped over a song that I wrote just for this storytime:
A Fat Penguin  (Tune: Ram Sam Sam)
A fat penguin, a fat penguin
A lot of little fish, and fat penguin.
A fat penguin, a fat penguin
A lot of little fish, and fat penguin.
She’s diving! She’s diving!
A lot of little fish, and a fat penguin.
She’s diving! She’s diving!
A lot of little fish, and a fat penguin.

And finally, I skipped the flannel Five Baby Penguins from Miss Mary Liberry.

I just went right to our closing song.

And one of the mothers said, “Wow!  This was such a fun storytime!” Well, okay then!

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Book Review – Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Darius the Great Is Not OkayBy Awnali Mills

Darius is a teenage boy who is half Iranian (from his mother) and half American (from his father).  He’s a Star Trek geek and feels that he’s not good at anything and a constant disappointment to his father.  He is taking medication for depression, but still feels like he has nothing to offer anyone.  Being bullied by the local jocks doesn’t help much, either.

When his family learns that his Iranian grandfather has a brain tumor and not long to live, Darius’ parents decide to take the family to visit Iran.  Hesitant and unhappy about the visit at first, Darius slowly begins to open up under the love and acceptance of his extended family.  Even more important is his new friendship with the boy down the street, Sohrab.  Sohrab is everything Darius wants to be, and his new friend’s acceptance and approval means everything to Darius.  Sohrab’s enthusiastic and kind friendship melts Darius’ barriers and helps him understand how wonderful his own family, and especially his dad, is.

I listened to the audiobook, read by Michael Levi Harris.  I’m glad I didn’t have to pronounce all the Iranian words, but Harris (I’m assuming) did a fantastic job.  He perfectly captured Darius’ hesitation and uncertainty, his anger and fear.  This didn’t seem like an angsty book to me, but it accurately describes the way that even controlled depression affects the way that you feel about yourself and your place in the world.  The book also underlines how other people’s opinions (or perceived opinions) affect the way that we feel about ourselves.  Would that we all had such enthusiastic cheerleaders as Sohrab!

I also really enjoyed the description of modern life in Iran.  It was interesting to me that Darius’ family was not Muslim, but Zoroastrian, and Sohrab was Bahá’í.  I was so interested that I looked them up to read more about them.  I enjoyed how Khorram taught me about the centuries old traditions of Zoroastrian faith through Darius’ grandfather and his pride in their family’s heritage.

While this wasn’t a “funny” book, Darius’ wry observations of the people around him could be quite funny, and I loved the way he applied Star Trek references to the people around him and his own feelings.  I would definitely recommend this book for teens.

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