Author Archives: Cory Eckert

Interview with Lesléa Newman: Sparkle Boy!

I was incredibly lucky to meet and chat with Lesléa Newman at TxLA 2017 (it pays to wander through exhibits when it’s mostly empty and bother the people at the Lee and Low booth). Some of you are super familiar with Lesléa’s name and work, but if you’re not, she has written a ton of amazing kids books about Jewish families and queer families, including the groundbreaking, world-changing, Heather Has Two Mommies.




When I met Lesléa, she not only complimented my shirt, she also offered to do an interview for the blog! Talk about gracious authors. Her new book, Sparkle Boy, came out yesterday, and below is our interview about the book, librarians, and writing books that are mirrors.


I got to read Sparkle Boy at the booth AND Lee and Low sent me an e-galley (I love them. Support Lee and Low, you guys). It’s about being a boy who loves to sparkle, and how that’s okay, but it’s also about being a sibling. It would be such a great read-aloud in a classroom to talk about why we think boys and girls have to dress certain ways. I’m adding it to my school library, my home library, and to some classroom shelves. And probably sending it to some lesbian moms I know who are big Lesléa Newman fans. You should also probably pick it up. And display it really prominently in your library.


It’s been warmly reviewed by SLJ, Booklist, and PW, in case you need that for your collection development policy, and by Tim Federle and Alex Gino, who know some things about challenging gender roles. Casey is a great friend for Morris Micklewhite, for families looking for a great model on how to respond to their sparkly boys.




SU: Your new book, Sparkle Boy, is about to come out/will have come out by the time this interview publishes. I read a copy at TxLA and I’m so excited to share it with kids and parents. Can you talk about what led you to write it? 


Lesléa: I wrote the book in honor of all the Sparkle Boys (of all ages!) who make the world a brighter place by being their authentic selves and as well as all the Sparkle Boys who hesitate to be who they are for fear of being teased, bullied or physically harmed. As someone who has the privilege of being a published author, I feel a responsibility to use my voice to make the world a safer place. As a Jew I strongly believe in the notion of “tikkun olam” (repairing the world). I personally know—and adore—many Sparkle Boys, and I hope my book will help create a safe world in which they are free to shine.


SU: Why do you think it is important that we share books in storytime that defy stereotypical gender roles?

Lesléa: Emma Lazarus said, “Until all of us are free, none of us are free.” I believe that stereotypes hurt all of us. It’s important for kids to know, respect, appreciate, and celebrate the incredibly diverse, creative spectrum of human beings in all our glory. We need windows (books in which we see people not like ourselves) to open our hearts and minds and we need mirrors (books that reflect ourselves back to us)* so we feel validated and that we belong. SPARKLE BOY is for readers of all gender expressions. I have been surprised that the book has brought many adults to tears because of its message of celebration of someone who does not fit into the mold of gender stereotypes.


SU: You must get to meet lots of authors you admire. Is there anyone in particular who gave you butterflies the first time you met?


Lesléa: Cher! I met Cher in NYC at a Barnes and Noble store. I waited on line for six hours so that she could sign my copy of her book, THE FIRST TIME.  When I finally reached the front of the line, I knelt down before her and burst into tears, then blubbered about how much she meant to me. She took it all in stride and was very gracious about it.


SU: You are Jewish and have some books that are about Jewish characters and history. Can you tell us a little about the state of representation for Jewish characters in children’s literature today?


Lesléa: When I was growing up, there were no overt Jewish characters in children’s books. I could not articulate the need for me to see a book that depicted a Jewish child eating matzo ball soup on a Friday night with her bubbe. But that need was there. I remember the first time I encountered a children’s book that I could identify as Jewish. It was called THE CARP IN THE BATH TUB. I was in my late twenties when I came upon it in a bookstore and my eyes filled with tears as I —finally!—saw a family like mine in a children’s book. Today there are so many books from board books to teen novels and everything in between that feature Jewish characters. And this is a wonderful thing.


SU: Most of us would like to believe that the world is a more tolerant place than in 1989, when you first published Heather Has Two Mommies. Are your more recent titles being challenged less often and do you think that’s a reflection of any change in our society?


Lesléa: Yes, I am happy to say that MOMMY, MAMA, AND ME; DONOVAN’S BIG DAY; DADDY, PAPA, AND ME; and THE BOY WHO CRIED FABULOUS have not encountered the same challenges as HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES and my earlier books for kids that feature LGBT characters. I know that some recent picture books that challenge gender stereotypes such as JACOB’S NEW DRESS have been challenged. Recently I was at the Texas Librarian Association conference to speak about SPARKLE BOY. The librarians were very excited about the book (it made some of them cry!) and couldn’t wait to shelve it in their libraries. Some librarians, especially those who served small, rural communities, told me that they loved the book but they could never place it in their library. So yes, some things have changed, but unfortunately, some things haven’t changed. Which means we all have to work harder.


SU: How have librarians helped, or hindered, getting your books into families hands? Do you think that librarians have a role to play in nurturing empathy and tolerance in our communities?


Lesléa: Librarians are my (s)heroes! When I was growing up, the librarian at my high school was my BFF. She was always giving me books to read, and providing me with a safe haven in which to read, write, and daydream. Research librarians have helped me tremendously with much of my work, including the short story, “A Letter to Harvey Milk” and the middle-grade novel, HACHIKO WAITS. Many librarians have gone to bat for my books, defending them against people in their community who say that children’s books featuring families with LGBT members have no place in the library. Every librarian I have ever met has believed passionately in freedom of expression and has been willing to take great risk to defend it. Libraries serve everyone and it is a place that needs to be open and comfortable for all. And librarians have the responsibility in ensuring that this is true. I admire them more than words can say.

*Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors quote by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop

We Stand with Transgender Patrons

Transgender and gender nonconforming children are at an increased risk for harassment, depression, self-harm, and suicide. In light of this vulnerability  it is our responsibility to ensure that our collections, spaces, and programs reflect, honor, and validate the experiences of transgender, genderfluid, non-binary, and gender nonconforming children. We must not stand silent as those in power attempt to dismantle protections for transgender students. As youth services professionals, we will fight for the rights of all children, especially for the marginalized and at-risk populations who need us most.  We entreat members of the Storytime Underground community to take specific, targeted actions against intolerance and we pledge to do the same.

We will be following up with ideas for concrete actions to take.

Guest Post Series: Guerrilla Moms

As a new mom, I was thinking about how youth services librarians, early childhood development professionals, and storytime providers go about incorporating their knowledge into parenting. Sometimes, parents at storytime may feel overwhelmed by trying to utilize all these skills at home, especially when it comes to minimizing screen time and maximizing real world interaction. There are so many messages about screen time and kids, and so few real world strategies for what to actually DO that works as well for quieting a 2 year old having a meltdown in Target as well as giving her an iPad. So, I thought I’d ask some experts who I know are working hard at parenting with early childhood best practices in mind to share the nitty gritty of how they do it.


ninja moms


Our second post of the series is by Gwen Vanderhage. Gwen is a kids & teens collection development librarian for Brodart. She sadly hasn’t done storytime in public in a couple of years but is still on message for Early Literacy at every opportunity. She has a toddler son at home, where they read books, play with egg shakers, and have silly dance contests. Here are her words:


I won’t lie, the thing that makes me a super stealthy Storytime Ninja is that I use this stuff at home. I am a full-time toddler mom and part-time librarian. The Joint Chiefs were all, “Who might have pro-tips we can share with our storytime parents? Ninja moms!”  It’s amazing how practicing what you preach makes your preaching feel so much more meaningful and compelling.


It’s particularly timely that we talk about this right now, just after the Babies Need Words Everyday roll-out, because the easiest thing I share with parents is TALKING to your baby. All of the things we’ve practiced saying in our parent speeches are true:


  • It feels funny to narrate your day to an infant, but it gets easier
  • Talk about your errands and point out interesting things
  • Name everything, all the time
  • Singing is kinda the same as talking, so if you’re more comfortable, start with that
  • Talk WITH your kids, not just at them (make eye contact with your baby, let her coo back)


Real life example 1: One of the easiest ways to start talking about the world with your baby, is to begin in the produce section of your grocery store. No one will frown at you – they will smile. Let your baby feel the broccoli, rub a peach on his cheek, sniff the cilantro. Shoppers are supposed to wash this stuff at home, so don’t hesitate! You can talk about the produce long before your baby is big enough to eat it and also talk about it when you prepare it. Talk about it when your baby starts squelching and eating solids. Talk about it when he’s big enough to stand next to you on a stool and let him stir, or (gasp) use a child-friendly knife to “dice” a banana. You can talk about the 5 senses. You can use big vocabulary like “tangerine.” You can introduce colors. You can count apples. You can start talking about how plants grow… there’s a natural progression and you just keep talking. Hey look, PBS has parent tips for the grocery store too!


Real life example 2: Let’s talk about our feelings. Babies are really engaged with books that show other babies’ faces, particularly those baby faces that are expressing emotions, like Margaret Miller’s original Baby Faces book. With wordless books, it doesn’t feel natural to just hold a book up and turn the pages; of course you’re going to talk about what you see! Talk about how that baby feels. Why does she feel that way? What happened? “That baby is sad. I wonder why? Maybe she dropped her binky. What makes you sad?” “Mmm, that baby is eating. What foods do you like to eat?” Reading a book this way trains us and our children to have a conversation, as well as learning words and concepts. It also helps your baby begin to learn empathy. You want to set the stage to continue having conversations about feelings with your child for a lifetime, right?


I know you have other great examples you give parents for talking and how it can set the stage for literacy. Please share them!

Guest Post Series: Guerrilla Moms

As a new mom, I was thinking about how youth services librarians, early childhood development professionals, and storytime providers go about incorporating their knowledge into parenting. Sometimes, parents at storytime may feel overwhelmed by trying to utilize all these skills at home, especially when it comes to minimizing screen time and maximizing real world interaction. There are so many messages about screen time and kids, and so few real world strategies for what to actually DO that works as well for quieting a 2 year old having a meltdown in Target as well as giving her an iPad. So, I thought I’d ask some experts who I know are working hard at parenting with early childhood best practices in mind to share the nitty gritty of how they do it.


I never get tired of making Gorilla/Guerrilla jokes basically.


Our first guest post is by my high school friend Amanda Villaveces, who has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy and was a Montessori teacher for 10 years. Here’s what she told me:


Ok, here are my thoughts – we as a family generally do 4 things that keep our screen time down and keep us otherwise entertained.


1. Have materials available (very Montessori). The boys have a play area in every room of the house with toys and books. They can reach all the materials they need (eg Max has all his art supplies in the closet where he can grab them, but Theo can’t because he’s 18mo and would paint the walls if he could).


2. We encourage creativity by being creative with them. I’ll paint my own picture and Max will grab materials and join me or Joe will be working on some electronics project and invite them to watch.


3. We take care of ourselves so we have to the energy to stay creative and  and patient and engaging. As the “primary” care giver since my husband works full time and I work part time, I have more kid duty, and cleaning and shopping duty etc. I had to learn when to tag him in so I could recharge.


4. We use TV wisely. We don’t own an actual TV because we bought a projector when Max was born (since we knew it would be a decade before we went to a movie theater again ) and so TV isn’t easily accessible. But we do watch it and when we do, we try to make it count. We have family movie nights or watch nature docs (sometimes Max will say “ugh can’t we just watch a fiction show today?” But he does love Attenborough). We also use TV when we need a time out but the other parent isn’t free. So if the kids are watching a show and I’m exhausted I try to make it count by reading during that time or taking a a hot shower, anything to help relax and recharge.


All that being said I think I should throw in- we encourage outside play, play dates, and we have a dog.

Guerrilla Storytime at Annual 2015

This is a very late recap, but we have some great notes on the GS sessions at ALA, thanks to Rachel K., so we wanted to share. Annual 2015 was the 2 year anniversary of the birth of Guerrilla Storytimes, and there have been at least 41 of them around the country and Canada since then. That’s almost two a month. !!!!


We love getting everyone together at Librarian Summer Camp, and getting to learn from all our internet idols. This year some brilliant things were shared, and it continues to be my favorite part of conference. It probably would be even if I hadn’t invented it.


Before we get into the nitty gritty, here are some great resources from people who were there:


Embedded image permalink


Here are Rachel’s notes*:

*Bonus video at the end!


Guerrilla Story Time

ALA Annual



Pull a challenge stick. Answer if you can, if not pass to the group. Let’s also try to  to share an early literacy tip you would use along with that song/rhyme/etc.


Start off sharing favorite summer welcome song


  • Good Morning, Dear Earth


Good Morning Dear Earth (hands as if holding earth on abdomen)

Good Morning Dear Sun (stretch arms above head in a circular arc)

Good Morning Dear Trees (stretch arms to side, like tree branches)

And the Flowers Everywhere (hands holding flowers on ground)

Good Morning Dear Beasts (hands as if petting a dog,etc..)

And the Birds in the Trees (hands “fly” away like birds flying away)

Good Morning Dear You and Good Morning Dear Me. (hands reaching to each other, then hands cross over our chest)

  • EL Tip: “We just did pinching and finger movements which are good practice for motor control.”


Favorite shaker song


How do you promote your baby story times?

  • Wake up senses to start
  • Facebook, post learning activity and remind parents about upcoming programming events
  • Branding of story times “Little U Classes:” Baby Brilliance, Talented Toddlers, Junior Genius.
  • Inviting parents when you see them in the room – being very friendly and making sure they feel welcome to attend. An individual invitation can go a long way.
  • Baby Wednesdays – everything blocked together in one morning


What do you do to make story time welcoming to non traditional families?

  • Focusing on the character’s love/caring for the child, not their role “That is someone who cares about Ducky” not “It’s Ducky’s mom.”
  • When unexplained, just leave it at that.
  • If you are told you *have* to do a themed program like Mothers’ Day, make sure that it is advertised, so families that are sensitive to that might avoid if it if they choose.
  • Also if doing a program, chose books with non-traditional arrangements like A Mother for Chaco.


Family Story Time (How handle wide range of ages?)


  • Step Into Storytime by Ghoting


  • Keep it interactive, use lots of props and puppets
  • Lots of activities outside the book like singing, puppets, etc.
  • Advocate for separate toddler time (if enough are attending to merit)
  • Start with the little ones, tell everyone you are doing this. That way if the younger ones have shorter attention spans, they can leave when they’re ready and you can focus more on the older kids later in the program.
  • Have the older kids help you tell the story, like a fairy tale
  • Provide modifications for caregivers who have kids of varying ages (ie: lift your baby up or preschoolers can stand up themselves)
  • Ask the big kids to help you sing “extra loud”
  • Sing a lot, use songs where you can get input from the older kids


Storytime Underground Plug

  • Collaboratively run by the joint chiefs
  • Actively seeking new joint chiefs, please contact if interested.


Favorite Way to Use Props

  • Alternate: 3 songs with shakers, 3 songs with scarves
  • When Ducks Get Up in the Morning with puppets
  • Rhythm Sticks: march around the room
  • Coffee can stories (from Wolftrap) where you tell a story and gradually pull out props from a can as you do to faciliate.
  • Bean bags: use them on chest when doing yoga to see breathing; on the parachute; as a substitute for shakers
  • Bean bags with letters (uppercase/lowercase on either side): Hand out and ask caregivers to talk about your letter with their kids. What kind of lines does it have? What shapes do you see? Feel it with your finger. Showing that sometimes you don’t have to do an activity or play with something, just having a conversation about it is valuable.
  • Scarf song: Popcorn Kernels (
  • Another Popcorn song

You put the oil in the pot and get it real hot.

You put the popcorn in and get a big grin

Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle

Sizzle, Sizzle, Sizzle Pop!

How do you hand out lots of props without chaos?

  • Have them all in a paper bag, everyone grabs on the way into the room and grown-up regulates getting out/putting away each as needed
  • Simon Says as you pass out and clean up (“Simon says put the bean bag on your head”)


Plug for CLEL