If you look closely at the images above, you might be able to see a green plastic bubble maker that was donated to the Makerspace this past summer, as part of a pile of old toys that could be taken apart or repurposed.

I think the bubble maker was originally broken, but I’m not sure about that. What I do know is that one student who is part of the library’s Make It activity found it and saw the potential in it for something greater–some kind of moving vehicle.  Yesterday, after months of tinkering, that old bubble maker, now attached to battery packs and motors and wheels and wires and lights, had finally been turned into a working car.

The story is in the tinkering. There were several days where the student worked an entire 55-minute period and made absolutely no visible progress, because every idea failed. (I say no visible progress because of course, every failed attempt was part of figuring out what would eventually work, so it was progress!)  He would come to every class with an idea of something to try, and sometimes there were baby steps forward, and sometimes it felt like nothing would ever work, but at the end, he’d smile and stick it all back in his box and resolve to try something again next time.  Some days he’d work on something else, because he needed a break from this project.  At one point, he learned to solder because he hoped that soldering the wires from the multiple motors and battery packs might hold it all together, but alas, that did not work, and it all fell apart right before the bell rang. (The solution to that problem ended up being the breadboard that is on top, which also allowed for the addition of lights, including one he took out of his old alarm clock at home.) There was a lot of testing, and moments where something that worked the week before suddenly didn’t work and we couldn’t figure out why.

He took it home over winter break, almost done, with ideas about his next steps and a few supplies, and yesterday brought it back, working!  WORKING!  And he still has ideas about how to improve it!

The joy on this kid’s face at each successful step–not just the joy of getting it working in the end, but of solving each tiny problem that came up along the way–is why we have a Makerspace in the library.  I don’t know how close the current version is to whatever original vision he had, but the beauty is in the process.  Bravo!


And on a side note that really isn’t a side note, because it’s the same concept of perseverance at play, check out the kid in the background of this photo.  He was working in Scratch, and one of his accomplishments over break was figuring out how to make his game harder: he programmed it so that the speed of the ball in pong was the same as your score, so that as your score increased, so did the difficulty of the game. So clever!

(Note: this post is cross-posted on my library’s website.)


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Writing the title of this post, I thought, “people are going to think this is a post about working in a school with privileged kids,” and so I was going to change it, but then I decided to leave it.  I could write that post, and I’m sure I’d have things to say, but tonight, what I want to write about is the privilege I feel in working with kids.

Maybe it’s partly the privilege of working with people, period.  Unless you work in isolation, having any full-time job means interacting with people, every one of them (including yourself!) flawed.  Inevitably, you develop connections with those people–some strong, some less strong; some functional, some less functional; some amusing, some frustrating.  Typically all of those things with the same people! You make each other laugh; you get on each other’s nerves; you push each other to grow.  You can’t help but connect, and it’s often pretty wonderful.

With kids, it’s a bit different.  It’s the same–you definitely connect–but it’s also different.  With middle schoolers in particular (for me, at least), part of the beauty of the work is getting to witness and be a part of a piece of life where nobody has it figured out, where the expectation is that everyone is going to be fumbling along and having moments of greatness, moments of confusion, moments of joy, moments of sorrow.  There are days where I see these kids wrestling with this huge task of growing up, and I just am overwhelmed with admiration for them. They break my heart, and they fill my heart, sometimes simultaneously. They believe fiercely in social justice, and they hurt each other. They want to believe the world is kind, and they want to fix the broken parts, but their fears and desire to fit in can work against that. They are discovering how complicated this whole living thing is, and realizing that the adults don’t have it figured out either. How scary is that?

It’s a tumultuous time.  I was at a workshop last week where the presenter said that most people say that their hardest year was when they were 13, but when asked why, they can’t remember.  They have blocked it out!  But as hard as middle school is, it’s also pretty magical.  I see kids deeply engaged with their questions about how the world works.  If you ever want to have hope for the future, talk to a group of 12-year-olds about social injustice–they are fired up about it, and they have limitless ideas for fixing this planet and the people on it.  Watch a kid wrestle with their identity and come out the other side, confident in who they are and hopeful about their future.  See how fiercely kids will defend their friends, and how proud they are when you catch them quietly doing the right thing.

They are vulnerable and strong; afraid and confident.  They are beautiful.  It is a privilege to spend my days surrounded by their chaos and goofiness and potential.  Maybe if all of us embraced the middle schooler inside of us–remembered that it’s okay to be confused and conflicted and curious and idealistic, that it’s okay to believe in possibility and okay to feel defeated by what seems impossible, that we don’t have to have it all figured out but can instead just live in whatever moment we are in–we’d all be better off.  If you forgot to pack your gym shoes or bring home your science binder (or the adult equivalent), or you weren’t as kind to someone you love as you would like to be, or you weren’t as patient as you could have been, it’s okay.  You get to try again tomorrow, and the next day, and nobody expected you to be perfect anyway. Just keep trying.

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Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin

I spent a good chunk of my day today immersed in Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin, a nonfiction account of the history of United States involvement in Vietnam leading up to and during the Vietnam War.  I could not put this book down.

Folks (kids and adults alike) who have read any of Sheinkin’s other books will know already that he pulls you in with action, suspense, dialogue, and description, all while presenting information that is meticulously researched and factual. Most Dangerous does all of those things, of course, in telling a story that is both horrifying and necessary for kids today to know.

I feel like I should have known the information in this book already. It is, in part, the story of the publication of the Pentagon Papers in major newspapers, revealing the pattern of dishonesty on the part of the United States government (primarily the office of the President) in relation to actions in Vietnam. So, the information was out there in 1971.  But I know that I did not learn about this–either in high school or college.  This is a book for young people, but really, it’s a book for any of us who might have approached history class as just a set of facts/dates to memorize, rather than a story of who we (as a country, but also just the greater human race) have been–things we’ve done right, ways we’ve messed up, how we can learn from our mistakes. This is history at its best–written in a way that is accessible, yet thoughtful; challenging, yet hopeful.

I cannot recommend Most Dangerous highly enough.

Note: I read an ARC.  The book comes out Sept 22.

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First Day!

Today was the first full day of school.

I’m too exhausted to write a real post, but I want to remember this part of the day:

After a quiet morning, with a few bursts of activity as 5th graders came in on tours but mostly focused time doing planning for lessons later this week and cataloging, we had what we call collab/help time. Suddenly, there were kids everywhere–from new 5th graders to wise(ish?) 8th graders.  Asking for book recommendations, exploring the space, checking out, saying hello and catching us up on their summers. I can’t really capture it, but it’s magical to me, and it fills me up.  The power of words; the power of connection. A kid showed me her hand-painted shoes; a kid dragged his friend over to the section where his new favorite author’s books live; a kid tried desperately to remember the title of a graphic novel about parasites that he’d read over the summer.

I am happy.  Tired, but happy.

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Summer Joy

I’ve definitely figured out my zippered pouch pattern/process.  Still waiting on supplies so I can add a little wrist strap, but I feel good about these and have really enjoyed the process of making them.

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Also been doing some reading.  I read Shadow by Michael Morpurgo, which is a selection for this coming school year’s Virginia Young Reader’s Choice award.  There were things I really liked about the story, but I wasn’t thrilled with the way it was set up, so I can’t give it a glowing review.  I’m curious to see what kids think of it.  Now I’m partway through Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg, and I am liking it much better. (Thanks to fellow librarian Allison for the recommendation!)

Last but not least, I’ve been trying to write every day–for an hour or two if I can. It’s kind of challenging writing to do at times, but it’s the kind of challenge that feels good in the end. I don’t want to get into any details about the project itself (I can be weirdly private and protective about works in progress), but suffice it to say, I’m writing and I feel happy about it.

So, yay for summer productivity!  Next week is another coding camp, but unlike the 22 kids we had in the last session, we currently only have 6 signed up for this next one.  That will be a very different experience, I suspect!

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Alright.  So there’s still one problem with my zipper ends (that’s the crunch in the upper right corner of the second photo), BUT I think I’ve figured out what I did wrong (I sewed through the tabs when putting it all together, when I should have sewn right up to them.  Which is going to be harder to actually do than it sounds, but at least I am aware of the problem!).

But look at it!  Isn’t it cute?  (Those pics are not the same size, but it’s the front and back view of one pouch.)

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It’s a perfect size for carrying a few things, like a wallet and phone, or sanitary stuffs, or whatever.  Once I get the supplies I’ve ordered, I’ll add a little strap that clips on to make it a wristlet.  Future versions will use fabric for that D-ring tab instead of ribbon–I thought I’d like the ribbon, but I don’t.

I’m excited to make more of these! It was fun to watch it come together.

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Failure: It’s a Good Thing

I’m not keen on failure in the moment when it’s happening. It’s irritating and discouraging. Yesterday and today have been full of sewing failures as I try to work out a prototype for a kind of zippered pouch I’d like to make and potentially sell. (They are fun to make when they work out well, and I need to find a way to make a bit of money to pay for fabric for my sewing habit!).

I have, in the last two days:

-cut fabric wrong more times than I can count; my scrap pile is getting fed steadily

-made a pouch that was way too big, and one that was way too small, and one that was just oddly shaped


Cons: Too big. Lopsided. Pros: Learned to do the zipper tabs (little bit of blue at ends of zipper); braved patchworking even if fabric choices weren’t so great

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This one is just sad. The idea was to have a small strip of linen at the top and mostly patterned fabric, but you can see what happened to that idea. BUT, I topstitched the zipper! And the fabric was a decent choice.

-sewn a zipper in upside down

-twice sewn zippers in with the ends turning up wonky (still trying to figure out what is causing this problem, but have a good idea, I think)

-sewn some very lopsided edges because of my stubborn refusal to pin or use clips

-made dubious design choices; oh so dubious

-sewn a tab with a D-ring with a gap that is waaaaaay too long to make sense

(And I also burned a whole pan of cookies.  But that did not stop me from eating them–a burnt cookie is still a cookie.)

But, the bright side of all my failure is that I learned a lot, like:

-I am getting a sense of how cut fabric sizes will translate to the end product–how much is lost in the sewing itself. I’m not there yet, but I get closer each time.

-I can now sew zipper tabs, which pretty up the ends of the zippers.

-I maybe used clips a few times.

-I know how to topstitch zippers, and how to sew zippers on my machine without the zipper foot (that I can’t seem to locate).

-I used fusible interfacing successfully for the first time.  (Have used it unsuccessfully in the past and was afraid of it, but after all the other stuff going wrong, I figured I had nothing to lose.)

-I think I can fix the tab on the D-ring, and next time I’ll know to make it shorter.

-I learned how to do applique, which kind of scared me, but again, I had nothing to lose.

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Applique! But yeah, weird shape and super long D-ring tab. The color is weird in this picture–the bag is a natural linen color. This one has zipper tabs, but they got swallowed up by my overabundance of seam allowance, I think.

My point (and the sewing details are probably boring) is that, with each failure, I learn something.  (Aside from sewing the zipper upside down–I apparently am doomed to do that once in a while, regardless of how many times I’ve done it already.)  I try, when I’m feeling bummed about the way a project turns out because it so radically contradicts my mental vision that started it, to focus on what caused things to go wrong and how I can fix it next time.  It’s like debugging in coding, I guess.  My zippered pouches have a lot of bugs in their code right now, but one by one, I’m cleaning them up.  And I hope that, in the end, maybe over the next week, I’ll end up with a solid process for making these pouches, and maybe even learn some new ways to add some flair, and MAYBE even make a few that would be good enough to actually sell.

One step at a time.

In the meantime, meet my best friend:


Seam Ripper 

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