Monday, March 4, 2013

Bet You Can't Eat Just One!: A Savory Black History Month Program

Back in December of 2011, Lisa Taylor of the Ocean County (NJ) Library shared her library's successful Black History Month program on ALSConnect (you'll need to log in to ALSC to view the original write-up). By pairing the story of the invention of the potato chip with a potato chip tasting, Taylor and her colleagues had hit on a formula for a successful history-centered program. I immediately bookmarked it.

I was able to offer my take on Taylor's program last week, and I would definitely count it a success. I kept Taylor's original name--excitement rings through a great program name!--and tweaked the program content so I could offer it to school-age kids as well as any preschoolers who wanted to attend. I ended up with a good balance between the two. Here's what I did:

Bet You Can't Eat Just One!

1. As children and their caregivers entered the program room, they took seats facing the wall where I would project images. I engaged the attendees in some chit-chat about potato chips while waiting for everyone to arrive.

2. I told the story of George Crum and the invention of the potato chip. I love non-fiction storytelling, and I drew information from a few sources for my telling of the potato chip's creation. My four sources were the picture book George Crum and the Saratoga Chip by Gaylia Taylor; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's great non-fiction title What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors; the Wonderopolis page on "Who Invented Potato Chips?"; and the entry on Crum in our Biography in Context database.

3. I showed a video of how potato chips are made in a potato chip factory. I narrated the steps of the process during this video, which has no voiceover.

4. We had our potato chip tasting. Six different types of chips were available in bowls around the room. Each chip type was assigned a number, and the names of the chips were not visible; I did, however, make the ingredients available by the chips in case of food allergies. Each child picked up a coffee filter to serve as a plate, a tasting ballot, and a marker. Because I wanted the program to work for a wide age range of children, the ballot operated on a smily face system; if a child liked Chip #1, for instance, he or she could circle the smiling face. If a child did not like Chip #4, he or she could circle the frowning face. The symbol system was easy for the kids to understand. After everyone had tasted all of the chips, I handed out juice boxes to cleanse our palates.

5. While the tasters were letting their palates get back to neutral between rounds of tasting, I projected a short slideshow onto the program room wall. The slides highlighted the history of the potato chip, from information on Crum and the snack's invention up to its mass marketing and the huge consumption of chips by Americans.

6. Children got to go around and taste each chip again, this time with a mind toward choosing their favorite. Each child and adult in the tasting told me what number chip was their favorite, and I tallied the votes.

7. While announcing our winners of the potato chip tasting, I also announced what the different chips were. Our overall favorite was Ruffles, followed closely by Lays Classic. The remaining four flavors--sea salt and vinegar, Maui onion, cracked pepper and sea salt, and parmesan garlic--all tied for third place.

8. Children then chowed down on their favorite chips while we all talked about what we've been reading lately. I love these informal moments at the end of programs to chat about books! My source material all checked out after the program, too.

I would definitely classify this program as a success, something that I'll look at revisiting every few years. The kids were all very interested in hearing the history of one of their favorite snack foods, and they thrived on being asked for their opinions on what chips tasted good. Any day a fourth grader engages me in a conversation about the mouthfeel of a food is sure to be a good day.

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How did you celebrate Black History Month in programs at your library?


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