I am not a very creative person. Brainstorming terrifies me, and I find people who can sit and think of ideas to be quite amazing. Most of my ideas come under pressure or on the fly, which is why I will never write a book if I don’t start writing a book and keep working at it long enough to get the ideas going. I have finally come to realize that if I wait for the perfect inspiration, it will never get written.
In my library career, I have had exactly two really great ideas. I’ve already written about one of them, the Poetry Scavenger Hunt, which I know other libraries have since picked up and started doing too. Yay, poetry!
Here is the second one: The Giant Gingerbread House. I can’t even tell you for sure when it started–2004, I think. I had seen how popular adult programs were for decorating gingerbread houses, but I am not a fan of small, expensive programs generally speaking. I wanted to do something where every child who wanted to participate could. Frankly, the thought of frosting and kids is another thing that terrifies me, too. Ick.
So I asked the library’s graphic artist at the time, Mike, to build me a gigantic gingerbread house out of foamboard. And he did! And he wasn’t especially happy about it, either, because wrestling enormous sheets of foamboard into brown paper and then finding a way to make them stand took a ton of effort and probably some swearing. On the Youth Services end, we spent some time photocopying two basic designs of a circle with a swirl that would look like pieces of candy, and cutting out the circles. Then throughout the month of December, kids who visited the library could pick up a piece or two, decorate it, and see their work displayed on the gingerbread house. We also let them glue cotton balls to the edges of the roof to look like snow, but quickly discovered that even adults found it tempting to pull at the cotton balls, so that went away after the second year.
In later years, we got some of the prep work handed off to volunteers, and a couple of different staff members took over the planning. For the past few years, Ms. Debbie has been the gingerbread queen, and she even got the building manager to construct a wooden frame that the sheets of foamboard could be velcro’d to. She’s come up with lots of new ideas for decorating, and as with a Christmas tree, every year it is prettier. But one of the things we like about the gingerbread house is that although it is festive, it is NOT a holiday decoration, and we find families of all kinds participate in making it. To the kids, it truly is a giant house, too.
It usually takes them the whole month to finish filling it up, and when the house gets full, we hang up the last pieces around the department. You do need to be a little bit of a fascist about hanging the pieces yourself, to make it look nice, and by the way, your building staff will not love you if you use glitter. But I highly recommend making a giant gingerbread house of your own. It is fun, it is cheap, and it allows the kids to contribute to something beautiful, at their library.