Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thankful for books

I am thankful for books all of the time, not just during the holiday season, but I am especially grateful to have been on the 4th-6th grade reading train for the last month or so.  Sometimes I have a hard time finding books for the intermediate grades that keep my attention.  Sometimes, though, the books that do keep MY attention, I can’t imagine keeping a kids’ attention.

Two books I’ve recently read are The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz and The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin.  These are examples of stories I enjoyed and that have important messages, but I am wondering if the readers at my school could stick with them.    

Laura Amy Schlitz talks about her process for writing The Hired Girl in School Library Journal, and I found it fascinating. The following is my review on Goodreads: I can't really believe I liked this book. Not a lot happened, and it had more religion talk than I like, but I loved the characters. "Janet Lovelace" is a strong strong girl who lives with her father and brothers on the farm in 1911 after her mother died. She can't earn her own money or receive an education because of the work required of her at home. After attempting a strike, Janet takes a big step and leaves for the city where she finds herself as a hired girl in the Rosenbach's Jewish household. I think this read a lot like a soap opera, and she reminded me of Daisy in Downton Abbey. I think the book is appropriate for grades 5-6, but someone told me it was YA?! At the same time, though, I am not sure what kind of young reader would be able to stick with it. They'd definitely have to love historical fiction.  

I went into my reading of Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish expecting to love it.  I enjoyed it: The Thing About Jellyfish was up for a National Book Award in the Young People's category. I saw it categorized as a grades 3-6 book, but based on what I've seen, some people think it's YA. In my opinion, it is fine for 6th grade as it’s this period when friend issues like this arise.   
The book tells the story of Suzy losing her former best friend to a drowning accident. Franny was a very strong swimmer and Suzy begins her quest to prove it was actually a jellyfish sting that caused her death, not drowning. Readers come to find out, though, that Suzy and Franny had been drifting apart before the accident. Suzy's feelings are very real, and I empathized with her sadness at losing her best friend. I appreciated the melding of the story and the scientific process about learning about jellyfish.

I am not sure why I continue trying to enjoy graphic novels like the kids do.  They’ll read anything on these shelves without any sort of coaxing by me.  I enjoyed Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm.  This graphic novel is mostly set in Florida in the year 1976. Sunny is living with her grandpa for the summer in his retirement community. She is disappointed in the lack of kids and in the abundance of early dinners, as well as continually finding packs of her grandpa's cigarettes, which he is NOT supposed to be smoking. She does meet a boy at the golf course, though, and they become fast friends.  They develop a love of superhero comic books, they cash in on finding golf balls, and locating lost cats. As the story progresses, we see flashbacks of Sunny's life in Pennsylvania and discover she has a brother dealing with substance abuse issues. For me, the graphic novel format makes this discovery easier and not as sad, though it's obvious Sunny loves her brother and her family and wants things to change. The afterword by Jennifer and Matthew Holm mentions that they, too, had a family member with addiction problems. They mention how difficult it was to be watching everything unfold, and that it's okay to ask for help for yourself to talk about it. Great for 4th-6th graders and especially perfect for kids in Sunny's position.

George by Alex Gino has been, by far, the most important book I’ve read lately.  It made me have all sorts of feelings. George tells the story of a 5th grader whom everyone sees as a boy. But she knows she's a girl. I can just feel her suffering at what she feels is going to be a secret forever. Her school has tryouts for the play Charlotte's Web, and George decides she wants to try out for the part of Charlotte. This is the catalyst for her sharing her secret with her best friend Kelly (the best best friend ever!) and her mom and brother. The principal at the school was a fantastic character as well. So much of my heartache reading this book came from what I would do to try to protect my child from what I imagine would be a life full of bullying and hurt. I learned, however, that once a person is free to be who they were meant to be, it makes things easier. The book wrapped up maybe a little too nicely, and was filled with possibly too many extra details about non-important things, but it is a lesson in acceptance and kindness that any 4th-6th grader should read. It's a very quick moving book.

As I was doing some extra reading, I learned Alex Gino has been involved with “queer and trans activism for the last twenty years.”  I point this out because I believe it shows that the author has most likely experienced the feelings and situations George has in the book.  Alex Gino is also a member of We Need Diverse books.

Admittedly, I was nervous to book-talk this story.  I have never had a parent tell me their child was a transgender student in my sixteen years of teaching, and I am not sure how I would handle it other than being accepting and of course, kind.  I did see some uncomfortable squirms by the sixth-graders, but I also had a girl cheer, “Good for her!” and George was immediately checked out by a different student.    

Can you think of a recent book you've read and loved but couldn't get a kid to check out no matter how hard you tried? Have you ever been stung by a jellyfish?  Are graphic novels always checked out in your library? Have you ever been nervous to book-talk a book? Has anyone ever cheered when you were done? All book cover images taken from TitlePeek.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Update on ESEA from ALA

After months of intense behind the scenes work in Congress, it looks like things are finally coming to a head with the re-authorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA). As you may have read in past posts, school libraries fared extremely well in S.1177, the Every Child Achieves Act, but not so well in H.R.5, the House’s Student Success Act. As discussed on September 1st, the House and Senate had work to do to meld their two, quite different bills.
This week the House and Senate appointed conferees to do just that. The resulting “Conference Committee” began meeting yesterday to hammer out the final version of a unified bill (called a “Conference Report”) that both chambers of Congress must then consider in an up or down vote, no amendments permitted. We are expecting that final Conference Report to be officially “filed” on November 30th and for the House to vote on it just two days later, on December 2nd, with a Senate vote to follow close behind.
As soon as [the Washington Office] get a look at the language in the Conference Report, we will be sending out an alert asking you to contact your Representative in the House, so please stay tuned.
This is a momentous time for libraries (especially school libraries) and education policy and – whether we are supporting or opposing the ESEA Conference Report – we will need you to contact your Congressperson right away.

Watch for more on, where this post originated.
ALSO: See How to Contact Congress at on the ALA website.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Newly Elected ILA Board Members

Congratulations to all who participated in the ILA Executive Board member race, and welcome to the newly elected board members!

Rebecca Funke of Des Moines Area Community College was elected vice president/president elect in a very close race with Kathy Rieger of Council Bluffs Public Library. 

Brianna Glenn of DeSoto Public Library and Debbie Stanton of Washington Free Library were elected to the two open board seats. Mary Markwalter of Mason City Public Library deserves a big thank you for being a board candidate.

Rebecca, Brianna, and Debbie join current board members Duncan Stewart, 2015 ILA president, Alison Ames Galstad, 2016 ILA president, Sarah Willeford, 2014 ILA president, Dan Chibnall, Brett Cloyd, Andrew Fuerste-Henry, Misty Gray, Marilyn Murphy, Jill Sanders, Chelsea Sims, and Nancy Trask.

Monday, November 9, 2015

It's All Fun & Games. . .

One of the ways I try to generate more foot traffic into the library is to offer the occasional contest or game. Sometimes these events are passive games; other times students work outside of school or the library to have something to enter. Likely, you've seen some of these--Pinterest, Twitter, and other social media outlets often show March Madness-like book brackets or different guessing game questions.

What I like about these events are the different opportunities they offer for both my students and me: 1) My students have a chance to win some kind of prize or to show off their creativity in ways they may not otherwise, and 2) I have a moment to individually talk with students who might not ordinarily come into the library or stop by the desk. 

Over the years we've run a variety of events, including holiday-themed contests and contest inspired by pop culture:
CLICK HERE to read the full post.
CLICK HERE to see the full post.
We even got some of our staff involved to generate more excitement:
CLICK HERE to read the full post.
Even our elementary students enjoy the different contests we run. These are mainly guessing games so our youngest students can more easily participate, and with the free posters and books our PTO donates after book fairs, we have a variety of things from which students can choose when they win.

Have you tried a contest or event to draw students into your library or to generate a buzz in the building? Be sure to share your ideas!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Creating a Literate Environment

This summer a couple of the staff in our district attended a training by Emily Calhoun on creating a Literate Environment.

Through their training, they learned about the different elements in creating a literate environment. Our current building professional development time is focused on understanding and implementing these 6 components of a literate environment in our classrooms and throughout the school:
  • Create a text-rich environment
  • Do daily read aloud
  • Ensure lots of time to read
  • Make knowledge building a priority
  • Integrate writing with reading instruction
  • Conversation is important

As the teacher librarian, I am very excited about this concept and the ways I can be involved.  While we are only three months in with our professional development learning, I have found many ways to support teachers in creating a literate environment.

  1. Locating text resources- As a librarian, where to go to find high quality is second nature to me. I can probably find high quality texts in any AEA resource in my sleep, but some teachers are not as familiar with these resources as I might be. I need to continue to collaborate and work with teachers to show where to look as well as how to use different resources effectively and efficiently.
  2. Ensuring time to read- As the librarian, we need to advocate for our students and encourage them to read. Our building is looking at how we are going to use our homeroom time for allowing everybody to read. I am very excited about this. However, I also need to reinforce that reading may not always be a book - it also can be a magazine, comic book, or other resource. Many of our students (like us) may read on a device. Instead of insisting that students read a “print” book we need to encourage their reading in whatever format it may be.
  3. Creating a text-rich environments- while part of this is about access to reading materials for students, it also includes other text that students see and interact with. For example, posters or word walls are part of a text-rich environment. While these can be very powerful tools, it also is important to note that just having them up in a classroom does not make it a text rich environment. They must be used and support learning in the classroom to be effective.
I am excited to continue to learn about creating a literate environment and to continue to find ways to help others create this environment as well.

How do you contribute to a Literate Environment in your school?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Attitude of Gratitude: Why I'm Thankful to be a Teacher Librarian

Although I’m not new to education, I will tell you I’m fairly new to this whole Teacher Librarian business. I’ve been in my current position as a Teacher Librarian for approximately a year and three months. But my short tenure has given me a whole new appreciation for the truly incredible opportunity that being a Teacher Librarian has to offer, an opportunity I am now deeply grateful to have embraced.

You see, I wasn’t sure I was ready to be a Teacher Librarian. I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave my classroom. I loved my students, I loved my job (I taught 7th grade reading for 13 years), I loved my colleagues. But I thank my lucky stars for Dr. Rebecca Pasco, the Director and Coordinator of the Library Science program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She had the wisdom to know that despite my reservations, I belonged in the library. So, when Dr. Pasco called and told me about my current position, my choice was made. When Dr. Pasco calls, you listen.

And I’m so grateful that I did. So in the celebration of the season and celebrating an “Attitude of Gratitude,” here’s why I’m so thankful to be a Teacher Librarian:

The students

As I just mentioned, one of my biggest concerns about leaving my classroom was leaving my students. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to build the same kind of relationships I had with “my” 7th graders. I saw this same group of 125(ish) students every other day all year long. That’s a lot of contact time to truly get to know a group of students. I was afraid that a change to the library would inhibit me from making deep connections with my students.

I was right . . . and so wrong.

Although it’s a little more challenging to build relationships with 900 students than it was with 125, I quickly came to realize that I have the benefit of expanding my potential to build relationships, to support literacy, to ignite passions, to be the “cheerleader,” and to watch the growth of every single student in my building because they’re all “mine.” It may take me longer to get to know my students, and I may not know all of them the way I did my 7th graders, but being their Teacher Librarian throughout their four years in my building means I have time.

And the added bonus: I get to be the one to help them celebrate, to help empower them, and to show them that the library can be their safe place where they are always welcomed and respected, no matter what.

The collaboration with fellow educators

Collaboration is empowering for everyone involved.

In my previous position, I worked closely with a group of 5 other teachers, all of whom taught different subjects, but were all 7th grade teachers. I loved working with my fellow 7th grade teachers, especially when it came to planning cross-curricular units. I always loved sharing new tools or resources I’d discovered that could help enhance our students.

My position as a Teacher Librarian has increased my opportunities for collaboration exponentially. . . . literally. I now have the opportunity to work with 50+ teachers in my building to help support their curriculum, technology integration, and literacy. I could write an entire blog post--a love letter, if you will--dedicated to how grateful I have been for my staff. Time and time again, they’ve welcomed me into their classrooms with open arms and don’t run screaming for the hills when I whirl-wind in with another idea!

The opportunity to work with so many amazing educators within my own building, the opportunity to extend the impact of the library beyond the physical walls, the opportunity to help students see a transfer of skills and information have all been absolutely amazing.

The books

Okay, so let’s be real. Many of us became teachers because we wanted to share our passions (or at least that’s one of the reasons). One of my passions is literacy, particularly the access to information and ideas. Reading is empowering. There is no greater feeling that connecting a reader with that perfect book, that perfect resource. And as a Teacher Librarian, I’ve got a lot of books (and access to resources) that allow me to share my passion with every student (and adult) in my building!

The change

Teacher Librarians are Teacher Leaders.

My role as a Teacher Librarian has allowed me to have an impact on all facets of the educational environment not only in my building, but also in my district. As a classroom teacher, my interactions were often limited to only the other members of my grade-level or subject-area team. Being a Teacher Librarian has opened up the opportunities to interact, which has meant that I have the opportunity to communicate and initiate change.

Teacher Librarians are perfectly poised to be the force of change we want to see in the world (particularly the educational world). We have the resources and the access to multiple classrooms in multiple grade levels to truly be a voice for our students and teachers. We see the “big pictures,” we offer support, we are all about making the world a better place.

To reference my favorite Spiderman quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’m just grateful to be in the position to advocate for my students and staff..

My fellow Teacher Librarians

Of all the things I’ve appreciated as a Teacher Librarian, I am probably most appreciative of my fellow Teacher Librarians.

There’s just something about Teacher Librarians. Maybe it’s because we want to help, we want to support, we want to empower others,  but I have never met a more caring and supportive bunch of educators. The relationships I’ve built with my fellow Teacher Librarians over the course of the last year have been some of the deepest and most empowering relationships in my life. Whether in person or virtually, I know that I have an incredible support group, a group always ready to help, to share ideas, and embark on crazy journeys! That means more than words can possibly express.

So in the spirit of the “Attitude of Gratitude,” when times are tough and days are (metaphorically) long, I challenge you to share what blessings have come your way because you are lucky enough to be a Teacher Librarian.

Book Review: Everything, Everything

Imagine if you never went out of your house.  Ever.  Maddy has not stepped a foot of her front door since she was a baby.  She is allergic to the outside world, and any little thing could kill her--chemicals from a cleaning solution, someone’s perfume, certain plants, or the wrong laundry detergent.  Her house has a special filtering system, and anyone who enters must go through a special head-to-toe cleansing.  Maddy’s world consists of her mother, a nurse, an occasional tutor, and a limited amount of online communication.  But everything changes when a new family moves in door, and a boy Maddy’s age catches her attention.  She dares to wonder if her life could be different.  What would she give up for a chance to really live?

Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon, is a fascinating look at the life of a girl who is sheltered from the outside world, and believes that she must accept her fate, or die.  The characters are well-developed, and grab you into the story.  The author’s use of illustrations, diary entries, and notebook doodles from the point of view of someone with too much time on their hands also adds a lot to the book.  You wonder what life would be like in her shoes...and then everything is thrown on its head with a great twist at the end.  If you have students who enjoy John Green, Jodi Picoult, or the book Room, they will love Everything, Everything.