Monday, March 28, 2016

the last book....

Books considered classics survive all the years and are still found in many school libraries. To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind for high schools.
Middle grades?  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
What about picture books?  Blueberries for Sal, Where the Wild Things Are, and my favorite as a kid: Sam and the Firefly.

I am not sure how a book becomes a classic, but I’m willing to predict Elephant and Piggie books, featuring Gerald and Piggie and written by Mo Willems will still be popular in fifty years.  Kids LOVE these books, know where to find them in the library, and they are always checked out. Students immediately sit down with their friends Gerald and Piggie and giggle and laugh out loud.

Did you know, though, there are only going to be 25 of these books written?  I Really Like Slop was published in October 2015, and the last title, The Thank You Book will be released this May 2016. Even though I know the books will be around a long time, #25 will still feel like the end of an era. Like the last episode of Downton Abbey.

When I read an Elephant and Piggie book to kids, they are rolling on the floor laughing when it’s funny, and they have butterflies when it’s scary or sneaky.  The littles are concerned when the characters are having an argument or when Gerald and Piggie feel disappointed or sad.  According to Mo Willems, “They’re friends and they damage their friendship in some way, and then they have to find a way to undamage it.”  As early readers, many kids find themselves in these friend situations, and it’s validating (and sometimes helpful!) to see how two characters work it out, usually in a silly way!  

Mo Willems also says these books are “built to be little plays.”  I see this all the time.  As kids sit with their books, they immediately take a voice for one character, and a different voice for another.  Or they read the book with a friend, “You be Piggie!  I’ll be Gerald!”  They change their tones depending on the exchange.  It might be a funny tone, an angry one, or even a disappointed sigh.  Once a reader is more comfortable, they actually add the physical actions and use props!  It’s amazing to watch.

A last reason for Elephant and Piggie’s success in the library is simple: kids can, for the most part, read these early readers.  Willems keeps them short with about 50 distinct words. Students feel successful when they get to the last page because they’ve read most of the text in a fluent voice, they’ve understood the story, and they can relate to the characters.  

While I am looking forward to The Thank You Book, I am certain I will need a box of kleenex as I read it and say goodbye to two of my favorite characters!

What Elephant and Piggie book is your favorite?  

Works Cited:
Labrecque, Jeff.  “‘Elephant and Piggie’ author Mo Willems on his latest best-seller and his new Pigeon app.  Entertainment Weekly Books/Shelf Life.  27 October 2011.  Retrieved March
Norris, Michele. “ Author Mo Willems on ‘Elephant and Piggie.’”  NPR Books.  22 May 2008. Retrieved March 2016.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Seeking Presenters for ILA Conference

We need you! 

In an effort to make the ILA annual conference more relevant to Teacher Librarians, we are seeking presenters for some targeted sessions. This conference is a great opportunity to partner with other types of librarians, and to share our specific expertise across the state.

We have a few ideas to suggest, but are excited to hear your ideas as well!  

  • Using Technology to connect with patrons, students
  • Fostering partnerships between K-12 schools and academic librarians
  • Robotics in the library, connections to state STEM initiatives 
  • Teen and Tween programming for schools and public libraries.
  • Effectively communicating with adminstrators, city councils, boards, etc. for advocacy
  • Teaching and Learning about copyright, creative commons, fair use in the digital world

If you or someone you know would be willing to share their expertise on one of these ideas next October (or in the future), please contact Val Ehlers by Friday, April 25th!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Personalize your PD!

Looking for inspiration? Want to collaborate with colleagues? Trying to grow your PLN?

Join Teacher Librarians from around the Midwest the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month from 8 - 9 pm on Twitter!

Just search for the hashtag #mwlibchat to get in on the action!  

Topics vary each session, and draw in TLs from the Midwest and beyond. These chats are question and answer format - add your answers by Tweeting A1, A2, etc and be sure to include #mwlibchat at the end of each one.  

Too fast paced for you?  Check out the transcript of each chat here!

Rock the vote!

Only 10 more days until voting closes for the IASL Book Awards!

Find out more about collecting and submitting vote totals (and student recommendations for future lists) on our Awards Tab!  Totals are due March 31st.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Time to Read

Who is excited to attend the upcoming IASL conference?  I am!

Sean MacEntee - Creative Commons attribution -
One thing I'll be sharing during our two days in Des Moines is an action research project underway with aliterate 5th/6th graders at my school (those kids who can read but decide not to). When Prairie Creek teachers were asked to describe the habits of avid readers stamina topped the list. My colleagues were able to identify kids who lacked stamina (the ability to read for a sustained period of time) because we devote 25 minutes a day to free choice reading. Teachers can observe who is able to take full advantage of the time and who is struggling to read without distraction.  Time for kids to read in this way is important. In fact it is essential to literacy development and literacy instruction.  I'm curious if enough emphasis is being placed on this kind of time during the school day.

I looked to recent research  by the Iowa Reading Research Center ( about literacy instruction in Iowa but could not find data on the number of minutes being allocated for free reading. This research is revealing in the wide variety of instructional minutes, methods, and canned programs being used across the state. It is also revealing that time for students to read books they picked was overlooked (unless I missed it in there - if you see it please let me know). This has left me wondering about free reading time in our schools.  What I call free reading could be called by lots of other names. Regardless of labeling I'm interested in the number of minutes being devoted during the literacy block for students to read books they have selected.

Would you take a moment to help gather this data about student choice?

direct link -

Monday, March 14, 2016

Joining the OER (Open Educational Resources) Conversation

You may or may not be aware of a national campaign with some intriguing implications for librarians.

Last October, the U.S. Department of Education launched the #GoOpen campaign, a national campaign encouraging school districts to use openly licensed educational resources (OER). Put rather simply, the idea behind this initiative is to encourage school districts to access the wealth of free (both financial and copyright) educational resources available to level the academic playing field. The Office of Educational Technology’s #GoOpen site quotes Acting Secretary John King, explaining: "Openly licensed educational resources can increase equity by providing all students, regardless of zip code, access to high quality learning materials that have the most up-to-date and relevant content.”

So what does OER look like?

There are a plethora of resources available online. OER materials include lesson plans, worksheets or handouts, media, and other support materials that may be used and, in some cases, modified freely and without concern of copyright violation.

There are a number of places to begin exploring OER. The benefit of using these portals is that the materials available are often searchable by subject or standard, which makes finding resources slightly less daunting. Here are a few to begin to explore:

So what does this mean for teacher librarians?

Librarians have always been a wealth of knowledge and have long been active supporters of curriculum. We are curators by nature. We collect resources. We guide and support. After February's #GoOpen Exchange, Joyce Valenza called for teacher librarians to lend their voices and help lead the charge in this endeavor. In her blog post (OER and you. The curation mandate), Valenza’s challenge is for us to "be ready and to take the lead in making sense of the content and resources that will be making their way into our schools in a big way" (Valenza, 2016).

In a time when budgets are constantly being cut, the #GoOpen and OER initiatives give librarians an amazing opportunity to leverage these free resources to support the learning in their schools.  

Although I’m still wrapping my brain around the plethora of resources and all the implications for my school’s future, I feel the amazing potential already. As standards and curriculum change, my teachers are always searching for additional resources. Directing my teachers to OER ensures that they have access to quality materials that they can ethically use.

Although Iowa has not yet committed to becoming a #GoOpen state, I encourage you to learn more about OER and #GoOpen. I encourage you to be prepared to lead the charge in your school.

Learn more:
Office of Educational Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Valenza, J. (2016, February 28). OER and you. The curation mandate. Retrieved from

Friday, March 11, 2016

Working after hours: School librarians and extended contracts

Sometimes I wish I had to clock and and clock out of my job, just so I could add up the hours I've dedicated to my school and library. Of course, I would also want to account for all the hours I spend working from my computer at home, plus all the hours I spend reading books and reviews in preparation for selection and purchasing.

Don't get me wrong--I love the work I do, and I spend extra time working because I am--as you all are--dedicated to providing my students with the best library and learning experiences I can. They are worth it, and it's rewarding to see the results in my students.

Librarian as sponge
But where does it end? As budgets are cut, all teachers are asked to do more with less. And often, librarians can be seen as a luxury rather than a necessity, which leads to more and more being piled onto our plates. When I sent out this survey, I heard stories from so many of you about how teacher librarians have been treated as sponges, asked to soak up extra teaching and administrated duties as districts make cuts in these difficult budget times.

The results of February's 1-question survey attest to that fact.  You can see the full results here (and you can play with filters!), and but let me point out a few highlights as well.

  • 55% of respondents have 0 extended contract days

  • nearly 60% of libraries are open until the last day or two of school
  • nearly 80% of respondents work over the summer

So our short survey confirms what we already know: teacher librarians work a lot. And often without pay.  And while we are dedicated to our students and our schools, we cannot be martyrs to the point of exhaustion or to the detriment to our families.

Strategizing and advocating together
Where do we turn? We can certainly turn to the Iowa State Education Association or our local affiliates when we believe there are contract violations or for help advocating with our districts for strong library programs.  Sometimes, district associations may be reluctant to advocate, but members should always remember that the ISEA welcomes all member inquiries, and it is not required that you seek support first from your local association.

And of course, we do have our professional peers, both in print and in our professional relationships. If you're looking for consolation and inspiration from our colleagues' writing, try "Tips for a Solo Librarian" by Sarah Engledow Brown or "Making Every Hour Count: Librarians and Time Management" by Jennifer A. Bartlett. In addition, chapters of How to Thrive as a Solo Librarian, edited by Carol Smallwood and Melissa J. Clapp are available on Google Books, including this chapter The Solo Librarian: Creating a Constellation of Community Support by Jess deCourcy Hinds.

I know, I know...when do we have time for professional reading? Well, hopefully, you already have the IASL conference on your calendar on April 3-4 (and there's still time to register!), and we plan to offer a afternoon session called "Reflect, Prioritize, and Collaborate: Your Time to Process the Conference." This will be an open hour for you to spend on your own or with colleagues strategizing, prioritizing, and collaborating on how you can make your job more manageable, amidst all the competing demands.

These offers of support may be only little consolation for Iowa's teacher librarians, but despite the challenges, I know that we will all continue to be steadfast in our committment to do the best with what we have. That's what Jem and Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird said "decent people" do, and I think we can aim for no higher praise than that.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Build your PLN!

Looking for inspiration? Want to collaborate with colleagues? Trying to grow your PLN?

Join Teacher Librarians from around the Midwest the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month from 8 - 9 pm on Twitter!

Just search for the hashtag #mwlibchat to get in on the action!  

Topics vary each session, and draw in TLs from the Midwest and beyond. These chats are question and answer format - add your answers by Tweeting A1, A2, etc and be sure to include #mwlibchat at the end of each one.  

Too fast paced for you?  Check out the transcript of each chat here!

Friday, March 4, 2016

ILA Leadership Institute – Developing Iowa’s Library Leaders!

You are invited to apply for the 7th Iowa Library Association Leadership Institute which will be held July 27-29 at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids. 
Why a leadership institute?
Iowa’s future depends on educated, information-literate citizens.  Libraries help create and sustain the essential habit of lifelong learning.  Strong library leaders are essential to the evolution of great libraries.  The Iowa Library Association has established a comprehensive leadership development program to ensure that its members are prepared to actively shape the future of Iowa libraries.
What happens at the Institute?
You will participate in activities designed to help you:
  • Recognize yourself as a leader and develop the confidence to become a change agent in your library as well as in the larger community.
  • Assess your personal leadership style and develop the skills to use that style for effective decision making
  • Seek creative solutions to shape the future of the Iowa Library Association and library service in Iowa
  • Connect to a supportive network of successful library leaders
Who will lead the institute?
Maureen Sullivan, past ALA President (2012-2013), is the institute leader.  A highly sought-after speaker and advisor, Sullivan has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant on organization development and work redesign, strategic planning, leadership, managing change, and establishing learning programs.
Who is invited to apply?
An ILA member (may be MLS or non-MLS) with three years’ experience working in any Iowa library may apply to attend.  The Leadership Development Committee will select up to 26 individuals to attend the institute.
Where and when is the institute held?
The institute will be held at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids.  Participants will lodge in The Hotel.  Accommodations are double occupancy.  Daytime sessions and activities will be held in the adjoining Kirkwood Center.  The institute will begin Wednesday, July 27 at 10:00 a.m. and end Friday, July 29 at 5:00 p.m.
What is the cost?
Approximately 75% of the costs of the institute (institute activities, lodging and meals) are paid for through the generosity of donors, including a LSTA grant through The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the ILA Foundation.  The fee for each participant is $250 which includes lodging and most meals.  Participants are expected to cover travel costs and miscellaneous expenses.  Tuition assistance may be available to participants.
How are applications submitted?
The application form and additional information is available on the homepage of the ILA website  Applications are due Thursday, March 31, 2016.  Candidates selected to attend the upcoming institute will be notified by May 2, 2016.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What are Tweens Reading?

A colleague and professor of children's literature emailed recently with this inquiry. 

"I'm interested in favorites among your tween students. " 

Great question!

Here is a selected list of top circulating titles from February 2016 at Prairie Creek Intermediate.   I selected titles published in the last three years with more than 7 circulations (many are in the double digits like Crossover with 40+ circs).  

Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier  (and anything else by her too!)

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Doll Bones by  Holly Black

Almost Home by Joan Bauer

Wonderstruck by Brain Selznick

365 days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts by R. J. Palacio

Hidden by Helen Frost (new 2015 paperback edition)

Star Wars: Jedi Academy, Return of the Padawan (book 2) by Jeffrey Brown

Athlete vs. Mathlete by W.C. Mack

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Guinness World Records, 2016

Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories by R. J. Palacio

Many of these titles were ones I book talked in February. It was encouraging to see kids acting on my recommendations.  This was a reminder that I need to explore more of the library system data for insights into reading trends at my school. 

What are your tweens reading these days?