Library Literacy Time

I have not touched this blog in the past two years (except to consult it myself), but with only two years left as a school library media specialist I think I need to again record what I do professionally.  School administrators do not understand the teacher librarian job unless we proactively inform them.  I plan to promote what I write here with my administrators in hopes they will recognize the value of what I do and not cut the position out of convenience when I retire in May 2016.

Last year our district underwent big changes in terms of what grades are at each attendance center.  I now serve all K-1 students and all 2-4th grade students at two buildings.  A clerk is at each place full time to handle the library circulation needs of books and equipment to teachers.  As we established new schedules and procedures last year I felt it important to call my time with students Library Literacy Time to emphasize the educational nature of what I do.  With K-1, especially, it IS a traditional storytime but it is a lesson and not just a read aloud.  I reinforce (and sometimes introduce) Common Core standards with each story lesson.  Simply reading aloud has value, but a trained educator also weaves in focused learning.

Last week was library orientation with each group; this week begins Library Literacy time.  I’m starting with an old favorite “Book! book! book!” by Deborah Bruss ; illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke.  And I printed a fresh copy of CCSS:

While every story lesson I give to students reinforces many of the standards, today’s key focus will be RL3 – After I read “Book! book! book!” I will introduce the term ‘fiction’ and contrast it with informational text titles on each animal reflected in the fiction story.  I am including titles on three farm animals NOT found in the text or illustrations.  By having the students recall and identify animals NOT in the text we will hit RL1&2.  I also introduced the concept of fiction vs informational text (Rl.5).  In addition with first grade I reread the page with alliteration and asked them to listen for a pattern in the words.  (cow complained, pig pouted, etc.)  Then I asked them if a llama was in the story what alliterative thing would it do.

Reading Standards for Literature

  • K.RL.1.With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
  • 1.RL.1  Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
  • K.RL.3. With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.
  • 1.RL.3. Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.
  • K.RL.5.Recognize common types of texts (e.g., storybooks, poems).
  • 1.RL.5. Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.

Today is not storytime – it is Library Literacy Time!


How They Croaked

SLJ reviewed this title for students grade 5-9.  And with a subtitle of “the awful ends of the awfully famous” it is right on target in terms of interest.  “The sometimes-snarky writing gives the material a casual, conversational tone that will appeal to many readers.”  As I read the book I originally liked the conversational tone. 

Today, you can get Beethoven’s music as a ring tone on your cell phone. But back then, without CDs or iPods, the only way to hear his music was live. You had to be there with him in concert. However, something went wrong for Beethoven. Eventually Beethoven couldn’t hear what he was playing at his own concerts because he went deaf.   p100

I’m not concerned with conversational style in an informational text (even one that often became sarcastic).  This title is written in a style that connects today’s readers to the history and science embedded in the biographies.

Booklist gave it a starred review.  “O’Malley’s cartoon portraits and spot art add just the right notes of humor to keep the contents from becoming too gross. Usually.”  I’m not concerned with gross; that is also the appeal of this book.   

BUT after reading it cover to cover I AM concerned that the narrative crosses a line.  Like the young teacher who wants to be liked by their students and thus loses professional credibility in speech and manner, this book crosses from appeal to pandering. 

While I appreciated the sarcastic conversational tone of the book early on, it got out of hand by page 63:  “It’s more likely he [Galileo] pointed at the stars with his pointer finger, saving his middle finger  to point at the Inquisition.” Galileo’s middle finger is on display in a museum in Italy, a cool fact that is funny enough alone.  BUT the author choosing to emphasize and assume Galileo would point his middle finger at the Inquisition is inappropriate in an informational text. 

Of particular concern to me is page 87 where the DOs and DON’Ts of bloodletting are detailed.  The “don’t try this at home” warning is positioned to the side almost in the gutter and is barely noticeable.  And I have to admit that as a reader I was tempted to try bloodletting after reading that page.  And I immediately thought of several students who I was sure WOULD try it.

So I find myself disagreeing with the “professional” reviews.  Despite the very professional index and bibliography, this is the Saturday Night Live version of informational text.  While entertaining and intriguing, I would hope this is not considered a title appropriate for research and  information seeking purposes.

Get a move on…

Big challenges in my school district; finances dictate closing an attendance center.  Also this year I find myself as the professional Teacher Librarian/Media Specialist in charge of 4 schools with over 1300 students instead of 3 schools with over 650 students.  I have terrific clerks at each location, thank goodness.  We are gearing up to not only move books between libraries, but totally reconfigure.  All of the attendance centers are changing grade levels and the libraries need to adapt to suit.

There is always good news and bad news.  The good news is that we currently have a lot of duplication in materials so this move to K-1, 2-4, and 5-8 buildings will elimnate a great deal of current duplication and allow us to make more effective use of the district funds.    The bad news is… the libraries have a LOT of work to do.

My husband and I moved in 2009.  We had been in our previous home for over 17 years.  We got rid of a lot of stuff – but a lot of it moved with us and then went away.  Our move was an unexpected opportunity so I didn’t have time to purge at home as much as I should have purged.

But the libraries have this year to prepare and I thought I would begin to reflect on the process.  I spend a lot of time rolling possible proceedures around in my mind; it will be interesting to track what works effectively and what does not.  So….

#1 – Weed, weed, weed.  (Like cleaning closets at home before a move.)

This is a time we actually DO judge a book by its cover.  Weeding stage one is eliminating any books that are worn, damaged and unappealing to readers.  We’re not movin’ ugly.

#2 – We are creating new collections.  We can’t evaluate them until they are in place.  If there are holes in the collection after the move, we’ll worry about that then.  Weed now.

#3 – Educating staff.  Some of my clerks understand the concept of weeding – some are resistent.  I am recognizing a need to make sure MY staff is on board.  But as we begin this, I’m also recognizing that large scale weeding makes some faculty and students a bit anxious.  We have weeded sections regularly at my three previous schools but this is large scale.  Good communication, hopefully, will calm already frazzled folks.

Back to weeding…


Summer projects

I am assuming I am not the only educator who has a list of summer projects at home.  I am plowing through mine diligently this year.  (Last year’s all consuming project was a daughter’s wedding!)  I just finished a room painting project; with one daughter (and her stuff) gone we reorganized two bedrooms and both needed painting. The smallest bedroom is becoming my library/TV room/guest room/linen closet.  Since my collection of autographed books from children/YA authors is now the highlight of the room, I investigated buying a “book” switch plate for the light switch.  There are lots of lovely ones for sale.  But my budget requires frugal creativity.  That’s when I had an idea…

There are clear switch plates available (found mine at Menards) intended for matching wallpapered walls.  Why not use a page from a book?  My original thought was to use a page of text… but then I remembered I had two copies of one of my childhood favorites – “Caps for Sale”.  Neither copy was valuable/collectible.  They were old withdrawn library books that I kept because I loved the old story.  (They have been replaced at school with new, kid-appealing editions of the old favorite!)  So I gritted my teeth and cut up a book.  (!!!!!)

I am pleased with the results.

As far as copyright goes, I think there is no issue.  I own the book so it is fair use – first sale doctrine.  Making these to sell would be a completely different issue and not a good idea under copyright principles.  But for my own use I see no problem.

Next up… the outlets plates!

“You monkeys, you.”


Ownership of e-readers by students in my district went up by a huge percentage following this holiday season.  So far my students haven’t asked about e-books from our school library.  And, sadly, that is a good thing since we have nothing to offer and there is nothing but storm clouds on the digital horizon.

Here are a few facts on the state of e-books and libraries:

In theory, I would love to include e-books as an alternative format available to my students.  I picture the latest hot title posted to my OPAC with my students gleefully downloading it to their personal Nook, Kindle, or Ipad.  I pictured them all able to read it at the same time.  After all, shouldn’t the electronic format offer us huge advantages over print?

I was disillusioned when I went to a session on this topic at ISLMA‘s conference.  I was unaware that there is no simultaneous use of e-titles – one copy, one reader –  just like in print.  But with print editions my readers can read under the covers with a flashlight and return the title the next day.  The e-book is tied up for 2 weeks no matter when the reader finishes it.  How is that an improvement?

Public libraries were unhappy when HarperCollins began offering e-book licenses with 26 circulation limits rather than unlimited use.  But I think a variation of this model would work for me in the school setting IF they would allow simultaneous downloads!  If my students with e-readers could all access the hot new sequel immediately it would be a huge advantage over print!  I purchase multiple paperback copies of the latest hot title knowing that I will withdraw them when the demand decreases.   Why couldn’t I purchase a limited license e-book for the same purpose?  With the all-reading-at-once advantage!  Publishers?

The waters get further muddied when the e-issue discussions include e-textbooks, and school owned e-readers and Ipads.  I would love to stock a few e-readers for students who can’t afford one for themselves but the reality is that they are made for the individual consumer market and are incredibly fragile.  Just like trade and paper binding doesn’t cut it for elementary library circulation purposes, neither will the average Nook or a Kindle.

So I’m watching.  I’m waiting.  I’m hoping.  And I’m learning!  I bought a Nook Tablet for myself and I fully intend to take it off my income taxes, in part, since my main purpose for purchasing it is professional development.  Truly!

But right now the e-waters are muddy, so I shall watch from the shore for now rather than wade into the e-mess.








Caldecotts and Common Core

Common Core is going to take some adjusting… but I for one am pretty excited about the new emphasis on informational text.  Librarians have known for a long time that many, many children prefer reading non-fiction (which we shall hereto refer to as informational text).  And we have plenty of good stuff in our collection.  What will be fun, from my library-warped viewpoint, is collaborating with teachers as they work to pull together resources and projects.

There is also an emphasis on writing in Common Core.  “The ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence is a cornerstone of the writing standards, with opinion writing—a basic form of argument—extending down into the earliest grades.”

We will still use fiction, but perhaps in different ways.  Recently I pulled all the Caldecott Medal books together from their varied locations in the collection.  I think we have all but the very most recent winner…which is pretty good since they go back to 1938. ( I had to E-bay three of them to fill in the collection.)

Here is a reading and writing project I thought up recently that uses resources we already have.

A class of older students (grades 5-12) each read one of the Caldecott winning books (mostly all picture book format and pretty fast reads) and then write on why it should or should not have won.  They could base their arguments on the Caldecott criteria found on the ALA website.  The criteria is actually a form of informational text and takes some significant ability to digest.  The arguements made in writing must then reflect the criteria and make “logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence” to the Caldecott book.

Zero money spent for new print resources because, as we enter this Common Core era, this  project proposal just used what I know will be every school’s greatest resource:  the school library information/media specialist!

Touch Blue – Cynthia Lord

“Touch blue and your wish will come true.”

Cynthia Lord’s new novel is a wish come true for middle school librarians!  Simple and sweet with lots of meat, the narrative explores hosting a foster child.

Tess’ family lives on a small island off the coast of Maine.  When the state says there are not enough students to keep the island school open, the local minister hatches a plan to have island families open their homes to foster children.  Tess’ Dad doesn’t feel completely right about the plan, but her mom convinces him.  “How can it be wrong to share that [a strong, loving home] with a child who needs one – even if he brings us something in return?”

“Dad couldn’t answer that…” so Tess gets her older foster brother.  Her hopes and wishes do not match the reality of the troubled Aaron, however.  Tess and her family try their best, but Aaron is distant and surly.  But it doesn’t stop Tess from trying to change their luck and Aaron’s.

A charming frame to the story is Tess’ obsessions with luck and wishing.  Each chapter starts with a proverb related to luck.  “A rainbow means change is coming.”   The narrative also contains lovely details related to lobster fishing, which is how Tess’ father makes his living.   The setting is well developed with realistic, believable situations and compelling characters all in a package suitable for grades 4 and up.

Highly recommended.  This one will touch you…



School libraries in the 21st century

Dr. Douglas B. Reeves of The Leadership and Learning Center gives his position on school libraries in the 21st century:

Quotes I liked from the video:

“Library must be the heart of research, writing, thinking, and analysis for every school.”

Living it:  1st grade just collaborated with me, selecting library materials to support a new non-fiction reading and writing project they are adding in response to Common Core.    I am here to help all of my teachers.  My job is to collaborate and support them with resources as we begin drilling into the Core!

“We want our students not to be mindless cutters and pasters from the Internet, but rather to be critical thinkers who start with one source and use that ‘old fashioned library’ including perhaps secondary and primary sources to try to identify where the truth of the argument really is.”

Living it:  Introducing EBSCO information database to students, providing and training them to use a reliable variety of sources.  I’ll be with the 7th grade on Monday doing just this!

 “…the library becomes a social place in the best sense of the word, not just to fool around with other students, but rather to identify a safe place to be smart.” 

Living it:  Come watch 6-8th graders during Advisory or Study Period as they work at their projects and collaborate with me and with each other.  The student who just left was helping the others (and I was helping him) with Excel and charts.  “I love this,” he said.

“High touch – human relationships – precede high tech.  …high tech can give the illusion of precision and the illusion of accuracy but demands to be double checked by a thoughtful reference to multiple sources which takes us right back to the library.”

Living it:  High tech is touted for its ability to engage, but engagement without learning does not educate.  Teachers educate.  Librarians educate.  High tech guided by high TOUCH is what works!

Turtle in Paradise – Jennifer L. Holm

Jennifer L. Holm brings 1935 alive in a unique setting – Key West Florida. Like the main character, Turtle, this novel is both snappy and sweet.

Holm seems to launch many of her novels from old family stories beginning with her first (and Newberywinning) novel Our Only May Amelia which was inspired by a diary kept by her great aunt, Alice Amelia Holm.  Penny from Heaven was inspired by her mother’s life.   In the tradition, “Turtle” was inspired by family tales from the Conch relatives; Conch is what Key West natives call themselves. Jennifer’s Great-Grandmother was a Conch.  (pronounced conk)

And Holm has a way with words:

“Mama put her hand over her heart.  Otherwise it would have leaped right out of her chest.  She fell so hard for Archie she left a dent in the floor.”

Holm did her homework.  1935 Key West comes alive, complete with a couple of encounters with Papa Hemingway.  Turtle owns a cat, so I was surprised that Holm didn’t mention Papa Hemingway’s six toed cats.  But then I did MY homework.  Those cats came  from Cuba with the Hemingways in the 1940s after the events of this narrative.

An excellent piece of historical fiction for young readers, this narrative evokes a strong sense of place and time.  It doesn’t surround any earthshaking events other than a brush with the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane and the Depression era issues surrounding Turtle’s family, but it has a Conch style Little Rascals feel to it.

The cover is unfortunate; boy readers may be put off.  In spite of a girl main character, however, this is a book with a lot of boy appeal.  Turtle is the only girl among a gang of boys and the book has pirates and treasure, not to mention lots of talks about everyone’s bungy.  (Bungy is ostensibly the Conch word for butt according to the novel.)  An easy read at 177 pages (narrative) it includes 14 pages of additional notes and pictures.

I recommend you snap this one up!


Caudill Connections

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Common Core Standards focus on reading informational text.  Like other education professionals, I’ve been preparing to respond and adapt to the changes.  And I’ve been promoting how library media specialist positions should prove more important than ever in light of Common Core.

With this ever on my mind, while purchasing this year’s Rebecca Caudill nominees I had a duhpiphany!  (Duhpiphany – Sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something I should have thought of before!)  I began to make sure I had non-fiction title (informational text) to correspond to the fiction titles. 

I have collaborated with teachers on pairing fiction and non-fiction before, but somehow I never made sure I had matches for the state award nominees.  As I said, it was a duhpiphany!

Actually, it was Roland Smith’s “Peak” that made me realize a lot of kids were going to want to read more on the topic.  I wasn’t happy with anything in my current collection about Mount Everest and mountain climbing so I started an order.  For some titles, such as “Woods Runner” I already had plenty of quality titles in the collection.  But it was a good chance to update some subjects such as Darwin and evolution to support both “…Calpurnia Tate” & “Leviathan”.

I am calling these books “Caudill Connections” and I promoted the concept when I booktalked the nominated titles.  Caudill Connection books are in a separate display, marked in the OPAC as a Resource List, and labeled to identify which book they match.  Labels Caudill Connection

I’ve attached the list of the correlating titles: Caudill Connections 2012  You will notice that not every Caudill nominee has corresponding nonfiction.  Fantasy just doesn’t match non-fiction!  Hopefully you get the idea. 

At the very least, comb your current collection and highlight titles that match current Caudill nominees!  We all know that, gulp, not everyone likes reading fiction.  They might not read “Peak”, but the Mount Everest book may attract their interest.  

Whatever connects a kid and a book….