Monday, September 15, 2014


Frank! is the US debut book from Aussie author, Connah Brecon.  Frank is always late, and always has an excuse.  In this about face to "the boy who cried wolf tale," Connah Brecon does a brilliant job of illustrating and bringing to life each of the outlandish (but true!) scenarios that Frank encounters as he TRIES to get to school on time, but ultimately fails again and again and again.

This book will not fail to entertain readers and spark some imaginative new excuses for Frank.

Some notable illustrations include a spread featuring not one, but 3 watch shops (on "time square") and a school bus just pulling away.

The one with the tree "leaving"...get it?!

And what I can only imagine (dare I say hope) is a sneak peek of Frank!'s sequel.

Yes, please.

ISBN: 978-0-7624-5423-5
Published 2014 by Running Press Kids
I received an advance copy of Frank from the publisher to read and review.
Follow @connahbrecon on Twitter
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Revolving Door

On twitter, a PLN friend asked for suggestions on implementing a 6 day rotation in the library.  When I started in my position, it was the first year of a 6 year rotation.  Previously, if a student came on a Monday, they always came on a Monday.  Moving forward, they would come on A day.  This can be pretty confusing for 5 year olds.  Then again, Monday can be tricky too.  Anywho, it was a good time to make some changes being mindful of how exactly we might keep things running smoothly in our library.  We did a few things.

1) I got these rolling carts.
I got six of them, one per grade level.  In the end, we only really use them now for grades K-2 (so we only need 3) who have classes in the afternoon.  This is something that would be tweaked for each school's needs.  

The concept is for book return.  But it has served other purposes, including a reminder to the class that they have library on the next school day.  It also cuts back on students forgetting their book in their classroom and having to trek back to get it, though not entirely.  

Each grade level cart has its own signage.  There is a stack of card stock labelled KA, KB, KC etc. for Kindergarten, 1A/2A for First and Second Grades respectively.  I hole punched the top corners and used binder rings to attach the signs to the front of each cart. On the back of each page, I attached a post-it with the teacher's name that had library on that day.  So, for the KA sign, the post-it on the back had the name of the Kindergarten teacher whose class came to the library on A day.  

After lunch, the cart would sit outside of the classroom which would indicate to the class (and their teacher) that they have library the next school day, so if this class had library on B day and B day was on Tuesday, the cart would come to their classroom on Monday afternoon and sit in the hallway right outside the door.  

As part of the morning routine on Tuesday/B day, the students in this class will put their library books to return into the cart.  {When I first did this, I included a pencil and a post-it note pad with each cart and asked students to post it the word renew if they wanted to renew their book.  This didn't always work out, so now we ask students to bring the book with them if they would like to renew, though most K-2 students are ready to check out a new book anyway.}

During morning classes, the carts are picked up and brought to the library when there is more time to check books in and shelve them.  Currently, our library assistant retrieves the book carts.  Also, students from older classes can be assigned to pick up books or the teachers in the younger classes can assign book return as a class job, much like students might bring notes to the office.  With this procedure, books are checked in before K-2 classes come to the library in the afternoon so you are aware of any students that you might need to follow up with about overdue books and if students are waiting on a book, it can more readily be sent to the next student or placed on the hold shelf for the next student.  When there are holds placed on a book in K-2, we find it is most often within the same class where excitement has built for a particular title.

If you try a system like this or do something similar, please comment below to share!

2) I made up bookmarks as reminders for books that need to be returned.  In the past, a summary was printed for each student with the title of the book.  That's a lot of paper!  Often, parents (and students) just need a reminder that their book is still out and they already know what it is and exactly where it is and just need to remember to put it in a school bag.  Or, as sometimes happens, take it out of their school bag upon arrival at school.  These bookmarks served as that reminder.  The bookmarks also have a link to our school library catalog which students can log into from home and check their own account to see the title of the book checked out if they are drawing a blank.  When a student has a book still checked out, they can put a book on hold.  When they return their book with the bookmark in it, it signals to us that they have a book on hold and we can send it up to the class for the student.  They can still utilize the book return cart too!  It is in their grade level hallway, just outside of the next class' door.

These strategies cut down on students missing instructional time in the classroom and maximizes their time in the library.  Our schedule is tight with six classes per day.  It truly is a revolving door in the library, and we wouldn't have it any other way

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library

Barbara Rosenstock does a great job cramming a ton of information about both Thomas Jefferson and the building and re-building of the Library of Congress into a picture book, making it accessible, entertaining and aesthetically pleasing.  I happen to enjoy books...and libraries quite a lot myself.  I like to think TJ and I would have gotten along well for that reason.  One of history's great contradictions though is his stance on slavery in America and I appreciate that this important part of his story is not glossed over or ignored.  Barbara Rosenstock chose to include an author's note as well as a note specifically about Thomas Jefferson as a slaveholder.  

Otherwise, I think the text is laid out artfully, including the notes displayed on open books.  And speaking of the art, John O'Brien's use of colors highlights the time frame during which Jefferson lived and the pixelated appearance adds a unique quality to each page.

The inclusion of a selected bibliography is helpful to readers looking to learn more and the quotation sources are especially helpful in validating the accuracy of the voice of the text as being authentic.

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library
ISBN: 978-1-59078-932-2
Published 2013 by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Anubis Speaks

Anubis spoke... to me.  Not literally, that would be crazy - right?!?  But this book spoke to me and I believe it has the power to speak to middle grade readers in a way that both informs and entertains.  The common core gets excited about that kind of thing, ya know!  As a school librarian, I am well versed in ALL of Rick Riordan's very popular series, including The Kane Chronicles.  If you haven't had the pleasure, I highly suggest you check them out.  With that said, I think Riordan has opened a door for young readers to engage with mythology (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, I hear Norse is on the way) with new characters.  Once the door is open, they don't want to go back.  Like Pandora's Box - too much?  Instead, they want to learn more and they inhale other myth based books like Apophis wants to inhale Ra (sun eating snake for those out of the loop...or is the loop the snakes that eat themselves - but I'm getting ahead of myself).  

Last year, our category was nonfiction picture book but it has been expanded to include books for middle grade readers.  In order to create a balanced shortlist, I hope we see a balance of traditional nonfiction picture books, more text based informational picture books and books with more text dense heft to Anubis Speaks.  Which is not to say there aren't awesome illustrations.  Because there are.  Antoine Revoy does a smashing job of accompanying the text with detail rich illustrations that keep the reader turning the page.  Wondering what it looks like when Anubis helps tip the scales in your favor as a bloodthirsty croc leers in the background?  Look no further.

Now, here's the tricky part.  I'm reading Anubis Speaks as one of many non-fiction books for elementary and middle grade readers.  Most of the other books have a more nonfiction feel to them which can make this a difficult sell.  Anubis is our narrator but all of the information that he presents is true.  It is either true of ancient Egyptians and their rituals as we understand them.  For example, Egyptians did learn to embalm bodies.  Fact.  Or it may be a true part of their religious rituals.  For example, Ra's priests (real life people) DID write down the monster's (Apophis') names and light them on fire or bury them.  Fact.  And their religious rituals are based on what we now consider Egyptian mythology which belongs in a very nonfiction Dewey Decimal System area: 299.3113.

Likewise, the sources listed are thorough and documented on a page and a half.  The book is complete with a glossary and an index.

Also, this book is fun.  Really fun.  I didn't want to put it down or stop reading fun.  I am looking forward to reading more by Vicki Alvear Shecter.  She has a writer's voice that middle grade readers will relate to.  She is funny and takes care NOT to spare any gory details.  This book will book talk itself right off your shelves and into readers hands.  Check out Anubis Speaks immediately if not a little sooner.

And, for Elizabeth Dulemba's take on the book and an interview with the author,

You may recall that I am also a fan of Elizabeth's work with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.  Enjoy!

Follow @valvearshecter and @antoinerevoy on Twitter

Anubis Speaks
ISBN: 978-1-59078-995-7
Published 2013 by Boyds Mills Press
I received this copy from the publisher specifically to review for CYBILS

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How Big Were Dinosaurs

An interesting question for Lita Judge to ask.  As a member at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, I figured I had a pretty good handle on the size of dinosaurs, generally speaking.  Turns out, that, coupled with my knowledge of the movie Jurassic Park still did not give me the appropriate schema to visualize the size of dinosaurs (both big and small).  But this book, “How Big Were Dinosaurs?” did an excellent job of putting their size (both height and weight) into perspective that would likely also work well for a young child.  This book is well written, incorporating figurative language elements as well as text that bolds the names of the dinosaurs throughout.  The illustrations are humorous but also, technically, accurate.  The ones that surprised me more were how small they were, not how large.  The protoceratops being the size of a baby rhino seemed surprising to me.  The velociraptor was downright shocking to me.  I saw Jurassic Park.  That special effects dinosaur was not the size of a golden retriever.  And yet. 

I know with certainty that this book will have kid-appeal in my library.  In addition to our second grade curricular study of dinosaurs, we have some dinosaur fiends at my school who will snatch this book off the shelf. 

All that said, my only concern is the lack of source material that I would consider highly reliable.  The content needed (size of the dinosaurs) should not be hard to find in plentiful and countless sources.  The fact that Enchanted Learning is one of two websites listed as resources is troubling to me.  I don’t think the information would be unreliable, per se, but I think there are better sources out there from many a reliable organization dedicated to the study of dinosaurs.

How Big Were Dinosaurs
ISBN: 978-1-59643-719-7
Published 2013 by Roaring Brook Press
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pedal It! How Bicycles are Changing the World

Full disclosure, I am a super environmental, earth saving, reducing, reusing, recycling hippie.  So, when a book has an environmental sway or message involved, I will buy into that.  This book combines fabulous, fascinating information about the history of bicycles and current interesting uses for their potential powerhouse of…power.  The health benefits and decreased impact to our planet are all good reasons for everyone to put down this book (when finished reading, of course) and hop on a bike (with a helmet, of course – no “headers” here!). 

Within Chapter One: Who Thought This Up, Anyway, there is a side paragraph highlighting the resurgence of “push bikes” (previously known to me as balance bikes).  A little less than a year, we purchased a balance bike for my daughter and we have seen her body getting accustomed to the feel of a bike without need for training wheels.  Many people have asked us about it and just recently, I saw a window display of balance bikes in an independently owned bicycle shop.  It’s exciting when something “old” is “new” again!

Also from Chapter One, I learned that the term “taking a header” was invented from people falling off of high-wheel bicycles onto their heads.  I am looking forward to reading another CYBILS nonfiction nominee “Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football: Make-or-Break Moment” and made the connection between the “header”. 

Having read Matt Phelan’s Around the World, I had read about Thomas Stevens’ journey (around the world) on a bicycle in 1884.  I was somewhat surprised that this bit of history was not included in the book as it added to the phenomena of bicycles becoming more of a mainstream mode of transportation and recreation.

Mention of the Wright Brothers background as bicycle builders and mechanics reminded me of Matt McElligott’s “Benjamin Franklinstein Meets the Fright Brothers” in which the re-animated Wright Brothers are the proprietors of the “Right Cycle Co.”

Finally, the section highlighting the bicycle’s part in the women’s right movement and change in fashions made me thing of “You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer” by Shana Corey.

Overall, the information is presented in a visually appealing way that keeps the reader interested in the content throughout.  Different facets of the bicycle’s impact on the world we live in and the evolution of its uses throughout history are helpful to build the reader’s knowledge of the bicycle.  The photography and illustration help to build a better understanding of how a bicycle might power the lights of a house or transport a bakery.  I really enjoyed “Pedal It” by Michelle Mulder.

Pedal It!  How Bicycles are Changing the World
ISBN: 978-1-4598-0219-3
Published 2013 by Orca Book Publishers
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.