Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back to the Business of Books

Though you may be reading this on Wednesday, I am writing it on Monday evening. Tomorrow (to me, right now, Tuesday) I officially go back to school for in-service. While I fully intend to continue faithfully blogging about books, library lesson plans, great websites, awesome authors, and more, I also know myself. And I know that my ability to write with great frequency drops off a great deal when I'm also expected to teach six classes a day, prepare for them, keep books circulating, and get the morning show going. So, no promises. I hope to carve out time each day to write and reflect, or bank a bunch of posts with advance scheduling, promises. Happy end of summer!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Penny Dreadful Book References

Throughout Penny Dreadful, there are many references to different books and Penny sees similarities (and differences) between herself in the character.  She often muses how things would happen IF this were a book.

Anne of Green Gables
"She had just finished Reading the very last Anne of Green Gables book, and she was depressed at the thought of what to do next."

A Little Princess
"One day, inspired by a book called The Little Princess, Penelope asked her mother to invite Jane (or Olivia, if Jane was busy; it didn't much matter) over to spend the night.

The Penderwicks
"After standing in her room examining her bookcase for inspiration and pondering the problem at hand, Penelope struck upon a book - The Penderwicks - and a solution.  The Greyson needed a vacation!

Little Women
"She sat in her covers and inhaled deeply the dusty perfume of dried flowers, lavender maybe.  It was nice, like something out of Little Women."

"Penny was taken aback.  She didn't know about dibs, though she was almost sure she'd read about it in a book.  Maybe it had been a Ramona book?"

Bridge to Terabithia
"But looks could be deceiving.  Maybe Duncan was like an upsetting book with an ordinary, happy cover.  Maybe he was Bridge to Terabithia."

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
"It made Penny feel very, very good, though it seemed a funny thing to be happy about - not at all like something that would happen in a book.  Unless maybe the book was Mrs. Piggle Wiggle."

Ballet Shoes
"Delia had said that they each had a job to do, but besides running a lemonade stand, or becoming a dancer in a pantomime like the three sisters from Ballet Shoes, Penny couldn't think of any way for a kid her age to make money."

The Whippoorwillows reminded me of Pippie Longstocking, which did not get a mention.

And finally, from Penny Dreadful: "A door will only open for one who turns the knob."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dreadfully AWESOME

When I read the title, Penny Dreadful, I thought perhaps something dreadful would happen, or perhaps, that the character Penny was, in fact, dreadful. I was pleasantly surprised that nothing dreadful (at least in my opinion) happened, though there were plot twists and turns that weren't altogether happy either. And the character, Penelope Grey, or Penny, is awesome, with a great deal of growth as a character throughout the story. She finds her "inner resourcefulness" and Sheri ds a friend, or two, or three, or four. And she finds out how to be happy. Her parents, too, are well drawn characters who flip expectations on their head. I noticed in Laurel Snyder's other books that she makes reference to elements of a good story and this book isno different. Often, characters make reference to something sounding like it belonged in a book. Penny makes reference to many of the books she has read. I'm hoping to compile a post with all those books, but as I didn't have post it's with me and read ever so quickly, it was hard to mark those occurrences, so I will just have to go back through to find them again. Darn. But, for example, and this is quite early in the book, so I don't think I'm giving too much away here: "This sorry state of affairs was only made more awful by the fact that Penelope had read enough books (they were just about the only thing that Penelope did not find boring) to know that bored little girls who live in mansions are usually spoiled.". So, that's where Penny starts: bored, spoiled, lonely, and sad. But where she ends up, both mentally and physically, is very different.

In addition to the excellent writing, I enjoyed the accompanying cover art and interior illustrations created by Abigail Halpin. They reflected the life and transformation of the story and the extension of a family to include friends and neighbors.

Check out Penny Dreadful today, if not sooner, as well as Laurel Snyder's other novels and picture books. Once I receive Bigger Than a Breadbox in the mail, you can expect to hear about it shortly thereafter.

Oh, wait...I never explained the title Penny Dreadful. I love when I learn something new or something I've never heard before and this is an instance of that. "Tney're, like, the very first comic books. Cheap old action stories. Chock-full of excitement and mystery. Thrills on every page, though not exactly what you'd call great literature."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Skippyjon Jones Heads To School...Just Not Ours

I love SJ. Have since Judith Byron Schachner came to our school for an author visit. Since his debut as a wishful Siamese cat who thinks he is a chichuahua and we had the opportunity to take a peek into the author/illustrator's collection of idea (and it was a super peek!), he has reappeared in 5 other Skippyjon Jones books, 4 of which you can find in our library. The fifth and most recent I checked out of the public library and thoroughly enjoyed, but it wasn't (at least to my knowledge) published in time for my order which was placed in late May for the start of school. I'm hoping I can add it to my Scholastic bonus order. Fingers crossed. Because SJ sure is popular with the kiddos. Welcome to school, Skippyjon Jones in Class Action.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


So far, so good. I read the back cover of Penny Dreadful and this is what it said:

"I wanted to climb inside this book and pull it over my head!".
-Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal -winning author of When You Reach Me

"Penny Dreadful is Perfectly Delightful!"
- Jennifer L. Holm, two-time Newbery Honor-winning author of Penny From Heaven and Our Only May Amelia

Only two of my favoritest authors in the world endorsing the work of one of my new favorites. Hooked before I've cracked a page.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Mysterious Benedict Society

I recently finished the first audiobook of The Mysterious Benedict Society books. I'm not even sure how many books have been written in the series, but I am hooked and have already started listening to the second book about their Perilous Journey. The author is very clever and I can't wait to share all about LIVE or the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened with my own enlightened library students this fall.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Earthquake in the Library

Tuesday, August 23rd, sometime around 2:00ish in the Pine Road Library, I find myself perched on a ladder. With the transfer student meet and greet in the library, I decided to spiff things up a bit and make the place look welcoming and put together, and so commenced, with the help of a nesting Mrs. Abramson, the chores of displaying books, re-affixing any posters or wall decoration that had fallen toward the end of the school year or over the summer, organizing the student's work supplies, and picking up stray pencils and crayons. So, while hanging a poster on the top step of a ladder next to a wall bookcase that probably is not affixed to the wall, Mrs. A looked at me and asked, "What's that?". To which I replied, "What?". I heard the noise. There are four pillars in the library which contain, I believe support beams that I can hear jangle around in high wind, so I began to explain this when we heard noise above as if someone was walking in the ceiling. That was new. Then I looked outside expecting high winds but not a leaf was out of place on any of the trees. Then it stopped. So we got back to work. I never left the top of the ladder. It never occurred to me to do so. A few minutes later, one of the custodians came in and asked, "Did you feel the earthquake?". The what-quake. We are in Pennsylvania, folks. No fault lines here. But he confirmed that he had just gotten off the phone with his daughter who had felt it too. As it turns out, lots of people did. From South Carolina all the way North to Canada. And I was on the top of a ladder. I'll bet that's not a strategy in any earthquake emergency preparedness literature.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains

On the heels of "Any Which Wall" which was a somewhat drawn out read for me, through no fault of the book or author, but rather my nagging personal life, I picked up another book. Y Laurel Snyder, "Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains.". As I sometimes/always do, I studied the cover. And I thought, "eh.". The cover art didn't speak to me, didn't draw me in, but I had made a commitment to read each of Laurel Snyder's books, saving Penny Dreadful for last, since that cover art did appeal to me. And, not actually last, as a Random House rep did contact me today to get the shippingnaddress for Bigger Than a Breadbox which will technically be last. So, all this to say that you really should not judge a book by its cover, or even the description. When I read the inside jacket flap, I decided this book may find the main character having an adventure similar to the one we read about in The Phantom Tollbooth. And there were some similarities, but this book stands out on it's own. Now, I am a relatively fast reader, but even this was faster than normal. I finished "Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains" in two days, without breaking a sweat. Actually that last part is not at all true. I DID break a sweat. I brought the book with me to the gym and read while using the elliptical machine and the treadmill and stayed on longer than I normally might have because I did. not. want. to. put. it. down. So look at that, this book is good for your health too! Once again, Laurel Snyder uses her voice as an author to speak directly to the reader in asides and even defines tricky words when warranted in plain terms. She also incorporates her knack for poetry as she includes verse for the main character, Lucy, who often breaks out in song. Lucy is a strong character, supported by her best friend Wynston (who happens to be a prince, though that's not really his fault). The two find their own individual and joint adventures up and (as the title suggests) down the Scratchy Mountains.

My favorite quote can be found on page 106:
"I've never bben here before, if that's what you mean. But I'm not sure that not having been someplace is quite the same as not belonging."

Keep this in mind as we welcome new students to our schools this fall.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Any Which Wall

In preparation for the Skype visit we won from Laurel Snyder, I'm planning to read several of her books, including the soon to be released "Bigger Than A Breadbox", "Penny Dreadful", and "Up and Down the Scratchy Mountain.". The first I had to read was "Any Which Wall.". As I was also helping my sister to prepare for her wedding, I had some difficulty giving this selection the sustained attention that it deserves, but I did finish. I like the way the chapters were organized around each character's individual wish and adventure. I also love any time an author speaks directly to a reader as Laurel Snyder does in this story. When Roy, Susan, Emma, and Henry find the wall, they have to figure out (a) that it is magic, and (b) its magic rules. Through their travels, they do just that and meet many characters both ordinary (or common) and extraordinary. One of those characters ties it all together from the beginning to the end: Merlin. That's right, Merlin. Merlin had a lot of great lines in "Any Which Wall" and I don't think that, taken out of context, they give too much away, are a few:

"That's very dangerous," said Merlin, shaking his head from side to side, "not thinking."

"You can't expect to be other than you are," said the wizard, "It's a lot of work to pretend....people have to remain who they are. They can change the way they look, their outsides, maybe, but the essence of who they are never changes.... "

"It is everywhere, magic," said Merlin, "Always, and in the commonest places. Only most people don't know what they're looking for."

Laurel Snyder uses an interesting tactic of peeking into the future chapters through an action of the characters seeing a glimpse of their own futures which pertains, in the end, to each of their wall wishes. This keeps the reader predicting and discovering right along with the characters.

I enjoy Laurel Snyder's writing style and am excited to explore her other novels. "Any Which Wall" is a good next step for students who have enjoyed The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne or the baseball card adventure series by Dan Gutman.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Allie in Wonderland

About a year late...

I want to thank Meg Cabot for hosting a book giveaway on her facebook page last summer. She asked for stories of a favorite teacher and I shared a story about my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Clark. What I remember most about Ms. Clark was all the odd jobs she held through the summers. As a Catholic school teacher, I'm sure it was out of necessity, but she seemed to enjoy those experiences as well. As a result, I was encouraged to pursue many different passions in life as well.

As a result of sharing my story about Ms. Clark, I won a few different Allie Finkle books for our library. I felt like I had stumbled down an awesome rabbit hole. The Allie Finkle books are hugely popular with our fourth and fifth graders and I enjoyed them just as much.

So, thank you Meg for sharing these books with us!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Summer Blog Hop

I found a summer blog hop with contests galore. And I've been a little preoccupied trying to enter them all. All 300 of them. Last summer, when I started tweeting, I won several online book giveaway contests. It was as simple as re-tweeting. And just like that, I had entered. These are a little more complicated. Some, you have to follow the blog through GOogle Friend Connect. I have only followed those that I wanted to continue to read. Following as a requirement seems a little much to me. The blog hop itself encourages people to visit and check out the blog. If they like it, they will follow. It's that simple.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Keepin' Kosher

Our school library serves a diverse population of students, and I do my best to find books that speak to our students. I think I have found just that in Baxter, The Pig Who Wanted to be Kosher by Laurel Snyder. After earning a spot in Ms. Snyder's 100 Schools in 100 Days Skype project, I'm doing my best to devour everything she has written to prepapre myself and was delighted to find Baxter in this way. Many of our students enjoy celebrating Shabbat each Friday evening with their families and I'm sure those that don't will be delighted to think that, like Baxter, they might be invited as well. I invite you to check out Baxter and Laurel Snyder's other great books. I'll be posting about others in the weeks to come.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Can They Even Do That?

I stumbled upon Mockingbird by Kathryn Lasky over winter break last year and loved it instantly. I told students it was my pick for the Newbery and learned shortly after that it was the National Book Award winner. I loved the original cover and I saw the appeal, though not timelessness of the paperback cover. While browsing at Barnes and Noble, I noticed something odd. Can they even do that?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Honust-ly Valuable Book (and Baseball card)

I debated over which title to write about from the completed side of my summer reading stack and settled upon another favorite first of a series.  Dan Gutman's "Honus and Me" is the first in his Baseball Card Adventure series.  I read "Jackie and Me" last summer as it was included in our local Reading Olympics list and caught my eye.  Then I enjoyed "Roberto and Me" shortly after it was published this past winter.  I resolved that this summer, I would read the other books, and do so in order.  

I love this series and how it combines different genre (sports fiction and science fiction) for the ultimate combination for reluctant readers.  Now, I don't consider myself a reluctant reader, but I could not put this book down.  I finished it in two days.  I enjoy baseball, but I had very little background knowledge of Honus Wagner.  I appreciate that Dan Gutman's didn't expect me to, as a reader.  He incorporates so many facts seamlessly, even down to the correct pronunciation of Wagner's first name, Honus as it would sound in honest without the t and is short for Johannes.  I even ended the night as I finished reading in a lively debate about the specific name of the company that produced the card.  We were both right, as Wikipedia (bad librarian) proved.  So, our marriage is still in tact over the great Piedmont/Sovereign debate.  See the brands that produced the T-206:

I was contacted to tutor a student as I was starting this book and decided it would be the perfect match.  As a result, I've linked to several resources to aid in comprehension for Honus and Me on Diigo

I am looking forward to reading and blogging about Dan Gutman's other Baseball Card Adventure books.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Double Trouble

After recently finishing Andrew Clement's The Landry News, I thought I had figured out where the title of his book, Lost and Found had come from. It was the same as the title of the controversial short story featured in the challenged issue of the Landry News. The short story was about a boy having a hard time dealing with his parents' divorce. The book by the same title was not, as I had guessed, a continuation of the short story.

Instead, it was an incredibly imaginative (I hope) starting with the first day of school for Jay Gleason, twin brother of Ray Gleason. But on this first day at a new school, he is on his own (with his brother sick at home) and makes the surreal discovery that his brother's file has been lost, or rather, combined with his. For the first time in his life, he was an individual, not part of a pair. And he liked it. And he saw an opportunity. The brothers decide the risk is worth the experience of an individual identity. They realize it can't last forever, and quickly realize the complications involved in leading a double, or rather, single life. But every other day, one of the two brothers stays home from school. But they begin to realize that the real fun school.

In reading the back cover jacket flap, I learned something new about a favorite author. Andrew Clements has 20 years of field observation experience of twins as the father of two of them himself. Frindle is his most well known title, but the more I read of Andrew Clements books, the more interested I become. As an author, his writing invites you in. As an educator, he helps you to question the way things are in a healthy and constructive way. And as a student, he may just give you a few ideas...and you can decide what to do with them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Books Beat Boredom

Said Amanda (of Amanda and Her Alligator) wisely. Amanda is Mo Willems' newest character, along with her alligator...and penguin. Willems is one of my favorite children's picture book author/illustrators. First graders did an author study of Mo Willems, learning to draw the pigeon and create mixed media illustrations in a Knuffle Bunny-esque style. Amanda and Her Alligator with its mini chapters was an interesting deviation. I felt like I got to read 6 1/2 books instead of one, and I enjoyed the alligators surprise, post thinking cap. The illustrations are simple, and yet convey a great deal of emotion. I enjoy that Amanda spends time at both the library and the zoo. The book titles were very clever. For example, my husband (a rock climbing instructor) would appreciate "Climbing Things for Fun and Profit," and as a reader, I appreciated Amanda's reading stance (upside down, with one leg kicked in the air). I have always enjoyed Willems' books, but as a librarian, reading them repeatedly to different classes, helped me to notice new details, so I know that upon multiple readings of this book, I will find new details as well. Don't forget to look for the pigeon.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Fair Frenzy

We do two Scholastic Book Fairs each year and I blogged waaaay back in October before our first book fair about some of the preparations. I wanted to discuss some of the changes that worked really well for both our fall and spring book fairs.

Theme: the fall theme was Here's to our Heroes and to help incorporate the theme, I dressed as a different superhero each day of the book fair. It definitely made a difference for students, parents, and teachers alike. I don't think there was a single person who didn't know that we had a book fair going on. The spring theme was carnival based and I considered dressing as a clown, but I was advised against it as that can be scary to some kids. We did play carnival music throughout in the background and used pennants as our recognition of One for Books contributions.

Location, Location, Location: we moved the registers this year so that they were up on the circulation desk rather than over in the midst of the fair on a table. This accomplished a few things. It utilized a surface we already had, so we didn't need an additional table set up. We were also able to use the shelves below that part of the circulation desk for baggies for change, bags for books, and other materials like rubber bands, one for books slips, teacher book dedication stickers, etc. This freed up space for us to spread out the fair a little more. We also borrowed the cords and stanchions (fancy/real names for movie theater line thingies) from the high school to create a specific place for the line. This was mostly necessary for the evening book fair which can get quite crowded, but I also created a system to match up older and younger partner classes on either side of the line.

Teacher Wishlist: On the location note, we changed up how we make a teacher wish list. In the past, teachers wrote out a wish list and they were posted on the wall by the door. If you wanted to get a teacher a book, you first of all had to know there was a wish list, find it, then find the book you might like to get. Most people didn't know this was an option, and some teachers made wish lists, others did not. This past year, I encouraged all teachers to make a wish list. We made up bookmarks with each teacher's name and grade or area at the top. We gave 6 to each teacher. They came in during book fair preview and selected their books, but instead of writing a list, they put their bookmark in, made a pile and placed the pile on our teacher/classroom wish list display. Then, if a parent or student wanted to get a wish list book, all they had to do was go to that area and pick one up. Easy.

The Little Things that Make a Big Difference: there were a few little changes that helped so much. We got snack sized ziplock bags to give change back in. So much easier than putting it back in an envelope that has already been opened, and good for those kids who come with a fistful of dollar bills and no wallet, envelope, or bag. We color coded the sections, and labeled areas by number, so in each area was a location number. On the student wish lists, there was a spot to write down location number. For orders that were sent down to the library, having a location number made filling orders so much easier. The last copy slips were also organized by color to match the closest location number sign, making it easy to return last copies after a backorder was placed.

Poster Raffle: When you put posters on display, you get to keep the,. Now, as much as I love "Paw Wars", Justin Bieber, and "Fur-ever Friends," I don't know that I would have gotten much use out of the posters. So, we set up a poster raffle. Whenever a student made a donation to One for Books (even a penny), or purchased a teacher wish list book, they were entered into out poster raffle. I kept track of entrants by having the, write their name on a pennant (next year name and homeroom). Then I went through the pennants and entered each name into a Google Spreadsheet. At the end of the week, I used a random number generator to select the number of winners to correspond to the number of posters we had. At times, I made it a job for an older student to type the names into the google doc and I will likely do this again next year.

Calculator Station: We set up a calculator station with a chart that showed how much tax one would owe for different amounts of money. There was another chart with directions for adding up the prices of items and multiplying for tax. There were calculators there. This was a huge time-saver and good math practice for students as well. When they would come to me and ask, "Do I have enough?". I would guide the, to the calculator station and 9 times out of 10, they could figure it out themselves.

Stuff: What better way to put it? Stuff. At a Scholastic Book Fair, there is a lot of stuff, besides books. And it can be really distracting. In the spring, I wanted to try something different. We only sold the stuff during the evening book fair. This did not include posters. I told all students this during their preview week a week before the fair. During the evening fair, it was set up away from the rest of the books. This served many purposes. 1) The stuff did not become a classroom distraction, get lost and cried about, or worse, taken. 2) We did not have the twenty times over repeat customers. This may sound like a good thing, but these are the kids who would work hard to spend every last cent but it took many trips to the register, and much time out of class to do so. Not having erasers, bookmarks, and cell phone pencil sharpeners cut down on this kind of behavior. 3) By selling these items during the evening book fair, we knew kids had their parent's permission to get that item. Previously, there might be complaints that kids spent money intended for books on erasers and giant pointer fingers. 4) Oh, and the giant pointer fingers almost always ended up as weapons, so there was none of that. 5) Timing. So, our fair runs for 6 days. If you are a kid in the class that comes on the first day, you get to have your pick from all the stuff. But, if you come on the last day, it is slim pickin's indeed, so this eliminated that problem. 6) Along the same line, if a student comes on day 1 and fills out a wish list with one of these items, by the time day 6 rolls around, they return the wish list, more often than not, that item is gone. And I'm the lucky individual who had to make the call to customer service to request that a pink sparkly pen with a fuzzy thingie on top be shipped out ASAP. They never knew what I was talking about.

Delivery: On a regular day, we use rolling carts outside of classes in grades K-2 to pick up their library returns and also to place outside the class that will have library the next day as a reminder to bring books back. We were able to use these same carts to make deliveries to classrooms by grade level.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but these changes made things run so smoothly. I'm looking forward to this fall's fair and building reading excitement for our students.

If you are a school librarian and you have some ideas you use in your school, include them in the comments section below.