Sunday, September 30, 2012

Little Free Library

      A retired pastor in our neighborhood build this little free library this summer. I love the idea and hope that people are taking advantage of it. He has books for both kids and adults available. I found a site on the Internet that offers little libraries available for sale along with directions for those wanting to build them themselves. It seems that there are free little libraries popping up in neighborhoods in many communities. What a wonderful way to promote literacy and build community. I was especially touched to read about one of the first free little libraries built in Accra, Ghana which proved to be so popular that there are now 40 in Accra. The mission of the Little Library organization is to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide. They hope to build more than 2,510 libraries around the world.
     On a different note, I worked at the community kitchen this Saturday. Around 50 people showed up for the meal which was simple but nutritious and greatly appreciated by the dinner guests. There were a few families with young children among the people served. I didn't know the kids but it made me think of kids at my school. As teachers we spend time thinking about goals that we have for our students such as where we want to be at the end of the school year. We spend time evaluating them and much care is taken to make sure we are meeting them where they are at academically. I'm interested in what the kids are doing but I don't always give a lot of thought about what their weekends are like. I occasionally see students at sporting events that they participate in or maybe run into them at the store. After the dinner on Saturday it occurred to me that not every kid gets the opportunity to play soccer on Saturday morning. Not every kid gets to go to Target or McDonalds or any other place that I might go to and think nothing of. There are kids in our community that aren't getting enough to eat. They have to worry about where their next meal comes from. I'm glad that schools offer free and reduced breakfasts and lunches for those who need them during the week. However, it's those kids who have to worry about the weekends that are on my mind tonight. It saddens me to think that there are little ones who are being forced to face the harsh realities of life at a young age. True, there are some things I can do to help. I can make donations to the food bank. I can provide meals at one of the community kitchens. As I prepare to teach this week, I'm going to be mindful of the kids who might have had a tough weekend. Perhaps the most important thing I can do is to provide a caring and supportive environment for kids everyday at school.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Golden Moments

     Several posts ago I mentioned an activity I was doing in class with my 6th grade students. They have been working together in groups to draw maps of the library. They have enjoyed having a legitimate excuse to use their new markers and color pencils My objective has been to review the sections of the library and to help new students become acquainted with our space.

     I've signed up to use the computer lab this week so the students can use a draw document in OpenOffice to make their dream library. There will be some sections that they have to include in their library such as fiction, nonfiction, reference, easy and computer lab. After that the students are free to come up with their own ideas about what would be their ideal library. I'm looking forward to seeing their work and maybe I'll be inspired to make some changes in our library.
     If our school had iPads for each student I would have them try out a free App called Skitch which Richard Byrne promoted in his blog Free Technology For Teachers. This app allows students to use shapes, arrows, sketches and text annotation to create and it sounds like a tool that would be great for my dream library project. Who knows, maybe next year?

     I went to a workshop after school tonight structured around The Daily Five. It was time well spent and one thing in particular stood out to me. The presenter stressed the importance of having students pull out a “golden moment” in text when they read.  I love that!  Golden moment.  Wow.                                  

     I was reminded of S.E Hinton's book The Outsiders when Johnny quotes from Robert Frost's poem to Ponyboy in a letter. I think I first read The Outsiders when I was about 11 or 12 and I still remember that golden moment in the book when Johnny tells Ponyboy “to stay gold”.  The poem seems particularly appropriate for this time of year.  I'm going to work hard to help students find books with golden moments hidden in the pages.  That's what will keep them reading.

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Humble tasks

It felt like I shelved about 5,000 books on Friday. When I looked at the library statistics for the day it was closer to 350 so I was a little bit off in my initial estimation. It was just one of those days when the menial tasks that I needed to deal with seemed pretty unexciting. My efforts in the library were not solving the hunger problems in the world. My work wasn't bringing anyone closer to finding a cure for cancer. It was a fairly ordinary day. This is true of my home life too. I do a lot of weeding and pushing around of hoses before I see any results in my garden. In the kitchen there is much chopping and peeling before dinner gets on the table. When my kids were young, I changed diapers, wiped noses and sorted many socks. None of it is brain surgery or rocket science and I'm alright with that.  I've always believed that any job worth doing is worth doing well. However, as I was scanning the 349th book on Friday I found myself stifling a large yawn. And that was when I saw it, a returned copy of The Lego Hero Factory. To most people this book title wouldn't mean much. I happened to know that In the kindergarten there was a young boy that was on pins and needles waiting for this particular copy. I hurried the book down to his classroom feeling a little bit like one of Santa's elves. When I handed him the book his eyes lit up as he thanked me. As I walked back to the library to shelve those 350 books, there was a lightness to my step. While it's true that many of the tasks that I deal with on a daily basis are humble in nature, I also get the opportunity to hand kids' books that they are genuinely excited about. It feels like I'm giving them a gift. Honestly, seeing that light in a child's eyes is worth shelving 5,000 books.

Thursday, September 20, 2012



        When I first began my teaching career, I wanted to have a special place in the classroom where kids could read.  My Dad build me a reading loft which had it’s first home in my 2nd grade classroom. When I moved to a new location, the loft moved 100 miles with me.  Even though I changed classrooms numerous times over the years, the reading loft was always a fixture in each one.  The kids loved reading in it and I liked having a designated reading area that was a bit out of the ordinary.
         When I began my job as school librarian I wanted to have a new reading loft that would better fit the larger space.  I did some sweet-talking to my husband and he and my father-in-law went to work. They built a bigger and better model.  The loft has been a fixture in the library ever since and it has never lost it’s popularity.  Kids of all ages are drawn to it and my rule is they have to be reading in order to use it.  I’m probably spending too much time singing the praises of a glorified bunk bed so I’ll get to the point.                                                                                                                                                                 
          Today I was busy working with a boisterous class of kindergarten students when our school secretary came into the library.  She was escorting a little boy whose face was about the color of a pale zucchini.  She asked if he could rest in the loft because her sick room was already full. I was just getting ready to suggest that she grab a garbage can.  At that exact moment he climbed up the loft and threw up.  I went sprinting across the library to grab a can of OOPS as our secretary ran for the garbage can. If the kindergarteners weren’t already excited by their library visit, they were now.
        The sweet little boy with the bad tummy couldn’t help himself.  He didn’t mean to make a mess, it just happened. Isn’t this true with many things in life?  We have our, forgive the pun, lofty ideals with neat and tidy ideas of how things should be.  Then life happens and things get messy.  As educators we see this a lot, so what do we do?  We deal with it.  We love the kids, vomit and all.
           As a side note in case anyone reads this and wonders how I’m going to disinfect an entire loft, our maintenance man promised that a fresh piece of remnant carpet would be installed tomorrow morning.  Thank goodness messes clean up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Readers' Cafe

          Monday was our first Reader’s Café at school.  Once a month we invite our sixth through eighth grade students to bring their lunch to the library and listen to a featured novel being read aloud by a staff member. At the end of the period, we offer 5 copies of the book that are available for check out. When our title teacher first started the program she contacted our local Soroptomist group and told them about the Reader’s Café.They have been making donations to our school ever since which we use to buy multiple copies of each title. Last year we had a variety of staff members who volunteered to read. Our head maintenance man did a wonderful job of reading “A Wrinkle in Time” and the kids got the chance to see a completely different side of him. Not only are the students exposed to a variety of genres, they experience an assortment of voices.
In the past we have had anywhere from 10 to 50 students in attendance. On Monday we had a dozen kids show up. The students who spent their lunchtime in the library enjoyed themselves. It was a peaceful, comfortable atmosphere, a sharp contrast to the overcrowded and noisy lunchroom. Our title teacher read “Deadweather and Sunrise” by Geoff Rodkey and the kids were completely engrossed for 45 minutes. We had six copies of the book available for checkout after the reading and every copy was taken.
Next month our guidance counselor will be the featured reader. I don’t know how many will show up, there might be 3 or 30. It’s not the numbers that we are concerned about. The important thing is we are giving the kids the option to take a break from a hectic day and enjoy a story. After all, for those of us who are in the business of education, there’s much more to it than numbers.  Anytime we touch the heart and mind of a student, it is success.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Wisdom begins in wonder

      In the next few weeks, I want to put together a bulletin board that displays a picture of each of our staff members holding something they are currently reading. My hope is that there will be wide variety of materials and formats. I would like to see people with newspapers, nonfiction and fiction books, magazines, comics and Kindles. Heck, I’d be happy to see someone reading a cereal box.  What I want to portray for our students is that the adults in our school  are readers. We are  individuals with unique personalities and what we read reflects this. My husband and I were having a discussion about this just this morning. He commented that he really doesn’t see the point of reading fiction. He is much more interested in reading something “real”. After I finished rolling my eyes at what I perceived to be his lack of imagination, I considered what he said. We all have our reasons for reading, sometimes it’s for entertainment, sometimes for enlightenment. When kids come into the library to check out books, I don’t care if they are excited about Spiderman or a book about sharks.  My main goal is to help them find something that captures their interest and gets them thinking. 
     This is my current bulletin board, which is located across from a display case. 

The display case is visible immediately upon entering the building. Each month I display new books and poetry. When people come to our school, one of the things that they hopefully notice is we value reading and books.  
     My point in all of this is this. It doesn't really matter if we read recipes, labels, fiction on nonfiction. Kids need to see us reading and to see that it matters. Kids need to be reading.  I have a great job because it's a wonderful thing to witness a child's eyes light up when they find a book that they love.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  Wisdom begins in wonder. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Open House and more...

    We had a wonderful turnout for our Open House last night. My school has a rural setting and our parking lot was so full that people were actually parking the ditch next to the road so they could come visit. Many kids eagerly showing their parents, siblings, even grandparents around the building. I heard from more than one parent that they hadn't even had a chance to eat dinner prior to coming to the Open House. People busy with work, busy chauffeuring kids, busy with the demands of family life, yet taking time to visit their school. It's gratifying for me to have so many students stop into the library to say "hi" each wanting show-off our space. I'm grateful for those families who took the time to show up on Tuesday. It's well worth the effort because it means so much to the kids.  Now that my own kids are grown, I have fond memories of making time to share those school days together. It goes by much too fast.
     Several years ago, I fell in love with Philip and Erin Stead's work when I first read their Caldecott winning book A sick day for Amos McGee. For anyone not familiar with the book it is the story of a zookeeper named Amos who takes especially tender care of the animals and one day he comes down with a terrible cold. The animals love and miss him when he stays home to rest. They proceed to take the city bus to visit him at home where they return the loving care he has shown them. Erin Stead uses woodblock printing and pencil in the illustrations and gives her characters such weathered and wizened faces they are endearing.
     This same team has written another book that I love called Bear has a story to tell.  Bear is eager to tell his story to friends but everyone he approaches is busy getting ready for winter. Bear helps each friend prepare for the cold weather and eventually falls into hibernation mode himself. It's a story of patience and helping friends. Above all it is about the importance of sharing our stories. Erin captures the colors of fall and the gradual approach of winter in her illustrations. Her characters have the same warmth and charm that earned their first book the Caldecott.    

We have over 500 students at our school and I am working hard to learn the names of new students. It's work for the kids to learn the names of their teachers too.  In one of my classes a  young kindergarten girl kept looking at me and tapping her chin and she finally said “I can't remember your name, Mrs. Library booker person”.   I think they should make that into a sign I can put above the door.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ready for the first full week of school

     This is one of my recent bulletin boards and it is located just next to the library entry so it's one of the first things students and teachers see when they come in. I like to make my bulletin boards three dimensional to capture the attention of the kids and I often incorporate new book covers into the theme. I'm always amazed at how much attention the kids actually pay to the new displays and they often ask to check out the books that are exhibited.
     This week will be our first full week of school and I look forward to getting into a routine after spending the first few weeks going over expectations and library procedures.  We will be starting  lessons and library centers in addition to checking out books. As much as I enjoyed the relaxation of the summer it's great to be back to work!
     This week my 6th graders will be making library maps using butcher paper and colored pencils. I introduce the various sections of the library and break the class into groups of four. The students label the fiction, nonfiction, everybody and reference sections and I encourage them to add as much detail as possible in the time allowed. It should be a good collaborative project which will serve as a review for many of my past students as well as an introduction for students new to our library. Next week we'll use a draw program to make individual library maps. I'll post pictures of some completed projects later this week.
     Another thing I love about the beginning of the school year is when the kids discover all the new library books. Some act as if they have truly discovered treasure that they get to take home. In this world with so many amazing electronic devices, it pleases me to see that kids are still charmed by the simplicity of a good book.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What did I do before Pinterest?

     I found an old picture and frame at the thrift store for $5.00 and bought some chalkboard paint to cover the print. I soaked the chalk in water for about 10 minutes to help make the color more vibrant.  I have the display in the library and plan to change the sayings to include quotes about books and libraries. I'll also include some notable quotes from books and hope that it will evolve into my student's writing quotes that they like.
    We are getting into the new school routine in the library this week and I forget how exciting but exhausting this time of year is. I'm incorporating library centers into the class routine this year. Class will begin with a lesson or story. After that students will have time to check out books then choose a  center to work at. I'm keeping things simple to begin with just four centers available: a listening center, a puzzle center, read with a partner center with "rock star"glasses that students can wear as they read and a library shelving game at the Interwrite board. I ordered the book The Centered School Library by Cari S. Young and I'm using ideas from her book and blog. As the students become more familiar with the routine I will include centers that integrate library and language skills that I've already introduced.
     One of my last classes today was a group of kindergarten students and as they left the library I received many hugs and thank yous. I can't help but think that the world would be a happier place if everyone got a hug and a thank you for doing their job.

Monday, September 3, 2012

This is my first blog entry and after spending a lot of time reading the blogs of other people who are wittier and more clever than myself, I'm tempted to stop before I've started. However, I've learned a great deal from other people who were brave enough to share their ideas. It's my intent to share thoughts and ideas here and hope that it might be a help to others.  
Our first day with students was on Thursday. All the parents accompanied their kids to their classroom so they could meet their teacher and get settled into the new routine. I was walking with a family of four children who were all new to our school, showing them to their respective classrooms. The mother of the children asked if we could drop off the older children first leaving her kindergarten student till the end. As we came near to the kindergarten classroom the mom was fighting back tears as we deposited her little one with the teacher. My youngest child is now a sophomore in college but I remember well the pit in my stomach as I left her on that first day of school. It wasn't that I questioned her readiness or the qualifications of her teacher or school. It was me who wasn't ready. Hadn't I just carried that little bundle home from the hospital, watched her take her first steps, held her as she fell asleep in my arms? To leave her in someone else's care was a huge adjustment for me. Watching the tears in the eyes of that mom on Thursday brought it all back to me and I was struck by the huge responsibility and privilege we have as educators. Parents trust us with their world. As those kids come into the library each day, I'm going to make it my goal throughout the school year to remember what that mom has entrusted to me.  
  I'm sharing the story following story with my youngest student's this week 
Litwin, Eric, and James Dean. Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes. New York: Harper, 2011. 

This is a rhyming story that tells of Pete the cat who is going to school wearing bright red shoes. He visits the library, the lunchroom and recess all for the first time. Pete isn't worried because he is wearing his school shoes and “it's all good”. The cheery, bold illustrations are engaging. This would be a perfect read aloud for kindergarten kids at the beginning of the school year. There is also a free downloadable song that supplements the book.