Friday, July 14, 2017

Lucky me! Moderating a Panel of YA Authors


The authors were anxiously waiting for me to get my question out

While on vacation in early June, I got an email from Octavia Books, a local independent bookstore in New Orleans, asking me if I would be interested in moderating a panel of YA authors. As soon as I heard who they were, I sent back a resounding yes. I had read books by all four authors and was certainly anxious to meet them. The panel was set for July 11th which meant that I had about a month to read the four books that they would be touting at the event.  

Being prepared is really important to me. The publishers sent me three of the books in a timely fashion, and by the time I got home from my trip, there were two books waiting for me. I got to reading.

I began with Sarah Mlynowski's book, I See London I See France. She writes middle grade too, but this is the first YA book that she has done in awhile. It is the story of two nineteen year old girls, and their adventures as they backpack across Europe during the summer between their first and second year of college. It is a funny, true to life tale about friendship with all of its highs and most importantly lows. 

Then I read Adele Griffin's Be True to Me. While reading it, I knew it was set some time in the 70's, but not the exact year. When I contacted Adele about the year, she let me know that it was the Bicentennial year of 1976. In 1976 I was the exact age of one of the main characters. That made reading the book more fun for me with all the music, clothing, and political references of the time. It is summer on Fire Island in the small community of Sunken Haven. The story is told from the points of view of two 17 year old girls Jean and Fritz. The competition that has been building for years between the girls really heats up with the arrival of a new boy that summer who both want as their boyfriend. He chooses only one of them. The ending came as quite a shock to me. 



Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson was a mash up of sci fi and historical fiction. That was a nice surprise and maybe a way to get teens to read historical fiction (most of my students shy away from it). There are three stories set during the years 2065 to 1037 to 1920. They are connected, but you have to make it to the end to find out exactly how. This was a quick read but so rewarding. 

Jodi Lynn Anderson
Those were the books that the publishers sent me. I kept waiting for Morgan Matson's book to arrive, but it never came. I knew that I had to read it before the event. It took me a day or two to realize that I should check the public library. How silly of me, a librarian who didn't think to check the library for a copy. The Unexpected Everything was published in 2016, so it was available in several local branches of my library. When I got it, I balked because it was 517 pages long. I had less than a week to read it. It was an engrossing story, and I was able to finish it the night before the event. Andie has her summer mapped out as she plans to attend a prestigious program at a college out of town. That is until her congressman father lands in a scandal that directly impacts her plans. She recovers quickly by finding a job at home as a dog walker, meeting a new guy, and getting to spend quality time with her three best friends. Will this idyllic summer last? You know that it never does. 


Morgan Matson
At 6PM on July 11th, the four authors and I sat down to chat. When planning out my strategy, I took the advice of a former student who did a similar gig in 2014 and created a series of questions that were general enough rather than specific to a book so that all four authors could address every question. I began by asking them to describe their book in 45 seconds or less. Then we talked about romance because each of the books had an element of romance. I have high school students who want as little romance as possible in their favorite genres of sci fi or fantasy. Sarah said that her publishers are always asking for more. It seems in the publishers' eyes that teens want to read about romance. 


Time is an essential part of these books, and I asked the authors to address how it affected their writing. Morgan said that she liked using the time period of the summer because it gives her a beginning and ending story arc that works nicely for her. Sarah explained that she had never done a summer story before but loved writing this one. In Adele's book, the 1970's are an essential part of the story. Teens had no easy communication with each other, no social media, and they really didn't own a lot of stuff. One of the characters went off to Europe for the whole summer with one small suitcase. 

Sarah Mlynowski
In preparing for the books, Sarah pulled out her pictures that she took when she backpacked through Europe with her friends. She was even able to travel to the some of the cities where her characters visit. She did not have the time to travel to every city because she has young kids at home. She explained that European travel has changed a lot since she was a young adult. Now you can make plans, look at maps, and keep in touch with one device that fits into your pocket. Adele used Pinterest to get the feel of the time period for her book. She even created images to use in the book, but those did not make it to the final copy that was published. 



Reading and books figure prominently in all four of these novels. I asked the authors if they thought that they needed to promote reading. Jodi said that as a writer, reading has always been important to her and so she incorporated that into her story because of her love of reading. In her book, it is the letters written by her protagonists that move the story along. Sarah had books for her characters to read while traveling, and they read books set in the cities in which they visited. In Morgan's book, one of the main characters is a fantasy writer, so she wrote a book within a book so that the reader got a taste of his writing. 



It was a fun event. Two of my students from PFTSTA were there and so were two of my librarian friends. I would do it again in a heartbeat as long as I had the time to get the books read in time. It was a Hot Summer Night in New Orleans---and I got to spend it with some authors who rock! 








Friday, June 23, 2017

Creating a Library Annual Report to Share with Stakeholders

School has been out for a month. I have wanted to create an infographic as a snapshot of the library for 2016-17. After a week long vacation and taking some time off to read and read some more and visit with friends, I sat at the computer yesterday to make the infographic you will find at the end of this post. I used Canva to create it. I only wanted a snapshot that touches a bit on what happened in the library this year because if I tried to cover everything, the reader would lose interest fast. If you want to know more about the PFTSTA Library then you would need to read posts from this blog or follow the library accounts on Facebook, or Instagram.

I took information from the report that I had to submit to the district on circulation and number of books. I looked at the stats for our databases and subscriptions and included those. At the end of the year, I sent out a form for students and teachers to give me some feedback about the library. It was mostly very positive. The quotes at the end of the infographic came from that Google Form that I sent out. I also got some nice stats on how the patrons read from the survey. Though those stats didn't fit into the infographic. I thought that I would share them here. I think that the graphics are self-explanatory.

Click the above image to enlarge it


Click the above image to enlarge it

Click the above image to enlarge it
When I asked what books that students had read recently and loved, I got some interesting answers. Many of the students listed books that they were required to read for English class: The Lord of the FliesThe Round HouseFahrenheit 451, and The Wednesday Wars. There were the big name authors like Rick Riordan, James Patterson, and J. K. Rowling. There were also titles that were only mentioned by one student: Heartless by Marissa Meyer (a favorite of mine), Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz (another favorite of mine). Sci fi and fantasy have been the genres of choice at PFTSTA and continue to be popular among those taking the survey. Most responders still like to read print. When asked what they liked about the book selection at PFTSTA, they said overwhelmingly that the diverse and large collection is so vast that everyone can find something to read. In reality our collection is not that large with only 8000 volumes with just over half of those being fiction, but the library was created in 2006 to fit the needs and interests of the students. So what is on the shelves are books students want to read. 

I did not question the students on the makerspace materials in the library. We do have many types of games, robots, and STEM materials with which the students can experiment. I did not mention much about it in the annual report, but we definitely have a busy makerspace. You can read about it and see a video here.

State of the Library 2016-17 Infographic

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Seventh Graders Create an Amazing Product for the Ninth Ward Unit

Book Buddies: 7th graders work with the 1st graders at King Charter School
We had a new to us middle school ELA teacher at our school this year. She has around 12 years under her belt with gifted 6th graders in New Jersey. PFTSTA was so lucky to get her. Every time that we talked about lessons and activities, I was amazed at her ability to think everything through ahead of time. She is very detailed oriented, and it showed in her lessons. She took our 7th grade Ninth Ward unit and turned it on its ear. Her students were required to create a product using Google Slides that would showcase all that they had learned about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina including the rebuilding efforts. They were required to conduct an interview with a family member who was effected by the hurricane and we took them on a field trip to view the rebuilding efforts with our own eyes and complete some service learning when we visited an elementary school in the Ninth Ward. Some of the products were truly outstanding. I am sharing several of them with you here. You may not want to look at all 30 something slides for each presentation. I suggest some slides that you might find interesting and enlightening. One student didn't interview a family member, but instead reached out to one of the television meteorologists for her interview. Now that was some awesome creativity. 


Go to slide 10 to read about Emily's interview with the meterologist
Go to slide 27 to read about Jazzy's reflection of visiting 1st graders at King Charter School
Go to slide 50 to read Faith's newspaper article that she wrote about her experiences with this project

Go to slide 10 to read Gabby's interview with her Mom about losing everything in the storm

Go to slide 36 to read Madison's reflection on the project and her acknowledgements on slide 39

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Filling in the Gaps from April to June

Outgoing NHS officers from the class of 2017 (that is me in the middle)
NHS Induction March 16, 2017
I usually try to avoid writing blog posts where I explain why I haven't been writing blog posts. I believe that you should just get one written rather than waste time explaining why there hasn't been one in awhile. I created this blog in 2009. It was a way to document what I do in the library and share what I have learned. When I started, I had no idea where the blog would take me. Eventually, I decided that I would post weekly making it a goal to write 50 posts a year. I have not always met that goal and some years I have surpassed it. There are lessons that I am thankful that I wrote about because I needed the information to replicate them in subsequent years. There are posts that have been shared and shared again with librarians across the country. You can see below my all time stats for this blog since it began. 

Click the picture above to read the all time stats for this blog since 2009
Anyway, I try to take some time every weekend to reflect on the past week in the library and write a blog post. Since March, I have felt that I have been on a treadmill that wouldn't stop. I needed my weekends to regroup and prepare for the next week. This meant keeping my off time, off, rather than writing about the library. Now that school is out for the summer, I  can stop and breathe. Boy, does that feel good. Breathe. And, I can get back to this blog. 

Before I write specific posts about library activities over the last three months, I thought that I would just list here what I have been doing during that time. I sort of want to see how come I was too busy to document events. In March, we had a week off of school for Mardi Gras (I went away), I had one author visit, I attended the Louisiana Library Association annual conference where I presented twice and had several mandatory meetings because I am on the LASL board, we celebrated Teen Tech Week, I coordinated the NHS annual induction ceremony, and I helped with the 7th grade field trip to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. Of course, there were classes to teach, books to check out, and many visitors during the three scheduled lunches at school. In April, we had another 6 days off of school,  I began the long road of Advanced Placement exams. I am the school's AP coordinator. This year we administered 50% more tests than we did last year. It was brutal. Especially, because the Louisiana standardized tests are now all administered online, and the school began testing April 18th and didn't finish until the AP late testing that was scheduled May 19th. Testing mode took over the whole school, and it was not pretty. Once May hit, I had another author visit, I had an online meeting for the Louisiana Teen Reader's choice committee, I administered eight days of AP testing (teachers help to proctor), I coordinated senior award night and graduation (there were some mistakes this year because my stress level was so high), I mentored three student speeches for graduation, I completed library inventory, and closed out the library for the year. 

It was exhausting. Yet, I do have a lot to share. I will add blog posts over the course of the next few weeks describing some of the highs and lows (not many of those) in the library. I have been trying to reflect on how to prevent this same crazy schedule from occurring next year, but I am not sure if that is possible. The timing of most of the events is set in stone. Our school keeps growing, but there is still only one of  me. I have created a very popular library which keeps me on my toes even when there are no special events happening. 

Here's to summer:
Looking forward to a lot of time for this!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Teen Tech Week 2017

I always schedule a week's worth of activities for YALSA's Teen Tech Week (TTW). This year TTW was scheduled at the same time as the Louisiana Library Association annual conference. That meant I had to move TTW to the next week. I had work to do to prepare for conference, so I did not have time to plan TTW. Of course, that is no excuse, but I felt slammed. I like to have the students help me plan, but the school schedule seemed to be changing daily, and I did not see my book groups every week like usual. Then I returned from conference exhausted, and I ended up with the flu and missed two days of work. I finally was able to find three days in a row in March when I could offer activities in the library at lunch. 

Day 1:
We always have a day of movies for TTW. Since it falls after the Academy Awards, we usually schedule a showing of the animated shorts that were nominated for an Oscar. This year, it was much more difficult to find the movies except Piper. I did find some Pixar shorts that I thought the students would like. They were all a hit. 





Day 2:
I saw a post on Facebook about this company called Stick Together that makes giant posters for students to sticker by numbers. It is the same concept as the paint by numbers kits from years ago, but there is no mess of paint. The students use stickers. It was addicting, and the students completed the piece in about a week.




Day 3:
A couple of months ago members of National Honor Society and I took the Marshmallow Challenge to 4th graders at a nearby elementary school. I thought this activity would be ideal for TTW. Since I was running this activity at three different lunches, I had each team use their own iPad for their 18 minutes of work. That way the teams did not have to start at the same time. I bought individual prizes and had winning teams for middle school, 8th grade, and high school. Those are our three different lunches. The kids had such a blast that many returned the next week to see if they could improve the height of their free standing structure. 





Monday, April 17, 2017

Annual 9th Ward Trip with 7th Grade is Another Hit


 I have blogged about every field trip down to the 9th Ward in New Orleans that I have made with the seventh graders. The very first one  in 2011 was the best field trip that I have every been part of as a teacher, and over my many, many years of teaching, I have been on lots of field trips. This year, we made some changes to both the unit that is taught at school and to the trip itself.  This unit with the trip is very intense because there are so many pieces and parts, and there are several teachers handling the various responsibilities so that it all gets done on time, but this also is tricky making sure that all the loose ends are tied up by the time we board the buses.

Musicians' Village
We have a 7th grade ELA teacher on staff who is not only new to the school but also new to New Orleans. She was more than willing to be part of this project, but she had some ideas of how the unit could be better incorporated into her ELA program. First, she wanted the students to create a digital slide show with what they would learn about Hurricane Katrina and the Ninth Ward, then she wanted the students to learn how to conduct an interview like a journalist and talk to a family member about their Hurricane Katrina story, and then she wanted to change up the literature that we share with the first graders at King Charter School in the Ninth Ward. Those were a lot of changes, but all great ones that would help enrich the historical aspect of this unit.

Playground, Musicians' Village
The unit begins with the reading of Jewell Parker Rhodes' Ninth Ward. Jewell was scheduled to visit New Orleans in October and come to our school to talk to the 7th graders. We had the students read the book in anticipation of her arrival. Unfortunately, for us, her first grand child arrived just when she was scheduled to visit. The students had read the book, but the unit didn't start until after winter break.There was a bit of a disconnect to the literature when we started the unit. We were able to surmount that, but we plan to do better with the literature part next year. The students came to the library do begin research on Hurricane Katrina. I have created a Livebinder for this activity, but I remade it this year to change the focus. In the past, the Livebinder's focus was on the places where we would tour during our scheduled field trip. Since we were only going to make two stops before visiting King Charter School, the new Livebinder was designed to give historical background to the Hurricane's devastation rather than a focus on the stops of our tour of the Ninth Ward. Our current 7th graders know little about Hurricane Katrina as they were infants at the time, so this unit allows them to learn about an event during their lifetime but one they don't remember.

Look who we met!
Another aspect of this unit is our collaboration with students at a school in Iowa. Several years ago, I met Shannon Miller from Van Meter, IA at a conference. Ever since we have been making connections with the middle school ELA teachers at Van Meter School. Shannon is no longer the librarian there, but we have kept up the connection, none the less. We were able to Skype a couple of times with the students. The students in Iowa completed the Livebinder that I created, and all of the students made comments on three different Padlets that you can find on the Livebinder. We plan to share some of the slide shows created by my students with the students in Iowa.

Seventh Grade
Many empty lots are still visible where houses once stood

Construction zone
The Field Trip:
We thought the changes that we made would make the trip work better in terms of the teachers monitoring the students as well as for the students who would be making videos at the two tour stops. We also changed the literature that we were going to bring to the 1st graders at King Charter School.

Outside the Martin Luther King, Jr. branch of the New Orleans Public Library
In the Ninth Ward, two of the most significant changes to the landscape since Hurricane Katrina can be found in the Musician's Village in the Upper 9th and the Make It Right houses in the Lower 9th. The students may be close to being teenagers, but they still love the chance to play on the playground in the Musician's Village. The houses created by Brad Pitt's foundation are so unusual that the students are captured by the unusual colors, shapes, sizes, solar panels, and levels that make each house unique. At both stops, students worked in threes to create video segments describing what they saw. I will share some of these video segments in a later post.

Students rendition of St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter

Cast of Marvelous Cornelius
Finally, we reached King Charter School where the students performed Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner. This book is about a real man and tells what happened to him in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The backdrops that the students painted were amazing especially considering the short amount of time that we had to create them. This field trip was made possible by a service learning grant from the local Brown Foundation. We were able to bring a copy of Marvelous Cornelius to all 78 first graders along with crayons and a blank book. The 7th graders helped their "book buddy" write a story of someone who is a hero to them. The teachers at King shared their snacks with our students.

Book Buddies

Writing about a hero




It was another outstanding activity that is a total collaborative effort. I hope that we can continue this unit and improve on it as the years go by.

We had fun!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Author, Jen Calonita, Shares Stories on Becoming a Writer

I am the one on the left!
A month or so ago I heard that we might have a visit from author Jen Calonita. Then I didn't hear anything confirming the date and time. I got so busy that I forgot to email or call to make sure we were on her schedule in New Orleans. Then it got to crunch time, and I was heading out of town for two days to attend the Louisiana Library Association annual conference. I needed to plan our visit. I don't like to do things last minute. It all worked as we were well prepared for her visit, but I did only have a handful of days to get ready. That just makes me crazy. 





I certainly like meeting new authors, but since BRiMS had skyped with Jen in 2015, I was pumped to meet her face to face. When we talked to her in 2015, only the first book in the Fairy Tale Reform School series had been published. For this visit, Jen was kicking off the publication of the third book. After hearing her talk, the students who bought the first book went home that night and promptly finished it. I had purchased multiple copies for the library for our skype session, and all of those were checked out the next day by students who couldn't wait to begin reading. I love how an author has that effect on the students. Every time an author comes to our school, students will hesitate about buying the book before the big day. I always tell them to bring their money and decide after the talk if they want to purchase the book. Invariably, they choose to get the book. 




The students enjoyed what Jen had to say about her journey from young reader to writer. She left time for many questions at the end of her talk. The students asked great questions. Why does she have to rename the fairy tale characters? It is a shame to me that students tend to think of fairy tales in terms of the Disney versions as definitive. Of course, copyright law will not allow her to use the Disney name for any of her characters. Same goes with the question about putting a Harry Potter character into her story. 

Happy Readers!



When the talk was over, there was time for signing books. Many of the students who attended last year's skype went up to Jen to ask if she remembered them and their question. She didn't remember them of course, but she did remember many of their questions. One student had asked her about Bluebeard the Pirate, who she was going to include in a later book, and because they student had read widely on the subject of the pirate the two had discussed what is known about him. Another student had suggested Cursed as a future book title as all the titles were going to be one word and verbs. Though Jen loved the idea of Cursed, it hasn't made it on the cover of a book, yet. 




Getting authors to our school would not be possible without the kind generosity of the publisher (in this case Source Books) and a local bookstore (in this case Octavia Books). Patrick Taylor Academy is author friendly, and we love having visitors to our school who get to meet and learn from our awesome students. See lots more pictures of the day on the library website
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