Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What I am Reading and Why I Can't Always Share

One of the ways that I like to use this blog space is to share some of the titles that I am reading and write about which books are my new favorites. So far this summer I have finished ten books and are in the middle of two books as I type this post. 

I choose the books that I read for a lot of different reasons. I am a book reviewer for both School Library Journal and School Media Connection (formerly Library Media Connection). That means that I am sent books to read and review. I get to choose favorite genres and age ranges, but what I get is a crap shoot. Sometimes I love the books but very often I am underwhelmed. SLJ asks all reviewers not to broadcast to publishers or authors what books that they will be reviewing. I am also asked not to publish, like on this blog, my reviews until six months after the review has been published in the print magazine. LMC has never given me any such guidelines, so I just follow what I do for SLJ. By the time that my review has been in print for six months, I have sort of forgotten about it. I certainly have moved on in my reading. I have only recommended two books to receive stars from SLJ. One of the titles was not given the star in April of this year, but the other one did. I am not suppose to reach out to the author on social media so that no one thinks that I gave a star to a friend. I have to say that I have befriended many authors over the years. If I received a title from one of those authors, I would probably have to decline to review it. What if I hated it?

April 2015 SLJ Star Reviews
I am a member of the Louisiana Teen Reader's Choice Committee. Right now we have a list of about 40 titles published in 2014 that we will use to select the ten titles for the 2017 list. We meet in early August to finalize the list, so I have spent some time this summer reading those titles. I just checked online and found that the past consideration lists with the 40-odd titles were available for anyone to see. Though I guess that I could tell you what I am reading for the 2017 list, it just doesn't feel right giving you an assessment of how I liked a particular book. I will say this. The committee is made up of about 25 school and public librarians across the state, and everyone has definite opinions of books that they like and don't like. Many times none of us agree. 

I usually schedule five to six author visits a year at school. Some of those are virtual not face to face, but either way I think that it is crucial that I read at least one book by any author who my students will meet. This year we get a return visit from Jewell Parker Rhodes who will be talking about her newest book, Bayou Magic. That book is on my to read list, and I plan to visit Octavia Books on Friday to pick up a copy. 

I run two book groups at school one for high school and one for middle school. My high school students never want to read the same book, so I just share with them books that I read that I think will interest them. My middle school group reads a book a month. I certainly can't run a discussion if I haven't also read that book. Sometimes I try to select books that I have already read, but I want books that have appeal to the students. I do try to give them a chance to select titles for our meetings and very often those are books that I do not know nor have read. 

Now I get to the point where I can select books that I want to read. That doesn't seem to happen very often. Early in the summer, I listened to an audio version of the adult book, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. All my retired teacher friends loved it, and I did, too. I even bought it for my husband so that he could read it on our vacation. After buying the book, I found out that it had been sitting on the shelf of my library. I try, but I do not know all the volumes on the shelves. Anyway, we left the book with my father and his wife so that they could read it also. I loved Seraphina by Rachel Hartman that was published in 2012. When the second in the duology came out this year, Shadow Scale, I was thrilled to find out what happened to the characters in the first book. The only problem was that except for the main character I really did not remember what happened in the first book. Then I remembered the Recaptains' website. This is a blog written by some librarians who recap what happens in each book in a series so that you don't have to reread a book before reading the next in a series. This website is definitely a keeper. The other book that I read just because I wanted to was The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston. I loved the premise that in a modern day Canada, there needs to be dragon slayers who the government contracts to keep the population safe from the dragons. The second book in that series, Prairie Fire, came out in March, and I have it in my pile of to reads. 

So I stand by the motto of my school library---All Readers Welcome. I hope that you had a chance to get into some first rate reads this summer like I did. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

AASL has Published Updated School Librarian Advocacy Toolkit

Several years ago, the Advocacy Toolkit committee from AASL (American Association of School Librarians) called for members to submit stories with examples of library advocacy in their libraries. The toolkit was getting revised. I wrote a story about how the Louisiana school librarians fought the state board of education (BESE). The librarians were asking BESE not to revise the librarian section in the bulletin that outlines how superintendents and principals should govern K-12 schools. I submitted my story two years ago and forgot about it. I received an email earlier this summer asking for a picture because they had planned to publish my story. The toolkit was published on June 25, 2015. Open here to read the my Louisiana library success story and more; scroll down to the bottom of the page to find my story. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Contribution to Article on LGBTQ and the College Bound in School Library Journal

I was interviewed and mentioned in this article in School Library Journal on preparing LBGTQ students for college . It seems quite timely after the recent ruling on gay marriage by the Supreme Court of the United States. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

What a Librarian Does on Vacation 2015

Finally, off the plane and on the road

Going away for a week during summer break is something that is sacred to my husband and me. We live in a city that is hot in the summer so we try to find somewhere cooler and in a rural area where we can spend our time being outside and enjoying nature. This year we chose to drive through Vermont and New Hampshire so that we could end in Maine where my father lives. 

Vermont is the land of covered bridges

In years past, I would buy a guide book and visit the library to find more guides to where we would travel. My favorite publishers were Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. I loved reading about what we would see and looking for the most charming place to say. It was crucial to read a guidebook with a current copyright date because so much could change from year to year, especially prices. Now I don't even look at a guidebook. I use Trip Advisor (TA). I love the app because I can save everything that I want to see ahead of time and have access to all the info on my phone while I am traveling. I sort of obsess on finding the best place to stay, but the reviews on TA really make it easy to find something just right for us. Since I rely on TA to plan my trips, I feel obligated to write as many reviews as possible from the places I stay and eat and visit. Which means that I give myself work, but I do try to write many of the reviews while I am still on the trip. 

Library on the green in Woodstock, VT 

Town Library, Jackson New Hampshire White Mountains region
 "Towns - Jackson." NH Living. N.p., 13 June 2012. Web. 26 June 2015.
One of the cool things that I found on this trip was seeing a library in every small town that we hit throughout New England. Mid-way through the trip I thought that I should have been photographing all the libraries that I saw. Maybe I will do that another trip. In the teeny town of Jackson, NH there were two libraries. 

My husband and I are on the left with Pamela & Jon  Voelkel on the right
After determining which days that we would be in Woodstock, VT, I contacted my author friends Jon and Pamela Voelkel who live about 20 minutes north in Norwich. I was hoping that they would be in town and that we could visit them. They have visited my school three times and have done a couple Skype visits with the kids at school, too. They invited us to have brunch at their home which is on a beautiful piece of property right in the middle of town. Whenever they are in New Orleans, I always felt rushed. During this visit we spent a couple of hours with them and their three children. It was one of the highlights of the trip. 

Brunch prepared for us, yummy
I am always reading something, but when I go on vacation, I want to make sure that I have books that I am going to adore. I chose three books including Buzzkill by Beth Fantaskey, When I was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, and The Story of Owen by .E. K. Johnston. It is unusual to read three books in a row that I really like, so this was a real treat. Buzzkill was a murder mystery, and though I guessed the murderer early on, I still got a kick of how the teen detectives took their time figuring out who did it. Reynold's book was an urban story that I thought teens could relate to even if they don't live in New York, but the cover is very misleading. Guns do not really have a prominent place in the story, and one of the characters in the book knits; you see the gun covered in crochet on the cover. I loved, loved, loved The Story of Owen. The idea of dragon slayers in a modern day Canada is a very unusual concept and boy does it work. I probably should have had a map of Canada next to me while reading because place what an important aspect of the story. 



Everyone who visits Dan & Whit's General Store in Norwich, VT needs a urine dispenser

I met several cows on this trip, this one was at Shelburne Farms

The Harry Potter door under the stairs at the Inn at Jackson in NH

The gardens around Kennebunk Beach, ME were amazing 
It was a great ten days of visiting, reading, looking at beautiful scenery and getting out of our daily routine---a necessity of life. Ahhhh.........

If you want to read some of my reviews of the places where I stayed, ate, or visited, click here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Creating a Year End Library Review with Edtech Tools

As librarian, I try to be the go to person to help teachers when they are looking to design a lesson where students create an electronic product by recommending sites that might fit the objectives of their lessons. Oftentimes, I am familiar with a tool because I have used it, seen it used or know other teachers who have used it successfully with their students, but I have not always had hands on experience using the tool myself. I believe that, as teachers, we cannot nor should not learn how to use every website out there, so that we can give our students opportunities to practice critical thinking by figuring out a tool on their own or collaboration by learning from their peers. Unfortunately, tools do not remain the same over time--no longer free or limited capabilities in free version or merged with another site or newly blocked at school, etc. I decided that it is a good idea for me to spend some time "playing" with edtech and creating my own products now that school is out for the summer, and I have some free time without distractions. 

I recently read how a librarian summed up the year in her library by creating a slide show. I liked the idea of a month to month guide of what happened in the library but decided that I would try an infographic instead of a slide show. We ask our students to create lots of infographics in their science classes when they need to document experiments. First, I tried to create what I wanted with, I am an ambassador for Infogram, so it seemed to me to be the best place to start. I was working happily on my infographic when I realized that I could only upload ten pictures with the free version. Since I had nine months to illustrate and some of the months required multiple pictures, I knew that I needed to try a different tool. 

Working in
I am a big fan of Canva to create graphic designs to add to my social media sites, and I knew that they had recently added a template for infographics. I thought that with Canva  I would be able to add all the pictures that I needed. As you can see below, I started to edit the template, but I did not get very far. It was very slow editing the text, and I was getting extremely frustrated that I could not get the words and pictures that I wanted to add inserted into the template. I am not sure if it was an issue with my Internet connection at home or Canva's server. It was taking way too long to edit, and I didn't want to waste anymore time, so I ditched this effort. 

Canva template 
I was hoping that the third time would be the charm. Often, we give our students a choice of tools to use when they are creating a product. When assigning an infographic, the teachers will suggest Infogram, Easelly,or  Piktochart. I had never used Piktochart, but I had seen some really nice looking work that my students had created using it. Piktochart had a variety of templates, was easy to edit, had easy drag and drop feature for the photos, and did not frustrate me. You can see the results of my efforts embedded below. I am extremely happy with the results which now I can share on multiple platforms.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Author Skype Visits in the Library

Students pose with author, Andrea Cremer, during April 20th  skype visit
The students in my two book groups had the opportunity to Skype with four different authors this past school year. I have been asked before if it is easy to find an author to skype. I always reply that it is, and that I have never paid any of the authors to talk with my students. I had met three of the authors who spoke with us this year face to face, but only one of them did I ask about the possibility of skyping at that time. I usually run all my author skypes the same way. I schedule the event for 30 minutes. I ask the author to talk about themselves and their book/s for the first 10 to 15 minutes, and then I allow the students to ask questions for the second half of the session. The students walk up to speak right into the microphone which allows the author to see who is speaking to them. This also makes it clear who is suppose to ask the next question. Very often the author is willing to talk longer, but I always end after 45 minutes. After that amount of time, the students start asking questions that border on the inappropriate. Even Grabenstein was impressed with wonderful questions that my students asked.

The balloons were to celebrate Mr. Lemoncello's birthday
I was at a library conference where Chris Grabenstein gave a speech during the school librarian's luncheon. His presentation was hilarious, and I knew that the kids in my middle school book group would get a kick out of him. I asked him during the book signing if a skype visit was a possibility. He said to email him about it. It took lots of emails between myself and his assistant to plan the visit and lots of time, too, as we scheduled the skype four months before the date of the event. I was right about the kids liking Grabenstein. They all read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library to be prepared for the skype. It was one of the most successful visits because almost everyone in the group had read the book. Besides reading the book, almost all of them loved, loved, loved the book. I asked the students ahead of time to send me the questions that they wanted to ask. It really was a lot of fun. 

I received an email from Ellen Hopkins' publicist asking if I had received an Advanced Reader's Copy of Hopkins newest book, Rumble. I had met and spoke with Hopkins at two library conferences. I knew that she was happy to engage in conversation with teens. I asked the publicist if it would be possible to schedule a skype. She said that it was. This also took many emails back and forth to work out day and time, but in the end, we scheduled the event during one of my high school book group's regular meetings. I have many of Hopkins books on the shelves of the library. Some of the members of the book group are real fans of Hopkins. I encouraged the students to read one of her books. Unfortunately. the majority of the students did not heed my encouragement of reading one of the author's books before the event. Even though the students did not have a lot of questions, I carried on the conversation and asked questions that I thought would engage the students. It did, but I was disappointed that the students were not as involved as I was.

Student asks Vince Vawter a question

The middle school book group, BRiMS, meets monthly to talk about one title that all members read. I had selected Vince Vawter's The Paperboy for February. One of the students came into the library early in February to ask if there was a sequel. She really needed to know what happened to the characters after the story ended. So we did some investigation and looked at the author's website. I read that he had skyped with several schools, so I sent him an email. I asked if he was available during our scheduled meeting on the last Wednesday of the month during the student's lunch period. He was, and he agreed to talk with us. It was another successful skype because so many of the students had read the book. They had lots of questions for Vawter.

Student asks Andrea Cremer a question
One day I was looking at the skype in the classroom website. Skype was advertising virtual visits with authors for School Library Month in April. I followed the link to see if there was an author with whom I was familiar. I saw that Andrea Cremer was available to talk about The Inventor's Secret. Penguin, her publisher was promoting this skype. I was able to schedule the event during a regular meeting of the high school book group, but the book seemed appropriate for middle school, too, so I invited both book groups to this event. I knew that many of the high school students had mentally checked out of school, especially the seniors, and I figured that there would be plenty of room for the middle school students. The only stipulation from Penguin was that the students either read the book or a 40 page excerpt online so that all attendees would be engaged in the author and the book. If the students were like me, then that excerpt only whetted their appetite for more. Some of the students checked out the book and finished it. The middle school students seemed the most thrilled about talking with author, Cremer, but all attending got something out of the interaction with the author. When Cremer mentioned that there are scenes in New Orleans in book two and three of this series, that really got the students attention.

To see more pictures and read more about the skype visits, open here on the library website.

I have not made any plans yet for skype visits for the next school year, but I will keep my eyes and ears open while reading twitter, reading promotional emails from publishers, reading posts on listservs, and attending author events. You have to be proactive in scheduling skype visits, but once you have had one, you will realize that it is an easy way to connect authors and readers. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I Should Have Been the One to Write a Thank You Note

Picture taken by their daughter in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

My school has been very lucky to host over 24 live author visits since 2011, and almost as many Skype visits. J & P Voelkel have visited our school three times and skyped twice. I adore them and their energy, and they really put on a show for the students with lots of props and audience participation. They came to New Orleans on this last visit in March because book four in their series, Jaguar Stones, that was recently published had some important scenes set in our city. Just the other day, I received this wonderful card thanking us for opening our doors to them. Actually, I should be the one doing the thanking as they traveled so far to be with the students at Patrick Taylor for just a couple of hours. 

Jon and Pamela, you are our rock stars. Thanks for visiting us for a third time. The students and teachers were blown away and had the most marvelous time during this last visit. You are welcome back any time. 

Thank you note from J & P Voelkel 

The loud librarian standing with J & P Voelkel outside PFTSTA

Thursday, May 7, 2015

App Reviews in SLJ for Digital Bird Guides

Collins Bird Guide

Today I got an email that a review that I wrote for School Library Journal in September was just published. The review was for an app that helps you identify birds. You can open here to read the review. In 2013, I reviewed the National Geographic bird app which I think is much more useful. than the one by Collins. You can open here to read that review

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ninth Ward Trip with 7th Graders Gets Better Each Year

Taken at the Flood Wall in the Ninth Ward, New Orleans, by Emily Gibbons, 7th grade PFTSTA
Last week, the seventh graders with their English teacher, Ms. Ritter, the librarian, that's me, their math teacher, Ms. Klusendorf and another ELA teacher, Ms. Bordelon traveled 30 minutes from school to visit the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. This is our fourth annual trip to walk in the footsteps of the characters in Jewell Parker Rhodes' book, Ninth Ward. After the first reading of this book, we realized that the students really had no clue about the Ninth Ward, and this group was only about three years old the year that Hurricane Katrina made landfall, so a visit gives them a first hand look at the devastation and reconstruction wrought by the hurricane.

Before embarking on the field trip, the students are asked to complete a pathfinder that I created. I made a Livebinder with video, audio, and text describing and explaining all the stops that we will be making on the field trip. This is an important piece to this project because it gives the students a chance to get some background knowledge. You can find the Livebinder with the pathfinder, links to resources, and rubric for the product that they create upon returning to school here.  

Ruby Bridges walking into Frantz school with the federal marshals in 1960
We begin in the upper Ninth Ward at Frantz School. This is an historic site because, Ruby Bridges, an African American, was the first to integrate New Orleans public schools in 1960 when she was in 1st grade. Ms. Bridges fought to keep the school from being razed after Hurricane Katrina. The facade was kept, and a brand new building was constructed behind the front of the school. Today it is home to a charter school, Akili

The facade of the school is still the same Art Deco seen in the 1960's

The next stop on the trip is about three blocks away, and we can walk there. That is where Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis built the Musician's Village with help from Habitat for Humanity. The homes all look very similar in style and are raised off of the ground out of harms way from flooding. This stop is always a highlight because the students like to play in the pocket park. You may think that 7th graders are too big for a playground, but they don't think so. We give them about 10 minutes to play in the park. 

The houses stand in a row and were all built with a similar architecture plan

Having fun at the playground
Next, we take the Industrial Canal bridge and travel to the Lower Ninth Ward. The first stop is the area that Brad Pitt created for his Make it Right Foundation. In this section very near where the levee was breached, you will find a cluster of homes designed by architects from around the world. The students were surprised that each of the homes looked so different. There are still many empty lots in this area because all damaged houses were torn down in anticipation of new construction. We spent about twenty minutes here walking up and down the streets looking at the homes, walking to the levee, and visiting the small memorial park. 

The entire 7th grade and the teachers pose for a picture

Standing near one of the Make it Right Houses

Another Make it Right House
After leaving this area, I text the librarian, Gertrude Romero, at Dr. King Charter School. I tell her that we are on our way. Two years ago, Cheryl Bordelon (ELA teacher) wrote a service learning grant with the local Brown Foundation to help us keep this field trip alive. One purpose of the trip is to see the Ninth Ward, the other purpose is to visit King and tell stories to the 1st graders there. We first walk into the MLK Public Library which is attached to the school. There we find out how badly the library was damaged during and after the storm. 

The library manager tells us what happened to the library before and after the storm
We bring all 75 students in 1st grade a copy of the Dr. Seuss' book, The Sneetches. Two students put on a brief Sneetches puppet show, and then we had a student read the book and others act out the whole story. The school's library is filled with 75 1st graders and 87 7th graders. It is crazy crowded. For those sitting under the air conditioner and unable to hear the reader, they just followed along in the book. 

Puppet show

Both of these Sneetches have stars
The whole cast
Writing in the blank book made the experience fun

Some happy book buddies
Once the play was over, each 7th grader worked with their 1st grade book buddy to write a story in the blank books that we brought for them. Some of the 1st graders dictated to the 7th grader, some of the book buddies wrote together, some of the 1st graders wrote their story on their own. Snacks were given to everyone provided by King. We spent about 45 minutes in the school working with the little ones. It seemed to be an extremely positive experience for everyone. Next year, we talked about having the King students visit our school. 

I was presented with a card for our school signed by all the 1st graders
This is a collaborative project from start to finish. We are very proud of how it has grown and developed since the first time that we read Rhodes' book in 2011. Collaboration happens at the school level, the city level, and in the past, we have collaborated on this project with schools out of state. That didn't happen this year, but we will be on the look out for teachers or librarians elsewhere who are interested in having their students learn about our town because we are certainly interested in learning about them. Let me know if that is something you might like to do.

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