Saturday, August 29, 2015

It is never too late to follow your dream

A friend who's a former colleague popped into the library yesterday with her adorably cute toddler, just to say hello.  She left her position at the end of last year to pursue another degree, one that tugs at her heart for deeply personal reasons.  This was her first week to go back to school as a student again, and we talked about how that went, the changes in her home schedule, the effort it takes to read textbooks as a learner instead of a teacher.

After she left, I commented to a volunteer how proud I was of my friend for following her heart and walking this new path. She was glowing and seemed to be more at peace, traveling this course with purpose and determination.

Last night, I was pondering our visit, and realized there's been a subtle shift in my thinking, too.  I've always been supportive of my friends' efforts to build lives that are true and meaningful.  But I used to do so with a touch of envy, questioning the universe, asking, "When will I figure out what's true for me?  When will I see my path?".

Now I can support my friends from a place of knowing.  Now I can look back and see the path was always there, everything that happened led to the next right thing, experience stacked upon experience building the foundation for the life I'm currently living.

Pursuing my own dream of becoming a librarian, putting some of my needs first to accomplish that goal, has given me insight and appreciation for the struggle.  Instead of looking from afar at others as they work towards achieving their goals, I am standing on my own foundation, reaching down to lend a hand up, even if it's just in empathy.  I can cheer as a coach, someone who's "been there, done that", instead of from the sidelines wishing I could do what they're doing.

Follow your dream.  It is not selfish, and even more fulfilling when you can support others who are doing the same.  

(Photo by Peripitus (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday slice: First day

The students returned to campus today.  

The first day always begins and ends with a rush.  In the morning, it's parents dropping off their students and walking them to class while they can, before our "hug zone" gets implemented tomorrow; kindergarten parents in the library afterwards, sharing comments of "What do we do now?" and "Time has gone so fast!"; and our brand new fifth grade broadcast team, eager to get to work but naive about the intricacies of running the announcements.

The middle of the day was more routine--dividing up old lunch cards among the newly formed classes and delivering them, rounding up new students to have theirs made, answering emails, filling out forms.

The end of the day is another rush of students, criss-crossing the campus as they go one way to line up for car pickup, another for the buses.  All hands on deck again, to make sure each child gets home safely.

And then quiet falls upon the school, an eerie quiet, not unlike that calm that follows giving birth.  A moment of bewilderment, of "I did it!" followed by "What's next?".  And then the exhaustion hits, and I realize that I still have to pick up the high school child, drive home, and come back tomorrow to do it again.  So home I go, home is where I stay and eat dinner and write this blog and work a little bit, until sleep claims me before the evening news airs.

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

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I am embarrassed to admit that I did not complete a single book this past week!  Instead, I've been talking a lot about books with my colleagues as they've returned to our campus to prepare for the coming school year.  

Here are some books we've talked about:

Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Christian Robinson. A puppy who feels a bit out-of-place among his brothers and sisters finds out what family really means.

The Scraps Book:  Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert. This autobiography of an artist's life is full of familiar colors and shapes for fans of Ehlert.  I was quick to point this book out to our new art teacher!   

On the professional side, the hot teacher materials of the moment are Number Sense Routines:  Building Numerical Literacy Every Day in Grades K-3 by Jessica F. Shumway and Number Talks:  Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies, Grades K-5 by Sherry Parrish.  I've got teachers on a waiting list while I catalog them into the system!

Our students arrive tomorrow!  Here's wishing everyone a great school year.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I am fortunate

We had our district librarian job-alike meeting today.  This is one of the two times when librarians from elementary, middle, and high schools meet together; we break off into elementary and secondary for our monthly meetings.

Two years ago, I attended my first library job-alike in a state of awe.  Brand new librarian, I felt like I had been given the secret password into a special club.  I still feel that way.  To be part of a group with such a honed sense of purpose--literacy and lifelong learning and service to our patrons--is inspiring.  This group is quick to share resources and nodding glances when we talk about the hurdles we surmount in getting our tasks done.

We were reminded today about how lucky we are to be working in Round Rock ISD.  There is a certified librarian in every school in our district--high schools have two!--and many of us have at least part-time assistants.  Our jobs are valued not only by our campus colleagues and administration, but by district personnel all the way up to the superintendent, who credits part of his success to his public school library experience. 

Our colleagues know that our job is more than just collection development and circulating books.  We support the curriculum through lessons on reading, writing, technology, and information literacy.  We support creativity through makerspaces and club sponsorships.  We support our community through fundraising and outreach.

We support, and our district supports us in return.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tuesday Slice: I'm not ready!

The students arrive in a week, close to 1100 of them at last count.  That number is about 150 more than last year's beginning of school enrollment.  We've added four more classes over the past two weeks.

My vision for the library schedule this year included two flexible mornings with no regular library visits, so that we have room in the week for longer lessons when requested, author visits, presentations, and rescheduled classes.  But as my "single slot" teachers--kindergartens and first grades--fill in their preferred times for library visits, I am thinking that some of that flex time might become fixed visit time.  My upper grades will often double up classes for their slots, but there's only so much time in the week!

I have no control over the size of our student population, so I've spent the last week on tasks within my control:  ordering books, scheduling author visits, rearranging shelves, laminating new signage, subscribing to our local online newspaper, meeting with the new teachers.  I'm working on the orientation lesson (using iPads this year!) and scheduling meetings with teams to go over read-alouds and lesson topics.

The library looks messy, the circulation desk is cluttered, the shelves are not done, signage is not up, the new badge printer is not plugged in.  I'm not ready for school to start yet!

But yesterday, in the office to see if my academic year wall calendar had arrived (it is the best tool EVER for this librarian!), there was a mom enrolling her two children.  When I introduced myself as the librarian, she immediately asked me about reading incentive programs in our school.  They had just moved from another state, and she felt their previous school was not big on encouraging reading (!).  As I explained our Bluebonnet reading program, read-alouds, regular library visits, and genre challenges offered by many of our teachers, her eyes lit up.  Her son and daughter came up to the front desk to hear the details, smiles on their faces.  

I'm not ready, but they are.  I'd better get cracking at that to-do list!

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Back to work as an elementary school librarian ironically means less time to read, or at least it does for me.  Of course, once the students return, I'm usually reading all day long with them in the library! 

My one book for this week:
Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague is a 2015-2016 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee, and the last of the twenty nominees for me to read.  

I was still reeling from the post-Katrina harsh reality portrayed in Zane and the Hurricane when I started this book; when it opened with the depiction of the miserable treatment of coal miners by the mining companies in the 1930's, I thought I was in for another heartbreaking story.  And I was...until the element of time travel was introduced.  Modern-day Margaret O'Malley is determined to do whatever she can to help her father, who has been wrongfully arrested.  His fate has been determined by a Judge Lucas Biggs, whose view on life became twisted in that coal mining town long ago.  Somehow, Margaret must save Biggs from becoming a coldhearted corporate pawn in order to save her father.  There were parts in this book that were still a heartbreaking read, and should spawn interesting discussions about life in the early 20th century. 

Next on my list:

Finishing up Are You Fully Charged?: The Three Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life by Tom Rath
A Plague of Bogles by Catherine Jinks

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Crafting a vision

Monday was my first day on the work calendar, but it was spent in tech training for the new iPads I have waiting in the library.  

My Facebook post yesterday echoed how I felt about these past three months (to the tune of a pop song):  This summer has been all about that tech, 'bout that tech, no paper.

So today is my first day back among the books.  Only with lots more technology.

After lugging in the bags of stuff from my hallway at home (most of which are books, naturally), I know I will spend time just sitting at my circulation desk, imagining what the library will look like this year.  I think the interactive screen--all 70 inches of it--is currently set up in my book nook.  But after hearing other librarians at the training talk about ways it can be used, is that the best place for it?  It might look better over in the learning area, but there is already a Promethean board hanging on that wall...will it become obsolete with this new tech, and if so, what do we do with it?  The iPads have been delivered, too.  That's more orientation for the students...time to rework the beginning of school year lesson.  Will the expected hubbub over the new devices eclipse everything else in the library?  Will I be okay with that?

Harking back to the words of The Tech Rabbi at iPadpalooza, I reaffirm my purpose in the library.  Promoting print and digital literacy, the enjoyment of reading, and love of lifelong learning is still paramount in this space.  All the questions I have will be answered in due time, I know.  

Coffee in hand, vision a bit more clear, I wade into the 2015-2016 school year.

Monday, August 10, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?


My first day back at work, two weeks before students arrive, so I've spent the last week madly reading the last Bluebonnet nominee books on my list!  I am on the last one, so I have already beaten my record of 16 Bluebonnets read last summer.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy was a fun romp with all the Prince Charmings--the ones associated with Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel.  They do have names, you know (according to Healy)--Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav--and they may not be as suave and sophisticated as the previous movie-animation versions portrayed.  It was a long book (over 400 pages), but worth the read for middle grade students who think they've outgrown those princess fairy tales.  Lots of adventure to be had with the Prince Charmings! 

I jumped from fantasy to sci-fi with The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles.  The story opens with a mystery--a boy wakes up on a lawn of a house on a planet with a yellow sky.  His head hurts, and he doesn't know who or where he is.  Rescued by Parker, the house's lone living inhabitant, we soon discover that the boy's name is Chase.  Parker has a mischievous streak born of boredom, and the two boys find themselves in increasingly more complicated and dangerous situations, caught in the turmoil of political unrest and deceit.  Searching for details about his past leads Chase to discover just how special he really is.  Sci-fi readers will make connections with Star Wars and Star Trek in this fast-paced story.  
Zane and the Hurricane

Book nineteen for me was Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick. Zane Dupree travels from New Hampshire to Louisiana to meet his great-grandmother, the woman who raised the father he never got to know.  Unfortunately, the visit happens right as Hurricane Katrina is about to hit the coast. Philbrick pulls no punches with his historical fiction depiction of the aftermath of the storm in New Orleans, and includes information in the afterword about actual events that lent him the factual details.  Living in Texas at that time, I was very aware of the devastation as the refugees came to our state and city, but I don't recall hearing about the violence perpetrated on some of those trying to escape the floodwaters.  Philbrick shows us how extreme situations can bring out the best and worst in people.   This wasn't an easy read for me, but it made me eager to get to the end to find out how Zane and his rescuers fared.

Currently reading:
Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
Are You Fully Charged? The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life by Tom Rath

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Taking stock

Next Tuesday will find me back among the stacks, hopefully rearranging books, putting up new signage in the Fiction and Everybody sections, and processing the pile of materials I left behind back in June.
Some of the books to return to school
Pile of stuff to take to school

With three weekdays left of summer break (I have professional development on Thursday), I am determined to drown out the woulda-coulda-shoulda voice in my head with there-is-still-time, look-at-what-you-have-done reassurances.

So here's to taking stock of my summer.  I have:

  • worked out 33 times
  •  read over 25 books (and I'm farther ahead on the Bluebonnet nominee list than I was at this time last year!)
  • helped my daughter prepare for her study-abroad semester
  • cooked some really good meals, and planned them through August
  • written 18 blogposts (not counting this one)
  • attended four days of professional development
  • made one book trailer
  • made two quickie flipped lessons
  • become a little more familiar with my district-issued iPad
  • put on a garage sale with my family
  • filled the bird bath almost every day--and enjoyed bird-watching as a result
  • watered my outdoor plants A LOT to try and save them from our TX heat
  • enjoyed afternoon naps
  • participated in a Write Away Day at the Writing Barn with my children, where I finished three book reviews and journaling and worked on some fiction pieces
  • participated in a colleague's Visitors' Day as part of her Central Texas Writing Project Summer Institute
  • met up with friends from two campuses ago, commandeering a table at Panera Bread for over three hours
  • nursed my son back to health after his wisdom teeth extraction surgery
  • spent lots of time with my husband, daughter, and son--the best-spent time this summer.
Just putting this list together makes me feel better!  There are still two or three major tasks that I must absolutely get done before next Monday, but I've already scheduled in a bit of fun with girlfriends on Friday afternoon.

For all you teacher-types out there who are heading back to work this month, I encourage you to make your own list!  I'm guessing you got a lot more accomplished than you give yourself credit for.

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Alas, I cannot yet report on the books I was reading last week....because I haven't finished them yet.  (I am **this** close to finishing The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy!)

But I had to write something today, so I took a break and read all these wonderful books I picked up at the Scholastic Reading Summit last Tuesday.  I can't wait to get them into the school library!

I sent an email reminder to myself to get a copy of A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins after reading The Styling Librarian's blogpost review last Monday...and there it was in the Scholastic bookfair on Tuesday! The author takes us on a fascinating journey through history by following the recipe for blackberry fool.  We learn how it was made in four different centuries, two countries, and four different families.  As the author writes in her notes, there is a lot that can be discussed through this book:  changes in food gathering, preparation, and refrigeration; changes in clothing and gender roles; slavery in the United states; and a common love for sweet desserts!  The recipe is included, and be sure to read illustrator Sophie Blackall's notes as well--there is a surprise detail about the endpapers!  I'll be sure to display A Fine Dessert in November with other books featuring food and family.

I am a sucker for children's picture dictionaries; I think they are a fabulous resource for young beginning writers as well as ELL students.  I especially like the ones where words are grouped by category; First Words by Dawn Machell and Jane Horne gathers words in familiar groups such as clothes, foods, family members, and animals.  There are a lot of pictures and words per page, which makes this a great resource for primary grades or a book to explore together with a younger child.

Flora and the Penguin is Molly Idle's follow-up to Caldecott Honoree Flora and the Flamingo.  Wordless and using spare imagery in soft wintry shades of white and blue, we watch Flora and her ice-skating penguin partner as they dance; Idle's innovative use of flaps moves the action along a timeline (compare with comic book frames).  I love using wordless books to teach story elements and provide students struggling with writers' block with a nudge to put their own words to the pictures.

Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo is another Caldecott Honor Book, illustrated in bright tones with heavy black lines and lots of details.  A young boy is hesitant about visiting his grandmother in the loud, scary city.  Nana knows what to do; she knits a superhero cape to inspire bravery in her grandson, and together they explore the wonders of city life.  This would be a fun and easy read to pair with your favorite version of "City Mouse, Country Mouse".

Last, but not least--my two signed books by Kate Messner, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, and How to Read a Story, illustrated by Mark Siegel.  Ms. Messner read the latter to us at the Reading Summit, and I immediately thought it would be perfect at the beginning of the school year when we talk about choosing good-fit books in the library.  She covers all the bases--choosing a book for your audience, making a prediction from the cover and title, using context clues to sound out words.  Up in the Garden was purchased with our school's garden PBL project in mind, but it could be used in units about soil, the seasons, insects, and the environment.  I like having books written by the same author but with different illustrators, because they can spark discussions about art styles and the editorial decisions behind matching the art to the story.

It was nice to take a break from my chapter books and feast my eyes on these wonderful picture books.  I'm looking forward to sharing them with my students in the library!

Scholastic Reading Summit

This Tuesday, I attended my first Reading Summit sponsored by Scholastic.  It was a deal I couldn't pass up--professional development hours, paid for by my Scholastic Dollars earned from book fairs, and held at the Renaissance Hotel, a mere fifteen minute drive from my house.  Oh, and lunch was provided!

It was such a good deal that I was able to take two teachers from my campus (one from K-2 and one from 3-5) using Scholastic Dollars as well.  Bonus!

The food was yummy, I got to chat with some of my SHSU profs, there was oodles of Starbucks coffee and ice water to be had, and a friendly Scholastic representative every ten feet to help you find your way.  Those sneaky Scholastic folks even knew how to get us there early--they opened up the book fair an hour-and-a-half before the first keynote, and kept it open all day.  I got my shopping for the library done early, and even snagged two signed copies of Kate Messner's books; Ms. Messner was kind enough to personalize them for my school.

But enough about the food and shopping.  Here's what I learned....

Opening Keynote--Scholastic and Donalyn Miller

Alan Boyko, President of Scholastic, treated us to a booktalk on Crossover by Kwame Alexander after talking to us about research data on decreasing attention spans and the importance of independent reading for critical thinking and lifelong learning skills.  He stressed the importance of book talking; at Scholastic, they even begin their meetings with a book talk!  You can find resources for book talks at .  

Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, honed in on the importance of allowing student choice in reading.  My favorite points from her talk:

  • We need to support our students' reading choices, or else risk extinguishing interest in reading altogether.
  • The most important thing that an adult can do is stop and listen when  a child wants to talk about a book.
  • Book choice develops decision-making ability.
  • Students' voices should be louder than ours.
Ms. Miller also gave us some great ideas for promoting books:  student-made "shelfies" to recommend books; decorating doors with recommended books or "currently reading" titles; posting QR codes to book trailers, then laminating them and placing them inside the book covers to be discovered; and hosting a Review Club, in which books are reviewed by at least two members for all grade levels in the school.

iDEAL:  Inspiring, Developing, Empowering, Assessing, and Leading a Schoolwide Independent Reading Culture

This full-day workshop was based on Scholastic's "Independent Reading Professional Learning Guidebook", as well as the highly-recommended Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading by Barbara Moss and Terrell Young.   Lottie Liner, guest principal from Forest Lane Academy in Richardson, provided copies of the book for her staff when implementing her school-wide literacy program.

Scholastic provides the framework that Ms. Liner used, including pre-assessment surveys for staff and parents, online tools and resources (many of them free of charge), and post-assessment surveys. More information can be found at .  

Points I liked from this workshop:
  • Develop your vision and find enthusiastic supporters.  Each campus needs to decide what independent reading looks like to them--DEAR time for the whole school?  Students carrying books to read during transition time?  Book talks on morning announcements, in community circles, at PTA meetings?
  • The 20 for 20 challenge asks parents to dedicate 20 minutes of reading WITH their children for 20 consecutive days.  Information and resources can be found at the aforementioned link.
  • Creating Lifelong Readers as well as Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild offer guidelines for curating classroom libraries--which should number at least 300 books per room. Scholastic offers boxes of "bruised" books at discounted prices; teachers noted that don't always seem that "bruised"!
  • When using the pre-evaluation from the resources, think of what needs to be done as a three-year plan.  Get your rituals and routines in place during year one, applications such as one-on-one reading conferences, data gathering, and student response systems in year two, and assess student and family engagement in year three.
  • Another resource is No More Independent Reading without Support by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss.
  • Sustain your efforts by using the provided surveys and connecting with your professional learning network.  
  • Ideas for finding the time and space for implementation:

  • Scholastic ReaderLeader is a blog for administrators that is now open for anyone to follow:
  • Invite your teachers to tweet about books!  Hold contests for assigned parking space for the most tweets!
The iDEAL resources seem very helpful, whether you decide to use the entire process as outlined or pieces that resonate with the needs of your campus.

Ending Keynote--Booktalk and Kate Messner
The Scholastic manager for Texas book talked Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (it's on my to-read pile!).

Kate Messner took the stage, and energetically shared her story of becoming an author (while she was a teacher!).  My favorite part of her talk was about handling book challenges, after she had a particularly distasteful encounter with a classroom parent.  Her response was so well written, and she generously said to borrow whatever we needed from it to help us if we faced a similar situation.  Her letter can be found on her blog, here.

This led into a focus on diversity in children's literature.  Ms. Messner talked about the importance of children finding themselves in the books they read, as well as learning about others--our differences AND what we have in common, perhaps helping to make the world a better place.  The books she featured:

Ms. Messner continued by sharing her wide range of books with us, from her newest Ranger in Time series and stand-alone novels to her picture books on the rainforest, gardens, and the ocean.  She thoroughly researches the material for her nonfiction and "Ranger" books, traveling around the world with her writer's notebook to capture details that make her stories come alive. We then read How to Read a Story together--the perfect book to use when teaching students how to find and share a good-fit story for themselves.

Favorite points:
  • "Reading is magic."  That makes teachers and librarians wizards. "We can write books, but if they're not finding their way to the readers, we're kind of shouting into the dark." 
  • We should be okay with questions that don't necessarily need answers.
  • Be careful of "genderizing" books too much.  Boys and girls need to read all kinds of books, to avoid sexism later.
  • "We read independently to understand others."
Kate Messner's keynote was a wonderful way to end my first Scholastic Reading Summit!