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New Year, New Adventures

Never there been a more aptly-titled blog post.

Yep: I am leaving Seattle – my home for the last 13 years – and headed to London.

I won’t lie: I am as excited as I am scared. My thoughts often ping-pong between “OMG. WE ARE MOVING TO LONDON! ADVENTURE, HERE WE COME!” and “We are moving…to LONDON?! Wait…we’re moving WHEN?! Early 2017?! So I won’t finish the school year? ACK!”

Why the move? My husband got a new job. Same company, different office. In fact, different CONTINENT.

Knowing the move was scheduled for early 2017 made the end of 2016 particularly tough. Giving notice and applying for leave. Breaking the news to students and staff, then saying goodbye – to current and former students, families, teachers, friends. Cleaning out my office. Prepping for a replacement (a lovely librarian I had the timely pleasure of meeting last fall at AASL – yet another reason Why I Conference). And, finally, walking away.

More truth: I have never cried more in my life than walking in – then out – the door for the last time. And those stairs. Walking up those steps for the first time, I imagined and dreamed to be a librarian that changed people’s perspective and stretched their expectations. As I left, I hoped I achieved it. #mtigerslibrary

I spent a lot of time in December walking around the small community where I’ve spent the better part of my life since moving to WA – taking pictures, documenting, remembering. The NW is beautiful, but especially the spaces near my school. These are from a few final walks.

And now it’s January. The New Year. Adventure Time. When do I leave? Great question. Our departure date keeps changing, but my heart tells me I’ll be In London at the beginning of March (though with the delays we’ve already had, I won’t be surprised if it’s later).

So what about this blog? What’s to come of it? Four years ago, I thought long and hard about the name. I settled on job title and first name because those are two things that are always constant. I will always be a librarian – it’s what I tell my students as they graduate: “always your librarian”. And my name – it isn’t going anywhere. Students could easily find it. And the domain name was available.

LibrarianArika – the person AND the blog – will head abroad to experience expat life…and, if I’m lucky, expat teaching.

Let the New Year Adventure begin.

Du Iz Tak?

There’s been a lot of  buzz about Carson Ellis’s newest picture book, Du Iz Tak?: it seems like every journal, Best Of list, and bookstore has it listed as a top picture books of the year.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

You may have noticed that it wasn’t part of my Best Of 2016 list (it’s there now).  Yes, I’d read the book. It took longer expected, for a book having so few “words” (we’ll get to those in a moment).  My verdict: it was okay. Not Best Of worthy. I could leave it.

But I hadn’t stopped thinking about the book (there’s a sign).  So last night, we read it during Family Story Time.  Telling J&H (ages 9&7) that it had no real words in it piqued their interest. And 25 minutes later, we sat back, completely amazed and blown away by what Ellis created…and I admitted I was wrong.  This book is so, so worth of Best Of honors.

Let’s start with the illustrations. Ellis shows readers the passage of time – and the unfurling of Mother Nature’s gifts – with a simple, accessible ease. Grass grows, characters enter and exit with appropriate speed, seeds fall (then grow), seasons change. The cycle of life is clear, which is needed in order to make sense of the words.

The words – yes, words. You can read this story of 100% nonsense words…with a little work. And that was what made this book a grand slam to my kids. Du Iz Tak?, in our house, translated to What Is That?  Look at the cover: two insects (or oodas, as we figured out), one pointing at the green sprout – and a question mark as punctuation. It *had* to be asking What Is That?  As we read, flipping pages back and forth, we slowly figured out Ellis’s language. Using body language and gestures as well as capitalization and punctuation, we deciphered the insect’s conversation. What an exemplary example of using text features/illustrations to infer language. And for students working on decoding…it doesn’t get any better. This book is a teaching dream.

My gut says that sharing it as a whole-class read-aloud maybe tricky, but it’s totally doable. Maybe share on a doc cam would work well – to allow all to really “see” the illustrations. I’d certainly read it twice: first, without stopping, having children really pay attention to the pictures. The second time, we’d try to figure out the language. I think it’d be super-fun AND educational. Imagine pairing with an insect unit!

Fantasy. Insect Story.  ©2016.  Recommended for ages 6+. Plan on spending 20+minutes reading – and thinking through – this one.

Best of 2016: Early Readers, Graphic Novels, Nonfiction…

Broad category here, so please forgive me. As usual, I didn’t read enough nonfiction. Or graphic novels (to my daughter’s chagrin). I did read lots of beginner readers/transitional books, and these are exceptional.  Here are some great choices from 2016:

Best retelling of a fairy tale in graphic novel format: Snow White by Matt Phelan

Best cover of the year that also happens to be a stellar graphic novel for young readers: Narwhal: unicorn of the sea! by Ben Clanton

Best for super-fans of Ezra Jack Keats (um, ME!): A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Best use of language to describe the essence of seasons: When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano

Best nonfiction story to use to develop growth mindset among students: Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s super-soaking stream of inventions by Chris Barton

Best math concept book since The Greedy TriangleThe Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat

Best gift for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week: The Thank You Book by Mo Willems

Best realistic portrayal of divorce through a child’s eyes: Weekends With Max and His Dad by Linda Urban

Best “bad boys…but not really” story: The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau

Best must-read of the year as chosen by my 7-year-old son: Dog Man by Dav Pilkey

…and now, a little lagniappe.

What is lagniappe?  A bonus or unexpected gift. Also, a little bit of my Louisiana years coming out. 🙂

I didn’t read much YA this year (shame on me!), but these stood out:

Three completely different stories, characters, problems – but similar in that they’re each unforgettable. Like YA? You won’t be disappointed by these.

Happy reading, y’all!

Best of 2016: Middle Grade/Chapter Books

It is nearly impossible to quantify what “Best” means, especially in books. To me, it means a story that I can clearly recall that did something exceptional: plot, characters, theme, mood, language, or overall feel.  These books envelop most of the previous traits…truly 16 of the Best of 2016 for middle-grade readers. I promise there is something for everyone!

Best thing I’ve read this year and can’t stop talking about and think EVERY SINGLE PERSON should read because it’s the best (and worst) of humanity with nary a human in sight: The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

Best fast-paced book with a lasting message: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Best villain EVER: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Best feel-good story on mistakes, consequences, and second chances with a solid helping of love: All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

Best overarching depiction of 9/11 in a realistic narrative: Nine, Ten: a September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Best happy-dog-but-heartstrings-sad story of friendship: When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin

Best magical realism: Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

Best action/adventure/historical fiction mash-up: Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart

Best portrayal of the effects of addition on a family in a true middle-grade novel: The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Best “I wish I had this in middle school” illustrated novel: Frazzled by Booki Vivat

Best first two sentences of a novel “Let’s get this part over with – it’s no secret. My dog, Maxi, dies.”: Maxi’s Secret by Lynne Plourde

Best rum-running, fire-alarm-pulling, baby-toting main character: Full of Beans by Jennifer L Holm

Best true fantasy with a dash of folklore: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Best baseball book featuring a female protagonist (something that hasn’t happened since The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson)The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop

Best secondary characters who steal the show: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Best of 2016: Picture Books

The end of 2016 has seen much upheaval and change…both in the big picture and my own little life.  But the year can’t end without a Best of 2016 Booklist – or two or three.  Because writing and sharing Best Of lists is a wonderful reminder of what was great about the past year…and there were some wonderful moments in picture books.

Here are my Best Picture Books of 2016

Best for teaching and understanding perspective: They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Best book to read twice – once for the pictures, then again for the endpapers: This Is Not a Picture Book by Sergio Ruzzier

Best to share with a friend: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

Best use of gutters to show the feeling of shyness: Shy by Deborah Freedman

Best for those who need to slow down and count their blessings: Penguin Problems by Jory John

Best read-aloud for the preschool crowd: Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant

Best for those who want solitude and are willing to go to great lengths to get it: Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol

Best bedtime story since The Napping House: It Is Not Time for Sleeping by Lisa Graff

Best for first-time or nervous air travelers of any age: The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

Best use of an inanimate object to encourage selfless kindness: It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton

Best step-by-step book: Lion Lessons by Jon Agee

Best back-to-school book EVER…from the school’s perspective to boot: School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

Best “wait one minute…that’s not what was suppose to happen!” book: A Hungry Lion (or a dwindling assortment of animals) by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Best explanation of math concepts for the young crowd: The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat

Best ending to a beloved series: The Thank You Book by Mo Willems

Best to share with to anyone who questions the true meaning of love: Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian

Best for showing the ups and downs of friendship: Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis

Best book I missed the first go-around…and best for teaching decoding and inference: Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

Looking for other Best Of 2016 lists? Check out the brilliance of:

 

Mock Newbery Book Club: a how-to

This is my year of TRY. As often as possible, I’m trying new things and getting out of my comfort zone.  In that vein I endeavored to start a Mock Newbery Book Club (M.N.B.C.) for my 4th and 5th graders.

Why? Because new books are exciting. Because anyone in grades 4 and 5 can participate. Because reading to answer rote questions is boring but reading and thinking and reading and conversing and reading is FUN. Because creating and defending opinions while conversing is a powerful tool.  Because I love talking new books with students…and they like reading and talking about new books, too. BECAUSE IT WAS TIME TO TRY SOMETHING NEW.

How it is working, in a timeline-style of way:

Research Mock Newbery and think of your school. (Aug/early Sep)

Our nominees:

Create a spreadsheet of titles/authors/prices. (mid-Sep)

  • Make it easy for people to say YES. Have a detailed budget. Plan for the cost at many levels (1 copy vs 4 copies). Here’s our Excel spreadsheet: mock-newbery-budget
  • Start thinking of how to pay for the books. DonorsChoose and PTA grants are two ways to get funding.
  • Start thinking of what you’ll do with the books after voting. Donate them to teachers? Giveaways for student readers? Something else?

Start building interest! (mid-Sep)

  • Write a Mock Newbery interest letter. Here’s mine: mock-newbery-interest-letter-generic
  • Send an overview email to teachers. Invite them to participate! Include your principal, too! (mid Sep)
  • Advertise upcoming interest meeting to students during library class. (mid Sep)
    • In my building, I hold interest meetings in order to informally assess the dedication students have to a club. They can only receive the sign-up form by attending the interest meeting.

Hold interest meeting. (mid-late Sep)

  • I hold mine during recess. Spending 15 minutes to hear about a book club has not been an issue in my school.  This year, over 60% of attendees ended up joining the club. The #1 reason for who didn’t join: the early 7:15am start time…but that wasn’t to be helped due to teaching/scheduling issues.

Buy the books and consider circulation. (late Sep)

  • By waiting to see how many students show up (and return) the interest letter, I can estimate how many copies we’ll need. This year, with 30 students and 4 teachers, I bought 4 copies of 10 books. Everyone is reading something at any given point in time.
  • How will the books circulate? I honestly didn’t know what to do here, so I gave this task to my students at our first meeting. They came up with a sign-out sheet idea and found a good space to store the M.N.B.C. titles in our library…all without using the computer. I wanted the books to be without barcodes (to facilitate donating / gifting) and the system to be very easy; hence, old-fashioned paper and pencil.

Now, it’s time for the meetings…and what is causing me some panic. Here’s what we’re doing each week. Note: in a perfect world, the start date would’ve been Oct 5…

  • Week 1: Oct 19, 2016
    • Overview of Newbery Medal from http://www.ala.org. I asked students what they knew about the medal and filled in from there.
    • Show M.N.B.C. titles. Booktalked Raymie Nightingale and Pax. Showed the book trailer for Some Kind of Courage. Thanks to Mrs. Hembree for the great trailer!
    • Come up with way to circulate/store M.N.B.C. books.
    • Hand out books to student readers!

  • Week 2: Oct 26, 2016
    • Review circulation of M.N.B.C. titles.
    • Review Newbery criteria from ALA.
    • Break out into small groups. Start discussing titles and noting opinions via informal rating form. mock-newbery-rating-sheet-generic Maybe one day, this’ll be organized on OneNote.
    • Hand out M.N.B.C. bookmarks!
  • Week 3: Nov 2, 2016
    • First book discussion and rating. Break apart into 3 groups. Talk/listen about each title. Compare reading to ALA’s standards.

Our principal even got in on the reading and discussing!

  • Week 4: Nov 9, 2016
    • More small-group book discussion. Prepare for next week’s Skype visit by brainstorming questions.
  • Week 5: Nov 16, 2016
    • Skype author visit! This year: Dan Gemeinhart talked about Some Kind of Courage.
      • Notice the stacked chairs? We did this during Book Fair week! And I’m holding my phone – my laptop wouldn’t connect to Skype, so my iPhone (and a Smartboard adapter) to the rescue!
  • Week 6: Nov 23, 2016
    • Book discussion
    • Thankful For Books – notes to Mock Newbery authors for Thanksgiving
  • Week 7: Nov 30, 2016
    • Online research: what does the Internet have to show for 2017 Newbery contenders?
    • Choose 1 additional title to add to Mock Newbery List (for us: The Girl Who Drank the Moon)
  • Week 8: Dec 7, 2016
    • Host guest from local library – Cecilia McGowan, 2018 Newbery Chair
  • Week 9: Dec 14, 2016
    • More book discussion!
  • Week 10: Jan 4, 2017
    • Book discussion
  • Week 11: Jan 11, 2017
    • Last week of discussion – write 1 sentence to persuade someone to read the book you like best
  • Week 12: Jan 18, 2017
    • VOTING WEEK!
  • Week 13: Jan 25, 2016
    • Final recap. Watch tape-delayed announcement. Be prepared to talk about winner that we didn’t choose 🙂

Oct 3-7, 2016: Deborah Freedman, Folktales, WCCPBA and maps

Week 6:  Deborah Freedman author study (K), Folktales Around the World (1), Learners in Our World (2)

Kindergarten:

Week 2 of the Deborah Freedman author study. This will culminate with a whole-kindergarten Skype visit with Deborah at the end of the month!

At the end of the lesson, students can:  identify the role of an author; identify a variety of feelings displayed in response to scenarios* (*from SecondSteps); use shelf-markers to assist in selecting books

Our book conversation focused on feelings. Mouse and Frog display a wide range of feelings in the book and struggle with their friendship – something very familiar to K students. Talking through their authentic reactions to Frog taking over the story (and Mouse’s reaction) was a powerful connection to their classroom-based SEL learning.

At the end of the story, to prepare for our author Skype, students brainstormed with knee-neighbors to generate questions for Deborah Freedman. Please excuse my messy handwriting – this wasn’t best modeled work; rather, it was getting their ideas down ASAP so we could check out before dismissal!

This was also the first week K’s could choose books from anywhere in the library using a shelf-marker. After I led today’s modeling, there will be quick (1min) student-led modeling of this skill for the next 4-8 weeks.

1st grade:

Our LAST week of our Folktales Around the World study! Based on student feedback, we had to continue for one more week and include the continent of Europe. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good trickster tale to share…so Margaret Read MacDonald came to the rescue with Too Many Fairies.

At the end of the lesson, students can: sing and locate the continents of the world; identify traits of folktales make predictions; name feelings when presented with physical clues*, use claim evidence reasoning, locate and label the folktale’s origin on the world carpet map

For this story, students had two focuses: identify the feelings of the old lady AND the fairies (and how behavior was impacted based on the feelings) and make a claim as to having the fairies come to their house. Overall, a good discussion spurred by a Celtic folktale…even for the students who didn’t want to read “a fairy book”.

2nd grade:

To conclude our unit on Learners Around Our World, I chose a 2017 WCCPBA nominee to bring the learning full-circle: Anne Sibley O’Brien’s I’m New Here.  With children from 3 different countries (Guatemala / S Korea / Somalia) moving to a school in America, this reinforced the idea that we are all learners while opening a conversation on empathy and compassion.

At the end of the lesson, students can: independently access a database; locate and label a country/continent on a world map; use and understand map features; use physical, verbal, and situational clues to determine what others are feeling*; identify ways to show compassion for others in response to scenarios*

During reading, we had whole-class discussion on how the students felt in their new schools. We also talked about the (seemingly unfair) expectations of one of the teachers.  After sharing, I modeled again how to access CultureGrams, and students were set to work locating and labeling one of the countries featured in the story on a world map (a “magic map”, as I call it, thanks to Quiver!).

However…this happened in one class:

It was a Make It Work moment…time to model flexibility and problem-solving! Thinking fast, we used a generic world country map to locate and label countries as a whole class (thankfully, Google still worked!). By modeling a growth mindset of “problems happen” and staying calm, we were successful and met our learning goals.  And next week, they’ll use CultureGrams one more time!

PS: CultureGrams fixed the problem in a matter of minutes after the tweet!