Reflecting on Students Reading…or not

Developing students into readers who read & talk about books, who clamor to get their hands on the next hot title: this is one of my goals as an elementary librarian. I want to build a generation of passionate readers.

So as I reflect on this school year – on my students, on their reading needs – I look at all aspects of my program to see if the choices I’m making best meets this goal.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my current grade 3 & 4 students. They’ll be the grade 4/5 students next year who need continued inspiration to jump into and continue exploring the wonders of middle grade novels.  They deserve something amazing, something inspiring, something that will awaken their passion for reading.  And as the person they come to for book advice, I can’t let them down.

So next year, I’m trying something new to inspire them to read with wild abandon.  My students, along with others in some nearby schools, will be participating in the first (possibly annual) Rainier Reading Challenge.  It’s a bracket-style competition with 8 books vying to make it to the top of Mt. Rainier (which we can see on a clear day here in the PNW).  Voting will happen in stages, so student engagement should stay high.  Student interest, diversity of authors/characters, reading levels, professional reviews, genres, and cover images were all considered when selecting the 8 titles.

You’re welcome to join.  More info on the award and its eight titles to be shared tomorrow.

Cheers, y’all!


PS: a huge shout-out to my friends Julie, Leah, Sarah, Christina, Juliana, and Elizabeth – thank you for listening, for offering feedback, and for being an awesome Professional Learning Community.  This wouldn’t exist without you.  Thank you to my son H for coming up with the name Rainer Reading Challenge.  You’re one of those I hope to inspire to read with wild abandon.

Library Lessons: Feb 25-Mar 1, 2019


Week 1 of our new author/illustrator study with Deborah Freedman!  Her stories are brilliant tie-ins to the SEL / social-emotional learning happening in our building this year.

Grade 1:

It’s WCCPBA time.  We will spend 4-8 weeks on this unit.  We’ll look at all types of books, at characters and how they act, and consider which story is our favorite and why.

Grades 2&3:

Shark Weeks!  Combining a few WA State Book Awards (WCCPBA & Towner) AND research AND critical thinking, this 3-4 week unit promises to be fun.  Week 1: SHAWN LOVES SHARKS by Curtis Manley.

Grades 4&5:

More media literacy on being aware online.  When discussing phishing a few weeks ago, a grade 4 student brought up catfishing. While it wasn’t part of what I expected to teach, I decided to include a lesson on it…because if a 9 year old has heard the term (but isn’t clear on what it means), then it’s worth the time.

Is catfishing this?

Nope!  It’s not fishing for catfish, either.  As we learned, catfishing is:

There was a LOT of conversation about this topic.  It seemed like half of the students in each class had examples they were willing to share when either they or their parents had seen a catfishing scam.

Led by Google’s Be Internet Awesome slides & curriculum, our discussion focused on “Let’s Talk” – how do you know it’s really them?  Students shared many ways they could identify if a person was real.  Then I shared a screen cap I’d taken a few weeks earlier from Instagram of a new follower (only the first slide).  I asked what they noticed and what they’d do if they were me.  Many knew about blocking, but only a handful knew that they could look in the account to “see” more about the follower (the second & third slides).

One student brought up how sometimes people care about their number of followers.  This was a good conversation point!  Another mentioned that they don’t have Instagram so they don’t have to worry about this.  To that end, I reiterated that the focus was on being aware when online in any situation: social networking, gaming, email, research, etc.

Cheers, y’all! –arika

Learning names in the elementary library

This has to be, hands-down, one of the largest hurdles for any elementary specialist: learning all of the names of the students.  If you’re new to a building, it’s especially daunting when looking at 300-700+ names to learn IN ONE YEAR.

These are some tricks that might help in learning names.


This works best with young learners: preK / K / 1.  I learned this from Stephanie, the best music teacher ever.  Start by making sure each child has an assigned seat.  Using index cards for each child pre-placed on the floor works, as does taking a photo of where students sit Week 1 and projecting it on a white board/screen for students to see as they walk in (see below). Having assigned seats alleviates drama in locating a space, gives a set way to begin class as the children walk in, and helps me (and them!) to learn names.  Sitting in the same spot each week trains my brain to remember their names much faster.

Then, the song.  It’s pretty simple: a call-and-response.  I sing: “Hello, ____”.  They respond: “Hello, Mrs. Arika”.  Some weeks, I toss a squishy ball to the student I’m singing to.  Some weeks, I hand out/collect name cards to help train my brain.  And some weeks, we simply sing the song, no props involved.  Here’s a peek of how it looks with a K class:


In library, students have use individual library passes to check out.  The pass has their full name and barcode.  Handing them out one by one is a way to learn names.  See the student’s name, say the name, see the student, hand student the pass.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  I do this for all grades for at least the first 10 weeks of the year.

Some tips:

  • this works best if you check with teachers regarding nicknames before the first library class.  Jot any nicknames on the appropriate pass.  Students will appreciate this!
  • library passes can double as shelf-markers!
  • sorting passes by color/grade level is ideal.  Here, brown = grade 4.
  • store passes by day of the week they come to library, if possible.
  • a veteran tip: if students have names that are difficult for you to pronounce – do not write your hint to pronunciation on their library pass!  Write it on a sticky note that you remove, put it on your lesson notes, jot it on a class list that only you see…but try to keep your guide to pronunciation to yourself.  As someone with a name that is atypical, seeing my name written ‘Erica’ made me feel different and less than myself.
  • and when a name gets mispronounced – it will happen – I do this: quickly apologize and say that I’m learning, then pronounce the name correctly.  The only person allowed to correct me is the person whose name I’ve messed up – not the entire class.


Want to learn names AND make your students responsible for remembering where they sit each week? Take a name photo!  Week 1, lay out cards with each student’s name in the approximate area where they’ll sit each week in library (yes, assigned seats – this really helps them have a set “spot” and helps your brain learn names).  When they sit down, have them hold up their name card and take a photo.  Print all photos and put them into a notebook for weekly reference / sub plans.  In Week 2/3/4, project the seating chart photos on the whiteboard/TV for students to reference when they come in and state that they forget where they sit or insist they sit in a different spot.  There’s little argument to be had with photo evidence. 🙂

Do students move or change seating spots throughout the year? Yes, of course.  Kids move in and out, relationships change, learning accommodations must be met – so seating plans must be flexible.  This photo of library spots is about 85% accurate from Aug 2018 – Feb 2019.

If you’ve got other ways to learn names in the elementary library, please share them in the comments.  We learn best when we share and learn with one another!

Cheers, y’all!  –arika

A breakdown

I broke down this morning.

Not in the literal sense – I drove into work just fine, my 13 year old car making the trek across town with relative ease. (Note to self: buy new windshield wipers…the current ones are streaky.)

I broke down in the emotional sense.  Sitting at my library desk, thinking about things, I started crying.  A lot.  And there were no windshield wipers to dry my tears.

I feel mom-guilt.  A lot of it.  If you don’t know: my kids are in grade 4 & 6.  In short: I miss them…and I feel like I’m missing out on time with them when I’m at school.  I’ve long believed that being around in the middle/high school years is much more important than being present in the infant/toddler years.  Little ones, while lovely, don’t remember that mom was gone all day from 7:00-5:00.  My 9 & 11 year old do.  They go to before/after care each day for 2-3 hours while my husband and I go to work (and beat traffic).  I feel like time with them is finite and going quicker than ever before. Both children have activities (music & sports) that take up much of our after-school hours together.  Don’t get me wrong: I love teaching library to children, even the one who calls me Missus Poopy Poop Head. But today, it hit me just how much I was missing my own children.

I feel pressure.  You guys, let me tell you: Charlotte Danielson can take a hike.  Her book & chart that is used to assess of my level of library performance will never, ever hold a candle to the expectations I put on myself.  You might not be surprised that I struggle under the weight of my own pressure.  Seeing things like ‘proficient’ – ugh.  (Note: I’ve taken to cc-ing my assessor on every email that provides evidence of distinguished practice. And bringing unrequested evidence of distinguished practice to pre- and post-conference meetings. Because.)  Then there is the double-edge sword of social media. Oh, social media.  I read about and see the wonderful, creative, amazing lessons my colleagues (like you!) teaching, and I am inspired.  I am amazed.  I want to do those things, too!  But there’s the lurking pressure that what I am doing isn’t good enough.  That I am not enough.  That I’m falling behind.

I feel unable to fully succeed.  Let me be honest here: my love language is Words of Affirmation.  I need to hear that I do well to feel valued.  Colleagues will tell me they appreciate my work, and that’s good.  Parents do, too.  So, in a sense, I’m in a good spot.  But remember that pressure to excel?  I hate knowing that as a librarian in a larger school, with little technology, with a fixed schedule, with no makerspace, and with no desire to spend more time at school for evening events (see: guilt) means that getting Words of Affirmation outside of my room is a long shot at best.  What is worse is knowing that earning Words of Affirmation / recognition is virtually impossible for school librarians in tougher spots than I’m in: those whose districts shuffle them among 2 or more schools, those whose schedules are back-to-back-to-back with no time or energy for innovation, those who have no budget.  Again, in a sense, I am in good spot.  But I cannot deny the feeling of not succeeding. (And if you’re thinking: “lady, are you crazy? Look what you’ve done over the years!” – see the paragraph above. The pressure I put on myself is intense.)

I feel stressed. Working full-time in a US public school is hard.  In London, I worked FT…but at an international school where there were 10 classes that each had under 20 students and few to zero behavior issues.  I had the time to connect with students and teachers.  My own children attended the school where I worked, AND I rode the bus to/from school with them each day.  Working FT today – with 28 classes a week (24 of which I teach*) – is taking its toll.   I’m not seeing my own children (see: guilt).  I am stressed because the library is not where I want it to be in terms of collection, and I don’t yet have materials teachers are requesting (see: pressure).  I am stressed because there are so many questions that I have where I don’t know the best way to get them answered (thank goodness for my friend Julie, who answers the phone and helps me in any way she can…I’d be adrift without a life vest without her).  The good news: having 17 years of teaching/librarianship in my back pocket is my life vest, my life preserver.  I know vendors, I know Destiny, I know libraries & literature.  I cannot fathom the stress I’d feel as a late-hire rookie teacher-librarian.

So – the guilt, the pressure, the stress, the expectations: they caught up with me today.  And I broke down.

But why share it here? Because this is real.  Too often, only the pretty Instagram-worthy parts of life are highlighted.  Not today.  Keeping in all the hard parts of life as a working mom isn’t healthy, and it isn’t realistic, and I’m doing a disservice if I ever let anyone believe that I’m doing it all.   Because I don’t.  And I can’t.

Today, I dried my tears and taught the day.  I knew that when I got home, I’d be writing this brutally honest post.  Know that I see you, I know how hard it is, and I am in the same boat.  And tomorrow, I’ll get back in my trusty car, drive to school, and get back to it…with a fresh box of tissues nearby for the moments they’re needed.

Cheers, y’all.  –arika

*Long story short: I’m out of contract, and my district is contractually obligated to provide a 0.1FTE overload librarian.  I could get extra pay for teaching the extra 0.1FTE,  but I feel that sends the district a message that (a) my management time is not valuable, (b) I can be paid more to work, and (c) that I’m setting a precedent (read: if I do it once, I’ll be expected to do it every year).  As a suitable 0.1 (half-day) librarian hasn’t yet been found, there is a sub for a half-day each week…and I write the sub plans.

Library Lessons: Oct 29-Nov2, 2018


Laura Vacarro Seeger is a favorite, especially her DOG AND BEAR stories.  These last two weeks have been a lovely mini-study.

Note: all K classes start with The Name Song for the first 8-12 weeks of the school year. In a 30 minute class, this can take up to 3-4 minutes. But I think it’s important to greet each child by name and to learn their names ASAP, so the song is sung. Plus: singing!

Grade 1:

The final week in the Peter Brown author / illustrator study. This story gives readers an excellent chance to determine the difference of whose name appears on the spine label, as the previous 4 stories were all E BRO.  We always credit the author first. 🙂

If there was more time – a famous phrase uttered by many a teacher and librarian – students would have created their own CREEPY CARROTS.  Alas – our 30 minute classes do not lead to such creative endeavors (unless the lesson were to spill into next week…and next week is the start of something enormous!.)

Grade 2:

Since our library Symbaloo is complete and loaded into Destiny (at least, the links I’ve added), it’s time to highlight the resources with my students.  First up: MYSTERY DOUG. MYSTERY DOUG is, without a doubt, one of my favorites to share with students & teachers.  Each week, a video is sent to a subscriber’s email address.  Want to unlock all Doug’s videos? Simply enter 5 email addresses, and voila!  I used 5 of my own emails: school, home, home 2, old school email, and spouse’s email.  They get a link to sign up (which is easily ignored), and I get all the videos Doug has ever made for free!

The only downside to MYSTERY DOUG is that the video bank isn’t available for students to view independently at home or in class.  Honestly, though, that’s a small quibble for the richly researched, high quality videos Doug creates answering science-themed questions from students around the world.

Since Doug has a video on “Do bats drink blood?”, this was an ideal way for grade 2 to wrap up their BATS unit while highlighting our catalog’s resources.  While we watched, I pointed out how Doug gives credit to the sources he uses for images in his videos.  Authentic lesson on copyright – YES!  We also fact-checked Doug’s information using what had been learned when researching bats in PebbleGo the previous week. WIN-WIN!

Grade 3:

Because Mystery Doug is so good – grade 3 got in on the action, too!  Their video – ‘What makes pumpkins orange?‘ – was timely, given that it was Halloween week.

Grades 4/5:

If you ever want to have your students watch a video and literally OOH and AAH and ask questions, Mystery Doug’s video on ‘How do things glow in the dark?‘ is for you.  And them.  We ended up pausing the video a few times to think, to reflect, and to react.  And just like in grade 2, I make sure to point out how Doug gives credit whenever he uses information or sources that aren’t his own.

Why this video this week? Glow in the dark things are super-popular during the fall.  Kids know about glow bracelets.  Most, though, don’t know how the science works.  The chance to embed real-life learning into our library class is a chance I’ll take. 🙂Cheers, y’all! –arika

Library Lessons: Nov 12-16, 2018

A short week, as we were off Monday for Veteran’s Day AND I was off to London to meet my husband and wrap up our first expat adventure (because we hope there will be more!).


Connecting books to the electronic resources in library class is a win-win.  The goal was to introduce PebbleGo (and our library Symbaloo, which makes it easy to access the link for all learners).  No research, only a quick highlight of what we had available to use.

Grade 1:

Talk about bringing the fun into the library – Dinovember is something most of my grade 1 students got excited about, and it makes for an awesome 4-6 week unit.  Share dinosaur stories, do dinosaur coding, research dinosaurs on PebbleGo (when we have iPads available), create dinosaur creations with pattern blocks…the ideas are endless.  

Grade 2/3:

With Veterans Day this week, it was the ideal time to highlight the WCCPBA website on our library Symbaloo and read Patricia McCormack’s SERGEANT RECKLESS.  This nonfiction story engaged and fascinated students.  Bonus: I’d already created extension activities when working with the 2019 WCCPBA books over the summer!

Grade 4/5:

Books as Windows, books as Mirrors.  This idea – that we can see both ourselves/our beliefs/our experiences in books as well as the lives/beliefs/experiences of people not like ourselves – is one of my big goals when working with grade 4/5 this year.  This week: THOSE SHOES by Maribeth Boelts.

Knowing that I have students in 4th / 5th grade who do shop at thrift stores, I did not want to embarrass them.  I did want to teach their classmates, though, that not everyone can drop $$ on shoes / clothes / vacations with little thought.  Interestingly, a number of students did not know the phrase ‘thrift shop’.  Further evidence that reading widely and sharing windows/mirrors stories allows all our students to either grow as citizens of the world or to feel represented in books.

Cheers, y’all! –arika

PS: Week 12 will be different, as it’s a sub week.

You asked: book buying

Recently, a comment came in from someone who read the blog.  They wrote:

Hi Arika,
Can you please explain your book purchasing method? How do you determine which titles to purchase? Do you use specific resources or vendors to help you select newly published books?

Great questions.  Let’s tackle each, then throw in a few more for good measure.

Can you please explain your book purchasing method?

  • I tend to do 2 – 3 big orders each year.  Follett is my vendor of choice for the big orders, and BTSB is in the mix for books that need a lifetime binding (read: graphic novels). Why those two? They were what was used when I joined a school library 15 years ago, and I’ve built relationships with the companies and regional reps.  This year, I’m adding something new: ordering through specific vendors like Capstone and ABDO to get their deals (i.e., ABDO = order $1500, get 25 free books of your choice).  When using vendors, I purchase with either the school credit card or a purchase order.
  • Local bookshops and Amazon are used when I need a book (or sets of books) ASAP and can’t wait for a vendor.  Shopping local makes me feel like I’m doing something good for the community – and I get 20% off, which is about what I get on Amazon.  Bonus: I get to make connections with booksellers!  An example of this: when ordering numerous copies of the Sasquatch Award nominees, I contacted my local bookshop Brick & Mortar Books.  They got the books I requested, emailed me when it was ready, and I purchased them within a week.  When ordering with bookstores or Amazon, I tend to pay with my credit card and submit receipts for reimbursement.

How do you determine which titles to purchase?

This one is big, as I’m never not thinking about books to purchase.

  • Student interest: I’ve surveyed students, asking for what books they want to see in the library.  Observing student use and interest works, too.  Checking with teachers is another way to determine what is being used or is needed in the library.
  • Conferences: I attend book/literary conferences with the goal to visit vendor booths and see what they’re advertising for the year.  If getting to conferences isn’t feasible, keep an eye out for web previews from publishers like Penguin, Capstone, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Chronicle, Scholastic, etc.  I take a ton of photos and write lists in notebooks.
  • Indie bookstores: Visiting independent bookstores is something I love to do, as they often display the newest titles. They also have this fantastic newsletter – Indie Next List – that highlights upcoming titles that are getting buzz from independent bookshops around the US.
  • Knowing kids: There are some truths I’ve observed in almost 20 years as a children’s librarian in what books are popular with kids – specifically nonfiction. There is always a need for excellent, updated, good-looking books about  dinosaurs, rocks/minerals, pets, cookbooks, war, military, origami, Titanic, and wild animals.  These interests are for all kids, regardless of language.  In picture books: authors/illustrators like Jon Klassen, Ame Dykeman, Candace Fleming, Dan Santat, Christian Robinson, Peter Brown, Ryan T Higgins, Jacqueline Woodson, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, David Shannon, Mo Willems, and more fly off the shelf.  In short chapter books: Scholastic’s Branches books, Press Start, Dory Fantasmagory, Jasmine Toguchi; MG books Warriors series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, I Survived series, Rainbow Fairies series, Ricky Ricotta series; and authors Tui T Sutherland, Katherine Applegate & Jason Reynolds are just a handful (off the top of my head) that are always in demand.

Do you use specific resources or vendors to help you select newly published books?

  • I read book review journals: School Library Journal & Horn Book are the two I subscribe to.  These let me know what is new in kidlit, especially in picture books, short chapter books, and middle grade novels. These are anytime reads: at home, on airplanes, at work (usually during lunch), etc.
  • I have had vendors come into the library to share books, though this is not a frequent event.  My favorites are the ones listed above.
  • Sources like Junior Library Guild, while excellent for some, aren’t for me. I like selecting exactly what is best for my student population.  There are ways to work around the selections in JLG, but I prefer to select each title myself.
  • Blogs like Mr. Schu Reads and Nerdy Book Club are two that have been valuable over the years.  Betsy Bird’s Fuse8 production at SLJ is pure excellence.  Her year-end lists that run all of December cover everything I might’ve missed during any given year.  

And a couple of others that may be of use:

Who processes your bookstore purchases?

  • In a word: me.  I catalog, print spine labels, affix barcodes, and cover/stamp all books I purchase from Amazon or bookstores. Hardcover books get book jacket covers from Demco or Gaylord; paperbacks get Kapco covers (hundreds were purchased by my predecessor) or (when they run out…Kapco covers are $$!) more standard book roll laminate.  Running the dust jackets of hardcover books through the school laminator is, to me, a no-no.  Some people really like it, but I much prefer how crisp a book jacket cover looks on a book.  Plus, if the plastic gets ripped, recovering is easy (and the book looks brand new again!).
  • Stamping books? Yes. Books are stamped twice: once with our district/school name/address, and once with the date of purchase (Month & Year).  Both stamps are placed on the endpaper at the front of the book.  By putting the date of purchase in the front (mine are at the bottom center), it allows anyone to easily see when a title was purchased without looking in the catalog.  I don’t stamp at the back, on page 17, or across the top of the spine (though I used to when a school I was at had a stamp designed for this purpose).

What do you use to print spine labels?

  • I like these from Demco.  I also like the ultra-aggressive label covers from Demco to keep the labels affixed to books that do not need covers (like Dog Man, which is bound as paper over board). Note that the roll version of these label covers WILL stick to one another when unrolling unless you’re really careful.  I buy the flat packages to avoid this hassle.  I also do not cut the labels to make them last longer; I’ve found that when I do this, they tend to peel up at the cut corner.  One label cover per label. 🙂

I hope you find this helpful.  If there are more questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll answer.

Cheers, y’all! –arika