Books for transitional readers – the OTTER Award

A few years ago, while serving on the Sasquatch Committee, there were a handful books that the committee loved (like Lulu and the Brontosaurus) that didn’t make the final nominee list.  Why? They were geared to an audience younger than the grades 4-6 award criteria.

Pondering on this, I had a thought: there should be an award for chapter books geared toward children ages 6-9.

The idea went dormant…until last year, when my daughter was in 2nd grade and struggling to find just-right chapter books. Looking critically at my 2nd grade students and their reading choices, I realized they also were challenged to find a just-right chapter book that wasn’t part of a household-name series.  The chapter book shelves, full of all levels of fiction, were overwhelming to them.  And while the collection contained plenty of appropriate titles for 6-9 year olds, I had to find ways to share these outstanding titles to them…and to their parents and teachers.

For my students, I displayed and shelf-talked titles: hand-selling books is one of my favorite things.  There were many happy readers…but not enough.  Too many non-readers weren’t engaged.

For my teachers and parents, it was harder.  Advertising great beginning chapter books via newsletters and emails didn’t get results.  The big winner was face-to-face conversation: adults liked hearing personal recommendations, especially the “best books” – ones that won awards or were well-received by other students.

Last winter, still thinking about a beginner chapter book award for grades 1-3, I mentioned it in passing to a colleague across the state. Seeing a similar need in her district, she was on board for a pilot book award project. So were our fellow teacher-librarians.  Relaying the idea to my 2nd grader, she said “Are these books kids like or books adults think kids like?”  With that one sentence, I heard a challenge. If we (teachers, parents, librarians) are trying to get kids to read, then we should be sharing the titles that kids like…not the ones we think they should like. Their opinion matters.

She ultimately read some of the potential nominees, as did my 6 yo son and my students at school.  And after some discussion among librarians, we curated a list of nominees that kids liked and created a new book award for young readers in Washington State.

The OTTER AwardOur Time To Enjoy Reading – aims to be that award.  Designed for for children in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, these titles are intended for transitional readers.  They have ample white space, larger font size, adequate line spacing, and/or illustrations.  Most importantly, they have been read and approved by young readers.  These are books kids like.

Note: this is a pilot project. It has not been approved by WLMA…yet. :)

The 2015-2016 OTTER Award nominees:

Dog Days by Karen English (Carver Chroncies #1)

The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale (Princess in Black #1)

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman (Bunjitsu Bunny #1)

Ares and the Spear of Fear by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Heroes in Training #7)

White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan

Our selection criteria:

  • copyright year 2013-2014
  • reading level suitable for grades 1,2,3
  • multiple kid-friendly specs (including, but not limited to: white space, font size, line spacing, illustrations)
  • read and positively reviewed by a student (“books kids like, not books adults think kids like”)
  •  representation of genres/gender/diversity/series

Voting will take place by April 15. Award winners announced by May 1.  Nominees for 2016-2017 year TBA.

Now: to submit this award to WLMA.

WLMA 2015!



What a treat it was to attend and present at WLMA 2015 in Yakima! Connecting with librarian friends near and far, collaborating on ideas to best serve students in WA and beyond, and creating learning moments at the drop of a hat…what could be better?!

Donalyn Miller – AKA The Book Whisperer – kicked off the weekend Friday morning with her keynote speech Choice and Voice: Fostering Reading Ownership. Some of the best Donalyn quotes:

  • “The best thing we can do when a child wants to talk about a book is to listen.”
  • “Learners who lose their choices become dis-empowered.”
  • “You want to see higher level thinking? Read a wordless book with a child.”

Some of the standout sessions this year focused on Makerspaces, Genrefying, New in 2015, Grant-writing, Collaboration, and WA state book awards.

I was honored to present this year, too.  My session – Operation: Motivation! A year of enthusiasm in the elementary library – was to wrap up the conference. To be honest, I feared no one would stick around for the last session (um…guilty).  But they did. And I was relieved. And the audience was FANTASTIC.

The handout for my session is on the WLMA site.  If you want the procedural links referenced at the end of the session, see below.

Folks who came to WLMA15, I hope you connected, collaborated and created all weekend long and are ready to utilize new knowledge and ideas within your library program.  I know I am. Looking forward to next fall in South Seattle!


Read-Aloud Tuesday: 10.13.15


On #ReadAloudTuesday, I read to the Maple students age 3-6 at my son & daughter’s former Montessori school.  Young readers are demanding and honest: I strive to share the best of children’s literature with them each week.


Chu’s Day at the Beach by Neil Gaiman

The sneezy, adorable panda bear Chu is back! On a trip to the beach, Chu’s nose is tickled by a seagull feather.  The result? An enormous, earth-changing sneeze! The ocean water lifts up, letting the shore guests see the ocean friends (including merpandas!).  But when it’s time to let the water go back down, Chu can’t muster a sneeze. What’s a little panda to do? Adorable, bold illustrations by Adam Rex compliment this sweet story. New in 2015.


Buster the Little Garbage Truck by Marcia Berneger

Buster is a little truck with a big fear of loud noises. BEEP’s, HONK’s, and CRASHes send him scurrying away! Luckily, he has his sweet, not-so-loud kitten pal by his side. When visiting his Dad at work, Kitten goes missing. Buster must overcome his fear of loud noises to save his dear friend. Spot on for the preschool crowd, if not a tad long.  New in 2015.


Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

Napille School is hosting Officer Buckle’s safety presentation. No one pays any attention…until Gloria, the new police dog, shows up. Suddenly, Officer Buckle’s presentations are infused with pizzazz and style in the form of Gloria’s unseen, dramatic safety-tip renditions. Thrilled with the newfound attention and surge in safety, Officer Buckle’s visit to a local college is taped. How will Officer Buckle react when he realizes Gloria’s pro-safety antics? A classic must-read with clever, inference-laden illustrations.

Social-Emotional Learning in the Library

This year, our school focus is Social-Emotional Learning. Yes. SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING.

During our Learning Instruction Days, our staff revamped our (outdated) school Tiger PRIDE focus (which, after 5+ years, I should know the meaning of…a telling sign).  As a group, we wrote and voted on our 4 school-wide expectations. Great care was taken to write the expectations (not rules) in child-friendly language. Any 5 or 11 year old should understand these words.  Notably missing is the word “respect” – a vague, all-encompassing word if there ever was one.

Be Kind.   Be Safe.    Do your best.    Help the rest.IMG_2536

Excited and hopeful don’t come close to expressing how I feel about this focus.  Having observed Montessori teachers the last 5 years and read numerous books on embracing the whole child, I know that successful classrooms must build social-emotional behavior, learning and lessons whenever needed, not just when convenient.  We can teach it anytime, but it’s taking the time to drop everything and focus on tough SEL issues when they crop up that is challenging.

So… how do these expectations and Social-Emotional Learning look in the library?

First, there is this quote:


To me, Ginott captures the heart of social-emotional learning. I know that SEL starts with me. Modeling positive behaviors is a must. Showing students – and telling them with grace and courage – that I’m doing my best during tough situations let’s them know that it’s not always easy for me, either. Acknowledging student for helping the rest – classmates, me, the library as a whole – is also important. And staying safe by walking, pushing in chairs, and quietly removing yourself when there is a seating dispute are discussed and encouraged. I speak using overwhelmingly positive, peaceful words. I aim to be predictable in my temperament and actions. Empowering children to love the library is my goal, and they won’t do that if I’m yelling/moody/unpredictable.

There is a large poster in the story pit with our four school (and life) expectations. We review these words every week before class, and I write them on the whiteboard.  I highlight any that may be particularly useful during the lesson (help the rest – if we’re using a new tech, etc.) Total time: 30-60 seconds.

Some examples of how the expectations were modeled in the first two weeks:

  • Be kind: A K student was surreptitiously pulling the hair of another. The girl turned around, yelled at the hair-puller, then folded inward and cried. I stopped the story, got down on their level, and spoke to both in a peaceful voice. I said that hair-pulling is not okay, neither at school or in life, choosing not to acknowledge the guilty party yet.  I asked the hair-got-pulled girl if the other student apologized. She wouldn’t look at me, so I asked again, requesting that she look at my eyes. She did look and answered, “no”. To the whole class, I said, “Pulling hair is not okay. It is not kind, and we are kind at school” using a quiet voice. At this point, the hair-puller acknowledged herself and said it was an accident.  About a minute had past and the rest of the class was silent. Now, apologies. I asked the class how you know if something is an accident.  Someone says, “you have to say sorry”.  I agreed, reiterating for the group that if you don’t say “sorry” – while making eye contact and using a kind voice – the other person think you were trying to hurt them.  Apologies were made and accepted, tears dried, and the lesson moved on.  Total time: around 3 minutes.
  • Be safe: Students sit on stairs to listen to stories. Sometimes, feet and bodies are too close. Students are aware that, to be safe, they are able to move to a better learning space at any point during our lesson. This idea of being a problem-solver is reiterated for the first month of school. I do notice trouble, but I won’t stop the lesson if I feel a child can solve the problem independently by making safe choices that work for them. During the first 2 weeks, a half-dozen students moved during lessons – most quietly, without disruption – to stay safe.
  • Do your best: I ask students to leave the library looking as good or better than they found it. In this way, each child can do their best. It took a class 5 extra minutes to leave, as they would not push in chairs and return pencils to the basket. My statement to them: “You are not doing your best for our library and for the next class by leaving materials around the room and chairs scattered.” Then…
  • Help the rest: Library class always ends with the statement to leave the room looking as good as, if not better than, you found it.  “If you notice a problem, step in and help the rest.” It’s interesting to watch which students will volunteer to help others and the library space as a whole. Often, it’s the children I least expect.


Our school received fantastic signage created by our colleague’s daughter, author/illustrator Lara Kaminoff. And though this poster will be hung throughout the building, I hold hope that it’s lessons will be embraced and encouraged, taught and retaught by both students, staff, and families.  May these SEL lessons in life stay with us this year and for years to come.

Two years ago…

…I started this blog. I remember deciding to start blogging: sitting on the couch on my real birthday and debating domain names with my husband.  Creating a WP account, learning the basics of blogging, and setting up the blog to my specifications the next day was my gift to myself.  Blogging about books and libraries was long-time dream.  It’s turned out to be one of my favorite gifts ever.


I am so very thankful for every person who visits this site, gains inspiration, tries something new, or leaves comments. There will be stretches when I’m radio silent (Summer 2015 comes to mind), and getting back to the blog seems nearly impossible. Knowing that this blog helps and inspires others is what keeps it going.  So thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

In our family, we reflect each year with a tongue-in-cheek By The Numbers newsletter.  Some are serious, some are silly.  So here you go, blog friends.  2015 LibrarianArika, By the Numbers:

  • 730: days the blog has been live
  • 730: hours spent writing…at least
  • 20: hours spent learning how to organize a WP blog
  • 349: posts written over the last 2 years
  • 400+: pictures taken of students and learnings at school
  • 2,307: visits to the Elementary Library Lessons page
  • 12: posts that exist in draft form. Must get back to those…
  • 11,000: Visitors in the last 2 years
  • 10,998: visitors that don’t include my friend Kari or my mom (you guys are awesome)
  • 11,000: books I wish could gift to each one of you as a thank-you
  • 1: person who will continue to write honestly, share the good and bad, reflect thoughtfully, and read thoroughly in the next year
Again, I thank you. For searching, for reading, for sharing, for Tweeting, for Pinning, for commenting.  Those who visit inspire me to try new things, ask better questions, create and innovate.
Bring on the next 366 days!



2015 SLJ Summit in Seattle!

Can’t quite believe it’s almost time.

The SLJ Leadership Summit is this week.  It’s free.  And it’s coming at you from Seattle.  Yes: SEATTLE!


Friday afternoon is busy-busy, with a focus group, reception, and meetup.  That’s after teaching all day.  Saturday features breakfast, keynotes, panel discussions (including my colleague Tara Jones!), author signings, and giveaways.  The fun ends Sunday, with even more opportunities to learn.  What a professional development-filled opportunity. And it’s in my backyard. I CANNOT WAIT!

With my school’s social-emotional learning focus, I am very excited to hear Greg Bennett, from UW Tacoma, present on the Whole Child Initiative.

Not able to make it out to the NW? I’ll on Twitter, sharing pictures, ideas and take-aways using the hashtag #SLJSummit.  Follow along!

Finally, a shout-out to my husband, who is tackling school pick-ups, soccer games, and a sleepover so I can give my 110% to the event. Love you.

Read-Aloud Tuesday: 09.22.15


Welcome back!

Last year, my son graduated from the Maple classroom. Upon his graduation, I requested to continue Read-Aloud Tuesday with the children in the classroom.  It is a joy to visit and share stories with them each week.

On #ReadAloudTuesday, I read to the Maple students age 3-6 at my son & daughter’s former Montessori school.  Young readers are demanding and honest: I strive to share the best of children’s literature with them each week.


Whose Shoe? by Eve Bunting

Mouse has found a shoe. It’s not his, so what to do? Showcasing excellent manners and impeccible vocabulary, Mouse sets off to find the shoe’s owner. Admirably, he checks with everyone – even those he knows it cannot belong to – as no one likes being left out. Rhythmic and rich, this is another lovely collaboration between Bunting and Ruzzier.  Share with ages 3-7. NEW in 2015.


It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee

The moon is out, nigh has fallen, and the Wimbledon family is asleep. Until…HAROO! Awakened, Mr. Wimbledon finds that it’s only Stanley, howling at the moon. Asleep again, the family rest, until…CRASH BANG! But it’s only Stanley, cooking catfish stew. Their restful night is constantly disrupted with Stanley’s home repairs and odd jobs…but it’s his final bit of engineering that sends the family through the roof (literally). Clever readers will notice the simultaneous storyline from the TV set on the cover to the unexplained howling on the first page (it wasn’t Stanley, after all) to the final, out-of-this-world ending. Share with ages 4-9. NEW in 2015.


By Mouse & Frog by Deborah Freeman

Mouse has a story to tell: “Once upon a time, there was a mouse”…but his friend, Frog, has other ideas. Wild, inventive, chaotic ideas with dragons, kings, and jillions of scoops of ice cream. Mouse is not appreciative of Frog’s frequent, lengthy interruptions, finally erupting with a loud “STOP!”  This does stop Frog from taking over, but to what extent?  Learning to use one’s words and work together as a team, Mouse and Frog are two friends destined for greatness.  Share with ages 3-8.  NEW in 2015.