Author Archives: ajdickens

About ajdickens

In five words: Mom. Wife. Librarian. Reader. Teacher. Teaching elementary library and living in the suburbs of Seattle.

2017-2018 OTTER Award Nominees!

The OTTER Award – Our Time To Enjoy Reading – is sponsored by the Washington Library Association: School Libraries Division.  A newer book award established in 2015, the committee is pleased to announce the 2017-2018 nominated titles.

  • The Bad Guys: Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Inc.)
  • Lola Levine Is Not Mean! by Monica Brown, illustrated by Angela Dominguez (Little, Brown)
  • The Great Pet Escape (Pets on the Loose) by Victoria Jamieson (Macmillan/Henry Holt)
  • The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers (Candlewick)
  • I am Jane Goodall by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos (Penguin/Dial)
  • All Paws On Deck (Haggis and Tank Unleashed) by Jessica Young, illustrated by James Burks (Scholastic Inc.)

The goal of the OTTER Award is to highlight titles that encourage children to continue reading as they transition from picture books to longer chapter books.  Our motto is “books kids like, not books adults think kids should like”, and student feedback is taken into consideration when selecting the nominees.  A maximum of six titles are selected each year.  Nominated books should include developmentally-appropriate content, vocabulary, layout, and appeal.  Voting occurs in late April, and children should read at least two of the titles on the list. The winning title is announced in May.  For more information, please visit www.wla.org/the-otter-award.

Official press release: OTTER-press-release-2018

Amina’s Gift by Hena Khan

Three or so years ago, we were lucky to have a family move in across the street from our house with 3 children: 2 girls and a boy.  These were kids that played, laughed, biked, were outside and active and exactly who my kids hoped for in a new family.  Hours were spent playing with these kids.  We know them, care for their family, and miss them dearly.

Like neighbors do, we exchanged holiday greetings and went to their birthday parties.  The typical librarian, I often gave the children books as gifts; however, the stories never featured characters that were mirrors of themselves and their life experiences.  My neighbors didn’t get to read stories about kids like them – Pakistani American children growing up in the U.S.

Amina’s Voice, published by Simon and Schuster’s new Salaam Reads imprint, changes that.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Meet Amina.  Much like many middle-schoolers, she wants to keep a low-profile.  It’s a bit harder with a unique name like hers, something her best friend Soojin understands.  But Soojin starts taking about making her name more “American” and mean-girl Emily, who has made fun their cultures (Pakistani and Korean) for years, starts joining them for lunch and projects, throwing Amina’s world into chaos.  At home, it’s no better: there’s no chance of escaping unnoticed when she and her older brother are signed up to give a Quran recitation at her mosque with the expectation of excellence from her parents and visiting uncle from Pakistan.  When the mosque is the target of a hate crime, Amina’s home and school communities come together in unexpected – yet fully believable – ways.  Khan knows her background and gives all readers an accessible story that will educate as well as entertain.  An important book for all libraries.  Highly recommended.  Share with ages 8-12.

Find Momo by Andrew Knapp

Pet books – specifically dog books – were hot commodities for readers in MTigersLibrary.  There was an overflowing shelf of them in the 600’s which was usually decimated by the end of September.  While my elementary readers liked books on each breed, they really liked the ones with good pictures.  Forget the words: they wanted to coo over the photos of the doggies.  Like Momo.

Find Momo Coast to Coast & Let’s Find Momo by Andrew Knapp

The original Find Momo isn’t a typical addition to the elementary library: it’s a photo-journal of a dog, Momo, in landscapes and interiors.  But one element makes Momo a bona fide hit: the black and white dog hides in each photo.  This I Spy aspect is age-appropriate and perfect for readers of any age, language, or ability.  Momo’s first book had enough fans (my students included) to spur more titles: Find Momo Coast to Coast and a board book for the youngest readers Let’s Find Momo.  Both keep the element of I Spy and showcase beautiful photography with one hidden dog.  Momo Coast to Coast gives young readers a picturesque view of the United States through the adventures of an appealing dog.  Imagine the mapping activities one could do with Momo! The board book Let’s Find Momo is great for emerging readers and English-language learners, as it showcases four words and objects in a quadrant, inviting readers to find the matching objects on the following page…along with Momo, of course.  The only drawback may be if readers learn the name “Momo” as representing a dog.  Fun and appealing, share these with dog-lovers of all ages.   

Find Momo published in 2014.  Find Momo Coast to Coast published in 2015.  Let’s Find Momo is released April 18, 2017.

One of the previewed titles at 2017 London Book Fair at the Quirk books booth.

Cheers, y’all! 🙂 arika

The award goes to…

Awards.  If you know me, you know book awards are big events in my world.  My various social media accounts are witness to this: I shout from the rooftops and from behind the keyboard to celebrate honors bestowed upon the written word.  And on the occasion when I felt there were not enough awards for books, I went and created one.

So I do love awards.  For books.  But when it comes to people – to awards for librarians doing what they do – I get a bit quieter. Y’all, let me be real: as a professional, when I read the amazing, celebrated, award-lauded accomplishments of other librarians, I am in awe.  The awe is often followed by a ‘I am not good enough’ moment.  A ‘is there anything they don’t do?’ moment.  A ‘how on Earth do they do X-Y-and-Z when I can barely survive this day’ moment.  Please don’t get me wrong – I am inspired by my colleagues near and far and the innovative work they’re doing each and every day.  But the doubt, the comparison, is there and it’s real.  And maybe you, like me, have these moments.  So what do we do?

Reading the words of Theodore Roosevelt may help: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”   When we compare ourselves to others, we allow our joy to be taken away.  Ugh.  That’s awful-sounding.  We need more joy, less comparison.  

What we do in our libraries, with our resources, for our learners cannot be compared.  The joyful moments are there, big and small alike – moments where things work, when our students learn and ask and create and find.  Those awesome moments occur because of YOU.

So today, YOU win the Awesome Librarian Award.  Yes, YOU!  The first grader who you allowed to check out an extra book?  You win for kindness!  The third grader who remembered how to log in to Destiny?  You win for patience!  The teacher who asks for a recommendation for read-aloud?  You win for perseverance!  The child who shows up in the library early each morning just because?  You win for friendliness!  The colleagues who email requests at the last minute and you reply?  You win for timeliness!   The hours spent running a book fair, hosting book groups, organizing an author visit, starting a makerspace?  You win for passion!  The time you tried a new technology with students for the first time?  You win for courage!

For these and all the other moments that bring the library and literature to life: you win the Awesome Librarian Award (or The ALA…quite fitting, really).  You create joyful library moments.  You make a difference.  You win.  There is no comparison.

Stay strong, friends.  Finish the year with passion and as much energy as you can muster.  You are a winner, after all.

Cheers, y’all!  –arika

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

It’s a gift to be able to write for children.  It’s really impressive, though, to be able to write in an authentic child voice: to represent the conversations, behaviors, and internal monologues with developmentally-appropriate actions, thoughts, and dialogue.  A few authors and characters spring to mind as exceptional examples, including Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Kevin Henkes’s Billy Miller.

They have some company with Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Julia Marks.  Sloan impressively nails both a solid kid-friendly plot line and authentic voice and actions in Short.  

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

It’s summer vacation, and Julia’s brother wants to audition for the local summer play.  She does not.  Julia has far more important things to do this summer, like writing letters to her friends and mourning her dog Ramon’s death.  But she tags along to the audition, reads for a part, and is surprised to learn that she’s cast in the production of The Wizard of Oz…as a Munchkin.  This is a sore point, as she’s shorter-than-average and a bit sensitive about it.  Following through in the role – with the support of fellow cast members and little adults – Julia learns what commitment means as she discovers the strength of community, both on stage and in her town.  By getting out of her comfort zone, she starts daydreaming less and doing more – both in the play and in the real world.

Sloan has crafted Julia’s world with a deft hand: it can be scattered at times as Julia flits from one thought to another.  However, this is what makes Short exceptional: it is all-kid. What child doesn’t jump from one idea to the next?  Consider this passage:

Julia’s loss of her dog is a big part of who she is – Ramon is woven through the narrative – and her flitting thoughts about his smell, collar and the carving are as authentic as Ramona cracking an egg on her head or Billy’s fear of performing poetry stage.  High praise, there.

Share with ages 8-12.  Highly recommended, especially for teachers looking for a read-aloud with strong voice.

Short released January 31, 2017.  Thanks to Penguin Young Readers for an advance copy.

Cheers, y’all! –arika

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

Recommending books – to students, teachers, colleagues, friends, neighbors – is the bread and butter of any librarian worth her or his salt.  But as a librarian MOM, it’s a bit different.  Because Mom comes first, and not often will one’s child take mom’s advice – be it about slowing down on the slick grass or wearing a coat on a rainy day or trying a new title – without some resistance.  However, ‘resistance is futile’: this librarian mom doesn’t give up when it comes to books. My two children are starting to figure this out.  Case in point: James Nicol’s The Apprentice Witch.

At ALA in Orlando in June, I’d picked up a pre-release copy. Printed on 8×11 paper and bound by plastic combs, logic said that a book shared in such an early state must be exciting. After a quick read, the first person that came to mind was my daughter – this was similar to some of her favorite books.  But she was not interested in Mom’s opinion, even with a stellar booktalk.  So I tried a new tactic and started reading it aloud one night (this, by the way, is a great trick).  Within two chapters she was hooked, and so was my 7 year old son.  That night, they stayed up and she read aloud to him about Arianwyn and her “friends”.  She finished it less than a week later to rave review.  See for yourself.  🙂

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

summary & review by JMD, age 9

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol is a fascinating book to read. A young girl that is about 16 years of age named Arianwyn is becoming a witch, and according to schedule, every young girl that is her age that she can test to see if she can become a real witch. Everything seems to be going right when then something goes wrong… Arianwyn fails the test. Her punishment is to protect a small town, Lull, that Arianwyn soon finds out is a town with big problems.

I enjoyed reading The Apprentice Witch because there is a lot of magic and fantasy put into the book and those are things that I look for when I look at books. I recommend this book for ages 8 and up. Also, this book is for fans of the series Upside-Down Magic and Fairy Tale Reform School.

The Apprentice Witch is out July 25, 2017 in the US and released July 6, 2016 in the UK

And a little side note: It was serendipitous that I picked up this advance copy at Scholastic’s Chicken House reception. Chicken House is Scholastic’s publishing arm for titles originally published in the UK.  Little did I know at that time that I’d be moving to the UK!

 As seen at the 2017 London Book Fair at the Scholastic booth.

Cheers, y’all! 🙂 arika

This Is How We Do It by Matt LaMothe

There’s been a push in education (and in school libraries) to make connections with those outside of our building.  Tools like Skype and Google Hangouts make it easier to see and interact with children outside our school walls, but those connections are usually across the US.  Trying to get out of North America and learn about others in the world is harder, if for no other reason than the time differences. And that’s where books and librarians can come into play.

It takes a concerted effort to teach global understanding and build empathy for others.  Finding titles that encompassed multicultural backgrounds and deepened world understanding AND are engaging read-alouds is even harder.  Lucky for us, there’s a new book to make teaching global literacy a bit easier.

This is How We Do It: one day in the lives of seven kids from around the world by Matt LaMothe

Children take center stage as they explain what their daily lives are like in seven diverse countries around the world.  Because none of the countries featured are from North America (children from Japan, Russia, Uganda, Peru, India, Iran, and Italy are included), it stands to reason that this was created for children with background knowledge from that continent.  The big takeaway is that we have similarities regardless of where we are from: we play, we go to school, we eat meals, etc.  It’s the little details that make our countries, our cultures, distinctive: while many children walk to school, it is what they experience on that walk – from mosques to fruit stands to cafes – that is unique to their country and culture.  The crisp font and child-like illustrations lend themselves to sharing with a group, and the captions on each page, describing the child’s experience in each country, are brief yet informative.  A book with a timeless quality, this is highly recommended.  Share with ages 6-10.

For teachers developing and implementing social-emotional learning in their classrooms, This is How We Do It is a must-purchase. Oftentimes, a lack of cultural awareness or knowledge is what leads to exclusion and bullying in schools.  There are rich research opportunities within these pages, too. Paired alongside the CultureGrams database, students could research about lives of children not featured in this book and – potentially – create their own.

Were I still teaching in the Northwest, this would be the 4th book in a “Learners Around the World” unit (the other three are Rain School, Waiting for the Biblioburro, and I’m New Here).

 

This Is How We Do It publishes on May 2, 2017.

One of the previewed titles at 2017 London Book Fair at the Chronicle/Abrams booth.

Cheers, y’all! 🙂 arika