Category Archives: Celebrate children’s lit!

The Road Less Traveled

These days, after the last 1.5 years in London, the Pacific Northwest is – once again – home.  Moving abroad and teaching overseas was a ‘Road Less Traveled’ moment.  And though I started on the overseas path with much frustration and lament, I grew to appreciate and love the opportunities it presented.  I am certain I’m a better human and teacher for taking The Road Less Traveled and embracing the life of an expat and international teacher in London.

I had no idea that The Road Less Traveled would continue to be relevant upon returning to the US.

You see, I knew that the part-time job at my former elementary school library was waiting for me.  However – surprise! – there was a new FT job at an elementary library in my home district.  (There were really 3 choices, but one wasn’t librarianship and was more easily eliminated.)  Two choices – two paths.  Which to take?

One choice – one path – seemed easy: the same school I’d taught in for 13 years, the same district where I’d build my name and reputation, the same students and community who’d embraced my adventure abroad and hoped for my return.  But that path came with new changes, notably different values and visions for the library program being articulated by building leadership. Sure, it was the same school.  But the longer I looked, the clearer it became that the path had changed: I would not be returning to the same job.

The other path was decidedly tougher: a FT librarian at an elementary school in a different district. It would be a bigger school.  More classes.  Less admin time.  Zero professional clout.  Learning a whole new district and curriculum. This path would keep me closer to home. It also came with admin who seemed supportive.

Add in the fact that I’d be a single parent for the first third of the school year, and a dilemma was had: part time but farther away?  Full time but closer to home?  Less respect for librarianship vs the potential for respect?

After much soul-searching and many sleepless nights, I chose The Road Less Traveled: the full-time job, the new school, the new district.  It wasn’t – and hasn’t been – the easy choice.  On days I feel overwhelmed and frustrated – which is usually 80-100% of the time – I remember the wise words of Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I tell myself that taking this road will make all the difference because I will make a difference.  I tell myself that I have the ability to positively impact hundreds of new students. I know that I get to create a library that is inclusive, welcoming, and current. And reinventing what students and staff and families think when they see a school librarian is something I relish.

I am writing these words down, these thoughts of mine, because taking this less-traveled road continues to be hard.  The constant, never-ending work.  The newness of everything.  The fixed mindsets of colleagues.  But I know this choice will ultimately make all the difference.

2018-2019 WCCPB Award Nominees (and lesson ideas!)`

Each year, the Washington Library Association book award committees read dozens of books to select nominees for upcoming book award announcements: the Sasquatch, the Towner, the WCCPBA, and the OTTER.

And each year, I spend countless hours reading said nominees and thinking of how I’ll be utilizing them in my elementary library.  THIS year, though, the lovely folk at PSESD allowed me to share this at their summer learning institute for new teacher-librarians and library para-educators.

Before I go off on a tangent, know that I’ve read all the WCCPBA books. I wrote critical thinking / analysis questions for all of them.  This work is all mine, and I share it freely with you.  It should be noted that the WCCPBA committee does create an activity packet, though I find creating my own resource to be more beneficial.

The 2018-2019 WCCPBA nominees:

And the 2018-2019 WCCPB Awards slides from my PSESD presentation in August 2018:

The WCCPBA took up a bit of the presentation. Why?  Because there are 20 nominees that can take up 20 weeks of library time.  Now when I was a rookie librarian this sounded GREAT.  But as a veteran, I do things differently.  Unit studies work better for me/my students, so looking at the books with a thematic lens is more successful. This allows for classroom learning, school events, and research opportunities to be incorporated into meaningful, 2-4 week mini-units.

Before I can create any unit, though, I must read each title, think about the nominees as a whole, pull together resources, and create critical thinking questions.  Because there are a lot of books and, really, very little time…especially if you celebrate other reading moments like Dot Day, Global Read Aloud, Star Wars Reads, World Read Aloud Day, etc. And I do 🙂

There are tabs on each book, denoting what type of unit I’d likely place it in.

Some books have videos. Some have Skype opportunities.  Some have makerspace extensions. And some I won’t choose to read aloud.  Because Rule 1 in reading aloud is that I must like the book…and there are some here that aren’t my cup of tea.

Hopefully these resources will help you plan for the year, WA librarian friends.

Cheers, y’all!  –arika

Book BINGO: update

After a number of requests for editable copies Book BINGO – and a timely PPT tip from my favorite school counselor, Mrs. Watling – Book BINGO is now available for anyone to download and edit as a PowerPoint file! Please be sure the slide size (under Design) is set at a custom size of 11″ x 8.5″ before printing.


book-bingo PPT 

Here’s the original Book BINGO post for reference, if needed.

What I learned after hosting Book BINGO for students in grades 2-4 during 2017-2018:

  1. Set a day each week when you’ll review completed Book BINGO cards. Otherwise, it’s overwhelming.
  2. Prizes? It’s up to you. If you go that route, our Book BINGO bookmarks (with tassels) were popular and inexpensive.
  3. Be prepared for students who want a new challenge board. I had numerous readers finish within a month and request a new challenge.  I wasn’t ready for this.
  4. Have grade 1 students who want to participate?  Let them.  Maybe make a few styles of boards to support all grade 1 readers: those reading independently and those reading with assistance.
  5. Audiobooks & read-alouds count!  Remind them – and their families – of this!
  6. I had zero teachers participate. Maybe because I was new and the program was new?  Either way, I’ll try again next year…
  7. During our assembly recognition of BINGO column finishers, I’d make a change: include students who are really working to grow as readers. There was the boy who read all 8 Dragon Masters books during Spring Break but never finished a column. A girl who only read graphic novels but never finished a column. An avid reader who didn’t care about writing down titles, only about reading. If I celebrate those who finish, I can also celebrate those who are reading in their own way.
  8. Waning interest? Increase booktalks…and tie the booktalks to sections of the BINGO board.

Cheers, y’all! –arika

Building readers with Book BINGO

Who: readers – adults and students.  This means YOU. Yes, YOU.

What: Book BINGO – a BINGO board devoted to reading different types of books.

When: Starting NOW. Or, in a school year, some time in October. This allows everyone time to settle in.

Where: Reading can happen ANYWHERE – at home, on the bus, in the car, on a plane, in class, in library.

How: With books. The books can be from home, from school, from your friends or teacher, from a bookstore or library. The books can be in English or another language that you read.  The books can be read out loud to you or as an audiobook or as an e-book.

Why: Because the best way to get better at reading is by READING. And readers need to read a wider variety of books – not just chapter books, but also nonfiction, biographies, folklore, poetry, and different genres.  This year, my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders will get to do Book BINGO.

The logistics:

  1. Choose a column to get started. This is the initial goal: to read a book for each square in the column.
  2. Read a book that matches one of the categories listed on the squares. When you’ve finished reading the book, cross off the square AND write the title on the back of the BINGO board.
  3. Repeat 1-2.
  4. When a column is finished, let the librarian know.  She’ll likely stamp it with a snazzy library due-date stamp…and check in with you on what you’re reading.
  5. Start a new column and keep reading!

The commonly asked questions:

But are there rewards?:  Yes. Rewards are for everyone who completes a column. Students will be called and recognized at the monthly school assembly. (Side note: public recognition in front of one’s peers is a powerful reward)

Can I get more than one reward?: Yes.  Read all 6 columns, get recognized SIX times.

Are there blackout rewards?: Likely so. (But don’t ask what they are…I don’t know yet!)

Where are the BINGO cards to download?:  UPDATE! Book BINGO is now available for anyone to download. Thanks to my counselor friend Mrs. Watling for sharing her PPT hack 🙂 HERE: book-bingo-pdf  They’re PDF’s and can’t be edited.  If you want the original Publisher file, leave a comment with your email.

This is FREE?:  Yes.  I created these templates and made them available for free.  🙂

Are you doing Book BINGO too, Ms. Arika?:  Yes. I’ll be doing Book BINGO along with my students, posting my reads in the hallway of the school.

Why are there are 3 versions of the BINGO board?:  One version is for each grade.  The smallest board (with 24 squares) is for grade 2, then 30 squares for grade 3, and 36 squares for grade 4.

How long does Book BINGO last?: We are reading until June…so all year long.

How do you copy them?:  Front to back. I did the front side first, then loaded the paper back into the copier and did the back side.  This kept the margin alignment on point.

And, possibly the biggest question:  Does one book count for only one square?: That’s right.  One book per square. You can’t use Harry Potter for fantasy AND first in a series AND book over 200 pages AND book by a British author.  One book, one square…and lots of reading.

I hope you find this useful for you and your students.  Make it match your readers and your audience (like the British author while I’m a #librarianinlondon).  Cheers, y’all!  –arika

Library Scavenger Hunt: emoji-edition

Another year, another scavenger hunt.  This year: EMOJI  (Because, thankfully, the Pokemon craze has calmed down a bit.)

I use the blog to host the images for our QR codes, and I’m about halfway done.  More on this in the coming days.  Curious to see how it should work?  This is what we did last year.

In short:

  1. Write clues/important areas of the library.
  2. Take pictures of places in #1.
  3. Decide on a theme.
  4. Layer picture, clue, graphic, text box answer.
  5. Save image as a JPEG. Load into blog.
  6. Use unique web address to create QR code.
  7. Post QR codes in correct areas in the library.
  8. Give students the HUNT!

Publisher is my favorite tool for photo layering and creating student paperwork…but it doesn’t work on the school MacBook Pro, so I’m logging late hours tonight.  It’ll be worth it, though.

Library Lessons: Sep 11-15, 2017

Week 4: International Dot Day!

Last year, I missed out on the chance to connect with other teacher-librarians celebrating Dot Day across the US / world.  This year, remembering missed opportunity, I had a prime opportunity to connect with schools in North America…and I didn’t miss out!

Due to time changes and class schedules, only 3rd and 4th grades were able to Skype/Google Hangout for Dot Day.  How’d we do it?  This Google Doc.  And by getting my name and location out there, other t-l’s across the US have been in contact so that we can connect over Global Read Aloud and other events.

In a lovely turn of events, all technology worked for each Skype/Hangout!  I’ve had some serious tech hurdles at the new school, making this turn of events much appreciated.

What’d we do?


Theme: CATS

It’s not on the white board, but we warmed up with The Name Song, followed by the storytime favorite Einy Meiny Miny Mouse flannelboard (which I do with magnet pieces).  LOVE that I saved some of these from my long-ago years at YCL in South Carolina (and brought them to London!).

Our story: Kevin Henkes’s Kitten’s First Full Moon.  Why this?  It not only fit the theme of CATS (a kitten is a baby cat, which we discussed), and the full moon looks a lot like a DOT!  This wiggly bunch was mesmerized by the kitten’s story.  After, each child made a dot for the kitten, which was then brought to life as part of a whole-group experience using Quiver’s AR app.


International Dot Day!  We read The Dot, then created dots as creatively as possible.

As the school library is crunched for space, I sourced clipboards for children to color on and handed out 2 crayons per child.  They could share their crayons (or not) and color anything their hearts desired. As a whole group, I used the Quiver AR app to bring their dots from flat circles to 3D spheres for the whole group to see and appreciate using an iPad that connected to the AppleTV.  Bonus: the K’s are studying shapes in their classroom!

Grade 2:

More Dot Day fun!Learning from my first lesson – where students brought their own iPad to the library to use with their dot – the second lesson I structured like the K/1 lesson in that I brought their work to life.  Similar to last year, students wrote a word to describe who they wanted to be this year. Favorite words included: kind, nice, respectful, creative, happy.

Grades 3&4:

With 40 min (grade 3) and 60 min (grade 4) class times, lessons weren’t the same.  If we had time, students made AR dots; if not, dots were sent home after a quick how-to tutorial (all students in grades 3&4 have school-issued iPads that can go home, and the app was pre-downloaded).  All classes heard the The Dot and connected with a different elementary library in the US.  Some classes had a Mystery Skype, others had a co-reading of The Dot, while still others had a share session of Dot Day creations.

We were lucky enough to connect with learners in Maryland (2 schools), Vermont, Kansas, and Alabama.  And, in case you’re wondering, these were all new connections for me – I knew no one at these schools!  My students guessed that the connections were coming from places I’d lived – WA, GA, and LA – and they were so surprised to discover new places across the US.  One of the best moments was when a student here in London realized the school in Vermont was not far from where he used to live! Another great one was when we were asked, during a Mystery Skype, whether we lived east or west of the Prime Meridian.  We’re almost exactly on top of it AND a student was wearing a t-shirt from the official Prime Meridian gift shop…making for some amazed looks.

Perhaps, though, it was the reactions that were the best.  My students have the gift of experiencing a bigger world than most kids: almost all of them have travelled extensively and attended schools in at least one other country.  That wasn’t the case for the schools we Skyped – these were kids that, almost exclusively, had attended the same school since birth.  Watching the realization set in that we were not in the US – that we were in London – was a true gift.  I am so thankful I could help broaden their world while living and teaching abroad.

Now, back to reality.  Dot Day, I’ll be back next year. I cannot wait to connect with more learners across the US and world!

Cheers, y’all.  –arika

Rhyme Time: a how-to

A dozen or so years ago, faced with teaching Kindergarten for the first time ever, I was at a complete loss.  What to do with 5 year olds in a school library for 40 minutes?  What would benefit their development as readers?  What would be developmentally appropriate?

Thinking and brainstorming about how to structure the class led me to two ideas.  One: use author studies to structure our reading time.  Two: use nursery rhymes to build pre-reading skills.

Best. Ideas. Ever.

Nursery rhymes are well-known as one way to build reading readiness.  Chanting rhymes as a group, discovering words that sound the same, brainstorming other words that have the same sounds is a powerful tool toward building readers.  By displaying the printed rhyme and modeling the left-to-right, top-to-bottom patterns of reading, children get pre-reading skills without a formal “lesson”.  And this can be included as part of the elementary library program.

With the beginning of the year as a time to teach expectations and basic behaviors (where to sit, how to check out, where to sit after checking out, etc), Rhyme Time is usually begun in week 4/5/6 of the school year.  By this point of the year, children (mostly) know how to come into the library, sit down, and be ready for the lesson.

Back in my public librarian days, I created a flip chart with handwritten nursery rhymes, including both well-known and more esoteric offerings, as part of infant Lapsit and Toddler Time.  It’s this same chart that I’ve used ever since. To begin, I model “rhyme time fingers” (like spirit fingers).  These wiggling fingers serve two purposes: they let kids move, and they show which children are ready.  Counting aloud, patting the beat on my legs, I model chanting the rhyme by myself.  On a second run-through, students join in.

The first time we do Rhyme Time, 2 nursery rhymes are introduced.  At least one is a rhyme they should know (like Humpty Dumpty) and one they may not know (like To Market To Market). The goal is to work up to 3 rhymes each week, which are repeated for 6-8 weeks before retiring them for new rhymes.

There are variations and extensions to Rhyme Time that can be included, should the group be ready.  Some weeks, brainstorm more words that rhyme (like in Humpty Dumpty, we notice that WALL and FALL rhyme…but ask if they know any other words that rhyme with those two – like BALL, ALL, CALL, etc). Some weeks, kids will create body movements that match the rhyme.  Sometimes, have a student lead the rhymes.  It’s formally flexible instruction. 🙂

Curious as to how it looks in action?  This is week 1 of Rhyme Time a few years ago.

Cheers, y’all!  –arika