Category Archives: Elementary library tips & tricks

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

Using Symbaloo in the elementary library

First things first: I did not create this brilliant idea.  Shannon McClintock Miller was the one who showed it to me, and it’s changed my library teaching for the better.

Symbaloo. A funky word, a brilliant product.  And when paired with your Destiny library catalog: a game-changer in regard to students and teachers utilizing library resources and accessing information.

Today, a few questions about Symbaloo in the library get answered.

What is Symbaloo?

Symbaloo helps to organize online resources in an intuitive, app-style format.  According to the company, Symbaloo is “a cloud-based application that allows users to organize and categorize web links in the form of buttons”.  It looks like this:

Why should I use Symbaloo in the library?

  1. It’s intuitive.  Students know how to use apps. This looks just like many of their home devices – click on the “app”, and it takes you to the appropriate website.
  2. It’s visual.  Many students in an elementary school are pre-readers.  The standard list of weblinks many libraries provide does not meet their information need.

    The original home screen in Destiny. No visual appeal, too much text, and no student input.

  3. English language learners are able to successfully access and utilize this format of information.

    A grade 2 student uses Symbaloo to access links in the library.

  4. Icons = color.  Humans like colorful things.  This is fun to look at.
  5. It’s relatively easy to set up an initial Symbaloo.  Once it’s done, updating it is simple.
  6. Teachers will actually use it.

How do I make something like that picture up above?

  1. Create a FREE Symbaloo account.
  2. Decide how large you want your Symbaloo grid to be.  Changing the size is easy – under Options, Edit webmix – Resize webmix – then click the arrows to make the grid larger or smaller.
  3. Download images to use as the icon pictures (if you care about such things – I do).
  4. Have links to websites / databases handy.  If you’ve got them, embedding direct links to databases allows students to access resources at school without typing in pesky usernames/passwords!  And if you don’t have direct links: email the company and explain what you need.  So long as you subscribe to the resource, they’ll send the direct link (I’ve done this a few times, and it works).
  5. Bonus: searching Symbaloo for other webmixes can give ideas on links to use within your own grid!

How to I embed Symbaloo into my Destiny catalog?

  1. Read this post from the aforementioned Shannon McClintock Miller at Van Meter Schools.
  2. Do what she says.

So, do I have to update the Symbaloo link in Destiny every time I change the original Symbaloo?

  1. Nope!  That’s the brilliance of Symbaloo.  Because it is web-based, so long as your click the “share” button at the center top of the screen, then “republish webmix”, your Symbaloo will update on any platform that uses the original embed code.  The ‘republish webmix’ button is the small gray circular arrow to the left of the ‘Share this webmix’.  

This seems like a lot of work. Is Symbaloo really that great?

  1. Yes. It is. Don’t believe me?  Believe my students.  In two schools, in two countries.  I gave my grade 4 students the task of redesigning the Destiny library catalog home screen when teaching in London.  Their biggest wants?  More color and pictures.  When given 3 choices of how the redesign could look, students overwhelmingly selected the Symbaloo home screen.  And they used it.

But teachers/students rarely use the library catalog, so why does something like this matter?

  1. Remember this scene from FIELD OF DREAMS?
  2. The baseball slogan was: if you build it, they will come.  The library version with Symbaloo: if you build it, they will use it. Believe in it, and the users will come.
  3. This is a just-in-time resource.  When teachers come scrambling to the library, looking for books about red pandas and narwhals and emperor penguins (my life this year) and the library doesn’t have the exact book they need , pull up the eye-catching Symbaloo on Destiny’s home screen and search within the linked resources.  Having PebbleGo and an encyclopedia database really helps.  Quick, easy, just-in-time.
  4. PRO TIP: When sharing a library Symbaloo for the first time, allow teachers & students to suggest links to incorporate.  Then take their suggestions, add the links to the webmix (don’t forget to share the webmix!), and share it out to the whole school.  My Symbaloo has Google Earth,, Newslea, Prodigy math, and Khan Academy based on the recommendation of teachers and students.

I want to learn more.  Any additional resources?

  1. Yes! Again, I direct you to Shannon’s blog: author Symbaloo pages & an intro tutorial.

That’s it. Know that Symbaloo doesn’t give me anything to share this – no badges, no money, no freebies.  I write this because the product has been that good since I started using it in 2016. Questions? Please ask!

Cheers, y’all! –arika

Library Lessons: Sep 5 2018

Week 1 came too fast this year. Having been hired not two weeks before, I was *not* prepared in ways that I expect of myself.  Excuses or valid reasons?  Either way:

  • Library passes for self check-out weren’t made, nor was there railroad board used to make them available (thank you, Dick Blick, for having it AND delivering it in a speedy fashion). Result: no self check out during week 1.
  • Destiny wasn’t set up. Time was spent on setting up the physical space, not the virtual computer.  Students had to be updated, old fines forgiven, and restrictive notes removed.  Eep. Result: no check out at all in week 1.
  • Sorting through the cabinets and drawers was akin to an archeological dig: it never ended and there was a good chance of finding something valuable where it was least expected. Result: tons of time spent clearing, tossing, recycling, labeling, and reorganizing.
  • Books were double-stacked behind the circ desk.  Result: my mental sanity was being tested…
  • The library had new carpeting installed a week before Day 1.  All the furniture had to be put back..but where to?  There was no good map.  Result: designing a new library layout that worked.  Shelves had to be rolled, books had to be shifted, tables and chairs had to fit as the space needed to have a natural flow and sense of order.  Result: sweatiness, sore muscles, hours of time, but a design that flowed and made logical sense.
  • There were boxes and bags and tons of “stuff” packed pre-carpeting.  Dealing with furniture was easy compared to this.  What to keep?  What to let go?  I tossed it all in the library storage room for the time being (note: the room was, 4 weeks later, christened The Book Room and all the junk stuff that was tossed in there had to be dealt with ASAP).

But week 1 doesn’t care about these things: week 1 comes, whether I’m ready or not.  So it was a slow week, one where I shared a little bit about me, my family, and new books.  My personal goal for the year is to let students discover that the library is a place for them: that they’re always welcome in the library and that it will have what they want/need.  Starting slow, sharing books, and introducing my expectations (Be Kind, Be Safe, Do Your Best, Help the Rest – which are similar to the schoolwide expectations…except they rhyme, which works really well for the 16 K-2 classes) was the way I chose to go.


Grade 1/2:

Grade 3/4/5:

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 Lessons: Sep 4-8, 2017

Week 3 is in the books. With fewer classes than in previous years, it makes sense to combine grade levels to teach certain skills.


We warmed up with The Hello Name Song (thanks to Stephanie, the best music teacher ever for this hack!), with index cards for each child pre-placed on the floor. Doing this alleviates drama in locating a seat, gives a set way to begin class as the children walk in, and helps me (and them!) to learn names.  Here’s a peek of how it looks with the K class:

Theme unit: CATS (because why  not?). We talked about animals cats like and don’t like as our lead-in.

They LOVED Splat the Cat, and we had good discussion about how Splat felt using our Emoji Mood Meter. Hairy MacLairy, while full of rhyme and repetition, wasn’t as well-received.  To be honest, this was likely because I wasn’t feeling the story.  I chose it because the school has a complete collection of the books.  Bad choice.  Read what you love, and the lesson will likely be better for it.  I know better and will do better next week.


Begin with The Hello Name Song.

Unit: SEL / Dogs / Intro Author Study


After last week’s Dog & Bear discussion, we continued talking about how characters DO THEIR BEST with Peter Brown’s Chowder.  With a whizz-bang first illustration (the dog is on the toilet!), this story has the students in rapt attention.  The brain question of the week was tied to the school&life behavior expectations I teach in the library (BE KIND. BE SAFE. DO YOUR BEST. HELP THE REST.). Even though the school hasn’t adopted those sayings, I continue to repeat them whenever I see the children in the building.  How did Chowder do his best?  He didn’t give up when the ball got stuck in the tree.  He kept trying to find friends. He played kickball his best.

Chowder also lent itself to a wonderful SEL (social-emotional learning) discussion. As he’s excluded by other dogs, as he struggles with making a mistake, we consulted the Emoji Mood Meter to place Chowder’s moods.  SEL can happen in the library with a little bit of planning and the willingness to have the discussion.  Note that I don’t announce “we’re doing a SEL-themed lesson”…this is an unwritten, yet very purposeful, intention in many PreK/K/1 lessons.

Grade 2

SCIENCE TIME! With a unit of States of Matter happening in their classrooms, it was the perfect time to introduce Arnold Lobel’s Owl at Home.  With solids, liquids, and gases represented in the first story, The Guest, our conversation was rich.

Taking inspiration from Kyleen Beers & Robert Proubt’s Divergent Thinking, the BRAIN icon was introduced with a question stem from the book.  Asking children, “What surprised you?” was surprising in itself: one class had very flat answers while another had rich, thoughtful insight.  What a gift when professional reading works in daily life – and, in one case, with great results.  This is one resource I’ll continue to mine and incorporate into the library.

Grade 3/4

First up: booktalks!  As independent reading is the root of academic success, I’m aiming to increase the amount of books read.  One way to build interest and excitement is by booktalking.  Looking over the reading survey results from last week, I tailored the booktalks to the interests of the students.  Series like Ranger in Time and Bunjitsu Bunny were very popular, as were books like The Terrible Two, We Can’t All Aren’t RattlesnakesCrenshaw, and The Wild Robot.

The day’s big goal, though, was PASSWORDS. With Destiny logins in our future – and no central IT that sets student passwords – I chose to instruct on how to construct a STRONG or WEAK password and allow them to write their own. There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal on how to best make a password – and it changes the rules.  Short version: write a short, 3-4 word sentence that’s important to you.  Boom: strong password.  The sentence can have a capital letter and punctuation, too. Less gibberish = easier to remember.  WIN!

Exit tickets had students writing their own password which were checked for clarity prior to the end of class.

Note: All classes did self check out, and 4th grade had 20 minutes to independently read (as their class lasts 1 hour). I sit with them during this time, reading a book, while intermittently walking around the room to check what everyone is reading and – if not reading – recommending a quick read (like a TOON graphic novel).  This worked so well for 2 4th grade EAL students in one class that they checked out the recommended quick read to read again at home!

Cheers, y’all!  –arika

Library ideas for little learners

What to do with the youngest students in the elementary library?  

This question is asked by many, and with good reason: the needs of the youngest learners are drastically different than those of children just a few years older.

Rhymes are perfectly suited to the PreK/K/1 crowd.  This explains how to begin Rhyme Time and includes a video demo.

For lower grades – PreK in particular – using themes to guide library lessons is one way to go.  Similar to how public library storytimes are structured, a theme is woven through the entire lesson (story/stories, songs, activity, etc).  With no curriculum standards for the 4 year olds and a long, 40 minute library class, this gives plenty of activity and some structure.  I haven’t done theme storytimes for years, but expect to have the same them for 3 weeks.

For K & 1st grade, though, standards exist (stay tuned for updates from AASL in November).  How to teach them in a meaningful way that meets the developmental needs of the 5 and 6 year old learners?  Some use the state book award nominees to guide lessons, which may work for you. Years ago, though, I tried something different: author studies.

An author study is exactly that: a chance to study an author (or illustrator) for a period of time, usually 3-4 weeks.  It gives a chance to make connections between books and characters while giving a sense of predictability to a library class: students know that when they come in, they’ll either be continuing an author unit from a previous week or starting a new unit.

There are many authors and illustrators that work well for the K/1 crowd.  In my experience, choosing those who represent a diverse background and whose books I find appealing work best.  Jon Klassen, Candace Fleming, Keiko Kasza, Mac Barnett, Lauren Castillo, Christian Robinson, Arthur Howard, Audrey Wood, Peter Brown, Brian Won, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Ezra Jack Keats, Deborah Freedman, and Anna Kang are some of my favorites.

Perhaps notably missing on that list is Mo Willems.  As many students are familiar with his famous characters, having a “The Mo You DON’T Know” unit  (with titles like Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator and Leonardo, the Terrible Monster) can been successful.

As technologies have changed, so are the opportunities to connect with real, live authors over Skype and Google Hangouts. The virtual sessions are perfect for the shorter attention-spans of the K crowd and those with limited budgets: many authors are willing to Skype for free if the time is 10-20min. As a goal, find one author who is willing to Skype during your year.

How to build in research is one question that often crops up.  One possible answer: choose the final book in the study to springboard into research.  Perhaps, after reading Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, the students research tigers or another wild animal.  Or after reading Mr. Putter and Tabby Catch the Cold, the K’s research how to stay healthy.

There are other K units of study that aren’t author studies, notably Folktales Around the World (a 6 week study) and Out of this World Research with Kindergarteners (a 3-4 week unit connected to classroom science).  The important part: they’re all units.  Almost every library lesson is part of a unit.  When there is a flow, students know what to expect when they come into the library and are better prepared for a successful experience.  This is why the daily schedule is always posted, regardless of the grade level.

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