Category Archives: Librarians

For the love of sixth grade

Can you find me?

When I was in sixth grade, I had the coolest teacher ever. I now suspect that Mr. Warbrick, the first male teacher I ever had, was fairly new to the field. Teachers who so enthusiastically do their own thing, I’ve come to learn, are either fresh and green or comfortable veterans.

The memories that stand out to me from that year of school are consistent for the way our activities made me feel – excited, interested, capable, respected and fun. Aren’t those the emotions school is supposed to inspire? Our classroom, the former library, was a suite of three rooms. We were tasked, as a class, to agree upon a theme (we chose jungle), sketch out a design and then paint our main classroom space. The smaller room on the right became the designated reading room, which we furnished with a couch we had fundraised to purchase. The smallest of rooms was a kitchen and, again, we worked together to raise the money needed to buy a secondhand refrigerator which we used to keep our lunchtime ice cream sandwiches frozen until class movie time.

I learned a lot that year. Things like how to do the hustle, what it feels like to be recognized as more than merely the girl who’s always reading and the possibilities of what can be achieved with collective effort. It was a fantastic academic year for me despite the fact that I recall nothing of what we studied during official class time. The lessons I learned were more about how to be a human being.

As I approach my twenty-fifth year in my profession, I find myself becoming more reflective of who I have been as an educator – and who I want to be. I’ve shared a library for the past fifteen years and, while collaboration can be stimulating, this year I am feeling compelled to break out a bit and do things a little differently. My way.

I want to create an atmosphere which allows children to grow, while also reflecting my experiences and viewpoint. I want the library to be welcoming and comfortable and I want to make connections – between myself and students, kids and books, and information and the world.

I got started last week with 15 orientation classes for 6th graders. It was a hectic three days, but I was exhilarated. We talked about areas of the library and dystopian literature and the amount of pressure – social, academic and athletic, students feel and I vowed to not add to that burden. That doesn’t mean we won’t tackle academic tasks, just that we both need to remember that these students are eleven years old.

My students were awesome and I’m filled with gratitude that my job is to work with all these kids. I’m so lucky – and my goal is to make as many students as possible feel exactly the same way. I think it’s going to be a very good year.

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Filed under Education, favorites, Librarians, Libraries, musings, Observations, Schools, stress

Finding your voice to Speak and Shout

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, originally published in 1999, is one of those books that has stayed with me since I first read it many years ago. This YA novel relates the story of a high school freshman, Melinda, who is ostracized by her peers because she calls the police while at a party during the summer after eighth grade. What no one other than Melinda knows is that she called for help because she had been sexually attacked by an upperclassman. She told no one. She did not speak.

Recently, I read the graphic novel edition of the title and was completely taken in by the story again. Updated to include social media, cell phones and other contemporary details, the story translated beautifully to the visual medium of a graphic novel. Our copy has already disappeared from the collection, a sure sign to librarians of a book being a winner. We have two more copies on order.

The latest title written by Anderson is Shout, an autobiography written in verse and, again, it is exceptional. Subtitled “The true story of a survivor who refused to be silenced,” this book tells the story, at last, directly from the author’s perspective without the protection a fictional character can provide. It is raw and harrowing and at times deeply sad, but there is a thread of defiance that is awe inspiring. The story manages to span a time period from World War II to #metoo and has left a mark upon me that I suspect will remain forever.

Below are a few of the lines that stole my breath.

 

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Filed under Books, girlhood, Librarians, Libraries, Recommendations, Schools, secrets

Telling stories – Adam Gidwitz

Last week, author Adam Gidwitz visited my school and spent the day doing presentations and hanging out with kids, and it was incredible. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but last year’s The Inquisitor’s Tale was one of my favorite recent reads. It’s a book that is difficult to sort into a definitive genre, but it has historic fiction, fantasy and adventure elements that combine beautifully into a wonderful story told in multiple voices a la The Canterbury Tales. Except that, unlike my high school experience suffering through Chaucer, this book was a joy from start to finish.

Adam did three separate presentations for my students and each was slightly tweaked to meet the population, in this case, our school’s grades of sixth, seventh and eighth. I was totally impressed with his comfort level with our students and his genuine interest in them. For instance, as students were filing in to the auditorium he made a point of introducing himself to those already seated with an easy “Hi, I’m Adam. What’s your name?” His past career as “the worst teacher in NYC,”* was proven impossible to believe. He gets kids.

We had lunch as a group of about 25 and it was relaxed and fun. I know the kids who were present won’t ever forget the experience. It was so cool. The last presentation was with our sixth graders and it was magic to see him wrangle that group of pre-pubescent kids, on the last Friday afternoon of the school year, with just four words: Once upon a time…

Read his books and see him speak, if you have the chance. There’s a possibility that he might pop up in the area next year and I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.

*laughingly self-defined as such

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Filed under Books, Education, Events, favorites, Librarians, Libraries, Local, Recommendations, Schools, Uncategorized

50 essential 4-letter words

When I run, I think. Last night I was thinking about the turmoil in our world – the terrorist attacks in our country and abroad, the  conflict between our elected representatives and the folks they’re supposed to represent, the wave of anger that sometimes feels like it’s going to drown our country…it was pretty dark. The four letter word that seems to be most prevalent in all of those conditions seems to be hate, a word that I try not to use.

As the miles started ticking off, I began considering all of the other four letter words that I’m more inclined to use and realized how many of them have positive, even joyous, connotations.  As I started listing them in my head I knew I needed to jot them down for the days that feel dark and populated by those who would rather hate than love. Here are my top 50, in alphabetical order. You know, because I’m a librarian and all.

  • Able
  • Bake
  • Bath
  • Beer
  • Bike
  • Book
  • City
  • Cook
  • Done
  • Fall
  • Feel
  • Fire
  • F*ck
  • Help
  • Hike
  • Home
  • Hope
  • Kiss
  • Know
  • Lake
  • Less
  • Love
  • Mine
  • Moon
  • More
  • Need
  • Next
  • Once
  • Open
  • Ours
  • Pack
  • Park
  • Race
  • Rain
  • Read
  • Ride
  • Sand
  • Snow
  • Snug
  • Soap
  • Star
  • Trip
  • Vote
  • Walk
  • Want
  • Warm
  • Wind
  • Wine
  • Woke
  • Yoga

What are your essential four-letter words?

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Filed under A-Z, Exercise, Librarians, musings, Observations, Random, running

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day – John David Anderson

Reading is the least expensive vacation I’ve ever had.  Sometimes I go to the future and other times to the past, but the destination isn’t the important part to me usually. It’s just getting away from now.  At a time when I sometimes feel physically assaulted by the daily news, a low budget escape is exactly what I’m looking for in a book, even when the book’s conclusion is not the one for which a reader would be hoping. Hey, after November 8, 2016, I’m kind of used to that anyway.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot of this YA title, but it’s essentially the story of 3 boys and the teacher who taught them far more than they ever expected.  It’s at times outrageously funny and heartbreakingly sad, but most of all it’s a book that reads as real. If you’re lucky, you once had a Ms. Bixby in your life. My favorite quotes are below.

Ms. Bixby sighs the Teacher Sigh. The one they must give you as you walk out the door with your teaching degree.  Equal parts exasperation, disappointment, and longing for summer vacation.

When I suggested she brush up on her astronomy, she seemed offended, saying that she probably knew things that I didn’t.  I told her that was highly unlikely. Then she asked me who the lead singer of Led Zeppelin was. I told her zeppelins could not be made of lead due to the obvious weight issues.  She said “Case closed.”

Change is the only constant.

Topher is a constant, like pi or radical two.

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.

You can’t always pinpoint the moment everything changes.  Most of the time it’s gradual, like grass growing or fog settling or your armpits starting to smell by midafternoon.

There’s a difference between the truth and the whole truth.  That’s why they give that big spiel in court, when they make you place your hand on the Bible and promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Because they know if they don’t, people will try and sneak around it. They will leave out the details, skip over the incriminating stuff. Keep the worst parts to themselves.

You have to slay the dragon to be the hero. Not easy to do, but at least you know what you’re dealing with. Dragons are easy to spot…but there are no such things as dragons. It’s never that clearcut. Sometimes the thing you’re fighting against is hiding from you. It’s tucked away. Buried deep where you can’t see it. In fact, for a long time, you might not even know it’s there.

You know how, in movies, everything comes around full circle and you’re back where you started? Turns out life isn’t like the movies. Life doesn’t come all the way back around again. It’s not a straight line either. It angles and curves, shoots off a little, twists and turns, but it never gets right back to the place it started. Not that you would want it to. Then you wouldn’t feel like you had gotten anywhere.

Live every day as if it were your last. The truth is – the whole truth is – that it’s not your last day that matters most. It’s the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on…They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest.

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Filed under Books, Librarians, Recommendations, Uncategorized

I Am Princess X

The fiction collection in the library where I work is organized by genre, a situation which sometimes vexes me. I mean, it can be really challenging to decide where a book should be shelved from merely reading the subject tags or the inside of the jacket. Sometimes, a title seems as if it could be assigned to more than a single genre and I’m forced to just make a choice, hoping the book lands on a shelf where it will be discovered and appreciated.

The new young adult book, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priestly, provided me with a dilemma when it came to slapping a genre sticker on its spine. Was it a graphic novel? Realistic fiction? Mystery? Truthfully, it’s all of the above – a contemporary story complete with suspense and graphic novel components.

The plot tells the story of best friends Libby and May. Together they created Princess X, a cartoon heroine who befriends ghosts and fights monster while wearing red Chuck Taylor’s and a golden crown. Their adventures together seem limitless until tragedy strikes and Libby and her mother are both killed in a horrible accident…

But, perhaps it wasn’t really an accident and maybe Libby isn’t really dead. May and a new acquaintance, Trick, use technology, smarts and bravery to get to the bottom of the mysterious reappearance of Princess X and learn what really happened to Libby.

Set in Seattle, this novel crosses genres and genders to provide a compelling story which will appeal to a wide range of readers. In a plot rife with modern technologies, this may be my very favorite line:

“Sometimes the easiest answer was the analog one.”

Two thumbs up for a fast, fun read.

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Filed under Books, Librarians, Recommendations, Schools, Uncategorized

Echo – Pam Munoz Ryan

One of the benefits of my job is the opportunity to purchase new materials for students and faculty. Even after nearly two decades, the thrill of unpacking and handling a box of new books remains a highlight of my professional day. A recent shipment included Pam Munoz Ryan’s latest novel, Echo.

My first impression was “This is a really long book. How am I going to get kids to read this nearly 600 pages long historical fiction novel?” After reading Echo myself in less than 4 days, I know my bigger problem is going to be maintaining the waiting list of students who want to read this absolutely enchanting book.

Echo is a little hard to explain without giving too much away. Essentially, there are three narratives which ultimately combine into a heartwarming and satisfying ending. The thread which waves the story together is music and its power to inspire, comfort and convey emotion via a special harmonica which almost magically lands in the hands of each of the three essential characters.

The first is Friedrich, a 12-year-old in the Black Forest of Germany during the Nazi buildup in the years leading to World War II. His love of music, nurtured by his father and uncle, provides him with an escape from the harsh realities he contends with as an often bullied young boy living during an increasingly scary time.

The story then shifts to Mike, an 11-year-old orphan in Pennsylvania committed to remaining with his younger brother despite challenged beyond what any child should have to endure. His innate ability to play the piano, previously fostered by his now deceased grandmother, provides him with the means to communicate emotions and wishes he often does not have any other way to express.

And finally, we meet Ivy, an American girl of Mexican descent living in California with her family as they struggle to improve their circumstances during the early days of America’s involvement in World War II. The harsh realities of gender roles, racism and the consequences of war are daily insults in Ivy’s world, abated only by her ability to make and appreciate music.

Each of these three young people come to be in possession of a very special instrument, a harmonica which provides them with opportunity and hope during their time of need. The selflessness with which Friedrich, Mike and Ivy eventually, in turn, part with the instrument is one of the most striking and beautiful parts of this very special book. I can’t wait to reread this book over the summer with my boys. Wonderful!

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Filed under Books, Boys, Librarians, Recommendations