Sunday, November 4, 2012

Second Chance Summer

Second Chance Summer
Morgan Matson

         One moment Taylor’s dad is a perfectly healthy man with a back ache; the next moment he has been given four months to live because the back ache is really advanced pancreatic cancer.  Life has become a matter of waiting for the inevitable while friends and neighbors cast pitying looks.  As Taylor says, “it made the condolences odd – as if people were saying how sorry they were that my house had burned down when it was still intact but with an ember smoking nearby, waiting.” (p. 10)
         Taylor’s dad has asked for the family to spend their last summer together at their lake house in the Poconos, a place they hadn’t visited in five years.  Taylor isn’t eager to go – on their last summer there she lost both her boyfriend and her best friend because of her own actions and she’s not eager to face them again.  She has always tended to run away from her problems, but now she will have to face them.  As she encounters Henry (her former boyfriend) and Lucy (her former best friend) she has to figure out how to make peace with the past.  She also has to figure out how to say goodbye to her dad.  This is a summer full of second chances, and it is up to Taylor to make sure she doesn’t waste them.
         Every once in a while, there is a book that I love so much that I find myself hiding in my office to finish it.  Not only did I hide in my office this week, I sat at my desk crying through the last pages.  I picked Second Chance Summer out at the public library on a whim and I couldn’t put it down. Not only is it a compelling story, but Matson is a beautiful writer.  I cannot wait to get it for my media center and start booktalking it to my students. Highly, highly recommended!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Teen Read Week

Teen Read Week , sponsored by the Young Adult Services of the American Library Association is one of my favorite weeks of the year.  This year I was determined to have the entire school celebrate Teen Read Week, so I designed some  in-library activities but most of the activities were done outside of the library.

The theme this year was “It Came from the Library.”  It was a perfect theme for a book display  I started off decorating the doors, and then moved to my book display table.  The goal was to have mostly zombie, werewolf, and vampire books, with a sprinkling of ghost books to fill in empty slots. There was a sixth grade class in the library as I was putting the display together.  I couldn’t get the books on the table and take a good picture before they were snatching them off to check them out!

Also during the week, the students and I worked on a bulletin board that is in the hallway outside the library doors.  Entitled “What Are You Reading?”  this board gave our students the opportunity to write down their names and the books they were reading for everyone in the school to see. 

So that students could see that teachers also liked to read, I asked them to post what they were reading outside their classroom doors.  I got almost 100% participation from the teachers.

Outside the school, the art classes worked on sidewalk chalk advertisements for the week.   I was really pleased with the results. Unfortunately it rained Thursday night so by Friday morning all of the artwork had washed away.

I decided on three special events during the week.  Monday we did “Caught You Reading” day.  Our three administrators walked around with buckets of candy and when they found students doing voluntary reading, they handed the candy out.  Needless to say, this was a popular activity!

Wednesday we had “Read Aloud Wednesday.”  Each teacher in the school was asked to begin every class period by reading aloud a passage from a favorite book, a poem, or a picture book.  Some examples of what teachers read include “The Black Cat” by Poe and Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco.  Teachers reported really enjoying this activity.

Friday was our big day.  We held a Read a Thon in the library.  Teachers and students were asked to come in, bring a book, and read silently for thirty minute increments.  Because I believe it’s important for students to see adults modeling good reading habits, I invited members of our central office staff, our school board, and our county commissioners to also participate.  It was the most peaceful day we’ve had in the library for a long time.  I wish I could post pictures of the students and adults reading, but our school system has a strict policy about posting pictures of students.

All in all, it was a successful Teen Read Week.  I think next year I’m going to add a trivia contest.  I’ll probably keep the read a thon and  Read Aloud Wednesday.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day is one of those books that you think about long after you have finished it. I absolutely loved it -- read it in less than a day.

A wakes up in a different today each day. One day A might be male, the next day female. Some days A is gay, others A is straight. A strives to live each day in a "do no harm" mode so that the borrowed body does not wake up the following morning to find that his or her life is totally messed up. This works out fine for A until one day the borrowed body is a boy named Justin. Justin has been dating Rhiannon for about a year, but he hasn't been treating her very well. A at first feels sorry for her, and then A falls in love with her. Rules are broken and Justin takes Rhiannon for a perfect day out on the beach. The next day A wakes up in a completely different body, that of a girl named Leslie. But A cannot forget Rhiannon and wants desperately to be with her. But how do you have a relationship with someone when you are a completely different person each day?

If you take away who we are biologically, if you take away our sexual preferences, who are we? That's what Every Day explores. It's a a brilliant book, and it will stay with me for a long time

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Learning to be the Core of the School

This past weekend I attended the North Carolina School Library Media Association annual conference.   The theme this year was School Libraries @ the Core, and focused on the Common Core Standards and Essential Standards that are being implemented this year across the state.  There were many excellent sessions offered – so many, in fact, that I would have loved being able to clone myself and attend 2-3 at a time.   As always, I was inspired both by the speeches and presentations, and by the many school librarians across the state that I had the privilege to meet.  Here’s a sampling of what I enjoyed (with links to the librarians’ web pages if I had them).
We started off with Buffy Hamilton, The Unquiet Librarian, who delivered our keynote.  I was volunteering at the registration desk so I missed a good part of her presentation.  I did catch the end, and got some wonderful quotes to tweet.  Buffy stressed that people are the center of the library and we must not forget that we are student-centered.  I wish I could have heard her entire presentation – what I did hear was excellent.
One session I really enjoyed was Digging Deeper with Minecraft with Lucas Gillispie and Beth West.  The presenters were having some problems with internet connectivity (a theme of the entire conference) but I was fascinated with how they took a popular computer game and applied higher-level learning.  I’m not sure how well it would go over in my district but I think it’s worth exploring.
For me, the highlight of the day was Jennifer LaGarde’s 140 Character Professional Development:  Using Twitter to Grow Your PLN.  I’m quickly becoming a Jennifer LaGarde groupie, known as Library Girl on Twitter and on her blog.  I attended three of her presentations and they were my favorite things of the conference.  I’ve been using Twitter for a little more than a year now but it has been completely self-taught.  It was good to get some tips from an expert.
I finished the day with two sessions by Tamara Cox, The Eliterate Librarian.  The first session, Keeping Lit at the Core (also presented by Monique German) reminded us that “Teachers who are choosing not to read with their students are choosing to be less effective in the classroom.”  I liked that quote so much I shared it on Facebook, in the hopes that many of my teacher friends would read it and use it as food for thought.  I also attended Tamera’s session, Learn to Love Nonfiction.  I already love nonfiction and I think that incredible nonfiction is being written for children right now, but I was eager to get some additional titles to order for my school.
I started the day Saturday with a fun Toasts and Tales breakfast with John Claude Bemis.  I haven’t read any of his books yet, but The Nine Pound Hammer is now high on my list.  We then moved to our business meeting where Jennifer LaGarde delivered the “State of the State” address.  Jennifer talked about the new School Library Media Coordinator Professional Standards and how they will “change the way we do business.”
Next was to my favorite session of the entire weekend, Game On!  Using Game Based Learning to Ramp Up Your Instruction by the wonderful Jennifer LaGarde and Ryan Redd.  I am dying to meet with my math teachers, dig up a Wii, and use it with our students.  Jennifer and Ryan created lessons that had students racing to the library to do math – how cool is that!
Another inspiring session was done by Jennifer Northrop, The Candid Librarian,  called Get to the Core.  Jennifer reminded us of the importance of collaboration and gave us great strategies for connecting with teachers and marketing ourselves and our school libraries.
I finished the day with listening to Sharon Draper at the author luncheon.  Ms. Draper moved us to tears as she talked about her recent trip to China and why she wrote Out of My Mind.  There were teachers at my school who were quite jealous that I was getting to hear and meet her – I can only say that they truly missed out.
It will be hard to wait another year for the next annual conference.  I’m feeling a pull to present at this one – I just have to figure out if there’s anything I can say that will be of use to others.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Marie Lu

Day is a fugitive.  He steals, he rebels against the government, he does whatever it takes to survive and to keep his family alive.  They have managed to avoid the plagues that are constantly hitting his part of Los Angeles until now.  Until his little brother gets sick and only Day can get the medicine that might save him.
June is young, but even so she is ready to start serving the government.  When her brother is killed by Day, the only thing she can think about is getting revenge against the most wanted fugitive in the Republic.  But as she gets closer and closer to capturing day, she begins to realize that the situation isn’t black and white and that maybe she’s on the wrong side.
This is the best “Hunger Games like” book I have found.  In some ways I liked it better than The Hunger Games.  The only hesitancy I had with the book was June’s age – it is stated several times that she is a prodigy but I still think some of her actions were a bit mature for her age.
I cannot wait to recommend this book to some of my middle school students.  They are going to love it! 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Civil War Titles

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction in preparation for some research my students will be doing. I’m looking for good narrative nonfiction that will work well with the new common core standards that my state has adopted. Starting tomorrow, I have a group of students who are researching the Civil War, so I thought I’d prepare some booktalks for them.

Fields of Fury by James M. McPherson is a good, brief overview of the Civil War. It covers the major battles, as well as, chapters about such topics as the brothers who fought on opposite sides of the war and role of women and of African-Americans during the war. I think it works well as an introduction to the war, though it doesn’t have much depth.

United No More: Stories of the Civil War by Doreen Rappaport and Joan Veniero tells the stories of several individuals, both military and civilian. While some of the people are quite famous (Julia Ward Howe, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses S. Grant), others were new to me. I especially enjoyed the story of Eugenia Phillips, who was imprisoned for laughing during the funeral procession of a Union lieutenant. The story of William H. Carney, and African-American soldier who fought in the famous Massachusetts 54th Regiment was particularly interesting. The only quibble I have is that the authors chose to fictionalize parts of the book. While I think this will make the book more accessible to reluctant readers, part of me still wishes the authors had not chosen to do this.

Under Siege: Three Children at the Civil War Battle for Vicksburg by Andrea Warren was my favorite of the Civil War books I read for my booktalks. One of the primary goals of the Union at the beginning of the war was to divide the Confederacy in two by controlling the Mississippi River. Union forces were able to capture Memphis, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana, but as of 1863, they had not been successful in their attempt to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi. Eventually they decided to surround the city and literally starve the soldiers and civilians until they surrendered. The civilians dug caves in the hillside to escape the constant shelling, and they waited for help that never came. As food ran out, they ate the horses, mules, cats and dogs and then resorted to eating any rodents they could capture. This was hard on the adults, but it was also brutal on the children. Under Siege tells the story of two children who were in Vicksburg during the time of the siege. It also tells the story of Ulysses S. Grant’s oldest son, Frederick Grant who was 12 years old at the time and was with his father during the siege. Frederick was wounded during the Battle of Vicksburg and at one time it was feared that he would lose his leg. This is a great story of survival that could generate much discussion about what it’s like to be a child and live in a warzone.

For those who like to read a more in-depth account of a specific battle, A Savage Thunder: Antietam and the Bloody Road to Freedom by Jim Murphy is an excellent account of that battle. It would be great for students who love battle detail and strategy. Murphy (whose nonfiction books constantly amaze me) explains the motivations of both General Lee and General McClellan and is pretty condemning of McClellan’s inaction that could have led to a swifter end to the war.