Friday, December 11, 2015

Joyce Sidman love and math everywhere

Serendipity is getting a new Joyce Sidman book the day before I get to spend some quality time with the kindergartners. If you're not familiar with Joyce Sidman, acquaint yourself with her immediately. She's an extraordinary poet who finds beauty in the everyday joy of the Earth. Also, like so many of us here at SK, she appreciates found art

As I was saying, I purchased Sidman's magnificent Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature earlier this week and then I had the pleasure of spending two afternoons with Val's class. Unsurprisingly, the youngest of SK readers loved the poem/story and its compelling, intricate illustrations as much as I did. 

After carefully examining all of the illustrations, including both the snuggly spirals of the curled up field mouse and the powerful spirals of the tornado, the kindergarteners decided to attempt to arrange themselves into a spiral on the library carpet. They talked, argued, listened, tried, tried again, and continued to try to figure out how to make it work. I did my best to step back and let them try to simultaneously arrange their physical selves and their conversation as they tried to take turns giving suggestions of what everyone else should be doing. While, at first, they were all eager to curl up into the center "ball" of the spiral, most of them eventually sat back and stood up to try to figure out how best to place humans into a spiral. I must report that their negotiations of ideas and bodies did not end with a nine-person spiral on the floor, as we'd originally intended, but they did make astute observations about the nature of the shape, the size of their bodies, and the ways in which they needed to arrange themselves in order to make the spiral possible. Perhaps we'll try again another day.

In thinking of stories about shapes and math in our lives, I'm reminded of Mary Cornish's poem, "Numbers," which I'll leave here for your reading pleasure. 


I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.

I like the domesticity of addition--
add two cups of milk and stir--
the sense of plenty: six plums
on the ground, three more
falling from the tree.

And multiplication's school
of fish times fish,
whose silver bodies breed
beneath the shadow
of a boat.

Even subtraction is never loss,
just addition somewhere else:
five sparrows take away two,
the two in someone else's
garden now.

There's an amplitude to long division,
as it opens Chinese take-out
box by paper box,
inside every folded cookie
a new fortune.

And I never fail to be surprised
by the gift of an odd remainder,
footloose at the end:
forty-seven divided by eleven equals four,
with three remaining.

Three boys beyond their mothers' call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn't anywhere you look.
—Mary Cornish

To the "generosity of numbers" and the delight of kindergarteners,

Friday, December 4, 2015

Site mapping with the 7-8s

This week, the 7-8s started building their online portfolios. These portfolios will give students a place to securely store their work over time, an easy way to access and share their work with parents, teachers, and other students, and a way through which to reflect on their personal learning journeys.

We will be building these portfolios using Google sites. Each student will have his/her own personal web space. By framing portfolios in this way, we'll be able to work through ways in which we create our own digital presence with intention and purpose. Portfolios will also give us a chance to delve into conversations about sharing, privacy, ownership, and intellectual property in an authentic way.

 However, before we construct our individual sites, we decided to map out our sites on paper so that we could think through the architecture of our portfolios. Mapping our sites on paper, first, will give us a sense of what we're trying to accomplish with the various types of pages, add-ons, and options available in Google sites. That way, when we start working with a new program, we'll be able to focus on learning the tool itself (since we'll already have a sense of what we want the tool to do).

Next steps in this endeavor include building skeleton websites, organizing Google Drive documents (and other artifacts, like photos and presentations) into folders, and deciding what work should be featured on students' sites. Stay tuned.

To portfolio development,


Sunday, November 22, 2015


This seems like the perfect time to thank the wonderful parents and grandparents who donate their time, energy, and books to the SK library. To the parents who've come in to read, check out, shelve, and process books for our kids -- your presence, energy, and generosity help to embed our library space deep within our community. To the parents who've donated wonderful books to us -- your donations help to expand our collection and, in doing so, help to give our children access to even more windows and mirrors.

Two weeks ago, I posted about our book processing center and invited all willing adults to come in and help cover library books (covering them with plastic keeps them from getting damaged as easily as they otherwise might). I'm now rapidly cataloging books and leaving them in the library to be covered because I can't keep up with the incredible parents who've been coming in to cover books for us.

Grateful for this community of readers and supporters of readers,


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Windows, mirrors, "I'm Your Neighbor," and other wonderful resources

Children's books play a crucial role in the shaping of young minds. Books are windows into worlds that are unfamiliar (of course, they are often windows that lead readers to discover just how familiar these previously foreign worlds can be) and they are mirrors in which young people see their own lives reflected. Good books change minds, disprove stereotypes, deconstruct assumptions, and increase global understanding.

This week seems like a good time to think about books that can help young people to develop their sense of global understanding. Here is an incomplete list of wonderful resources:

I'm Your Neighbor: This is a tremendous annotated and organized database of books about different cultures and different social issues. It is searchable by setting, theme, and ethnic group(s) represented. It includes relevant reviews and suggested book lists, too. The goal of this carefully curated project/database is to "both support communities as their cultural makeup evolves and to create opportunities for children's literature featuring refugees, immigrants, and 'new' marginalized groups."

Notable Books for a Global Society: This list is compiled by the Children's Literature and Reading special interest group of the International Reading Association. They've been compiling these lists annually since 1996. The list consists of twenty five books that "enhance student understanding of people and cultures throughout the world." The lists includes a variety of genres and age ranges (but all for students K-12).

The Peace Education Project: "The Children's Peace Education Project is a home and classroom curriculum for young children and is also a library of specially selected books to teach peacemaking with young children between one and six years of age." This database of books is searchable by topic (knowledge of self and connection to others; joy in diversity; creative conflict resolution and sense of justice; imagination and playfulness; care and love of nature; global awareness), genre, and age. The organization also has a variety of anti-bias education resources.

Culturally Diverse Books selected by School Library Journal's review editors: This list was compiled by people who edit children's book reviews for publication in the preeminent school library professional journal. In other words, they know good books. However, after they published this list last year, readers responded and criticized some glaring omissions, such as the lack of Native American titles. School Library Journal reviewers responded by adding to their original list with other outstanding diverse titles. The journal's response and the additional titles can be found here.

And, of course, I would be remiss if I did not give credit to the incredible group of writers and readers working to increase the availability of a wide range of narratives in literature at We Need Diverse Books. They devote an incredible amount of time and energy to raise awareness of the necessity of diverse perspectives and we all benefit from their efforts.

If you know of other organizations, lists, awards, or resources that should be here, please leave them in the comments.

As always, to good books,


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Steps to building a community library

A community library is one in which all members of the community are involved in the library in some way and that each person feels connected, in some way, to the library. For us, this is an ongoing goal/project because the role of the library is constantly evolving (and we like it that way). With this in mind, here are three ways we're working to build community in our library this week.

1. We're turning children into librarians because a) it's fun to be helpful; b) scanners are awesome; c) autonomy feels good.

2. We're inviting parents/grandparents/babysitters/adult friends in to help cover books so that we can get more books onto the shelves in a timely manner. The Book Processing Center is located under the printer in the library. There are tools, directions, and stacks of books waiting to be covered. They've already been added to the catalog so when they're covered, they can be placed directly onto the reshelving cart. Please feel free to stop by any time and help us to process books.

3. We just purchased some new titles in French, Mandarin, and Latin (or, in some cases, in English but about topics related to our Latin classes) to help support students in their language classes. One of our goals for the year is to build our collection of books written in languages other than English so that children can continue to either see their home language represented in their school library or so that children can be exposed to the written word in other languages. We will continue to purchase books in other languages (both titles originally written in other languages and familiar English titles in translation) throughout the year. Huge thanks to Imogen and Shiyu for suggesting these titles for our library. 

Yours in shared library spaces,

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Alex Gino's virtual visit to our "George" book discussion group

As soon as I read George, I knew I wanted to share it with kids at SK. And teachers. And parents. And everyone I know, really, because while it is groundbreaking in that it is a truly middle-grade novel with a transgender protagonist, it is also a really, really good story about the tension between how we see ourselves and how we think the world sees us. This is a book that has the power to change the way we interact with the people around us and forces us to pause and examine our own assumptions. In fact, this book was the catalyst for my idea for the middle grade book discussion series in the first place. I had a sense that a whole lot of good would come from a conversation surrounding this book. Of course, I really couldn't have expected that we, as a school community, would have the joy of talking about the book WITH ITS AUTHOR, so I couldn't have known what kind of real life magic we actually had in store.

When I emailed Alex Gino to thank them for writing George, I felt like I was sending my note into the ether. In my wildest librarian dreams, I never expected Alex to write back to ask ME if they could join in our book discussion. Why hadn’t I thought to invite Alex in the first place? Where were my manners?! I wanted to write back, immediately, in all caps, and shout “YES!” from the rooftops (but I exhibited self-restraint and sent a perfectly professional note). Over the course of the weeks that followed, Alex, their publicist, and I made plans for our Skype session.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday, when we had nine kids, grades three through eight, and either a parent or grandparent with each, gather to talk about the book and Skype with Alex. We also had two children call in and listen via speakerphone while on a family road trip. Technology, about which I complain on a regular basis, also enables some of the most powerful of shared learning experiences.

After talking about the book and generating a list of questions as a group, we called Alex in California. Our first volunteer question-asker was a third grade girl who started the discussion with a question about Alex’s rationale for their preferred pronouns (they/their), which the young reader had noticed in the author bio in the book. As she asked this, and as we listened to Alex explain the history of the evolution of language, I looked around at the other adults in the room and they all appeared to be in a similar state of complete joy and complete awe. I imagine that in addition to feeling incredibly proud of this young person (and all of the young people who followed her with similarly profound and insightful questions), they also felt proud of the community of which we are a part and the world that we are hoping to/helping to create for our young people.

Another particularly powerful moment came when one of our fourth grade students asked Alex about the role of gendered spaces in the book. This young reader asked Alex if they were trying to make a point about the ways in which gendered spaces (specifically, pink/blue bathrooms and boys/girls lines in schools) can be exclusive and hurtful by focusing on them at several points throughout the novel (even perhaps exaggerating their significance). Alex explained that while yes, they were, of course, trying to make a point, none of these situations or spaces were exaggerated; instead, these fictional spaces were intended to represent the school experience for most children. Our young reader seemed somewhat shocked by this and explained, in a matter of fact way, that our bathrooms are all different colors and they’re all individual and some are gendered but most are not. Alex’s incredulity at both the way that this all just seemed so obvious to a fourth grader and the fact that single-person, non-gendered bathrooms are the norm at SK spoke to the truly unique and forward-thinking environment fostered in our school. Their response, of course, led us to enthusiastically invite Alex to our school to see our bathrooms (and the rest of our school) in person.

The conversation continued well past our expected end-time. Alex was gracious with their time, openness, and willingness to engage with both children and their parents about topics ranging from the role of girls' magazines in the novel (and in the world) to who gets to wear skirts (and the history of power and wealth in society that contributes to the acceptability of women in men's clothing but the lack of acceptability of the reverse) to the way that the people you often least expect to be the ones who are okay with who you are end up being the ones to surprise you with their warmth. I got the sense that so much of this talk transcended age and generation and resonated with each one of us in a different, personal, meaningful way.

George is powerful without being preachy. It asks questions without being heavy-handed. Toward the end of our conversation, while discussing some of the other characters in the book and the ways in which they responded to Melissa (the transgender protagonist) at different points, Alex told us that while none of us (people in the room) might be transgender, we'll all probably meet some people who are. And if we don't meet people who are transgender, we will inevitably be or meet people who feel trapped, unsure, and marginalized in some way. The other characters in George and they way they orbit around Melissa give us some ideas about how to go beyond merely saying that we are "allies" but instead give us ways to actually "ally." In framing "to ally" as a verb instead of a noun, Alex gave us a new way to think about how we support the people around us (on both an immediate and a global scale).

I look forward to reading more from Alex and continued extraordinary discussions with our community of readers.

Good books change lives,


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Shout out to the library middle school work crew

Each Monday, I have the joy of sharing an hour with a small group of 7-8s. They rock. I say this not just because I adore them but because they do such a stellar job in the library. They shelve, organize, label, and cover books. Without them, library processing would be significantly more challenging (and significantly less fun).

Thank you, 7-8s, for helping to keep our library running smoothly. We love you!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Celebrating fREADom (pun/misspelling intended)

All across the country, libraries and classrooms have been celebrating Banned Books Week this week. Here at SK, I spent some time with both of the 5-6 classrooms to talk about what this celebration of intellectual freedom is all about and why it matters.

In Sam's class, the conversation turned quickly to censorship and why people might want to censor that which others read, see, or hear. We talked about video game ratings and movie ratings, too, and how the selection of materials deemed "appropriate" differs from family to family and from community to community. We also talked about the importance of context and how passages from a book, when read on their own, may send one message but that it's important to read the whole book in order to understand what the author is really trying to say.

In Jason's class, we talked about what "appropriate" means and how the word is context-dependent. We also combed through Jason's bookshelves to find several titles that often appear on lists of challenged books. Jason explained that good books aren't good for every person at every time and that his decision to offer/suggest some books over others has less to do with censorship and more to do with his understanding of his students as young people whose concept of the world is still developing. I echoed this view when I explained the library selection policy.

In addition to great conversations, our Banned Books Week celebration included exploration of this map of challenged books, as reported to the American Library Association. Make sure to check out the book challenge reported in Australia (hint: it has to do with "prohibited dog breeds").

For more information on challenged books, check out the American Library Associations Banned Books site, the Banned Books Week website, and this list of frequently challenged books.

Free people read freely,


Monday, September 28, 2015

Information literacy

What does it mean to be "information literate" at SK (and elsewhere)? In a library and research context, it means that children are able to find that for which they are looking, to evaluate its usefulness and its authority, to process and make sense of it, and then to use it to create new knowledge.

In kindergarten, for example, this means that children understand how a dictionary works and when it might be useful to consult a dictionary (all of those fun letter tabs are just a delightful bonus). 

In seventh and eighth grade, information literacy involves using databases to find scholarly articles about Animal Farm (the read-aloud they just finished) and using spreadsheets to budget for their fictional road trips (and it's still only September!). 

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) uses the phrase "information fluency" to describe students' ability to "locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources of media" (ISTE Standards for Students). 

The American Association of School Librarians (a division of the American Library Association) understands "information literacy" to be an umbrella term for the multiple literacies that are now "crucial skills for this century," including "digital, visual, textual, and technological." (AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner). 

These standards and definitions are used by librarians and teachers all over the country as a way to frame the meaningful work happening in school libraries and classrooms around the teaching of critical thinking skills in a world where students are inundated with information from a wide variety of sources. Here at SK, I will continue to join teachers in their classrooms (and in the libraries) throughout the year to weave concepts of information literacy into classroom activities and projects.

To research,


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Let's talk about books

Welcome back, dear readers. I hope you had a lovely summer and are looking forward to a school year full of delightful adventures. Here in the library, life is slowly returning to school-year-normal. Within the next few weeks, I'll be leading library orientation sessions with our younger students, delving into research techniques with our older students, and getting my ducks in a row for our upcoming book discussion groups for children in grades 3-6.

This year, I'll be leading four evening book discussion groups for our 3-6s, their parents, their teachers, their grand friends, and other interested readers. I'm very excited about these books and absolutely cannot wait to talk about them with children.

Here are the books and the dates for this year's 3-6 book discussion group:

October 21: George by Alex Gino

January 20: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

March 23: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

May 25: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

To books,


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Watch out! The middle school library is growing...

It's really happening! After intense brainstorming, wish list-creating, dreaming, hoping, and planning, our middle school library is really taking shape. We have all sorts of new books, including recent award winners (check out the American Library Association's Youth Media Award lists), books requested by our kids, and beloved favorites.

Today, the 5-6s and I had an extremely enthusiastic discussion about how to manage book circulation, return, and suggestions. Library cards are on their way, junior librarians are about to be trained, and the excitement is palpable.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

We have new encyclopedias! With penguins!

Thanks to the awesome friend of the SK library, Jenny Hannibal, and her team of librarians at the Allen Park Public Library, we have our own new set of encyclopedias! We're very excited about this new addition to our library.

Thank you, Jenny, and thank you, Allen Park librarians, for your donation to our school.

Our kids do a lot of research and they use all sorts of resources. From websites to personal interviews to books, our teachers aim to expose children to a wide variety of perspectives and types of texts. Now, we will add these new encyclopedias to the list of materials available to our students. Hurray!