Thursday, December 1, 2016

Puppy love

I. and F., two second graders, asked me to help them find Underwater Dogs, a beloved book of underwater canine photography, so that they could read it to Ginger, one of our beloved school pups.

Too much cuteness for one school library. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Book: My Autobiography

Last night, several students in grades 3-6 (plus delightful siblings and equally delightful parents) gathered in the atrium to discuss Book: My Autobiography by John Agard (illustrated by Neil Packer).

First, as promised, we started with edible books (white chocolate squares for pages + fruit leather "covers").

After we finished snacking, we proceeded to make our own books (we even sewed the bindings ourselves).

Then, we looked at photos of medieval chained libraries and talked about how even though the chains look like they're meant to keep people away from the books, they were actually designed to make the books more accessible to more people (by enabling people to use them as long as they didn't go anywhere with them). We even looked at a photo of the Marsh Library in Dublin where readers would have to go into "wired alcoves" (or, to some, "cages") to read precious books. 

This conversation led us to think about what libraries and books might look like for our grandchildren (grandchildren of the students). One student said that libraries might either be more open than they are now (think Little Free Libraries on a giant scale) or might be more restrictive than they are now (because the proverbial pendulum may have swung the other way). One parent told us about her idea for electronic books that have covers and pages (like paper books) but are actually made of flexible screens. This way, reading a book could "feel" like reading a physical book but a reader could still upload multiple books to one electronic device. 

All in all, the evening was, of course, beyond enjoyable.

We hope our third through sixth grade readers (and families) will join us for our next book club gathering on January 18 from 6-7pm. We'll be discussing Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

As always, to reading,


Check out those handmade books!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Book club for students, parents, teachers, and friends

You're invited...

Who: Students in grades 3-6 (older students welcome, too), parents, teachers, friends, delighted readers

What: Book discussions, activities, questions, and fun

  • November 2: Book: An Autobiography by John Agard
  • January 18: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
  • March 22: In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III

Where: SK elementary library

When: 6-7pm on November 2, January 18, and March 22

Why: Because we're part of a curious community of readers and conversationalists

If you have questions, please ask them.

Happiest of reading,


Banned Books Week and the other side of the coin of intellectual freedom

Along with libraries, bookstores, and readers all over the country, the 5-6s (along with Sam, Jason, and I) celebrated their freedom to read by talking about Banned Books Week, censorship, and intellectual freedom last week.

I've been teaching about Banned Books Week for many years and I always love the ideas that come out of this discussion. However, during this past week's 5-6 lesson, the conversation went in a direction in which, in my teaching, it has never gone. In talking about what it means to have the freedom to choose what we read, one student pointed out that the flip side of this is that people also have the freedom to publish books that contain false information or stereotypes. We then talked about how intellectual freedom protects those people and their books, too.

This conversation challenged us to think about why people have this freedom and what that means for us as readers. Banned Books Week gave us a chance to pause and consider what it means to recognize that people whose worldview conflicts with our own have the right to theirs, too. Then, of course, the challenge becomes how best to approach these people/books/ideas in a civil, yet assertive and proactive, way.

The topic of civil political discourse has come up in my own class (the 7-8s) and I know it's come up in other classrooms at SK, too. The more opportunities we have to work through these difficult questions together, as a community, the better.

Hooray for Banned Books Week and fascinating conversations,


Friday, September 9, 2016

The children have arrived.

The readers are back! All feels well in the world (or, at least in our library).
K-2 readers checked out their first books of the year. Parents, please note that your child has a library book inside a plastic book bag. Please use the book bag (it's a white bag with a dragon on it and says, "Look what I'm dragon home" on it, which makes us laugh a lot) to transport books and keep them clean.

Elaine's class brainstormed a list of good places to read library books (homes, schools, or forests, for example) and less ideal places to read library books (on top of active volcanoes, while skydiving, or while swimming, for example) and I'm confident that our young readers will continue to treat their books like treasures.

To new books, old books, perfect you and me books,


Monday, August 29, 2016

Where are the children?

The books are shelved. The inventory is complete. A selection of new titles are on display. The series fiction sits in colorful baskets. What's missing from this beautiful school library? The children.

Young readers, we can't wait to welcome you back on September 6. Until then, enjoy your last few days of summer vacation.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Please return your library books

("Overdues" by Shel Silverstein)

Please check cars, bedrooms, bookshelves, backpacks, and other likely library book hiding spots for beloved SK library books. When you find said books, please return them to school. No fines, no questions - we just need the books back.

I'll be taking inventory of the library during the first few weeks of the summer and will email families with overdue books. Thank you, in advance, for your patience.

To good books (and finding good books hidden between couch cushions),


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Alex Gino came back to visit us

On Monday, we welcomed back our dear friend and celebrated author, Alex Gino. Alex came in time to have lunch with some third and fourth grade fans before they led two separate writing workshops for the middle schoolers. After school, some of us joined Alex and our friends at Common Language Bookstore for a reading and book party.

Snapshots of the day:

Lunch with 3-4s included a conversation about microaggressions; how we identify them and how we can interrupt them. As always, I was delighted by SK students' thoughtfulness and desire to dig deeper. 

In both writing workshops, Alex challenged students and teachers to think about a character's desires. After writing descriptions of ourselves as characters, we then tried to write a scene with our "opposite": a character who is "opposite" from us in some way(s). We then had a chance to share our writing and reflect on the ways in which we connected with our "opposite" character. 

After a wonderful reading and conversation at Common Language in the evening, we got to enjoy treats and chat with one another.

Huge, huge thanks to everyone who came to the program; our wonderful hosts at Common Language; our dear friend, Jim Toy; and to Alex Gino, for continuing to teach and learn with us. 

To books that bring people together,


Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival, June 18-19

Loyal readers,

Last week, when Laura Raynor (AADL librarian extraordinaire) was here visiting, she told us all about the Comic Arts Festival coming up in just a few short weeks. Favorite comic creators like Cece Bell (El Deafo), Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda), Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet), Rafael Rosado (Giants Beware), Ruth McNally Barshaw (The Ellie McDoodle Diaries), and Nathan Hale (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales), among others, will be at the downtown branch of the library for writing workshops, art demos, and book signings.

The full schedule is available here. I look forward to seeing you there.

To the many ways in which we share stories,


Friday, May 13, 2016

Librarian Laura visits Summers-Knoll

Why, yes, that is local celebrity, acclaimed storyteller, and beloved librarian, Laura Raynor, here in the Summers-Knoll library (surrounded by a sea of kindergarten, third, and fourth grade fans). 

Why, yes, she is holding a velociraptor skull reconstruction (that can be checked out of the library's velociraptor kit, which includes the skull, a real claw, an informational book, and a DVD).

 Why, yes, she is reading from and talking about some of her favorite new books (which are all available on her public lists, of course). 

Why, yes, she is engaging our oldest students in a lively discussion of the "swag" available to them when they participate in the library's summer game (which starts June 17). 

We are beyond lucky to live in a city with such an incredible public library system (staffed by beyond wonderful public librarians, like Laura and her student intern, Lindsey, who visited us this week). 
Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) is a gem. Thank you, Laura and Lindsey, for sharing your treasures, knowledge, and enthusiasm with us. We hope you'll come back again soon.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Alex Gino is coming back to Summers-Knoll; book party at Common Language

Alex Gino, author of George, is coming back to Summers-Knoll on Monday, May 16. They will lead writing workshops with our middle school students in the afternoon and talk about their writing with the kids.

At 6:30pm, please join readers from SK and the greater community as we welcome Alex to Common Language Bookstore. For details, please see the above poster. Discussing a book with its author is a tremendous experience (and watching young people do so is a privilege). I hope to see you there.

To stories, of course,


P.S. Please help us spread the word about Alex's reading at Common Language. If you use Facebook, please RSVP and share this event with others.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Selling out" and media literacy with the 7-8s

The seventh and eighth graders (and Karl and I) have been talking a lot about Photoshop, advertising, and messages recently. The subject came up as part of the Our Whole Lives curriculum (specifically related to beauty standards and the way in which cultural expectations of beauty are defined and communicated) and led to fascinating conversation about the ethical responsibilities of companies/organizations/people who manipulate photos to sell a particular image.

Using parts of Common Sense Media's "Digital Bytes" curriculum, we analyzed advertisements as propaganda, defined various persuasive techniques employed in different advertisements, and examined our own media lenses by thinking about what components of advertising "work" on us.

Next week, we'll continue to broaden our understanding of media literacy by digging deeper into what we think the ethical responsibilities of advertisers should be and what repercussions they should face if they mislead the consumer.

To continued expanded definitions of "literacy,"


Sunday, March 20, 2016


Our library program includes not only what we do with books but also what we do with information, more broadly (how we consume it in a positive, responsible way and how we create it in a positive, responsible way). This includes information we consume (books we read and YouTube videos we watch, for example) and information we create (presentations with slides and science projects, for example). While our younger students keep the information they create in a "hard" format (paper, for example), much of the work that our older students create was born and only lives digitally (slides or reports written entirely in Google Drive, for example). As such, keeping track of information students create changes as they get older and requires new methods.

In grades 3-4, I've been working with both classes to organize their work in Google Drive so that they have copies of particularly meaningful projects in a "portfolio" folder. Once we've completed the process of creating, copying, and moving files, students will have an opportunity to reflect upon the work that they have done over the course of their time in the class and comment on it (what they learned from doing it, about which parts they are particularly proud, with which parts they struggled, and so on). This reflective piece is an essential part of regular classroom work at SK and we are hoping to capture that reflection in these portfolio folders.

This week, I will begin doing a similar organization of Google Drive folders with the 5-6s. In future years, the 5-6s may also begin to use Google Sites for online portfolios. In Karl's 7-8 class this year, all of the students have created online portfolios using Google Sites. They've also organized their Drives into folders and placed work accordingly.

This portfolio-creation process gives students a chance to create, reflect, and grow in new ways. As a school that appreciates the process (as well as the product) of creation and the opportunity for meaningful reflection, we hope that portfolios will give us a new way to express both of those deeply-held values.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Parent/student book club, book two: Fish in a Tree

At the end of January, we held our second book discussion for parents and children in grades 3-6. This time, we were also fortunate enough to be joined by both Spencer (3-4 teacher) and Mary (Learning Specialist) so it really felt like a community-wide conversation.

The evening began with general conversation about the book - what we liked, what was believable, what worked, and what seemed less plausible. Two major themes of the book emerged from our conversation: bullying and learning differences.

Our bullying discussion turned quickly to one about compassion and ways in which we are able to find compassion even when we've been hurt. Ally, the protagonist, is regularly tormented by Shay (a stereotypical "mean" kid). Yet as the book progresses and Ally finds herself feeling more confident and comfortable in her skin, Ally tries to befriend Shay. The kids (and parents) had a variety of explanations for why and how Ally was able to reach out to Shay even though Shay had treated Ally horribly.

Another character in the book, Albert, was physically assaulted by a group of children every day after school. However, Albert never "fought back" because he didn't believe in violence. When I asked the kids what advice they might give to Albert, they responded with a wide variety of strong "I" statements, messages of encouragement and support, and strategies for being assertive (without being aggressive). As usual, I found myself dazzled by our kids and their thoughtfulness.

One of the touchstones of the plot was the concept of the "mind movie" that Ally (who had dyslexia) created when she let her brain think in pictures. The author often described the detailed images that Ally would see, in her mind, when she heard others talking or trying to explain something to her. We decided to try to see the world from Ally's perspective and create "mind movies" of our own. I read a passage about trees from a beloved book, How to Be an Explorer of the World (by Keri Smith) and each participant drew/wrote/expressed on paper the "mind movie" that played in their heads while I read.

In Proust and the Squid (a nonfiction book about the way that human brains have evolved to read), Dr. Maryann Wolf (Director of the Center for Reading, Language, and Research at Tufts University) explores the ways in which the invention of reading changed our brains. I read excerpts from this text to the group, during our book discussion, to facilitate conversation about dyslexia and the way that Ally's brain used "mind movies" as a way to process text and language. Ally was not alone in this, of course. In fact, according to Wolf's book, Albert Einstein may have created similar visual representations of ideas in his brain, too.

Albert Einstein did not speak much until three years of age and he was mediocre at any subject that required the retrieval of words, such as a foreign language. He once said, 'My principal weakness was a bad memory, especially a bad memory for words and texts.' He went so far as to say that words 'did not seem to play any role in his theoretical thinking, which came to him through 'more or less clear images.' (Wolf 199) 

Our book discussion group had an interesting time parsing the idea of reading as an invention and that some brains may be wired for forms of communication that may not yet exist. If you're curious, I'd highly recommend Proust and the Squid.

True to our SK roots, our evening ended with the kids acting out a favorite scene from the book (with a little bit of help from Spencer). I love that they are able to, in the span of around thirty minutes, maneuver between an intellectual conversation about brain development and the dramatic (and slightly comedic) interpretation of the scene from a middle grade novel. I left dazzled and delighted, yet again, by their brains.

I hope you'll join us for our next book discussion in March. We're reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.

To books, of course,


P.S. Elaine is reading Fish in a Tree aloud to her class right now. To see what they're doing with the book, check out her blog. Oh, novels, and the way they connect us to one another...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Digital citizenship

Last night, I presented a program to some of our parents on our approach to teaching digital citizenship at Summers-Knoll. If you are interested in this topic but were unable to make the presentation, you are welcome to access my slides here.

On a related note, I am currently thinking deeply about this review of a very recent study on media use and attitudes among children and parents. I think SK families (particularly those with middle school-age children) will also find the data compelling. For me, the most interesting part relates to "trend two: sponsored content and its reliability." I think that this area is where we have the most work to do (and the greatest opportunity to do meaningful work with young people) on topics of resource evaluation, reliability of resources, and decisions about whom and what to trust online.

As always, I hope you won't hesitate to contact me with questions.

To thoughtful interactions (online and off),


Thursday, January 14, 2016

New book nook in the atrium

If you build it, they will sit in it and read quietly and share stories with friends. Magic.

On a related note, if you have houseplants looking for a good home, please contact me about donating them to this new cozy space.

To perfect reading spots,


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Gene Luen Yang named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

In exciting news, the Library of Congress, the Children's Book Council, and the Every Child a Reader foundation recently named Gene Luen Yang as the next Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He follows in the footsteps of great authors like Jon Scieszka, Katherine Patterson, Walter Dean Myers, and Kate DiCamillo. However, unlike these writers, Yang is a writer of graphic novels. His work is complex and often touches on issues of identity (among other compelling themes). In his acceptance speech, he discussed what it means to be an "ambassador" and ways in which books, themselves, are ambassadors. He said:

Books can be ambassadors for you, too. Books can help you understand people from other cultures, religions, even ways of living. Books can help you understand topics that you find intimidated. Books can even be ambassadors for other kinds of books.

He went on to suggest that readers open themselves up to the possibilities contained within books that they may not have ever considered reading. His motto for his term as ambassador is "Read without walls," meaning:

Let me end by encouraging you to read without walls. Find a book with someone on the cover who doesn't look like you or live like you. Find a book about a topic that you don't know much about. Find a book that's in a format you've never tried before: a graphic novel, a words-only novel, or a novel in verse. Read without walls and see what happens. I bet it'll be something amazing.

To something amazing,