Author Archives: Valerie Stein

Rethinking a Small School Library

Three years ago, I retired from the small independent school where I’d worked for twelve years. The last ten I spent getting my library certification, while building the library and library programming there.
It was hard to leave but time to go, with family needs and the publishing company left to me by my Dad calling on my time and my heart.
But that library led me to my true calling, I believe, and they really never got rid of me, once I was able to go back as a sub the past two years. I’d shelve books and exclaim over the new acquisitions, and happily talk books with the kids (and teachers!) in the hallway and classroom.
Three years later, I have the opportunity to be a part of the school improvement plan in ways none of us could have imagined all those years ago, when I was growing a library from shelves full of used books and a room full of promise.
While others prepare to deliver curriculum in the library, I am redesigning the collection for a move to new teaching spaces after this coming school year.
The first job is a total weed of the collection, something which can never happen completely while also fulfilling a teaching and duty schedule. Over the years, this task has grown to somewhat daunting proportions.
One could say that moving a school from two buildings to one is a sad thing, that it is a downsizing of the program. Really, though, this is a right-sizing of the program designed to serve this small school population while resources grow.
My job, building a library collection that reflects the mission and vision of the school while it shrinks to fit smaller spaces, is one example of the thoughtful approach to these changes. Our school is authorized for the Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate, serving students grades 6-8. The school is actively pursuing application for the Primary Years Programme, which serves early childhood through middle grade students.
Using best library practices, I’m working to make this the best possible library for our school community. I’m using the following points to approach each book we have in the library.
Does the collection include diverse voices and viewpoints? Do windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors exist in the choices of the books we choose for our students? Could ANY student find themselves reflected somewhere in our library, and could ANY student learn about people with different experiences and viewpoints than their own there?
Did we practice due diligence in examining our personal biases as we decide which books serve our community the very best way? Can we offer teachers and families a wide selection of really great books, including those that exemplify the IB’s ten Learner Profile traits?
Next, I use circulation statistics to inform my decision about a book. If no one has checked out a book that is more than ten years old in the past five years, it’s got to go, unless I happen to know that it a hidden gem no one could find before.
The last gauge I use is age (science, geography and other areas are outdated faster than others). The copyright date is one checkpoint, but smelly books always go(ewww),no matter how special!
Library staff has performed these weeding exercises by section as they were able to in the past, but this move provides great motivation to get the whole job done on the entire library, and I’m making progress. When I’m finished, the remaining collection will fit into the new teaching spaces being designed for them throughout the school, the collection will be accessible to everyone, and the great books that have in some cases been hidden within the vast number of volumes will be visible and ready to share!
It is so exciting to be part of something that will add value to a school so dear to my heart. I’m very happy to back in the bookstacks to be making a difference, also to peek between the covers of favorite middle grade books I recommended or have on my own TBR pile, and to geek out in the land of the well- designed library catalog, one of my weird and wonderful passions.

Summer Reads = Summer Fun!

Summer is a time when I feel energized and creative, basking in the longer daylight hours and a different kind of vibe, even though I work at home and the actual calendar doesn’t change that much around here.

If your kid is the kind who likes to make and do in summer, as mine was (she’s grown now, but this is how I remember her middle grade summers, and my own), here is a post to scratch your kiddos’ summer activity itch. Of course, you might like to join in the fun, too.

I have to say right up front that this was not my (fantastic!) idea – here’s a big shout out to our own Annabelle Fisher for the inspiration, and to many of our members for chiming in with great ideas to share with you.

Like to cook? These reads might also make you hungry to make food.

Lisa Schroeder’s cupcake books, including It’s Raining Cupcakes, might inspire you to make some…

The Truth About Twinkie Pie, by Kat Yeh, is full of recipes.

A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graff, is also filled with things I want to cook. 

Pixie Piper and the Matter of the Batter, by our own Annabelle Fisher (including a recipe for magical “reversing cake” and other fun things!).

How about writing to authors?

Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary gave adult me the push to write a favorite author, actually.

Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech is another that inspires action in the form of writing.

Want to play with paper engineering?

Origami Yoda and Tom Angleberger’s other Origami books result in lots of paper play.

Richard Merrill’s Fantastic Press-Out Flying Birds  is a blast (I’m giving this one an extra shout-out – this fellow SCBWI member and Dover Publications author is also my big brother!).

Books about science and nature and those that get us out of doors can also spark inspiration for projects and action.

Mixed Up Files member Jacqueline Houtman pointed me to Elaine Vickers’ blog, which features a ton of great activities for middle graders. Jacqueline’s own book, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas was featured there, and reading this book about a science geek might prompt a visit to find something to do, too.

Nature sketching and birdwatching are featured in The Someday Birds, by Sally Pia.

One Mixed Up Files member described Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island as being ”sort of about a group of kids camping on their very own island.”

The Phineas MacGuire books by Francis O’Roark Dowell feature science activities in the back matter, and a website to visit for more at: http://gophineas.com/. My students loved our read aloud of Phineas in the library.

Roseanne Parry, still another Mixed Up Files member, wrote Turn of the Tide, which features geocaching.

And Explore Forces and Motion, by Jen Swanson (still another Mixed Up Filer), includes 25 fun activities for kids to do with science.

Community service as summertime action?

Our own Michele Weber Hurwitz says, “My book, The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, doesn’t exactly feature a craft project, but the main character, Nina, does a project involving 65 good things she does for her neighbors and family, one for each day of her summer vacation. It’s been a popular summer read for students who then do a community service project when they return to school.

Lisa Graff’s The Great Treehouse War Is about a bunch of kids who stage a sit-in, and then some…

Plus, there are always mysteries to solve and other fun things to do!

I’m intrigued by Annabelle Fisher’s recommendation of The Puzzler’s Mansion, by Eric Berlin, which she describes as having brainteasers and interactive puzzles in it.

Chasing Vermeer and the others in Blue Balliet’s architectural mystery series feature tangrams and puzzles to solve. I had several students who made their own tangrams after reading these books.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, by Chris Grabenstein, is another that is jam-packed with stuff to do and try.

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd is filled with oodles of stuff to do, too…

What books inspire you to dive in and then get out to have some fun in summer?

Wet and Windy: Books about Boats and the Water

“The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat…” Ogden Nash

My husband and I have been rather fixated on boats lately; we’ve spent the past several weeks shopping for what is very likely our last step up, to a 30-foot sailboat. It’s not big as sailboats go, but it’s big to us.

Since we met more than 30 years ago, we’ve spent much of our time on or near the water, first in a homebuilt kayak he brought into the relationship, then a series of other small boats. About 14 years ago, he asked if he was being hasty by investing in a “real” sailboat. Hasty? You’ve got to be kidding. Just get the darned thing! He did. We’ve been enjoying real sailboats since.

There is something about the water. I grew up in arid central Oregon wandering the banks of rivers that became trickles in some places in summer. We lived six hours from the coast. When I was a middle grader, my family moved East, and I had my first view of an ocean.

It’s been a love affair ever since, between me and the water. When I met my husband, that love affair extended to boats.

It’s about more than transportation, as Ratty and Mole demonstrate in The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. “Messing about in boats” is a lifestyle that for us includes wandering the docks of any coastal town we visit, from Greece to Monterey to Halifax. It also includes binoculars for spotting sea birds (and whales!), water shoes for tide-pooling, and every wildlife and plant guide we can carry.

Pacific Intertidal Life: A Guide to the Organisms of Rocky Reefs and Tidepools of the Pacific Coast, by Ron Russo and Pam Olhausen fits in a pocket. We also carry laminated sea bird and saltwater fish guides, the better to explore the many layers of the ecosystem around us.

And we read books about boats, about people who use the water as livelihood, about people who weather storms and find courage in facing the unknown.

My Dad introduced me to the allure of the sea-going story when I was 9 or 10 by sharing some of his childhood favorites, like Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling.

Over the years, I’ve found others as well, like Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, a swashbuckling story of murder and the integrity of a young girl.

The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech, told through the travel logs of two young sailors, stuck with me a long time.

Boston Jane: An Adventure, the first in Jennifer Holm’s “Boston Jane” series, has the main character, refined young Jane Peck, traveling aboard ship from Philadelphia to a new life in the Northwest.

Our own Rosanne Parry’s Turn of the Tide delivers the excitement and magical allure of sailing as well as the dangers of ignoring the power of our environment. I was really taken with another water-related story line in this contemporary novel, and that was learning more about the Columbia River bar pilots who navigate this unique waterway in the United States. These professionals are trained specifically to navigate the Columbia’s treacherous bars and tricky currents.

Touch Blue, by Cynthia Lord, is an obvious choice, set as it is on an island. This gentle and heartwarming book is filled with the essence of what I love most about the water, and the special attachment one can form for living a life near it.

For older middle grade readers (or grownups), Clare Vanderpool’s Printz-Award winning Navigating Early is a beautiful read for just the right kid, and those who love archaic language and history might also enjoy Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, a favorite among sailors everywhere.

My Mixed Up Files friends shared many other titles with me, and goodness, how my own TBR list has grown! Here are some they mentioned:

Windcatcher, by Avi

Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt

Flutter, by Erin Moulton

Heart of a Samurai and The Bamboo Sword, by Margi Preus

I’ve got one on hold and the rest in my library wish list now.

Do you have a favorite book about sailing, boats, or the sea? I’d love to add even more to my list.