Author Archives: Valerie Stein

Hurray for Book Conversations!

Retiring from my school’s library after 10 years meant many things: freedom from lesson plans and the frantic pace of the school year with all its events and deadlines, freedom to write, to publish, and also to garden and bake.

It also meant solitary time with books I love. Alone time with books is great, but there is a downside…No sharing a favorite title face to face with an eager reader or finding just the right read for a less than eager one. I missed this part so very much the past 3 years.

I am back in the library a few hours a week this year (you can check out what I’m doing there HERE). Now I have the best of both worlds.

While I’m not delivering instruction in library classes anymore, I am a fellow book lover in the room sometimes when kids – and teachers- come to visit.

Over the summer, I tried to think of a way to jump start these conversations even with my limited time on campus.

Enter the whiteboard prompt.

I made a loose promise to myself that I will erase and replace these about once a week. For each one, I just write a question/invitation or a finish-the-sentence kind of prompt, then walk away. If I want to share, I don’t do that until there are comments up already.

The first prompt I wrote didn’t get any love at all. I try snap a photo to capture each one, but I missed the first one. I just wrote a question/invitation, or a finish-the-sentence kind of prompt, then walked away. I’ve made a loose promise to myself that I’ll erase and replace about once a week.

 A favorite book you read recently was:

Maddi’s Fridge

The Fallout

The Queen of the Tearling

Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes

The Kane Chronicles: The Serpent’s Shadow

Book Scavenger

The Dark Tower

House of Hades

All Things Wise and Wonderful

All the Light We Cannot See

Percy Jackson

 Look at this list and you won’t be surprised at the YA books that these middle school kids shared, but they are passionate consumers of other books as well, both picture book and middle grade novels. A seventh grader who shares that they just read a picture book about hunger and food insecurity? That’s a conversation that I am excited to have.

 The next prompt was a book you would recommend to your teacher:

Clockwork Scarab #supergood

All Creatures Great and Small

The Golden Compass

All the Light We Cannot See

The Giver

Little Brother

Robert Heinlein (various)

 I see some great MG titles here, don’t you?

The next was during a busy week, but what a fun list it produced.

My Favorite Re-read is…

Airborn

The Sandwich Swap

The Horse & His Boy

 The board stayed blank for several days, and then  a fascinating list came from the next prompt!

A book that blew my mind:

Godel, Escher, Bach

The Fault in Our Stars

The Kane Chronicles (The Red Pyramid)

The Golden Compass

Bone Clocks

Danny, the Champion of the World

 I wasn’t sure what to write this week, but a first grader who came to the library reluctantly with an assigned group chose not to check out. Instead, he spent time with a non-circulating pop-up book.  All at once, a discovery inside prompted him to ask me this question: “…Who knew that books could have such secrets within?”

Even though I’m only there for a short time each week, I feel that I am part of the conversation again.  I’ve seen parents and teachers add their picks to the board.

This is what I missed: not being part of a community of readers. You’re part of my community, too. Maybe you can answer the question I posed after my first grader’s quote. What have you discovered about books lately?  

 

 

 

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?