Author Archives: Valerie Stein

Keeping Track with Personal Reading Records

I recently caught up with two former students to talk about – of course – reading! One is at a new school, and I still see the other around campus and in the library, though I’m not regularly in the classroom these days.

I heard from their mothers ( both book people, so of course we’re in touch) that Kenzie and Hannah keep reading records for themselves, and I was very curious to see how – or if – they continued on where their library class with me left off some years ago.

I kept a wall behind my desk depicting my own reading life: covers showing books i’d read and those I planned to read. In addition, a couple of my classes chose to track their reading lives on another wall of the library.I love that this particular wall grew out of these readers’ desires to follow their own lives as readers.

In our recent conversations, I started out by asking the girls why they keep track of their reading. Kenzie uses her list/page count system to prove a point to others and to show that she really is as well read as she says she is, and to see how far she has come as a reader. She also uses a list of books she’s read to keep track of where she’s been. I can relate to that. I remember where I was when I dug through Bronte’s Villanelle on summer in high school, and I opened Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in the security line at Gatwick Airport. Kenzie also pointed out that she likes bonding with new friends over books they both love.

Hannah uses a journal to remember what a book was about, and to set and keep reading goals. She also finds that she can also track her taste in books.

I asked next how the readers keep track of their reading. Kenzie carries two lists. One is of books to acquire/to read. A book goes on this list when it’s recommended or when she decides to read it.  It gets crossed out when it gets added to her (physical) bookshelf.  A book goes onto the second list when she starts reading it, along with its page count. When she’s completed it, she marks it off.

Hannah makes lists of books she wants to read while she browses the library shelves, then adds them to her journal when she starts reading, with synopses, notes, and a rating system. I asked some other students about keeping track of their reading. Many of them simply try to remember what they read, except for those who are currently using their Humanities teacher’s Reading Bingo to track their reading.

I keep an occasional journal as well, noting books that inspire me in some way. Otherwise, I keep track using Goodreads and my library wishlist. If not for these tools, I would be lost.

Inspired by this conversation, I also asked my colleagues how they track their reading. They use  phone notes apps, Amazon and library wishlists, and Goodreads (many are actually on Goodreads but only a few use it, and those are mostly readers who are members of book clubs).

I asked Kenzie and Hannah how they choose their next read.  Kenzie chooses a book from a genre she’s interested in, then explores titles in that genre. A read-alike in that genre inspires her next read. Sometimes she needs a break from a certain type of book, though, like murder mysteries or books with heavier themes.

Hannah finds her next read by using eeny meeny miney mo, from 3-4 books she chooses from the shelves by turning a few pages, according to her mood, and referring to her list.

Asked how they read,  Hannah reads all in print, and Kenzie reads in print or on her phone if she’s out and about. Hannah has expressed that she is not at all an audio book lover (it is my main way to consume books these days, to be honest).

Finally I asked the girls what they’re reading now.

Favorite Genre:

Hannah: Realistic fiction and historical fiction – she feels that she learns more from them.

Kenzie: Mystery

One unforgettable book:

Kenzie: Under the Egg

Hannah: All the Light We Cannot See

A book to recommend to a parent:

Hannah: The Rhyme Schemer

Kenzie: Everything she thinks is good

Here we are with a few of our favorite books.

It was a blast to ask these questions of students I’ve watched grow from early readers through their middle grade years. It is especially rewarding to celebrate the readers we all are today.

Do you keep personal reading records? Why and how?

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.