Monday, April 14, 2014

Texas Library Association Conference

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio. I LOVE to go to TLA! Each year there's an amazing number of sessions to attend, authors to meet, friends to reconnect with, and tons of "stuff" to learn. I've never been to a bad TLA. Some years are better than others, but this year was really stellar.

On Tuesday I went to Tech Camp. Set up like a "real" camp, we all met in the mess hall to listen to keynote speakers such as Dr. Bruce Ellis, Library Girl Jennifer LaGarde, and Tech Ninja Todd Nesloney. There were terrific breakout sessions as well. We had a "boxed" lunch and even s'mores! I can't wait to try out some of the apps that I learned about as well as all of the features of Google that I didn't even know existed.

Tuesday evening the exhibits opened. I swore I wasn't going to pick up any books, but somehow I ended up bringing about 20 home. More on that later...

Author James Patterson on the big screen. I was sitting so far
back at the Lila Cockrell Theater, my phone wouldn't take
a decent picture of him!
Wednesday morning was the first general session with author James Patterson. I loved how he stressed that it was the parents' job to stress reading in the home. He shared how he got his reluctant reader son, Jack, to read.

I learned about Library Makerspaces, moving the library to the Learning Commons model, and great research ideas from Debbie Abilock. I heard from some terrific Lone Star authors and had a great time at the Nerdy Book Club session. (It was the most fun I've had in a session in a long time. Want to learn to make an Origami Yoda?)

Unfortunately, I had to come home Thursday afternoon because I had classes to teach on Friday. When I checked in at the airport, my suitcase that weighed 37 pounds when I left, now weighed 52 pounds! I was even carrying about ten books in my hand luggage already! Ouch!

It was great seeing some of my great library friends - Walter, Janet, Jane, Trumanell, Renee, Debra, Kim, and more.

Even though my shoulders are sore from carrying so much stuff, my feet are swollen from walking so much, and I had a killer headache most of the time I was in San Antonio, I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat!

Can't wait for TLA15 in Austin!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

"Postcards are overrated anyway."

"Oh, yeah?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.

"Yeah, I mean, what's the worst thing you can say to someone who isn't on some beautiful beach with you?"

Lucy shrugged.

"'Wish you were here.'" He rapped his knuckles against a scene from Greece, which was hanging near the bottom. "I mean, come on. If they really wished you were there, they'd have invited you in the first place, right? It's king of mean, if you really think about it. It should say: 'Greece: Where nobody's all that upset you're not here.'"

Lucy and Owen live in the same building in New York City but may as well be a world apart as far as their respective social statuses are concerned. Lucy's parents are wealthy jet-setters who travel around the world leaving Lucy at home. Owen's dad is the building's super and they live in the building's basement.

The two would probably never get to know each other except for a failure in the power grid. While on the elevator, the entire east coast goes into a blackout and the two are stuck together. After a rescue, they inevitably escape to the building's rooftop where they talk and spend the night. It's a night they never forget. While the kids don't know very much about each other, they DO know that they want to know more about each other.

 Lucy's parents send for her to visit London, her mother's hometown.

Finally, she came to an aerial shot, the city spread out from a distance, the River Thames woven through it like a gray ribbon, and there, written on top of it all in bold blue letters, were the words: Wish You Were Here.

Later Lucy's family moves to Edinburg, and Owen and his dad go on a cross-country trip landing in Lake Tahoe. Lucy meets gorgeous Liam and Owen meets Paisley, a girl at his job. Later Owen and his dad stay in San Francisco for awhile and he meets Lucy again when she attends a family wedding.

All is not good, however. When Lucy finds out about Paisley and Owen learns of Liam, things go terribly wrong. It looks like things are over between them. Owen and his dad finally settle in Seattle where his dad finds steady work. Their house in Pennsylvania finally sells, and Owen gets accepted to every college to which he applied.

"In London, Lucy thought of Owen.

And far away in Seattle, Owen was thinking of her, too."

When Owen and his dad travel to close on the house in Pennsylvania, they filter through months of mail.

"He was nearly to the bottom when he spotted it: a postcard of Paris. Without thinking, he snapped the phone shut, hanging up before anyone could answer, and then he sat there staring at it in the faint light of the kitchen: the cathedral at the very center of the city.

Even before he flipped it over to find the note, he was thinking the very same thing: that he wished more than anything that she was here, too. And just like that, his heart - that dead thing inside of him - came to life again."

When Owen emails Lucy, he breaks the silence that has kept them apart. Then they can't keep from emailing over and over. They plan to meet in New York in the summer. Their plans, however, do not mesh. Owen goes back to the rooftop and who should appear?

You're early," he said., but it didn't feel that way to Lucy.

To her, it felt like it had been forever.

 I liked The Geography of You and Me. Lucy and Owen are very likable characters. I was rooting for them to get together even though the distances between them seemed insurmountable. The book was an easy, quick read. It's not Eleanor and Park, nor does it need to be. It's like a summer "Feel Good" movie. It won't win any awards, but you leave the theater with a smile on your face.

(This would also be a great book to use with Google Lit trips. Lucy moves all about Europe and Owen moves about the United States. )


Thursday, February 20, 2014

School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins

For fans of Paranormalcy by Kirsten White, School Spirits is of the same ilk. Monster-hunter Isolde (Izzy) Brannick moves to Ideal, Mississippi to eliminate the ghost that has been haunting the local high school. Izzy's track record hasn't been too good of late, and her mother wants to trust that Izzy can handle the task.

What Izzy doesn't realize, however, is that posing as a high school student is much more difficult than she realizes. When she takes out a classmate during a game of dodge ball, she gets more notice than she wants. She also gets more than she bargains for when she joins the Paranormal Management Society (PMS) and meets a hunky guy named Dex. Watching Ivy Springs on video never prepared her for this.

There's no doubt about the conclusion of the story. Even from this short description, one can see that there's not much new here. For readers who like this sort of book  - monster hunters living among us - School Spirits will be an enjoyable read. For those of us who are rather tired of it, this novel is rather...tiring.

The mystery of what happened to Izzy's sister, Finley, is still up in the air. I'm sure we'll see another sequel. Of course, we will.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Popplet/ Essential Questions

Today we started the seventh grade Holocaust unit. Rather than making a Prezi report, I thought this group really needed to start learning to write essential questions.

After putting deadlines into their NoodleTools project dashboards, I had the students develop questions about the Holocaust. Yes, the Holocaust is too broad a topic for research, but I wanted to use a common topic they all had some background with. After they brainstormed questions using Popplet, I asked the students to categorize the questions using 3-4 "tags." The students paired up, created their schemas, and then we discussed their ideas. After they shared, I asked why we had done this activity. Several of the students realized that they will be creating their own organization patterns for their projects this time and this activity helped them to do that.

I then posed the following questions:

  1. Which questions are the most interesting? Why?
  2. Which questions are the least interesting? Why?
  3. Which are the easiest to answer? Hardest? Why?

I then used a powerpoint presentation to discuss strategies in the development of good questions.

For homework, the students must locate and print two articles from either Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia, or Funk and Wagnalls. After reading the articles, they should highlight salient points, identify unknown vocabulary and define in their own words using the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and write the six newspaper type questions (who, what, when, where, why, how) and then the essential question they will pose about their topic.

We'll see how they did tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer

I'm out of bullets. For a moment, I stood there, paralyzed, my fingers frozen on the trigger. Cockroach, Nadia.
Nadia and her younger brother, Rabbit, leave their home in a Seattle suburb after the death of their mother from the BluStar virus, a pandemic which has left most of the world's population dead. They plan to find "Pappy" the grandfather they've never met in West Virginia under the orders from their Uncle Bean. Their father died in Afghanistan, and they are on their own.
The kids are immune from the disease due to a vaccine that Uncle Bean sent them. Unfortunately, their mother, a nurse, came down with the disease and did not get the shot until it was too late. As the kids head out, they are unsure of what life will be like. There is no electricity, running water, or means of communication. Along the way, the kids find an injured dog whom Rabbit names "Teotwawki" which stands for "The end of the world as we know it." Later they arrive in a town whose sole inhabitant, a tattooed, rough around the edges guy named Zack, and a joke-cracking bird named Al. After getting Teotwawki's injury stabilized, Zack and Al join the kids in their trek.
As the kids move across the country, they run into some unsavory types. Gun-toting Grandmas who take all of their supplies, commandos who would like to commandeer the kids, and even a band of thugs who take all that they have. Nadia survives an illness and Zack a gunshot wound. They do, however, find a few good souls who help them. As luck would have it, all are like cockroaches and somehow survive.
Fortunately, "Pappy" is a survivalist. The kids feel sure that he and Uncle Bean will still be there when they arrive in West Virginia.
A Matter of Days is like a cross between Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming and Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It. The story is about kids traveling to get to a grandparent who will take care of them and surviving off of the spoils of civilization. I found Nadia, Rabbit, and Zack to be very likable characters, and I cheered for them throughout the book although I never though bad would come to them.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014


A couple of weekends ago, I cleaned out my clothes closet, not one of my favorite things. I examined each piece of clothing and determined if it fit, if I still liked it, if I still wore it, etc. There were a few items that I bought thinking that I would wear them someday, but that didn't happen. There were a few pairs of shoes that had seen better days.  Six trash bags later, I was finished. My closet looked much neater (due to the fact that I organized each of the items by color), but not roomier. There are still plenty of clothes to wear for any occasion that I might need.

I didn't just stop there. Then I tackled my pantry. The pantry was in much worse shape than my closet. I had dozens of spices that were OLD and needed to be thrown away. There were a number of cans that had expiration dates several years ago. (What was I thinking to purchase two cans of escargot?) I also spilled my rice, not once but twice. ACK!!! Four trash bags later I was finished. However, my pantry is now very organized. (My husband even took a picture.) I know where everything is, and I won't need to purchase any more cans of organic beans for several years.

That's why it baffles me why I get so many questions about weeding the library. Weeding books is not unlike cleaning out closets or pantries. Unfortunately, our library had not had a thorough weeding for a long time (if ever) when our staff started the process over two years ago. That first year we deleted 7,000 items from our collection. Last year we deleted 9,000 from the collection. This year we will delete far fewer items because we did such a thorough job the past two years.

Not all books are timeless. Like the clothes in my closet, some are way out of style. Science books, in fact, should be very current due to the rapid changes happening in that field. (Pluto should not still be a planet in school libraries.) Also, tastes change. A few years ago, Twilight and A Series of Unfortunate Events were the rage. We owned numerous copies, but those multiple copies are no longer needed due to the books' waning popularity.

Then there are the books that are simply loved to death. Miss Nelson is Missing is a classic elementary picture book, but the book is in terrible shape. The book needed to be weeded and replaced. I looked at our Christopher Paolini books the other day and noticed that they were pretty ratty. Fortunately, I could purchase them in pristine eBook format where they will never show wear.

Then there are the books that simply have not been used. Just like those items in my closet that
seemed like a good idea at the time, these books never found a "home." We are finding this more and more in our nonfiction section Students are now using databases and eBooks for their research needs and are steering away from print. After a book has set on the shelf for six or seven years without use, the book really needs to go to make room for something that may be useful.

None of us randomly go and pull books off of the shelves. We really use a systematic approach reflecting on the data that our library systems gives us. Buffy Hamilton recently had a post on her blog, The Unquiet Librarian, which is much more eloquent than mine about the subject. Also, we use the CREW method and MUSTY.

No school library has room for everything. We have no off-campus storage like I see college libraries utilizing. Nor do we want our shelves so crammed with materials that no one can really find what s/he is seeking. Deselection of materials is just as important as selection. It must be conducted on a regular basis for the library to run efficiently.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Navigating Early or the Life of Pi?

"Louis Armstrong on Monday, Frank Sinatra on Wednesdays. And Glenn Miller on Fridays, unless it's raining. If it's raining, it's always Billie Holliday."

I just finished listening to Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. She's the author of the Newbery-winning book Moon Over Manifest which I wrote about in an earlier blog entry.

It is after World War II. Eighth grader Jack Baker starts school at Morton Hill Academy in Maine. He's left his childhood home in Kansas after the death of his mother. His father is in the navy, and Jack feels like a fish out of water. While Headmaster Conrady tells him, "...If you want to sit with a group in the lunchroom, they'll probably let you. If you want to go off and sit by yourself, they'll probably let you do that, too. So my advice to jump in," Jack continues to feel out of place. However, soon he is befriended by Early Auden. Early's mother died when he was born early and his dad, a trustee of the school, died of a heart attack. Early lives in the basement of the school, attends only the classes he wishes, and pretty much does what he wants. He's also a math genius, filling the chalkboard with massive amounts of numbers.

"Then I asked Early Auden, that strangest of boys, the most important of questions.

'Who is Pi?' "
For Early, Pi is a metaphor for his brother, Fisher, who's been declared dead in the war. Throughout the book, Early relates the story of Pi and his quest. Then when Jack's father cannot visit during Regatta Weekend, Early and Jack set off for their own quest along the Appalachian Trail to find the great black bear. Their adventures closely parallel the story of Pi that Early continues to relate to Jack as they travel together.

Their outdoor adventures are reminiscent of Gary Paulsen's writings. There's plenty of blood, bones, gore, and scary situations. There are also some weird characters (other than Early.) Mysteries are solved - some that you never see coming. Luckily, there's always a "superhero" that gets the boys out of their dilemmas.

All through the book, it is evident that Early is "that strangest of boys." The reader knows that he's on the autism spectrum, but it's never made an issue in the book.

There's a lot going on in this book: the fractured relationship between Jack and his father, the enigma of his mother's death, the love story between Gunnar and Emmaline, the 50 year old mystery of a lost boy and the mother who still has supper waiting for him, the "pirates," the black bear, the timber rattlesnake, Early's insistence that Fisher is still alive, superheroes, rowing, Early's story of Pi, and finding oneself. Fortunately, Clare Vanderpool "connects the dots" in the epilogue.

"There are no coincidences. Just miracles by the boatload."

I'm not sure how kids will take to this book. Like Moon Over Manifest, I think there's a beauty to the story that kids could enjoy if they will take the time to find it. I just hope that they do.

"As the ocean tugged at my feet, I realized that Early Auden, that strangest of boys, had saved me from being swept away. By teaching me how to build a boat, that numbers tells stories, and that when it's raining, it's always Billie Holliday."