Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Exit, Pursued by a Bear Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Hermione is at the top her game, on the field and off. She is co-captain of the cheerleading squad, dating one of the head male cheerleaders, and she is on her way to the last cheer camp of her high school career. What could go wrong? But during a dance at a camp, someone slips something into her drink. Her world goes black, and she wakes up in the lake with no memory of what happened.

My Thoughts
I'm not a cheerleader-type person, so I started this book with a hefty dose of skepticism. And in all honesty, I didn't really get the hype of cheer camp or the talk about makeup and ribbons in hair. But if you can get past the cheerleading stuff, the story is a powerful one. Hermione is an overcomer, and her attack at camp is just one piece of her life story. I really like that the focus of this book is not sensationalizing rape, but rather on the process of healing and overcoming. It deals pretty honestly with small-town thinking and the reality that some people will blame the victim.

My Recommendation
4/5 stars
Grades 9+ (language, adult themes)

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Review: The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Does love at first sight exist? Is there something in the it fate...that draws people together or forces them apart? Natasha and Daniel find themselves unexplainably thrown together and then inextricably connected after a "chance" meeting on a street corner in New York City. But with her deportation to Jamaica just 12 hours away, it seems an impossible romance. Will they find a way to stay together?

My Thoughts
Yikes. This felt REALLY contrived. There was so much going on here with the back and forth narratives (his perspective, her perspective, minor characters' perspectives, etc) it just felt overwhelmingly messy. Weirdly, my favorite part had to do with the side character Irene and her struggle with suicide. She's the one I wanted to cheer for and love. The rest of them, I just didn't care about.

My Recommendation
3/5 stars
Grades 9+ (F word used liberally, mature themes)

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Review: The Case of the Missing Marquess

The Case of the Missing Marquess The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Sherlock famous detective. We've all heard of him. But have you heard of his lesser known little sister, Enola? In "The Case of the Missing Marquess", Enola is faced with the disappearance of her mother. She goes on a great adventure to find her mother, and finds herself in the middle of ANOTHER disappearance. Will Enola find the Missing Marquess? Will she find her mother?

My Thoughts
This is a cute and quick read. I can see middle school students who like mysteries enjoying this series. Reminds me of the Benedict Society series.

My Recommendation
4/5 stars
Grades 5+

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Review: All the Truth That's in Me

All the Truth That's in Me All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Judith and her best friend Lottie disappear from their homes in Roswell Station. Four years later, Lottie is dead and Judith returns under mysterious circumstances...without her tongue. She is forced to remain silent in spite of the accusing glances until her town is attacked and past secrets come to light. What really happened to Judith and Lottie? Will the truth that is in Judith be revealed?

My Thoughts
I really liked this book. It is a little bit of mystery, a little romance, and a lot historical fiction. There is enough edge here to keep you reading, but nothing that is over the top or inappropriate. A great addition to my middle school library (with a YA sticker because of thematic content).

My Recommendation
4.5/5 stars
Grades 7+ (thematic content)

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Rules Book Review

RulesRules by Cynthia Lord
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Catherine is a 12 year old girl who just wants a normal life. But her little brother David has autism, making life anything but normal. Still, by maintaining a list of RULES she can usually keep things under control. Until she meets Jason, who turns her world upside down

My Thoughts
I love this book. It's a quick read, but powerful. It challenged me to think about my own snap judgments and how I see people with disabilities.

My Recommendation
4/5 stars
Grades 5 and up

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review: Scar Island

Scar Island Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Jonathan has been in trouble before, but this time his actions land him in a stint at Slabhenge, a reform school for boys with behavior issues. But what happens when the boys are left to fend for themselves on an island of rock with a hurricane on the horizon?

My Review
Scar Island is a fast-paced, fun mystery that will be enjoyed by middle school students who enjoy adventure and intrigue.

My Recommendation
4 stars, Grades 6 and up. Brief mild language and thrilling situations.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Monday Musings: What is the Role of a School Librarian?

What do Librarians DO?

I had an uncomfortable conversation with a colleague last week. It made me really stop and think about my role as a librarian.

The teacher asked me why I am regularly out of the library during study hall. My aide covers for me so that I can co-facilitate clubs and groups.

The comment was made, "Aren't you the librarian? Shouldn't you be IN the library?"

I was truly taken aback, and it bothered me for several days. I questioned my role in the school and my priorities as a teacher.

What is my role as a school librarian, and why? Is it more important for me to be sitting in the library, or should I be out and about in the school? I did some research and found a great article by Bubble Up Classroom.

My Philosophy of Librarianship

My philosophy of librarianship and teaching is:

1) Relationships first
2) Everything else second

That's it. There really isn't much else to it. Yes, literacy is important. 21st century skills are important. But I can't get to those things and make them sink in unless kids trust me and are ready to learn.

This is where my participation in groups/clubs comes in. Currently, I co-facilitate the following groups:

1) Loss (death, divorce, deployment, etc)
2) Organization
3) Boys Group (social skills)
4) Girl Power (self confidence)
5) Book Clubs
6) New Kids' Lunch
7) Stress Management

Kids come to the library with their lunches once per cycle week and we hang out and talk, and also do activities. The kids get to know me, they are comfortable with me, and they associate positive things with the library. It's a win-win.

So no, it isn't necessarily LIBRARY, but it's important. And I'm sticking with it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday Round-Up: 3 Podcasts You Can't Miss

Time for a Friday Round-Up, where I share 3 of my favorite finds.

This week:

3 podcasts you can't miss!

I know, many people think podcasts have gone the way of laser discs. Not so fast! Podcasts are a quick and easy (and free!) way to get some PD in on your daily commute.So here are my favorites:

3) Mrs. Reader Pants
Mrs. ReaderPants
Courtesy of
I just recently found Leigh Calazzo's blog and then bumped into her newly created podcast. She posts a 15-20 minute preview of new releases and book talks. I really rely on her recommendations for my own purchases, and it's much easier for me to listen to a podcast then to sift through pages of SLJ reviews.

2) 10-Minute Teacher

Courtesy of

Vicki Davis of Cool Cat Teacher fame re-vamped her longer podcast (which was also awesome) and created a shorter, more concise version. She really covers every conceivable topic relating to teaching and learning in a fun and innovative way.

1) Cult of Pedagogy

Courtesy of
Jennifer Gonzalez is a former middle school language teacher turned consultant/blogger/podcaster. Her shows are a bit longer (closer to 30 minutes), but jam-packed with tips, strategies, and interviews. I find myself going back again and again to my favorite episodes. And as an extra bonus, my favorite CoP episodes include:

That's it for this Friday's round-up. What are your favorite podcasts?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Project Green Screen SCREEN! Five yards of green cloth, lots of staples, a tripod, and an iPad. That's all it took to transform a corner of our library into a fully functioning video studio.
Having a little green screen fun

But then what? Our technology integrator started doing some research on the best apps for green screen creation, and came up with Do Ink.

Courtesy of
The App
It took a little practice, but my students figured out the process pretty quickly. Do Ink lets you create 3 "tracks" for your video:

1) the background (can be images from online, students can take pictures, can be videos)
2) the student talking to the camera
3) additional animations

The Process
I brought students to the library class and distributed iPads to groups of 2-3 students. I used my handy document camera to show the steps for opening and using the app. I had students open the app and then immediately start a new project and re-name it.

Important side note: Once Do Ink projects are saved, they are not editable. The app auto-saves projects that students are working on (before exporting), so have students remember the number of the iPad they are working on for future classes. This is moot if you have 1:1 iPads, but we do not have that capability at this time.

We then went out online and found pictures that related to their topic (big moments in the 20th century). For the sake of time, I limited it to 5 for the lesson. They were required by their teacher to locate 15-20 by the end of the project, but 5 worked for my purposes. This is a great opportunity to talk about Creative Commons and giving credit appropriately.

Students added their background pictures to track 1. Then the real fun began! I set up a formal green screen station for the kids to use. It is definitely awesome and produces great results. But in reality, you can use ANY green (or blue) paper.

As cheesy as this one looks, the mobile green screen works just as well as my more expensive "fancy" one.

A few recommendations for optimal recording:
1. Use the photo gallery app to record video, NOT the Do Ink video recording tool. We had way too much trouble with the embedded video.

2. Get bluetooth remotes (see photo below). These allow all members of a student team to participate in a recording, rather than having to take turns filming or grabbing someone passing by who is willing to record.

3. Get clip on microphones. We don't have these yet, but they are on order. The volume without a mic is low, and you pick up all of the background noise.

Once students have their video, it's time to add it to the second track in Do Ink. This is as simple as clicking the + sign in track 2, then adding Video. I tell students to look under Recently Added for simplicity, and select their video.

It's now time to edit! Students can change the size and shape of themselves (track 2). Just select the track/video, then press and resize. They can also change the length of any photo or video by clicking and pressing the little red boxes at the end of each clip.

One problem that we did run into was weird color combinations. If a student is wearing a shirt with green on it (or even some shades of grey), they will notice that they "fade out" and the picture behind them comes shooting through their tummies! Easy fix. Just click the color wheel and swing it back and forth until you achieve optimal results. Sometimes they have a little too much fun and turn themselves into the invisible man!

When students complete their projects, it's time to save to camera roll or export. Then you can publish to the world!

The Reasoning
As a librarian, I get the benefit of doing things sometimes just for the joy of learning and exploring (thank you MakerSpace!) The reality is that most classroom teachers are confined to a set curriculum. These teachers may wonder how green screen could enhance their curriculum. Here are three ways I have seen it used with my teachers:

1. Gifted and talented teacher required students to complete a PSA. Some students chose to use greenscreen to create their videos.

2. History teacher asked students to select a major event in the 20th century and create 3-5 minute video with 15-20 photos of the event behind them (or video).

3. An ELA teacher is having students complete book trailers on books they are reading independently. These book trailers will be given QR codes and then displayed in the library for students to scan and view.

The Final Project
Here are a few projects completed by our students


Hopefully this post has gotten you excited about the possibilities of green screen. Don't worry if you don't have a lot of fancy equipment. All you really need is an iPad with the Do Ink app and a piece of green paper. And lots of imagination!

How are you using green screen in your school?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Review: Fish In A Tree

Fish In A Tree Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Ally has spent much of her life avoiding everything to do with school and reading. She is embarrassed by her inability to read, and hurt by comments that have been directed at her over the years (dumb, stupid, freak).

She retaliates the only way she knows how...getting into trouble and being sent to the nurse or the office to avoid being forced to read. That is until her new teacher Mr. Daniels enters the picture. Mr. Daniels doesn't see Ally as a freak, and with his help and the support of her odd by loyal sidekicks Albert and Keisha, Ally begins to see herself as smart and gritty. And as Mr. Daniels shows her, reading is no longer IM-POSSIBLE, but POSSIBLE.

My Thoughts:
This is a wonderfully sweet, uplifting story about dealing with a learning difference (dyslexia). There are also threads in here about grit, family, bullying, and friendship. Hunt does an amazing job with her 3 main characters, as well as a supporting cast of students, family, and teachers.

I read this with my 5th grade reading club, and it was an absolute hit. Will be reading this again in future years with upcoming groups.

My Recommendation:
5+/5 stars
Grades 5 and up

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: Scythe

Scythe Scythe by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Thou shalt kill. Thou shalt kill with no bias, bigotry, or malice aforethought. Thou shalt kill the beloved of those who resist.

Citra and Rowan find themselves apprenticed to scythes, the only people in a post-mortal world who are legally allowed to end lives in order to keep the population manageable. But they soon learn that the sythedom is rife with corruption and greed, and they must find a way to expose the truth and save their own lives.

My Thought:
WOW. I love everything I have read so far of Shusterman (Unwind series, Challenger Deep), but this one blew me away. It really creeps me out that the good guys in this book are essentially professional assassins. It's the same kind of creepy I felt reading "that scene" in Unwind. Like I should feel guilty for enjoying the story so much...

My Recommendation:
5/5 stars (and I very seldom give 5 stars)
Grades 7+ (pretty heavy violence)

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review: Freeks

Freeks Freeks by Amanda Hocking
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mara is a carnie. She and her mom live and work with a traveling circus. But this circus has some dark and mysterious secrets. Each of the members of the circus have supernatural powers. Unfortunately, even their powers cannot save them from going broke, and in a last ditch effort to keep things going, the carnival accepts an invitation to spend a week in Caudry, Louisiana. Things in Caudry seem a little off to Mara and her friends, and they soon find out that evil lurks in the nearby swamps.

My thoughts:
This one will not be going on my middle school shelves. There is a pretty descriptive sex scene that prevents me from comfortably sharing this book with my students, even with a YA label.

I wanted to like this book because it's in my favorite genre (supernatural with some mystery). It feels like it is borrowed from existing books, and that annoys me. Fans of Twilight will figure out a "plot twist" pretty reads almost like fanfic with the way parts of this novel feel lifted from other stories.

My rating:
2.5/5 stars
Grades 9+ (sex scence, mild language, violence)

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