Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review: As You Wish

As You Wish As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thanks to @kidlitexchange for the advanced review copy of this book. Opinions are my own.**
As You Wish
by Chelsea Sedoti
Posted 12/17/18
4/4 stars
Grades 8+
Book Talk
"The trick is to be boring. No one likes being bored, yeah? If a place is boring, you're not gonna stick around. You're not gonna ask any questions. That's the way we like it."
Madison, Nevada is about as boring as it gets. It's a dusty, desert town, the "fastest way to get from nowhere to nothing". At least, that's the way the people of Madison want you to think. But hidden behind the run-down buildings and sleepy facade is a secret. A big one. Everyone in Madison gets to make a wish on their 18th birthday. Just one wish, but it changes EVERYTHING.
Eldon is about to turn 18, and he is struggling with his wish. Should he try and wish his ailing sister back to health? How about money to help his family? The ability to leave Madison behind in his rear-view mirror? As an assignment from his teacher, Eldon begins interviewing locals about their wishes and the impact of those wishes on their lives. He realizes quickly that wishes aren't always what they seem, and that you better be very careful about WHAT you wish for and HOW you wish for it.
My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book. It reminds me a lot of the book "This is Not the End", in that teens are forced to make huge decisions that impact not only their lives but the lives of everyone around them. One of my favorite parts of this book was the desert setting. I've always been intrigued by the desert southwest, so I loved reading about growing up in a tiny town, isolated and surrounded by sand. I found the characters in the book to be believable, flawed, and interesting. Eldon is a pretty typical teen boy, and we see him smack dab in the middle of typical teen struggles. Merrill is his geeky best friend. Norie is the odd but loveable sidekick who brings a touch of religion to the story.
There is quite a bit of language in this one, and typical teen fare (drinking, drugs, partying). But the content isn't too adult, and I would recommend it for grades 8+.

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Review: My Brigadista Year

My Brigadista Year My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thanks to @kidlitexchange for the advanced review copy of this book. Opinions are my own.**
Grades 6+
Book Talk
It's 1961 in Havana, Cuba. Lora is a 13-year old girl doing normal, pre-teen girl things. She attends school, has a few friends, loves to read, and spends time with her family (including her 2 pesky brothers). Her life is turned upside down when Fidel Castro overthrows General Batista and takes over as premier of Cuba. He puts out a call to his country, to bring literacy to all of Cuba in under a year. Lora feels a stirring to serve her country by signing up to be a brigadista, serving as a maestra (or teacher) to a farming family in the mountains. She is sent to live with the Santana family in the Escambray mountains. No running water, no electricity, none of the comforts that Lora has grown up experiencing. With only a few textbooks and a lantern, Lora must figure out how to teach her campesino family how to read and write and pass the literacy exams.
My Thoughts
The story itself is rather beautiful. I learned a lot about the culture and traditions of Cuban families in the 1960s, as well as the history behind the Cuban Literacy Campaign. Lora is a strong, believable main character that I wanted to cheer for as she pushed past her fear to serve her campesino family. Still, I am torn about recommending this book fully. There are strong anti-American sentiments throughout. The story is told from a pro-Castro perspective. That is hard for this patriotic, military spouse to swallow. But then again, the mark of a really excellent book is that it makes you think, question, and consider. I was doing all of these things as I read Lora's story.
My Recommendation
There is some violence in the story (family attacked and killed by brigands, a pig and chickens stolen and killed), but it is not graphic. No language or adult situations. This book is appropriate for middle grades and up (6+). I think the history and content is too heavy for elementary.
Give to fans of historical fiction and adventure, especially those looking for a strong female lead.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: You Bring the Distant Near

You Bring the Distant Near You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5/5 stars

This is the story of three generations of the Das family. Ranee and Rejeev Das moved to New York City by way of London, Ghana, and India to make a new life for their children. We follow their struggles and triumphs as they raise their girls, Tara and Sonia. Eventually we meet Tara and Sonia's daughters, Anna and Chantal. First generation American citizens, they still struggle with the balance between being "American" and maintaining their cultural Bengali heritage.

I loved this book. There isn't a lot of action, but the story is beautiful. I knew nothing about Indian culture, and found this book to be a fascinating glimpse into familial expectations, music, food, and dance traditions. The story follows three generations of Bengali women in New York City and New Jersey, so we also get an interesting perspective on important historical events happening in the world around the Das women.

Themes within the story include friendship, racism, women's rights, and family. It also explores the balance between assimilation and maintaining cultural heritage.

Grades 7+ (mild language)

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review: A Graveyard Visible

A Graveyard Visible A Graveyard Visible by Steve Conoboy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thanks to @kidlitexchange for this advanced review copy. All opinions are my own.
2/5 stars, Grades 7+ (language)

Every time Caleb looks outside his window he sees the graveyard. And it seems to be getting a little bigger every day. Then he notices strange activities including hte odd girl Misha. Should Caleb get involved? What's really happening in th graveyard behind his house?

Ok, I did not get this book at all. I love suspense and horror, but this was a mangled mess of confusion. The alternating third person perspective and stream of consciousness just left me confused. This would have been a DNF for me except I felt guilty not reviewing it for @kidlitexchange. This is a pass for me.

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Review: Sparrow

Sparrow Sparrow by Sarah Moon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the #kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book – all opinions are my own. 5/5 stars

Sparrow has always been a loner. She avoids people whenever she can. She eats lunch in a bathroom stall. She doesn’t think things will ever change. Then she meets Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian. Mrs. Wexler invites Sparrow to join her for lunch in the library. Soon there is a group of Frequent Flyers who meet daily in the library to eat lunch and read together, and Sparrow feels like she is finally part of something.

And then tragedy strikes, and Mrs. Wexler is killed in a terrible accident. Sparrow doesn’t know how to deal with the loss of her teacher, and finds herself on the top of the school roof, looking over the edge. The next thing she knows, she is in a hospital and is given mandatory therapy sessions.

Over the next few months, Sparrow learns about her fascination with birds and flying, and how to deal with the grief that has derailed her life.

This book is a beautiful exploration of grief and loss, loneliness and isolation. Even in the midst of despair, Sparrow finds hope in music and lyrics. As heavy as the story can feel, the mood is hopeful. Moon shows us that everyone feels lonely, that we never know the stories of those around us, and that music can be powerfully healing. Give this book to fans of realistic fiction, or students dealing with grief or mental health issues.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review: Long Way Down

**The following is based on an ARC received from @kidlitexchange in exchange for an honest review**
Long Way Down Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Will’s worst nightmare unfolds as he watches his brother Shawn get shot on the street, right in front of him. Shawn bleeds out in the arms of his girlfriend, and all Will can think about is the three rules:

Crying--don’t, no matter what.
Snitching--don’t, no matter what.
Revenge--if someone kills someone you love, find them and kill them back.
As he watches his mother mourn Shawn’s death, Will makes a plan to follow the rules. He finds Shawn’s gun, and gets on the elevator to track down the person he is SURE killed his brother. At least, he’s mostly sure.

On that elevator ride down to the ground floor, with a gun in his waistband, Will meets a series of surprising people who make him question everything he knows about the rules.

My Thoughts
Jason Reynolds writes about race relations and the struggles faced by people of color. Long Way Down follows the same pattern, but focuses specifically on gang violence and drug dealing that often occurs in urban settings.

The structure of the book is verse novel, which has a profound impact on the story-telling. Each “chapter” follows a floor on the elevator, and Reynolds is masterful at sharing lots of information in tiny snippets. For example, one verse describes Will standing in the elevator preparing to make his way down to the ground floor to take revenge on his brother’s killer.
“I put my hand behind my back

Felt the imprint
Of the piece, like
Another piece
Of me

An extra vertebra,
Some more backbone.

The description of the gun as both a physical and metaphorical backbone is powerful.

Time is another powerful element used by Reynolds. He uses it to bring a sense of urgency to the story. The story unfolds floor by floor, and although Will experiences the conversations in extended time, each stop only takes a few seconds. The reader gets to see the dichotomy between Will’s experience of a lengthy interaction with characters and the reality of the short trip in the elevator from the 8th to the 1st floor.

The theme of revenge is interwoven throughout the story. Each character that Will meets in the elevator has been impacted by the rule of revenge. For example, Will’s father was killed for avenging the death of his brother Mark. Each revenge killing set of a terrible chain of events. Reynolds emphasizes the emptiness of revenge as a motive.

Long Way Down is a quick but extremely powerful read. It was much more emotional and relatable for me than Reynolds’ book All American Boys. This is a great addition to a diversity collection and will appeal to students who are fans of Reynolds’ other books, as well as The Hate U Give and Monster.

My Recommendation
Gradues 8+ (language, violence)
4.5/5 stars

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arnold Spirit, better known as Junior, knows what it means to struggle. Born with hydrocephalus (water on the brain), he was prone to seizures in childhood. He was bullied and targeted for his looks and disabilities. His home life wasn’t much better, living in abject poverty with an alcoholic father and an overworked mother.

Junior realized that remaining on the Spokane Indian reservation would result in more of the same...hunger, poverty, a dead-end job, and little or no education. So he makes a difficult decision that forces him to leave his lifelong best friend and all he knows behind. He transfers to the local white school over 20 miles away.

With no car, limited assistance from his family, and no money, Junior has to figure out how to not only get himself back adn forth to school, but also to practice for the basketball team for which he was unexpectedly chosen.

Junior faces great challenges in his life. He teaches us to respond to challenges with bravery, humor, and grit.

This book is a strange and wonderful mixture of narrative and verse poetry, along with cartoon illustrations. It deals with issues of racism, discrimination, bullying, and poverty with humor and finesse. Alexie doesn’t tiptoe around the issues, he deals with them head on. He also addresses common teen experiences such as masturbation, drug use, and alcohol.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review: Quicksand Pond

Quicksand Pond Quicksand Pond by Janet Taylor Lisle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Jessie's dad decides he and his kids need a vacation and packs up the family for a 6-week stay at the beach. No Internet, no iPods or phones, nothing but peace and quiet. And Jessie is BORED. Until she meets feisty and adventurous Terri Carr, and the two of them find a raft for exploring nearby Quicksand Pond, where people have gone missing and a mysterious murder occurred in the past.

My Thoughts
I enjoyed this book a lot, but I felt like it couldn't figure out what it wanted to be. It was a little realistic fiction, a little historical fiction, some mystery. I wanted each piece of the story to be fleshed out more. I wanted more of the older woman's story who watched the girls from the window. I wanted to know more about Terri and her life. And what was happening in Jessie's family with her parents? The story tried to cover too much territory in too short of a book.

My Recommendation
3.5/5 stars
Grades 5+

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review: The Forgetting Spell

The Forgetting Spell The Forgetting Spell by Lauren Myracle
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book Talk:

Do you remember your 13th birthday? Closing your eyes, making your wish, and blowing out your candles? What would happen if your wish actually came true? In The Forgetting Spell, this is exactly what happens to Darya on her Wishing Day. But Darya should be careful what she wishes for, because it just might change everything about her life.

My Thoughts:
This book was all over the place. In hindsight, I should probably have read #1 before reading this one, but I jumped right in. I was confused and really had no idea what was going on or why. I still don't really know who Emily is, or why she mattered so much to the story. I don't get the mother character at all, or why she felt the need to leave her children and husband. Why would leaving fix anything? I am just so very confused by this story.

I feel like this book wanted to be so much more, and could have been, if there was any sort of logical story line. I just truly did not get it.

My Recommendations:
2.5/5 stars
Grades 5+

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Review: Thinking Outside the Book: Essays for Innovative Librarians

Thinking Outside the Book: Essays for Innovative Librarians Thinking Outside the Book: Essays for Innovative Librarians by Carol Smallwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a collection of essays from librarians in all types of positions: academic, public, school, medical, etc. It's an interesting idea, but it loses itself a bit in translation. I found that many of the essays were outdated (especially in terms of "required technology" and broken links). Still, I focused on the topics that are of particular interest to me: publishing, blogging, and embedded librarianship. I just skimmed or skipped those that didn't relate to me.

A good option if you can get it via ILL or borrow from a friend.

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Review: Children of Willesden Lane, The

Children of Willesden Lane, The Children of Willesden Lane, The by Mona Golabeck and Lee Cohen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Have you ever been a long train ride? Looked out the window and seen the world flashing by? Now imagine that train was taking you away from everything you've ever known, including your family. Imagine it was taking you to an entirely new country where you don't know anyone, and you don't even really speak the language.

This is the true story of Lisa Jura, a 14-year old Jewish girl who was whisked away on the Kindertransport, in an effort to rescue her and thousands of other children from the horrors of the Nazi invasion of Austria. It is the story of her tireless efforts to get her sisters out of Austria, and to live out her mother's dream of becoming a concert pianist.

My Thoughts:
I read this in conjunction with The Survivor's Club, which probably wasn't fair. I so much loved Survivor's Club that this one sort of paled in comparison. It's not that it wasn't just didn't have the power behind that the other book did. Both describe children going through unbelievably tough situations, and both extol the virtues of bravery and grit. I just didn't feel this one as much, probably because much of the emphasis was on the music and how it played a role in Lisa's life. I would have rathered learn more about the relationships and hardships than the music, but that's just a personal preference.

My Recommendation:
3.5/5 stars
Grades 5+ (might be a little dark for younger students, but no language or adult themes)

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Review: City of Bones

City of Bones City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Clary and Simon are just regular teens, hanging out and doing life. One night they head to Pandemonium, Clary's favorite under-21 club. Clary witnesses an unusual interaction between several kids that changes not only her life, but the lives of everyone she loves. Suddenly, Clary realizes that there is so much more to the world she has always known. And her role in the world is much bigger than she ever expected.

My Thoughts
I think I would classify this as magical realism? Some romance, fantasy, etc. It's a good yarn, kind of a mix between Harry Potter and Hunger Games. Lots of magical creatures to keep your interest, bad guys, angels, vampires, etc.

My Remonnedation
3.5/5 stars
Grades 7+ (language, some adult themes, violence)

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not going to do my usual routine for this book, because I'm not sure how I would actually go about booktalking it.

Here's the deal. This book is about suicide. That's not a spoiler, it's the premise of the book. A high school student makes the decision to kill herself, but leaves a trail of clues on a series of audio tapes for those who played a role in her downward spiral.

13 clues, 13 people who Hannah feels like could have stopped it from happening.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Recap: #edcampCR

Photo courtesy of

I love EdCamp! Today I attended EdCampCR in the Harrisburg, PA area. I believe it was their first time holding a camp, and they did a great job. It was a smaller showing than I've seen in other camps, but they had plenty of sessions available, great giveaways, and a nice breakfast/lunch for attendees.

If you've never been to an EdCamp, it's a little hard to describe. When you walk in, you are asked to fill out an index card listing a topic or two that you are interested in or that you want to learn. If you are already comfortable with the topic, you can add your name to show you will act as a facilitator.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Starr grew up in the hood. She is surrounded by gang violence, and watches her best friend get killed in a drive-by at 10 years old. But that all pales in comparison to the night she gets a ride home from a party with her childhood friend Khalil. The blue lights go on behind them and Starr's life changes forever.

My Thoughts
I think there is a lot to think about and discuss in this book. I believe in the importance of diverse books that address tough topics, but I had trouble connecting with the characters. I have no experience or perspective to match it, but I am glad I read the book because it caused me to think deeply about my own biases and perceptions. It also made me think about how the media portrays things and how much I take as truth that probably should be more fully examined.

That being said, I felt the dialogue was heavy handed and overplayed. It just felt too contrived, like I knew exactly where the story was going from the first chapter. I also felt like there were things in the story that were glamorized that didn't need to be (gang violence is one example, the rioting another).

My Recommendation
3.5/5 stars
Grades 9+ (language, violence, drugs)

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: Orphan Train Girl

Orphan Train Girl Orphan Train Girl by Christina Baker Kline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Molly lives in a foster home...her 3rd actually, in as many years. She just can't seem to fit in or find a forever family. Then she meets Vivian, a very unlikely ally. The 92-year old hires Molly to help her clean out her attic, and to share her life's story. A story that is very similar to Molly's.

My Thoughts
Beautiful story. The books weaves the stories of Molly and Vivian perfectly, and I just fell in love with both characters. Perfection.

My Recommendation
5/5 stars
Grades 5+

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
It's 1890, and Josephine (Jo) Montfort is living the life of a rich New York socialite. That is, until her father mysteriously commits suicide and her life is turned upside down. As she digs deeper into the strange circumstances surrounding her father's death, Jo finds herself in the middle of dangerous secrets that don't want to stay hidden.

My Thoughts
This was a fun read. I really enjoyed the mystery as well as the historical fiction piece of this story. I really liked the main character Jo, and her desire to break the mold and find herself.

My Recommendation
4.5/5 stars
Grades 7 and up (there are a few adult-ish situations, but very mild; some mild language)

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The Perfect Planner

Every year I go through the same struggle...paper or digital? Online lesson planner or Google Docs? Outlook or Calendar?

I don't know that I will ever arrive at the perfect solution, but I do have a few thoughts that guided my decision for this year (to be revealed at the end of this list).

  • I can't have more than 1 platform going at once. My district provides access to both Microsoft and Google products, as well as Adobe Cloud. This year I had some appointments on Outlook, a few on paper, and some in Google calendar. Needless to say, I missed some meetings.
  • It is easy for me to miss things on my digital calendars because I'm not always at my computer and I don't always remember to check all of the calendars listed above.
  • I need something I can change up pretty easily if I make a mistake or change my mind.

To make things even trickier, a fabulous co-worker made me a homemade bullet journal this year and got me totally hooked on the process of daily to-do lists. So while I was considering my options this summer, I wanted to find something that would allow me to combine planning and bullet journaling.
I don't want separate systems this year. I'm too scattered to keep track of multiple things. This is key for me, and part of my effort to simplify my life and adopt some minimalist practices. 

Enter... the ARC PLANNER

Ok, I don't work for Staples and I am not getting anything from them for sharing my new planner with you. Just want to make that clear. I believe there is another company that does something similar called The Happy Planner. I happened to be at Staples anyway and saw ARC, and was able to physically see each and every piece, so I went with it.

Basically my ARC planner is customizable and the pages can be removed and put back in without punching or tearing anything. So it's easy to re-arrange (much better than a spiral or a 3-ring binder).

This is the cover and rings I chose. There were lots of options, but I just really liked this one!

I purchased the calendar inserts. Here you can see the monthly spread. My plan is to keep appointments in here, as well as weekly department and faculty meetings.

This is the weekly view. I am going to use it for lesson plans. I know this probably wouldn't work for everyone, but as the librarian I don't have to follow a specific format. I only see kids for 20 minutes at a time. I plan to sketch in the theme for each week, the read-alouds I have planned, and the booktalk titles I want to focus on. 

The ARC system has dividers you can add, so my next section is my bullet journal. You can see my index page and my first set of bullets in these photos.

Finally, I added some accessories, like top-loading page protectors (for handouts, cards, etc) and zip pockets (pens, highlighters)

So that's my setup for my planner. Obviously it's not really PERFECT, but I think you have to find what works for you. I'll keep you updated as the year progresses on the status of my ARC planner! What are you all using for the upcoming school year?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

PD Review: Blogging for Educators: Writing for Professional Learning

Sackstein, S. (2015). Blogging for educators: Writing for professional learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Book Talk

It seems funny to write a review...on my blog...about blogging. But as a new-ish blogger, I wanted to get better at my practice and sought out books dealing with blogging for teachers. This was trickier than I expected, as much of the literature is for teachers who want to blog with their students. That's awesome, and I hope to do this as well, but I'm really looking at how to be a better blogger.

Sackstein's book is part of the Corwin Connected Educators Series. If you've read any of these books, you know that they are quick reads, to the point, and strategies-based. This book is right on target.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers

No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers by Barbara A Marinak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever really thought about why you do the things you do in the classroom in terms of reading instruction? How many of us have created reading incentive programs, or jumped on the Book It train? In Marinak and Gambrell's book, they (gently) eviscerate the token economy approach to literacy.

In Part 1 (Not This), Marinak takes us through her evolution as a reading teacher, focusing on the many mistakes she, and others, have made. She talks about dressing up and quacking like a duck, and principals shaving their heads, as well as commonly used bribes like candy, toys, and food. I really appreciate Marinak's transparency in part 1, because although she is correcting mistakes that I have made many times in my teaching career, she does it with humor and by pointing out her own mistakes.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review: The Thousandth Floor

The Thousandth Floor The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Imagine what it would be like to live on the 1000th floor of a 2-mile high tower in the middle of New York City. Avery and Atlas Fuller don't have to imagine it, they live it. They and their friends live a magical life, full of money, friends, shopping, and drugs. Everything they could possibly want. But the more you have, the more you have to lose...

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book for myself. It has enough mystery and glamour that it kept me turning pages. It is supposed to be futuristic, but I didn't feel like that overwhelmed the book at all. There were hints of future life, such as the drugs the kids took and the contact lenses they wore that doubled as mobile devices. But that really didn't dictate the story. This one is really about relationships and status. It looks at the way money can impact friendships, and that having everything you could possibly want doesn't mean you are happy.

My Recommendation
4/5 stars
Grades 10+ (sexual situations, drugs, language)
*as much as I enjoyed this book for myself, it won't be going on my MS library shelf.*

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Recap: 2017 PA Forward Information Literacy Summit 
Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the
PA Forward Information LIteracy Summit at Penn State University in State College, PA. The focus of yesterday's conference, according to their website, was:

"libraries and maker culture, and will be relevant to any librarians interested or involved in teaching and learning, including academic, public, school, and special librarians, and other educators."

As a new Maker Librarian, this really appealed to me. I have a great space, but I don't feel like I have the curriculum or data to really back up what I am doing. So I went into the conference hoping for some specific tips and strategies for making my Makerspace more curriculum-ready.

The keynote speaker was Heather Moorefield, professor of LIS at USC. She focused on what other libraries are doing with Makerspaces, especially in the realm of mobile makers. Here are some examples of what she shared:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Slice of Life

Most of my blogging is professional in focus, or at least it tries to be. But thanks to Two Writing Teachers, today I'm going to focus on a slice of my life.

This is beach week for my family. For the past 21 years we have spent a week as an extended family at a tiny military recreation area in North Carolina.

Beach week is really big for my family for a couple of reasons.

1. We slow things down.
I have two teenage boys, a military husband, and a puppy. Life can be a little crazy. Beach week lets us step away from the crazy and breathe.
Reading by the dock. Catching up on Launch by John Spencer

2. We spend time together.
Now please don't get me wrong. Norman Rockwell we ain't . There is still arguing and nit-picking. But last night we all got in kayaks and floated down the Cape Fear river and watched the sun go down. I walked in from a walk yesterday to find my boys playing a card game...and trust me, that is NOT a daily occurrence in this house.

3. We try new things.
Yesterday my husband and I decided to try something new. We rented bikes and headed down the beach to the ferry. In all the years we've been coming here, we have never taken the ferry. Didn't even know where it went. So we paid our $4 and hopped on. The scenery on the ferry was worth every penny. The 45 minute ride was filled with sea gulls, flying fish, and solitude. We rode off the ferry and headed to the nearest town. We ended up in Southport, NC which I truly believe might have some magic in it. It was stunningly beautiful. With no real plan in mind, we leisurely biked through the downtown area, got ice cream at Spike' s Dairy Shack (much better than it sounds), and ended up at the public library.
Whenever we travel, I always find the library and take a picture. The local library says so much about a community, and you can see from the picture I took in Southport, it says a lot about this charming town.

4. We rest.
I nap every day on vacation. Every. Day. We sleep in. We stay up late watching Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the 112th time. We move slowly. We take it easy. Although summer vacation as a whole is a time of rest for me and the boys, beach week is a whole new level of relaxation.

And one story...
Time to keep it real. In case you have the mistaken impression that this is a perfect, idyllic vacation, I must share a true "slice" of my life. A few days ago we headed to the beach. J (my 13-year old) was boogie boarding happily. I was sitting in my chair reading on my Kindle. Dear hubby was walking down the beach. Next thing I know J is shrieking at the top of his lungs. I look up and he is running around in circles, WITHOUT ANY PANTS. Totally naked. He was yelling "MOM, MOM SOMETHING BIT MY BUTT!" I'm totally frozen, trying to decide whether to help my naked child or act like he belongs to someone else. I did the right thing, grabbed a towel and created a curtain around him as he graphically described to me how a jellyfish swam up his swim trunks and stung his rear.

Photo courtesy of

I am quite certain the jellyfish was unfairly blamed and that he merely suffered from a rash from the sand. But the only thing that would calm him down was a promise to head straight to the store to buy vinegar to pour on his rear.

So hopefully that makes my life a little clearer. But despite the drama, I wouldn't change a thing. Beach week is a tradition that draws my family a little closer each year.
And that's my slice of life...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Summer Planning

It seems like I've been waiting for summer break since Christmas. It's finally here, and what am I doing? Spending countless hours perusing my favorite teacher blogs, reading posts in my Facebook groups, and scrolling through Twitter.

It's the teacher's plight. We just can't help it. I love the approach  Two Writing Teachers takes to the summer planning frenzy. Embrace it, know it's coming, and try to plan in some time away from it all. As in all things in my life, I need a plan if I'm going to get it done. So I am borrowing liberally from the Two Writing Teachers idea for summer planning. Here's what I'm going to do with the rest of my summer:


To Read
To Do
  • Beach Time!
  • Yearly plans for all grades (5-8), just map out the topics
  • Sketch out yearly plan for Makerspace units/lessons, upload to Schoology


To Read
To Do
  • attend Google Expeditions training
  • Makerspace set up and ready to go
  • displays for beginning of school year

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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