School Library Journal The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Tue, 03 May 2016 09:07:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to Teach Internet Research Skills Mon, 02 May 2016 21:51:48 +0000 With mobile connectivity so pervasive, it’s not surprising that app-based interfaces and searching strategies are dominating research methods, especially for always-connected youth.

“They are most likely to begin searching on the most accessible device using a search engine like Google,” says Crystle Martin, postdoctoral research fellow at the Digital Media and Learning Hub at University of California, Irvine. “Mobile connectivity and mobile platforms have made search more ubiquitous. The more access to mobile technology youth have, the greater their likelihood to search for information at the time of need.”

Amy Atkinson, librarian at University Laboratory High School Library at the University of Illinois, says  “I consistently observe students begin—and think they’ve ended—with Google. When I ask them where to begin searching, their answer is, inevitably, Google, with Wikipedia coming in at a close second.” In her ethnographic work examining the information seeking habits of teens, Rachel Randall documented the use of “Wikipedia” as a verb among the young people she observed in New Zealand, emphasizing its near-constant consultation.

The Passive Information Consumer

Young people are encountering an unprecedented amount of media content via social networks and app-based sharing. Many students haven’t developed mechanisms for managing the rapid flows of information through independent curation, and it’s easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of endless scrolls. Students might see something but not remember where or when, which leads to reference queries regarding information encountered passively. Most school librarians have spent time looking for more scholarly versions of information students first encountered on Tumblr and Instagram.

Added to the mix are limitations inherent in mobile-only access that punctuates digital equity issues. Danah Boyd writes, “A teen who uses a library computer with filtered access for an hour a day has a very different experience with the Internet than one who has a smartphone, laptop, and unrestricted connectivity.”

Students who have only shared access to networks may find it a challenge to develop the fluency required to become successful searchers. “My research proved to me that while reading, seeing films, and listening to music may certainly be social activities for young adults, their information-searching process is still done solitarily.”

It is helpful to draw a distinction between young people’s personal information needs and those associated with an assigned academic task, what Melissa Gross identified as “the imposed query.” “A difference in search strategies has been seen in imposed versus naturalistic queries, with imposed searching not being as effective because of the lack of motivation and interest in the initial query,” says Martin. That distinction between self-generated needs and assignment-specific queries recurs when talking about how young people search.

Today’s Information Environment

Many school librarians are grappling with teaching online research skills in a 1:1 environment with dedicated student devices. That can be a challenge when search results are so tailored and targeted by marketing forces that, as Eli Pariser so compellingly demonstrated, two searchers with the same generalized query can retrieve very different results.

“If you know the filter bubble exists then you recognize the limitations and can create searches to work around the bubble,” says Martin.

The rise of persistent targeted advertising is often something many young people clue in to intuitively, and librarians can model using sites, such as Duckduckgo or Incognito Windows, as a minimally anonymizing tactic, with more involved tactics to cloud data collection as an advanced option.

For social issues and current event topics, many searchers on the open web will be steered towards infotainment sites such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, and it can be a challenge to redirect students back to subscription databases. I have also seen an increased confusion over web address navigation and search execution on desktops. An increasing number of students use Google as a mediator to navigate to sites rather than typing a site’s name into the address bar, a habit many carry over from searching via a mobile device to access websites or apps.

Amy Atkinson describes how librarians can serve as searching coaches: “As for those teachable moments, staying vigilant and being an active presence in your library and the wider school is key. Circling around the library space as kids work, not hesitating to jump in and ask what they’re working on—have they found the information they hoped to discover, do they have two seconds for you to show them a different way—those are all important opportunities to bolster students’ searching skills.”

Atkinson’s just-in-time interventions reveal that her students’ academic research is “task-oriented, at least while at school, getting from point A to B with a quick search for what they need before turning to whatever is next on the list.”

Going beyond the bare minimum

The much-publicized 2012 Pew Report on Student Research used a combination of survey respondents and focus groups to generalize about student research: “What was once a slow process that ideally included intellectual curiosity and discovery is becoming a faster-paced, short-term exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete an assignment. Teachers noted that this trend is driven not only by the immediacy and ease of the online search process, but also the time constraints today’s students face in their lives more generally.” (Purcell, 2012).

New from Pew: How Teens do Research in the Digital World

More than 90 percent of teachers surveyed by Pew reported assigning term papers or multimedia projects involving accessing a range of resources. Despite the poor rating of students’ information evaluation, the majority of teachers surveyed nonetheless sanctioned the tools they felt have created this problematic research climate. Even among the Pew group’s relatively conservative groups of teachers, fewer than 30 percent deliberately disallowed online resources for research projects.

Evaluating information is necessarily a more time intensive and complicated process than retrieving information in a networked environment, but teens have demonstrated shifting notions about what makes a source valuable. Pickard, Shenton, and Johnson (2014) found that the young people they surveyed at an English secondary school, when presented with a list of particular evaluative criteria for online research, were not interested in traditional authority of information. Those students instead prioritized currency and topicality, lack of mechanical errors, and verifiability. The last item in particular suggests that young people find recurring information, shared in a variety of places, to be a hallmark of authenticity at odds with earlier notions of authorial attributions.

“Search is a garbage in, garbage out process,” says Tasha Bergson-Michelson, instructional and programming librarian at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, CA. “Choosing search terms is hard. If you have the right words, you can find the data.”

Motivation rules the day

Perhaps the distinction demonstrated between research for self-generated topics and those assigned by the teachers in the Pew study should be linked entirely to student motivation. For those active in a particular subculture or fandom, more casual googling is usually supplanted by immersion in a range of more familiar networking mechanisms, providing access to information sources regardless of geography. This engagement results in teenagers with subreddits as homepages who interact regularly with an international social circle around a specific and obscure topic.

“Librarians can support youth in becoming better online searchers by understanding their interests and helping them find information around those topics. Learning and improving online searching skills in context creates a more motivating and memorable experience,” says Martin.

Bergson-Michelson coaches researchers to imagine the perfect source to answer their query, down to typical online attributes likely to appear on a site with that information, saying “What a good result looks like varies based on your information need.”

The topics may differ and the sources might look different, but online research still points to many of the hallmarks of an established process. Contextualizing the acquisition of search skills, as Martin suggests, and refining search terms as Bergson-Michelson advocates, reiterate principles of bibliographic instruction grounded in print research. But the necessary authenticity of the research task will remain integral, and this is where librarians are key in championing and supporting inquiry projects of students’ own devising, helping young people connect to a range of resources to inform their particular passions.


Wendy Stephens worked as a high school librarian in Alabama for 15 years before becoming library media program chair at Jacksonville (AL) State University. She is a past president of the Alabama Library Association and was recently elected AASL Region V director.

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Take a Look in a Digital Book with Reading Rainbow Skybrary School | Reference Online Mon, 02 May 2016 17:57:31 +0000 Reference-Skybrary-School-skyReading Rainbow Skybrary School’s large selection of digital titles give primary students a wide variety of independent and lesson-related reading choices, enhanced by video “field trips” that introduce them to topics related to the books’ content. Classroom use will help primary students learn about their world and improve reading skills.

Reading Rainbow Skybrary School

Grade Level K-Gr 3

Cost Single classroom use is $179 per year. Whole-school (up to 350 students) access is $1,450 per year. Additional pricing options are available.

Content The Skybrary database is affiliated with PBS’s Reading Rainbow (the refrain “I can go anywhere” rings out at the beginning of many of the videos and some books) and features Rainbow host LeVar Burton. The resource’s more than 500 books are well suited to primary students, with a mix of contemporary and classic stories and nonfiction. Users will find books about diverse families, communities, and people, as well as folktales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Paul Bunyan.” Nonfiction subjects include nature and animals, careers, and government and science.
Most of the books have reading levels within the grade range, but some are “adult directed” titles, which have more complex text or offer learning opportunities, such as A Very Improbable Story, which introduces the mathematical concept of probability and would require some additional teacher explanation. The site’s organizational format allows students to choose their own books independently from one of seven “islands” (“Action Adventurers and Magical Tales,” “Animal Kingdom,” “Awesome People,” “Genius Academy,” “My Friends My Family,” “Music Mountain,” and “National Geographic Kids”) floating on the bright blue “sky” of the home screen. Students can read the books themselves or listen to narrated versions (numerous readers lend their voices).
The site also includes more than 200 short video “field trips” that run from three to six minutes in length and cover topics that will appeal to elementary students, such as animals, sports, games, and hobbies. These selections provide educational background or answer questions (for instance, “How To Poop in Space”). Most of the videos are hosted by Burton, and some are billed as “classics” from the Reading Rainbow series. The National Geographic videos combine traditional documentary clips with those that take a different approach, such as “Zooville” animal videos, which feature an an animated narrator, and “Are We There Yet?: World Adventures,” which send a diverge group of young children to interesting places around the world. New content will be added on a regular basis.

Reference-Skybrary-May-Jun2016Ease of Use Students can visit one of the islands, watch an introductory video clip, and then use arrows to view and choose the books and videos that capture their interest. An animated character named Austin, the designated “book buddy,” offers directions and suggestions on how to select and access titles. Students and teachers can also search the site by reading level, specific topics, and more.
When a student chooses a book, it goes into the a “backpack,” which holds a maximum of five selections. Books default to the narrated version. Text is highlighted as it is read, and large arrows allow students to advance pages at their own pace, even in narrated titles.
A simple tool bar allows children to manage their backpacks, return to the islands, or play games. Clicking within many of the books launches average-quality animation, such as buzzing and flying bees, and sound effects.
Users can select and view any video field trip from each island’s extensive group of choices. Classroom subscriptions include log-ins that give students at-home access as well.
The process of adding books to backpacks is relatively simple, but educators will need to show younger students how to manage their titles, given the limit of five per backpack.
Classroom management is simple and allows teachers to upload student data files. Educators can see the number of books read and videos watched by both individual students and entire classes.

Visual appeal The site is attractive, with brightly colored backgrounds and graphics and a variety of sound effects. Text is easy to read, and the illustrations and photos are detailed. The animations in the illustrations will encourage readers to linger over illustrative content, while the videos are clear and move quickly.
Books are well formatted, which will be useful for those aiming to use this resource through computer projectors or smart boards for full class use.

Teacher Resources There are also 40 comprehensive lesson plans; educators will find 20 plans aimed at kindergarteners through first graders and 20 for second and third graders. Plans include a “launch” book and corresponding field trip, five “assigned” books related to the lesson theme, two “extra” books, and a concluding title and field trip. Those targeted at kindergarteners and first graders focus on seasons, holidays, and animals, while the lessons for first and second graders reflect student growth in comprehension and interests and concentrate on famous and important people, civics, science, animals, sports, and the arts.
The plans list all necessary materials, offer basic scripts for teachers, and have activity suggestions and worksheets.

Verdict The strength of this site is the classroom feature, which allows all the students in a class to read the same book at the same time—a tool that will facilitate discussion and create a shared reading experience. Content is varied and rich. Students have a wide selection of books that are instantly available to them at home and at school. Overall, this is a solid purchase to give primary students the chance to “go anywhere” through books and improve their reading skills as they make the journey.

Mary Mueller, Rolla Public Schools, MO

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Make the Case To Attend ALA, ISTE—or Any Conference Mon, 02 May 2016 16:55:27 +0000 IdeasAttend-Conferences

It’s that time of year again! Conference fever is brewing for the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Orlando, FL (June 23–28) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Denver, CO (June 26–29).  Are you ready for some awesome PD?!  Or maybe you’re staying home this year… again.

School professional development budgets are stretched tighter than ever, so sometimes it can be difficult to convince your administration to plunk down several hundred dollars to send you to a major conference, plus the travel costs. (ALA conference advance registration starts at $285 for members; ISTE registration is currently at $409 for members.) But as school librarians, we are in a unique and crucial position to make our case to go to such events. There’s still time to prepare a pitch to advocate for your attendance. Keep this advice in mind.

Remember librarians have an effect on all students.

While classroom teachers and subject area leaders might only work with a certain percentage of students, the school librarian can have an effect on every single one. You are in a unique position to have an impact on student achievement overall. Unlike classroom teachers, who only see those students on their rosters, every student in the school comes through the library at some point in the year. When we collaborate with teachers across all subject areas, we are working with students in every discipline. Even if there isn’t a PD budget, you might be able to find funding from the PTSA or the School Advisory Committee if you work your impact on student learning into your pitch. While your district may not cover hotel and transportation and costs, the PTSA often has more flexibility with their funds.

Determine what resources your teachers need.

Maybe your science department has talked about wanting to try out BrainPOP. Or your engineering teacher just got a 3-D printer and isn’t sure how to incorporate it into the curriculum. Make a case for attending by demonstrating the specific ways you can help fellow teachers at your school. Plan to gather literature from vendors for teachers. You can attend sessions and get handouts on topics they want to learn more about.

Be specific. 

Maybe your administration has expressed an interest in starting a coding program at your school. Perhaps administrators have been curious about project-based learning strategies.Go to your administration with a plan for what types of sessions you’ll be attending, keeping their interests in mind. Large conferences might seem a bit abstract to your administration, but a list of specific sessions you plan to go to can demonstrate that you’re not just looking for a free vacation.

Keep costs down.  

Have a budgeting plan. One strategy that’s helped me is to avoid the conference hotels—and find roommates. There are often more affordable hotels only slightly farther away, and sometimes you can find an Airbnb or VRBO nearby. Add a roommate or two, and you can save a pretty significant amount of money, even if you have to do a bit of extra walking or take the occasional Uber. Another way to save money is to pack a lunch. Convention center food tends to be overpriced and not very healthy. If you’re able to, pack some snacks or a light lunch each day. I also try to book places that have kitchenettes so that I can make my own breakfast.

When you return, hit the ground running.

So your administration helped you out and got you to the conference. It was amazing, and you’ve come home with great ideas. What you do—or don’t do—now will determine whether your request is approved next time.

Provide PD. Organize training for teachers and show them new technologies and teaching strategies. By supporting you in your own professional development, your administration will soon see they are also supporting the PD of the entire school. One conference registration is way cheaper than hiring a consultant. I like to share the cool tools I’ve learned about. After learning about Kahoot! at a tech conference, I was able to share it with some of the teachers at my school, who in turn began using it in their classrooms.

Share what you’ve learned in a professional way. Create an infographic with some of the new ideas you’ve picked up and email it to your teachers. Start organizing collaborations and co-teaching opportunities to put into practice what you’ve learned. If you keep everything to yourself, it’ll be harder to make your case next time.

Make goodie bags for those who made it possible. While you’re at the conference, save all those free pencils, phone chargers, and tote bags from the vendor hall. Purchase a few local treats. Put these together in goodie bags, along with thank-you cards, and give them to those who helped to make your conference trip possible. If nobody else, your principal should get one. Also consider individuals like the bookkeeper who handled the financials and the secretary who helped arrange for you to get professional development days.

Conference attendance can significantly impact your school and what you do there. I’ve shared new ideas with colleagues about using the design process in project-based lessons—and gotten inspiration for transforming our library into a vibrant maker space. Most importantly, I’ve been re-energized and reinvigorated to go out and make a difference in the lives of my students. You can’t put a price on that.

Diana L. Rendina is a media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School in Tampa, FL. She is the creator of the blog and a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana participates actively in ISTE, AASL, and the Florida Association for Media in Education and shares resources regularly on Twitter @DianaLRendina), Pinterest, and Instagram. She is co-authoring a book for ABC-CLIO titled Challenge-Based Learning in the Library Makerspace.

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How To Use Snapchat for Readers’ Advisory Mon, 02 May 2016 16:38:02 +0000 As I watch teens interact with each other at the public library where I work, I’ve noticed how they like to record their time in our Teen Room with pictures and videos on Snapchat. So I wasn’t surprised to read in USA Today that Snapchat has become so popular with teens that it has surpassed Instagram as the #1 preferred social media platform.

Snapchat is a social media app that sends pictures, videos, or doodles to another user. It is unique because users typically share pictures and videos only with close friends instead of a large group, and the content disappears after a few seconds. Of course, there are some privacy issues with Snapchat, and you can learn more about them on the company’s Safety Center web page.

Due to Snapchat’s increase in popularity, a colleague and I decided to harness its power by posting content that would appeal to teens and new adults (ages 23–30) in our community. Our Cape May (NJ) County Library Snapchat username is the same as our other social media usernames for consistency: @CMCLibrary. While we advertise our programs, the most positive feedback we receive is about no less than my weekly booktalk videos called #TeenBookTuesday.

Booktalking on Snapchat

The best part about booktalking on Snapchat is your ability to add some flair! Snapchat has features that allow you to add text, emojis, filters, and doodles, which can make your videos more fun. For example, when I booktalked “The Selection” series by Kiera Cass on Snapchat, I gave myself a majestic crown. Another neat feature is that Snapchat encourages communities to create geofilters, which are unique filters  that can be used when Snapchat is being used at a specific location. If, for example, you are visiting Cape May, a special geofilter saying “Jersey Shore” can be used. You can design your own geofilter for patrons to choose while using Snapchat your library.


While similar to booktalking in that it’s in front of a live audience, crossposting is different in a few key ways. First, Snapchat videos can only record up to 10 seconds at a time, so your video has to be formatted to fit this time constraint. You will also need to consider the video’s setting. I prefer to record #TeenBookTuesday videos in the morning while the teens are in class. I record inside our Teen Room with a bookshelf behind me so that it looks visually appealing, and I know the room will be quiet until the teens come in after their last period.

The reason why I named my weekly Snapchat booktalks “#TeenBookTuesday” is that I create crossposts for our Instagram and Tumblr profiles. Crossposts help promote your Snapchat account and notify viewers when the video is ready to view. You can also crosspost your library’s Snapchat profile picture as an easy way to gain followers. All viewers have to do is open Snapchat, hold their phone up to the profile picture, and they will instantly follow your profile.

addressing obstacles

You may encounter a few obstacles when using Snapchat, but have no fear! First, when you turn your device’s camera to face you, the image it produces is mirrored—the book cover you’re holding up looks backwards in the video. I haven’t discovered a way to reverse this, but to compensate, I take a picture of books with my front-facing camera and tell viewers to take a screenshot if they want to remember the title and author. This is helpful in another way: Snapchat will tell me how many people took a screenshot, and I can keep track of those numbers.

The second hitch is that Snapchat doesn’t give you a list of followers or even a total number. We keep track of the number of followers by writing down how many new ones we get each day and adding it to our running total. The good news is that there are other ways to measure the “success” of Snapchat  booktalks, such as looking at circulation numbers.

Goodbye, library anxiety

Despite these small challenges, Snapchat is an invaluable tool that can help alleviate patrons’ feelings of library anxiety. For example, adults who read young adult books but feel slightly embarrassed about it might prefer watching booktalks on Snapchat to asking for suggestions at the library or browsing the Teen Room when teens are there.

Snapchat can also help teens find books that they might be afraid to request in person. Teenagers can feel like they can’t ask for a specific title because of their gender, reading level, or the content, but Snapchat removes those biases. Teens may also learn about books that go outside of their comfort zone—and read them.

One of my favorite Snapchat success stories is when a boy asked me, “Hey Ms. Alanna? Can you put a hold on that comic book that you talked about last Tuesday? The one about the girl superhero who just wants to be normal?” He meant Strong Female Protagonist by Brannan Lee Mulligan. Snapchat helped me convince a young teen boy to read a comic book that was located at another branch. He probably wouldn’t have picked it up, or even known about it, on his own.

Alanna Graves (@LannaLibrarian) is a teen services librarian in Cape May County, NJ and writes the review column “Video Games Weekly” for SLJ’s Teen Librarian Toolbox blog.

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Lion Lessons by Jon Agee | SLJ Review Mon, 02 May 2016 14:00:01 +0000 Agee, Jon. Lion Lessons. illus. by Jon Agee. 32p. Dial. Jul. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780803739086. 

PreS-Gr 2 –“It’s not easy getting your Lion Diploma,” says the human protagonist of Agee’s latest picture book. The nameless lead must master seven lessons to get his degree and is taught by an expert in the field—a lion. Each step highlights the essential characteristics of a ferocious feline, such as speed, agility, the loudest roar, and the ability to [...]]]> redstarAgee, Jon. Lion Lessons. illus. by Jon Agee. 32p. Dial. Jul. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780803739086. Lion Lesson

PreS-Gr 2 –“It’s not easy getting your Lion Diploma,” says the human protagonist of Agee’s latest picture book. The nameless lead must master seven lessons to get his degree and is taught by an expert in the field—a lion. Each step highlights the essential characteristics of a ferocious feline, such as speed, agility, the loudest roar, and the ability to pounce. Most of the boy’s attempts end with less than satisfactory results, except for his last lesson—looking out for friends. The lion’s wry expressions and criticism complement the boy’s diligent pursuits. Agee’s signature-style illustrations are composed of black marker lines that outline the setting and characters, with soft-colored chalk pastel washes. Those who enjoyed Milo’s Hat Trick will welcome this comical and engaging tale. VERDICT A roaring good selection for storytime or one-on-one sharing.–Briana Moore, School Library Journal

This review was published in the School Library Journal May 2016 issue.

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Strategize: Great Ideas for Library Writing Programs Mon, 02 May 2016 13:30:12 +0000 Illustration by Leigh Wells

Illustration by Leigh Wells

Kelly Menzel is never quite sure what to expect when the teens in her writing club at the North Tonawanda (NY) Public Library participate in a “round robin” writing activity. One time a story about Sherlock Holmes ended up with the fictional sleuth embarking on a date with Shrek along the French Riviera.

In due course, however, they pass their notebooks around and add to each other’s sentences, even the boys who originally showed up at the gatherings for the free food are contributing to the final product.

“I would give them snacks and tell them they had to write something—it didn’t even have to make sense,” says Menzel, the adult and teen services librarian at the branch, near Buffalo, NY.

For these students, however, crafting nonsense plot lines was a step toward writing a collection of short stories, which will eventually be published through Amazon and added to the library’s shelves. “They can show people [and say,] ‘Hey, I wrote a book,’ ” Menzel notes.

When public and school librarians provide environments where students can write what they choose, they are likely to try different genres and find inspiration—outside of their school curriculum.

“Writing with my library friends is so different from writing in school,” says 15-year-old Nichole Van Hise, who is in Menzel’s group. “With writing club, the story can be as short or long as you want it, and can be as weird as you want.”

Amy Koester, the youth and family programs coordinator for the Skokie Public Library outside Chicago, says that when children write in the library, they don’t feel the pressure of being graded or even having to finish what they’ve started.

“When a child writes in the library, there is no formal assessment that is going to follow,” Koester says. “From my perspective, what the library can offer to aspiring and reluctant writers alike is the opportunity to pursue a project without limits.”

Even so, with the Common Core State Standards’ emphasis on writing and responding to what they read, the additional opportunities students find outside the classroom can only support their growth as writers.

Start out loud

When she worked at the St. Charles City-County (MO) Library District, Koester collaborated with school librarians and learned about what students were expected to do in the area of language arts. She began integrating some informal writing activities into a monthly LEGO club, starting with asking the students to tell her “the story of their creation.”

“Storytelling out loud can be a strong first step toward writing on paper, as it allows the teller to work through the feelings of messiness that tend to come with first drafts,” Koester says. “The telling of the story out loud can also be a powerful motivator for writing—once a kid has told an amazing story out loud, they usually want to capture their narrative permanently so they can continue to refine it.”

Andrea Ellis, the digital youth engagement manager at the Kansas City (MO) Public Library, incorporated writing into her work with the teens participating in Team Digital. The Team Digital teenagers apply and are chosen to work in the Kansas City Digital Media Lab and help others learn about the equipment as well. Ellis says that while the young adults might have a knack for technology, they can struggle with being able to describe what they know and can do.

“We would engage in fairly lengthy discussions about why it was important for them to learn how to tell the story of who they are, what they love, and what they’re good at,” Ellis says, adding that while writing was not originally part of the position, written and verbal reflection will now be required.

Writing club participants enjoy snacks at the North Tonawanda (NY) Public Library. Photo courtesy of Kelly Menzel/North Tonawanda Public Library

Writing club participants enjoy snacks at the North Tonawanda (NY) Public Library.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Menzel/North Tonawanda Public Library

Building the habit

Connecting writing to children’s interests is often an effective strategy—even for students who might not think they enjoy writing or feel they’re not strong writers.

At Woodland Hills Jr./Sr. High School in Pittsburgh, PA, instructional coach Lauren Baier is fostering writing among the school’s athletes by implementing athletic journals, an approach developed by Richard Kent, a professor of English and literacy education at the University of Maine and author of Writing on the Bus (Peter Lang, 2011).

Baier was initially skeptical about the idea, thinking that the students would only write in their journals to please their coaches, but then she realized that it could be “a foot in the proverbial door with student athletes,” she says.

“I started thinking about athletic journals as a way to build the habit of writing for students who may not consider writing as anything more than a chore to be ignored in class,” she adds.

Last fall, Baier, also assistant coach of the girls’ tennis team, implemented a post-season reflection sheet, which the girls used to record personal thoughts on their season, where they had improved, and what else they planned to work on during the off season. This spring, athletic journals will be used with the boys’ tennis team and the eighth grade boys’ baseball team.

“Our hope is that some of the athletes grab onto the idea of journaling and begin to use it even when not prompted by a teacher or coach to reflect and work on the mental aspects of the game,” Baier says. “If we can build that habit, their writing will improve over time, thus helping their academics as well.”

Platforms and zines

With opportunities for self-publishing increasing, students have a real-world forum in which to share their voices. The girls in Menzel’s club write fan fiction—sometimes starring a favorite musician, book character, or even a popular teacher—and publish it on Their work is also posted on the library’s tumblr page.

Shannon McClintock Miller, a former teacher librarian now working as a consultant and blogger, finds that the wide variety of digital storytelling programs can also spark students’ creativity if they feel stuck in their writing. Storybird, for example, provides illustrations that students can use to begin writing a story. With Little Bird Tales, students can create stories, record them, and easily edit.

Wick Thomas, the teen librarian at the Kansas City (MO) Public Library, says that publishing material and knowing that other teens might be reading it—not just adults—are powerful incentives for those who might not otherwise be interested in writing.

Thomas worked with a group of teens to edit and format Unheard Voices, a teen literary and art zine featuring a wide range of submissions including book reviews, poetry, and a book chapter. Students in a juvenile corrections facility were also invited to submit material.

“Teens don’t get a lot of say in this world. We talk but we feel like no one is listening,” the teen editors wrote in an introduction to the zine. “Central library gives something that most places don’t: a chance for things to be different and to give teens a voice so they can tell their own words and their own opinions.”

Menzel’s teen club members are producing more than just narrative stories. One boy enjoys writing limericks. Another likes free-form poetry. When she tried to create a similar group for middle school students, it was hard to depend on parents to bring them consistently, she says. Teens, however, are more independent and come over from the high school next door. “[Their] parents are ecstatic that they’re in the library,” she adds.

One of her club’s favorite activities is when Menzel covers up the words in picture books and the teens come up with their own stories, or when they invent fractured fairy tales—taking a classic tale, reimagining the plot, and giving the characters different personalities.

Outside Chicago, fourth through sixth graders in the Arlington Heights Memorial Library’s (AHML) Tween Advisory Group (TAG) are also creating fractured fairy tales. Working with members of Inklings, the library’s writing club for teens, the younger students put their own spin on the classic stories—and saw their scenes performed by theater students at nearby Rolling Meadows High School.

“It was a frenzy of creativity, outlandish suggestions, and laughter,” AHML teen advisor Alice Son says about the collaboration between the TAG members and the teens. “By the end of the hour, each group had come up with a script that was hilarious, quirky, and all their own….[They] were excited by the prospect that theater students would actually put on a production that came from their heads.” Theater teacher Britnee Ruscitti said that her students also found the collaboration rewarding and challenging.

Tween writers at the Arlington Heights (IL) Memorial Library (left) create fractured fairy tales that are performed by high school students (center, right). Photos courtesy of Arlington Heights Memorial Library

Tween writers at the Arlington Heights (IL) Memorial Library (left) create fractured fairy tales
that are performed by high school students (center, right).
Photos courtesy of Arlington Heights Memorial Library

Rap and writing

Music is another powerful way to inspire and improve students’ literacy skills—and it can be especially effective if the music is part of kids’ daily lives. At Half Hollow Hills High School West, on Long Island, NY, teacher Lauren Kelly incorporates analysis of hip hop lyrics into her regular 10th grade English classes and teaches a separate half-year elective class on hip hop. While the students are studying hip hop and rap from a cultural and historical perspective, they’re also writing about the claims rappers are making in their lyrics and using evidence from the “text”—such as TLC’s “Waterfalls”—just as they would a news article or short story.

“There is so much more buy-in because it doesn’t feel like doing work,” Kelly says. “They get more excited about it because it’s something they genuinely care about.”

Several students in her hip hop class were already writing their own raps, and in March, some presented and performed works they wrote at a youth summit sponsored by the Institute for Minority and Urban Education at Teachers College Columbia University. Critiquing the lyrics in class has further allowed them to see themselves not just as rappers, but writers, Kelly says.

“They are able to go further and dig deeper and notice things that I might not even notice,” she says, adding that their writing has become much more advanced. “The hope is that when they do have to encounter texts that are less current, they are better equipped to do that.”

Menzel notes that writing can often take students to unexpected places. For example, one boy began writing his own version of fan fiction featuring My Little Pony, mostly to poke fun at the girls who were writing more dramatic scenes featuring their favorite characters. Now his parody has turned into an epic saga that he continues to develop.

“They might just be writing stories for fun, but they are looking into why they write what they do,” Menzel says. “I like to get them thinking about how a story is created and all that goes into making something work.”

Van Hise says participating in Menzel’s writing club has improved her ability to “write about anything on the spot” and to more quickly develop ideas and characters.

“Just write. No matter what,” she says. “You can write about your day or what happens at home. Write anything that is on your mind. Just pick up a pen and some paper. You might be able to make a story.”

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The Peanuts Movie | SLJ DVD Review Mon, 02 May 2016 13:00:39 +0000 The Peanuts Movie. 88 min. Dist. by Twentieth Century Fox. 2016. DVD, Blu-ray, digital HD $39.99. UPC 024543992691. 

K-Gr 4 –The Peanuts gang has returned in this delightful full-length feature, cowritten by Charles Schulz’s son and grandson. All of the classic elements of a Schulz story line are contained here. Surrounded by the usual cast of characters, Charlie Brown tries, often with no success, to get to know the new student in class, the Little Red-Haired girl. Woven in [...]]]> redstarThe Peanuts Movie. 88 min. Dist. by Twentieth Century Fox. 2016. DVD, Blu-ray, digital HD $39.99. UPC 024543992691. The Peanuts Movie

K-Gr 4 –The Peanuts gang has returned in this delightful full-length feature, cowritten by Charles Schulz’s son and grandson. All of the classic elements of a Schulz story line are contained here. Surrounded by the usual cast of characters, Charlie Brown tries, often with no success, to get to know the new student in class, the Little Red-Haired girl. Woven in with Charlie’s story is the epic tale of Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace who must defeat the Red Baron in order to rescue the lovely poodle Fifi. This film is unique compared to many of today’s animated offerings. It doesn’t rely on jokes written on two levels, one for adults and one for children, or offer laughs via references to today’s pop culture. Rather, it gives adults quick nods to classic Peanuts moments, such as Lucy and her psychiatrist booth (her rate has not gone up), Charlie Brown and his sports mishaps, and the iconic Christmas TV special, while introducing children to the daily life of the Peanuts friends. Perhaps the biggest distinction is that the characters are voiced by children, rather than big-name talent, at no expense to the quality of the production. Also, the vibrantly hued computer animation plays just as well in 2-D as in the 3-D theater release, making the film feel like a comic strip brought to life. VERDICT Great for family or classroom viewing, this is a must-have for every collection.–Veronica De Fazio, Plainfield Public Library District, IL

This review was published in the School Library Journal May 2016 issue.

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Pat Mora on Día, the Arbuthnot Lecture, and Diverse Books: 20 Years and Counting Sat, 30 Apr 2016 15:56:56 +0000 Pat Mora was framed!

Pat Mora was framed!

Children who are members of the “Community of Readers” have access to “privilege, pleasure, and power,” says Pat Mora, award-winning author and longtime literacy advocate. For more than 20 years she has focused on expanding this community to ensure that literacy is accessible to all young people. Her April 15 Arbuthnot Lecture at the Santa Barbara City College’s Garvin Theatre, called “Bookjoy! ¡Alegría en los libros!”, coincided with the 20th anniversary of the celebration she founded, “El día de los niños/ El día de los libros” (Children’s Day/Book Day), commonly known as “Día.”

Mora was born in El Paso, TX, where she lived for more than 40 years, growing up in a bilingual home and community. Her mother valued the library and always made sure her children had books at home. In fact, she cannot remember a time in her life when she was not a reader, and fondly recalls one of her favorite childhood books being a Childcraft poetry volume. This love and delight in books influenced her years as a teacher, university administrator, museum director, consultant, and author. In fact, as an adult she was drawn to the lyrical nature of the many picture books she read to her own children, as these sparked ideas for future writing and publishing adventures.

Bookjoy and Día

In 1996, Mora first learned of the Mexican holiday, Day of the Child, and began pondering this and other annual celebrations, such as Mother’s Day, questioning the lack of an equivalent event for books and reading. This led to the creation of the compound word Bookjoy, which joins two otherwise separate concepts to represent the deep, transformational power and resulting pleasure in textual transactions, particularly within the context of a Community of Readers. Armed with Bookjoy, she began work on the family literacy initiative “Día,” partnering with REFORMA (the National Association To Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking); ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children), an affiliate of ALA (American Library Association); and now First Book to bring her ideas to reality. Día’s goals are to:

  • Celebrate children and connect them to the world of learning through books, stories and libraries.
  • Recognize and respect culture, heritage, and language as powerful tools for strengthening families and communities.
  • Nurture cognitive and literacy development in ways that honor and embrace a child’s home language and culture.
  • Introduce families to community resources that provide opportunities for learning through multiple literacies.

Twenty years later, the children’s author enthusiastically shares that recent ALSC data for Día 2016 shows 38 states, including Alaska, have registered celebrations to occur in more than 25 languages, with more than 90,500 potential attendees. Although she is encouraged with these statistics, Mora continues to focus on the work that remains, a major point in her recent Arbuthnot Lecture.

Arbuthnot Lecture

Armed with a notebook to record thoughts and ideas, Mora immediately began work on the Arbuthnot Lecture paper presentation the day she received selection notification in 2015. This is because of the lasting, significant impact on the world of children’s literature it proffers, as well as the legacy it has honored since 1968—Mary Hill Arbuthnot’s strong advocacy for children’s literature. Her resulting paper emphasizes the privilege, pleasure, and power of being a reader and proposes that “if we want to expand our community of young readers, we need to enthusiastically collaborate with our fellow literacy advocates: librarians, teachers, professors, child care programs, families, literacy non-profits, as well as foundations, businesses, and publishers who can help fund and promote our important work.” She also notes that “the field has to recognize that our children need to be readers to develop their unique talents for the good of their families, communities,and our society—our future citizens.”

In order to achieve these tasks, as well as encourage biliteracy, Mora believes that parents, teachers, and librarians must remember to promote Bookjoy every day and find habitual ways to link children to books. These practices, together with a culminating, celebratory Día event, can serve as bridges among families, library staff teams, and feeder schools and districts with positive literacy/biliteracy outcomes. In fact, Día celebrations can start in small ways, with simple readalouds of diverse texts among all children. She recommends that libraries develop a strong planning team so as to build the capacity for increasingly elaborate Día events that might provide multiple stations for making bookmarks, playing book games, watching puppets, writing stories, and more.

Pat Mora at the Arbuthnot Lecture, flanked by Julie Corsaro and Andrew Medlar

Pat Mora at the Arbuthnot Lecture, flanked by Julie Corsaro and Andrew Medlar.

We Need Diverse Books

Mora’s perspective around changes observed for diverse literature is pragmatic, based on data faithfully compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center of the University of Wisconsin, Madison since the early 1980s. Annual publication rates for such books have simply not changed. Even more eye-opening is the lack of diversification during this time period within the publishing industry, library staff teams, and teaching force. Mora concludes that these factors result in a body of books for children that “do not yet show the diversity of our country.” At the same time, the literacy advocate believes that teachers and librarians can “make a classic,” as they hold the power to choose to feature high-quality books with diverse themes in programming and instruction—and more importantly, to attain a new mindset, one that celebrates diversity as the norm.

Looking Forward

For the next 20 years, Mora envisions continuing “the work,” as she calls her involvement with Día. She hopes to see publishers creatively promote its annual celebration and literacy strategies, as well as see an ongoing rise in the initiative’s growing list of educational and nonprofit partners. She even muses that someday Día will become a national celebration to honor the yearlong process of linking each child, title-by-title, to Bookjoy and the Community of Readers.

See Mora’s Arbuthnot Lecture below.

Ruth E. Quiroa is an associate professor at National Louis University, Lisle, IL, and an SLJ reviewer.




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A Lineup of Presidential Proportions from Random’s Summer 2016 List| Preview Peek Fri, 29 Apr 2016 18:10:42 +0000 Hillary Clinton: The Life of a Leader by Shana Corey and Adam Gustavson. (An ode to Donald Trump was conspicuously absent.)]]> What with the presidential campaign beating itself into a froth over the next few months, Random House Children’s Books has made sure kids will have appropriate summer reading options. Young readers can get an overview of all the presidents with Ken Burns’s Grover Cleveland, Again! A Treasury of American Presidents (Knopf, July). The documentarian brings 43 presidents (count ‘em!) to life in 96 pages. In case you were wondering, the title refers to the fact that Grover Cleveland is the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms.

Next, we moved on from documented history to a fantasy take on the power of the Oval Office. What if the country was faced with a robot uprising, but we were able to elect a super squad of presidents from history to lead the way? Daniel O’Brien and Winston Rowntree will make kids think about who they’d choose in Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team (Crown, July).


But first, debuting in May, is the “Commander in Cheese” chapter book series. The first three volumes, in which Lindsey Leavitt and A.G. Ford introduce us to a family of mice who live in the White House, will all be released before the election. Fans of The Cat in the Hat may wish he was on the ballot this fall, but Random House has conveniently provided the next best thing: One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote (August) by Bonnie Worth, Aristides Ruiz, and Joe Mathieu. Rounding out the patriotic pack was an easy-to-read biography, Hillary Clinton: The Life of a Leader (May) by Shana Corey and Adam Gustavson, as part of the “Step Into Reading” series. (An ode to Donald Trump was conspicuously absent.)

Dynamic duos dot this summer list, including BFFs, siblings, and lovey-dovey couples. Jeffrey Brown incorporates scientific and historical content in his new graphic novel series about two young cave kids, Lucy & Andy Neanderthal (Crown, August).  Each book in the series will focus on a science topic, such as climate change or the extinction of dinosaurs. Middle graders may enjoy reading Kathryn Siebel’s The Trouble with Twins (Knopf, August) about twins that have nothing in common. Nevertheless, the sisterly bond triumphs in this adventure comedy tale. Twins also star in Tom Avery’s Not As We Know It (Schwartz & Wade, August). With the 1980s as the backdrop, it tells the story of siblings who encounter a merman.

Places No On Knows (Delacorte, May) by Brenna Yovanoff is a YA story of magical realism. This fresh take on the old spin of opposites attract is told in alternating voices. In quite a different vein is Peter Brown Hoffmeister’s This Is the Part Where You Laugh (Knopf, May), in which Travis and his best friend, Creature, are spending a summer in a Eugene, Oregon trailer park. There, they deal with…well, what don’t they deal with? Try cancer, basketball, first love, addiction, gang violence, and a reptilian infestation, for starters.

IMG_1306Donna Gephart tackles the difficult topics of bipolar disorder and transgender identity in Lily and Dunkin (Delacorte, May). The story is told in a dual narrative. Several other titles on the new list also deal with similar themes.The theater nerd genre meets LGBTQ challenges in Look Both Ways (Delacorte, June) by Allison Cherry. The story is about a budding same sex romance between roommates during summer stock. Perhaps most powerful of all, Jazz Jennings tells her story as a transgender teen in Being Jazz (Crown, June).

IMG_1314Even the picture books for this season are filled with angst, albeit childhood. Cases in point: Wally Does Not Want a Haircut (Knopf, July) by Amanda Driscoll, Douglas, You Need Glasses! (Schwartz & Wade, May) by Ged Adamson, and 101 Reasons Why I’m Not Taking a Bath (July) by Stacy McAnulty and Joy Ang. Familiar names are also on this list. Caldecott medalist Emily Arnold McCully has Clara (Schwartz & Wade, June), a story based on an 18th-century rhino who toured Europe and created a sensation. Giselle Potter celebrates creativity and imagination with This Is My Dollhouse (Schwartz & Wade, May). At 87 years old and 25 years after Tar Beach, Faith Ringgold celebrates diversity by tracing the American experience with verse and folk art in We Came to America (Knopf, May).

The featured book of the preview was Three Magic Balloons (May) a story by actress Julianna Margulies, based upon a story her late father, Paul Margulies, told her and her two sisters. The essence of the tale is that kindness is the key to magic. It is the debut picture book for artist Grant Shaffer, who spoke at the preview.





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Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk | SLJ Review Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:00:58 +0000 Wolk, Lauren. Wolf Hollow. 304p. Dutton. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781101994825. 

Gr 5-8 –Eleven-year-old Annabelle lives in a rural Pennsylvania community in 1943. The continued fighting of World War II haunts everyone, but life is mostly peaceful—until Betty Glengarry’s arrival. Betty is cruel and threatening and thrives on inflicting pain. At first, Annabelle is slightly comforted to know that Toby is watching out for her. Toby is a local vagabond, a World War I veteran [...]]]> redstarWolk, Lauren. Wolf Hollow. 304p. Dutton. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781101994825. Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Gr 5-8 –Eleven-year-old Annabelle lives in a rural Pennsylvania community in 1943. The continued fighting of World War II haunts everyone, but life is mostly peaceful—until Betty Glengarry’s arrival. Betty is cruel and threatening and thrives on inflicting pain. At first, Annabelle is slightly comforted to know that Toby is watching out for her. Toby is a local vagabond, a World War I veteran of few words who has become something like a friend of Annabelle’s family. Meanwhile, Betty’s violent malice only grows, until one day she goes missing. Toby immediately becomes the prime suspect in Betty’s disappearance. Annabelle is sure of Toby’s innocence and is determined to prove it. Readers are alerted from the outset that this is the story of how the narrator loses her childish naïveté in a life-altering way. The narrative is powerful, complex, and lifelike. There are pointlessly cruel people, courageously kind people, and those who simply pass the gossip. Despite the jaded feelings that come with witnessing unjust persecution, the heart of this story is ultimately one of hope and empathy. Thematically, this book raises some of the same issues as To Kill a Mockingbird, but with social status rather than racism as the basis for injustice. Vicious bullying is also a highly relevant topic, and this aspect is sure to spark important conversations. VERDICT Highly recommended for purchase; a truly moving debut.–Sara White, Seminole County Public Library, Casselberry, FL

 This review was published in the School Library Journal April 2016 issue.

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More Thrifty School Library Design Tips Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:57:35 +0000

Also read:

Sprucing Up My School Library for

Under $600

Considering a library remodel? Check out these creative, low-cost ideas from fellow librarians, some shared on Jennifer LaGarde and Mark Samberg‘s  #macgyverlibrarianship Twitter initiative. Learn more about the MacGyver Librarian Movement —and get crafty! Share your ideas on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag.

Dress up the desk


Photo courtesy of Heather Brown

Heather Brown, librarian at St. Joseph School Library in Herndon, VA, collaborated with the school art teacher for International Dot Day to create this beautiful circulation desk (above). Every kindergarten through eighth grade student cut and decorated a dot modeled after Wassily Kandinsky’s 1913 painting Squares with Concentric Circles. The squares were then laminated and used to cover the circulation desk.

At the Delft Technology University in the Netherlands, the school created this rainbow-hued desk (below) out of discarded library books that were being replaced after a school fire.


Photo by Ellen Forsyth

No extra space? Try this


If you’re revamping your library, it’s a great time to downsize your collection, get rid of outdated books, and create more space. Melissa Mannon at Goffstown (NH) High School Library completely rearranged her library to make the space more usable. She removed tall bookshelves and used the extra room to create a silent reading area (left). She culled the reference section and cut the long, waist-high shelves vertically to make smaller units.

Adding plywood and casters to the bottoms of shelves made them movable to create displays or to divide different sections of the library (below left). The remaining reference section shelves, which were already curved, were fashioned into a reference desk and storage for their graphic novels (below right).


Photos courtesy of Melissa Mannon

At my school, we removed our entire reference collection and aggressively weeded our nonfiction section. With the extra space, we pushed our shelves against the walls (where our reference section was previously located) and removed two additional rows of shelves to create a cozy reading area. Our circulation desk was moved from the middle of the library to near the main entrance. We didn’t need permission or money to make all of these changes—and it made a big difference.


Before (left) and after shots at the North Buncombe High School Library in Weaverville, NC.


Student-led designs

5Getting permission to change your library can be a hurdle. In many districts, libraries aren’t allowed to paint the walls or furniture. This can sometimes be solved by designating a project as “student led”: If an initiative is for a specific class or driven by students, you may have more freedom to paint, decorate, or renovate. Be sure to talk to your principal before starting, and ask your county’s high school programs for additional help. My library had help from our interior design, art, carpentry, and welding classes. Our welding class is building us extra slanted magazine shelves out of leftover metal shelves (right). Once completed, they’ll get a nice coat of bright spray paint.

Below: Jessica Gilcreast at the Bedford (NH) High School Library transformed her chairs with remnant fabric and a staple gun.


Photos courtesy of Jessica Gilcreast

Below: At Heath (OH) High School Library, Amy Gibson, with the help of some students, made a video production green screen simply by painting a library wall green. Researching the “perfect” color, she settled on Behr paint in the “Sparkling Apple” shade.


Photo courtesy of Amy Gibson

10At Northwoods Middle School Library in North Charleston, SC, librarian Christy James painted her walls, ceiling, and the top of the circulation desk (right). To update the marbleized countertops, they took tips from a HGTV website tutorial—and sanded, primed, painted, and sealed the countertops with multiple coats of paint. She created large orange READ signs (below) by painting Styrofoam letters and hanging them with Command brand strips.



Photos courtesy of Christy James

Fundraising strategies

When you don’t have extra money to remodel—or permission to paint or purchase items—sometimes you have to get even more creative. Try a Donors Choose project, which sends you educational items (not money) once the project has been funded. Many new projects qualify for a “price match,” where companies will match what you raise. A great time to try Donors Choose is around the holidays, when people are looking to make donations, or tax season, when larger companies are seeking tax breaks. Some school systems have guidelines about using Donors Choose—check out your county’s policy. Also consider a book fair: some schools don’t regulate how you spend proceeds, and they can go toward redecorating. Also consider contacting your local hardware store about donating leftover materials.

Jennifer LaGarde, #macgyverlibrarianship cofounder, created this fun book table (below) out of a cable spool, discarded books, glue, and black paint for New Hanover High School in Wilmington, NC.


Photos courtesy of Jennifer LaGarde

Below: Megan Gill and her students at Summersill Eagles Elementary School Library in Jacksonville, NC, used a sanded cable spool to create a gaming table/charging station. The local electric company donated the spool, which the student will paint with a color of their choice later this year.


Photo courtesy of Megan Gill


Photo courtesy of  Vanessa Calhoun

Vanessa Calhoun, librarian at Sandy Ridge Elementary School Library in Durham, NC created these book displays (right) out of painted wooden pallets and wire book stands. The hinges on the side allow them to be folded up and stored easily.


Below: The book review bin at Northwoods Middle School Library in North Charleston, SC, is made out of a white kitchen cabinet from Lowes. Librarian Christy James drilled a slot in the top and added handles, a lock, casters, and decals. James also created a book display (below right) by painting Ikea spice racks orange and mounting them to the walls.


Photos courtesy of Christy James

Below: At North Buncombe High School in Weaverville, NC, librarian Cindy Mackiernan and I used a projector to show actions words above the different areas of their library. Using a black sharpie, we traced the words and filled them in with dark blue paint.



Below: Librarian Kathryn Garrett from Isaac Litton Middle School Library in Nashville, TN created all these whimsical displays out of discarded books and magazines. A great idea for your library makerspace!


Photos courtesy of Kathryn Garrett



Katie Darty is a librarian at North Buncombe High School in Weaverville, NC. She transformed her library with the help of fellow librarian Cindy Mackiernan, assistant Tony Sykes, and interior design teacher Stephanie Griffin. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Josh, and their daughter, Charlie. Contact her at, or follow her library on Twitter.

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American Ace by Marilyn Nelson | SLJ Audio Review Thu, 28 Apr 2016 13:00:51 +0000 Nelson, Marilyn. American Ace. 2 CDs. 1:22 hrs. Listening Library. 2016. $20. ISBN 9780147525772. digital download.  

Gr 4-6 –When Connor’s grandmother dies, she leaves his father a ring, a pair of pilot’s wings, and a letter explaining that the man who raised Connor’s father was not his biological father. With his father paralyzed by depression, Connor takes the two mementoes and the few details available to him and traces his new lineage to the U.S. Air Force, [...]]]> redstarNelson, Marilyn. American Ace. 2 CDs. 1:22 hrs. Listening Library. 2016. $20. ISBN 9780147525772. digital download.  American Ace by Marilyn Nelson

Gr 4-6 –When Connor’s grandmother dies, she leaves his father a ring, a pair of pilot’s wings, and a letter explaining that the man who raised Connor’s father was not his biological father. With his father paralyzed by depression, Connor takes the two mementoes and the few details available to him and traces his new lineage to the U.S. Air Force, Wilberforce University, and an international DNA map that reveals European, African, and Jewish roots. Nelson narrates her own verses with graceful solemnity. Illuminating her rhythmic reading of Connor’s family’s story is an afterword, aptly titled “How This Book Came To Be, and Why an Older African American Woman Ended Up Writing as a Young White Man,” in which Nelson explores history—personal, national, worldwide—to affirm the surprising human interconnections in our very cells and souls. VERDICT Nelson’s latest deserves shelf space with other astounding verse novels, including Sharon Draper’s Stella by Starlight, Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again. [“Nelson packs a good deal into these verses, and though the subject matter is weighty, she leavens it with humor and deep family affection”: SLJ 12/15 review of the Dial book.]–Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC

This review was published in the School Library Journal April 2016 issue.

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Dancing to the Toca Boca Beat | Touch and Go Thu, 28 Apr 2016 12:02:02 +0000 Toca Dance, hands the choreography and wardrobe selection over to children. ]]> Apps designed with kids in control as co-creators are becoming more and more popular. Toca Boca’s latest production, Toca Dance, hands the choreography and wardrobe selection over to children. Programming potential? It’s a thought.

The instructor warms up her students in Toca Dance (Toca Boca)

The instructor warms up students in Toca Dance (Toca Boca)


Toca Boca, well-known for its entertaining apps targeting young children, has broadened its audience base with Toca Dance (iOS $2.99; Free, lite version), a music and movement app for kids ages five to eight. Would-be choreographers can choose three cartoon dancers from a selection of eight to dress in a variety of colorful costumes. A tap to an arrow sends the dancers racing into the rehearsal space to select their music and meet the instructor. Dots surround the instructor’s arms, head, and torso, beckoning users to activate the figure’s limbs and body. No dots surround the legs; those movements are limited to scuttling left and right, crab-style.

While creating their dances, users encounter the one potentially confusing feature—the six colorful circles that appear above the dancers’ heads. With no specific directions for children, youngsters must  experiment to determine that the dots correspond to short steps that can be combined to create a dance sequence executed in the last portion of the app, the performance.

At the performance, users may control the dancers’ heights and the size of their heads, choose the music, add special effects, change the backdrop, throw items on stage (for good or bad); and control the audience’s reaction—while the dancers are showcasing their moves. Multiple users might hold a digital dance-off, or with the music is playing in the background, get up and join in on the fun. It’s definitely a beat kids will want to dance to.Cindy Wall, Southington Public Library, CT

 For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.

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An (Independent) Bookstore for Kids Grows in Brooklyn Wed, 27 Apr 2016 20:24:48 +0000 MPMMStorefont

Maggie Pouncey and Matt Miller

This Saturday, April 30, 435 independent bookstores around the country will celebrate their place as community hubs on the second annual Independent Bookstore Day, an event that might make one forget how tough it has been to run a profitable “mom and pop” bookshop. The owners of a new children’s bookstore in Brooklyn are embracing the challenge—and throwing a party to introduce themselves to the neighborhood.

It doesn’t often happen that bibliophiles wake up one morning, decide to open a bookstore, and do so. But then most book lovers aren’t Matt Miller and Maggie Pouncey, college sweethearts from Massachusetts and Connecticut, who met at Columbia University (they’re now husband and wife and parents of two young boys). This duo is bucking the naysayers and betting that their soon-to-open business, Stories, a combination bookstore and storytelling lab, is just what their neighborhood needs.

Miller, 38, has a graduate degree in computer science and most recently worked at an educational tech company. The other half of this business team has writing in her blood. Pouncey, also 38, is the author of the novel Perfect Reader (Pantheon, 2010), holds an MFA in creative writing, and teaches the craft. It’s this literary background that helps to inform the new business plan—including the emphasis on honing kids’ writing skills.

We got the scoop from Pouncey herself on what little Brooklyn bookworms can look forward to when the reading and writing emporium at 458 Bergen Street in Park Slope opens. Here’s what we learned.

SLJ:  What’s on tap for the big opening?

M.P.:  We’re having some fun events at our Sneak Peek Party on April 30 in celebration of Independent Bookstore Day. Though we won’t yet have all our books or bookshelves or even resemble a bookshop on that date, there will be balloons, and cookies, and lemonade. The plan is to be truly open by mid-May.

What inspired you to open Stories?

We have so many inspirations, including the belief that the love of storytelling is one of the surest lifelong gifts you can give your children, and that in our digitally saturated age, stories are more important than ever. Bookshops are often my favorite places to be, and I’ve long had a bookshop fantasy. When Matt and I came up with the idea of combining one with a storytelling lab, it began to seem that maybe this could really be both a sustainable family business and a unique community center.

What do you plan to sell?

We’re aiming for a beautiful collection of children’s literature for ages zero through young adult with some rare, vintage, and out-of-print finds, too. We’ll also have storytelling supplies, such as pencils and notebooks.


The store is slated to open officially in mid-May.

Tell us about the kinds of programs you plan to offer.

We’ll host a weekly storytime with authors and illustrators who will read and share their work, as well as teach master classes. We’ll have genre-based writing workshops and drop-in sessions where kids can bring something they’re working on for feedback. We plan to offer bookmaking classes for younger children and will explore other forms of storytelling, too—from puppetry to mural painting. This summer will be a time of experimentation to see what the community likes best.

Why is focusing on writing important to you?

Reading and writing are inseparable—all the best writers I know are voracious readers, and I’ve yet to meet such a reader who didn’t love to turn a phrase. There is a lot of good enrichment programming for kids in Brooklyn but not that much around the written word. We love the idea of Stories being a place where authors and illustrators can meet their audiences in new ways.

Why is it vital for kids to learn to write well?

For so many kids, unlocking the world of the imagination can be a huge liberation. They grow up with a lot of rules, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to spend time in a place with none at all? My imagination is the place where I felt fully myself, and I think for introspective, watchful kids having a place to quietly strut their stuff can be pretty life changing.

Are independent bookstores still relevant?

Thankfully, independent bookstores are having a comeback. They are important because they become community centers where the recommendations feel personal. I think people really feel a sense of ownership for their local bookshop in a way you just can’t for a chain store.

Editor’s note: The American Booksellers Association (ABA) confirms this news. For the sixth year in a row, ABA bookstore membership has grown, with stores operating in more than 2,200 locations, says Dan Cullen, senior strategy officer.

Who are some of your personal favorite authors?

We just started reading John Bemelmans Marciano’s The Witches of Benevento (Viking, 2016) to my older son, and it’s great. We also went through a major Greek myths phase that started with D’Aulaires, and then we discovered the Gillian Cross retellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey (Candlewick, 2015 & 2012), which are wonderful. In picture books, I love all the ones by husband and wife team Philip and Erin Stead, Fraidyzoo (Abrams, 2013) by Thyra Heder, and Tough Guys Have Feelings Too (Flying Eye, 2015) by Keith Negley. And everything Mo Willems!

In terms of my own reading, like all of Brooklyn, it seems, I was swept up in Elena Ferrante fever and devoured her four Neapolitan novels. I’m following that up with a nonfiction phase, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brilliant Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015), Sally Mann’s beautiful memoir Hold Still, (Little, Brown, 2015), and I’m finally getting to Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (Graywolf, 2015).

Is there any way for out-of-towners to join in the fun?

Those who don’t live nearby can sign up at for the Perfect Stories Book Club and receive favorite picks each month.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a freelance writer specializing in children’s health and development and the former research editor at Parenting

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Young Adult Debut Authors Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:24:53 +0000 Thursday, May 19th, 2016, 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM ET / 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM PT
Join Simon & Schuster and School Library Journal for a rich conversation with three debut young adult authors, Calla Devlin (Tell Me Something Real), Meg Leder (The Museum of Heartbreak), and Laurent Linn (Draw the Line).
Register Now!]]>

Presented by: Simon & Schuster and School Library Journal

Event Date & Time: Thursday, May 19th, 2016, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM ET / 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM PT
Register NowThe excitement and heartache of first (and subsequent) loves, the strength and frailty of the ties that bind siblings, the courage to stand up yourself—and for what’s right.

Join Simon & Schuster and School Library Journal for a rich conversation with three debut young adult authors, Calla Devlin (Tell Me Something Real), Meg Leder (The Museum of Heartbreak), and Laurent Linn (Draw the Line).


Calla Devlin – Author, Tell Me Something Real

Meg Leder – Author, The Museum of Heartbreak

Laurent Linn – Author, Draw the Line


Faythe Arredondo – YA Librarian at Tulare County Library in Visalia, CA
Register NowCan’t make the date? No problem! Register now and you will get an email reminder from School Library Journal post-live event when the webcast is archived and available for on-demand viewing at your convenience!Follow us on Twitter! @SLJournal #SLJauthorsNeed help getting registered? Send us an email describing your problem.

By registering for this webcast, you are agreeing that School Library Journal may share your registration information with sponsors currently shown and future sponsors of this event. Click here to review the entire School Library Journal Privacy Policy.

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Courting Controversy? | Scales on Censorship Wed, 27 Apr 2016 13:44:28 +0000 Have you known of a teacher who taught a book for the purpose of getting it challenged?
I suspect it happens, but I’ve never had anyone write to me and tell me that they intentionally wanted to create a challenge. A retired high school English teacher recently told me that she chose to teach Working by Studs Terkel because it was being challenged in another high school in her district.

She added the book to her syllabus out of support for the teacher who was targeted in the other school. The challenge remained a hotly contested case in the first school, but no one made an attempt to challenge the teacher in the other school. A situation like this indicates that the parent may have had a problem with the teacher rather than the book. This sometimes happens. Protesting a book will almost always get the attention of school administrators, while complaints about an individual teacher may rest on deaf ears.

Working is currently taught in many high schools throughout the nation. It’s an excellent choice, but it should be taught for the right reasons. It is never a good idea for teachers to select a book simply because they want to create a problem.

Who decides which novels are taught in a classroom? Should parents be involved in the selection process?
Teachers should decide which novels they want to teach, but school districts also have curriculum policies outlined in the School Board Policy Manual that must be followed. Such policies aren’t usually definitive about what specific novels are taught, but instead address the broad scope of the curriculum. The policy should include a statement about controversial subject matter in novels. For example, a policy may state: “Some novels may contain ‘objectionable’ language, but teachers strive to help students understand that such language reflects the character in the novel and the world in which he lives.”

Parents should not influence book selection, but those who object to a novel may request an alternative novel for their child.

A parent in my school asked me to recommend a website that labels content in books. She thinks that her son isn’t as mature as other fourth graders and she wants to check every book he reads. She uses Common Sense Media for movie reviews.
Let her know that labeling content is a slippery slope. Does she really want a website to parent her son? I understand that parents want guidance, but she should be encouraged to read along with her son if she is so concerned about what he is reading. Tell her that you don’t recommend websites that label, but many public libraries subscribe to a number of tools that she may find helpful. Show her how to log onto her public library website for help. You could also point out a resource such as NoveList. This site can give her access to reviews that may help her in guiding the child. In the meantime, lead her son to books in the same manner that you use to assist all students. You may also suggest that the mother encourage him to return a book he doesn’t like.

A social studies teacher in my high school was recently reprimanded because he spent the weekend distributing materials for a particular political candidate. Doesn’t a teacher have a First Amendment right to express his own views?
Yes, as long as those views are expressed outside of school. Those who are working for government agencies may not openly express their political views in the workplace, because it could be viewed as creating a hostile environment. In this situation, the teacher shouldn’t have been reprimanded.

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Amazon FreeTime Unlimited Adds Content for Tweens Wed, 27 Apr 2016 13:23:26 +0000 Star Trek

Amazon FreeTime Unlimited—the all-you-can-eat subscription service geared to children and families—has expanded its offerings for kids ages 9–12.

FreeTime Unlimited previously offered titles for ages 3–8. The thousands of additional videos, educational apps, games, and books for the 9–12 set  include a selection featuring Sonic the Hedgehog, Monument Valley, iCarly, and Star Trek, according to an April 26 release.

The service has also introduced FreeTime Smart Filters, a feature that recommends “age appropriate” content, from videos and books to learning apps and games, and enables parental control in managing FreeTime content.

The FreeTime Unlimited service is available exclusively on Fire tablets, including Fire Kids Edition, as well as on Kindle ereaders.

Subscriptions start at $2.99 per month for Prime members and $4.99 per month for customers who are not yet Prime members, according to Amazon.

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Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species by Jeff Campbell | SLJ Review Wed, 27 Apr 2016 13:00:17 +0000 Campbell, Jeff. Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species. 288p. bibliog. websites. Zest. 2016. pap. $13.99. ISBN 9781942186045. 

Gr 9 Up –The extinctions of giant (both in size and number) species at the mercy of nature and humanity turn out to be a fascinating and jarring lesson for our present. Chronicling the fates of aurochs, moa, passenger pigeons, and sea cows, alongside the unresolved destinies of today’s lions and tigers, [...]]]> redstarCampbell, Jeff. Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species. 288p. bibliog. websites. Zest. 2016. pap. $13.99. ISBN 9781942186045. Last of the Giants by Jeff Campbell

Gr 9 Up –The extinctions of giant (both in size and number) species at the mercy of nature and humanity turn out to be a fascinating and jarring lesson for our present. Chronicling the fates of aurochs, moa, passenger pigeons, and sea cows, alongside the unresolved destinies of today’s lions and tigers, this work gazes back at evolutionary history through a retrospect that, with the aid of Campbell’s humorous and scientific tone, is truly 20/20. Thankfully, the text’s explorations of these annihilated species are complex and perceptive and go beyond the usual worn conclusion of human-wrought woe. Mixing geology, ethnography, history, zoology, biology, industry, and sociology, Campbell demonstrates how interconnected Earth’s species and societies—human and nonhuman—are. By examining the complex web of evolution through the misfortunes of these lost species, the author drives home that our present is not a final, linear result of history but rather an ever-evolving system that needs care and attention. To that end, a “Call to Action” section laden with resources for the aspiring activist appears at the end; though there is no index, an extensive list of works cited illuminates a path for those who wish to read further. VERDICT Required reading for the budding naturalist and a good pairing for a STEM or history curriculum, too.–Chelsea Woods, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ

This review was published in the School Library Journal April 2016 issue.

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Teens Review Meredith Russo’s “If I Was Your Girl” and More Wed, 27 Apr 2016 12:38:25 +0000 If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, SLJ’s resident teen reviewers tackle teen angst, first love, and gender issues in their latest reviews.]]> From the latest summer romances to the much-anticipated If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, SLJ’s resident teen reviewers tackle teen angst, first love, and gender issues in their latest reviews.

suffer loveBLAKE, Ashley Herring. Suffer Love. HMH. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544596320
Gr 8 Up–The romance of Hadley and Sam is beautifully. However, Suffer Love isn’t just a romance novel (no matter how wonderful the romance is); it has more substance to it and is mostly an emotional yet stunning story of betrayal and how you move on from it. Suffer Love is an amazing and enlightening tale of young love that anyone will stay up all night to finish (like I did) and not be the least bit disappointed. Even through the ups and downs, in the end Suffer Love is a heartwarming book.

The cover was okay, but it was also kind-of that classic, cheesy-romantic-novel type of cover which is not very appealing to me.

The most compelling aspect of the book was the character of Hadley. Hadley is smart, funny, and interesting to read about, but the reason that I would say she’s one of the strongest parts of the book is that she is very real. Hadley is a character that is portrayed as very raw and emotional which is nice to see when written about well (as it is here) and when the author can really let that be a big part of the book in an enlightening way. Hadley is dealing with a lot of problems in her life, and you just can really understand what she’s going through even if that is unfamiliar to you. Blake is a genius as she tells the story of Hadley’s recovery with herself and her family.

After reading Suffer Love, everyone will be singing praises for the author’s masterful hand with words. Throughout the whole book, everything is in exactly the right places to make you laugh, smile, and even cry.—Charlotte L., 14

holding smokeCOSIMANO, Elle. Holding Smoke. Disney-Hyperion. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484725979
Gr 7 Up–Smoke isn’t like the other felons at the Y, a dangerous correctional facility in Colorado. He has been wrongly accused of killing two people: one of them he didn’t, and one of them he didn’t do on purpose. But this isn’t the only reason he is different: a near-death experience leaves him with the ability to leave his physical body behind and travel beyond the prison walls. He thinks the prison is the only home he deserves, until he meets Pink, a girl who sees him and wants to clean his slate. With thrills, danger, and an overhanging mystery that keeps your wheels turning, you won’t want to put it down. You will constantly ask the same question: Who did it?

I think the cover did reflect the contents because of the smoke making the letters disappear, just like how Smoke’s hope is disappearing. I did like the cover because it is mysterious and makes you want to know what it was about.

I loved the suspense and danger. When he was pulled back into his body right when something bad is happening, it kept me going because I had to know what had happened to the person. It was also a great mystery that had a very unexpected twist at the end. This book was great and I couldn’t stop reading it!—Eleanor C., 14

inquisitionMATHARU, Taran. The Inquisition. Feiwel & Friends. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250076311
Gr 7 Up—The book starts out with Fletcher on trial and he is about to be convicted of two things. Then BAM we find out that he is a nodal and the king judges him indecent. When he gets out of the pelt he meets up with his old friends and they go on a mission into the orc’s jungle to destroy the goblin eggs. On the way they find another salamander and the coordinates to the orc’s part of the either. They get trapped in a pyramid and are forced to go into the either to save their lives.

I liked the cover. It explained a lot about what was going to happen in the book. The jungle showed where a lot of the book was going to take place.

I think the most compelling aspect of the book was that it really opened up the view into the lives of the orcs because up until now we did not know much about them. I was surprised when the orcs had stronger demons that we were led to believe. This is just a prediction, but I think Igneous is just a baby and has a lot more to grow. The only disappointment was that the book was not longer.—Sam C., 15

RUSSO, Meredith. If I Was Your Girl. Flatiron. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250078407.
Gr 8 Up–If you are confident with who you are, you can put up with people’s ridicule. If you are not, you slip farther and farther away into self-doubt. This book is about a young boy named Andy becoming the person he knew he was all along, but mostly it is about a girl named Amanda, living a life she knows is right for her. The most compelling thing about this book is the topic it covers. Being transgender is not understood by everyone. This book gives readers insight into what it means to be transgender. I was not disappointed in this book at all.—Grace D., 13

if i was your girlANOTHER TAKE

Amanda Hardy is moving to a new school, and all she wants is to fit in and make friends. However, Amanda is keeping a secret—at her old school, her name was Andrew, and her life was absolutely miserable. But then she meets kind, goofy Grady, and she wants to tell him everything. However, as their romance blossoms, being true to herself and keeping life the way she wants it to be might become harder than Amanda ever thought.

I wasn’t hugely fond of the cover for If I Was Your Girl. It’s kind of bland—just the usual portrait cover for a YA novel. However, I do like the way that the title text was arranged and the lighting on the image is also very nice. The font used for the title and author’s name is also appealing and readable. While as a whole the cover is nothing particularly special, the individual elements are all very nice. In all, the cover is pleasing to look at and not mind-bendingly awful, the way those of some other YA contemporary novels are.

The most compelling aspect of the novel is definitely the main character and her voice. Amanda is wonderfully portrayed and her voice is clear and distinct. Additionally, If I Was Your Girl manages to be an issues book that doesn’t read as a thinly-veiled lesson as so many do. Yes, Amanda is a transgirl and this is the entire point of the book, but it’s also a very sweet love story and a story about friendship and familial love. I adored this about the book, because it’s hard to find a book about anything that’s vaguely ‘issues-ish’ without it reading something like a print version of the Lifetime movies we have to watch in ninth grade health class. Props to the author for writing a book about an important topic without making it overly didactic or preachy, but allowing it to stand alone as a love story and a story about family and finding your place in the world.

I was incredibly disappointed with this novel for several reasons. The first was that few characters besides Amanda got much, if any, development. While I am aware that the story revolves around Amanda and her struggles, it would have been nice to see the supporting characters get fleshed out as more than “the nice guy,” “the supportive and unconditionally loving parent,” “the parent who’s learning to be supportive”, “the jock who’s secretly a lesbian,” “the jealous quirky artist,” “the nasty homophobic guy,” “the fashionista,” etc. My other, larger complaint about the novel was the treatment of the supporting character Bee. [SPOILER] To spoil the climax of the novel, Bee, Amanda’s first friend at her new school, develops a crush on her and outs Amanda in front of the entire school at Homecoming when Amanda rejects her advances. This is not the only thing Bee does, but I’m going to be quite vague so as to not spoil things. This would be less of an issue for me plot-wise if Bee’s treatment by the author didn’t swing so close to the Psycho Lesbian trope. Bee outs Amanda because she’s been rejected by the other girl, and considering some of her other actions, she pretty much perfectly fits this trope. The only thing that keeps her from fitting is that the narrative states that Bee is pansexual. However, she’s only ever shown in-story to be attracted to girls, so it still sits uncomfortably close to this trope. For a novel about acceptance, belonging, and LGBTQA+ issues, use of this trope, however unintentional it may have been, really rubs me the wrong way.

While I was not hugely fond of this book, there were parts I really loved, and it is a good read until the climax of the story. For similar books, I point people in the direction of Wandering Son, a manga which follows two trans kids from the end of elementary school to the beginning of high school. Fans of that series would probably also enjoy If I Was Your Girl. –Ella W.,16


Amanda is the new girl in town, and boys seem to be all over her as soon as she walks into the hallways of her new high school. But Amanda has a secret, a secret that might just keep her from starting a relationship with the boy she likes. Because only two years earlier, Amanda had been an Andrew, and had looked not a bit like how she looked now.

I liked the cover. It kinda gave me a sense of mystery, and I wanted to know more about what was inside.

The plot was awesome. I loved the story, and I liked how it informed kids of the topic of being transgender. I thought the characters were pretty well-rounded, although I wish they had all been a little more unique and different from each other. I also liked the writing style, but at some points throughout the book, things were a little confusing, but they were shortly cleared up further into reading, which was nice. I also liked how Russo switched from the present to the past, adding new pieces of the story to complete a full picture of Amanda’s life before she came to her new home.

I was only confused with how Amanda’s father knew where Grant lived, because I don’t recall Amanda ever telling him where Grant’s home was, and I’m pretty sure Grant said Amanda was the only one who had ever seen his house. So that was just a little unclear, I might have missed something earlier on, though. –Zoe D., 13

SCHNEIDER, Erin. Summer of Sloane. Disney-Hyperion. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484725252.
Gr 8 Up–If you are looking for a fun and flirty yet compelling story, Summer of Sloane is just what you should read. Sloane’s story is something that brings readers in, and as they get further and further into it, they won’t want to put it down.

I thought it was a good all-around book. I loved the dynamic between the characters. I thought the development of Sloane was awesome and very realistic.

I think the cover of the book is fun, and flirty… like the book. But I think the book has more depth than you would originally think by looking at the cover. I think it needs to be said that this is more than a fun book, it also has depth! –Mackenzie C., 16       

summer of sloaneANOTHER TAKE

This book really told the story of the healing process that had to take place with the main character, Sloane, when her world is shattered. It just shows how your life can take a real turn and the people that you thought you knew can really hurt you and leave a big scar. Healing doesn’t just happen in a matter of moment or days, rather months being away to think it all the way through. This book does a really good job of showing the healing Sloane had to work through in her summer away from home.

The cover definitely was not right for this book. It wasn’t very eye-catching, and while it somewhat had to do with the story with the broken wrist, surfing wasn’t a major part of the book. This story is about heartbreak and healing, and I don’t feel that the cover reflected the solemnity of the book. I would have preferred a girl looking out at the sunset without seeing her face.

I liked how the story line was unpredictable. The way it ended really surprised me, and I really enjoyed seeing the healing process the main character had to go through. The pain and the heartbreak were definitely expressed in this story, and it made it really easy for me to connect with, and empathize with the main characters. It taught me the importance of not jumping to conclusions, and being responsible for your actions and the repercussions they could lead to. This story was inspiring about how you have to heal yourself, and how healing takes time—it doesn’t just happen overnight.

There were times where it felt a little over dramatic, and I thought we could have gotten to know a little bit more of Mick and Tyler’s side to the story.

The ending was really good, I just wished the author would have given a little epilogue of how Mick turned out, and Penn, and Sloane.—Jane E., 13          


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Jon Agee and Mara Rockcliff Win Prestigious Bank Street Awards Tue, 26 Apr 2016 21:18:07 +0000 It's Only Stanley was given the 2016 Irma Black Award, and Mara Rockliff’s Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France received the 2016 Cook Prize.]]> IrmaBlackSeal_2015 copyThe winners are in: the Center for Children’s Literature (CCL) at Bank Street College of Education has selected It’s Only Stanley, written and illustrated by Jon Agee, for the 2016 Irma Simonton Black Award and Mara Rockliff’s Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, for the 2016 Cook Prize.

Determined by children from the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean, the Irma Black Award distinguishes the best read-aloud picture book for first and second grade, while the Cook Prize goes to the best picture book that illuminates science, technology, engineering, and math principles for third and fourth graders.

cookprize_banner copyBank Street Science Teacher, Morika Tsujimura, who was involved in choosing the initial contenders for the Cook Prize, called Mesmerized “a multilayered book where the steps of the scientific method are incorporated into a re-telling of historical events.”

The finalists for the Irma Black Award were Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook, written and illustrated by Anne Vittur Kennedy, You Can Do It, Bert!, written and illustrated by Ole Konnecke, and Red: A Crayon’s Story, written and illustrated by Michael Hall. Finalists for the Cook Prize included Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by April Chu, and High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, written by Lisa Kahn Schnell and illustrated by Alan Marks.

Children's librarian Allie Bruce reads Cook Prize contenders to Bank Street School students.

Children’s librarian Allie Bruce reads Cook prize contenders to Bank Street School students.

The winners and finalists will be honored at a ceremony held in Tabas Auditorium at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City at 9:30 a.m. ET, May 19th. Illustrator Scott Magoon, who shared the 2013 Irma Black Prize with author Michelle Knudsen for Big Mean Mike, will be keynote speaker.

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