April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

How Denise Sumida Won the SLJ Buzz Award for Her Library

‘‘She doesn’t fly to school
in an invisible jet or don a red, blue and gold leotard, but Pearl Harbor Elementary School’s librarian Denise Sumida is definitely Wonder Woman.”

Photo by David Murphey

Photo by David Murphey

That’s how Michelle Colte, SLJ School Librarian of the Year, describes Sumida, whose imaginative library program at Pearl Harbor Elementary School (PHES) on Hawaii’s island of Oahu has won the 2014 Buzz Award. Sponsored by Brain Hive, the award recognizes an innovative school library program that promotes digital learning and a love of reading.

Sumida’s fluid embrace of technology has helped foster a community of avid readers, as well as young digital researchers, news broadcasters, and filmmakers. For a reading buddy program at PHES, sixth graders and kindergarteners read ebooks together at the library. “Technology [also] allows for excellent collaborative opportunities outside the library,” says Sumida, who has been at PHES for 13 years. Her students help run a virtual Jeopardy contest related to the Ne-ne- Award, Hawaii’s annual children’s choice book award contest. Sumida and Colte are cochairing the Ne-ne- committee for 2014 and 2015.

Digital and dynamic group reading

“Denise sets her mind on something, and she achieves it,” says Colte, a librarian at Hale Kule Kula Elementary School, located on the Schofield Barracks Army Installation in Wahiawa, a Honolulu suburb. More than half the students at Sumida’s K–6 school are also military dependents, and the PHES student body fluctuates between 650 and 750 kids, with the library providing a sense of community for all.

A consummate collaborator, adds Colte, Sumida “has this amazing ability to listen to my ideas and rein them in or scaffold them so they happen.” The pair’s brainstorming on the Ne-ne- committee, for instance, has made the contest activities more dynamic and more digital. Previously, students were required to submit essays that simply described the Ne-ne- contenders. Colte recalls, “I said, ‘We should switch it up, so that they’re creating, thinking, analyzing.’”

Sumida’s response? “Let’s have an interpretive category and a persuasive category,” according to Colte. Now, students’ options include submitting a piece of writing, video, or animation of a “missing chapter,” imagining an additional character, and making a persuasive argument. “We’ve had students submit Glogster, iMovies, and animation,” Colte says. Projects have included a parody of the Medusa scene in Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief (Hyperion, 2005) and a submission from the point of view of a cave, related to Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Found (S. & S., 2008).


Sumida coordinates the “Ne-ne- Jeopardy” competition (http://ow.ly/DYIml), in which students across Hawaii answer questions about character, plot, and author information. “We’ve been using WebEx and Google Hangouts,” Sumida says, and the project is run by sixth graders in a PHES news broadcasting class. Sumida also encourages her students to read Ne-ne- contenders by inviting them to answer questions on the PHES Ne-ne- blog (http://ow.ly/DWahA), and join book club meetings.

During a collaboration between PHES and Hale Kula, students reading Jacqueline Davies’s The Lemonade War (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) used Edmodo, blogs, Google Docs, Glogster, lino, and WebEx to discuss it (http://ow.ly/DYIGG).

News classes, Pearl Harbor, and Padlet

“[Sumida’s] always looking for new ways to bring digital learning to our library and our kids,” says PHES tech coordinator Linda Kelly, who partners closely with the librarian.

For the news broadcasting elective (http://ow.ly/DYJkx), Sumida helps sixth graders “brainstorm and think of ideas,” she says, and the students cowrite scripts with Google Docs. Kelly then uses a green screen to film the broadcasts, some narrated by sock puppets, which are shown on the school’s closed-circuit TV. During “Book a Minute” segments, students act out a short picture-book story. Kelly also edits the broadcasts.

Field trips to the local news station further help students “broaden their career choices,” says Sumida. Some kids now aspire to work in broadcast journalism.

Most of Sumida’s annual budget, around $14,000, goes toward online subscriptions. In lesson units, Sumida helps students use databases, encyclopedias, and other digital resources, including Scholastic’s TrueFlix and BookFlix. They take notes with Google Classroom, and Kelly helps them create Google Presentations.

With Sumida’s instruction, second graders used Capstone’s PebbleGo database to research marine life. When “Nerds” (Abrams) series author Michael Buckley visited PHES, Sumida got kids fired up with illustration contests (http://ow.ly/DYKnK). For a sixth-grade project involving entries on Padlet, an online bulletin board, Sumida’s students “brainstormed what would have happened” if the U.S. had been prepared for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, where some buildings still bear bullet scars.

Determination and results

To benefit educators, Sumida has copresented sessions about online tech (http://ow.ly/DYJ4u) and tips for librarians on “Using Technology to Promote Literature” (http://ow.ly/DYJvy).

She has also made good use of Donors Choose. Crowdfunding campaigns since November 2011, including ones to underwrite headphones for use with audiobooks and an iPad Air to film news broadcasts, have raised $13,400 altogether.

The determined Sumida achieves all of this in a “quiet and humble way,” says Colte, but her impact is certainly felt. After Sumida returned to the school library from time away at the SLJ Leadership Summit, “it was like mama bear was back,” says Kelly. “[The students] had their noses pressed up against the library door.”


SLJ’s Buzz Award, sponsored by Brain Hive, recognizes a K–12 school library program that is developing innovative new ways to raise awareness of reading by bringing students digital learning activities that increase reading, improve engagement, spark social interaction, and inspire a lifelong love of reading. The winner received $1,000, plus $1,500 in Brain Hive Bucks for use during the 2014–15 school year.

The finalists were the McSpedden Elementary School library in Frisco, TX, led by teacher librarian Nancy Jo Lambert, and the Rossville (IN) Middle/High School Library, headed by library and instructional technology specialist Sherry Gick. Finalists received $500 in Brain Hive Bucks.

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Sarah Bayliss About Sarah Bayliss

Sarah Bayliss (sbayliss@mediasourceinc.com, @shbayliss) is associate editor, news and features, at School Library Journal.



  1. Congratulations to Denise, Nancy Jo, and Sherry! We were thrilled to sponsor the inaugural Buzz Award and to honor innovative librarians working so hard to raise awareness of reading and build a lifelong love of reading by engaging them in new ways to engage with books, including digital reading! We are so impressed by the amazing work these ladies are doing in their schools, and those of the many nominees from across the country.
    Terri Soutor, President, Brain Hive, LLC