Sunday, 25 July 2021

Motivating Reluctant Readers - A New Initiative

In Term 3, I'm excited to be trialling a new initiative aimed at motivating some of our reluctant readers.  I'd been thinking about working with our older students, but Esther, our library and resource assistant, suggested I start with Year 4s, because intervening earlier might have more of an impact.  She also suggested tracking them over several weeks, rather than just doing it as a one-off.  I like this idea because it gives me a chance to build relationships with students who probably don't come to the library outside of their normal class library visits.  My positive experiences running Year 6 book clubs then led me to consider whether using that format would work with reluctant readers.  There's only one way to find out!

The plan for Term 3 is that I will take one Year 4 student from each of our Year 3/4 classes (plus one more to make it a nice round 10 - easier for statistics!).   I think that will be a nice size group to work with.  The students I was looking for did not have reading difficulties, which are addressed by our teaching staff, but instead had motivational issues.  They are the kids who can read but aren't.  I sent through data on library borrowing statistics to help teachers with their student selections.  Three of the students selected had taken out less than ten books since the start of the year.  I got a nice mixture of male (6) and female (4) students. I will take these students out of class for 30 minutes each week, on a Friday to maximise their reading opportunities over the weekend.  

I have asked the teachers if their students are comfortable with me having Milo (our school support dog) with me during our book club, and they all are.  This might be something that is a drawcard to the students, as none of the other book clubs has Milo present (a teacher takes him to the staffroom at morning tea, when the other clubs are run).

Using my book club format means I will start each session with a reading question and offer tags for when reading challenges are completed.  I will amend the challenges to make them more attractive to younger, less enthusiastic readers.  I think running this group as a book club will take away any stigma about being pulled out of class, and the fact that only Year 6s normally get to have tags might also be motivational for them.  I will emphasize that this is the first time I have ever done this so I will be relying on them to give me feedback on what is working and what is not.

I will have the students complete a reading questionnaire over our first couple of meetings. This will give me more information about the students and their reading attitudes and habits.  I have printed out their borrowing histories to give me an understanding of what books they have been issuing.

I have been running Library Skills sessions with our Year 5/6 classes and have noticed that almost all of them put their hands up when I ask them, "who finds it difficult to find a good book to read?".  I have been sharing some tips with those classes on how to find good books to read, and I will introduce some of these techniques with the new book club too.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

A Support Dog in the Library - The First Full Week

Milo after a hard morning's work greeting teachers

This week was the first week that I brought Milo into school every day that I work (I don't work Wednesdays).  My husband dropped off Milo last week and he did well (Milo, not my husband!), enthusiastically greeting the office staff.  However, he hadn't gone to the toilet and I didn't want any puddles if I could help it so the longest he stayed was for an hour.  We popped in on the weekend and checked out the sectioned-off area where he would be toileting.  It wasn't so noisy so he 'watered the grass' and it was one less thing to worry about this week as at least he knew what was expected of him.

On Monday, my lovely husband again dropped off Milo and as it was close to morning tea time I decided to see how he would handle our staffroom.  We are a big primary school, with over 700 students and a large amount of staff.  We went in with our principal, Anne, and Milo was taken aback at first as when we opened the doors he was hit with a wall of noise.  Once everyone shushed a bit he was in his element though, walking up and down and checking out all the staff and showing off all his doggy charm.  After morning tea I took Milo to water the grass and then a nearby teacher asked if he could come and visit her classroom.  As it was a Year 5 & 6 classroom I said yes and Milo walked up and down the desks and had a good look around the class.  The teacher had prepared the class well and they were quiet-ish and stayed in their chairs.

For the rest of my week I started at 8.30am and Milo only stayed two or three hours as I was monitoring his energy levels and also working out how to balance looking after him with getting work done.  From inside the library, we watched students coming into school, and Milo met a few students who help out in the library in the morning.  Highlights were seeing some of our more vulnerable children showing an interest in Milo, and also the amount of staff who seem thrilled to have a dog on-site and are passing on tips and advice to me.  We have already had one staff member say that she really needed her short time with Milo, as she was having a bad day.  

We have not started visiting classes properly, although I've promised to go and see a Year 3 & 4 class next week who are going to be sharing about dogs at a school assembly later in the term. 

On Thursday afternoon our school newsletter was emailed to parents and we officially introduced Milo to our community.  I also made a little fact sheet and added Milo to our staff page on our website (I totally swiped this idea from another school, but it's cute!).

Things I've Noticed

  • I am no longer of interest.  The constant question is "Where's Milo?".  I think I'll need to make a sign to indicate whether he is at school, sleeping, or at home so that we don't have to keep answering that question!
  • It's not just the students, a lot of staff want to see Milo and just interacting with them is tiring for him and time-consuming for me.  I expect that this will wear off a bit once everyone has had a chance to meet him, although I think I underestimated the effect on my productivity.  It is quite stressful trying to get things done at the moment.  Luckily I don't have any major events on this year, as we run our Book Week and Book Fair every second year.
  • Just looking out for a puppy at school is exhausting as I want him to be well-behaved and well-looked after but I am also trying to work.  Lots of people have been telling me that having a puppy is like having a toddler, and there's a reason people don't bring their toddlers to work!  By Friday I was exhausted and I need to take that into account when considering how often Milo should be at school.
  • A lot of foot traffic comes through my office as it is the closest door that links the library and the resource room.  This disrupts Milo if he is trying to sleep so I'm going to have to ask that staff use the other door unless they need to speak to me. 
  • Milo has been very excited at school and enjoys meeting everyone.  He is definitely a "people-dog".  Thank goodness for that!

For the week ahead, I am planning on taking Milo on three days for about two hours each time.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

A Support Dog in the Library - the First Steps

Last year, my husband wanted a puppy and I was not so sure.  Then I remembered therapy/support dogs, which are dogs that work in schools (and other places).  I'd read articles about dogs being used to help literacy and knew that our public library also runs a programme that uses therapy dogs as "reading buddies".  I thought this sounded like a wonderful idea and it convinced me to agree to become a puppy owner for the first time.

I discovered that an ex-teacher from our school, now deputy principal at a nearby school, brings her dogs into her school as therapy dogs and she kindly invited me to come and see one in action.  She warned me that having a puppy is like having a baby, which was intimidating, but I think it was a good warning to help me realise what a big commitment it is.  

We investigated what breed of dog would suit our lifestyle (not overly energetic!) and decided on a Cavoodle (a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Toy or Miniature Poodle).  Cavoodles are known to be very gentle and friendly and their size and appearance is not intimidating to children, which was another factor we took into account when making our choice.  I read that the Toy Cavoodle is slightly more fragile and better suited for older children, and the Miniature is more sturdy, so we went with a Miniature Cavoodle for a primary school environment.

My first step was to approach my principal.  I was sounded her out and provided this one page document for her to consider.  She was enthusiastic and offered to bring my proposal to the Board of Trustees for approval.  

I discovered that another nearby teacher, Kelly Daniel, not only brings her dog to school but has also set up a NZ Facebook page for support dogs that has lots of useful information.  I got to meet Kelly, and included her Dogs on School Grounds policy (from the Facebook page) and Education Gazette article for the BOT to consider.  I added a bit more information about how things would work to my original document (addressing training and toileting).  I also attached a copy of the Canine Good Citizen exercise breakdown, which I said I would work towards passing.

In September, the BOT approved a support dog for the school!  There was an understanding that if the dog was unsuitable for the role then the school wasn't bound to have him continue.  Although I had already contacted a breeder, it wasn't until I got BOT approval that I officially went on their waitlist.

We had second pick of a litter of five, and as the breeder is in Gisborne we had to make our choice from afar.  We asked our breeder for the most calm puppy from the litter rather than choosing by looks.  At the end of January we picked up Milo (named after the main character in "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster).  There was a settling in period, for us and Milo, including a day of despair about three days in, during which we wondered what on earth we were thinking!  

On Monday, Waitangi Day, I took Milo in to show him the library, which fortunately he seemed to approve of.  

On Thursday, I took him for a short visit to meet a few of the senior management and admin staff.  He was very excited to meet everyone (and fortunately well-behaved!).

I have ordered a special high-vis coat so that Milo will be clearly identified as a support dog when he is at school.  We will also be putting a notice in next week's school newsletter and on my library Facebook page so that our parents are introduced to Milo and know the reasons he is at school and what to expect.  Teachers will talk to their classes about Milo, and go over some dog safety information.  I am also going to be working on a list of books with dogs in them, as I hear they are a popular choices to read to dogs!

My husband has a couple of weeks off and I will bring Milo in for a few short visits over this time and see how things go.  My two main priorities are to make sure that Milo is happy and that he is on his best behaviour around our students.

Monday, 27 January 2020

Picture Book Shelving Arranged by Subject

Last year, we started to have overcrowding problems in our picture book area, making it harder for our students to browse easily.

Fortunately, our school's furniture budget hadn't been fully spent and I made a good case for how useful new shelving could be.  I asked for different shelving for our non-fiction area, which I'll talk about in another post.  I also asked for new browser bins for our picture book area, which would replace the display shelves and increase the amount of storage space for our picture books.

I decided to use the additional browser bins to implement an idea I'd been thinking about for a while.  I had read about a few libraries which had classified their picture books using subjects rather than the alphabet and I could see the benefits of doing this.  I was keen to enable our teachers to quickly find books related to particular areas they might find useful in their classrooms.  I could see some problems though, namely trying to get all the books to fit neatly into the subject areas when there is the potential for lots of overlaps.  I decided to use both systems - keeping the existing alphabetical shelving, and using the new browser bins to put a subject-based system into effect.

I decided to coincide the change with our stocktake so we had a few months to think about what subjects we wanted.  It also meant that we could add an extra day or two after our stocktake and do all the physical changes needed in both the picture book and non-fiction areas.

Once I had chosen the subject areas, I assigned them different coloured stickers to identify where the books would be shelved. We started by labelling new books with their appropriate stickers, then nearer to the stocktake date we moved on to labelling some of the existing books.  Once labelled we kept them in piles in my office. We changed the location on our library management system (Access-it) to 'Picture Books - (name of subject)'.  Then I realised that to find the location if you've searched for the book, you have to click on the book and then click again to go into the copy information. To make it easier I decided to change the book 'type' from just 'Picture Book' to 'Picture Book - (name of subject)'.  This means that you can see the location information as soon as you click on the book title. It also means that I can easily generate data relating to the circulation of these particular books.

After the stocktake was done we put all the picture books we wanted to reclassify into their subject areas. Once we had all the books in their piles, I realised that one of my proposed subjects, 'Concepts' didn't have very many books. Meanwhile, a second category, 'Nature and Technology', was very large and diverse. I decided to combine 'Concepts' with 'Maths' and split 'Nature and Technology' into two areas - 'Nature' and 'Science and Technology'. Fortunately, we hadn't labelled a lot of these books and were able to make the changes without too much effort.

Here are my final subject areas:

Maths & Concepts
Maths - includes counting, time, shapes
Concepts - includes colours, patterns, opposites, size, perspectives

English & History 
- includes reading, writing, ABCs, wars

- includes animals, life cycles, environment

Science & Technology 
- includes inventing, internet safety, engineering

Wordless Picture Books

Maori Culture & Language 
- includes bilingual

Feelings & Life Issues 
- includes mindfulness

Fairy Tales & Fractured Fairy Tales

Diverse Books 
- includes different cultures, special needs, different types of families

We already had a bay for Maori language books. I decided to expand this to include books in English that dealt with Maori culture as I felt it would be useful for teachers to easily access these.

I know 'Wordless Picture Books' is not really a subject, but I wanted teachers to be able to easily find these books. I ran a session for my Teachers' Reading Group on how to use them earlier on in 2019. Here are my slides. I'm hoping to run a session on using Fractured Fairy Tales later on this year.

Esther made temporary signage for each area. I want to get some professionally printed along with our new non-fiction signs.

We only had a week left of school after the stocktake and shelving changes were made so I delayed formally introducing the teachers to the new system. I have a slot during one of the Teacher Only days this week when I will do this.

When we opened the library again at lunchtimes we realised that the smallest children might have difficulty with the height of the new browser bins. I decided to purchase a small step for them to use. There wasn't a lot of choice, a lot of the steps I found were actually to help children reach the toilet and were quite flimsy and not likely to stand up to frequent use. I ended up buying an aerobic step, so I've been joking that I can use it at lunchtime if I need some exercise.

We've been opening the library for one afternoon a week during the holidays, and it's been lovely to see parents making use of the new sections. We had one parent come up and ask if we had any books about maths and we were able to direct her to the 'Maths and Concepts' section. I've also had enquiries in the past about whether we have books relating to autism, and these can now be easily found in the 'Diverse Books' section. I hope that all our new sections will be helpful to our parents and teachers.

Update: Yesterday I spoke to our teachers and talked about the new subject areas in our picture book area.  As I spoke the teachers started spontaneously clapping!  I think it's fair to say that they are very happy with the changes :)

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Top 15 Books of 2019

In 2018, I did a post listing each of the top 15 books I'd read that year.  This time, I decided to do something different.  I wanted to reach out and share my top books not only with the librarians and teachers who read this blog, but also with our school community.  I wanted to keep things casual, so I chose to do an unscripted video where I picked up my top books and talked about what I liked about them.  I was inspired by the videos that American teacher Colby Sharp makes.

Last year, we continued to add student book videos to our library's Youtube channel, the Library Llamas, and I felt this would be a good place to upload the video to.  I was pleased with the response when I shared it on our library's Facebook page.  I think I'll do it again this year, but put it out a little bit earlier as parents might want to use it for present ideas.

Friday, 4 October 2019

The Power of Zines

This year, one of the options our student librarians had to get their Gold Library Award was to make a book review zine.  I brought this in mid-way through the year, after rediscovering how cool zines are, and after coming across #bookbento on Twitter.  

The Gold Library Award has always been something that only our more self-motivated student librarians achieve, as unlike the Bronze and Silver Awards, students choose whether they want to work towards it, and they do it on their own time. 

I am really pleased with the quality of the zines produced, and also with the amount of times I've seen other students picking up the zines and looking through them.  In the past, we have had students write up book reviews on an A4 piece of paper and we've put these in a folder.  Hardly anyone ever looked in the folder.  I think the cute format helps, as the zines are small and more tactile.  Picking up these little zines and flicking through them is fun.  We keep them in a little box on the issues desk.  

We had some students fold the zines wrong, or forget to add some of the elements, so next year we will offer students pre-folded zines and make a checklist of the items we require.  We will also ask students to have their teachers certify that they have produced their best work, as we had a couple of borderline zines and we think this is the best way to work out what a particular student is capable of producing.

Here is my example of a book bento:

Here is more information about Book Bentos, and in case you're wondering, here's how to make a zine.  

Changing the format of the book reviews to zines has been a big success as it has significantly increased the number of students reading them.  I would highly recommend giving it a go.

Here are our updated instructions for our student librarians (the checkboxes don't work here but you get the idea):

Making a Book Review Zine

  • Mrs Simms can show you how to make one from an A4 piece of paper, or can give you a pre-made one.  Write in the zine while it is folded up, so you don’t end up with any upside-down pages.
  • The aim is to share your love for a book and entice other students to read it
  • Choose a chapter book (fiction or non-fiction) that you love that is in our library (if it’s not in our library, ask for it to be bought).
  • You must work alone
  • DO NOT give away the ending of the book!  Give just enough information to make students interested in reading the book for themselves.
  • Tick the checkboxes off so you don’t forget anything

  1. Cover - Title of book and author - Make it look awesome!  Use colour!
  2. Short summary of the plot - Don’t give the ending away!
  3. Question - Ask a dramatic question about the plot of the book e.g. What happened after Harry was taken to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?  
  4. Three-word review - Use: 
    1. A noun that isn’t found in a lot of other books in the library e.g. darts, Titanic, braces, 
    2. An adjective that describes the book e.g. terrifying, hilarious, heart-warming
    3. One other word of your choice
  5. Book Bento - A collection of nicely displayed objects that have featured in your book (Mrs Simms will print out your photo if you need her to. Send it to email address).
  6. Other great books I recommend 
  7. Your name and class
  8. Draw a picture or leave it blank - your choice!

Book Review Zine Checklist
  • I have checked with Mrs Simms that no-one else has chosen the book I want to review
  • The cover page has the title of the book, author, and where it is in the library
  • I have given a short summary of the plot, but not given the ending away
  • I have included a dramatic question about the plot of the book
  • I have made a book bento
  • I have included a three-word review
  • I have recommended some other great books
  • I have included my name and class
  • My teacher has confirmed that this is my best work ___________________  (teacher’s signature)

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Lucky's Book Chat

Over the summer holidays, I had a good think about our Library Llamas Youtube channel.  This is something I set up last year, with the aim of connecting our students with books by taking advantage of a format they enjoy i.e. videos.

I decided to film a new segment for the channel called "Lucky's Book Chat".  I developed this for a number of reasons:

  • I wanted a way to share my own book knowledge.  Not surprisingly, I read quite a lot, and I wanted a way to recommend books to students myself.  Having an adult share books is not as exciting as a Llama though, so, spoiler alert, I became "Lucky the Llama".
  • I wanted to improve the regularity with which we upload videos to the channel.  In terms of establishing a bigger audience, from what I've read it's important to start uploading on a regular basis, preferably at least once a week.  By having a segment that I produce, I can increase the number of videos we upload (although even one video a week can be difficult when I have other work/family commitments).
  • I wanted to broaden the range of students who contribute to the channel.  By not having students commit to being in a Library Llamas Book Club, and instead have them agree to make one video with me, I hope to be able to entice a larger number of students to participate in the channel.

    The Format

    In order to make it easier to be able to regularly produce the segment, I decided to create a general format for the video, which gets tweaked from week to week.  At the start of the video, I have the students tell Lucky a joke.  They pick the joke, the only criteria being that they'd have to be comfortable telling it to Mrs Fraser (our acting principal).  Then both Lucky and the student talk about a great book that they have read.  I try to have some kind of prop that leads into the discussion about the book that Lucky has read.

    After the book discussion, Lucky says that they have to go and do something a bit unusual - parachuting, skiing etc.  Then, while the student is doing a voice-over asking for subscribers and comments, there is a green screen, stop motion or other creative scene with the student interacting with their book in some way.  This part is something I really enjoy, but it's stretching my film and editing skills!  I'm learning a lot from YouTube tutorials :)

    What I've Learned so Far

    • To keep the chat conversational, I don't have the students learn a script.  I ask them to think about a joke, and what they want to say about their book, and what they might want to do creatively at the end.  What I have found is that I need to go over with them a bit more about what they've decided to say about their book.  At the moment they also need help with the creative side, although once I tell them a general idea then they build on that really well.  As they watch more of the Lucky's Book Chat videos, and see more of what can be done, I imagine they will have more ideas of their own.
    • I have a half hour slot in which I film, and that means things need to move quite quickly.  I do this during class time, and not at morning tea like we did last year, as it means there is much less background noise.  Having a different child each week means that the teachers have been happy for me to take them out of class for this, as it is a one-off.
    • I do the filming myself, which means I turn the camera on and then go and hide behind the chair.  The problem with this is that I can't see what the students are doing, and I am always scared that I'm not hidden properly behind the chair!  It has been working fairly well though.

    If you like this video then please like and subscribe!  Even better, leave a comment if you like the books we discuss.

    Tuesday, 1 January 2019

    Top 15 Books of 2018

    I haven't ranked my favourite books before.  In previous years, I've just listed my five star reads in different categories (picture book, fiction, non-fiction etc).  One thing I've noticed from putting the covers of the books I've read on my door is that I've had a fair few students ask me to name my top five books I've read, or even worse, my top three!  It's hard!  But I am up to the challenge, and this year I'm going to be strong and decisive and choose the top 15 books I've read (I can't possibly choose any less than that!).  

    15.  How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

    Bren MacDibble won a number of NZ and Australian book awards for her story about a future where real bees are extinct and children must pollinate flowers by hand.  It wasn't surprising to find out that Bren had grown up on a farm, as her descriptions of life on one are particularly vivid.  This book isn't all about farms though, as Peony's mother takes her from the home she lives in with her grandfather and sister and brings her to the city to help her earn money.  Domestic violence, poverty and agoraphobia are all part of this impactful and compelling book.

    14.  Boy Underwater by Adam Baron, illustrated by Benji Davies

    Cymbeline Igloo has never been swimming but somehow manages to boast that he's a brilliant swimmer just before his first school swimming lesson.  He's borrowed a pair of his dad's old swimming togs, and let's just say that size does matter when it comes to togs!  This book has an amazing combination of laugh-out-loud humour and heartbreaking sadness.  It deals with some big issues - like death and mental health.  The nine-year-old protagonist, Cymbeline Igloo, is a lovely character, whose voice shines through as being really authentic.

    13.  The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt, illustrated by Ross Collins

    This is a hilarious story about Mabel Jones, who commits "The Deed" and ends up on The Feroshus Maggot (a pirate ship).  I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend because the narrator, Toby Jones, is marvellous with voices.  I love the characters' names, like Omynus Hussh and Captain Idryss Ebenezer Split, and the use of the narrator (who stops in the middle of the action to eat a pickled onion!).  One of our Year 5 & 6 classes read this book and we got to Skype with Will Mabbitt, which was a lot of fun.

    12.  Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke

    I loved "Mighty Jack" and this sequel is just as fantastic.  Ben Hatke, who also wrote the "Zita the Spacegirl" series, is one of my favourite graphic novel author/illustrators.  In this book, there's lots of action and drama, with both Jack and Maddy getting to fight the bad guys.  The story is interesting, the art is great, and the last!  I can't wait for the next book.

    11.  The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

    This was another book I enjoyed listening to in audio form this year.  Pacy, also known as Grace, is Taiwanese-American and this book gives a nice glimpse into what everyday life for her is like.  I really appreciated this beautifully written insight into the life of someone with a different culture to me.

    10.  Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

    Julián is riding the subway with his grandmother when he sees women dressed up as mermaids.  He is captivated and on his return home, he sets about creating his own costume made from a curtain and a fern.  It is the grandmother's reaction to Julián's outfit that makes this picture book so heart-warming.  The illustrations are also special, with many of the background characters unique and memorable.

    9.  The Sloth Who Came to Stay by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Vivienne To

    This is a lovely story about the importance of slowing down and taking the time to appreciate things.  Our Year 5 & 6 students loved it, it came runner-up in our Picture Book World Cup.

    8.  The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

    Jacqueline Woodson's poetic text combines with the striking art of Rafael López in this wonderful picture book.  It starts with "There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you" and goes on to encourage children to share their stories and find friends that are "a little like you - and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all".  Beautiful.

    7.  Waking the Monsters by Judd Winick

    The Hilo series of graphic novels is one of my all-time favourites and this, the fourth book in the series, did not disappoint.  The artwork is superb, especially the giant robot monsters that are intent on squashing towns.  Izzy's inventions - a tiny, floating rhino that sneezes and keeps bugs away without hurting them, a skunk that makes popcorn, a parrot that sings in Italian, made from a microwave oven - are hilarious.  Yet the book doesn't shy away from some more emotional storylines.  The backstory about why Razorwark is fighting humans is very poignant.

    6.  Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

    This book is told from the perspective of an oak tree called Red.  This immediately made me apprehensive, because it didn't sound like the kind of book I'd enjoy (trees can't move, how was this book going to be interesting?).  However, I'm a fan of Katherine Applegate's "The One and Only Ivan" so I gave this book a go.

    I was pleasantly surprised - this book gave me the feels!  There are lovely interactions between Red and his friend, a crow called Bongo, as well as the other animals that call Red home.  Humans are part of the story too, with the arrival of a new family to Red's neighbourhood making his role as "wishtree" even more important.  Add to that the lovely dashes of humour in the book (I love the way the animals name their children!) and this turns out to be a small but perfectly-formed book.

    5.  Dear Sister by Alison 

    This story is a lovely exploration of a brother/sister relationship when there is a large age gap between them.  It is told via a series of letters and messages from the brother to his sister.  The book is short and filled with excellent illustrations, making it instantly appealing to students.  It is a fun, sweet book that manages to make you go "awwww".

    3=  Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

    Morrigan Crow is cursed, blamed for all the misfortunes of those around her, and due to die at midnight on Eventide.  Instead, she is whisked away in a giant metallic spider to a magical city named Nevermoor.  

    There are some wonderful characters in this book, and author Jessica Townsend has done a fantastic job of making the world come alive in your imagination.

    3=  Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend

    Wundersmith is the second book in the Nevermoor series, and it was, thankfully, just as good as the first.  Which is why I have made them both 3rd equal!  I tried very hard to read Wundersmith slowly so I could remain in Nevermoor as long as possible!  

    Jessica Townsend avoids overly long descriptive passages and yet I could still see Nevermoor really vividly in my mind.  I really enjoyed Morrigan's new adventure and now it is on to waiting impatiently for the next one.

    One of my highlights of 2018 was being able to hear Jessica Townsend speak at Southwell School.  I took a carload of students, the first ones who read her book, and as soon as she walked in they went "ohhhhh" and were starstruck.  "She's my dream author," said one.

    2.  Restart by Gordon Korman

    Chase falls from a roof, hits his head and loses his memory.  When he returns to school he realises that while some kids like him, others appear scared of him, and he doesn't know why.  Those two sentences are all that's needed to entice many students to read this book!  

    I love that this book is told from multiple perspectives as it really adds insight into the impact of the actions of the bullies in this story.  There's some great humour in the book too, making it a lot of fun to read. 

    1.  Front Desk by Kelly Yang

    Mia Tang is a Chinese immigrant to the United States.  She lives in a motel and she manages the front desk while her parents clean the rooms.  Mia experiences bullying, racism and poverty and both her family and other immigrants in the story are taken advantage of and treated poorly.  Despite these circumstances, Mia shows tolerance, hope, perseverance and love.  

    This is an important story that will hopefully encourage children to understand the experiences of new immigrants better and to feel more empathy with them.  It's a book that I've been recommending to anyone who will listen!

    NB: Make sure to get this cover, we got a second copy with a different cover that was far less appealing to our students (we ended up copying this cover and pasting it over the other copy).

    Sunday, 23 December 2018

    To All the Books I've Read This Year

    Back in July, I posted about displaying the covers of the books I had read.  Have a look at that post for my rave about how successful it is as a form of book promotion.  

    On Wednesday, I opened the library for the first of our summer holiday afternoon sessions.  That was the last day the library will be open for the year, and I took the opportunity to take photos of the library door and adjacent windows that were covered in the books that I have read in 2018.

    107 books - must try to beat that next year!  When we open again on the 9th of January (just for the afternoon) I'll remove all the covers and put up some new ones.  One of our library volunteers also helps out at another school and she is going to take the covers and turn them into a lovely display for them.

    I have read some absolutely fantastic books this year and I'll be posting my top 15 early in the new year.  I was going to start early like some bloggers have, but I'm listening to this great audiobook at the moment that I strongly suspect will make it into the top 15...

    Have you read the end-of-year posts from some of the wonderful children's literature bloggers?  Travis Jonker is a U.S. elementary school librarian who writes 100 Scope Notes.   He has listed his top 20 books for the year.  The National Library's blog lists the 2018 outstanding children's and YA books.  However, due to the sheer number of posts, it is Betsy Bird's A Fuse #8 Production with her 31 days, 31 lists posts that are responsible for most of the rather large piles of library books teetering on my floor.  At least I'll have plenty of books to put on my door & windows next year! (only counting the ones I read in 2019, I'm disappointed I won't get to put the ones I read for the rest of the year up there).

    Have a lovely Christmas and a Happy New Year!  For Christmas we're going up to my brother's place in Auckland and will spend some time near the beach, if the weather behaves itself!  

    Saturday, 13 October 2018

    Skyping Author Will Mabbitt

    Last term, we had a Skype visit with author Will Mabbitt.  It was the first time we've ever done one, and it was so successful I hope that it won't be the last!  If you haven't done a Skype visit before, here's a bit of information on how it came about and what we did.

    Setting up the visit

    The visit was set up through social media.  I had tweeted to Will when his books were in our Picture Book World Cup earlier this year.  'I Can Only Draw Worms' made it to the semi-finals of the Year 5 & 6 Picture Book World Cup, and 'This is Not a Bedtime Story' (with Fred Blunt illustrating) got to the semi-finals of the Year 1 & 2 Picture Book World Cup.  I hadn't heard of Will prior to that, but after both his picture books did so well I tweeted to Will that I was going to seek out his other books.  He mentioned that Year 5 & 6 students would like his Mabel Jones series and that he did free Skype visits for schools reading them.  Fortunately, I found an enthusiastic teacher who agreed to read "The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones", which her students loved (I listened to the audiobook version, which is hilarious - Toby Jones, who narrated, does great voices for each of the characters).

    Once the class had finished the book (and confirmed that they liked it!), I contacted Will again and we set up a time to Skype with him.  He's English so there was a big time difference to contend with.  We arranged to start at 9.15am our time, which was 10.15pm for him.  I was REALLY careful to get the dates and times right for both of us.  It was Tuesday for him and Wednesday for us and I didn't want that to cause any confusion.

    Will sent me his Skype details and I made sure that Skype was working on my laptop (I tried to Skype with someone outside the school).  I'm glad I did as there were some network issues that our I.T. guy had to fix.  On the morning of the Skype, before class started, I gave Will a quick call to make sure everything was still working.

    Skyping with Will

    I won't lie, it was a bit awkward to start with.  There's a delay while you wait for a reply and Skype is not my favourite medium of communication.  I also had technical problems!  Argghhh!  I had to reconnect twice before I stopped airplaying to our TV and just used my laptop.  It wasn't ideal but at least the connection stopped cutting out.

    Once we got going, the Skype visit was a huge success.  The kids had thought of some good questions to ask, and Will was as funny as his books are.  We learned a lot about things like what changes are made when his books are published in different countries, why it's good to be the author AND the illustrator of a book (you get more money!) and why Will writes about pickled onions.  Will then read from his picture book "I can only draw worms" and talked about his latest book "The Embassy of the Dead".  Afterwards, Rebecca, the class teacher, talked with her class about what they had learned and then shared that learning, and some photos, on Seesaw (our school platform for sharing learning with parents).

    The kids really enjoyed having Will's book as a class read and then being able to talk with him about it.  The following week we happened to have a Scholastic Book Fair in the school and luckily for Will his "Embassy of the Dead" book was available.  I had to order in extra copies as it proved to be very popular.  There are also still reserves on the library copies of the other two books in the Mabel Jones series.

    I love this photo - doesn't it look like Will has just worked out he's trapped in a laptop?!!

    More authors to Skype

    On Twitter recently, I found a link to an old article about authors who Skype with classes and book clubs for free.  Given it was written in 2009, I would use this as a starting point and investigate the authors further on their own websites.  If you're in NZ and belong to the NZ Book Council, they offer Skype visits as one way of bringing a writer or illustrator to your school.  Nothing beats a real live author/illustrator visit but Skype is a great alternative when a personal visit isn't possible.  Talking with an author straight after you have read their book is a special experience and definitely worth the effort if the author is willing to give up their time.