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.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Fun with Library Llamas

Our book club's Youtube channel, the Library Llamas, has been up and running for over four months.  Earlier this year, I blogged about getting started.  We now have 40 subscribers, 18 videos (with two more coming as soon as I finish editing them), and over 1,000 views.  It has been a big learning curve, but a fun one.  

One Club becomes Two

It became clear that if students didn't want to appear on camera then they didn't get as much out of the club.  I had already planned to start a Year 5 book club after I got through Book Week in Term 2, and I decided to allow those Year 6 students who weren't connecting with the Library Llamas to join as well.  The new club, the Pink Fluffy Unicorns (yes, the boys voted for that!), is run using the key ring challenge format that was so successful last year.  I now have around 14 students in the Library Llamas (more manageable) and 40 in the Pink Fluffy Unicorns (!).

One thing that I'm proud about is that both my book clubs have students in them that are dyslexic and/or struggling readers.  They're often brought along by their more bookish friends, but they stay because they're comfortable in the club and are able to read and discuss books at the level that is right for them.


Initially, the kids all wanted to set up their own themed 'channel' within our channel.  So far though, I've not had any of them do a second video on the same theme!  Lately, I've been encouraging students to make videos that tie in with two areas:

  • Llama drama - scenes based on books
  • Llama listens - a short book review with our llama puppet (which they get to name).
We also have 'Book Buzz', which is the interviews we've done with visiting authors and illustrators.  I've enjoyed these interviews and the kids have done really well with them.  The feedback we've had from our guests has been positive too, with one saying that they felt so special when asked to be interviewed.

The other playlist we have is 'Double Trouble', which has more in-depth book reviews, done by two student librarians (not necessarily Library Llama members) wanting to earn their gold certificates.  I do give student librarians the option of getting their gold certificate by doing written book reviews, I am careful not to require on-camera appearances as that can disadvantage shy students.

Llama Drama!

One of our Year 2 classes really enjoyed this video:  

Apparently, several of the students went around afterwards yelling "Roar!, roar!, roar!" all around the playground!  They also tried it in the Reading Wonderland, where the video was shot, but were told off by Esther (our library assistant who unfortunately hadn't seen the video!).

Lessons from Filming

  • One of the biggest technical problems we have is that we often film at morning tea, and it is very noisy outside.  I also think we could improve with better camera techniques, so I have contacted our local tertiary institution and am in the process of setting up a visit from a person from their Moving Image team.  I think the kids will enjoy getting ideas to make their videos better, I know I will.
  • So far, I have turned down one video after we filmed it.  It is a fine line, I don't want to crush creative ideas, but at the same time there does need to be a certain standard for our videos.  Fortunately, the boys took it well and have gone on to make other, better, videos.
  • I accidentally filmed one video where the boys were wearing their name badges!  I'm trying to work out if I can blur these somehow or if we will need to reshoot.  I do specify that due to privacy reasons all students must remove their name badges, but I'm often busy filming and organising and I obviously forgot to remind them this time.

Author Feedback

One thing that has been a thrill for the students is when they've received feedback from the authors of the books they have reviewed.  Here are a couple:

The students are still full of energy, ideas and enthusiasm and I'm looking forward to seeing what we come up with for the rest of the year!

Monday, 9 July 2018

Displaying your Reading History

Last year, I started displaying the covers of the books I was currently reading.  Here's what I was reading last week:

This display has generated a bit of interest.  Recently, I've had students ask me why it's taking me so long to read "The Heroes of Olympus" series!  (In my defence, I've been listening to the audiobook versions only while exercising and doing chores and I obviously don't do enough of either of these things!).  

Fortunately, once I'd finished reading a book and had removed the cover from this display, I kept it.  I thought I might have a use for it someday.

A few months ago, I saw a post from librarian Zac McCallum, on the NZ school library listserv.  Zac has a wall filled with ALL the books he has read so far this year.  It looks colourful and interesting, and given I had most of my covers in a pile already, it was easy for me to implement.  I put them on my door:

I had no idea how much interest this would generate.  Far more than my "currently reading" display.  It is a great way to show students, and teachers, the amount and variety of children's books I read.  Many have asked about particular books, and have gone on to read them themselves.  I make sure that I only include books that are in our library (well, except for "Illegal" by Eoin Colfer, I put that up but I'm still deciding whether I think it is suitable for a Year 1-6 primary.  If you've read it, I'd love to hear what you think).  I do read a lot of children's books from our public library, but if they're not good enough for me to buy for our school library I don't put them on my door.  I also don't include picture books (too many!) or the YA and adult books I read.

This display has given me some unexpected benefits:
  • When asked to recommend a book, I have a quick way to remember all the good books that I've read so far this year.  
  • I can point out a cover as I talk about a book so a student can see what it looks like.
  • I'm finding filling up the door surprisingly motivational!  It is quite satisfying to move a cover from the "currently reading" display onto the door.  And it is pleasing to see the space on the door filling up!

I am really pleased with how successful this display has been and would highly recommend doing it.

At the end of the year, I'm going to take a photo of the door (and possibly the adjoining windows if I fill the door up) before removing all the covers.  

I'm also thinking that I should promote this idea to the teachers in our Teachers' Reading Group when we meet again early next term.  Earlier this year, I encouraged them to display the covers of the books they have read aloud, and some of them have been doing that.  Displaying the books they have read themselves would take it one step further (and perhaps encourage them to read more children's books).

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Picture Book World Cup

Last week, was our school's Book Week.  I had a number of things planned, I talked about them here.  The big event for the week was our Picture Book World Cup.  The idea of a Picture Book World Cup is that classes read two books and vote for one of them to advance to the next round.  Here are some of our Library Llamas Book Club describing how it works:

I picked up the idea from author Jonathan Emmett, and ran our tournament as suggested in his article.  The only difference was that we have a large school - 34 classes (including two satellite classes).  To make it manageable, I split the school into three different World Cups - one each for our Year 0-2 classes, our Year 3-4 classes and our Year 5-6 classes.  I had a number of new picture books (new to our library) and decided to use those so everyone, students and teachers, would discover some new books.  Here are the books I used:

If I had to choose again, I would try to include more books by New Zealand authors.  We have plenty in our library, we just didn't have many new ones I could use.

I didn't have themes like Jonathan Emmett did, I think using new books made that too hard.  Like Jonathan, I tried to include non-fiction picture books where I could (and the winner of the Year 5 & 6 Picture Book World Cup was a non-fiction book).

Here are the instructions I gave our teachers.  I had to remind teachers that I wanted the votes for each book, not just the overall winner, and there was a bit of confusion around them having to vote twice on the Tuesday.  I also had to be careful to track down relieving teachers and explain what they needed to do, and to intercept students who returned books to the library and not my office!  I was lucky that I had backing from senior management, with the understanding that participating in the Picture Book World Cup could be counted as part of the literacy programme for the week.  Overall, the week went really smoothly.  It was as successful as I'd hoped it would be, culminating in team assemblies which had kids cheering loudly as the two top books battled it out and the final winner was announced.

In order to make it as exciting as possible, I made up some slides and shared them with our team leaders so they could use them at their assemblies.  I also included some of the tweets from authors and illustrators I had received during the week:

Here are the overall winners:

Year 1 & 2

Year 3 & 4

Year 5 & 6

I have had great feedback from students, parents and teachers about how popular the Picture Book World Cup was.  It was a really fun event to run and I'd highly recommend it!

Update  Here is what one of the classes thought about the books in their Picture Book World Cup:

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy - An Autocompleted Children's Book

One of my favourite American bloggers is Travis Jonker, the elementary school librarian who writes 100 Scope Notes.  He's done a few posts with autocompleted children's books, where he starts typing the beginning of each line of the book into Google, and lets autocomplete finish them off.  I thought it would be fun to do a NZ version of this, using Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy by Lynley Dodd.  The autocompleted parts are in bold.

Out of the shadows
and off to see the wizard
went for broke
from Russia with love

and Hercule Poirot
as big as an elephant

with hearts burning
from dusk till dawn.

Bottoms up
covered in itchy bites,
Hercule Poirot
as big as an elephant

and hairdressing
from Donald Trump.

Muffin break
like a bunch of lemmings,
Bottoms up
covered in itchy bites,
Hercule Poirot
as big as an elephant

and hairdressing
from Donald Trump.

all skill no luck,
Muffin break
like a bunch of lemmings,
Bottoms up
covered in itchy bites,
Hercule Poirot
as big as an elephant

and hairdressing
from Donald Trump.

Schnitzel stir fry
with a very special person,
all skill no luck,
Muffin break
like a bunch of lemmings,
Bottoms up
covered in itchy bites,
Hercule Poirot
as big as an elephant

and hairdressing
from Donald Trump.

With arms wide open
they see me rollin
past the point of no return
to the forest of firefly lights.
They snuck into America
and they swam right over the dam,
when suddenly,
out of the woods

the toughest tongue twister

said Scarface Rapper.

Off with a stick
a waiter and a how to book,
a scatter of stardust
and a clatter of clogs,
went school closings,
with a very heavy heart,
all skill no luck,
Muffin break
like a bunch of lemmings,
Bottoms up
covered in itchy bites,
Hercule Poirot
as big as an elephant

and hairdressing
from Donald Trump.

I really want to know what you could do with a stick, a waiter and a how to book!

Image: Lincoln Simms

When I checked these autocompletes on other devices they weren't always the same...interesting.

Thanks for the idea Travis, I had a lot of fun!

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Four Things I'm Excited about in 2018: #4 Book Week

#1 Library Llamas
#2 Patron of Reading
#3 Reading Buddies
#4 Book Week

The fourth thing I'm excited about this year is our Book Week, which is in Week 3 next term.  I always enjoy a week of putting books and reading in the limelight, and I have lots of ideas to try.  Some of these are still evolving, but this is what I have so far:

Theme = Sharing Stories

When we held our Teachers' Reading Groups last year, I was disappointed by some of the results from surveys we did in the participants' classrooms, in particular the percentages of children who weren't being read to by their parents. I wanted a way to gently promote the importance of reading to our children, even when they are old enough to read to themselves.  So the theme for our Book Week this year is "Sharing Stories".

Picture Book World Cup

A while back I saw a post on Twitter about a Picture Book World Cup and I've been keen to try it ever since.  Author Jonathan Emmett describes it fully here, but basically it is a knockout competition where books are paired against each other and students vote on the ones they like the best.  Jonathan is a Patron of Reading and he ran a Picture Book World Cup at his patron school.  What got me hooked is his description of the special assembly to announce the winner - "Both books had enthusiastic supporters who broke out into excited cheering whenever their book pulled ahead".  Wouldn't that be fantastic?!  To have a school so excited about books they start cheering about them?

To make it manageable at our large school, we are going to run three Picture Book World Cups, one each for our Year 0-2, Year 3-4 and Year 5-6 classes.  This will also allow me to give the Year 5 & 6 students some sophisticated picture books. 

The Picture Book World Cup takes place over the course of a week, and will be one of the big events for our Book Week.


Our PTA had tentatively proposed a Spellathon for next term, but happily they have agreed to change this to a Readathon.  I think this will fit nicely with our theme of Sharing Stories, as it will be a good way to encourage students and parents to read together at home.  I did a bit of research about how this works for the PTA, but it will be their job to run it.  The way that I liked best is to organise it by a minimum amount of reading per day.  After the student has met the minimum amount, any more reading that day does not count toward the sponsorship.  This encourages regular reading, not just one big session, and it also means that sponsors have an idea about what the maximum amount of their sponsorship will be.  

I have heard of students being sponsored by the amount of books they read, but I have concerns that doing it that way would incentivise reading smaller, easier books as fast as you can, rather than enjoying reading any story, however large or small, at whatever pace suits you.

Book Basketball Death Match

Earlier this month, I co-presented a workshop with the amazing teacher/librarian Steph Ellis.  She introduced me to the idea of Book Basketball Deathmatch.  Teams of five are given ten points each and in turns they have to answer book-related questions.  If they get the question right, one person from a team takes a shot at a basketball net.  If they sink the shot, they get to nominate a team to take points off.  Once a team has lost all of its points they are out of the game. 

Given our presentation was titled "Libraries Just Wanna Have Fun", we thought it would be a good excuse to test the game out on our unsuspecting audience.  It was a bit of a gamble with around 50 in our audience, but with a few adjustments (we overestimated our collective throwing abilities and need to bring our "net" in closer!), we could see that it was as much fun as we'd thought it might be.  We didn't finish a whole game, but there was still time for rivalries to form between Team 2 and Team 5!   All it took was one team choosing to deduct points from the other and the war was on!  It looked like having ten points each might make the game take quite a long time to play, I might try five points each for our school version.  We didn't have a basketball net, so our net was just an empty rubbish bin.

I'm wondering whether I should combine a staff version of Book Basketball Death Match with our next Teachers' Reading Group session.  It would be a lot of fun and they would get an idea of how to run it.  

I think we'll have to rename this for our younger audience, it will probably be Book Basketball Survivor. 

Author Visits

Dawn McMillan, our Patron of Reading, is coming on the Friday and will speak with our Year 3 & 4 students.  Illustrator Ross Kinnaird, who illustrates a lot of Dawn's books ,is also attending on the Friday and will be working with our Year 5 & 6 students.  Finally, we also have author Angie Belcher coming in earlier in the week to talk with our Year 1 & 2 students.  That might seem like a lot of authors/illustrators, but it is still 10-12 classes each for them.

Book Art

I'll be offering a couple of suggestions to the teachers for creating art for, or during, Book Week.  There is "door wars", where classes decorate their classroom doors using a book as inspiration.  Or students could draw their favourite book's cover and write a couple of sentences about why they like it.  Or instead of a couple of sentences they could give a three word review, (another idea that Steph Ellis talked about in our presentation).

Student Storytellers/Poets

When I was in London last year, I got to attend a workshop by author Atinuke (I love her Anna Hibiscus and No.1 Car Spotter books).  During the workshop, Atinuke told a traditional story.  There was no book, just her telling the story from memory.  I was completely enthralled and realised it had been a long, long time since I had heard a story in this way.  I was keen to have some of our older students tell stories to our younger students during Book Week.  Fortunately this ties in with our oral literacy curriculum, and one of our teachers is working on this with her students for me.

Then a couple of weeks ago I had a chance conversation with another teacher, who was telling me that her students were enjoying learning poetry and performing it.  Excellent, some more student entertainers for Book Week!  I love that this will be a different aspect of stories and poetry that we can share.

Mystery Readers

We've done Mystery Readers in the past and they were popular.  They suit the Sharing Stories theme perfectly so we'll be doing it again on the last two days of Book Week.  On the first day we'll have a staff swap (including senior management and support staff).  On the second day I hope that Dawn McMillan and Ross Kinnaird will join in, as well as parents, who could share a favourite book from their childhood, and/or one from a different culture.

"The Big Read"

On our final day we will have "The Big Read".  I am hoping that we can encourage families to come in and celebrate reading with their children.  I am thinking that it would be nice if Dawn and Ross could take the opportunity to talk about encouraging reading for pleasure with parents in a special assembly.  I'll have to look into that.  We will have the announcements of the Picture Book World Cup winners, and student/parent sessions from Dawn and Ross.  Students will be able to come in their pyjamas, with their favourite soft toys.  I'll bring in lots of blankets and pillows and we can all lounge around in the library!  I'm not sure exactly how the morning will look for parents attending, I'm hoping to get some help with that from our teams.

I have been invited to attend a staff meeting in a couple of weeks to talk about Book Week and our plans for it.  The following day Dawn McMillan is coming for her first visit as Patron, and I'll go over our Book Week plans with her then.  The week after that I plan on attending a PTA meeting to help with the Readathon.  And then it's the holidays, and all of a sudden Term 2, Week 3 doesn't seem so far away!  Isn't that always the case?!

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Four Things I'm Excited about in 2018: #3 Reading Buddies

#1 Library Llamas
#2 Patron of Reading
#3 Reading Buddies
#4 Book Week

In another project inspired by Jon Biddle (see my Patron of Reading post for the first), we are going to be trialling Reading Buddies in our school.  I saw Jon's blog post in December and thought it sounded like a nice way to help promote a love of reading in some of our students who could use extra encouragement.  The idea is that each student is assigned a staff member (not necessarily a teacher) who spends a bit of time each week talking with them about books and what they are reading.

I took this idea to our DP, who was supportive but mindful of the workload of our teachers.  We have decided to start small, with our priority learners teacher, myself, and two of the teachers from my Teachers' Reading Group.  We are currently waiting for the students to be selected, then we are ready to go.  To start with, we will be working with a few of our Year 5 & 6 students.  

I often help students select books to read, but don't often spend a sustained period of time with one particular student.  I'm looking forward to experiencing this different dynamic and seeing whether it can have an impact on a student's reading life.  I'm also hopeful that as a group we can discuss what books and techniques are working for our reading buddies and build on each other's knowledge.  With any luck the trial will be so successful we'll be able to entice other teachers to join in, but in the meantime I am just happy, and excited, that we get to give it a go.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Four Things I'm Excited about in 2018: #2 Patron of Reading

#1 Library Llamas
#2 Patron of Reading

During my trip to England last year, I got to meet Jon Biddle, a teacher who helped set up the Patron of Reading scheme.  According to the website, a Patron of Reading is: 
a school's special author, poet, storyteller or illustrator.  The school and the patron develop a relationship over a period of time.  Everything the patron does is related to helping encourage and develop a reading for pleasure culture in the school:  book quizzes, blogs, book recommendations, discussions, plays, poetry bashes, blogs, book trailers and visits.  The possibilities are virtually endless.
 I love the idea of being able to form a deeper relationship with a Patron, and keeping in contact with them in between multiple school visits.  We've only ever had single visits from authors/illustrators in the past, which means, in most cases, one talk with accompanying slides to groups of anywhere from 60-300 children.  I'm not saying that these events aren't worthwhile, they are very inspirational to our students.  However, once I saw what could happen with a Patron of Reading I was very keen to give the idea a go.  Fortunately, I got the support of our DP, so this year our school has it's first Patron of Reading!

The first step was to choose a Patron.  We decided on an author to start with, and I suggested Dawn McMillan.  Dawn visited our school in 2014, and in addition to speaking with our younger students, also ran a writing workshop for our older budding authors.  I like the fact that Dawn has published a number of books, including many educational readers that our students will be familiar with.  But what appealed to me the most was the fact that she relates so well to the students (being an ex-teacher probably helps!) and she seems to be such a positive, enthusiastic person.  I emailed Dawn about the idea, with a link to the Patron of Reading website.  Within hours she had replied, saying that she would love to do it.

Photo courtesy of Dawn McMillan

Our first visit from Dawn is due to take place on 5 April.  We have a number of activities planned, with a focus on Dawn meeting our Year 5 & 6 students in this first visit.  With over 740 students at our school, we didn't want to spread Dawn too thin!  She has agreed to an interview with a few of our Library Llamas for their Youtube Channel, and I'll be taking the opportunity to sit down with her face-to-face and talk about ideas for future visits, including one in May which will be during our Book Week.  We have so many other things that we can do, Dawn herself has already provided me with a nice long list!  I'm so excited about seeing what we can achieve together.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Four Things I'm Excited about in 2018: #1 Library Llamas

#1 Library Llamas
#2 Patron of Reading
#3 Reading Buddies
#4 Book Week

I've been meaning to write about some of the exciting things I have planned for this year.  These are the projects, schemes, clubs and events that are a joy to organise and something I eagerly look forward to being a part of.  We all need a few of these in our working lives, and this year I have at least four that make me smile and put a spring in my step.  I'm going to share these over the next few days, and the first one I'm going to talk about is our Book Club and their Youtube channel.

At last year's SLANZA conference, Australian keynote speaker Adele Walsh introduced me to the world of Booktube, specifically polandbananasbooks.  It was a revelation - I never knew that world existed.  At the time, I wondered "can we do something similar with our kids?" but it wasn't until lamenting the unloved folder of our written book reviews that I decided to give it a try.  So this year, I have launched our booktubing Year 6 book club.  It's a big club, around 25, and that makes group decision-making a bit time consuming.  However, I believe that book clubs are a great place to encourage student agency and empowerment, two popular goals in the wider education community.

I set up a blog to help communicate with the club members (I shared the link with their parents via the Seesaw app).  As some of our members don't have parents signed up to Seesaw I won't be able to rely on it as my main form of communication, but it does help me keep all relevant information in one place.  In my first post, I shared the work of some younger booktubers for inspiration.

Our first decision was the name of the club - the Library Llamas!  This was decided on Tuesday, and apparently we also needed a song and a dance - who knew?!  That book club meeting has to have been the noisiest one in the history of all book club meetings - it was loud!  And the tune got stuck in my head, watch it at your own risk:

Some of our students chose not to be in the song and dance.  Some will be doing other, less performance-based videos, others are going to work behind the scenes and help plan the videos.

Coming up next week we will be looking at how to organise the production of more videos - book reviews, interviews, scenes from books etc.  I think we'll have to break into smaller groups, but we can do brainstorming sessions for ideas as a whole.  I already have an interview set up in April, with Dawn McMillan, our new Patron of Reading (read more about that tomorrow!).

I'm really excited about this project because it has so much potential and I'm not sure where it's going to take me.  The enthusiasm of the kids is infectious, even if I have to tell them that thinking about "merch" is a bit premature, and hitting 1,000,000 subscribers is a bit too big of a target!

My ultimate goal is to connect with other students within our school, our country and internationally, and share our love of books.  It would be great if we could have some book conversations with other students through the comments sections in our videos.

Watch this space and I'll document our journey.  And if you could subscribe to our channel, that would make our Library Llamas very happy :)

Oh, and on a side note, I've learned some very interesting information about llamas.  Did you know that they are considerably bigger than alpacas and have longer faces and banana-shaped ears?  (I didn't want to accidentally put a photo of an alpaca on our channel so I needed to research the difference!).

Sunday, 21 January 2018

My 5 Star Reads from 2017: Fiction, Non-Fiction and Poetry

At the beginning of the year, I always find myself surrounded by new books that have appeared on other people's "best of" lists.  I sheepishly go and pick up piles of reserves from the public library - when you have a lot you have to ask at the desk instead of getting them yourself from the reserve shelf.  I even reserve books on my mother's library card because her public library has a wider range of books than mine!  At the same time, I attempt to not become a hermit, and to pay some attention to my family.  It's not always easy!  Anyway, I have broken the spell long enough to finish off my best books from 2017.  My best picture books are here.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
This is a beautifully written book about a girl, a witch, a swamp monster, a madwoman, a young man and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon.  It deservedly won the Newbery Medal last year.  A must read for any lovers of fantasy.

Artichoke Hearts by Sita Brahmachari
Mira Levinson is 12 and of part-English, part-Indian heritage.  Her grandmother, Josie, is dying of cancer and Mira has to work out how to deal with the imminent loss of a very special person in her life.  At the same time she is dealing with bullying, friendship and first love.

This is a very powerful book that would be suitable for mature Year 6 and up. 

Beetle Boy by M G Leonard
I loved this book about a boy, Darkus, whose dad has disappeared, bugs who can communicate with humans, an evil woman (who reminds me of Cruella De Vil, but with bugs), and bad men who want to turn Darkus into a pie.  There's lots of action, combined with facts about beetles.  It turns out that's a great combination!

The Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen
Ade lives with his mother in a tower block.  His mother has become mentally unwell after an attack and Ade is having to shoulder more responsibilities to look after them both.  As if that isn't enough, strange plants appear, buildings start to fall down, and the world he lives in begins to change, while his mother sleeps on...

This is a fabulous, unusual, survival story, with well-rounded characters and some moments so tense I had to skip ahead a bit to make sure everything would be okay!

The Pest in the Nest (Rabbit & Bear #2) by Julian Gough, Jim Field (illustrator)
A bird arrives, makes a racket and really upsets Rabbit.  I love the developing friendship between Rabbit and Bear, and the patience Bear shows as he helps Rabbit, whose "brain is getting into a fight with the world".  One of our Year 2 teachers read this to her class, I thought they might be a little young, but they LOVED it!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale 
This book is funny and filled with action.  It has references to Marvel characters, squirrels with cool names, and an evil villain - a very enjoyable read!  (It was also nice to read a book with a great deaf character in it).

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
Roz is a robot who is shipwrecked and ends up on a remote island.  She has to adapt to the different conditions there, and deal with the local animal population, who think she is a monster.  Her adoption of an orphaned goose egg is a catalyst that leads to her and the other animals learning from one another.

A beautiful survival tale that celebrates nature, kindness and friendship. 

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell
I'd highly recommend listening to the audiobook of this story, especially if you like the lovely Scottish accent of David Tennant.  He does great voices for the characters, and we loved the way he says 'spoon'!  The story itself is humorous, well-paced and full of interesting characters.


Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, Don Tate, illustrator
An interesting non-fiction picture book about Lonnie Johnson, his life and his inventions, including his most famous invention - the Super Soaker.


Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka
I am not a huge poetry fan, in fact, this is the fourth year I've blogged about my 5 star reads and this is the first book of poetry I've ever included.  This is a very clever collection of shape poems, you really have to see it to understand how brilliant it is.  The poems and the shapes fit perfectly together, making a book ideal to share with people who claim they are "not a huge poetry fan"!