Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Key Ring Challenge

Near the end of March, I was reading an article in The Sapling about the wonderful Desna Wallace, librarian at Fendalton Open-Air School in Christchurch.  Desna described her most successful reading promotion, which involved key rings and tags that she issued to her Year Six book club.  I thought that sounded fantastic, and promptly stole the idea!  I am pleased to say that in the few weeks it has been running in the Terrifying Night Howlers (our book club) it has been equally engaging.

We had a rather fragmented start to the book club, with me flying off to the UK soon after we got started.  We had over 30 Year 5 & 6 students at one point, but I knew from experience that not everyone stays.  However, it didn't drop as much as I thought it would, and it was hard to have enough time for everyone to contribute to our conversations.  I trialled using the Seesaw app to communicate with students, to try and extend the conversations outside of school.  Teachers throughout our school use Seesaw in their classrooms so I knew everyone would be familiar with the app.  I had some success with it, but not as much as I wanted!  I am going to try and sort out some logistical details and give it another go.

This term, I have ended up splitting the club in two, with 12-14 students in each, to make it more manageable.  We meet on Thursday and Friday at morning tea.  Both groups are still called the Terrifying Night Howlers - the name the kids chose for themselves last term.  I never get tired of hearing that over the intercom!

I had some of the students, those who were keen, make a Terrifying Night Howlers logo for the first tag on their key ring.  We ended up with four designs, which we shrunk down and laminated, and the other kids chose the ones they wanted.

The first key ring challenge took place over two weeks and involved shadowing.  I was very fortunate to have been sent the books in the FCBG book awards.  The students read the picture books to each other and then voted for their favourites.  I have to admit I have never done shadowing with my book clubs before but I was inspired by how keen librarians in England were on this process.  Our students really enjoyed discussing the books and voting on their favourites. The overwhelming favourite of both groups was Chicken Nugget by Michelle Robinson and Tom McLaughlin.  I will be interested to see what the children in England, Scotland and Wales have selected when the winner is announced on 10 June.

I also plan on shadowing the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.  I was hoping we could look at the junior fiction but there's not a lot of time between when the shortlist is announced and when the awards are announced, particularly when there are holidays in between.  It looks like it will need to be picture books again.  There is a link to generic activities you can do to work with the awards finalists.

Next week's key ring challenge will earn the students a "Film Star" tag.  I have kept in contact on Twitter with a teacher in Norfolk and we are going to swap videos of the students giving a short pitch for their favourite books.  I'm really not sure whether we will be able to do the filming in 30 mins but we will give it a try!

I am enjoying creating the key ring tags using Canva, which I use to design a lot of my posters as well.  The '5' will be for students when they have attended five book club sessions.

We are having a lot of fun with the key ring challenge - thanks Desna!

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Good, the Bad and the Trivial: My Trip to the UK

Last week, I arrived back in the country after spending three weeks in the UK.  This was part of an NZEI scholarship I received to find out more about reading for pleasure initiatives there.  

The Good

I had the most marvellous trip - the people I met were enthusiastic, generous with their time and full of ideas that inspired me.  I was incredibly well looked after by everyone I came in contact with.  I was met at the airport and given a place to stay in London.  I was picked up in cars and ferried around, sometimes over multiple days.  I was shouted school lunches, pub lunches and dinner (with mushy peas!).  I was given train advice and taken to meet authors, to poetry/jazz evenings and to football games.  People took time out of their busy days, sometimes even their weekends, to talk with me and to share their passions.  To give me books and information packs and USB sticks filled with documents.  I feel very blessed to have been able to plan the scholarship trip of my dreams and for it to have exceeded my expectations.

I have already begun a big project based on research from the UK.  My trip has provided me with many other items for my "to do" list that I will attempt as time allows - for example, ideas for book clubs, author visits, award shadowing, shared reading, storytelling, building empathy and bringing librarians and communities together.  As I implement them I will blog about them, and I will also share these ideas when I present at the SLANZA conference in July.

I have been in contact with a few of my new friends from the UK already, and will follow up with some more tomorrow.  I know that they will continue to support me in the work that I do and I hope to show them that their ideas will make an impact in New Zealand too.

Another good thing that I have to bring up, actually an amazing thing, is the work of the succession of Children's Laureates that have worked in the UK since 1999.  Chris Riddell, the current Laureate, is an absolute hero to libraries, his advocacy work is tireless.  Plus, he draws on walls everywhere!

At CLPE, London

At Seven Stories, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

At the Norfolk Children's Book Centre

I want walls like these, possibly something to start with the next illustrator who visits!  I'd also love a NZ Children's Laureate, and Kyle Mewburn agrees.  It would great if we could make that happen.

And finally, there are some amazing trusts and agencies that support reading.  Actually, BookTrust manage the Children's Laureate.  I love the nationwide Summer Reading Challenge that is run by the Reading Agency.  It is very visible and has recognition across the UK, as three quarters of a million children take part.  The ability to promote one event and have schools working with public libraries seems like a great way to coordinate resources and spread a single message.  World Book Day, supported by all the major agencies, is another event that every school I visited seemed to do something for.  By the way, I got snuck into the main London event and managed to see Chris Riddell live...

The Bad

While I was lucky to be in the presence of some amazing people doing wonderful things, I also have to mention the difficult circumstances in which many were managing to operate.  In England, Year 6 students have to sit SATs.  This appeared to be the overwhelming focus of their entire year, until the final eight weeks after exams when they got to enjoy other things like art and school productions.  A lot of the great initiatives I saw only went up to Year 5, because Year 6's had no time for things like reading for pleasure.  We can only hope that the way these tests narrow what is taught, and become all-consuming, does not happen in New Zealand.

It was so rare for a primary school librarian to exist that the mere mention of my title was cause for discussion.  In Scotland, I was told that they have never had primary school librarians, and that many of their secondary school librarians are under threat.  In England, I was warned it would be difficult to find primary school librarians to talk to.  This was not actually a problem but it was clear that there are far more primary schools without librarians than with them.  Many librarians that I did meet were worried about the future of their jobs. 

While I was in the UK I saw articles like this one, talking about a "budget crisis" facing schools, with one school governor saying "we can no longer afford books/pencils/IT".  Another article talked about what is happening at secondary level:
School trips, after-school clubs, sports fixtures and summer schools are being cancelled, while school premises are falling into disrepair, IT equipment is out-of-date and schools are unable to buy text books for new GCSE courses...
Public libraries have been decimated too, and many are staffed by volunteers.  "Since 2010, 8,000 librarians have been made redundant across England Wales - a quarter of the workforce - while the number of libraries has fallen by 340 since 2008".  The same article said that book budgets have been first in line for cuts and one of the two main categories of books not being replaced is children's books.  The Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals stated that:
As a nation, at exactly the moment when we ought to be investing in literacy and skills, we have allowed at least 10% of our public libraries, and many of our much-needed school libraries to close while many others have been forced to implement drastic reductions to opening hours and services.
It is an incredibly hard time to be a librarian in the UK and I was feeling very happy that New Zealand didn't seem to be experiencing the same problems.  And then I came back and heard about 178 New Zealand schools that don't have a library and 74 jobs being lost at Auckland Libraries.  We're still nowhere near the crisis levels that the UK's libraries are facing but we need to be actively advocating for our libraries now, because there's no guarantee that's not in our future.  Especially since the government has frozen the school operations grant that school librarians get paid from.  I hate to get all "union-y" on you but when you see what can happen it makes it really important that we put pressure on the government through the collective power that a union can provide.  If you are not in the union, please consider joining.  And then you can apply for a scholarship too!

The Trivial

Here are some other, slightly less important observations from my trip:

  • It is easy to reach your step goals in London!  With a ten minute walk to my nearest train station, then lots of walking from the tube to my end destinations, I was blitzing my targets with no problem whatsoever (in fact, on some mornings I was waking up with sore legs, I didn't realise I should have upped my fitness levels before travelling!). 
  • I could see that I caused distress to the staff on trains and in hotels.  This wasn't intentional, however it is clear that the English do take the drinking of tea very seriously.  If you then decline their offer of coffee, well, let's just say that I could have been saying that I wasn't going to breathe air.  It was incomprehensible to them.
  • English traffic lights have a red-orange phase just before the lights turn green again.  I like this, it's a great way to get your handbrake off and get ready to go.  I wonder why we don't have this in NZ?

I did get three days of sightseeing on my trip, and had some evenings out.  Here are a few photos to prove it:

Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Chris Lam Sam, a Kiwi author launching his first book with Angela Keoghan
- "Inspector Brunswick - The Case of the Missing Eyebrow"

Edinburgh Castle

St Paul's Cathedral

Fulham vs Blackburn at Craven Cottage

Punting at Cambridge

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Reading for Pleasure - The Countdown is On!

There are 37 days and 15 hours until I fly out to London on my scholarship trip to find out more about reading for pleasure initiatives in the UK.  Just typing this causes flutters of anxiety and I have to take a deep breath to relax.  I am really excited about the trip, I just still have a lot to do.  I have had a recurring dream where I am trying to find everything to pack and I am running late to get to the airport (so I try not to stress about the trip just before I go to sleep!).

Things are actually coming along nicely.  Here are some highlights:

  • I extended my trip because I found out about the UKLA National Conference, which is on "Finding and sharing pleasure in reading" and takes place in the University of Cambridge!  It happens the day after I was initially going to leave, so I am now staying until the 19th of March.  Thank goodness I have an understanding principal.
  • I am getting to visit schools in London, Hertfordshire, Ipswich, Norfolk and Scotland.
  • I have appointments with a number of Trusts and non-profits who support reading.
  • I am going to a day-long course on reading for pleasure.
  • I am visiting Seven Stories in Newcastle upon Tyne and the Norfolk Children's Book Centre.
  • I am really lucky to be meeting with Professor Teresa Cremin.  She is a prominent education researcher who has been doing a lot of work on reading for pleasure.  I talked about her book at the bottom of my last post.

I am also treating myself to a Warner Bros. Studio Tour on The Making of Harry Potter.  I had to find something to do on my weekends!

It has taken a lot of work to coordinate all the different visits, and I still have a couple of places to confirm.  Relying on email takes time, and patience, as I know that my requests may be just adding to a busy day for the people who receive them.  That said, I have been blown away by the number of people who have offered to: organise days with them that include visits to other schools in their area, drive me around and help me with accommodation.

Investigating all the places I'm going, and people I'm seeing, has lead to some interesting ideas already.  I've discovered mood boards

and fun library games

It is a challenge not to get pulled down the rabbit hole and spend days exploring online when I actually need to work out other things like what clothes to take and how to fit them into a suitcase!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

My 5 Star Reads from 2016: Children's Non-Fiction, YA and Professional Reading

This is the last of my blog posts about my best books of 2016.  On Sunday, I posted about my best children's fiction and graphic novels and yesterday I added my best picture books.

Children's Non-Fiction

Finding Winnie:  The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick (Caldecott Medal 2016)
This is the story about how the great-grandfather of the author came to buy the bear, Winnie, that would eventually provide the inspiration for A.A. Milne and his famous stories about Winnie-the-Pooh.  The fact that Winnie's journey to his eventual home at London Zoo took place during World War 1 makes it particularly interesting.  Here is a video about it.

Last year, the theme for our Book Week was "Spies and Detectives".  As a result, I read a lot of books about spies, and this was by far the best. It has lots of interesting information and useful tips.

This is a fantastic true story about a group of children who live near, and often work in, a rubbish dump.  When a man offers to teach music to the children there aren't enough instruments to go around.  The ingenious use of rubbish to build instruments has a big impact on the students and their families.  Here is a 60 minutes report about the orchestra.  It's a really inspiring watch.

Young Adult

I don't read a lot of YA but some of the books I read last year were amazing so I thought I'd share them too.

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine
Sixteen-year-old Iris has a self-absorbed mother and has become a little obsessed with setting fires.  She is brought to see the dying father who she's never met in an attempt to claim his fortune for her greedy mother.  Three words to sum up this book - revenge is sweet!

The Good Braider by Terry Farish
This is the free verse story of Viola, who journeys from war-torn Sudan to Cairo and then Maine.  Her struggles with learning how to adapt to a new culture while respecting her old one, will resonate with immigrants and also provide an insight for others.  A powerful book.

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
This is another free verse story about an immigrant and the challenges she faces.  In this case, Kasienka and her mother are Polish and have moved to England to find the father/husband who has left them.  Kasienka encounters racism and bullying as she tries to deal with problems at school and at home.  This is a moving, beautifully written story.

Professional Reading

I found this book so interesting I did a blog post on it back in April.  I did finally get to see the film of the same name, if you get a chance I would recommend seeing it (as well as reading the book!)

I am not the only NZ librarian who has been inspired by this book, as evidenced by the fact that SLANZA (the School Library Association of New Zealand) has invited Rachel to be a keynote speaker at their conference in July.  The book inspires a lot of reflection on how librarians promote books and reading.  There is also a series of four videos of Rachel sharing her ideas, the first one is here.

This book was recommended by a keynote speaker at an educational conference I went to.  It is about the problems that can arise when we compare individuals to an "average" person.  I was blown away by how it managed to challenge the assumptions in some of my thinking.  Here is Todd's TED talk.

Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for Pleasure by Teresa Cremin, Marilyn Mottram, Fiona M. Collins, Sacha Powell and Kimberly Safford
I read this book because I am lucky enough to be meeting with Teresa Cremin when I am on my scholarship trip in England in March.  The book is based on two studies by the UKLA (United Kingdom Literature Association) on teachers' knowledge of children's literature, and how they can improve it and build reading communities in their classrooms.  I think this information may offer a way in the door so that I can work with our teachers to enhance their students' engagement with reading.  This is something that I have been looking to develop after realising that I know very little about the ways our teachers model a love of reading in their classrooms.

Monday, 2 January 2017

My 5 Star Reads from 2016: Picture Books

Following on from yesterday's reviews of my favourite children's fiction and graphic novels, today I am going to look at the picture books I gave 5 stars to in 2016.

Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis
A humorous, cautionary tale about a chicken discovering the delights of the internet - first through online shopping, and then by finding a "friend".

11 Experiments that Failed by Jenny Offill
This amusing book teaches you how to conduct science experiments by coming up with hypotheses to check.  Of course, the experiments in this case include investigating questions like "can a washing machine wash dishes?" and the results are often messy!

This is a Ball by Beck and Matt Stanton
I love it when teachers read this book aloud to their classes.  I can normally tell it's happening when the howls of outrage start.  Everything in this book is wrong, which makes it a whole lot of fun to read.

How this Book was Made by Mac Barnett
There is a crazy little video to promote this book.  The book is equally wacky, which always appeals to me.  It also has some interesting details about making a book (which do need to be separated from the parts about pirates and tigers!).

Tell Me the Day Backwards by Albert Lamb
Just before he goes to bed Timmy Bear tells his mama about his day.  However, he tells it in reverse, starting with what has just happened and then talking about what happened just before that, and so on.  I think this bedtime story would inspire parents and children to have some fun and share their own day in the same way.

Undercover: One of these Things is Almost like the Others by Meagan Bennett
This is a wordless picture book that has readers look for the odd one out.  The choice of the "different" objects is really clever and often humorous.  It was surprising how much fun I had with this one!

A Bike like Sergio's by Maribeth Boelts
Here's what I wrote about this book in my post about diversity in picturebooks last year - Ruben finds a lot of money that has fallen out of someone's purse, enough to buy him a bike like his friend Sergio's.  He struggles with what the right thing is to do with the money, given that his family sometimes doesn't have enough money for everything on their grocery list.  A nice story that acknowledges income equality and has a great ending (but it doesn't involve a bike).

How to Put Your Parents to Bed by Mylisa Larsen
Babette Cole's illustrations are just delightful in this role-reversal story about a girl putting her parents to bed.  This is one of those books that parents will enjoy as much as their children.

Guess Again! by Mac Barnett
This is the second Mac Barnett book on my list.  He has obviously had a lot of fun with this book, as he sets up a rhyme so that the logical answer is very clear...and then chooses a different answer altogether!  I can't wait to see what our students think of it, this was a holiday read so I haven't had a chance to share it yet.

The Forgetful Knight by Michelle Robinson
This rhyming picture book has a twist at the end, and I would recommend reading it through before reading it aloud, as I think it makes it easier to understand how best to read it.  The narrator seems confused about what has happened in his story about a knight who sets off on an adventure...on a horse? By himself?  With a sandwich?  With a sword?  A lot of fun and definitely one for repeat readings.

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O'Leary
What a special book that celebrates the many different kinds of families there are.  Children in a classroom talk about what makes their families special.  A gentle and warm book that belongs in school libraries everywhere.

Flight by Nadia Wheatley
This is a powerful and moving sophisticated picture book.  It evocatively illustrates what refugees may go through in order to flee their homeland.  It would be a great book to accompany any current events discussions about refugees.

Up tomorrow, a hodge-podge of children's non-fiction, some YA and some awesome professional reading.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

My 5 Star Reads from 2016: Children's Fiction and Graphic Novels

Here are my best reads from 2016 (not necessarily all published in 2016).  I have enjoyed going through my Goodreads account and remembering all these wonderful books.

Children's Fiction

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo
I purchased this book after one of our Year 1 classes got completely and wonderfully hooked on the Mercy Watson series.  I wasn't sure the magic would transfer to a book in which Mercy only makes a cameo at the end.  I needn't have worried, this is a special book that the kids enjoyed as much as I did.  The love Leroy has for his horse is something very sweet.

Booked by Kwame Alexander
I loved Kwame Alexander's last verse novel, The Crossover and was happy to find this one just as enjoyable.  Here, twelve-year-old Nick plays soccer and has to work out how to deal with girls, bullying and his parents' divorce.  The book is beautifully written and it has a rapping librarian called The Mac.  What's not to love?!

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
This is one of those special books that takes you to a different place and brings it, and the people in it, completely alive for you.  Add to that the fairy-tale like quality, the setting of the Russian wilderness, plucky children and loyal wolves...a real winner.

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin
I had a real lump in my throat at the end of this book, and that doesn't happen to me very often.  The book focuses on the lives of four children in different parts of America, in the 48 hours prior to the 9/11 attacks.  I particularly liked the inclusion of the character Naheed, who is Muslim and wears a hijab.

Save me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
This book switches between the perspective of Ravi, an Indian boy who has just emigrated to the U.S., and Joe, a boy in his new class.  I love that it provides an insight into the challenges faced by someone adapting to a new culture.  It also deal with bullying and with Joe's auditory processing disorder.  A great book for having discussions about the value of trying to understand how other people are feeling.

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier
Oh yeah, this book was FUN!!!  Combining a monster apocalypse, zombies and loads of humour within a part-text, part-graphic novel format.  I've loosely classified this as horror but it isn't really that scary.  We haven't processed this book yet but I know it's going to be very popular, and I can't wait to read the next one in the series.

Graphic Novels

The boy who crashed to Earth (Hilo #1) by Judd Winick
This is another incredibly fun book, which has been extremely popular with our students.  D.J. lives in a bustling family with siblings who all seem better at everything than he is.  Then he comes across Hilo, a boy who has lost his memory and appears to have fallen from the sky wearing nothing but silver underpants. 

Hilo has such an infectious energy, he makes you smile, want to stay "outstanding!" all the time and greet people by saying "aaaah!!" (read the book to find out why). 

Saving the Whole Wide World (Hilo #2) by Judd Winick
Yippee!  The second book is as good as the first!  D.J., Hilo and Gina are back trying to stop alien creatures from destroying the earth.  The third book is out in February and will be a great way to start spending this year's book budget!

Small Things by Mel Tregonning
I had very high expectations about this book because it had been raved about by several of my fellow librarians (I had to wait impatiently while it was ordered in for me).  I was not disappointed, I was immensely affected by this book. It is powerful in its simplicity, needing no words to connect you with the main character and soak up his feelings.  Desna, a school librarian in Christchurch, has written a more in-depth review of this book here

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke
Jack lives with his mum and his younger sister, Maddy, who has autism.  One day he trades his mum's car for a box of seeds (because Maddy, who doesn't usually speak, asks him too).  The seeds create a magical garden, which leads to lots of crazy adventures.  

This adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk ends on a huge cliffhanger - if you haven't already read it you might be better to wait until September when the second one comes out. 

Tomorrow, I will move on to my top picture books for 2016, followed on Tuesday by children's non-fiction, a little bit of YA and some professional reading.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Gearing up for Summer Lending

I have five days left of school and we've just completed our stocktake (apart from the nagging of the slowpokes to return their books).  Now my attention is turning to our summer lending.  We've been lending over the holidays for six years now.  We started with a trial, by issuing books to our Year 4s on the last day of term, with a signed parent permission slip.  Now we open for one afternoon a week over the holidays. We lend to parents as well as students, in the hopes of building a lasting relationship and having them continue to borrow when we are open on Friday mornings during the term.  There's no permission slip anymore, but students have to be accompanied by their parents.

We have also built a relationship with Hamilton City Libraries.  For the past three years, we have run their summer reading programme from our library.  We promote and administer the programme and in return they provide us with the necessary materials and also come in for one afternoon in the holidays to run some activities with our students.

On the week before Christmas we offer "mystery books", an idea borrowed from Hamilton City Libraries.  We choose library books and wrap a couple up and put them under our "tree" with a tag indicating what age group they are aimed at.  We try to pick some of our newer, shinier books with a broad appeal.  This is always very popular.

The quieter days tend to be the weeks straight after Christmas and New Year's when a lot of families are away.  This year for our 4 January opening we are going to have our origami books out, along with some origami paper taken from old library books.  I hope that will be a nice activity for families to do when they visit, and also one that won't need a lot of supervision so I can still issue books at the same time.  I'm lucky in that Esther, our library assistant, will also be around, but her hours are for doing projects over the holidays so I try not to pull her away from that too much.

This year we are also running a Reading Wonderland competition.  The Reading Wonderland is the revamped area of the library that was completed this year.  To celebrate our first year with this lovely new space we trying to encourage our students to come up with creative ideas about the area.  Here's the poster to explain more:

I had to redo it to include things like the maximum length of the items and how many times students could enter.  Hopefully I have covered everything now.  I have no idea how it will go but hopefully it will provide students with a fun, creative outlet over the holidays.  Then I will find out how to turn the best entries into a book.  I suspect it will be more time-consuming than I anticipate, a side-effect of most of the projects I seem to come up with!

Last year I made a summer reading brochure to advertise what the library had to offer over summer.  This year I decided to use our newly established TT TV channel to promote the various library activities.  At the last minute we decided not to do an episode in the final week, which meant we made a bigger episode than usual this week, containing three different segments about the library!

             *start at 3:17