Book Reviews for a New School Year

With the ever-changing educational environment, new demands and new priorities, my blogging career came to a halt last year after my initial post. I decided to put more energy into my library classroom and less on my musings.

I have found, however, that I miss the writing and the opportunity to communicate with those interested in libraries and books. So, this year, I am writing reviews for the Massachusetts-based Youth Services Book Review.

I am focussing on picture books (my first love in youth literature), but you will find reviews of middle grade novels as well, including one by Northborough’s own Sarah Beth Durst.

Read them here and let me know what you think: Youth Services Book Reviews


You’ve Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em

“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em; know when to walk away; know when to run.”

Used under the Attribution non-commercial share-alike license. Photo by "Konqui"

Used under the Attribution non-commercial share-alike license. Photo by “Konqui”

With apologies to Kenny Rogers and to my readers for the weak metaphor to follow, I have been reflecting on the gamble I took when I publicly committed to 50 days of self-improvement known as #nerdlution. Whether viewed as a re-alignment of self or an attempt to form lasting positive habits, fifty days of three lifestyle changes (meditation, writing and exercise) seemed challenging but doable. Failing in public was the gamble.

I have thought a lot about the basic premise of the assignment and the definition of failure over the last two weeks. Today (Day 13) has been a good day, as were days 1-11. But yesterday, I just didn’t have it. And so, I rested. The morning meditation was successful. In fact I have increased from five to twelve minutes since I began. (Building my stamina!). But exercising every day turned out to be too much of a good thing. Between the cold and the damp and the daily exercise, my arthritic hip decided enough was enough. As for writing (or reading or pondering), it just wasn’t in the cards either.

All of which led me to the conclusion that the fifty-day challenge (for me at least) wouldn’t work. What would work, however, would be a challenge with built-in time off. Acknowledging that within the structure of this self-improvement trial, I could take a little R and R—a resolution sabbatical if you will– without sacrificing the end goal. Without meaning any disrespect, even God rested on the seventh day. And so, taking yesterday off was in fact not a failure but a strategy, a recharging of the batteries of commitment.

This personal revelation has significance for me in my role as teacher librarian as well. Just like me (and I imagine many other #nerdlutors out there), children do not have limitless ability to concentrate and focus. Children also need breaks. They need recess. To them, a fifty-minute lesson might be as difficult as my fifty-day challenge. It is not failure if children don’t bring their A game every day or every minute of the day. It is our job to help them perform the best they can.

In an Education Week article entitled “Classroom Shock: What I Am Learning as a Teacher in Finland” (published online November 26, 2013), teacher Tim Walker wrote,  “Finnish schools often schedule lessons into hour-long blocks: 45 minutes of instruction, 15 minutes of break. Students rarely have back-to-back lessons without breaks—and at the elementary level, it’s expected that children will spend their breaks playing outside, rain or shine.”

Breaks! Every forty-five minutes! The positive result—children are refreshed, and “stay balanced and sharp throughout the day.”

So, what can I do, short of moving to Finland? While I will continue to focus on being a teaching librarian with an important curriculum, I will acknowledge that for some students library class provides a recharging station. This doesn’t diminish the importance of what I teach, but will allow me to be more understanding of those whose concentration wanes.  I can advocate for developmentally appropriate recess in our schools. When the weather allows, maybe I can build in some outside lessons. Storywalk anyone?

I will not be walking away from #nerdlution. Back in the saddle, meditating, exercising and writing/pondering/reading my way to improving my self and hopefully the world (at least a little bit) as well.

Decisions, Decisions

Early this morning, when I should have been getting ready for work, Jennifer Reed’s Slice of Life post beckoned. As is often the case, she arrived at the revelation party a few steps ahead of me. (Must be because she has more spring in her step than I.)

The topic of her post this week was “choices and decisions”. She segued easily from a personal reflection about her own life choices, big and small, to observations of her students trying to make choices about what books to borrow. As you can see in the reply I hastily posted to her blog, this same subject matter has been on my mind lately.

Okay, you really have to get out of my head, Jennifer!!

You so often seem to be writing about just what I am thinking. This morning’s thoughts were to choose two books for each child in a certain class, have them browse/peruse and then write a few sentences about why they would pick one over the other. (And then, of course, hope they would actually borrow the book.) Narrowing the choices! Can’t do this for all classes (don’t have time to make that many thoughtful choices), but going to experiment with one to start. I’ll keep you posted.

You see, I too experience the frustration of that frenzied browsing and borrowing time at the end of library period. Twenty children, ten minutes, one librarian.

“Mrs. Kellner, where are the origami books?”

“Mrs. Kellner, remember that book that Johnny borrowed two weeks ago? The one with the hot air balloon on the cover?”

“Mrs. Kellner, when is it going to be my turn to borrow Battle Bunny?” (The library has three copies, by the way).

“Mrs. Kellner, I want a book with a sparkly tiara in it.”

Important questions, all. But, while I am assisting these children, the ones who are having a hard time with choices and decisions fall by the wayside. They leave without a book, hastily grab the closest book at hand or linger as the next class walks in the door. Not an optimal situation at all.

So what’s a teacher-librarian to do?

Here are some choices I have made or plan to make in the near future:

  • Gather up all the superhero books (whether DC comic, folktale, or the amusing contemporary picture books like Superhero School by Aaron Reynolds or Max by Bob Graham) and put them together in one bin
  • Curate an ever-changing and easy-to-find collection of pretty, pretty princess books
  • Use signage, special displays and stickers (as Jennifer noted in her post)
  • Create “If you like…” bookmarks 
  • Try not to answer every “Where are?” or “Do we have?” question. The older students have the skill set to work this out on their own. I’ll just give them a gentle (figurative) shove in the right direction
  • Have a “Backwards Day” where we borrow first, before the lesson
  • Invite the children who struggle the hardest to come back when I can devote time just to them

What choices have you made to insure your collection is browsing friendly and accessible and to ease the decision-making process for your students?

It’s a nerdlution!

I had already decided to turn over a new leaf a good month early (by starting my 2014 resolutions on December 1st) when I came upon a Twitter conversation on Thanksgiving evening. Several members of the Nerdy Book Club were discussing renewing their commitments to writing and/or exercising daily. A discussion among a few grew to a thread. When the thread earned its own hashtag, I realized they were on to something. I lurked in and among the tweets to see where this thing would take me. It turns out I am not the only one beyond the original group who was intrigued. They say they want a nerdlution and here (and here and here and here) it is.

Nerdlution button

Not wanting to be presumptuous enough to speak for the original tweeters by interpreting their intentions, this will reflect my own text-to-self connection. I had certainly fallen off the exercise bandwagon and writing is not yet a daily activity for me. Self-improvement projects have been started and abandoned with well, with abandon.

I have participated in group challenges but have never been able to commit to the one-size-fits-all focus. After attending a weekend meditation workshop I vowed to meditate for a year. Lasted six months. Facebook’s 30-Day Plank Challenge looked promising. Made it to Day 20. Instead of celebrating my success, (Six months meditating! Doing a 2 ½ minute plank!) I lamented my failure.


But this time is different. Each nerdlution is personal and yet by nature of social media, public. A customized resolution, publicly stated and made at a time when motivation is high has a better chance of success. Plus, I’ll keep it simple and small. I will be part of a supportive community with the encouragement of tweets and posts and instagrams galore. It’s doable. I am going to do it. I am. And so I commit to the following over the next 50 days:

  • Physical-30 minutes of daily exercise on average during the week
  • Spiritual-5 minutes of meditation a day
  • Cerebral-Write, read or ponder for at least 30 minutes daily

Join me. 50 days. December 2-January 20   #nerdlution

Let’s do it!

Newey Decimal System

Dewey vs. the Bookstore Model

When fourth graders are in charge of classification

“Dewey was so 1800’s.”

No, this is not a comment overheard at a librarians’ forum dedicated to the implementation of the bookstore model in libraries. These are the words of a 4th grader upon completion of our Dewey Decimal study unit.

Back in November we began our exploration of the breadth and depth of topics housed in the (primarily) nonfiction section of the library we call the Dewey Decimal section. Melvil himself guest lectured to introduce his classification system to the students. Early on, there were rumblings about some of Dewey’s designations and decisions. “Hey, we should make up our own system called the Newey Decimal System,” quipped one student.

Now here’s where the lesson could have gone in two directions. “Oh, what a cute idea”, I could have thought, diminishing the creativity and critical thinking of said student and sticking with the almighty planbook. Or, I could have been blown away by the thought of a NEW Dewey, one created by the kids themselves. The fastidious Dewey-obsessed librarian would have opted for the former. (I used to be that librarian). But the Librarian 2.0 said to herself, let’s get messy and give this a try.

And so, the day arrived after we had journeyed through all ten categories to take that giant leap forward. I started with a class assessment. To create something new, we needed to understand the old first. So, I challenged the students to recall the ten Dewey classes, which we recorded on the left hand side of the whiteboard. Surprisingly this was much easier for them than I had thought it would be. Future librarians all? Then we started brainstorming how we could make the classification system more child-friendly.

The ideas began to flow. Every single child contributed. Ideas coincided, collided and overlapped.

“There should be a separate category just for nature. Animals and plants together. Pets, gardening, wild animals and trees.”

“Geography and languages and cultures and cookbooks should go together.”

“You know how the ghost books are in one section (100’s) and the alien and mysterious creatures are in another (000’s)? They should be together.”

“There should be a ‘How-To’ section. It could have the drawing books, origami books, how to put on your own play…” “Maybe we should call it the ‘Boredom Busters’ section.”

“We need to have more than just ten sections.”

And then this one, which really surprised me–a suggestion to put the biographies, history and the historical fiction together, by topic. “They’re all about history” was the (obvious) explanation. Interestingly enough, this idea is not new and has been adapted (loosely) in at least one school library.

As of this writing, this Newey concept is still just that, something theoretical–a great culminating lesson, a summative assessment designed by the students themselves. But, why not get messy? Why not empower these children to ring out the old and ring in the Newey?

Celebrate, Celebrate

An earlier post entitled “Tradition, Tradition” might have given you an inkling that music provides a soundtrack to both my personal and professional life. Those of you who have hiked with me can vouch for the fact that I am wont to break out in song on the trail, often with lyrics that fit the moment. Climb Every Mountain comes to mind, but usually the connection is slightly more cryptic. I have also been known to cut the rug when the mood and music are just right.

Today’s post “Celebrate, Celebrate” brings together Three Dog Night (Celebrate, Celebrate, Dance to the Music) and Kool and the Gang (Celebrate Good Times, Come on!) These two tunes, with their repetitive but catchy lyrics capture the spirit of my library and my school these days. They serve both as a literal introduction to the exciting projects and activities I will feature below, but also provide a metaphor for the direction of my blog.

Warning: Metaphor (in the form of a corny story) ahead! Hang in there, please, the celebrations are not far behind.

Once upon a time, I decided I was ready to be a blogger. I had grand plans to philosophize about the Common Core and named my blog “Common Cor(e)relations”. And so I invited the Common Core to the ball. We danced the stately foxtrot and the waltz. We stayed within the confines of the dance floor. The music was orchestral. We were a lovely but somber and serious couple. But when the music changed, I glanced across the room and noticed there was some shimmying and shaking and some rocking and a’rolling going on . I realized that even though I came with the Common Core, it didn’t mean I couldn’t dance with any of those other cute boys. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the messy metaphor.) There was a party going on and I didn’t want to miss it. So, today, let’s celebrate, all the wild and wonderful and (yes, sometimes) messy projects and activities that are what educating the whole child are all about. There’s a time for staying within the lines and there’s also a time to let loose, on the dance floor as well as in life.

Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music.

Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music.

There’s a party goin’ on right here
A dedication to last throughout the years
So bring your good times and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate and party with you

Come on now, celebration
Let’s all celebrate and have a good time, yeah yeah
We gonna celebrate and have a good time.

Celebrate a whole school reading celebration–One School One Read. Spearheaded by our Reading Specialist (with support from the school literacy committee) all students in our K-5 school will hear the classic Beverly Cleary story,  The Mouse and the Motorcycle, over the course of the next three weeks. Several gutsy staff members lent their acting talents to the production of a short skit introducing the program at an all-school assembly. My particular favorite was our head custodian, gamely wearing mouse ears and tail to play Ralph and ride around the stage on a toy motorcycle.

Celebrate kindergartners creating a mural with the help of our Technology Specialist, who also happens to be a graphic artist! More buzz for our One School One Read program and the recognition of the importance of literacy in our lives. Also, a great example of collaboration and the fact that low-tech/hi-touch still has its place in schools.

Celebrate first graders who loved the story Somebody and the Three Blairs so much that they begged to do a Readers’ Theater performance. Thanks to a recently attended iPad workshop, a cooperating teacher, student artists and the enthusiasm of an entire class, we will soon have a video short to share with the whole school (and maybe the world)!

Celebrate second graders who became so interested in the Underground Railroad after honoring Henry Cole’s Unspoken with a Peasleecott Award that their teacher and I created an enrichment group to research and report back to the class. More to come on this exciting collaboration.

Celebrate second and third graders who wrote to the Peasleecott Award-winning illustrators and decorated the giant letters with award designs of their own. Now comes the hard part, waiting to hear back from them. David Small? Ed Young? Henry Cole? Paul Zelinsky? Where are you?

Celebrate fourth and fifth graders who participated in the annual bookmark contest sponsored by the Massachusetts School Library Association producing an honorable mention winner who earned a trip to the State House.

Celebrate fourth and fifth graders who, on short notice, eagerly participated in a collaboration with a high school in Spain to create a short video in honor of World Read Aloud Day. (Yes, I wrote about this in my last blog post, but so proud of them, had to post it twice.)

Celebrate fifth graders who give up recess to volunteer in the library, recommend books to each other using our online catalog, and come up with the most interesting topics for self-directed research (rollercoasters, home construction, Industrial Revolution, nutrition, endangered auks).

Celebrate teachers and a principal who are student-centered, innovative, supportive, always willing to lend a hand, try something new, push the envelope, and are just the greatest colleagues a gal could ever have. Thanks for joining the dance with me.

International Book Giving Day


Valentine’s Day, a holiday to celebrate those we love, is for me also (and apparently thousands of others) a day to celebrate what we love. So, in that spirit, I participated in International Book Giving Day by leaving two books in the children’s play area at Northboro Chiropractic Center.

According to their website, “International Book Giving Day is a volunteer initiative aimed at increasing children’s access to and enthusiasm for books. We are inviting people to celebrate International Book Giving Day on February 14th by 1. giving a book to a friend or family member, 2. leaving a book in a waiting room for children to read, or 3. donating a gently used book to a local library, hospital or shelter or to an organization that distributes used books to children in need internationally.”

There’s still time to celebrate Valentine’s Day in this worthy way. Remember, “Reading is possibly the only true magic.”