Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. Grades 9+ Cinco Puntos Press, 2014. 284 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Guys. This book.

I'm so thankful for dear friends like Kelly Jensen and for awards like the Morris Award because I wouldn't have picked this book up on my own (the cover scares me a little) and then I would have been MISSING OUT. 

This fictional diary of Mexican-American high school senior Gabi Hernandez is so real that I could have sworn I had picked up the actual diary of a seventeen-year-old girl. It reminded me of writing in my own diary when I was in high school (much less eloquently, of course), and I don't at all mean that it feels like Gabi's writing in the '90s. I just could really identify with Gabi and the questions that she has and her thoughts about relationships and friendships and family.

The masterful thing is that I don't have anything in common with Gabi, actually. She's a Mexican-American teen dealing with a lot of issues that (thankfully) I never had to deal with in high school. And yet, I feel like she could have been me as a teen.

I also kept thinking about Mattie Gokey (one of my literary BFFs) and Anne Frank. Like, seriously, Gabi is so easy to identify with and root for. I didn't want the book to end, and that's probably the biggest compliment I can give (I LOVE finishing books).

This is probably not making much sense. I'm gushing, I know.

Let's see... Gabi is dealing with a lot of issues. Her dad is a drug addict and hardly ever around. Every now and then he'll try to change, but he's always relapsed. Gabi has two best friends - Sebastian who has just come out to his parents and is now kicked out of their house, and Cindy who has just become a statistic - another pregnant teen. Gabi wonders if all of these problems will keep her from following her dream to go to college. She starts taking a poetry class and falls in love with writing poetry. She's a talented writer with lots on her mind.

This book was just a pleasure to read and I want to make sure you don't miss it. Honestly, the cover scared me a little bit, although once I read the book I could see where it came from - it has to do with a zine about body image that Gabi creates during her senior year.

Sigh. You should probably go read a real review of this book, like the one over at Stacked.

I'd hand this to teens who like reading about characters they can identify with, teens with questions about romance and life and friends, especially teens who appreciate the honesty of Anne Frank's diary.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Grades 4-7. Dial Books, January 2015. 320 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.


Ada is 10 years old and she’s never been outside of her family’s one-bedroom apartment. Born with a twisted foot, which her Mam calls the mark of the devil, Ada is not allowed to be seen by other people. Her Mam doesn’t let her go to school and has never bothered to help her learn to walk - Ada has to crawl around their apartment. Worst of all, when Mam is angry at her, which is pretty often, she shuts Ada up in a damp cabinet with the roaches for hours.

World War II is brewing and the children of London are being sent away from their parents to live in safety in the country. When Mam decides to send Ada’s younger brother Jamie away to safety, Ada sees her chance. She teaches herself to walk - very painfully - and she sneaks out to join her brother.

They’re sent to the English countryside and taken in by a lady named Susan, a lady who never wanted children but feels it’s her duty to help out in wartime. For the first time, Ada gets crutches so she can walk, she learns how to ride a horse and even to read… but she knows that at any moment Mam could change her mind and everything could be taken away from her.

My thoughts:

There is so much to love about this book, but what I loved most of all is the complicated characters that Ms. Bradley has created here. It's one thing for siblings to experience abuse together, but it's a completely different animal when one sibling suffers abuse and one does not. Ada loves Jamie and wants to protect him more than anything, but as the younger sibling, Jamie cannot reciprocate and he doesn't even see some of the abuse that has been going on. When Jamie gets homesick and longs to go home to Mam, Ada cannot understand how he feels because she is so grateful to have escaped. Logically, she knows that life in London was different for Jamie, but emotionally she cannot identify with what he's feeling.

At the same time, Ada cannot trust in what's happened to her. Sure, life is way better in the countryside, but Ada is very guarded. She knows that at any moment her new life could come crumbling down around her. Her emotions are overwhelming and often volatile... and through it all, Susan is steadfast.

Susan is suffering her own loss. We learn by bits and pieces that Susan is mourning the death of her "good friend" Becky whom she lived with. Becky was obviously someone very important to Susan and we see how having the children around, having others to care for, having someone to come home to is helping Susan deal with her grief.

I just couldn't get enough of these characters and I loved learning their stories and seeing them grow and change.

This is also a great World War II story from a perspective - the English home front - that many kids may be less familiar with. Details bring this historical setting to life - blackout curtains, victory gardens, air raids, and more.

And it's even a sneaky kind of horse book! It may not be enough of a horse story to satisfy super fans, but there are definitely plenty of details about Ada learning to ride and taking care of Susan's pony which had been neglected after Becky died.


Hand this one to kids who love to read about a character they can root for or kids looking for great historical fiction, particularly war home front stories or World War II.

Kids may enjoy The War That Saved My Life if they liked:

  • Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata for its emotional and authentic portrayal of an adopted boy struggling to adjust to life in a new world.
  • One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt for a foster kid protagonist who is easy to root for.
  • Books about the WWII home front.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reading Wildly: Transitional Chapter Books

This year, we've been booktalking to several 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms, which made transitional chapter books (chapter books aimed at 2nd/3rd graders) a must for one of our Reading Wildly meetings. This month, we kicked off our exploration of transitional chapter books by talking about an "article". I printed out slide selections from the presentation A Missing Link in Closing Reading Achievement Gaps: Short Chapter Book Series with Primary Characters of Color by Sandy Carrillo and Jane Fleming.

We discussed the importance of transitional chapter books in building fluency and reinforcing vocabulary. The slides mention that many early chapter book series deal with events and situations that are familiar to kids, which makes the stories easy for children to understand. And they often include a chapter or section to introduce the setting and characters to the reader, setting the stage for the story.

Since they are short, easy books, we had quite a stack of books shared this month! We did not formally book talk all of these, some were just mentioned and briefly described as we were winding down. Here are the books shared at our meeting:

I think we heard about a great variety of stories that will be good to share with those 2nd and 3rd grade classes we're visiting. 

Next month, we'll be discussing mystery books, which is definitely a genre I do NOT gravitate toward (so a month that will be especially good for me!). What are your favorite middle-grade mysteries? 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Preschool Storytime: Bears

Earlier this week, I did a preschool storytime about bears! Grrr. Here's what I did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello (our typical opening song, repeated every week)

Book: Bears! Bears Bears! by Bob Barner. This is a great book for vocabulary. Simple, rhyming text presents eight different kinds of bears that live all over the world. The kids were familiar with some - pandas and polar bears are very recognizable - but there were some new ones introduced, too!

Book: A Den is a Bed for a Bear by Becky Baines. I like this nonfiction text for its photographs and simple rhyming text that explains the concept of hibernation and what bears do in their dens. This is another one that includes lots of great vocabulary. The trim size is a little small for group sharing and the extra facts on each page do make the spreads a bit cluttered for a readaloud.

I look for books that include words that kids may not hear very often. Books can be a great source for kids to hear words that are not used much in normal conversation. Kids can't recognize these words when reading if they've never heard them before, so it's important to introduce kids to lots of words!

Song with Puppet: Where is Bear? (Found on Storytime Katie)

(To the tune of "Thumbkin")

Where is bear? Where is bear?
Here I am! Here I am!
How are you this winter?
Very tired, thank you.
Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

The bear puppet then "falls asleep" and I ask the kids if they'd like to sing again and we wake up bear and start again! They really liked this song and one of my kiddos picked up the puppet and wanted to sing it with me again during our play time.

Book: Where's My Teddy? by Jez Alborough. This is a favorite of mine because it's a very silly story with lots of rhyming words* and the book has a large trim size that makes it great for sharing with a group.

*Hearing rhyming words help children hear that words are made up of smaller sounds, which helps them when they start to learn to read and sound out words.

Song with puppet: The Bear Went Over the Mountain (Traditional)

The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
To see what he could see!

And all that he could see...
And all that he could see...

Was the other side of the mountain
The other side of the mountain
The other side of the mountain
Was all that he could see!

Book: The Red Sled by Lita Judge. This nearly-wordless book shows a bear and his friends borrowing a red sled and taking it for rides all over the forest before returning it in the morning, leaving only footprints for the little child to find. When I read this whimsical book, I read the sound effects words on the page and I ask the kids to help me tell what is happening. This is a fun story to share in winter since many kids will be able to relate to the experience of sledding.

Felt Activity: Color Bears. I handed out the bears to the children and they brought their bear up to the board when I called their color. With this activity, we practice listening and following directions. We also reinforce color concepts and we practice counting when we count them all up at the end.

Play Time:

I set out wooden blocks and color sorting bears similar to these by Lakeshore Learning. It was amazing to me how long the blocks kept the kids occupied!

I also had a table set up with simple folded typing paper and die-cut bears in red, pink, and purple so kids could make Valentines ("(I love you BEARY much!"). I don't always do a craft, but this was very simple and easy to put together, plus an activity like this encourages children to practice writing (or drawing or scribbling, etc. etc.).

Monday, February 9, 2015

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery with Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley, illustrated by PJ Loughran. Grades 6+. Dial, January 2015. Review copy provided by publisher.


"By the time I was fifteen years old, I had been in jail nine times." (pg 13)

So begins Lynda Blackmon Lowery's story of growing up in the Jim Crow South and marching for justice. At a young age, Lynda got involved in the Civil Rights movement in her hometown of Selma, Alabama. Even after she and her friends were jailed for protesting, even being put inside the "sweatbox" where the airless heat was so intense that all the girls passed out, Lynda would not stop in her quest for equal rights. When organizers put together a march for voting rights in Selma, Lynda knew she would be part of it. And even when she was horribly beaten by state troopers in an event called "Bloody Sunday," Lynda knew that she needed to find the courage to keep going, to keep marching.

"If I [gave up], I would never be the person I wanted to be. And the person I wanted to be was a person who would stand up against what was wrong." (pg. 82)

Lynda was the youngest person in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March. She stood up for what she believed in. And you can, too.

My thoughts:

This is an important first-person account of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March. It's written in a conversational tone, as if Lynda's sitting across from you at the kitchen table and telling you about her experiences. Some archival photos and color illustrations accompany the text. The illustrations are well-suited to a teen audience, adding splashes of color throughout.

At the back of the book, you get brief bios of some of the casualties of the Selma March - Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young man shot by police at a nighttime protest just prior to the march; Reverend James Reeb, a white minister from Boston who traveled to Selma after seeing Bloody Sunday on the news; and Viola Liuzzo, a white homemaker who was murdered by the KKK while driving folks between Selma and Montgomery after the march.

The Oscar-nominated film Selma may pique additional interest in this topic.


For those interested in learning about young people's roles in the battle for civil rights, suggest any of the following:

For those interested in additional first-person accounts of young people standing up for what they believe in, suggest any of the following: 

And hey, it's Nonfiction Monday! Head on over to the Nonfiction Monday Blog to see what other great nonfiction bloggers are sharing this week!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What an Amazing Newbery Year!

WOW. What an experience!

I have just finished up my term on the 2015 Newbery Committee and it's been just an amazing, awesome experience. 

I've written before about what the Newbery Committee does, but I had no real idea what was in store for me this past weekend at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. I had no idea how close the committee members would all feel afterwards. I had no idea how stimulating and thought-provoking our discussions would be. I had an idea about how FUN the discussions would be, since I was able to sit in on Allen County Public Library's Mock Newbery discussion the weekend previous (very ethically observing and not participating!). 

The Newbery Committee met all day on Friday and Saturday of the conference and then again on Sunday morning. We deliberated and discussed for hours, finally getting the chance to talk about the books we'd been reading all year. We followed the Newbery process and voted. 

And we awarded the 2015 Newbery Medal to Kwame Alexander for his book The Crossover

We selected two Newbery Honor books: 

El Deafo by Cece Bell (yes, a graphic novel! Wow!!)


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (look at all those award seals!!)

If you have not read all of these books, do yourself a favor and seek them out. I HIGHLY recommend each of them! (Apologies for blurry pictures... I did not get much sleep this weekend...)

I must send out huge thanks and love to all the members of our 2015 Newbery Committee. We have formed a close bond, going through this amazing experience together. It has truly been a life-changing experience. I think it has forever changed how I read; although I no longer have to take detailed notes on each book, I think I will always read more deeply than I used to. It has awakened in me a strong desire to discuss books with others; it's amazing the insights that come from talking about books you love, hate, or don't quite get. And, of course, it has changed children's literature forever (as each committee does every year). 

In fact, this was quite a groundbreaking year for the ALA Youth Media Awards! Not only did the Newbery Committee honor a graphic novel, the Caldecott Committee honored a graphic novel in the upper part of their age range!  For the Caldecott award, "children" are defined as "persons of ages up to and including fourteen " and "picture books for this entire age range are to be considered." It was definitely a bold choice, and one I'm happy to see. If we stop pushing the envelope as children's literature evolves, what are we even doing here? 

A very special honor for me, personally, was that I got to be the one to text Cece Bell the news of her award! That very well may have been a Newbery first, and I'm so lucky to have been a part of it! 

It has been an amazing experience for sure. I wish the 2016 Newbery Committee the BEST of luck and happy reading. 

Now, enjoy this behind the scenes look at the Monday morning awards calls (at about 0:58 you can see me texting Cece Bell the news!): 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reading and things...

Okay, so my Newbery term is drawing to a close and I will be back to regular blogging soon...


The American Library Association's Youth Media Award announcements are less than two weeks away (!!!!!!!). If you are so inclined, you can tune in to the LIVE WEBCAST to watch the announcements in real time (it is super fun, believe me!).

And if you still need some time to get caught up on the potential award-winners, why not set aside some time this Saturday during Penguin Random House's National Readathon Day?

The official readathon goes from 12pm - 4pm on Saturday, January 24. Make #timetoread and join in the fun! 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Another Year of Reading Wildly!

This afternoon, we had our first Reading Wildly meeting of 2015 and I'm really excited to start another year of this reader's advisory training with my staff! We added a TON of new booktalking programs to our schedule this fall, so our genre concentrations have been a little spotty as of late. I'm excited to get back to exploring different genres and I'm really encouraging my staff to use our Reading Wildly meetings to get prepared for their booktalking programs.

I have a couple of resolutions for this program this year. I really want to have some kind of article to discuss each month. I think having everyone read the same thing has been helpful to starting off our discussions and helping us have deeper discussions about whatever genre/topic we're discussing. To that end, I have spent the past couple of weeks researching and saving articles for us to use throughout the year. I fell out of doing articles in the fall because we got so busy and I'd forget until the day I needed it and then not bother with it. By picking out articles ahead of time, I know I'll have them. And if something else comes along in the meantime, I can always switch them out.

My other goal is to really get back to blogging about our discussions and our progress each month. I have enjoyed sharing our journey with you all, although I've been too busy to keep up with it for the past few months.

My staff and I sat down at the end of last year and determined our genres and topics for 2015. We all thought about where our personal "weak spots" are - those genres that we just don't gravitate toward. These are the genres/topics that we'll be exploring this year:

January: Reader's Choice*
February: Transitional Chapter Books (2nd/3rd grade level)
March: Mystery
April: Sports
May: Science Fiction (superheroes optional!)
June: Reader's Choice*
July: Reader's Choice*
August: Nonfiction
September: Realistic (Contemporary) Fiction
October: Scary
November: Horse Books
December: Fairy Tale Chapter Books

* I like to do Reader's Choice following and during busy months for us!

Some of these genres are repeats and some are new for us.

January was a Reader's Choice month for us since I know everyone is busy over the holidays (and one of my employees got married this December! Squee!). We started off by discussing our "article" for the month. We read the beginning of Chapter 7 of From Cover to Cover by Kathleen Horning. This selection gives an overview of children's fiction genres and a little history of children's publishing. I thought it'd be good to start off with a little refresher of what different genres are.

We talked about the difference between formula series and more literary series books and the appeals of both. We also thought it was interesting that the push for "boy books" has gone on for nearly 100 years due to fears that female librarians would not be able to select books that are interesting for boys. We talked about the difference between high fantasy (fantasy set in completely made-up worlds) and low fantasy (fantasy set in the real world).

And then we moved on to sharing booktalks. Here are most of the books that my staff and I shared this month:

For next month, we'll be reading and sharing transitional chapter books - chapter books aimed at 2nd/3rd graders. The "article" that we'll be starting with is A Missing Link in Closing Reading Achievement Gaps: Short Chapter Book Series with Primary Characters of Color by Sandy Carrillo & Jane Fleming. This is a Powerpoint presentation that was given at the NAEYC Annual Conference in 2011. We definitely try to include diverse books in our booktalks and reader's advisory, so this presentation provides some great ideas of series to check out. 

What do you do to prepare yourself and/or your staff for reader's advisory?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Resolve to Rock in 2015: Goals, Goals, Goals

It's a new year and time for goal-making! I am so delighted to participate in Storytime Underground's Resolve to Rock in 2015 initiative. They're encouraging librarians all over the blogosphere to post about our professional goals for 2015. When you're done here, please click over to their site to see everyone's awesome and inspiring resolutions for this year.

This year, my professional goals are all about... goals!

True confession time:

At our Staff Development Day in October, our director announced that due to our new evaluation and merit raise system, our employee evaluations would be due November 14. At that time, we'd be responsible for reporting about our strategic plan progress and evaluating our staff on how they've completed their goals this year.

And I had no idea how we were doing! 

I mean, we had done mid-year reports to the Board in July, but other than that I just had to hope that everyone had been working towards their goals because now we were out of time to look at them and get started on anything.

Luckily, everyone had been working hard and completing projects (and we also had a HUGE increase in our school-age outreach this fall, which took priority over some of our long-term goals). But it was definitely a wake-up call for me and my staff. We need to be better at keeping our goals in front of us year-round. As the department head, I need to be the one to spearhead this.

So, my goals about goals are twofold (both activities inspired by my awesome classmates in Marge Loch-Waters's invaluable youth services management class I took last fall):

1. I will be setting up brief individual meetings with each of my staff members once a month. (I supervise five currently and we're adding another part-timer this winter, so it'll be six.) The main purpose of these meetings will be to get everyone's goals in front of us regularly. We'll note progress and any stumbling blocks and we'll reevaluate any goals that become irrelevant or impossible.

These meetings will also give me one-on-one time with every staff member so they have a space where they can address any issues or questions they may have. We're a pretty close staff and I think we do a pretty good job at touching base with each other casually, but that might not be the most comfortable mode of communication for everyone. People communicate in different ways and setting up an official meeting time might foster communication better for some.

It'll also allow me to keep better track of how everyone's doing, what everyone's up to, etc. Again, I think we do a pretty good job, but maybe I don't know what I don't know!

2. I will be getting our goals out in front of us as a department by highlighting one department goal connected to our strategic plan each month. These monthly goals will be posted for all to see in our office and they'll be something everyone can work on. For example, a goal one month might be for every staff person to talk to ten families about our 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Challenge.

If I keep up with this throughout the year and make it part of our monthly routine, it's going to be super easy to write up evaluations and report on our goals at the end of the year.

What are your professional goals this year?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reading Resolutions

Photo by tourist_on_earth

To finish out the year, I'm over at the ASLC Blog talking about reading resolutions. Setting reading resolutions can be a great way to build and strengthen your arsenal when it comes to reader's advisory and professional knowledge!

Click on through and share your reading resolutions in the comments! Since I am just finishing up my Newbery year, my resolution is to be easy on myself about setting reading goals this year. I would love to know what YOUR reading resolutions are for this year!