Thursday, May 28, 2015

Abby's Plan for Surviving the Summer

Summer Reading is upon us. Our program starts on Monday. We have been CRAZY with school visits this May and I'm hoping we'll see a lot of those smiling faces at the library this summer.

It's a busy time of year for your public children's librarians and I have a plan that I hope will help me stay healthy and sane until I get to take my week of vacation in August. ;)

1. Stay hydrated. No, really. So often I come home feeling crappy and realize that I can't remember when I last drank some water. Summer is a busy time; we're on our feet for much of the day helping people find what they're looking for. DRINK WATER throughout the day!

2. Take time off when I can. Although as a department head, I am salaried, my administration is very supportive of us adjusting our schedules and taking time off if we have to stay late or come in to cover. Sometimes that's not possible in the busy summer months, but serving on the Newbery Committee last year (when I HAD to leave on time to go home and read a million books) has taught me that I usually CAN make up those hours. Now I make sure that I do whenever possible.

3. Keep exercising. Summer Reading wears me out! I'm often tired when I get home, but I know that I feel better if I can stick to my exercise routine. Having great audiobooks helps keep me motivated, and I'm hoping to make it to yoga class at least once a week (hopefully this summer. It helps me deal with stress and weight-bearing exercise like walking or yoga helps prevent osteoporosis! Did you know that, ladies?!

4. Let myself read fun-for-me books. Okay, most books I read are fun for me, but this school year I've been so focused on reading things that I can take to elementary and middle schools to book talk that I let other reading slide. While summer is a great time to prep for next year, I'll read some adult and YA titles for fun this summer.

What are YOUR summer survival strategies?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes. Grades 8+ Dial Books, June 2015. 400 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

What it's about:

When Minnow was five years old, her parents moved the family to the remote woods of Montana to join a religious cult led by a Prophet named Kevin. Good Kevinian girls didn't read or write. They obeyed the prophecies that came to Kevin. They didn't doubt or question. They prepared for the war that the evil Gentiles would one day wage on them. But Minnow didn't quite buy it. And when she rebelled, they cut off her hands.

Now the Prophet is dead. The Community has burned to the ground. A green-eyed boy was beaten almost to death. And Minnow sits in a juvenile correction center, trying not to remember the horrors that came before. The FBI is investigating what happened and Minnow might be the key to unraveling the events of that horrifying night.

My thoughts:

We have been doing so much booktalking this year that sometimes I feel like that's all my reading is - prepping for booktalks I will do. So it's been hard for me lately to get into books that I know I can't booktalk (YA stuff, since we only cover the elementary schools and early middle school grades).

Not so with this book.

I had heard some rave reviews and I picked this book up Sunday night and I seriously could not put it down. I finished it less than 24 hours later. That has NOT been happening lately, so you know this is a special book!

Minnow is a really compelling character, a strong girl who has escaped from those who would harm her and who is trying to stand on her own two feet. And her story is compelling, as well. Author Stephanie Oakes metes the back story out at a nice pace, keeping tension taut in the story while still giving you enough to keep you invested. I was also riveted by Minnow's time in prison, how she navigated the waters and how she managed with no hands. I was so engrossed in the story that it was hard to get it out of my head. I went to lunch with a friend and kept thinking about what it would be like if I had no hands myself.

The book reads like part crime-thriller, part religious cult expose, and it reminded me of several of my favorite TV shows - Orange is the New Black and The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt (not the tone of that last one, but a little bit of the premise).

I would totally booktalk it to 8th grade and up if I was doing teen booktalks. I think the premise alone (they CUT OFF HER HANDS!) makes a great booktalk and this is one that kids who like thrilling stories will clamor for.


After by Amy Efaw - another ripped-from-the-headlines type of story about a girl in juvie for abandoning her newborn baby in the trash.

The Year We Disappeared by Cylin Busby and John Busby - this true crime story has the same compelling style where you just can't put the book down until you know what happens.

I'd also hand this book to fans of Jodi Picoult, especially Plain Truth and The Pact.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Booktalking Redux

Photo by Book Aid International

It's been a magical year of booktalking at our local schools! I posted last fall about getting in to our local schools for booktalks, and now that we're wrapping up our first booktalking year, I wanted to post about how things have gone this year. 

We ended up with 18 grades at 9 schools that we saw monthly (or regularly - one group had us come every six weeks when their language arts unit changed). This includes the 5th & 6th grades at our middle schools and our teen librarians visited the 7th & 8th grades there, as well. We saw different combinations of grades for a total of 12 monthly visits each month. Some of these visits were as short as 15-20 minutes and some of them lasted as long as 3.5 hours, depending on the numbers of classes and groups we saw.

For example, we visited one 4th grade class at one of our private schools for just one presentation, about 15 minutes at the end of their school day, each month. At one of our middle schools, we visited twice a month and saw 6-8 groups for 15 minutes apiece at each visit in order to get all the 5th/6th grade classes in. 

Typically, we see each class (or group of classes) for 15-20 minutes, during which time we can share 5-6 books. We always try to keep a balance between genres and formats and we always include diverse books. This year, we saw kids ranging from 1st to 6th grade. Some of the teachers asked to check out the books we were bringing in school collections, some did not. 

We were lucky this year that we had the collection budget to order multiple copies of the books we were bringing if teachers wanted to check out the books for their classes. Unfortunately, next year it looks like we may not have the money to do that, but we're brainstorming ways that we can still make it work. The good news is that we can reuse some of the books that we brought this year (but we have to be a little careful about that - if the 2nd grade team used a book that we also used for 3rd grade, that wouldn't be one we would repeat this year). That's going to be the biggest challenge for the 5th/6th grade groups we saw since we won't be able to repeat any of those books.

I scheduled certain staff members to visit certain schools and we all pretty much saw the same groups each month. This allows the kids to get to know their librarians and the librarians to get to know their kids. The way it's worked out is that I have a set of early elementary booktalkers and a set of older elementary/middle school booktalkers. We'll see how this pans out for next year when we may possibly have an increase in the number of programs we're asked to do.  

All in all, it's been an extremely fun and valuable year. Many of our teachers have already asked if we will be doing the booktalking visits again next year, and I'm excited to see who will have us back and if we'll have any "new recruits". 

As we are wrapping up with each group, I am sending out a wrap-up email explaining about scheduling for next year, including a book list of all the books we brought to them throughout the year and a link to a survey for teachers. I love to send out the book lists, which can be a great resource for kids as they're trying to find good books to read over the summer. We're slowly getting responses to the survey and we've been getting very positive feedback. It looks like the books we brought this past year were on-target for the age groups we were seeing and have been getting kids excited about reading and introducing teachers to new books. 


1. We see kids in all the time, asking for books we have brought to their classrooms. The books are checking out. 

2. Kids have gotten more excited about reading and teachers are being exposed to new books they didn't know about before. We heard from one middle school teacher who has used one of the books we introduced to develop a problem-solving lesson that her kids were super into. Huzzah! 

3. Kids have a chance to connect with librarians and ask questions about the library. We have the opportunity to tell them how to get a library card, give an extra push for Summer Reading Club, or tell them about fun programs that are coming up. 

Things We Have Learned:

1. May is too busy for Summer Reading Club school visits and a bunch of booktalking visits. Next year, we will do booktalks September through April (like the rest of our programming!) and maybe we can offer an extra visit in May to talk about and answer questions about the Summer Reading Club. 

2. We're taking August off for scheduling. That was the most stressful part of last year for me - trying to take vacation in August when I was in the middle of scheduling a ton of booktalking visits. This year, I have let teachers know that we'll be in touch in August to schedule visits for the school year. I am going to take that month to get everything scheduled and then we'll be ready to go in September. 

3. It's GREAT to be able to send teams of two to do the booktalks. Not only does it cut down on the number of books you have to prepare each month, but it makes it easier to get a nice balance of genres, formats, etc. This past year, I only sent one person to some of the smaller groups. Next year, I'll probably still send one person to these groups, but I am going to rotate so that it's not one person seeing the same group every month. We'll rotate between three or four of us, which will help make the workload more manageable and also result in more balanced presentations over the course of the year. 

4. Send reminder emails!!! I have gotten into the habit of sending out a short reminder note a week before our visit. This allows us some time to put together School Collections if anyone has any special requests, time to reschedule if we need to make changes due to field trips, etc., and it's helped keep everyone on track. I copy the staff who will be doing the visit so that everyone's on the same page. 

Now that I feel like we have a better handle on how booktalking programs can work for us and our teachers, I am really excited to schedule folks for booktalks next year! 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Save the Date: 48-Hour Book Challenge!!!

It's time to start gathering your To Be Read pile up and stocking up on snacks! Pam at MotherReader has just announced the TENTH ANNUAL 48-Hour Book Challenge will be held on the weekend of June 19-21!! This is one of my favorite weekends of the year and you can bet I will be reading with bells on (um, is that a thing?). 

More details to come at, so stay tuned. 

PS: I know I have been failing at blogging lately. Summer Reading is coming and my budget is frozen and that's all I'm going to say about that (for now). But I will try to get back to it soon. <3 p="">

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Reading Wildly: Science Fiction

This month at Reading Wildly, we talked about Science Fiction books. We had an interesting conversation about the different types of science fiction that exist - it's not all aliens and spaceships (although it is some of that!). And we talked about whether science fiction is more "for boys" and whether science fiction is being written that will attract girl readers, too. (What we actually found was that the books we read were about half and half with girl protagonists and boy protagonists and that almost everyone on my staff [mostly female] was able to find at least one science fiction story they enjoyed.) 

To start our meeting, we discussed the following articles: Sci-Fi Series and Stand-Alones Across the Curriculum by Aileen Kirkham (LibrarySparks, March 2012) and Why Everyone Should Read More Science Fiction by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Huffington Post, 2013). One consideration we talked about is that some of our school require kids to read in different genres and sci-fi can be a hard sell for some kids who think they don't like it. We're always on the lookout for sci-fi that reads like other types of fiction (example: The Fourteenth Goldfish is a science fiction story, but also has a lot of elements of contemporary fiction). 

And then we shared our booktalks and here's what we all read this month: 

For June and July, it's Reader's Choice for our monthly meetings.... and we're not going to actually meet! It's so hard to get everyone together over the summer that we're forgoing in-person meetings and I'm asking everyone to contribute to our group "reading log" throughout the summer. We'll be back to our monthly meetings in August, once the kids are back in school and peace reigns again. ;)