Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Let's Mock Testing

Last week the library was shut for 3 mornings for mock testing.  This week the library is shut for 2 mornings for mock testing.  Not real testing, mock testing.

Let's mock testing then.  Here goes:

1.  What is the best way to prepare students for a test?

a. Mock testing and lots of it
b. Teaching the material in an engaging way
c. Encouraging students to reading and pursue their own interests, as students can do in the library

2.  What is the best way to encourage a love of learning?

a. Mock testing and lots of it
b. Teaching the material in an engaging way
c. Encouraging students to reading and pursue their own interests, as students can do in the library

3.  What is the best way to improve students' language skills?

a. Mock testing and lots of it
b. Teaching the material in an engaging way
c. Encouraging students to reading and pursue their own interests, as students can do in the library

4.  What is the best way to measure student progress in the elementary years?

a. Through tests written and graded by people who don't know the students
b. Through a portfolio of work
c. Through a test written by the teacher who taught the material
d. B & C

5.  What is the best way to teach elementary school students?

a. Work backwards by preparing for a test written by other people
b. Teach the material in an engaging way, allowing for the occasional tangent dictated by the students' interests

6.  What is the best homework for elementary school students?

a. None
b. Some review
c. Projects that can only be done with parental help
d. Projects that can be done alone
e. Reading
f. Worksheets with the words "Test Prep" plastered all over them.

In case it's not clear, I object to BOTH the mock testing and the fact that any of it takes place in the school library, thereby depriving classes of their library period.  (Students who require special accommodations, such as extra time, are tested in the library.)  The library is also used for nearly every meeting or event that takes place in the building.  Yes, our school is in Manhattan, and yes, it's only 3 stories, and yes, we have limited space, but is there really no other room that can be used?  No one would dream of using the art room or the music room.  Why not?

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Only (First?) Wordless Book My 7-Year-Old Has Ever Liked


My younger daughter does not like wordless books.  Never has.  She likes words.  Pictures are all well and good, as long as they are accompanied by words.  So I was shocked when I opened a wordless book yesterday and she was intrigued.  Before After is rather long too, and she sat for all of it.

The conceit is simply, but oh so cleverly and beautifully executed.  Each spread consists of a "before" page and an "after" page; sometimes a double spread will work together to comprise before and then another double spread represents after.  The concept is carried out throughout the book, including the endpapers, which show a just-turned-over hourglass at the beginning of the books, and one in which all the sand has come through at the end of the book.

Here are some of our favorites:


From sheep to wool to clothing 



Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

I wonder if it will be the only wordless book my daughter will ever like, or if it is just the first.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

My First Book Challenge(s)

Although I run the school library, I'm not there full-time.  When I arrived the other afternoon, another parent volunteer reported to me that a third-grade teacher who is, shall we say, quirky, had requested (demanded?) that the fantastic (my adjective, not hers) graphic novel Smile be taken off that shelves as it was "inappropriate."  She had put post-its on specific pages that involved "boy talk" and a game of Spin the Bottle.  She objected to the part where Raina's friends encourage her to "glam up" to garner male attention.

Of course, like most censors, she had completely missed the point of the book: that girls should be themselves and should be comfortable with their appearance.

The book is so popular, and deservedly so, that I actually ordered 3 copies of it (and 3 each of Raina Telgemeier's other books), which is pretty much unheard of for me.

But I'm in a bit of a tough spot here.  I'm an unpaid volunteer, not an employee.  And I'm not the principal's favorite.  I must admit, I'm thinking of compromising and taking the book off the shelf when her class comes.  It is more appropriate for 4th and 5th grade, that is true.  And some classroom teachers do retain veto power of what books their students check out from the school library.  Certainly in the future she would not permit her students to check Smile out, so I'm just short-circuiting the process.

To some extent, I "censor" all the time, whenever I make choices for the library.  This is, after all, a school library, serving children ages 4-11.  Moreover, we have limited space.   I keep in mind those limitations when I purchase books.  I don't buy "superhero" books or Minecraft books or comic books for the school library, despite student requests.  But the only book I've ever removed from the shelves for inappropriateness was The Hunger Games.

Wow, that sounds a lot like rationalizing, doesn't it?  I feel like I'm colluding in censorship.  What would you do?

Meanwhile, another volunteer reported that a parent came in, angry that his child kept coming home with books "too hard" for him.  She referred him to the classroom teacher.  I would have suggested that he read the books to his child.  And that reading above your level can open up a whole new world.

I do feel like I've just gotten my librarian wings, though... or perhaps pages?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Heresy or a Valid Exercise of Discretion?


New Books Shelfie
We got three boxes of new books at the school library today and more are on their way.  I'm so excited.  But the arrival of new books always poses a problem for me.

For younger readers
For older readers
When we order books from our approved vendor for the school library they come "shelf-ready."  That is, they come with bar codes and spine labels with the call number allegedly assigned to our specifications.  But there are always some books that we feel are easy readers that were given the prefix F (fiction) instead of E (easy).  As the "librarian," I feel comfortable changing those.
But what about books that come with a call number that I feel will relegate the book to the status of buried treasure, where no one will find it?  What about the Guiness World Records, which the students LOVE, but will never find under its 031 call number? That one they can at least ask for by name.  But what about a book like Brown Girl Dreaming?  Most of them have never heard of the book or Jacqueline Woodson.  They are certainly not going to ask for it or for books by or about her and will never find it in the biography section, which is how it came coded to us (and how it's shelved at the NYPL). Why isn't it shelved in poetry? Even there, it's unlikely to be found.  Sure, I can promote it, put it on a display, but once it's time to change the display, it disappears again into the recesses of the biography or poetry sections.

What about Brave Girl, which had a call number in the 300s, for labor history?  I changed it to biography, but still... I can't imagine any of our students have heard of Clara Lemlich!

What about this book on women in Congress?  It came to us with a call number of 320.08, which is, by all rights, where it belongs.  But no one - no one - will find it there.  What about the 900s for history?  I haven't decided on this one yet...

And why, why, why did Smile come to us with a call number in the 700s?  This one was an easy call - it will get a G for graphic novel (as it does in the NYPL).

Non-fiction
To me, the most important thing is that these books are where students will not just find them if they are looking for them but will come across them as they browse. Those serendipitous discoveries are the best, right? But if no one even browses the shelves housing books in the 0-499 range, hiding under the school library's empty fish tank (long story), no one will ever find them.  And so, throwing caution to the wind, I renumber and reshelve them.

P.S. About this post's title: you can tell I used to be a lawyer, right?

Newbery Quickie: In Under the Wire

I haven't mentioned the Newbery at all, as at school we're doing a mock Caldecott only.  But I must plug my favorite Newbery contenders this year: Brown Girl Dreaming and The Fourteenth Goldfish. I'm in the middle of The Crossover now and loving it - so far - maybe even more than Brown Girl Dreaming, but it skews older, although still in Newbery territory.  I thought The Family Romanov was a great work of nonfiction, which especially appealed to me as I studied Russian and Russian history in college, but Newbery material?  I'm not convinced.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

"Becust the pichrs toc to me" [sic]

One first grader's opinion


Another first grader's ballot: "The colors poped [sic]."
And the final results are in!  114 students voted.  (We have about 625 students in the school, and almost no fifth graders, the biggest grade, participated.)  Draw! retained its huge leade and emerged as our school's Caldecott winner.  Flashlight moved from third to second place and The Iridescence of Birds made a surprise comeback, moving from last place to third.  It was a tight race, with four books, Nana in the CityA Dance Like StarlightThe Scraps Book, and Josephine, all tying for sixth. Here are the details, along with what some of the students wrote about their choices.  I love how the students really considered their choices and felt strongly about them, with many of them writing that the pictures really spoke to them.  Congratulations to our winner, and to all our students who participated!

1.  Draw!: 102 points (20 first place votes, 15 second place votes, 12 third place votes)

Fourth graders liked Flashlight

2.  Flashlight: 76 points (17 first place, 11 second place, 3 third place) 

3.  The Iridescence of Birds: 49 points (9 first place, 8 second place, 6 third place)

4.  The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus: 48 points (10 first place, 8 second place, 6 third place)

A first grader gets right to the point.



5.  Viva Frida: 42 points (4 first place, 6 second place, 3 third place)  

6.  Nana in the City: 39 points (5 first place, 7 second place, 10 third place)

6.  The Scraps Book: 39 points (4 first place, 9 second place, 9 third place) 


6.  A Dance Like Starlight: 39 points (5 first place, 8 second place, 8 third place)

6.  Josephine: 39 points (6 first place, 6 second place, 9 third place)

7.  Brother Hugo and the Bear:  33 points (4 first place, 7 second place, 7 third place)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Non-Contending Contenders

I picked our school's mock Caldecott nominees based on, as I said before, personal preference combined with online buzz.  I had to leave out at least some of the most-talked-about possible winners.  But I also left out two books that haven't been talked about anywhere but are two of my 2014 favorites.


A Home for Mr. Emerson. Haven't you ever wanted to just dive into a book?   In this biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which centers on his home, the illustrator shows Emerson doing just that.  I love everything about this book - the text, the illustrations, and how they work together.  The oversized books which appear everywhere drive home the point that Emerson's home is not just the building he lives in, but the ideas, words and books he surrounds himself with, not to mention the nearby woods, and, most of all, a caring community of neighbors.  The use of different fonts for the text and for direct quotes from Emerson himself works especially well.  And despite the illustrator's very British-sounding name (Edwin Fotheringham), he is, indeed, a U.S. resident, making this book Caldecott-eligible.  There's a great interview with him here.


Mr. Ferris and His Wheel. The color palette of vivid blues, golds, chartreuses and purples bring to life a world recently lit up by electricity. Together the text and the illustrations also convey the excitement associated with all sorts of new technology, embodied by the World Fair, and all kinds of races to build the next biggest and/or best thing.

Of course, since there are nominations for the real Caldecott, no short list, these two ARE contenders.