Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Personal Book Acquisition

Back in the day, I was an avid book hoarder. The sight of a book store sent me in to rhapsody. Or to the checkout counter. Whichever was closer. If I saw a book I liked, I felt a need to have a copy for my very own. Whenever I moved, which was too often, people groaned thinking about the weight of all those books. Then I went to library school, had more firsthand experience with inter library loan and became an advocate for sharing.

Around the same time I became a fan of the TLC show Clean Sweep. This show helped me to see that I was keeping far too much stuff for all the wrong reasons. Peter Walsh made a huge impact on my thinking about what is really essential in my life. I have him to thank for the many wonderful benefits of reducing clutter in my life. Peter is mentioned in our home whenever someone needs a little help letting go. We look upon him as practically a family member. I purged, gave away and donated many, many books. Inter library loan was my new modus operandi and I have used the service liberally.

Funny how life changes, though. Lately, I have gone back on the book buying band wagon. This time, there is a difference. No longer do I buy every book I see. No, this time my book buying habits are more difficult to regulate. I no longer just buy books, I buy signed books. Discovering the joy of the book signing has been a blessing and a curse. Frankly I buy the books so that I can have 30 seconds of face time with the authors I love. Not that they really get much out of a line of people who demand their signatures for every sort of oddly spelled names saying “Oh, I loved your book.” I do it for me. While it may not mean much, I do get to say thank you. That’s something Mom always told me was important. It’s something that I feel deeply. Somehow the signed book makes me feel that much more connected.

Funny, the very fact that the author is a master at aligning words to create a magical connection of heart and spirit does not seem to be enough for me. I guess I want authors to know that I, the reader, exist. I want them to know that their work matters to me. It matters enough to me to stand in long lines, in hot rooms, with my bag either falling off my shoulder or cutting into it. It matters enough to me to hold a heavy stack of books in my arms, nearly motionless to have the opportunity to tell my name, to smile insipidly and make an impression so weak that it is near meaningless. So what drives me to do it? Ask the hundreds of other people who stand in those same lines the question. I’m too weak to answer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Teaching Folktales

Part of the curriculum for our small charges includes teaching about folktales. Trying to teach about folktales is not the same thing as reading them. What exactly do we want 5 and 6 year olds to remember about folktales? Is the ability to tell particular tales the most important aspect? Is it the fact that they can identify different sorts of folktales – creationist, por quoi tales, trickster tales, tall tales etc.? Moreover, how to select which folktales will be used for these lessons?

The Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Framework defines folktales as:

Folktale: a short narrative handed down through oral tradition, with various tellers and groups modifying it, so that it acquired cumulative authorship. Most folktales eventually move from oral tradition to written form.

This week I tried something new to illustrate the idea of how folktales develop. I chose a student to be the storyteller. The student stood up next to me. Then I told a story, really a number of facts about a colorful aunt I had. The storyteller then had to retell the story to the class. We had three or four people try their hand at retelling it. The results were hilarious and sometimes heartwarming. Needless to say, the story took on a life of its own. Sometimes the changes were unintentional, but several of the students were natural embellishers. I took care to mention that these acts of omission or clear fabrication were part of the process a story had to go through to become folklore.

To me, hearing the story of my aunt who lived in a lemon grove, turn into a story about my father who lived in a lemon, was shear magic.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

RISD Alumni Art Sale

Yesterday I hoofed it on over to the RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) Alumni Art Sale held at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Always a feast for the eyes, these sales delight and inspire. My objective in going yesterday was to visit Grace Lin and get my hands on a signed copy of her book Where the Mountain meets the Moon. The book has been getting good reviews and I have wanted to read it, but I was pretty sure I could get a specially signed copy if I waited. I intend to wrap it and put it under the tree for myself. Then I will read in between the holidays and the beginning of the new year.

If you are not familiar with Grace Lin, you are missing out on a gem. Her work is fresh and empowering. Her website and blog are among my favorites to follow. Grace has a voice which is so friendly and warm that you really feel like you know her. This tone is one of the reasons her books have such appeal. Don’t miss out any longer. To view her blog, see a trailer for the book, as well as her interview on the Today Show, go to:

Yesterday I tried to behave myself. I really did. The first time I saw Grace at a RISD Almuni Art Sale, I charged the booth she shares with Anna Altieri and simply gushed “I’m a fan!” at which my preteen child nearly died of embarrassment. I didn’t know enough to stop. “I follow your blogs” I continued. I was on a roll. Grace was charming and didn’t seem to think my behavior as outrageous as my companion did. She simply smiled and asked me if I was a librarian. How did she know? While I was thinking she was not only a wonderful author/illustrator but also somewhat of a mystic, my child informed me that it was as if I had the word LIBRARIAN stamped across my forehead.

Yesterday I managed to browse peacefully, request my books quietly and slyly mention that I do follow her blogs and enjoy them. I bought the aforementioned Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Robert’s Snow and Lissy’s Friends, complete with Lissy doll. I intend to use Lissy’s Friends at school to accompany my origami lessons.

Here's the inside of my book bag.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

One Week Later

My rough draft

One week after I completed the NANOWRIMO challenge of 50,000 words in the month of November, I look back with awe. It changed my thinking about books in general and writing them in particular.

Reading the advice of others is confusing. Some say that after you have written the rough draft you should put your manuscript away. Some say it should be at least a week. Others frame it in terms of months. It is true that some people dive right into the job of revisions. Who is to say which way will yield better results?

I had the fortitude to leave the manuscript alone for 5 week days, but yesterday I peeked at it. Suddenly, I had a new idea which will make many changes neccesary, but has really invigorated me and I'm ready to dive back into the story. Should I or shouldn't I start right back in on it? I haven't decided yet.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Last Sunday I attended a NANOWRIMO Write In. The concept of writing socially was intriguing. I am so glad I went for a number of reasons:

1. I met new people who had interesting things to say about the process.

2. New plot twists appeared unbidden as did a new character. This happened naturally without even dipping into the many and varied challenges that are available at a write in.

3. The numbers on the word count increased dramatically.

4. They gave me presents.

Take a look at these presents:

Plot ninja – for new plots and Skull and cross bones eraser – a reminder not to erase

Emergency plot elements  and Emergency new character – just open and add water

NANOWRIMO pocket guide

NANOWRIMO sticker and teabag – for relaxation and to keep me awake!

Is it worth the time to go to a write in or would it make more sense to stay home, use the travel time to write and concentrate without interruptions? I will definitely attend another write in. The inspiration and companionship is well worth the time traded.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I read this morning that I should be up to 36,000 words by the end of tomorrow to be on track! Oh my. Well, I pumped out a little more than 1,000 words after reading that, so I’m up to 19,000 words now. I’ve been to Starbuck’s and I am caffeinated and ready to get to work.

I know some people hold to the idea that you shouldn’t go back and read. The idea is to just get it all on paper. I am at the point, however, when I need to go back and see the whole so I can understand where I am going. I have to find the places which need filling out. This is my task today. I don’t know if it will help me pump out word count today, but I find that I can produce a decent amount of work if I know where to start. It is very similar to cooking. If I have a menu plan, I have little difficulty in coming home and preparing it. If, however, I have to root around the kitchen hoping an idea will pop out and grab me, that is when I find it difficult to succeed.

I have a plan. Now I hope for inspiration and concentration.

Friday, November 13, 2009


NANOWRIMO has been a truly awe inspiring experience. For some time I have thought that it would be interesting to try my hand at writing a novel. Those thoughts stayed up in my head. Occasionally there would be someone with whom I could share those unexplored thoughts. Did I ever sit down and test the dream? Not really. I found I enjoyed writing for publication and the research process had a grip on me, but actually working on a novel, it just never happened.

NANOWRIMO has changed everything about this dream. I started out with an idea. I came up with the idea on my morning commute. It was an idea born of duress. The commitment had been made to the process...I had to find something to write about. That evening I came home and started pounding the keys. It was shocking to find that the characters were recalcitrant. They did not stay in the boxes I had created for them. They became living, breathing entities with minds of their own. I cannot imagine where they came from. That this book could be written is something I do not doubt. That it is being written by me is nothing less than astounding.

I find that as I have embraced this process I feel more lively and alive. I get more excited about things. I'm having fun.

More than that, I find the way I approach teaching students about the books we read in the library has dramatically changed. I have always stressed that they may some day write a book which will be in our library, the committment to viewing ourselves as authors and illustrators has deepened. I find that students seem to be connecting more deeply with the material and I do too. This process has enhanced my library program in unexpected ways.

I am using my SONY IC Recorder to take snapshots of my ideas on my commute. Least you think I'm holding it while driving, let me tell you my technique. I do not talk on my cell phone while driving, so I had to find a technique for this. I either pull over and make the recording before resuming driving or, I tuck the recorder into my safety belt near my neck. I reach out and touch the red button and can talk for quite a while. Then I press the button again. If I miss, it's no big deal. I know I have succeeded when I hear the beep. Upon arriving home it is easy to replay the tape player and type it into my work.

All in all, NANOWRIMO is an event I would highly recommend to anyone who has an interest in writing a novel. It's not easy to keep at it, but it is a transformation experience which I am glad I embraced.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Digital Native Reality Check

Today I witnessed a scene which I will not find easy to forget. Three boys who looked to be around ten years old, exiting a digital art class exclaimed "Oh, since Internet Explorer 7 came out I can't get any of it to display correctly." The others chimed in about their thoughts regarding an array of software technicalities which I could just follow. Ten years old and talking like software designers in their twenties!

What does that say about what we must do to keep these boys engaged in the arena of mandatory education? They are already solving problems, using 21st Century Skills, applying what they learn to create products. When they are now asked to create power point slide shows of something they have already learned in class over the course of several years, how excited will they be? How excited would we be in the same set of circumstances?

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking back on my youth and feeling that adding a bit of technology would make a project more interesting. Students today are more saavy than that. Dangling the opportunity to incorporate simple technology into their lessons is hardly that motivating to them. We really need to ramp it up a bit if we are to capture their interest.

Where I really see the role of the School Library Media Specialist really making an impact is in helping youth in putting the package together. Making sure that the medium is not stealing the spot light from the message.

Regardless, I feel new pressure to keep up with technology, to find new ways to harness not just the technology for the wow effect, but also as a seamless vessel for the message.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Reading Paula Yoo's blog a couple of days ago I found out about NANOWRIMO. Short for National Novel Writing Month, NANOWRIMO encourages folks to write a novel in the month of November. The focus is not on perfection or editing, rather the point is to write intensively. Despite all the other things I am doing and the fact that I really don't have time, I decided to sign up and give it a go. I may not meet the goal of completing a 50,000word novel, but I'm pretty sure that I will write more than I would otherwise.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rhode Island Festival of Children's Books and Authors

My bag of books

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending the Rhode Island Festival of Children's Books and Authors. It was held at the Lincoln School in Providence, Rhode Island. What a wonderful gathering of authors, illustrators and people who love books! The school itself is a beautiful building - certainly one which inspires excitement and awe. The people assembled inside were what made the day special.

Unable to attend the morning events I missed some great author talks. Lucky for me, I was still able to meet people when I had books signed.

The people I met and the books I bought:

Paul Zelinsky made you feel like you were doing him a favor. He is a truly gracious man. I got Swamp Angel and the last copy of Rumplestiltskin. We cannot keep his books on the shelves in our school library.

Jerry Pinkney made you feel like you were coming home. I loved watching him as I stood in line. He was relaxed, enjoyed people and smiled a smile which made my worries fade away. I was so happy to purchase for a dear friend a copy of The Moon Over Star, winner of the Coretta Scott King Award this year and the book Barack and Michelle Obama read to second graders. For myself I bought Goin' Somewhere Special a book which is special to me as a librarian. I had to have Jerry Pinkney's Little Red Riding Hood because it was the book which made me stop 10 months of research to change my focus. It was a pivotal book in my thought process about fairy tales and equal access.

Next was a talk given by Christopher Paul Curtis. There are no words to describe just what a delight his talk was. His easy manner, his sense of humor, his sense of timing - all impeccable. Later when I had him sign a copy of Bud, Not Buddy for a relative who is from Flint, Michigan, it turns out he knows another relative of mine. The world is a small place.

Brian Selznik was a delight. The Invention of Hugo Cabret was my pick this time. When meeting him by accident before his signing, we asked if he could sign the book. He replied that he didn't have time to sign the book, that he would be happy to do so later if only we would be able to come to his table, he would want to sign it properly. All the time he was giving this monologue he was signing the book with a wicked smile on his face!

Padma Venkatraman was there signing an intriguing book called Climbing the Stairs, among other titles. I can't wait to read this book. She was charming and had materials for teachers and librarians to use with her books.

I was intending to get a copy of Lois Lowry's Number the Stars, but it was sold out by the time I got there. So I ended up getting a copy of Gossamer, which I have not read yet. Her talk was humorous, delightful and intellectually stimulating. I am so glad I heard the talk as I became acquainted with some of her work for an earlier age group which I was unaware of. Oh, I have a lot of reading to do.

One of the great things about the day was seeing the people who were there to sign their books being excited to be able to sit in on the talks given by the others. To see people you admire showing admiration for other people you admire makes you admire them all the more.

It was a wonderful day.

Monday, October 5, 2009

MSLA 2009

I’ve been attending the MSLA annual conference this weekend. I always look forward to this conference. There is so much to see, learn and ponder over. I never leave without ideas for implementing in our school. Sometimes it is overwhelming and I wonder how I will rise to the challenge. Sometimes it takes months before I even really comprehend some of the things the speakers and trainers share with us. I wonder how many things I never get. Every year I come back and find something new to stretch me and make me go farther than I thought I could go. I’m so grateful that I live in a place with so many great role models.

Yesterday morning I had the great pleasure to hear one of my favorite authors, Mitali Perkins, in a session on Books Between Cultures. I’ve read all her books, I follow her website, her blogs and yet seeing her presenting I saw a whole new facet of what she offers. Those of you who have her come visit your schools are truly fortunate.

Two great days of great inspiration, sharing of knowledge, and considering future. I have been inspired, affirmed, renewed, challenged, stretched and invigorated. Thanks MSLA.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old Dog, New Tricks

It’s been a while since I got this fancy cell phone with all kinds of bells and whistles. It seemed great to have all these capabilities, but as it is with so much of technological life today, I didn’t use a minute portion of what I had available to me. I suspect I am not alone in under-utilizing my possibilities. It seems that before we can really master using one thing, the next thing comes along. I feel like a string of unfinished learning opportunities.

Well, this summer I decided to really become more friendly with my cell phone. Photos were the first thing. Then it was using the MP3 capabilities. I’ve been trying to get used to putting my appointments into my cell phone rather than carrying a separate calendar. Along with that is putting all those telephone numbers in there. I’ve even taken to using the note area to make my shopping list. Next on my list is recording things and downloading them to my computer.

As I use my cell phone more, I notice the interconnectedness that is developing between my cell phone and my computer. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Urban Backpacking

In my last post I let it be known how much I love my laptop. The large screen is great, but one thing that is problematic is schlepping it around with me. I love to take it on my weekly forays into a city nearby. While I wait for my child to have the weekly activity I catch up on work and writing. Sometimes it’s a grocery list I’m typing.

Here’s the catch. How does one carry a laptop 10 or 15 blocks without pulling a muscle? These days I see students with these mini laptops. Right after they pushed the limits of how big the screen could be they turned around and made them small. I sometimes look on with envy.

First I tried a messenger bag. Slinging the thing over my shoulder, I nearly tipped over to the side and the strap cut into my neck. Cross that one off. I then got a roll on bag, but it was meant to carry your laptop and your clothing for a few days. It’s great for a real car trip, but not to roll through the street. Lately I carry my laptop in a backpack made by Columbia. Usually the backpack is stuffed and bulging with the reading material I “must” take with me. Carrying it around does make you stand up straight, that’s for sure. Sometimes, I look like I’m carrying supplies, including the oxygen tanks, for a trek up Everest. It gets the job done, even if it does look a bit odd.

There has to be a better way. I’m sure that there is a product out there for me. A bag which can be slung on your back easily, but doesn’t tear into your neck. A bag with a colapsable handle so that it can be rolled when advisable. A bag which looks professional and sporty, but not in a campfire kind of way. I’m looking for it. If you know what it is, I’d love to know.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Just one year ago today I got my Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop. Oh, how I have loved it. It is such a lovely color which matches my blog and is my favorite color these days. I opted to buy a laptop with a large screen. I have just loved using this computer. It has made so many things possible. It has gone to the MSLA conference last year. Notes were much neater and easier to follow than those from years past. It has gone it on vacation to provide an outlet for inspiration when it strikes and to keep connected while away. I take it with me to do work while waiting for other things to happen. So far I’ve restrained myself from taking it to parades and such.

The Luddite that I was years ago eschewed using the computer. I was sure that the state of handwriting in the US was sure to plummet with the use of computers. I may have been onto something then, but I’m not proud of it. My handwriting certainly has slid into the quagmire, but I will not apologize. What I have lost in fanciful handwriting I have gained in volume, thoughtfulness and quality. There is no doubt in my mind about the usefulness of this machine or the value for the money. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. The portability has been a blessing.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


As I continue to think about teaching information fluency skills several things keep coming back to me. Really fundamental to the whole process of research is that very first step: asking questions.

In working through KWL charts and other tasks I found that our students really didn't know how to ask questions. Many of them weren't comfortable with asking questions and even less so with the grammatical structure necessary to be successful questioners. Even some of our most inquisitive students were not able to consistantly ask grammatically correct questions. When you consider that English is not the first language for some of our students, unlocking the mechanics of question making is a considerable, yet very valuable, undertaking.

Having rolled these thoughts over in my mind, I decided to make question asking central to the mission of our library. To this end I designed and created this quilt last summer. The finishing touches weren't completed until November.

Each day I see the quilt hanging in the library and it inspires me all over again. I like question asking to be encouraged in our library. For this reason I try never to disrespect questions our students ask - even ones which make me squirm. Students often ask questions like "How old are you?" or "What's that mark on your face?" or (my favorite) "What happened to your hair?" After saying that as the librarian I like to encourage questions of all sorts, I explain that some adults will think it is rude for children to ask those questions. It's funny that adults often ask these same questions of children. Sometimes we answer the questions, sometimes we talk about how to find the answer. I always want them to feel free to ask questions. It's how we begin our journey.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thanks Harry

Recently two boys have been sneaking into the library after hours to change out their books. This started when we got that new set of Horrible Harry books. I'm always worried that they will miss their buses. They come swooping in, throw down their returns, run over to the section of Suzy Kline books, grab one and bring it to me to check out. It takes about 30 seconds. Both of these boys will move on to another school next year and they are trying to finish the series before we stop checking out books this year. No need to connect these guys to books...the challenge is to be open when they are ready!