Maker Club Begins!

Yesterday, about 15 students came to the library for the first ever meeting of Maker Club. Students were given a few directions – clean up after yourselves, share the gadgets, be creative and don’t be afraid to fail, and have fun! I then let them loose to test out the littleBits, Sphero, and craft supplies including some coloring books promising to aid with stress relief. Students worked together and independently to create projects, whether from a set of directions or from their imagination. An obstacle course was built out of books and book trucks to drive the Sphero through, a working car was built out of the littleBits, radios were created out of circuits and iPhones, and more! The hour flew by and students asked for more time and more meetings! Right now we will be meeting once a month until the library has more supplies to cover demand. Next month I hope to offer challenges to the students to complete within the hour.


Figuring out Sphero

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Getting creative with the ltitleBits space set


Moving Away from Copying

A conversation was started with the 8th graders a few months ago about plagiarism – what it is, how to combat it, and the consequences. I told them this would be an ongoing discussion throughout the rest of the year and encouraged them to ask me questions whenever they needed help. As a means to help students steer clear of plagiarism, and to help them take succinct and strong notes that are not copied from a book or online source, I engaged them in a lesson today about whittling down information, and how to do so without copying.

The 8th graders in Ms. Liles English class were given an article today from the website, Newsela. I was able to find an 8th grade-leveled article on a topic they probably have little background knowledge in. The article was titled, “In Chernobyl’s post-apocalyptic exclusion zone, animals are thriving”. Students were given a bit of background information on taking notes, and how to take notes from a news article, and were asked to read the article as a group. When finished they were to take the main idea(s) and/or main facts and write them down on a 3×5 flashcard.

After discussing what students thought were the most relevant pieces of the article, they were then given a post-it note to scale back the information, and from there they were given an even smaller post-it note (which I called the baby post-it note) where they were asked to write down the one main idea of the article. Through this process, nearly every group was able to break down the information and speak about the one main idea of the article.


Working through the information overload to pull out one main idea from the article.

It is my hope, as the 8th graders continue through the year and working through research projects, they can come back to this lesson and think about how to break down information. While I am sure they will not be using post-it notes every time they are assigned a project, as long as they can think back to the process and follow that as they navigate encyclopedia articles and online sources, hopefully they will feel more comfortable writing in their own words and taking a step back from the dreaded copy/paste function.

A Small Makeover

I’ve given myself the past few months to see how the library is utilized by students, classes, teachers, and outside organizations. With this knowledge I have slowly been making long-term goals of how to transform the library to adapt to the needs of the school and community.

My first goal has been to create a “maker space”, essentially a space where people make things. These spaces, primarily in public libraries, but making their way into school libraries, provide the tools for people to tinker, experiment, create, make mistakes, and test ideas. This space will create curriculum connections with the STEM program in place, but will also create connections with STEAM (STEM with Art).

The process of creating this space has been a multi-step journey and will continue into the next year. I took an underutilized area of the library, and opened it up by moving the giant Smartboard that has taken residence there for years. Now I have access to a large white board, shelf space, and cabinets, all will be useful for a maker space. With a little bit of paint, and some further cleaning, I think this nook in the library will become something really special for the the students and staff. Thanks to our AMAZING custodial staff I now have a space that looks fresh and bright! I would love to use the space below the upper shelves to have a custom sign made in the future when a name has been designated for the maker space. I have ideas, but am keeping them a secret for now!

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Future home of the “maker space” (name TBD). Before (top picture) and after (bottom picture). A fresh coat of paint always makes things look brighter! Don’t mind the mess, still finding room for everything that has been living on that shelf for years!

Next week on Wednesday after school I will hold the first Maker Club meeting, where students will be able to try out some of the library’s new gadgets – littleBits and Sphero.

A Picture Book Won the Newbery?

In my recent post I discussed the ALA’s Youth Media Awards and some of the winners. Matt de la Pena had a big win, and a very talked about win. De la Pena’s picture book, Last Stop on Market Street took home the Newbery. Not only is de la Pena the first Hispanic author to take home Newbery gold, but his book is perhaps the second picture book to win this coveted award. Since the Newbery celebrates the story and not the pictures (which the Caldecott does), it’s nearly unprecedented for a picture book to receive this award.

Last Stop on Market Street

From Amazon

I must say, I was shocked, and slightly disappointed to see a picture book take home the title, only because I work with 7th and 8th graders and was hoping to heavily promote a book that was for their age group. But, I have heard wonderful things about this book, and definitely plan to read it. As I start to read more and more interviews with Matt de la Pena on his Newbery win, I feel better with the decision. It always warms my heart to hear from the authors after they receive such a distinguishing award.

This book has been celebrated for many reasons, but one big reason is that de la Pena is able to discuss class issues in a unique way that makes sense to and can appeal to children. De la Pena has visited many schools facing high levels of poverty, and has said, “Those kids have such a feeling of unworthiness. Lots of times the older students will ask me, ‘Why would you come here?’ and it breaks my heart that they don’t think they deserve to have an author visit,” de la Pena quoted in an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, and one thing he hopes Last Stop on Market Street does, “in a subtle way, is to show those kids that they are worthy of being the hero in my books.” I find that to be a beautiful statement. Every child deserves to feel like they can be a hero, no matter their class, race, gender, or sexual orientation.

If you would like to see read one of his interviews discussing the win, and finding out at 4:30 in the morning, follow this link: Publisher’s Weekly Interview with Matt de la Pena

Youth Media Awards

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference in Boston. The best part of Midwinter, besides thousands of librarians in one spot, is the Youth Media Awards…basically the Academy Awards for the literature world! At the YMA, some of the biggest book awards are announced, including the Newbery and Caldecott winners. It’s a very exciting time for all book lovers, and this was the first awards event I was able to attend. image1 (8)

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Running into library colleagues is always a highlight of conferences!

I was INCREDIBLY invested in the awards last year, because during my student teaching we held a 2-month mock Caldecott with the 3rd-5th graders. Not only did my top pick take home the Caldecott gold last year (The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat, my absolute FAVORITE picture book EVER), but many of my favorites won awards besides the Caldecott. This year, working with 7/8 graders, I am completely out of the picture book world, so was looking forward to the middle grade and YA winners.

You can see the list of 2016 winners here: YMA Winners. The big winner of the day was definitely Matt de la Pena, taking home the Newbery and his story Last Stop on Market Street was awarded a Caldecott Honor (although that award really goes to the illustrator).

In lieu of discussing all the winners, I’ll discuss what books I was most happy to see take home an award. My highlight was seeing Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson win a Newbery Honor.



Within the past year I have tried to read a lot more graphic novels. They are popular with all age groups, and I found I was unable to recommend many because I just wasn’t familiar with them. I changed that by getting my hands on as many graphic novels as possible, and Roller Girl has been one of my favorites. The story follows Astrid, a girl in junior high who decides to take up roller derby one summer. Astrid’s best friend doesn’t enjoy it, and invests her time in dance. Astrid must learn how to make new friends, push herself beyond her limits, and understand the changes that come with growing up. It’s a heartwarming story that focuses on a sport unknown to many. I have been recommending this title to a lot of students, and am not finding its getting the attention I know it deserves.

I believe last year was a first for the Newbery committee, as a graphic novel took home a Newbery Honor. Now, with another graphic novel taking home a Newbery honor, I think we are going to see this format taking home more and more awards…who knows, perhaps next year a graphic novel will take home the Newbery gold!

My other highlight was seeing Kevin Henkes’s book, Waiting take home a Caldecott Honor. I have been a huge fan of Kevin Henkes since I was just a young tot.


From HarperCollins

Chrysanthemum and Jessica were stories I could read everyday. I met him in 2012 at a conference, and was able to hear him speak about his work. It was absolutely magical for me.

I will be ordering the winning titles for the library, that we don’t already have. The ones we do have in the collection, I put out for display. I will be drawing attention to them all week. If you want any of your own copies check Eight Cousins. You’re never too old for a good picture book or graphic novel!

We Need Diverse Books

As promised, I wanted to speak a bit more about the author visit with Varian Johnson next month. I am super excited, as I finished The Great Greene Heist last night, and a lot of the students are really excited too! I have loaned out my ARC of To Catch a Cheat, so I am patiently (aka anxiously) awaiting my turn to read the sequel! Varian Johnson will be visiting with us Wed., Feb. 3rd. He will give a talk both 1st period and 2nd period, so multiple students will be able to attend. I look forward to a big crowd and an enlightening talk.

To summarize, The Great Greene Heist follows Jackson Greene, an 8th grader from a family of con artists. Jackson is smart, but has landed himself into a bit of trouble through some unfortunate conning that may have backfired. Jackson swore off the conning life, but when he finds out his best friend may lose the student council presidential election over some administrative bribery, Jackson can’t help but devise a plan with his team of friends and accomplices. There are many great features of this book, one being the humor, and another being the diversity of the characters. There is a cheerleader who speaks Klingon and runs the tech club, for example.

On the topic of diversity in literature, and because Varian Johnson is a strong proponent of diversity in literature, I think back to the Youth Media Awards last year. The Youth Media Awards are presented at the annual American Library Association Midwinter conference, and this is where the Newbery, Caldecott, and numerous other prestigious honors are awarded. Last year, not only were the books diverse in their characters, but also in their formats.

The Newbery Award was given to an African American author, Kwame Alexander for his book The Crossover, written in verse. The 1st Newbery Honor was given to Jacqueline Woodson, a prominent African American author who gives her experience growing up in the South in Brown Girl Dreaming, also written in verse. And, the 2nd Newbery Honor was given to Cece Bell, who tells of her life growing up deaf in El Deafo, an autobiographical graphic novel. Not only were the authors diverse, but the book characters and formats. Librarians, teachers, and readers were all so excited to see diversity at the forefront at the 2015 Youth Media Awards, and we hope to see the same outcome this year. I write this as a I prepare to attend the awards in Boston in less than a week!

I am a big proponent of diversity in youth literature, and think it’s so very important for children and teens to understand and respect the differences around them, but also to find connections to their own lives. Every student deserves to find a book that supports them and their background, and with more diverse books being published each day and being heavily promoted in libraries and through the media, students are able to use books as a mirror for their lives, and/or a window to someone else’s life. Ms. Liles had the students choose books for their recent project that was both a mirror and a window, and I often was able to suggest the Newbery winners from last year.

Since I don’t want to babble too much about books and the awesome diversity in literature in 2016, I will leave you with a 2014 Kirkus interview with Varian Johnson about diversity and stereotypes: Kirkus interview with Varian Johnson