‎"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
Steven Jobs, Stanford commencement address, 2005.

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The Green Room

The Green Room
Lesson plans integrating library resources into curriculum in addition to lists of green resources For teachers from books to DVDs to the web -- a work in progress. Contributions and suggestions are welcome!!!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

It's About Access to Content

We are living in a revolutionary time.  Our country has been struggling with a turbulent economy, financing a decade-long war, increasingly polarized politics, and changes flying at us from every direction as the result of rapidly developing technology and increasingly interconnected flows of information.  It is exciting and daunting at the same time.  Education has been caught in the crossfires of all of this while undergoing its own attempts at evolving.  Libraries have been keeping up with changes in technology and have evolved right along with all of the rapid changes surrounding them, but those outside of library circles seem to be mystified by what the library brings to the table amidst all of the changes.  Although format and delivery of information are shifting somewhat, libraries remain integral in the same way as when they were initially created; libraries are about access to content.

In the school environment, this role is particularly critical. There is a mountain of data showing that schools with library programs led by MLIS certified school librarians with full time staff and substantial collection development budgets have higher test scores, in all subject areas, than schools without libraries or libraries that are improperly staffed with inadequate collection development budgets.  Despite decades of data demonstrating the clear correlation, libraries continue to disappear.  The more I try to understand why, the more confused I am.  At the academic level, we have maintained strong libraries.  Budgets may be cut, but the idea of eliminating academic libraries isn't generally broached.  I'd imagine anyone who might raise such an idea in the academic environment would be swiftly castigated.  Research requires access to high quality information and scholars demand access.  They understand that access to content carries a price and that, even from a financial standpoint, having a library as their link to that access makes sense.    In the public and school environment, however, decries against the need for libraries isn't uncommon.  I'm coming to the conclusion that there is a vast misunderstanding of what a library is and does in these circles that simply isn't as prevalent in higher education.

Libraries and librarians collect and archive work.  It is irrelevant what format.  Digital or print, it is still about curating content.  The library provides access to curated content for its users.  Public libraries are tasked with curating content specific to the interests and needs of a given community and making it available for access by community members of all different ages. They provide content to retirees and preschoolers, homeless citizens and bank presidents, parents and children outside of regular school hours. It is not free; it is paid for with a share of that community’s public funds. If a community library does not have content that it’s community wants to access, the community can appeal to the library for content changes.  Public libraries were originally founded upon liberal political views about free and equal access to information, but they are not political in how they operate. They are organized with a mindset toward access of information to all people within a community, not a particular contingent or set of ideals.  

Museums and archives are also creating access to their curated content with public funding.  They provide specific content related to the collections they house, like the Smithsonian Institution or the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Museums and archives pay to digitize content, organize it, host it on servers, and ensure that users are able to access it.  It is paid for through membership fees, donations and public (tax) funding.  In some cases, you must pay a membership fee for access to digital content.  It carries all the same rights of ownership that the non-digital versions carries and requires attribution regardless of whether the individual user pays for access.  

As a nation, we should all be concerned about a growing trend toward destruction of public access through non-partisan, non-profit entities.  Power, control, and influence of information determined by those who select and organize content, and who restrict its access to content based upon ability to pay or other selective criteria is not in the interests of a diverse democratic society.   If we move toward a system where all content is driven directly through publishers, booksellers, or companies that curate content for a fee, individual citizens will lose out.  Libraries are not free.  It costs money to curate, organize, and make content searchable.  Libraries do these things without gaining profit on the items they curate.  Collection development is driven by user needs.  We already have a growing digital divide based upon ability to pay and continuing to move toward this pay to view model of information access will create a vast information and literacy divide.

There is great power in what the Internet has brought to society. We now have the ability to use linked computers to connect curators of content and to make curated digital content accessible outside of the physical confines of an actual space. In addition, physical curated content, like books, is searchable outside of the confines of a physical repository.  But the Internet and search engines are about connection, not ubiquitous access to content.  As an example, type “history of libraries” into Google.   You will get a list of potential resources on the topic.  The first thing on the list will likely be a Wikipedia entry.  I have nothing against Wikipedia, but it’s an encyclopedia.  Entries are written by people who provide a basic overview and are not necessarily experts in the topic.  Even prior to the digital age, encyclopedia research was never meant to be more than a basic overview, primarily used with elementary students.  The greatest value of a good Wikipedia entry is its potential for leading students toward further resources through a list of cited resources at the end of the page, many of which can only be accessed for a fee.  Just about all of the other resources that will come up in this query on the “history of libraries” are also only available for a fee.  This includes Google book references.  Not only are online digital books still unwieldy, but the viewing access for many digitized books is quite limited in Google books.  In a search for “history of libraries”, Google will send you to an eBook for Michael Harris’s 1999 book History of Libraries of the Western World.  You can read a limited number of preview pages in Google Books, but then are given a link leading you to the full text for purchase at the bargain price of $37.12.  Imagine a full research paper with multiple resources at this cost?  It becomes cost prohibitive for individuals.  Libraries have the ability to provide resources to patrons within a school or community through collective purchasing power and sharing.  Even documents published under Open Access platforms have a cost.  Someone has to edit, digitize, organize, format, store (yes, even electronically, documents need to be stored), and create a portal to that information.  There is always a cost.

Unlike all other libraries, school libraries and librarians are geared toward specific teaching skills for finding and ethically using information, collection development skills linked to curriculum and pedagogy, strong relationships bridge between publishers and content creators, K12 focused content, understanding of copyright/fair use rules (and how they are evolving), access to diverse variety of pleasure reading with the goal of cultivating widespread literacy and independent learning, and an ability to provide scaffolded instruction of skills for students so that when they ultimately leave the K12 environment they can effectively use both the resources available via the connection of the Internet and academic, business and public libraries to research information.

So what about the role of the Internet?  Can't teachers just use the Internet to create all of this rich content?   That implies a misunderstanding of what the Internet is.  The Internet isn't really a thing, but the interconnection of servers, devices, and individual computers.  Internet search engines troll content according to tagging and popularity.  The Internet does not provide ubiquitous access.  It has the ability to point searchers to places where they can access, but does not give them the keys.  Keys cost money even if the resource is digital.   In fact, digital access costs more than print access and does not currently carrying the same rights of ownership.  But don't we have content experts in our school districts?  Isn't that what curriculum specialists do? The role of curriculum specialists is centered on finding a “package” that meets the needs of each grade within a school district.  School librarians are about finding and curating resources from a diverse array of publishers and providers to teach content that teachers and students can tailor toward individual needs, styles, and abilities.  

As a comparative example of the potential for these different functions, let's look at two different schools.  School A has a packaged curriculum for each grade in math, language arts, social studies, and science.  They have no school library and supplement the language arts program with individual classroom libraries for silent reading.  During the month of March, students study fractions in math through math worksheets and drills, follow set reading, writing, and grammar lessons through the packaged LA curriculum, read about Japan in their social studies books, and read about the earth in their science books.   School B has a strong library program with rich resources centrally located within their school.  The library has two separate technology-rich classrooms capable of using Skype with a teacher and interviewee, sophisticated software programs and learning programs that use interactive gaming headphones.  The collection of resources is created with collaborative input from all of the teachers.  During March, the 3rd graders study Japan.   Teachers create a rich curriculum with the librarian that includes versions of the Sadako story, a strong varied collection of books about Japan, and biographies of famous Japanese and Japanese-American people.  Students have Skype conversations with Japanese school children in the technology classrooms, letting them experience the connection of learning with real children their age in Japan.  Math lessons on fractions include measurements in recipes for Japanese foods from a collection of age appropriate cookbooks for children and examples of origami paper folding.  The library has age appropriate resources on the effects of nuclear bombs and radiation on health and the environment that are used in science lessons.  Art classes explore Japanese brush and ink work ( shodo) and the creation of maneki neko (lucky cat) paintings.  Examples of Japanese art are in the library collection.  Music classes teach Classical Japanese music and children explore Japanese instruments through videos in the library collection.  They also learn some basic Japanese language skills using the gaming headphones and a language learning program in the library technology classrooms.  Which style of school do you think will have the most engaged students – and which students are most likely going to retain what they learn?  The skills being taught are the same, but the content of School B is far richer leading to deeper inquiry and understanding.

Technology does mean exciting things for education, but technology is about the tools for access and content creation, not the content itself.  And technology without content is like having a car, but no fuel.  Technology is certainly opening up amazing possibilities.  We can search greater volumes, access content from a distance, communicate over long distances at a lower cost than ever before, and tailor learning in remarkable ways.  But all content has a cost; somewhere it still needs to be paid for. Booksellers, like Amazon, have an interest in selling books.  Each item accessed, by each individual, carries a specific fee.  They do not provide access to everything published.  They operate under a model according to popularity of sale.  Newspapers and magazines charge for access.  Look at what your cable bill costs.  You pay, either through advertisements or premium access, for content.  Internet access works the same way.  

Unfortunately, cuts to school libraries mean a huge number of school librarians and support staff have to rely upon single vendor solutions.  This means that the bulk of collection development relies heavily upon the vendor selecting content and offering it to the library “shelf ready” at a premium price.  Fewer and fewer school librarians are able to voraciously peruse review copies prior to selection and the budgets for collection development are continually shrinking.  This is bad for education.   We are rapidly losing rich and diverse content in K12 education.  The technological tools we all seem so enamored with are worthless without content.  A student may learn how to use this year’s version of Excel or PowerPoint, but doesn't have a clue that cutting and pasting things from Internet sites without attribution is plagiarism.  The tools will change and students will have to learn how to use new tools on their own, just like the rest of us have been doing as new technology has evolved.  If we haven't taught them how to write, research, cite, edit, organize and evaluate information, and think independently, they won't have the skills to navigate in the world on their own.  If we are to truly embrace this revolutionary time in education, we should be moving toward centralized school libraries that are the hub of learning with more, not fewer, highly skilled staff members who can, and have the time to, cost-effectively curate collections, find new funding sources, collaboratively teach with other staff members, and provide access to rich content for students and staff.
 
Works consulted:

American Association of School Librarians.  Standards for the 21st Century Learner.  Chicago:  American Library Association, 2007.  www.ala.org/alsc/

Boelens, Helen.  “What is a school library?: International Guidelines.” International Association of School Librarianship (IASL).  Web. 28 Sept. 2014.  www.iasl-online.org.

Curry Lance, Keith. "School Library Impact Studies." Web. 28 Sept. 2014. .

Harris, Michael. History of Libraries of the Western World. Google EBook ed. (full Book Access Costs $37.12) Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999.

National Library of New Zealand. "School Library: Purpose."  Web. 29 Sept. 2014. .natlib.govt.nz/supporting-learners/effective-practice/school-library-purpose#>.

Links to resources and data related to school libraries:

School Libraries Impact Studies

Latest Study: A full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement

The Importance of School Libraries

Checking Out: Budget hawks see library programs as an easy out, but what's the cost to student achievement?

School Libraries Work! (Research Foundation Paper)

What You Can Do To Support School Libraries In Crisis

School Libraries Make The Difference

A Librarian's Tricks For Finding Those 'Complex Texts' Cited In the Common Core

Starting A Local School Libraries Friends Group

International Association of School Librarianship -- list of studies on school libraries worldwide

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Interdisciplinary Teaching With A Knitting Book

Yesterday I read through a lovely review copy of Knitting in the Nordic Tradition by Vibeke Lind.  It is a fairly basic knitting book that explains basic stitches and wools, but what I love about her book is the interwoven history of Scandinavia.  She writes about why people began knitting in Scandinavia and the utility of particular textiles and garments.  The book opens up with an intro explaining that the book is not meant to be a straight pattern book, but an introduction to design and technique that will hopefully inspire the reader to create their own designs.  As I was reading, I kept thinking that this would be a perfect book to combine with other books and web resources for a collaborative interdisciplinary teaching unit that marries art, science, math, history, and writing.  The Library of Congress has a wealth of resources including a page specifically for teachers related to immigration and Scandinavia.  Most students study Beowulf in high school and the experience could be far more rich and memorable by integrating lessons on the history of Scandinavia and the Vikings, traditional Scandinavian music, and Scandinavian knitting.  The knitting projects could incorporate math and design skills as well as science by having students create patterns, measure, count and add stitches, and learn textile dye techniques.  Imagine the power of learning like this!

Lind, Vibeke. Knitting in the Nordic Tradition. Mineola, New York : Dover Publications, Inc., 2014. (First published in 1984 by Lark Books).

Library of Congress website:
http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/scandinavian.html

Beowulf
http://beowulfresources.com/

A Brief History of Dyestuffs and Dyeing
http://kws.atlantia.sca.org/dyeing.html

A Lesson To Dye For
http://www1.umn.edu/ships/modules/scimath/dyes1.htm

Sheep Shearing Made Simple
http://youtu.be/53KoRxxr1jc

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Gayle Forman Deftly Digs Into The Aftermath of Tragedy

A few years ago, on one of my wanderings into Children's Book World in Haverford, I walked up to the register with a signed copy of Gayle Forman's If I Stay.  It had been on my "to read" list since it's debut and I'd decided it was high time I moved it up on my list.  I never leave CBW with only one book, but conversation at the register made me throw a copy of Where She Went onto my pile (you do serious damage to my bank account Heather!)

Time, as usual, got away from me.  I kept moving it aside as my pile of review copies continued to spiral beyond control.  With the movie coming out, and a week of vacation in Vermont ahead of me, I decided I really couldn't keep it on the shelf any longer; both books all but jumped into my travel read bag.

Within two nights, both books were devoured.  They were not challenging reads, but the pleasure was in the cathartic emotion of beautiful, heart-breaking characters.  I have already warned my daughter that we may as well pack the whole darn box of Kleenex when we head out to see the film.  Fifteen pages into If I Stay, my eyes began tearing and it was a fairly constant feeling for the 222 pages that followed.  No one reads the same book, and my own personal narrative certainly amplified the emotion of this beautiful tale.   There is a section where Mia, the main character, is with friends and family after the funeral of a close family friend who died suddenly and her father says "'I just think that funerals are a lot like death itself.  You can have your wishes, your plans, but at the end of the day, it's out of your control.'"  They continue to take turns throwing in each of their ideal music selections for their own funerals.  Many years ago, I had a similar conversation with my father about funerals and I will never forget him telling me he'd like a live quartet playing Pachelbel's Cannon.  If I Stay isn't just a story about death and tragedy, however.  Far from it.  It is a story about life.

Where She Went is a completely different story.  It is the aftermath of tragedy and heartbreak told from Mia's boyfriend Adam's voice and perspective.  Many sequels do not live up to their predecessor, but this one is every bit as good.  It's about the collateral damage and long hard road toward becoming whole again.  The opening line is one I've uttered myself multiple times throughout my life: "Every morning I wake up and tell myself this: It's just one day, one twenty-four-hour period to get yourself through."  That daily personal pep talk to get yourself through seemingly insurmountable darkness.  But more than anything what I love about both of these lovely stories is that life is filled with a rainbow of emotions and despite the lows, it is also filled with love, beauty, passion...and hope.

Courtesy of Penguin Group

Friday, July 25, 2014

E. Lockhart's New Novel

I am very tired this morning.   I was up until 3:30am finishing E. Lockhart's latest book We Were Liars.  It is one of those books that, once you get into it, keeps you up until you get to the final word. It is sad, funny, heart-breaking, suspenseful...and wonderful.  It's one of those books that sticks with you.

We Were Liars is not about the life that I am living, but I could feel the characters none-the-less.  It is about the wealthy Sinclair family.  There are trust funds, a private island, and privilege. Living on the Main Line near Philadelphia, I'm sure some of my neighbors, some of the many students I've encountered, are living life as Sinclairs.  But these wealthy, privileged teens struggle with their own pain just like any other class in society.  They face divorce, the conflicts and power struggles of the adults in their lives, substance abuse, and overwhelming expectations about how they should act and who they should be.  

E. Lockhart is best known for her award-winning book The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.  Her Ruby Oliver books are also popular teen reads.  Do not be surprised if We Were Liars sweeps up awards in the coming months; it is well worthy of multiple honors.  And while this is a YA novel, it is really a novel written for all ages.  It is simply a delicious read.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Highlights from the 2014 ALA Annual Conference

Now that I'm recovered from a crazy busy school year and the whirlwind of Las Vegas/ALA Annual, I decided it was high time to pay some overdue attention to my blog.  To start off my summer blogging ventures, I thought an overview of some of the highlights from this year's ALA Annual Conference would be the perfect kick-off.  

This year's award winners were an obvious highlight and I got to meet, and re-meet, most of them. Brian Floca, Kevin Henkes, Holly Black, Kate DiCamillo, Marcus Sedgwick, Markus Zuzak... It's as exciting as the Academy Awards!  I was particularly excited to see Marcus Sedgwick again and have my wonderful copies of Midwinter Blood signed, meet Markus Zuzak and have him finally sign my coveted British copy of The Book Thief, and meet the legendary Judy Blume whose books led me through childhood and adolescence.

I also met the wonderful and inspirational Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of fallen civil rights icon Malcolm X.  Her presentation was remarkable, although I was disappointed in the low turnout to see her.  The audience was clear evidence to me that racial division is still rampant in our country, even in a profession that professes equality and freedom at it's very core.  Ilyasah has published a wonderful new picture book called Malcolm Little that tells the story of her famous father as a child.  It is beautiful and should become a part of school library core collections.

There was a wide selection of wonderful new books among popular book vendors like Candlewick, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster.  Lee & Low's emphasis on diverse books like Parrots Over Puerto Rico has made them a particular favorite for me.  I also fell in love with a wide array of books about art.  Emily's Blue Period by Cathleen Daly tells the story of Picasso's Blue Period for a young audience.  The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLaughlan is a beautiful story about Henri Matisse as a young child.  Yuyi Morales has a beautiful book called Frida.  And a lovely book called Edward Hopper Paints His World has a stunning painting featuring a sign for "Phillies" created by illustrator Wendell Minor right on its cover...sure to appeal to our local Philadelphia crowd.  Hip hop lovers will be excited by Laban Garrick Hill's new book When the Beat Was Born.  For discussion about the Caldecott Medal there is a wonderful book about Randolph Caldecott that explains who he was and why the famous award for picture books bears his name called Randolph Caldecott, The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing by Leonard S. Marcus.  Melissa Sweet, who has had numerous award-winning books including this year's wonderful picture book about Horace Pippin, has a lovely new book forthcoming about Roget and his famous thesaurus that is perfect for integrating into elementary writing lessons. Famous authors and illustrators like Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen, and Jon Scieska all have wonderful new books out as well that should not be missed.  Finally, one of my favorite books about math is a book called Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animals Lives by Lola M. Schaefer.

Among YA authors, there are several exciting books coming out or newly released.  Ally Condie has a book called Atlantia that is very different from her Matched series.  Scott Westerfeld, author of the Uglies and Leviathan series, has a new novel entitled Afterworld.  Meg Wolitzer has a new novel entitled Belzhar (pronounced Bell Jar) that involves two teens, a classroom, journal writing, and the works of Sylvia Plath.  PJ Hoover has a new middle grade novel called Tut that will also have associated media components including a Minecraft world.  Jandy Nelson, Marie Lu, and Cat Winters also have promising new books soon to be released.

Technology is always a highlight of library conferences and the standout new tool for me was in the area of assessment.  One of the challenges with assessing new publications in science is the lag in citation appearances.  The University of Pittsburgh (yay Pitt!) has developed technology that tracks initial mentions via social media from publication date eliminating the lag of waiting for future publications with citations of a given publication.   It's also interesting to note that while the statistics show a huge increase in ebook purchase as well as an increase in ebook lending by libraries, the demand for hardcover books has reached an all-time high and continues to increase with the digital age. For all of the soothsayers who thought paper would disappear, it doesn't look like it will be happening any time soon.  It only takes one massive ice storm that knocks out power for a week to see the virtues of the non-digital world, even for the most tech-oriented among us.

I could rattle on for pages about the amazing experiences from ALA, but I would only be entertaining myself.  Suffice it to say that the world of libraries, information, and stories in all of their various formats is thriving and growing in wonderful ways.









Brian Floca


Jen Bryant & Melissa Sweet



Ilyasah Shabazz

Holly Black


Judy Blume
Claire Rudolph Murphy & Brian Collier

Meg Wolitzer - Belzhar
PJ Hoover - Tut

Marie Lu - The Young Elites
Cat Winters - The Cure for Dreaming


Ally Condie - Atlantia
Jandy Nelson- I'll Give You the Sun




Mo Willems
Jon Scieszka

KG Campbell and Kate DiCamillo

Marcus Sedgwick

Markus Zuzak
My awesome UK edition of The Book Thief!


Susann Cokol

Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Top 50 Reasons To Hire Me

understand how difficult hiring can be.  How do you know for certain that you will choose the right person with the right skills, experience, and personality to get the job you need done, and done well?  With that thought in mind, I spent some time this evening challenging myself to create a list of 50 reasons why I would be a great choice for a school librarian opening.   I suppose I could have set that number higher - or lower - but 50 seemed like a good target number.   Obviously these are all biased since I am the one who created the list, but you can always check out my LinkedIn profile for things my friends and colleagues say about me.  My friends tend to be brutally honest.  Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's painful; but it has always led to personal growth.  

1. I keep up with all new and upcoming literature written for K-12.
2. I am an active galley reviewer.
3. I am actively involved in the American Library Association.
4. I am tech savvy.
5. I have a degree in English in addition to an MLIS and am therefore adept at both "the cannon" and new literature.
6. I have experience working with children in an educational setting from Pre-K through grade 12.
7.  I am infinitely patient.
8.  I have spent a considerable amount of time working in a wide range of special education settings.
9.  I have decades of experience in collaborative work settings.
10. In addition to my education experience, I have experience in other work settings.
11.  I am comfortable with both the tried and true and constant change.
12.  I am mature.
13.  I am able to forward think.
14.  I respond well to criticism.   (Understanding that no one is perfect, I am able to make adjustments when necessary.)
15.  I have a sense of humor.
16.  I am always professional.
17.  If I don't have the answer you need, I will figure out how to get it for you.
18.  I am loyal.
19.  I am honest.
20.  I am always concerned with student impact.
21.  I am a team player.
22.  I consider other perspectives.
23.  I am always looking for new things to learn.
24.  I always look for ways to improve how I am doing things.
25.  I speak multiple languages and understand what it is like to struggle with learning a new language.
26.  I have lived in other cultures and having an experience-based understanding of the words "diversity" and "multiculturalism".
27.  I have a solid understanding of the Common Core and how it relates to both curriculum and the school library.
28.  I have had extensive training in collection assessment and evaluation.
29.  I am equally comfortable with digital collection development as the development of collections using more traditional media.
30.  I am familiar with a multitude of high-quality vendors who serve school libraries.
31.  I have experience managing staff.
32.  I have experience coordinating volunteers.
33.  I have experience creating budgets.
34.  I have experience managing budgets.
35.  I am familiar with outside funding sources for school libraries.
36.  I am comfortable and experienced with fundraising.
37.  I have my own personal, and very extensive, library of books appropriate for K12 and teacher development.
38.  I am well-versed in a wide array of subjects including science, art, literature, business, music, history, politics, and geography.
39.  I have experience working for high tech companies filled with engineers.
40.  I have experience answering a wide variety of reference questions.
41.  I am always willing to learn something new.
42.  I have experience in multiple assessment techniques from usage statistics to developing and conducting surveys.
43.   I am experienced in using a multitude of communication tools from newsletters to wikis to blogs.
44.  I am comfortable with social media...and use it responsibly.
45.  I can effectively manage almost any classroom situation without resorting to yelling.
46.  I am polite.
47.  I have exemplary customer service skills.
48.  I am dedicated.  
49.  I am enthusiastic.
50.  I am passionate.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Fabulous New Book From This Year's Printz Recipient - Due To Arrive at Libraries and Bookstores Near You in April

I am a huge Marcus Sedgwick fan.  I first encountered his work prior to him receiving a Printz Honor award in 2011 when his book Revolver was being talked about as a contender.  After meeting him at ALA Annual that year, he kindly granted me an interview for my blog and I read several more of his books, including this year's Printz winner, Midwinterblood.  I have yet to read anything by this creative author that I have not enjoyed.  His writing is consistently not contrived or formulaic.  He is a master storyteller who weaves together rich characters, settings, and dialogue.  He writes stories that are are lasting, the sort of stories that I anticipate becoming inducted into the canon of quality literature we use for instruction.  I expect we will continue to see a plethora of wonderful things from this talented author.

His latest novel, She Is Not Invisible, has reinforced all of my previous positive sentiments about Marcus Sedgwick.  It is yet another fascinating literary work that is like nothing else I have ever read. He delves into a thoughtful contemplation about the existence of coincidences through the intrepid adventure of teenage Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin.  Weaving historical facts about famous explorers of coincidence into a fictional mystery, this read is simultaneously thought-provoking and seat-of-your-pants entertaining.  Adding an additional layer to the story, it is told through the voice of Laureth, who has been blind since birth.  I found myself pausing multiple times as I read through passages that stuck out as quotable reflections on the world.  Perhaps my favorite is the following:

          "You're black?" I said, stupidly.
          "Yes," he said.  "Does that matter to you?"
          "I couldn't care less if you were green with pink spots.  Why would it matter to me?  I don't even
           know what color is."
          He thought about that.
          "Listen, this gentleman surely won't wait forever," he said.  "But I wonder... Did you assume I
           was white?"
          "Michael, I didn't assume you were anything.  Try to understand, I don't see the world. I don't
           see colors, so I don't think about it that way at all."

Laureth will be held dear in many a readers heart, but this beautiful passage in particular will seal her into mine forever.   Thank you Marcus for giving me get another favorite for my shelf.  I can't wait to have a hard copy with your autograph!


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Wither Thou Advocateth

I am fascinated by the number of conversations I have with parents, teachers, and administrators who respond to the continual slashing of public education with an apathetic, "What can do about it?  They don't have any money."  Replies like this are disempowering and allow the speaker to fall into a role of either victim or non-participant in the problem.  It places the burden of blame on someone else.  I've even encountered this attitude among teachers whose jobs could easily fall victim to the next round of cuts.  Quite honestly, all teacher jobs are at risk, but teachers who are outside of the regular classroom, which includes school librarians, PE, tech ed, family and consumer science, art, music, and foreign languages, are at the top of the list.

There never has been the elusive mythical "fat" in education.  We have cut things in many districts beyond the point of our ability to teach kids the skills they need to be successful in life.  We've moved from teaching kids to think and learn to teaching them to take and pass multiple choice exams.  It isn't unusual for me to be in a classroom and find kids unable to answer questions without a choice of "A through E".  Likewise, it isn't uncommon for students to turn to calculators for the answers to simple calculations and they don't often question the answer the calculator spews out.  There is a huge disconnect in understanding that technology is just a tool and it doesn't think for you.

If we continually buy into the attitude that there is nothing we can do and that we are mere victims in the situation, we are agreeing to be quiet advocates of continued destruction of public education.  There is a phenomenal amount of money in this country.  The key is finding a way to connect more of that money to areas that desperately need it.  We cannot afford to continue approaching funding for public education the same way we do today.  It isn't a viable model for rising costs. We also can't afford to continue addressing those rising costs with further cuts to staff and resources.  We need to begin the conversation about public education with the statement "this is what is required to educate a child."  And then we need to find a way to fund it.  If you are not a part of the conversation, part of the solution, you are part of the problem. 
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better - it's not," said the Lorax.

Dr. Suess, 1971