‎"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.

Photos of The Suburban Barnyard


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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, 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:


A Brief History of Dyestuffs and Dyeing

A Lesson To Dye For

Sheep Shearing Made Simple

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. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

ALA Mid Winter Conference is in Philadelphia through the weekend!

Hooray! ALA is here in Philly through next Tuesday! It may not really be "always sunny" but it will be productive and fun as librarians from across the nation convene to wrap up a year's worth of committee work.  The Caldecott, Newbery, Printz, Coretta Scott King, and a multitude of other awards will be finalized behind closed doors in the City of Brotherly Love.  Get ready for the big book award announcements on Monday...I have my secret predictions and will post the winners after they are announced.  If you can't wait and want to hear it "live from Philadelphia" check out the ALA website at www.ala.org and you can link to the webcast.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Becoming A Better Teacher

While I still haven't found a permanent school librarian position, since the beginning of the year I've expanded my teaching experience and knowledge in ways I never could have imagined. I began substitute teaching for a multi-district sub service.  I substitute teach in districts from Avon Grove to the edge of the city limits of Philadelphia and up to Bristol Township.  Some days my commute is over an hour and some days it is only 20 minutes.  In the 3 months I have been teaching in these districts, I have been able to observe the huge disparity among Pennsylvania schools.  We may read or hear about this disparity, but nothing compares to witnessing it "up close and personal."

The most shocking realization that I have had over the past months is how truly devastating educational cuts have hit those districts in the middle and lower economic sectors.  Schools in areas where it is predominantly upper middle class have survived cuts to funding.  While they still need more staffing and resources just like other schools, they seem to be able to compensate for some of the loss with volunteers and donations.  The rest do not fare so well.  Some of the school buildings are so in need of updating and repairs that they inhibit learning.  Imagine teaching a class of 30 in a classroom that is almost 100 degrees?  The level of technology available is limited in many schools.  Many schools no longer have libraries or only have a librarian once per week.  The books in those libraries are often worn and outdated.  Art and gym have also been cut drastically, particularly at the elementary level.  The one "special" that seems to survive is music, especially band programs. In addition, class size is often pushing 30 children - I've even had days with as many as 36 elementary school students filling my classroom. Behavior issues abound and tend to become greatest in those schools with the least.

You might think that the best teachers are at those schools with the most.  However, the teachers I
meet who are exemplary at the art of teaching are in all of these schools.  As a substitute, the schools I enjoy teaching at the most have teaching staffs and principals that are warm and welcoming and emanate a passion for what they do every day.  As an example, one of my favorite schools is an elementary school in a district that is truly suffering from educational cuts.  Highland Park Elementary exudes a feeling of warmth the moment you walk through its doors.  The lobby has a large fish tank filled with African Cichlids and adjacent is a fountain emitting the soft gurgling sound of flowing water.  The office staff smiles the moment you walk into the office.  The Principal is all over the building and oozes with an amiable authority.  Likewise all of the teachers smile, offer help, and always invite me to join them for lunch.  The walls of the school are filled with colorful artwork and posters. An "art wall" outside the cafeteria has colorful post-its with drawings by students.   As you walk up the staircase to the top floor of the school, there is an array of potted plants sitting on a shelf at the landing.  The school just "feels" good!  The students reflect that feeling.

I am becoming increasingly dismayed by the idea of evaluating students and teachers based on standardized testing.  By comparing students across the state with a test that by its nature assumes equivalent learning environments, we are not only doing students a disservice but creating incentive for teachers to opt not to teach in those environments where they are not as likely to have high-scoring students.  I am particularly concerned by the effect that cuts to education have had on elementary schools. Learning is cumulative.  If we do not ensure that students get a solid, quality education rich in resources from the very first years of their learning, we are setting them up for future failure by giving them a weak foundation upon which to scaffold all future learning. We have to do better.

How can we begin to change?  The first step we can all take is to open our eyes, voices, hearts, and wallets and become true advocates for the quality education of all children.  Vote for people who place education as a top priority, volunteer in your local schools, lift up best practices at schools where teachers and administrators are going above and beyond, educate yourself about education in general, speak out against the barrage of testing that is now impeding true learning, stop calling art/gym/music/library specials and insist on their essential role in schools, push for education that steers away from packaged curriculum with scripts and worksheets and allows professional teachers to use a diverse array of teaching techniques and resources that adapt for the incredible range of abilities within the modern classroom, and insist on true literacy skills across the curriculum.  We have the ability to change our world for the better.  The answer lies in ensuring that future generations are given the solid foundation they need.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Arts in Education

I'm finding myself increasingly frustrated by the lack of big picture vision by administrators and planners when it comes to education.  I understand that funding is tight.  However, it seems as if decisions are continually swayed in favor of testing and numbers rather than looking at balance and the well-being of the whole child.  I live in a district that is relatively well-off.  We are still maintaining a balanced budget and yet we have cut art education to the core, are looking to strip music education, have a bare bones elementary PE program, and library program and are looking to do further damage.  Statistics show overwhelmingly that these subjects are not "specials" as we like to call them in the formative years, but truly developmental in nature.  The following mini-documentary on PBS is wonderful and spells that message out loud and clear.


"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better - it's not," said the Lorax.

Dr. Suess, 1971