Monday, March 31, 2014

SLJ BoB, Final Battle

Today, SLJ's BoB announced the winner of the Undead Poll and hip-hip-hooray it is Eleanor & Park.  It will take on P.S. Eleven and Boxers & Saints in the final battle, judged by Jennifer Holm.  Since Holm is a writer of both graphic novels and middle grade books, my prediction may be a long shot, but I'm hoping Eleanor & Park will do as Okay For Now did two years ago, and win both the Undead Poll and the whole competition.  If it doesn't, I will not be too heartbroken because Boxers & Saints (which would be my second choice) and P.S. Eleven are excellent books and certainly worthy of winning.  We'll see tomorrow; don't forget to check to find out the winner.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

SLJ Battle of the Books Round 3

Final Four!  My predictions were pretty good for this round; I got 3/4 correct.  The one I got wrong broke my heart.  Eleanor & Park was defeated by Far, Far Away.  I just hope Eleanor & Park wins the undead poll (readers of the blog were invited to vote on a book that will be brought back for the final round).

Here are my predictions for Round 3.

Match 1:  Boxer & Saints vs. Far, Far Away judged by Patrick Ness - I am going with Boxers & Saints again because I think this high-quality graphic novel belongs in the final.  And Far, Far Away took out my beloved Eleanor & Park.

Match 2:  P.S. Eleven vs. The Thing About Luck judged by Robin LeFevers.  I'm going with The Thing About Luck.  I love what Katherine March pointed out about the plot of the book, "Not much happens and yet—in an extraordinary feat of capturing the small moments in which we grow up—everything happens."

I'll post about the final battle.  I just want to say a thank you to the authors, judges, battle organizers and kid commentators for their contributions to this wonderful event.  Thank you all for enriching the lives of readers everywhere!

Be sure to read today and tomorrow for the results of Round 3!

Monday, March 24, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Books I finished last week:

Finally finished!  I received this series for Christmas.  I sped through A Game of Thrones, but this one took me almost six weeks to finish.  I'm doing something a bit different for the third book.  My sister and I carpool together to our schools.  It is about a 30-minute ride.  We've decided to read A Storm of Swords out loud together during the week and commit to reading two chapters over the weekend.  This will no doubt mean the Book 3 will take me even longer, but it will be interesting to read a book this way.

I connected a lot with this memoir, as I too grew up as a teen in the 1990's, in a  religious family, although no where near to the degree as the Hartzler family.  I like the connection the author made at the end about loving and accepting his father for who he is.  I'm have many family members with whom I disagree politically so this perspective was a real eye opener.

This week I'm reading:

Saturday, March 22, 2014


So my goal as an elementary school librarian is to get as many books into kids hands as possible.  One of the indicators of reading success is growing up in a print-rich home.  Unfortunately, not all kids have that, so the school has to try and bridge that gap.  The school library plays a vital role in doing just that.  I have replaced circulation limits with guidelines, and I try to promote the library as much as possible.  Our students have to wait for their bus after school so I decided that was a great time to check out library books.  The best way to do that?  Bring the library to them.

Fortunately, my school library already had this wagon available so I all I had to do is simply fill it with books and roll it outside.  If you do not have access to a wagon, you could use a plastic bin on top of a portable AV cart.  This is a new program, so I have lots of things to learn, but here is what I have already figured out:

1.  Circulation - How are you going to track who has which book?  At first, I used paper and pencil and wrote down names, teachers and bar codes.  Then I figured out that I could access our circulation system on the web via my phone and check out books that way.

2.  How many books should they get?  Right now, I'm going with one.  This is a supplement to kids' coming to the library and regularly checking out books. I also want to make sure there are enough books to go around.

3.  It was a bit chaotic the first day.  Now I have students go in groups of four to the wagon and form a separate line for checking out.

4.  The kids love it!  Of course this requires some extra work on my part, but the kids' response has made it worth it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

SLJ's BoB Round 2 predictions

We're now in the Elite Eight of School Library Journal's Battle of the Books.  My prediction success for the first round is rather poor, 3 out of 8.  I abstained the first round, correctly predicted rounds 2-4, and was wrong for rounds 5-8.  Since I've shared my thoughts on every book, I'm going to do one post for Round 2 with new predictions, which may very well be all wrong.  My predictions are below the brackets.

Match 1:  The Animal Book vs. Boxers & Saints judged by Tonya Bolden - As wonderful as the The Animal Book is, I really want to champion a graphic novel, especially one as well done as Boxers & Saints.

Match 2:  Eleanor & Park vs Far, Far Away judged by Rae Carson - What a nightmare of a choice! Both of these books are wonderful and deserve to go on, but Eleanor & Park still resounds with me even though I read it 6+ months ago, so I hope it wins.  The best scenario would be for one of these to win the Undead Poll so both can have a well-deserved spot in the final round.

Match 3:  Hokey Pokey vs. P.S. Be Eleven judged by Joseph Bruchac - I still find Hokey Pokey to be an odd book that doesn't match its audience so P.S. Be Eleven all the way.

Match 4:  The Thing About Luck vs. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp judged by Katherine Marsh - Gotta go with The Thing About Luck because Kadohata can make harvesting wheat sound interesting to me.  Her writing is nothing short of amazing and her National Book Award was well-deserved.

Don't forget to check out the results each day at

I'll follow up next week with the final four!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

SLJ's BoB Round 1 Battle 8

True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp vs. What the Heart Knows judged by Shelia Turnage

Activist raccoons living in a car? Wild feral hogs?A magic radio?  Sugar pies? There is a lot going on in this book. Sonny Boy Coup wants rid of the Sugar Man Swamp, including the Sugar Pie Cafe, ran by Chap Brayburn and his mother. He wants to build an alligator wresting theme park there. In addition to this, a gang of wild feral hogs that destroy everything in its path is making its way toward the swamp. The solution is simple.  All raccoons Bingo and J'miah (the true blue scouts) have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. The problem is no one has seen him for more than 40 years. I love all of Appelt's books. The only downside I see here is that with a plot this complex, the reader can easily get confused.

Oh, I adore this book! And I didn't really expect to love it as much I did. I enjoyed it so much that I plan to purchase my own copy. So many of these poems related to experiences I have had. My strong connection with the poems as an adult made me wonder if adolescents (this book is recommended for ages 12-17) can really appreciate what Sidman presents here.

As much as I enjoyed The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, I have to go with What the Heart Knows because of my emotional response to it. It has been a triumphant week for middle grade and this battle's judge, Shelia Turnage, is a middle grade author, so I kind of expect to be wrong on this one.

Don't forget to visit for the results!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

SLJ BoB Round 1 Battle 7

Rose Under Fire vs. The Thing About Luck judged by Malinda Lo

This book takes place after Code Name Verity.  Rose is an American working as a British Transport Pilot.  She is intercepted by German planes and taken to a concentration camp. Wow, what a haunting book. It doesn't matter how many books I read about the Holocaust, the details are still horrifying.  I never realized that they did experiments on people, as done to the "rabbits" in this book.  I'm glad that authors are still writing about this subject because it is important that we never forget this travesty in human history.

Summer and her brother, Jaz, travel with their grandparents on their summer job of harvesting wheat.  Ah, the dreaded description of combines.  I didn't find these sections as boring as others did.  But then again, reading about the history of cataloging would make anything less boring by comparison.  The strength of this book lies in the characterization.  The relationship between Summer and her immigrant grandparents is relatable and reflective of other children's experience with immigrant parents or grandparents.

As with a previous battle, I am going to go with the book I finished more recently, Rose Under Fire. This might seem like blasphemy, but I hated Code Name Verity so I was relieved to read a book by Elizabeth Wein that I liked.  I've misjudged the last two battles, so who knows?

Check out the results tomorrow at:

Monday, March 17, 2014

SLJ BoB Round 1, Battle 6

Midwinterblood vs. P.S. Be Eleven judged by Mac Barnett

I reviewed Midwinterblood in this post:

P.S. Be Eleven picks up during the fall after One Crazy Summer left off.  Delphine, Vonetta and Fern take on the new challenges of their Uncle's return from Vietnam and a new stepmother.  These girls are poster children for resilience.  They find heartbreak at practically every turn, yet are able to take things in stride.  This is historical fiction, and Williams-Garcia vividly recreates the late 1960s, with details like the girls' obsession with the Jackson Five.  

So Tom Angleberger killed my streak of correctly picking the winner when he chose Hokey Pokey over March: Book One.  Two award winning books; which one will make it through?  I'm going to say Midwinterblood, although middle grade is taking quite a beating thus far, so I would not be unhappy if Mr. Barnett chooses P.S. Be Eleven.

Check out the results tomorrow at:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

SLJ's BoB Round 1, Battle 5

Hokey Pokey vs. March: Book One judged by Tom Angleberger

Jack finds that his bike has been stolen, and by a girl, no less.  That's just the beginning of his problems; his tattoo is fading and he will soon hear train whistles.  Confused?  Well, welcome to the club.  This book seems to divide people into "love it"or "hate it"camps.  I have more ambiguous feelings.  The book is full of wonderful writing; this is Spinelli after all.  Also, once I got to the end of the book, I understood what the point was.  However, it took a lot of perseverance to get to that "aha" moment.  Even worse, it took me back to all those stream-of-consciousness novels I hated as an English major.  What decides this for me is that I do not think any of my students would make it through this book.

March: Book One tells the story of civil rights hero John Lewis.  It is told in reflections on the past as Congressman Lewis prepares to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama.  Lewis tells of his childhood in Alabama, his efforts to fight segregation in the lunch counter sit-ins, and his meeting with Martin Luther King Jr.  This is the first in a trilogy, and I can't wait to read more.  As much as I'd like to see Eleanor & Park prove victorious, I would also be happy if a graphic novel won.

Check out the results on Monday at

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

SLJ BoB Round 1 Battle 4

Far, Far Away vs. Flora & Ulysses judged by Sarah Mylnowski

Since I just finished this book yesterday, I'm going to quote my Goodreads review:

"I love the trend of featuring the Grimm brothers in middle grade novels. I enjoyed Adam Gidwitz's trilogy and the books are insanely popular among my students. There was of debate whether this too old for the Newbery, but to me, it isn't any more disturbing than Splendors and Glooms. Jeremy is one of those poor kids who has a very adult life. He takes on numerous lawn care jobs to support himself and his father, and has to deal with an impending eviction from their bookstore. He is accompanied by the ghost of Jacob Grimm, who is to protect him from the "Keeper of Occasions," a villain who will do Jeremy harm. Jeremy takes part in a prank on the town baker with Ginger, a love interest, and this is where his troubles begin. The weaving of the Grimm stories as well as the masterful use of suspense makes this book a fantastic read. Highly recommended."

So this book was a hard sell for me at first (I know - GASP - it won the Newbery).  It just seemed so odd that Flora is just hanging out in her backyard, and discovers a superhero squirrel.  However, as you get deeper into the book and discover the nature of Flora's relationship with her divorced parents, I really discovered why this book is so magical.  One thing I can say about Kate DiCamillo is that she knows the kids she writes.  Flora, like Opal from Because of Winn-Dixie, is completely realistic (except that she finds a superhero squirrel), and I could identify with her feelings perfectly.  

I really should have given Flora & Ulyssess a reread, but I haven't, so I have go with Far, Far Away for this battle.  Based on the Newbery Curse (Newbery Award winners do not get past for the first Round of BoB), that seems like a smart guess as to which book Sarah Mylnowski will pick.  However, there is a first time for everything, and in the case of the Boston Red Sox in 2007, curses are meant to be broken.

Find out the result tomorrow at

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SLJ BOB Round 1 Battle 3

Doll Bones vs. Eleanor & Park judged by Lauren Oliver

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ages, and have enjoyed creating imaginary worlds with action figures and dolls.  One day, without consulting anyone, Zach's father throws away his toys, forcing Zach to claim to the girls that he is too old for toys, and his friendship with them.  Despite this, when Poppy insists she is being haunted by a china doll (possessed by the spirit of a murdered girl), Zach joins the girls on a middle of the night journey to where the girl lived.  I had some suspension of disbelief issues with their excursion, but found the story to be enjoyable nevertheless.  The theme of this novel is very poignant and appropriate.  Kids are expected to grow up too fast; I can already see it with my fifth grade daughter.

Eleanor is a new student, overweight with big red hair.  Park, is a slim Asian student.  They meet on the bus, when Eleanor sits with Park because she can't find a seat (are you picturing the bus scene from Forrest Gump?). Soon, a romance grows between the two, although they face several challenges, including their families. I love, love, LOVE Eleanor & Park.  First of all, it is set in the 80s, and I love the little date specific details like the Walkman that they pass back and forth.  Secondly, to quote my Goodreads review, "That's how you write a teen romance that does not make the reader want to throw up."  The romance between Eleanor and Park is sweet, without being overly sappy.  Finally, it shows teen girls that you can experience great romance even if you are not popular or a size 2.  If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for?  I know this will be a book I'll gladly revisit in the future.  Do I need to tell you which book I'm rooting for in this battle?

Remember to visit tomorrow for the official results!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Letting go...

This is an older post...I think I changed the date when I edited it.

So it has been 8 days since the ALA awards.  I have followed several mock Newbery blogs and am a member of the mock Newbery group on GoodReads.  I am well aware of how the committee process works, but I was incensed, incensed I tell you, that Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown was left off the list of winner/honors. And, I wasn't the only one!

I do enjoy picture books and read a great deal of them as an elementary school librarian, but as a rule, I prefer reading books that could become part of the Newbery canon.  I guess I loved this book so much because I see so much potential for teaching on so many levels.  It could be taught to primary students about the consequences of breaking rules.  It could be taught to secondary students in a discussion about societal norms and conformity.  And who wouldn't love roaring with their students? So I was very unhappy when the 2014 Caldecott didn't share that love.

Then I read this post by 2014 Caldecott committee member Judy Freeman on the Calling Caldecott blog:

Not once in my love for Mr. Tiger Goes Wild did I think about gate folds and gutters.

I take comfort in another 2014 Caldecott committee member, Travis Jonker's words that a great book on January 26 was still a great book on January 27.  

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is still a great book on February 5th.  The kindergarten class I read it to today clapped when I was done.  ROAR!

SLJ BOB Round 1 Battle 2

Boxer & Saints vs. A Corner of White judged by Yuyi Morales

Off come the gloves (pun intended) because I do have a preference for this round.

I stumbled across this while looking for graphic novels for an elementary reading group.  Unfortunately, it was not appropriate for 5th graders, but I was so intrigued that I had to read it for myself.  In Boxers, the year is 1898 and the story focuses on Little Bao, who is creating an army to fight against "foreign devils."  In Saints, we follow Vibiana, a Christian convert, through the rebellion.  Seeing the same events from two different perspectives is enlightening for readers.  We live in a diverse world and being able to view things in the eyes of others is essential. History can be a a dry subject that students don't often enjoy.  How much would 9th grade students enjoy reading something like this in world history instead of reading a textbook?  If anyone still believes that graphic novels are "junk reading," these two books will disavow them of such a notion.

A Corner of White takes place in two different worlds.  In our world, lives Madeline Tully.  She and her mother (who is separated) have recently moved to Cambridge.  Madeline is home schooled along with new friends, Jack and Belle.  Madeline misses her old life, especially her father, and is worried about her mother's health.  One day, she finds a note in a parking meter from Elliot Baranski, who is from the world of Cello, where colors sweep across like storms and can kill you.  Elliot's uncle was killed by a violent purple and his father is still missing.  My biggest criticism of this book is the length.  The plot slowed so badly at times, that I thought I was not going to finish it.  There is a sequel, but it is 100 pp. longer! Also, Madeline annoyed me. She reasonably thinks Elliot is lying to her about Cello, but she is so snarky in her responses to him that I wanted to throw the book across the room (it was a library book, so I resisted the urge).

So Boxers & Saints is definitely my choice for this round.  We will see if Ms. Morales agrees!

Be sure to check out tomorrow to find out the official results!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

SLJ BOB Round 1, Battle 1

All the Truth That's In Me vs. The Animal Book by Vaunda Nelson

I know I never would have picked up All the Truth That's In Me based on the cover alone.  Judith is supposed to be a simple farm girl, yet she has the eye makeup of someone going clubbing.  It is so very odd; I'm not sure what the publishers were thinking.  However, awful cover became insignificant once I began reading because the story was so amazing.  Judith and her friend were abducted late one night.  Her friend's body was discovered, and then two years later, Judith returns home, with her tongue removed.  Judith eventually begins talking and eventually the truth is revealed.  The mystery is so compelling that I stayed up several nights past my bedtime reading it.

In The Animal Book, Jenkins uses mostly previously released artwork with original text to create a fantastic animal encyclopedia.  He addresses animal extremes, animal defenses, the history of evolution and other topics.  You don't read this one as much as explore it.  Extra kudos for the last section which details the making of a book from concept to publication.  

These books could not be more different and the whole apples vs. oranges scenario is certainly very fitting.  I gave both books 5 stars on Goodreads and since I'm not an official judge, I do not have to choose a winner.  The best part of straddling the fence on this one is that I will be happy with whichever book Ms. Nelson chooses to put forward.  

Be sure to check out for the official result tomorrow!

EDIT:  Vaunda Nelson chose The Animal Book.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March Madness: Books

 So living in NC, how can one not follow college basketball?  I live less than two hours away from four of the colleges in the Atlanta Coast Conference.  I do not follow as avidly as I used to, but I pay enough attention to know that my favorite team is on a 12 game winning streak.  Both conference and NCAA tournaments prompt the term March Madness, but it means something else to me.

For the past six years, I've followed SLJ's Battle of the Kids' Books, where 16 books written for middle grade/young adult have competed head-to-head.  Each round is judged by children's book authors.  Here is a copy of the 2014 brackets:

This year, I plan to blog about each round, sharing my thoughts on the books featured and my reactions to the judges' comments.  I have currently read 14 out of 16 books, but plan to finish the last two before March 10, when the first round begins.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What good is a school librarian?

Today is Dr. Seuss's 110th birthday.  It is also Read Across America Day.  Thinking of Theodore Seuss Geisel's contributions to children's literature makes me wonder what my own contributions are to the world of reading.  Several people have suggested that I write children's books.  I know by saying this they are trying to compliment me.  However, my father was an avid fan of MLB (how about them Sox?), but that doesn't mean he should've been a baseball player.  It isn't that I do not think I could do it; I'm not inclined to do so.  I'll never say never, but I will definitely say not right now.

Then there are those who urge school librarians to turn their backs on tradition.  We should be more than the keepers of stuff, they urge.  Reading stories to children is a waste of time.  We need to be more than school librarians.  Those who tout this have nothing but good intentions.  They are concerned that people who are merely school librarians will put their heads on the chopping block when administrators are looking for positions to cut.

In our efforts to prove our effectiveness, we can't forget that librarianship and reading are tied at the hip. Being a cheerleader for reading is the most important aspect of my job. Students who love reading perform better in school and in life.  Caught in a minefield of standardized testing and the Common Core, students need school libraries as a safe haven, a place where reading always includes choice and where there is an adult showing them that reading is fun.   

I want to share two brief stories:

#1: This year I have relaxed student checkout limits. I "suggest" five, but students often checkout more than that. I have a group of second grade students who come to check out books on a daily basis. One day a couple of weeks back, one of them asked if they could check out six books.  I said yes, that's okay.  One day last week, a girl timidly asked if she could check out seven books.  I could tell she expected me to say no.  The look on her face when I said yes was priceless.

#2:  I held a PD session in January for teachers on the topic of inspiring students to read.  Even though it has been six weeks, I still have teachers letting me know how they are taking those ideas into the classroom, and how it is making a difference for our students.

Will I be an acclaimed author one day?  Perhaps, but probably not.  Will there be a national initiative to celebrate my birthday?  Um, no.  However, I'm making my mark. And, I'm an awesome school librarian.