Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Guideposts and Cockeyed Optimists

I'm not going to name this person, but if you know them, you may be able to guess their identity. I am not special or anything so I do not want to "name drop." This person has inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

I love my job as a school librarian and I love children's literature. If you've read this blog, you know that I have publically identified myself as someone, along with millions of others, who suffers from mental illness, specifically depression and mild panic disorder. Last year, I had to acknowledge my illnesses because my diagnosis of chronic migraines led me to consider resigning. I know this person is one of the reasons I am still a children's librarian. 

I hope that you all can find someone in your profession who is knowledgable, and has a strong unwavering ethical character, someone who can be a guidepost for you. Here is the lesson I learned this week:

How do we respond when faced with negativity from others within or from without our profession? Continue with business as usual. Addressing the negativity can turn it into a monster, especially when there is little or no chance for change/resolution of the issue/problem. My guidepost didn't say this; it is simply what they did. 

So just think of Nellie Forbush,

"I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we're done and we might as well be dead
But I'm only a cockeyed optimist 
And I can't get it into my head."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Fair Judgment

Last week we had our state library conference and today I set up my book fair. One librarian remarked to me that she hated that a certain book fair provider sold "toys" at the book fair. I could not have disagreed with her more. Here's why:

1) Making value judgments on what a child buys is not your place. That is a parent's decision.

2) At my school, many children cannot afford $4-5 for a book. I remember not being able to buy anything from the book fair in elementary school. It was not fun. With 50 cents, students can buy at least something. Yes, a few books are discounted, but they do not always meet a child's interest.

3) At my school, every dollar earned at the book fair benefits the library, and all the money is used to buy books that the students can then check out. I inform the students of why we have book fairs and let them know that even if they buy a 50 cents eraser, all the money adds up, and they are helping their library.

4) We use part of our profits for giveaways that all students are eligible to enter. This way if students cannot afford a book, it is possible that they could win one!

As a school librarian, I pride myself on creating a welcoming environment for students. We have an unlimited circulation policy, and I try to make instruction rigorous, student-centered and engaging. I want that to carry over to the book fair as well. We have one of those libraries open to the hallway and I have heard excited cries of "book fair" all day.

Books about Mental Illness

I am reading two books about mental illness right now:

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman has been selected as a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. The story is told in short chapters and changes from Caden Bosch's reality as a teen suffering from schizophrenia to his adventures as a pirate crew member on a journey to Challenger Deep, the Southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Furiously Happy: a book about horrible things by Jenny Lawson is a laugh out loud take on living life with mental illness. Lawson suffers from anxiety disorder so severe that she feels compelled to rip her own hair out. The title of the book comes from a time when she was so depressed that she decided that she was going to be "furiously happy," come hell or high water. Lawson holds nothing back and says what she thinks.

My father committed suicide in 2002 and I have had my own issues with depression, most recently last year when I had trouble dealing with a diagnosis of chronic migraines, which severely impacted my ability to function at work and at home. Reading these books has brought up a lot of emotions. In one book, a character goes to a mental institution; my father spent his last few months in one and then committed suicide the day he was released. I've always wondered what happened to him there and what role that may have played in his death. The comparison of mental illness to a trench is very apt. I feel well now; I am functioning, but a bout with depression creates a fear. It is almost like it is a monster lying in wait, ready to drag me down. Once you have been in the dark trench of depression, the idea of going back there is terrifying.

Disclaimer: Some may view this post as oversharing. I share because mental illness is stigmatized. If this helps one person, it is worth it.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Perfectionist - pass it on

I share my experiences because mental illness needs to be talked about more. It shouldn't be a stigma. I'm sorry if anyone  thinks it is inappropriate. 

One of the most heartbreaking things about being mentally ill is seeing manifestations of the disease in your own children's behavior and knowing that you are responsible for passing it down to them genetically. Also, in all honesty, I have been a negative role model of someone managing these issues. I'm glad that I'm turning that around and I plan to start talking to them, since my own father never talked to us about his issues and he was my role model for handling mental illness.

My middle child (in 4th grade) has been identified has academically gifted. She gets extremely stressed out about grades and everything being perfect.

My youngest child (in 2nd grade) has had some behavior issues and we have made the assumption she doesn't care about success in school as much as my older children. Yesterday, she asked to go to the bathroom, but "disappeared." When they finally found her, she would not say where she was or why. She finally admitted that she hid in the stairwell because she couldn't figure out how to write a math journal on her morning work. In NC, students have to pass a written comprehension assessment. This kept Christine at a Level K (grade level is J) even though she can read fluently enough to read books in this series (at least level M): 

I think she may also be gifted, and a closet perfectionist. Middle child also struggled with the writing and would melt down if things did not come easily to her.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hippocratic Oath for Librarians

Tis the season for awards and best of lists. I was thrilled to actively nominate books for the Cyblis for the first time. Several Mock Newbery blogs and groups are actively debating and choosing their favorite books. My friend Benji Martin and I even took a stab at it over at Newbery Pie, with our own predictions.

My husband is a nurse and I was thinking recently about the Hippocratic oath for doctors in comparison to our ethical standards. As librarians, our code of ethics doesn't really roll off the tongue the say way. Respect for authors and readers is definitely in there, as well as not self-inflating our own personal opinions, all things we need to keep in mind as we come to award/best of season. Ultimately, we need to remember that these are authors and illustrators who have shared something precious with us - their talent. I feel so blessed that I am the person who gets to share that talent with their intended audience - children.  Now something exciting; look who I got to meet last week!!!

Post from Facebook:

"It was completely worth the drive in the rain. I almost missed meeting Katherine Applegate because the event was at 5 at a school even though the website said 7, and I went to the bookstore. I even acted like a normal person, although I cried when I got to the car. I hope authors/illustrators know how much of an impact they have. I can't say awards mean nothing, but Ivan changed my life long before it got its shiny gold sticker. And while we as teachers/librarians share those awards and try to get our kids excited about them, a child's love for a book matters more. Kidlit authors: thank you for your work - you helped to set me on the path of my life when I was a child. If you are an author or illustrator my age or younger: you have helped to keep me on that path at times when I didn't think I could (or didn't want to) do this job anymore. You are my rock stars and my heroes. I wish I could give you all an award."

Monday, September 7, 2015

ALA Youth Media Awards

My school librarian friend in Alabama, Benji Martin, invited me to join his blog, Newbery Pie. I had stagnated on my Newbery Challenge, where I had intended to read all the medal and honor books from the present going backwards, getting stuck in 1996. Even though, Benji's challenge is the medal books in chronological order, joining him has been a rewarding (and productive) experience. I think what I enjoy most is messaging someone so regularly to discuss books. Thank you again Benji!

Yesterday we posted our 2016 Newbery Predictions and I have a few additional thoughts.

1) Award committee members: thank you for your commitment. When deciding which books to predict, I realized I had a whole shelf of MG books I had not read. Then there are those that will be released in the next 4 months. Your commitment to readers, author and the ALA/ALSC/YALSA/other committees is admirable. I am honored to share the title of librarian with many of you, especially Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher (served on the 2014 Newbery Committee and selected Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures written by Kate diCamillo; illustrated by K. G. Campbell), and the Yarn costar, Travis Jonker (served on the 2014 Caldecott Committee and selected Locomotive).

2) Authors and illustrators: I know awards are prestigious and having your work honored must be an amazing achievement (not to mention the bonus of selling more books), but what you do is magical, even if your book doesn't have a shiny gold/silver sticker on it. When Benji threw in the question about the Caldecott, I wanted to list 15 books. Even though it is nowhere in the criteria for any award, my favorite books are those that make me feel something. Her illustrations are amazing, but I chose Yard Sale, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, because out of all the picture books I have read to my girls this summer, it is the one they mention the most. They find connections to it everywhere.  Also, at age 7, my youngest daughter doesn't always think about the feelings of others. I love the way Yard Sale is teaching her empathy. We also love The Troublemaker and Nana in the City. The latter has a shiny sticker, but the girls would love it even if it didn't. Books were always with me during the hardest times of my life; just last week I got lost in the world of 1960's Berlin depicted in Jennifer Nielson's A Night Divided while a family member was in the hospital. A world without children's books would be like living in East Germany during that time. Thank you for giving your time and talent to children (and grownups)!

Bottom line - I'm going to paraphrase Travis Jonker in response to the outrage over certain books not being honored for the Caldecott in 2014. A good book before the awards will still be a good book after the awards.

PS: #teamballetcat - It was an instant decision. We still love E&P in this house; I'm sure we'll be reading 3-4 tonight and then Snicker of Magic.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Declaration: I Love Children's Books!

One of my NC teaching standards as a school librarian is: 

School Library Media Coordinators promote reading as a foundational skill for learning (

For me, this is the reason I became a children's librarian. I feel that I have become a role model in this area. I have learned so much from Donalyn Miller and John Schu. Our district threw off the chains of Accelerated Reader a few years back. As mentioned in Travis Jonker's School Library Journal Article, Postcards from Nerdcamp (, I felt empowered by attending in 2014 and implemented unlimited circulation in my school library.

We have to be very careful what we say to developing readers because what we teach them could become ingrained into their reading identity for life. That's more important than this year's state test scores.

I still have a hard time abandoning books, and there are still people shaming me for reading children's books! Just this summer, a relative asked what I was reading and remarked, "You're always reading kids' books." I usually mention I'm a children's librarian in response, like this is my profession and I have to read kids' books. 

This past weekend, I was almost brought to tears in a video I made that mentioned the effect of a children's book that inspired me. Then the author responded with a Tweet of encouragement. 

Children's books aren't obligations! They are special and wonderful. The authors are amazing people who care about children and educators. I am proud to say that I read them! I read them because I love them. The books are why I am a librarian, not the other way around. 

And this whole double-shelved bookcase of adult books? 

It is time to let most of them go to readers who will actually read them. I'm contacting the Friends of the Library in my teaching community who have a store off-site.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Bob Shea

So catching up on my #pb10for10 posts which I altered to feature 10 awesome picture books over a number of days. Today I am featuring three books - 2 written and illustrated by Bob Shea and the last written by Jory John and illustrated by by Bob Shea.

So every little girl will want to read this book; it had a unicorn, rainbow colors and sparkles. However, when you start reading, you meet the funniest goat in all of English literature, and he has some real problems with this uppity unicorn. What's even more amazing is the lesson that is taught at the end of the story. 

If you have follow me on Twitter, you have probably seen my I love Ballet Cat posts and I really, really do. However, I am not going to talk a lot about this book because:
1) you should join the #SharpSchu Twitter conversation on Tuesday August 19th.

2) I have a special story to share: my youngest daughter and rising 2nd grader is reading on grade level. She is not ready to read most chapter books, yet thought that is what she should be reading and tried to abandon picture books. I did not push, helped her read beginning chapter books like Junie B. Jones, although they were pushing the frustration level. Once she read Ballet Cat (about 25 times, but I've read it over and over a lot myself), she went back to reading picture books!

I attended the Scholastic Book Fairs Reading Summit in Charlotte this summer. Former school librarian and now Ambassador for School Libraries with Scholatic Book Fairs, John Schu, gave me the opportunity to read a F&G of I Will Chomp You. Books where the characters interact with or have an awareness of the reader or that they are in a book are great because the kids enjoy them so much during read alouds. This book reminded me of a book from my childhood, The Monster at the End of the Book with Grover from Sesame Street. It was released on August 4th. 

As a school librarian and a parent, I highly recommend these books for public, school, classroom and home libraries.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

NC 2015 School Year

I totally flaked and didn't do a picture book post today. There will be one tomorrow. Instead I'm tackling a hard topic: teaching in North Carolina. The NC government still has not passed the state budget. The fiscal year began on July 1st. This is a GOP that has complete control of the three branches of state government, yet are unable to pass a budget. They have cut education, given inequitable raises, tried to end teacher tenure (and are still wasting taxpayer dollars even though they have been told by two courts that the law is unconstitutional), etc. They clearly are incompetent at their jobs, and do not care about children or the future of our state. 

NC is a right to work state. Teachers cannot unionize or go on strike. I understand if people are frustrated, and feel the need to move on to other states to make more money or maybe pursue a career outside of education.

However, if you are a teacher and you walk in a classroom on August 24th (except for schools who have already started), I know that you are going to give 100% to your students. We are not going to punish them for the failures of our legislation. We are professionals and we love our students. We are not in this for the money; if we were, we would have never stepped one foot into our classrooms. We will protect our students from bad legislative polices for as long as we possibly can; we have been doing so for years.

I would bet most of the ladies and gentlemen in our state legislature consider themselves to be Christians. I pray that they find it in their hearts and minds to do the right thing for the children of our state. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Nana in the City

So apparently #pb10for10 was only supposed to be for one day. I blame this mistake on the fact that I've contracted a miserable summer cold. I also tend to want things my way so I'm just going to celebrate for 10 days. My theme: these books are AWESOME! Authority: 30+ yrs. as a booknerd.

So Lauren is amazing, and I was totally nervous and barely spoke to her at #nErDcampMI. Here is another book of hers you should check out:

In this Caldecott Honor winning book, a boy spends a magical time with his grandmother in New York City. 

just bought a copy of this for my home at the Scholatic Book Fair Summer Reading Summit. I have a library copy, but it is always checked out so I haven't brought it home. My husband read it to my children and informed them that he knew Nana was not pronounced the English way because Lauren's last name was either Italian or Spanish (his grandmother was Italian and the girls' call his mother the Italian pronunciation of Nana). When I asked Lauren, she gave me the perfect answer, "You may pronounce it however you'd like." Of course, now all three girls want to go to NYC. I haven't been there since 1999 so I hope we get to go sometime soon!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Troublemaker by Lauren Castillo

Mommy: "Get out or I will ban you from this bathtub!" 7 yr. old: "Fine, that just means I'll never take a bath again." No, this isn't a story from a picture book; this happened at my house this morning. Christine (or Beanie as she was nicknamed by her Auntie Amy when she was the size of a bean) was forgetting that we live in a house with 2.5 bathrooms, making her life without bath threats quite idle.

Despite her beginnings as a perfect baby (perfect delivery, perfect nurser, perfect sleeper), she is now known as The Troublemaker. She certainly makes life interesting.

I love the picture book of the same name, written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo. In this story, a beloved stuff animal disappears, and an older brother makes it his mission to find it. When I heard they were giving away 50 copies at #nErDcampMI 2014, I told my mother and daughter that we had to get up at 5 am so we could make it from Ohio (where we had traveled to from NC the previous day) so that we could make it to Parma, MI so I could get a copy. 

Christine loved the book and it is still one of our favorite books to read together. I ordered a copy for my school library and it is almost always checked out.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Backlash and Body Issues

I'm currently reading Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman. I will let you search out a more thorough summary if you choose, but the short version is that a formerly overweight teen, Lara, attempts suicide after an incident involving Facebook. Just like with Butter by Erin Jade Lange, reading a book about weight/body issues causes me to reflect on my own.

I was spared any bullying about my weight in school, although I was teased for developing early and for being a nerd, the latter now being a badge of pride.  I had self-image issues though, wanting to have one of the teeny size 2 model bodies. Of course, now I wish I could go back in time and hug my younger self and tell her she was beautiful as she was.

From age 17-21, I began the journey to obesity. The destinations included genetic factors and traumatic life experiences, but there was also a sedentary lifestyle and very bad dietary choices. I turned 37 this year.  I can't change the former, but If I refuse to change the latter, the consequences are going to be things I can't live with, quite literally, in fact.

This week, we received an email from school personnel to send in our shirt size. Even though I lost 44 lbs. during the school year and based on the way my pants are currently fitting, maybe a few more this summer, I almost listed the same size as last year. Why do we have a fixed mindset of our body image? And a negative one at that? This is clearly one of Lara's problems in Backlash, but even as an adult, I am susceptible to the same thinking. It seems ridiculous to put it this way, but I have taken the leap and listed a smaller shirt size. Sometimes the biggest backlash we have to overcome is the one from within.

Friday, July 24, 2015


So this post is inspired by Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp), a 7th grade teacher in Wisconsin. She wrote a blog post, I Would Be a Liar. in which, she talks about her popularity and reminds us that everything is never about us, it is always about the kids. This is a wonderfully humble position, but #EDUheroes, it IS about you. You inspire us, you keep us going, you make us better teachers for our kids, as well as being tremendous educators to your own.

As rewarding as it can be to be an educator, there's a dark side. It can be heartbreaking and soul crushing. Hundreds of teachers cannot handle it, and leave the profession. Such a thing can happen even 12 years in. This past school year, my job changed drastically. I went from a 33% to 100% fixed schedule, and I lost my media assistant, becoming responsible for shelving all the library books. My budget for purchasing books was slashed by 80%. In the current economic times, this isn't out of the ordinary, and you're expected to adjust and keep going. My adjustment was particularly hard because I started having debilitating migraines, causing me to miss many days of work.

I often felt overwhelmed, and most of all guilty, feeling like I was letting my students down. I seriously wondered if it was time for me to walk away from being an educator, even though I wanted to be a school librarian from the time I was a little girl.

Even though that teacher light dimmed in me, it never went out. I still read the Nerdy Book Club entries everyday and I read tons of kidlit books like always. John Schu, @MrSchuReads, with his 25,000+ followers, somehow noticed that I wasn't posting on Twitter and would send me DMs to check on me. I needed to find a piece of information from Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks). I reread the whole book just so I could hear Donalyn's voice speak to me about reading.

Sometime in February the information about #nErDcampMI started coming in from Colby and Alaina Sharp, two more #EDUheroes who teach in Parma, MI. The day after my birthday, March 16, Mr. Schu posted about Scholastic #ReadingSummit and I signed up that very day. It was survival mode the rest of the year, but I didn't quit, looking forward to seeing my #EDUheroes in person. Being around my nerdy friends (old and new) at #nErDcampMI lifted my spirits so very much. I was excited to meet Pernille. Her nerdtalk brought the house down, and then she led a session on Day Two that helped inspire my sister Amy Ralph (@lehmanac), also a librarian, to share her current frustrations and to start her own blog. #ReadingSummit was another celebration of the love of reading and further cemented my commitment to my job as a librarian. I bought books, was given books (partially under duress) and even gave away books. It was glorious.

Never underestimate your impact! I'm not going to be a Pernille, Colby, Donalyn or John. Even if you only have a few followers, you can still be a #EDUhero to someone, and you may never even know it. Yes, we are here for the kids, but we also need to be here for each other so we can be here for the kids. Thank you all for being here for me.