Watermelon Rhymes

Plant a watermelon vine upon my grave

And let the juice, slurp slurp, seep through.

Growing up, my family maintained a huge garden in our backyard and watermelons were one of our best and favorite crops.  My mom would sing this old song to us whenever we had a watermelon feast. I’m not certain we understood the meaning of the words (!), but we sang it, loud and proud, to express our love for watermelon.

When I was searching for new ideas to share with third graders this year during National Poetry Month and stumbled upon a lesson plan called the Poetry Pizzazz  (gotta love Teachers Pay Teachers!), and for a very reasonable price I received six different lessons and activities to celebrate poetry writing with my students. One of the six, Watermelon Rhymes, seemed just right for our third graders because it provided a writing activity that would allow students at every level to succeed.  That’s when that old watermelon song jingled my memories of watermelon summers. 

We began a month long process, with one library lesson per week, of reading poems, brainstorming lists of rhyming words, using our rhyming words to write poems, and then creating watermelon slices of our own to illustrate our poems.  To celebrate our poetry writing journey, we projected student poems on the whiteboard and had each third grade poet read aloud their poems to the class.  This crop of watermelon poems was silly, fun, and full of creative juices that seeped into each of our students for poetry fun!

Biography Book Musical Chairs

In February, Black History Month, our Fourth Grade students studied the Civil Rights movement.  Inspired by the Unquiet Librarian’s Musical Chairs + Book Tasting * we played a little musical chairs of our own: Biography Book Musical Chairs.  Through this fun and dance-friendly game, students were introduced to a variety of picture book biographies about inspiring African Americans throughout our country’s history.  When the music played they walked (and danced) around the circle of chairs.  When the music stopped, students picked up the book in the chair closest to them and sat down to get a taste of the biographical figure within the book.  After four rounds of musical chairs, each student selected one of the four books** they had tasted.  The book was checked out and brought back to class for a project with the classroom teacher.  In class, students read their biographies and wrote about their chosen historical figures.  The teachers then had students select one passage from the text that they felt best represented the heart of the person they read about.  Some of the passages were very moving.  This project will be shared with parents at conferences this week, the highlight being the student reading the chosen passage aloud to their parents from the biography.

*Buffy J. Hamilton can now be found at her new blog, Living in the Layers.

**There were sometimes two or more students who were dead set on the same biography.  Trouble?  For the most part, no.  The majority of students were very kind and easily solved the problem through conversation or games of rock, paper, scissors.  For the others, we stepped in to help them make good choices.


Holiday Break is for Reading

All through the beginning of this school year, feeling like I was not getting enough time to read what I wanted to read, I quietly chanted (to myself!) “Holiday Break is for Reading; Holiday Break is for Reading; Holiday Break is for Reading…”

With just a few days left of this holiday break, I am happy to say that I have spent time reading similarly to how I did as a child: crashed out on the couch or on my bed during the day and under the covers with a small book light in the wee hours of the night.  It’s been wonderful.

Following is a list of my holiday break books, plus a few gems from the fall.  In no particular order…

Ghost: Track (book 1) by Jason Reynolds

My fifth-grade students have been crazy for this book and book two, Patina.  Now that I have read it, I understand.  Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, is a runner.  He has a natural ability for running that he discovered in the most terrifying of circumstances.  Luckily, a local track coach recognizes his talent and takes Ghost under his wing to help him as an athlete and a young man trying to make sense of the world.  The first chapter of this book is so expertly crafted that I closed the book for a few moments before starting chapter two to let the story sink in.   When I get back to school I’ll be after Patina.

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

I’m not going to lie, I picked this one off the new book shelf because I thought that the cover was an interesting swirl of images.  The story introduces 12-year-old Sophie in Los Angeles in 1965.  Her family is the only African-American family in an all-white neighborhood.  Sophie struggles to find friends, feels uncomfortable and sad about her parent’s rocky marriage, and is dreading the day her older sister leaves for college and leaves her alone.  My favorite character in this book is the family’s new housekeeper.  She seems like a crotchety old woman who has nothing good to say about anything, but as the events in the story unfold and the layers of her character are peeled back, you discover so much more.  Sophie does too.

Greetings from Witness Protection! By Jake Burt

Nicki Demere is a foster kid; an unadoptable (she thinks) pickpocket.  Nicki, along with several other foster kids who have struggled to find permanent homes, is selected to take part in the U.S. Marshall’s witness protection program.  Her task: to move in with a family, assume a new identity, and keep the family safe from the extremely violent mobsters they are hiding from.  Good luck, Nicki!   I picked up this one because the reminded me of a favorite from last year, All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor.  I was not disappointed.

42 is Not Just a Number: The Odyssey of Jackie Robinson, American Hero by Doreen Rappaport

This is a must read for anyone interested in baseball, Civil Rights, and American Heroes.  I was stunned by all the new facts I learned about Jackie Robinson.  If you haven’t read it yet, the time is now.

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

Does anyone out there make zines anymore?  Malu, the punk-rocking, skateboarding, cilantro-hating, middle school student, is a master zine-maker.  This book is about her first year in a new school that’s 1,000 miles away from the home she’s always known and her punk-rocking Dad.

The Wall of Fame Game: The Magnificent Mya Tibbs (book 2) by Crystal Allen

With Denver’s annual Stock Show starting this week, it was fun to read about a family that’s boot-stompin’ fun.  Mya and her little brother Nugget are worried about how their family will change when their baby sister Macey is born in a few weeks.  Will they get to continue all their gosh-darn-root-tootin’ family traditions?

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This is an amazing sequel to the amazing Newbery Honor book The War That Saved My Life.  If you haven’t read these two yet, please put them at the top if your pile!

Beyond the Bright Sea and Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk.

I’m a big fan of listening to audio books in the car.  Lauren Wolk is an amazing new talent in the middle grade world.  Her books Wolf Hollow and Beyond the Bright Sea are two of my all-time favorites and reading them again via audiobook has been a treat.  The beautiful language, deep and complex characters, unexpected plot twists, and profound lessons about life are just as compelling the second time around.


What did you read over the holiday break?





Some of the things we’ve been up to in Lower School

We started the year with How to Read a Story by Kate Messner and Mark Siegel.

We love the new flexible furniture in our library instruction area.

We are partnering with our local Independent book store, Tattered Cover, to host our first on-campus All School Book Fair.

After a successful Faculty Summer Reading Program we started a small book exchange in our mailroom.

My current professional reading.

Oh, and Captain Underpants showed up for Halloween.

Leadership. Libraries.

Thanks to the Independent Ideas blog written by an AISL member last fall, four AISL-ers were inspired to attend Library Leadership in the Digital Age at Harvard University last March.  Despite the cold weather and the seemingly endless assigned reading, we gathered mid-March for three days of intensive study and discussion of libraries, librarianship, and leadership in our evolving communities and this fast paced digital age.

In the workshop we examined what librarianship was, what it is becoming, and how we, as leaders in our field, can influence the direction our libraries take and drive our libraries to meet the needs of the people we currently serve and want to serve.  There is nothing like sitting in a room of librarians who work in schools, universities, and public libraries, to share concerns, philosophies of the profession, and ideas for moving forward.  It was what I might call a library heaven of sorts, expertly lead by professional educators from Harvard, Jim Neal, President of ALA, the revered Carla Hayden, Librarian of CongressDavid Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and many other leaders in the field.  In describing the experience, Mr. Ferriero may have put it best when he called our time together an “intellectual spa.”

I’ve been reading and rereading my notes from the three days of presentations and discussions and gathered some take aways to share.  More important than my list of fairly practical ideas, was the assurance that my gut instinct of how we need to move swiftly to meet the needs of our ever-changing school communities is on target.  The Library Leadership workshop gave me permission to move forward with things that I’ve been thinking about and that my department has been talking about.

  • As library leaders it is easy to get caught up in the day to day business of our schools. We also need to take time to reflect and get to know ourselves as librarians and as leaders.
  • Libraries are: people, place, holdings, and platform.
  • Be AGILE in our use of space, transporting our practice into the classroom, and being active and visible in the community.
  • How can we, the librarians, define who we are rather than allowing the community to ‘know’ us with preconceived stereotypes?
  • We need to work with what we have now while simultaneously developing and creating our future libraries.

Colleagues, what are your big picture questions and ideas?

ps.  Oh, and this: one of my favorite moments ever, ever in my life, meeting Carla Hayden.

If you have the opportunity to attend Library Leadership in the Digital Age, you will not be disappointed.  It was an amazing experience.

What’s Cookin’?

Summer is a great time to take a break from rushed weeknight dinners and spend some time in the kitchen, with my cookbooks.  I’ve been diving into my cookbook collection to prepare favorite dishes and to try some new recipes.  When our garden is ready, I’ll choose recipes featuring home grown tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, and radishes.

Yesterday, for a holiday barbecue, I made a pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes, green olives, and arugula.  The recipe was from one of my most favorite and reliable cookbooks, The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook published by America’s Test Kitchen.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

What are you cooking this summer?

Review: AISL’s First Mentor Program

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
― Robert Frost

At the close of the school year, it is important to reflect on the months gone by: the challenging, the good, and the great.  I’ve been reflecting on AISL’s first Mentor Program and I asked the mentor partners to share their reflections as well.

However, I need to begin at the beginning with a big Thank You from the AISL Board to those who took a chance on this first year of mentoring with AISL.  In last year’s AISL Members Survey, it became clear that AISL members were interested in a program that would help new and experienced librarians who were facing a challenge or needed coaching to achieve a professional goal.  As a result, we developed a program that paired librarians to work together on specific goals and challenges.  The results of the program were mixed and gave us a lot of great information to use in the program’s improvement for next year.  We are excited for year two if the AISL Mentor Program.

Following are some of the survey results, as reported by about half of the Mentor Program participants:

  • 57% felt that they were well matched with their partners
  • 70% of partners used email to communicate
  • 33% communicated with their partners sporadically
  • 44% communicated only a few times over the course of the program
  • 37% created action plans
  • 62% of mentor partners communicated informally, sharing goals, experiences, advice, and ideas
  • 66% of respondents recommended that next year the program have more structure

Here are some of the great things we heard about the experience of working with a mentor partner:

  • meeting someone new
  • having benefited from some wonderful mentoring, I was grateful for an opportunity to ‘pass it on’
  • feeling that I had something to contribute
  • being encouraged to stay on task
  • making a new professional friend
  • bouncing ideas off of someone outside my school
  • hearing about someone’s progress towards goals

Here are some suggestions for improvement:

  • more structure
  • offer tools for creating a concrete action plan
  • send mentor partners powerful questions & challenges every month
  • create a hashtag for partners to share experiences
  • create a gathering for mentor partners at the AISL conference

Well, AISL Mentor Program partners, we are listening!  Your comments are essential to the development of our mentoring initiative.

As the organizer of the Mentor Program, the feedback on the survey resonated with me.  There were clear indications that the free-for-all format of the program was a little too loosey-goosey for many.  It can be hard enough to get all of our work done in our libraries every day, let alone prioritizing a program with no set structure or deadline. One participant bravely admitted that she had “failure to launch” and it was related to the open nature of the program.

Ideas for next year’s AISL Mentor Program are currently bouncing back and forth between myself and Kate Patin, the new Board-Member-at-Large and incoming facilitator of the Mentor Program.  We are talking about ways to create a structured program that is balanced with plenty of free-form space for partners to work together to meet goals.  There may also be new ways for members to connect around specific issues.  Stay tuned for more opportunities to help us help you through the AISL Mentor Program.  Your participation and ideas are vital to the growth of this new program.

The Things I Can Do

Lower School students are buzzing with excitement for our upcoming author visit with Jeff Mack.   Jeff Mack is an author and illustrator of extraordinary picture books and a middle grade chapter book series called Clueless McGee.

First Graders laughed their heads off at Jeff Mack’s picture book story called The Things I Can Do. We read the funny story together and had in-depth discussions about all of the different materials used to create the collage illustrations.  The kids were fascinated to see notebook paper, stickers, popsicle sticks, crayon drawings, duct tape, sticky notes, pencil drawings, and torn paper decorating each page.  They needed to touch the pages to believe that the book was made up of photographs of the collage pieces.  Of the main character’s crayon drawn face, students asked “Did Jeff Mack have a kid draw pictures for him?” Students were advised to save that question for the author and illustrator himself when he visits our school at the end of the month.

Students were thrilled to make their own collage pictures, sharing what they can do.

First graders are talented.

I can drive a tugboat.

I can read.

I can be a hero.

I can dig.

I can eat my French fries.

I can hold a cat.

I can ride a horse.

I can do my own homework.

I can fly.  (This one reminds me of The Little Prince.)

As you can see, kids can do a lot of things.  And the things they can do make me smile.


Mice On Ice, or what to do when you need to occupy first grade students who are consumed with upcoming holidays

Just before our holiday break I was finishing up a unit on Beginning Readers with first grade.  We needed a read aloud and fun activity that would feature Beginning Readers and keep our young students busy in those last restless hours before vacation.

I chose a book from the Holiday House series ‘I Like to Read‘, called Mice on Ice by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley.  This series of books features picture books with simple vocabulary.  Even the students whose reading skills are more advanced enjoy the stories and wonderful illustrations.

The collage style illustrations of this particular title leap off the page and beg for the students to start creating.  Our library assistant used Microsoft Word’s shape options to draw the outline of a picture that looked very similar to this colorful image.

Students cut, tore, and crumbled construction paper to create their own cats.  First graders prefer the glue sticks that glide on purple and dry clear.  Yes, they had a discussion about the best glue sticks.

Most students named their cats.

Question: Why is the name Bob so funny and so popular with these kids?


The Constitution’s Preamble: Reinterpreted


Fifth graders are studying the government of the United States.  They’ve looked at the Constitution, the three branches of the government, the election process, and probably a lot more.  After meeting with a 5th grade teacher and learning that the students had been dissecting the vocabulary of the Preamble of the United States Constitution, we developed a challenge.

When fifth graders came to the library, I had them write for about 5 minutes about the Preamble: what is it and why is it important?  (Side note: they all acted like they had no idea what I was talking about and then, of course, wrote a few brilliant sentences each in response to the questions.)  We discussed their writing and then I proposed the challenge:

“Students, imagine that the Lower School Library is a brand new country.  We have no guiding principles or laws written down to help our citizens know the rules of our country.  I challenge you, using the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, to write a Preamble to the Constitution of the Lower School Library.”   In addition, we had a discussion about the purpose of libraries and I gave students a very basic description of what I see as one of the most important roles of the library: to provide books and other library resources to all members of the community.  

The students were divided into groups of 3-4 kids and each group was sent to a table with one sheet each of large easel pad paper, scrap paper, pencils, markers, and a copy of the Preamble. With these tools in hand, they put their teamwork skills to work.    

Besides one group that gave me some (very clever) sentences trying to impeach President Allison from her role as President of the Lower School Library (that’s not my real title, btw, and I did get them back on track after admiring their gumption), all of the groups wrote marvelously.  These lessons coincided with our Parent Preview tours and many of the prospective parents remarked that the LS Library described by the students would be a wonderful place to work.  I agree.

Take a look:

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