Our Lower School Museum

We have a wonderful piece of equipment in our library that gets year-round use out of the students and staff. That is a pretty cool feature in and of itself. It is also beautiful. The features include a glass and wood combination with pot lighting from above. It is our Lower School Museum, a display case dedicated to the life of our lower division, and which sits besides our main entrance to the library. Its location is pretty perfect and its stature helps to make anything inside it grand enough to reflect our pretty wonderful school population.

As our students walk by, they look at the items inside for a few seconds and carry on on their student ways. If I can grab their attention with pretty cool items inside, then I know I have had library success. I have come to learn that there are some pretty fundamental elements to making the displays work.

  1. In thinking about the displays in the library, I am conscious about bringing the themes from the museum into the rest of the library. It feels magical when the museum pieces relate to our boards, shelving and counter displays, although that does not always happen. Sometimes it is fine to have the theme running along on its own steam, and the rest of the library progress happening on its own.
  2. Our most successful museum themes are those with the most concrete application. Remembrance Day (in the US it would be Veteran’s Day) is a huge part of our November school culture and is very applicable in terms of uniforms, photographs, letters and memorabilia from being stationed overseas. Sports was a big deal one year, and we will be having a Soccer themed one in May this year as the weather warms up and soccer is revisited out on our school fields.
  3. It is helpful not to become too controlling about the displays. Initially I made up schedules and timelines and sign up sheets. These days I make a general invitation to the whole school and invite students to contribute anything during the whole time period of the display.
  4. Get the signage options ready, and have help in setting them up. They are the most time consuming element of the museum. I also have evolved in my use of signage, and now use printable table cards for weddings and type up the name of the item onto it. It makes for a quick and effective display.
  5. Hunt down the students when it is time for them to take the displays apart and deliver the items to them personally if they forget to pick them up. Some students are very protective of their items and come the moment I advertise that I am taking apart the display. Others are less observant – these are the students that I find in class to return their items to. I also save grocery bags to slip each piece into so that it makes for easier delivery.

Displays play such a huge part of our work in libraries. I hope you enjoyed the insight into one fairly large part of my yearly programming in the Lower School.  

Have a great Wednesday!


Where do you go from ‘Wonder’?

Can I say ‘book love’? There has been a book making the rounds in the Lower School over the past year. It has a pale blue cover, with a sketch of a face with one eye. It does not look as if it might appeal but it does. I think that the element of surprise is becoming the theme in my blog posts because I am surprised, again, by how much of an impact this book has had on my students, teachers, and me.

I am pretty sure you can guess which book I am talking about: Wonder by R.J. Palacio. If you would like a taste of what the story entails, watch this Random House Children’s Publishers U.K. trailer. The trailer gives you a sneak peak into the world of Auggie, a boy who starts school for the first time, in Grade 5. He has been home-schooled for his whole life until now because of the way his face was formed and the resulting surgeries that have overtaken his life. His home is a loving environment and he is a boy who truly demonstrates good character in all he does. I love his character in this book.

This is a great read aloud book. It captures the rhythms of the school year beautifully because of the influence of Auggie’s wonderful teacher. It works well in school libraries for these reasons. It is also a good teacher. There are moments of great courage, friendship, but also betrayal and the resulting heartache. Throughout the book is a great lesson in empathy and good character. This is a book that has left adults crying at the end – no joke.

The question in my title has not been answered yet. How do you follow a book such as this one? It is a hard one to pin down. Readers of the book will agree with me in saying that it seems to stand apart from other genres. Here is an attempt at a list of books to turn to. Thanks to my public librarian, colleagues and friends who I have spoken with about where one would go next.

  • Joey Pigza, by Jack Gantos ~ Joey is troubled by his ADHD. It gets him into trouble, and it doesn’t help that his medication is not the best prescription nor that his home is not the most stable.
  • Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea ~ Mr. Terupt is a wonderful teacher who guides his group of students through the year. What happens when you lose the teacher you have come to rely on? What lessons does that teach you?
  • Loser, by Jerry Spinelli ~ A rather sad book to add to this list because the main character never seems to be able to shake being the ‘loser’, but also a book with many lessons to learn from.
  • Schooled, by Gordon Korman ~ If you were home-schooled in an environment that only highlighted the optimistic values of the hippies in the 1960s, you might also be as idealistic as Capricorn. He goes to school for the first time, just as Auggie did, and is made to be the object of many jokes which backfire because of his good values. 
  • Iqbal, by Francesca D’Adamo ~Iqbal is a child labourer in a carpet factory who realizes that he and his fellow workers will never be free unless he starts to stand up for them. A powerful read about how children can make change.

I hope this list helps as a first step to adding more books to your own lists of books that share the same themes. I think I might just go back to rereading my copy of that blue book that started it all.

Happy Wednesday!


Lower School, Crescent School, Toronto

A simple activity made simpler: reading aloud resources

When I first started thinking about a career with children, reading and literacy, I found the picture books and teaching tools by Mem Fox. I read her book, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, over and over. I listened to her recorded voice teach me how to read aloud in her online lesson. A small collection of books started to make their home on my shelf during my student years and I would think about how to pace the words, and imagine audiences of captivated faces and ears that wanted to listen. The message was clear to me that it was worth spending time with a child of any age, adding your voice to a story. I still believe this, and now talk to other adults about the value of doing so, too: whether teachers or parents.

The reason why I am currently thinking about this topic is because I am in ‘read aloud’ mode at the moment: guiding parents on a journey of reading aloud with their children in Grade 3 and 4. As referenced in my previous post, Engaging male role models for literacy, I am helping fathers and their sons read together. Reading aloud can seem too simple to be true and I have learned that it helps to demystify the process of what to do and how to do it. Teachers and librarians benefit from this, too.

I certainly benefit from reading our other blogger’s experiences on the AISL blog and want to share a few of my favourite resources for finding the perfect book, talking about reading aloud in a better way, and getting inspired to find new exciting connections to curriculum. I still return to Mem Fox but I have a few other tools in my belt these days that I hope you will enjoy:

  • For lesson planning: Books Kids Will Sit Still For 3: A Read Aloud Guide, by Judy Freeman. Her advice for teacher-librarians is priceless: lesson and curriculum connections, information literacy skill development, and reviews of books that are cross-referenced with other books to build themes. A go-to reference tool.
  • For reaching out to parents: Reading Is Fundamental’s brochure for parents on why and how to read aloud to their children, our students. I use this document as a reference tool when providing instruction for our Dads Read program.
  • For ideas about what to read next: Barb Langridge’s uploaded TV appearances on WBAL-TV on Youtube. She was just recorded talking about the award winning books for this year, 2014. Many of the books reviewed by Barb make great read-alouds, for example: Ghost Hands by T.A. Barron, is one of the best books to read to Grade 4 and 5. Look at her website ABookandAHug, and search for read-alouds under ‘great read aloud’ in the search bar for her recommendations.

There are many wonderful reference tools for reading aloud to students in classrooms, at home and in public libraries. The above list is comprised of just a few of my current absolute favourites. I hope they help you as design programs and talk about reading with faculty and parents in the future and I would love to hear about your favourite books to read aloud!

Have a great day!

Engaging male role models for literacy

Our Dads Read program is running again this year due to popular demand. The thought I have in mind as I write that sentence is that there has never been any question that I would skip it. Professionally, I am happy to know that I am encouraging reading in a meaningful way to parents. Personally, the feedback from dads buoys me up for months and I look forward to this time of supplying reading nutrition to families. In fact, if I had to place this program anywhere on my list of priorities for my students, this one sits at the top.

I need to preface any further commentary of this program to say that I wish it were my brainchild, but that I have adopted and adapted the idea from several places. I am grateful for being able to communicate and share with librarians who have let me develop my own version of their programs.

A brief overview of the program reveals how simple its structure is. I guide the fathers of our Grade 3 and 4 boys to read aloud three books to their sons over three months. We celebrate at the end of the months of reading with a breakfast and a game-show trivia contest. I do choose books with a range of interests and readers in mind. The trivia contest is the big finale and definitely takes me time to prepare for and pull off, but families primarily do the hard work. They work hard to fit time to read into their lives. If they enjoy it for the daily reading, or the trivia contest, either reason is fine with me!

The ‘Dads’ can, and have been, grandfathers, brothers, and mothers. Ideally the program is aimed at attracting male role models in the boys’ lives. The simple message of ‘Seeing Dad Read’ as expressed in a Today’s Parent article from September 2013 is that actions speak very loudly for boys.

The feedback I have heard from the parent participants speaks volumes. The main message in my comments has been that such a simple new habit to adopt has the biggest ripples for good.  One of my favourite pieces of feedback came from a parent in the first year of the program about adopting a new bedtime routine and how it had made all the difference.

Boys’ literacy is a passion of mine and I would love to hear from you! I look forward to knowing more about how you engage male role models or encourage reading in your students.

Happy reading!

Pondering the mysteries of my Graphic Novel readers

For your enjoyment, I thought I would share with you some observations about the reading habits of my students. Maybe you will see some similarities or you can offer some insights from your experience.

1. My Graphic Novel corner is at the same time the messiest but also the most orderly of sections

On one hand, I have the most purposeful group of boys settling down at a table to read silently together. They make a beeline to the corner, quickly selecting their choice of book, and zoning out everything else around them.
On the other hand, the table in front of the graphic novel shelves cannot be seen by the end of sustained silent reading time, being heavily buried underneath at least two layers of books. It appears that this action might be an attempt to help the later visitors find the best books – peer-reviewed material already on display!


2. My most avid readers often choose not to take out the books

They will read them, return everyday to enjoy the same books over and over again, but will not take them out. I will suggest it and will be rebuffed.


3. One of the lessons that thoroughly engaged my students was a direct instruction lesson on how a Graphic Novel ‘works’

I based it on the information in this article:
Rudiger, Hollis Margaret. “Reading Lessons: Graphic Novels 101.” Horn Book Magazine March/April
(2006): 126-34. Print.

You could have heard a pin drop as I modeled the process and thinking behind reading one of these fantastic books. As an aside, I learned an important lesson once: you only have to teach two boys how to approach a Manga book and the whole school will know how to do it, too. I will not rely on this method to teach always but it certainly has been a bit of teaching magic.


4. Boys who read Graphic Novels all the time are seen as non-readers

The very boys who visit the library every single day to read are the ones whose parents ask me to recommend books because their sons do not seem to enjoy reading. This ‘not taking Graphic Novels out’ thing may be the cause.


5. Graphic Novels are not seen as serious reading but the readers themselves could not be more serious or reserved

A little boy in Grade 3 asked me recently about which Graphic Novels were my favourites. He clearly was waiting for my educated opinion. He listened, and then carefully weighed all his options and chose the one most likely to be enjoyed. No haste, just careful consideration of alternatives and a polite ‘thank you’.


6. The books are both highly desirable and well respected

I still keep in mind a piece of advice one of my mentors once told me about which books are essential for any collection. They are the ones that are in the worst shape, or are missing from the shelf. My graphic novels could be far more battered and very rarely will they go missing, yet I know they are essential.

These ninja books that defy all odds! Who knew there would be so much to ponder? Enjoy the rest of your day. 🙂

Elizabeth Ford
Lower School Teacher-Librarian
Margaret Donnelly Library

Crescent School, Toronto

Taking a risk with a new book

My students are boys in Grades 3 through 6, the grades in the Lower School at Crescent School, Toronto. I love feeding their love of reading, and one of the things I do a great deal of daily is talk books with them when they drop by during our sustained silent reading time. The funny thing is, is that I know there is gold on my shelves, but sometimes I need to uncover it for my library visitors. As you will see, many of the books I have recommended in the list below have great covers that would appear to entice but for some reason might not attract a reader. They are often just so very new that I need to get some of my boys started on them and then the book will be traded and recommended by peers, and flying off the shelf.

Here is an example of how I might ‘sell’ a book. I have added capitals to show you what I seem to say often.

Ghetto Cowboy, by G. Neri
So, this is a book for you, SINCE YOU LIKE STORIES ABOUT horses/cities/real life/boys just your age. There’s this place, today, that really exists, where cowboys really live in the middle of Philadelphia. Instead of driving cars, they ride horses! CRAZY, ISN’T IT! Imagine the middle of Toronto being filled with horses and stables. This boy has a hard time at school, and his mother sends him to live with his dad, and he has to learn how to SURVIVE in this new place. [Turning to the back pages] And, see, here is a REAL PICTURE about a kid JUST YOUR AGE, who is a cowboy, standing next to his horse. I THINK YOU WOULD LIKE IT/THIS BOOK MADE ME THINK ABOUT HOW YOU wanted to read about horses just a while ago/how you like books about surviving hard situations/how you like realistic fiction about friends, school and sports.
PS. Thank you, Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List 2013-2014 for this find!

Other books that have recently had the same fate:

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam, by Cynthia Kadohata

Ungifted, by Gordon Korman

False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielson

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

If you are a student of mine, these are some of the things you might hear:

  • I talk about new favourites and old favourites and just plain favourites quite a bit. The thing you should know, though, is that books I tell you about are actually books I enjoyed reading.
  • I know something about you and will connect a book to that for you: fantasy, series, basketball, rock-climbing, art, squash, cooking, mysteries, really silly humour. I will buy/recommend this book because I have already picked it out for you in my head.
  • You actually really like reading and you want to be the first to crack open the spine. I am RELYING on you to tell me about it. Sometimes, you can give the book a try even before it is covered in plastic. I am absolutely trusting you, because I know I can.
  • The cover does not seem to be at all like the Wimpy Kid book you know and trust? Try the first two pages. If you think you could handle the rest of the story, check it out.
  • If you take this book out and you hate it, return it. I am never offended by that but at least give it a try. And, if someone else loves it, you don’t mind that, do you?
  • This Grade 6 who you look up to totally loved this book when he was in Grade 3. Mr. So and So thinks it’s great too!
  • It’s sort of like a mixture of this well-known book and this other well-known book, but with cowboys and horses.
  • Oh, you’re looking for a good book? Go and speak to this boy about it, over there, he read it and could tell you more about why you should read it.

Ford’s Faves, over and out!