Commit to Curiosity

This summer we are taking a different approach to summer reading at The Oakridge School by combining suggested reading with options for other activities. These include ways to delve into art, culture, science, sports, literature, service and technology.  We are calling this platform: Commit to Curiosity. I am still a huge proponent of required reading for the summer; (with lots of choices), but for now Oakridge has opted for suggested reads.  Lower and middle school students are excited about summer book bingo  – possibly because of the raffle and gift cards on the line.  (I am excited about AISL Bingo!)

I think the key to success will be promotion, promotion, promotion. We’re marketing the guide with a student created commercial, and social media combined with our school website will hopefully keep the momentum going.  The students also have an option to keep up with their activities in a “passport” book. Links to the Bingo Boards are in the platform under Literature. 

We are almost there!

Happy Summer!

It is Good to Be A School Librarian!

Patricia deWinter

I love my job for a variety of reasons, so here’s my top ten!

  1.  Sharing a favorite book with a class is magic.  Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Despereaux, (or anything by Di’Camillo, LOVE Raymie Nightingale), There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar, For Every One by Jason Reynolds, Loser by Jerry Spinelli, From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson, Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Larger than Life Lara by Dandi Mackall are books I describe as life changing. Experiencing an exceptional book as a group creates a unique bond.  “When we read together, we connect. Together, we see the world. Together, we see one another” (Kate DiCamillo).
  1. I get to share really hilarious books with my students.   I Really Like Slop by Mo Willems, The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds, Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Humpty Dumpty Falls Again by Dave Horowitz, Pssst! by Adam Rex, and Seventeen Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore by Jenny Offill are guaranteed to fill your space with giggling students. That’s a pretty nice way to spend your day.
  1.  Books such as Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull, The Two Bobbies by Kibby Larson, Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine,  The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy,  Love by Matt de la Pena, My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig, and Ida, Always by Caron Levis are some of many inspiring reads that foster empathy. And I’ve placed a few powerful read alouds in their own category- must reads.  This group includes:  Rumplestiltskin retold by Paul O. Zelinski, Flotsam by David Wiesner, The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee, Drawn Together by Minh Le, and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett. “When we read together – we are taken out of our aloneness. The story opens doors for us; and we, in turn, open the doors of our hearts to each other. When we read together, we welcome each other in” (Kate DiCamillo).
  1. I learn so much from our collection of books, and enjoy showing off my knowledge about sharks, giant squids, tsunamis, the Middle Ages, pirates, hero dogs, Greek mythology, and Bigfoot to my friends! This has definitely improved my skills at trivia games 🙂
  1.  Getting new books feels like your birthday, every time.
  1.  When working with Upper School English students, I revisit incredible novels such as Beloved, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Great Gatsby, The Poisonwood Bible, Fahrenheit 451, and The Joy Luck Club; this makes me happy!  It’s a joy to take this journey with them and connect over literature with really bright, invested students. 
  1.  I am the head librarian at a prek-12 grade school; the sole librarian for students age 3 to 18. I watch these students grow and hopefully support them along the way.
  1. Our school hosts incredible guest authors like Sarah Weeks,  Nathan Hale, Jerry Pallotta, Aaron Reynolds, and Chris Grabenstein.
  2. It’s a privilege to be the person students come to for book recommedations, because they trust me, my knowlege about literature, and my understanding of what they like. A good part of my week is helping students find the perfect read, and then finding out how they felt about the book.
  3. My homework is reading!

Delighting Every Customer

When I tell people I am a librarian, I often get various responses. One is, “You don’t look like a librarian,” as if they anticipated a shushing, grimacing battleaxe.  The other response I get is, “Do people still go to the library?”  Both questions, while annoying, encourage me in my pursuit of offering top notch customer service in my library to deflate that stereotype and encourage patron usage. Therefore, it is my goal to assist every guest who walks through the library door with the same friendly, quality customer service.

When I am introduced to new students or touring families, I emphasize that I will ALWAYS help them and that our library is a place they can utilize anytime.  I express that I LIKE to help them, that is my job and it makes me happy.  While I truly enjoy working with my students, I also perceive that everyone at my school is responsible for recruitment and retention of students, and my job depends on enrollment. I am on the lookout for students who need help, and if they don’t ask, I ask them. I thank them for coming, because truly, without their patronage,  I am irrelevant.  I became an educator because I like working with students.

I believe it is crucial that I know my patrons, and if possible I find out what  they like to read.  I have an office, but I never use it; I sit at the circulation desk where I am visible and approachable.  I greet visitors with eye contact, a smile, and by name. My “superpower” is learning student names. The greeting and the smile go a long way; I have had students and alumni tell me how much it meant to them to be cheerfully welcomed to the space every day.  This creates, through word of mouth, an understanding that our school library is a safe and welcoming place and as a result we accrue more patrons.

I have had to train my aide to “take the extra step” in terms of patron support.  I had a similar experience with another librarian colleague I worked with at a different school who expressed that I was “too nice.”   I don’t think I am doing permanent academic damage to a student if I lead him/her to Shakespeare’s plays, or grab A Midsummer Night’s  Dream for the student, as opposed to writing down the card catalog number and sending them on their way.  For one, I think the student will more likely remember the positive service  than how the Dewey Decimal System classifies drama.  I also think teens and tweens are often  overwhelmed, and I typically give them the benefit of the doubt. The sullen teen can usually be won over with respect, courtesy and friendliness; it’s important to realize that we never really know what is happening in their lives.   I think about  my own experiences as a customer, and how perturbed I get when an employee at a hardware store expects me to find an Allen wrench hex key when I have no idea what it is or what it’s for.  Similarly, I am not too happy when employees at my favorite grocery store ignore me while they engage in casual conversation.  I try to put the student first – and address their needs even if I am mid task or have been talking with staff members. I get a little bit unhinged when teachers arrive to pick up their class from the library, but instead engage in small talk leaving their students to become more and more boisterous, which is only to be expected. 

It’s important to “keep up appearances.”  It’s a lot of work, but I’ve made the holiday tree of books several times with hundreds of books and strands and strands of lights.  We have book art, rotating displays, interactive bulletin boards, lights and whatever else I can dream up, steal from other libraries or find on Pinterest to make the space  inviting and fun.  Our comfortable seating and manipulatives have been limited because of Covid-19, but we are adjusting. Contests as well as a no fine policy have also promoted good will and increased usage in the library.

Every interaction matters. According to  Anthony Molaro,  Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Business and Professional Studies at St. Catherine University,   “A worldview that sees library users as patrons is one in which the patron  is above libraries. According to this worldview, we should feel lucky that they support our work, and we are forever indebted to them. Some people call this term archaic, while others have no idea what a library patron even is. In the end, the perception is that the patron is above us.”  

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Especially at independent schools, where tuition can be incredibly high, customer service makes all the difference in creating relationships between staff, students and families.  It should be a priority for all library staff. 

“Information Activist.” Library Journal, vol. 136, no. 5, Mar. 2011, p. 50. EBSCOhost,

Pundsack, Karen. “Customer or Patrons? How You Look at Your Users. Affects Customer Service.” Public Libraries Online, Mar. 2015,

Top Ten Resources I Can’t Live Without!

(In no particular order)

I am the sole librarian at a Prekindergarten-12 school so I need all the help I can get! I am with first through fifth graders more than other grade levels, so most of these resources are tailored towards younger students.

1. SLJ online. While the full magazine is free online to librarians right now, I often visit the SLJ website to explore the range of noteworthy blogs, particularly “The Classroom Bookshelf” and “100 Scope Notes.”

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. I have used his “Name that Lego Book Cover” and “One Star Review, Guess Who?” (ridiculous reviews from Goodreads) for library contests.

2. Lucas Maxwell’s Portable Magic Dispenser! Lucas Maxwell is a school librarian at Glenthorne High School in London. He’s quite creative and very generous. When I need book suggestions, library lessons, research and tech tips, literary games, book displays and things I didn’t even know I needed, I refer to his blog and newsletter.

3. This subscription is worth every penny even though I could probably find most of the resources independently. I use it every single day.

4. Talented authors who generously share their creativity, and so many have stepped it up big time since Covid -19!

Mo Willems’ wonderful website and inimitable resources can be found here: Mo Willems/Kennedy Center (Also, if you haven’t watched Mo Willems making slop, you are missing out:  I Really Like Slop!)
If you found this entertaining, try Carnivores from the talented and truly funny Dan Santat: Carnivores

Jerry Pallotta has a terrific website: JerryPallotta. He visited our school last year. He’s hilarious and student – focused.

Grace Lin Activities are well worth a look; there’s games, crafts, drawing and writing activities to supplement her books.

My students love Dan Gutman’s books and enjoy visits to his website for trailers, writing tips, videos with Dan and games: Gutman.

Jarrett Krosoczka’s Draw Every Day with JJK is a program designed to “educate, entertain, and empower young artists.”

Jason Reynolds’ “Write. Right. Rite” series: GrabtheMic. On January 13, 2020, Jason Reynolds was appointed the seventh National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.. Our English teachers AND their students have fully embraced this series sponsored by the Library of Congress. It’s superb.

Jarrett Lerner Jarrett’s Doodles & More: JarrettLerner. An abundance of FREE writing and drawing prompts, and activity sheets that marvelously supplement literature.

Read, Wonder and Learn– read alouds from a variety of authors and illustrators curated by author Kate Messer.

5. Ted Ed Talks/Videos. I use these videos all the time as they are well done, engaging and include review and discussion questions. The Electoral College video was a game changer for me in teaching lower and middle school students how our voting system works.

Does your vote count? The Electoral College explained - Christina Greer -  YouTube

6. AISL BLOG! I refer to it constantly – thank you!

7. Twitter. This is my go to and sole social media platform. Twitter provides me with a plethora of information from the authors, librarians, educators and colleagues I follow.

8. Shannon Miller. Her blog, TheLibraryVoice, is outstanding.
Shannon shares technology tools, incredible library rotation choice
boards, and ways to connect with classroom content.

9. ReadBrightly. I love ReadBrightly! I use it to locate
book recommendations, printables, activities based on books,
and read alouds.

10. DAISLA – We are a very supportive and flourishing group of
Dallas and Fort Worth librarians. Our organization is beginning to offer more
PD opportunities including guest speakers, virtual field trips (for
now), and member presentations.

I continue to be inspired and energized by the people who share their brilliance and creativity! And, to the many librarians who have taken the time to mentor me, particularly Renee Chevallier!

Author Visits: They’ll Be Back…Live and in Person

While this might be the school year of the virtual author visit, in anticipation of better days ahead I would like to share some of the most impressive and memorable author visits I’ve experienced as a school librarian.  

There is just no one like the inimitable Nathan Hale.  In case you don’t know his work, Mr. Hale writes and illustrates graphic novels, most notably the nonfiction, history based Hazardous Tales series, ideal for students in grades three through five.  He also writes and illustrates science fiction graphic novels and illustrates books for a variety of other authors.  Nathan Hale is smart and quick;  he “gets” kids, and knows how to keep them completely engaged.  He draws “on the spot” requests, gifts his incredible autographed artwork to the library he’s visiting, and tells the funniest (but historically accurate) stories.   Teachers in the audience laughed so hard, I saw tears.  He is non-stop “on it” all day long and earns every penny of his commission.  We plan to have Nathan Hale visit again, and I know many of you have had him visit your school more than once as well because he is just so entertaining and creative.  And his books are exceptional!

Another absolutely hilarious author is Aaron Reynolds, and our day spent with him was positively delightful.  My students have not forgotten his uproarious retellings of his Caldecott winner Creepy Carrots! and the ever popular Creepy Pair of Underwear! I am a huge fan of all of his books, and more importantly, my students are too.  Mr. Reynolds was truly “in the zone” during the entire visit – role playing with the kids, engaging them with games, involving the teachers; smiles all around.  He is one of the authors that was visibly sweating with the effort of  enthusiastically and continuously sharing his talents.

Lauren Oliver came at no cost to the high school where I worked seven years ago.  She was gracious and very sharp.  She shared her outstanding writing strategies with a very large group, and outlined how her career as a writer evolved.  The audience really liked her, and I thought she was quite friendly and her presentation very relevant for our group of “would be” writers. 

Chris Grabenstein also came  to us at a very discounted price.   I had  filled out a contest entry on  his website and  sent it to his agent.  Once it was accepted, our school was responsible only for his travel expenses.  Mr. Granbenstein is all about the kids. He wanted to eat lunch with them,  visit classrooms, offer extra writing workshops – and he did all of those things along with his three fantastic presentations to large groups.  Mr. Grabenstein has a background in advertising, television and radio and this is most evident in the comedic spirit of his delivery.  I am a huge fan of his work and his commitment to kids and reading.  He is a kind, funny, multi-talented author.

James Ponti came to our school last year and he is definitely one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met.  His books are outstanding and enormously popular at Oakridge. Mr. Ponti wanted to provide a useful and memorable experience to our students.   We visited classes together and ate with a group of students in the lunchroom.  Mr. Ponti also  spoke to a group of upper school students currently taking a writing seminar,  and were expected to complete a novel by the school year. He thoughtfully spent some time with a staff member who was in the midst of self-publishing a book, answering some questions she had.  Now that the New York Times bestseller  City Spies is on the market our students were thrilled because he read the first chapter to them before it was published.  We have all of his books and this one is consistently checked out in ebook and print.

Jerry Palotta came last to our school  year also, another exceptionally big-hearted person.  His Who Would Win books are “top checkouts” in our library.  He also ate lunch with the kids in the cafeteria, and graciously went out to dinner with a second grader and his family.  Another first grader was sick the day of the visit, and devastated because Mr. Pallotta is his favorite author. In response, Mr. Pallotta sent the student a video introducing himself, reading one of his books, and subsequently sending him one of his signed books.

Sarah Weeks came to our school right before So B. It: A Novel was being released in theaters.  A group of middle school students and I met Sarah at a local theater showing the movie in its early release.  She is so smart, articulate,  great with the kids, and someone I would enjoy hanging out with!  She shared a cool story arc activity with the students that I’ve used repeatedly with my classes.   We met another school librarian for a leisurely dinner which included wine and casual, comfortable conversation. It was a terrific evening,  Ms. Weeks  is the most down to earth, transparent and genuine person.

We were thrilled to have Gordon Korman visit us two years ago because our lower and middle school students voraciously read everything he writes.  Restart is my personal favorite, and while I appreciate his incredible talents as an author, he didn’t impress me as much as a guest presenter to our middle school students.  He was the most expensive author we’ve hosted yet we did not feel we received our “money’s worth.”  While other authors arrived with interactive slide shows and activities and spent as much time with the students as possible, Mr. Korman did not connect with the kids in these ways.   Yet he certainly fulfilled his contract obligations.

Finally, I have to give a shout out to Fort Worth Country Day Librarian and AISL member Tammy Wolford.  She arranges many of these events so that local independent school librarians can share authors and costs.  I would love to hear about the authors and illustrators who inspired your students, whether in a virtual or on site visit.