Ways of Reading

As I followed the “reading culture” thread on the listserv last month and scrawled lists of related books I need to investigate, it got me thinking about all the ways I read nowadays. More specifically, I thought about how differently I read now than I did when I was a kid. When I was the age of my current students, reading meant a print book, or maybe an article in a print magazine or newspaper. Now, though?

  • In the morning and evening, as I get ready for work or bed, I listen to audiobooks. I also listen to audiobooks on long car trips. For short trips, I prefer podcasts, though often that means reading-adjacent storytelling podcasts like The Moth or StoryCorps.
  • Professional articles I mostly read on my computer, though my school does subscribe to print versions of SLJ and Hornbook, which makes for a nice break from staring at screens all the time!
  • In my father’s last years, I called him daily to read him articles from The New York Times, Smithsonian, or BBC Travel, all of which I read on my computer (though I do maintain a print subscription to Smithsonian).
  • I review books for SLJ and Kirkus, and these days, I read all those on my computer.
  • For travel, or for books I need to read as soon as possible, I have a Kindle, or the Kindle app on my phone.
  • Before I go to sleep, I catch up on Webtoons, and read fanfic recommended by my friends’ kids or my students.
  • And yes, I also still read print books and graphic novels!

I’m sure that most of your reading lives are equally diverse, and I can only imagine what my students’ reading lives include! So often I think our students don’t consider themselves readers because they don’t read print books except for class, but they may well devour (or write!) hundreds of thousands of words of fanfiction online, or listen to serial stories on podcasts, or read articles in areas of interest online, etc.

So how do we celebrate all kinds of reading as we build a reading culture at school? Chris Young mentioned a few things in their recent post on using Beanstack to foster a culture of reading, with Book Bingo that included articles and audiobooks. That’s a great start! Perhaps I could start the year with a board inviting kids to write down all the ways they read, and then work from there? Perhaps I’ll get amazing ideas from books about reading culture, as well. I don’t yet know how I’ll approach it, but I know I want to take into account all kinds of reading.

Tell me in the comments all the ways you and your students read!

Covers of all the books I read in the last twelve months, flanked by my favorite Webtoons.

Author Visits from the Author’s Perspective: Part Three: Visit Day

Welcome to the final post in this series. In part one, I covered the demographics of the authors who responded to my survey, and logistical planning for an in-person visit. In part two, I covered preparing for and promoting an author event at your school. In this final post, I will cover ensuring your author visit goes smoothly on the day. As always, many thanks to the authors who took the time to respond to my survey!

Day-Of Logistics

Asked how a librarian can make a visit day go smoothly, most authors ticked all the boxes: Keep a communication device handy in case of issues; Meet the author at the check-in point; Escort the author wherever they need to go; Make introductions; Help with any tech needs/issues; Have water available; Facilitate signings with post-its and extra pens.

In the “other” option, Margriet Ruurs suggested: “Display books on a table so kids can see the relationship between the books, the speaker and the slideshow/talk.” Kirby Larson said: “The more communication, the better!” Kelly Jones added: “I don’t need to be escorted (I know you’re busy!). But it helps if the office is aware that I’m coming and can tell me where I should go.”

Make It Special

Here are some examples of librarians who went the extra mile and made the author visit really special.

Martha Brockenbrough: “Not only did Terry Shay have the cheerleading squad, he had every kid outside with little signs to welcome me. It was over the top, but definitely incredible. The excitement made me feel good, but more important—it made the KIDS pumped for what was to come.”

Margriet Ruurs: “If they do all the things listed above, it’s awesome. But often that’s not the case and you have to make the best of it for the students’ sake. It’s a great gesture when the principal attends a session and sets the tone for the importance of reading in the school.”

Phoebe Fox: “With everything an author brings to a visit, it is especially helpful to have a parking spot reserved near the library or area of presentation.”

Dianne White: “Librarians who have prepared the kids and teachers by talking about the visit ahead of time, sharing books, and helping kids and staff get excited about the value of author visits make for the best overall experiences.”

Kirby Larson: “At one middle school in Arkansas, the librarian worked with the cafeteria to have food that was suggested by my books! Amazing. I am so grateful when librarians provide extra water for me and a little sweet snack in the afternoon; I appreciate being introduced to the principal; I’m always touched when there’s a little welcome swag bag in the hotel room. Honestly, I’m so appreciative of how hard librarians/teachers are already working; I am in total awe of all the extras they do to connect kids with books and their creators.”

Kelly Jones: “I appreciate it when librarians prepare students for my visit, but I also really love hearing any follow-ups! It’s been wonderful to hear about classes who’ve continued the writing exercises we talk about and create their own stories, or libraries who’ve created ways for students to share the stories they create with each other.” In addition, “If there’s a practice you use for library time or assemblies that works well with your students, please tell me! For instance, one library often used a “stop and share” practice for the kinds of exciting questions I was asking students to think about. The librarian would ask the question, then students would have one minute to discuss it with a neighbor before we moved on. When the librarian stopped my presentation to explain, it was a perfect addition—something I could use with that school and with others!”

Lily LaMotte: “The cafeteria serving the students lunch with the recipe from my book… I’ve also had a teacher in West Palm Beach make a whole diorama on stage. Other librarians decorated their libraries. Another teacher had a contest where students wrote essays about why they wanted to come to a small group student lunch with me.”

Dori Hillestad Butler: “I love when I pull into a school parking lot and see a sign that tells me where to park. (I especially liked the ones that said VIP AUTHOR PARKING—I’ve been to several schools that did that.) A librarian in Oregon had read that I like Diet Dr. Pepper and had a couple bottle of it (nobody has Diet Dr. Pepper on hand!). One of the best school visits I ever was in Colorado–the kids wrote a play based on one of my books and then performed it for me.”

Cautionary Tales

Sometimes, visits don’t go so well, unfortunately. Here are some (anonymous) examples, and reasons why.

“I would say that most visits are always wonderful, but I did have a visit last year that was close to the end of the school year. The multi-purpose room was full of stuff that had been recently been moved there because the year was coming to an end. There was a lot of last minute cleaning up and making room for the classes to fit. It left me with the feeling that the author visit was more of an after-thought and the assembly was just a way to occupy the kids for a short while, rather than an enrichment to the educational experience.”

“One school (a middle school) left me alone with the kids to do a workshop. For the entire period. And one of the kids basically wrote [inappropriate fiction] and then read it out loud. It’s not my job to deal with that. Now I have a line in my letter of agreement that says “author will not be left alone with students,” which is probably a good idea for any kind of liability as well.”

“I once did six visits in a day (too many), and the school didn’t provide me with lunch. I would have brought my own had they told me there wouldn’t be lunch. It made for a hard day.”

“I’ve been very lucky so far in that I haven’t had any bad visits. The only one that I can think of that didn’t go well was a virtual visit to a library during lockdown. Unfortunately each attendee was trying to get onto the facility’s WiFi from their own laptop while outside the building because they weren’t allowed in because of the lockdown. But the tech issue wasn’t the librarian’s fault. And it was the pandemic so it was a time for everyone to be more flexible than normal.”

“My presentations, in the end, are always very well received. But if there are no books displayed, no art based on books, no enthusiasm about the visit – it is much harder to achieve a positive atmosphere.”

“Though I work very hard to engage kids, if they have no idea who I am or why I’m there, it can be a slog for me to help them get the most of the presentation. I can overcome tech issues or other things but adequate prep really helps the school get the biggest bang for their buck.”

Annoyances and Frustrations

The authors gave insightful responses about things  that specifically annoy or frustrate them on visit days, which I present anonymously.

“I once had a principal want to meet with me before the visit to make sure my visit would be OK for his students. I’m a published author. I do school visits regularly. I used to teach at a high school. Asking for more time and, in a sense, justifying my presence is pretty uncool.” This author added that, in addition to unprepared students, having disengaged or absent teachers makes it impossible for the teacher to build on the author’s lesson, which is intended to support the curriculum. Especially if teachers are absent, “it feels as if they want me to entertain their students for an hour and that’s it. But that is not how author talks work. A good author presentation is not reading from your book. Anyone can do that. It is sharing the excitement about writing, planning, editing – making kids want to write, too!”

“When there is no introduction made, it feels very awkward to introduce oneself.”

“Requests to do additional presentations after the contract has been set/settled are hard to deal with but, truly, I know things come up at the last minute. We’re all doing our best, that is for sure!”

“Very noisy outside environments (for instance, a really loud class on the other side of an air wall in a divided gym) can be hard to overcome.”

“It can be difficult to quickly adapt and give the students the experience I’d like them to have when the tech arrangements we agreed upon aren’t available after all—for instance, no microphone or working projector for a full-school assembly.”

“I also prefer for teachers to support students asking me questions during the Q&A, even if someone else has already asked it, or it might embarrass the teacher (such as, how much money do I make). I believe that students are trying to imagine themselves in a writer’s shoes, and trying to connect and be seen. I have answers for these situations that everyone can learn from without anyone’s attempt being shut down.”

“Before: Not getting a schedule, not getting a response from my host if I email, not receiving my signed letter of agreement back in a timely manner.”

Final Thoughts

Margriet Ruurs: “Whether it’s local or around the world, sharing your books in schools and libraries is awesome. And keep in mind that it makes it financially possible to stay home and write during other times. Author visits support the writer on so many levels.”

Kirby Larson: “I am so grateful to the teachers and librarians working so hard every day in their buildings. Though a school visit with me might not work out/fit their schedule or budget, I am in awe of all the ways they work so hard to connect kids with books and their creators. So a huge thank you to our wonderful educators!”

Author Visits from the Author’s Perspective, Part Two: Preparation and Promotion

Last month, I found myself wondering how authors viewed in-person visits, so I sent a survey out and heard back from eight authors. Last month’s post covered the demographics of the authors who responded, and logistical planning for an author visit. This month, we cover preparing students for author events, and promoting those events.

Preparing Students

“School visits work their strongest magic when students are prepared for the author’s visit,” states Kirby Larson. If an author is coming to visit your school, you want to prepare the students so they and the school can take full advantage of that visit. How do you do that? The type of visit will probably determine your preparation in terms of teaching the book(s) or doing read-alouds for younger titles, but you can prepare in many other ways. Dori Hillestad Butler suggests students engage in some writing or drawing to prepare, then post those writings/drawings as additional promotion. She says: “I especially like to see those on the walls—and I always take time to stop and read every one!” Martha Brockenbrough adds: “The more the kids know about the author and book beforehand, the better!”

Kirby Larson thoughtfully expanded her response to say: “Learning about me and my books ahead of time certainly strengthens connections between my writing advice/experience and the students’ internalization of that information. School visit prep provides context for the students. In addition, when teachers participate in the school visits (ie, do not bring their phones, laptops or papers to correct to the sessions), they are sending a strong message to the students about the value and importance of the information the author is sharing. And it is so helpful if the librarian/teacher tells kids in advance that I can’t sign bits of paper (or body parts); I do provide a book mark template with my autograph so every kid can have that.”

Asked for other advice on making sure a visit goes smoothly, most authors checked all the boxes: Make sure teachers/kids have the schedule; Double check on necessary tech; Have payment ready to go/already sent; Be prepared for book sales (contact vendor; get volunteers); Regularly check in to make sure teachers/students are prepared.

In the “other” column, Margriet Ruurs urges: “Share my books with students. I have been in schools where the students had no idea what was happening. If a librarian and teachers are prepped, it makes the impact of an author visit that much greater. We’re not just there to entertain for an hour but to leave a message of ‘books are important, and fun and interesting’!” Kirby Larson recommends that librarians: “Make connections between the author’s work and what the students are working on/learning about.” Kelly Jones advises that librarians “double-check that any substitute teachers know what’s planned—I once had a class miss a school presentation because no one had told the substitute.”


Another aspect of preparing your students and your school community is to promote your author visit. How can you best do that? Any and all ways, from the author’s perspective! Mount book displays in the library and elsewhere, promote the visit on the school’s website, communicate with parents and students, post on social media, and do booktalks. Other suggestions included contacting local newspapers, creating a countdown bulletin board, and setting out a box to collect student questions.

Doing It Right

I asked the authors for examples of librarians who had knocked it out of the park in preparing for/promoting their visit, and here are their responses.

Martha Brockenbrough: “Terry Shay at North Tama in Traer, Iowa. …He really prepared the kids well at every age level and assembled a squad of cheerleaders for my paperback Cheerful Chick.

Margriet Ruurs: “A Kelowna, BC librarian approached me for her school, but I explained that travel is too much for one day. She then promoted a possible visit to all local schools. She did not just pass that on to me, but arranged a two week schedule for schools, in a logical order, and made sure all schools have all information on dates, times, equipment and more. It’s awesome when a local librarian coordinates all that.”

Dianne White: “When the kids are excited, I know teachers and librarians have been talking about the visit ahead of time. When that happens, kids are always going to get more out of the experience.”

Kirby Larson: “For a recent week-long visit in a school district near Houston, the hosting librarian asked me for particular photos from which she created an “About Kirby” slide show that was made available to all of the schools involved prior to my visit.”

Kelly Jones: “I remember one library’s display—they had a big posterboard with photos of students, teachers, and staff holding books they were recommending. The week of my visit, the librarian was holding my book—a proud moment for sure! She told me everyone really enjoyed recommending books and having their pictures taken.”

Lily LaMotte: “I did the summer reading program kickoff for the Olathe, KS library. I don’t have the details of her promotion but we had a full house in their auditorium. If you mean a school librarian, I’ve had so many wonderful visits with schools. Kids were prepared and many of them had read my books or were using them in their classroom. The cafeteria at a school in Lewiston, ME even made a recipe from my book for the students’ lunch the day of my visit. So amazing!”

Dori Hillestad Butler: “A librarian in Cedar Rapids, IA, painted HUGE (5 foot tall!) pictures of my books and displayed them ahead of time. A librarian in the Chicago area had worked with the kids to make posters that said: ‘Here is what we know about Dori Hillestad Butler, Here is what we don’t know about Dori Hillestad Butler, Here is our plan to find out more: come to her presentation!’ (That’s directly out of my King & Kayla series.)”

Next month, how to ensure that your author visit goes smoothly on the day.

Author Visits from the Author Perspective: Part One

Recently, as I arranged an author visit, I started wondering about how authors view those events. What advice might they have for librarians planning an in-person author visit? I put together a survey which I sent to a few author friends (and friends-of-friends), and though my sample size wasn’t large, the authors offered a lot of useful information for librarians planning author events.

Due to the survey’s length, I am breaking it into three posts. Today, I will cover demographics of responding authors, and logistics planning for visits. In April, I will cover preparing for and promoting an author visit. In May, I will cover making the event go smoothly on the day it happens.

Author Demographics

The kind souls who gave their time to answer my survey are: Martha Brockenbrough, Margriet Ruurs, Phoebe Fox, Dianne White, Kirby Larson, Kelly Jones, Lily LaMotte, and Dori Hillestad Butler.

I first asked what grades they generally wrote for. Most write for elementary school students as well as other grades (see chart), and Margriet Ruurs also writes for educators and parents (“other”).

Next I asked how many in-school visits they made each year. Most landed in the 1-10 range, though Margriet Ruurs makes over 21 visits a year, and Dori Hillestad Butler may make 1-25 visits, depending on the year!

Thirdly, I asked how long they’d been making school visits. Most have been doing so for eight or more years, and Dori Hillestad Butler estimates she’s been visiting schools for over thirty years!

Preparing for an Author Visit


What’s the best way to contact an author about a visit? For all surveyed, contact information on their website is the place to start, but other ways may also work. In the “other” category, Kirby Larson uses a booking agent, How Now Booking, and Lily LaMotte is also exploring that option.

Determining Fit

When you contact an author, what should you ask to determine if they are a good fit for your school and your students? The authors offered varied answers, many of which boiled down to librarians being familiar with the author’s work, and knowing what they are looking for in terms of a presentation. As Dori Hillestad Butler says, “Not everyone who reaches out to me knows what they want,” which can make it harder to determine if an author is a good fit. While some authors list details of their presentations on their websites, that doesn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t tailor a workshop or presentation to a school’s needs.

In terms of more specific questions, librarians could ask what an author’s typical school visits look like, how many visits they’ve done, and the focus of their presentations. Kelly Jones recommends asking: “What will our students leave your presentation with that they may not have known before? What new tools might be in their toolboxes?” Practical details are also key, such as travel distances, number and age of students, and fees.

Deal Breakers

What might make an author turn down a visit? For most, it was scheduling issues, with too many sessions and too great distance coming in next, though as Lily LaMotte adds, “If the school is part of a larger trip to the general area or en route to somewhere I’m already going, then distance isn’t a factor.” Kelly Jones feels that “restrictions on what I can present that would negatively affect what I try to teach students” would be a deal breaker, and another author dislikes background checks, especially if she’s expected to pay. As she says: “It shouldn’t ever be needed because I shouldn’t ever be alone with students.” Margriet Ruurs stated, “I have never turned [a visit] down and worked through any concerns with the librarian,” so it’s always worth asking!

Time Frame

How far in advance of a visit should you contact an author? Answers varied widely, so it’s great if you know far in advance, but worth asking even if you don’t. Kelly Jones suggests: “If it’s coming right up, more date options make it more likely we can find one that works.”


How should a librarian approach asking about an author’s fees? Among the authors’ varied answers, several said their website lists their fees, or that a librarian should simply describe the number of students and number of sessions needed, and ask based on that. It would also help for authors to know your budget, if you have that available. Says one author: “This is a business conversation! I also appreciate knowing if you’re considering creative cost-saving measures like sharing travel costs with a nearby school or library.” Another author recommends that librarians also “touch base about how payments happen because that’s awkward to ask.”

What’s not okay is requesting free visits. As one author says: “Asking for free visits is never OK–it puts us in an absolutely terrible spot.” Says another: “What is discouraging on my side of things is when a librarian reaches out (expecting a visit to be free) and then never replies back when they learn that an author values their time as much as any other type of presenter would.”

Travel Needs

How does an author like to have their travel arranged? The answer varied, so it’s best to ask directly. Sometimes authors prefer the school make the arrangements, some prefer a travel stipend so they can make their own plans, and some prefer a combination. In some instances, for example, the school might have a connection with a local hotel and get a discount, so it would make more sense for the school to make that reservation.


There are many details to consider when you’re organizing an author visit. What sort of communication is most helpful for the authors before the event? I asked them to rank the importance of different kinds of information, and the many topics they ranked highly illustrate the value of clear communication!

Answers in the “other” category included knowing which of the author’s books the school has, directions and parking, goods/services tax, student safety rules (i.e., is the campus nut-free?), and whether translators will be present. Lily LaMotte likes to meet virtually with the event organizer beforehand to answer all of the outstanding questions.

Book Sales

Often, you’ll want to sell books at your event, so students can get their books signed. Asked where they prefer you get books for the event, the authors had different answers, so it’s best to check. Several said that whatever worked best for the school was fine, though Margriet Ruurs added, “Anywhere but Amazon!”


What else can happen on an author visit? Says Dianne White: “Basically, if a librarian has something in mind, they should always ask!” Several authors were enthusiastic about meeting students and teachers for lunch. Says Kirby Larson: “Those informal moments generate amazing conversations.” However, at least one author prefers quiet time during an energetic day, so ask before scheduling lunch sessions. Several authors also enjoy attending book club meetings.

Kirby Larson is “always happy to do interviews with student reporters, if the school has a newspaper/news program. And I know I can’t answer every question that comes up during Q&A so am happy to receive a list of student questions from the librarian following my visit that I can answer after I’ve returned home.”

Martha Brockenbrough enjoys “teaching teachers how to write/teach writing,” and Kelly Jones adds, “I’m also happy to talk to any available teachers or staff about how to follow up on the exercises I teach, if they have time and their students are interested. Often, I hear that the students who don’t already see themselves as readers or writers are inspired by what they learn, so it feels like a great moment to build on that excitement.”

Dori Hillestad Butler likes to do a “small group ‘critique the author’ session where I’ll read from my work in progress and ask the kids for feedback. I model how to give and receive constructive criticism and this is a great opportunity for me to connect with my audience before the work is published and see how it’s landing.”

Next week, I’ll cover preparing for and promoting your author visit. Thanks again to the authors for their time and thought!

Quiz Bowl Part II

Here’s the second part of my interview with my Overlake colleague, Kelly Vikstrom-Hoyt, about her Quiz Bowl experiences. Part I posted on February 14.

Rebecca: What’s a memorable success or achievement your teams have experienced?

Kelly: The Middle School team had just started competing in online tournaments through TQBA (Texas Quiz Bowl Alliance) in 2022. We did one tournament and entered the top division, and got 23rd out of 25 teams. The tournament director suggested that we enter the elementary bracket for the next tournament (because most of the kids were in 6th grade anyway), and we ended up getting second in the division. So for the next tournament, we moved up to the middle division and ended up winning and qualifying for nationals! Now we regularly compete in the upper division and usually place in the top 10.

Rebecca: How do you handle setbacks or disappointments with the kids?

Kelly: Quiz bowl is all in your head – literally. So it is easy for kids to get down on themselves or get psyched out by another team that buzzes quickly or knows more of the answers. I encourage the kids to get out of their heads and try to get them to be more playful. When I took the Upper School team to Chicago for nationals, we had a disappointing day with a lot more losses than we were used to. I knew we needed to shake it off, so we left the hotel and took the train to a pizza place, got Chicago pizza and took it to a park (it was a lovely day). Then the kids asked if they were allowed to go on the playground, and I told them they were REQUIRED to play on the playground. And after all the running and playing (remember these are upper school kids), they got out of their heads and were able to have fun and win more rounds the next day.

Rebecca: How do you foster a sense of inclusivity, teamwork, and participation among a diverse group of students?

Kelly: It can be really challenging because some kids are just fast and know a lot of random information. This can make the other kids feel as if they aren’t contributing as much. But since there are both tossups (which are answered individually), and bonuses (which are answered as a team), I try to get everyone involved in the bonuses, even if just as a sounding board to double check that answers are right. The other thing I try to do is encourage kids to take risks, including sometimes buzzing and getting it wrong, and praising them when they do. One of our strongest upper school players is also the person who gets the most wrong answers. And I point this out regularly so that students don’t feel embarrassed when they get something wrong.

Rebecca: Have you observed any positive impacts on academic performance or enthusiasm for learning as a result of quiz bowl participation?

Kelly: These kids are already super academically motivated. But it is interesting to see them making connections between information they learned in class and questions in Quiz Bowl. When there’s a question about something they “just did in class that day,” they love it. Students will also let the younger kids know “you haven’t learned that yet” when they know a concept is taught later in the year in that grade. 

Rebecca: What advice would you give to librarians who want to support or initiate quiz bowl activities in their schools?

Kelly: We have a lot of random knowledge and information at our fingertips! This is a great way to market that and remind people that you hold the key to accessing that knowledge. I was afraid, at first, that I’d have to come up with all the questions – but there are so many resources out there already that I have literally never had to make up questions. But I do point out resources that will be helpful to kids who want to study or learn more about something. Start small – I started out with middle school just being a trivia club and we did lots of different activities related to trivia. But then they really enjoyed the more formal structure of regular quiz bowl, so we shifted to just that.

Rebecca: What has been the most rewarding aspect of running quiz bowl teams for you?

Kelly: It is another way for me to connect with kids and see them in a different way that they typically show up in the library. The relationship building is really what keeps me going, even when I sacrifice my weekend for a tournament.


“Quiz Bowl.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia, 31 Jan. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quiz_bowl.

“For an article aimed at librarians, I am interviewing a colleague who runs quiz bowl teams for middle and upper school, including weekly meetings and local, online, and travel tournaments. What questions should I ask her?” prompt. ChatGPT, version 3.5, OpenAI, 2023, chat.openai.com/c/dfd0c6bd-f1dd-4a59-aea9-98ffef558101.

Quiz Bowl Part I

My colleague at Overlake, Kelly Vikstrom-Hoyt, runs highly successful Quiz Bowl clubs for both middle and upper schoolers. I thought AISL librarians might be interested to hear more details, so Kelly graciously agreed to share her knowledge and expertise. Many thanks to her for taking the time, and for giving thoughtful and detailed answers in our interview. As the interview ran long, this is part one; part two will post on 2/21.

Background: Early radio game shows inspired a plethora of quiz-bowl type competitions in the US and around the world. While different iterations are easy to find, Quiz Bowl in the US usually involves four-person teams answering questions in mostly academic fields, in levels ranging from elementary through graduate school. Questions come in two different types, toss-up and bonus, and students use a buzzer system to claim a question. If students answer early in the question, with less information, they can earn additional points. Coordinators can purchase Quiz Bowl materials, including questions, from sources like NAQT (National Academic Quiz Tournaments, founded in 1996). Students ready to move beyond their school competitions can enter/qualify for local or national competitions and weekend tournaments, including online and in-person tournaments.

Rebecca: How did you get started in Quiz Bowl, and why?

Kelly: I participated in Knowledge Bowl in high school. Although my team was really strong, I wasn’t the best, but I still had fun. In my second year at Overlake a new student wanted to start a Quiz Bowl Team but there wasn’t a faculty advisor. When I saw that, I jumped all over it. I felt like it would be fun with my previous experience, and I was also uniquely qualified to find them all sorts of random sources of information if they wanted to study.

Rebecca: What is your role in Overlake’s Quiz Bowl teams, and what is your time commitment?

Kelly: I’m the primary faculty advisor for both the Upper and Middle school Teams. Upper School clubs meet every other week for an hour and Middle School clubs meet every week for an hour. We do about 5-7 tournaments a year for each team, and those are a full day on Saturday. Then, when and if we make the National Tournament, I travel to Chicago for three days in the spring with each team.

Rebecca: When do teams meet, and what happens at Quiz Bowl club meetings?

Kelly: Competing Academic Teams meet at various times. Quiz Bowl meets during our usual club blocks during the school day, but we also have after school practice on Fridays. During our meetings we primarily do practice questions and play as if it were a tournament. I will stop and offer advice and coach the kids on when and how to buzz, and when information is something that comes up frequently. I know that some teams do a lot of group studying, but I feel like doing questions is more fun and the students still retain a lot of the knowledge.

Rebecca: What’s the process for entering tournaments, and how do you choose which tournaments to enter?

Kelly: Tournaments are challenging. We started the team in 2019/2020 and Covid severely affected our ability to attend in-person tournaments (and there weren’t any in-person tournaments), but it also kick-started the idea of online tournaments. Knowledge Bowl is more prevalent in this area, so there isn’t a huge pool of other local teams to compete with in Quiz Bowl style. The University of Washington Quiz Bowl team puts on some tournaments, but that is all dependent on the club leadership, and some years they don’t do them. Basically, we look for local tournaments (on the NAQT website) and we look for online tournaments we are allowed to join. If it works with the students’ schedules, we sign up. You have to qualify for the national tournament by finishing in the top 10-15% of regular tournaments. 

Rebecca: What’s it like to attend a travel tournament?

Kelly: Traveling to tournaments is interesting because it is much more intense than rolling out of bed in your pajamas to compete, or just driving down to the UW. It’s especially true for this group of kids, who has mostly attended online tournaments. Somehow, the kids get much more psyched out by the competition, and hearing side chats or other teams studying. But it is super fun to be able to bond as a team, and eat meals and do things besides answer random questions together.

Rebecca: What are some challenges you face in running quiz bowl teams?

Kelly: The biggest challenge is time. The MS team meets during club time, and that doesn’t get interrupted that often, but the US team’s club meeting time frequently gets interrupted by other events, and many of the kids are on multiple clubs and try to split their time among them. In order for us to be really top notch, we’d have to carve out a lot more practice time. But the students are already so over-committed, there isn’t any other time to carve out. We did finally find a good after school time: Fridays, and this has worked well this year.


“Quiz Bowl.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia, 31 Jan. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quiz_bowl.

“For an article aimed at librarians, I am interviewing a colleague who runs quiz bowl teams for middle and upper school, including weekly meetings and local, online, and travel tournaments. What questions should I ask her?” prompt. ChatGPT, version 3.5, OpenAI, 2023, chat.openai.com/c/dfd0c6bd-f1dd-4a59-aea9-98ffef558101.

Building Book Recommendation Lists

I’ve been compiling booklists since I started out as a librarian. Currently, the two biggest lists I work on for school are our Holiday Reading/Gift-Giving Recommendations, and Summer Fun Reading Recommendations. How I compile the lists has morphed over the years, and I thought I’d share how I do it now, and would love to hear about others’ methods, too.

We divide our lists into three levels. Formerly we used Middle School, Upper School, and Adult, but changed that to Middle School (grades 5-7), Crossover (grades 7-10), and Upper School/Adult (grades 9-12/adult). We further divide each level by genre/category, which can be somewhat flexible; for instance, one year I found so many wonderful new short story collections that I added that as a category. Sometime genres that fit well for Middle School don’t fit so well for Crossover and vice versa. I use “Romance” as a category only in the latter, along with “Supernatural.” “Humor” as a category I use only in Middle School. MS and Crossover have eight t0 nine genres/categories, whereas we divide the Upper School lists into Fiction, Nonfiction, and Graphica. MS and Crossover genres/categories include six books each; US lists can run longer in each category.

As to how I build the lists, I start with last year’s lists, and do my utmost not to repeat a title. I have a database spreadsheet with columns for genre, main character gender(s), and diversit(y/ies). For each genre, I strive to balance the genders of main characters, and make it at least half diverse, preferably more to reflect our school population. I also strive to ensure the titles represent a diversity of diversities, including religious, disability, race/ethnicity, and LGBTQ.

When possible, I prefer to populate the lists with new or new-ish books, starting with titles from our new books lists. When I’ve exhausted those, I move to my wishlist database, best-books lists, library catalog, etc. Sometimes I struggle to find good, diverse books in every genre, and I do end up re-using older titles—occasionally even old favorites still in print—if I can’t find newer books to fill the lists.

We post our lists on our LibGuides, in tabbed boxes. Recently we’ve stopped creating new guides each year, instead shifting the older boxes to a general “Reading Recommendations” page and building the new lists in the same guides. Using our judgement about what will circulate, we buy many of the titles in eBook format. We also display print titles in the library, and advertise the lists through parent and faculty communications, among others.

How do you build your recommended-books lists?

Blast From the Past: AISL Conference 1996

As I was thinking what to write for my December post, I thought back to when I was a baby librarian in my 20s, attending my first AISL conference. That was in 1996, when AISL was less than ten years old, and I was living in its “hometown” of Washington, D.C. As the conference also took place in D.C., that made attending it easy! At that time in my life, I wrote my grandmother long letters about everything I was up to, which included the conference. I dug up the letter that included my description, and what follows is a slightly-abridged version, with some added comments. I sadly didn’t find any photos I took at the conference, but here I am at my first school, Edmund Burke (rocking those 80s shoulder pads), along with a view of my library. Note the card catalog—it was the dark ages!!

April, 1996

The AISL (Association of Independent School Librarians) conference was a tremendous success; I’ve never had so much fun at a conference before! It began on a Wednesday at St. Alban’s, with continental breakfast in the library. At the local conferences I attend most people already know each other and don’t really talk outside their groups, but here, few people knew each other, so everyone talked to new people. People came from all over the country, and it was wonderful to discuss our libraries and find out we all have the same types of problems with students, faculty, teaching, equipment, budgets, etc. That’s the drawback of working at Edmund Burke as a solo librarian; no one really knows what I do so it’s rather isolating. I loved talking to people who not only understood but were interested in what I was saying! [2023 note: That conference, and the camaraderie, completely sold me on AISL, and I am so grateful I found the association at the start of my career.]

              The morning’s program focused on library facilities; planning a new one, moving, etc. An architect discussed the tendency of architects to ignore function in favor of looks, resulting in things like odd corners no shelves can fit in, solid railings behind which kids can hide, useless light fixtures, insufficient wiring, etc. They showed slides of lots of lovely libraries, and pointed out difficulties with all of them! Rather daunting, especially as the librarians who had undergone this process spent more time at their library than at home, and really immersed themselves in the project and the school. The dedication that requires!

              That afternoon we took school buses to visit some local school libraries. The first stop was Madeira. Their library is quite new and elegantly beautiful, though the lights are inconvenient. I spent much time talking with a local librarian about her automation system, which might work for Burke. I apprecited the chance to talk to someone from my local association without having dozens of other people clamoring for her attention! One thing I got out of the conference was many helpful suggestions and advice about CD-ROMs, automation, and technology in general. Since we’re just starting out with automation, I need to learn a lot more.

              Our next stop was an elementary school; Langley. They have a British librarian, and it was the only library we visited that had Enid Blyton books. Also, one of their librarians is a published children’s author. They have a wonderful story room; they painted all the walls as if you’re looking out over the parapets of a castle into a pastoral landscape. If you peer closely, you can even spot some unicorns. Apparently it was a real school community project, and took a long time (and some hair-pulling) to complete.

              Last, we returned to the cathedral and quickly glanced through the National Cathedral School’s library before heading to Georgetown Visitation, which has a spacious campus in Georgetown. They hosted dinner in the library, which used to be a barn. Again I was amazed that even though I was constantly talking to different people, everyone was pleasant and interesting and intelligent. [2023 note: I cannot imagine, twenty-seven years later, what on earth would have made me amazed to find that out! Now I just take that for granted with AISL!]

              The next morning we started again at St. Alban’s, with lectures on women characters in books for children, fiction and nonfiction. I heard the lectures on women’s history, women in music, women in math, and women in fiction. I was most impressed with the women’s history speaker; I guess I had never really understood before that women’s history was not just biographies of women, but the entire history of the gender, with entirely different landmarks from that of men. For instance, World War II was dreadful for men, but wonderful (in some ways) for women who were able to join the workforce. I’d never thought of it like that before.

              That afternoon included museum tours. As I live in DC I opted to go to work instead, but went out to dinner in Georgetown with several nice librarians from out of town.

              On Friday we left from St. Alban’s in busses and drove to the Library of Congress. After an orientation movie, we split into tour groups. My group visited the children’s section, located in an eyrie on a balcony above the incredible Jefferson reading room (circular). What an amazing place to work! The architectural details stand so close (arches, pillars, carvings), and bronze statutes perched on the edge of the balcony look out over the room. Michaelangelo and Bacon stood in the section where we were; larger than life. We discussed the children’s section and its various successes and problems (all LC has had funding problems like most government agencies), but I think the best part of the tour was simply the location.

              The children’s librarian had to take us back to the new building for our next tour, and to save time, we took the tunnels under the street. There were miles of them, all busy with people. We also saw a book tram–a tractor hauling bins of books on a special track.

              Our next stop was geography and mapping, which takes up an enormous amount of basement space. Acres, literally! We saw all sorts of maps, and most interesting, a scanner that could take antique maps and reproduce them so exactly on a massive color printer that from a distance, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. We also saw old fire insurance maps showing every house and street and building in every town in America; not possible to do anymore because people are afraid to go to the inner cities to measure buildings. Apparently the maps are still useful in that people can research the locations of old chemical plants, because the maps always list the products of particular buildings.

              That afternoon we went to the National Archives. My group took the walking tour first, through many sections the public never sees. Their stacks are narrow and dark and well hidden, and the building is honeycombed with levels. Originally they’d planned to build an atrium under the dome, but discovered they needed the space for documents. Of course we also visited the Constitution and the Magna Carta in the main public area. The lecture covered some school packets of primary source material the Archives has gathered. They have one on Jacksonian America, and are just working on a Women’s History packet. The speaker discussed the power of petitions before women could vote.

              That was alas the end of the conference for me, but I had a truly wonderful time!

Back to 2023. After having moved home to the west coast almost twenty years ago, I wasn’t able to attend as many AISL conferences as I used to, but each has still been a wonderful experience. Thanks to all those organizers who pour their heart and souls and time into creating those experiences.

Connecting Outside Interests With Your Job

The other day, I was thinking about how librarians find ways to connect their outside interests and talents with their work, such as how I incorporate my love of writing into my career. Here are many of the ways I do that, and I would love to hear how others connect their interests and talents to their jobs!


I review almost everything I read in GoodReads, both for my own use—remembering what I read—and for school use. I often add my GoodReads summaries to catalog records as a “general” note to offer more information about the book, and may also use those summaries in booktalks. As I usually summarize every story in short story books I read, I find those helpful when searching for a short story about something specific, either for a teacher or for an AISL query. The tags and stars I add to reviews also help when I’m looking for books to recommend or add to a to-buy list.

In addition, I write professional reviews for a couple of library magazines, which requires more meticulous work than a GoodReads review. It also gets me reading and thinking about books I might not have otherwise encountered, and helps me hone my ability to write concisely. And it’s always nice to open a magazine and see your own name there!

While I’m not sure if blurbs count as reviews, I write those as well, for our new middle school fiction. We paste them onto bookmarks that go into books on display, hoping to interest students in the books. My colleague also writes blurbs, and she captures the key, intriguing points of a book more concisely than I, I must admit.


For eighteen years at my current school (and five years at my previous school) I ran the middle school literary magazine. While I’ve given it up due to lack of student interest and lack of time, I always enjoyed reading student writing and finding unexpected literary gems.

I also run a “Writing Time” club for students who like to write, but can’t find a moment in their packed schedules. While some students occasionally share writing and ask for feedback, for the most part, we just write.

For ten years, a colleague and I ran a picture-book writing project for our school’s Project Week, and I’m considering reviving it this year. It’s based on the book Written & Illustrated by, by David Melton, and I always love helping students craft their stories and create their books. I also participated with the same colleague in a poetry-writing Project Week project, and learned how to write sestinas and ballads along with the kids. I wrote a ballad about a pony-riding mishap when I was a kid; the ballad was more fun than the incident, and kids always appreciate the chance to laugh at teacher mishaps!

I run multiple contests each year, as I wrote about in two AISL blog posts (Contests Part One, Contests Part Two), and many of those involve writing. It’s fun to think up things that require some creative writing and thinking, but in a one to three sentence form. While most entries are not winner-level, many always impress me.

I recently read a KQ article about a “Reading Quest” that motivated me to create my own version. The authors mentioned that students loved poking around in the quests to find the cute drawings the authors had done. Since drawing is not my strong suit, I peppered my quest with characters saying ridiculous things, instead. I tried this out with our 6th grade, and it went pretty well—though I don’t know if the jokes helped!

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed writing silly skits to introduce various contests, activities, and so forth. While I still do that, where I mostly flex my skit-writing skills these days is in scripts for videos my colleagues, students, and I put together to advertise my library’s eBooks. Writing about those videos was part of my first AISL blog post this year, and the skits are always such fun to write and film!


For many years, I wrote articles on books and other library matters for VOYA magazine, which unfortunately appears defunct. That is one reason I’m happy to be able to write for the AISL blog!

For the retirements of two recent colleagues, I chose “patter” songs (such as the Major General song from The Pirates of Penzance) and wrote lyrics about my colleagues. I asked the choir teacher to perform them at the faculty end-of-year party, and she did a wonderful job. I had such fun writing these, and was especially proud that I managed to use the word “defenestrate” in one of the songs!

Though I quickly learned that the traditional publishing world is too rejection-heavy for me, I continue to write novels, both fanfiction and original. I’ve self-published a couple through Amazon so I could have a printed book to my name, and as they were YA titles, I donated copies to my school library. (Shameless self-promotion: Summergreen, and Tales From Camp Brightlake.)

Your Turn

How do you bring your hobbies, interests, and passions to your job?

Selecting and Familiarizing Ourselves with Books

Thanks so much to the 100+ people who filled out my survey about selecting and familiarizing yourself with books! Here’s the breakdown of respondents by grade levels, so you can see that most serve grades 9-12, followed by grades 5-8, followed by K-4. The “other” responses included Pre-K students.

Selecting Books

By Reviews

For selecting books by reviews, respondents most often use:

  • Print magazines
  • Sites that curate multiple professional reviews
  • Book-related websites
  • Online versions of print sources
  • Professional blogs.

Least used:

  • Online video reviews
  • Databases

Responses in the “other” category included:

Other Ways to Select Overall

In other ways to select books, almost everyone buys:

  • Books recommended by students or faculty
  • Books from popular series or books written by popular authors

Least used other sources include:

  • Sales reps
  • Bookfairs

In the “other” category, sources mentioned include:

Top Two Selection Sources

When it comes to respondents’ “top two” sources for selecting books, we are a diverse bunch! I parsed the responses, and the most frequent responses included:

  • Print magazines or other review sources/sites (cumulative or not)
  • Student or other patron requests

Top print sources mentioned, by frequency, are:

Top cumulative review sites were:

See the end of this post for a full list of specific sources mentioned.

Familiarizing Ourselves With Books

Familiarization Methods Overall

When it comes to familiarizing ourselves with books, top methods included:

  • Using new books in displays
  • Reading book jackets and back-of-book summaries
  • Skimming new books
  • Reading new books

Least popular included:

  • Reading reviews on social media/ blogs/ YouTube/ etc.
  • Reading social media posts

Answers in the “other” category included:

  • “We get 30+ books on a biweekly basis so that simply isn’t possible!”
  • “Read the ones that don’t seem like they’d be popular so I can \”sell\” them!”
  • Give books to students and request feedback
  • “Read specific ones with an eye toward adding them to the HAISLN list.”

Top Two Familiarization Methods

The most popular methods for familiarizing ourselves with books include:

  • Reading
  • Skimming
  • Reading book jackets
  • Reading summaries

Interesting answers given by one person each included:

  • Watching author videos
  • Reading ARCs
  • Social media
  • Ingram Advance
  • Checking trigger warning sites

Selected comments:

  • “An interesting follow-up survey could be about people’s feelings on paying for acquisitions services. Ingram is coming out with a paid service that will supposedly select books for your school.”
  • “I familiarize myself with books as part of the evaluation process.”
  • “I’m a slow reader so skimming is as good as it gets unless I think the book will be popular or if it’s a book we’re choosing for book club.”
  • “I just look at the covers. 🙂 I know what I’m ordering and know what to expect when those boxes arrive; I read summaries as I order and listen to from webinars; I have lists ready of who requested what and I set aside those titles I know I should read for readers’ advisory.”
  • “I read a lot! And I skim the ones I don’t fully read. I handle every book I purchase.”
  • “I catalog all of our new books; Follett’s cataloging often leaves much to be desired, so I usually do a little digging with each book to create a good record. I also do weekly book talks during our all upper school gathering where I promote new books in the library and our new books libguide weekly.”
  • “I use the 10-minute read technique. Secondly, I enhance the resource records when processing, during which I read the entire cover information and perhaps the first few pages.”
  • “When I order them I familiarize myself with what they are about. I read some, but there is no way to read them all!!”
  • “I use Titlewave, especially Kirkus Review that usually includes information such as “characters cue white” or “protagonist is Southeast Asian.” I also like that it has multiple reviews that include age ranges. Reading the books is also helpful although I’m a slow reader and there are many books! I tend to let the popular books sell themselves and read or read excerpts of the books that might not be as popular but that I know will be good.”
  • “Read the book. If I like it, I read the entire book. Otherwise, I stop when I know enough to book talk it to students.”
  • “Sadly I do very little of this, other then trying to match the titles with the content I saw when reading the reviews.”

Resources Mentioned

These are resources mentioned in the survey, as well as resources from an earlier query by Sarah Davis of Viewpoint School (CA), who compiled this list.

Awards/Best-Of ListsYALSA Awards
Pulitzer Prize for Literature
 National Book Awards
 Carnegie Awards
 New York Times Best Seller Lists
 Capitol Choices
Book WebsitesRead Aloud Revival
Redeemed Reader
Book Riot
 Read Brightly
 Fiction DB Book Release Calendar
 The Graphic Library
 We Need Diverse Books
 Epic Reads
 YALSA Teen Book Finder
 Shelf Awareness
 Indie Next
 Reading Middle Grade
BooksellersBarnes & Noble
Local Independents (Indie Bookstore Finder)
Titlewave (Follett)
Crowd-Sourced ReviewsTikTok/BookTok
Crowd-Sourced Reviews/SummariesGoodReads
Cumulative Prof/Non-Prof ReviewsAmazon
Cumulative Professional ReviewsIngram
 Titlewave (Follett)
Magazines for ReadersThe New Yorker
 Bookmarks Magazine
 New York Review of Books
Professional Reviews/SummariesHorn Book
 Kirkus Reviews
 School Library Journal
 Bulletin from the Center for Children’s Books (BCCB)
 Library Journal
 New York Times Book Review
 Book Pulse (Library Journal)
 Publisher’s Weekly (PW)
 Choice Magazine/Choice Reviews (ACRL)
Publisher NewsletterLibraryAware
Recommended Reading ListsHAISLN Recommended Reading Lists
 Bank Street College of Education Summer Reading Lists
 ALSC Summer Reading Lists
 YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens
Review/Read-Alike DatabasesNovelist
Social MediaInstagram
WebinarsSchool Library Journal
Book Riot