The courtesy email

Today I’ll share a small gain we’ve made on a rather mundane topic: overdue notices, produced via Destiny.  For years, this has been our schedule:

7-14 days overdue > regular 1st overdue notice emailed

15-21 days overdue > regular 2nd overdue notice emailed

22+ days overdue  > report produced to me for follow-up individually (ie. I’m the heavy)

The 22+ day report produced was usually 3-4 pages long. Which means not only did we often have popular books being held hostage, but it took a good deal of time and energy to follow up.

Until the dawn of the courtesy email!

I’ve lost the thread of where I heard about this (please tell me if it was you so that I can send you flowers). It’s been a huge improvement.

Sending the following email to borrowers who have materials due in the following week has cut that long overdue report from 3-4 pages to less than one:

“Just a friendly reminder that your book (or books) are coming due soon. Please return by the due date or contact us if you wish a renewal. Thank you.”

Students and staff are renewing and/or returning in greater numbers and people have expressed appreciation to us for giving them a heads up – customer service for the win! It’s also opened up more conversation with readers who take a bit more time to read, which is making me wonder if, rather than having a set borrowing period, we should start asking borrowers how much time they’d like (within reason).

Is anyone out there trying user-driven due dates?

Goal: Create a Student Centric Library Learning Space

My first goal upon becoming the Upper School Librarian at Randolph was to find balance between my vision of an Upper School Library and what students wanted from “their” space. This was (is) harder than it sounds. I admit to you that I am somewhat old-fashioned in my views of the school library. I was degreed prior to the concept of the “Learning Commons”, and I have worked in a variety of library settings (public, academic and school) so I have seen many ways libraries meet the needs of their constituents. Still, I prefer a school library on the quieter side. I view the library as an extension of the classroom – an academic space subject to the same guidelines one might place in the classroom. This view is furthered by the constraints that my particular library space operates under. It is basically one large room with a classroom attached.

But I am not the person that library is meant to serve. The space must serve our students and I must serve effectively within those expectations. And, of course, the administration must be A-OK with all of this.

After banging my head against the wall for about six months trying to force my ideas on recalcitrant students, I got the bright idea of surveying them. Some of you out there helped me with my survey. I enlisted the assistance of several teachers to administer the online survey which asked students what they liked about the library and what they didn’t like. I asked what was missing. What worked, what didn’t. I asked about furniture, study space, white boards, databases, magazines, e-books, library policies, noise levels, and hours of operation.

Then I held several focus groups. That sounds fancy, but it wasn’t. I pulled in students who were sitting around the library during breaks and free periods and I quizzed them about the library and the survey’s findings.

I learned so much. What emerged was a plan for how the space could fit the student’s needs and allow me to operate comfortably and effectively.

The results:

  • A comfortable space

Although we have comfortable seating, the table locations and shelving wasn’t conducive to small groups and “lounging”. I removed two ranges of shelving and rearranged tables – mixing soft furniture with more traditional wood furniture. The school doesn’t have a student lounge, so the library often serves as that.

  • Individual study spaces

Students wanted more study carrels and hidden nooks and crannies in which to withdraw. We added a few more study carrels and I placed chairs in corners and odd crooks in the walls. Those spots are the first to fill up.

  • Coffee

I don’t allow food in the library. I just don’t want to open that can of worms. My compromise to the students was the addition of a Keurig machine that they can use. Or they can give me money and I will make them a cup of coffee from my stash.

  • White noise machines/Silent Study Room/Library headphones

Because I do enforce a reasonably quiet library, I purchased three white noise machines which dampen conversations a bit producing a more muted library buzz. This allowed conversation to continue in the library without echoing off the walls or high ceilings. The Library Classroom is always silent for those who really need quiet. I purchased headphones to loan students who want to listen to music but forgot their own earbuds, or who need to cut out all noise but their own.

  • Art work

The Library is very beige. There is not a lot of color. The addition of student produced art changed that and the students love seeing their works on display.

  • Trashcans

Apparently, there were not enough trashcans in the library. I often complained that I was always picking up after the students – so they convinced me to add two trash cans and I was amazed at how much cleaner things were at the end of the day. So simple.

  • Collection Development

In terms of library materials, students wanted more books in world languages, were not interested in e-books, and loved using ABC CLIO (which I was considering swapping for another). They also had great suggestions for Summer Reading.

  • A Sign

I hate signs. The rebel in me doesn’t like to be told what to do. But the input I received was that my expectations were not clear. So, I made a simple sign that expresses my vision and expectations of the Library as an academic space.

The absolute best thing to come out of the survey and the group conversations was that students realized that I was listening to them.

We now have a group called the Library Leadership Council made up of students from grades 9-12. They suggest book purchases, assist greatly with Summer Reading book selection, put up book reviews, and offer policy suggestions. We meet 4-5 times a year.

Finding the right balance between how I want the library to be, how students want the library to be and what the library really is will always be a challenge. I’m lucky to have a supportive administration who allow me to make the changes. Somedays it is a zoo in here. But most days I’m pretty happy with the results of this student/librarian mashup space.

SEL and You

When you’ve been around education for any length of time, you become aware that even the education field is not immune from trends. Instead of hemlines or lapel sizes, ours tend to focus on subject matter or techniques.  Project Learning anyone? STEM? STEAM? Who remembers when we used to teach civics? Guess what-we’re teaching it again. Phonics or whole reading is now phonics AND whole reading despite the factions that fight on. Let’s just hope that open classrooms don’t come back, or did they already in the concept of the learning commons? Lately, social-emotional learning (SEL) seems to be making the rounds. Social-emotional learning as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning as the “process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Whether we look at it as ‘one more thing to do’ or a tool for classroom management, the fact is that school librarians have been teaching SEL since we’ve had librarians in school!

The history of children’s literature abounds in examples of social and emotional learning.  When a culture tells a story, the teaching stick in the collective memories. Fairy tales and Bible stories (unedited) may be a bit much for younger audiences nowadays, but even their tamer renditions can help children see how decisions create consequences without having to take action themselves. We all know that talking to strangers and tarrying in the woods may result in bad things happening! Stories help us learn about how the we fit in the world and how the world fits in ourselves.

Let’s take a look at our collections. The stories found in non-fiction abounds through memoirs, biographies and scientific texts (on many reading levels) to help build students’ knowledge about managing emotions, making good decisions and how to create nourishing relationships.   Fiction has long been recognized as a way to develop empathy, even with populations or creatures that we may never meet in person. When we and our students read a well-written story, we automatically put a piece of ourselves in the shoes of the other. While there are limitations (I’ll never be a wizard no matter how much I wish it!), I can see what it’s like when nobody wants to believe what I’m saying as well as realizing that there are times when we misjudge the actions of those close to us.

While longer texts can be used in SEL, the picture book has long been a librarian’s tool of choice in expanding a child’s social-emotional learning. As librarians, we often choose picture books to read to our students that reflect issues and ideas that are happening in their classroom and the world at large. If the school is emphasizing a specific character trait, we often use those books that reinforce that characteristic. As experts in children’s literature, our curation of books can help weed out those clunkers that contain obvious preaching. Children aren’t fooled by sanctimony and sermons. Stories that may not have an obvious right or wrong answer can be used as discussion openers, allowing for thoughtful classroom learning.

Below are some of the newest titles and a link to my pinterest board on SEL books that you might want to check out for your library.  Once you start looking at some of your picture books through the lens of social emotional learning, you may want to create notes or a small database to help you find the right book for the right situation.


Julian is a Mermaid – Jessica Love. Julian is awed by three ‘mermaids’ on their way to the a seaside pageant. His desire to be like them results in using his Abela’s curtains and makeup to become just like them! This book shows us there is more than one way to be a little boy, especially when affirmed by those that are important in their lives.

Me and My Fear – Francesca Sanna. At first, fear is a small fluffy friend that helps keep her safe. However, over time fear grows until it starts controlling what she can and can’t do. It is only once she finds that everyone has fears that she is able to learn to control her own.

The Funeral – Matt James. An arty but realistic book on what the funeral experience might be like for young children.  Even though she knows she should be sad, she can’t help but be delighted to be playing with her cousin or not going to school that day. Questions abound about the service and body but answers are left very open ended.

Tiger vs. Nightmare – Emily Tetri. Tiger never had to worry about nightmares because her monster friend used to keep them away.  One day a nightmare arrives that scares the monster! It’s only after they problem solve that the two are able to come up with a solution that defeats the nightmare and allows them both to get a good night’s sleep.

If I Had a Horse – Gianna Marino. Through simple language, watercolor and pencil, Marino uses the relationship between a horse and a young child to show that learning about and understanding others allows one to grow strong and brave.

I Walk with Vanessa: a Story about a Simple Act of Kindness – Kerascoet. A wordless book that shows that bullying affects even those who witness the act. When a young girl sees the new girl get bullied, she is upset until she finds that she can act on the problem.

Captain Starfish – Davina Bell. Alfie gets anxious sometimes, even about things he wants to do – like participate in a parade. With strong parental support, Alfie realizes his spirit animal may be more like a clown fish who comes out of hiding now and then.

Link to my Pinterest board to lists containing books on social emotional themes

Works Cited:

CASEL. “What Is SEL?” CASEL, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional
Learning, Accessed 8 Feb. 2019.


Hello from Pittsburgh!

Hello, fellow AISLers!  My name is Lindsey Myers, and I am excited to begin blogging for AISL.  After attending the conference for the first time last April and learning from and collaborating with other amazing independent school librarians, I knew that I wanted to become more involved in the organization. My first post will be an introduction, and include upcoming ideas and projects that I will be sharing in the next few months.

I spent my first four years as a public school librarian in a medium-sized (about 1500 students) suburban high school. While I enjoyed the work and my coworkers, I was intrigued when the opportunity arose to apply at a local independent coed boarding and day school, Shady Side Academy Senior School. Shady Side offered the opportunity to explore a different educational setting, and challenge myself in various ways. I began my career here in the fall of 2015.

Shady Side is a wonderful place to work. Not only do I have amazingly talented colleagues who are open to collaborating with the library, but I also find myself with more time to talk with and assist students on a one-on-one basis. Our library collaborates closely with different departments to develop research skills, promote independent reading, and generally offer a welcoming and supportive environment to all members of our community.

One goal when writing this blog is to spend more time reflecting on the various projects I have completed, and discover ways to improve for the future. I welcome your constructive feedback, and look forward to learning from all of you!

Upcoming Posts*:

  • Book Tasting- not just for kids!
  • Adventures in Book Club
  • Collaborating with your local public library
  • Digital Citizenship PSAs

*Full disclosure: I am pregnant and due in late March, so some of my posts will be from projects earlier in the year. These are yearly projects, so again,  I welcome your feedback!

A second goal is to share and receive more book recommendations. Falling into a new story is absolutely what keeps me going when times get stressed/busy/etc. Some of my posts will highlight some of the best books I have read recently (and, if I have strong negative feelings about a title, possibly those as well!). I just finished The Library Book by Susan Orlean, and I have to admit that I was captivated from page 1. She begins the story describing trips to the library with her mother, which brought me back to my own childhood. I cannot wait to repeat this ritual with my own child. And, I want to plan a trip to see the beautiful Central branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Last year, my husband and I made a trip to Cleveland, OH to see the downtown Heinen’s grocery store after reading Grocery: the buying and selling of food in America by Mark Ruhlman. This title will make your weekly (daily?) trips to the grocery store much more enlightening. I am trying to convince my husband that we should make a yearly event of visiting places we read about in books! Since we have friends that just moved to LA, that trip might be an easy sell for this coming summer…

Have you read anything amazing lately? Please share in the comments! I look forward to learning from, and collaborating with you, in the posts to come.

Trust/Don’t Trust/Proceed with Caution

The only thing I’ve ever felt certain of when teaching source evaluation to students was that no matter what I did I was missing a lot of the nuance involved in evaluating sources. I tried myriad different checklist and every acronym I could find to help students get better at evaluating their sources, but nothing ever felt quite right. I also realized that the strategies I was showing to my students were not strategies I used myself. If I didn’t evaluate information this way, why was I expecting that it would work for students?

A few years ago a friend pointed me in the direction of Sam Wineburg’s work at Stanford, and a lightbulb went off for me. Of course none of the checklists and acronyms felt quite right–they weren’t how expert evaluators evaluated information. Checklists also tended to keep students inside the source to judge its reliability, whereas fact-checkers would go outside the source to evaluate it. I started thinking about how I could teach my students to act like fact-checkers when evaluating an unfamiliar source.

I also wanted to help students approach sources with nuance: sources rarely fit neatly into “good” or “bad” categories–and even if they did, those categories ignore the complexities of a student’s question and research need. A source can be completely factual and not helpful to a student’s research need, and a biased source can help a student understand another perspective on an issue.

I still haven’t found the “just right” way to approach this process (I’ll be sure to keep you posted if I do), but I did recently have a chance to work with a couple classes of seniors that were doing current events work. Their teachers wanted them to get better at evaluating news sources, and especially to have the skills to avoid “fake news”. Inspired by the Source Deck activity developed by librarians at the University of Virginia I came up with a game I call Trust/Don’t Trust/Proceed with Caution.

I started the class by asking students about the process of applying to colleges and jobs and having to ask for references and recommendations. Why do we ask for recommendations? Can’t you just take someone’s word for it when they say they’re hard-working and creative? Or do you want to know what other people see in them as well? That real-world connection clicked for them, and from there we moved into talking about how to “check the references” of the information we find online.

We did a sample site together, first looking at the site’s About Us page, and then doing a search to find out more about what other people and organizations have to say about a site (we did this with [url -site:url] search, which eliminates the site itself from searches, but does show who links to the site). I talked them through how I look at search results to get the lay of the land, and then clicked through to a few sites to show them how I interpret what I find there. Most searches would come up with a Wikipedia article, so I pointed out to them how I interpret the Contents List to help with my evaluation (i.e. if there’s a section labeled “Controversies”, that’s probably where I’m going to start). I also showed them how I’d research any expert or organization quoted in an article.

After that I gave students cards with screenshots of the title, URL, and first paragraph of several news stories from sources across the political and accuracy spectrum. They then worked in groups of three to determine if this was a source they should trust, not trust, or approach with caution. We had them work in groups so they could talk through what they were finding with one another. Groups had 1-2 minutes (time got shorter as we went on and students got more confident in the process) to make their determination, and then each group had to hold up either a Trust, Don’t Trust, or Proceed with Caution sign, and explain why they had chosen it.

The “Proceed with Caution” responses (which I had weighted the deck with) led to really rich discussions about what it means to “proceed with caution” when reading a source. We don’t just want to throw up our hands and say “nothing can be trusted”–we want to approach all sources with our eyes open, but it’s also important to differentiate between “this source has a history of inaccuracy” and “this source has a bias in favor of particular positions or group.” Students were also able to distinguish between “an author who wrote for this source has a reputation for inaccuracy” versus “this source as a whole can’t be trusted.” Students also raised the question of whether or not we can trust Wikipedia, which led to a conversation about what to pay attention to when reading a Wikipedia article, and how to follow the sources they cite.

I was really impressed with the reasoning students used when deciding how to approach these unfamiliar sources, and having these conversations helped students understand how complex this process can be. I’m looking forward to expanding this lesson to be used with other types of questions and sources.

“Teaming Up” with Athletics!

Here’s a story about how it pays to be “game” for just about anything when it comes to faculty collaboration. If your school is like mine, it is easiest and most obvious to forge collaborations with the History/Social Studies, English, and Science departments. It is valuable, important, satisfying, time consuming, and sometimes challenging enough to make those relationships work effectively and consistently. So, when we get an opportunity to make a library connection with a new department or office — yay, bonus!

Our school started a new initiative this year to promote and highlight girls’ sports. Called PerkGSports, athletes and coaches use social media, morning announcements, and other school communications to celebrate our female athletes. It’s been a source of positivity and community building on campus this year, that I have happily followed and “liked” through the library’s social media accounts. So, I was thrilled when the faculty member who leads this initiative called me to see if we could organize a book discussion to help celebrate National Girls & Women in Sports Day!

I started by gathering any title I could find on our shelves that might fit the bill; fiction or nonfiction, middle grades or YA.

We decided it would be a good idea to let the interested students choose, so I created a Google form and sent it to the other faculty member to distribute.

With Girls Can’t Hit by T.S. Easton as the favorite by one vote, we decided to offer the choice of either that novel or Let Me Play: the Story of Title IX, the Law that Changed the Future of Girls in America by Karen Blumenthal to broaden appeal and participation.

A student announced the books at Morning Meeting on February 6, as part of their larger presentation about NGWSD. I purchased a couple more copies of both titles. Following the so-far-so-good-model of our Windows & Mirrors book club meetings, we’ll offer food during both lunch periods along with casual book discussion. (Note to self – should we meet in the Athletic Center instead of the library?) I can’t wait to hear what conversation comes out of these selections, and how attendance and participation may vary from our other book discussions.

So far it’s a “W” for the library, girls’ sports, and collaboration!

Rethinking Historical Fiction

The power of storytelling…it dramatizes, delights, and immerses us in an experience so that we can step back into the world, ready to face challenges with a little more confidence and understanding.  

At AOS, seventh and eighth grade students participate in the “History as Story” writing workshop with visiting authors who are experts in the power of storytelling.  The goal of the writing workshop is to connect students with themes of history as the students themselves craft a small work of historical fiction. The historical fiction piece engages students more deeply with topics they have been researching, topics that will be developed later in a more formal research essay.  

This year the “History as Story” writing workshop was led by poet and author Allan Wolf, who paints a picture of history through various viewpoints in books-in-verse, such as New Found Land (Lewis and Clark expedition) and The Watch that Ends the Night (sinking of the Titanic). Allan Wolf suggested that students develop their historical fiction piece by using CAST: Characters, Action, Setting, and Truth.

The following sample pieces show how students used CAST to connect with a Truth about their historical topics and re-imagined a moment in history.

American Reformers: “Be the Change”
Seventh graders researched American reformers of the late 1700s-1800s in a “Be the Change” research project.  The opening paragraph of the research paper is a historical vignette that immerses the reader in a dramatic moment of their American reformer.

One student, Ella Piper, envisioned how Mother Ann Lee, leader of the Shaker church in New York, made the treacherous sea voyage from England to New York. Her characters are the zealous Ann Lee and an exasperated ship captain. The action is a dangerous storm at sea, and the setting is the ship’s deck, where Ann Lee is dancing to seek God’s intervention while the Captain and shipmates are furiously battling a sinking ship.  Below is an excerpt:

It was the middle of the night. A yellow moon and its pale, waxy light slowly disappeared under ominous storm clouds, and the skies opened up. The ship was low in rations, and the bodies of the passengers, frail from malnutrition, hardly caused a tip in the hardy vessel, the Mariah, as they began worship. It didn’t bother Ann. Her light hair grew steadily darker in the rain, and, as on all nights, she began to spin. Uncontrolled, sporadic movements overtook her body, mimicking the crashing of the tumultuous sea. “Praise God,” she whispered, and the ship erupted in a soulful, oscillating waltz.

And the rain persisted. The rain came down and the captain came up to handle it and through it all she continued to dance. After all, they were alive and God was with them and that trumped a squall any day. Even though they were ordered back to their rooms. Even though the wind whipped her hair and cut at her face.

“Below deck!” The captain screamed. “Or it’s overboard for the lot of ya!” His voice was hoarse from shouting at the crew. His patience with Ann and her followers, never in abundant supply, was rapidly wearing thin. “That shaking of yours will be put to a stop, whether its by my hand or God’s when we die in this bloody monsoon!” He jerked on the wheel.

The truth is revealed later in final words by Ann Lee as the storm dissipates:

Abruptly, the largest wave so far, one of Brobdingnagian proportions, drew close to the ship. Captain Nelson swore. Baker began to say his prayers. Ann danced. And, as if guided by the hand of God himself, the wave carried the board back into place. The Mariah began to rise.

Ann danced. She smiled. “It is my belief that a true act of God is finding peace in chaos, the eye of the hurricane. Wouldn’t you say so, Captain?”

It was the middle of the night. A yellow moon and its pale, waxy light shone through retreating storm clouds.

US Defining Moments
Eighth graders researched defining moments in US history and iconic persons who influenced those events. As part of their research, students located a primary source photo and used the Library of Congress Analysis Tool to examine how the photo revealed insights into their historical event or person. In the writing workshop, these photos were used to develop descriptive, narrative poems (ekphrastic poetry). Here is an example of how one student, Emma, used the CAST technique with her photograph to reveal insights about the Texas Western 1966 NCAA Championship.

Emma’s primary source photo depicts the Texas Western team posing with their trophy for the 1966 NCAA championship. (View photo in this El Paso newspaper article.) The characters for the poem are the basketball team, “blacks and whites stand side by side,” and the “small white coach (who) does his best to stay hidden.” Emma also created a fictional character, the photographer, as her point of view to describe this victorious moment. The action is the photographer setting up to take the photo, “As I steady my camera to take a legendary picture,” and the poem ends with the “flash” of the camera.  Though the setting is not described, a sense of place is suggested as the players stand shoulder to shoulder, a “colorful canvas” as “blacks and whites stand side by side.”  The truth, or moment of insight about this historical moment is revealed in several lines. The poem alludes to the Civil Rights struggle–“Challenges and the races/They had to win to make their statement”–as well as the unity of the team–the coach “treating each and all like an equal son” and the team “connected in more than just great pride.”  

Texas Western
3, 2, 1
Scattered smiles and serious faces
In the Miners I see the traces
Of all the challenges and the races
They had to win to make their statement.

The small, white coach does his best to stay hidden
He takes no credit for all they have done
Treating each and all like an equal son

As I steady my camera to take a legendary picture
I see the significance of this colorful canvas
Blacks and whites stand side by side
Connected in more than just great pride.

This poem by Emma prompts a final reflection about what is history.  Historians often stress the importance of examining the historical context and purpose of the primary source that is being evaluated: meaning is constructed.  Literally, what is the historical lens that the photographer of Emma’s poem uses to help viewers see this moment of victory in the Civil Rights struggle? Questions for future research might be the following:

“What were the challenges that the Texas Western team faced?”
“Were the team players really united?”
“What was the coach’s role in this struggle and did he avoid the limelight?”
“Did this championship win change attitudes of society?”

The “History as Story” writing workshop is an exciting opportunity for students to add their voice as they shape an understanding of history.  I encourage you to find a moment in history that fascinates you and, through the power of storytelling, look closely and think deeply about truths that have shaped our Nation.

The Politics of Laminating

Due to its proximity to the library, the laminating machine “belongs” to me. I have been forced to learn how to operate it. I am responsible for its care and maintenance. The same is true of the printer/photocopier and the microwave oven (both denizens of the library-adjacent workroom), and the two faculty restrooms in the library vestibule, although I have yet to plumb them. I have even been asked to refill coffee from the pot housed in the workroom. I don’t even drink coffee.

Faculty members seek me out when photocopy toner levels are low, or the machine is jammed. When the restroom is out of paper towel or soap I am alerted. When the microwave shorts out a plug, I am summoned. I think you get the picture. It can seem, at times, that my role as librarian has been expanded to include management of any object or area within a stone’s throw of the library.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. I’m terribly flattered. Apparently, those at my school think I can do anything. I am Superwoman! Unfortunately, it is also an indicator that colleagues aren’t sure what it is I do all day. I’m too polite to tell them. What to do?

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I have remedied this by taking on even more.

When I started my position four years ago, the job was somewhat undefined. My then title, Dean of Student Research and Library Resources, sounded oddly auspicious. I would teach research skills. I would manage my resources. Why the fancy title? Beyond the aforementioned tasks, my supervisors were vague about how my position should take shape. Guidance was in short supply. Not to worry. I’ve always been a firm believer that one should make the position they have, into the position they want to have.

If you find yourself in a similar position, here are a few ways I manipulated my circumstances to further define my role.

  1. Take opportunities to communicate on a grand scale.

When I started here I was shy. I assumed the faculty would not be interested in my collection development activities. Then I started sending out lists of recent acquisitions.  The response was immediate. I now send a weekly email titled “Featured Book Review – Get it at the Upper School Library” school wide. The reviewed titles only last a few minutes before someone races in to nab them or emails a request to send them through campus mail to our other campus. Obviously, circulation has increased.

I do the same for the students, featuring a YA title or relevant reference work for a project I know is going on.

On Wednesdays I send an email to faculty called “Wednesday’s Interesting Article of Random Content”. I scour History Today, JSTOR Daily, Science News and other resources for interesting articles, alternating disciplines by the week. I often get emails in response indicating the article was perfect for the lesson of the day.

  • I write blogs for our school web site.

Sometimes the blogs are about cross-curricular research projects. Sometimes they are about Summer Reading. Sometimes they are simply musing about books I’ve known and loved. All of them illustrate the integration of my role within that of the greater school community.

  • I offer Professional Development Classes/Documents

The beginning of every school year means several days of professional development classes offered by fellow faculty. I have offered an Introduction to Library Resources from time to time as a way of making sure the faculty realizes the wealth of resources we have. Some come from public school settings where libraries have been phased out. Some simply haven’t had the time to figure out how to use the library gateway or don’t know they can access it remotely. It’s always a fun session with everyone learning at least one new thing (including me).

I also create documents to send to new folks that delineates the same information.

  • I take on new duties that fit my wheelhouse and interests.

In the past two years I’ve added direction of our Upper School Interim Program and co-leadership of our Summer Internship Program to my duties. Why? Because I believe these programs further the concept of research through experiential learning. As a result, I asked for a change in my title. I am now the Dean of Student Research and Experiential Learning. This makes a whole lot more sense to me.

Which brings us back to the politics of laminating. Had it not been for those crazy requests to refill the restroom soap dispensers or replace colorful paper stock near the photocopier, I would never have spent so much time coming up with ways to integrate myself into everyone’s world (in more meaningful ways). I feel integral to my community and am much more satisfied with my lot. And yes, I still laminate.

Wordless Books in the Library


Wordless books can be a librarian’s secret weapon for having a raucous story time! Students vie to give their interpretations to what happened, what IS happening and what is about to happen. Amidst the controlled chaos, wondrous learning is occuring. Students are comprehending the story by inferring from the picture clues. Predictions of what comes next spout as each one defends their choice by citing evidence from the pages. The why’s and where’s spotlight their oral language skills. All from a book with pictures – and no words. Sounds like they have mastered some of the Common Core Standards for ELA, all while having fun with a story.

Image result for reading

Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, states that, “Wordless books are a wonderful introduction to books and plotting for children who can’t read yet. Since we become picture-literate before we become print-literate, they can “read” the book if someone helps blaze a trail through the narrative initially. After hearing the book and seeing how the clues for the narrative are all in the pictures/illustrations, the child can pretend to read, though in fact they are taking real steps in reading…” (qtd. In Levin).They can convey the plot line to younger students or siblings while they practice essential pre-reading skills. Students can experience success with a book, even when they do not have solid text reading skills.

Wordless books are not just for Kindergarten or Preschool students. Strong visual literacy skills not only help students learn to read text, but also ‘read’ other visual presentations of information in their lives. Pictures, video and infographics depend on their readers to have strong visual literacy in order to tell the full story (easter eggs anyone?). Wordless books can be used as opportunities to discuss current events and difficult issues. In Shaun Tan’s Arrival, one is drawn into the experience of being an immigrant, where everything is so different and strange when you arrive into a new country. How else could we experience that without being an immigrant ourselves except by going through it with the main character? The 48 pages in Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole would take more pages than that to unpack all that occurs. What should determine the right thing to do, my conscience or my culture? Why? By Nikolai Popov should be required reading for anyone who studies war or has their fingers near the button.

Photograph, George Fujii (on right)     Depending upon the time you have for library instruction, there are many ways to use wordless books. When using them for story time, it’s important that you ask the students questions, like ‘what is happening in this picture? What makes you think that? What do you think happens next?’ Unlike some other picture books, wordless books are works of collaboration between the illustrator, you and the readers. For station work or for group work, you might print several pages of a wordless book and have the student draw either what came before or what comes next after the series of pictures. Using comic strip graphic organizers, students can create their own ‘wordless book’ with guide words on top like ‘beginning, middle and end’. Some of the aforementioned wordless books with older students can be used as catalysts for discussions or writings about current events. Asking students to create alternative endings or using images to express their own opinions about subjects may make those students that aren’t as successful within the written realm to express themselves fully with images and pictures.
With so many upsides I’m sure you’ll be adding wordless books to your library routine soon. Following are short descriptions of some of my favorite (and the Caldecott committee as well!) wordless stories. Enjoy!

97860Tuesday, Flotsam, Section 7, Mr. Wuffles ,etc. – David Wiesner. With three Caldecotts and two honors to his name, Wiesner is the king of illustrators. I LOVE to use Tuesday with K-1’s because the humor and whimsy is side-splitting. After the spectacle of flying frogs on one Tuesday, when the students see the last page of the next flying animal, I always hear several go, Ohhhh, Noooo! And giggle. What is better than that? One could do an entire author/illustrator unit of several weeks just using his work.

773276Good Night, Gorilla – Peggy Rathman. I buy this board book for anyone in my acquaintance that is having a baby. The look on all of the animals faces when they are discovered in the bedroom will make any adult laugh out loud. Teamed with Rathman’s 10 Minutes to Bedtime, you have a themed story time that every child will relate with. If you use Peggy Rathman’s website’s in a station or with the group, your students will think you too are powered by hamsters!

6534132The Lion and the Mouse – Jerry Pinkney. This 2010 Caldecott winner can only be described as luscious. The story of how even the small can help the mighty resonates with young children. Don’t forget his equally incredible The Tortoise & the Hare.

9703979A Ball for Daisy – Chris Rascha. Students can relate to Daisy who is so happy with her favorite toy, a ball and is devastated when that ball is destroyed by another dog. Conversations about how to be a good friend and why it’s okay to be sad sometimes flow naturally from this story.

29102937A Wolf in the Snow – Matthew Cordell. Last year’s Caldecott Winner displays unlikely friends helping each other when they find themselves lost from their pack (or people). Notice how many of these wordless books are Caldecott winners or honor books? Hmmmm.

18475599The Farmer and the Clown – Marla Frazee. A little clown is separated from his clown family. A grumpy old farmer takes him in. Just as the two become firm friends, the clown family returns. For some reason, this one makes me tear up. Humans being beautiful to each other does that.

352295The Knight and the Dragon – Tomie dePaola (and his Pancakes for Breakfast)! The knight has a problem. The dragon has a problem. Who can help solve their problems? Well, let’s try the librarian princess. Yes, this one has some words (Pancakes does not). But together, they are a great little unit on how to solve problems – and one features a librarian. Seriously, it doesn’t get better than that!

For Older Students

13591670Unspoken – Henry Cole. A young girl discovers a runaway slave in her barn. What should she do? Her culture says one thing. What does her heart say? Especially useful for starting discussions about how to do what’s right when others (friends) may be pulling you to do what’s wrong.

36095343A Stone for Sascha – Aaron Becker. Another priceless work by Aaron Becker, author/illustrator of the wordless trilogy Journey, which also won a Caldecott Honor. This 2018 picture book tells the story of a young girl whose dog has died, and she has to experience her vacation without her for the first time. A stone which arrived from space and has seen dinosaurs and civilizations come and go gives her comfort. More suitable for older students.

37975169Vacation – Blexbolex. You are having a lovely holiday with your grandfather and then he brings back from the train station… an elephant? How would you react? How would anyone reasonable react to an elephant spoiling the fun.

920607The Arrival – Shaun Tan. A man’s country is overwhelmed by monsters. He must leave his family and everything he knows behind to try and make a new home for his family in a country where he can’t communicate and all is strange. Using fantastical creatures and symbols to convey the disorientation one experiences in a new place is genius.

151774Why? Nikolai Popov. A frog sits on a rock, enjoying the day and minding his own business. Suddenly, he is attacked by a mouse wielding an umbrella. Soon a minor scuffle becomes a all-out war. Why? Be prepared for discussions of big issues.

Kelly Depin is the Director of Libraries and Technology at Derby Academy in Hingham, MA. Derby Academy (Prek-8) was established in 1784 and is one of the oldest continuous co-educational institutions in the United States. 

Levin, Vanessa. “Jim Trelease: Wordless Picture Books.” Pre-K Pages, 20 Feb. 2018,

Image Credits
Creator:National Gallery of Art, Young Girl Reading painted by Jean Honore Fragonard c. 1769.
Credit:image courtesy National Gallery of Art
Photograph, Lady Bird Johnson Visiting a Project Head Start Classroom, March 19, 1966. Johnson White House Photographs from the National Archives, White House Photo Office Collection identifer #596401.

Collaborating on Caldecott

Whenever possible, I love to collaborate with colleagues, friends, students…the fun of more brains than one just sparks a deeper imagination. Our professional organization, AISL, is another source of excellent teaching and learning partners. While many of us share our expertise at conferences and via the listserv – have you considered co-teaching with a fellow AISL member?

When I met Debbie Cushing, Lower School Librarian at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, last year at the AISL Conference during Dinner with a Librarian, I knew there was a project between us waiting to hatch.

While browsing the shelves at Little Shop of Stories, we began talking about Mock Caldecott and Newbery lists. We lamented ‘so many books, so little time,’ and outlets we seek out for guidance on narrowing our selections.

With that, the spark ignited. On the spot, we decided this year we would do a Mock Caldecott Collaboration: Westminster Schools Smythe Gambrell Library X The Bolles School, Ponte Vedra Library.


We both have Mock Caldecott programs in place with the Second Grades at our respective schools. We both are committed to children learning about the deeper purpose art plays in picture books. We both desired a fresh update to our programs. BAM!

We exchanged information and got right to it.

In May of last year, we shared a Google doc to keep notes, start book lists and develop timelines. In August, we connected both by phone and via our Google doc to work through the expressions of our programs and the timing of various classes, events and, of course, holidays. We laughed and found common ground while inspiring each other to reach higher.

In late October, we began our unit and announced it to our classes. My students were so excited to be sharing this experience with other kids their age! In another state! Imagine!

Through November, December and January, we read 13 picture books, analyzed all the art, debated merits of Caldecott guidelines, worked in Mock Caldecott Committees to [briefly] experience what it’s like to sit at a table with peers and opinions and choose a “winner” among a collection of winners.

Debbie and I shared photos, emails, and reflections along the way. We offered stationary to students to write pen pal letters around their reading experiences and Caldecott experiences. At the time of voting, we shared the unique results of both schools and compared notes. On the Big Day [YMA announcements] in January, when HELLO LIGHTHOUSE won, our students were jubilant!

Mock Caldecott 2019 Voting Results

Westminster Schools Lower School Library

Gold Medal: HELLO LIGHTHOUSE, Sophie Blackall

Honor Book:  I AM A CAT, Galia Bernstein

Honor Book: DRAWN TOGETHER, Min Le (author) Dan Santat (illustrator)

Honor Book: OCEAN MEETS SKY, Terry Fan and Eric Fan

The Bolles School, Ponte Vedra Lower School Library

Gold Medal: I AM A CAT, Galia Bernstein

Honor Book: HELLO LIGHTHOUSE, Sophie Blackall

Honor Book: JULIAN IS A MERMAID, Jessica Love

Honor Book: IMAGINE, Raul Colon

Announcement Response!

Collaborating on Caldecott? You bet!
Developing curriculum? Starting a book club? Trying out a new website eval system? Reach out to fellow AISL colleagues as collaborators! Over the next few weeks, Debbie and I will debrief and make plans for next year. This experience offered a natural and enjoyable way to grow both professionally and personally. Let sparks fly!