Monday, December 10, 2012

Make the Time

One of the biggest arguments for integrating technology into the educational lives of children - and it is a very salient and solid argument - is to provide students with the opportunities to not just consume  media, but create it. We want them using their creativity and their talents to make new content. To be contributors. To be engagers.

Reflecting on aspects of my professional life in this very public forum allows me to grow. I didn't realize that anyone else was actually reading until I was utterly honored and shocked, in late November, to get an informal EduBlog nomination, in the "New Blog" category from The Daring Librarian herself. I thought there must have been a typo. In all honesty, Gwyneth Jones was an early and vocal supporter of my blog. She is truly one of the field's Rock Stars, so it was a boost, and a a rather big one, to my morale to get this nod from her. Not only did Gwyneth re-engage me by that nomination, she may not realize it but she's forcing me to pick up the pen again and start writing. Thank you so much, Gwyneth.  Time to stop watching the river flow by and get on out there and ride the waves.

The Professional Learning Network (or #PLN for all you Twitter-ites, myself included) I've developed during the last year and a half has been foundational to me. And I don't say that lightly. From brick & mortar colleagues here at The Moretown School to educators and teacher librarians across the country, from authors and illustrators, to book lovers and critics, my PLN is growing and growing and has become an integral network that supports the work that I do, right here in my beautiful, albeit rainy and raw at the moment, Mad River Valley. All this time keyboarding away, all this screen time consuming your tweets, blog posts, and chats hasn't been for nought. Oh no. It's all swirling around inside me. All of this consumption is helping me formulate my own thoughts on matters, and giving me connections to the books that matter and the pedagogies that help students shine. If all I ever do is reflect a little bit more, share back a little bit more in depth, and contribute to my professional field by enriching another's practice or perceptions, then this blog will be worth it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

One for the Murphy's

One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes you don't know what you want because you don't know it exists.

Even though I'm a children's librarian doesn't mean that I love all children's literature unequivocally. Perhaps because I continue to have a strong yen to read adult literature and have read enough children's literature to know that it is not all compelling and engaging, I find myself rather picky in my reading. After all, there is only so much time and so, so many books. If a book fails to capture my attention in the first few chapters, I'm still obliged to slog through to the finish, if only to know how it all ends but also so that I can have a sharper sense of which children I know might be able to appreciate it. Fully aware that we all have our tastes for different flavors of novels, I've been at this job long enough to know that while not every book happens to be my cup of tea, I can usually at least appreciate the author's intent and help it find its way into the right hands.

The difference with One for the Murphy's by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is that she's written a real keeper of a novel, one that I tried to savor as much as possible, until I could no longer pace myself and finished the last 7 or 8 chapters in a mad rush to find out how she was going to have this amazing story end. My favorite genre is contemporary fiction, so my caveat for this review is that my appreciation of realistic fiction knows no bounds. Hunt crafts a story that will draw in almost any reader who picks it up, but will especially appeal to those readers, who like me, crave well-written realistic fiction that takes its readers seriously. By that I mean, please spare us the tidy endings, the happy-ever-after endings, implausible events and superficial details. We want meatiness. We want a box of tissues next to us. Yet we don't want sentimentalism, sappiness, nor silliness. We want characters we can root for, characters we struggle to identify with, and characters we can emphasize with. Hunt chose only the finest ingredients from this mandate and turned out a story about foster care, identity, love, and acceptance that will have you - and your students - talking long after the ending.

Indeed, be someone's hero. If Carley Connors can find her way, then so can we.

If using as a class read-aloud, have The Giving Tree on hand, some Elvis Presley, and a couple of extra Red Sox hats.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is never too late to be what you might have been. -- George Eliot

And so begins the bittersweet story of the great silverback gorilla, The One and Only Ivan. Based on the true story of Ivan and his nearly three decades of captivity at a mall in Washington State, this story is an instant classic and one I would like to see in contention for the Newbery Medal.

This special story belongs in the same revered space as Charlotte's Web, weaving together a story of friendship and hope despite unsurmountable odds. Read it whether you are 88 or 8, read it with someone special, read it aloud, read it again. It will affect your heart and humble our human egoism. Though the text and appealing white space on the pages will draw in younger readers, I would be afraid that some pieces of the story would be disturbing for younger children to handle on their own. There are some stark and brutal images, and while I don't suggest shielding children from them, some will need to be shepherded through them. Many will need comforting. Most will be deeply affected. All will never forget Ivan and his friends.

For curriculum tie-ins, learn about the real Ivan, who lived out the rest of his years at Zoo Atlanta (died August 21, 2012. There is a lot out there on the Internet to engage budding researchers. Dive deeper into Silverback Gorillas. Learn more about zoos and the humane treatment of wild animals. I'm anxious to read Chained, by Lynne Kelly, which would make a perfect companion read in classrooms. Fittingly, it is the story of a baby elephant and a boy who have a friendship greater than any lock, chain, or shackle. For more, please see her webpage:

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review of Tracing Stars.

Tracing Stars

Tracing Stars by Erin E. MoultonMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

       Pa says when you're upset, you just have to look out at the ocean and breathe with the waves.  In and out.  In and out.

Erin Moulton's second novel is filled with pearls of wisdom, culinary morsels, self-improvement plans, and second chances all wrapped up in the heady promise of a summer vacation along the Maine coast.

Indie Lee Chickory, self-proclaimed fish freak, and her 1 in 30 million Golden Lobster Monty, are the central characters in Moulton's story.  This is just the kind of character - and just the kind of book - I imagine a Richard Louv (The Last Child in the Woods) would approve of.  Indie is a girl, just out of the 5th grade, who spends a lot of time outside and has the knowledge to back it up.  She's a spunky fish face making, star gazing, shooting star wishing kind of kid, though not immune to feelings of self-doubt and impulsiveness.  Her journey will interest her young readers.  Can she stay true to herself?  Do we deserve second-chances?  Are shooting stars just the stuff of science .... or magic?

This book is ripe with ideas for projects.  Have students learn about a constellation and make a good luck charm of it.  Research a superstition.  Start an observation journal.  Respond to a writing prompt: "What do you wish for?" (p.140)  Make a recipe book from foods featured in Tracing Stars: lobster bisque, lemon ginger tea, garlic ginger mussels, clam chowder, and more. 

Erin Moulton will be visiting the Mad River Valley on July 28th as part of the Valley Libraries Summer Reading Program.  She'll be at the Joslin Library in Waitsfield, VT on the 28th at 2:00.  She'll speak about her work, including her debut novel Flutter

For more about this promising new author, please visit her website -

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Monday, June 4, 2012

The River Changes Course

The Mad River Librarian blog is undergoing a transformation.  I'm re-purposing it from a student blogging site to a site for my professional development journey.  I owe all 4900 plus page views to my elementary students.  They've been intrepid bloggers from day one and game for just about any post I would throw at them.  I will continue to blog with them, just in a different place.  This site will now be my place to record my library successes and failures, my passion for reading and collaboration, and my reflections.  My practice has been completely transformed this year, literally, from the ground up.

(Notice the washed out bridge and silt covered fields)

In August of 2012, Tropical Storm Irene barreled up the Mad River Valley, churning up furious waters that flooded our village and school.  After a delay of the school year, my teaching staff decided to start our school year in tents, believing that coming together as our community of learners was in the best interest of our students and in the best interest of our families.  My own digital epiphany comes at the same time.  Safe up on the side of a mountain, I heard about the flooding of my village, my school, my valley, my state not from the radio or the television or CNN, but from Facebook and Twitter.  Social media continued to be important as Vermonters worked to muck out basements, salvage family albums, find temporary housing just as much as it connected willing and able volunteers with people and projects that desperately needed help.  Vermonters surely know how to "git er done", but I have to believe that social media  helped moved things along and aided in our recovery.

(Yours truly mucking out the basement of some of my students.)

Learning, growing, and sharing.  My relationship with the Web has changed so much this year and has transformed my practice almost completely.  After five years in the field, I find myself bursting at the seams after participating in a Twitter book chat or posting reviews of children's books in GoodReads. I'm following authors and library rock stars and sometimes, they follow me right back.  It's a mad, mad world and I'm thrilled to be along for the ride.

Connecting - however we do it, be it with a home-made meal for a neighbor in need, teaching under tents, or via the wonderful world of social media - it's what we're all about.  It is what matters.

"It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change." - Alice