First day of school/back to school picture books

If the first day of school were a person, it might wear the t-shirt that says “I’m kind of a big deal.” This fall, especially, the first day of school (or first day back to school) is a big deal, after most schools moved to remote education in mid-March 2020, and some stayed largely remote until spring 2021.

This list on the topic of attending school for the first time, or attending a new school, includes books that focus on common fears and worries (and provide reassurance, and sometimes humor). Many books also have themes of inclusivity and kindness. A few books on the list are not specifically about the first day of school, but are thematically relevant.

Why am I posting this in July, with the start of school over a month away? Because kids are people, and people are different. Some kids do better with a lot of preparation; others would rather skip the anticipation/worry and dive right in when the time comes. Public libraries are likely to have back-to-school displays, which may get picked over quickly. Request a handful of titles that look good to you now, and you won’t be scrambling the last week of August. (Or if nothing on this list appeals, ask your local library or bookstore staff for more recommendations!)

wedonteatourclassmatesOliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Owen by Kevin Henkes

Chu’s First Day of School by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex

Goose Goes to School by Laura Wall

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. HigginsCover image of School's First Day of School

Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

The Class by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee

So Big by Mike Wohnoutka

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-NewtonCover image of The Class

On the Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

A Small Kindness by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Wendy Leach

First Day of School by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell

Time for School (Tinyville Town) by Brian Biggs

Scarlet’s Tale by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Peter Jarvis

Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choismallkindness

Yoko by Rosemary Wells

Ways to Welcome by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Joey Chou

I Feel Teal by Lauren Rille, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro

Don’t Hug Doug by Carrie Finison, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

What are your favorite first day of school books?Cover image of Danbi Leads the School Parade

MSLA 2021, Part 2

If you missed the first half of this write-up about the Massachusetts School Library Association conference, it’s here (Part 1). Now, on to the excellent sessions from Monday, March 22.

Morning keynote

Cultivating Genius and Joy: Culturally and Historically Responsive Education for Equity, Excellence and Joy, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

Cover image Cultivating GeniusDr. Muhammad is the author of Cultivating Genius, and an amazing speaker with an inspiring message, a deep understanding of history, and the expert delivery of a slam poet (the live chat was full of librarians planning to buy her book or see if she was available to speak to their schools or other organizations). “STORIES MATTER,” she said (it sounded like it was in all caps), and she referenced the danger of a single story (see: “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk). In this case, the story she was referring to was one of “at-risk, confrontational, defiant, unmotivated, non-readers.” Instead, “We must not call readers struggling until we call systems struggling.”

Dr. Muhammad delivered a fast-paced history of Black educators in U.S. history, much of which has been forgotten or intentionally erased: “When you have an erasure of Black genius in education, we see it transfer over to our schools and our communities.” She referenced the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), which consistently produces data showing that children’s literature overwhelmingly is produced by white creators and features white characters. She asked, If our books are supposed to be windows to the world, how come only one kind of kid gets to see themselves as astronauts, superheroes, etc.? “It is a human agenda when some people’s stories matter more.”

Dr. Muhammad talked about multicultural education and social justice: “Our schools must have justice at the center….If the system does not help all, it helps no one.” And finally, she described and gave examples of the five lenses/pursuits she uses to examine a text or teach a lesson: Identity, Skills, Intellect, Criticality, and Joy. Most assessment – especially standardized testing – only focuses on skills, but that is only a piece of learning. Dr. Muhammad asked, “How will you make it impossible for students to fail?” (and, “Is it ethical to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing?”).

After the [Diversity] Audit, Liz Phipps-Soeiro

Phipps-Soeiro is an elementary school librarian in the Cambridge Public School system, as well as a consultant and a community organizer. She had an excellent, break-all-the-rules slide show that led with the statement, “I am learning and unlearning every day.” (The second piece of this is so important. Librarians often claim the identity of “lifelong learners,” but much of the new knowledge is really updating and improving on the old.)

Before beginning a diversity audit, a librarian should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What does “diverse” mean to me?
  • How am I using that word?
  • Am I still centering a dominant cultural narrative?
  • Am I only thinking about race?
  • How does my identity affect what I value and judge as “diverse”?
  • What might I consider? (race, region, power, urban/rural, gender, class, sexuality, religion, ability, chronic illness, neurodivergence, oppression/liberation, collectivism/individualism

A diversity audit is a good first step, but move beyond quantitative data. “Stories are our profession.” Look beyond the identity of the character and creator, while acknowledging that “no one book can do everything.” Books can uphold some stereotypes/tropes/myths and break others at the same time.

Engage in self-reflection, hone your critical lens, and beware of “tourist curriculum” (a superficial approach, often featuring holidays or food, then returning to the “regular” curriculum, which further centers a white identity). Be aware of which narratives are amplified or erased.

And involve your students! Give them the vocabulary they need, demonstrate that it is okay to ask questions. The librarian can engage and facilitate powerful book discussions with children (“Does this book support or challenge any stereotypes?”). Analyze books explicitly; kids bring that vocabulary and willingness to discuss out of the library and into classrooms and home.

During the Q&A, a high school librarian commented, “Audit for bias, not just diversity.”

Here is a tool for selecting diverse texts from Learning for Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance).

Beyond Books: Supporting English Learners in Your School Library, Emily Houston, Kendall Boninti, and Paige Graves

Houston, Boninti, and Graves all work at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (CRLS), and their presentation was about a concerted effort they’ve made to bring English Language Learners (ELL) into the library and make it a welcoming space for them. They’ve done that by focusing on the physical space, partnering with community-based nonprofit Enroot, and using a Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach.

  • Physical space: You want students to be able to “feel that joy” of navigating the space independently. Are there spaces to meet different needs (independent study vs collaboration vs socializing)? Are signs in multiple languages, are they color-coded, do they include images? CRLS has created an Inquiry Lab/Makerspace with lots of donated/upcycled materials for hands-on experimentation.
  • Student-centered space: Once you’ve identified an underserved group, how do you get them to come into the library? The CRLS Library partnered with Enroot to develop a monthly series: “Lunch & Learn: Building Community Through Playful Learning.”
  • Project-based learning: PBL is an equitable and authentic approach to teaching and learning; it connects students to issues that matter to them and gives them an opportunity to do something. Best practices for PBL: student-centered (voice and choice), authentic and complex problem/challenge (do not simplify, amplify), builds community (social aspect of language), tap into students’ fund of cultural knowledge, explicitly teach vocabulary, scaffolding, lots of visuals, hands-on, play and joy, reflection (include in every lesson with ELL), equitable assessment. All of this is good for ELL and good for every student! “To ignore important issues [in our country, the world] in school makes school irrelevant.”

Tips and Tools for Nonfiction Read-Alouds, Melissa Stewart

Melissa Stewart has written so many nonfiction books for kids. She is a rockstar! And her website has a ton of resources, including this whole section on nonfiction read-alouds. Stewart made the case that kids love read-alouds, and kids love nonfiction! The most recent data (1996) suggests that at least 40% of the books kids check out for pleasure reading are nonfiction; if that’s the case, shouldn’t read-alouds mirror that percentage? (She wants to do an updated study/survey of how much of kids’ pleasure reading is nonfiction; if you work in a library and want to help her out with that, get in touch!)

What are some of the barriers to reading nonfiction aloud?

  • Locating appropriate nonfiction titles
  • Reading aloud in a way that engages students
  • Encouraging and facilitating student responses to nonfiction read-alouds

Spoiler alert, it turns out that these “barriers” are easily overcome! To start, Stewart offers guidance on choosing appropriate nonfiction titles. And, each year, she writes a nonfiction roundup, so you can search her blog for “best nonfiction of” and get annual lists. As for making your reading engaging, “There’s no reason you have to read an entire book,” and sometimes with nonfiction it works better not to. If there’s primary and secondary text, you could just read the main text (especially for younger students); you could also just share one part, or a little bit at a time, rather than reading cover to cover in one sitting. Students will get excited and respond, especially if you’re enthusiastic about it.

Some teachers and librarians just need the nudge that “nonfiction read-alouds can tie in to curriculum, but can also be ‘just for fun.'” When I was doing storytimes for two- and three-year-olds, I admit I didn’t use many nonfiction picture books at all (exception: Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh), but the next time I get in front of a read-aloud crowd, I’m definitely going to include more nonfiction picture books.

Author Panel: M.T. Anderson, Heather Vogel Frederick, Janae Marks, Mitali Perkins

This was just so fun. I’ve read books by all of these authors (Feed, The Mother-Daughter Book Club, From the Desk of Zoe Washington, and Forward Me Back to You, respectively) and they all really seemed to enjoy talking about books and writing together. A few quotes:

  • You learn something from writing every book even if they don’t end up on shelves. (Marks)
  • You just never know what you’re going to discover. (Anderson, re: traveling and research)
  • “Stories written long ago are not all good or all bad but a mix of both.” The books you read early in your life are formative. Eras shaped people (and authors). (Perkins)
  • “So many of our books grow from our own lives.” (Frederick)

Whew! So, that was my first MSLA conference. And while I’m excited to meet all these librarians in person someday, the virtual conference experience was very smooth and enjoyable (and the coffee and meals were excellent. And I got to be in my sweatpants and slippers the whole time. There’s a silver lining to Zoom for sure). Thank you again to all of the presenters and conference committee, and thank you if you’re reading this!

MSLA 2021: What can we help you discover today?

Banner: School Librarians at the Crossroads: Be the Hero of Your Journey

This was my first year attending the Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA) annual conference. It was entirely virtual this year, and it was great! Between an app (Whova) and various platforms (zoom, YouTube), everything worked smoothly. I noticed that most attendees were chatting when live chat was enabled, but not many were tweeting, even though several are on Twitter. As usual, I took compulsive notes, which I’ve tried to consolidate here into useful takeaways. Thank you to the MSLA Conference Committee, who did amazing work, and to all of the presenters, keynote speakers, and panelists, who delivered inspiring and thought-provoking ideas.

Saturday, March 20

Jarrett Krosoczka, Awards Night Keynote

Cover image Hey KiddoKrosoczka is the Massachusetts-based author of the popular Lunch Lady series of early graphic novels, as well as the award-winning graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo. He talked about his long history of virtual author visits and book launches, and how his model has changed over the years as technology has changed. He asked himself, “I don’t want to be just a talking head, how can I make this more interesting?” When the pandemic arrived in March 2020, he began “Draw Every Day with JKK,” a popular series of drawing sessions. His home setup has improved with time; he noted that phone cameras are usually better quality than computer cameras, and if you mount one on a tripod, it doesn’t hurt to put googly eyes on it so you know where to look. Krosoczka closed with, “Students just want to be heard. They just want an adult to listen.”

Sunday, March 21

Books and Bytes Keynote: The School Librarian as Information Specialist, Jennisen Lucas (AASL president-elect)

When it comes to libraries – school or public – there is a huge equity issue. Generally, affluent towns and cities have library buildings staffed with qualified professionals who manage a collection of a variety of materials and offer a range of services. Poorer towns’ libraries aren’t as well-funded, may not have the same number of open hours (an access issue) or amount of materials or the same program offerings. In school libraries, the inequality is even starker, if possible, and it seems as though the barely-adequate staffing levels can be slashed at any time. School libraries might not have a budget at all, or they may have an insufficient budget; libraries might be staffed only by paraprofessionals or parent volunteers, or by a certified librarian serving several schools at once. This knife-edge existence is frustrating for a profession that knows its vital importance to student learning outcomes, yet constantly has to explain and defend itself. School librarians don’t just check books in and out; SLs nurture a love of reading, teach research skills, support the curriculum, and teach media and news literacy. “We are vital,” Lucas said. “We are trying to be everything to everybody.”

Lucas addressed the common misperception that “what we do is read to kids and check out books”; that now that there’s the Internet, librarians aren’t necessary anymore. Lucas argued that we have workout videos – and yet we still have gym teachers. We have calculators, and yet we still have math teachers. “We teach things that no other teachers teach.” Lucas said, “Our school library ensures learners become effective and ethical users and producers of ideas and information.” All learners deserve libraries with certified librarians.

A few more takeaways:

  • Recommended books: Start With Why by Simon Sinek; Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman; The Information by James Gleick; Our Enduring Values Revisited by Michael Gorman
  • “It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge. It is the interconnectedness.” -James Gleick, The Information
  • “Information” is one of those words like “research,” we use it all the time to mean a lot of things. Information is directly tied to communication.
  • Ask students: “What is research?” (Their answers will surprise you!) Research is answering questions: start with a question. Teach learners how to ask a question. 
  • Many hats: School librarians are “a guide, instructor, facilitator, coach, administrator of programs.”

Fostering Diversity in the Library, Felicia Quesada Montville

Felicia Quesada Montville works as a middle school librarian in the Newton Public Schools. Her presentation focused on diversity, inclusion, equity, and antiracism. Librarians have many tools to move past “superficial” representation and build an antiracist library.

  • Collection development: Prioritize diverse voices. Seek multiple review sources. Weed, weed, weed! Know your community and assess their needs. Analyze your collection and identify gaps. Do a diversity audit. Identify priority areas (e.g. summer reading lists, books taught in classrooms). Examine the images in your space and on your website.

  • Displays, and a student-centered environment: “There’s a lot of power in the books that we choose to put on display.” Students and teachers and people coming into your space see the books that are there. Make the library a safe space for everyone by centering students. What professional practices can you improve to help your students?
  • Advocacy outside the library: Librarians have power – use it for good. Advocate for inclusive and diverse texts outside of the library. Use position in school as a leader to help move social justice forward. Advocate for equitable school policies. Lead by examples – lead by doing. Speak up.

Using Picture Books in High School, Susan Harari, Morgan Keohane, Blake Barich

Blake Barich, and English teacher at Boston Latin, developed an assignment for her 12th grade students to find and examine “existentialist themes” in picture books. School librarian Susan Harari helped find the picture books, using both her own library collection and the Boston Public Library to provide 150 texts for the students to choose from. She also taught a lesson on picture books, covering Rudine Sims Bishop’s concept of windows & mirrors, what is(n’t) a picture book, types of children’s books, the role of author/illustrator, audience, design elements, and interplay between text/illustrations. Thus equipped, students chose their picture books and began work on a 4-6 page essay.

But the unit didn’t end there. In a fantastic example of inter-school collaboration, the 12th grade students took a field trip to a BPS elementary school, where each was paired with a younger student (K-1) and read their book aloud. Elementary librarian Morgan Keohane got teacher buy-in by presenting the many arguments in favor of the collaboration: it’s a chance for students to get personalized, individual attention from an older peer (who is very familiar with the picture book – not a typical guest reader). It models the value of 1:1 reading time (child:adult). In their diverse community of learners, a lot of volunteers are white; this is a chance for students to see themselves in successful older roles.

“The value of this project is that it’s a learning experience for both sides.” High school students gained an appreciation for visual literacy, an understanding of windows and mirrors, and increased literary criticism skills. Younger students (who completed simple book reviews with a star rating and a sentence or drawing about their favorite part of the story) got one-on-one attention from enthusiastic older peers who were deeply engaged in the book they had brought to share.

Cover image of I Want My Hat Back

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post on Monday’s sessions.

Anti-racist book lists: a place to start

No one would argue that 2020 has been a pretty rough year so far. We’re facing the effects of climate change and the very real and immediate specter of worse to come; we’ve got a global pandemic; and here in the U.S., we have a president who refuses to lead a coherent, science-based, national response to either the COVID-19 pandemic or the epidemic of racism our country is also battling.

I’ve done a lot of reading about all of these things, but less writing about them. I compiled most of the anti-racism resources below in early June, but at the time, the internet was flooded with similar resources; did I need to create a selected bibliography of them? (I didn’t, really, but my instinct is always to take notes, document, and share, so if they are useful to you, fantastic.)

On June 15, the New England Library Association (NELA) published a statement that reads, in part, “Let us all stand together, build coalitions, and be each other’s accomplices in the struggle to end internal, interpersonal, and systematic forms of racism and all other forms of oppression….Racism, in all its forms, destroys our communities. We must all proactively work on eradicating racism anywhere and everywhere it exists” (emphasis added).

I have been thinking – as a white parent and librarian – about how to do that, and what advice I can share about how to be anti-racist and how to raise anti-racist kids. I’ve boiled it down to a few points, for now:

  1. White parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians need to normalize talking about race. Though some of us were taught to be “colorblind” in the ’90s, what we really need to be is “color conscious.” If talking about race is taboo, that makes it seem uncomfortable, and shameful, and then we arrive at the point where even mentioning race is considered racist. But if we refuse to recognize the racism around us, and can’t talk about it, we can’t work to dismantle it. (Note that even the option to talk about race or not is part of white privilege.)
  2. Books provide an entry point to discuss many topics. If you’re involved in selecting books for kids (if you’re a parent, caregiver, teacher, librarian), make the effort to choose books that show all kinds of people. Don’t let white be the default. Don’t let animals be the default (as much as we may love hedgehogs and bears). Most of us live in communities that are effectively segregated; if kids don’t see diversity around them, at least they can see it in picture books.
  3. If you’re seeking books that show Black characters, make sure you are not just getting biographies of civil rights heroes or stories of enslavement. Select books that show Black joy as well. There is a wealth of contemporary Black stories – enough for every month of the year, not just Black History Month. Seek out and read #ownvoices books.
  4. Definitions are important. Racism is structural, historical, and present-tense. We live in a racist society; it’s “the water we swim in.” As the song from Avenue Q goes, “Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes,” even if our intentions are good. But white intentions don’t matter as much as white actions. So…
  5. Listen. Speak with care. Have humility. We will make mistakes; don’t let fear of making mistakes keep us from doing the work. Apologize, repair, listen some more.

A selected bibliography of anti-racism resources, June 2020

CrownOde

“Discussing Race with Young Kids,” Rachel G. Payne and Jessica Ralli, School Library Journal, September 24, 2018. https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=discussing-race-with-young-kids-first-steps

“What White Children Need to Know About Race,” National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), https://www.nais.org/magazine/independent-school/summer-2014/what-white-children-need-to-know-about-race/

“Talking to Kids About Race,” Lindsey Krabbenhoft, Jbrary, July 21, 2016. https://jbrary.com/talking-to-kids-about-race/

“A Nonfiction Anti-Racist Reading List,” Publishers Weekly, June 3, 2020. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/83485-an-anti-racist-reading-list.html

“Antiracist Books for Kids,” Kirkus https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-lists/antiracist-books-kids/#a-good-kind-of-trouble

“10 Antiracist Books for Teens,” Kirkus https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-lists/10-antiracist-books-young-adults/

“10 Books That Challenge Racism,” Kirkus https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-lists/10-books-challenge-racism/

“Antiracist Resources and Reads: Lists for All Ages,” Elizabeth (Betsy) Bird, School Library Journal, June 2, 2020. http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2020/06/02/antiracist-resources-and-reads-lists-for-all-ages/

“Because Black Lives Matter, A Collection of Antiracist Reading Lists,” Karen Jensen, School Library Journal, June 1, 2020. http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2020/06/because-black-lives-matter-a-collection-of-anti-racist-reading-lists/

“Our Modern Minstrelsy,” Kekla Magoon, The Horn Book, June 3, 2020 https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=our-modern-minstrelsy

“Young Dreamers,” Christopher Myers, The Horn Book, August 6, 2013 https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=young-dreamers

Reading While White http://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com

We Are Kid Lit Collective https://wtpsite.wordpress.com

The Brown Bookshelf https://thebrownbookshelf.com

Bookmatching: Readers’ Advisory for Developing Readers

In January, the Youth Services Interest Group (YSIG) hosted librarian Rhonda Cunha to present on the topic “Understanding Literacy Acquisition for Targeted Reader’s Advisory” at the Woburn Public Library. Rhonda is the Early Literacy Children’s Librarian at the Stevens Memorial Library in Andover, MA, and her presentation was detailed and thorough. I’m going to try to condense six pages of notes into a coherent overview here, starting with an important definition:

Reading is making meaning from text.

In the public library, Rhonda often overheard misconceptions about how children learn to read; her presentation corrects some of those misunderstandings. As children’s librarians, we are ideally placed to promote literacy, help children love reading, and help parents.

Early Literacy Skills slide

Early literacy skills include print motivation, phonological awareness, vocabulary, narrative skills (storytelling), print awareness (how books work), and letter knowledge. Two major ways that public libraries help children develop early literacy skills are through storytime programs and readers’ advisory services: talking with readers and helping them find books they’ll love (ideally, talking directly with the kids; talking with the parents is second best).

Readers’ advisory is more complex for children than for adults, because they are still developing these literacy skills: the book’s content needs to be interesting to them, and the book needs to be the right level. However, we don’t “level” books in the public library, for several reasons. Part of helping kids see themselves as readers and develop a love of reading is supporting them, not labeling them. (Benchmarking is a teaching tool for teachers to evaluate what the kids know, determine the point of need, and enable them to teach to the child’s need. “Levels” – Lexile and Fountas & Pinnell are two common ones – should not be shared with the kids themselves, let alone their parents.) A young reader’s background knowledge might enable them to read a book more advanced than their designated “level,” or they might want to pick up a book that’s easier – and that’s fine.

How to Help Kids Choose Just-Right Books for Them:

  • Helping children develop independent reading identities requires respect, trust, and lots of patience.
  • Encourage kids to vary their reading diet, in terms of genres and interests. Give them what they want, and slip in a few extras.
  • Provide lots of choices.
  • Encourage them to abandon books that don’t “sing” to them: “Good readers abandon books!” If you don’t like it, don’t read it. (But give it a chance – start with 10-20 pages, and if you don’t like it, stop. This goes for adult readers, as well.)
  • Use the 5-finger rule. Open a book to a page and start reading; put a finger up for each word they don’t know. (1=easy, 2=still easy, 3=okay, 4=challenging, 5=too hard)
  • Knowing what they don’t like is as important as knowing what they do like.
  • Use the acronym BOOKMATCH: Book length, Ordinary language, Organization, Knowledge prior to book, Manageable text, Appeal to genre, Topic appropriateness, Connection, High interest

Self-efficacy is key! Children need to see themselves as capable readers and to believe they can succeed. There are four steps to self-efficacy:

  1. Mastery experiences (reading to themselves without difficulty)
  2. Social models (seeing adults reading and writing)
  3. Social persuasion (encouragement and cheerleading, “I know you can do it!”)
  4. Mood

“While children are learning the skills of reading, they must also develop a positive reading identity or they will not become lifelong readers.” –Donalyn Miller

Advice for Parents:

  • Reading aloud to children builds receptive vocabulary, which becomes expressive vocabulary. Additionally, kids’ listening comprehension level is usually higher than their reading (print) comprehension. Reading aloud is the most important thing parents can do!
  • Social modeling: Kids should see their parents reading and writing (writing grocery lists, to-do lists, thank you notes, etc.).
  • Read familiar books to keep success high. (“If they want to read Wimpy Kid sixteen times, let them!”) Read predictable, repeating texts and short books. Read the books they bring home from school to bolster confidence.
  • Make reading a special daily ritual – try for at least 20 minutes a day/night.
  • Keep it fun and positive. Balance corrections with story flow (focus on one thing each time). If the kid is reading aloud and gets stuck on a word, count to 5 (silently) and supply the word so they can move on.
  • Name the strategies they are using.* Reread the same sentence/book if decoding is slow. Use the language that the school uses when recognizing strategies.
  • Readers who self-correct are checking for comprehension (this is good!).
  • Be aware of cognitive overload** – it’s okay to take over. Make them happy about reading/being read to.
  • End on a positive note.

*Recently, I was reading Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill to my four-year-old, and we came across the word “weary.” I asked her if she knew what it meant, and she said no. I read the whole sentence again, and asked her to guess what it meant. “Tired?” She got it! I was so excited. I explained that what she’d just done was figure out the meaning of a word from context – the words around that word. She was really pleased and proud.

**Cognitive capacity: you have X amount. How much are you using for decoding, how much for comprehension? Accuracy and fluency are important, so readers aren’t using all their cognitive capacity for decoding. Phonics will only get you so far; 40% of the words in English cannot be decoded.

Reading is making meaning from text, so how do we learn to do that? Here are some decoding strategies used in school:

  • Ask: Does that look right? Does it sound right? Does it make sense?
  • Get your mouth ready to say that word. Skip the word and read around it (to get context – see above).
  • Ask: What would fit there?
  • Break the word up into smaller known words or sounds (families, blends, compounds).
  • Look at the picture for clues (Cunha said, “There are pictures in books for a reason! There is no cheating in reading”).
  • Before you start reading:
    • Activate prior knowledge (e.g., “What do we already know about dolphins?” Look at the book’s cover – what do you see, what do you notice?)
    • Preview difficult or unknown vocabulary and/or take a picture walk.
    • Be present to notice behaviors, give support, and watch for burnout.

More advice and strategies for reading and reading together:

  • As books become more advanced, cognitive demands on the readers increase. The more a kid has in their head already, the less dependent on the text they are (top-down vs. bottom-up processing).
  • The way children acquire language is through a direct connection with people they’re conversing with (“serve and return” communication).
  • When a kid reads aloud, you hear their mistakes, which are informative; in order to teach, you have to hear the errors.
  • Monitor for meaning: Ask big-picture questions, not detail questions (e.g. “How do you think he felt?” vs. “What color was his shirt?”)

Want to learn more? See below for more resources.

Cover of Reading Picture Books With ChildrenRecommended reading:

The Reading Zone: how to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers by Nancie Atwell

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Reading Picture Books With Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

BOOKMATCH: How to Scaffold Student Book Selection for Independent Reading by Linda Wedwick and Jessica Ann Wutz

Reading teacher newsletter from International Literacy Association: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/

“Learning, Interrupted: Cell Phone Calls Sidetrack Toddlers’ Word Learning,” American Psychological Association, November 21, 2017

“Thinking Outside the Bin: Why Labeling Books By Reading Level Disempowers Young Readers,” Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal, August 28, 2017

An Introduction to the Whole Book Approach

Cover of Reading Picture Books With ChildrenMegan Dowd Lambert presented a webinar on the Whole Book Approach through the Massachusetts Library System last month; I heard about it from Rhonda Cunha, the speaker at January’s Youth Services Interest Group meeting (more on that soon), and carved out time to watch it recently. Megan’s presentation was excellent, and I’m planning to read her book as well (Reading Picture Books with Children, Charlesbridge, 2015). Here are some highlights from her introduction to the Whole Book Approach in the MLS webinar.

“The Whole Book Approach is a co-constructive model created by Megan Dowd Lambert in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art that centers children’s responses to picture book art and design.”

Megan emphasized that it’s an approach, not a method or a script. “Co-constructive” means that the storytime is interactive: kids are making meaning during the storytime, it’s not a performance by the adult reader. We are reading with children (discussion), not reading to them (performance).

Main tips/takeaways:

Cover of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

  • Engage children with a book they know already (e.g. The Very Hungry Caterpillar).
  • Ask open-ended questions (“What do you see happening here? What do you see that makes you say that? What else can we find?”).
  • Use picture book design and production terminology (jacket, case, orientation, trim size, gutter, etc.) to empower children to become experts about books.

Don’t be “the sage on the stage,” be “the guide on the side,” Megan advised. The group makes meaning together; facilitate responses, don’t correct responses. Be alert to nonverbal responses as well. For those – librarians, teachers, or caregivers – who are concerned that this approach will make storytime too rowdy, Megan offered techniques to redirect children’s attention when necessary, and advice for what to say to adults who may have concerns about the Whole Book Approach:

  • Point to the book and say “Eyes on art!”
  • “1,2,3 page turns”: If discussion wanders too far/long, wrap it up by saying, “We’ve had such a great conversation about this picture, let’s see what happens next. Count with me… 1,2,3 [turn page].”
  • Broaden the frame for a successful storytime: “That was a really busy storytime, but there are lots of different ways to measure success about storytime. Kids were excited about books, wanted to talk about their ideas and their feelings – that’s successful.”

Megan said she did not use themes in her storytimes, but chose books that she loved and wanted to share. Here are a few (not all!) of the ones she mentioned: Saturday by Oge Mora, This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, and Nine Months by Miranda Paul.

A lot of content was packed into an hour-long webinar, and I can already tell that my next storytime is going to be a little different: more open-ended questions, more time spent looking at the cover art. Thank you, Megan and MLS!

 

Hampshire College thoughts

On Tuesday, January 15, I received a message from Hampshire College president Miriam (Mim) Nelson with the subject line “Important Message from Hampshire College.” In it, Mim wrote of “our intent to find a long-term partner that can help us achieve a thriving and sustainable future for Hampshire” and said “As we embark on this process we’re also carefully considering whether to enroll an incoming class this fall.” (See additional FAQ.) [Edited to add, new FAQ, 1/21/19]

1923470_504686557158_5679_nWhat? I was aware, of course, that Hampshire’s endowment is paltry compared to the other schools in the Five College consortium (Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and UMass), and that Hampshire tends to produce alumni with strong dedication to social justice causes; we’re more likely to become scientists, teachers, or documentarians than investment bankers. Thus, in addition to having a much smaller alumni base than many other liberal arts schools (Hampshire was founded in 1970), the alumni it does have don’t have the deepest pockets.

I forwarded the e-mail to some fellow alums, two of whom immediately and independently made the same joke(?) about Hampshire being acquired by Amazon. More likely, we thought, we’d be folded into UMass somehow, but there hasn’t been any indication of that. (Amherst’s president Biddy Martin released a statement saying, “I hope it will be possible for Hampshire to identify a positive way forward for its community and the greater good. The college has a valuable history of experimentation in teaching and learning and a longstanding relationship with our college.” ‘K, thanks. Smith’s president, Kathleen McCarthy, released a statement that said even less.)

News outlets picked up the story quickly; I saw it in Inside Higher Ed, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. The Globe ran a more detailed piece about the history of the college on January 19, “Protests, Frisbees, and Deep Thinking – Hampshire College Has Carved an Offbeat Path.”

Sunset at HampshireThe news also galvanized discussion in the Hampshire Alumni Facebook group, which also includes some current Hampshire staff (they graduated from Hampshire and now work there). No one has much more information, except that enrollment has been falling slightly – a problem many small liberal arts colleges are facing, as demographics change and high school graduating classes are smaller – and tuition is expensive. This is also true of many other schools, but Hampshire is particularly sensitive to even small fluctuations because its endowment can’t provide much of a cushion.

There are complaints about the PR, and how the announcement was made, but there have also been sensible responses to those complaints: chiefly, that the president and the board are being honest about Hampshire’s financial situation and are being proactive in seeking out a “strategic partner” now. Also, accepting an incoming class when it’s uncertain that Hampshire will be the same in four years necessities consideration from an ethics standpoint. (It’s true there have also been personal remarks and conspiracy theories. I don’t see a reason not to take Mim and the board at face value; the idea that anyone is working to bring down the college from within is ludicrous.)

First snow, Hampshire treesI don’t believe there is one single perfect college for anyone; if you’re college-bound, there are probably plenty of places, or at least more than one, where you can learn and thrive and be happy. There are a lot of things that I learned and experienced at Hampshire that I would have found elsewhere too: meeting people from different places and backgrounds, discovering new music, exploring a different area of the country, maybe even frisbee (yes, I played ultimate) and slam poetry.

Any good education introduces you to new ideas and encourages you to remain open-minded enough to accept them; any good education should prod you to think critically, dig deeper, do your own research, question the answers, question authority. I don’t know the extent to which other schools do this, as I didn’t go to them (except, I did take classes at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, and UMass; all Five College students can take classes at any of the other colleges, and I definitely took advantage of this. Those classes were academically rigorous – mostly – but more straightforward, more like high school).

4pm sunset at HampshireHere’s what I got at Hampshire that I don’t think I would have gotten elsewhere: I learned to take the initiative and be persistent – good qualities to have in a job search or when doing a job. I learned to make connections where there didn’t at first appear to be any, and that I didn’t necessarily have to narrow my field of study if I could just make these connections; my thesis combined literature, history, and photography. I learned that I could write a thesis over 100 pages long, guided by a committee chair who mostly listened, then asked the crucial one or two questions that guided my next week’s worth of work (thank you, Aaron Berman).

I also met such interesting people who were incredibly passionate about what they were studying. No one had to jump through hoops for two years before they got to learn about what they were really interested in; you started right away. In high school, lunch conversation might be about the homework for this class or that, but at Hampshire, no one was ever doing the same thing: one person was studying math so far beyond my comprehension that now I just remember it had something to do with shapes (maybe?); someone else was welding metal in the shop; someone was building bicycles (and that wasn’t a class, that was just on the side); someone was taking a trip to the desert to study some kind of lichen(?) that grew on the rocks there; someone was writing, directing, and starring in a play; someone was studying the history of the AIDS crisis; someone built a telescope.

So I’m not surprised that “two-thirds of our graduates earn advanced degrees. And even as the world knows us by the success of our distinguished alums in the arts, the National Science Foundation ranks us among the top fifty schools whose graduates receive a PhD in science or engineering.” Hampshire students are intelligent, determined, fierce, funny, political, passionate. We’re curious in more than one sense of the word. (Yes, we also play frisbee and wear tie-dye and have all the hippie bumper stickers. I can always recognize a Hampshire car). But as Sig Roos, Hampshire alum and past board chairman, said in the Globe piece, “It seems like a time politically when people should be beating Hampshire’s door down to get in.”

Hampshire turns out problem solvers, free thinkers, people who have found their voices; in other words, precisely what the world needs right now.

View from the notch

All photos in this post were taken by me during my years as a student at Hampshire, 2003-2007.

Updated 1/27/19: See also “Cost Disease, the Demographic Cliff, and Hampshire College

Reviving the lost art of repair

In early September, the article “Libraries and the Art of Everything Maintenance” (Megan Cottrell, American Libraries, 9/1/2017) was the Library Link of the Day. The article featured a few public libraries that partnered with organizations such as Repair Cafe  and Fixit Clinic to encourage the repair of broken items, and teach people how to repair their own things.

There is so much to love about this idea. Together, libraries and Repair Cafe/Fixit Clinic:

  • help build a more sustainable world
  • fight the “throwaway” culture of obsolescence
  • encourage an interest in how things work
  • teach useful skills

For the past several years, libraries have been talking about Makerspaces – and in some cases, carving out space and buying 3D printers. While I think that 3D printers are amazing for specific purposes (like making teeth), I’m afraid a lot of them are used for churning out cheap plastic junk. They may serve as an introduction to design and robotics, which is not to be discounted…but I think the repair cafe/fixit clinic idea is so much more useful. After all, learning a skill comes easier when you have a purpose: learning a coding language, for example, will probably be a wasted effort unless there’s something you want to make with it.

In this scenario, a broken item – lamp, toaster, necklace, scooter – provides motivation for learning, the library provides space and coordinates the event, and the Repair Cafe or Fixit Clinic provides the volunteers (who may bring the tools of their trade with them). In the AL article, Cottrell writes, “The goal of the U-Fix-It Clinic [is] allowing people to repair broken items instead of throwing them away, but also inspiring them to learn more about the products they consume and how they work. The event is part of a larger movement across the globe working to help keep broken items out of landfills and revive the lost art of repair.”

Knowing how things work – and how to go about fixing them – is empowering; it’s useful knowledge.  In a piece for WGBH, “‘Fixit Clinics’ Help People Revive Their Broken Items,” Tina Martin interviewed the founder of Fixit Clinics, MIT grad Peter Mui, who said, “There’s a sense that [people] don’t have a choice when something breaks, there’s no repair people left anymore to fix this stuff.”

Mui wrote a guest blog post on ifixit.org, saying, “Once people start repairing, they start asking questions like ‘What went wrong?’, ‘Can it be fixed?’, and ‘How might it have been designed differently to avoid breaking in the first place?’ That last question is where we’re ultimately going with Fixit Clinic: to encourage products designed with maintenance, serviceability, and repairability in mind.”

As the things we use on a daily basis have become more complex (sometimes by necessity, sometimes not), design has become more opaque. I often think of Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things while I’m working at the reference desk, explaining the “hamburger menu” to a patron, or helping them locate the miniscule, hidden power button on our new laptops. They often apologize, and I tell them it’s not their fault – it’s poor design. But as more and more of our things have microchips inside them, instead of parts we can see and tinker with, we’ve forgotten how to open things up and explore; we’ve given up on figuring out how things work – or why they stop working.

The mentality behind the Repair Cafe and the Fixit Clinic addresses these problems in a tremendously useful way. The Repair Cafe “About” page explains, “We throw away vast amounts of stuff….The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines.”

The Fixit Clinic’s mission has similar themes: “Fixit Clinic conveys basic disassembly, troubleshooting, and repair skills using peoples’ own broken things as the vehicle. By sharing these skills while transferring them to others we teach critical thinking through the lens of our relationship to consumption and sustainability. We strive to demystify science and technology so that we can ultimately make better policy choices as a society.”

A community learning experience that brings people together to share skills and tools, and repair items that would otherwise end up in landfills and be replaced with new things: this is a perfect program for libraries to host. The Cambridge Public Library has partnered with the Repair Cafe in Cambridge already; I’d love for our library to do this as well, and I’m keeping the idea on the back burner. (The front burners are already occupied: I’ve just launched a cookbook club this fall, which is wonderful but a lot of work. If only we had more staff…)

Related:

The end of repair? 3/11/2013

The extinction timeline, 12/29/2014?)

 

Reading Passport: Book a Trip Around the World

Reading Passport
Reading Passport, 1994-1995

During the 1994-1995 school year, the school librarian (we had those, back then) issued the students a Reading Passport, which entitled (pun intended?) the owner to Book a Trip Around the World (pun definitely intended)! Because I am a highly organized pack rat whose mother had storage space in her garage until recently, I still have mine.

Like many of today’s popular reading challenges, students chose books in various categories (and got stickers for each book read. Who doesn’t love stickers?). Categories included classics, mystery, “true to life” (i.e. realistic), fantasy, humorous, adventure, historical fiction, animal, sports, and biography.

Some of these books I have entirely forgotten; others I remember vividly from re-reading them so often, and still adore – The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop, Matilda and The BFG by Roald Dahl, and Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville. Though it’s not on the Reading Passport, 1994-1995 was also the year I read Buffalo Brenda by Jill Pinkwater. I think it was the following school year when I first read Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, and the year after that when I first read The Giver by Lois Lowry.

reading passport with stickers

Since 2007* when I first joined Goodreads and LibraryThing, I’ve kept a record of all my reading, but I’ve often wished for a lifelong record. I’m pleased to have unearthed this piece of my elementary school reading history, and grateful to the librarian who made it a fun experience worth documenting.

*TEN YEARS AGO.

 

 

Why the IMLS and LSTA grants are important

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and its Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants are vitally important to museums and libraries in every state. If you’re hazy on what IMLS does, please read my fellow librarian blogger’s post, “Save IMLS because libraries are essential,” in which she gives examples of many LSTA grants and argues eloquently for saving the IMLS.

Why does the IMLS need saving? It is one of the agencies that would be entirely cut under Trump’s budget proposal, along with PBS. (In case you aren’t already fervently in favor of preserving Sesame Street, read retired general Stanley McChrystal’s op-ed in favor of PBS in The New York Times.) For a quick analysis of the federal budget, current and proposed, check out Hank Green’s five-minute video, “Trump’s Budget Explained.”