30 August 2013

Spy School

Spy School
by Stuart Gibbs
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

I picked up Spy School for two reasons.  First, it is  a Colorado Children's Book Award Nominee this year, and second, a student checked it out last week and came in two days later saying "Ohmygosh, Mrs.Covington this book is AMAZING howhaveyounotreadityet?!?!"

I didn't have an answer, and I didn't have a book to read that night, so I took it home. And I'm glad I did!  It's a great read - just enough suspense to keep me reading, along with some truly humorous moments.

Ben Ripley is a 12-year-old dork.  There's no two ways about it.  When he comes home from school one day to find out he's being recruited for the undercover CIA spy school, he's overjoyed.  Finally, he'll be able to do something cool.  Unfortunately, it's all top secret - he can't even tell his best friend.  However during his first day at spy school, after being shot at a few times and fighting off an attacker in his dorm room with a tennis racket, he finds out that he actually didn't qualify for spy school - they brought him in to use as a decoy to flush out a mole within the school.  Luckily for the CIA, Ben is actually smarter than he seems and he turns out to be a pretty good agent-in-training, especially since his life is on the line.

While the plot is extremely fantastic, and I was a little annoyed with how absolutely inept every single adult in the book was portrayed, Spy School is a fun read.  And though I'll admit I figured out who the mole was before the book actually revealed it, I will say it took some re-reading and deep thinking for me to actually figure it out.  I would say this book is a great read for anyone between 4th and 7th grade - depending on their reading level, and it's a great read for any kid who likes spy novels.

08 August 2013

One Big Thing

At the beginning of last year, my library was visited by one of the district big-wigs, a man named Matt Corimer, who, it turns out, is not only brilliant, but kind, funny and awesome to work with.  When he visited a year ago, we had a discussion about transitions and how difficult it can be to take over a library that has been run by someone else for years.
Earlier this summer, I talked a little about weeding and how difficult (and entertaining) it can be.  Taking over a library can also be difficult - there are processes and practices in place that may or may not fit who you are as a librarian.  In my conversation with Matt last September, I started to get a little riled up and overwhelmed at all the things I needed to change and do and fix.  Matt - being the calm dude he is - simply said "My best piece of advice for you is just choose one big thing."  He went on to explain that there's only so much we can do in any give time period, and if we try to do everything, we'll sink.  So he suggested choosing one big thing each year.  The idea resonated with me, so I decided to try it.

Last year my OBT (yep, I just went there) was implementing weekly lessons when classes came in to the library.  As much as I love my job, I miss actually teaching.  So I decided to combine my love of teaching with our school's (and really most school's) very real need of teaching kids the how of finding.  How to find books, information, resources, facts, etc.  The results were fantastic.  For one, I was able to get my "fix" of teaching. While I didn't limit my teaching to these mini-lessons (I always made myself available to teach more   in-depth, curriculum centered lessons, usually in the afternoons), through this system, I was able to stretch myself professionally by trying different lessons, and I now have a rough skeleton of a "library curriculum" that outlines which skills to teach at each level, and those skills spiral throughout the grades.  Secondly, the teacher's loved it.  And I mean, they loooooved it.  I heard several times that the lessons made library time more enjoyable for them and their students, and they felt that their students were actually utilizing more of the library independently (can you hear my heart singing? That's one of the best compliments a librarian can get). Speaking of which, I really think the kids got quite a bit out of it.  Yes, there were classes and grades that moaned and groaned about it - mostly because I'd taken away their precious "computer searching" time.  But for the most part, the kids were engaged in the lessons - especially if I was doing book talks.  I am amazing at book talks.  And that is the fourth benefit I saw from my weekly lessons: I got to do regular book talks.  I love doing book talks! My library is full of amazing books, but it's impossible to assume that students will know which books to read, so giving quick book talks is always a great way to encourage them to try something new, or to show them a book they didn't know existed in the library.

As of today, we're in a new school year, which means I need a new OBT. I've decided that this year, my focus will be on technology and building a staff and group of students who are independent technology users. Last year we had nine computer carts that I was expected to manage. NINE.  That's 135 computers.  It was an impossible task.  Carts would go missing, classes would keep them longer than they'd sign up for them, not to mention the everyday maintenance.  Last year, I brought the issue to the technology committee and they came up with the idea of breaking the carts up and distributing them throughout the classrooms.  The PTA agreed to purchase newer computers, which gave us the numbers to be able to put three laptops in each classroom, and have 60 computers that can be on carts and used as class sets.
There are always challenges when you change a system.  I know it will be a difficult adjustment for many some of the staff because now they will be responsible for the three laptops in their classrooms.  But that's where my OBT becomes an OBT.  I hope to provide them with the access to the necessary resources to be self-solvers and solution finders.  I will, obviously, support them in any way that I can, but I can imagine that there is going to be some push-back as I encourage them to be independent.  And it truly is my goal to lead them to being independent users of technology, and for those who view themselves as "non techies", or un-techno-savvy, it is my hope that by the end of the year, they will believe that they are smarter than the computers in their classrooms.  If I can instill confidence in them, I will have done my job.

Wish me luck!

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World

What we Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World
by Henry Clark
Little Brown & Company

I know, you're probably starring wide-eyed at your computer in utter shock that I'm actually writing a book review.  It's shocking to me as well.  Let's see if my old brain* can remember how to compose a thoughtful, coherent book review...here goes!

cover art courtesy of Follett Titlewave.com
Three friends, River, Freak and Fiona, wait together for the bus every morning.  One day they find a sofa at their bus stop.  They can't figure out where it came from, but they're curious.  They decided to search the couch for lost change and they find a few interesting items: a double-six domino, a double headed coin, and a rare zucchini colored crayon.  They discover that the crayon is actually worth quite a bit of money and decided to auction it off online.  And thus begins their adventure, where they discover that their seemingly dying town of Cheshire and the now "dead"area of Hellsboro are actually the center of an evil genius' plot to  take over the world. Along the way they learn about each other - until now their friendship has been somewhat superficial - and themselves and how living on the edge of Hellsboro has shaped their lives and brought them to this exact moment.
The story line is creative, and Clark embeds so much learning in the book - everything from chemistry to history - and he does it seamlessly.  Young readers will learn so much from this book without knowing they're learning.  I can see students wanting to learn more about various subjects because of this book.

I truly enjoyed this book. I stumbled across it thanks to Amazon.  During my first year working in an elementary library, I realized that my library is focused on books for beginning readers (k-2) and intermediate readers (5th & 6th grade).  My poor 3rd & 4th graders have very little they can read in the library.  So this summer I concentrated on trying to find books that fit their needs.  What We Found is almost one of those books.  I'd say this book is about perfect for 4th grade or an advanced 3rd grade reader.  It covers all the difficult topics: being bullied, feeling left out, trying to fit in, and doing the right thing. And it covers all these topics with equal parts of humor and brevity.  I would recommend this book for just about any student 4th through 6th grade, and for their parents - it would be a great dinner conversation piece.

Happy Reading!

*Totally typed "brian" there.  Yep, my brian (brain) is officially old.