Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let your ears do the reading

While the theory of different learning styles (auditory vs. visual, for example) has come under fire of late, there is no doubt that when it comes to reading books in a traditional way vs. listening to them on audio, many people have strong preferences and opinions!

Wired for Sound is a fascinating essay exploring one man's preference for audio as compared to his wife's assertion that reading text with one's own eyes is a superior option. The author contacted Howard Gardner, of multiple intelligences fame, for his input on the topic as well.

I am a fairly recent convert to audiobooks, and find that as a busy working mother, they are a lifesaver! I can "read" while commuting to and from work or cooking dinner. Suddenly, in the midst of a hectic schedule, I am more easily able to keep up with new literature while also enjoying a superb performance that most often brings a rich new dimension to the book in question.

Audiobooks are a great way to encourage a child who is a reluctant reader or who isn't eager to branch out into different genres. Even enthusiastic readers find themselves unexpectedly enjoying books they didn't think were appealing when they are presented in audio form by a parent who stealthily pops a CD into the car stereo. They are also great for physically active kids, who can play with Legos while listening to a book rather than being expected to sit still and read. Check out this earlier blog post on the topic for more information and suggestions!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winter break 2011 reading list

Without further ado, here are a few gems to explore over winter break! Also view my profile on GoodReads for more recommendations!

Picture Books for All Ages

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen – A deceptively simple, quite ingenious book. Ponder the clues in the illustrations and see if you get the joke at the end!

The Selkie Girl by Susan Cooper – Dreamy illustrations perfectly match this haunting and magical Scottish folktale of love and longing.

The Three Golden Oranges by Alma Flor Ada – This is a beautifully illustrated retelling of a well-known Spanish folktale.

White is for Blueberry by George Shannon – “White is for blueberry… when the berry is still too young to pick.” This clever book will encourage you to look more deeply, see the world differently and ponder the surprising connections between everyday objects.

Elementary Fiction

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond – First published over 50 years ago, this class is not as widely read today as it deserves to be! When the Brown family takes in a homeless young bear, they have no idea what adventures will ensue!

Billy and the Rebel: Based on a True Civil War Story by Deborah Hopkinson – Who says beginning readers have to be boring? This story captures the tension of the original, real life encounter between a runaway Confederate boy soldier and the kind Union family who shelter him.

Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury – The first in a fun series about Calvin, a little boy who lives in Hawaii. Perfect for fans of Ramona, Stink, Fudge and other humorous realistic fiction books.

Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time by James Howe – This beginning chapter book is perfect for a peaceful, snowy winter’s day. Snuggle up inside and share this one together!

Elementary & Middle School Fiction

Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney – Boxing legend Joe Louis is at the center of this heartwarming story about the lives of several African American families, each dealing with different kinds of troubles during the Great Depression.

Boom! by Mark Haddon – Did you ever suspect some of your teachers might really be aliens? Find out what happens when two curious boys stumble into the adventure of their lives!

The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson – Inspired by 58 dolls sent from Japan to the US in 1927 as a gesture of friendship between the countries, this sweet chapter book follows one doll as she changes hands over the years and is loved by girls leading very different lives.

The Truth about Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler – Can you write anything you want online just because it’s true? Where is the line between honesty and cruelty? A group of students find their lives deeply affected by anonymous comments on their online school newspaper.

Middle & High School Fiction

Hero by Mike Lupica – There is non-stop action and adventure in this exciting mystery investigating the death of his father, an undercover government agent!

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge – A truly creative and inspirational graphic novel about high school students coming into their own and learning to express themselves through art.

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen – How would you cope if one day you discovered you couldn’t pursue your passion? Track star Jessica has to find the answer to this question after a tragic accident leaves her with only one leg.

The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt – One of my favorite books of the year, this is a lovely story about a girl’s summer of personal exploration, a boy’s quest for the miracle that will reunite his family, and their budding friendship.


The Book of Pirates by Jamaica Rose and Captain Michael MacLeod – A very entertaining combination of history, activities to try at home, recipes, humor and trivia – all relating to pirates, of course!

The Good, the Bad and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on Us by Tanya Lee Stone – A fascinating exploration of the cultural and commercial impact of this legendary doll. Love her or hate her, Barbie has influenced our society over the last half century – read this and find out more!

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by Steve Jenkins – Art and science combine in this incomparable introduction to a complex topic. Don’t be fooled by the beautiful collages and picture book format – this book is packed with science made clear and accessible!

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki – Seattle author Mochizuki tells the incredible tale of a courageous man, Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who defied his government and single-handedly saved the lives of thousands of Jews during World War II in this picture book biography.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What Makes a Book "Challenging Enough"?

This week I've been speaking with 7th and 8th graders about this year's Student Diversity Leadership Retreat which I am excited to be helping to plan and chaperone. This year's theme is media and becoming a more savvy, aware consumer of all forms of media. To spark the students' interest, I showed them a couple of television commercials and asked them to dissect the stereotypes they contained. I was impressed with their ability to look beyond the surface joke or message and recognize the common cultural assumptions or stereotypes that the ads were building on.

This got me thinking about a common request I have, which is to provide children with books that are "challenging enough." The question is, how do you define "challenging"? Just as you can relax on the sofa and mindlessly watch television, you can also take even the most vapid programming and analyze it in a complex way. Books are very similar!

Recently I had a wonderful conversation with a parent who said that her daughter didn't need to be challenged just by reading books with vocabulary levels at the upper limits of her comprehension because she recognized that challenge can come from complex ideas expressed in relatively simple language. This is especially true with realistic fiction, which usually portrays people speaking in naturalistic ways.

Three books I shared with students this week highlight this idea: Wild Wings by Gill Lewis, a chapter book I've been reading to 4th graders in connection with our information literacy exercises, and Traction Man Is Here! and Traction Man Meets Turbodog by Mini Grey, which are part of our kindergarten and 1st grade author unit on this very creative woman.

Wild Wings is not very difficult in terms of reading level, however it raises a number of challenging topics. There is a child in the book who is living in poverty. This is not stated outright, but is indicated through various contextual clues. In one scene she comes to school with no lunch, claiming she forgot it. In every 4th grade class we discussed this scenario: what appeared to be happening vs. the actual situation. Most students initially accepted at face value the idea that she forgot her lunch. However, every class had one child who suggested that this was her way of avoiding the embarrassment of admitting they didn't have enough food at home for her to bring any lunch. This insight led to some interesting conversations between the students about how people behave when they feel different, how peers can react in a kind and supportive way, and so on. This book, which might seem "easy" going just by reading level or vocabulary, is actually quite rich in meaning.

With the Mini Grey picture books, there were interesting contrasts in the developmental levels of most 1st graders as compared to most kindergartners. They are about a small boy engaging in imaginary play with his action figure. Many kindergartners initially interpreted the stories as being about a real, animated little person, rather than about a child playing the way they do with their own stuffed animals, dolls, action figures, etc., setting up scenarios using household objects and giving voice to an inanimate object. There is one scene in the second book in which Turbodog, an electronic toy, wakes up a sleeping cat. Traction Man comments, "Well, thanks for that, Turbodog." This simple statement is actually fairly complex, since the reader must understand that it was used sarcastically to actually mean the opposite. Both books contain many layers of meaning in pictures and text, as well as implied value statements about creativity and imagination - all conveyed through very little text, most of which is quite simple.

When you see your child reading an apparently too easy book, it can be a great opportunity to challenge him or her to think more deeply about the material! Wondering where to start with this discussion? Try this list of Universal Questions that work well for chapter books. With picture books, I also like to ask some of the following:

What kind of techniques or materials do you recognize in the art work? Why do you think the illustrator chose to use these materials?

Why do you think the illustrator drew [point to example] in this way? How else might he/she have drawn this? Why choose this part of a scene to illustrate, rather than something else? Do the pictures communicate the same meaning as the words? Or do they contradict each other? Why do you think that is?

Why do you think the words were printed on the page in this way? Would it have made a difference in how you feel about the book if the font were different?

Monday, November 21, 2011

5th grade book report: December

This month's book presentation will be on a book of appropriate length and difficulty which is not a biography and which was selected as a medal or honor book for one of the American Library Association awards shown below.

We have dozens of titles on display in the school library or you may follow the links below to choose one yourself. Remember to run your selection past Ms. Russell for her approval!

The Batchelder Award is "awarded to an American publisher for a children's book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country, and subsequently translated into English and published in the United States. ALSC gives the award to encourage American publishers to seek out superior children's books abroad and to promote communication among the peoples of the world."

The Pura Belpré Award is "presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."

The Coretta Scott King Award is "given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society."

The Newbery Medal is "awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it be original work."

The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal "is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cyberbullying: what you can do

The Bully in the Backpack is a valuable, balanced article that I highly recommend all parents and teachers read - show it to your teen too!

From a parent's perspective, one of the most important lessons I took from this article was that many teens view their parents as technologically incompetent and prone to over-reacting. Therefore, they often prefer to suffer cyberbullying in silence rather than tell a parent out of fear that the parent will take away their cell phone or kick them off social networking sites.

Instead, we should help young people learn to "stop, block and tell": stop responding so they do not escalate situations, block the perpetrator, and tell an adult. Technology is a daily reality in young people's lives. As in many other situations, they must learn to behave safely and responsibly rather than eschew the tools altogether.

The article also features many useful links to sites for kids of all ages, parents and educators.

Want to read and discuss a great book? Check out The Truth about Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler, a great read for students in grades 5-8 about an online middle school newspaper that starts off with good intentions but rapidly spirals out of control.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Meet Christopher Paolini!

The young author of the immensely popular series that started with Eragon will be at the Redmond Regional Library on Tuesday, November 29th at 7pm! He will be promoting the release of his latest book, Inheritance, coming out tomorrow and concluding the series.

Check out this and other author events on the library's website!

Friday, November 4, 2011

NPR's book club for kids

If you haven't heard about it yet, check out the Back-Seat Book Club just for kids! It started in late October with Neil Gaiman's Newbery winner, The Graveyard Book, which is both spooky and heartwarming! This could be a fun activity for those too busy to get out to traditional book groups.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Library of the Early Mind

Our local branch of the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is sponsoring the first local screening of an amazing documentary, Library of the Early Mind, including a chance to hear and ask questions of the director. This powerful tribute to the power of children's literature features an all-star cast of notable authors and illustrators and is well worth seeing.

It will be showing at 7pm next Tuesday, November 8th, in Demaray Hall at Seattle Pacific University. Tickets are $10 at the door.

I had the good fortune to attend a screening of this film at the American Library Association annual conference this summer and was deeply touched and moved by it. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Write an author fan letter!

If you're in grades 4-12, you're invited to write a letter to an author (living or dead) whom you admire and submit it to the Letters about Literature contest. The deadline is January 6, 2012, which gives you plenty of time to ponder and write!

You can also read letters from past winners as well as some authors' responses.

Writing can be a solitary and lonely occupation. Sending a letter of appreciation to your favorite author and submitting it to this contest - and also mailing it to him or her (find contact information on the author's website or write c/o their publisher) - is a lovely act of generosity! And it might just win you national recognition too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Meet with me during parent/teacher conference days!

This is just a reminder that I will be available to meet with parents this Thursday between 8am-4pm and Friday between 8am-1pm. You may contact me in advance if you wish to reserve a time, however you are also very welcome to drop by the library learning commons without advance notice!

(My apologies for not being able to be here later on Friday. That was my original intention, however there is a memorial service I must attend.)

Please stop by just to see our newly renovated space, to ask any questions you might have about reading and research, to find out how your student is doing in library classes, or simply to introduce yourself and say hello. I look forward to chatting with you!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Participate in the Mock Newbery!

The Newbery Medal, given by the American Library Association each year to the author of a notable contribution to young people's literature, is widely recognized and respected as one of the country's most prestigious literary awards. Did you know that many public library systems hold Mock Newbery panels every year? King County Library System is no exception and they welcome participation from readers of all ages!

Just go to their You Choose the Next Newbery at KCLS blog, read at least four of the eight finalists, and vote online in January!

If you look at their past blog entries you will also find more wonderful reading suggestions among the many great titles that didn't make the final cut. Right now I'm listening to one of their finalists, Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now, which is a deeply moving account of artistic and personal discovery and dysfunctional family life in Vietnam War-era America (also shortlisted for the National Book Award)!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

4th grade animal fiction book reports

Fourth graders will be reading a realistic fiction chapter book about animals that is age appropriate and at their own “just right” reading level. There are some books meeting these criteria available in school library and reserved just for 4th graders to choose from! Students are welcome to stop by during lunch recess or before or after school.

KidsPage at KCLS has a
list of animal books (be sure to check that they fit the requirements):

To find more reading ideas, you can search the
KCLS catalog:

1. Log into your account
2. Click on Advanced Search
3. Under Search Input, select Subject and type in the kind of animal (plural) and juvenile fiction, e.g. dogs juvenile fiction or rats juvenile fiction
4. Under Search Input, select Call number and put J in the search box
5. Under Item Type, select Book
6. You can click Limit to Available to find only items that are currently checked in
7. Click on Search
8. When you get your results, click on Reviews & More to see what the book is about and what age level it is recommended for (I find the School Library Journal and Booklist reviews most helpful)
9. Click on Place Hold to have the book delivered to your local branch

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

November book presentation for 5th grade

November's genre for Ms. Russell's 5th grade Humanities class is historical fiction!

We have over 70 books available in the library learning commons just for 5th graders to choose from. Stop by anytime between 8:30am-4pm to choose your book! The deadline for letting Ms. Russell know which book you will be reading is November 7th.

Here are a few places to get reading suggestions:

KCLS KidsPage American Historical Fiction
KCLS KidsPage World Historical Fiction
KCLS TeenZone American Historical Fiction
KCLS TeenZone World Historical Fiction

Monday, October 10, 2011

Who's Who in the Library Learning Commons

This Thursday, October 13th, from 6:15-8:30pm is OWS Specialists' Night for parents of students in grades K-4! You will get to meet many of the Specialists, try out mini-lessons and ask general questions about the program. It is a fun, energizing evening - please stop by!

The library learning commons offers another way to get to know us and our program: you are welcome to drop by at any time between 8am-4pm on parent/teacher conference days (Thursday and Friday, October 20th-21st). Please drop in before or after your meeting with your student's teacher! I'd love to have the chance to chat and show you around. If you have more in-depth questions, you may schedule a private conference during the conference days or at another time.

Detailed grade level information is available on my website (
OWS website - Current Families - Teacher Websites - Simeon, Laura - Documents - Library Curriculum & Policies).

Library staff:

Laura Simeon, Librarian, has a BA from Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in history before completing an MA in the history of Early Modern Europe and Tokugawa Japan at the University of British Columbia and a Master's in Library and Information Science at the University of Washington. In her spare time, Ms. Simeon enjoys reading (of course!), travelling, knitting, spending time with her 9th grade daughter, and playing with her two cats and lop-eared rabbit. She loves the intellectual curiosity and vibrant energy of OWS students - no two days are ever the same!

Yuri Kenmochi, Library Assistant, was born and raised in Japan before coming to the US to attend university. She has been working at OWS for 5 years and really enjoys working with students and is inspired by the excitement children bring to readalouds. In her free time, Mrs. Kenmochi enjoys gardening, cooking and spending time with her daughter, who is a 5th grade Vista student.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Alliance for Young Artists & Writers Contest

Are you in grade 7 or higher? If so, check out this great opportunity to share your creative talents! The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers contest allows you to enter in a variety of categories, including journalism, video game design, film, fashion, novel writing, jewelry, comic art, and more.

Why not give it a whirl? There may be a cool project you started in class that could be perfect!

Monday, September 26, 2011

October book presentation for 5th grade

October's genre for Ms. Russell's 5th grade Humanities class is mystery/suspense!

We have a number of books available in the library learning commons just for 5th graders to choose from. Stop by anytime between 8:30am-4pm to choose your book! The deadline for letting Ms. Russell know which book you will be reading is October 3rd.

Here are some places you can look for more ideas. As always, check the recommended age level for each title! The best way is to look up the book at KCLS, click on "Reviews & More," then "Reviews." I highly recommend Booklist or School Library Journal. A review will also give you a summary of the plot so you can see if the book interests you or not.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Create a Culture of Reading at Home

This week I'd like to share my guest post on the Mothering magazine blog entitled Create a Culture of Reading at Home. It addresses some of the questions I have been most frequently asked over the years and I hope you will find it interesting and helpful!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Before you turn in that paper...

I'm sure you are all familiar with the concept of "plagiarism" but sometimes, especially when you're doing research online, it can feel a bit confusing. This website from the makers of Turnitin (which a lot of your high school teachers will probably use) helps clarify things. You can also use this fun interactive tutorial to test your knowledge!

Now, before you hand in your paper, you might want to run it through
Plagiarism Checker (you can enter a maximum of 32 words at a time on this site) or Paper Rater (this one works better for longer papers and also gives you advice on grammar and writing style).

What do you do if one of these sites says you plagiarized? Remember that if you paraphrase in your own words or directly quote someone else's original idea, you must give them credit by including a citation! If you intended to paraphrase but didn't manage it the first time, try using a thesaurus such as WordSmyth to find other ways to word your sentences.

A direct quote also needs to be put in quotation marks. Use the citation generator in World Book Online (see my page on Vista Sharepoint for login information) or KnightCite to create your citation. At our school we use MLA format for citations.

Citations need to be used to give credit to authors whose works you used in your research even if you do not quote or paraphrase them. General knowledge (e.g. "George Washington was the first president of the United States") does not need to be cited.

When in doubt, check with your teachers or me! It's better to play it safe and give credit to the sources you use.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nonfiction book presentation for 5th grade

Welcome back to school!

This month 5th graders will be reading a nonfiction book for their monthly book presentation for Ms. Russell's class. Qualifying books will have more than 40 pages that are primarily text, and will not be biographies. Science books must have been published during or after 2006. No duplication is allowed (each 5th grader must select a unique title).

Books need to be selected by Monday, September 19th.

Students may stop by the library learning commons to select an appropriate book from the 5th grade “genre of the month” shelf. If you prefer to borrow books from the public library instead, you can check out some recommended authors and websites below. Make sure you evaluate all titles in terms of age appropriateness as well as whether they meet the parameters Ms. Russell has set.

Suggested authors:
Rhoda Blumberg
Russell Freedman
Sy Montgomery (please note that she writes for both adults and young people)

Suggested websites:
Classic Non-fiction from the TeenZone at KCLS

The Sibert Medal, an award for exceptional non-fiction given by the American Library Association (which also gives out the Caldecott & Newbery Medals)

Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 offers detailed annotated lists for those who enjoy science.

The Cooperative Children's Book Center has numerous reading lists, many of which focus on non-fiction. Select first by grade level, then by topic.

Friday, September 2, 2011

New this year in Vista: The Nook!

E-readers are becoming increasingly popular and for good reason! In late August I purchased a dozen Nook e-readers for use by our Vista students. They will allow us to get new releases into the hands of students much more quickly than before and make multiple copies of hot new titles easily accessible without taking up a lot of shelf space.

Information you need to know:

• Nooks may be borrowed by Vista students with parental permission. The E-reader Appropriate Use Policy form is available on my Vista Sharepoint site and will be sent to families via email along with other Vista news the week before school starts.

• Families are financially liable for replacement and repair costs due to damage or loss while the Nook is checked out in their student’s name.

• Nooks may be borrowed for 3 weeks. Students may place holds on them just as they do with print books.

• The Nooks will be preloaded with books for a middle school audience purchased by Ms. Simeon (who welcomes additional requests from students)!

• Students may download e-books they borrow from the public library, however they may not purchase additional titles or delete or modify titles already on the Nook.

Have more questions? Contact Ms. Simeon anytime at library at ows dot org!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Comfort books

The other day my soon-to-be-9th grader asked me what my "comfort book" was (hers is Roald Dahl's The Witches). I love this idea of a book that is reassuring and nurturing in its familiarity and association with carefree, happy times. Much like the power of comfort foods, comfort reads can soothe us in times of stress.

I often see students picking up books that are "too easy," but which are meaningful to them for this very reason. They line up to check out these beloved books and share with me how very special they are, perhaps through association with a fond relative or favorite teacher or because something about the plot or characters speaks deeply to them (even if they cannot articulate exactly how or why).

Sometimes this is concerning to parents - that a child is reading below his or her current level - but reading can be a powerful emotional experience, and nostalgic forays into favorite titles from earlier in life build a positive association with books and are nothing to fear.

So, what is my comfort book? No question, it is C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The first time Lucy steps through the wardrobe into Narnia is seared into my brain as the single most magical moment in all of literature. Hmm, I might just have to pick it up again sometime very soon!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Back to school!

Isn't it hard to believe that school starts up in just about a month? Tonight I stumbled across this great reading list for teens that focuses on stories set in school - check them out!

Coincidentally I've just started listening to the audio version of Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell, about a girl's entry into high school. It's great realistic fiction about friends, parents, teachers and figuring out these confusing times that so many adults say are the best years of your life!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Characters coming to life

One of the most entertaining sessions I attended at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans was one in which several authors who won a Newbery with their first published novel talked about how it changed their lives.

Jennifer Holm, one of the panelists, worked in television broadcasting before eventually turning to writing full-time. She shared a sweet anecdote about a little boy who desperately loved her book Our Only May Amelia. Set in Washington state in the late 1800s, this story of a spirited Finnish American girl in a pioneer family was inspired by the diaries of Holm's great aunt, Alice Amelia, and set in Naselle, Washington, where some of her family remain to this day.

One day, Holm received a phone call from her grandparents, who reported that a little boy from Seattle had shown up asking to meet May Amelia! It was his spring break, and he had persuaded his family to drive him to Naselle, where he asked around about "where May Amelia lives" until he was finally directed to the Holm family farm.

Holm's grandparents took the little boy on a tractor tour of their farm and showed him Alice Amelia's diaries, and gently informed him that May Amelia was a fictional character. This story moved me deeply and was a reminder of how, when young people read, they are often consumed by stories in ways that are difficult to recapture as an adult.

Right now I'm in the middle of listening to a charming audiobook, The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prarie by Wendy McClure. The author recounts her wholehearted childhood belief in a parallel universe in which Laura Ingalls Wilder not only lived on, but could possibly come visit her for a tour of 1970s America! Similarly, The Magician's Book by Laura Miller is an absorbing tour through the author's childhood devotion to the Narnia series.

Sometimes parents worry when young people become consumed by a particular book or series, however, if you think back to your own childhood reading - or read books such as these about childhood reading obsessions - it can be reassuring to remember that this is not only normal and common, but something you may longingly wish to experience later in life!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Do you remember the first time you read on your own?

I don't - but I do remember the first time I noticed punctuation! Those funny squiggly marks had been there all along, but one day, while reading a print version of Bambi, they suddenly leapt off the page and into my consciousness!

The Geisel Award, named in honor of Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), honors the beginning reader format: books that are powerfully important in the early stages of a reader's life. They may appear "easy," and yet it requires enormous skill to craft a book that weaves an interesting plot peopled by engaging characters using only simple vocabulary.

At the American Library Association annual conference in New Orleans last month, I was moved by the acceptance speeches given by Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee and Tony Fucile, who together created this year's charming Geisel Award winner, Bink & Gollie. They spoke eloquently about the magic of the first time you read independently and whole new worlds open up!

Alison McGhee also shared a humorous tale about her son, who as a small boy passionately loved Munro Leaf's classic The Story of Ferdinand. He called one day to excitedly announce to his mother that he'd gotten a tattoo - but one that she would love! She was doubtful about this, but he eagerly went on to explain that it was a tattoo of - you guessed it - Ferdinand the bull! Talk about one's early reading making an indelible impression!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

KCLS: Our local gem!

Did you know that the King County Library System is not only the nation's busiest (circulating over 22 million items last year), but was also named Library of the Year by Library Journal for its outstanding service to the community?

Read all about it in the official announcement and check out the KCLS news release. Maybe you'll be surprised at all the wonderful services, events and resources that are right at our fingertips and in our neighborhoods!

No school library can ever compete with a great public library system, which is why an integral part of information literacy lessons for OWS and Vista students is learning about and encouraging use of KCLS resources. By becoming familiar with all the public library has to offer at a young age, students will be set for life since the library enriches and offers tremendous value to the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.

Following up on last week's post about video contests, check out the talented teen winners of the Why I Need My Library video competition.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Do you like making videos?

If you love to read and enjoy making videos, why not make a short video about a book you love and enter it at Storytubes (for ages 5-18) or Read.Flip.Win (for middle school, junior high and high school students)?

Get some friends involved in making your short movie and see how much fun it is to tell the world about the books you love!

The women who started Storytubes spoke at the ALA conference at a session on combining reading promotion with other media and they showed the very darling video on the main page about a book on chicken care. Take 2 minutes to watch it - I guarantee you'll be smiling by the end! You can also see some amazing past winners of Read.Flip.Win on their YouTube channel. Feel inspired? Please let me know if you enter - I'd love to see your videos!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Words of wisdom from Ingrid Law

Apologies for my silence! I was fortunate to get a grant from Penguin Young Readers Group to attend the American Library Association annual conference in New Orleans. It was an amazing week packed full of learning opportunities (literally: there were a couple of days when I had events scheduled from 8am-10pm), networking with about 13,000 other librarians from around the world, and even a bit of sightseeing in that truly incomparable city. I met many people who had lived through the trauma of Hurricane Katrina and was humbled by their stories. During this and coming weeks, I will be sharing some of the experiences I had at ALA.

To begin, I'll share some nuggets of wisdom from Newbery-winning author, Ingrid Law, whose delightful fantasies Savvy and Scumble have been very popular with our students. Among the many fantastic sessions I attended was one in which she was a panelist along with Jennifer Holm and Kirby Larson.

Ingrid shared the value of persistence and hard work when writing. Did you know that the first manuscript she sent out was rejected 45 times? Publishers told her that they loved her writing... but they didn't particularly like that novel. It would have been easy to give up, but she forged on, kept writing - and in 2009, Savvy was awarded a richly deserved Newbery Honor!

Want to know another secret? Ingrid revealed that one day she sat down, gave herself permission to write anything that came to mind without judgment (no self-censoring because her idea was too silly or strange or boring!) and what she wrote became the opening sentence of Savvy: "When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it."

Ingrid said that she gives herself permission to write "badly" on days when she's not feeling too inspired because you can always go back and fix bad writing, but if you haven't written anything at all there's nothing to work with.

She also does a surprising amount of research for someone who writes fantasy books! Of course you know that writers of historical fiction bury themselves in research to prepare for their writing. But Ingrid carefully checks out every detail, including going on road trips to the same places the Beaumont family visits and ordering a Volkswagen Beetle bumper on eBay (read Scumble if you're curious about that one)!

It was fascinating to hear all of this directly from the author and I hope that it will help you appreciate all the behind-the-scenes work your favorite authors put in, as well as encouraging you in your own writing!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Julia Donaldson: The New Children's Laureate!

The list of British Children's Laureates includes some of my personal favorite authors and the most recent addition, Julia Donaldson, is no exception! I was so pleased to see a recent article announcing her appointment.

Best known for her beloved Gruffalo picture books, Donaldson is also the prolific author of chapter books for beginning readers, middle grade students and teens - not to mention plays, poems and songs!

She is a busy woman overflowing with creativity, which will serve her well in her tenure as she devotes the next two years to promoting literacy, supporting libraries and generally spreading the joy of reading. If you only know her for the Gruffalo, you are in for a treat as you explore some of her other writing.

In the US, we have a National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. In case you missed it, check out this earlier blog post about Katherine Paterson!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Spine Poetry

In 5th grade we finished off the year by making book spine poems during library class! The students impressed me with their boundless energy and creativity as they rushed about the library cleverly putting together books to create funny, creepy, thoughtful and intriguing poetry.

We ended up many wonderful poems that I hoped to show you, but I ran into frustrating formatting issues with adding photos to the blog and regretfully had to limit what I've shared to the following... [My apologies for the erratic spacing - after wrestling with this for some time, I have decided to send this post out into the world as is!]

Why not raid your bookshelves and try creating some book spine poems of your own?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Break 2011 Reading Guide

Also view my profile on Goodreads and my SWIFT and Sharepoint pages for more reading ideas! On this blog, look at the “labels” menu on the lower left for categories such as “reading lists” and “awards.”

Happy summer break & happy reading!
Ms. Simeon

Picture books for all ages

Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella by Tony Johnston – Enjoy this jolly romp through a Pacific Northwest forest with a hairy prince and his Bigfoot brrrrride!

Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore – Be warned: this book will make you hungry! Read the story, then use the recipe to try making pancit at home!

Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile by Gloria Houston – In a remote part of the United States, a dedicated woman loaded up a green van every day and drove the mountain roads to bring books to grateful readers, including the author of this book!

The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett – There’s a different rabbit problem every month of the year in this hilarious book!

The Strange Case of the Missing Sheep by Mircea Catusanu – Unique illustrations highlight this clever mystery with a surprise ending!

Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World’s Smartest Horse by Emily Arnold McCully – An inspirational tale showing the human/animal bond at its best.

Chapter books - e

A Finder’s Magic by Philippa Pearce – A charming short illustrated chapter book about a boy whose beloved dog goes missing and the magical helper who comes to his aid.

Smarter Than Squirrels by Lucy Nolan – A funny beginning chapter book in the Down Girl and Sit series about two dogs who think they know exactly how the human world works!

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm – Times are tough and Turtle’s mama has to pack her off to stay with a gang of cousins in Key West. That’s when the adventure begins!

Chapter books - elementary/middle school

Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve – Great fun for those who like a dash of magic and mystery in their books.

I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson – This is the summer that Emma figures out that, despite her name, she is NOT a freak!

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes – Lanesha has always been able to talk with spirits, and that’s what helps her survive when Hurricane Katrina comes and the waters start to rise.

Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez – What would you do if you found out your parents were breaking the law…?

Chapter books - middle/high school

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins – When Ry’s summer camp is cancelled, his summer turns out to be more wildly adventurous than he ever could have dreamed!

Backwater by Joan Bauer – Finding the mysterious aunt no one wants to talk about helps Ivy figure out her own place in the family where she doesn’t quite fit in.

Peace, Love and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle – No one writes smart chick lit like Myracle! The title says it all.

Shift by Jennifer Bradbury – It all started off as the perfect summer vacation: two guys, their bikes and the open road. But that’s not how it ended…


The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton (grades 3-6) – An entertaining science book about the unexpected discoveries made by two brothers that have an impact on all our lives.

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (grades 5 and up) – History comes to life through the words of young Germans who share what it was like to grow up in the Third Reich.

Making Amazing Art!: 40 Activities Using the 7 Elements of Art Design by Sandi Henry (grades 2-8) – A great art book that teaches theory and technique as well as providing many activities to try.

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter (grades 2-4) – A beautiful true story about the power of learning and human connection.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Meet Satoshi Kitamura

One of the delights of the picture book genre is the way that someone who is a truly gifted artist and illustrator can create works that bring great joy to readers of all ages. Satoshi Kitamura is just such an individual. A native of Japan who lived for many years in London and who has won multiple literary awards in the English-speaking world, his books number among my favorites.

Take a look at this gallery of some of his art, including a page from my personal favorite, Sheep in Wolves' Clothing. You can also read his Postcard from Japan, about his experiences during and after the recent earthquake.

The whimsy, creativity and exuberance of an artist such as Kitamura are real gifts to readers of all ages. If you are not familiar with his work, give yourself a treat and take a moment to explore his work!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cell phone novels & other creative writing outlets

Figment, a free creative writing site for teens, is barely 6 months old but is already teeming with creative energy! Profiled in the New York Times, the site offers teens a place to share their writing - poetry, fiction, short stories, biography, and even cell phone novels.

Young writers can read and comment on one another's work. Some publishers have even joined the site! With summer break just around the corner, this might be the perfect time to sign up with Figment and start writing...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What's going on in 5th grade?

Rounding out our recent survey of what's happening at various grace levels, 5th graders have been learning about RADCAB. This handy acronym helps students consider whether a particular website suits their needs or not.

Relevancy (Is it related to what I want to know?)
Appropriateness (Is the reading level just right for me? Is the content appropriate for someone my age?)
Detail (Are there page headings or a site map to help me find what I need? What about a works cited page or a search engine? Is the site too general or too specific for me, or just right?)
Currency (How recently was this website updated?)
Authority (Who wrote the content for this site and how do I know whether I can trust him or her?)
Bias (What viewpoint was this information written from?)

Each week we've looked at a different aspect of RADCAB and discussed it as a group. Next, students explored the websites individually trying to determine on their own where the "mission statement" or "last updated" or "about the authors" or "contact us" sections of the site were, among other things.

Finally, we again got together to review as a class the areas that were most challenging for the majority of students, visiting many of the websites in question to help clear up any difficulties.

If you ever search the web with your student, I strongly suggest you work together to think about and discuss each of these points above. This will help him or her with future online research and also contribute to his or her general information literacy. These are valuable skills to have when reading news stories, watching advertisements on TV or listening to debates.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Our book fair starts tomorrow!

Our annual book fair at the downtown Bellevue branch of University Book Store will take place beginning tomorrow, Friday, May 13th through Sunday, May 15th during normal store hours (see below).

The school library gets 25% of the sales as store credit. Combined with our 20% educators’ discount, this adds up to a lot of books! Just show your OWS/Vista book fair voucher when you shop for books, gifts, art supplies, stationery and more. Vouchers will be sent home with students next week and will also be available in the farmhouse, library, main office and at the bookstore.

At 10:30am on Saturday, May 14th,
Ms. Arends will lead the OWS recorders group in a concert at the store. And don’t miss the beautiful Matisse-inspired self portraits created by our 2nd graders in Ms. Leggitt’s art class that will be on display for the duration of the book fair!

Thank you for helping to support your school library!

Questions? Contact Ms. Simeon at library at ows dot org

University Book Store has free underground parking and is conveniently located near Bellevue Square mall!

990 102nd Ave NE, Bellevue
425.462.4500 ~
Hours: Friday 9am–7pm, Saturday 10am–6pm, Sunday 12pm–5pm

Monday, May 9, 2011

What's going on in 4th grade?

Fourth graders continue to practice important information literacy skills during library classes that help them locate information more efficiently whether they are searching for books in a library catalog, articles in a database for a homework assignment, or websites in a search engine just for fun.

Unlike the days of hunting high and low to find enough information for your needs, today we all face the opposite challenge: too much information is out there and at times it threatens to overwhelm us!

Two of the most important skills students need to acquire are efficient search techniques and the ability to evaluate the quality of the content they retrieve.

We have been focusing on the former skill during library classes as students have practiced using search engines to locate answers to specific questions (such as the most popular dog breeds in Seattle or the top tourist destinations in the United States). They have also searched the library catalog for books that might interest a classmate, following a brief interview about his/her reading tastes.

These exercises have shown how challenging such relatively basic tasks can be for students of this age. One challenge is spelling! Another is being able to search in a flexible way. If your first search doesn't work (and is spelled correctly!), what other keywords could you try before deciding that the database has "nothing" about your topic or that there just aren't any good websites out there? We've focused on brainstorming a variety of related keywords to help make this type of flexible thinking a habit.

Take a look at my past blog posts on the topic of research to find out more!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What's going on in 2nd and 3rd grades?

Recently 2nd and 3rd grades have been enjoying books about individuals who struggled to overcome hardship in pursuit of their dreams. Most of the books we've been reading have been biographies - a genre which has come a long, long way since the rather dry books many of us parents and teachers remember reading as kids!

These days there are captivating, richly illustrated biographies of individuals both famous and not-so-famous. One thing their stories all have in common is persistence in the face of what can seem like insurmountable odds!

Students were fascinated to learn about Billy Wong, the Arizona-born son of Chinese immigrants who became El Chino, a famous bullfighter in Spain. Noted Japanese American author and artist,
Allen Say, writes that Wong's "search for self-identity became the inspirational force for the story."

This was a theme at work in the story of Wilma Rudolph as well. Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull tells the remarkable tale of her triumph over debilitating diseases to become one of the greatest athletes of her time.

The public library's biography reading lists for kids and teens will help you find more great books to enjoy at home!

Monday, May 2, 2011

May 13-15: The OWS/Vista Academy Book Fair!

Our annual book fair at the downtown Bellevue branch of University Book Store will take place from Friday, May 13th to Sunday, May 15th during normal store hours (see below).

The school library gets 25% of the sales as store credit. Combined with our 20% educators’ discount, this adds up to a lot of books! Just show your OWS/Vista book fair voucher when you shop for books, gifts, art supplies, stationery and more. Vouchers will be sent home with students next week and will also be available in the farmhouse, library, main office and at the bookstore.

At 10:30am on Saturday, May 14th,
Ms. Arends will lead the OWS recorders group in a concert at the store. And don’t miss the beautiful Matisse-inspired self portraits created by our 2nd graders in Ms. Leggitt’s art class that will be on display for the duration of the book fair!

Thank you for helping to support your school library!

Questions? Contact Ms. Simeon at library at ows dot org

University Book Store has free underground parking and is conveniently located near Bellevue Square mall!

990 102nd Ave NE, Bellevue
425.462.4500 ~ ubsbelle@u.washington.edu
Hours: Friday 9am–7pm, Saturday 10am–6pm, Sunday 12pm–5pm

Monday, April 25, 2011

What's going on in Kindergarten and 1st Grade?

Kindergarten and first graders have been enjoying our new unit on noodlehead stories! Noodlehead tales poke gentle fun at individuals - or sometimes entire villages, such as Chelm or Gotham - who behave in a silly manner.

In addition to providing a lot of good laughs, sharing these tales from around the world reinforces a bit of geography (we start every story with a look at the globe) and reminds students of some of the universalities of human culture. They are starting to notice commonalities between, for example, a noodlehead situation in a Goha story from the Middle East, a Cajun story from Louisiana and a story from England.

I am also combining reading books with storytelling - which of course is the way that stories were primarily transmitted from generation to generation long before the written word! Storytelling is enjoying something of a rebirth in popularity at the moment and I find that students respond eagerly to the immediacy and physicality of it.

If you'd like to enjoy more noodlehead stories at home, you can do a web search and find many sites that list them. Noodleheads: The Wisdom of Fools is a favorite of mine which lists many great books.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How to use Goodreads

Goodreads is a social networking site for readers who want to keep track of what they've read and what they'd like to read, as well as share their opinions with others or just see what books other readers might recommend.

my Goodreads page, I have a number of books (almost 900!) sorted by genre, age level, theme, etc. If you are interested in checking out some of my recommendations - and you do not have to be a Goodreads member to do so - simply click on the link to get to my page.

Once you are there, choose a virtual bookshelf to explore - let's say, Australia. Click on that label and you will see a list of the books I categorized as having a connection to Australia. Wondering what exactly they are about or what ages they are recommended for? Just click on "view" in the far right column.

Let's say you pick Diary of a Wombat. If you click on "view" you will see that I added it to the following bookshelves: animals, australia, humor, picture-books. If you click on the title of the book at the top of the page, you will see a summary of the plot, other users' ratings, and more book information.

However, if you clicked on "view" next to Does My Head Look Big in This? you would see that it was on these bookshelves: australia, cross-cultural, high-school, middle-school-fiction, muslim, palestine, religion.

I generally update my Goodreads listings on a weekly basis and I hope they will prove useful to anyone looking for something fun to read!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The 2011 Washington Children's Choice Picture Book Award Winner!

This year's results for the Washington Children's Choice Picture Book Award are in.... and the state-wide winner is Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle by Major Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery! This is a heartwarming true story about a dog in the deserts of Iraq who formed a special bond with a Marine and ended up starting a new life in California. Larson, a local author, has written some other student favorites, including Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival.

Meanwhile, the winner at Open Window School (where Nubs came in second place) was Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, an incredibly clever offering by the beloved author of Little Pea and Spoon. You can even see an animated version of the book on YouTube!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fun new children's book website!

The Guardian newspaper's Children's Books site is full of fun activities from book quizzes and answers to readers' questions to author and illustrator interviews, top 10 lists and reviews of new releases! Head on over to check it out!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Best Fiction for Young Adults!

The YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) 2011 list of Best Fiction for Young Adults is now available. This list covers a range of books in diverse genres for ages 12-18.

These days more and more adults have figured out that much young adult fiction is wonderfully written and entertaining no matter what your age. Check out this New York Times article on the subject of the growing popularity of YA fiction across all age levels!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Visit the library on parent/teacher conference days!

I will be in the library from 8am-3:30pm on March 16th and 17th, which are parent teacher conference days. If there is anything you would like to discuss, from encouraging your child to read more, to safely searching online for information, helping him/her try a greater variety of books, or research tips to help make homework go more smoothly, please come see me.

No appointment necessary! Consider this an open house time. You are welcome to take a look around the library even if you don't have any burning questions. I'd love to meet you!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Samantha Vamos at Open Window!

Last week we were fortunate enough to have Samantha Vamos come to our school. She did three presentations - one for kindergarten and first grade, one for second grade and one for fifth grade. Students got to see her PowerPoint slideshow about what it's like to be an author and a short movie about her life, listened to her read her books aloud, and got to ask her questions. (One of my favorite questions came from a first grader who asked, "Mrs. Vamos, what do you like better: writing books or selling books?")

Samantha emphasized that writing is a skill - and as with any skill, you get better with practice! She talked about how many times (about 50!) she rewrote her first picture book, Before You Were Here, Mi Amor, and how she learned to use rejections as a way to make the book better by really listening to the comments of the publishers who turned it down.

Fifth graders were able to see some of the early drafts of The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, with the editors' comments on both text and illustrations. Samantha had created a special presentation just for them on generating story ideas and described all the ways she gains inspiration for her writing. In turn, students were thrilled to share with her the stories they'd written in English and Spanish!

As always, it was a real treat to welcome an author to our campus and I hope the experience was one that our students will remember for years to come.