Friday, December 12, 2014

Bibliotherapy for Teens

Even if you've never heard of "bibliotherapy," you've likely experienced it, picking up a book about an emotionally charged subject that resonates with something you've experienced. In 1966 the Association of Hospital and Institution Libraries defined it in part as "guidance in the solution of personal problems through directed reading." 

In my role as a school librarian, I regularly am asked - by teachers, school counselors and students themselves - to provide books that fill this role in a small way, for example recommending titles about the death of a pet or conflict with a friend. More often students' own choices of books are influences - consciously or not - by this need.

There is huge comfort in picking up a book and seeing your feelings mirrored in it. It is a comfort to know you are not alone and to see how fictional characters deal with their situation. School Library Journal recently published two excellent bibliotherapy book lists for teen readers - check them out!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who's in your books? And what are they doing?

Maybe you've heard about the We Need Diverse Books movement that is making waves on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook? It was triggered in part by a report from the Cooperative Children's Book Center on the consistent lack of ethnic diversity in fiction for young people.

Much has been written on why it's important that all children be able to see themselves - and others - reflected in books. I particularly like Christopher Myers' take on books as maps that are supposed to open up worlds of "boundless imagination" and yet, "children of color remain outside the boundaries of best background characters, and more often than not absent."

When was the last time you read a book for young people in which a child of color entered a fantasy world or solved a mystery? A book in which ethnic differences - specifically problems relating to them - weren't the primary reason for minority characters' existence?

Every year from the first week of school until winter break we focus in-depth on one cultural group during our K-3 storytimes. Instead of a scattershot approach, this focus gives students a deeper understanding of the region or culture. Frequently referring to maps, we cover folklore, nonfiction and fiction. In the past we have covered the Celtic countries, Latin America and Korea, among other locations.

A major goal of this unit is also to challenge stereotypes. For example, one year we focused on contemporary Native Americans - since so many children's books write as if Native peoples existed only in the distant past - and read books recommended in A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children for not being exoticizing or exploitative.

This year we are looking at African American heritage - from cherished folktales to stories of modern families who are recent immigrants. Although the history of slavery and the Civil Rights movement is very important, an overwhelming percentage of picture books about African Americans portray victims of oppression or focus heavily on a few well-known heroes. What kind of mirror does this hold up to young readers? And what map does it set down before them? 

I deliberately chose books that portray regular, happy families doing what regular, happy families do. We also read some set during the past in which ordinary African Americans show a sense of agency, rather than being either great heroes or downtrodden victims.

My hope is that by shifting the balance of the content of the books we expose children to, we can also shift some of their internal images and expectations.

Want to learn more? Come to the Parent Association meeting on December 5th, where I'll be talking about my summer grant in which I overhauled the book sets we use at our school! I'll also talk about how you can consider the books you read with or give to your children (of all ages) and the messages they may be sending.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Music, memories & fun: a day with John McCutcheon

On October 9th we welcomed folk music legend, author and storyteller John McCutcheon to our school! To prepare for his visit we read his books and of course listened to his songs – in the library learning commons, art, PE and homerooms. In music, students learned to sing his classic Kindergarten Wall, as well as studying some of the more unusual instruments he plays, such as the autoharp and hammer dulcimer.

John exposed our students to traditional American music that was new to many of them. He also described the origins of the instruments he played - did you know that the banjo came from Africa?

Here is John showing K-2 students how to play the world's oldest instrument: your own body! Together they created a rainstorm!

And here he is performing "How Can I Keep from Singing?", a lovely Quaker hymn, with a talented group of 4th graders who rehearsed with our science teacher, Mr. Hollinger!

Another way we prepared for John's visit was by learning about historical connections to his music. Many classes heard Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People by Bonnie Christensen and John Henry by Julius Lester. They were then better prepared to appreciate John’s performances of “This Land Is Your Land” and “John Henry”!

I was impressed at how even as young as 2nd and 3rd grade, students were able to articulate why the story of John Henry would still resonate with us – how the drama (and anxiety) of human vs machine would feel as relevant in the computer age as it did when it was about steam drills. We also read other tall tales, exploring this uniquely American type of story and its place in US history.

In 4th grade we dove a little deeper into the mystery of John Henry – the subject of many folk songs, now proven by William & Mary historian Scott Reynolds Nelson to have been an actual person. I strongly recommend both his adult and young readers’ books that explain his groundbreaking research in a highly engaging way! They shed light on a forgotten group of people and their valuable contributions to the nation.

Before embarking on reading Ain’t Nothing but a Man, students wrote down what they know about how historians work and what they would like to know. We wrapped up our unit as they embarked on the mystery genre in Language Arts, so they were quick to draw parallels with the huge element of detective work in history, reflecting that, historians “have to look very closely at clues,” “keep on trying to find clues sometimes for years,” and that they “go places to find clues.” This last point was very surprising to many who imagined historians trapped among piles of dusty books. I am hopeful that this will plant in students a seed of love for the wonder that is history!

Thank you, John McCutcheon, for your beautiful performances and for inspiring such a rich range of wonderful related activities for us to explore!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Scientists in the Field - and in the Learning Commons!

The last project 4th graders did before summer vacation helped them practice several crucial skills they would need for middle school: cooperating in a group, comprehending nonfiction, and paraphrasing information in one's own words.

They took books from the fantastic Scientists in the Field series that shows the exciting work real-life scientists do, and adapted them for younger readers.

Working in groups of 3, 4th graders took on the roles of author, illustrator and editor. Together each group chose a book and read it, took notes, determined the most important facts to convey, coordinated text with illustrations, and produced lovely books that we spiral bound and gave to Mr. Hollinger to keep in the science room as a resource! 

Understanding nonfiction requires readers to notice details, make connections and exert sustained attention in a different way than fiction reading does. Sometimes avid fiction readers struggle with the transition to middle school-level nonfiction reading expectations. This new site, The Nonfiction Minute, is a fun and stimulating way to expose your student to more nonfiction, support their comprehension skills and whet their appetite for nonfiction reading.

One of the site's founders is David Schwartz, the math and science author who entertained us last year! Another is Roxie Munro, creator of many clever, interactive books and apps; her Ecomazes, very popular with our students, was a Smithsonian "Best Science Book" pick!

Here are some more samples of the great work our 4th graders produced:

Front cover

Back cover!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer reading lists!

Here are some great sites to get you started with summer reading!

***Remember that we have eBooks available through our catalog, as well as the free summer trial of the EBSCO K-8 eBook collection. Directions for accessing both are on the Activity Stream on MyOWS.***

KCLS Summer Learning site

A Diverse #SummerReading List For Kids

K-8 Summer Reading Lists from The Association for Library Service to Children (from last year, but still great!)

New York Public Library’s Summer Reading Lists for all ages

As always, Goodreads - a social networking site for readers - is a fantastic place to get reading suggestions. My own Goodreads page has over 1000 books sorted by genre, themes, recommended age, etc.

Looking forward to seeing you in September! Have a fun and safe summer filled with great books!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

5th graders help make the web less biased!

During 5th grade information literacy classes, students learned about The Geographically Uneven Coverage of Wikipedia. As the Oxford University researchers wrote, after examining "44 language versions" of Wikipedia, they found that, "slightly more than half of the global total of 3,336,473 articles are about places, events and people... occupying only about 2.5% of the world’s land area."

They also read and discussed, Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List, which described how "Wikipedia’s contributor base... was barely 13 percent women" and how "the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis" with traditionally female topics getting far less attention.

I challenged students to explain why we should care and got some great answers. In their own words, a biased resource:

  • lets people down when they need information because it's incomplete
  • isn't good for the social environment (building respect between people from different groups)
  • is unfair - we should have respect for the importance of all topics regardless of gender and geography
  • is wrong because people's interests aren't limited by gender

The next step was that they had to come up with a topic that would help correct one or both biases - geographic and gender - for which there was no article or only a stub (something too short) in Simple English Wikipedia. This is the version of Wikipedia for younger readers and English language learners.

Next they researched their topic using high quality sources, wrote articles, and created proper citations. For our final class they got to read and comment on one another's work.

I hope you'll take the time to click on a few of the links below and appreciate all their hard work! They chose a great range of interesting subjects and have the satisfaction of knowing that they've helped to make Wikipedia a bit less biased.

Original articles by our 5th graders:
Charlie - Albert Pujols
Elina – Marjane Satrapi
Finn - Aztec mythology
Ishan – Wilma Rudolph
Katherine - Gracie Gold
Logan - Ruby Bridges
Lucy - Mikaela Shiffrin
Nate - Malagasy language
Quincy - Kazu Kibuishi
Sage – Alfredo Stroessner
Sofia – Sharon Creech
Stella - Misty May-Treanor
Thomas - Jean Fritz
Tyler – Iditarod

Articles our students added to:
Adam – Diego Maradona
Bram – David Ben-Gurion
Olivia - Eartha Kitt
Samantha - Barbara Ann Scott
Sena – Lionel Messi 
Sydney - Shel Silverstein

Monday, June 9, 2014

Get your poem into a bus!

Feel inspired to write a poem? If so, you can enter it in the Poetry on Buses competition sponsored by King County Metro and 4Culture. Some of our students' artwork will appear on local bus shelters - let's see if we can get some of our writing inside the buses as well!

Poems must be 50 words or less on the topic of "home." There is a special category for poets under 18. The deadline is June 30th!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Middle schoolers' six-word memoirs

Every month I run a fun online contest for middle school students. It's a way to keep older students - so busy with homework and extracurriculars - connected to the Library Learning Commons. During April and May, the challenge was to write a six-word memoir. Below are a few of the particularly striking ones that I submitted to SMITH magazine's six-word memoir site for schools. Don't we have some talented students?

Friday, May 30, 2014

The summer reading book swap baskets are back!

Want to clear out your bookshelves and find some fun new books to read?

Starting Monday through the end of the school year, there will be two summer reading book swap baskets in the library learning commons, one for grades K-4 and one for grades 5-8.

Students may bring in gently used books they no longer want and exchange them for someone else's unwanted books. There is no limit! Drop off one book, take home one book. Drop off three, take home three...

The baskets are accessible during our normal open hours, 8am-4pm daily.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The best graphic novels, plus a visit from Kazu Kibuishi!

Graphic novels - book-length comics - continue to be hugely popular, appealing to reluctant and avid readers alike. Some of the most creative and talented authors and artists in the children's book world today are pursuing this form of expression.

I'm excited to announce that Kazu Kibuishi, one of the hottest names in graphic novels thanks to his wildly popular Amulet series, is going to be speaking and signing books at the Bellevue public library! Save the date: Saturday, June 7th at 2pm

Want to read graphic novels but don't know where to start? Start with this list of top choices for K-8 students from the American Library Association! 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Our middle school diversity leaders

Last weekend I had the pleasure of escorting two 7th graders and two 8th graders to the biannual NWAIS Student Diversity Leadership Retreat held at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, OR. Our student representatives applied for this honor by describing ways they felt our school could become a more inclusive and welcoming environment, and explaining their vision for making this happen.

The retreat, which is the only one of its kind in the country for students of this age, included schools from as far away as Utah and British Columbia. They came together to go on a team-building ropes course...

...participate in diversity workshops run by upper schoolers from NWAIS schools who are trained facilitators...

...and film PSAs to bring back to share with their school communities. They also got to make new friends and learn about lives and viewpoints vastly different from their own. 

The purpose of the retreat was to cultivate in them an awareness of important diversity issues that will enable them to be a force for positive change among their peers. Based on what I observed this weekend, they are off to an excellent start!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Reading with cats

What could be cuter than kids and kitties? Not much that I can think of! Inspired by a program in Pennsylvania, the Seattle Humane Society has launched Kitty Literature. Children ages 5-10 can stop by the shelter on Eastgate Way in Bellevue on Mondays-Wednesdays from 3-6pm and read to cats. One of our kindergartners is an inaugural member!

Reading to cats is great for the kids - who could be a more patient, non-critical audience? And it's great for the cats too, since they get a little extra human companionship - and, who knows? Maybe some will find a new home as well... Check out their Facebook post too!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Reading your way around the world

With our 8th graders enjoying their Costa Rican adventure this week, my thoughts turned to reading and geography. A disappointingly small percentage of books published in the US (for any age group) has been translated from languages other than English.

To help promote awareness of the rich world of reading that awaits them, the American Library Association sponsors the Batchelder Award for books in translation. Like the ALA's more well-known awards, such as the Caldecott and Newbery, this one seeks out noteworthy contributions to the world of children's literature and is a great source of reading ideas.

Maybe you heard about blogger Ann Morgan who read her way around the world? Check out her site where she describes setting herself the challenge of reading one book from every country around the world!

What about you - when's the last time you explored a different country or culture through a book? My Goodreads page can be one place to start - I tag books across many characteristics including country. Why not start there - and please send me recommendations so I can start to fill in all the gaps!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Save the date for our annual book fair!

Shop at University Book Store in downtown Bellevue between May 9-11, tell the cashier you’re with Open Window School, and we'll get 25% of the proceeds! Stock up on summer reading, Husky gear, art supplies and a lot more!

Second graders' Hundertwasser/Gaudi-inspired house collages created in Ms. Leggitt's art classes will be on display during the book fair, and on Saturday from 10:00-10:30am, Ms. Arends’ recorders players will perform a concert!

There is free parking at the bookstore, conveniently located next to Bellevue Square Mall. We'll be distributing flyers with a map and more details in the coming weeks.

Bookstore hours are Friday: 9am–7pm, Saturday: 9am–6pm and Sunday: 11am–5pm. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Yesterday's middle school author visit connected to the 20th anniversary this month of the tragic genocide that tore apart the country of Rwanda. After teaching his students about the Holocaust and wanting to cultivate an awareness that genocide has happened in more recent times as well, Seattle Country Day School teacher Brian Crawford searched in vain for a middle school-appropriate book about Rwanda. Finally he decided to write one himself. That's how The Weaver's Scar came to be.

After immersing himself in research about events in Rwanda, Brian finally got to visit the country last year. You can view photos from his trip on his website, using the link above. In addition, he donates part of the proceeds from book sales to Richard's Rwanda, an organization founded by a 6th grader to promote educational opportunities for girls. Also check out this interview with Brian!

We were very fortunate to have him come to campus yesterday to speak with 6th and 8th graders! Many students read the book in advance and generated questions about the book, being an author and the Rwandan genocide. This was an experience that left them enriched and enlightened. 

Brian also shared a couple of writing tips that have worked well for him:
  • Don't re-read your work as you write. You can go back and edit later on!
  • Set yourself a daily word limit and be disciplined! Make yourself sit there and write until you attain your limit!
I hope you enjoy his book as much as our students and I did!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Power Browsing!

Today 5th and 6th graders got to engage in a fun assembly activity that I'd wanted a chance to try with our students for some time: Power Browsing! Also known as Book Tasting, Speed Dating with Books, Speed Rating, etc., it's an opportunity to quickly sample wide range of different books that you might not otherwise pick up.

In preparation we set up the gym with chairs, each with a different book and a rating sheet. I chose 40 nonfiction and 30 fiction books from a wide range of genres and subject areas. The only things they had in common were that they hadn't circulated as much as I'd hoped they would and that I believed that someone out there would find them appealing. This person simply hadn't met their perfect book match yet!

Each student chose a seat randomly, started browsing their book and then gave it a rating (from #1 for "Loved it!" to #4 for "Not for me"). After 5 minutes, they stood up, moved to the chair to their right and carried on. After about half an hour of sampling books, students grouped themselves by going to stand by the book they liked the best. They spent the next 10 minutes recommending books to those who had gathered near them - people who shared their tastes. It was an opportunity to connect with new people and get some new reading recommendations.

Finally, they chose the books they wanted to borrow - perfect timing with spring break coming up! Scroll down to see a few photos from our morning activity!

Starting off...

Engrossed in a book!

Comparing notes.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

5th grade tech + K-3 picture books = lots of fun for all!

Animoto is a great site that lets users quickly and easily make their own videos using a variety of templates and different musical scores. Recently 5th graders learned all about Creative Commons, why it's important to use images that are licensed for re-use, and how to search for, download and save the URLs for these images.

They worked individually or in pairs, selecting one of the Washington Children's Choice Picture Book Award nominees, and creating a video book trailer to promote their title. Along the way they also developed a greater appreciation of how trailers work - how to make them tantalizing by including a hook that catches your viewers' attention, and how to reveal enough, but not too much, of the plot.

In classes this week, K-3 students are viewing the trailers before voting. They deliberate seriously over their choices and wait with anticipation for the results to be announced! We will announce our school's winner next Monday but may have to wait a few weeks to find out who won at the state level - typically over 100,000 students vote every year!

All the 5th graders did a wonderful job with their videos. Here are a few for you to enjoy!

Out of This World: Poems and Facts about Space by Amy Sklansky - trailer by Zoe

The Monster's Monster by Patrick McDonnell - trailer by Lindsay and Tristan

Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet by Kelly DiPucchio - trailer by Thomas and Adam

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Our 3rd & 4th grade book club: Ramin Ganeshram's Stir It Up!

This year our 3rd & 4th grade book club choice was Stir It Up! by Ramin Ganeshram. I chose this book thinking it would resonate with our students - and it certainly did! Stir It Up! tells the story of Anjali, a Trinidadian American girl of Asian Indian descent growing up in New York City. She is a talented and passionate cook who dreams of becoming a celebrity chef. But she is torn by her love and loyalty to her family who have worked hard starting over in America so that she can get a great education. Becoming a chef seems like a let-down compared to going to the academically exclusive Stuyvesant High School. What happens when Anjali has to choose between taking the Stuyvesant entrance exam and auditioning for a Food Network show? Read the book and find out!
Students role playing a crucial scene between Anjali and her parents.

Take a look at some of these wonderful letters students wrote to Ms. Ganeshram! The original book is sprinkled with mouth-watering recipes from Trinidad, as well as creative ones for success, inspiration, etc.  


Monday, March 10, 2014

Carmen Agra Deedy came to our school!

We were incredibly fortunate last week to welcome renowned storyteller and author, Carmen Agra Deedy, to our school all the way from her home in Georgia! She kept kindergartners, and first and second graders spellbound for a full 45 minutes with a hilarious Juan Bobo noodlehead story! Third and fourth graders got to hear one of her beloved Dill and Corky tales, about her early years in Decatur, not long after her family arrived from Cuba.

Carmen also did a mini workshop with third graders as well as conducting a full-day writing workshop with fourth grade. It was so rewarding for students to have a chance to learn tips for improving their creative writing and better understanding how a compelling narrative structure works.

Carmen's warmth, sense of humor and enthusiasm were contagious. I saw children brimming over with delight and, despite the long and intense day of writing, some couldn't bear to tear themselves away from their notebooks and go outside for a break.
Her visit supported our Spanish program and also gave students in our very diverse, multicultural community access to a successful, bicultural, bilingual adult role model! Teens and adults will enjoy her TED Talk, "Spinning a Story of Mama," and upper elementary through adult listeners shouldn't miss "My Father the Whiz: A Cuban Refugee's Response to Jim Crow."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Having fun while learning research skills in 4th grade

Frankly learning research skills isn't at the top of most students' list of fun activities. However, in this digital age there is no question that it is a must! 4th graders recently completed their Mystery Square projects. This activity immersed them in print and digital resources, synthesizing what they learned into something new, reinforcing previous paraphrasing practice, and giving them honest feedback from peers!

First students selected a country by choosing a popsicle stick from a jar. This introduced suspense but let me exercise a bit of control (I excluded countries that might be too obscure, as well as ones that many students have a lot of personal familiarity with)!

Next, they practiced their nonfiction comprehension skills by locating and paraphrasing facts about their country from the Enchantment of the World series and the CultureGrams database.
They reflected on all they'd learned and answered the following questions:

1. What is one important thing that you think everyone should know about your country?

2. What is one thing you admire about your country that we in America could learn from?

The answers to these questions were thoughtful and fascinating! For example, one student wrote about Haiti, "This country has suffered from poverty, but even through tough times they still managed to push through," and "The kids in this country have to help their parents to survive and I think kids in America should help their parents more."

The next step was creating their mystery squares with their four clues they thought were best on the outside flaps. Here's one for France: 

In the middle of the square they put their country's flag. Here is Ethiopia: 

We recorded each student reading out their clues and our last class session was devoted to a lively guessing game. They watched the videos, wrote their guesses on a mini whiteboard, and then waited with bated breath to see if they were right!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Video contest for teens - spark your own reaction!

Think you can "Spark a Reaction" and encourage other teens to read? If you're 13-18, you're eligible to enter this year's Teen Video Challenge sponsored by the Collaborative Summer Library Program.

You need to enter through your state of residence; the link to the Washington State Library's contest page is here. Your video encouraging teens to read over the summer should be 30-90 seconds long and should pertain to this year's theme, "Spark a Reaction!" Each state winner/winning group receives $275 - and, of course, the honor of publicity for their work.

Get out those video cameras - and take a look at this clever past winner from New York state - Alice in the Maximum Potter Games:

If you search YouTube or Vimeo for "CLSP" or "Teen Video Challenge" you can find many other entries for guidance and inspiration.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Book club fun!

Our second grade lunch recess book club had their first meeting on Wednesday! We're reading Almost Zero by Nikki Grimes, the third installment in her Dyamonde Daniel series. (The third grade club, which is reading the same book, starts today and the combined third/fourth grade club, reading Ramin Ganeshram's Stir It Up, meets on Monday!)

Kids who join book club are voluntarily giving up recess once a week to gather in the library learning commons to talk about what they read.

Almost Zero is a short book with a lot of depth. It is accessible even to young chapter book readers, but the subjects it deals with are profound ones: needs vs. wants, what parents owe their children, good manners and respect for others, compassion and generosity and gratitude...

We started off by discussing some of these topics. Students talked in pairs about what parents should do for their children - and they came up with some very insightful answers. Everyone agreed that one thing parents owe their children is guidance, which includes limits on behavior and possessions - sometimes saying "no" to requests or demands. This insight emerged independently from a group of 7 and 8 year olds, which really impressed me!

Next, the students worked in pairs to act out the scene from the book in which Dyamonde rudely insists that her mother has to buy her the expensive sneakers she wants. As you can see from their body language, they really got into the spirit of things! Their goal was to see if they could negotiate a different solution. We had some very strict "mothers" who reacted even more strongly than the mom in the book - but others gave a conditional "yes" (as long as Dyamonde saved up to pay for part of the cost herself).

We had so much fun on Wednesday and I can't wait to see what third graders do today!