Friday, November 20, 2015

Be A Thanksgiving Road Scholar!

Interesting fun fact from Ingram Library Services, our book vendor -- since September 2006, we've gone through the full range of barcode numbers 85001-87000.  Meaning I've bought a full 2000 books in the past 9 years, and that's not counting books purchased elsewhere, or donated, or any of the DVDS, audiobooks or audio courses added to the collection.  Wow!

Another fun fact --- AAA Travel forecasts that 42 million Americans will make a road trip of 50 miles or more over the Thanksgiving holiday period.  Will you be among them?  Even if your trip is 100% rural interstate, you've got a minimum of 45 minutes there and 45 minutes back, a full hour and a half in the car.  The likelihood is that you'll be travelling many hours more than that.

Audiobooks are awesome, but 90 minutes isn't very many chapters.  Imagine, though, taking a college-level course, 30 minutes at a time, and all of a sudden, your journey to Grandma's nets you three 30-minute college lectures.   In our case, 3 hours up and 3 hours back is nearly half a semester of really quality learning.

The Paideia JH/HS Library has a fantastic collection of Great Courses from the Teaching Company.  Some are in DVD video format (not so good for drive-time learning) but the majority are audio lectures on CD, ready to copy to your iPad or phone.  Imagine listening to an entire college-level course on The Science of Mindfulness or Writing Creative Nonfiction with no time diverted from your other activities!

Below is a sample of the audio lectures available -- for the entire collection go to The Great Courses Reading List on the Library catalog site.  Links go to the course descriptions in the Paideia Library catalog.

Understanding Japan: A Cultural History,  with Mark J. Ravina
(Emory; father & step-father of 3 Paideia alumni)

Influence: Mastering Life's' Most Powerful Skill, with Kenneth G Brown (University of Iowa)

The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes, with Kenneth W. Harl (Tulane)

Great American Music: Broadway Musicals, with Bill Messennger (Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins)

The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-Based Path to Well-Being, with Ronald D. Siegel (Harvard Med School)

Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History with Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius (UT-Knoxville)
(captive in the car while her senior brother listened, a 10th grader was inspired by this course to write her history paper on Civil War Spies last year)

Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft, with Brooks Landon (University of Iowa)

The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals, with Hanna B. Harvey (East Tennesse State University)

A Day's Read, with a team of professors from Perdue, Brown and Monterey Peninsula)
   (discussion of short works by the world's greatest writers, from the Jataka to Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel memoir Persepolis)

with Amy-Jill Levine (Vanderbilt)  

What are you going to learn over Thanksgiving break?

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Eda's Premium Hard Candies, aka "Yumbos"
Mention Yumbos to any of the countless students who learned their way through Paideia's elementary school, and eyes light up.   Many years ago, legendary 4th/5th grade teacher Peter Richards discovered "Eda's Sugarfree Candies" at the DeKalb Farmer's Market. He and other teachers gave out the candies, renamed "Yumbos" (a much more exciting name for 10-year-olds) as treats for exemplary work.

Peter being Peter (for one of his class' annually assigned projects, each student had to research the history of a company of choice), he naturally needed to know more about this mysterious "Eda" and her candies.   An article he researched and wrote, "Yumbos: History of a Confectionary Reward," appeared in the May 2014 issue of the Paideia Newsletter.

A former 4th grader, with Yumbo and book.
Just recently Peter, who retired in 2014, sent a gigantic bag of Yumbos, along with Eda Lehman's autobiography.  Since Peter's last students are now working their way through junior high and high school, I announced "Yumbos in the Library!" at Monday Morning Meeting this week.   The book, Eda's Story: A Memoir  and a bowl of Yumbos are out on the circulation desk.  High school students all week have asked about them, browsed the book (some quite thoroughly -- it's pretty short), and enjoyed a Yumbo or two.  Some students reminisce about their favorite color, while some students are newly introduced to the treat.  

Click the page image to download Peter's article as it appeared in the newsletter.

There's an interesting coda to the story -- while I was doing some quick research to see if Eda Lehman is still living (and discovered that she celebrated a birthday last February), I found that Eda's youngest sister Ruth, long believed killed in the Holocaust, may have survived and possibly immigrated to America. It doesn't seem that the family ever made contact with her, but you can read about that chapter of the Konigstein family's story here.

You just never know what's going to happen when you open a giant bag of sugarfree candies.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The "Big Kids" Library Has A Brand New Look!

The "Old Elementary Library," which
never officially got another name,
is now the Learning Specialists' space.
When I was a kid, I used to make scale drawings of my bedroom and all the furniture, then cut out and move the furniture pieces to see how things would fit before actually rearranging my room. And I never wanted to be anything like an architect or interior designer!

Last spring, we did something like that in planning a new library space, and back in June, we saw the end of the Paideia Junior High and High School Library as we've known it for the past 20 years.  Over the summer, this entire wing of the high school building was gutted, reconfigured, rearranged and revived, and I think it works really well.

My desk has never been so clean!
The planning process with architect Miriam Dolson began back during the winter.  She met several times with me, Brett Hardin and Laura Hardy to learn about what happens in the library, what's working & not working, how it's used by students and teachers, what could happen if the space were different.  She came up with some ideas, and we talked about them.  Most impressive was that Miriam came to school and just sat in the library for half a day. Observing the ebb and flow of students during study hall, class periods and breaks, she realized that some of her ideas just didn't work in this real-life situation.  In this renovation, Function was the driver of Form, and that's pretty darn cool.

These old collections of biographical
articles and primary document excerpts
are fine, but never used. They'd make a
great "book art" Christmas tree.
Since January I had been weeding the book collection, knowing that there would be much less shelf space in the new space.  Boxes and boxes of books were removed from the collection, many of them "perfectly good books," but not likely to be checked out again (or ever) by our student population - they went on to hopeful other lives with other readers.  Some of them were just embarrassing to find out we still had -- the ones on the "drug crisis" published in 1984, the one on the "new" ex-Soviet states published in 1990.  People -- no matter how good their physical condition, there are some books that just have to leave this world -- if the information contained is inaccurate or out-of-date, they've got no purpose for continuing to exist.  White paper recycling was invented for this purpose! 

In order to prepare for the demolition and construction, we closed the library for the last week of school, something we've never done before, which compacted summer checkouts to a 2-week period instead of three.  Then the last 4 days of school were frantic tidying, de-cluttering and boxing up of the circulation desk, my office, and the library workroom.  As anyone who's move house remembers, this is a fantastic time (even for genetically-programmed packrats) to get rid of lots and lots of random stuff.  The ancient vinyl record collection went to an IT guy from Emory who had just gotten a turntable and was really excited to introduce his kids to Western classical music in analog sound.  The Dictionary of Slang went to a skeptically thrilled Clark Cloyd for his classroom collection.  An old overhead projector went to the science department for robotics parts.  The World Book encyclopedia went to the elementary school. And so forth.

The office and circulation desk, all boxed up.
What was left went into boxes.

Getting ready for storage.
Goodbye to the old entry.
The zen of tidiness!

Never fear!  The school hired Professionals to box and move the books.  (Whew!!)

The movers came in the day after school finished to tag and box the books shelf by shelf, then take apart and move all the furniture and put every little thing into storage for the summer. Then the demolition began.

That little room in the back right is my new office!

All gone, even the carpet.  You can even see all the new electrical outlets along the east wall.

While the library was an empty shell inside, this was going on out in the world.  Yippee for summer reading!!

A junior high student engrossed in March: Book 2,
the graphic novel autobiography by John Lewis. Books 1 & 2
were the junior high's "all read" assignment for the summer.

I wasn't willing to put money on whether all the construction would be done by the start of school (oh, me of little faith!), but just in time for the faculty retreat & planning week, the carpet was in and the shelving was reassembled and placed according to the new plan.  And then ... I walked in and said "oh, no!"   And Miriam walked in 30 minutes later and said "oh, no."  You know how sometimes you move into a new place and realize that where you told the movers to put the sofa and the lamps and the TV cabinet just doesn't work in real life??   We fixed it, and said "yeah, ok."  And the books came in, and my boxes came in, and then the students came in!

The library is as packed as ever, before school, during break and at lunch.

The doors were removed from the old entryway, and a new wall and doors built.
Now the elevator and the classroom open into this vestibule, not the library.

Remember how the elementary library entrance was diagonal across the corner? 
The same trim was moved to the new door into the Library Meeting Room. 
The Paideia-in-Print and display shelves on the wall are where the office window used to be.
That's Morgan Potts, new Learning Specialist, in front of the door to their space.

The view from the Learning Specialists' door.

New (exceedingly sturdy) armchairs, and additional armless seats too!

The study carrels are now all lined up along the wall with the new outlets.

New library floor plan. Can you still remember how it used to be?

I'm still adjusting and tweaking details, things that nobody would think or notice until actually working in the space, but as I was quoted saying in a recent Forum article on the renovations: "I like them, I think it was well thought out, and I really appreciate being a part of the planning."  Nuff said.

So do like these folks say --  come on in, and Check It Out!!!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Author Becky Albertalli at Paideia Next Week

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda  is a wonderful YA coming-of-age debut novel by Atlanta author Becky Albertalli.  The first word that comes to mind as a description is "solid." Sure, on the face of it "solid" is not a particularly exciting adjective, but it's so right for this great book.  There's nothing fluffy, nothing weak, nothing unnecessary in the writing or plot. The characters are appealing and well-drawn, the crises so realistically believable, and the ending is satisfying. 

In a nutshell, Simon Spier is a funny, well-adjusted 16-year-old high school student somewhere on the northern side of Atlanta.  He has a core of close friends, does well in school, and knows he likes guys but isn't in torment about it.  In fact, Simon is thrilled that he's started to exchange friendly, flirty emails with another guy at school -- but he doesn't know "Blue's" identity, and Blue doesn't know his.  Then oops -- Simon forgets to close out his email on a library computer. The class clown/jerk Martin takes a peek, uses the secret to blackmail Simon into setting him up with best friend Abby (from Peachtree City),  and the plots starts rolling.

If you're a fan of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, or Glee, or Eleanor and Park, or anything by David Levithan, you will love Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I guarantee you will leave the book feeling like you've had a good meal -- lots of colors on the plate, a variety of flavors and nutrients,  not too heavy, not too sweet, but nourished, satisfied, and feeling like you've done a very good thing for yourself.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kindle Books + Audible Books + Fire HD = Immersion Reading:
Even Better Than Tinkerbell!

Remember read-along storybooks?  The ones when you "See the Pictures -- Hear the Record -- Read the Book," and a sound alerts you to Turn the Page?  Back before apps, before CDs, even before cassette tapes, many of the original read-alongs were adaptations of Disney cartoons, released on 45 rpm vinyl records.  In the Disney ones, Tinkerbell's ringing bell signaled that it was time to turn the page to continue with the printed text.  Look Mom, I'm "reading!"

A certain fine young man I know, VB, doesn't much like to read. He enjoys the stories, but reading is hard, and slow, and tires him out.  Kind of like running. Ugh.  Who can really blame a guy for choosing other leisure activities?
Once. U-pon. A. Time . . .

For school, though, reading isn't optional.  There are a number of assistive technologies available, like text-to-speech software, and Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic materials, that let VB listen to the spoken text and read along with it, but they're inelegant. The "Robbie the Robot" voices do they best they can, but often words are pronounced oddly, or without the inflections of meaning that are obvious to a fluent human reader.

None of these options has trumped Tinkerbell, until (which offered a text-to-speech Kindle option that VB liked ok)  figured out how to synchronize audiobooks with Kindle ebooks on the Kindle Fire HD tablet, using their Whispersync technology. They call it Immersion Reading, and  It's Awesome! 

Immersion Reading plays the professionally recorded audiobook synchronized to the corresponding text on the screen, with real-time highlighting of each word as it's read.  And poor Tinkerbell is out of a job -- the Fire HD turns the page automatically along with the narration.

On the slight down-side, it does mean buying the book twice, once from Audible and once from Kindle (both are owned by, and not all books have compatible audiobooks.  It doesn't work on a regular Kindle, though they say it will work on Android devices other than the Fire HD.

On the upside, though, since both are owned by, there is often a significant discount on the Audible book once you've purchased the Kindle book (The Martian  by Andy Weir was $5.99 for the Kindle book, and the Audible add-on was only $2.99.  Not all pairs are that good a deal, though).

The proof of awesomeness?  VB has asked for all his school lit books on the Fire HD, and even started reading one 3 weeks ahead of time.  He has also asked for leisure reading books (yay!  "Reader's Advisory" is fun!), and upon finishing one, he asks for another.  He says he understands what's going on much better with a human reading the story, and his work in lit class shows it.  "Reading on the Kindle Fire" even merited its own bullet-point in his recent presentation on his best learning strategies.  Wow.

After all, it's immersion in language and stories that matters, not the container.  Sorry Tinkerbell, this time I think you're out of a job for good.

Have you tried the Fire HD with Immersion Reading?  Or another assistive technology for reading?  Share your experiences in the comments.

VB's Top Immersion Reading Experiences So Far

Long Way Gone  by Ishmael Beah (for school)
Divided We Fall  by Trent Reedy
     (leisure reading; #1 favorite! VB is impatiently waiting for the audio version of the sequel)
The Martian  by Andy Weir (reading now)
The #1 Ladies Detective Agency  by Alexander McCall Smith
      (for school. Better than he thought it would be -- thanks to Immersion Reading!)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe:
A Joint Book Club Meeting with BAHGLT

If you've ever been in a book club, you know that some times you really get into talking about the book, its themes, the writing, what worked and what didn't work, and sometimes you end up just gossiping. Today we hit the first high with an excellent discussion of Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamín Alire Saenz. All year we have been hoping to have a joint book discussion with members of BAHGLT (Paideia's "Bi and Hetero, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender" student club) -- BAHGLT's sponsor, Eddy Hernandez, and I had listened to the book over the summer, loved it and were pleased that both groups wanted to read it. A big group (10 students!) met in Eddy's room after school to eat Fellini's pizza (thanks to our successful pizza sale fund-raiser last week) and talk about the book.

Benjamin Alire Saenz

 Author Quick Facts

• Chair of the MFA program in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso
• author of 5 books of poetry and many works of fiction, including short stories, adult novels, children's books and 4 novels for teenagers

• born in 1954 in New Mexico

• went to college in Colorado, studied theology in Belgium
• was a Catholic priest before returning to graduate school and becoming an author and teacher

• is the first Latino author to win the PEN/Faulkner Award

Aristotle & Dante won 3 of the American Library Association's 2013 Youth Media Awards --
 --> the Stonewall Book Award for depicting the GLBT experience
--> the Pura Belpré Award for depicting and celebrating the Latino cultural experience, and
--> the Michael L. Printz Honor Book award for best writing in teen literature

Find out more

Author Talk -  how he came to write the book (at

Words on a Wire -- Podcast interview with the author (audio only)

NPR interview with the author (from the program Tell Me More)

Interview with the author in School Library Journal 

Interview with the author (HappyNappy Bookseller blog)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Alex Awards Reading Report (2014):
All Ten Read!

Last week I had this post all ready to go except for the book cover images, when technology let me down. I accidentally deleted all the HTML, and Blogger helpfully auto-saved the blank page for me. POOF! Permanently vanished!  I wanted to cry.

This week the 2015 Alex Awards list was announced, so it's good to be able to say that I finished my personal challenge to read all ten titles on the 2014 list!   And a happy report it is, as all ten are winners.  Different genres, different styles, but not a dog in the pack.

 2014 Alex Awards 
(given by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of ALA)
~ The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.
Links go to a book's entry in the Paideia Library online catalog.
  • Lexicon: A Novel  by Max Barry.  A thriller and a puzzle about the mysteries of the human mind and power of language, and the dangers of absolute control. Oh, and also about preventing the apocalyptic destruction of the entire human race by a single murderous Word.
  • Help for the Haunted by John Searles.  This novel is as much a study of a dysfunctional family as it is a mystery about who and what killed Sylvie's professional ghost-hunting parents one stormy night. 
  • The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu.  A fun space alien spy romp, with historical input.  Tao is thousands of years old, but on Earth his kind can only survive when hosted by a human body.  Past hosts have been history makers both good and bad, but his most recent host, an unachieving IT worker named Roen Tan, is one of convenience, not choice.  And given that Tao needs to change Roen from a couch-potato to super secret agent in just weeks (the war between pro- and anti- human alien factions is at a crucial stage), it's no wonder he's impatient, snarky and fond of the olden days of competent hosts..
  • Brewster by Mark Slouka.   This is a deeply moving novel about growing up, being a guy and  wanting to be loved by parents who can't.  I posted a review here on the blog back in May.
  • The Death of Bees  by Lisa O’Donnell.  Two sisters in hard-luck Glasgow struggle to keep the appearance of normality following the sudden death of their father, and suicide of their grieving mother.  With the bodies inexpertly buried in the back yard and each sister secretly convinced the other is guilty of offing their dad, the only caring adult who takes notice is the grieving gay widower next door, who just happens to have a conviction for solicitation of a minor.  This gritty novel is about how birthfamily can let you down, how trying to go it alone can be a mistake, and about how real family can be formed from unexpected ingredients.
  • Golden Boy by  Abigail Tarttelin.  The opening of this novel includes a graphic assault, and left me thinking about putting the book down for good.  I kept on reading, though, and accept that the violence at the beginning is crucial to understanding Max and his torment.  16-year-old Max is practically perfect -- a good student, a loving and beloved son, a great big brother, handsome, athletic.  He likes all the regular guy things, including girls.  The big family secret is 'in his pants' -- Max has working boy parts and working girl parts too.  Betrayal by a long-time friend forces him to the very edge emotionally, and only then does he find the support, true friendship and acceptance he needs to keep on living.  This thoughtful and sensitive novel ended up being one of my favorites on the 2014 Alex list.
  • Mother, Mother  by Koren Zailckas.  This was so much better than I'd anticipated (I was kind of afraid to read it after the dark reviews), and one of my top choices for the year.  Review from March is in this blog post.
  • Relish by Lucy Knisley.  A winning graphic novel memoir with recipes.  I wrote about it here back in April.

  •  The Sea of Tranquility  by Katja Millay.  Another favorite from the 2014 list.  Nastya has lost her identity, after a violent attack that left her with broken fingers, a broken body and a shattered future as a concert pianist.  With a new name, new school, and a new self (goth, sexy, uncaring, brash) she lives only for revenge.  Josh has lost his family -- everyone he's ever loved has died, and now he's an emancipated high school senior, taking care of himself and never letting himself care about anyone.  This is a romantic, weepy and very emotional novel about learning to rejoin and embrace life when it seems there's nothing left to live for.

  • The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. The book blurb didn't sound so great to me (teenager nabbed at British customs with an urn of cremains and a bag of pot), but you should read this book anyway!   It's a wonderful portrait of the unlikely friendship between an awkward, epileptic British boy with a flaky mom and a non-existent dad, and a misogynistic, cranky American Vietnam-vet widower, and of Alex's growth from strange kid to capable young man, brave enough to face both death and life head on.

 The high school Book Club is reading The Universe vs. Alex Woods for April.  I hope you will read one or many of the 2014 Alex Books -- if you do, please let me know what you think of it!

The 2015 Alex Awards list is published on the ALA website.  No promises from me yet -- a couple I know are going to be great, but the rest, well . . .  I'll let you know later.