Friday, November 13, 2009

Where the Stories Are

Q: Where do you find inspiration for your novels?
A: Out in the world -- that's where the stories are.

Brendan Halpin

Dear Parents,

Today in Martha and Greg's class we had a "virtual" author visit, via Skype, with writer Brendan Halpin. Brendan's first novel, Donorboy, has been an 8th grade Reading Bowl book for several years, and I jumped at the opportunity to bring him (or rather, his big talking head) to school. Students prepared questions about his books and the craft of writing, the technology worked beautifully, and Brendan spent about 30 minutes talking with us from an empty classroom where he is teaching in Boston. Ask your student about it -- I think everyone really enjoyed the visit.

Another junior high class Skyped with Brendan in October, but our network crashed right in the middle of the talk. Luckily, he's a guy who enjoys connecting with teenagers, and he graciously answered the remaining questions in a video, which you can see on the Library blog, The Reticulated Pithon.

We have all of Brendan Halpin's books, some written for adults and some for teenagers, in the Paideia Library. Please feel free to come check one out sometime, and see what other resources we have for students and the whole Paideia community.


Performance Poet Joanna Hoffman in Class

The other half of last Friday's "Regie and Joanna Show" was 2007 DC/Baltimore Grand Slam Champion Joanna Hoffman. At first Joanna was only going to do one class workshop in the morning, but the teacher was so impressed and excited by the class that Joanna stayed on to do another workshop later in the day.
Joanna used poetry of her own and other slam poets to illustrate the diverse styles and ideas presented in slam poetry. Her first poems "Anti-Love Love Poem" and "Why Do I Like You?" struck personal chords with the kids because they both looked at the foibles of love and ended with lessons of humanity and acceptance, which the kids could relate to and understand. The kids participated and read slam poems that she provided and the classes discussed the characteristics of slam poetry such as exploration of the inner self, less structure with a casual conversational tone that makes it appealing. We ended the session with a mock poetry slam.

My favorite poem was about her mother's struggle with breast cancer, which revealed Joanna's impatience with her mother's attempts to always keep Joanna safe as a child, cautious to an annoying level. By the end of the poem, Joanna concludes that perhaps her mother was right to always be cautious because cancer took her by surprise and maybe there is always something lurking in us waiting to hurt us and change our lives. It began with the simple mother-daughter vexations and ended poignantly with Joanna's understanding and grief over her mother's fight.

I came away from the sessions with a new respect for slam poetry and the performers -- not only do they write their own poetry, but they recite and enhance with a performance. One kid commented after reading a poem, "the written poetry is not anything like the poetry that comes out on stage." Others commented that Joanna was "quiet but transformed when she performed her poetry." I saw that change also and was so glad the kids picked up on it.

She did not just come here to perform but to teach and expose as well, which struck me and showed her passion for her art.

One of my favorite lines was from a poem called "Enough" by Andrea Gibson, "I want to live my life like a little league game -- I don't care if I win."

It was a big week for poetry-loving students, who had the opportunity to hear former Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur on Wednesday and Thursday, to hear and perform poetry with Joanna and Regie on Friday, and attend a Slam Poetry Showcase in Decatur on Saturday. Thank you, Joanna, for bringing your art to Paideia.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Slam Champion Regie Cabico in Class

Last Friday, Paideia had a slammin' day in 4 different High School literature classes, thanks to slam poetry champions Regie Cabico and Joanna Hoffman. Both were in town for the weekend's Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, and the library brought them to school for in-class workshops for Marianne, Thrower and Joseph's students.

Regie is a poet, spoken word artist and playwright who has won top prizes in national poetry slams. His work is included in the anthologies Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and Spoken Word Revolution: Slam, Hip Hop and the Poetry of a New Generation.

Crushed that I had to be in Charlotte at the AASL conference, I asked the teachers to let me know how it went. Rather than paraphrase, I give you a workshop session in the teacher's own words. I can see the class in my mind -- can you?
Regie Cabico visited my class last Friday, and leading up to it, he told me that he does all kinds of workshops and has recently worked with kids in Bellvue Hospital. He started off with very high energy, almost as if he were walking on stage in a show. It wasn't off-putting at all, because you got the sense that he was being there with you. He talked a little about himself, his Filipino background, and how he came to poetry, and poetry slams. He was unabashedly gay, but this fact was not used as anything other than that this was who he was and why he was in Atlanta.

Without consulting any text or script, he then launched into a performance of a piece about checking the box called Other when one has to fill out certain forms. His language was incredibly rich with metaphor. I remember one near the end, when after talking about all of the cultural influences he has absorbed (and by extension, I assume, many Americans have experienced the same), he said something like, "How do you expect me to fit all of this into one small box that 'not even a Thumbelina-thin diva' could fit her toe in?"

At one point, he told me that he saw spoken-word art as "3 minute solo plays." And as a teacher, his job is to elicit people's stories from them.

After doing only maybe 3 total pieces, he switched from performer to teacher. He got the kids to make "a list of 50 things that you hate. It can be people, moments, foods, anything. . . But make it specific. " After few minutes of that, he said, now you can switch to things that you love, that turn you on. It didn't matter that we didn't get 50; it was just an incentive to put down bunches.

He invited people to read their lists, and then celebrated them all by having everyone clap. Then without pause , he said, "Now, I want you to write a poem with every line starting 'I have the urge to. . .' and if you want to, you can use the lists that you just made."

After 4-5 minutes, he again invited students to read, making sure that he encouraged others than the first few who volunteered, who happened to be the same ones who volunteered the first time. He said that the first reader would be the teacher. I gamely complied. Each reader was invited up to stand in front of the group, was greeted by applause (Regie playing MC) and then was appreciated by applause when finished.

The kids really liked it; they told me so the next day. They enjoyed the excitement and energy, and they all liked the work of their peers, some of which was really touching, really fun, really serious.

Joanna Hoffman came to school set to do one class in the morning. It was such a success that the teacher called me in Charlotte to ask, please, could Joanna do another class later in the day? Sweet news! Of course she could.

We've got ideas kicking around for more performance poetry events for next year, but that's a long time away. For now, a thousand thanks to Regie and Joanna -- great artists and wonderful people. Let's meet in person someday!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Essential Reading for Junior High Parents

A good school works hard to educate not just its young people, but the entire community of people who surround it. Our Junior High leaders hold a series of parent meetings every year to discuss various topics about raising, teaching and understand young teens (ages 11-14 or so).

The 2009-2010 Junior High Parent Reading list for this year's meetings is available online on Paideia's library catalog. In this list you can see, not only the recommended titles, but which ones are in the library right now for immediate checkout. If you a Paideia parent, you can e-mail me to place a hold on any title that is currently checked out to someone else.

A comprehensive list of Junior High Parent reading (including this year's as well as previous years' discussion titles), plus LOTS of other reading lists for adults and students, can be found on the library catalog's Recommendations page. Visit it under Browse Recommendations in the purple sidebar of the main catalog page.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

This Writing is on the Walls

Imagine what you could do with this in school. Classroom walls, conference room, kids' rooms, family message center. I bet you could use Ideapaint on something portable, like a 4' x 8' piece of plywood that could be propped up anywhere as a whiteboard/ideaboard. Scoreboard?

Or on a car . . . Hmmm.

Thanks to Vicki Davis for the info.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cool 2.0: Visit 1 with Brendan Halpin

"Things don't stop being funny because they're serious."
Brendan Halpin
So Thursday morning's Skype visit with Brendan Halpin was going along amazingly well. The students all had come prepared with mostly thoughtful questions, Skype was working fine, and we were really enjoying hearing Brendan's funny, honest answers. And then (oh no, the awful and then . . ), about halfway into the visit, OUR network crashed. No Internet, no Skype, no Brendan. Grrrr.

Folks, not only is Brendan Halpin a wonderful author (buy his books!), he's also a great guy who enjoys connecting with teenagers. He agreed to let me send him the remaining student questions, and, as a simulated Skype completion of the visit, he created a video of the answers, complete with simulated student interaction (thank you, Rowen). Oh, and Weezie is short for Helyn Louise.

Virtual Class Visit #1 from Brendan Halpin on Vimeo.

Based on half of a virtual author visit, I'd say that it's a really effective way to bring writing and writers into the classroom. It's relatively easy on the author (an hour of a day from a home office, rather than a whole day at minimum of airplanes, transportation, crazy scheduling) and oddly enough, a very personal experience for the students (maybe it's the larger-than-life head on the whiteboard?).

This was very different from an in-person author visit, which usually starts with a prepared talk by the author, followed by a shorter Q&A from the audience. Mindful of the author's time, we jumped right in with the student questions, and because we were all in their regular classroom space, I think the students felt a lot of "ownership" of the time (by that I mean, freedom to participate).

Tips for a Successful Skype
  1. Invite a really neat visitor
  2. Communicate in advance.
  3. Do a technology run-through in advance.
  4. Make sure the students are prepared with relevant questions.
  5. Inform your technology department of the event so they don't schedule maintenance during the visit.
  6. Be on time.
  7. Cross your fingers and hope for the best --
    technology does sometimes fail us, without notice :-(
  8. Follow up with students and your visitor with feedback and thanks.
Luckily, we get another try in a couple of weeks when Brendan returns to vist Greg's Junior High class. This time, I'm going to consult in advance with the invisible Internet sprites, to make sure the network stays with us for the whole visit.

11/7/09 - Comment from a participating teacher after showing Brendan's video to her class:
This was AWESOME! I showed it to my kids this week, and they loved it. What a great guy.


We Vant to Rrread Your Booooks!

From the Paideia Library team,

Happy Halloween!

from Anna, Natalie, Aamir (Library Assistant),
Anselm the Wise, & Margaret (aka Screech)

Thanks to JibJab Sendables® eCards.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Learning 1-2-3

I do love Big Huge Labs' Flickr Toys, especially the Motivator poster template. I use it to create the regular Reader of the Month posters, I've used it to make cute poster of my kids & their friends, and occasionally other projects pop up. Sure, similar posters could be created with a draw program or Photoshop (if I could ever learn to deal with Photoshop . . .), but Motivator's just so easy and good-looking.

Inspired by a long research-based blog post, yesterday I created a new little poster. I'd never before thought about the learning process as a three-step, and I wanted to share. It just makes so much sense.

Even though this is just in black and white, it looks so much better printed on a color laser printer. If you're interested in having a higher resolution jpg (it's still not super, but better than what you'll get from the above image), please leave me a comment with e-mail and I'll be happy to send you the file.

The stick figure clip art is licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on, which has lots of nifty school-related clips art free to use for non-commercial purposes. Go check it out.

Creative Commons License

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cool 2.0: Author Visit with Brendan Halpin

This week we are having a "virtual author visit" in the Junior High, and it's going to be really cool. A year or so ago some teachers had expressed interest in bringing Award-Winning YA Author to school, and I contacted her with the possibility of doing the visit via 'video conferencing,' using a Web 2.0 tool like Skype. Award-Winning Author wasn't familiar with this tool, said she might look into it, but our communication (and the idea) never went anywhere.

Early this school year, a School Library Journal article on author visits via Skype popped up in my RSS reader. Along with the article was a list of "authors who Skype," and among them were some familiar names, including Brendan Halpin, author of Losing My Faculties, How Ya' Like Me Now, and the Alex Award-winning Donorboy. Yippee! Donorboy, detailing the angry, hilarious and touching relationship between 15-year-old Rosalind and her suddenly-met, rather young biological father, has been an 8th grade Reading Bowl book for a number of years -- what if the 8th graders could meet with the author? Even better -- I e-mailed him, he replied the same day, and we're set!

I didn't reveal that this is a first for me as librarian, and for this group of Junior High kids. Brendan didn't reveal that this is the first time he's Skyped with a class. We came clean last week, and this morning we had a test run in the JH class we'll be using. Wow! The technology worked like a dream, the students got a taste of what we'll be doing later in the week, and I think the teachers are pretty impressed. I am really looking forward to the full-length visit. Thanks so much, Brendan! And, by the way, you don't really need to wear a tie for Paideia.

ps -- Kate Messner's updated Authors Who Skype list can be found here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Book Burning, Literally Speaking

The Mother Goose
October 2, 2009

Photo curtesy of Moriah Freed

Anyone who watches Atlanta news will know that a week ago last Friday, four still-uncaught teenagers set one of Paideia's original school buildings on fire, built in the 1920s, the hangout of our 9th graders and home to 4 classrooms and 1 administrative office. It's sad and terrifying and mind-spinning and infuriating, but with all that, our sense of humor remains intact. It's one of the (many) things I love about this school.

Our annual Barbeque, Square Dance & Library Book Sale went on as planned the following evening, at which six families bought and donated books to the library in memory of the Goose. On Monday morning, the high school schedule was switched to hold the weekly Monday Morning Meeting first thing. Because of water in the theatre, MMM was held in the gym. The Headmaster led the meeting with a silent companion, a concrete Canada Goose of the "yard art" variety, sporting a sign around its neck reading MOTHER. I wish I had a photo to show you. It was wonderful.

The Library lost a few DVDs that had been checked out to social studies teachers, but that pales in comparison to everything else those teachers lost in their classrooms, personal property which reflected who they are and what they teach. I've been pitching in to help order replacement books and videos. It's not much, but it's a task that benefits from the knowledge and connections that librarians have of wholesale sources, editions and pricing.

As far as I know, we only lost one library book in the fire. One of my best 9th grade customers, whose locker was in the Mother Goose, had been the first to check out the 'hot' new sequel to last year's bestselling The Hunger Games by Suzanne

Raianna was already in the library when I got to school on Monday morning. She looked up at me and said, "Catching Fire?? Caught fire."

I mean, how can you not love this place?!

Friday, September 25, 2009

When It Comes to Books, No Size Will Ever Fit All

One thing that most people notice about Paideia is the lack of requirement and regulation in many areas that schools traditionally require and regiment. For instance, despite popular belief, Paideia does have a Dress Code. It says in black-and-white, right in the Handbook:
Please dress before you come to school.
Our summer reading requirement is similarly open to individual choice, and one of the pleasures of a new school year is finding out what our students chose to read over the summer. Each literature teacher has a method of assessing students' summer reading. Most ask for a list with evaluations, recommendations and other thoughts about each book read; some ask for the first essay about one of the four selections. Clearly, each student has her or his own set of Ps for evaluating a book.

Some students made connections from a book plot to another medium.
Pride and Prejudice is a great classic tale of the importance of love and the ability to believe beyond one's own prejudices. The story was really confusing for me to follow, at first, but once I adjusted to the language and expressions, I loved reading about the romance, and it kind of reminded me of a modern Lifetime movie.
Other choices evoked strong negative reactions to people and prose, giving proof to the adage "For every book a reader, and for every reader, a book." But not all books for all readers.
I saw this book in a bookstore and liked the title/cover/back of the book. This book got excellent reviews. Those reviews must have been written by depressed, bitter, divorced women who enjoy reading about some pathetic lady who realized in her late 30's what a failure her life has been. I don't really suggest this book unless you have given up on life and are middle aged and divorced and want to feel a little better about yourself.
This was a boring book. The concept was a really good idea, but it was not executed in a thoughtful way. The author wrote as though she had never written before with lines like "he wrote his name with his left hand, he was left handed." I would not recommend this to anyone over the age of ten.

Students know what works for them, and why they read. It's especially exciting when a student really enjoys a book in an unfamiliar genre. This fantasy and action novel reader has now discovered good historical fiction:
I like how the author put this book together [Genghis: Birth of an Empire] together, not in a biography or a history lesson, but as a story, with a plot and characters, which seemed fictitious, but did in fact exist. It felt like you were reading just for the story, and not for the history. I know the author kept me reading!

And isn't that the whole point?

Free choice in summer reading ROCKS!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How Do You Think About Books?

The annual Library Donation Sale is coming up next week! This is a fun event for so many reasons -- showcasing the quality and range of books that we want in the library collection, having enthusiastic volunteers involved in a library activity, and getting to talk about books and the library program with Paideia parents and grandparents. And a book with a permanent bookplate is a neat way for all families be able to contribute to their child's school -- even high school students get a little thrill from finding their names in a book donated in their honor.

In preparation for the sale, Natalie and I read library reviewing journals, online reviews and keep up with several respected book bloggers to select what to order for the Library Donation Sale. We can't read everything (not even close!) before purchasing, and librarians depend greatly on the evaluations of other readers and reviewers when buying for our students.

Book blogger Jen Robinson recently wrote a post on her 6 Ps of Book Appreciation, a thoughtful explanation of the elements she's looking for when selecting, reading and evaluating pleasure reading. Some of her Ps are renamed standard "elements of literature," others are useful criteria for thinking about whether a book works. One commenter added a 7th criterion -- she called it the "message/theme." I think it's a valid addition, and for the sake of alliteration, I'm going to call it "Point," as in "what's the point of this effort, anyway?" I've added my own 8th P at the end.

  • Premise: What the book is supposed to be about; the interesting hook; a genre (mystery, coming-of-age); whatever it is that makes you pick the book up to read
  • Plot: What actually happens; is it a good story?
  • People: The characters
  • Prose: The author's writing style; is the dialog realistic or clunky?; are there memorable sentences?
  • Place: The setting
  • Pictures: How well do they work with the story?
  • Point: Is there something valuable to be learned from the story and/or the characters' experiences? is the story inspiring, does it provoke thought or emotion? or is it heavy-handed and didactic?
  • PAIDEIA: All librarians are selecting information for a specific audience. Will this book/video/audio/database be useful to Paideia students and teachers? Is this subject a part of our curriculum? Does it reflect our school values?

An alliterative list is a handy way to remember a bunch of connected concepts, and these Seven +1 Ps are useful for all readers, young and old. Though they are't necessarily original or new to experienced readers, I'm now going to think about each one explicitly as I read and evaluate for our library.

Would you add or delete any of the above criteria?? What do you look for in a good book?? Please add your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Booktalk: Books with Sequels

Some books are just so good that you hate having to say goodbye after the last page ends. In some cases, the author has already planned to continue the story. In other cases, though, the author feels the same way at the end of the writing -- h/she has come to know the characters and the setting so well that another book just has to be written, to tell what happens after (or what happened before).

Today's 8th grade book talk had a simple theme, "Books with Sequels." I presented a first book, and the sequel (and mentioned whether there are more in a trilogy or series). Here they are.

Korman, Gordon. Son of the Mob + Son of the Mob: Hollywood Hustle.
Vince does NOT want to go into the "family business." Will dating the daughter of an FBI agent be his ticket out?

Shanower, Eric. Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships + Age of Bronze: Sacrifice.
First two in a 7-volume graphic novel retelling of the Trojan War.

Anderson, M. T. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1, The Pox Party + Volume 2: Kingdom on the Waves.
Octavian was raised in luxury and intellectual stimulation, and he only gradually realizes that both he and his African-born mother are slaves, and that all his finery and education are but a cruel experiment. During the American Revolution, chooses sides for freedom -- but will his freedom be won by the Patriots or the British?

Kirkman, Robert & Cory Walker. Invincible: Family Matters + Invincible: Eight is Enough.
Family life is hard when you're a teen, but being a superhero child of superhero parents definitely complicates things. Full-color graphic novel series.

Johnson, Angela. Heaven + The First Part Last.
Marley's got great parents and a good life in Heaven, Ohio. But what Marley doesn't know is huge, and changes everything. Bobby and Feather also live in Heaven. Bobby tells the "then" and the "now" of how he became a single teenage dad caring for an infant daughter on his own.

Naifeh, Ted. Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things + Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics.
Courtney's not too happy about moving to the 'burbs to live with rich, wierd old Uncle Aloysious. Her parents don't seem to notice the creepy critters that roam at night, but Aloysious knows Courtney's tough enough to handle the night things (and witches, warlocks and other magical powers.) Black & white graphic novel series.

King, Laurie R. The Beekeeper's Apprentice + A Monstrous Regiment of Women.
A brilliant 15-year old misfit meets the retired beekeeping master detective, Sherlock Holmes. Their partnership suits them both, and leads to danger and adventure. A continuing series.

Ryan, Sarah. Empress of the World + The Rules for Hearts.
Nicola spends a summer at academic honors camp and loses her heart, not to archaeology as she planned, but to a beautiful blonde girl. Then Battle tells her story of what happens after.

Perkins, Mitali. First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover
+ First Daughter: White House Rules.
'Sparrow' is an ordinary, straight-talking, social networking American teenager, until her dad decides to run for President. His campaign handlers try to turn Pakistan-born, adopted, inquisitive Sameera into a giggly, trendy, 'all-American' girl. Leave it to her to show the country what 'all-American' really means. After the election? Look out White House!

Westerfeld, Scott. Midnighters: The Secret Hour + Midnighters: Touching Darkness.
Only some people, the ones born at midnight, can see the dark and dangerous beings that come out during the hour between 12:00 and 12:01 am. Jessica is a Midnighter, and the evil midnight creatures are out to get her.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Seeing Stone + At the Crossing Places.
As young Arthur is waiting for his chance to become a knight, he receives a strange stone that shows him stories of his namesake, King Arthur of Camelot. The stories of the two Arthurs continue to mingle as young Arthur joins the Great Crusades. Part of the Arthur trilogy.

Woodson, Jacqueline. if you come softly + Behind You.
Two outsiders at a swanky private school, Ellie & Jeremiah fall for each other right away. To them, it doesn't matter that Jeremiah's black and Ellie's Jewish, or that their families are worlds apart. But the world may not agree.

Crutcher, Chris. Stotan! + Ironman.
What five best friends, four guys and one girl, learn during Stotan Week, a grueling four-hour daily swimathon over Christmas break, keeps them going when life really gets hard. Years later, one of the Stotans becomes a teacher, and works to help another angry kid conquer his own demons.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Guess the Display Theme . . .

Welcome back!

Prize-winning fiction, and game-winning onion rings,
teen yoga and demon-fighting teens . . .

What do they have in common???

What have YOU read lately?

See you at school next week!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The official May-June READ poster is here.

Paideia Comics, the 2009 yearbook, is astonishing and wonderful. The student staff works very hard, but publication would never happen without the incredible work and dedication of the Yearbook teacher/coordinator/chief-cook-and-bottle-washer. Congratulations, Janet, for a superb book!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Alex Award Self-Challege Update

Books I have read but not yet written about:

The Good Thief -- good book, kind of Dickensian/Oliver Twist-ish. Has a young protagonist, AND would be a fine book for junior high & up.

Three Girls and Their Brother - my favorite of the bunch. Light but not fluffy, a fast, fun read told in the voices of the four protagonists.

The Oxford Project - this is a very cool coffee-table sized book of b&w photojournalism. It's a study of small-town America, of hopes, dreams, how things change & how things remain the same.

Six out of ten read. I'm halfway through City of Thieves, and we just got Dragons of Babel this week. Then there's the Stephen King short story collection, and my college classmate Hillary Jordan's Mudbound. I think that one's going on the plane with me to the 25th college reunion.

I'm going to give myself an incomplete for the project, and an extension to the end of summer. Phew!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Trailer Class Starts Tomorrow

I'm excited about teaching a six-day class for Junior High short term, but I'd be lying if I didn't also confess to being terrified, overwhelmed and worried. I'm always like this before a short term class starts!

I have nine students who are going to be working on creating short promotional trailers for favorite books. We'll be working for 90 minutes each afternoon -- I really can't wait to see how they turn out. Part of the class will be about the legal use of images and sound found on the Internet; what's ok for a class project under Fair Use but not for public performance use. Trailers that correctly use Creative Commons-licensed media will be posted on YouTube on the PiLibrarian channel.

To walk the talk, I've created my own trailer over the past few days, and I can say from this experience that the hardest parts were 1) the storyboard/script and 2) finding legal music. Flickr makes it easy to find CC images, but finding decent music that's OK took a lot longer.

The trailer is for Three Girls and Their Brother by Theresa Rebeck, my favorite so far of the Alex Award winners I'm reading this spring. I don't think I'll be taking it to Cannes, but it's alright. If it makes you curious to read the book, it's done its job. And let me know, ok? Thanks!

Friday, May 22, 2009

It's Summer Now,
The Reading Lists are Out!

Natalie and I have finished distributing our summer reading lists to students! Elementary students get them in classes; junior high and high school students gets theirs by mail. Speaking for myself, writing and publishing my two (JH & HS) is the closest I will ever come to publishing a Great American Novel, and I'm quite proud of them. Cue applause, please.

If you are used to Summer Reading Lists that require all 10th graders to read from a list of 8 choices, or something like that, you will be surprised by ours. Of course, our summer reading program fits in with the whole Paideia personality, so maybe you won't be surprised at all.

Here are the Paideia Summer Reading requirements:

  • Elementary (grades K-6): read (or have read to you) 5 books
  • Junior High (grades 7 & 8): read 5 books
  • High School (grades 9-12): read 4 books

ANY books. Preferably good books, but books will do. Graphic novels, fiction, non-fiction, YA, adult, easy readers, picture books. Yes, it's assumed that students will read in the approximate range of age and ability. They do have to account for their reading to next fall's literature teachers, so 5 Garfield Fat Pack comics for a 7th grader could be a little embarrassing.

So our summer reading lists are really more aptly called "Reader's Advisory Guides." Each one includes a thousand or more titles, either in award winner lists, student & faculty recommendations, or 'canonical' lists. Newly published and standout favorites even get annotations.

Did I mention we're pretty proud of our reading lists? If you're interested in seeing more, you can download one or all as PDF files, and please remember this guiding philosophy:
We believe that the best readers are those who read books of personal interest, for the joy of it. The main criterion for summer reading is that students read books they want to read, for enjoyment only!

2009 High School Summer Reading List

2009 Junior High Summer Reading List

2009 Elementary Summer Reading List

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Alex Read #3:
over and under by Todd Tucker

Aarrggh! Reading 10 books before the end of school is a little challenging, but fun. Writing about each one is HARD!! Especially if it's one I enjoyed. Why is writing about something I didn't especially like much easier?

over and under is a graceful novel about best friends Andy and Tom, and the last summer before high school. It's 1979, and the boys rule their rural south Indiana kingdom, riding bikes, spying on the local factory strike, exploring caves and practicing their crackerjack marksmanship. Tom and Andy aren't identical, though. Tom, son of a large family, impulsive and reckless, is the instigator of the adventures that only-child Andy follows and narrates. The strike at the Borden Casket Company highlights another difference: Tom's family is labor, Andy's is management. And when one of Tom's cousins is implicated in an explosion that kills the factory manager, family loyalties pull hard and set the friends on divergent paths toward their adult selves.

The story is narrated by an adult Andy, with the maturity and knowledge of hindsight, so even though there's a lot of action in the book (chase scenes, drunken ne'er-do-wells, shotguns, even some swordplay) the overall effect is reflective: the rawness and tension fades somewhat. The opening chapter is a little misleading -- I almost didn't get past the horrific accident with a factory saw that sets the stage for the years-later factory bombing.

There's a nicely done subplot about women's rights and domestic violence that, while is kind of obvious, is also essential to Andy's coming-of-age that summer. The book has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird (which I think is a bit of a stretch) and Stand By Me (the movie from Stephen King's story "The Body," which feels closer). I'd also put it in with Jim the Boy and Dandelion Wine. And something about the cave explorations and escape, and the brutish father of Andy's crush, echo stories of another pair of rural adventurers, Tom & Huck from Missouri.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Alex Awards Read #4:
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

As a reviewer, I tend to follow a Booklist-style policy -- only publish reviews of recommended books. If I don't like it, I just don't write about it. But, I promised to read AND briefly review all 10 Alex Award books before the end of the year. Sigh.

So I forced myself to keep picking up Sharp Teeth, a novel-in-blank-verse about packs of wolf- or dog- people living and fighting in Los Angeles. Though they are supposedly "lycanthropes" or werewolves, they spend an awful lot of time masquerading as plain old dogs. A main character, Lark, is the leader of a pack that's just been betrayed and scattered by one of its own. Lark seems to have some big plan (he works as a lawyer, I think, in his human life. Is this allegory?) involving poker and infiltrating rival packs. There's an unnamed female, who leaves the pack for Anthony, a nice guy (100% human, at least for a while) who's just gotten a job as a dogcatcher. And a bunch of other characters, including a brute who heads the rival (and much less refined) pack, several women who either start or end as the lone female that holds an otherwise all-male pack together (through the doling out of sex, I think, which seems to be the way these critters work), and some policeman whose role in the story I never quite got the point of.

If you're getting the impression that I skimmed most of this book, you'd be right. I did try, really I did. I picked it back up three times, hoping I would figure out why it got good reviews and was selected for the Alex Award list. Eventually I gave up, and just started turning pages, looking for clues to what happens.

I will say that I did reflect quite a bit on the whole free-verse novel format, wondering if that's why I didn't like this book. That wasn't it -- I actually respect the format more than before, for its spare language and the way it forces the reader to bring imagination and poetry to the reading experience. Nope, it's just the story. I can't figure out why anybody thought it needed to be written, that's all.

When you don't like a book that has gotten awards and good press, it does make you wonder where the problem lies: am I shallow, dumb, missing something important? Maybe. I will see if any of our good high school "customers" are interested in reading Sharp Teeth and giving me an opinion. For now, I'm moving on to the next 2009 Alex Award book on my list, and hoping it's a "page turner" of a more satisfying sort.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

GLBT Fiction NOT in the Paideia Library -
But You Should Know About Anyway

Usually one wants to highlight all the really good services that your organization DOES offer. In this case, however, there's just so much Young Adult (and YA-friendly) fiction coming out that our library just can't buy it all, even though we have readers who've read everything we've got in a genre and still want more. At one point, I started creating a "next-best" running list of titles of GLBT novels that sound good but aren't in the Paideia Library's collection. But you know what? There are just too many!

Instead, I very heartily recommend the blog of YA author Lee Wind
, who has been committed to reviewing GLBTQ-themed novels for teens since early 2007. The sidebar of his blog, I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read? links to all his reviews, categorized by theme. Check it out.

Other places to look for recommendations:

The Lambda Literary Foundation, which gives the annual Lammy awards and publishes the Lambda Book Report GLBT Literature, a website devoted to books, cinema and other GLBT arts.

The Rainbow List from the American Library Association. The 2009 list features 34 recently published books for youth from birth through age 18, representing a broad range of GLBTQ experience.

You can find these books at your local public library (links to Atlanta-area online catalogs here), in libraries around the world (via WorldCat), or as a last resort, you could buy them at your local independent bookstore.

Of course, you can always check the
Paideia library catalog, or the recommended reading lists for all the great books we DO own!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why Good Librarians
are So Darn Nice

This spring, the faculty Library Committee is looking at student research skills in the JH & HS: what skills they should be learning, what they are learning, and how the library can help bridge whatever gaps there may be, either by teaching or supporting faculty as they teach research skills.

I've been reading up on national standards for high school students, and on the college student's research experience. We recently completed a survey of recent Paideia grads on their preparedness for college-level research; we're doing pretty well, they say, but there are always areas for improvement.

Two documents have been really interesting reading this week. First is the American Library Association's Standards for the 21st Century Learner, an outline of learning/research skills all students (and adults, for that matter) need to master for true information competency/literacy. It's much more succinct and snappier than Chapter 2 of 1998's Information Power, an earlier outline of "information literacy" standards from AASL.

The other is a progress report from Project Information Literacy. Entitled Finding Context: What Today's College Students Say About Conducting Research in the Digital Age. The description of the college students interviewed in this survey sounds not too different from high school students. They rely on Wikipedia for big-picture context when starting research (high school students also rely on SparkNotes for literature support); no matter how long is allotted for a research assignment, a majority will wait until the deadline looms to get started; and that settling into a topic, or "finding the right question to ask," is one of the hardest parts of the whole process (especially tricky since that's a first step and holds everything else up!). Here's what they said about libraries and librarians [emphases are mine]:

Students, who used libraries, looked to them, and especially to the reference librarians they consulted as sense-makers. Librarians helped students satisfice [ I learned a new word! It means 'make do with good enough'] their individual, often time sensitive, information needs. One student said, “librarians on this campus can be saviors, you need them to show you how to navigate a complex library system.”

Many participants considered formal library instruction (one-time, individual class visits) of little value to them, too. Throughout our sessions, participants reported that “library talks” (i.e., bibliographic instruction) made sense at the time, but that it was hard to recall and apply months later, when students were working on a research assignment. [the 'teachable moment' for these skills only happens when students have a burning need-to-know]

Other participants reported that they infrequently consulted librarians with the search terms they entered into scholarly research databases. Students told us “we are just as capable to enter basic search terms as librarians can,” “that I’ve been able to get by, so far, without librarians,” and “I don’t need a tour of the library, I just need to find one” One student said, “my first step used to be the library, but it was too much information, now I just go to the Web.”

We found, generally, that when students did not receive (or request) the service they value delivered at the moment they need it from librarians, they quickly change course. Participants found a solution on their own, which is usually found online and derived from self-taught techniques that help them find the context they need. [Yikes!! The pressure!! :-)]

An ACRL (Association of College and Research Librarians) blogger wrote, rather pessimistically, that the report wasn't news to research librarians, and that what he took away from it was for librarians to keep on doing what we're doing. I have a little different take. What I read from it is that librarians who are successful in helping (and yes, teaching) students to conduct research absolutely must be available and approachable. We don't get a lot of chances to convince a needy student that the library is a dependable place to go for research needs. The ACRL blogger had it right, though, when he said it's all about building relationships.

I was heartened one day when, after explaining to a group of students that they needed to quiet down because "I'm mean and cranky," one student just looked at me and said (with a smile), "Yeah, right." Phew! There's hope yet. Ya' just gotta' love 'em (most days).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Art on Display:
Bauhaus Masks

Joe's high school Art Foundations class recently studied Bauhaus masks and the theories of Oskar Schlemmer. Schlemmer's sketches, from "Means of Transforming the Human Body by the Use of Costume," are concerned with the transformation of the human body by means of the disguise known as costume. The function of costume is to emphasize the identity of the body or to change it. Costume expresses the body's nature or it purposely misleads us regarding it.

Students created their own creature masks that either disguise their identities, or emphasize certain aspects of personal identity (interests or identifications), or both. These creations are on display in the Library until after spring break. Come see!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Graphic Novels Get Respect
from the New York Times

Remember how the phenomenal sales of Harry Potter pushed the New York Times into creating a separate Bestseller List just for children's books? It appears that the growing popularity of graphic novels has done the same for that format. Today's ArtsBeat blog announces a new Graphic Books Bestseller List, which although it's heavy on superhero stories, it does include a few others, including one called Beanworld that looks interesting. I'll be keeping my eye on the list for future additions to our library collection.

In the meantime, you can explore our already surprisingly large collection of Graphic Books (or "graphic novels," if you prefer. Both terms refer to sustained narratives that depend on comic-style pictures as much as dialogue and sparse description to tell a complete story). New Yorker artist Art Spiegelman's Maus is an early example of the form; Marjan Satrapi's memoir Persepolis is another well-known one.

Browse our collection online through the library catalog, starting with "More Than Superheroes", a recommended reading list of graphic novels in the Paideia Library. Then come on in to check one out (metaphorically and literally) in person. Discover, and enjoy.