Friday, March 29, 2013

This Re-Boot Was Made For Walking

I forgot my earbuds when I headed out on my walk today. You see I have this little dead zone around my house that invariably cuts out my audio just as I am getting into my playlist. To avoid this I wait until I am a few houses away before I plug in.

I know, I know. First world problems and all. But lately my walking time has also been my learning time. I have playlists from NPR, TED Talks, and CBC podcasts that will keep me walking for a lifetime. I absolutely love the multi-tasking aspect of listening to informative talk radio while getting fresh air and exercise. It's like killing two birds with one stone. I get so engaged with what I am listening to that I may be seen smiling in recognition, nodding in agreement, and on more than one occasion stopping to take notes of what I've just heard. This is just a sampling of some of the excellent programs I have heard in the past month or so that I would recommend:

  • Today's Bullied Teens Subject to 'Sticks and Stones' Online Too - NPR
  • An 'Autopsy' of Detroit Finds Resilience in a Struggling City - NPR
  • Regina Spektor: On Growing Up a Soviet Kid - NPR
  • Chicago Kids Say They're Assigned to Gangs - NPR
  • The Teen Brain - Q: The Podcast (CBC)
  • Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce - TED
  • Steve Jobs: How to Live Before You Die - TED
  • Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts - TED
  • John Hunter: Teaching With the World Peace Game - TED

It may seem that I have a broad area of interest but really I just want to be the winner at The Name Game (a trivia-like game that is popular in my family.) Keeps me on my toes.

Now sometimes what happens is that my head starts to spin. I get giddy thinking about all I want to read, learn, remember, create, and accomplish. This sometimes leads to a bit of overload. I remember reading somewhere what the RAM specifications are for the human brain and I worry that I will run out at some time. How much memory do all these applications require? How does one go about getting a bigger hard drive? Is there a recycle bin or a deleted files folder that can be emptied in order to create more space?

But back to this morning. Unexpectedly I was alone with my thoughts and it struck me that sometimes all a computer needs is a reboot. Just shut it down. Wait a little while. Restart. It's always been my go-to advise and nine times out of ten it leads to a positive outcome.

So that's what this weekend has become for me - a reboot. A step away from the things that get my brain all fired up. It will be the perfect weekend to connect with our family - all five of us are under the same roof this weekend. So much catching up to be done. And the perfect time for reflection - Easter!

Wishing everyone a peaceful and Happy Easter!

Monday, March 25, 2013

One Book One School One Wonder

The Choose Kind movement continues to roll along. I'm not sure if R.J. Palacio knew what she was unleashing onto the reading masses when Wonder hit bookstores in February 2012. [Note: If you have not yet read Ms. Palacio's Wonder you need to take care of that immediately. Seriously, I'll wait right here].

I, like many others, started to hear about Wonder shortly after it was published. I promptly put it at the top of my Summer Reading List. It was such a powerful story for me that I almost couldn't wait for the summer to end and to introduce August Pullman to my school. Among many things, I was immediately struck by the wide appeal that the story had. I could envision people of all ages loving, accepting and being moved by the characters and the storyline. And right away I knew what I wanted to do with this book.

One Book One Community is what happens when the group reading experience goes big. It's like a giant book club. The idea has been gaining in popularity during the past decade. My region calls it One Book One Community. In other areas it is known as such things as One City One Story, Everyone Reads, and One Book One Campus. The premise is basically the same. A common book is chosen and it is promoted and read by as many people in that community as possible. Often acitivites or guest speakers will be offered to enhance the reading experience. I thought this concept would be an excellent way to promote literacy and to build community at my school. I needed the right book to get the ball going, and I found it in Wonder.

Schedules can quickly start to fill up once the school year has begun, so I came in pitching my idea at the end-of-summer staff meeting. The next thing I needed to do was enlist the aid of a co-conspirator. Luckily for me my very talented and enthusiastic co-worker, Nan was only too eager to jump aboard. Timing was definitely in our favour because no one at our school had heard of the book yet. The students certainly had not caught wind of it, and this became a key in how the whole program was accepted. Throughout September and October we encouraged as many staff members as possible to read Auggie's story while we worked out the details of how our One Book One School initiative were going to play out. It didn't take a lot of convincing. Word quickly spread about the wonder of Wonder. It bears emphasizing here that the success of the endeavour would not have been realized had it not been for the unbelievable support that we received from teaching staff and from our prinicipal. It was all-hands-on-deck for sure.

Wonder is an amazing story about acceptance and celebrating the differences in one another and ties in very nicely with bully awareness. Nan did a presentation on this topic at our launch assembly. Her beautiful picture book, Bird Child (Tundra, 2009) has bullying as its central theme and she is no stranger to these types of presentations. She further connected with the students by playing her guitar and singing a poignant song that seemed to fit perfectly. We showed the official Wonder book trailer at this assembly and then presented each classroom teacher with their copy of the book to take back to their classrooms to read together.

It was hard not to notice the buzz that Wonder created. It was being discussed in classrooms, in the staff room, in the hallways, and certainly in the Library. From the beginning we decided that the content of the book was most appropriate for our junior and intermediate grades (4-8). We have all split grades in our school and didn't want to open it up for the 2/3 class when we had the grade twos in the 1/2 class to contend with. Fortunately Nan teaches these students in Art, and so she was able to introduce the theme of Wonder with more appropriate picture books and activities best suited for the primary students. The junior and intermediate teachers related the book to curriculum to the extent and manner to which they saw fit.  I was so impressed at some of the things the students would tell me  was happening in the classrooms.

As luck would have it, we were able to make contact with the singer/songwriter whose song Nan had played at our kick-off. Sacha is a talented musician who agreed to bring her anti-bullying message to our school and perform for us at a wrap-up concert. By the time she arrived, her song "Stix N Stones" had been played many times at our school. When you listen to the video below you can easily tell how well the students know the lyrics, and how happy they are to sing along.


So hopefully we didn't raise the bar too high because now the hunt is on to find the next Wonder! If anyone reading out there can make a suggestion or two, I'm all ears!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Word for Home

The title of this post happens to be the title of a book I am going to recommend for young readers who are looking for something different than the current offerings of dystopia or steampunk. It also happens to be the sentiment that best describes my relationship with the book’s setting, St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I was recently blessed with an opportunity to visit St. John’s with Daughter1. The roots on both sides of my family reach deep into the rock of this city – the oldest in North America. However, it is on my mother’s side that the history is more recent. My maternal grandmother, Little Nanny as I affectionately named her, was a bay girl. She arrived in St. John’s as a young woman to find employment, and to eventually begin a family. It sounds like a simple story, but the impact that this woman had on so many lives is anything but simple.

 My older cousin called me immediately upon my return. She needed to hear stories about down home. As the two of us grappled with the vocabulary - neither one of us able to put into words our feelings for the place; it became evident to me that here was one person who “gets” it. My cousin shares the same urgency (“longing” just doesn’t do it) to return to our ancestral home. The need to smell the sea air, hear the waves crash upon the shore, feel the rock beneath our feet, and see the closest place to heaven on earth.  I hear Little Nanny’s voice every day. But when I’m walking in her streets I feel her hand on my shoulder. She rights my moral compass and points me in the direction I need to go.

To be able to take this trip with my first-born was a dream-come-true. She is old enough to have memories of her wonderful great-grandmother, and she appreciates the significance of family history. We also both happened to be having milestone birthdays in 2013 (isn’t every year a milestone?) What could be more fitting than the two of us welcoming in the New Year in St. John’s? It was a grand time for sure, and a memory that will last a lifetime - in a Wobbly Pop kind of way!

                         On on earlier trip to Nfld - I needed to feel the earth on my bare feet.

Clark, Joan. The Word for Home. Toronto: Penguin, 2002. 286 p. (hc)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Audience: YA (teenage pregnancy)

This wonderful, well-researched book reads like a classic. It is set in 1926 in St. John’s, Newfoundland and features two sisters who are basically orphans. Their mother has just died and their father has brought them from Ontario to Newfoundland. Newfoundland was not yet a part of Canada. The father leaves them in the care of a miserable woman, Mrs. Hatch (definite use of onamonapia in my opinion) while he ventures into the interior of Newfoundland in search of gold. It is really a coming-of-age story for Sadie, 14 as she tries to adjust to her new life while at the same time providing stability and love for her younger sister Flora. The Word for Home is a character-driven novel that is also rich in setting. I had read the book long before I ever went to St. John’s, but walking in the footsteps of the characters makes one appreciate the careful details that Ms. Clark put into her narrative.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

And We're Off!

Hi, Welcome to The Fun Librarian - The Blog edition!

I'm sure you know the blog drill by now. Grab yourself a cup of tea, coffee, or  ____________ (fill in the blank). Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.

I am an Elementary School Librarian with one of the best jobs possible. I work at a small rural school with wonderful students and an amazing staff. I don't have to worry about tests or marks in the Library. My only concern is that it is a welcoming, fun space to read, imagine, learn, create, and wonder. How lucky am I that each day I get to witness that look of awe on a child's face when I turn the page to reveal a stunning illustration in a picture book? Or that look that every student gets at some point, when they have made a connection to something that I am reading? I will never get enough of the not-so-suppressed laughter of 14 six-year olds as I read to them the antics of Mo Willem's Pigeon. Or the chatter of a group of 11-year old girls giving up their lunch hour to paint a welcome banner for an expected guest.  And if that's not enough, my view looking out isn't so bad either!

So this is what you can expect from this blog: lots of book reviews, booktalks, and book trailers. Some links to fascinating things I have read. And of course, stories from my real life. Students will definitely pop up in these stories, as well as the people who hang out in my nest away from school. I will soon introduce you to Mr. Fun, Daughter1, Daughter2, and OnlySon.

Hang On! We've Only Just Begun!