Friday, December 30, 2016

Salt to the Sea

As often as I can get out of my 1-2-0-3-3 zip code, or even better 5-1-8 area code, I do. Be it as it may, on this particular school break, until this afternoon, I had yet to physically manage to get much out of either. However, I did leave the 2-0-1-6 for several hours yesterday-this morning and am grateful to Ruta Sepetys for that experience.

I feel a little naughty, too, reading a young adult novel.  You know I love my middle grade and joke that I have a fifth grade reading level.  However, every once in awhile, and I mean while, it is nice to break away.  It is the season of naughty and nice after all, right?

My friend and amazing Albany HS librarian, Alicia Abdul, recommended Ruta Septeys to me back in the summer and I finally was able to download the book the other day.  As an ebook, there is no flap or back cover to get a hint of what the book was about.  And honestly, if Alicia told me (and I'm sure she did) I forgot and dove into it completely blind and naive about it all.  I believe because of this, I enjoyed the experience even more.  My heart raced faster, my jaw dropped further in surprise and my tears were saltier.  This is going to become my new go-to recommend book for young adults and up.

It is 1945 Prussia in a month where "January's teeth bit sharp." This vivid language from only a few pages got me hooked immediately.

Four young people.  Four different points of view:  Emilia, a Polish girl with a secret;  Joana, a hardworking Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a suspicious handsome man on a mission; and,  Alfred, a German soldier constantly writing updates in mental love letters.

Eventually, they all come together, along with 10,000 other men, women and children on board the Wilhelm Gustloff with visions of freedom on the other side of the Baltic Sea.  But, the Russians had another idea for this ship that was "pregnant with lost souls conceived of war.  They would crowd into her belly and she would give birth to their freedom..." and this is the story of hope, survival and sacrifice of those who end up together on this "ship...born of death."

I was quickly sold on Sepetys rich language and descriptions.  Here, Alfred in one of his mental letters to Hannelore, explains "...we heroes eat danger atop our porridge for breakfast..."  To be able to write like she does and get in the mind of this young German soldier is heroic and delicious enough for me.

Searching for freedom in an icy, snowy, cold January, Emilia describes:  "Snow was falling, making everything appear fresh.  The white snow covered the dark truth.  Pressed white linen over a scarred table, a crisp clean sheet over a stained mattress."  Line after line, page after page, the metaphors along with the historical significance, should make this a required reading for every high school student.

Only after finishing the book and reading the author's notes did I then go to her webpage.  I'm in awe and have her other two books on hold for me at the library.  I will indulge once again in YA.  I'm hooked and I know a few of you will be once you get your hands on Salt to the Sea, too.  You've heard me say this before but make sure your day and night are free (no putting down this one) and a box of Kleenex is nearby.

As an aside, Ruta Sepetys's website has a ton of resources available if you want to learn more about the Wilhelm Gustoff.  I know, I do.  Also, here is a great video of her talking about the book that includes many original photographs.  Just watching this video made me start crying again.

So, enjoy the characters.  Enjoy the language.  And let the story soak in. Most of all, take advantage of the escape from wheverever your zip code is.  Then listen to the advice from Joana's father and take a break because "Sometimes living life is more instructive than studying it." Ahhh...thank you Ruta for letting me live life outside the 1-2-0-3-3 for just a bit.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A reflection on friendship in books from 2016

Friends for 34 years, way before the "selfie" was invented!

My favorite part of the New York Times Style Magazine is the back page.  That's where they ask someone famous to draw the answers to everyday questions.  Every once in awhile I have a minute to scan through it to see if anything else draws my attention.  Today, as I was just about to recycle the November magazine, I happened upon an article that touched me so deeply, about the old friends we can't let go of, whether they are gone from our lives or not:

There are many that I think about that have left:

  • After third grade, one of my very best friends, Allison Zeith, moved to Staten Island from our haven in Briarwood, Queens.  We saw each other a few times after that and then never again.  I always wonder what happened to her.  I have vivid memories of hanging out in her apartment, and watching old, black and white King Kong movies together.
  • Thanks to FaceBook, I am "friends" with dozens of my early childhood friends (ie, PS 117,  JHS 217), so many of whom I haven't seen face to face in 30+ years and would love to meet for coffee some day to catch up. If you are reading this, can we make it happen in 2017?  I don't make resolutions, but if I did this could certainly qualify.
  • There are many from Cardozo HS, Bayside, Queens I would love to see, too.  Our 30th HS reunion is this year (oh my!) so if something is organized, maybe I will actually have the opportunity to do this.  A lot has happened since big hair and Reaganomics.
  • What about my orchestra mates at SUNY-Binghamton.  Would I even recognize you 25 years later?
  • I had a couple of housemates in graduate school that would be fun to connect with.  It's a problem because I can't remember how to spell Matt K's last name so there is no way I can look him up.  He owned the house but goodness knows those checkbooks with his name in it are long gone.  Rick Mitchell, with a common enough name, makes him challenging to look up on social media.

But, I do have one true friend who I met at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in 1982 and who has not left my side since.  Back then Queens to New Jersey felt like an eternity apart.  We counted long distant minutes on our rotary phones and mailed each other long tomes of who we liked but who didn't like us back (mostly me) and what crushes crushed us that week (again me).  Today, in spite of the now 3000 miles separating us, we still remain very close. This post is dedicated to my BFF, Beth.

But because this is a library blog, I'm not just writing about my friends, but tying it all together by giving you a taste of five books published this year that I love, with a strong friendship theme:

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Two friends, Nick and Coby.  They play some serious soccer.  Throw some family issues in there and a girl, and this book touches it all--perfect for anyone from 9-99.

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Screenshot from Overdrive
Two eighth graders you would never imagine to become friends, do, in a backdrop of Dunkin Donuts, plastic pink flamingoes, a special tree and family members you want to hug one day and shake up the next.  A must read for every middle schooler.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

The Three Rancheros meet at baton twirling lessons.  All have a different reason for wanting to win the "Little Miss Central Florida Tire Contest."  When the friendship becomes solidified, you can't help but feel happy.  People are wondering if boys will like this book.  I can attest that they do as I had several in my book group who, not only liked it, but who were quite engaged in our discussions at our group meetings.

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

A giant book cover from our MOST event

From the alternating point of view Joe and Ravi, two fifth graders, this is their story of how they became friends after a week of school lunches. A must read for every upper elementary school class, even as young as third grade.  

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Three kids, three different stories, coming together in fifth grade while learning about 9/11 during the 2016-17 school year on the fifteenth anniversary and beyond.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

If you doubt that a book about a robot getting stranded on an island could have such strong themes about friendship, family and the environment, then you need to get a copy of The Wild Robot today. We are all surprised at how much we like the book, but the truth is, we do!

My "Wild Robot" book group with arcs thanks to Little, Brown

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

Yes, it's a picture book but that doesn't mean it can't belong here. I can't get enough of it--Two turtles, one hat.  It could end up badly but the bond of friendship keeps it from going that way.  Simple illustrations with a short but meaningful story.

Just a few where old friends were left behind when family came first...

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

Thyme moves across the country for her brother's health and struggles with missing her old friends and making new ones in the city.

Ghosts by Raina Telgeimer

Similar to Counting Thyme, in Ghosts, Cat and her family move down the coast of California to protect her sister's health.  Little do they know that the new friends they make could be harmful.

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

Boy is it hard to be away for the summer, discover things about your family and roots that you never knew and then go back home and start middle school with friends you haven't seen all summer. 

Speaking of friends, here's a text from one after she read "Hour of the Bees."
Here's hoping you have a wonderful holiday season filled with lots of time with family and FRIENDS and maybe even a connection or two with ones that may be gone from your life but never forgotten.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Hidden Gem in NYC: The Society of Illustrators

I am a Queens native and still very much have the Queens in me.  I look at my pictures of my class from PS 117 and see how diverse and wonderful each student was and also think, "How did our teachers ever teach us with nearly 40 in a class?!"  I love how FaceBook has connected me with my early friends now way over 30 years later.

When I was in school in the 70s and 80s, we would take field trips frequently to the cultural mecca of "the city" which was and always will be "Manhattan."  We went to The Met, MoMA, The Museum of Natural History, The Hayden Planetarium, NY Transit Museum (which I think was in Manhattan at the time), the Museum of the City of New York,  and I'm sure more.  With my Mom I went to the theatre often with any excuse in the book ("Oh, you got a 100 on a test, let's go to the theatre!" and with my Dad we celebrated every birthday by visiting a tourist attraction with my friends.  But until last Monday, I had never been to The Society of Illustrators and had no idea what a treat I was in for!

The Society of Illustrators is at 128 East 63rd Street

There was a special event for librarians only but I was lucky enough to bring my art teacher, Suzanne, along because she and I have plans to open a "gallery" in my library in the spring in honor of an illustrator visiting us who just happens to be one of the silver medal winners of "The Original Art 2016" Show that we were there for!  Hmmm....could Daniel Miyares be visiting Castleton Elementary School in May?

The Original Art show is amazing and a must see for any librarian, classroom teacher, art teacher, parent, really anyone interested in original illustration art.  This year it is original artwork from 132 of the best books chosen by a panel of illustrators, authors, and art directors.  Imagine this.  You love a book so much.  You have read it to yourself a dozen times and share it with students a dozen more. You have visited the illustrator's website.  You have talked about the book with others.  And now, you can see a piece of artwork from that special book up close and personal. Not only that, if you are able to attend a gallery talk like we did last week, you can even hear more about the details of the artwork. Pinch me.  I felt like I was in librarian heaven.

AND on top of all that, at last week's event we got to listen to and meet three illustrators from the show: Sergio Ruzzier, Mike Curato and Nancy Carpenter.  What a treat. They each talked about their process.

Sergio went first.  Originally from Milan, he has been here since 1995.  He shares a studio with some remarkable artists in Brooklyn (remember John Bemelmans Marciano and Sophie Blackall?).  Interesting fact about Sergio:  we found out that he never owned a sketch book.  This is Not a Picture Book is on my Mock Geisel for this year. Stay tuned.

Next up was Nancy.

She showed us a picture of her studio and desk and pointed out a piece of her own artwork hanging up.  "I put up my own artwork to remind myself that I can do this."  I love that. She also shared that "the mistakes I make are where the magic is."  I found the video that Nancy shared with us showing her process. Truly amazing:

We learned from Mike Curato's presentation that "mint is the answer to everything!"  Be sure and check out where the mint pops out in Little Elliot, Big Fun.

Q and A with the artists

I cannot believe I am holding my book backwards!

I took a bunch of notes during our gallery talk (I was in Martha Rago's group and the quotes are hers). It was all so enlightening and inspiring.  These are just some of the highlights of things I loved that were brought to my attention and I hope I bring to yours the next time you pick up one of these books:

Freedom in Congo Square by R. Gregory Christie
" an Alvin Ailey performance..."

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine by Heather Long and illustrated by Raul Colon

"Van Gogh-ish"

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color by Julie Denos
I particularly took note of this book because the character creates a "symphony of color" and wondered how I might be able to collaborate with my music teacher...
"feels very spontaneous" 
5 Little Ducks by Denise Fleming
Martha encouraged us to visit Denise's website and wow!  Lots of great resources and information there, including the book trailer for 5 Little Ducks:

Denise uses paper pulp to make her unique and beautiful illustrations.  You can learn so much more when you visit her website.

Horrible Bear by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah OHora

We love this book for our Mock Geisel project and it was lovely to see the artwork up close.  Martha put it so well when she said it is,
"very accessible and understandable and that simplicity works."

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet
Omg.  This was amazing.  Melissa created dioramas for her artwork and then photographed them.  You can't even describe it in words so you'll just have to go to the exhibit to see it in person.  As Martha put it, 
"The artwork, you just want to pour over it."

The Secret Subway by Shana Corey and illustrated by Red Nose Studio

This book is on my Newbery list and will be on my Sibert list.  We love Shana (and she also just happens to be Chris Grabenstein's editor--small world) and the illustrations are incredible.  They are hand built 3-D sets that are created first and then photographed.  Remarkable.

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel
I have fallen hard for this book and shared it with many classes along with Emily Arrow's song. 

Then to see the original artwork of the full page cat. Wow.  Here's what Martha said, 

"The story is about perception...he changes technique for each point of view."

I want you to know that ALL the artwork in the exhibit was incredible and it was so wonderful to see work by people I have met and some who even took a leap with me in the past (Brian Biggs*, Ashley Bryant, Sophie Blackall*, Lauren Castillo*, Matthew Cordell*, Jon Klassen, Steve Light, Zachariah OHora*, Greg Pizzoli, Sean Qualls,* Christian Robinson, Dan Santat*)

*They took the LEAP!

And speaking of Sophie Blackall (we were, right?) Suzanne and I walked by the MoMA Design Store so we could see Sophie's window.  I was in awe. I'd love to know the process behind that.  Then we went into the store and Sophie's work is inside as well.  It's worth the trip to 53rd Street.

Then Sophie surprised us all and came to gallery!  So exciting!

Sophie and Suzanne

Suzanne and I got home close to midnight but it was worth every tired minute the rest of the week.  That's why it took me this long to post about the event.  So the next time you are on the Upper East Side or anywhere near there or need an excuse to go to the city (do you really?), put the Society of Illustrators on your list.  You will not regret it.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Geisel Parent Night #2

Mrs. Pryde made this.  Don't you think it is Pinterest worthy?

Parents, do you ever want to be in "the room where it happens? The room where it happens?"  Well, the parents of Mrs. Pryde's first grade Geisel Committee Members were able to be there tonight and it was great!

We started off showing this Animoto of all the pictures I've taken of kids since Geisel began.  Please excuse the few random ones in there that are from Stone Soup day and maybe one or two early morning book exchange photo ops.  Otherwise, they are all from our Geisel meetings.

Check out the crowd we had:

That room was filled!

After a brief introduction of the project and what the kids have been doing so far (Skypes, scoresheets, author letters), we Skyped with Kevin Delecki in Cedar Rapids, Iowa who was the chair of the Geisel Committee in 2015 and on the Caldecott Committee in 2011.  The kids asked questions about his experience being on the Committee, how many books he read (nearly 700!) and what his favorite books were now and when he was little.  Watch out local bookstores! There may be a demand of the Dr. Seuss's  My Book About Me. That was Kevin's favorite book when he was little. When he was six years old, he wrote that he read 10 million books.  We were wondering what that number is up to now!  It was great, too, because even a few parents asked questions!

Thank you, Kevin!

Our Committee Members all had their notebooks to share with parents and some even completed scoresheets together.  The scene below was not unusual tonight! #love

Not only did we enjoy these cupcakes, but a mom brought in a chocolate fountain (Yes! I agreed to have it in the library and all was fine and delicious!) and of course, I made popcorn.

Mrs. Pryde baked and Nana Sober helped make the toppers today!
All in all it was a sweet night filled with excitement for books and reading!

Look at this crowd!

I love when the library is bustling in the evening!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life

I went to my son's basketball game today and there up on the stage keeping track of the books was Landon.  I have a special place in my heart for the now 7th grader.

  • Landon, who this time two years ago, would rather read The Crossover than watch a football game. 
  • Landon, who during the 2015  Super Bowl worked on creating a poster promoting The Crossover to win the Newbery award, rather than root for The Patriots or Seahawks (or even watch the commercials!)
  • Landon, whose favorite 2014 Christmas gift was The Crossover.  When it got eaten by his dog he made his mom search far and wee on the likes of ebay and Amazon for an original copy (sans gold sticker) so that when Kwame Alexander visited our school that May he would know that Landon was behind him from the beginning.
  • Landon, who like me, was so upset the morning of February 2, 2015 to find out that it was a snow day that we both cried.
  • And Lucky Landon, who when Kwame did visit Castleton Elementary School in May 2015, got to go on stage and interview him as a guest on "The Landon Show", a moment in time that none of us will ever forget.
So, when I pulled out my arc  (that I just happened to have in my bag of tricks) of The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life, Kwame's newest to hit shelves on February 14, 2017 and showed Landon the shout-out to us and Mr. Reischer in the acknowledgements and told him how much he will love this book, Landon just grinned and Mom clearly said, "I know what you're getting for Valentine's Day!"  Love is love is love.

How cool is this???!!!! (Sid's name is spelled wrong but should be fixed by 2/14!)

Here are 52 rules of basketball translated to life.  Although I was never a basketball player myself and only became a fan when I went to graduate school in Terp country and met my husband, these rules still apply. Several even have references to leaps in them--oh yeah!

Rule #8
When you find
On a fast break
And slam dunk
The opportunity.

or (and I love this one)

Rule #12 
You can always

Do better than you did
Work harder than you worked
Leap broader than you leapt


Dig deeper
Claw harder
Rebound better

Than ever before.
Then there's Rule #17 that says that "Sometimes, we need/Others/To motivate us..." Sometimes?  For me it is All. The. Time.

And as motivating and inspiring the poems are, it's the prose that I really love in this book.  Kwame's personal journey from basketball to tennis.  The short biographical sketches on Venus, Serena and Pele.  Wilma Rudolph and LeBron. All people who have beaten the odds.  Yes, they had talent but they also may have abided by the 10,000 hour rule and worked pretty darn hard to get to the stardom that they can claim as their own.  There are also quotes sprinkled throughout by people as current as Steph Curry (my son's idol) to Mia Hamm to Michelle Obama, Arthur Ashe and so many more.  They should have made this a book with one sided perforated pages--all you want to do is cut out and hang up every poem and quote and plaster your wall with wisdom and inspiration.

When Kwame came and visited us back in May 2015, Mr. Reischer gave him a book of rules written by our students (Landon included), influenced by The Crossover.  We like to think we inspired Kwame as he continues to inspire us.  In his Pele essay, Kwame writes, "His dream had become a reality. But sometimes reality becomes even bigger than our dreams."  I had to stop and think for a moment here. Any chance you know this first hand, Kwame?

So we know what Landon is getting for Valentine's Day.  What about you?

I'm always trying to leap broader!

The first time I read this book I snapped a picture and here it is--August 2015

Friday, December 2, 2016

Going Beyond Skyping with Grandma

Today I presented a workshop at the Regional Technology Awareness Day 2016.  I called it "Video Conferencing with Elementary Students:  Going Beyond Skyping with Grandma." You know I love my Skypes and opening up my library to the world and, consequently, the world to my students.  It's one of my favorite things I do in my job.

I don't have a website that I can post information so decided to include some of my resources here. That way you all can benefit!

I've used four different types of video conferencing tools with my students in three different areas of the building with as few as a half dozen kids to as many as two grade levels.


Probably the most popular and simplest to use.  Almost everyone has Skype or can easily download it to their computer.  It's free and easily accessible.  Perfect for author visits and classroom mystery connections (ie, what state do you live in and give hints).  Sometimes it is spotty with the connection, however, lately I haven't had any trouble with it (watch now I will!).  New features of Skype:  group calls and screen sharing.  This really brings it to the forefront of the video conferencing tools available, especially since there is no cost involved!

Look closely and you can see the "Skype" on the screen.
This is Stephanie and she is a towboat captain in the Gulf.  She Skyped us from her boat.


If you and the person/people you are video conferencing with have an Apple product, this is the video chatting tool to use.  You can use it from your Apple phone, iPad or computer.  I have plugged my dongle into my phone and projected it straight onto my SmartBoard.  Sometimes I have challenges with it with our wifi at school and sometimes it has worked beautifully. The image is usually clearer than Skype when it works.  

I've read that you can get FaceTime for Android and PC devices now, but haven't tried it myself.

FaceTiming with a monorail pilot!

Google Hangout

We had a semi great experience with this once when video chatting with an author/illustrator couple that were living in two different states.  We could hear them but they couldn't hear us or there was bad feedback when we tried the sound.  This was an unusual experience and I understand that it can be very easy.  I know high school teachers promote this for students to use with each other to work on homework.

This is Anna Kang. Look closely and you can see Chris Weyant at the bottom of the screen.

And here's the illustrator, Chris Weyant holding up a sketch for us!

Cisco WebEx

WebEx is a paid video conferencing tool where you get a link and ask all participants to log on using that link.  I used it a couple of times last year and it was cool because the authors were able to share their computer screens with us so we were able to see early versions of books.  Unless you are using a lot of video conferencing with sharing of documents during the chat, the free tools would work just fine for your needs.

This is WebEx.  You can see Daniel' Miyares's name at the bottom left corner of the screen.


Hop on over to Rabbit because it is just starting to launch into education so you can be at the forefront of it all.  This is a group video chatting app that gives participants the opportunities to engage in activities together (ie, watch videos, karaoke, play games).  I haven't used it but thought it would be great for teachers who are flipping their classrooms.  Students could watch the videos together at the same time and have conversations, ask questions, solve problems in real time.  It's free, too.  Check it out and let me know what you think and how you might be able to incorporate it in your classroom.

And Just a Few More...Doing the same thing...It's just what you prefer...


Popular with teens (maybe?). You can video chat with up to 12 people at a time. You can record your video chat for later and text during while chatting.


Chat with up to 12 people at one time.  No fee, no registration and no login.

Free photo, text, phone call sharing with other Viber uses.  Really not necessary in the classroom but could be a useful tool if you were going out of the country and wanted to keep in touch with family and friends and didn't want to get a phone plan.

If you have any questions or just want to talk this through a little more, don't hesitate to email me at

"Panel Folks"

If you were at my presentation you were lucky enough to "meet":

Emma Virjan "Author/Illustrator" Extraordinaire from Austin, Texas.  She has a new Pig in a Wig book coming out in January.  Check out her website here.

Stephanie Cavaliere, Towboat Pilot in the Gulf

Jennifer Underhill, Florida State University Schools, School Librarian, University School Associate Professor--Mystery Skypes are Fun!

Jacob Bogage, Reporter for the Washington Post

I'm so glad they were able to video conference in today! How fun was that?!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Our last "Hour of the Bees" book group meeting

My fifth grade all-girls book group just finished Lindsay Eager's Hour of the Bees.  We celebrated with punch, suncakes (pancakes), chips, salsa and snowcones.  Here's what they had to say about the book.  Needless to say, it's a winner for them!

"I'm speechless.  The contract says '10' but this book went to '11'."

"There are so many words to describe this book.  It's beyond amazing.  I wanted to keep reading but it was like, 9:30 at night."

"I like how it started the stories 'Once upon a time...'and then at the end of the story it would say 'Once upon a time...' again.'"

"The ending was really sad and a shock to me."
"The book is amazing. It is above the stars."

Kate and her "suncakes"

"I really wanted to be in this book group and am so glad I got in!  I love this book so much!"

The girls have some questions for Lindsay:
  • What inspired you to write the book?
  • If the stories are real, how old is Raul?
  • Were you like Carol when you were little?
  • Where did the names in the book come from?
  • What's your recipe for suncakes?
  • Will there be a sequel?  If so, you have five girls who will be standing in line the day it comes out to read it!
  • Did you ever live in Albuquerque?
  • Where did you get the inspiration for the settings like the ranch and the city development that Carol lives in with her family?
To wrap up, they said "Lindsay Eager's book is going to win the 2017 Newbery Award and it is the best book we ever read!"  You gotta love kids who totally fall for a book!  I know I do!  The biggest question they have now is "What should I read next?"  Suggestions?

Leaping for Lindsay!