Monday, December 3, 2012

eBooks and eReaders in the School Library

Booktalk Interview with Travis Jonker – Part 3
Part 3 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer and  blogger for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.

You mentioned earlier the effect that has come from changes in technology and the rise of eBooks. Tell me other ways that has impacted school libraries.
Travis: Last year I wrote a grant in our school district to purchase eReaders. When it came through, we started a program where students could check out the eReaders and take them home like a normal book. It has been hugely popular. We keep trying to add more to keep up with demand. Whether you’re a school library or public library, there’s no denying that eBooks are going to be hugely important.  They’re growing so fast that I think now is the time for libraries to give it a shot.

What were some of your goals with the eReader program?
Travis: One of our goals when we started was to give all our students access to eReaders, especially kids that wouldn’t have access to that sort of thing at home. We felt that a lot of the features of eReaders would be good for students. They can take notes. They can change the fonts. A lot of times the eReader will even speak the words. There are a lot of features, especially for reluctant readers, that might engage the students a little bit more.

With the introduction of your eReader program, did you see a rise in reading with more students reading than before?
Travis: Definitely. We had students who hadn’t had the highest interest in reading before, but were very interested in checking out an eBook and reading it on an eReader device. It’s hard to know whether they were interested in trying something new or if they were interested in some of the eReader features that could make reading a better experience for them. But we had interest from kids who read all the time and from kids who weren’t really readers and hadn’t been checking out books very much. We have a waiting list for all five our eReaders that will take us all the way to the end of the school year. As soon as one comes in it goes out to another student.

What advice do you have for other schools that might want to kick off their own eReader or eBook program?
Travis: A big part is analyzing what you want out of the program. One thing to think about is what you want out of the experience. Do you want it to be mainly for reading? Do you want something where students will have more capabilities, such as from a tablet like an iPad, a Kindle Fire or something like that? That’s the first step. Once you settle on that, based on what your students need, you move forward from there.

I know cost is always a big issue for schools. Do you have advice for how schools deal with that as they look at launching their own eReader program?
Travis: That’s tricky. Our grant came from a local education foundation in our school district. But there are definitely other sources out there. FableVision Learning has an email subscription list that will send you different grants that are available. But in a lot of cases, school libraries are already portioning some of their budgets for digital spending, like databases or online subscriptions. So if a grant won’t work for them, they might need to look at using some of their digital funds for eBooks or eReaders. Or they might want to use a little bit of the money they would normally use on print and put it toward digital. I think more and more school librarians will have to put a little bit more money into the digital side of things.

Any other advice in terms of eBooks and eReaders?
Travis: That’s another situation where I think it’s just good to just jump in and try it. It is growing so quickly. Librarians definitely need to stay current and that’s a good way to stay current.

(Note: Travis recently wrote an article for School Library Journal about his school’s experience with its eReader program, which provides advice and guidance for other schools. You can read the article Travis's Excellent eReader Adventure at

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Collaboration and Helping Students Navigate Information Resources

Booktalk Interview with Travis Jonker – Part 2
Part 2 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.

You talked before about the importance of working with students and teachers in terms of information literacy. Tell me more about that.
Travis: I was telling somebody just the other day that I think this is the craziest time in history to be a librarian. There is so much change going on with technology, especially with eBooks and with resources being available online and for free. It’s just totally changed what the library looks like and what we do.

How do these technology changes tie into information literacy and what you’re trying to teach students?
Travis: Information literacy involves skills that kids will need as they grow up and throughout their lives. So, we’ll work with students doing research projects and I’ll introduce them to some of the different databases that we have online. I also talk to them about formulating guiding questions for their research, such as what exactly is it that they want to answer. I’ll talk to them about being methodical about how they go about answering those questions and being really thorough about it. My goal is to make students self-sufficient in terms of navigating everything that is out there and finding answers to their questions.

What advice do you give other librarians to help students learn how to navigate all the information resources that are available?
Travis: The big thing for me is to just try things. I think a lot of time people are hesitant to try a new project or something with a student because they’re nervous it might not work or the outcome might not be exactly what they want. But I think it’s really important for school librarians to work with students and teachers at every opportunity they can.

 Why is it important for school librarians to work with teachers in terms of teaching information literacy to students?
Travis: Collaboration is such a big part of what we do. Sometimes it’s really difficult to collaborate. Everybody has their own things going on. But making those connections would be one of the first things I would tell a new school librarian. You need to keep working with teachers and getting into the classrooms of students that you’re teaching. You can even collaborate without collaborating. Meaning, you proactively look at what teachers are working on and then you look for resources and suggestions that might help the teachers even if they don’t come to you first.

Tell me a little more about the importance of school librarians collaborating with teachers.

Travis: School librarians really are well versed in doing research. They’re well versed in what books might fit with a particular reading or with the interests kids might have. The more times that you can work with a teacher, the better the students will benefit because you’ll be able to share your expertise and what you’ve learned over the years; whether it be working on research or suggesting a great new book to read.

The students won’t learn those things if you don’t make connections with those teachers. There are a lot of times when I’ll be eating lunch in the lounge and through a normal conversation a teacher will mention something she’s going to be teaching and we’ll end up planning to work on a project together. Even though it sounds simple, if that connection hadn’t happened, the students wouldn’t have benefited as much.

I understand that one such collaboration led to a rather unique experience for you. Please share.
Travis: You never know what you might be doing during the course of a day as a school librarian. But a couple years ago when Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday was coming up, I mentioned to one of the teachers who was coordinating our school’s celebration that a couple years before I had gone as Abe Lincoln to Halloween. She picked right up on that and before you know it, on Lincoln’s 200th birthday I came riding up to the school in a horse drawn carriage and delivered the Gettysburg Address on the front steps to a bunch of students dressed up in period clothing. We even had all the local news and TV cameras there. It was just the kind of thing where one little thing led to another. And it was a lot of fun.

Read part 1 (Everything is Reading) now and watch for part 3 (eBooks and eReaders in the School Library) of this interview to show up the first part of next week.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

Everything is Reading

Booktalk Interview with Travis Jonker – Part 1
Part 1 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.

In addition to being a school librarian, you’re involved in a lot of different things books related, such as your blog, reviewing for SLJ and other things. How do you hope make a difference in all that you do?
Travis: First and foremost I’m looking to make an impact on the students in my school district, making sure we have for them the latest and greatest books, books that are interesting to them. Also, I want to work with students and teachers in our district, teaching information literacy skills. If I can, I’d also like to share some of those things with other people through my blog or with things that I write. I think that’s a cool way to spread the word a little bit and let people know what has worked for me, and that it might work for them too.

What is the “word” or message you want to spread?
Travis:  As far as books go, the big thing I want to get across is that everything is reading. One of my favorite parts about the last 10 years or so is that a lot of things that people didn’t really consider reading before have become a lot more legitimate. Especially things like graphic novels and comic books. When I was in middle school, I hardly checked out any books from our school library because I was reading comic books, magazines and those sorts of things, but I was still reading. What you read today might get you interested in something else later. As long as you’re reading, it’s a good thing.

Tell me a little bit more about the idea that “everything is reading”.
Travis: A couple years back they started naming children’s literature ambassadors. The first year was Jon Scieszka and his big push throughout his career had been getting boys to read more. But I was so pumped up when he made his platform a push for giving kids choice and letting them choose books they’re interested in. Whether it’s a magazine, book, or even a website, all of that is reading. It might not be what has traditionally been considered reading but it really is.

Do you find sometimes that there is pushback from parents or others from some of these other things that in the past weren’t considered reading?
Travis: Sometimes, but I think it’s becoming less and less of an issue. If there‘s pushback, a lot of times it’s going to be with graphic novels and comic books. Sometimes at book fairs I’ll hear a parent say, “You can’t choose that because it’s not a book.” When that happens I try to explain that it is reading. A lot of times I just open the book up and flip through the pages with the parent to help show that there is reading involved here. I also think sometimes it can be important for a child to have more of a transition. They grow up on picture books, where pictures take up the entire page and tell the story. To then switch to text-only is a pretty abrupt switch.

How does reading help students get the skill sets they’ll need for the future?
Travis:  Reading is the basis for everything. If a kid is a good reader and reads a lot, it’s just going to help them out in whatever they do. It’s the foundation for everything else.

What advice do you give parents, teachers or other librarians to help students get the latest and greatest books?
Travis: I think one thing that is important to keep in mind is to give students choice. In the Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, one of her big pushes is to let kids read what they want to read. In her classroom, she saw choice create great advances in her students’ interest in reading. It seems like common sense, but for awhile we were so bogged down in whether a book’s reading level was a little bit too high or low? So finding the latest and greatest book for a child is about finding something they’re interested in.  For school librarians it means offering a really wide variety of books on a wide variety of topics. For parents I think it’s just important to remember to let kids read what they’re interested in. That might mean comic books. Sometimes it might be middle grade novels or a classic. I think it’s all legitimate.

Are there certain books you tend to recommend more than others?
Travis: Horror is always popular. Half-Minute Horrors is one I like to recommend. There’s a newer series by Patrick Carman called Skeleton Creek that’s been very popular for 5th and 6th grade. Nonfiction remains popular, especially with books that get more specific like visual encyclopedias.

In terms of fiction, sports remain really big. A lot of Tim Green books get checked out. One series that’s been really popular is the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger. There’s also When You Reach Me and Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.

Some of the graphic novels like Lunch Lady and Baby Mouse definitely grab kids and have been really popular as well. Some of the lesser known graphic novels I like to recommend include Jellaby by Kean Soo and Mouse Guard by David Petersen. It’s a great time for books right now to be honest. There’s just tons of stuff coming out that is interesting and that kids are interested in picking up.

Watch for parts 2 (Collaboration and Helping Students Navigate Information Resources) and 3 (eBooks and eReaders in the School Library) of this interview to show up later this week.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Great children's book review site

Discovered this great children's book review site, appropriately called Great Books for Children. Oh, and it happens to have a review on one my new books. Yay. Have a look.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fun with Book Trailers

Today, I came across a Watch. Connect. Read. (, a fun blog that explores children's literature through book trailers. Check it out. Here's a sample of one of the videos on the site.

Monday, October 15, 2012

How to Connect with Teen Readers and Non-Readers

Booktalk Interview with Allison Tran – Part 2
Part 2 of an interview I conducted with Allison Tran, teen services librarian in Orange County, California, children's and YA book reviewer for the blog Reading Everywhere, and co-host of the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast.

In your role as a teen services librarian and with your Reading Everywhere blog, you focus a lot on teens. Tell me what you enjoy most about working with teens.
Allison: Teen literature is really exciting right now and it’s what I like to read, personally. Teens are at a really exciting point in their life, where they have so many opportunities available to them. They’re just learning how the world works and where they fit into it all. Their options are wide open. They have the rest of high school and then college to look forward to. They’re making a lot of big decisions that are going to shape the rest of their life—which also means there’s a lot of pressure. And it’s just really interesting to see them grow. And they’re really enthusiastic. I love the way teens get so excited about a book or a movie or whatever they’re in to. I also love that they’re very free to express their opinions.

How can books help or make a difference to teens during this time of their life?
Allison: Books can be so many different things for a teen. They can be an escape from anything—from a really bad home life to stress about the SAT. It’s something that can just take them away. Also, books can really speak to them and let them know they’re not alone. Maybe they’ll open the pages and discover a character who is going through the exact same thing that they are. They might find another character who is being bullied or is dealing with an illness. Books can make them feel that they’re not the only one going through what they’re going through. They can be a source of inspiration that gives them hope.

What do you say to teens who don’t have a love for reading?
Allison: I have a real sympathy for non-readers. Everyone constantly pressures them, telling them they have to read something, that they just need to find the right book. And of course I hope they do find the right book, but… what if they don’t?  I imagine they feel about reading the way I feel about math. Let’s just say math is not my strong point. It doesn’t matter how many people tell me that math is awesome and that if I just find the right math program, then I’ll love math. Sadly, that’s not going to happen.

So, I really respect those teens that don’t like reading, and I realize that it won’t necessarily change their mind about reading by simply sitting them down with a big novel and telling them what a super-fun time they’ll have reading it. I want them to know that I’m on their side and that I understand what they’re going through. Still, I’ll always try to recommend a few different books that that might catch their interest. Hopefully one of those choices will speak to them

What if the teen ends up not like any of those book choices?
Allison: Even though I empathize with the non-reader, I still emphasize the importance of reading. Let’s face it: they’re going to have to read at some point. So, I try to open their minds to the fact that there are different forms of reading, including magazines, comic books, websites and blogs. There are also different styles of learning. Some kids aren’t visual learners and that’s simply what turns them off about books. In that case I try to sell them on the idea of listening to an audiobook and experiencing the story that way. Sometimes that’s what they need to get them through.

What are some of the best ways to connect both readers and non-readers with the right book?
Allison: Probably one of my favorite parts of being a librarian is finding the right book for a reader. Avid readers are pretty easy. I just find out what they’ve been reading, what they like, what they’re into, what they’re in the mood for and give them a few choices and they’re usually happy. Since I’m an avid reader of teen books myself, I can always make personal recommendations. For non-readers, I try to approach it by asking, “What kind of movies do you like? What kind of video games? What kind of TV shows?” Then l try to find them something that fits in with those interests.

What advice do you have for teen parents?
Allison: I try to reiterate to parents that no matter what their teen is reading, they’re going to be okay. For example, some are concerned that their teen reads too much fantasy— I think they’re worried the fantasy books aren’t going to help their child succeed academically. They say, “Can we find something that is not fantasy, please?” I can certainly do that for them, but at the same time I’m thinking, “What’s wrong with fantasy? I really believe that if the kid is reading- whatever he’s reading- he’s going to turn out great. Let him read what he likes!” I think parents need to trust in their kids to choose the right books for themselves.

Also, one of the best thing parents can do for their kids, especially at a younger age, but even as they get older, is to model reading behavior. Read together as a family. When they get too old for read-alouds, have a family reading time. Mom and dad can read their books while the kids read theirs, and everyone just kind of chills together and reads for 20 minutes or so. Make it a habit. The more that young people see their parents reading, the more they’re going to do it too.

Do you have some favorite books that you like to recommend for teens?
Allison: There are definitely different books for different readers, but there are a few series that I can recommend to almost anyone and it will be a hit. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series has wide appeal with its snappy dialogue and fast paced action. Romance, adventure-- it’s pretty much a win-win for both boys and girls. Scott Westerfeld is another author that I can generally recommend to just about anyone. Holly Black is really great too—fantastic urban fantasy. For girls who want something realistic, often Sarah Dessen or Jessi Kirby are winners.

Clearly, I could go on and on!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Top Three Librarian Skills for Connecting with Readers, Patrons and Authors

Booktalk Interview with Allison Tran – Part 1
An interview I conducted with Allison Tran, teen services librarian in Orange County, California, children's and YA book reviewer for the blog Reading Everywhere, and co-host of the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast.

How do you hope to make a difference as a librarian?
Allison: Almost everything I do with my blog, podcast and as a librarian have to do with getting people—and especially young readers—excited about literature. There are so many great books being published for children and teens today, more than ever before. It’s so exciting and readers are really getting into it more and making it more of a social thing. So, I want to build on that excitement and keep them getting excited. And maybe even introduce non-readers to something they might like. I really want to connect readers to books that they’re going to love; books that are going to speak to them and help them develop a lifelong love of reading.

Why do you feel reading is so important?
Allison: Reading is almost like breathing to me. I believe reading is important because it provides a window into another world. It can make us feel like we’re not alone. It can reaffirm our own experiences, or show us new experiences and new worlds that we might not otherwise be able to see. Faraway places, people in different situations, and people who are different from us. Reading also provides a shared connection between people. When you find someone else who has read and loved the same book, you’re instant best friends. You have something to talk about.

You co-host a podcast called Authors are Rockstars! Tell me about that.
Allison: Authors are so interesting and insightful. They always have interesting stories about what drives them and how they got published- but a lot of people haven’t had a chance to meet authors and hear their stories. So, my friend, Michelle, and I decided in our spare time to do this podcast where we feature author interviews and share our love of YA literature. It’s so much fun to be able to create a venue for authors to share a more personal side of themselves with their readers in a medium beyond the written word.

How do you typically conduct the author interviews for your podcast?
Allison: We like it best when we can chat with authors in person, but we also do Skype interviews. Sometimes we do the interviews at events like book signings and get comments from people at the event, so our listeners feel like they were there, too. It’s really fun to connect with other book lovers that way.

What advice do you have for today’s librarians, especially those who are just entering the field?
Allison: There are so many different kinds of librarians, but in general for those who work with the public, the three most important things newly minted librarians should be savvy with are 1) Technology/social media, which has become so important with its ability to connect us with other professionals, our patrons and authors. 2) Teaching. Librarians are educators. We’re always teaching people. So we need to feel comfortable and empowered in that role. 3) Marketing or advocacy. Libraries offer so many great resources, but sadly, a lot of people don’t know what we offer. We should constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to tell people what we offer, whether it’s through the Internet, social media, or through partnering with community organizations.

Are there any unique experiences you’d like to share?
Allison: I’m really privileged to be able to help people all day. That’s one of my favorite things about being a librarian. I’m there for people. One of the most unique experiences I had as a librarian was back when I was a children’s librarian. A pregnant woman came into the library and wanted to find a classic picture book. As I was helping her, she explained that she wanted to make a video of her husband reading the picture book because he was about to get shipped off with the military to Iraq and was not going to be there for the baby’s birth. Of course the implication was that they were worried that he might not make it back. My heart just dropped. I wanted to hug her and weep all over her, but that wasn’t my place to do that. She wasn’t looking for someone to make a big reaction. But I felt privileged as a professional to be able to respond appropriately, telling her how meaningful that would be, and then finding some wonderful book for her. I wish I knew the end of the story, but I assume all went well. And I am so grateful that I had the privilege of being able to help her get what she needed at that time.

What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?

Allison: It’s such a great thing to have the opportunity to connect with people and connect them with books that they’ll love. It’s really my dream job.

Watch for part 2 of this booktalk interview in the coming days.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Release Day for Old MacDonald had a Dragon

Happy release day for Old MacDonald had a Dragon. You no longer have to wait to buy it. Yay!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cow Can't Sleep Release Day

Happy Release day for Cow Can't Sleep. It's now available anywhere that they sell great picture books.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Music Educaton Lesson Plan

I just posted a new lesson plan on my website called "Recognizing Patterns in Music and Children’s Literature".  It's designed to help students meet music education standards for identifying similar and dissimilar phrases presented aurally in a piece of music and identifying musical phrases in a song presented aurally. The lesson plan accomplishes this by allowing students to explore and learn about patterns in music, including verse/refrain form. It teaches them and gives them the opportunity to practice echoing simple melodic phrases and singing developmentally appropriate songs.

Oh, and it also uses my picture book Old MacDonald had a Dragon. Check it out.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Art of Being Kind

Reading my guest-blogger's review of Mistborn the other day reminded me of the first time that I met the Mistborn author, Brandon Sanderson. It was about five years ago at a potluck mingle with a number of other children's authors. I believe this was actually before Mistborn came out and it was before Brandon had reached best-seller status, as well as before he had been pegged to finish Robert Jordan's best-selling Wheel of Time series.

I had no idea who Brandon was and he certainly had no idea who I was, but we started talking. I mentioned that I wrote picture books, but that I had also written some yet to be published middle grade and YA novels. When he found out that some of my novels were in the fantasy genre, he began to give me all sorts of advice and encouragement. He gave me some great insights into the fantasy market. He told me what editors at different publishing houses liked and what they were looking for. The whole time I was wondering how does this guy know all of this stuff? Who is this guy? But the thing that impressed me most was how genuinely nice and friendly he was. What a rare trait that is.

I doubt Brandon remembers that encounter (or me), but his kindness had a great impression on me. Since then I've seen Brandon at book signings and a number of different conferences. Even though he's reached superstar status in the book world, from what I can tell he's still as genuinely kind and helpful as ever.

What a wonderful world this would be if everyone sought to develop that art of simply being kind to not only the people we know and like, but kind to complete strangers as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book review: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Guest blogger and teen girl reviewer reviews Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Vin’s brother has taught her all her life never to trust anyone else and do all she can to survive, so when Kelsier, a Mistborn Allomancer (someone who burns metals to gain unnatural powers) offers her a position among his thieving crew she barely accepts, filled with suspicion and doubt.  But as time passes and she begins to discover her true powers, Vin realizes her importance and responsibility within the crew and their mission to overthrow the Final Empire.

Tired of the same old knights and dragons, vampires and werewolves fantasy?  Mistborn, though still filled with the excitement of fiction, reaches beyond the normal and overused common themes of today’s fantasy genre.  Brandon Sanderson has done an excellent job mixing the emotional apprehension into the excitement of battle and a story of true friendship and trust.  One can know that they will be entirely entertained while reading Mistborn.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

5 Tips to Avoid Parental Bullying

I don’t usually use this blog as a soapbox, but it breaks my heart sometimes to see how cruel or impatient some parents can be towards their children in public over some of the silliest things. I know being a parent is tough and it’s often a learn as we go thing, but when I see a father or mother lash out at a child at the grocery store, it makes me wonder how they treat that child in the privacy of their home.

Sometimes it makes me want to speak out and ask the parent to “chill”, but then I wonder if it might make it worse for the child.

 I next think, “Wow. Am I ever like that?” I hope not.

Then I remind myself that as a stranger, I might only being seeing one side of the story. I might not have seen the previous thirty three times where the parent patiently and kindly responded to the child grabbing something off the shelf in the candy aisle and dropping it in the cart or on the floor, and this last time happened to be the one where the parent finally lost it.

I’ve been there before, but I definitely hope I handled it better. Children need to be disciplined, but there’s a difference between discipline and parental bullying.

That brings me to the train of thought that my mind follows next and the main point I want to bring out here. What are some things that I can do to help me avoid ever being a parental bully when a child acts up? As my children can attest, I still need to do a lot of work on all of these. Still, when I remember the following, it helps me be a more loving and patient parent.

  1. Smile always. We usually speak kinder when we smile. It’s hard to lash out with a smile on our face.
  2. Remember how tough it is to be a child. No matter if we had the best or the worst parents ever, being a child can be hard. Showing kindness and patient can make it easier on our own children
  3. Take a deep breath. It helps to take a little “chill” pause before we act or open our mouths, and make sure the punishment doesn’t exceed the crime.
  4. Discipline with love. We can be firm and loving at the same time. A reprimand couched between a gentle hug and an “I love you” can strengthen the parent-child bond while still getting the message across that behavior needs to change.
  5. Say a silent prayer. Sometimes we need a little outside help, and there’s no one better or more willing to provide it.

If you have other strategies or advice to help avoid parental bullying, I’d love to hear them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cultivating Strong Reading Communities in Schools

Librarian Booktalk with Cathy Potter
An interview I conducted with Cathy Potter, a K-5 school librarian in Falmouth, Maine. Cathy reviews apps for School Library Journal and serves on the Southern Maine Library District's Board of Directors. She served as a nonfiction picture book judge for the 2011 CYBILS awards and is currently a member of the Chickadee Award committee in Maine. She is also co-founder and blogger for (formerly, which is dedicated to reviewing quality, nonfiction books for children (ages 5-18). 

As a school librarian, what do you see as the biggest challenge to fostering a love for reading in the students?
Cathy: Time. In the school setting, time is that one thing that we wish we had more of. We have a rigorous math curriculum, science and social studies content areas, but there isn’t a lot of time for sustained reading. I know teachers are always looking at their schedules for how they can eke out a little more time for reading aloud to the kids or letting them do silent reading or come to the library.  I think the most valuable time of the day is when all of the kids are engaged with books.

How do you try to address that lack of time or make the most out of what time you have?
Cathy: I try to stay in touch and collaborate with the teachers that I work with. If they’re working on a social studies unit on immigration, there are books I can recommend that they or the students can read. Also, it’s important to continue that conversation with teachers about the importance of reading. I think in the last several years our teachers have really seen the importance of guarding that silent reading time.

Why is it so important to have that silent reading time in a school setting?
Cathy:  During reading classes teachers often give direct instruction and provide guided reading time to help students learn to read, and as they get older they read to learn. But students also need time to practice those reading strategies they’re learning. They need to be able to read at a comfortable level those books that interest them. It is highly motivating for a child when they get to choose the books that they read. I think kids tend to read more when they’re given time and choice. And the more they read, the better they get at reading. That silent reading time is really the time they have to practice and to enjoy reading.

During that silent reading time, the students also are able to look around to see what they’re classmates are reading. Then afterwards they often talk with their classmates about books. Sometimes the teachers will even set aside time after silent reading for the kids to share the books.

How important is that social element of students talking with peers about the books they read?
Cathy: One of the wonderful things about reading is that when you’re with a book it’s just you and the characters. When I’m done reading a book, I often want to talk to somebody about what I just read. I think students are the same way. It’s about being part of a reading community and I think that’s really important.

You’ve done some unique things at your school to cultivate a strong reading community. Tell me a little about that.
Cathy: I try to find different ways to bring the community together around reading. We’ve participated in World Read Aloud Days for the past couple years. We’ve Skyped with authors from all around the country. We’ve celebrated Poem in Your Pocket Day. We do a mock Newbery program that gives the kids an opportunity during the school day to meet with other students at lunchtime and find out what they’re reading and share their thoughts. It has led to some real rich discussions about the books eligible for the Newbery award. This winter I’m hoping to do a mock Caldecott. We’ve also been doing video booktalks.

Tell me a little bit more about these video booktalks.
Cathy: About two years ago, one of our third grade teachers and I showed her students TV clips from some old Reading Rainbow shows where kids share about books they read. From those examples, we had each of her students write booktalks about one of their favorite nonfiction books that they were reading in class. Then we videoed them sharing their booktalks. We put the booktalks up on the library website so when students came to the library they could click on one of the booktalk links to see book suggestions.

This past year we have taken it a step further and let fourth and fifth graders use our iPads to make book trailers of their favorite books. They try to create trailers that are between 30 seconds and 2 minutes that will hook readers.

You mentioned before about the importance of letting children choose their books. Tell me more about that.
Cathy: When parents come to the library, email me or I interact with them at PTO meetings, my big message is that they really need to let their kids choose their own books. Everybody has different preferences. I have kids that love nonfiction. Some are avid fantasy fans. Others love historical fiction. Some are really into graphic novels. There is something for everybody in the library and if kids have a choice, they’re going to read even more. If they’re hooked on an author or a series, that’s great. They’re reading. The more they read, the more successful they’ll be at reading and they’re going to love it. Choice is about getting them excited about reading.

You and Louise Capizzo started a blog called the Nonfiction Detectives. Tell me a little bit about that.
Cathy: As librarians, we were always looking for the best or newest nonfiction books, but most of the reviews or blogs out there focused on fiction. So, we decided to create our own blog with the purpose of providing reviews of nonfiction books to help librarians and teachers figure out which nonfiction books they should purchase for their libraries.

What are some of things you look for in a nonfiction book that you recommend?
Cathy: We really look at is the back matter, such as the list of sources that the author has used for research. That is really important. We also look at the author notes that sometimes explains how the authors did their research. For example, I’m currently working on a review for Puffling Patrol by Betsy and Ted Lewin, who actually traveled to Iceland to do their research. We look for accuracy, and to see what expertise the author has.

We also look at the way the book is presented, if it’s written in narrative versus expository form. We look at the visual elements and how they support the text. We also look at how it will likely be used by patrons. Certain books will be browser books that will get kids really excited. Some books a student probably wouldn’t check out, but a teacher or a librarian might want it as a read aloud.

One of my favorite books last year was The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle. It was written like a mystery, but was about a how certain scientists were trying to discover why a golden frog was mysteriously dying. It has excellent photographs to go with the text.  Students love this book as a pleasure read, but the teachers also use it in the classroom as an example of nonfiction writing and science.

What are some other nonfiction books that you would recommend to students or teachers?
Cathy: One book that I just wanted to read over and over again was Chuck Close: Face Book. We reviewed it this summer and I can’t wait to get this into the hands of my students. It’s an autobiography by an artist written in question and answer format. The kids are going to love it because in the middle it has 14 self-portraits of the book’s artists that is like a mix-and-match flip book for kids, which lets them interact with the book. It’s really well done.

Another one that I really like that came out last year was The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter. The Watcher really looks at Goodall as a young child to present day and the impact she has made on the environment, and not just with chimpanzees but with deforestation .The artwork works so well with the text. And it it’s highly accessible from kindergarten right up to 6th grade. That’s one my students really enjoyed.

What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?
Cathy: I love that every day is different. I never know what the day will bring. I might be helping students find information for a project they’re doing. I might be recommending books to a reluctant reader. I like being able to interact with everybody in the school, including kids, teachers, parents. I really love that. I love working with the kids over times, watching them blossom and evolve as readers. I love the relationships.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Right Children's Book Might be a Graphic Novel

Librarian Booktalk with Eva Volin
An interview I conducted with Eva Volin, Supervising Children's Librarian for the Alameda Free Library in Alameda, California. Eva currently serves on ALSC's Notable Children's Books committee. She has served as the chair for YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee in 2009-2010 and as a member of the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award committee. She also served as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards in 2008. Additionally, Eva blogs for School Library Journal’s Good Comics for Kids and reviews graphic novels for No Flying No Tights and Booklist.

How do you hope to make an impact as a librarian, a book reviewer and with your involvement with different children’s book committees?
Eva: I want to do for other kids what teachers and librarians did for me when I was a kid, which was understand that not every book is for every child, and to keep handing them things until we discover what it is they are interested in. Just because a child might not be a reader now, it doesn’t mean he or she won’t ever be a reader. They just need to find that book that clicks. I want to be the one that hands them that magical book that flips on the switch for them. 

What do you say to the teacher, librarian or parent who is trying to find that right book for a particular a child?
Eva: The strategy that works best for me is to gently remind the parent or the teacher that this isn’t about the parent or the teacher. This is about the child and the child’s interests. You can’t necessarily hand every single third grader Captain Underpants and figure that’s the one that’s going to be the hit. Some kids don’t like Captain Underpants.

You have to ask questions and get to know the kid. You don’t necessarily need to take them to coffee or anything, but you need to be ready and willing to spend the time to find out what the child is interested in, and then start recommending books. Sometimes you can go to the best-seller list or the greatest hits lists, but often you need to take the time to find out what the kid likes and doesn’t like.

What are your thoughts about the social interaction between a child and a parent as an aspect in developing a love for reading in a child?
Eva: I think parent involvement is key. Sometimes that parent involvement means getting out of the way. :) Reading aloud to a child is step number one in the early years when kids are pre-readers, Step number two is having the child see that you also read. Even if a parent isn’t a big reader, they need to fake it. Read magazines. Read milk cartons. Read the newspaper. You don’t necessarily need to sit there reading James Patterson’s latest novel. You need to show your kids that reading is not only important, but that it’s important to you. And that will get the child to start thinking that maybe reading is okay.

The next step is to never turn your nose up at what your child wants to read. If you aren’t necessarily a big horror reader, but your child is on fire for horror stories, don’t hold the book by the corner and wrinkle your nose and say, “I don’t understand how you read this nonsense. Put it back.” Say, “That’s fantastic! Tell me what you think. When you’re done with that, let’s see what else is out there.” Don’t try to pigeon-hole your child’s reading into what you enjoy. (Can you tell this issue has come up over and over again this summer? Gah!)

You focus quite often on graphic novels and comics. Why is that?
Eva: Sometimes a graphic novel is the perfect book to turn somebody into a voracious reader. That doesn’t mean that graphic novels are just for reluctant readers. Sometimes they turn regular readers into voracious readers too. And because the pictures help kids decode the words, graphic novels can help advanced readers become even more advanced readers. So having graphic novels in my collection has become a gateway to grabbing the interest of even more kids and turning them into readers.

In some people’s minds there sometimes seems to be a stigma about comics and graphic novels. What are your thoughts about that?
Eva: Many people my age and older still tend to think that comics are just for little kids, that they dumb down reading. As librarians, teachers, and parents, we need to realize that all reading is good. It doesn’t matter what you’re reading. Reading is good. If graphic novels are what a kid wants to read for his free reading, let him do it. I’ve never met a kid who, after reading 20 comics, absolutely refused to read anything else. She may continue to have a preference for graphic novels, but that doesn’t mean the graphic novel will dumb her down or turn her off of prose. All reading is good.

Do you see the stigma associated with graphic novels and comics changing?
Eva: Absolutely. Teen librarians are already on board. No question. They got the message 5 to 10 years ago that graphic novels are in fact a type of literature and should be treated with the same respect that you treat any other form of literature. Children’s librarians are definitely on the road to accepting graphic novels as good and worthy of our attention and promotion.

The more reading we do, both professionally and just as readers, the more librarians and teachers realize that there’s a lot more to sequential art than anybody gave it credit for in the past. So, I think the ball is really rolling. Nowadays, the people who say that comics aren’t legitimate literature tend to be people who haven’t done their homework.

Are there certain graphic novels that you tend to recommend over others?
Eva: I’ll always ask questions to find out what the child is interested in. There are so many different kinds of books covered by the graphic novel format. Since graphic novels are a format, not a genre, you can have all different kinds of genres within that format. Once I figure out what the child is interested in reading, then I start making recommendations.

Some of the graphic novels that have been very popular in my library lately include Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Jeff Smith’s Bone, which is a perennial favorite. Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl series is always fun. Chris Schweizer’s Crogan Adventures are fantastic books that make history fun. The Olympian series by George O’Connor is never on my shelf. It is always checked out. Faith Erin Hicks’ graphic novel, Friends With Boys, is a new one I expect to be very popular with tweens. The Toon Books line is great for younger kids. They are graphic novels written for the easy reader reading level and they’re all lovely. Stinky by Eleanor Davis won a Geisel and is one of my favorites. The books in Geoffrey Hayes’ Benny and Penny series are always great.

What are some good resources for people who are new to graphic novels who want to learn more or find out what might be appropriate for their children or student?
Eva: Booklist and School Library Journal have started reviewing graphic novels more regularly, but for the broadest look at what is being released, you still need to go online. Good Comics for Kids is a School Library Journal blog where I and other reviewers review kid’s graphic novels from ages 4 to 16.

Another good place to start is It’s a website where teens and librarians, including myself, review books with collections in minds. We review books for kids, teens, tweens, and adults of all interest levels. If you’re looking more for superhero stuff and more traditional comic books, is a great place to look for reviews. If you’re limited to trade journals, the main ones you probably want to look at are School Library Journal, Booklist, and VOYA.

What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?
Eva: It’s probably the light bulb that goes off over somebody’s head when you’ve said exactly the right thing to get them to want to take the book home. There’s nothing like seeing an 8-year-old’s face light up because they found the perfect book.

Also I think it’s something that happens when I’m not at work, maybe at the supermarket or walking through the park, when a child runs up to me and says, “You’re the library lady. Do you remember me?” And then I get to say, “I do, I do remember you.” That’s a really special moment where I know that I’ve connected with somebody, that I did something right enough that they remember who I am.”

Are there any unique or interesting experiences you’d like to share?
Eva: My favorite story is when a girl with her mom came to me at the reference desk and asked about a certain Manga volume. I said to her, “Yes, we have that volume. Let me put that on hold for you. This is a really good series. I think you’re going to like it a lot.” The girl did a double-take. She looked at me, looked at her mom, looked at me, looked at her mom. Then she said, “See, mom, even old people read these.” The sense of self-satisfaction on this girl’s face was fantastic!

Any last words?
Eva: I have this theory that the librarians who love to read things and who love to recommend books are the ones who become children’s librarians. So, I guess it’s just keep reading. Keep reading new things so you can keep recommending the perfect book to the right kids.

To read more about graphic novels and reviews from Eva Volin, visit her blog at

The Alameda Free Library serves those who live, work, play, and learn in Alameda by providing materials, services, and programs to advance their recreational, educational, and professional goals. The Library offers a wide range of services to support community priorities, including answering reference questions, staging story times, providing summer reading programs, hosting class visits, and offering free public programs and displays for all ages and interests. For more information about the Alameda Free Library, visit

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Review: Death Cloud - Young Sherlock Holmes

After receiving a recommendation from a librarian about it being an interesting read for middle graders, I read the first book in the Young Sherlock Holmes series called Death Cloud by Andrew Lane. I’ve never really been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and thought it might be a bit stuffy and slow moving, but I was wrong. Death Cloud has fast paced action that begs the teenage Sherlock to decipher a trail of intriguing clues to solve his first mystery. In Death Cloud, Lane presents Sherlock as a likeable teen full of curiosity and with a desire for adventure that often gets him into more trouble than he can handle on his own. But with the help of his friends and his own overactive brain power, Sherlock manages to escape several close calls with death and solve the mystery.

 In addition to making the English countryside come alive in the reader’s mind, Lane creates a world that most kids can easily relate with – one where adults rule and think they know everything, even though it’s a kid that actually has the right answers to save the day as well as save the adults from their own foolishness. Death Cloud by Andrew Lane is an enjoyable read that will capture the interest and imagination of inquisitive young minds.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Brave Little Monster Now Available

For those who have been wanting to get a copy of Brave Little Monster, Scholastic Book Clubs has finally made it available again as a paperback. When logged in to the book club as a teacher or parent, you should be able to simply search for "Brave Little Monster". It should bring up two options; the paperback alone as Brave Little Monster # 11308 Club Shop, or the Brave Little Monster Pack: Book Plus CD # 5 Just Right Books. Enjoy!.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: False Prince

Wow! FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen is a great read. Nielsen has developed a rich set of characters in FALSE PRINCE, especially in the protagonist named Sage, who truly comes alive in the reader’s mind with his mysterious depth and layers of complexity. As you peel back each layer of Sage’s intriguing personality, you find yourself rooting more and more not only for him to survive, but that he’ll turn the tables on his adversaries.

Coupled with the great character development, FALSE PRINCE takes the reader on an engaging adventure entwined with treachery, sword fights, deadly rivalries, royal secrets, and a daring plan to save a kingdom from civil war. Its delightful and surprising plot twists not only keep you guessing at the final outcome and cheering along the way, but leave you pondering on the story and its characters for weeks after. FALSE PRINCE is a prized selection you'll want to add to your list of middle-grade/YA books that boys will love. Oh, and girls will love it too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

70 New Books to Get Boys Reading

Finding books that will engage boys in the upper-elementary grades and junior high can be a challenge. I personally feel that book publishers publish too few books targeted specifically at boys in this age range. However, there are books available that can get boys interested in reading or simply keep current boy readers reading.

I recently asked a large group of librarians what recently published middle grade fiction they see boys reading with interest (i.e., books published within the past 5 years). By far the most frequently recommend books were Ranger’s Apprentice (series) by John Flanagan, Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney, and anything by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson series and Kane Chronicles series).

Below are two lists I compiled from these librarians’ recommendations. The first list contains those books that received the most recommendations. The second list contains books that also came highly recommended.

Middle-grade books with high interest for Boys – Most recommendations from Librarians
Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series) by Jeff Kinney
Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
The Maze of Bones (Book 1 of 39 Clues series) by Rick Riordan
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce (for younger boys)
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Middle-grade books with high interest for Boys – Recommended by Librarians
100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp (series) by Rick Yancey
Amulet (series of graphic novels) by Kazu Kibuishi
Athlete biographies (i.e., Tim Tebow and Drew Brees)
Bang by Norah McClintock
Bartimaeus (series) by Jonathan Stroud
Beyonders (series) by Brandon Mull
Beware the Ninja Weenies and other humorous books by David Lubar
The Body of Christoper Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci
Brotherband Chronicles (series) by John Flanagan
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Charlie Bone (series) by Jenny Nimmo
Cherub (series) by Robert Muchamore
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
Eragon (Inheritance series) by Christopher Paolini
Escape from the Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith
Fablehaven (series) by Brandon Mull
Fallen Angels and anything else by Walter Dean Myers
The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander
Gregor the Overlander (series) by Suzanne Collins
Haunted Mystery (series) by Chris Grabenstein
The High Seas Trilogy by Iain Lawrence
H.I.V.E.: Higher Institute of Villainous Education (series) by Mark Walden
The House of Power (Atherton series) by Patrick Carman
Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
The Kane Chronicle (series) by Rick Riordan
Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor
The Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson
Last Dragon Chronicles (series) by Chris D'Lacey
Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers
Lorien Legacies by Pittacus Lore
Marvin Redpost (series) by Louis Sachar (for younger boys)
Maximum Ride (series) by James Patterson
The Missing (series) by Margaret Haddix
Ms. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The Mysterious Benedict Society (series) by Trenton Lee Stewart
NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society (series) by Michael Buckley
Origami Yoda (series) by Thomas Angelberger
Pendragon (series) by D.J. MacHale
Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry
Septimus Heap by Angie Sage
Series of Unfortunate Events (series) by Lemony Snicket
Skeleton Creek (series) by Patrick Carman
Slam by Walter Dean Myers
Spaceheadz (series) by Jon Scieszka
Sports fiction by authors like Rich Wallace, Tim Green, and Mike Lupica
Tapestry (series) by Henry H. Neff
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Warriors (series) by Erin Hunter
The Wee Free Men (series) by Terry Pratchett
The Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy
Witch and Wizard (series) by James Patterson
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Wonderstuck by Brian Selznick
World War  II and Vietnam War fiction and non-fiction
Young Sherlock Holmes (series) by Andrew Lane

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Ranger's Apprentice

When I asked a large group of librarians for suggestions on middle-grade books that would appeal to boys, one of the most recommended books was the RANGER’S APPRENTICE series by John Flanagan. In fact, one librarian said, “The books (RANGER’S APPRENTICE) fly off my shelf.”

So, the other day I read the first book in the series, THE RUINS OF GORLAN. As expected, RANGER’S APPRENTICE is full of adventure that will engage boy readers (and girls too) from ages 10 and up. But what I believe makes this book rise way above your typical adventure is the way Flanagan takes the readers deep inside the emotions of the main characters. Not only do the characters go on wild adventures that any boy would dream of, but it lets the readers feel and see how the two main boys in the book deal with boyhood trials common to today’s youth, including bullying, feuding friends, and acceptance by others. While I loved the action and adventure, its Flanagan’s focus on the trials and hardships of youthful relationships that makes RANGER’S APPRENTICE: THE RUINS OF GORLAN so exceptional.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Comparing & Contrasting Lesson Plan

I just posted on my website another lesson plan that teachers can use for the upcoming school year. This one focuses on helping teachers achieve common core standards for comparing and contrasting. It teaches students how to compare and contrast different items, compare and contrast different books, and compare and contrast text within a book. It accomplishes this is in a fun and unique way, using my picture books, COW CAN'T SLEEP and OLD MACDONALD HAD A DRAGON, which will both be available this coming September.

You can find the lesson plan at Feel free to share it with others.

New Release Dates

The release dates for my books have changed to the following:
  • Old MacDonald had a Dragon - Sept. 18, 2012
  • Cow Can't Sleep - Sept. 25, 2012