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Tales of an Elementary School Librarian

Most Circulated Books of the 2018-2019 School Year

The school year is over and has been for three weeks or so, but I got busy at the end of the year and never did one of these most circulated books of the year lists.

It felt like there was just something left undone, and I’ve had this unsettled feeling ever since, so I decided to just go ahead and pull the numbers, so it can finally feel like summer time.

For the last three years, the same book has won. I can’t really explain it, but the numbers don’t lie. We are in a Book, by Mo Willems has been the most popular book in our school for quite a while. Could 2019 be the year that we get a new champion? Let’s find out.

#10. Elephants Cannot Dance– 32 checkouts

elephants

#9. I Really Like Slop-33 checkouts

slop

#8. I am Invited to a Party! – 33 checkouts

party

#7. Sofia the 1st: The Curse of Princess Ivy- 35 checkouts

ivy

#6. Amulet (book 1)– 38 checkouts

amuletseries

#5. My New Friend is so Fun!- 39 checkouts

new friend

#4. Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas- 48 checkouts

Lord of the fleas

#3. Smile– 56 checkouts

smile

#2. We are in a Book!- 60 Checkouts

weareinabook

#1. Dog Man: A Tale of two Kitties- 61 checkouts

dogman tale

It’s official! Dog Man has dethroned Elephant and Piggie! And by one book checked out! Talk about a close one! Congrats to Dav Pilkey! Dethroning Elephant and Piggie is a tough thing to do in our school.

I hope you are all having a great summer!

Waning Crescents and Wild Things

This past week I read Where the Wild Things Are to my 2nd through 5th graders. We’ve been reading a lot of older classic picture books lately and examining them closely to determine if we think they are still classics. One of the questions that came up was, What really happened to Max in this book? 

That’s a tricky question. As a kid I always assumed that Max was pretending while he was in time-out. I had an active imagination as a kid, and this seemed like what was happening to me. Max had this imaginary world of wild things built up in his mind, and he could escape there whenever he wanted to. I loved that. I had my own worlds that I liked to visit when the real world got to be bit too much. That was one of the biggest reasons I loved (and still love) books.

Reading this book several years later as an adult, I changed my mind. It seemed clear to me that Max had fallen asleep and everything that happened in the world of the wild things was actually a dream. It made more sense that he woke up when he smelled the meal his mother had brought in. In this illustration, he very much looks like a kid just waking up from a crazy dream. sleepymax.JPG

My students were split on the two ideas. A lot of them seemed to think that Max was simply imagining, but more thought that it was a dream. One student asked me to see the before and after illustrations of Max’s bed again to see if it was messed up. I flipped through both pages and showed the kids.

The beds were pretty much the same. The kids who thought that Max was just imagining took this as a huge point in their favor, but I pointed out that he had probably fallen asleep on top of the covers.  While we were talking about this possibility, one of my students noticed something that will forever change how I view and discuss this book with kids.

“The moon!” she said. “Look at the moon! Why is it different?”

In the hundreds of times that I have read this book by myself, or with kids, I had never noticed that the moon was changing the whole time. It starts out as a waning crescent and ends up a full moon in the middle of the wild rumpus.

The text says that Max “sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year.” It appears that all of the action did not happen in one night like I had always believed. It takes time for the moon to grow like that.

Whatever we think happened in this book, whether Max is imagining all of the action, whether he is dreaming or whatever, Sendak purposefully threw a wrench in our theory.

My students had a few more adjusted theories to account for the moon. One boy thought that maybe this is a recurring incident and that Max gets sent to his room without dinner all the time, and the illustrations are all from different incidents. I think that this is a pretty good theory.

Another student thought that Max was still in that place in-between sleeping and awake, and was still partly in the wild-thing-dream. I think that this is a good possibility as well.

In all honesty, I think that Sendak was a very clever man and wanted to make sure we would still be talking about this book 56 years after it was first published. That’s why he never showed Max on the bed and left the sheets alone. He put the moon in there to make sure there was no way for us to know for sure what happened to Max. Maybe his room really did change and he really did travel to a far away place. It’s a picture book. Anything can happen. Every reader has a unique experience with the land of the wild things and they can all come to their own conclusions.

I’ve always loved this book, but this week, I’m looking at it with new eyes. My appreciation for it has grown exponentially. It’s one of the best and always will be.

Is it a Classic? Round 3: Miss Nelson is Missing and The Giving Tree

 

A few weeks ago, I stated this thing with my 2nd-5th grade classes where I read them an old, classic children’s book or two and then we discuss the merits and flaws of the books. After we discuss them, they vote on whether they think each book is a classic or not.

I am finding that it’s very hard to find a book that they won’t think is a classic. Usually they are enthusiastic about them all, and with the exception of a few fifth grade classes , they almost always vote a book a classic.

Sometimes, we read books that a lot of them have never seen. Not this week. This week, I picked two that I was sure that most of them had heard. I wasn’t wrong. A majority of all of my classes knew both of these well.

Miss Nelson is Missing

What a brilliant book! Even in 2019, thirty-four years after it’s publication, I still feel like this book is one of the best. I read it to kids pretty frequently. Allard and Marshall pretend to discreet, but  are actually pretty obvious. They found a way to tell a kid exactly what is going on, while making the kid feel like they figured it all out on their own.

For fun, I asked a lot of the kids when they figured out that Miss Nelson was reallyViola Swamp. Most of them said that they didn’t realize it until the end. There were very few who caught on early, (and even fewer who I actually believed ;)) It’s so well done, and the delivery at the end is perfect.

From my point of view this was the most popular book that I’ve read in this series, so far. When I asked, “Who doesn’t think this book is a classic today?” In every class, there were very few hands up, if any.

The Giving Tree

Oh, The Giving Tree. You either love it or you hate it, right? I’ve talked to so many adults who despise this book, and so many kids who love it.

I don’t really know how I feel about it. I go back and forth. I was very interested to see what my students thought. I figured that for sure, there would be some classes who voted against it, maybe even a couple. No such luck. Even after we discussed how selfish the boy was and how unhealthy the relationship seemed, every single class voted it a classic. I was honestly a little disappointed that I only really got positive feedback from the kids.

This got me thinking. Maybe kids don’t mind the take-everything-and-give-very-little-back relationship the boy has with the tree because it doesn’t seem that strange to them at this point in their lives. Most of them have the exact same dynamic going on with their parents. The  book was written for kids, after all, and Shel Silverstein really seemed to get kids. I liked this book myself, as a kid, and didn’t have second thoughts about until much later.

Things the kids liked about it: The illustrations, the story, how nice the tree was, how they got to be together in the end, and lastly, the scary Shel Silverstein photo on the back of the book.

shel_2

Next up: The House on East 88th Street.

Is it a Classic? Round 2- Big Anthony and the Magic Ring

biganthony

I’ve been doing this thing where I read a classic picture book or two to my students. We discuss the text and the illustrations, and then I get the kids to vote on whether they think the book should still be considered a classic or not. I want to answer this question: Do the books written for yesterday’s kids still appeal to the kids of today?

Last week, we looked at Swimmy and King Bigood’s in the Bathtub, and both books were voted classics by a majority of my classes. I thought it would be fun to read a book this week that isn’t normally considered a classic, but one that I still think it awfully good.

The book that I picked is Big Anthony and the Magic Ring. It’s a sequel to Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola, a book that is very much considered a classic. Like Strega Nona, it’s a book about Big Anthony messing with magic that would be better off left alone, and the mayhem that comes of it.

I’ve always felt that sequels, especially well-done sequels, get a bad rap. They hardly ever win major awards, and are generally seen as a continuance of the original story. Of course there are exceptions, (The High King, The Grey King and Dicey’s Song stand out in my memory) but it seems to be difficult for a sequel to win big.

I asked the kids if they had heard of Strega Nona, and in every class a majority of kids had. (Most of them had heard it from me.) No one was aware of Big Anthony and the Magic Ring, though, which isn’t a surprise. It’s a book that has been mostly lost in time, and that’s a shame. I very much enjoyed reading it to my classes.

90% of the kids loved the book. They thought it was funny. They liked the illustrations, and they appreciated the great dePaola storytelling. A lot of them said they liked the message of “Just be yourself” and “Don’t mess with other people’s stuff.”

One class, though, out of the twelve that I read it to, didn’t like it very much. It was a class of 5th graders, and they thought that it was just a retelling of the original Strega Nona, and that it was a way for the author to keep on making money off of the success of his first book. I disagree with the second half of that statement, but I can see how they saw it as a retelling. There are a lot of the same elements in play in both books.

All in all, though, my students liked Big Anthony very much. 11 classes out of 12 thought it was a classic and that kids everywhere should still be reading it in 2019. Not bad.

Several of my students wanted to travel a little further with Big Anthony and Strega Nona, and checked out some of the other books in the series. Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona and Big Anthony: His Story all ended up in a kid’s backpack.

Next week, I’m reading two very well-known classics, Miss Nelson in Missing and The Giving Tree. I can’t wait to see what my students think.

Is it a Classic? Round 1

Inspired by Besty Bird and her sister Kate’s podcast Fuse 8 n’ Kate, I decided to try something new. It’s called, “Is it a Classic?”

Basically, I pick an old classic picture book (or two) and read them to my students. Then, the kids and I discuss the book. We look at the merits and the flaws and the kids then vote on whether they think the book should still be considered a classic. I told them that for our purposes, a classic can de defined as a book that is one of the best, and one that they think should still be read by kids everywhere. Pretty Simple.

For the first week, I chose two picture books: Swimmy by Leo Lionni (1963) and King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey and Don Wood. (1985)

Both books received a Caldecott honor in their day, and we’ve been discussing the Caldecott a lot these last few months, so I thought they would be good books to begin with.

Swimmy

swimmy

I remembered this one very well from my childhood. (or least snapshots of it) The image of Swimmy as the little eye in the big red fish formation has stuck with me over the years. For some reason, I had the impression that Swimmy faced some prejudice because he was a different color than the rest of the fish, but a reread 28 or so years later, showed me that I was remembering wrong. The fish don’t seem to care that much that Swimmy does’t look like them. They’re much more preoccupied with the possibility getting eaten by the bigger fish.

The kids all loved this one. Of the 12 classes I read it to (2nd-5th graders), every single class voted it a classic. Some of their comments were that they liked the bright colors in the illustrations, the liked Swimmy’s courage, intelligence and how he used his difference as a positive.

A few of  the kids didn’t like how the book started out so sad. (A big tuna fish eats all of Swimmy’s school, except for him) Other kids just shrugged their shoulders at that comment. One kid said, “That’s just what life is like when you’re a tiny fish in a big ocean. Sometimes your friends and family get eaten.”

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub

kingbidgood

This is one that I didn’t read as a child. It’s not that surprising. I went to a small Christian school without a school library, and a book about a king who spends the book in a bathtub isn’t one that my teachers probably would have read aloud to the class.

The kids, for the most part, liked this book as well. The positive comments were mostly about the humor and how detailed the illustrations are.

The concerns were that the illustrations are very dark, and that the king being in the bathtub made some of them uncomfortable. A few even told me that they think this book copied President Taft is Stuck in the Bath. I told them that this book came out 30 years before President Taft, and that seemed to take care of that concern 🙂

Of the 12 classes, 10 of them voted it a classic. The two that didn’t were a 2nd grade class and a 5th grade class.

I had a lot of fun with this. I love discussing the books with the kids and hearing their opinions. I have big plans for the next few weeks.

Coming up: Is it a Classic? Round 2 Big Anthony and the Magic Ring by Tomie dePaola.

Ukulele tabs: Hedwig’s Theme

hedwig

Last summer, I was sitting around with my uke, and started plucking out the beginning to “Hedwig’s Theme.” I kept going until I had something that sounded kind of close to it.

These last few weeks, I’ve been teaching my ukulele students how to read and play from tablature, and they’ve been begging me for the “Harry Potter song.” I finally sat down and tabbed out an easy version for them. I don’t know if any of you out there teach ukulele to kids, or would just like to learn how to play this one. If you do, here’s a pretty simple version.

Happy ukuing!

 

hwedwigtab

Cybils Fiction Picture Book and Board Book winners!

Happy Valentines Day! Also, happy Cybils announcement day!

This year, it was my honor and pleasure to serve as a round 2 fiction picture book and board book judge  for the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (or Cybils.) Our task was to read the 7 picture books and 7 board books selected by the  Round 1 judges as finalists, and to pick a winner in both categories.

There were a lot of good books to choose from, but I am super excited (the most excited I’ve ever been as a Cybils judge) to announce our two spectacular winners.

For the fiction picture book category the winner is We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. 

we don't eat out classmates

I’ve written about this book a lot on this blog, even before the picture book finalists were revealed, and most of you know how much I love it.

Here’s the official blurb:

“This is a hilarious, well-written book to help young readers explore the concept of how we begin to live in community and develop relationships with our peers. The youngest school children discover the empathy needed to treat each other kindly. This book was the winner because it’s a great message that uses humor to get the point across. The giggles that this book generates will bring kids back to it again and again to enjoy and learn from it multiple times.”

And the winner for board books, is actually my six -year-old daughter’s favorite book at the moment. It is Llamaphones by Janik Coat.

llamaphones

“This is an ingenious tactile and visual board book, that utilizes bold colors, simple shapes, and humor to make homophones and quirks of the English language accessible for young readers. This book was the winner because of its beguiling simplicity that appealed to a range of ages from toddlers to early elementary.”

Congrats to Ryan T. Higgins and Janik Coat. You both have given us awesome books for  us and our kids to read and love.

Be  sure to check out the rest of the winners here. 

 

Author visit announcement!

So, sometimes plans don’t work out. I had an author lined up to come visit our school next month, but due to a scheduling conflict they told me last week that they would be unable to come.

Bummer, right? Well, that left me without an author this year, so I started panicking a little and sending out inquiries all over the place. I usually plan my visits a year in advance, and I’ve NEVER had to find someone so last minute.

Well, let me just say that I am so thrilled with how it worked out.

This May, right at the end of the school year, one of my favorite illustrators, (and a phenomenal author as well) is coming to visit.

Want to guess who it is?

cordell

I’ll give you another clue. He has a Caldecott medal.

If you can’t guess, you can find the answer here.

Needless to say, I am SUPER-excited.

I guess it goes to show that sometimes a lousy situation can turn out pretty great. We’re going to have a great time.

 

The 2019 Kid Lit Podcast Awards

award

Ok, so maybe this isn’t so much of a real award as it is the opinion of one humble elementary librarian who happens to listen to podcasts every day while washing dishes.

I like to listen to podcasts about a wide variety of topics, from music, to college football, to Dr. Who, but children’s literature has a special place in my heart. find myself listening to people discuss kids’ books more than anything else.

I have appointed myself as the sole member of the 2019 Kid Lit Podcast Awards committee. It comes with a lot of power, but it is also a big responsibility, and I take this responsibility very seriously.

The committee this year has selected two podcasts as honors.

The Children’s Book Podcast by Matthew Winner. (Formerly All the Wonders) I don’t know if there’s a kid lit podcaster out there who works as hard as Matthew Winner. He is always bringing in the biggest names in the kid lit world, and he seems to hit a home run at least once a week. His editing skills have gotten better and better these last few years, and he is really running a great show.

The Yarn by Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp. If you want a great, succinct story about and by a kid lit creator, but don’t have an hour to spend listening (a place I find myself in very often), The Yarn is the podcast for you. Travis and Colby are both very knowledgable about children’s books, but more often than not, they get out of the way, and let the guest tell their story. I have found myself in tears more than once listening to an author pour themselves out on the Yarn.

and the winner of the 2019 Kid Lit Podcast Awards is…..

Fuse 8 n’ Kate by Betsy Bird and her sister, Kate. This is my favorite podcast at the moment. It is full of what every podcast should have: interesting, fervent and hilarious discussion. They never have any guests, they simply open up a “classic” picture book and talk about it. Betsy and Kate bring completely different things to the discussion table. Betsy brings her knowledge and experience. (She also brings the book. Without the book there wouldn’t be much discussion) Kate brings a fresh set of eyes (She normally hasn’t  read the book that’s being discussed before the podcast happens.) and some freakishly good powers of observation. She sees lots of things in the books that neither Besty (nor I) had ever seen, even after hundreds of reads. Even though they decided that Doctor Desoto isn’t a true classic, something I disagree whole-heartedly with, I look forward to their podcast every week. I find myself wanting to be in the room with them taking part in the discussion.

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Of course, this isn’t a real award. I just wanted to write a post recommending some great kid lit podcasts, and I thought this would be a fun way to do it. These are the three I listen to regularly. There are lots more out out there. I’m sorry if I angered anyone by not mentioning your podcast. I probably haven’t given it a listen. Send me a link, and I would love to. There are always lots of dishes to do, and I’m always looking for something to listen to.

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