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Tales of an Elementary School Librarian

Paternity Leave

Hi guys! Sorry for the long absence. Just when I thought I was building some blog momentum, we had another baby, and that kind of slowed things down. I’m off for a few days, helping Ashley out around the house, and here’s what my days look like when I’m not changing diapers or my spit up covered clothes.

paternity.jpgI hope everyone is having a good week!

The Top Books of August

The first month of school has come and gone (already?) and like I do every month I am pulling the circulation numbers and taking a look at which books did the best in my library. I’m always really interested in the August report because the trends can change a lot over the summer.

A Quick Prediction:

Before I do pull the numbers, I want to make a guess on which book has been circulating the best. The safe bet would be an Elephant and Piggie book or a Diary of a Wimpy Kid novel. They are always high on the list, but I’m going to gamble and say it’s Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. Several kids (and teachers) were asking me about that book when they saw me in the hallways on the first day of school, and I haven’t been able to keep it on the shelves. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it will be near the top of the list.

Let’s see if I’m right….the first place book is….(drumroll)

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

dogdays

Weird. Even if I knew it was A Wimpy Kid book that won, I probably wouldn’t have guessed this one. I can’t even begin to explain it. I guess  it was just a case of the library having several copies available, and lots of kids wanting a Greg Heffley book.

2. Pigs Make Me Sneeze

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3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

harry potter

Well, I was right about Harry being up there in the list, but wrong about which book.

4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

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5. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Here it is. A bit further down the list than expected.

6. Into the Wild

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The Warriors books have always been pretty popular here, but this year they’ve been going fast like free NASCAR stickers at Walmart.

7. I Really Like Slop

slop

8. Number One Sam

numberonesam

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t because of the Greg Pizzoli visit we had last spring, but more because this is just an awesome book.

9. The Thank You Book

thank you book

If I had enough copies of this book, and I could give one to every student who asked for it, it would be way at the top of the list. Someone is looking for it every single day, and sadly, I rarely have a copy on hand. It has definitely been the most requested book of the year so far.

10. Smile

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Raina has a strong following here. I wish you could see the waiting list for her next book.

That’s it. There were a few surprises for me, but all in all, the Saint James kids still like a lot of what they liked last year.

weeding

Introducing my next probably terrible idea: Find the Pigeon!

There are tons of great things about the Elephant and Piggie books. Odds are if you know me, you know how passionate about I am about them. I don’t have any tattoos, but if I ever get one, it will probably be Piggie and Gerald (or maybe a Pigeon hiding in an armpit or something?) One of my students’ favorite things, though, is finding the Pigeon in the E & P closing endpapers.

icecreampigeon

He’s not just in the Elephant and Piggie books, either. He likes to hide in nearly all of Mo Willems’ books (I say nearly, because I’m not so sure about City Dog, Country Frog. It seems it would inappropriate for the Pigeon to be hiding in such a somber book)

Well, anyways an idea struck me the other day, and I ordered this guy.

thepigeon

The Elephant and Piggie plushes are very popular here, and I thought it might be fun if I got a Pigeon plush and hid him in different places in the library and let the kid who finds him check out an extra book that day.

Yes, I foresee the problems. There might be fighting over the Pigeon. There will be lots of arguing as to who found him first. I will definitely get tired of hiding him after a week or so, but for now, I think it could be fun. Who knows? I might regret it. Heck, I probably will, but I’m going to do it anyways. It will be fun for a little while, and I can always stop hiding him if I decide it’s becoming a headache. So there you have it. Starting Monday, it’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Hidden in the Library!!!!

pig comic

Scaredy Squirrel: A Retro Review

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Me: The last book, we’ll be reading today is Scaredy Squirrel. (holds book up for class to see the cover)

3rd Grader #1: Mr. Martin, Didn’t you read that book to us last year?

3rd Grader # 2: And the year before that?

3rd Grader # 3: I think he read it to us in kindergarten, too.

3rd Grader # 4: Shhhh. Let him start. I love this one.

Yeah. I admit it. Sometimes I overdo certain titles. There are a few books that I like to read to several age groups, every year. I can’t help it. I just love them so much, and I want as many kids as possible to be exposed to them as often as possible.

Scaredy Squirrel is one of those books. It was first published nearly a decade ago, and I adore it. It’s everything a good picture book should be. It’s hilarious and cute and it tackles some real issues kids can relate to.

Scaredy deals with a problem that most kids, (heck most adults if they’re being honest) struggle with: the fear of the unknown. Scaredy maybe overdoes it a bit. He literally doesn’t do anything besides eat nuts and look at the view from his tree, (I’ve been asked a few times over the years about his bathroom habits, but the book doesn’t delve into those depths) but I think kids can really relate to that.

When life happens, (in the form of a killer bee) and Scaredy accidentally leaps from his tree to catch his emergency kit, he discovers that he’s actually a flying squirrel, and that he was made for so much more than nut eating and view watching. He was designed for adventure.

My favorite thing about the book, though is the end. Yes, he’s made some changes to his life, but he’s hesitant to jump all-in at once. He still keeps to his routine mostly, but he leaves the tree for a few hours every day, which is a huge step for him. He’s still the anxious Scaredy we love, afraid of everything imaginable, but he’s trying to be brave and take chances, a little bit a time. There’s a message for kids there. You can still be anxious about the unknown, but you should try to not let it get in your way. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but doing what you need to do despite your fear.

It’s such a good picture book. And yeah, kids notice when I read it to them several years in a row, but I’ve never had one student complain.They seem to love it as much as I do. If you haven’t been introduced to Scaredy before, you should check him out.

 

 

 

Benji Martin: Fairy Tale Villain Consultant. My first client-The Wolf (From Red Riding Hood)

Being a villain is hard work. There’s always some hero out there trying to thwart your evil plans, especially in fairy tales. Bad things are always happening to the antagonists.

That made me think that there’s probably a career to be made in consulting the bad guys. You know, taking a look at where they went wrong, and advising them on their plans for the future. After all, if we aren’t learning from our mistakes, we’re bound to repeat them.

So I set up a consulting firm, and I put up a few flyers in some notoriously nefarious areas. (I mainly nailed them to tree trunks in dark forests in Germany and Russia) It wasn’t long before my phone was ringing and I got my first client.

The Wolf (From Red Riding Hood. Not to be confused with the Big Bad Wolf)

big-bad-wolf

I took a quick look at his story, and I immediately saw that his mistakes were many (and alarming!) Here’s the preliminary report I typed up for him.

Mistake #1: Passing up the initial opportunity Mr. Wolf happened upon a little, defenseless girl (who was not in the least bit afraid of him) in the forrest carrying a basket with cake and wine in it. If he had simply followed his basic instincts, he could have immediately had a meal of girl, cake and wine. If that wasn’t enough, (wolves will be wolves, sadly) what was to stop him from then going over to grandmas and gobbling her up too?

Mistake #2: Overthinking things-Mr. Wolf’s plan to dress up like grandma to lure Red into a false since of security (something he didn’t need to do. She was already walking with him and chatting freely) is nothing short of laughable. It was pure chance that he met a girl dumb enough to fall for it and that it actually worked. It took much too long, though, and allowed the woodsman time to survey the situation, and act.

My Recommendation for the future: Mr. Wolf would be better off, leaving the cleverness for the foxes. He is a wolf. A powerful, well-designed killing machine. He needs to just follow his instincts. Deep down, he is not really all that evil, he’s just hungry. He should take advantage of a meal when it’s there. Also, he might want to look into forming a pack with other wolves. Wolves are notorious for being much stronger in large numbers.

If there are any fairy tale villains out there looking for consultation, please email me at benjimartinfairytaleconsultant@aol.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

When Every Day is Take Your Kids to Work Day

I know, I know, I’m a terrible blogger (if I can even call myself that these days) I haven’t posted since late June/early July, I think, after ALA annual had just ended. There’s just a whole lot going on right now, with the new school year kicking off,  planning for another baby (who will be here very soon) and just living our crazy life in general.

This school year is going to be a lot different for me than any of the previous because of one  YUUUUUUGE factor.

This year, I am bringing two of my kids to school with me EVERY day. My son is starting  kindergarten and my daughter is in K3 (preschool). We have always hoped and prayed that we would be able to bring our kids to school here, and this year some amazing things fell into place to make it possible.

It has been a pretty big adjustment. In the past, I’ve always felt lucky if I got to school in one piece with my lunch, my ipad  and whatever book I was reading at the time. Now, I have to get to work with two fully-dressed live human beings in tow along with with their own lunches, snacks, work folders, nappers etc. Honestly, Ashley does most of that work. She wakes up early (bless her) and helps get them dressed, and she always makes their lunches and snacks the night before, but still. It’s been a bit more hectic, but it’s awesome having them here.

Once we get to school, here’s how things go: We unload all of our stuff from the car, (which seems to take about 20 minutes) head into the school, and greet all of my coworkers who are already at school, busting to and fro.  I beam while they tell me how cute my kids are while my kids just stand there and smile shyly. Next, we head into the office, so I can stash my lunch in the fridge in there, and the kids look at the fish aquarium for a few minutes. Then we head into the library. We usually get to school about 6:50 to 7:00ish, but they don’t go to their classrooms until 7:15. Before the year started, in my head, this is what those 15-20 minutes would look like.

IMG_0015And occasionally it does look like that, but most of the time, they are running around stealing my stapler (while I worry about them stapling themselves in the face), going through my drawers and creating general chaos. (today was the first day I’ve ever had to clean the library up BEFORE the school day actually started)

The other day, when one of the teachers’ kids was in the library getting a new book, my daughter ran up to the Greg Heffley standup and shouted, “DAD! WE SAW THAT MOVIE! IT’S DIARRHEA WIMPY KID! ” Of course, the older student thought it was hilarious, and of course I was mortified. (even if I also thought it was hilarious)

emrist2

“Shhhhh. It’s Diary. Diary of a Wimpy Kid I told her.” She didn’t get it. She has never heard of a diary, but she definitely knows what diarrhea is.

Yesterday, they were both doing their own thing, and I had to take pictures because their activities were very good representations of their personalities.

My son was busy making a windmill out of things he found in the library. He has always been very mechanical. He especially loves things that spin.

harper

My daughter was over on the reading rug, telling her own Elephant and Piggie story with the little plushes. She’s always been the comedian trying to make everyone laugh, and she has a really big imagination.

Emrist

Finally, at 7:15, the bell rings, and I get to give them to their wonderful teachers for the day. We have terrific teachers here, and I’m very lucky that I personally know my kids’ teachers as well as I do.

It’s going to be an awesome, very interesting year. I’ve always loved working here, but having my little ones with me has amplified the joy.

Thank you Grace Ann, Kathy , Christy and Becky for taking such good care of our babies. Also, for taking them off of my hands for a few hours.😉 Good luck this year! You’ll need it.

harp and em

 

 

My First ALA Experience part 2 (the much longer part)

In case you missed it, yesterday I wrote about our travels down to Orlando and my first day of ALA.

I got a pretty good night’s sleep Friday night. I got up around 8:00 on Saturday and drove to the conference center around 9:00. Kate Messner was signing in the exhibit hall, and I wanted to meet her. I did much better in the exhibit hall that second day. I ran into my friend Mr. Schu. (both of them) at the Scholastic booths.

schumr.jpeg

We me in person, for the first time, last summer at a Scholastic Reading Summit. He is a super-kind guy and a champion for kid’s lit, and it was great to see him.

At 10:30 we had a procedural meeting with the Notable Children’s Book Committee. I walked in and was directed to my “spot” at the table where I could deposit my overflowing tote bags. I found my name, and was amazed by how official everything looked.

notables.jpg

I mean, it’d been a while since I’d seen my middle name printed out.

We sat in a circle, and I got to meet my fellow committee members for the first time. Guys, I don’t know what to tell you about this committee. They are all so brilliant, and funny, and kind. I was very honored and humbled to be a part of the group, and I wondered more than once how I got included.  We all have our own areas of expertise (right now, I’m the only school librarian, but there will be two of us at Midwinter because of a job change.) and we each have our own likes and dislikes, which makes the book discussions great.

I found all three days of discussion to be simulating and fun. There were some books that I wasn’t sure about that I now have a greater appreciation for, and there were some books in which I only saw positives, that I now have some concerns about. I guess that’s the beauty of committee work. Despite disagreeing every now and then, everyone on the committee was cordial, and I always felt comfortable sharing my opinion. I hope I made them feel the same way. I know that I am developing friendships that will last long after we are finished with Notables. I knew as soon as I showed up for the first round of discussions and heard the Hamilton soundtrack blasting from the meeting room, that we were going to get along just fine.

In between the procedural meeting and our first round of discussions, we had a little break, so I hung out in the exhibit hall for a few minutes, where I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Holm. I was amazed that there was hardly any line at all. After that, I went and grabbed some pizza and a cookie, and looked over my notes for our first discussion  meeting.

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Over the three discussion meetings we had at ALA, we discussed 75 titles. They were picture books, fiction novels, nonfiction books and books of poetry.  As I said, the discussion was fantastic. I’m really looking forward to even more  at Midwinter in Atlanta.

I ended my day at the conference center after the discussion meeting. I had signed up for a few things on Saturday evening, but I knew that Sunday was going to be a very long day, and that I probably wouldn’t get to see my family much, if at all, so I went home a little early. That night, my aunt Tiffany took us all out for ice cream, and we found a nice place to watch the nighty Disney fireworks from a distance.

icecreAM

When I think back on ALA Annual 2016, I think Sunday is the day that I’m going to remember best. A lot of really cool stuff happened that day. Raina Telgemeier was signing at 9:00 that morning, so I made sure I got to the conference center by 9:30 at the latest. I got in line, got a book signed, and told her what an inspiration she is to my students and to me. I spent the rest of the morning wondering the exhibit hall.

I had a Pizza party lunch scheduled with the publisher Abrams, but it was going to be cutting it really close to my Notables discussion meeting that day. Really close. It started at 12:00, and it wasn’t in the convention center. It was in a restaurant called Lafayette’s (cue the Hamilton soundtrack) and my GPS told me that it was 15 minutes away, walking. That meant I would need to leave by 12:30, at the latest, to get back to the convention center and situated for our 1:00 discussion meeting.

I decided that I probably wasn’t going to go. I could just get something to eat in the convention center, and get some quiet reading time by myself in. (something that was very rare that week) But I still wasn’t sure. Who knows how many ALAs I’ll be able to attend? I wanted to milk every day for all it was worth. I decided to step outside and look around to see if I could locate the area where the restaurant was supposed to be located. That’s what I told myself, at least. I was really just pacing around with indecision.

Then I saw a lady in a black hat asking a convention center worker for directions. She had an English accent, and I knew immediately that it was Frances Hardinge. She was one of the authors that was supposed to be at the Abrams lunch. I stepped in.

“Excuse me.” I said. “I think you’re going to the Abrams pizza lunch? I am going there too. We can find it together.”

So we did. Eventually. I don’t know if you’ve ever used the GPS on your phone for walking directions, but for me, at least, it’s a lot harder and much more confusing than using it for driving directions. We got turned around several times, and eventually I turned off my GPS and we just resorted to asking random people. While walking, we talked about Brexit mostly, and the impact it would have on the UK. We did find Lafayette’s and we were only about 5 minutes late. Overheated and sweaty, we walked into the restaurant, and found the room reserved for Abrams. Frances was ushered away to sign her books, and I found some other authors to talk to.

frances

I couldn’t resist taking a selfie in the middle of our adventure. I feel a little like Dennis Creevey after he fell in the Hogwarts lake, when he’s giving his brother a big thumbs up at the sorting ceremony.

I talked to Tom Angleberger about the Force Awakens for a little while, and then I found myself seated across from Amy Ignatow and Jonathan Auxier, who are both so easy to talk to and just genuinely nice people. Travis Jonker surprised me by sitting down beside me. I had never met him in person before, so I said hello and goodbye because it was time for me to go.

It was past time for me to go. I found myself actually running towards the convention center. I immediately took an escalator to the third floor because that’s where our discussions were taking place, but unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the building, and the third floor doesn’t go all the way across to where I was supposed to be. I had to go down a few times and back up a few times, and got to the room out of breath and disheveled just as discussion were about to start. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have changed anything. I had just had an experience I will never forget, and I’m glad I took the chance.

Three hours later, after our discussions, I found some coffee and sat down for a minute. It was just about time for me to get ready for the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet. I hadn’t planned on attending. I didn’t have a ticket, and the 90 dollar ticket price was a little out of my range, but a very kind friend emailed me a few days before the trip asking if I was interested in going, and offered me a ticket sitting at a Little, Brown table. Of course, I accepted gratefully. I spent some time before our trip looking for a Winnie the Pooh tie since Finding Winnie had won the Caldecott, and is, in fact, an LB book, but I was unsuccessful. (Someone at our table did have a Winnie tie on, though. I was a little jealous.)

So after a few minutes, I got up to walk to the van to get out my banquet clothes and change in the bathroom, but I looked out of the window and saw that it was pouring. That was no good. I and my clothes would be soaked. I decided to spend a few minutes in the exhibit hall waiting for the shower to end. While I was walking around, I was handed a scholastic tote. Unlike all of the other totes I had been given this week, this one wasn’t canvas. It was  hard plastic. Perfect for carrying dress clothes through a torrent of rain. I walked to the back lobby, which was facing the parking lot, and saw that the rain wasn’t going to let up any time soon, so I just bit the bullet and walked to the van, getting soaked. I loaded the banquet clothes into the plastic bag, closed it up and walked back to the conference center to change in the bathroom.

Now I had another problem. I couldn’t very well carry my wet clothes and shoes around all night at the banquet, could I? And if I walked back outside to put them in the van, my dress clothes would be soaked. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I stopped for a minute to think, and that’s when I heard it. Silence. There wasn’t any rain pounding on the roof like there had been. I hurried to the parking lot in case it was a brief lull, but it wasn’t. The rain was finished for the day. It was one of those daily  pop-up Florida showers that lasts for 30-45 minutes. I rejoiced at my luck, put my wet clothes in the van, and headed to the Hyatt Regency for the pre-banquet party.

The pre-banquet party was awesome. I got to meet so many people including Betsy Bird, Grace Lin, Roger Sutton, (Editor in Chief of Horn Book) and Sergio Ruzzier, (who is a very hilarious man. If you ever see him around, stop and talk. It will be worth it. I promise.) The chair of our notables committee, Paige was there which was lovely (it’s great to have someone you know at these things) as was Colby Sharp and Mr. Schu. It was a great time.

We then moved to the banquet room, where I found myself seated beside Trenton Lee Stewart, author of The Mysterious Benedict Society and Jenny Choy, the senior manager of school and library marketing at LB. (the school library marketing person sitting next to the school librarian. Hmmmm) They were both extremely pleasant, funny people, and very fun to talk to. Paige was also seated nearby, and like I said before, it’s great to have someone you know with you at these things.

caldecott

If you can’t tell, I was thrilled to be there.

I’ve heard that some people *cough Betsy Bird cough* didn’t like the food, but our table got the vegetarian meal, and I thought it was good. It also helped that I didn’t eat much lunch at the Abrams party, so they could have served me cardboard and I would have scarfed it down.

The speeches were amazing. If you haven’t read them yet, you should. This was my first time attending this thing, but I like to think that it was special because ALL THREE speakers hit home runs. Seriously. They were amazing. I think we all cried before Matt De la Pena’s speech even began, when he hopped off of the stage and gave his Newbery award (his historic Newbery award for a picture book, I will add) to his mom. It was great.

Anyways, my night ended at about midnight when I got back to my uncle’s house, and even though I was physical exhausted, I couldn’t sleep because I kept replaying all of the events of the day back in my mind. It was definitely a day to remember.

The last few days of the conference were a blur. I never really caught back up on my sleep. (I still haven’t, I think.) We finished up our Notables discussions, and they packed up the exhibit hall, (both of those things kind of depressed me) After the conference, my family and I drove back to Alabama, and lost a serpentine belt on the way. We hope the van will be fixed today.

I’m a little bit sad now. I’m glad to be home with my wife and kids, but I’ve had this urge this last day or so to visit Books-a-Million (our only local bookstore) and talk to someone about kid’s books. (not 2016 books of course!) This urge will pass next Wednesday when I’ll be back in the library for our summer hours. I’ll be reconnecting with my students, and there’s no one I like talking about kid books with more than them. For now, I’ll just catch up on my many lost hours of reading.

I hope everyone is having a fantastic summer! I know I am!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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