Tales of an Elementary School Librarian



When a Moment Can Change A School Year

I don’t always make the right decision. Heck, I’d even say I don’t usually make the best decision. I usually settle for the acceptable decision, but once, a few weeks ago, I did make the best decision and that has made all the difference. (I bet you weren’t expecting a Robert Frost quote in this post.)

Let me set up the scene for you. It’s Friday. Going home time on Friday. Both of my kids are being nuts. It has been a long day and a hard one and I ‘m ready to be home. I’m flipping off the lights in the library, and I’m about to walk out of the door. Before I can, though, a mom and her son hurry into the library to turn some books in.

The boy is a nice kid. He’s always polite and friendly. He just doesn’t like to read. He has told me as much.  He reads what’s required for school and nothing else. He’d rather be playing football or basketball or soccer with his best friend who also doesn’t like to to read. (His friend has also told me as much.) His mom is obviously in a hurry and eager to get home as well, and I am gathering my stuff and my children to follow behind them, but a little voice inside speaks to me before I could make it out.

Let me tell you about this little voice. It doesn’t speak to me all that often. I wish it would, but it only speaks up every once in a while. I call it my “inner librarian.” Every so often it will speak up and tell me exactly what book to get a specific child. It’s not a suggestion, it’s more of an order. Kind of like, “This kid NEEDS this book.” The voice is usually right, so I’ve learned to trust it.

This time, though, I fight it. The mom is obviously in a hurry. I’m ready to go too. Like, REALLY ready. And this time, the voice is wrong. So obviously wrong, because this kid doesn’t even like to read. He’s already met his reading requirements with the books they just turned in, so he probably won’t even read the book if I gave it to him. Plus, the book is just an easy, funny book, part of a series for “struggling readers.” (And no. I’m not going to tell you the book or the series. I don’t want to get kicked of of the notables committee. Just Google “Angie Manfredi Newbery” if you think I’m overreacting.) So, even if I do give it to him, and even if he does read it, it won’t change his life or anything. Let’s all just go home.

Something about my tone and what I am telling myself alarms me. I don’t really believe any of that, do I? Benji from 5 years ago believed that EVERY kid is a reader. Every kid just hasn’t found the right book, yet. Benji from 5 years go believed that ANY book, paired with the right reader can change a life.

In short, even though I’m tired, kind of annoyed at my kids and ready to be home where I have a heap-load of reading to do for notables that probably won’t get done, there is enough good still in there to see through all of that and be disgusted with myself.

“Wait!” I call out.

The mom turns around.

“He needs a book to read this weekend.”

She kind of looks skeptical, like she thinks he isn’t going to read it either, but what kind of mom isn’t going to let their kid’s librarian give them a book? I run and get it, and hand it to her.

She says thanks and they go on their way, as do we.

Fast forward to Monday.

I’m going about my business having a usual Monday when I get a surprise visitor. It’s the kid from Friday. He has the book I gave him, and a big smile on his face. He told me that he read it all Friday night, and wants some more in the same series. Of course, I help him find them. Later that same day, his best friend, who as I told you before, doesn’t like to read either, came and asked me for the book his friend had just turned in. I just watched in amazement the next few weeks as they both returned to the library every few days to get a new book and eventually read the entire series. I’ve known both of these kids since they were three years old, and I never thought I would see anything like this.

The cherry on the sundae came this morning. A boy, who isn’t really close to either of the other two boys came to see me. He had noticed from afar that they were devouring this series, and wanted to try it for himself. It’s funny, I thought, how things snowball from one moment. I could have very well gone with my initial response, and let them walk away bookless. Three kids would be missing out on this awesome, hilarious series. I’m so glad I didn’t though. It kind of makes me wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed out on over the years because I just was feeling tired or was distracted in the moment. Hopefully, I’ve hit the mark more than I’ve missed it.





#ukulelesongFriday Hands are for Clapping



Hi guys! While I’ve been on notable children’s book committee hiatus, I’ve been thinking of ideas for this blog when I come back in February. An idea that I wanted to pursue was #ukulelesongfriday where I share the song I’m playing and singing for preschool that week. I thought, “Why not start now?” So here I am.

I had planned on doing a fun version of “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” this week, but I have a flannel board set that I wanted to use that’s coming in the mail, so I decided on this one instead.

It is by Jim Gill, children’s singer/songwriter extraordinaire. If you haven’t heard, ” Hands are for Clapping” before, you can hear it here. I have played it for preschool story times before, but something didn’t go right, and I didn’t have a whole lot of success with it, so I scrapped it from my rotation.

This week, I decided to try again, and I  added a few silly verses (tongues are for wagging and noses are for sneezing,) and I took out the snapping verse (because 90% of my preschoolers can’t snap and complain about it during the song) it went MUCH better. It’s one I will definitely do again. The chords are down below!

F                                                                    C          F                                                              C    

Hands are for clapping, clapping to this song. Hands are for clapping, so let’s all clap


along. “CLAP ALONG!”

Repeat those chords for the whistling part. Or if you don’t like to whistle (I’m not so good at it) sing “clap clap clap clap clap clap” to the beat.

Toes are for tapping, tapping to this song. Toes are for tapping, so let’s all tap along.

Knees are for slapping, slapping to this song. Knees are for slapping, so let’s all slap along.

Teeth are for brushing, brushing to this song. Teeth are for brushing so let’s all brush along.

Tongues are for wagging, wagging to this song. Tongues are for wagging, so let’s all wag along.

(make silly noises wagging your tongue back and forth for the whistling part)

Noses are for sneezing, sneezing to this song. Noses are for sneezing, so let’s all sneeze along.

End with the “hands are for clapping” verse again.


That’s it! I hope someone can use it! It’s a fun one.  Also, please tell me what songs you love to sing with your students/library patrons. I’m trying to have a whole school year with a new song every week, so I am always looking for ideas.

A Quick Check-in

Hi guys!

I know, I know, long time no post. I said I was going to be back and blogging in January after my time on Notables was finished, but some things happened on my committee, and I was asked to stay on for a second year. Because of that, I still can’t really talk about kids books on the interwebz. That’s kind of what this whole blog was about, so I thought it was probably best if I kept my blog suspended for another year.

Things have been good, though. The school year is rolling right along. We are getting lots of great reading done. This year, two of my kids are also two of my students, and that has been simply wonderful.


I am still playing the ukulele for preschool and kindergarten story times. I’m adding new songs to my arsenal all the time.

And that’s about it, really. Family life, notables, and some ukulele playing are what I’m filling my time with these days.

Sorry there isn’t much else to talk about.

Oh yeah! Also, I wrote a song about Elephant and Piggie. It’s from Gerald’s perspective and he is singing to Piggie. It’s a friendship/love song, but I think it’s really a love song from me to the series. You can watch me and Ashley sing it, here.

Until next time, happy reading!

Signing off for a season

I want to start this post by thanking everyone who has followed my blog for the past few years. Being a solo school librarian can be a lonely job sometimes. The biggest thing I miss about being a public librarian is seeing other grownups every day who are passionate about kids books and having great discussions with them. This blog has given me a place to keep that conversation going, and has helped fill that void.

Unfortunately, things have really piled up lately. We have a newborn at home (along with our other three kids)  and the Notable Children’s Books Committee reading and nomination writing has gotten really intense, and with the busy season at work arriving (Book fair! Author visit planning!) I haven’t really been finding the time to post.

I know the blog has been sagging these past few months. I’m not supposed to talk about 2016 books publicly, and since that’s all I’m reading and thinking about these days, it’s been hard for me to find topics to blog about. With all that in mind, I’ve decided to suspend my blog for few months. I will start back in late January after ALA  Midwinter when my Notable Children’s Book Committee service is finished. You can still find me on Twitter (@mrbenjimartin) and Facebook, and I am really looking forward to January when I can talk about new books with you all again.


Happy Reading!


Find the Pigeon

A few weeks ago, I introduced an idea I had, about  hiding the Pigeon in the library for my students to find. The idea is, whoever finds the pigeon gets to check out an extra book. I had some reservations, in the beginning. I foresaw widespread chaos, but for the most part, it has been a lot of fun.

I like to hide him in the same places throughout the day, and see which classes can find him the quickest. There hasn’t really been a solid answer to that question. Sometimes the older students are faster, but often, the younger students will find him in a place right away where it took the 5th graders several minutes and a lot of begging. “PLEEEEAAASE Give us a hint, Mr. Martin!”(I never give in.)

I will say, that for some reason, girls are much better at finding the Pigeon than boys. About 75% of the time, it will be a girl that finds him. Maybe they pay better attention to detail, and notice when something is different? I dunno.

Here are some of the places that the Pigeon likes to hide.


The graphic novel section is pretty busy, so he likes to hide him there pretty often.



Yesterday, he made himself a little shelter on one of the picture book tables. Funny thing is, it took the 5th graders like 20 minutes to find him here. A first grader walked right up to him as soon as class started.


The shadowy recesses of a nonfiction shelf is often a very good hiding place.


“Heights? I ain’t afraid of no heights!”

So far, the only minor annoyance has been that during our quiet reading time after book checkout, it’s very tempting for a student to squeeze him to hear him talk. (Fun fact. It’s Mo Willems’ voice recorded in the Pigeon) So we’ll all be sitting there absorbed in our books when all of a sudden Pigeon shouts. “LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!” But really, that’s a small thing, and easily taken care of. All in all, I would say Find the Pigeon has been a big success.

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


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


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


5. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


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

6. Into the Wild


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


8. Number One Sam


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


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.


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.


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.


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!!!!

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