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Nonfiction Monday is here in Practically Paradise

  • Posted on July 15, 2012 at 12:01 AM

Today Practically Paradise hosts Nonfiction Monday. Since I am working with my teachers and staff for inservice training on project-based learning and integrating nonfiction into our STEM units Mon-Wed, I decided to deploy Mr. Linky to help me out. Be sure to leave your link to your specific blog entry and a comment below. I’ll go back to add more graphics during our breaks throughout the day.

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Practically Paradise celebrates ELECTRICITY today. Can you feel the vibrations in the air? The fourth graders at my school use a science kit to explore electrical circuits. When I unpacked the Heinemann series It’s Electric!, I was buzzed to discover these four titles listed:

  • Using Electricity (received)
  • Making a Circuit (received) 
  • Using Batteries
  • Conductors and Insulators
I was so excited I would have jumped up and led the Electric Slide – that is if I ever danced, which I don’t; I have never mastered the easy steps I watch others take doing the Electric Slide; and I’d much rather play with electrical circuits than dance.
Heinemann (now a division of Capstone) has produced a series of books on electricity that is truly elementary. There is no mention of amps and ohms here. Instead in 32 pages you will find clearly written descriptions of electrical circuits and the basic science involved in electricity. The examples are specific and child-friendly. The captions are clear and diagrams streamlined to focus on the key features of circuits. These are up-to-date and modern looking. In Using Electricity there is mention of LED lights and compact fluorescent lamps, but none of the incandescent lightbulbs being phased out. The font is larger sized with plenty of spacing so reluctant readers will not hesitate to read this series.
It definitely meets the needs of elementary students studying electricity and explains in very concrete terms systematically how electricity is produced and transmitted to homes. Students will learn much more from this series than from a chapter in a textbook. Making a Circuit is an absolute must in every elementary school library.

I have spent the majority of this summer participating in inservice training with my STEM faculty. We’ve studied project-based learning, engineering in education, science kits training, inquiry based learning, Common Core Standards for States, intergrating technology, using formative assessment to drive instruction, and STEM inquiry. One of our sessions occurred at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville, TN.

My favorite part of the day was exploring the Elenco SNAP circuit boards. These are so easy to manipulate. I didn’t worry about making mistakes as much and felt free-er to try new ways of connecting circuits. When my sons were in elementary school, we had to teach them how to solder circuit boards for them to make science projects. I loved these snap circuit boards so much that I “snuck” back in to take a picture.

Our leader through these sessions demonstrated how to lead inquiry-based learning for our Science curriculum. Each activity we participated in enabled us to experience being the learner, to use the various strategies of inquiry and collaboration, and helped us focus on the correct usage of techniques for learning.

Back to the series of books It’s Electric! I immediately put them in the hands of the fourth grade science teacher and said, “Tell me what you think and how we can use these.”  Now, before you do the same thing, you should know that teachers frequently have no idea what you want them to tell them about the books when reviewing. You may expect them to say things like “I love this.” “I’ve got to have this.” “I really like this approach.” or maybe “It’s too difficult.” Those would be good starting places. Instead, you usually get answers like  “It’s good. Do we own this?”  I usually follow-up pinning them down and ask if I were to purchase more copies, how many would you use and would it be every title in the series? Or, I’ll ask them “Could we use this title as a starting point for research on this lesson?” or “Would this help fill in the blanks the kit leaves?” and always I ask “Will you share this?”

We bloggers and librarians need to be skilled in asking teachers and parents more specific questions to better help our readers while reviewing books. What questioning strategies do you use when asking opinions about new books?


Review of White Rock & Question “Do authors rely on bloggers for sales?”

  • Posted on July 4, 2012 at 3:00 PM

I enjoy my summer reading of adult fiction and sharing my opinions of the books I read. Sometimes I blog about the books to share with others. This may help you to add titles to your lists for school or personal reading. Seldom do I expect that my blogs will immediately result in your rushing out to buy the book the next day. Even when I read some of my friends’ blogs, I may wait to purchase due to buying cycles of school, or even personal paydays. Even if I click and purchase the title for my Kindle Fire, I may not take a moment to read it immediately because I am working on a large number of products.

Today I finished reading book 2 in The Eternal War series and wanted to share it with my friends after finding out more about the author. The book is White Rock, The Eternal War book 2. Author is J J Westendarp. Imagine my surprise when I found a link to a post he wrote called “Do Blog Reviews Matter?” The author appreciates the positive reviews but doesn’t feel blog posts result in direct sales within 1-2 days. I wonder if I’m the only one who finds that timeline too short? Should I be feeling some kind of pressure to write a review that forces you to immediately purchase? Should I be linking to the online stores so there is a direct record of my readers purchases? I don’t think so.

Here’s part of the description that drew me to this title:  “Cheryl Erikson’s problems never seem to end. After saving a group of Dallas’ social elite from an unusually brazen attempt at robbery by a group of vampires, she discovers it’s not an isolated incident. The normally hidden and secretive vampires are in the midst of an extended crime spree, and working toward something big. Exactly what is anyone’s guess.”

White Rock was a quick fun read with plenty of opening action. Cheryl, the vampire-hunting character was complex, yet I found myself holding back and watching her from a distance as she battled vampires, demons, and her own history of problems. I appreciated the secondary characters the most as they were well-developed and an intriguing part of a much larger picture. Towards the end of the story, Cheryl’s lover and reporter friend Allison writes: <Cheryl>” is one of the greatest unknown heroes living in the metroplex. ..We have to hope that others will learn from her example. Learn that it’s not always necessary to toot one’s own horn in order to make a difference…” Cheryl’s steadfastness for her friends and helping to always do the right thing is one aspect that makes White Rock so appealing. She is a character of goodness who, like a rock, is there for you to provide a foundation and support.

I appreciated the differences in this vampire series in two areas 1) the vampires are evil and they knowingly embrace this without pretence for good; 2) the origin and purpose of vampires is unique.

As soon as I finished reading White Rock, I clicked to go purchase the first book Spiral and to find a free Smashwords novella Split. I want to see more of the big picture of this story and wonder where author JJ Westendarp will take us next. I do not know if what I write about my reading experience with White Rock will cause you to rush out and purchase these 3 books. If you do, you’ll enjoy them greatly and won’t be able to set them down. I hid in the closet so my family couldn’t find me until I finished reading. (Don’t tell the hubby)

Here are the descriptions from Amazon of the first book:

“Cheryl Erikson is a Vampire Hunter with a problem. A dangerous new drug named Plast has found its way onto the streets of Dallas. She would prefer to let the DEA and local law enforcement handle everything, but since the dealers also happen to be vampires, she has no choice but to step in and put a stop to it.

With the help of her best friend Virgil and a fellow Hunter named Tank, Cheryl must work to eradicate Plast from the streets of Dallas. It’s a task that becomes more difficult as she comes under the gun, quite literally, from a contract out on her head. Coupled with a nosy police detective looking to peg her for a triple homicide, and a sudden interest in her activities from a powerful vampire recently arrived in the area, it’s enough to force her to accept help from the least likely of sources, a mysterious Hunter named Rev. Through him, everything she thinks she knows, and everything she stands for, is challenged in ways she never imagined.”


Take a small step with big results – the Mobile Commons app

  • Posted on July 2, 2012 at 10:24 AM

I am passionate about school libraries. I passionately believe we must advocate and share our enthusiasm for all types of libraries with parents, community members, businesses, and legislators. I have served as AASL Legislative chair in the past and attended many a legislative briefing. I have walked the halls in DC and locally to talk to my legislator. I have responded to emails and called, faxed, and emailed when issues rose. Those are things that I did. How about you?

You do not have to take extravagant, dramatic steps to be an advocate. You simply need knowledge of the issue, some words to help talk to legislators, and easy access. With the technology we have available, this has become even easier. You’ll see by the letter from the AASL Legislative chair how to use the new ALA Mobile Commons App.

My question for you is will you? Are you committed and determined to help libraries? If so, try out the new app. When a message comes in (at the most 2-3 expected in a month), respond. Learn, take action, make a difference. You do not have to be a librarian. Anyone can help.

Text “library” to 877877.

Respond to their text with your address.

Easy. Will you do it?

Here’s Connie’s letter:

Hello everyone –
The whole country is gearing up for lots of election activities.  Then as soon as the election is over and the winners are sworn in and moved in… there will be a flurry of legislative activity…. some of which may pertain to libraries, information and privacy matters.

ALA has now made it easy for you to respond to  email alerts that get sent out asking you to please call you legislator on behalf of the most recent bill or action..  Text!

Here’s what you do: (..took me less than 5 minutes!)

Text “library” to 877877. You will receive a message back asking for your address. Send that info back.  From now on, when there’s a legislative alert from ALA relating to library and information issues they will send you a text.  Best part of it is that the text will contain two things:
1- some ‘talking points’ you can read before you make your call AND
2- a link to the telephone number of the representative you need to call…. all YOU have to do is to click on the active telephone link and you will be placing the call right away. Give your message and Ta Da!…. in the span of a few minutes you have participated in important action advocacy.

Let all your friends know about this process- you do NOT need to be an ALA member to sign on. By spreading the word you have helped build an important coalition of voices that our legislators need to hear on these important library matters. Go for it! :)

The ALA Washington Office says to expect 2-3 messages a month…

Connie Williams

Connie H. Williams
National Board Certified Teacher Librarian
AASL Legislation Chair

Pt 3: ALA, exhibit halls and awards trends

  • Posted on July 1, 2012 at 8:42 PM

Are you aware of the trend of ARC’s? How many arc’s did you see at ALA appealing to YA? How many were free picture books? Why or why not? Did you notice the young bloggers who favor YA lit having more time in the exhibit hall while some librarian bloggers were busy in committees? How many local school librarians attended only the final day of the exhibit hall simply to purchase books for discounts? There are trends out there for the viewing.

How about the nonfiction titles? Were bloggers devouring titles there or did you find librarians making notes of series and taking more time in those booths? Were there bookmarks there to remind you of new series? Did vendors scan your badges to send you their catalogs or elinks?

How about the bling at conference? I admit its much harder to find cutesy stuff and I greatly miss it. I miss those conference teddy bears and fun stuff. This is the first conference where I couldn’t gather enough bookmarks, clips, pens and pencils that I wouldn’t have to purchase them for the beginning of school. Rats! I miss that.

I’ve seen the increase of jewelry and scarf booths. I was counting how many librarians were there instead of in the nearby book areas. Perhaps these booths need more strategic placement. I snapped a photo for my husband and said I was thinking of buying jewelry. Did he immediately call me and re-direct my focus to books – no, actually he said go ahead and buy jewelry so that’s fewer books you’ll be carrying home in your suitcase. LOL. I sought books instead.

How about water stations throughout the exhibit halls? I was so parched Friday night and overheated that I feared I would pass out. ABC-CLIO, Greenwood, & Linworth came to my rescue – not just with a glass of champagne in my weakened state, but a staffer found me a bottle of water. This saved me and I will be forever grateful to them. I never found food in the opening or closing ceremonies because I was too busy with the exhibitors.

I skipped lunches daily to snatch some time in the exhibit hall. Those vendors who had tiny candy treats at lunch are greatly appreciated. I tried to stop and talk to many of them even if they don’t cater to schools because I appreciated their being there. If a vendor had a food treat during lunch time – even if it was just a cracker, it enabled me to stop and spend time there while preventing starvation! (Okay, a slight exaggeration) I didn’t want to sit for a leisurely lunch or stand in line for hours at overpriced food booths. I was a woman on a mission to learn more and seek books. They kept me going. The vendor that put something on the food and water bottles for me to take off and keep so I could remember and thank them made an impression.

How about the vendors that have chairs in their booths? The ones that invite you to come in, sit your bags down and relax for a brief presentation are appreciated. I learned things, enjoyed the minute off my feet to look through your catalog, and especially appreciated easing the burden on my shoulders. The vendor who let me stash my bag at their booth while I was racing around one year is another that I’d walk through fire for. I didn’t need a hard sell approach. I was moving quickly and they saw this.

Other vendor behavior I appreciate – those that happily take trash from me so I can pick up their titles and catalogs. Vendors who help me roll posters or even stuff the books in my bag so I don’t have to set everything down. Vendors who take my card and make notes then follow-up. I appreciate you all. Also, the vendor that has a personal chair and invites me to sit in the chair so they can talk to me for a few minutes – you are wonderful. The vendor that saves a book title for me if an author will be signing when I’m in committee. You can bet that I’ll review your book on my blog.

What more could we ask? Well, I’ve been thinking foot and shoulder massages would be nice. Is there a way to do a type of speed dating with books? Pedicure or feet soaking stations with vendors showing us their new digital products on screens?

How about a book blogger meetup in the exhibit hall? We’ve got the stages. Why don’t we ask and organize this so we bloggers are visible and show our presence in the exhibit hall en masse – not just at late-night social events? Also, do you invite vendors to attend these events with you?

I’m known for confronting people and forcing them to go with me to events. Even ALA staff members are not exempt. I’ve drug them to meet-ups, drink nights, blog events, etc. anywhere that I think would provide them with valuable experiences. I scared some staffers when I said I might publish their names for never having attended the Newbery – Caldecott banquet or been present during the Youth Media Awards. As I told them, how can you pretend to take the youth librarians seriously if you don’t find out and experience what’s important to them?

I tweeted the ALA Awards that were given before the President’s program. This helps keep me rounded out to see a bigger picture of the organization than just my favored division. I attended the announcement of the Carnegie awards. The 350 plus standing room only crowd at the Carnegie awards was amazing. I felt like the “adults” were acting as excited as the “youth” librarians with each announcement. When they heard they’d be getting a bag of books after the awards, the crowd cheered just as loudly as we do during the Youth Media Awards. This excitement for books and reading is contagious and rewarding. Finally there is an ALA book award for adult fiction and adult nonfiction. It is an excellent addition to the conference. While I regret that it is scheduled at the same time as the Newbery-Caldecott banquet, I appreciated seeing this first year of the awards. I know this will grow larger and be even more successful next year. Personally, I was proud to have served on the ALA Awards committee so I can say that I helped vote for the establishment of this award. I anticipate this excitement for book awards will grow – not decrease.

I keep trying to track down when he said it, but Stephen Frye’s quote is widely shared ““Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.” The ALA annual conference, the awards, and the exhibit halls are exciting places to be. They serve a purpose and draw a diverse crowd of attendees – not just librarians.


Pt 2: ALA, ARC’s, Bloggers, and paying

  • Posted on July 1, 2012 at 8:41 PM

Some of the librarians and bloggers who wrote about ARC’s at the ALA Annual conference convey a sense of entitlement. They seem to think because they are a blogger, they deserve this title first. Or, because they are a working librarian dealing directly with children they are more entitled to receive ARC’s. Some think they paid higher rates to attend conferences so they are entitled to more. Others think they are the only ones paying their way to conference so they are entitled to receive more free books.

I think all of these ideas are flawed. Nearly every person I meet at ALA Conference is paying for the conference from their own money. Some people do a better job than others at sharing rooms, rides, etc. to reduce expenses. The day I left for conference I lost my roommate and needed someone to help split the room costs. I was unable to find anyone last minute, but my colleague graciously helped out instead of leaving me with a heavier bill. I was willing to share but unable to locate a roommate last minute.

We librarians and bloggers need to make conference attendance cheaper and easier on our own. Our employers aren’t paying as much to support our professional development as before. It’s a fact of life and we have to move on. We also should acknowledge those chips on our shoulders where we think others are getting a free ride while we are working harder without help.

We cannot rely on an organization like ALA to further reduce costs because conferences are supposed to earn them money so they can accomplish the goals of the organization.  Already they are bargaining for services. All who registered through ALA for housing had free wi-fi – big bonus for me! Next annual all programs will be in the convention centers so we don’t have to ride in cabs to minimize travel time.

We need to find more ways to save in a grassroots way. A faster quick app for finding a cab share, a quick way to locate someone else to dine with so you are not alone, a room-share program that is safe and fast acting. Ways to identify programs that are free. Ways to identify meetings that allow guests to join in when snacking. Of course, if you attend these please use common courtesy and decency. I took photos of the Carnegie dessert dash afterwards where the hotel staff looked alarm like the librarians were going to trample them to get to the desserts and stack plates with 12 desserts high. They were frantically moving the tables to create two lines and trying to set down trays of desserts without forks stabbing their arms. Seriously, folks, were you that desperate? Plus, I saw how much money some of you were willing to shell out at Starbucks every morning and sometimes every time you walked past.

Another way to save money is to find a better way to share ARC’s. Some people frantically grab ARC’s in the exhibit hall only to get back to their rooms and realize they have no desire or intention of reading the title. I have asked housekeepers in hotels what it’s like after an ALA conference and they will talk about the huge amount of paper and books thrown in the trash the final day while packing. Is there a better way to re-use these ARC’s? What if we had a central gathering point for collecting unwanted books at the hotels, airports, and convention centers?

About exhibitor passes. I love them. There is great value in bringing in local people to take advantage of vendors they might never see otherwise. $25 for the whole conference is super-cheap. I could understand a raise in that price, but confess my husband attended on a $75 pass so he could follow me around the exhibit hall carrying my books and slip into some of the big presentations to watch me introduce speakers last year. It was a great deal for us to have him there to help. If he’d had to pay $25 each day, he might not have accompanied me, but he would have found plenty in the city to occupy his time.

Let’s look at attendance numbers, too. Exhibitor passes are counted as part of the final attendance. The  number of fully paid registrants and vendors at the recent conference was lower than desired but expected with the economy. With the addition of reduced price exhibitor passes and complementary passes provided by exhibitors, those numbers added up to slightly more than last year’s total. Vendors and exhibitors want to see a large volume of attendees. If you are a reader, you are a customer. Not just a librarian, an author, or a huge purchaser.

Conference venues move around the country. Some places are able to draw in huge numbers of local people who attend for only one-day. Places like Washington, DC and Philly have huge populations able to cheaply avail themselves of the conference. Other places in the west may have more difficulty attracting local people due to travel distances & costs, or simply because the population is lower. ALA doesn’t restrict itself to only the elite markets. It moves around the country to provide more balance. In fact, there is systematic planning to enable more participation across the nation. I’m not speaking for ALA here, just sharing knowledge I’ve gained watching over the last ten years. I know that if the conference is in Chicago, the numbers will be higher. New Orleans will be lower. I appreciate the opportunity to travel to a wider variety of cities and see libraries in different locales. I also appreciate some locales where the hotel rates are $100 or less a day compared to others with $250 a day rates.

But back to the original point I was going to make. Whether you are attending the ALA conference as a librarian, a teacher, a blogger, a reader, or just some bored local who loves going to conferences, you should be welcomed. We do not have a caste system in librarianship. I refuse to think some academic librarian or director of a large public library is any better than a local school librarian. I value all our positions and won’t deem any more worthy. That extends to books. Yes, it would be great if I could just collect everything I want, but life isn’t fair. We learn that in school (hopefully) and we move on.

In education we always know there will be a small number of people who do the wrong thing initially, but their behavior will change. They’ll start to “conform” to expectations, peer pressure will apply, some will master the system and change it. Yet always those numbers are small. When it comes to making changes, the first thing we should consider if whether it is necessary or not. Are publishers offended by the bloggers who pick up titles, read them, and rave about them on their blogs? I don’t think so.

Should librarians find ways to obtain ARC’s when they are busy in committee meetings? Absolutely, if they think it is a significant problem and needs a solution, then that’s a problem that can be addressed. Sometimes it’s through communication. Did you talk to a vendor and ask what they’d been giving out? Some will be happy to ship to you if you ask. Have you asked if the ARC’s are available on netgalley or if they could send you an electronic file?

Do you want that ARC because you are dying to read the story or to score a book? I’m not judging, just asking you to consider your own motivations. I confess to being a book slut and desiring all the books. I could easily be a book hoarder, but I also share widely and try to curb my excesses. I thought about turning on the video camera to discuss my recent “haul” of ARC’s but when I started describing them to my hubby and his eyes glazed over, I thought “Naw! Not that many people would understand.”

Don’t look for me to post videos of hours of bragging which books I obtained. I just don’t see all of you getting as excited about the same variety as I do. That is one area where I expect peer pressure will weigh on the bloggers who did post videos that set off the librarians. You can decide for yourself who is right and who is wrong.