Moving Day

I have (I think) transferred the little bit of content that was here to my previous book blog, Christie Burke’s Infinite Booklist. My hope is to continue writing about library life and also talking about books now and then… that site just has a better URL than this one. 🙂

Content on this site will be visible until the end of June, at which point I will hide it. Keeping the URL, though. 🙂

A good book, and a gripe.

3239487I just read Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. It took only about 15 minutes – it’s a graphic novel, sure, but it’s also a really compelling true-life story. Robert “Yummy” Sandifer was 11 in 1994, when he shot and killed a 14-year-old neighbor girl in the Roseland section of Chicago. The book shows how Yummy got involved with the Black Disciples, how this all happened to him, and how his gang brothers got rid of him when he became too much of a liability.

The kid was eleven. Let that sink in for a minute. A fifth-grader, if he lived in a different part of the city with different influences. Eleven.

So this is a good book, and (I think) an important one. G. Neri beautifully shows the complexity of the situation, and the depth of content in the illustrations makes this skinny little book really worthy of deep discussion and analysis. We will add it to our collection, and there’s a cohort of kids to whom I’ll recommend it.

But here’s the problem: I hate the fact that this is the only kind of story that publishers want to tell about (or to) young men of color. I don’t know any young men who live this life (though maybe they struggle with it); the kids I see are dealing with sports and school and girls and parents, just like any suburban kid. And the books that tell their stories don’t have characters that look like them.

There are, of course, some exceptions. Walter Dean Myers does a great job of telling a multifaceted story about young black men. Angela Johnson is great. There’s a newish book called DJ Rising that I like, specifically because it tells the story of a kid with an interest, some goals, some successes and failures, and a real experience. It’s not a flat story, and it’s a different story than drugs and gangland violence.

I don’t fault anyone for creating or publishing Yummy. It’s an important story. But I wish there were more everyday-life stories featuring kids of color. I wish that literature were better at acknowledging the fact that gangbanging isn’t the story of every young man who is black. And if I can see a gap there – as a white 30mumble mom – what must these guys think when they walk into my library?

Bookish Bucket List

I ran across this list today via Twitter (original meme from The Broke and the Bookish). Almost none of it applies to me – except I really should read Allegiant – but it did make me think that I need another list in my life. Hahaha. (like a fish needs a bicycle, is the honest truth)

Top ten bookish things I need to do:

  1. Finish my Goodreads challenge. I set myself up to read 60-some books this year. I don’t have any idea how far along I am in that, and I’m definitely not reading a book a week (though summer should be better). The last thing I finished was Minders.
  2. Increase traffic to the library’s Pinterest page. Right now it’s just new books in the library; we do lift a fair number of display ideas from other libraries’ Pinterest pages. I think really what this means is “get better at marketing.” Le sigh.
  3. Three titles JUST WAITING FOR ME: The Impossible Knife of Memory, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Reality Boy.
  4. Read a whole book of poetry. Not an anthology – it will have to be a single volume by a single poet, else I will never get done. I love poetry, but I have to read it s-l-o-w-l-y, so it’s tough.
  5. Go to an author event at least once over the summer.
  6. Write every day. (I don’t know who I’m kidding with this one… it’s been on my list for years, and not a reality since high school. Life intervenes.)
  7. Talk my husband into reading The Fault In Our Stars before seeing the movie with him. He will appreciate the fact that it isn’t a fantasy novel.
  8. Make some book spine poems in the run-up to National Poetry Month. My library is kind of short on verbs, so this takes some effort… I think it’s easier with picture books than with YA.
  9. Always with the weeding. So much pressure.
  10. Set up my library with Overdrive for lending ebooks.

Usually my lists are less thematic and a little less attainable. What’s your Bookish Bucket List look like?

So far behind. (Thing 2)

So I am on Thing TWO of the 23 Mobile Things. And this week is spring break, so hopefully some progress is in the cards. 🙂

This Thing is about mobile tips and tricks. Aleric Heck’s video on iOS 7 shows how to reverse colors, how to make Siri a man, and how to use the phone as a level. (I calibrated my phone’s compass too. I love compasses.) I have to guess my kids, and possibly my husband, already knew some of those tricks, and it’s easy to think that this stuff is just for fun. But so many simple settings can be tweaked for accessibility that it’s clear there’s real work potential in iOS. Though I don’t think I would choose to work on a mobile device if I had another option, I do think it’s valuable for me as a teacher librarian to be able to meet my students where they are and help them get more functionality out of the tools they carry in their pockets.


Blind Date with a Book

book_blind_date_displayWe’re running a little promo in the library; you might have seen something like this elsewhere. We included a bit more detail than some libraries have, and wrote up personals-type descriptions for all the books (20 in total; the original idea was to put out 12 and keep the rest as back stock, but they all ended up on display the first day). I found it surprisingly hard to pick the books – seemed like a big commitment somehow – and TONS of fun to write the descriptions.

There isn’t always a lot of movement in our displays – sometimes kids like them, and sometimes they don’t – but there seems to be some interest in this one. It is eye-catching, at least.

Here are a couple of the blurbs we used, with links to the books themselves.

Interested in time travel? We’ll go places you never imagined, outsmart some bad guys, and maybe find a little romance along the way! If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, I’m the one for you!

I’m just like you.  I want to find someone who believes in me, understands me and accepts me for who I am. I don’t want to pretend anymore, and I don’t want to have to explain my choices — choices that were made to keep others safe from harm.

If you love to expect the unexpected, and you’re looking for a good laugh with a weird and wacky companion, we would be GREAT together!

So yeah. The whole thing is perhaps a little girl-centric (we used a lot of pink paper, after all, and even the kraft paper has polka dots on it), but there’s a good selection of books there. It’ll be interesting to see how many kids take part in this before Valentine’s Day.

23 Mobile Things MN / Thing 1


You might be familiar with the 23 Things mode of continuing ed, in which you try out 23 new things and write about them online. I’ve never done a 23 Things challenge before, but the focus this time around is mobile learning and workflow.

Here’s my stance on mobile: I can get a lot more done on an actual computer (witness the fact that I’m typing this on a laptop), but I feel the potential of mobile learning isn’t always realized. I have some things to learn that will help me play better and work smarter, so I’m hoping this challenge will help me with that. I’d like to work with my students to get more productivity/useful stuff on their phones, so it’s not just a toy for them either.

Next step: download a WordPress app for my phone. 🙂

What it took to run the Hour of Code at our school

We ran an Hour of Code event at our school last week. We hosted a main event on Wednesday and offered the option of participating at any time. Any student who signed up and shared with us a digital copy of their completion certificate was entered in a drawing for a $25 iTunes gift card – a pretty juicy prize. Here’s the lowdown on how it went:

  • It was a little tough to get people to sign up – we have a constant rotation of posters in school, and some kids probably have a version of “banner blindness” when something new goes on display. (We also had planned on promoting this event at an all-school convocation, which didn’t work out – so the promotion was a little smaller-scale than we would have liked.)
  • Flipside: The small number of participants made it possible to offer personalized recommendations based on students’ interests.
  • We had kids at every level from total beginner to “I studied C# for a while and now I’m working on Javascript because I think it’s more interesting.” I was able to connect a couple of those higher-level kids via email, and I think they were really excited to have someone to talk code with.
  • Games are motivating – either playing or building them. The most popular tutorials here were LightBot and the tute that features Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies characters. I personally liked the Code Combat experience best – enough of a game to be fun, and enough actual code to feel like useful learning.
  • Faculty were generally supportive, but most did not participate. I think some felt that this was One More Thing on top of their regular responsibilities, and some may not have seen relevance in coding. For teachers who are already in a career, most don’t need to know a lot of code; in a 1:1 laptop school, it is important for teachers to understand a bit about how computers work. More than that, a teacher who learns a little code can be a strong influence on students. We need to do more promotion with faculty on this next time – it will help to start more than a week in advance. 🙂

Next time:

  • Our main event may need to be in the Commons area (central to the school) rather than the library (in a completely separate building). This would not only make the event more accessible, it would allow us to offer food.
  • Plan earlier and build more community connections around this event.
  • In our initial planning session, we talked about involving our high-level juniors and seniors, as well as students in our new Engineering cohort. We should pursue these ideas more thoroughly next time to increase participation.

Three tips for running events via the school library


Image by Jurgen Appelo, CC 2.0 BY, via Flickr

One of the big changes in my work this year is how much programming I’m doing – like events programming, not code programming. We’re working deliberately to invite students and teachers to the library for different reasons than “I need a book,” because it’s kind of crucial to break out of the book-warehouse perception. So this year we’ve run a gaming event (which we will repeat), we’re hosting an Hour of Code next week, and we’ll offer a pop-up library (similar to this) during lunch one day right before our winter break. 

The events themselves are fun. I really like having students in who aren’t “frequent flyers,” and I love love LOVE the chance to incorporate informal learning and help our community think bigger about it. I do not like the marketing piece. I don’t even particularly enjoy the planning process, though I recognize that it’s necessary. Here are some lessons I’ve learned, just since September, about getting programming off the ground.

  • Find a partner. Both the games event and our code event are coming from the library AND another entity in the school. The moderator for our Chess Club was instrumental in the gaming day (he even stayed to play RISK for a few hours after school), and a colleague in our tech department really got planning for the coding event underway. Having someone to work with may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be a challenge if (like many librarians) you’re a department of one. It requires a little creativity, a little openness to ideas, and a LOT of flexibility, plus maybe some extra effort to build those connections – but it removes some of the risk and pressure of running an event for the first time.
  • Get help where you know you need it. This isn’t just following the right channels of communication for your school; take advantage of the talents of those around you, rather than trying to do the parts you hate on your own. I’m lucky to work with a library aide who NOT ONLY thinks much differently than I do (and is therefore a great sounding board for communicating ideas), BUT ALSO is talented at graphic design and makes all the promo posters for the library. I’m not as good at those processes, or as fast, and I know that what she does with that work will be better than what I would do.
  • Don’t get hung up on what you don’t know. I tend to feel like I’m supposed to be an expert at everything – when I might be close to expertise on about two things, maybe. (We can analyze that another time, OK?) Though I wouldn’t recommend jumping into the deep end without planning or research, sometimes it makes sense to learn a little and then try something. If it fails, well, you’ve learned something there. If it’s a success, you can build on it. 

Any tips or program ideas that you’d like to share?