Library Stile

Ideas & Inspiration for School Libraries

Remembering Perry WallaceWith the recent passing of legend Perry Wallace, I centered my Library Day lesson on the book Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line by Andrew Maraniss. My students were introduced to the Perry Wallace story in early 2017. We hosted Andrew Maraniss, and you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium, as he shared Perry’s remarkable story, which left an impact on all of us. Also, this story is part of Nashville, TN, history, and it’s important that my students understand that this happened in their community. This lesson allowed my 7th and 8th graders to revisit and remember, and for my 6th graders, this was their introduction to an icon. The result? Kids learning and thinking about a remarkable Civil Rights pioneer and writing poetry- 565 poems, to be exact.

Write poetry in the library? Absolutely and why not?  A mixture of 3 sources- media, read-aloud, and print- a lit fake ficus called the Poet-Tree, and a padlet wall set the stage for this time of inspiration and creation.

For this lesson you’ll need:

  • Time: I had a 50 minute class period; I used roughly 35 minutes for this activity, with the remaining time for library business.
  • Student or school devices (I used Chromebooks.)
  • I used Google Classroom as a way for students to access links.
  • Strong Inside book trailer
  • A copy of the book Strong Inside
  • A copy of an article on Perry Wallace. I used this one.
  • A way for students to share their poems. I used Padlet.

Step 1:  Book Talk

30008718-2Even though my 7th and 8th graders have been previously introduced to Strong Inside, I enjoyed sharing it again. We have this meaningful shared experience around this book. It gave me a chance to get an idea of how many students have since read the book, and to see what they remember from Andrew’s visit to our school. This was my first opportunity to share it with the 6th grade, and I loved introducing them to a powerful non-fiction read. In addition, I challenged all grade levels to go on a scavenger hunt in Memorial Gym on the Vanderbilt campus and find Perry’s jersey, as this story takes place in their backyard.


Step 2: Introduce Found Poetry activity

Found poetry is an exercise of finding and gathering words and forming those words into a poem in the style of your choice. I selected 3 sources to use, and any words that students heard or read were fair game. I varied the styles of these sources so that students are listening and reading. Students are handed so many articles to read these days, so it was important to offer a variety.

Before we dive into word gathering, we take a look at the goal of the activity and the directions for the poem. I love writing poetry with students because there are rules and then there are no rules, so I convey that they have the freedom to choose the style that works best for them. But, can I write a haiku? You’ll get that question, no doubt. My response? Hey, knock yourself out. Did I have any haikus? Not one. Students mainly chose free verse, and occasionally, I saw acrostics that used “Perry Wallace” or “Strong Inside.”

Here are the directions I shared. They can certainly list more than 25 words, it’s merely a suggestion. The more words they list, the more possibilities. It’s easier to eliminate words than to not have enough.

Remembering Perry Wallace-2

I modified these instructions from a Read, Write, Think activity on Found Poetry.

Step 3: Explore sources and gather words

The first source I used is Andrew’s book trailer for Strong Inside. Students are encouraged add any words they hear or any words that appear on the screen. I love when the word “triumphant,” pops up on the screen and to see students jot that word down. I loved seeing how students incorporated that word in their poems.

Next, I read aloud from Chapter 1 of Strong Inside. The excerpt focused on Perry and the Commodores traveling to play the Mississippi State Bulldogs. It’s a powerful selection that allows students to see and feel the difficult challenges Perry faced. The entire book is packed with great read aloud material, so pick what you think will work best for you and your students.

The final source is an article in The Washington Post, which is actually Perry’s obituary. It may seem a little morbid to use this, however it’s an excellent overview of Perry’s life and achievements. It’s packed with great word choices for the found poems and quotes from Perry. It’s a quick 5-7 minute read, which is the right amount of time to budget for a lesson that’s roughly 30 minutes.  Plus, students learned a new vocabulary word- obituary. I was surprised each time I taught this lesson at the number of kids who’d never heard this term. I took the print view of the article and copied it in Google Docs and loaded it in their Google Classroom as a view only file.

In all, we spent less than 15 minutes exploring the sources and gathering words.

Step 4: Review the found poem instructions

With their list of words at the ready, it’s time to create a poem. It may help to show students a few examples first. I never ask students to do something I haven’t done already, so I show them my poem. I point out that I did not use any filler words. They can hear a moment of rhyme and rhythm, but it’s free verse.

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I share a couple of other student work samples just so students can see that length and style can vary greatly.

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Step 5: Time to Create 

My students needed 5-7 minutes to create. It may turn out to be a masterpiece, but for the most part, it will be more first draft quality, and that’s ok. The goal is to express how Perry is an inspiration, a pioneer, is brave, how his story impacts them, or something that stands out to them about his story. I encouraged students to work in Google Docs and then copy/ paste their poem over to Padlet.

I told them to think about our beloved art teacher, Mr. Christy, down in the art room. He’s gathered all of his tools, all of his colors, and now he’s ready to create. I remind them that they don’t have to use all of the words they found, and they have the freedom to arrange those words in any order to create meaning.

Step 6: Share

I posted the link to the Padlet in Google Classroom. Students posted a title and their name in the “title section” of their post; they copied/ pasted their poem in the “write something” portion of the post. Under “Reactions” in the settings area, I activated the “Like” button, so students were encouraged to read and like posts. This wall held all of the students’ posts, but you may consider setting up a Padlet for each class, as Padlet can be slow to load as more and more posts are added. By the time our wall held 500 posts, it was a little slow.


The Poet-Tree is in the left corner. Student poems are displayed on the screen.

The stage was set- aka the Poet-Tree (aka lit fake ficus). Students are invited to come up by the Poet-Tree to read, or they can read from their seat. I asked for volunteers to read aloud, or if I didn’t get volunteers immediately, I broke the ice by reading some poems of students in other classes. I’d also offer to read aloud for students in the current class, and I got lots of volunteers that way. They were a little shy to read aloud, but they were ok with me reading their work. Then, hands would start to go up, and I had more volunteers than I could accommodate in our class time. If you’re met with crickets when it’s time to share, find a way to break the ice, and then the students will feel more comfortable and confident about sharing.

Budget plenty of time to share. Don’t let this part flail or cram it in at the end. This became my most favorite part of the activity because students were really proud of their work. When you tell students they’re going to be writing a poem, that is often met with blank stares and balking because that can seem like a insurmountable task. However, found poetry creates an opportunity for a successful, painless experience with poetry. The students are not having to think of what to say and how to say it. The words are gathered, and in this case, the topic is provided, and they extract the meaning from their list of words.

One of my favorite moments was after the lesson, a few students would come up to me and ask me to read their poems. They’d stand and wait as I’d find it on our Padlet. They were so proud to show me, and I made sure to give their poems a “like”.

This is a great opportunity to collaborate with an ELA teacher and extend the activity into the classroom. I think it’d be really cool for students to create a timeline of Perry’s life in poems. If you need a rubric, I found this one helpful and easy to adapt, or work with an ELA teacher or literacy coach to create a rubric. Vary this lesson in any way imaginable that best fits the needs of your students and your lesson time in the library.

Whatever you do, find a way to share Perry’s story with your students and introduce them to this incredible pioneer.






  This lesson centers on book 7 of The Hazardous Tales series, The Raid of No Return by Nathan Hale. My students are diehard Haz Tales fans, and we’ve been anxiously awaiting this next book, so I used this opportunity for us to connect our learning to the book. I’ve wanted to design a digital escape game, so this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.

Students LOVED this activity immensely. I knew they were having fun with this, but the moment of glory came in the class where lunch splits our period in half. We always have to stop and dismiss for lunch and then resume after lunch. I had to tell kids it was time to go to lunch! They didn’t want to stop! Highly unusual middle school behavior. 

This is a simple digital breakout that was designed for grades 6-8. There are loads of ways to make this far more complicated; however, this was my first one to design, so I started simply.

For this lesson, you need:

  • Internet compatible devices (I have Chrome Books; some students used their phones.)
  • Google Forms
  • Google Classroom (or another way to easily share a copy of the Hyperdoc and form with them)
  • Google Docs
  • Padlet
  • 25 minutes

Lesson Objectives:

  • Students build background knowledge of the Doolittle Raid.
  • Students evaluate the search results of a web search and select the most relevant site for the task.
  • Students apply their knowledge of CRAAP to a web search

Lesson Procedures:

  1. Connection to previous lesson:  I’d previously introduced the acronym CRAAP to help students remember how to evaluate information found online. In a middle school, when you tell students you’re going to be talking about CRAAP today, they nearly lose it. Then, when they come back a couple of weeks later for their next Library Day, and you tell them we’ll be talking about more CRAAP today, it’s just as funny. It’s also interesting to have your principal in the room observing, and thankfully, she has a great sense of humor and commented, “When did it all go to CRAAP?” I opened our lesson with a quick review of our infamous acronym.


2. Intro to Digital BreakoutEdu: Next, I introduced Escape from Mrs. Anderson’s Library: Doolittle Raid Edition. (make a copy if you like). This is a Hyperdoc I made using Google Docs. I shared this with students via Google Classroom. We read the scenario together, and I explained the basic rules:

  • Wait to begin.
  • Steps must done in order.
  • Pairs or Teams of 3 are ok, as is solo
  • Group selfie is optional, but at least post the breakout time and names; image of your group only; not an image found on the web (aka Donald Trump, Grumpy Cat, or Lil’ Pump)

In the scenario, I tried to build in as many clues as possible about the kind of website I wanted them to find, so this allowed us to talk about the relevance of the site to the assignment.

  • It’s the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, hence this has been in the news.
  • There is a raider who is still living; has he been interviewed?
  • Here’s the article we used for the activity. 

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3. Guided search: We did the search as a group because I wanted to hear their thoughts on how they chose a website that was most relevant to our topic. I did allow some groups to do the search on their own, and I found I was doing a lot of re-direction and re-teaching, so I decided that the guided search was more efficient.

  • How do the “clickbait” titles help them select a site?
    • Students noticed that the CNN clickbait title “Doolittle Raider remembers on 75th Anniversary” led them to believe this article might be an interview.
  • Why do so many of the results pass the CRAAP test, but one site is best?
    • This has to do with the “relevance” of the site to the task, which specifically asks them to find an interview.
  • Why not alter the search terms?
    • I wanted them to see the variety of results we found with a more general search.
    • If time allowed, we looked briefly at the difference in results by changing our search terms.   
  • What about bias?- This always came up when they realize that the CNN article meets our needs for this task. This led to great discussion about the “purpose” of the article.  
    • Does the article try to convince us of anything? To sway us to believe one side?
    • Is it merely someone telling their experience, and is that ok?
    • Can news sites show bias? Yes; Does it depend on what’s being reported? Yes!

4. Ready, set, go!

  • Post the start time.
  • Actively monitor groups and their progress.
  • Students will be reading the article and working on the comprehension questions first. This is steps #2 and #3 in the Hyperdoc. 
  • I created The Last Raider comprehension questions using Google Forms in Quiz Mode. Be sure to include the hyperlink to these questions in the Hyperdoc.
  • If students are working in pairs or in a team, I still preferred that each person completed a copy of the form. It’s easier for me to keep track of who completed it, especially if their ELA teacher wanted to give them credit for the activity. 
  • They need to “view their score” after they answer these questions. Optional: If they miss more than 2 questions, they have to complete it again.
  • Google Forms does not allow a form to be posted as “view only” so here are screen shots of the questions I wrote. Create your own questions or use these. The first question is expanded in the Answer Key mode so you can see how I enabled that feature for each question. Clicking on Answer Key lets you select the correct answer, provide feedback for correct and incorrect answers, and assign point values.

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Before sharing the form with students, be sure to click the Settings icon and tweak the settings for Quiz Mode.

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5. Digital Escape with Google Forms

  • Here is a video that helped me understand how to create a digital breakout using Google Forms.
  • For every question, select the 3 dots and select Data Validation. Then, input accordingly.
  • I inserted an image of a lock for each question so we had the illusion of cracking codes. Sure the toolboxes and cool locks would be super fun, but I don’t have any of those. 
  • I hyperlinked the Breakout in step #4 of the Hyperdoc.

Here’s how I set up each question.

#1: When was the article updated?

This helped students evaluated the site for “Currency” and practice looking for where this information is posted. I specified how the date was to be written, and I thought this would be an easy one for them, but I was shocked at how many ways students can write a date and not understand what they’re doing wrong. The “Hint” says: Check your format and capitalization. 

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#2: This article is relevant because it’s an interview of whom?

Again, reminding students that the site they choose needs to be relevant to their topic.

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#3: What organization is the “Authority” of this information?

Students need to identify CNN as the publisher/ sponsor of the site. Students often had trouble with this one. They were confusing the author of the article with the publisher/sponsor. Both are authorities, but the clue asks for “organization.”

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#4: Is an interview a primary or secondary source?

This is an easy teachable moment if students have not previously learned this distinction. The “hint” directs students to understand how primary and “firsthand” are connected.

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#5: Add: the age of the survivor, the number of the anniversary, and the number of men who flew in the raid.

What’s an escape game without a math problem? It was interesting to watch how the students overlooked the word “add” and they’d list all 3 numbers, or type the addition problem. The hint reminds them they need the sum of these three numbers.

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6. Post-Breakout

At the of the escape game, teams post a selfie and break out time. I used Padlet to accomplish this. I hyperlinked the Padlet in step #5 of the Hyperdoc. 

  • Create the padlet wall first. Decide if you want to moderate posts or not. I did not moderate for this, and I permitted students to be able to “like” posts. I set very clear rules earlier in the lesson for the posts. I included the steps to post on the Padlet. 
  • Share the link in the Hyperdoc. The padlet is only accessible to those with the link, hence only to my students. 
  • How to post: Students click the + to create a post; TITLE is the breakout time; They should list their names; Click the camera icon and select take photo from webcam
  • The selfie is optional.
  • Average breakout time was 13-14 minutes; so with 10 minutes of instruction before the games begin, this activity is the right length of time in order to allow part of the period spent on instruction with plenty of time still available for library business.

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And there it is! Hope you have fun designing your own digital breakout!


I had a blast at the 2017 Tennessee Association of School Librarians Conference! I always enjoy meeting the many talented librarians across the state. I learn so much from them as well as the many speakers and presenters in attendance.  I had the opportunity to present a session: Rock Around the Year in Middle School. All of the ideas I shared are here on the blog in more extensive detail, and I created a Padlet for these for quick reference. I would LOVE for other middle school librarians to also post and share their great ideas on the Padlet. I am deeply thankful to TASL leadership for allowing me to present. Here is a link to my presentation. If I can ever help you in any way, please reach out. I’d love to!IMG_6418

Preparing to welcome students back to the library at the start of a new school year is super exciting! As Mr. Lemoncello would say, “There might be balloons!” I see all of the reading classes in our building every three weeks for a full class period in the library. We call this Library Day, and for our first class together this year, more than anything else I could have possibly shared with them, this is what I wanted them to know:

  • Where we’re going as readers this year
  • How to share their voice as readers
  • Who I am as a reader

And this is what I wanted the students to tell me:

  • What can I do to support them as readers this year?

Setting the tone that reading is valued here and students reading tastes and voices are valued is top priority to me. This is the foundation of building a reading culture at school.

Wait! What about the rules? What about procedures? Sure, I could have spent our first session droning on about those, complete with a nifty slideshow, but that’s what my librarian thirty years ago in my middle school would have done…sans slideshow. That’s not the library of today looks like. I’m here to support their curiosity and grow their love of reading, not to tell them how many times they can print. That’s boring.


So, where are we going as readers this year? I started out with a giant stack of books. Author Kate Messner writes about sharing books in stacks with kids, and I created a stack that is more like a skyscraper. But, why THIS stack? First, it reminds of where we’ve been together. I’m as sentimental as they come, and it’s my hope that students remember the special times we shared together last year, when Andrew Maraniss, Sarah Weeks, and Mr. Schu visited our school. Including Strong Inside and Save Me a Seat, reminds kids that we met these amazing authors and to keep them on their radar for this year. Including Raymie Nightingale and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, reminds kids to be passionate about what they love to read and to share it, a la Mr. Schu! The 8th graders met Alan Gratz when they were in 6th grade, so they especially loved hearing about his new book, Refugee. Part of where we’re going is thinking about where we’ve been.

This year brings many new experiences to share together. In addition to our regular lunch time book club, we have a new book club, Project LIT, which provides even more opportunities for kids to connect with books. We’ll be reading Towers Falling, Full Cicada Moon, Refugee, Ghost, and Patina, to name a few. Our focus will be on reading diverse books, exploring a myriad of perspectives, and inviting members of our community to read along and join us for discussion activities.



Our first visit of 2017-2018! Courtney Stevens, Gwenda Bond, and Megan Shepherd. 

We love welcoming authors to our school, and connecting with the people who write the books we love. Kids love hearing the stories behind the story and how an idea turned into the book in their hands. Meeting authors not only enriches their reading, but it also helps them grow as writers and creators. I enjoy revealing our author visitors at the beginning of the year so that students have plenty of opportunities to read books by our guests before they arrive. Author visit days are treated like holidays at our school, and watching their faces as they find out who’s coming is priceless! My readers will meet Courtney Stevens, Gwenda Bond, Megan Shepherd, Soman Chainani, Monika Schroeder, Nathan Hale, and Steve Sheinkin! What incredible voices in the children’s and YA book world for students to meet!

Who am I as a reader? I’m also meeting many new students- a whole grade level, as a matter of fact- so I want to introduce myself by showing them who I am as a reader. I want kids to see that I read a variety of books.  Am I a sports fan? I am a fan of Perry Wallace, a “hidden figure” in the world of college basketball, who broke barriers of color and race. Do I love horror books? Confession time… I’m a big chicken, but I enjoyed the Shadow House series tremendously, even though I lost a little sleep, as a I was afraid the Larkspur Academy children would show up in my own house. A Dog Like Daisy is there because not only do I love animals, but we have a strong community of local authors, and I love championing their amazing work. Ashes gives me an opportunity to share one of my favorite authors, Laurie Halse Anderson and the conclusion of one of my favorite trilogies, Seeds of America. I want my students to see that I love it all, and I am ready to help them find something they’ll enjoy.


Book share padletHow we share our voices as readers

Students not only see that they are going to get lots of stacks like this shared with them throughout the year, but I invite them to share with each other. I set up grade level Padlets and linked these in our Library Day Google Classrooms.  This give students across each grade level a way to connect with each other outside of their reading class, outside of their team. Students began posting immediately, sharing a favorite book of the moment. So far, they’ve shared everything from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Alexander Hamilton! Sharing in ways like this contributes to our culture of reading in a non-threatening way. It’s easy, it’s fun, it incorporates technology, and even the quietest of students can have a voice here. I love hearing from ALL students about the books they are reading.

The directions are:

  1. Post the name you go by.
  2. Title/ Author
  3. Briefly tell why you enjoyed the book (a couple of sentences will do).
  4. Optional: post an image of the book.

Their posts do get moderated by me, only because that’s our school rule for using Padlet in the classroom. I enjoy seeing additions made to our Padlets even on nights and weekends! The students are enjoying having this vehicle to share, and every library day, I can remind students to check the Padlet for great book suggestions!

How can I support you as a reader this year? Students completed a Google Form in which they tell me about who they are as readers. These questions are inspired by Donalyn Miller’s books. The more I know about their reading habits and preferences, the better prepared I am to help them. This informs my purchases and I can share this information with reading teachers, as we partner together in supporting student literacy.

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One of my favorite questions to ask is: How can I help you grow as a reader this year? I love watching students think about how to answer this question. It makes me wonder if a librarian has ever asked them this before? Sure, I get a few “not sure” or “idk,” but the #1 response is: help me find books I’ll enjoy.

ENJOY. That is the key. Because that’s what we all want as readers, and kids are no different.

Here is the survey. Please make a copy of it and then edit as you wish.


Now, how about those rules? Rules and procedures are there for a reason, and sure, it’s important that kids know what to expect in the library. I incorporated these into a 3 minute scavenger hunt. Students used a QR code reader app on their own device, or our I-Pads, and found the 8 QR codes around the room.

Our African Dwarf Frogs reminded students that we have no limit on the amount of books one can check out, and we have no fines.


QR codes hidden around the room.

The fish in our new aquarium reminded them that our computers and printers are for school related work.

The Abraham Lincoln bobblehead figure made them aware of the new library hours.

They also found the locations of the books of our visiting authors, our book club books, and some of our most popular sections, like the graphic novels.

Middle schoolers like to move, so find a way to include your rules and information that encourages movement and exploration. Are they more likely to remember these essentials this way than me covering this in a slideshow format? Yes, without a doubt, and I think Mr. Lemoncello would approve.

So, find your way of greeting students and welcoming them back to the library in an enthusiastic way! This is your chance to show that students are welcome, they matter, and you’re here to inspire, to motivate, to help and to guide, and to set the tone that reading matters. Like the little billboard in the mural on our library wall reminds us about reading, – “It’ll take you places.” It'll take you places






Want to easily show administration, faculty, parents and community members that your school library is a rockin’ place? An infographic will do the trick. During a district professional development recently, I showed my fellow librarians how to use Piktochart to create their own infographic. I saw this idea on a #futurereadylibs chat.

We discussed the importance of actively promoting our libraries and helping our communities understand how valuable our school libraries are. As a librarian, you have to tell your library’s story. If you’re not telling it, then who is?

What do you want to share about your library?

  • Show growth
    • Think about what library reports you can access that will show a comparison between last year and this year.
      • Total number of books
      • Monthly, yearly circulations
      • Number of books in a certain section (particularly if that section was an area that was specifically updated)
  • Show student usage of the library
    • My students sign in the library using a Google Form. I can easily access that spreadsheet and determine an average weekly usage.
    • Number of books checked out by grade level
  • Show usage of digital content
    • ebooks, digital audiobooks accessed/ checked out
    • devices checked out
  • Show your impact
    • number of classes taught
    • number of professional development sessions led
    • number of special events

These are just a few ideas. It’s your library. It’s your story, so include what you want.

Making the Infographic

I used Piktochart to create my library’s infographic.

  • I created a free account.
  • Create new- Infographic.
  • Choose a template. Here’s the template I chose.
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  • Modify in any way to suit your needs. I used my school’s colors and included a picture of a mural in our library. I deleted aspects and added others. Everything is clickable and changeable. Anything you create can be accessed later in your Piktochart dashboard.


Share your story!

Get the word out in a variety of ways!

  • Add the image to your library’s website
  • Send it to your administration, PTO
  • Include it in a newsletter or email announcements to families
  • Print it and display it in the halls.
  • Tweet it!

Be proud of what’s happening in your library and put it out there for all to see. This is a simple way to illustrate the strength of the library’s pulse. Is it strong? Does it need a shock?

This also helps you visualize the overall health of your library program and set future goals. I can look at my infographic and know I need to create more awareness of our digital content. My school is growing, and in order to keep the items/ student count, I need to buy more books next year, which I’m happy to do. However, I also know that our district significantly cut the budget for each school. We have more students and less money. I’m sure that’s a familiar story. My infographic helps me plan ways I can show growth next year, and it helps me dream about what I show and share next year.

Happy infographic-making!


Here’s a question I posed to my book club a few months ago. “How many of you would like to have a job where you read and blog about books, then travel around and tell other people about all of the amazing books you’re reading?” After everyone’s hands shot up, I announced that Mr. Schu would be coming to our school during our Scholastic Book Fair. “Guys, he’s the AMBASSADOR of School Libraries! That’s his job!” Schu better watch his back because there’s about 150 middle schoolers after his job.


Mr. Schu arrived in my library in the midst of my book fair and immediately started shopping. He bought a stack of books about as tall as he is (fyi-he’s really tall), and then we were off to the auditorium to set up. He’d prepared a slideshow of books to share with my students, and I was flattered that he asked me to share some as well. I’d previously sent my picks, which he included in his slideshow. He lined up his book giveaways across the front of the stage, and we were ready to roll.

I selected my 6th graders to attend his presentation because I wanted to invest in the youngest readers in my school. I knew that meeting Mr. Schu would help them understand what we are all about in our library, which is connecting kids with great books and creating lifelong readers. The 7th graders enjoyed 8 author visits when they were in 6th grade (8!!),  and the 8th grade had already had 2 years of amazing author visits. I was excited for my 6th graders to have this opportunity.

After I introduced him, and he told the kids about his super amazing job, it was time to get down to book talking. I warmed up the crowd with The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron. Then I passed it to Mr. Schu, who book talked Raymie Nightingale. If you’ve not had the opportunity to listen to Mr. Schu share this book, seek it out. You may already know of his undying love for Kate DiCamillo’s books, but until you’ve witnessed the way he talks about her books and this book in particular, you wonder if you’ve ever really loved a book as much as he has. He finished the book talk, followed by, “Who wants it?” A sea of hands shot up, and then, it was game-on. The kids understood what was going to happen with all of those books lined up across the front of the stage, and they were ready for more!

The kids laughed when he described the different types of teachers that Topher, Brand, and Steve have had in Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and what makes Ms. Bixby one of the good ones. He shared The One and Only Ivan, and the students were in awe that he got to meet Ivan. Later, I’d overhear them telling their friends about the special section in the back of The One and Only Ivan, and the story of how it got there. Ultimately, he gave my students a year’s worth of great reading suggestions!


He ended his presentation with a group read aloud of I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, which was the perfect note to end on because it sums up Mr. Schu’s heart. He beams with love for kids, books, and libraries, and he truly does wish them more opportunities to discover the joy of reading and to be inspired by books. 

IMG_4862Our day with Mr. Schu was perfect. I am grateful to my Scholastic Book Fairs rep, Molly Gaughan, who made it all happen. I do I wish you the opportunity to have Mr. Schu visit your school some day, because it will be a moment you and your students will never forget, and I wish Mr. Schu many more opportunities to connect with readers in this world. Thanks for coming, Mr. Schu! 







Every week, six times a week, student readers show up at my office door and they promptly take over my computer. It’s ok, they have permission. It’s not a hostage situation. We log into our local public library’s catalog and select 3-4 ebooks, navigate to WebEx, and enter our “virtual reading room.” We activate the video, activate the mic, share our screen, and we’re live! We’re then greeted with twenty smiling faces on the screen. Meet our virtual reading buddies. They are elementary school students in grades K-3 at a Title I school in Nashville, and my students and I have been reading to these students for almost 3 years. IMG_7452

A parent at my school brought the idea to me. He’d already been working to connect volunteer readers with schools throughout the country, and he hoped to help create a partnership with older students reading to younger students. The beauty of this is that we have the technology to allow volunteers to read from where they are. I would never be able to take my students on a field trip every week across town. And, it breaks down barriers of demographics. My students are getting to work with students in a Title I school, which is far from their experience of attending middle school in one of the wealthiest counties in the state. It was immediately important to me, to give my students this opportunity. IMG_7716

First, I had to lay all of the groundwork. I worked with my district’s instructional technology team to choose a video conferencing application. My district has a running list of technology that is approved and not approved for use in our district, so I am using WebEx because it is approved. Next, we are fortunate to have a wonderful partnership with our local public library. They give my school 5 library cards to use in any capacity, so I designate 1 of those cards just for Read2Me. This allows my students and I to access their vast ebook library. Having access to their digital library is a huge cost savings for my library budget, as I have lots of digital resources for middle school, just not so many for elementary students. With the technology and ebook resources in place, I moved on to the volunteers.IMG_0448

I promoted Read2Me with my lunch bunch book club because it’s a core group of readers at my school, whom I regularly see. The main criteria: students had to be able to read once a week, during their study hall, feel comfortable reading aloud, and they had to return a permission slip. A major consideration for participation, which is clearly listed on the permission slip is that students must have signed the district’s acceptable use policy. Next, we had a couple of training sessions, so that the students could take WebEx and the operation of the ebooks for a test drive. Then, we practiced reading aloud. Fortunately, I have some amazing students who are also forensics champs and thespians, who can rock a Read2Me session like they are natural born storytellers. So, the learning curve was really, well, non-existent.

Then, I reached out to the teachers at our partner school, and we worked together to set up a weekly reading schedule. I sent them a link to our virtual reading room in WebEx, and they followed my directions to click the link, start their camera, and their mic, and they’re in! With the involvement of technology, we naturally experience glitches from time to time. It could be network problems at one school, or a malfunctioning web cam or mic, but any issues we’ve experienced have been solved in a timely manner, and has impacted our reading sessions very minimally.

One of my favorite aspects of Read2Me is the collaborative relationship I enjoy with the teachers at our partner school. We communicate regularly about their curriculum and how my students and I can best make our reading sessions meaningful and beneficial to their students. They send me specific topics their students are learning, along with sight words or vocabulary words, and my students put these into Quizlet, which allows us to review these words in a virtual flashcard format. The more the teachers and I communicate about literacy needs, the better our reading sessions! Their time is valuable, and the instructional time with their students is valuable. It’s my goal to help my students contribute to their learning in a positive way. IMG_0624

Sometimes, our partnership expands beyond our weekly reading sessions in very cool ways. Because I regularly host authors at my school, I was able to invite the 4th graders at our partner school to join us virtually for my students’ visit with author Roland Smith. I set up  my laptop and webcam in the auditorium, giving our reading buddies a front row seat to the action! After Roland spoke to my students, he did a special Q&A session with the 4th graders. They asked great questions! I loved that we were able to extend the benefits of an author visit to our reading buddies. And, did I mention how cool Roland Smith is?

We also connected a guest reader to our kindergarten classes last year. Miss Tennessee, Grace Burgess, is focused on literacy and spreading the love of reading during her reign, so we hosted her in our virtual reading room, and let her lead the session. Check out a few clips of her reading I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal  here.

Additionally, our relationship has materialized in the form of book drives. My students have held a book drive each year for our reading buddies, which has helped grow their personal and classroom libraries. My students love their reading partners, not only sharing stories with them weekly, but getting more books into their hands, and encouraging them to be lifelong readers.

We see the students via our webcam weekly, and likewise, my students and I are beamed across town onto classroom smart boards, but at the end of this past school year, my students and I took an actual field trip to meet our reading buddies in person. A couple of my students designed t-shirts, which we all wore. We came armed with picture books and treat bags, and tons of excitement! My students were greeted with the biggest smiles! As we visited each classroom and shared stories, it was a beautiful thing to witness my students serving as reading role models and the seeing the reactions of our young readers as they spent time with the kids they admire. Read2Me has been one of the most rewarding reading communities my students and I have experienced. We took an idea and ran with it, and empowering my middle schoolers as volunteers who get to share their love for reading, has been one of the best decisions as a librarian I’ve ever made. Here’s an article about our memorable day!


I hope you will consider establishing a virtual reading partnership of your own. If you need any help getting started, please reach out. I’d love to support you in any way possible. Check out the video my students made to share what we do!






You have a million things on your plate. You’re probably expecting that unannounced observation any day, have classes to prepare for, books orders pending, the list goes on and on. Why bother adding event planning to your list? Happy kids, that’s why. Author visits = happy students. Not only are you promoting reading, you are bringing the shelves to life. You will be creating lifelong positive reading memories for your students, and they will think of you as a rock star because you know a celebrity!Author Visits 101-5

My colleague, Scot Smith, and I presented at our state librarians’ conference a couple of years ago on this topic. Combined, we’ve hosted around 80 authors at our schools. Here’s a post I wrote for the Nerdy Book Club Blog on why I host authors each year. We’ve learned a few do’s and don’ts that we’ve compiled here to make your job easier. Also, take a look at the Author Visit Checklist for a list of items to help you plan this magical day. 

Whom to Invite

Dream a little. It’s ok. Who would you love to host? Who would your students love to meet? This is where I always begin. Then, I take the following into consideration:

  • Run a report of your top 10 titles.
  • Check your state book awards list.
  • Think about authors whose work connects best with curriculum.
  • Think about authors you’ve heard or met before in some capacity through conferences or other events.
  • Has a colleague hosted an author recently?
  • Do you need an author who will appeal to all grade levels or just certain grades?

An author visit after-shock captured! Students reading Alan Gratz and Nathan Hale, two recent author visitors.

It’s impossible to find THE author that every single student will enjoy; however, all of your students will take away something positive from the presentation. Your writers and readers will drink this experience in, your reluctant readers will have made a connection to a cool person who writes books, making books and reading seem less intimidating, and those in the middle will be clamoring to put a hold on the books mentioned in the presentation. You will see the “after-shocks” of an author visit for months, even years, to come.



Would you take the whole school on a field trip? Think of how many busses you’d need, Author Visits 101-3-2admission per student, etc. It’d be astronomical! No way! An author visit is a reasonable funding request to make, especially if comparing to the cost of taking the students on a field trip. A $1500 honorarium split among 900 students is $1.67. Really? That’s a great investment for your students, who will remain in school, have minimal disruption to their school day, while an amazing author takes them back in time, to the future, or on an adventure through our world today.

  • Ask administration.
  • Ask the PTO/ PTA.
  • Utilize book fair profits.
  • Research donations and write grants.

I often operate on the rule of 3. I ask my administration and the PTO to each contribute a portion, and I kick in funds from book fair profits. Research your options and do what works best for your school’s budget.

Cost Effective Options

  • Consider sharing an author visit with a nearby school. Perhaps the author’s honorarium includes up to 4 presentations per day. Schedule two at your school and two at another school in your district. This will allow both schools to split the honorarium and travel expenses. Make sure this is agreeable with the author first.
  • Research local authors. You’ll find significant savings in the travel costs department, as you’re replacing airfare and hotel costs with reimbursement for mileage.
  • Partner with a local bookstore. There are two bookstores in my area who often bring authors to visit area schools- for free!
  • Partner with your state’s literary festival. For example, Humanities Tennessee sponsors Student Reader Day, and they provide a fee-free visit to a school, and when possible, each student gets a copy of one of the author’s books.
  • Skype. If your technology is reliable, this can be a good option. I will never trade a Skype for the author live and in the flesh, but it’s a solid option if your budget will not accommodate an in-person visit. Here is a great list of authors who do free Skype visits. 

Making Contact

Now that you’ve dreamt, and your budget has brought you down to reality, it’s time to get down to the details.

  • Start with the author’s webpage. Look for information on events. Authors who are regularly visiting schools will often post their visit schedule, helpful information about their presentations, and provide a way for you to contact them, or a representative, about setting up a visit. It makes my day when I am researching authors to bring to my school, and authors have a dedicated and updated school visits page. Puts a smile on my face!
  • Visit the publisher’s website. Perhaps the publisher handles event scheduling for the author.
  • Be prepared to not get a response or to get the response you hoped for. I typically have 2-3 authors I have in mind when I am planning an event. Schedules and life do not always line up. Do not be discouraged, just move to the next author on your list. Plan something with your top choice next time.


Consider what’s available at your school for an author visit. The location you choose can affect the number of presentations and how many students can attend. Consider the best space where the students will be the least distracted. Each setting has its own positives and negatives. Pick the best fit for your situation. I’ve christened every large space in my school with author visits- the gym, the cafeteria, classrooms, the library, the auditorium, and the band room.

Most authors despise the gym situation, but that’s all I had for twelve years until an auditorium was constructed on my campus. If the gym is the only option, be aware that authors may have some preferences. For example, they may not be ok with students sitting on both sides of the gym.  They’ll also want to make sure the lighting can be adjusted so that students can easily see the slideshow. Mics are a must in large spaces, and insist on it, even if the author insists that he/she is naturally loud enough. If the students can easily hear, that is a deterrent for bad behavior.

Author Visits 101-2-2

Ruta Sepetys speaking in the gym vs. the auditorium. You have to work with what you have. She had to speak in my gym, but she got to speak in Scot’s auditorium. Now that I have an auditorium, I’ll never go back to the gym setting.

You also want to avoid high traffic areas for the author presentation, so that usually means the cafeteria is a no-go. Your students have seen someone walk into a room a million times, and they can’t help but look every. single. time. Avoid a location where people will be passing through so that disruptions are at a minimum.

In any venue, the Q&A at the end of the presentation can be tricky, as it can be virtually impossible to hear students’ questions. I’ve learned in the gym or auditorium to set-up 2 mics- one for the author, and one for me to use to intro/ dismiss and to use for student questions.  

Schedule for the Visit

Start scheduling the details of this day with all appropriate school personnel as soon as possible. I have an author visit team at my school, which includes: my principal (approval of my choice), my assistant principal (for any alternate schedule required), the theater teacher and music teacher (auditorium scheduling and sound), my bookkeeper (paperwork and payment), the school secretary (adding event to the main school calendar so the talent show is NOT booked that same day-  not that I know anything about that).


Shout out to my P. E. teacher! He’s a huge help to me on author visit days with logistics. It also helps that he gets thanked with food.

Then, it’s time to communicate with faculty about this day and generate excitement among the students and staff. Collaborate with teachers on ways to connect the author visit to the curriculum before and/or after the visit. Create fliers they can post on classroom news boards. Hopefully, your teachers will remain with their classes during the presentation, but if you feel this may be an issue, kindly ask teachers ahead of time. Your administrator may be willing to communicate this on your behalf. Teachers at my school stay with their classes, and I greatly appreciate that it’s a non-issue. I’ve heard author visit horror stories about faculty dropping their students and bolting, which makes the author feel like a babysitter. 

Consider an exciting author visit reveal for students, signage, online information, contests, giveaways, and in general, how to best generate buzz about this upcoming special day. Also, think about giving certain students jobs in helping prepare for this day. Students can help make welcome banners, greet the author as he/she arrives, introduce the author to the principal, help during the book signing, etc.

This is a BIG day for your school! Get excited!


Details, Details, Details

This is the time to become great friends with your bookkeeper. Help make all of this as easy as possible. Schedule time with your bookkeeper to find out what is needed for their record keeping. An author visit is a big paperwork deal, and we all know that the bookkeeper is a person to have on your team anyway! Provide whatever information they need- purchase orders filled out, all receipts submitted, W-9, etc. The author will need to be paid the day of their visit, so have your ducks in a row. 

The author will book the flight, and you’ll need a copy of the air fare receipt to give to your bookkeeper. Most authors will book a coach flight and use their own points for an upgrade. I’ve only had one author request a first class flight, and that author did not speak at my school. Not that I’m opposed to first-class flights, it’s just not in my budget. Shocking, right?

I like to chauffeur my authors, which is nice because I get to spend more time with the author. I’ve had numerous conversations about my school, the presentation format, the q&a session format in the car with the author. It’s given us a chance to work out last minute details of our day. Occasionally, they prefer to do their own driving. Let them know if a rental car is in your budget. If an author is renting a car, make sure you’ve provided detailed directions, and the author has ample time to get to your school, directions on how to get in your school, and your cell number.

For hotel accommodations, book the room sooner, rather than later. The author does not want to stay with grandma or in a guest house. Book a comfortable hotel in close proximity to your school with free wifi, breakfast included, and one that will give you a great rate. The hotel will need a tax exempt form. This will exempt the school from state taxes, but it will not exempt the school from local taxes. I like to pay for the room ahead of time, so I mail the school check with the tax exempt form in advance The hotel will need a credit card for incidentals, so think about how you want to handle that. My school does not have a credit card. I have the author provide his/her own card at check-in. I have yet to have an author trash the room or charge any incidentals, so I typically am not worried about this. 


A comfortable author is a happy author. They are away from home and from their normal routine. Any hospitality you can show in thinking about these essentials is always appreciated. I assemble a welcome package of protein bars, bottled water, dried fruit, a sweet treat and a couple of locally made products. My grandmother would roll in her grave if she saw me not extending southern hospitality to my guests. 

I always offer to pick up coffee or have it provided during the day at school, and I order out lunch. I email a menu ahead of time and have them select what they’d like. I have lunch delivered or enlist a volunteer to pick it up. You will be glad to dealt with this the day before, as you will have no time to take care of this the day of the visit. You should be reimbursed for any food you purchase for the author. Provide any meal receipts for your bookkeeper, and remember, you likely will not be reimbursed for tax.

Some schools will want to plan a “lunch with the author” event. Always ask the author if this is OK. If the author is eating with students, be aware that the author is “on” and is not often able to eat. Some prefer downtime at lunch and would be just as happy eating on the sofa in your office.  Downtime is essential but might be difficult to schedule if you are sharing a day with another school. 


Wendelin Van Draanen had just finished 4 presentations at 3 different schools plus a lunch with a group of students before her red eye back to CA. Authors are hardworking!

I always offer to take my author out for a nice dinner after our long day, and sometimes, I invite other local authors to join us. If you have a great local restaurant, consider going there. One local author ended up writing a biography about a visiting author because of one of these dinners. I’ve taken authors bowling, and to see the sights in Nashville, so it all depends on what your guest would like to do, and what you can do. 

What does a visit include?

Most authors, if you host them for the day, will do up to 3-4 presentations. However, I’ve seen many variations, such as authors who only present twice or even only once. The fewer the presentations typically means the heftier the honorarium. It just depends on the author. You can ask them if they are up for additional activities or alternate presentations during the day, such as the following:

  • Meet and greet with a small group
  • Interview with the school paper student editors
  • 2 presentations to large groups, 1 writing workshop with a group of 30
  • Breakfast or lunch with students
  • An evening session for families with a book signing

Sarah Weeks is interviewed by the newspaper editors.

Consider how you are handling book sales or a book signing. If you are having a formal signing, prepare the space accordingly. Also, factor in that some students may not be able to attend. Designate a location for students to drop books off to be signed and information on when these can be retrieved.


Alan Gratz signs books following an evening presentation for families.

I typically host an author during the week of my book fair. The visit is the highlight of our book fair week! Book sales are built into my book fair, so the book fair vendor is obtaining the author’s books in addition to the books they are sending for the fair.  Also, this is the time I prefer to have the author for a full day. Therefore, I am booking an author for 3 presentations during the school day, and a 4th presentation that evening for students and families. It’s usually a small group and ends up being mostly q&a, followed by a book signing. So far, all of my visiting authors have not charged extra for this. Just ask what is feasible and what they are comfortable doing while at your school.

Visit Day Logistics

There are several items to consider to help make the presentation go as smoothly as possible. First, make sure the author is clear on the start and end times. I provide an itinerary of their day at my school, with the presentation times in large print.  I always point out where the clock is in the room. Do they need a “high sign” when 5 minutes are left? We all know the bell will ring, and the students’ inclination is to bolt, even if the author is still talking, so be sure the presentation ends a minute or two early so that you can have students applaud and you can give reminders about a book signing, evening event, or even just directions for dismissal. 

Many authors like to take questions at the end of their talk. Ask the author ahead of time for their preference on the format for the q&a, and have a solid plan in place. This is a tricky part of the presentation to navigate. Behavior can take a turn for the worse. I’ve watched a few phenomenal presentations crash and burn in the Q&A portion of the presentation. There are some things you can do to help this go smoothly. 

First, I like to reward students for thoughtful questions. I let students know at the beginning that I have signed copies of the author’s books to give away, and I’ll be listening for great questions at the end. Their questions have to show they really listened to the presentation. Recently this backfired on me a little because they were 1-upping each other with their questions. As students asked one profound question after another, the entire audience looked back at me each time like- Is this the winner? I gave away two copies and let the other 2 students be the first to check out the copies I bought for the library. Excellent questions are a good problem to have. 

Also, I will choose the students who ask the questions. I jokingly refer to this as the “Oprah method.” I like to have a second mic on hand so that I can move about the room with it, carefully selecting students, and thus, helping everyone to hear the question.  I can do this easily in my school’s auditorium. This method would not work for me in the gym. Occasionally, I’ve asked students to submit questions prior to the presentation, and I’ve either selected the best, or shared a Google form so all students could vote on the questions that should be asked.

Sometimes, there is no time for questions, so students are encouraged to email me their questions or submit them in the library, and perhaps the author may be willing to answer them via email or video later.

I always prepare my students with the types of questions to ask a visiting author. I  emphasize with my students to ask questions about the author’s work. 

Let the author know what you feel works best for your students with this portion of the presentation. I am uncomfortable with the rapid fire q&a method where the author takes questions at random. This often results in a smh moment. That student, you know, that one, will raise a hand, and the author will, as if drawn by force of nature, call on said student. The author will then be asked if he owns a pony, which is fine if the author writes books about ponies, but typically, this is where the fabulous presentation starts to crash and burn at the end. In general, this format is a no-go at my school.

Student Behavior

Disruptions are a fact of life. It’s school, after all, right? Disruptions, major or minor, Author Visits 101-4-2during the author presentation are always a possibility. No matter the level of misbehavior, deal with the situation as quietly as possible. It causes even more of a scene when an adult loses it and reprimands, or worse, berates, the student in front of the assembly. Proximity is best deterrent in this situation. Hopefully, faculty members are with their students, but you can quietly move near the source of the disruption, make eye contact with the student. Subtle but stern. It’s like attending live theater. The ushers quietly deal with disturbances so as to not further disrupt the performance. It takes everyone out of the moment of the experience, so handle with care in the least disruptive manner possible.

After the Visit

The effects of an author visit linger well after the author has left the building, like after shocks following an earthquake. The library copies of the author’s books will consistently be checked out, kids will comb classroom libraries for those books, so try to have additional copies on hand to feed the enthusiasm. Kids love to talk about special experiences, so give them an opportunity to share their takeaways from the presentation. This can be done in class discussion, a think/ write board, a Padlet wall, a Google Forms survey, a journal entry, or blog post, etc. There are many creative ways to give your students an outlet for sharing how the author’s visit made an impact.

Be sure to thank everyone involved. Thank the students for being great hosts, the administration, the PTO, or your grant foundation for their help in making this day possible. Thank the teachers for giving up instructional time for this school-wide literacy celebration. Then, share the success! Your students will love seeing the pictures from this special day. Create a display of these in the building, and share online, according to your school’s guidelines, of course. Think about what avenues you have to share with parents, too, and provide a write-up for the newsletter, the email announcements,  the school website, about the joy of this day. Communicate with fellow librarians or educators about the visit. Word of mouth is the best way I find out about great authors to host at my school, so share widely.

Then, smile! You did it! Your creativity, planning, and hard work pays off! So enjoy seeing and experiencing all of the “after-shocks” that materialize in the days and years ahead. And, start dreaming again.


project lit imageMy students and I are joining Project LIT this year! I love giving students a variety of opportunities to connect with books. Project LIT will combine the traditional 1 book focus along with community involvement, service learning and fun activities at our meetings.

Last year on Twitter, I noticed a guy who was making things happen at his school in Nashville. Jarred Amato is an English teacher at Maplewood High School, and he started Project LIT. The goal of Project LIT is ” to inspire children to become lifelong readers by making books more accessible and creating excitement about reading.” For service learning, the focus is on eliminating book deserts. Jarred and his students had a knock-out year, and after seeing their success, I wanted my students to check it out.

I love that my students will have the opportunity to connect with others in and outside of our community and join a larger conversation going on about reading and books. I plan to set up a Padlet wall for any of the middle schools to use so that our students have a place to talk about the books virtually. My students are going to love sharing their thoughts and ideas with others around the country!

For our service learning, we’ll also address book deserts. We already do a huge book drive every fall, but what more can we do to get books to kids in need? My students will love the challenge of examining this issue and will do whatever they can to help.

Finally, our focus will be on reading diverse books. The demographics of my school reflect an 89% Caucasian population, so Project LIT will be another way in which we can focus on and celebrate the wonderful diversity in books.

Nationwide conversation with peers. Service learning. Diversity centered. My students need and will love being part of Project LIT. I look forward to sharing our journey!

Project LIT Middle Grade Selections 2017-2018

Project Lit MG Selections











Once a month, during lunch, students grab their food and head to the library for a book club meeting.  Each grade level has their own time to meet, eat, and share what they’re reading. The central focus is on the middle grade selections from our state book award list. I stock 3-4 copies of each title on our list, and let the students have at it.  It’s a read at your own pace, and really, read what you want kind of book club.

We kick things off at the end of August with a preview of the books. I share book trailers of our state book award nominees, I reveal our visiting author(s) for the school year and book talk those books. As students look around the library at the other 50 or so kids from their grade level who also showed up for book club, inevitably, someone will ask- How are we all going to read the same book?  And the answer to that is- we don’t. And, the reason why is- there’s too many of us. That’s a good problem, right?

Book club books 2016-2017

Our 2016-2017 list.

Lunch Bunch provides a way for students who love to read, and even those who feel half-hearted about it but like the idea, a place to come together, hang out, talk a lot, and then share what they’re reading. We also explore media connected to books. We play book trivia Kahoots, regularly check out Nathan Hale’s You Tube channel, and recently, we watched part of Marc Tyler Nobleman’s documentary Batman + Bill. Rather than all being on the same page, at the same time, it’s very casual, which creates the vibe of community. It’s a place for readers to gather, and all are welcome, anytime.


Book club watching Marc Tyler Nobleman’s documentary.

Are kids expected to even read? Of course. The minimum I expect students to read is 3 books from our state awards list, so that they are eligible to vote in our state book awards election. They can choose to read from either the middle grade or high school list, depending upon their reading tastes. They typically have until mid-April to complete this because we vote in the state election in late April. Each meeting, I remind students of their goal, and students report back on their progress. Each April, I’m also proud to submit around 150 votes from my school.


A sample of the reviews in our catalog.

When a student finishes a book on our list, I simply ask they review it in our library’s catalog, as a way to help other students in our school get book recommendations. I keep a resource list of our state award books in our Destiny Library Catalog, so I can easily click through each book and keep track of who is reviewing. When students read from our list, they also usually find a way to tie this read into their ELA classroom reading requirements. Our informal book club never leaves students without great book ideas, and their reading helps fulfill classroom objectives. Double score! Here’s a sample of the flier students get for our book club.

I’ve also had students post review to our Google Site. I scrapped that because it wasn’t being accessed by the school community. Posting the catalog has helped my book club have a greater impact. This year, we may add a Book Club Padlet. This would be easy for me to share with the entire to school to view. I am always trying new ways for my students to share and make recommendations to others.

Lunch Bunch serves as the core group of students I see on a regular basis, so they are my people, and I treat them accordingly. They are always the first to know about any event going on in the library. They will always know firsthand who our author visitors will be. They get first dibs on the new books that arrive, and they get to preview the book fair the day before it’s open, and as a result, they help spread the amazing things happening in our library via word of mouth.


Courtney Stevens spoke to the book club in May 2017.

Lunch Bunch has a few special traditions. First, they get their own author visit each year. It’s like backstage access, if you will. I reserve the whole library just for this time for them and the author. Because they are among their peers, who share similar interests and passions, as opposed to being in the mix of the entire grade level or student body, the questions that get asked of the author are some of the most knock-your-socks-off questions you’ve ever heard, which allows the author to go a little deeper than they normally would because the audience can handle it. I love bringing in authors to speak to the whole student body, but I especially love it when it’s a book club only visit.

We indulge a little from time to time, too.  It’s lunch bunch, after all, so eating is one of our core principles. In December, we decorate cookies. I am not sure how this holiday tradition made it into our club, but they all love it. A local grocer gives me a deal on fresh baked sugar cookies, and the students bring icing and sprinkles. We have donuts as our allergy friendly treat. I work with students who can’t have either, and I bring in whatever it is they can have. For our final meeting, we make ice cream sundaes. I set up a station with ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, sprinkles, and cherries. This aspect gets trickier to navigate each year with new district policies, and it’s an aspect that can go, if need be. We’ll be sad to see our 2 treats per year go, but we’re a creative bunch, so we’ll figure it out.

Amidst all the fun, the thing I’m most proud of is I have kids who also desire to share the


This is what 3,000 donated books looks like!

love of reading. Therefore, we host a book drive at our school in order to benefit a charity of our choice. Nashville is fortunate to have Book ‘Em, which is a non-profit committed to getting books in the hands of children in our area. Book ‘Em has been our pick for many years. The school-wide book drive is held each year during our annual book fair. Students are encouraged to bring gently used books from home, or they can purchase a book from the fair to donate. The Lunch Bunch helps come up with the rewards students get for donating books, which can be anything from a certain amount of school cash, to what the top grade level wins, to what silly, but hilarious, stunt faculty will do if we meet our goal.


Faculty members post pie in the face since we met our book drive goal. 

We always meet our goal and then some. If I had to guess, my students have given approximately 10,000 books over the past decade.

My top 10 tips for a lunch bunch book club:

  1. Take attendance. I keep a spreadsheet of book club attendance. I print it out each meeting, and students check off their name. I update the spreadsheet after each meeting.
  2. Have extras supplies on hand. I have a basket of eating utensils, napkins, which cuts down on the back and forth to the cafeteria to pick up said forgotten items. Lunch is short. We don’t have time to waste.
  3. Table washers. Always enlist a few students to hang back and help wipe tables. Give them a late pass to class.
  4. Garbage management. Get a large garbage can from the cafeteria. Don’t let them toss their lunch in your library trash cans. Trust me on this one.
  5. Reward them for participating. We have school cash, aka tickets, and I give a ticket for attending, and I give 5 for each review they post.
  6. Talk time is important. I let them chat about whatever and eat for the first 10 minutes. Then, we meet for the remaining 20.
  7. Empower them. Let a couple of eager students plan a meeting. We’ve had some great book trivia Kahoots and games of Balderdash planned by students.
  8. Involve them. They are my go-to students when it comes time for the author visit. I enlist them to meet the author at the front office and escort him/her to the library. They are always called upon during author presentation q&a time.
  9. Fangirl with them. The book club members were huge Hamilton fans last year. We planned a Hamilton celebration after school one day. We had a sing-a-long, performances, and trivia. Related to our middle grade state book awards list? Well, no. But, this was important to them.
  10. Recognize them. During our end of the year student honors program, I give each participant a certificate, and I brag on them in front of their families and the student body for their accomplishments for growing as readers and for their service in giving and sharing their love of reading.

I am proud of this reading community. We have a pretty cool thing going on. If you find a way to create a casual community of readers in your school, I would encourage you to give it a shot. The readers will come to you, and this will not only help you get to know a core group of the coolest students in your building, but this will help you have your fingers on the pulse of the interests and preferences of readers.


I did this activity with my students following Mr. Schu’s visit to our school. It is 100% inspired by Mr. Schu and his slideshow of book talks. Also, I book talk in this format constantly, where I have a slide with the book on the screen as I share the book. My students read a lot, so why not have them share a book in this way? We have Google Apps for Education (GAFE) accounts at my school, so we have a great set of tech tools at the ready.

My students used Google Slides to access an assignment I posted in Google Classroom (Yes, I have all of the students in Google Classroom by reading teacher. I highly recommend it). After viewing a short slideshow of book talks I created, and after we talked about the important components of a book talk slide, I asked my students to create their own slide. They shared it with me, and then, I compiled the slides into a slideshow of student book recommendations. This is fun for students because it allows them to be creative, to show ownership of their learning, and share! This activity was a big hit, and I will definitely use this on a regular basis.

Here’s the template I gave them:

Book Talk Slide Template

Items needed:

  • Class set of computers, or students may use a personal device
  • A slideshow of great books you’ve previously created
  • A template of a book talk slide
  • 1 class period (My middle schoolers completed this easily in about 30 minutes or less.)


  • Create an assignment in Google Classroom (*I have each reading class already part of a Library Google Classroom).
    • If you do not have the students set-up in Google Classroom, you can totally still do this. Just have students share/ send their slide to you. They should give you editing capabilities if sharing via Google.
  • Book talk several books yourself with an accompanying slideshow. Ask students along the way to notice the various components of the each slide.
  • Create a template slide to show students the components of a Book Talk slide
    • TITLE-  font no larger than 30 pt., italicized.
    • AUTHOR- font no larger than 24 pt.
    • COVER IMAGE- use the library catalog, or if you’re comfortable, Google Images, or whatever you prefer
      • Have students include a small text box under the image to provide the name of the website where they found the image.
    • BOOK HOOK (3-5 sentences that spark interest in the book without giving anything away. No spoilers! Emphasize qualities of good writing. If students are having trouble getting started, have them begin with a “what if” statement.  Ex: What if you had to flee your home at a moment’s notice and all you’ve ever known, and you are captured and sent to a work camp in Siberia?
    • RECOMMENDED BY: My students use the name they go by, which should also include their last name.
    • Optional items to consider: genre, location in the library
  • Allow students to be creative with background, colors, fonts. Yes, you will end up with a slide that has pizza cat as the background for a book that has nothing to do with pizza or cats. Remind students that the goal is to represent the book they’re excited for others to read and the graphics should contribute positively and not be distracting. Even so, you’ll still get a pizza cat.
  • Sharing
    • If you created an assignment in Google Classroom, when a student “Turns In” the assignment, it will attach their slide. You can then find the slides from that class in your Drive.
    • If you are not using Google Classroom, but are still using Google (GAFE) have students share the slide with you, giving you editing permissions. You will locate these in your Drive- shared with me.
    • Here are a few samples from my students.
  • Evaluate
    • I used a checkbric to assess the following:
      • All components are represented: Title, Author, recommended by, image, and hook.
      • Hook sparks interest in the book without giving away the story.
      • Graphics complement the book (i.e.- no pizza cat)
  • Creating a slideshow of students book share slides
    • I had to copy each submitted/ shared slide and paste it into 1 presentation.
    • I could have created a presentation and then tweaked the sharing settings to allow anyone with the link to access and edit, which would have allowed the students to paste their slide directly into this presentation. However, this was a step too advanced for my students.
  • Post their slideshow!
    • I shared their show in Google Classroom, and I will rotate different classes’ slideshows on the library tv.

I tied this activity to one of our standards, which is the same across grades 6-8 in ELA in my district, which is: By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. 

My students did a fantastic job, and they put time and care into their work. I’ll be using and sharing many of their book talk slides for years to come!

View Book Talk with Google Slides in lesson plan format. 



summer-reading-logo-clear-background1Summer reading is optional for my district, which means that teachers cannot require students to read anything over the summer. I take that to mean I can strongly recommend they read, so I create a suggested summer reading list each year, and no, it doesn’t include reading anything published before my students were born. It’s my goal to assemble an exciting list with a wide variety of current reads that students would enjoy reading on their summer vacation.

First, I add titles that were popular during the previous school year. Having these on the list helps carry on the momentum and excitement that was created surrounding these particular books. They represent books I book talked (or Mr. Schu book talked when he came), or books written by our author visitors, or they were in our Top Ten most checked out list. If students didn’t have a chance to get their hands on the popular picks, then now’s the time.

My book club students enjoy helping give these genres unique names. So, we have a genre called, “Live, Love, Laugh, Be Inspired, which beats calling it, “Realistic Fiction.” I’ll never forget the year we had “A Good Cry” as a category on our list. Nothing says summer like a good cry! But, that’s what’s great! The students pitch in, they own it, and I am totally fine with it. Here are a few that fall under “Live, Love, Laugh, Be Inspired.”

Then, I add titles that give students a taste of the coming school year. I include books by next year’s visiting authors. I like the idea of students having the extra time to discover these books, outside of a classroom setting, which allows them to make their own connections to the author’s work. This always builds a grassroots following before our guest ever walks in the door.

I also included some books by authors who have books releasing during the summer. My students love books about animals, and author Kristin O’Donnell Tubb has visited our school previously, so I wanted them to have A Dog Like Daisy on their radar. Daisy will find a home in the hearts of readers at my school! Alan Gratz visited a couple of years ago, and his books have been staked out in our Top Ten Titles list ever since, and I knew they’d want to know about Refugee. I will start the year book talking both of these, and with some already getting their hands on these over the summer, I better have plenty of copies on hand in August, as word of mouth recommendations for great reads travels at light speed at my school.


vsba logoThe final component of my suggested summer reading list is our Volunteer State Book Award middle grade nominee list. A variety of genres are represented, and it’s a great mix of current reads. My Lunch Bunch Book Club focuses on these books, and our district’s middle school Battle of the Books uses titles from this list, so it really gives students who are interested in participating an opportunity to get a head’s start. Plus, these are solid choices that I direct all students to all year long. These will be book talked and shared widely throughout the coming school year. Any student who reads a minimum of 3 nominees is eligible to vote in the state book award election, so the inclusion of this list provides additional access and opportunity for students to participate in our VSBA program.

Last year, I asked surveyed students, and asked who read over the summer.  For it to be optional to read, it was great to see that 70.1% of my students chose to read. Our student population was 925 last year, so I take that as a win! I will continue to make this little suggested summer reading list, and hope that it continues to encourage my students to read over the summer, and one thing’s for sure, whether anyone reads from the list or not, my students and I will continue to come up with ridiculous genre labels, and for that reason alone, it’s worth a look.


Categories: Read

This was not your ordinary day of professional development. There were no forlorn faces with glazed eyes suffering through the day, a day of their lives they’d never get back. I’ve sat through my share of those professional development days in my 17 years in education. Designed to inspire and ignite, the Reading Summit was nothing short of magic with lots of smiles, laughter, and happiness to go around! I left with more energy, excitement, and ideas, which will make for a great 2017-2018 school year!

Create cool ways for students to share what they’re reading


I enjoyed learning from amazing ELA teacher Katherine Sokolowski!

  • Students take a selfie with the book they’re reading and post it to a Padlet. Many will look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I tell them this is what we’re doing. “Did she say selfie?” This has lots of possibilities. I can have them share just within a single class, within a grade level, or school-wide.
  • Students share a book that best represents them. It’s important that kids see themselves in the books they’re reading. I am thinking about doing this at the beginning of the year as a way for students to introduce themselves. Students post to a class Padlet.
  • Create a shared Padlet between ELA classes. I am doing Project LIT this year, which is a book club, and kids from all across the country are participating. I will be connecting my Project LIT book club with a book club in another state, and creating a Padlet which allows the students to share thoughts, ideas about the common book we’re reading. It’s like reading pen pals!

With Padlet, I’m a big fan of moderating the posts. It only takes me a few minutes to browse the pending posts and approve them.

Create a culture of reading


Colby Sharp and his principal, Sue Haney, shared loads of ideas for creating a culture of reading.

  • Give teachers books! I’m constantly giving kids books. They borrow arc’s I receive. I have lots of giveaways. I’ve even ordered books and had them shipped to students because they’ve been so excited about a certain book. I love giving my students books! But, I haven’t been great about giving books to the staff. I love how Principal Sue Haney shared how she asks the staff for a list of books they’d like to read and then gives them a book from their list. What a cool idea!


  • Little free library. Certainly not a new idea, but one I’d yet to entertain. My book club will 100% be all over sponsoring this. I like the idea of students having access to this especially during the summer. Can ours have fur like this?
  • IMG_4938

    Trippy newspaper stand I saw in Nashville.

    Celebrate reading holidays. This year, we’ll be participating in Global Read Aloud in conjunction with our Project LIT book club. I’m going to ask my Lunch Bunch book club to select some book birthdays and plan special events. We’re also going to get in our the fun of Poem in Your Pocket day. I also plan to schedule some Skypes for World Read Aloud Day.

Educate parents on the importance of independent reading

How do families encourage independent reading at home? I work in a community where the kids are shuffled from one practice, lesson, private coaching session, travel sport to the next. I had a parent comment recently, “My daughter doesn’t have time to read.” And, there it is. I’m totally guilty of assuming that because my students live in a community with excellent, easy access to books that their families take advantage of it. I’m realizing more and more that I have a lot of students who can read, but choose not to, because it doesn’t fit into their over scheduled lives.


I will be working on sharing information with families about creating a culture of independent reading in their homes.

Share books all the time

You can’t go to a Reading Summit and not be inspired by Mr. Schu and his passion for sharing books. It’s totally contagious. I think about the variety of ways I already share books, and then I challenge myself to think of even more ways to spread the love of books among students and staff. Watch out, kids, I’ll be coming at ya with even more book love!

For more takeaways, check out the Padlet I created, and consider registering for a Scholastic Reading Summit!


Last year, I had the opportunity to have a weekly Makerspace club. I’ll be honest. I had no idea what I was doing, but I will jump in with both feet and try anything. It went well, and I learned a lot along the way. I’ve recently had a couple of new librarians reach out and ask about how to start a club, so I thought I’d share how mine worked.

We offered stations each week, and the students would either choose a station or they’d continue working on something they’d previously started. Our stations involved 2 crafts and then 2 tech activities. We eventually scaled that back to 1 of each because more and more students chose to continue working on their project from the previous week. We had about 60 kids in our club.


Having a library assistant who is an admitted craft supply hoarder is a plus when starting a Makerspace. She was moving and didn’t have room for her supplies at the new house. She emptied her hoard and brought it to school where we sorted through it and organized it into small, labeled bins. You might not have the library assistant craft hoarder, but these are things that families could easily donate.

Also, if you are the librarian, I bet you have some weeded books or books damaged beyond repair. Save those! Unless you have some rule that says you have to do something specific with those, then save those for book page projects. Follow our Books and Crafts Pinterest board to see all of the ideas we have.

Makerspace Inventory: 

popsicle sticks

pom pom balls- all sizes

yarn, string

cheap wooden photo frames

craft glue- glue sticks, and liquid glue

mini glue guns and glue sticks


colored pencils, markers

pipe cleaners

scrapbooking paper


googly eyes

beads, sequins

jewelry supplies

modeling clay

stamps, stamp pads

Other (non-craft) supplies:


Books or websites bookmarked on origami, calligraphy, paper airplanes, sewing

Adult coloring pages (If you have a poster machine, you can enlarge the pages so that multiple kids can work on this together.)

Jigsaw puzzles


The PTO bought a MakerBot Replicator + 3D printer. A parent thought this was so cool that he donated some money for the filament, and then his company matched his donation. I didn’t ask for this, but he saw a write-up I’d shared about our new printer, and his son is a library helper and had already had a chance to use the printer, and apparently, he couldn’t stop talking about it at home. Score!

There were kids who worked on designs week after week until they were ready to print. We use SketchUp because our county has a license for it.

I also reserved a cart of Chrome Books each week for those working on coding. These students were largely self directed because they have some prior coding experience. However, they were actively teaching others in the club who were interested in learning.

Next year, I plan to incorporate robotics and work on adding more tech opportunities.

Students Supplied

A few students wanted to be in the Makerspace Club, but they wanted to work on their own projects week after week. They provided their own supplies.

One student only wanted to draw manga characters. She used her phone to pull up images of characters she likes and practiced drawing them every week. Another student wanted to learn how to knit. She brought her own yarn, knitting needles, and a pattern. She worked on knitting a scarf. Eventually, 2 more students joined her because they thought it was cool, and she started teaching them!

Makerspace Club in action

Students come in the library and pick up their unfinished projects to continue working, or they sit at one of the new craft project stations. Those working in tech, go to the tech station and are using Chrome Books. I have the attendance roster on the library front desk, and students check off their name as they arrive.

Our craft projects this year included: book page crafts (flower, hedgehog, etc.), decoupage picture frame, string art (we nailed nails in board in patterns and students wrapped string around the nails), cross stitch ornaments, jewelry, modeling clay.

Student supplied stations included: coloring, drawing, knitting, origami, calligraphy

Non-craft stations: Legos, jigsaw puzzles

Students are largely self-directed for the next 45 minutes. My library assistant and I visit each station multiple times to check progress, to help out with questions, etc. But, we are really not instructing or giving step-by-step directions. This is their time to learn, explore, and figure things out. Of course, we help further as needed, but this time is largely student directed.

It’s not quiet. There’s a healthy level of chatter, laughter as they work together. It’s messy.  They stop when our timer goes off and start the clean-up process, which takes about 10 minutes. It’s productive. Each week, it’s cool to see the progress being made on the various projects. The students are so proud when you notice the improvements or changes they’ve made.

Display and Share

If you have room in the library, create a display of items made in Makerspace so other students and faculty can see the results. Share photos and information through a variety of avenues so that the administration, PTO, and parents can see all of the exciting things going on each week. I made Vines each week and posted to our school’s social media.



Fidget spinners were all the rage, so we used the 3D printer to make our own. We remixed a file on Thingiverse and experimented with the bearings.


Someone will take the modeling clay and make poop. It’s middle school.










Categories: Make

Planning an author visit? It’s worth every extra second of your day to put this magical experience together for your students and your school. My colleague, Scot Smith, the librarian at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and I have hosted numerous authors over the years, and we may have missed our callings as event planners. We created an author visit checklist to help librarians and educators stay organized and hit all the details necessary to host a successful event. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Happy planning!

PDF: Author Visit Checklist