“The Christmas Visitor” by Anneliese Lussert

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Author: Anneliese Lussert

Illustrator: Loek Koopmans

Summary: When a man dressed in rags shows up at Simon’s door, Simon looks down on him and turns him away.  His ailing wife, Sarah, takes pity on the man and offers him what little she haa in hopes it would be of comfort to him.  In return, the strange visitor performs a miracle that heals Sarah.  Astounded, Simon realizes he might have missed out on something bigger and more important than himself.  Despite his discomfort, he follows the stranger on a journey and finds a treasure that transforms him forever.

Discussion Questions:2dfe5aeb4edc75940eab249e9abcd49c

  • Who is the visitor that shows up at Simon’s door?  Why does Simon turn him away?
  • Whose footprints/voice is Simon following?  Why does Simon decide to follow?
  • What does Simon have to give up in order to help the people he meets on his journey?  Do you think it is difficult for him to help others?
  • How does Simon’s character change from the beginning to the end of the story?  What lessons does he learn on his journey?
  • What connections can you draw in this story about you and and your relationship with Jesus/God?
  • Have you ever felt God calling you to do something or help someone?  Is it always easy to hear God and what he wants you to do?
  • Discuss a time when you heard God calling on you to do something or help.  How did you know God was talking to you?  Did the task require you to sacrifice something?  Did you follow his voice/footsteps and obey, even though it might’ve been difficult to do or required some sacrifices on your part?
  • What are some examples of sacrifices you might have to give in order to help others as God asks?  Why do you think God makes it hard sometimes for you to help others or do his will?
  • If doing God’s will is sometimes difficult, why do you think we should still do it?  What are some benefits of following God’s will, helping others, etc?
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21 Century Learner Toolbox: EasyBib.com

easybib_2One of my goals this year as GA’s media specialist is to equip students with various Web 2.0 tools and skills that they can apply to their everyday learning and information needs.  The idea is they will take what they learn in the computer lab/library and use it in other areas in and out of school — whether it’s writing a history paper, finishing a multimedia presentation for another teacher, or researching the latest tech toy to hit the market.

One of the tools we’ve been using in the Academy is EasyBib.com, a free website that helps students generate citations in MLA, APA, and Chicago formats for their bibliography page. By doing a little detective work (e.g. who’s the author of the information, when was this information published, etc.), students can easily and quickly cite anything from web pages and books to video recordings and magazine/database articles.  Citations can be saved when students sign in with their G+ accounts, and even shared with collaborators in a group project!  This is a relevant skill for the 21st century learner since we consistently remind students to practice the responsible and ethical use of information (AASL Learning Standards 1.3.3, 2.3.3, 3.1.6, 4.3.4).  By citing resources they have used during the research process, students not only give due credit to the sources of their information, but enable themselves (and their readers!) to access that information in the future.

Ideas for Your Library: Popsicle Stick Book Recommendations

Last night, as part of her stalling tactic, my 6th-grader pulled out a bunch of popsicle sticks and started drawing designs on the ends. They were so adorable we immediately tried to think of ways to use them. Kids could trade them with their friends, glue them together and make a mini message board or picture frame, use them as bookmarks, write inspirational messages on them and leave them for strangers to find, etc.

Then this morning as we worked on some more designs, I thought there’s gotta be a way we could use them in a library setting. After a few minutes, we had an Aha! moment. Why not use them as a way for kids to recommend books to one another?

You would need three small buckets from the dollar store — one for blank sticks, one for the done ones, and one for whatever drawing utensil you want the kids to use (we used my almost-20-year-old Creative Memories fine-tip pens, but you could give them fine-tip Sharpies or even colored pencils). You can have more buckets if you want to separate fiction from non-fiction, but in my opinion, the simpler the system, the more likely the kids will use it.

Whenever kids return a book they particularly loved, encourage them to design a book recommendation stick. They can draw a favorite character or an important symbol from the book, write down the title and the author, along with any other information you might want them to include — for example, their name, grade, or a call number if it’s non-fiction. When they are done, they can put the stick in the “done” bucket.

Now, when you are approached by kids that complain about not knowing what to read next, or think they have already read “every single book” in the library, you can point them to the recommendation bucket.

Below are the sticks that my daughter created…with three titles as examples.

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Of course, there are PLENTY of uses for popsicle sticks in the library (just search for “popsicle sticks” on Pinterest), but I thought this was cute to share since my daughter inspired it.  🙂

George, by Alex Gino

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Title: George
Author: Alex Gino
Published: August 2015 by Scholastic Press
ISBN: 9780545812542

Summary: George is a fourth-grader with a secret — though everyone sees her as a boy, she knows she’s not — she knows she’s a girl.  When her teacher announces that the fourth graders are going to put on a play for the school, George and her best friend Kelly see it as her chance to reveal the truth.  She auditions for the role of Charlotte, her favorite character from Charlotte’s Web, but is told she can’t be cast as the spider since it’s a girl’s part.  Will George find another way to show her true self — Melissa — to the world, and will they accept her for who she is, once and for all?

Thoughts: I picked up this book after a recent censorship controversy with Kate Messner‘s newly published The Seventh Wish. In the many letters and reactions that came out of that, I kept seeing the title George being referenced as a prime example of school library censorship.  My local library happened to have all three of its copies available, so I picked it up.  Of course, the topic of the book is so relevant because of recent debates over bathroom laws — whether transgender people should be able to use bathrooms slated for genders that they identify with, rather than born in — and more recently, the tragic targeting of the LGBTQ community in the Orlando mass shootings.

The fact that the main character is a fourth-grader — same as my younger daughter — also intrigued me.  As a mom, am I ready — or knowledgeable enough — to broach the subject matter?  I have always been open with my kids about sex, giving them age-appropriate information as questions come up.  So in a way, a conversation about transgender people is just an extension of our conversations about private parts, gender roles, homosexuality, etc.  We have already talked a bit about the bathroom law and how they felt about it, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock to either of them that there are people who believe they were born in the wrong bodies.

As a librarian, and as someone who believes strongly in intellectual freedom, would I circulate this book in my library even if a few parents protest?  Would I limit borrowing rights to older kids (grades 5 and up)?  Would I require parental consent before letting the kids read them?  (Place too many obstacles though, and the book might never end up circulating!)  Would I recommend this book as a classroom or school read-aloud?  (It certainly deals with a topic that is relevant and prominent right now.)  And how will I handle the parents/administrators who want to censor it — as they most likely will?  (These questions are hypothetical because I am not currently working in a school library, but surely they are the same questions my employed librarian friends grapple with everyday.)

A little bit about the actual book itself.  Overall, it was well-written and an easy/quick read, though it definitely wasn’t light.  I asked myself this key question: What would I do if I were the mom in the story?  George’s mom has reservations at first about her revelation but eventually agrees to let George be true to herself, one small step at a time.  Her acceptance happens quickly in the story, within a week or so of George’s appearance as Charlotte in the play.  I wonder whether real life parents could adjust so fast.  I don’t think I’d love my children any less just because they come out as gay or trans, etc., but I think anyone would go through some natural stages of questioning and denial (“Maybe this is just a phase?”) and sadness (for the pain and struggle the child would have to go through as a trans person in a very judgemental world) and even loss (loss of a child and what you have believed him or her to be), etc.  The book addresses this a little bit, but I would have loved to see more on the inner struggles that the mom must have gone through.  (I guess that’d be in a book based on her point of view, not George’s!)  The same thing could be said about George’s older brother’s reaction and that of her best friend, Kelly (who thinks it’s so “awesome” to finally have a best girl friend to hang out with since she’s grown up with only boys).  I wish Gino would’ve explored their feelings a little deeper, rather than jump straight into Scott’s question of whether George would transition all the way by “snipping” it off, and Kelly and George’s stereotypical girly makeover scene. There’s got to be more about being a girl than just getting to dress up like one.  (That said, that probably would be one of the most important things to a fourth-grader.)

Now that I’m done with the book, I am passing it to my 10-year-old daughter.  I told her to read it and come to me at any time if she comes across words or ideas she didn’t understand.  I am eagerly awaiting her thoughts and her review.  Chances are, she’ll have a totally different take than I did, but hopefully, she’ll come away with a little more understanding of the diversity that is all around her and become a little kinder and more compassionate as a result.  Hopefully, she’ll come to realize that it’s okay to be different, that everyone is in different ways…that it’s important, even if it’s difficult and scary, to accept yourself for who you are, to be brave enough to stand up for what you believe to be true…to BE YOURSELF.

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George resource page: http://www.alexgino.com/george/

Some discussion questions:

  • Why do you think the author chose to use the pronoun “she” when describing or referring to George?  Does this make a difference to the way you feel about the character?
  • How do you think George feels having to keep this big secret inside?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  Have you had to keep a secret about yourself — how does this make you feel?  Without revealing the secret (unless you feel comfortable), share or write about this experience and how you were affected.
  • George eventually reveals her secret to those she cares about.  How does this make her feel?  (Use text evidence to support your claims.)  What are some consequences of “hiding” vs. “being yourself”?
  • What do you think it takes to “be yourself”? What are some pros and cons of being who you are?  What are some other examples of “being yourself” that might be scary for kid?
  • Share or write about a time where you had to be brave enough to be who you are.  What made you finally do it, and what effects did the experience have on your life?
  • People reacted differently to George’s revelation. Discuss how they differed and possible reasons why (try to think about this from the person’s point of view).  How do you think you would react if you were each of these individuals?
    • Classmates
    • George’s mom and big brother
    • School teacher/principal
    • George’s best friend Kelly
    • Kelly’s dad and uncle
  • Discuss diversity, acceptance/tolerance, prejudice, bullying, compassion, etc.  Come up with real-life examples. What are some way your classroom/school/family/community could be more accepting of those who might be different from you?
  • Towards the end of the book, the author switches to the name Melissa when referring to George.  Why do you think he chose to do that?
  • Make a prediction about what George’s life might look like in the next year…the next five years…etc.

 

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter to My 21st-Century Learner in Action

Dear Ella,

Before you read the rest of the letter, please accept my apologies.  I am about to gush about you a little bit.  I know you hate being in the center of attention — good or bad — but I can’t help myself.  I am well aware that as parents, we can go a *teensy* bit overboard with our children and what you can do better/faster than all the other children.  I know this is kind of uncool, but rest assured that this letter is not about that.

This letter is about what you, a middle-schooler, can already do better at 12 than *I* can ever dream to do at almost-40, with all sorts of ease and nonchalance and almost-smug self-confidence (“What do you mean, where did I learn how to screencast?  I just did it.”).

The information scientist in me is jumping up and down with joy.  I want to shake you and say, “Wow.  Look at you and what you can do!  We learn about YOU in library school — a 21st century learner! — and here you are, in flesh and blood!”

See, some of us me included — balked at the idea that librarians now have to take time away from books and learn/teach emergent technologies and new ways to search for and use information.  We kind of pouted through having to adopt new standards for your generation, because we really loved our books and how they smelled and felt in our hands.

But the reality is, you and your 21st century learner friends are going to do your thing, whether we are there to guide you or not.  We can sulk all we want, but you are still going to find your own tools and ways to create, interact, and learn in this new landscape.  In fact, if we don’t adapt, you might end up being the ones teaching us.  (Actually, you’ve already taught me a number of times.)

You don’t have a lot of subscribers or views on your channel or website, but that should not be your goal anyway.  Your products are not perfect, but then again, you’re only 12, and you have created something tangible without ever opening up a software manual.  You use more likes and yeahs and basicallys than a “good speaker” might, but for someone who used to throw up the night before school presentations, who could not speak at more than a whisper, who hated talking to people in general — you sounded more comfortable and confident than I have ever dreamed you’d be capable of.  My media specialist friends and I have warned students about the dangers of the computer screen (“Online predators hide behind those!” “People are not always what they seemed online!”), but you have shown me that sometimes a screen offers the protection someone needs to show their best selves.  You might still be a little scared to talk in front of people face to face, but with a little bit of anonymity, you are learning to communicate your ideas and knowledge effectively.

And that’s big for us introverts.  No longer are you a passive recipient of information — you are an active contributor.  Know that you might be shy, but your creativity and ideas are important to the world.  Know that you might be quiet, but you can still share, participate, and collaborate.  Technology can be your door into community of like-minded thinkers, makers, and world-changers.

If you are already hosting your own YouTube channel and making fan vids and screencast tutorials at 12, imagine what you might be doing at 15, 18, 25….  I know that as your mom, I cannot wait to find out!

Love,

Your very proud (and humbled) librarian mama

P.S. I know you have heard my speech a million times about online predators, digital footprint, internet safety, etc. etc.  But PLEASE, do be careful when you are online!  This mama can’t lose you!


Let’s Talk About Abandonment…

It seems like there’s an unspoken rule in the library world about abandoning books, that even if you truly dislike a book, you finish it.  After all, that’s what we tell our students, our own children — once you commit to something, you finish…if you stick with it, you might end up enjoying it at the end…we persevere, we don’t quit.

So here’s the thing, in the last few months, I’ve abandoned a couple of books that everyone (professional reviews, book bloggers, friends, etc.) said that I “must read”.  I have abandoned them with dramatic THUNKS…like, literally, I have flung them on my floor in front of my impressionable kids and declared, “Oh, honey, that’s IT!  I am DONE with this!”  And so far, not only have the Library Gods not come and stripped me of my MLIS title, but precious time has been freed for me to take on other books.

Listen, I am not saying we should make abandoning books into a habit, and I am open to the idea of re-reading these books in the future — I might love them in a different time, a different mood.  But I realized it’s okay to give myself — and my kids — the permission to say “No, maybe later…or maybe not ever” to a book once in a while, even if they happened to be award-winners or classics or on someone’s best-sellers list.  Because at the end of the day, reading shouldn’t seem like a chore or something you dread.  It should bring you lots of joy and anticipation instead.

Without further ado, here are a couple of books I bravely left behind this year…don’t judge me.

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A Sad Goodbye

Today is my last day working as a guest media specialist at Hampton Elementary. I’ve been here since October, and I am both happy and ridiculously sad to leave. (Yep, there were tears this morning…but in my defense, I was reading aloud a story about a girl whose grandfather was dying and the chapter was called “A Sad Goodbye” and there was a student sobbing because she just recently lost her grandfather…so you see, it couldn’t be helped!)

Happy, because for so many months I’ve felt anxious and guilty about not being able to be my BEST when it comes to being Wife and Mom, and now that I am taking a break, a huge weight has been lifted and I feel like I can breathe again. (I feel like there’s at least one post about Mom Guilt forthcoming on this page….) Happy, because even though I will still be waking up at 5:30 to get my kids ready for school, I get to crawl back in bed, or at least back to the couch, and spend some alone time with my coffee, and eventually, my 4th grader, who is always extra snuggly in the morning. Happy, because I get to be there when my 6th grader gets dropped off at 2:30. I get to be there to ask her about her day when all the details are still fresh and she hasn’t become too distracted by her homework or devices to resort to those deeply unsatisfying one- or two-word answers or grunts. I feel like I haven’t been there for her the way I should’ve been, in this pivotal year of her young life. Gosh, when did she become a sixth grader? A MIDDLE SCHOOLER!?! I am in awe that she’s survived — no, excelled — thus far…without/in spite of me.

Happy, because I will finally have some time — even if it’s just an hour or two during the day — to do something completely selfish…I miss classes at the Y, I miss mid-day naps (even if I rarely take them), I miss Hulu/Netflix binges, I miss teas and lunches with my friends! I haven’t had the chance to do any of this for a while…probably not since last January, when my library internships/MLIS exams started to roll in. I am going to brush away that ever-present guilty feeling and say YES to all these things, at least for the next couple of weeks! I am going to read books for GROWN-UPS!!! And who am I kidding — I will be reading lots of everything else too.

Happy, because I will now have time to meet up with hubby for lunch dates, and be awake enough at the end of the day to spend time with him and TALK to him, instead of falling asleep with the girls every day at 9:30…okay, sometimes even earlier. I am sure he’ll be happy about this too.

But there’s a lot of sad too. Sad, because I do LOVE my work! I love the books and the cataloging and the teaching and the minutia of shelving and shelf-reading (…okay, maybe not that). I love gushing about my favorite authors and hearing students gush about theirs too.

Sad, because I am secretly afraid that this is it…that I will have gotten a small taste of what its like to feel 100% fulfilled and passionate and sure that I am IN THE RIGHT PLACE, only to never have it again.

Sad, because I’ve made friends at work, with dedicated teachers, paraprofessionals, and parent volunteers that I see day in and day out, tirelessly helping other people’s children succeed. How they continue to do this everyday, despite all the frustrations and drama that come with the job, amazes and inspires me. Seriously y’all, next time you see your child’s teacher, give them a big hug or a quick thank you — it’ll make their day no matter how small you think your gesture is.

Sad, most of all, because I will miss the students…yes, even the ones that struggle to sit still or follow directions. I will miss especially the ones who struggle, but who try really hard anyway. Never underestimate those quiet kids, or the ones who challenge your every word, or the ELL kids, or the ones that need various accommodations, or the ones who question everything you say, every book you recommend. Don’t dismiss those kids, because I can honestly say that not a day went by when I was not surprised by one of them or when I didn’t learn from them. They’ve taught me patience, grace, and forgiveness, and I look at myself and my own daughters differently because of them. Some days were truly difficult (just ask my husband and kids), but I would return in a heartbeat.

For now, though, it’s time to take off. I am sad, but I have an armful of cards and flowers that the kids and staff have given me to remind me of the good times here. Already I have plans to come back in a few weeks, but not before I’ve had a proper marathon of PJs, Downton Abbey, and tea.