Thursday, November 12, 2015

Creating Web-Enhanced Books: Paper Towns and Number the Stars

In my San Jose State University INFO 237 "School Library Media Materials" course, I have been working on a digital curation project, and this has resulted in me developing what I am calling: web-enhanced books.
The Assignment In a Nutshell: Find digital visual sources - including videos, maps, and information graphics - to support two books. Create QR codes for the resources that can be attached to the books.
When tackling this project, I wanted to create a project that I can imagine students utilizing in my current library. For this reason, I chose to focus on two books from my Subject Area Blog Book Review series that I think they might most likely read: Paper Towns and Number the Stars. My next challenge was to consider how students might realistically use the QR codes. While I have seen people post QR codes on displays, I have never seen anyone actually scan them. With this in mind, my assumption is that students might be more likely to use the QR codes if they use them within a context of having more time. This is what got me thinking about finding a way for students to use the codes when they check out a book. Besides having more time, they will also be more invested interest-wise in following the links.

Another key factor that shaped my approach to presenting the QR codes was my selection of Paper Towns. Since the book is an unfolding mystery, I wanted to find a way for students to use the QR codes as the story progressed rather than simply at the beginning or at the very end. In order for this to work, I came up with a system of adding sticky page markers to the print book that serve as alerts to the reader.

When encountering a page marker, the reader will know that there is QR code to scan for this section of the text. Corresponding QR codes, created using a QR Code Generator, may be compiled on a laminated card that comes with the book and that students may use as a bookmark. Another feature that I added is inclusion of shortened URLs that may be used instead since not all users may be able or want to use QR codes. To shorten URLs, I used Bitly since it allows for customizing links so that they are easier to type.

The QR Code Bookmark Cards may be printed back-to-back, cut to the size 5” x 9”, and then laminated. When the book is on display, the card can be slipped inside the front cover of the book so that the label on the top of the card is visible: “THIS BOOK IS WEB-ENHANCED.” So far, I have showed a few students these books, and one commented: “I wish all books had this!” She is now planning to read the web-enhanced version of Paper Towns.

While I think and hope that students may enjoy reading these web-enhanced books, I also believe that there is great potential for students to design their own web-enhanced experiences as readers that may then be shared with others. These two books will hopefully serve as samples for this type of assignment, which would be a great alternative to the traditional book report since curating the resources requires close attention to and interaction with the text.

Below are links to the web-enhancing QR code cards for Paper Towns and Number the Stars. Please feel free to use, adapt, and share.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

INFO 237 Subject Area Blog Book Reviews

In San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course, I have been learning about evaluating text complexity by taking into consideration: (1) quantitative measures, (2) qualitative measures, and (3) the context of the reader and task at hand.

To practice applying these skills, I have reviewed a range of nine different texts as part of a "Subject Area Blog" assignment. Below are individual links to the series of reviews.

Book Review: Infamy (Nonfiction Historical Work)

Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II
By Richard Reeves
ISBN: 9780805094084
April 2015
368 pages

Bibliographic Information
Reeves, R. (2015). Infamy: The shocking story of the Japanese American internment in World War II. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Plot Description
Infamy recounts the history of Japanese Americans during the World War II era, including historical events leading up to the internment camps, participation of the 442nd infantry regiment, and eventual reintegration into general society. Notable historian Reeves includes a mix of information from government and military communications and actions down to personal accounts of internees. As described further in the Epilogue, his intention is not only to relate events that unfolded in the past, but to use this historical precedent to inform current and future decisions and actions. Reeves parallels these experiences with present day prejudices toward Hispanic and Middle Eastern people in the United States, and he challenges readers to consider how to avoid repeating past mistakes caused by war hysteria and fear.

Quantitative Reading Level
Calculated by running a text excerpt through
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 12.8
  • Gunning-Fog Score : 13.2
  • Coleman-Liau Index: 12.8
  • SMOG Index: 11.8
  • Automated Readability Index: 12.4
  • Average Grade Level: 12.6

Qualitative Reading Analysis (High for Grades 11-12)
The organization of writing is straightforward with this book, and there is conventional language and sentence structure throughout. Nevertheless, since this is a topic that many students may be unfamiliar with, the knowledge demands are high. Comprehension of the text calls upon extensive subject-specific knowledge regarding World War II in terms of government actions and military history. It may also be unfamiliar for some students to follow the Japanese names and terminology used. Furthermore, the book is chunked with a different focus in each chapter. Some chapters cover high level communications and actions, whereas others share everyday, personal accounts that may be easier for students to understand. Thus, teachers may alternatively consider assigning sections of the book to be read rather than having students read the book in its entirety.

Content Areas
  • History-Social Science (World War II, Japanese American Internment, Military History, Government, Political Science)

Content Area Standards

Curriculum Suggestions
  • Japanese American Citizens League Educational Resources - The organization provides rich resources including comprehensive curriculum guides such as Power of Words, which addresses the concept of euphemisms for further application. Links to primary documents such as the Loyalty Questionnaire could be used with students filling out the questionnaire themselves. There are also other resources linked worth investigating such as Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project.
  • Ansel Adam's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar (Library of Congress) - Paired with the account of Ansel Adam's visit to Manzanar (pages 179-180 of Infamy), students may review the photographs archived by the Library of Congress. What was Adams able to capture? How well do you think the photographs reflect and represent everyday life in the camps? Students may connect this with general media literacy to consider how images in social media and the news are curated to portray a certain reality.
  • Japanese American National Museum Clara Breed Collection - Clara Breed's relationship with internees is mentioned throughout the book. Students may learn more about Breed by reading letters archived online through the Japanese American National Museum. Working in pairs, students may each adopt a persona, one of Breed and one of an internee. They may then write their own series of letters based on historical facts cited from the book. 
  • Farewell to Manzanar - Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, author of Farewell to Manzanar, is cited throughout the book. Students may pair reading of Infamy with reading Farewell to Manzanar. How do the different styles of writing portray the experience in different ways? What are the strengths of each approach?
  • Muslim Americans Today - Students may connect depictions of Muslim Americans in present day media with primary source materials regarding Japanese Americans during World War II. What similarities exist between World War II and recent wars with the Middle East? Based on lessons learned regarding the internment of Japanese Americans, how might Americans balance national security concerns with fair treatment of all of its citizens? Some articles related to this topic:

Subjects and Themes
  • World War II
  • National Security
  • Racism and Prejudice
  • Learning from History

Links to Supporting Digital Content

Personal Thoughts
My selection of Infamy was a personal one since my family members interned at the Poston and Jerome concentration camps during World War II. As Reeves mentions in the book, it is common that many Japanese Americans did not talk about their experiences afterward, and that has been the case in my family. I have learned little from my grandparents and great-grandparents over the years (read my blog posting regarding information I recently uncovered), and so I am always interested to learn more from other accounts. While I have read various books on the topic over the years, I found it interesting - although emotionally difficult - to read the quoted statements from various politicians and the media during that time period. I was surprised that there was such a large amount of text dedicated to military history, although it did help broaden the context. Another part of the history that was richly expanded for me were in the final sections. Often emphasis is placed on events leading up to incarceration and the camps themselves, but I had never read so much about the aftermath, including accounts of those who did not want to leave the camps and those who committed suicide. Also, if a teacher does have students only read excerpts, the Epilogue should definitely be included since it is what ties the book to the Civil Rights movement and also present day events, which is what makes the book such a timely and relevant read.

Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "non-fiction historical work (memoir or narrative non-fiction)" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book Review: Number the Stars (Historical Fiction Novel for Secondary Students)

Number the Stars
By Lois Lowry
April 1989
137 pages

Bibliographic Information
Lowry, L. (1989). Number the stars. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

Plot Description
Number the Stars follows the story of ten-year-old Annemarie, a young Danish girl who personally experiences the impact of the German occupation of Denmark during World War II. Although Annemarie only knows about the resistance movement through overhearing her adult family members' conversations, she becomes bravely involved with helping to hide her Jewish best friend Ellen. Annemarie questions what it means to have courage as she encounters German soldiers on multiple occasions, leading up to the climax of aiding in Ellen's family's escape by boat to Sweden. The story sheds light on how ordinary people, even a very young girl, can make a difference in other people's lives.

Quantitative Reading Level
Lexile: 670L
ATOS: 4.5

Qualitative Reading Analysis (Medium for Grades 5-7)
Both the Lexile and ATOS quantitative reading levels suggest an upper elementary to middle school audience for the book, and the text matches this same audience qualitatively as well. The text structure is straightforward and language used is very accessible in terms of vocabulary and sentence construction. The most complexity introduced qualitatively is with regard to the knowledge demands posed by the subject matter related to World War II and the Holocaust. There is emotional content related to fear and sadness, although it is positioned within the scope of bravery and hope. Still, it would be helpful for teachers to ensure that students have contextual knowledge about World War II and that they openly address issues related to war and death that are brought up in the book.

Content Areas
  • History-Social Science (World War II, Holocaust)
  • English Language Arts (historical fiction)

Content Area Standards

Curriculum Suggestions
  • Study Guide (The Glencoe Literature Library) - This study guide provides additional background information, comprehension questions, and suggested discussion questions.
  • World War II and the Holocaust - Students may identify details from the story and conduct further research. For instance, the Afterword by the author mentions details from the book that are tied to historical fact. Students may select some of these details (e.g., King Christian X, Danish sinking of ships in Copenhagen harbor in 1943, etc.) to research further.
  • Perspective - Since the story is largely told from the perspective of Annemarie, students may select another character from the story and write an account from the other character's perspective. For instance, how does Ellen feel throughout this whole ordeal? What is going through Kirsti's head? What about Annemarie's mother, father, and uncle or Ellen's parents?

Subjects and Themes
  • World War II
  • Denmark and German occupation
  • Courage and resistance
  • Friendship


Links to Supporting Digital Content

Personal Thoughts
I chose to read this book for several reasons. First, I thought it would be a good pairing with my recent reading of the graphic novel Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocasut. These two books could in fact be good to read together since they both involve the hiding of Jewish children in German occupied countries during World War II. Second, I had never read this book, but I have noticed in this past year that students have had renewed interest in Lois Lowry thanks to the 2014 movie release of The Giver. Also, in 2014, Number the Stars celebrated its 25th anniversary and was re-released, bringing it more freshly back onto readers' radars. Reading the book, I can understand why it was recognized with a Newbery Medal. The book is simple to comprehend, yet gracefully brings to life a serious topic in a way that does not minimize the horror, but simultaneously manages to highlight the potential for hope in humanity. I enjoyed my reading, and plan to recommend it to students who are rediscovering Lowry and also to those who are looking to read more World War II narratives.

Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "historical fiction novel (chapter book, middle or high school)" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.

Book Review: The Pluto Files (Science Title for Secondary)

The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet
By Neil deGrasse Tyson
ISBN: 9780393065206
January 2009
194 pages

Bibliographic Information
deGrasse Tyson, N. (2009). The Pluto files: The rise and fall of America's favorite planet. New York: W. W. Norton.

Plot Description
The Pluto Files, written by the now popularly famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson details the evolving understanding of Pluto, from its initial discovery in 1930 to its present day classification as a dwarf planet. Although deGrasse Tyson has a highly technical background, he skillfully presents information in an interesting and accessible way, mixing scientific details within historical and social contexts. Readers may enjoy getting a behind-the-scenes look at what was going on in the midst of the controversy, including following discussions among the astrophysicist community, as well as reading angry letters that deGrasse Tyson received from everyday, devout Pluto-philes. In the end, readers will walk away with a comprehensive and multifaceted understanding of how scientific knowledge is developed not only through discovery, but also collaborative social processes and conversation.

Quantitative Reading Level
Lexile: NC1300L

Qualitative Reading Analysis (High for Grades 10-12)
The quantitative reading level of the book is relatively complex, and in recognition of this, the Lexile value is prefaced with a Non-Conforming (NC) code since the measure is "markedly higher than is typical for the publisher's intended audience or designated developmental level of the book" (source). From a qualitative standpoint, there are features that help make the text more accessible for a high school audience. For instance, there are engaging graphics included throughout the text, the text structure itself is straightforward, and the author utilizes conversational language and humor that is easy to relate to. Still, for the average high school reader, the knowledge demands are high due to the discipline-specific vocabulary and subject matter knowledge related to science, as well as history. Thus, it may be necessary for teachers to scaffold reading of the book with additional resources and discussion points.

Content Areas
  • Science (astronomy, classification systems)
  • History-Social Science (knowledge construction)
  • English Language Arts (categorization, power of language)

Content Area Standards

Curriculum Suggestions
  • Curriculum Guide - Science educator Mrs. Barnett Dreyfuss has shared this high quality online curriculum resource, which includes presentation slides to support various book chapters, vocabulary lists, and links to many more related activities.
  • Debate - Students may time travel to 2006 and immerse themselves in the controversy regarding Pluto's planethood. Teams may prepare arguments and counterarguments to inform a re-enactment of the International Astronomical Union's decision process.
  • Historical Perspective - Students may be divided into groups, and each group may be assigned a different time period. Depending on the time period, students may create an informational report or presentation about Pluto based on the accepted scientific understanding of that particular era. Comparison between the different representations will reflect the way that knowledge is constructed and evolves.

Subjects and Themes
  • Astronomy, solar system, and planets
  • Classification systems
  • Knowledge construction


Links to Supporting Digital Content

Personal Thoughts
I was inspired to read this secondary level book related to astronomy as an interesting pairing with my recent review of the elementary-level Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space. In my own school library, most of the astronomy books all pre-date the reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet. Thus, while my budget prevents me from purchasing a large quantity of newer books for this section, at least investing in this title can address the curiosity of students who want to learn more current information about Pluto in particular and beyond what is simply available for free on the Internet. I enjoyed the interesting mix of science, history, and social commentary. Plus, I think this is a great read since it challenges students to think about how our understanding of the universe can change over time, which can prompt some powerful discussions about the construction of knowledge and the importance of ongoing inquiry and discovery.

Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "science title for high school (narrative non-fiction, or appropriate title)" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Book Review: The Great Gatsby & Paper Towns (Classic & Contemporary Novel Pairing)

The Great Gatsby (Classic Novel)
Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald
April 1925
192 pages

Paper Towns (Contemporary Novel)
Written by John Green
October 2008
305 pages

Bibliographic Information
Fitzgerald, F. S. (1925). The great Gatsby. New York: Scribner.

Green, J. (2008). Paper towns. New York: Dutton Books.

Plot Description
The Great Gatsby
In this classic American novel, the narrator Nick Carraway moves to New York from the Midwest, becoming next door neighbor to the infamous Jay Gatsby. Throughout the course of the story, Nick gains insight into who the real Jay Gatsby is, breaking through speculated myths and gossip created by Gatsby himself and others. He must navigate through layers of deception, including rampant infidelity, shallow parties with raucous intoxication, questionable business dealings, and insincere friendships. As Nick uncovers more revelations, he learns that what is at first admired or dreamed about can become inevitably imperfect and fatally flawed when viewed and experienced up close. Still, in the end, Nick at least retains agency to choose to stand up for what he believes in, even as others around him fail to do so.

Paper Towns
The story follows the main protagonist Quentin, or "Q" and his understanding of next door neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman. Q and Margo had been forever bonded by a childhood experience of finding a dead man's body at a playground. Although, when the present action takes place, the duo are about to graduate from high school, and Q has been mostly admiring Margo from a distance since they now belong to different social crowds. Q is thus caught off guard when Margo pulls him into an all night adventure and then disappears the very next morning. For the rest of the book, Q pieces together mystery clues as he and a few friends search for Margo. Through this process, though, more than even learning about Margo, Q gains deeper insight about himself.

Quantitative Reading Level
The Great Gatsby
Lexile: 1070L
ATOS: 7.3

Paper Towns
Lexile: 850L
ATOS: 5.4

Qualitative Reading Analysis
The Great Gatsby (High for Grades 10-12)
Fitzergerald is celebrated for his lyrical writing, and particularly once immersed in the story, readers may appreciate his use of language. For contemporary readers, though, the language may be challenging it since may seem quite foreign in terms of word choices and sentence structure. Also, for the typical high school audience, the knowledge demands are complex since it may be difficult to relate to middle aged, social elites who lived during the 1920s. To provide scaffolding, a teacher may want ensure that students are familiar with history about the Roaring Twenties and its juxtaposition between World War I and the Great Depression. Additionally, while the ATOS level is only 7.3, parents may be concerned middle school students reading the book due to the subject matter, which involves alcohol use, marital infidelity, a gruesome automobile accident, and murder. Understanding the meaning of the book also relies heavily upon decoding themes beyond simple comprehension of plot elements. Fitzgerald uses a great deal of symbolism and motifs that may require guidance to identify and interpret.

Paper Towns (Medium for Grades 10-12)
Although the quantitative ATOS level is only 5.4, the book is qualitatively geared toward an older, teen audience. The main characters are graduating seniors in high school, and their activities and language reflect this older age. While the Lexile rating of 850L more closely matches the qualitative level, even some middle school parents and educators may be wary of students reading the book due to the more mature content, including the topic of suicide. Beyond appropriateness, there are rich opportunities for more complex textual analysis by older audiences. The story calls upon higher knowledge demands with references to literature from Walt Whitman, Charles Dickinson, Herman Melville, and more. There are also cultural references that could be explored to provide greater meaning, including those to Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Woodstock. Furthermore, the themes of self-identity, self-representation, and levels of understanding oneself and others would definitely resonate well with a high school audience.

Content Areas
  • English Language Arts (fictional narrative, themes, symbolism, geographical motifs comparative analysis)
  • The Great Gatsby: History-Social Science (1920s, economics and social class, American Dream, capitalism, migration)
  • Paper Towns: English Language Arts (allusion, mystery and foreshadowing)

Content Area Standards
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.2: Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.3: Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.5: Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.9: Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.
  • History-Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools > 11.5 > Students analyze the major political, social, economic, technological, and cultural developments of the 1920s. 

Curriculum Suggestions
  • Compare and Contrast - When both books are read together, students may compare and contrast the two books. For instance, with The Great Gatsby, they can look at the Roaring Twenties and subsequent Great Depression and then pair this with the pseudovisions from Paper Towns. What are similarities and differences that can be drawn between the books' themes? Other areas that may be compared include identifying character pairs from each novel that are similar, the idea of how we come to know people, and the role of setting.
  • Adaptations - Since both books have been adapted into feature films, students could watch the films and then discuss the adaptations. How were the novels adapted? What changes were made, and why might these decisions have been made?
  • False Identity and Feminism Mini Unit (Young Adult Literature Wiki by English Education Students at Grand Valley State University) - Includes discussion questions and links to additional resources.
Great Gatsby
  • Fiction as Commentary - What messages may be derived from reading the book with regard to the 1920s? With Fitzgerald, it is also interesting to research his personal life in order to gain insight into his perspective as an author. Students may conduct research about Fitzgerald in order to suggest further interpretations regarding commentary that comes across in the novel.
  • Color Symbolism - Students may trace the use of color throughout the book, tracing how the colors reflect the situations, illustrating the mood or underlying feelings. Then, students may practice applying this to their own creative writing, incorporating the use of color to help illustrate themes in their own personal stories.
Paper Towns
  • Literary and Cultural References - Have students research references from the book. For instance, students may read the prominently featured Walt Whitman poem "Leaves of Grass," locate the Woodie Guthrie photo, or learn more about the history of fake towns like Agloe. Upon deepening their understanding of these references, students may suggest how this additional information deepens their understanding of the text and themes.
  • Wikipedia - Many students are familiar with the basic functionality of Wikipedia, but may not have a deeper understanding of what they can learn by viewing the revision history and discussion pages. The Omnictionary featured in the book opens up this discussion so that students may look into the inner workings of how knowledge is collaboratively formed. This can touch upon the idea of authority, accuracy, and participatory communities.

Subjects and Themes
  • Symbolism and allusion
  • Personal identity and relationships
  • Internal versus external representations
  • Traveling, searching, and seeking
  • Economic growth and decay
  • Illusions and disillusionment
  • Perspective and understanding

Achievements and Awards

Great Gatsby
Paper Towns

Links to Supporting Digital Content

The Great Gatsby
Paper Towns

Personal Thoughts
I give credit to a list I found on the web that suggested pairing the two novels. I hadn't read The Great Gatsby since I was in high school, now over twenty years ago; and, while I have read some other John Green novels, I had not yet read Paper Towns. Thus, I thought this was a good opportunity to read a YA novel that I'm sure my students will be familiar with since there was a recent movie adaptation, and to also brush up on an assigned novel that students read in class each year. I read Paper Towns first, and like with Green's other novels, I was drawn in right away. It was a quick read, but I liked that it touched upon deeper themes such as how we have so many different versions of our selves that we project and experience. With that in mind, reading The Great Gatsby was an enjoyable follow-up. In fact, I would suggest reading the novels in this order if assigning both. Since The Great Gatsby is likely to be less accessible, it is helpful for students to be pulled in by the echoed themes and other connections.

Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "classic/contemporary novel pairing for middle school or high school" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book Review: Hi, Koo! (Poetry for Primary Students)

Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons
By Jon J. Muth
ISBN: 9780545166683
February 2014
32 pages

Bibliographic Information
Muth, J. J. (2014). Hi, Koo!: A year of seasons. New York: Scholastic Press.

Plot Description
With a Haiku poem and accompanying illustration on each page, the reader follows the adorable panda Koo through a full calendar year. With the book divided into four parts based on the seasons, readers are treated to glimpses of captured moments. Starting in the fall, Koo observes falling leaves and experiences the cooling temperature. Koo encounters snow in the winter, enjoys new signs of life in the spring, and plays in the summer. Particularly when read along with the introductory Author's Note, this is a great introduction to Haiku and how it functions "like an instant captured in words."

Quantitative Reading Level
ATOS: 2.3

Qualitative Reading Analysis (Medium for Grades 2-3)
The quantitative ATOS rating of 2.3 seems to match well with the qualitative complexity of the text. Language features such as vocabulary should be mostly familiar, and in fact, there is little text in general. Furthermore, while some readers may find it challenging that the poems are not written using traditional sentence structure, luckily the illustrations are helpful when it comes to constructing meaning. Still, the book extends some complexity through the use of figurative language. Phrases that may prompt deeper discussion include "my crown a gift from a snowy branch." Students may deduce what this means and how it functions differently from simply saying that snow fell from a tree onto Koo's head. There are also higher level literary devices used such as personification (e.g., "shadows climbing trees") and metaphor (e.g., fireflies are compared to "blinking stars").

Content Areas
  • English Language Arts (poetry)
  • Art (visual storytelling)
  • Science (seasons and weather)

Content Area Standards

Curriculum Suggestions
  • Inference - The teacher may share a single Haiku from the book without providing context regarding what season section it has come from. Students may then propose what season they believe it belongs in and argue why they have come to this conclusion.
  • Imagery - Either before or after reading the book, students may create their own illustrations based solely on text from the book. Afterward, comparisons may be made regarding the different ways that text may be interpreted and imagined.
  • Literary Forms - To compare the way that Haiku conveys meaning versus a narrative text, students may use artwork from the book and write a short story about the scene. Then, students may compare and contrast short story and poem versions.
  • Creative Writing - Students may identify moments from their own lives, writing their own Haiku poems and creating accompanying illustrations.. The teacher may provide suggestions such as selecting a favorite photograph as a starting point. 

Subjects and Themes
  • Nature and cycles
  • Seasons and weather
  • Friendship and play
  • Kinship with animals


Links to Supporting Digital Content
Personal Thoughts
I love Muth's artwork, and think that the poems work perfectly in partnership with the illustrations. I appreciate that there are some light moments of joy captured such as when Koo enjoys some "warm cookies on a cold day," but also deeper moments such as when he kills a bug and afterward feels "alone and Sad [sic]." It can be difficult to find poetry books for children that provide such thoughtful reflections without relying on catchy rhyming schemes. This is one that I highly recommend for young children, but also as a creative model for older students, as well.

Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "poetry for youth for K-5 students" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review: Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space (Science Picture Book)

Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space
Written by Dr. Dominic Walliman
Designed and illustrated by Ben Newman
ISBN: 9781909263079
November 2013
64 pages

Bibliographic Information
Walliman, D., & Newman, B. (2013). Professor Astro Cat's frontiers of space. London: Flying Eye Books.

Plot Description
Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space is a graphically pleasing and content dense overview of many space-related concepts, from the beginning of the universe, through the space race, and to the potential for humans living in space in the future. The fictional cartoon character Astro Cat takes the reader through a basic overview of concepts, presenting an assortment of facts in infographics-style, two-page spreads. This is not a comprehensive guide to astronomy, but, given its length, provides a decent overview, introducing readers to a number of facts about stars, our solar system's planets, space exploration, and more.

Quantitative Reading Level
Follett Reading Level: 6.6

Qualitative Reading Analysis (High for Grades 2-3)
While this book may be categorized as a picture book, the qualitative text complexity is high, as more consistent with the sixth grade equivalent quantitative reading level. The language features are complex with abundant subject-specific vocabulary, although the use of illustrations may aid readers with comprehension. The knowledge demands in terms of concepts covered are also higher level with references building upon a basic understanding of mathematical number sense (e.g., formula for calculating your age on Mars), geography (e.g., moon's surface compared with the size of Africa), and other subject content. Furthermore, the text structure with nonlinear presentation of content may be challenging for some readers. Rather than reading a straightforward narrative, readers must skip from one text blurb to the next and also switch between reading explanations in paragraph form and visual diagrams.

Content Areas
  • Science (astronomy)
  • Math (measurement, scale, and proportion)
  • History-Social Science (space race)
  • Art (graphic design)

Content Area Standards

Curriculum Suggestions
  • Astronomy - Students may identify details from the book and conduct further research to find correlating scientific evidence. For instance, they may locate primary source photographs that mirror artwork and identify facts that directly support claims from the text.
  • Visual and graphic design - Students may study the illustrations and text layout (e.g., use of diagrams) to determine how it affects the conveying of information. They may then apply these concepts to create their own infographic.

Subjects and Themes
  • Astronomy
    • Big Bang Theory
    • Stars and galaxies
    • Sun and solar system
    • Planets and moons
    • Space travel and satellites
    • Constellations and telescopes
    • Life on other planets
  • Size and scale
  • Time and space

Links to Supporting Digital Content

Personal Thoughts
The book reminds me of a DK Eyewitness guide, but instead of being illustrated with photographs, the graphics are highly stylized cartoon designs. A Kirkus Review suggests some caution since "digestible bursts of information are generally accurate," but I feel that language cited as being potentially "misleading" could be attributed to the author's attempts at making the information more accessible to a young audience. I was personally drawn into the design elements and found the facts intriguing enough to seek out more information independently. For instance, I loved nuggets such as how fire burns spherically in space. I think that students may similarly find the book to be a good springboard for further investigation and inquiry. Plus, just the design sensibility alone makes it worth checking out.

Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "science picture book" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.

Book Review: Hidden (Historical Picture Book)

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust
Written by Loic Dauvillier
Illustrated by Marc Lizano
Color by Greg Salsedo
Translated by Alexis Siegel
ISBN: 9781596438736
April 2014
80 pages

Bibliographic Information
Dauvillier, L., Lizano, M., & Salcedo, G. (2014). Hidden: A child's story of the Holocaust. New York: First Second.

Plot Description
Hidden is a graphic novel about a young girl Elsa and her grandmother Dounia, who shares her story of being a Jewish child in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The majority of the book is set in Dounia's flashback, which recounts how she was separated from her parents and forced to hide her Jewish identity in order to remain safe. Interspersed in the telling of Dounia's childhood story are present day sequences that feature conversational exchanges between Elsa and her grandmother. Elsa asks questions and shares comments that may mirror thoughts of readers. Also, as Elsa is about the same age as Dounia was in the 1940s, the reader may directly compare and contrast the two characters, relating to and developing greater empathy for Dounia.

Quantitative Reading Level
Lexile: GN300L
ATOS: 2.8

Qualitative Reading Analysis (High for Grades 2-3)
While the quantitative ATOS rating indicates that the text difficulty may be accessible for students with about a third grade equivalent reading level, the knowledge demands are complex since the subject matter of World War II and the Holocaust may be unfamiliar to children at this age. While the book could at least be discussed in terms of general discrimination, the grave implications of the Holocaust may be considered qualitatively advanced. Some details that may be of concern to parents include an incident when Dounia's Jewish friend was forced to pull down his pants to show his circumcised penis to classmates. While this is not pictured graphically, it is described. Also, at the end of the book, Dounia is reunited with her mother, but never sees her father again, a plot element that lends itself to discussion regarding genocide. Thus, even though the quantitative level of the text may be lower, this book could be considered to be a more appropriate read for older students.

Content Areas
  • History-Social Science (World War II, Holocaust)
  • English Language Arts (fictional narrative)
  • Art (visual storytelling)

Content Area Standards

Curriculum Suggestions
  • World War II and the Holocaust - Students may identify details from the story and conduct further research to find correlating historical evidence. For instance, they may locate primary source photographs that mirror drawings and identify events that directly connect with plot elements.
  • Oral history - Using the story as a model of oral history, students may seek out, record, and/or retell the story of an adult in their lives. They may mirror Hidden's storytelling structure by placing themselves in the setting of the retold event and assuming the point of view of their main subject.
  • Visual storytelling - Students may study the illustrations and text layout (e.g., comic panels, framing, speech bubbles, etc.) to determine how it affects the reading of the story. They may then apply these concepts to create their own illustrated narrative of another historical event.

Subjects and Themes
  • Graphic novel
  • World War II and Holocaust
  • Memory and oral history
  • Family relationships


Links to Supporting Digital Content

Personal Thoughts
I love the way that this graphic novel manages to balance a serious topic in such a graceful way that makes it accessible for a wide range of readers, from young to old. Through the present day characters of Elsa, her grandmother Dounia, and Elsa's father (Dounia's son), we get to connect with the wonderful idea of family history and inter-generational storytelling. Meanwhile, Dounia's childhood memories create a historical depiction that is rich with relatable emotions, helping readers develop empathy-based understanding. When read along with the opportunity for conversation and questions, I think that this is a great way to introduce young people to the Holocaust.

Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "picture book on a historical topic" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Book Review: Infinity and Me (Math Picture Book)

Infinity and Me
Written by Kate Hosford
Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
ISBN: 9780761367260
August 2012
32 pages

Bibliographic Information
Hosford, K., & Swiatkowska, G. (2012). Infinity and me. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books.

Plot Description
Infinity and Me is told from the point of view of eight-year-old Uma, a young girl who is questioning the meaning and her understanding of infinity. Throughout her day, she encounters different explanations that span disciplines as she, and the reader, make sense of this complex concept. Infinity is first explored as a mathematical definition and symbol, but then is illustrated through applications within our everyday lives. For instance, the narrator's grandmother prompts her to think about infinity in terms of family and how there have been many generations that have come before and many more that will come after her. As explained in the author's note, the challenge is "to find your own way to imagine this idea." The book's shared examples may serve as a springboard for readers to in fact imagine their own ways.

Quantitative Reading Level
Lexile: AD670L
ATOS: 3.4

Qualitative Reading Analysis (High for Grades 2-3)
In line with the quantitative ATOS rating, and in terms of text structure and language features, this book is well-matched for elementary-aged readers. At the same time, however, the concepts presented are complex in nature since they are abstract. Supporting this assessment regarding the knowledge demands of the text, the Lexile rating is designated as AD "Adult Directed." For optimal exploration of the book, adults may accompany reading of the text with discussion and other activities. Also, while the protagonist is an eight-year-old child, the artwork and concepts would make the book suitable for sharing with older students.

Content Areas
  • Math (infinity)
  • Science (astronomy, scale)
  • History-Social Science (family relationships)
  • English Language Arts (fictional narrative)
  • Art (symbols, space)

Content Area Standards
  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.NF.A.2: Number & Operations-Fractions > Develop understanding of fractions as numbers > Understand a fraction as a number on the number line; represent fractions on a number line diagram.
  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.NS.A.1: The Number System > Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem.
  • History-Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools > 2.1 > Students differentiate between things that happened long ago and things that happened yesterday.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.7: Reading: Literature > Integration of Knowledge and Ideas > Explain how specific aspects of a text's illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting).

Curriculum Suggestions
  • Curriculum Guide - The author Kate Hosford has provides a free curriculum guide on her website. This valuable resource includes a pre-reading activity, discussion questions, and handouts to support post-reading and extension activities.
  • Mathematical symbols and concepts - For secondary level students, the book could be used as a model and then students could create their own picture books for other mathematical symbols and concepts (e.g., pi, null, etc.)
  • Visual and graphic design - Students may study the illustrations and text layout (e.g., changes in font size) to determine how it affects the reading of the story. They may then apply these concepts to illustrate another text.

Subjects and Themes
  • Mathematical number sense
  • Philosophy and self identity
  • Symbols and representation
  • Size and scale
  • Time and space
  • Family relationships


Links to Supporting Digital Content

Personal Thoughts
I highly recommend this beautifully illustrated picture book, as it provides a wonderful starting point for deeper thinking and discussion. The ideas presented are complex, but I read the book with my five-year-old daughter, and there were great natural points throughout the book for me to stop and ask her to share her thoughts, which she did with interest and excitement. While appropriate for an early elementary audience, this may also be used with older students as a conversation starter.

Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "math picture book" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The School Library After a Student Death

Yesterday afternoon after my contract day had ended, I headed up to the school office in order to check my mailbox before leaving for the day. As I walked the path, I could hear the sound of a helicopter flying away and could see emergency vehicles in front of the school, but I did not know what had just happened. Pieces of information came to me little by little until the full turn of events unfolded: a car accident had occurred right in front of our campus that would tragically result in the death of one of our students.

Over the past 24 hours, the big gatherings and memorials have generally occurred elsewhere on campus: at the front of the school, on the track, and in the outdoor "pit" arena. Classroom teachers have had to lead the difficult conversations in classrooms that now have an empty seat, guidance counselors have been busy facilitating comprehensive grief counseling services, and campus supervisors have been sweeping the campus to ensure mourning students are safe. It has truly been a group effort of all staff, and amid the activity, I have tried to find the best way to serve my school community from the unique position of Teacher Librarian.

I share my experience here since this is not the type of thing that has a guidebook, at least not one that I was able to find. If your school should unfortunately experience something similar, as most schools eventually do, perhaps you will find some of what I have discovered to be helpful. Also, please share additional ideas that you may have in the comments.
  • Sharing Resources with Staff - At 5:37 pm yesterday, our staff received an email from our principal regarding the student's death, and we were informed that there would be grief counselors available on campus the next day for both students and staff. Reading this at home, I had so many thoughts spinning around in my head. And, as librarians do, I started seeking out resources to help me figure out how to best serve students. While I was a little hesitant to share my findings with the rest of my staff, since perhaps I would be stepping on the toes of our admin or guidance counselors, I did end up sending it via email. Here is a link to the blog post that I sent them. Multiple staff members have responded that the information made them feel more prepared for today, and so I am glad that in the end I hit 'Reply All' to my principal's message.
  • Giving Students a Safe and Welcoming Space - I like to think that the library is always a safe and welcoming place, but today I intentionally opened my doors early and am keeping them open late as I type this. Both in the morning and in the afternoon, students have showed up, even though the times are outside of regular open hours. On any other day, the noise levels in the library can require constant monitoring, but even when filled with students, the space has been uncharacteristically and solemnly quiet. Having asked my friends with backgrounds in counseling for advice, I tried to be present and ready for students, but mostly just gave them space to "be." I can't help but see parallels with the way in which public libraries have been highlighted for serving as sanctuaries for people during recent Ferguson and Baltimore riots. This experience has confirmed for me how the school library can serve an equivalent purpose at a school community level.
  • Making Spaces Available for Others - Since the guidance department at our school is conveniently located on the floor above the library, there are multiple therapists from outside agencies who counsel students in our meeting rooms on a weekly basis. Today, there was a whole team of grief counselors. Even when I ran out of meeting rooms, I offered any space where they and students felt comfortable, even if it meant just picking a corner and pulling chairs around. I was grateful that these professionals were available to help our students and also proud that our students were brave to make themselves vulnerable and accept their assistance.
  • Providing Tissues and Bookmarks - While giving students a place and space, I still wanted to be able to reach out to them to let them know that I care. This morning, after a librarian colleague shared a link to resources on The Healing Place, I arrived at the idea of creating bookmarks with tangible tips for dealing with grief that I borrowed from the site. I printed them out on card stock and placed them next to tissue boxes all throughout the library, including the most popular "hideout" spots. This was something inexpensive that I was able to produce on the spot and make immediately available. My reasoning is also that bookmarks are something small that students can discretely grab to read and re-read later. They are convenient and accessible, but voluntary and not thrust in their faces. Also, as time passes and we need less tissue locations, I can easily consolidate the bookmarks and make them available in an area where, and for as long as, it makes sense. Just so you know, this idea only came after having run through a whole list of other ideas in my mind:
    • Posting information online, similar to the staff resources that I had emailed out, is great in theory, but most kids will not look at staff-hosted web info unless they are required to do so for a graded assignment.
    • Putting up a book display is something I might do later, but even then, the majority of students will not check out the items. Besides having less reach, more time and effort is required before students benefit from the information.
    • Sharing information on bulletin boards is a possibility, but it can be awkward for students to read it unless they happen to be conveniently stuck in the vicinity, and it is not portable.
    • Placing table tents with information delivers it more directly to students, but it can still be awkward if they are sharing a table with other students, and they don't get to take it with them. Plus, students might bend and draw on them, and I would eventually have to decide when to take them down.
  • Creating Maker Spaces - This didn't immediately come to me, but students inspired it! Overnight via social media, students had started a movement to wear blue to school in solidarity and support. Unfortunately, not all students got the message and some actually don't own blue clothing apparently. This is where the library's button-making machine came into use. Some of these blue-less students wanted to show their support, and so they came to the library wanting to design buttons that they could wear instead. The buttons helped, but some students still wanted to create more blue bling, and so I searched Pinterest for ideas. In the end, we used construction paper to make braided bracelets with our school colors. It was an unexpected "aha" moment for me. The students lit up when getting to "do" something. They made some for themselves and also extras that other students were in turn excited to take and wear. I talked to one of the grief counselors who agreed that these types of creative activities are therapeutic, and she has given me the idea of similarly making coloring sheets available. I plan on having these ready on Monday. And, if anyone else should like this idea, just keep in mind her advice to stick to geometric shapes since anything with recognizable images could trigger students negatively.
  • Watching Out for Students in Need - It is a given that those closest to the deceased will need a great amount of support, but there are many students in need of attention even if they were not a best friend. There are students who saw the accident happen who are traumatized. There are students who are traumatized by simply seeing the aftermath of the accident, and that is nearly everyone since the scene had to be investigated for hours before it could be cleared. There are students who were group project partners or who sat nearby in class everyday. There are students who remember going to school together for a number of years and those who never had contact at all, but are simply upset to be reminded of their own mortality. We cannot make assumptions about how people will be affected; any one of these students may require professional attention. For instance, one of the grief counselors explained how already suicidal students may reason that, in contrast to the outpourings of love that they are witnessing, they believe that no one would miss them and so they may as well kill themselves. Since the library may be a place that people seek when retreating from the larger social gatherings on campus, she asked that I watch these students closely and make referrals if I have any suspicions that someone may be in need. Also, a student may seem fine one week only to be triggered much further down the road, and so we all must remain vigilant in paying close attention to the social and emotional states of our students. 
Those are some of the main takeaways I have after our first day back. It is a Friday, though, and so it will be interesting to see what next week brings. Below is an excerpt from The Dougy Center that I really connected with when doing my research:
Grief is ongoing. Grief never ends, but it does change in character and intensity. Many grievers have compared their grieving to the constantly shifting tides of the ocean; ranging from calm, low tides to raging high tides that change with the seasons and the years.
I am sure that our school will similarly experience ebbs and flows as the whole community grieves, and I hope that in some small way, the library is able to provide support and comfort. Thank you for reading, and please keep these families, friends, classmates, and teachers in your thoughts.

Monday, April 20, 2015

3D Printing: Making vs. The Maker Movement

For several years now, I have heard about the Maker Movement and how libraries can benefit from introducing Maker Spaces. I have kept my eye on the prices and applications of 3D printers, but at the same time have hesitated in purchasing one for my library since I am not sure I would be able to support its use as more than a novelty. Reading an article linked in the Horizon Report supported my concern that “the most important aspect of this approach is not in the product but rather the process behind making” (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada & Freeman, 2014, p. 15).

Indeed, Santo (2013) distinguished between the basic act of making and the Maker Movement, which involves the learning that occurs “around the making” and includes “that initial spark of curiosity, the investigation and early tinkering, the planning and research that follow, the inspirations and appropriations from other projects, the prototypes, the failures, the feedback, and, perhaps most importantly, the iterations upon iterations towards a better make.”

It’s not that these interactions cannot happen in my library space, but cognizant of existing student use patterns, I believe they would be difficult to facilitate meaningfully.

As luck would have it, one of our Career Technical Education teachers stopped by last week and shared that she is in fact purchasing a 3D printer for her manufacturing classes. Within her classroom setting, she will be able to do exactly what Santo wrote about. She plans on having students design prototypes and then analyze products to refine them, do cost analysis, and more. I think this is a wise application of the technology and have offered to support these efforts through collaboration. Perhaps in working with this teacher, I will also crack the conundrum of how to someday host a 3D printer in the library in an effective way.


Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Santo, R. (2013, February 12). Is making learning? Considerations as education embraces the Maker Movement. Retrieved from

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Strategic Budgeting

Evans and Alire (2013) provide a helpful breakdown of operating expenses falling into the following categories:

  • A materials budget
  • A personnel budget
  • A distribution/expense budget
  • An administrative expense budget (p. 435)

Wearing the hat of program manager for my school’s library, I immediately identify with having responsibility for materials and administrative expense budgets. However, the distribution/expense budget does not apply, and the personnel budget is largely out of my control beyond attempting to influence decision makers regarding the importance of maintaining and someday potentially increasing personnel.

Thus, when presented with the situation of having to cut 20% of the budget, the options within my immediate realm of influence would be to cut money from the materials and administrative expense budgets. And, given that administrative expenses are already streamlined for basic library functions, cuts would largely have to come from the materials budget.

Cutting materials has already become commonplace, particularly due to the 2013 introduction of California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). With LCFF, categorical funding has been largely eliminated, and as a result, monies that our libraries once received in conjunction with the School and Library Improvement Block Grant are no longer earmarked for our programs.

Still, beyond simply buying less materials for students, my goal is to actively increase funding. To begin with, I am concerned that my district’s libraries have not yet become integrally involved with the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which outlines how LCFF should be guided to meet eight key priorities. As noted on the California Department of Education’s website, the Model School Library Standards are included among state standards that must be addressed as part of Priority 2 (see below).


Locating my district’s LCAP, the current plan that I found includes no mention of library programs even though other specific programs are named (e.g., Family Resource Centers, Visual and Performing Arts, Dropout Prevention Specialists, etc.).

Of course, approaching the district means that librarians must first prepare. Cox (2008) provides some basic advice including making a budget, specifying current curriculum needs, and applying usage statistics to justify requests (p. 24-25). These ideas seem obvious and basic, but they are not necessarily easy to implement. What might be useful to keep in mind is one of Holley’s (2014) library planning and budgeting principles: “Having a rough idea of costs is better than having no figure at all” (p. 726). Our plans do not have to be perfectly precise, but we need to make them and make them known.

A final consideration when developing budget plans is to reconsider our “sacred cows.” Steele (2010) raises the point of planning budgets more strategically, including examples such as reevaluating the return on investment with money spent on security gates (p. 58). Nothing should be beyond reflection as we develop budgetary plans.


California Department of Education. (2015). Local control funding formula. Retrieved from

Cox, M. (2008). 10 Tips for Budgeting. Library Media Connection, 26(4), 24-25.

Evans, G.E., & Alire, C.A. (2013). Management basics for information professionals (3rd ed.).  New York: Neal-Schuman.

Holley, R. P. (2014). Library planning and budgeting: A few underappreciated principles. Journal Of Library Administration, 54(8), 720-729. doi:10.1080/01930826.2014.965102

Steele, K. (2010). Budgeting for libraries: "It's ideally suited for that purpose, so we won't be using it that way". Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances, 23(2), 57-59. doi:10.1108/08880451011073527