Why Reading Outside of Your “Likes” Will Rock Your World… (It rocked mine!)


I am not a historical anything reader. Seriously, I am not. I read biographical literary non-fiction picture books because my readers need exposure to this genre and some of them enjoy it so I want to be able to procure and recommend the best out there. But…on my own I wouldn’t pick up anything historical. I gritted my teeth when I started listening to Some Kind of Courage by @dangemeinhart, because it’s a cowboy story. It is also a title on the 2018 Texas Bluebonnet Master List, as a librarian I read through most if not all of the list, I want to be able to BookTalk all the titles and get kids excited about reading these stories, it’s what makes the love of reading take hold and grow roots in my readers’ hearts.

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So although I started listening with skepticism it didn’t take long for the story to take a hold of my heart. I warn you, there will be some crying, maybe a lot of it, if you read Joseph’s story. If you are the type of reader that gets wrapped up in a story like if it’s your own, the crying WILL get ugly. But, I assure you it will be worth it, you will come out of the experience thinking about so many of the kids you know and how they have greatness and nobility in them, the Joseph kind, even when their circumstances are unbelievably harsh, just like Joseph’s were. This book is worth the 3-5 hours you will invest in reading it, I do not say this lightly, as a reader with a TBR pile that will certainly outlive me, I take the investment of reading time very seriously.

My reaction to the events in this story was so strong, that for the first time ever in my reader’s career I have written a letter directly to an author.  Read on to find out what I wrote.

SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT ON!!!! (You’ve been warned!)

Dear Mr. Genmeinhart:

I am an elementary school librarian in Mesquite, TX. I am also a reader. I suppose just like any reader, I am picky about what I read, I have an idea of what I like and would not like to read, just like the rest of my reader tribe. I would not have picked up your book Some Kind of Courage on my own for one reason: I do not like historical anything. I just don’t. But, your book is part of the 2018 Texas Bluebonnet Master List and as I do every year, I try to read through the whole list, there is no way I can truthfully recommend a book without reading it.

I just finished listening to Some Kind of Courage. At first, I was dutifully listening through, more out of a sense of commitment to my elementary readers, than because I was particularly liking the story. That changed pretty quickly, though, as soon as Ah-Kee convinced the mama grizzly bear that he and Joseph were not a threat to her cubs.

As I continued to read I was struggling with my dislike of historical anything, how much I was loving Joseph and Ah-Kee’s adventures, what exactly was I going to rate your book on Goodreads, and even more pressing: what I was going to say to my readers when they come to ask me about it.

The tears started threatening when Ah-Kee and Joseph parted ways. A bit of exasperated tears were leaking from the corners of my eyes when Sarah was taken by Caleb Fawney, followed by a “Come on Dan Gemeinhart YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!”. Now, when Sarah was shot, the tears were streaming down hard, my daughter and husband were giving me the “Jeez she’s crying over a book again!” look, but the worst part was that I almost stopped listening to write you an angry email. It might have gone something like “I do not know you and I do not like to throw the word hate around, but ….” but I looked at how much time on the audio was left and let my heart hope just a sliver, I could always write my email to you in 45 minutes. I also thought about Tweeting some angry Tweets and asking who had read this book already so I could rant. But, luckily, Joseph’s story was pulling me hard, and I put all the ranting on hold.

I do not know if you are familiar with the acting of Viola Davis, if you are not I suggest you look up “Viola Davis crying in Fences”, so you will understand what I am about to say.   When Joseph decided that he was the one to put Sarah down, the crying was like Ms. Viola Davis’s in The Help. All through the rest of what happens, up until Joseph says “I’m coming home.” was Ms. Viola Davis’s cry in the movie Fences. And it lasted for a good five minutes after the story was over.

Why am I sharing this with you? I am not sure. This is the first letter I have ever written to an author right after finishing his book. Maybe it’s out of a sense of guilt, I was ready to use the “h” word and am glad I held off until the end. Maybe it’s out of a sense of shame, I wouldn’t have given your work a chance and been brought to tears by it, if it hadn’t been a Bluebonnet contender. Maybe, out of a sense of wonderment and gratitude, you wrote a beautiful adventure, of a noble child, a child the age of some of my students, and it made me think of how they too have Joseph’s potential, to do greater things than can ever be expected of a child. Maybe I wrote this email because I hold stories dear, and yours has taken up residence in my heart. Maybe… maybe, I just thought you should know.

I will talk to everyone and anyone who listens about Some Kind of Courage. I will share Joseph’s story with my horse-loving readers, and my “I-have-to-look-out-for-my-own-self” readers, and all the other readers that come to me looking for the next amazing read.

Thank you for writing Some Kind of Courage, it affected me to the core.

Ro Menendez


Cannaday Elementary

Mesquite, TX



It’s not about being George or Dave…, it’s about being the best version of yourself as an educator! #IMMOOC


This is probably not the blog post it’s supposed to be. You see, I am participating in the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC with many, many other educators from all over the United States. A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course; in this case it is a book study of Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, that I am completing with a ton of people I do not know (massive), that I do not have to pay anything for (open) on the Internet through blogs, Twitter, Voxer, and YouTube (online). This week we are discussing Part I: Innovation in Education Chapter 1: What Innovation Is and Isn’t and we are supposed to reflect on thought provoking questions at the end of the chapter. This blog does not answer any of those questions; hopefully I will not have lost you right now.


Through the many online tools I mentioned previously, I have heard from Instructional Coaches, Assistant Superintendents, Superintendents, from George Couros (the author of the book we are studying) and even from Dave Burgess author of Teach Like a Pirate, about how we must innovate, about how we must inspire our teachers and organization to change or be forever known as the school that failed our children. With this infusion of leaders talking about inspiring changes in those they lead, my mindset has been framed to think of teachers that I have shared PD with in the past on a variety of topics, movements, philosophies, and so forth. So although there are so many amazing ideas in this first chapter, the one that has struck me, that I keep coming back to, in the frame of mind these leaders have had me reflecting in, is the introduction to Part One:


“Examples will be shared, not with the intent to dictate what schools and educators should do, but to provoke thought and inspire you to create your own innovative approach in your practice as an individual and for your organization.”


So many times I have sat at PD and listened to many inspiring, and let’s keep it real, not so inspiring, speakers and heard teachers and others in education say “But I’m not like that, I’m not him. I can’t be loud like him, or so boisterous, I don’t have acting chops! I want to inspire but I’m just not him!” I’ve looked at these teachers, some flustered, some disappointed in themselves, some on the verge of tears, some shutting down because they feel like they’ve failed and they haven’t even tried yet, and I’ve tried to communicate that the one thing students can detect in an instant is a fake. That they should take what we are learning and make it their own, if they are feeling inspired by the teaching piece of the PD, then that’s what they need! They don’t need to know magic tricks, or have a major in Drama, or know how to tell a joke. They don’t have to be technology gurus, or have a social media account in every single social media outlet out there. They just have to grab a hold of what inspired them from this particular PD or speaker and make it theirs. If they are here at this workshop it should be because they want to better their practices, they feel the need to change in order to honor the needs of their students, they are on the right track and the speaker isn’t asking them to become a puppet! But you see, coming from me sitting at the table next to them, possibly someone they don’t know, as real and as honest as I am being, it doesn’t fully convince them.   Coming from George Couros, someone who has proven his mettle to so many, it might help these educators understand what might have been implicit in every workshop, PD, and conference they’ve been to, but never explicitly said to them.


The next time I am sitting next to educators that feel they have to become the speaker, emulate him or her to the T, I will pull up this quote from The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, share it with them while patting them on the shoulder and telling them reassuringly “See? They don’t want you to be them. They just want you to make the decision to be the best you can be for our kids! They want to inspire you, not replace your soul with theirs. You can totally do this!”, and hopefully this time, they’ll give it a go.

Dav Pilkey – Wise Men Can Also Be Funny

As the new school year zooms in, I am working fast and furiously to get our school library ready for my elementary geniuses, but  I’ve also set some time aside for soul-searching and reflection.  I’ve used as a platform for said reflecting the wise words of three men, two of whom I had the amazing experience to listen to live: Dav Pilkey and Levar Burton; and one whose words I read in the form of his Newbery Acceptance Speech, Matt De La Peña.

I am focusing on what Dav Pilkey made me think, feel, and reevaluate, as I am writing right now.  I am attempting to be as honest as I know how, so in the interest of full disclosure, although author Dav Pilkey is hilarious, a gifted author, a talented illustrator and an amazing presenter, his life experiences as a reader made me feel…shame.  I will not deny that I have participated in some of the behaviors that made little Dav HATE, yes, that’s what he said, HATE reading.

Here are my notes on Dav Pilkey’s presentation (in red is where I turned red when I admitted I had done this too, at some point in my teaching career.)

Dav Pilkey’s life’s passion and career wasn’t inspired by his teachers or librarian, who did not understand or know how to help him.  They did however label his behavior:

When he was a boy his view on reading was shaped by:

  • He was expected to find something he wanted to read during reading time in the library in five minutes or less. (Ten minutes is the average time my students have, sigh, sigh, sigh, I know what he went through is something some of my students go through, I try to make up for it, I dedicate more time to them, but still, they struggle.)  
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  • His librarian pointed out how she wanted him to choose books that were a little more “substantial.”
  • Reading in the classroom out loud got him all stressed out, he would get so nervous, because he couldn’t keep up with everyone else.
  • He was labeled for his behavior that had much to do with having ADHD and dyslexia, unknown widely in the 70s.
  • He’d come from school distressed, sad, feeling he hated reading, why did he have all these problems, why did they make him  read all the time?

What turned it all around?   His mom, became his substitute librarian.  She would comfort him.  She would make up for the frustratingly painful reading experience at school by taking him to the public library and letting him choose WHATEVER he wanted to read.  “Instead of focusing on what I was reading she thought it was more important that I was reading.   It didn’t matter if it wasn’t a “real” book, if I had read it before, if it was mostly pictures, it was whatever I wanted, how many times I wanted,”  and with time and free choice “I discovered I liked to read.  If I picked out things that I loved I would love reading.” (Pilkey, 2016)  (I have tried to talk my readers into checking out another book rather than one I know they have read repeatedly.  Look what reading the same books over and over again until he was ready to move on did for Pilkey!  Rather than aggravate my reader by trying to convince him or her to “Let it go, let it go….” (cue the Frozen Soundtrack) I will be the one to let it go, and if anything, allow my reader to check out one more book beyond what they usually do in order to put the option out there.)

Children’s choice is thwarted by the notion that children need to:

  • Read at their “level”
  • Need to be challenged by the books they read

55% of YA readers are adults.  “How come no one ever gets on their case for reading below their reading level? Or for not challenging themselves with something more educational.  I think If you ask these adults most of them would probably say our  lives are challenging enough, we want to relax a little bit when we read, we deserve to have some fun.  Exactly! Of course, they just want to read what they love.” (Pilkey, 2016) And why should it be any different for kids?

Junk Food…Junk Books?

There seems to be a common argument that there is such a thing as “Junk Books” that affect the body the same as  “Junk Food”.  “Since food and books are the same thing. Well, actually they’re not and that is the problem with this argument.  Our brains don’t assimilate the value of books in the same way that our bodies utilize the nutrients in food.  It’s completely different and recently there’s been several studies that show this, that prove this and they backup the power of choice and they prove that while junk food does exist, junk books do not exist.” (Pilkey, 2016) (I have felt this way about certain books that are so incredibly popular, but NO MORE! Not since I heard Pilkey speak have I ever dared think some books are “Junk Books”! What my readers want, I will move heaven and earth to find, if we’ve run out of our library copies!)

The Amazing Results of Free Choice

A study by National Literacy Trust  found that “…kids who pick out their own books and read for fun are more confident, more motivated, and they read more. And recently the Institute of Education they did a study and they found out that kids that make a habit of this do better at spelling, vocabulary and math. And the interesting thing about both these studies is it didn’t matter what the kids were reading,  it didn’t have to be an educational book, it didn’t have to be at their reading level, it just had to be what kids chose themselves, it had to be what they loved, and it had to be a habit.  And there have been so many studies like this that have come out and they’ve  all come to the same conclusion,that when it comes to kids and reading there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. And I think that’s kinda one of the reasons why I write the books that I write.  I’m sort of,  I’m kinda writing for the kid that I used to be.  The kid who would stand in front of a school library shelf and just couldn’t find anything that they wanted to read.  A kid who was almost convinced that he didn’t like to read.”(Pilkey, 2016)

Some Ideas on What Makes Dav’s Books so Widely Read

I learned that it wasn’t “that I didn’t like to read it’s just that reading was such a challenge for me it was so hard that I was only willing to go through that struggle for certain kind of books.  I had developed a criteria when I was a kid of things, like a list of things that books had to have in order for me to consider them worthy of reading.  And so, I actually remember it.” (Pilkey, 2016)

  1. Short Chapters.  As a struggling reader there’s nothing more frustrating than reading for an hour and not even finishing one chapter.   There’s a sense of accomplishment in reading for 20-30 min and finishing 3 or 4 chapters.  It feels right.
  2. Tons of Illustrations: pictures are fun to look at, high picture to text ratio, but also pics help to discover meaning of the harder words because of contextual clues
  3. Humor.
  4. Coolness Factor- has to be something you are into to.  In Dav’s case it was animals, monsters, robots, dinosaurs and/or mad scientists.

“There weren’t very many books that fit that criteria I had for great literature.  And to make matters even worst my librarian she kind of  had her own list of criteria for what would constitute an acceptable piece of literature.” (Pilkey, 2016)IMG_9066

When creating the books that he wished for as a child he combined his Kid List Criteria for Great Lit with the one  his librarian had on what constituted quality literature:


Pilkey believes in the power of visual which is why he includes tons of illustrations to offer context clues; he uses the  graphic novel format that offers small panels to give readers a break.

Although there has been a great amount of criticism over his books, he believes that:

“It only takes one book to change a child’s life even if it’s a silly one it’s all about love not levels.” (Pilkey, 2016)

Captain Underpants was the most challenged/banned book in 2013.

On the challenge and banning of books:

  • “You shouldn’t say I don’t think children should read this book. You should say Idon’t think MY children should read this book.  Self choice is the only way to grow a love of reading.”


Pilkey, D. (2016, April). General session III. Symposium conducted at Texas Library Association Open Libraries Opportunities 2016 Annual Conference , Houston, TX.


After the session was over I had to meet Mr. Pilkey, and as I stood in line I made what you see me holding in the above picture.   Brandon is a third grader, who is exactly like Dav when he was a boy.  Brandon ONLY wanted to read biographies about wrestlers, and there’s only so many of those titles we have in our collection.  He would get frustrated with me when I had to inform him that someone was waiting  the John Cena biography he wanted to check out for the seventh time and that he’d have to find another book this week.  Brandon would wander around the library until it was almost time to leave, before he forced himself to pick something I knew he wouldn’t read, to substitute for the Cena biography he wouldn’t be able to recheck out that week. I had begged him to give me a chance, I swore that everything I recommended was exclusively because I had read and loved it, but the dude wouldn’t budge.  I’ll confess, Brandon had me in tears, and after our reader relationship grew, I told him as much.

When I received the newly colorized Captain Underpants Collection I had a hunch that it might grab Brandon’s attention.  He was now reading the same two graphic novels repeatedly, Jimmy Sniffles by Bob Temple.  When Brandon’s third grade class library time came, I told myself I had to keep my cool, if Brandon noticed I was too sure of winning this session of “Mrs. Ro recommends for thirty minutes and Brandon says “No!” to every single suggestion”, I’d be doomed and reaching for a tissue and/or hiding in the AV Closet for a session of grunting-in-place-of-screaming-in-frustration, in thirty minutes.  Brandon had once mentioned he sorta, kinda liked Captain Underpants, but had read the only two titles (that’s a whole other post people, remember it was my FIRST year there) we had, and that was that.  So, I took him to the little office behind the checkout counter and said all hush hush, mysterious, this is between you and me, “These just came in. I know you read one of them but look, Brandon, it is a colored edition.  It makes it so much more hilarious for some reason.  Now, if you don’t want them, it’s cool, because I have a list of kids who are desperate to get their hands on them.  I told them I was holding them for someone, you, but it’s totally cool if you don’t want to be the FIRST to open these books and read them.”  I swear I was nonchalant about the whole thing, no one would have noticed that I had been relishing this instant since Monday, it was now Thursday.

Brandon tried to hide his smile, he has this thing about not smiling, but I knew I had got him! I’d be hiding in the AV Closet in 30 minutes but it would be to dance and cheer at finally, finally getting this kid to give me a break! And… I thanked my lucky stars that Dav Pilkey wrote the books that he wanted to read when he was a kid, and our readers want to read today.  Dav Pilkey’s colored edition of Captain Underpants helped Brandon start uncovering his reader identity.  He wanted to read funny, he wanted to read about boy characters doing outrageous, yet plausible, things.  He decided to give my recommendations a chance and now he visits the library three times a week because he’s done with the books I’ve recommended, or one he picked up on his own.  I had told Brandon I’d meet Pilkey at the TLA Conference this year, and he was like “Yea, no.”  So I had to prove I meant business, which is why I wrote the message I held in the picture, and waited in line to get a signed copy of Dog Man to gift to Brandon.

Dav Pilkey’s story and my experience with Brandon taught me that letting kids choose is the right thing to do for my readers, and that’s all I ever want to do by them.  Now I am trying to get teachers to stop dictating what their students can check out during library time, it’s an uphill battle, but Dav Pilkey’s wise words, the research he shared, and what he did for Brandon, are my weapons, and I believe they are powerful ones.

Celebrating Reading Throughout the Year!

So, I now get to say that I am a SECOND year librarian! Looking back, I wish I would have had a year round list of MUST-CELEBRATE events that center around reading at the beginning of the year; it would have avoided much scrambling and burning the midnight oil! I am grateful for the amazing #PLN (Professional Learning Network) I have developed on Twitter, it was a lifesaver! I found out about most of the events I will include in this post through the amazingly innovative Texas librarians that participate in the #txlchat (Texas Librarian Chat) every Tuesday from 8:00-8:30 p.m. starting in September on Twitter.  Without further blabbing on my part here is THE list, according to my humble opinion, that will help any and every elementary and middle school librarian put reading in the spotlight for the whole school:


  • Texas Bluebonnet Awards – Read 5 Then Decide -Yearly Campaign

    • Website to get all info: http://www.txla.org/TBA
    • Date: Year round after the current year’s list is announced in October.  VOTING DEADLINE: January 31st.
    • The skinny: The Texas Bluebonnet Award Committee selects twenty books that include novels, picture books, and graphic novels as nominees for the award.  Students must read at least five titles from the list in order to have the right to vote come election time at your school.  The website provides a PLETHORA, yes, that’s right, PLETHORA, of resources to promote the books, including book trailers on their YouTube channel to get kids excited and help them decide which to start with.  You make the celebration as simple or as royal as you wish it to be!
    • Ways to Connect: It’s important to KNOW that you must pay a registration fee in order to have your votes officially counted, it’s a nominal amount, and will give you access to their online voting tools which makes the voting process so much more exciting! It also prints off a variety of reports that will help you analyze the impact of this initiative.  Post pictures and news of your events using the hashtag #TBA17 (for the 2017 election) on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  You can also tag @TBABooks on Twitter.
    • How we celebrated last year: I shared with grades 3-5 the online book trailers and went on about how all of these authors were fighting to get their vote.  Some of the picture books I shared with classes, but the brunt of the reading was done by students.  I only had one set of book nominees so we had waiting lists which students were pretty good at managing.  They kept a tally of the books they read with the TX Map created by TBA that has all 2o covers of the nominees.  I kept the classes’ maps together in a pendaflex accordion to avoid any loss of maps, or asking teachers to keep up with them.  When January came around I created voting booths using science fair boards, and set up iPads for voters to cast their votes on.  I made a Voting Registration Card for each student, and hole punched it as they went to their voting booth to vote.  There was a cup of goodies for each voter that included a silicone bracelet, a button, an eraser and a pencil that had reading messages on them.


  • International Dot Day – Celebrating Bravery, Creativity, and Self-Expression

    • Website to get all info: http://www.thedotclub.org/dotday/
      • Once you sign up you will get a downloadable educator’s guide
    • Date: September 15th-ish! (Sometime during that week is my interpretation)
    • The skinny: Share with your students the book The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds and then become a dot do-er! There are ample ways that go from simple, almost no prep, to complex ways to celebrate the themes of this book: bravery, creativity and self-expression.  This is a reading celebration that will appeal to those who have discovered their reading identity, and those who are still on the hunt for it.
    • Ways to connect: Share pictures and how you celebrated on the website, Twitter, and Facebook.
    • How we celebrated last year: Sigh…I learned about this one too late and didn’t get to celebrate it, but believe you me, it will be a part-ee of self-expression this year.  I will cover the hallway with dot creations, I plan to have the older kids write a script for The Dot and perform it for our younger students, I hope to have a Parent-Dot-Night where we all get to collaborate on a huge dot!


  • Power Up at Your Library Day

    • Website to get all info: http://www.poweredlibraries.org/
    • Date: September 15th
    • The Skinny: Showing off your library as the technological stage it is!  This day will be used to celebrate all the virtual, innovative, 21st Century offerings you provide.  Think in terms of Makerspace, Learning Commons, Technology Hardware, Databases, etc.  A guide with ideas, marketing tools, downloadables, and printables can be found on the website.
    • Ways to Connect: Social Media! Press Releases, and surveys are among the ideas mentioned.
    • How we celebrated last year: This is a brand new initiative so we will all be learning from each other as we celebrate the power of our libraries!
  • Global Read Aloud – One Book to Connect the World

    • Website to get all info: https://theglobalreadaloud.com/
    • Dates: Early October through almost Mid November. (This year it will run from October 3rd to November 11th)
    • The skinny: GRA comes up with a yearly, grade level specific, list of books that all participants read during the designated dates.  Longer books have a suggested schedule that you follow in order to be on the same page as readers across the globe.  You connect with other classrooms and share your reactions and other reading products over different communication platforms (Skype, Google Hangouts, HaikuDeck, even snail mail!).
    • How do you find classrooms to connect with? The GRA website will provide all the links to the Edmodo groups created by book/author.  From there it’s up to you to connect with another class or library.
    • How we celebrated last year: K-2nd went through the Amy Krouse Rosenthal Author Study. We created pictures, wrote questions, used Apps to share visuals with classes across the country.  We Skyped with a class of 1st graders and talked about our favorite book and shared a visual of our fave book.  We reacted to the HaikuDeck of a second grade class on what they felt the author’s message of one of the books we read was.   Another class participated in a real mail postcard exchange offering one fact about their state and which was their fave book for GRA. This year I will include the upper grades and I hope we create trading cards to exchange based on the stories we read.


  • National Ninja Day Story Time

    • Website to get all info:  Celebrate Ninja Story Time – Corey Rosen Schwartz soon to be moved to http://www.ninjasread.com (Follow @ninjasread on Twitter to keep up with the change and developing events.)
    • Date: December 5th
    • The Skinny: Who doesn’t love ninjas? (If you don’t, I advise against sharing your views, kids love ninjas, and your coolness factor will diminish if you don’t too! Trust me on this one, okay?)  December 5th is International Ninja Day celebrated all over the US.  Authors who have written Ninja picture books teamed up to create #NinjasRead and give kids another reason to dress up and read!  The authors have kindly created printable resources on the website and also plan to offer Skype sessions for this year’s celebration.  Want to get your at-promise readers excited about reading? Take a chance on National Ninja Day Story Time, they will be lured by all the ninja coolness and leave ninja readers!
    • Ways to connect: Check the website regularly for updates on Skype sessions and hashtags for social media.
    • How we celebrated last year:  Double sigh… this is another one I was late to the party for but this year: ………… You will  have to imagine the ninja moves I just did because ninjas are silent, no onomatopoeias can describe them.  DOLLAR TREE has Ninja stars, vests, nunchucks, masks. I will definitely dress up for the day and read Ninja picture books all day, write Haikus, teach students how to fold paper Ninja stars, share ninja jokes,and use the resources the authors have so graciously provided.  I will try to get a Skype session with one of the authors because connecting with the outside, greater community  will make this day even more special and memorable.
  • World Read Aloud Day

    • Website to get all info: http://www.litworld.org/wrad/
    • Date: Every February (the 2017 date has yet to be announced, last year it was February 24th, 2016).  Register on their website to receive the updated date for 2017 as soon as it becomes available.
    • The skinny: LitWorld is a non-profit organization that is committed to spread literacy across the globe to children.  Their work goes way beyond World Read Aloud Day, but they have created this one special day to celebrate literacy globally.  We read for those who cannot read, we read to enjoy the power of reading, and the organizers provide an Educator’s Guide with activities for every day in the month of February, leading up to WRAD.  Amazing resources in the educator’s guide  will have students thinking about many important themes in literature while indulging in the amazing gift that being literate is.
    • Ways to connect: Register at their website to show your library’s support.  Promote the event using the marketing tools and different calendars and suggested reads with parents and teachers.  Share your pictures and news on the organization’s website, FB page and on Twitter with the #WRAD hashtag.  Ask librarians on Twitter if they would like to collaborate with you and your students.  That is how I learned of the event and also got to collaborate, like I said, #txlachat is the bomb diggety!
    • How we celebrated last year: I was late to this party, but I got to celebrate nonetheless!  I connected with a librarian in South Texas and her middle grade theater students read The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt to our whole second grade level via Google Hangout.  Our 2nd graders had never connected live virtually with others and were so incredibly excited!  It took them a while to comprehend that we were not watching a movie! The teachers loved the experience and it provided my students with a global experience and connecting virtually gave them a glimpse into what collaborating with others who are far away feels like.  I also made sure to read aloud to my upper elementary students on this day.  Throughout the month I also used the WRAD calendar to read and highlight the character strengths they were promoting and classes created mini-murals that were displayed in the hallway of what they thought represented the strength we read about.
  • NEA Read Across America – Dr. Seuss’s Birthday

    • Website to get all info: http://www.nea.org/grants/886.htm
    • Date: March 2nd, 2017 
    • The skinny: “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.” – Dr. Seuss NEA has many initiatives to help build a nation of readers, but this just might be the most recognized.  Celebrate reading by having an everything Dr. Seuss Day to celebrate this influential author’s birthday!  The website has incredible resources, including ideas to celebrate, press releases, printables, and Reading Pledges.  You can celebrate for just one day, or the whole week!
    • Ways to connect: Use the hashtag #neareadacrossamerica (I know it’s so long!) when you post on Twitter, Instragram, or Facebook.  
    • How we celebrated last year: THIS WAS THE BIG ONE! We celebrated every day during the week of Dr. Seuss’s Birthday and it was embraced by the whole school.  I’m going to make a bulleted list here, because like I said, we celebrated big time.
      • Dr. Seuss daily dress up


      • The main hallway’s glass was painted with a Dr. Seuss mural and the library was decorated with character plushiesDSCN0124 (1).jpg


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      • On Dr. Seuss’s Birthday we had over 15 guest readers from the community come visit our students and read a Dr. Seuss’s book of their choosing.  I started making calls at the end of January in order to ensure every classroom had a guest reader. We had a museum facilitator from The Dallas Museum of Art and a Half Price Books assistant manager come read to our students.  From our city we had firefighters, police officers, the city’s mayor, and the city’s judge come and read with our students.  From our own district I invited the superintendent, one of the assistant superintendents, one of the members of the district’s board of directors, and many of the district employees that used to be in the classroom, but are now in administrative or other positions.  They enjoyed being back in the classroom and the kids loved the attention!
      • I read Dr. Seuss’s books to all the classes I had that week and we created a Cat in the Hat/Thing One bookmark with a blue pompom made out of yarn.


  • Children’s Book Week 

    • Website to find all info: http://www.bookweekonline.com/
    • Date: May 1-7, 2017
    • The skinny: Celebrating the stories students love and the love of reading.  Each year authors are highlighted for this event so you can choose to introduce them as part of the activities for this week.  Also, this is super cool, they have a Children’s Book Choice Awards!
    • Ways to connect: Get your school excited and involved with the beautiful posters you can get for free by sending a SASE to the address on the website in April.  Like their Facebook page and post your pictures.  
    • How we celebrated last year: This was our second biggest celebration of the year!  Here’s what we did.
      • Daily dress up to celebrate books and readingScreen Shot 2016-07-25 at 11.24.13 PM 
      • I dressed up as a book character every day.
      • We had our Scholastic Book Fair
      • Pringles Character Can Contest (See previous post.)
      • Milk and Cookies Reading Night (See previous post.)
      • Book Character Parade (See previous post.)

It has been a marvelous first year and although all of these celebrations are, I won’t lie, a LOT of work, they successfully placed reading in the spotlight as much more than words per minute, answering comprehension questions, or something you “have” to do in school.  Reading was enjoyed as the gift it should be to all of us!


I have turned into a Bob Shea Fan Girl, for reals! 

By coincidence, while accompanying my dear husband to compete at a Fine Scale Modeler Competition in Grapevine, TX, I was pleasantly (let’s get real I was ecstatic) to find that the Grapevine Convention Center, where his competition was being held, was exactly next to the Grapevine Public Library, (SALVATION!) So as soon as I helped him set-up his entries I walked (more like sprinted!) to check out the library.  What a beauty! Here are some pics:

So I decided to do some browsing and as part of my pile I grabbed four Bob Shea picture books.  I had read Ballet Cat Totally Secret! Secret! and Dino vs. Santa, but my absolute favorite of what I had read was Big Big Plans! Illustrated by Lane Smith, it is such a fun read aloud especially during an elections year.  Anyway, as I read and reviews the following books, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud eventhough I knew it would garner some weird looks, the library is kicking off their Summer Reading Program and was packed, but as I have had many embarrasing experiences where books have made me laugh, or worse, cry in public, I lolled to my heart’s content. Here’s why I am now part of the Bob Shea Screaming Librarians Club, which I am also the founder, president, secretary, vice president, coffee girl, etc. you get the picture.  FYI Membership is free and open to any reader!
 I’m not going to lie, any type of potty humor is going to make me LOL! But…..there’s a bit of a plot twist here which will have readers making predictions that are pretty off the mark! This is a great readaloud, a fun read-2-yourself-and-laugh-out-loud, even if you are 46 and at the public library.
 Shark is soooooooooooooooo brave! Except when it comes to spiders! Bob Shea is fastly becoming one of my favorite authors, super funny and gives the reader some food for thought, right after they’ve laughed their pants off! Pairs awesome with I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton for some more giggles and interesting facts about arachnids!

 Again, I have to say, I am becoming a BOB SHEA FANGIRL!!!!!!!!!!! Dinosaur makes everyone he encounters turn into a roaring roarer, but then… He visits the library and is faced with the challenge: can he roar-it-in and listen to storytime! Excellent first read during library orientation for elementary school librarians!

 After reading four books in a row by Bob Shea, it’s official, I am in ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️! So Goat is envious of how awesome Unicorn is, and in his mind believes Unicorn is such a show off! Then, Unicorn takes the first step towards getting to know Goat and many wonderful things happen! A story about how first impressions are deceiving and how we all should give each other a chance.

When faced with a fascinating new project…”Just Do It!”

Everyone has a different way of approaching a new idea, project, or risk.  When it comes to implementing a new project in the library, which is now my classroom, my approach mirrors the famous Nike campaign “Just Do It!”.  There are usually at least ten reasons why not to do something, there’s always more research that could be done, more plans to be laid out, the timing could always improve, but here is my reasoning behind following the philosophy of a company who adopted the name of the Greek Goddess of Victory: I won’t necessarily have the kids I have today, a week from now.  In planning amazing feats for the future, I cannot forget that there are children that need to be impacted today, for it might be the last chance I receive to make them discover the power of reading, the love for it, the spark that will set them on their path through literacy successfully.With that mission and the vision of the children I get to serve today, that might not be there tomorrow, this first year as a librarian I have (among other things):

  • Celebrated Global Read Aloud Day 2015
    • Students from Lubbock, TX discussed their favorite book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal with students from our School via Skype
    • First grade postcard exchange with schools in various states and Canada
  • Campaigned the Texas Bluebonnet Awards Vote “Read Five Then Decide” and had voting ID cards, voting booths, and electronic voting.
  • Had fourth graders share a Google Hangout with author Kate Messner
  • Had third graders Skype with author Jennifer Ward
  • Offered afterschool MarkerSpace with Lego, Engineering and other challenges
  • Coached two Battle of the Books teams
  • Formed a Library Assistants Club
  • Offered Toddler Storytime
  • Planned two parent Literacy @ Home Nights where parents received practical activities and created manipulatives with my good friend and Early Childhood Specialist Esmeralda Ramirez
  • As part of World Read Aloud Day students from Houston, TX read via Google Hangout “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt to all of our 2nd grade classes.
  • Celebrated Read Across America FOR A WHOLE WEEK
    • As part of Read Across America Celebrated DOCTOR SEUSS’S BIRTHDAY with over 15 guest readers from the community to read in our school to our classes
  • Hosted a Pumpkin Book Character Contest
  • Celebrated Children’s Book Week 2016 FOR THE WHOLE WEEK:
    • Dressed up as a different character every day
    • Students had a daily dress up activity to celebrate their favorite books and stories
    • Milk and Cookies Family Reading Night with more than 12 stations to craft, have fun, and listen to stories
    • Organized our First Book Swap- an opportunity to get rid of the stories you no longer read and find new ones at no cost
    • Hosted a Pringles Book Character Contest
    • Hosted a Grade Level Teacher Book Character Dress Up Contest
  • Wrote and got funded a DonorsChoose.org grant.
  • Received a Ford of North Texas and First Book Grant of 200 books for our library.
  • Wrote an Innovation Grant (still waiting to hear from this one!)
  • Celebrated Lunch Hero Day with letters, balloons, paper food with student messages, and posters.

Here is something I jumped into most recently as part of Children’s Book Week, and you know what, I was wearing my Nike sneakers! 

BOOK CHARACTER PARADE!– Was I stressed? Holy cow, totally and absolutely! I invited parents to watch from the sidewalk and prayed that they would respect the boundaries I set for the safety of all our kids.  Did I wonder if maybe myself and 12 more kids would be the only ones dressed up and parading?  I truly did.  But you know what? IT WAS AWESOME! Many of our teachers participated, some had their classes dress up as a book for example: Pete the Cat’s Groovy Buttons: the teacher was Pete and each child was a button!  We paraded once around the school, many parents came, the students who didn’t parade had fun watching, the kids that did parade, were waving as if they were being pranced around on a float, and boy did we have fun and showed that our love of good books, good stories and cool characters is cause for celebration!


The goddess Nike has had my back this year, it’s been amazing to create so many opportunities for my students to see the library as the hive for many of their interests and as a place where reading is for everyone and having fun is pretty much a given.  Just “doing it” also provides a wealth of information for future, improved events while allowing me to care for the children I am responsible for impacting NOW and in the FUTURE! 

Photo taken from: http://sneakerhistory.com/nike/nike-just-do-it/

Hold On (Cue Triumph, yes the Classic Rock Band!)

This month of May,  it will be ten months into my new role in education as a librarian.  After more than a decade in the classroom, working at amazing schools, collaborating on grade level teams with amazing educators such as Esmeralda Ramirez, Karla L. Vargas, and Gustavo Pinoargote, I have been feeling…isolated.  See, as a classroom teacher, you share your daily EVERYTHING with your teammates. You have this mind-blowing, crazy idea? You holler at a teammate which is lining up for something or the other at the same time as you, and you share, you plan, you put the wheels in motion STAT!  As a librarian… well I’m the only librarian on campus. We can go on about grade level planning meetings, and many other instances when you collaborate, coplan, coteach, but I’ve spoken to other librarians and they feel the same way: isolated.  It’s the nature of the position, the  job, the day to day operations.

There have been little glimpses here and there that hint at a possible support network that could make the isolation less so, but nothing compares to TODAY, Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016; the first Reading Night I plan, organize, fundraise for, set up, and see through as a librarian.

 I desperately needed teachers to run the stations I had created and was in a panic when I sent out an email asking for help and less than a handful answered.  I asked our feeder high school for volunteers and found some that would help, but not enough to ensure that Reading Night would run smoothly. My best friend and co-educator Esmeralda Ramirez, who doesn’t work in our district, not only volunteered, but told me repeatedly to “breathe” (she tells me this often, but that’s a whole other post) that it would work out.   

Here’s how it went down:

– Marie, one of our custodians, offered to pick up a cookie donation from Schlotsky’s before her shift started at 2pm.

– Amy, the Kinder TA, showed up at 3:45, more than one hour before Reading Night started, and took over setting up the Pringles Can Character Contest (about 30 of them, by grade level), so I could run and setup other stations.

– Ms. McCoy, kinder teacher, had come in to make her teacher book fair wish list and told me she was “mad” I didn’t ask her for help.  I asked her to please pick up cookie donations at two McDonald’s locations and she did! She also came in way early and helped me set up more than one station, then worked the BookWorm Buddy Station.


-Mr. Alvarez, art teacher, did some heavy lifting and when I said “Aaaahhhhh I haven’t made the numbers for the Book Walk!”, went into the office printed the numbers and laminated them.

-Ms. Allen, music teacher, donated yarn (which I had forgotten to buy!) so we could have our Library Spy Maze and was also the sweetest it’s-time-to-go-home door bouncer ever!

-Mr. Stovall. I texted him to please help me create the library maze because I knew I wouldn’t have it on time for the start of Reading Night and although he had a previous commitment, he stopped by the library and set up the maze which was awesome, before he left. The maze station was ready for kids as soon as they walked in.

-Ms. McClendon, kinder teacher, tirelessly read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie… to groups of kiddos and made eating chocolate chip cookies and sipping chocolate milk part of her interactive storytelling.
IMG_9281-Ms. Ramsey, kinder teacher, ran the Book Walk in a way that puts Cake Walks to shame, getting kids and parents to play too.

– Ms. Nguyen tallied votes for the Pringles Can Characters the old school tally mark way because yours truly didn’t have time to come up with a more efficient way to vote. She was a champ for sure, writing down votes like a stock trader takes orders on the floor of Wall Street.
IMG_9271-Ms. Smith handled the Book Swap like a Mergers and Acquisition Pro, making executive decisions as to what a fair exchange was and leaving everyone happy in the process.

-Ms. Grisham who I’m pretty sure single-handedly donated at least 200 of our 500 books for Book Swap, and then proceeded to work the Walk in Pete the Cat’s Shoes Scooter Race.

-Ms. Dewberry surprised me today by telling me she would stay and help. She shared the Pete the Cat Station with Ms. Grisham AND kept the sixth  graders busy when they were getting restless. (Personally, I think they just like having some extra time with their teacher!)

-Mr. Freeman finished his bus route and helped with the outside Minute-to-Win-It Genre Sort Station which wasn’t the easiest of stations because it was outside, it had an obstacle course, and kids were soooooooo excited to be running, hurdling and screaming during Reading Night.
IMG_9309-Ms. Chen, I know testing is coming up and she’s been stressed, but she made the Fairy Tale Sketch-Who? super fun and gave kids a chance to try out a Pictionary-type game which most of them have never played before.
IMG_9396-Ms. Anderson, first grade, got kids excited about the book character button making station AND was so excited to see families from her class spending time at Reading Night.
IMG_9274-Ms. Wemple worked tirelessly, next to Ms. McCoy, at the Bookworm Buddy Station, and didn’t bat an eyelash when we ran out of “worm” beads and I found…LETTER BEADS!, which brought a new wave of “beaders” to their table.

-Ms. Rodriguez and Ms. Gayle, fifth grade, had little pre-schoolers and big sixth graders weaving through our Library Spy Maze to win posters which they presented with such flair they made it seem kids were getting a Royal Proclamation.

-Coach Mac let me borrow his P.E. equipment and tie-wrapped together hula hoops to make our obstacle course fun and familiar for our kids.

-Mr. Pierotti, assistant principal,  expertly cleared the crowd when it was time to go and get ready for PTA and Orchestra Performance.  He also transported over 30 Pringles Character Cans without breaking a one from the cafeteria back to the library.

When it was all said and done, everyone pitched in and pick up was over in a heartbeat!  
This is the”feeling” I want to “Hold On” to, although the isolation will probably always be there, when it really counts, when it’s for our kids, I am not an island, I have a group of loving, caring, dedicated teachers and staff that will stand united with me to make the love of literacy grow in our children.

(To listen to Triumph’s Hold On click here. )



Still the one…

I am still looking for the group of readers I belong to.  I haven’t found any one person that I can call and gush over my recent picture book reads.  I know they are out there, these people who go crazy when the release date of a new Mo Willems, Kate Dicamillo, Oliver Jeffers, Peter Brown, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Ame Dyckman, Tom Litchtenheld, Lauren Castillo,  Drew Daywalt, just to mention a few, picture book is announced or is FINALLY HERE!, but I haven’t found them yet.

What to do if I am bursting with need to discuss, dissect, share my joy and-or pain when I have finished a book, one that just hangs around my heart for days?  My father, is the one constant book lover in my life, he would recite Shakespeare at bedtime, read Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi over, and over, and over again, when I was a little girl.  As I grew up he introduced me to Edgar Allen Poe, Somerset Maugham,  O. Henry, Walt Whitman, Steinbeck, Hemingway, and reintroduced Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, and many other masters.  I owe my love of literature to him, but sharing picture books which are my most read format, was asking a little too much, at least to the magnitude I need to share.  Don’t get me wrong, he has sat through read alouds of Mo Willems and laughed his pants off, and most recently I sent him a copy of Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on first? picture book witch has had him in good spirits for days, even though he is recuperating from knee surgery; but listening to me go on and on about picture books he has not read and will not purchase (we live far away from each other), is asking a bit too much.

Enter my New Year’s Resolution for 2016 to read more YA…did I mention I am a Picture Book collector (*cough* hoarder *cough*)?  Have I told you that the funnest, most thrilling activity for me as a librarian is reading aloud and having children mesmerized?  Anyway, as a librarian I am no longer just introducing third and fourth graders to picture books and chapter books, I now service readers up to the sixth grade, so a YA commitment was of the essence.

I started my year with Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley.  OMG!  Heartbreakingly beautiful has a new sheriff in town! While reading this story, I could feel hope for the true existence of magic growing in my heart, by the word.  I wished I had a friend like Micah, so grown up and also so much of a child at the same time, just like I was.  His belief in his grandfather’s stories, his total unwavering faith that grandpa had indeed been to Circus Mirandus and that all the magic he retold Micah was true, was a testament to Micah’s love for his grandfather and for the possibility that there is more in this world than just what the naked eye can see and the mind can fathom.  It was also a story of friendship, of how it just happens, how one day you share something with someone and poof!, the connection is indestructible (the kind of friendship I always wished for growing up).  It was also a story of how having unwavering faith challenged with wickedness can result in such heartbreak that you can never go back to the person you were, or have faith in the people and things you loved above all others. I needed someone I knew to read it so I could share all the wonderfulness, the magic, the hopes and dreams that grew within me while reading, the memories it brought back.  I called my dad and begged him to buy Circus Mirandus and read it, I told him how much I needed to share this story that was now part of me…and he obliged.  He loved Micah, Mirandus, grandpa and the Light Bender as much as I did; he hurt for auntie’s bad experience as a child that left her emotionally crippled for life, and he too admired Micah’s faith in grandpa and magic.  I cannot express correctly how relieved I was to be able to talk about this story with someone who had read it, and someone I grew up with, besides all that we loved about the story, we reminisced about my circus experiences as a child, he as a first time (and only time) parent, and stories of his childhood that Mirandus brought back to life.

I was able to find closure in sharing Mirandus with someone who was affected by it too, and know it lies calmly as part of my story.  Last weekend, though, I finished Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.  I listened to the audio which included music accompanying the narration when a concerto was referenced, or the harmonica was played in the story.  Music is tied to so many of my memories that I could feel how it affected each of the characters in the story, I could feel the beauty of it, the universal language it conveys, the healing and joy it can bring and felt the happiness and struggles of the characters as my own (I also cried quite a lot, I won’t lie.) Have you ever struggled with the uncertainty that the author just couldn’t have, wouldn’t have, BETTER NOT HAVE left this person’s life where it seems it has ended?  This was my struggle throughout listening to Echo, I had the physical book many times in my hand, deciding to look ahead and put an end to my misery and impending sense of doom, it couldn’t have ended the way it had for Friedrich, for Michael and Frankie, for Ivy and her family, right? But I resisted, it would be disrespectful to Pam Munoz’s craft and storytelling genius so I patiently waited, looking at what percentage of the story did I still have to listen to before the end.  I won’t share anymore of the story, because spoilers aren’t cool, but when I finished listening to Echo that familiar pressure in my chest begun, I needed someone else to share this story with! In Echo’s case, I needed someone to read it and tell me that yes! it’s true, that beautiful story exists, it was as wonderful as I felt it was.  I called my dad again and told him to purchase the audio version of it, that there was no other way I wanted him to dive into this book.  Again, he obliged.  He downloaded it this morning and has listened to 80% of it so far.  He is feeling the same way I felt about each of the characters’ endings, we lamented on how short lived their happiness was, and were grateful that they had at least experienced love, hope, happiness, in their lifetimes.  The story so far, which is told in third person from the child’s point of view of the world, made him reflect on how much goes on in the lives, minds and hearts of young children, the fears, hopes and dreams, it was much more complex than what he had ever thought it could be.  It was incredibly hard to not put an end to his pain, to let him know that it would be okay, but I couldn’t out of respect for Pam Munoz, and the journey she wishes the reader to join her in.

I can hardly wait till tomorrow when I will get a call from Dad telling me he finished Echo.  I am anxious to start our conversation about the new people in our lives, Friedrich, Mike and Frankie, Ivy, Kenny, Nando and what we had hoped for them.

I am blessed to have my dad Still Be The One in my life that I can unburden the weight of an amazing, shocking, life altering story with.  Knowing they not only live in my heart, but in his as well, and our lives are richer for it.