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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Active or passive

How exciting is being a school librarian? Ask my new students and they’ll tell you I have the very best job. In fact, they seem to be waging an active campaign to organize student workers so they can spend more time in the library. I’m hearing pleas to go to the library as I walk through the building and students bargaining with teachers to re-arrange their schedules for reading. Teachers lie in wait as I come to school 1.5 hours early to plan and find new titles. What is so exciting? 

Perhaps it’s our enthusiasm for discovering new titles? Since I receive quite a few things to read, I’m always carrying boxes of new books into school and placing them on shelves in the Kennedy Room. Teachers and students know they can come browse through my ARC’s and review copies to see what I’m reading. They quiz me daily, "What did you read last night?" What pressure! What if I simply sat and played Civilization on my computer? It forces me to read something new daily. 

Teachers come to borrow new titles and "try them out" with their classes. It looks like I will have 3 groups of 10 students each wanting to be "book bloggers" and regularly review YA/Middle School fiction AND NONFICTION. Several students have submitted reviews and commentaries to me in exchange for a bookmark. Mainly they want to be heard and responded to. Some have no books in their homes and hope that publishers will send me several copies so they can form groups to chat about books.

Publishers, take note. Students want to tell you about your books. Many of mine are recent arrivals with 47 countries and 35 languages represented. We have the ELD students with 10 words of English all the way through the honor students who create their own opportunities. We have the gangs and the family problems at home that we refuse to let determine our future in school. 

I have 25 pages of writings in English and in Spanish from one classroom that reviewed the My First Pet Bilingual Library from the American Humane Association and Enslow publishing. The teacher was thrilled when I waltzed into his room with 6 titles from Enslow and asked his students what they liked and didn’t like about the books. He said I saved his second period class and they were delighted to "help" the librarian. They wrote about what they liked and disliked about each pet, also. They have strong opinions and writing their reveiws gave them an opportunity to open those dictionaries and increase their vocabulary. They had something to share instead of passively receiving language during that block. They are actively involved in making the world better and helping us build a bilingual collection.

Out of the nearly 1000 students who checked out titles the first week of school, only 3 told me they didn’t like to read and 7 couldn’t find anything. I gave them nonfiction series choices like planet books, geology titles, and disaster books. They quickly chose from among the 6-8 books in the series I indicated and seemed relieved that someone forced them to take a book. While one told me that he wouldn’t be opening it, I spied him reading it and drawing pictures of volcanoes in his advisory period. My expectation is they will read and learn something every time. It’s that simple. Leave passivity at the door and get involved. 

I’m following up with the students, also. I printed my barcodes of everyone in a class and quickly pulled up every name to scan and see if they’d checked something out. All students left with materials. No excuses. No cop-outs. No telling me that they’d lost a book 3 years ago and couldn’t get a new one until they paid for it. New year, new start.

We determine how we are viewed in our schools. We’ve been in school two weeks. I’ve been in every classroom at least once, seen every student in school individually at least once, and developed relationships with every sixth grade class. It didn’t happen by staying in the library and hoping they’d come to me. I had to actively go out into their rooms and ask questions, issue invitations, and listen. If a student takes a new book, I make sure they know if I haven’t read it so they will tell me their opinion when they return it. Many catch me in the hallway to let me know which chapter they are on and how it’s going so far. 

When one girl told me she was hating the book she was nearly finished with, I dashed to the teacher with a Book Emergency Pass so we could solve that problem. I made sure she had a new book that she did like and dangled the carrot in front of her, "If you finish that other book this weekend and write down what you hated the most, I’ll let you choose a prize." Should I expect to see her Monday morning?

My prize drawers are growing – bookmarks, journals, pens, pencils, erasers, playdoh, toys, books, fancy paper, notecards, greeting cards, invitation cards, manga, drawing tools, etc. So far everyone has found something when randomly rewarded for actively responding when I asked a question, when I requested movement, or for choosing to do something without being asked. 

I wonder what their library will look like as this continues. It’s a work in progress. Stay tuned.


  1. Great ideas for getting students to read. Classes start tomorrow where I am. I would like to start a bike club on campus as a way interact with the students informally.


    You are always inspiring. Between illnes and textbook assignments gone awry, I’ve been rundown and a little exasperated by all the demands. Thanks again for the pick me up. I cant’ wait to get back and get to work now.