I Need YOUR Help!

Dear readers,

I thought I’d try crowd-sourcing this one, as I’m striking out with my searches.

I need your help deciding on a novel to read to my Grade 7/8 library class. Not just any novel though – there are so many great ones to choose from. This one has to meet a host of criteria.

They would like me to stay with Deborah Ellis‘ books, with which the grade 8s have been obsessed since grade 6 and the Grade 7s got a taste of last year with The Breadwinner.

Why do they love her so much? Because she writes about ‘real’ people with interesting lives – characters with whom they can identify, but who make them appreciate their own lives; their freedoms. Ellis’ novels have perfectly appropriate shock value to keep them fascinated, meanwhile enlightening them; leading them to feel they understand parts of the world that they had not previously given any thought to.

But as wonderful as her books are, and were fabulous for discussions on democracy, Deborah Ellis’ novels do not meet the criteria this time.

This class’ Social Studies teacher is focusing on a theme of cultural compromise: the compromises, (if you can call it that), that First Nations made when Europeans first arrived in Canada, and those made by those Europeans and other immigrants upon coming to Canada to assimilate into the first developing and now entrenched culture. Applicable also would be the Metis and French Canadians who found themselves minorities in western Canada.

So…I’m looking for a fast-moving, adrenaline-rich novel that illustrates that theme of cultural compromise, with (a) strong, believable and preferably teenage protagonist(s), set in pre- or post-confederation Canada, with a few age-appropriate, realistic shockers and cliff-hangers (I know when to stop a reading) among the adventures.

I won’t tell you what I’ve been looking at or why I may or may not have rejected them. I want your suggestions.

Enlighten me, please! You can post suggestions in the comments below or to @Missus_K on Twitter, or you can email me at MissusK76(at)Yahoo(dot)com, if that’s the method you prefer. I’ll compile them all, with credit, in a later post here.

Thanking you in advance,



Filed under Authors & Illustrators, Books, Education, Library Class, Library Programs, Reading, Rethinking My Library

Pick-up Lines

I’m very excited and had to share this really not-beautiful but really successful YA Display. I got the idea from the Johnson County Library via Pinterest. (Thanks for sharing, JCL!)

First Lines Display Sign

I decided to go with the black and white theme and added some intrigue by calling it “Pick-up Lines”. There’s so little time at the beginning of the year, I did this as simply as I could. I had planned to lay some black paper and decorate the shelves a little more, but this is all I got done before the first classes came in.

I found a frame and a bunch of first lines, printed them out and set up the display. The first two junior high classes checked  out half the books! That’s a pretty good number here as most of my displays in that section are barely noticed. One Grade 9 student even let me know that it’s a really fun display!


I gathered the first lines from all over the place including books in my library. I’m still working on more, hoping this keeps going for a while. Feel free to use the sign or covers, for which you’ll also need the first lines list to identify the titles.

  • Print 2 quotes side by side on 8.5″ x 11″ paper landscape-wise.
  • Cut the sheets and glue each quote to the right side of a sheet of construction paper.
  • Attach a label to the reverse, with the title, author & call number.
  • Laminate the sheets.
  • Wrap sheets around the book so the cover is hidden (some books are too big but so far I’ve made it work).
  • Crease it a little to square off on the spine.
  • Attach a piece of clear tape from the back to the front, folding the end over to make a pull tab for removal.
  • Design a sign (or print mine if you like) and set up the display!

I have now made a second batch from books gleaned from my shelves including some older gems to encourage some new circulation for them. I reserve the books for myself when they are borrowed, so I can set them back up on display once they are returned. I’m keeping track of the circulation on the master list as well and may remove some that don’t end up going out at all.

Like all displays, I’m sure this will have a limited shelf-life, so I will have to keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t get stale. In the meantime, I’m happy with its effectiveness. If you try it or have tried it, let me know in the comments how it went for you. I’d also love to hear if you have any other successful YA display ideas.


Filed under Library Management, Library Programs, Rethinking My Library

My Library This Christmas

Books are Snow Wonderful Bulletin Board

It’s “Share the Gift of Story” this week, with readers from the community coming in to read to K-Gr. 9 library classes. It’s so great for the kids to see that it’s not just school staff and parents who enjoy reading stories. Our local RCMP really get in on the act with several constables joining in the fun this year. Perfect way for the kids to meet the local police officers too!

Easy Street decorated for Christmas with New Fireplace

A long-time participant, whose grandchildren are now in school noticed a couple of years ago that the YouTube fireplace video that I put on the Smart Board behind the readers was a little pathetic. It couldn’t be seen well, it distracted the kids as the tender rustled logs and it often froze. This year, this kind gentleman brought in our very own electric fireplace to lend ambiance to our seasonal program and story time throughout the year. What a wonderful gift!

The Circulation Desk with Christmas Tree

Our Grade 6 class decorated the library. Doesn’t it look great?

The big project on the go is a wonderful collaboration cooked up between our local public librarian, Nancy Keough and me. It all started, more or less, with my not being able to work out how to offer e-books to our students. I get my own, personally through the public library system along with a plethora of other resources that aren’t available to us otherwise. Some of our students do have memberships but the majority do not. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had access to all the wonderful things they offer?

Nancy took the idea to the library board, who generously offered us a great deal on public library memberships for the entire school! All staff and students. Our administration gave the go-ahead and four local business have helped to fund it. We’re just collecting forms now and are hoping to have everything in place now.

For more about the membership project, the sponsors and a few other things around the library, see my December newsletter.

Other than that I’m finding myself with a little time to clear up my desk and check off some of those stickier tasks on my to-do list. Next week will be our last week before the break and I’ll read to library classes from my selection of Christmas favourites.


After that, it’s focus on family (and shopping and cooking and wrapping and crafting) for 2 whole weeks! I wish you all a great holiday, if that’s what you’re in for as well and if not, enjoy December wherever you are.


Filed under Education, eReaders in the School Library, Library Class, Library Programs

Grades 7-12 Riveted By Tales from Storyteller Gail de Vos

SwanHillsSchool_Gail_de_Vos (1 of 1)

Gail de Vos at Swan Hills School

Following in the tradition of storytelling throughout the ages of humanity, storyteller Gail de Vos captivates her audience with tales that hit home. On October 15, our Junior and Senior High students were fully engaged as she told old and new tales. Perfectly timed with the upcoming Halloween atmosphere, Gail told her version of urban myths like ‘The Exploding Toilet’ and ‘The Vanishing Hitchhiker’.

Gail explained that anyone that has ever made up an excuse, engaged in gossip or told a friend about a book or a movie, is a storyteller. Like the way we improvise, elaborate and spin words to suit our ‘audience’, Gail explained how the most effective stories are those that are modified to meet the present time and place. Gail told a story that she performed  for a Halloween Graveyard event at Fort Edmonton Park. She craftily incorporated surrounding sounds, scents and objects to increase the ‘fear factor’ of the tale. Readers may have heard the story of the sunbather who woke up with a cheek full of hatching spiders, which is a contemporary adaptation of an ancient cautionary story. Gail told about the 60’s version of the story, which was told with effect to girls with elaborate beehive hairdos who might end up having spiders nesting in it  if they didn’t wash their hair more often.


The Wendigo from Deadliest Fiction.com (click)

Gail also delved into ancient characters who have stood the test of time and how their stories vary by region and culture. There are many stories told about La Llorona (Weeping Woman), who watches over the lake where she drowned her own children and herself, variously drowning children or protecting them from drowning and/or murdering men, who represent the husband who rejected her. The Golem, from Jewish folklore has appeared in 6 major comics in the past 2 years. The Vanishing Hitchhiker is a 400 year-old-story that has taken on many forms including the 1960s hit ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’. Gail set her version on Alberta Highway 2 near Blackfalds. Canada’s Sasquach and the First Nations’ Wendego also fit into that category.

Gail talked about the current fad of ‘Legend Tripping’ – going into haunted houses and other scary situations – as well as the vicarious version, where we watch YouTube videos of other people doing it. ‘Bloody Mary’ (locking oneself in a dark bathroom and performing the ritual expected to call the murderess through the mirror) is a form of this game that is familiar to many of our students. As our students were not able to name a local haunted house, more creative means have likely been found for Legend Tripping possibly involving the forests surrounding our town.

Comics, graphic novels, animated movies and even computer games are all in the realm of Gail’s interest in popular culture.  She explained how ballads are stories told in song and that Disney’s Mulan started out as an ancient ballad. She warned of the danger of progressing from enjoying old and new myths to immersing oneself and losing perspective as in the case of the Slenderman  tragedy earlier this year.


Click for the books on Gail de Vos’ website

Gail de Vos is a professor at the University of Alberta, an award-winning author and a leader in the international storytelling community. She specializes in Urban Legends – those tales we almost believe are news until the truth comes out. She has published several books including the following, which we have in our library and which I’ve linked to their Goodreads entries:

We feel very fortunate to be able to host a literary artist thanks to the Young Alberta Book Society’s Taleblazers festival, which covers expenses. We cover artists’ fees with the income from our annual Scholastic Book Fair.


Filed under Education, Library Programs

SHS Elementary Inspired by Visit from Illustrator Georgia Graham

20141006-DSCF5021Yesterday,  elementary students at Swan Hills School were treated to presentations by Alberta illustrator and author, Georgia Graham. Growing up on an Alberta farm and now living on a tree farm in central Alberta, Georgia has a natural affinity for animals and wildlife which shows in the  beautiful and realistic drawings in Where Wild Horses Run among others. Georgia also excels in a completely different style with the humourous cartoon-style images in books like Here Comes Hortense and The Lime Green Secret.

6164409While fascinating the kids by drawing detailed pictures, she told her stories  and showed slides of her illustrations and the photos she took while researching. She showed pictures of herself as a child and her early drawings, and talked about how she had been fascinated with pastels since her mother gave her a set in Grade 4.

6321955Working through pastel drawings of a circle transformed into an apple, a scene with a road through hilly hay fields (from The Strongest Man This Side of Cremona) , a sled dog (from A Team Like No Other) and several others,  she demonstrated how to create depth and perspective in objects and scenes with shadow and light. She described the process involved in creating a book from concept to publication and how she often uses an inspiring true story to ‘tweak’ into a great fiction book.

GeorgiaGrahamSwanHillsSchool2014Division Two learned the proportions and shading techniques of making a realistic portrait and Division One watched her create the whimsical, cartoon-style protagonist of The Lime Green Secret. After each drawing was complete, she drew the name of a student who would take the drawing home. The kids were amazed and enlightened as she laid transparencies in cyan, magenta, yellow and black over one another to create a final image of one of her illustrations from the very popular Tiger’s New Cowboy Books written by Irene Morck.

3141384Students had been introduced to Georgia Graham’s books in library classes and were eager to meet her. They were not disappointed as she fleshed out their experiences with the books and gave them the motivation to check them out more closely on their own, which will broaden their understanding of Alberta, of nature, of people and of life – those things we all gain from intimacy with books.

6881719With their beautiful, realistic depictions of Alberta’s landscapes, several of Georgia’s books are listed in Learn Alberta’s Social Studies Literature Connections (K-12), and more could be added for students studying Alberta in general, various geographical regions, rural life and individual identity. Based on a true story, The Strongest Man This Side of Cremona tells of the destruction of a farm during a tornado that hit the area in 1965. Sweeping prairie vistas and period-accurate illustrations strengthen the story of how the experience must have felt to one small boy.  Sled dog driving is featured in A Team Like No Other,  a story of love and trust set in the spectacular Rocky Mountains.


Illustration from ‘Where Wild Horses Run’ by Georgia Graham

Our annual author visits are partially funded by the Young Alberta Book Society, who in turn are sponsored by many groups and agencies. We pay the artist’s fee only with the money we earn through the excellent local patronage of our annual Book Fair.

Next week is the Junior & Senior High’s turn when storyteller and urban myth exploiter Gail de Vos visits on the 15th.

Georgia Graham’s Website
Reviews on Goodreads
Young Alberta Book Society’s Taleblazers



Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators, Education, Library Programs

Franklin Expedition Book Display

Book Cover of Buried in Ice: The Mystery of a Lost Arctic Expedition linked to Goodreads listingBuried in Ice has often caught student’s attention with its graphic pictures of the “perfectly preserved” body of John Torrington discovered in 1984, 140 years after his death in the frozen north. The recent discovery of one of the ships from the Franklin Expedition inspired me to create a book display with our related books and some borrowed through our regional library. A former student, now a father himself, generously delivered a close replica for the display. A QR code in the poster leads students to find out more about the find and research going on around it.

Swan Hills School Franklin Expedition Book Display

Swan Hills School Franklin Expedition Book Display

Franklin Expedition images labeled for reuse

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Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators, Education, Library Management, Reading

Text Polling on Reading Habits With Grades 7-9

The kids were surprised that I asked them to bring their mobile devices to library classes and they surprised me too!

Hands holding phone texting

By Jhaymesisviphotography on Flickr

Mostly I was surprised that only about half of them had devices with them and a few of them were not text-capable. So the sample in my poll was quite small, although I did get some more answers by a raise of hands.

Not Enough Reading For Fun

I used PollEverywhere (a free and friendly site) and embedded the questions in a Power Point. I found that only about half of the students often read for enjoyment, and some did rarely or not at all, which was a little disappointing. Although I know that reading for fun is not part of some kids’ lives, I guess I had always hoped that most of those who were not checking out materials from the library were finding their reading materials elsewhere.

I also discovered that print magazines are still more popular than those online, however there is a possibility that some students weren’t identifying some of their online reading as ‘magazines’ and I will have to show and discuss more of this medium in the future.

Asleep with book in hand

By Quinn Dombrowski
on Flickr

Most of the readers did most of their pleasure reading in bed, which didn’t surprise me and is why I encourage parents to set bedtime at least a half-hour earlier than they expect their children to be asleep, and allow reading-only during that time. Most readers like series and most still buy from bookstores in spite of the fact that there is not one within 200 km. of our town. A few buy online or get from the public or school library and (another surprise) none swap with friends or buy used books.

Books/Movies Divide

When I asked the question: “More than anything else, I want stories (movies & books) to be: exciting, funny, realistic, romantic or supernatural”, there were choices across the spectrum. But curiously, most chose “funny”. However, when I asked them to name some funny books they liked they had no suggestions! It turned out that most thought only of movies when they answered the question. I do wonder then whether I need to purchase and promote humourous teen fiction. I also need to either rephrase the questions or ask it about books and movies separately.

Teenager reading by window

By Demi-Brooke
on Flickr

So, although the sample was too small to be really instructive, I did learn a few things. There are still students who are not reading for pleasure at all and some rarely. Since research is showing that reading for pleasure is one of the most important factors influencing life skills and academic success (one source), even one in that category is too many. I need to identify and target those kids. These non-readers tend to put up a brick wall when approached directly with book suggestions so I need to find out why they’re non-readers and then find some kind of back-door to sneakily get them to open a book that will grab their attention. Are they ‘reluctant readers’ or just too busy with other things?

What to Do?

I touched on teens and home reading in my September newsletter but maybe there’s more I can do. Junior High library classes have always been their book exchange and silent reading time. With their teachers’ approval, this year I will be showing online resources, book trailers and discussing books more as a group for part of their class. I’m also printing QR codes to attach to books so students can access trailers, reviews and series lists on their mobile devices.

By  Jayel Aheram on Flickr

By Jayel Aheram
on Flickr

Here is some of the reading I’m doing to strategize my approach to those kids who haven’t discovered or have forgotten the joy of reading for pleasure. If you know of any great tips or sites to share, please do in the comments.


Filed under Education, Library Class, Library Management, Library Programs, Online Resources, Reading