Tag Archives: school library

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

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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

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

Easy Street Gets a Makeover

Well, not a total makeover, but a pretty big one. When I first renovated the library, I kept the platform that the circulation desk had been on, thinking it would make a great little ‘room’ for elementary library classes.


Easy Street 2012

Easy Street 2012

(More pics here and here.)

I loved it and for the most part, the kids loved it but after 2 years, I finally decided it had to go. A class of 27 Grade 2 students decided it for me. They were just too crowded. So after compromising with the maintenance department, my husband, my sons and I ripped the platform out and maintenance got the carpet relaid and fixed up the bottom of the walls. I purchased 3 book carts on casters with the profit from my book fair and this is what I have now.

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Easy Street 2014 (From Behind the wiring pole on the circulation desk)

Now there is much more space for the kids and a much more flexible space. I can roll the carts out for classes and can even roll up the alphabet carpet and place chairs for a sizable gathering. I loved the platform but I’m liking this even better.

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Jillian Jiggs says Hurrah! There’s room to dance.

Three more sleeps till the kids come back and still a list of things to do including getting textbooks ready to go and barcoding 75 new Chrome books.

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Greetings and a Free Image

From My Place to Yours

From My Place to Yours

This is my library – warm on the inside, and sometimes very cold on the outside. These are some of the Christmas books I have in my collection. Feel free to take a copy if you like, to use as you like.

Where ever you are, whatever you may or may not be celebrating, I hope you too are about to enjoy a rejuvenating break from your ‘day job’. Thursday will be our last day at school until the 6th of January. I will be spending a traditional Christmas with family and friends, eating lots, laughing lots, hugging lots and hopefully…reading lots!

Until January…


Filed under Art & Design

The Reference Section is Still in the Library

DSCF4574-1In the ‘good old days’ classes came to the library to use the encyclopedia, almanacs, atlas’ and other books from the Reference section.

Nowadays, to a large extent, they are ‘Googling’.

In the ‘good old days’, there were teacher librarians who taught the art of research: how to use the resources effectively.

In the not-so-distant past, it was our job, as non-professional library managers to at least make sure the reference materials were complete and up-to-date so that teachers doing a research project with their class could access reliable materials. It was our job to provide print resources to support the curriculum as theme materials housed temporarily in classrooms or as individual responses to student and teacher needs.

Nowadays teachers are often ‘Googling’ with their students, while the function of many school libraries has narrowed to the provision of free-reading and leveled reading materials along with providing a place to send students who need to be removed from their classes for a multitude of reasons.

Lewis Hine, Boy studying, ca. 1924 Wikimedia Commons

Nowadays, we need to transition that time we used to spend on the print reference materials to curating the online versions

It has been difficult for administrators to see that we – their non-professional library ‘assistants’ – can and should still be providing curriculum support in the digital age. And with the continued consumption of time involved in print collection acquisitions, processing and maintenance, student supervision and plant management (none of that has decreased although usage may have evolved), it’s been difficult for library staff to make the transition, to find the time to master the online reference world.


We can still provide resources for teachers and students; to support the curriculum and enhance learning by maintaining an awareness of and assisting with access to the best resources available.

The truth is that as budgets dwindle and resources become more online-based, if we don’t keep pace it will be the students who suffer because although library staff are ideally placed to offer resource assistance across the curriculum, not all stake holders are aware of that. It’s up to us to show them.

UC Berkley School of Information

Ideally a teacher librarian would be in place to teach the skills necessary to navigate and evaluate the profusion of information available, but there are things we can do as resource providers to help teachers do that.


Teachers may not be aware that they can come to the library for help when they are struggling to find suitable resources for a topic. I was unaware that the Outdoor Education teacher was having a hard time finding hands-on activities for her class or that the same teacher needed help with finding good resources to teach Athenian democracy to her Grade 6 Social Studies class. I found out at a one-on-one meeting I had set up with her during one of her preps.

My goal is to meet with each teacher at least once during the year for one period. It’s true that some teachers are harder to pin down than others but I haven’t yet had a teacher that didn’t tell me that they found our meeting very helpful and productive. (It doesn’t hurt that I assemble a goody-bag to give them at the end with freebies, inexpensive school supplies and, of course, a candy or two.)

I prepare for these meetings with a checklist of the subjects they teach and a cart full of related teacher resources and students materials. I also talk to them about each of the subscription-accessed online resources and try my best to determine where I can help.


A formal meeting is extremely helpful but at the very least, try to chat with each teacher about what their resource challenges are.


The generosity of educators online is astounding. Find people you trust who seem to enjoy nothing better than to freely share their expertise in evaluating resources. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest are full of these knowledgeable people – many of whom are teacher librarians. Follow a few in the platform(s) you choose and start bookmarking sites you feel might be relevant. Make it a goal to check out one new resource each day.


Assemble a basic checklist of resources that you can check quickly when a teacher or student requests assistance. I am in the process of that right now and it’s public on my school library webpage for teachers to check themselves if they so desire. (Or for you to steal if it works for you.) You could also use an online bookmarking site. Keeping it online keeps it available from whichever computer you are nearest to, allowing for spontaneous assistance in an emergency.


Create Resource lists for teachers and students that they can access from the school website and show them where it is – often – at staff meetings or whenever you get a chance. Post links that you know are high quality through your own experience or those recommended by people you trust. Include links to sites that you know your teachers and students are using so that they have easy access in the classroom and at home. It’s important to keep the pages up to date, which means periodically checking the links and responding quickly when there’s an issue with a site. It’s also important to keep the list from becoming too bulky or long. Keep it relevant and general.


When you find a good new resource, email it with a short description to the teachers to whom it would pertain. Try not to bombard all staff with emails that aren’t related to their assignment.


Continue to offer print materials as curriculum support in the classroom. A box of books on Ancient Greece (AB Gr. 6) or Small Crawling and Flying Animals (AB Gr. 1) will still add value to the unit, whether or not the teacher specifically requires students to use them. Choosing to pick one up simply to enjoy it will enhance that student’s learning.


In the ‘good old days’ teachers knew that  their students could access reliable information from one of a few sets of encyclopedia, several atlas’, almanacs and other reference materials that were kept up to date in the school library, where there was also qualified staff to help ensure successful searches.

Nowadays there are a multitude of resources that might work, all of which have different interfaces and applications to familiarize themselves with. After a full day of teaching the ever-growing list of curriculum outcomes in the 5 or 8 subjects they are teaching, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could fall back on a collection curated by the only member on staff whose responsibilities are all about curriculum support?


Recently it was suggested to me that teachers are perfectly capable of finding their own resources. Of course they are! And some teachers are truly self-sufficient, with enough interest in online resources to spend home-time learning for themselves. But in my school at least, and I suspect in most rural schools, teachers are frequently assigned to subjects they have not previously taught and sometimes have very little time to prepare for those changes.

And we all know that teachers are incredibly busy! It is some of the most efficient, effective and dedicated teachers who ask for my help and are exceedingly grateful when I am able to find something for them because they care about the quality of the education they are delivering.

Yes, the book repairs pile up; yes, the stacks are often disorderly; yes, autumn leaves are still on the window when they should be replaced with snowflakes…but that teacher’s ‘thank-you’ feels awesome.


Filed under Education, Library Programs, Online Resources

Library Introduction with Scaredy Squirrel

From the University Elementary School

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64 Homemade Character Costumes – and I Still Don’t Know What To Be

Inspiration: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.

Inspiration: Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Inspiration: Cindy Lou Who from Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

The above photos were borrowed from a collection of 64 character-based, home-made costumes, with instructions at About.Com Family Crafts.

And here’s a list of 60 Favorite Book Character Costumes.

For several years I dressed for school on Halloween as “Ms Kill” (a play on my name: Kilpatrick). I claimed to be Mrs. Kilpatrick’s older sister who had to work on Halloween because it was too scary for her (me). I wore a high-necked, long sleeved lace-edged blouse, a suit vest, long black skirt and ‘sensible’ shoes. I ‘aged’ my face with make-up, ‘horn-rimmed’ my glasses with electrical tape cut-outs and put spiders in a grey wig made into a bum and netted.

I was nasty and spent all day telling the kids to ‘shhhhh’. They got the idea that Ms Kill wasn’t very nice and loved to try to make me laugh, which was Not Allowed – I’d screech, “No frivolity in the library!” – but they really didn’t get the ‘librarian’ reference and I tired of the repeated act. Besides, as the year’s go by I need less ‘aging’ make-up and that is no fun. 🙂

Since then I’ve gone as a wispy ghost (that was fun, I was completely disguised), a failed “Where’s Waldo” (few kids guessed right) and a witch (cliché). Don’t know what I’ll be this year, I’m uninspired. I prefer ‘assembled’ costumes, rather than sewn (that’s just not going to happen), or purchased. Any ideas for me?


Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators

Canadian wins U.K. Costa Book Award for Children

‘Children’ must be a very broad category for this award, as judging from reviews and the book trailer, this book is definitely for the upper end of that category for which the Costa Book Awards, which “recognises some of the most enjoyable books of the year by writers based in the UK and Ireland” has chosen Blood Red Road by Moira Young.

“It’s astonishing how, in her first novel, Moira Young has so successfully bound believable characters into a heart-stopping adventure. She kept us reading, and left us hungry for more. A really special book.” (link)


Originally from B.C. and now living in the U.K., Moira Young has trained as an actor, a dancer and, according to the Costa Book Awards, has now proven herself as a writer with this first novel in the Dust Lands trilogy. (source)

Blood Red Road, published by Simon & Schuster in June 2011 and already a movie in the making,  is a dystopian thriller set in post-apocalyptic Silverlake, “a dried up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms”. When the heroine, Saba, looses her brother to cloaked horsemen, she embarks on a quest to rescue him.

“At its best the novel mashes together McCarthy’s intensity with a laconic narrative style taken from the literature of the American west…At its worst it is a risible collection of clichés strung together by a barely coherent plot.” From The Guardian, which article concludes, “My nine-year-old daughter got hold of my review copy and was so entranced that I had to machete it into sections so we could both carry on reading it. Yes, this is the perfect apocalypse for pre-teens.”

Quill & Quire calls the dialogue, “quirky, folksy dialect that smacks of the Old West, with all its “yers” and “ain’ts”, and sums up with, “the magic of Blood Red Road is not that it is particularly original. Instead, Young has taken familiar pieces of everything from Gladiator to Lord of the Rings and put them in the hands of a spunky, moody heroine who breaths new life into old motifs.”

Audio book excerpt:

A selection of other reviews (there are many):

Reader reviews at Goodreads
The Book Smugglers
Alison’s Book Marks

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Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators

I’m Not Alone Any More

When I began this journey, I tried very hard to find another school that had incorporated the bookstore model into their library. Although many public libraries have gone that way, schools are more reluctant for many good reasons. Now, thanks to a post at Notes From Linda, I have discovered that I’m not alone in messing with Dewey in my school library. The Red Hawk Elementary in Colorado has completely scrapped Dewey in their new library.

I didn’t quite go that far, but that was as much due to time constraints as conviction. It was enough to get the project done as it is over the summer without any more data entry and decisions than were involved in moving the books into one of 7 Islands and 54 departments.The books are still arranged by Dewey within their departments (1 to 4 shelves), but a book in the 300’s might be next to a book in the 700’s.

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The Creators Deserve Credit

Weeding is a necessary evil and I have a lot of it to do, especially in light of my planned project. Who isn’t bothered by the painful if necessary process of disposing of out-of-date or even severely damaged books? An alternative is book sculpting. I am tempted to try my hand at it, but it is  a temptation I’m determined to resist until I manage to give something up or clone myself. One can always look and dream. At the very least I could supply an art teacher who isn’t afraid of a room full of sharp knives in the hands of teenagers.

So with my tea in hand and little motivation to really start my day this Saturday morning, I Googled “book art” and came up with some wonderful results. The first click was to this blog post by Monique Trottier. There are some gorgeous examples there, one of which was this creative and evocative sculpture.


I tried to find the original artists of this image: sculptor and photographer. Tin Eye came up with 117 copies on the internet. (I still feel it is worth posting again even if only I get to see it when I want.) I only determined that it seems to be advertisement for Anagram Bookshop out of Prague but all attempts to find a site for even the bookshop failed. So this work and the image itself will go uncredited unless a reader more informed or more skilled at internet sleuthing comes by to enlighten me.

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Filed under Art & Design, What to Do With Discarded Books