The books that most delight middle school and junior high readers often straddle a “Middle Kingdom” ranging from upper middle grade to YA. Bookology columnist Lisa Bullard regularly visits the Middle Kingdom by viewing it through the eyes of a teacher or librarian. Bookology is delighted to celebrate the work of these educators who have built vital book encampments in the transitional territory of early adolescence.
This journey takes us to Kapolei Middle School in Kapolei, Hawaii, where Lisa talks with Library Media Specialist Carolyn H. Kirio.
Carolyn: Aloha! Greetings from our 50th State! Located in the Pacific Ocean, our state is made up of eight major islands and 124 islets, stretching in a 1,500-mile crescent from Kure Island in the west to the island of Hawaii in the east. Most of the state’s residents live on Oahu, and nearly ¾ of them reside in Honolulu, the state’s capital. Kapolei Middle School is located in Kapolei, a newly developed suburb on the west side of the island of Oahu. Our school services 1,450 sixth to eighth graders and is a year-round multitrack school.
Lisa: What recent changes or new elements are affecting the work you do with students?
Carolyn: Although it is not a recent change, our school is on a multitrack year-round schedule. To accommodate our large school population, our students are divided into four tracks. This means that at any one time, three of the four tracks are attending school while the fourth is on intersession (vacation). Furthermore, our instructional cycle is a year-round education (YRE) pattern which offers us an alternative way to construct the school calendar. The rotation sequence follows a year-round 45⁄15 calendar where one track returns from vacation and one track leaves every 15 days. Our teachers do not have a classroom to call their own because they constantly rotate into the room vacated by the teacher leaving on intersession. The transition is completed in a single afternoon with the exchange of file cabinets, instructional supplies, and desks. After the dust settles, our school updates the room and phone lists to reflect the track change.
Besides being very confusing and chaotic, you might be wondering how this affects the library. Many times I attempt to do school-wide instruction or initiatives. What would normally take a week to complete teaching all classes stretches out to two or more based upon the number of students who need to cycle through, as well as the intersession that occurs for the track. Because timing is everything, I have enlisted technology to assist me in teaching. Using the strategy of flipped classroom instruction, I create many lessons in mp4 format and have them available on demand through our closed circuit and intranet system. The library has several dedicated stations that teachers can call up on demand. As time allows in their busy schedules, they can fit my lessons in throughout the day when it best fits within their course instruction. Some of the most-viewed segments include my lessons on bibliography instruction, recognizing and avoiding plagiarism, and book infomercials I create to get students excited about different titles in the collection.
Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often by your middle school students?
Carolyn: This year has been a roller coaster as far as tracking which books are trending and which are not. Book-inspired movies and television shows have influenced book borrowing throughout the year. However, once the popularity of the show wanes, students quickly transition back to the writers who reliably create great reads. Narrowing it down, the five authors and their series that remain consistently popular include Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus), Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), Rachel Renee Russell (Dork Diaries), R.L. Stine (Goosebumps), and Darren Shan (The Saga of Darren Shan/Cirque du Freak).
Lisa: What book(s) do you personally love to place into middle school students’ hands?
Carolyn: On a daily basis I work as a literature matchmaker to pair students with potential books that they will connect with and enjoy. Engaging students in conversation, my goal is to discover what their personal interests are and what topics they are passionate about. Oftentimes I love to introduce students to Hawaiian historical fiction such as titles written by Graham Salisbury, who focuses on story lines and communities set in different parts of our state. Because characters and settings are familiar, students can easily understand and relate to his books. An exciting new book has recently been on my recommendation list: Cacy & Kiara and the Curse of the Ki‘i (Hawaiian statue or idol) by Roy Chang. Roy is the author and illustrator and has skillfully crafted an adventure set in a world where our main characters interact with Hawaiian myths and legends. An intermediate school fine arts teacher, Roy knows what interests middle school kids and created a hybrid manga and chapter book that is an instant draw. I hope that his sequel will be out soon because students can’t wait to revisit Cacy and Kiara and embark on another journey filled with Hawaiian culture and mythology!
Lisa: If you had a new staffer starting tomorrow, what piece of advice would you be sure to give them?
Carolyn: Gee, where do I begin? Get ready for a bumpy ride! Some words of wisdom that would be shared would include:
- Always keep students busy and engaged
- Network with your surrounding school librarians and get peer support
- Organize yourself and make a plan (immediate and short-term goals)
- Get to know all the teachers and staff in your school
- Model desired attitudes and behavior
- Enlist the help of a teacher to collaborate with
- Expect the unexpected
- Everyday is a learning experience, just do your best
- Find the time to laugh and have fun!
Lisa: What do you like most about working with middle schoolers?
Carolyn: No two days are ever the same! Students are filled with never-ending energy and questions. They keep you constantly on your toes and thinking outside of the box. Given the opportunity to grow and challenge themselves, they exceed expectations and surprise you with what they can produce.
I laugh every day! It is such a weird stage in life for these kids, that if you can’t laugh with them, you will go insane. Middle schoolers have the ability to really push themselves, be independent learners, and tap into their creativity and curiosity. They are constantly questioning who they are, discovering what they can do, and testing where their boundaries lie. As a teacher it can be exciting and frustrating at the same time. They are what they are, which is, in short, growing up. Still children at heart, they can’t help but want to learn and play, so why fight them? Join them!
Lisa: How have books or other things changed for Middle Kingdom readers during your time as a librarian?
Carolyn: I have been a librarian for 23 years. During this time I have seen the phasing out of the card catalog, floppy disks, and microfiche. I have seen computer storage increase from megabytes to terabytes, to archiving in the cloud. The Internet has made the world a smaller place, offering access to information, resources, and experts from around the globe, and with a click, universally translated into a familiar language that can be understood and comprehended by everyone. Recently technology has progressed and desktops have been replaced by the adoption of apps, mobile technology, and eBooks. Middle Kingdom readers have increased access to information, and libraries are now open virtually 24⁄7. With so much knowledge at their fingertips, it will be truly amazing to see what they discover and how their curiosity inspires this next generation of learners.