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Tag Archives | Kwame Alexander

Gifts from the Trenches

Gifts from the TrenchesLife in the trench­es, a/k/a the class­room, is not for the faint of heart. In pre­vi­ous Bookol­o­gy arti­cles I’ve shared my take on many of the chal­lenges faced by teach­ers in today’s edu­ca­tion­al cli­mate. Lack of mean­ing­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties for the teacher’s voice to be heard, mount­ing pres­sure to pro­duce stu­dents who per­form well on high stakes tests, dis­trict man­dates to teach from a script­ed cur­ricu­lum, a desire to be all and do all for stu­dents, the list goes on and on. And that list can be exhaust­ing. Yet so many of us con­tin­ue to pur­sue the some­times elu­sive and ulti­mate goal; to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in the lives of our stu­dents. At times, it feels like the bal­ance between give and take is incred­i­bly lop­sided.

Yes, lop­sided. Com­plete­ly dis­pro­por­tion­ate. It’s not even a con­test when I com­pare how much my buck­et has been filled to the num­ber of buck­ets I may have filled. You see, in my 30 years as a teacher, the gifts I have received far out­num­ber those I have been lucky enough to share with oth­ers. And so, in the spir­it of the sea­son, rather than share a list of what I wish for this Christ­mas, I invite you to take a peek at the trea­sures that have been bestowed upon me. The high­lights that have inspired me over the years and have kept me going. My gifts from the trench­es.   

The Kids

The first cat­e­go­ry of gifts comes from the rea­son we all entered the hon­or­able pro­fes­sion of teach­ing in the first place. The kids. Every sin­gle cherub that I’ve encoun­tered on my teach­ing and learn­ing jour­ney has a place in my heart. How­ev­er, despite my desire to nev­er play favorites when sur­round­ed by kids in the class­room, I must con­fess that when I look back, there are some that stand out just a bit more. These kids have pro­vid­ed some of my great­est gifts, my proud­est moments and mem­o­ries as a teacher.

First, there was the sad lit­tle guy who had lost his moth­er as a kinder­garten­er and was often in a fight or flight mode. Yet thanks to a class read-aloud of The Lemon­ade Club by Patri­cia Polac­co, he became the dri­ving force behind the “Lemon­ade Stand Project” my group of first graders launched in an effort to raise mon­ey for a very sick boy in our com­mu­ni­ty. When­ev­er I think back to those busy days with six- and sev­en-year-olds who were so intent on doing a good deed for some­one they didn’t even knows, my heart melts. This extra­or­di­nary expe­ri­ence reminds me that when mag­ic hap­pens in the class­room, it most like­ly does not come from a text­book or piece of cur­ricu­lum. It comes from the heart and usu­al­ly the heart of a kid.

The Lemonade Club

The Lemon­ade Club

Then there was a qui­et, freck­le-faced, sec­ond-grade girl who shined with cre­ativ­i­ty and kind­ness yet strug­gled to read with suc­cess. I didn’t know much about dyslex­ia at the time but my instincts told me I need­ed to learn more so I could help fig­ure out the source of her dif­fi­cul­ties. I found and read the book Over­com­ing Dyslex­ia by Yale neu­ro­sci­en­tist Sal­ly Shay­witz. I shared the book and my con­cerns with this bright young lady’s par­ents who were eager to do what­ev­er they could to help her. That con­ver­sa­tion led them to lots of research, a for­mal diag­no­sis, and enroll­ment in a school that spe­cial­ized in work­ing with dyslex­ic stu­dents. Over the next decade we stayed in touch and I was thrilled to hear of my for­mer student’s con­tin­ued suc­cess. The best gift came when I received this mes­sage last spring from that cre­ative and kind young woman:

Hi Mrs. Rome! I hope all is well with you! I just want­ed to share some excit­ing news with you. I have been accept­ed into a few dif­fer­ent grad­u­ate schools to earn my Edu­ca­tion­al Psy­chol­o­gy license to become a school psy­chol­o­gist … I think of you and how for­tu­nate I was to have you as my sec­ond-grade teacher, and how dif­fer­ent my life would have been had I nev­er met you. You changed my life. I don’t think I would be pur­su­ing grad­u­ate school, let alone be attend­ing col­lege, had you not sug­gest­ed that I might be dyslex­ic …

Words can­not express how much a mes­sage like this means to a teacher. Goose­bumps and a lump in my throat instant­ly mate­ri­al­ize every time I re-read this mes­sage. What a life-chang­er this future school psy­chol­o­gist and her fam­i­ly were for me. No ques­tion that the bal­ance between give and take is lop­sided, and this sto­ry illus­trates just how much one stu­dent can give to a teacher.

The Col­leagues

In addi­tion to gifts from many spe­cial kids, I have also been blessed with some of the finest col­leagues any­one could ask for. I was a mem­ber of one par­tic­u­lar­ly spe­cial team that will always have élite sta­tus in my book. We dubbed our­selves The Dream Team, not because we want­ed to be boast­ful, but because it was like a dream come true for each of us, to feel such a sense of har­mo­ny and col­lab­o­ra­tion.

The Dream Team

The Dream Team

Although our time togeth­er was far too short, just one school year, it was like noth­ing I had ever expe­ri­enced in all my years of teach­ing. I mar­vel at the engage­ment and inspi­ra­tion our joint efforts cre­at­ed for our stu­dents as well for each oth­er. The many gifts that I enjoyed with my Dream Team includ­ed:

  • a shared com­mit­ment to putting kids first
  • a mutu­al love of lit­er­a­cy
  • dai­ly “col­lab time” to share ideas, ques­tions, and con­cerns
  • hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion
  • an abun­dance of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and trust
  • a desire to learn and grow togeth­er

I hon­est­ly don’t know if these attrib­ut­es can be cul­ti­vat­ed or if they sim­ply hap­pen when the stars are aligned just so. I do know that it is a rare and beau­ti­ful thing to love not only the work you do, but also the peo­ple you get to do it with. What a gift these ladies were!

The Authors and their Books

The last of my gifts from the trench­es is a trib­ute to the lit­er­a­cy heroes that have impact­ed me, both per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly. Much more than just a list of favorite authors and books, these writ­ers and their char­ac­ters have had a pro­found effect on my teach­ing and learn­ing:

  • Mo Willems, author of Pig­gy and Ele­phant books, changed the way I help kids build foun­da­tion­al skills like decod­ing and flu­en­cy but, more impor­tant­ly, these play­ful gems teach us lessons about friend­ship, loy­al­ty, courage, and fun.

Mo Willems

  • Patri­cia Polac­co, mas­ter sto­ry­teller, offers rich tapes­tries of fam­i­ly tra­di­tions, strug­gles and cel­e­bra­tions, year after year. Thank you, Mr. Falk­er cap­tures Polacco’s ago­niz­ing efforts to learn to read. It is a sto­ry that res­onates deeply with teach­ers and is one many kids can relate to.
Patricia Polacco

Patri­cia Polac­co

  • Kwame Alexan­der, leg­endary poet and word­smith, brings a lev­el of pas­sion and excite­ment to a day at school that is beyond one’s wildest expec­ta­tions. Thanks to a gen­er­ous grant I received from Pen­guin Ran­dom House and dozens of copies of Crossover donat­ed by Scholas­tic, my Dream Team and I wit­nessed the trans­for­ma­tive pow­er of a great book, one that actu­al­ly can change lives.
Kwame Alexander and the Dream Team

Kwame Alexan­der and the Dream Team

I must admit that there is one thing that remains on my Christ­mas wish list. That wish is for every teacher read­ing this essay to receive his or her own gifts from the trench­es. May your kids, your col­leagues, and your favorite authors and books, bring you the con­tent­ment that comes from know­ing you make a dif­fer­ence every sin­gle day!



jux·ta·po·si·tion | jəkstəpəˈziSH(ə)n/ | noun

  1. the fact of two things being seen or placed close togeth­er with con­trast­ing effect. Exam­ple: “the jux­ta­po­si­tion of these two images”

Parking lot signJux­ta­po­si­tion.  The word has been swim­ming around my head for sev­er­al weeks. The best month of my entire career filled with some of my proud­est moments as an edu­ca­tor hap­pen­ing at the same time big deci­sions are being made by the “pow­ers that be,” changes that will pro­found­ly affect what hap­pens each day in Room 123. As my col­leagues, stu­dents and I cel­e­brat­ed our love of read­ing, the inevitable pen­du­lum of change swept through, rat­tling my hopes and dreams for kids to become life­long read­ers and lovers of lit­er­a­cy.

As men­tioned in my pre­vi­ous post, my school cel­e­brat­ed with the theme “Read­ing is its own reward.” The buck­et-list wish to stage a small-scale “flash mob” came true dur­ing our kick-off event. A tal­ent­ed crew of per­form­ers (we will like­ly need to keep our day jobs) danced and sang, “Dar­ling, dar­ling, read with me, oh read with me” to the Ben E. King clas­sic “Stand by Me.”

Par­ent sur­veys gave an enthu­si­as­tic “thumbs up” to the sur­prise enter­tain­ment and, once again, a month of lit­er­a­cy-filled mem­o­ries were in the mak­ing.  

Trophy wall

The days flew past as the paper tro­phies mul­ti­plied. Kids and teach­ers were read­ing and nom­i­nat­ing books in droves. Doors were dec­o­rat­ed with read­ing-relat­ed themes. Books were award­ed to lucky kids in every class­room each week. Authors came into our class­rooms via YouTube videos and Skype vis­its. A writing/art con­test was held to select the “Crossover Crew”; two-dozen prodi­gious (as in get­ting Kwame’s auto­graph) arti­sans (as in cre­at­ing a high-qual­i­ty prod­uct) who would get to spend some one-on-one time with the author of a book they adored. And then came the day we had been plan­ning for since Novem­ber.

Kwame AlexanderBest. Teach­ing. Day. Ever! Fri­day, Feb­ru­ary 19th. Kwame Alexan­der was in the house. Kwame actu­al­ly brought down the house. In all my 25 years of teach­ing, I can hon­est­ly say this day was the best. Thanks to gen­er­ous fund­ing from Pen­guin Ran­dom House, who spon­sored Kwame’s vis­it and Scholas­tic Read­ing Clubs, who helped pro­vide copies of The Crossover for every 4th and 5th grade stu­dent, I am con­vinced this was a day that will be a life­long mem­o­ry for the kids and their teach­ers.

The ener­gy and excite­ment shook the shelves in the Media Cen­ter as our 4th and 5th graders hung on his every word. They recit­ed words from The Crossover ver­ba­tim, chimed in dur­ing a live­ly call/response ren­di­tion of his lat­est pic­ture book, Surf’s Up and had plen­ty of ques­tions for this award-win­ning writer. 

Kwame Alexander Crossover Fans

One of my favorite exchanges of the day came from a thought­ful young man who asked Kwame about his TV view­ing rules. After hear­ing that as a boy, Kwame was not allowed to watch TV and his par­ents pushed read­ing so much that he actu­al­ly hat­ed it, this curi­ous kid want­ed to know what the rules were for Kwame’s daugh­ter. The answer was a good one. Each chap­ter of read­ing equals 15 min­utes of TV. The ques­tion­er was appar­ent­ly impressed with this idea. Lat­er in the day, he announced to his teacher that he liked the plan so much that he was going to apply it to his own read­ing and TV view­ing life. I’ve always believed that books change lives. This author and this book changed an entire school com­mu­ni­ty. If you work in a school, I high­ly rec­om­mend bring­ing both to your stu­dents.

The cul­mi­na­tion of our month-long lit­er­a­cy love fest brought 500 read­ers togeth­er to reveal the win­ners of the cov­et­ed Tiger Tro­phy awards. Our theme “Read­ing is its own reward” was rein­forced with stu­dents and staff per­form­ing in our “EP Tigers Read” video.

Trophy case

Amid thun­der­ous applause and an abun­dance of cheers (if our gym had rafters they sure­ly would have been shak­ing), the book titles were announced. Feel free to insert your own drum roll before you read the fol­low­ing list of award recip­i­ents:

Kinder­garten picks: Har­ry the Dirty Dog, Pete the Cat and the Bed­time Blues, Rain­bow Fish, and Henry’s Wrong Turn

1st Grade picks: Zoom, The Snow Queen, The Book With No Pic­tures, and Duck, Rab­bit

2nd Grade picks: The Jun­gle Book, Have You Filled a Buck­et Today, and When I Feel Angry

 3rd Grade picks: Dog Breath, The True Sto­ry of the Three Lit­tle Pigs, and Bone

4th Grade pick: The Crossover (triple award)

5th Grade picks: The War That Saved My Life, Every­one Loves Bacon, and The Crossover

The Flip Side

When the con­fet­ti set­tled and the joy that had been tap-danc­ing in my heart sub­sided, I pon­dered the recent activ­i­ty in my dis­trict regard­ing adopt­ing a new read­ing cur­ricu­lum. This is where that flip side of the jux­ta­po­si­tion coin comes into play. The real­i­ty is that the fall of 2016 will bring about vast changes in the way busi­ness is done in hun­dreds of class­rooms across my dis­trict. The cur­ricu­lum adop­tion process has deter­mined that our cur­rent state of cur­ricu­lum is sub-par. The data indi­cates that our test scores are sim­ply not good enough. A “core” read­ing pro­gram (no longer referred to as a “basal”) at the price tag of $3.2 mil­lion is being tout­ed as “the tick­et” to fix­ing the prob­lem. As a pro­po­nent of a growth mind­set, I am some­one who embraces change (over the years I have taught grades 1 through 5, in 12 dif­fer­ent schools in 8 dif­fer­ent dis­tricts and lost count of the num­ber of times I changed class­rooms). I typ­i­cal­ly do not take a skep­ti­cal stance going into a new ini­tia­tive. Yet I can­not seem to ignore the ques­tions that are tug­ging at my heart:

  1. Will week­ly skills tests help my stu­dents gain con­fi­dence and grow as read­ers more than read­ing con­fer­ences, read­ers’ response note­books, and small group read­ing ses­sions do?
  1. Does a one-size fits-all cur­ricu­lum that promis­es to improve test scores also fos­ter a joy of read­ing among my stu­dents?
  1. Will fol­low­ing the teacher’s man­u­al with “fideli­ty,” as expect­ed by my employ­er, allow any room for me to make informed deci­sions about what hap­pens in my class­room based on my years of train­ing and expe­ri­ence?
  1. Do the pub­lish­ers of this “core pro­gram” know my stu­dents bet­ter than I do, so much so that the vocab­u­lary lists and pac­ing of lessons (pre-deter­mined and pre-select­ed for the entire year) will meet their wide range of needs?
  1. Will the set of anthol­o­gy texts (again, pre-select­ed for the entire year) be more inter­est­ing and engag­ing than the authen­tic lit­er­a­ture and award win­ning trade books my stu­dents and I are inter­est­ed in read­ing?
  1. Where does the qual­i­ty and exper­tise of the prac­ti­tion­er fit into this “ready to go” cur­ricu­lum? In oth­er words, what about our beloved read-alouds and book clubs that are cul­ti­vat­ed from my exten­sive read­ing, net­work­ing, and knowl­edge of children’s lit­er­a­ture?

And there you have it, the jux­ta­po­si­tion of my role as an edu­ca­tor. The ela­tion of wit­ness­ing hun­dreds of kids pumped up about books, authors and read­ing sit­ting side by side with the trep­i­da­tion of wit­ness­ing deci­sions that may or may not be in the best inter­est of kids. Stay tuned…I will be search­ing for answers to these ques­tions and you can bet that I will be shar­ing more about this top­ic in future arti­cles.


I Love to Read Month

Why would we employ read­ing ini­tia­tives that derail inter­nal read­ing moti­va­tion and divide kids into read­ing win­ners and losers?” 
Don­a­lyn Miller

I Love to Read BookmarkI’ve been think­ing about this ques­tion from lit­er­a­cy guru Don­a­lyn Miller ever since I read it last May. It struck a chord and made me chal­lenge some of my past prac­tices as a cham­pi­on of moti­vat­ing read­ers. What about all that time and effort spent pro­mot­ing read­ing by ask­ing kids to log their min­utes in order to receive some trin­ket total­ly unre­lat­ed to read­ing? Could I have actu­al­ly done more harm than good?

As a long-time com­mit­tee chair for “I Love to Read” month fes­tiv­i­ties at sev­er­al dif­fer­ent schools, the short­est month of the year has always been one of my favorites. While some folks expe­ri­ence visions of hearts and choco­lates when the cal­en­dar page flips to Feb­ru­ary, my head has always been filled with images of books and kids read­ing. As I reflect­ed on that arti­cle by Don­a­lyn, I thought about last year’s “I Love to Read” month awards cer­e­mo­ny. Our stu­dents who met the quo­ta of required read­ing min­utes — or at least claimed they did — were called up on the stage by their teach­ers to receive a cov­et­ed “read­ing medal.” I remem­ber the look on some of the lit­tle faces out in the audi­ence and imag­ined what they were think­ing or feel­ing… “Who cares about read­ing medals?” “I guess I’m not a read­er.” “Maybe I should have just fibbed about those min­utes!”

As a firm believ­er in “it’s nev­er too late to change” (for the bet­ter), I vowed to com­plete­ly revamp my approach to encour­ag­ing kids to read. My school com­mu­ni­ty and fab­u­lous “I Love to Read” com­mit­tee co-chairs also embraced the idea of cel­e­brat­ing read­ing for the sake of read­ing. The entire bud­get from our Home-School Asso­ci­a­tion was ear­marked for books, which we pur­chased way back in Sep­tem­ber when Scholas­tic Read­ing Clubs offers the very best bonus points offer (we spent less than $2.00 per book for many high demand and hot-tick­et titles!). The idea of reward­ing read­ing with read­ing is sim­ple and the research to back it up is con­vinc­ing. Yet we know that our kids still hope for some­thing a lit­tle snazzy and jazzy. I’m delight­ed to share how we plan to WOW kids with a month of activ­i­ties designed to affirm every child as a read­er!


Sev­er­al weeks ago we designed and ordered spe­cial t‑shirts for our staff. We will be wear­ing these at our kick-off event dur­ing the first week of Feb­ru­ary. This FUN and FREE fam­i­ly event will high­light our theme Read­ing is its own Reward with a “Read­ing is gold­en!” snack bag: Rold Gold pret­zels, Gold­fish gra­ham treats, and a choco­late trea­sure can­dy. Activ­i­ties will include a book swap (kids bring their gen­tly-used books to trade), a book­mark craft, nom­i­nat­ing a favorite book, a brand new book for every child and best of all, a READING CONCERT! The tal­ent­ed edu­ca­tors at my school will be mak­ing one of my buck­et-list wish­es come true, by stag­ing a mini-flash mob, singing “Read with Me” (sung to the Ben E. King song, Stand by Me)! I’ll be shar­ing a video lat­er this month that cap­tures the crowd’s reac­tion to our sur­prise ser­e­nade!

EPWCCS educators

From left to right, edu­ca­tors Sam Good­man, Mau­r­na Rome, and Caitlin Mey­er

The cen­ter­piece of our cel­e­bra­tion of books and read­ing will be the “Tiger Tro­phy” Awards. Stu­dents will be giv­en a paper “tro­phy award” to fill out each week, nom­i­nat­ing a favorite book. Paper tro­phies will be dis­played around the school. Week­ly book win­ners will be cho­sen from the paper tro­phies and we will also be film­ing stu­dents as they share some­thing about their favorite books.

School-wide Tiger TrophyIn addi­tion, for three weeks, each class­room will award one paper tro­phy to one book that has been cho­sen as a class favorite. Dur­ing the last week of Feb­ru­ary, class­rooms will vote on which of the three paper tro­phy books is their ALL-TIME FAVORITE, which will be award­ed a real class­room tro­phy designed with the ini­tial of each teacher’s last name (cute and inex­pen­sive, made from dol­lar store tro­phies and alpha­bet blocks). All class­room tro­phy books will be eli­gi­ble to win a SCHOOL-WIDE TIGER TROPHY, with a bal­lot of books list­ed in spe­cial cat­e­gories giv­en to each stu­dent.

Our “I Love to Read” month activ­i­ty cal­en­dar includes an overview of our live­ly lit­er­a­cy-filled month. We will dis­play our love of a great book with our “Door Dec­o­rat­ing Con­test” (the win­ning class­room will get BOOKS) and each week teach­ers will share short YouTube videos fea­tur­ing 2016 award-win­ning books and authors.

2016 New­bery Medal Award Win­ner: Matt de la Pena Last Stop on Mar­ket Street

2016 Calde­cott Medal Award Win­ner: Lind­say Mattick Find­ing Win­nie, The True Sto­ry of the World’s Most Famous Bear 

Coret­ta Scott King – Vir­ginia Hamil­ton Award for Life­time Achieve­ment Win­ner: Jer­ry Pinkney 

2016 New­bery Hon­or Award Win­ner: Vic­to­ria Jamieson Roller Girl

We will also par­tic­i­pate in a pow­er­ful event called the “African Amer­i­can Read In,” spon­sored by NCTE “cel­e­brat­ing 25 years of encour­ag­ing diver­si­ty in lit­er­a­ture.” More infor­ma­tion and free resources can be found here. The AARI at my school will def­i­nite­ly be a mem­o­rable day for 4th and 5th graders who will be meet­ing Kwame Alexan­der, 2015 New­bery Medal Award Win­ner for the excep­tion­al book Crossover.

I Love to Read Trophies

Our cul­mi­nat­ing event will take place on the last Fri­day in Feb­ru­ary. Dur­ing the finale we will announce our Tiger Tro­phy Award Win­ners and bestow our very own pres­ti­gious medals to the book cov­ers. We’re even plan­ning on send­ing the Tiger Tro­phies to the win­ning authors with a request to snap a self­ie pos­ing with our lit­tle lit­er­ary prize! Oh and about those read­ing medals… this year, EVERY stu­dent will be award­ed one because we know that EVERY CHILD is a read­er and should be rec­og­nized as one!


Middle Kingdom: Suzhou, China

The books that most delight mid­dle school and junior high read­ers often strad­dle a “Mid­dle King­dom” rang­ing from upper mid­dle grade to YA. Each month, Bookol­o­gy colum­nist Lisa Bullard will vis­it 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 month’s jour­ney takes us to Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou in Suzhou, Chi­na, where Lisa talks with Head of Libraries and Senior School Librar­i­an Leigh Col­la­zo.


Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou

Lisa: Right off the bat, I’ll clar­i­fy for our read­ers that in this case, “col­lege” means some­thing oth­er than how we use the term in the Unit­ed States. Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou includes stu­dents ages 2 – 19. Leigh, what are three to five addi­tion­al things our blog read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty, school, or library/media cen­ter?

Leigh: Dul­wich Col­lege Lon­don was the first in our fran­chise, estab­lished in 1619. It has since expand­ed into Dul­wich Col­lege Inter­na­tion­al, which cur­rent­ly oper­ates five addi­tion­al schools and two inter­na­tion­al high schools in Asia.

Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou stu­dents and fac­ul­ty rep­re­sent over 40 nation­al­i­ties all over the world. Our largest groups come from UK, Korea, and the Unit­ed States. Our stu­dents are ages 2 – 19, sep­a­rat­ed into three schools: DUCKS (PreK‑1st grade), Junior School (grades 2 – 5), and Senior School (grades 6 – 12). We have about 900 total stu­dents across the three schools. Though we do have very nice board­ing facil­i­ties avail­able, the vast major­i­ty of our stu­dents live off-cam­pus with their fam­i­lies.


Lin­ger­ing Gar­den, Suzhou

Suzhou is a beau­ti­ful Chi­nese city! We are locat­ed about 50 miles from Shang­hai, which is easy to access via a 25-minute bul­let train ride. Often called the “Venice of Chi­na,” Suzhou is most famous for its UNESCO World Her­itage gar­dens, water towns, Bud­dhist tem­ples, pago­das, and net­work of canals run­ning through the city. All over the city, we see beau­ti­ful wil­low trees, col­or­ful flow­ers, and lots of sculp­tures. There is a large recre­ation­al lake with a board­walk with­in a five-minute walk from my front door. The weath­er here is very like that of north­ern Flori­da: hot and humid in the sum­mer, cool (but still humid) in the win­ter. We get lots of rain, but it is rarely cold enough to snow. There are many expats from all over the world in Suzhou; I’ve heard the fig­ures are as high as 10% for­eign­ers in this area, most­ly from Europe, Aus­tralia, and the USA.

We have two libraries at Dul­wich Col­lege, locat­ed in the Junior School and Senior School. We have full-time library employ­ees: two librar­i­ans (ful­ly-cer­ti­fied with MLS degrees), one library intern (who will receive her MLS this Decem­ber), and two library assis­tants. Togeth­er, our libraries boast a grow­ing col­lec­tion of 38,000 books and inter­na­tion­al news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. Our libraries are open from 7:50 am‑4:30 pm dai­ly. Both libraries have com­put­ers and iPads for stu­dents to use in the library. Both libraries have wire­less Inter­net, and Senior School stu­dents are also able to con­nect to the school’s VPN. We sub­scribe to many of the same data­bas­es I used in my Texas library — Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca, Peb­bleGo, JSTOR, Tum­ble­books, Brain­Pop, and Facts on File.


I think many peo­ple would be sur­prised to hear that I have had few dif­fi­cul­ties with Chi­nese gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship when pur­chas­ing library books. When we order (from the USA and UK), Cus­toms does inspect our pur­chas­es, but I have not had any books reject­ed. I am able to pur­chase the same books here that I was able to pur­chase in the USA, plus I can pur­chase books from Aus­tralia, UK, and Cana­da, too!

Lisa: What recent changes or new ele­ments are affect­ing the work you do with mid­dle school stu­dents?

Leigh: Last year was my first year at my school, and we spent a large part of the year gen­refy­ing the 15,000 fic­tion titles in our library. It’s been a huge hit with stu­dents and fac­ul­ty, and our over­all cir­cu­la­tion last year increased 89% over the pre­vi­ous school year.

This year, I am thrilled to tell you that we are adding Over­drive e‑books for all our Senior School stu­dents, which I expect to launch by the end of Sep­tem­ber. My library assis­tant has been work­ing on gen­refy­ing our 2,100-title Man­darin sec­tion, some­thing our stu­dents request­ed last year. We plan to gen­refy our Kore­an sec­tion this year as well, which is about 1,200 titles.

In Novem­ber, we are bring­ing illus­tra­tor Matthew Holm (Baby­mouse series, Squish series) to Suzhou to speak to our stu­dents. We also have slam poet Nick Toczek vis­it­ing in Novem­ber. All of our mid­dle school stu­dents will get the chance to hear them speak.

ph_Panda Older ReadersLast, we are par­tic­i­pat­ing in Bat­tle of the Books for the first time this year. We are using books on the Pan­da Old­er Read­ers Book List, plus sev­en more titles select­ed by par­tic­i­pat­ing librar­i­ans in the Shang­hai area. In March 2016, our stu­dents will com­pete against oth­er inter­na­tion­al schools from all over Shang­hai, Wuxi, Suzhou, and Kun­shan. They will also get to meet New­bery Award win­ning author Kwame Alexan­der at the com­pe­ti­tion.

Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often by your mid­dle school stu­dents?


  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • The Selec­tion by Kiera Cass
  • Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renée Rus­sell
  • Half Bad by Sal­ly Green
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Pecu­liar Chil­dren by Ran­som Rig­gs

Lisa: What books do you per­son­al­ly love to place into mid­dle school stu­dents’ hands?


  • The One and Only Ivan by Kather­ine Apple­gate
  • Unwind by Neal Shus­ter­man
  • Rain Reign by Ann M. Mar­tin
  • Touch­ing Spir­it Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
  • The Seer and the Sword by Vic­to­ria Han­ley

Lisa: If you had a new staffer start­ing tomor­row, what piece of advice would you be sure to give them? 


  1. Read the books! You can’t rec­om­mend them if you don’t read them.
  2. Be the weirdo. Be the crazy one who plays the spoons or break­dances or dec­o­rates the library with cat posters. Don’t be afraid to be your­self or be dif­fer­ent from the oth­er teach­ers. You are not them. You are you!

Lisa: What do you like most about work­ing with mid­dle-school­ers?

Leigh: I love their ener­gy and their quirk­i­ness. They are old enough to do many things for them­selves, but they are still young enough to need guid­ance from trust­ed adults. I can joke around with mid­dle school stu­dents, and they (usu­al­ly!) get the jokes. Mid­dle school­ers can be chal­leng­ing some­times, but every day, they make me laugh, give me hope, and even help me see things in a dif­fer­ent way. Who else can say that about their job?


Lisa: Could you share some infor­ma­tion about your most popular/successful/innovative pro­gram for pro­mot­ing books and read­ing to mid­dle school­ers?

Leigh: I am a huge pro­po­nent of gen­refi­ca­tion of fic­tion sec­tions. Gen­refi­ca­tion bet­ter reflects the way stu­dents browse the library. Front-fac­ing library books (where the entire front cov­er is vis­i­ble) also real­ly helps stu­dents select books, as does mul­ti­ple themed book dis­plays. My favorite and most suc­cess­ful book pro­mo­tion tool is read­ing and book­talk­ing a LOT of titles. I book­talk all day long!

Lisa: How have books or oth­er things changed for mid­dle king­dom read­ers dur­ing your time as a librar­i­an?

Leigh: I start­ed work­ing as a librar­i­an in 2004. Since then, I’ve seen a huge increase in the num­ber and accep­tance of graph­ic nov­els. I’ve sep­a­rat­ed my graph­ic nov­els into their own sec­tion (rather than 741.5) since 2011. They were tak­ing over the 700 sec­tion! That said, I think graph­ic nov­els still have a long way to go before many peo­ple con­sid­er them “real read­ing.”


The Crossover

The Crossover
Kwame Alexan­der
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court From the moment I began read­ing this poet­ry col­lec­tion, I knew it was a dif­fer­ent type of book because the rhythms, the cadence, were infused with ener­gy and aware­ness. The Crossover is pri­mar­i­ly free verse, with a few hiphop, rhyth­mic poems that change up the action. The nar­ra­tor, Josh, or Filthy McNasty as his bas­ket­ball per­sona is proud to be called, is buoy­ant, obser­vant, filled with sports metaphors, and adept at word­play.… more
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