X Marks the Spot. #Bookaneer activities at #mybookfair

Students can now guess which book is in the bottle at the library in anticipation of next week’s Scholastic book fair. Students shake up the page pieces to look for character names, illustration fragments and other clues. (We used a book that could not longer hold up being circulated for this project).

Our fall bookmark contest continues. Students submit designs. We will then choose four of the designs to copy onto cardstock. These then become available for students to take home after book check out. You can check out the current designs on our smore flyer.

The third activity is for students to create a flag about their favorite book or series.


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Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

chasing secrets

In Chasing Secrets, author Gennifer Choldenko returns to historical fiction set in San Francisco with Lizzie Kennedy’s story set in 1900. Lizzie is stifled at Miss Bartow’s School for Young Women, the school her wealthy aunt insists she attends. She does not feel truly alive until she is leaving the school for the day. If she could, Lizzie would far rather accompany her father each day. He is a physician struggling to make a living, taking on the patients the more well to do doctors do not. With her father, Lizzie can fully engage in her passion for science and medicine. Lizzie’s brother Billy used to be the one at their father’s side on rounds, but no longer. Lizzie often reflects on the bond she used to have with her brother and her frustration with the changed, moody young man he has become.

Jing is the family cook, but he is also far more than that. Lizzie  cannot imagine life without him. Rumors circulate San Francisco of a plague despite the authorities attempt to disregard them. Chinatown is placed under quarantine with Jing still inside. It is then that Lizzie begins to learn there is much about her family’s servant and the world she does not know after she discovers Noah, a Chinese boy hiding in Jing’s room. She never knew Jing had a son nor the role Jing plays in Chinatown.

Lizzie is determined to free Jing from the quarantine. She tries to use her uncle’s connections as he runs one of the San Francisco newspapers; she tries entering Chinatown herself. As a reader, I admired her persistence as she works to figure out a way, any way, to rescue Noah’s father from the quarantine. What she sees along the way makes her more convinced then ever that the plague is in the city. Yet the newspapers and doctors all deny it.

Like her Al Capone trilogy, she has crafted memorable characters against a backdrop of research. I highly recommend this middle grade novel for its elements of mystery and suspense. Before reading this fascinating book, I had never heard of a bubonic plague outbreak in California. Choldenko weaves medical understandings of that day throughout the book. The tension and suspicion between cultures almost feels like a character in the book. The developing friendship between Lizzie and Noah transcends the boundaries between race and gender at the turn of the 20th century. Noah scoffs at the idea of a girl studying medicine in college while holding fast to his dream of attending college.

I read Chasing Secrets as an electronic ARC on NetGalley. Chasing Secrets is scheduled for release on August 4, 2015.

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The Vanishing Island Blog Tour Stop, Author Guest Post and ARC Giveaway

vanishing island preview tour banner updated

When I was in fifth grade, I loved it when my teacher Mr. Burghy would read aloud to us. I especially loved it when my classmates convinced him to read for longer than usual or on days when he lost track of time. He could transport you to a different place with reading and had different voices for all the characters. One of the stories he read to us was The Ghost in the Noonday Sun by Sid Fleischman. That story immersed me in unexpected events, the dangers of the high seas and colorful characters I was relieved never to meet in real life!

In The Vanishing Island, twelve-year-old Bren Owen feels trapped by a future he does not want. He has no desire to become the mapmaker’s apprentice his father wants him to be. So what if he can memorize the location of items with a glance or recreate complicated drawings without a second examination? It’s the Age of Discovery, and Bren is determined to be a part of it. Bren craves adventure so much that he has attempted to stow away on three different ships. He faces a list of stiff punishments while standing before the judge when the powerful Rand McNally steps in to claim the boy.

Now Bren must work off his debt to McNally while working a job that would make anyone’s stomach squirm. He’s assigned to McNally’s vomitorium where he has the dirtiest of jobs. One of the vomitorium’s guests gives Bren a coin-like medallion right before dying. When a local doctor is then murdered after beginning an autopsy, it becomes clear that Bren isn’t the only one interested in the medallion. Bren chooses to join a Dutch admiral with an interest in the medallion, a choice that will take him to the sea like he has always dreamed. A choice that will teach him to be careful what he dreams of as life on the sea is quite different than the pages of the novels he once devoured.

With the first installment of The Chronicles of the Black Tulip, Barry Wolverton transports his readers on a perilous journey where the dangerous and grotesque are never more than a blink away. I expect Bren Owen’s story to sweep my fifth and sixth grade students away on a gripping adventure just like Oliver Finch’s story did when I was their age.

You can enter to win a signed ARC of The Vanishing Island. Fill out this Google Form by 11:59 PM on July 1st for a chance to win (US & Canada only).

Author Barry Wolverton explains some of the folklore underpinning The Chronicles of the Black Tulip in the following piece:

When East Meets West: Folklore of The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton

I’m not sure why I have a fascination with the Dutch. Perhaps because I love bicycles and cheese. Or because the Netherlands is the greatest name for a country ever. More likely it’s because the editor who gave me my first professional writing assignment, at the dearly departed Time-Life Books, was married to a Dutch woman who had grown up in Indonesia when it was still a Dutch colony. (She and her family also spent years in captivity when the Japanese invaded the islands during World War II, but that’s her story to tell.)

Regardless, in my alternate Seafaring Age, I made the Netherlands king of the European explorer nations, with Britannia a relative upstart by comparison. Which gave me an opportunity to read up on some truly weird folklore of the Low Countries, like the legend of Styf, the elf who liked to mix up everyone’s wooden shoes while they were at a party and leave them in a pile, but then redeemed himself by inventing starch — that stuff that makes your collars nice and rigid. I mean, what sort of people have a folktale about the the invention of clothing starch? A great people, that’s who!

Of course, in the story Bren travels to the Far East, and both the fantastic tales told of the East by Marco Polo and the mythology native to the East come into play. The titles from some of the great works from China alone take the prize for evocativeness: The Spring and Autumn Annals; Dream of the Red Chamber; The Plum in the Golden Vase; Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. To say nothing of dragons, monkey kings, empresses of the sky, and much, much more.

But what’s really interesting is the commonalities in mythology and folklore even among cultures that seem radically different. We all have our creation stories and great floods and saviors and doomsdays in some form or another. Throughout history people have taken others’ folklore and altered or embellished it, which is exactly what I did in THE VANISHING ISLAND. In some cases I was inspired to invent new stories altogether, but I’ll leave it up to readers to parse out what’s real, sort-of-real, and unreal.

Learn more about The Vanishing Island by visiting the other stops on the blog tour. Check out Walden Pond Press’s blog tour page.

Author Info

Barry Wolverton is the author of Neversink. He has more than fifteen years’ experience creating books, documentary television scripts, and website content for international networks and publishers, including National Geographic, Scholastic.com, the Library of Congress, and the Discovery Networks. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee. You can visit him online at www.barrywolverton.com.

Links for Barry Wolverton:

Website: http://www.barrywolverton.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/wolvertonhill

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bwolverton

Instagram: https://instagram.com/wolvertonhill/

Links for Walden Pond Press:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WaldenPondPress

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WaldenPondPress

Website/Blog: http://www.walden.com/books/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/waldenpondpress/
Disclaimer: A pre-publication copy of The Vanishing Island was provided to me by Walden Pond Press.

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Manga Challenge

This past school year, one of my students requested that we get more manga for our library. Our graphic novel section has a few manga titles, such as Maximum Ride, Ultra  Maniac, +Anima and Warriors. I’ll admit manga is one one of my reading gaps. I enjoy graphic novels, but haven’t read much manga. I try to read any titles that come with my school’s book fairs as I want to know what those are like before my students go through the fair, but that’s about it.

Since our conversation that day, I have started reading more manga titles to find some series that will work as new additions to the library. The public library and a local Scholastic warehouse sale have been very helpful in this. Here are some of the titles I’ve explored so far:

  • Laddertop by Orson Scott Card – Science fiction story where children are recruited to attend Laddertop Academy to learn the skills necessary to attend to maintenance on the Laddertop stations that ascend high above the planet. The ladders and the stations are the result of alien technologies that were gifted 25 years earlier. This read like an early young adult title.
  • Ninja Baseball Kyuma by Shunshin Maeda – A youth baseball team is in desperate need of another player. The captain finds a candidate up on a mountain, someone the captain thinks is playing at being a ninja. Little does he know that Kyuma is the last member of his ninja clan. This is an all ages title.
  • Case Closed by Gosho Aoyama – Life takes an unexpected twist in this title when the main character, who views himself as an excellent detective in the path of Sherlock Holmes, finds himself transformed into the form of a primary student. The crimes tend toward the macabre. A young adult title that I need to read book two of before making my mind up. This one was recommended by a student.
  • Hikaru no Go by Yumi Hotta – Go is a traditional Chinese game. After Hikaru finds an old Go board in his grandfather’s attick, he finds himself joined by the ghost of Fujiara-no-Sai, who taught the Emperor of Japan to play Go centuries earlier. This was more of an every ages title.

Manga editions of popular teen series are also somewhat common. Of these, I have read Clockword Angel by Hyekung Baek and the first Maximum Ride title adapted by Narae Lee.

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Sphero in the Middle Grades

Over the summer, my school’s library was able to purchase a Sphero robot through a grant on DonorsChoose. Sphero has been a big hit with students in my school. About the size of a baseball, this robot can work with a wide variety of free apps and games. What I love are the possibilities for coding. Draw N Drive is a great introduction to the idea of coding and is accessible for very young students. They set a speed, colors and draw a shape. When they run their program, Sphero carries out that design. Students quickly learn spaces in their drawing don’t work as expected.

MacroLab offers students more intense coding experiences. They can create looped commands, use the raw motor command to cause Sphero to flip or program Sphero to travel intricate paths.

Some classes at my school have been exploring Sphero during their intervention and extension block. Fifth graders are also rotating through a Sphero station during library classes. I’ve found small groups of two or three students per Sphero work best. Larger groups can work during an introduction when we are trying out Draw N Drive.

Using Sphero’s SPRK education lessons as a starting point, I created station cards that allow students to more independently explore Sphero. The cards begin with two videos on how Sphero works and then take students through Draw N Drive, the Sphero app and MacroLab. I also drew inspiration from Mrs. J in the Library’s Little Bits 101 cards.

Take a peek at these  SpheroIEChallenges. I also created a basic command sheet for students to use with Sphero.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading from Picture Books to YA?


With Nerdcamp and a trip to the CCBC, my summer reading finally got a bit of a boost.

Last Week’s Reading Adventures

Graphic Novel

El Deafo by Cece Bell – This brilliant graphic novel recounts in fictional form how Cece Bell lost much of her hearing and her experiences throughout elementary school. At times this book left me smiling and aching.  This is a must have for school libraries. I received an ARC of this book at Nerd Camp Michigan.

Young Adult

A Soldier’s Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss – An excellent young adult historical fiction account of Sarah Emma Edmonds, better known as Frank Thompson of the Second Michigan. Sarah serves as a soldier, nurse, spy, orderly and postmaster. Flashbacks reveal Sarah’s experiences with her abusive father.

Nonfiction & Nonfiction Picture Books

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Gibbs Davis – My favorite nonfiction picture book read of my afternoon at the CCBC. Filled with captivating illustrations, this book demonstrates how George Ferris struggled to create the first ferris wheel for Chicago’s World Fair.

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss – My second Marissa Moss title of the week. This title recounts how Kenichi “Zeni” Zenimura brought baseball to the Japanese internment camps during World War II. It’d be great to pair sections of this book with A Diamond in the Desert in introducing what happened in the US during World War II.

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson – Kadir’s illustrations bring so much to the depiction of Nelson Mandela’s life. The simple biography on these pages would be a great discussion starter on the struggles for equality around the world.

Who Was Ulysses S. Grant? by Megan Stine – A new entry in the Who Was? series. This one did a nice job of showing all the different jobs Grant tried in his life and some of his faults.

Locomotive by Brian Floca – One portrayal of the Transcontinental railroad with Floca’s beautiful illustrations. In a classroom, I would pair this with other accounts of that experience for those who built the railroad.

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock – Thomas Jefferson’s books become the foundation for the Library of Congress after the first library burns.

Gravity by Jason Chin – Text layout and illustrations make this a great title to share with science classes when introducing forces.



Picture Books

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan – Imaginative and perfect for having students write a ‘what happens next’ story.

Journey by Aaron Becker – A red crayon leads to unexpected destinations and adventures in this wordless picture book. I need to get this book for my school and think it would be great to pair with Chalk.

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Erik Stein Lunde – A gentle, sad story of a child and father dealing with the grief of losing the mom.

The Bathing Costume: Or the Worst Vacation of My Life by Charlotte Moundlic – One boy’s experiences spending  a week at grandma’s.

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara – This fun picture book about a library run for animals at night was my #booksmiles post.

Next Week’s Reading Adventures

For this next week, I would love to read:

Dash by Kirby Larson

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson


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Teachers Write Mini-Lesson 1

Teacher’s Write, a wonderful summer writing virtual camp for teachers and librarians, began yesterday. Kate Messner started things off with a mini-lesson on her blog. I took time this morning to complete the activity while waiting for #nerdcampmi to begin for the day.



Metal creaks and groans in time with the faintly stirring wind that softly lifts the Star-Spangled Banner above my head. Unseen birds twitter and sing from the trees dotting the parking lots surrounding the Western Schools campus. Bright patches of daffodils form a small beacon of sunshine on a cloud-lit day. The profile of a maroon panther stands out on gray stone, a class gift of 9 years to welcome us all to Panther country. The humid breeze, damp pavement and mottled gray skies harken back to the early morning’s rain.

A proud insignia hangs above the main school entrance: the insignia of Nerd Camp. A caterpillar green state of Michigan is nattily dressed in tweed, bow tie and glasses. A clipboard armed with pens, a large-monitored computer and mouse help spell out the Nerd Camp name. Brightly cheerful, this banner designed by Laurie Keller, would not be complete without a book, the item that unites all Nerdcampers. Walking up to the steps, blue, white, and pink chalk lines dress the sidewalk with the following message: Nerdy for Life. Embrace Your Inner Nerd.

An hour remains until the morning begins and nerdcampers are slowly trickling in to the school. Cars clump together in the parking lot, a dozen that will become hundreds. A day of learning awaits.




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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading from Picture Books to YA.



Recent Reads


How They Choked: Failures, Flops and Flaws of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg – Another great collective biography by the author of How They Croaked that presents the darker side of historical figures.

Middle Grade

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff – I am so glad I picked up this book reading friends recommended. Albie’s story is to learning difficulties what Auggie’s story was to physical challenges.

Of Sorcery and Snow – This is book three in Shelby Bach’s Ever Afters series. I love how the characters continue to develop. If you want a witty, fun fantasy read with genuine characters, start off with her Of Giants and Ice. She is also an excellent author to Skype with.

Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull – A visit to a Halloween haunted house goes horribly awry. Cole follows his friends as they are kidnapped to a place where magic is dangerously real. Students love the book trailer for this title. First in a five book series.

The Blood Guard by Carter Roy – Adventure story where Ronan Truelove’s worldview shatters when his mom whisks him away from school while strange agents are in hot pursuit. He learns his mom is not a curator like he thought but a member of the long established Blood Guard.

Young Adult

Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton – Book 2 in Gratton’s United States of Asgard books. Steeped in Norse mythology, this is the story of Signy Valborn, would be Valkyrie who needs to solve the riddle the Alfather left her.

Graphic Novel

Comics Squad: Recess! edited by Jennifer L. Holm, Matt Holm and Jarrett J. Krosoczka – I received this title at #edcampmi. I love this collaborative effort. Magic acorns, lunch assistants taking charge, cats trying to take over the world and more. Oh, and did I mention the ninjas?

What I Want to Read Next

A Soldier’s Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss – I picked up this historical fiction book on my history vacation last year

.A Soldier's Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, Civil War Hero

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess – Excellent professional development title that I need to finish as I consider what I want my first library days to look like next school year.


Categories: It's Monday What Are You Reading, Uncategorized

It’s Monday! What are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA



This weekend, my copy of How They Choked by Georgia Bragg arrived in my mailbox. This collective biography is a follow up to 2011’s How They Croaked. In this case, the biographies focus on the mistakes of famous individuals rather than on their deaths. A great title with a lot of shelf appeal for middle grade and young adult readers. The minibiographies are humorous, at turns sarcastic and the book includes many different resources. I started off by reading about Anne Boleyn and Jacob Ismay.

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Picturing Star Wars Readers

May 4th is almost gone, but here is my Star Wars related post for the day.

Picture the cast of Star Wars walking into your school or library when their characters were still school-age. What would you recommend for them to read?

For Luke, the pilot and dreamer, who can’t wait to get off his home planet? I’m leaning toward The Ruins of Gorlan and Ender’s Game with its “the gate is down.” Part of me also thinks Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone could be an interesting fit, though I would take Uncle Owen over Uncle Vernon any day.

Diplomatic Leia would get a copy of Serafina’s Promise alongside a copy of Cinder. I would also lend her a worst case scenario survival book. Even though such books don’t cover escaping from Hutts and recovering from planetary destruction something else is bound to carry over.

For C-3PO, insufferable droid linguist, I might recommend Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library to see if he can solve the puzzles. I have the feeling he would detest Patrick Carman’s Floors.

The False Prince would be the first book I would hand a young Han as he has the same knack of irritating everyone. I might also give Swindle a try.

If I were courageous, I might show Chewbacca my school’s copy of Potterwookie, but I think that might go poorly. Perhaps something like the Wild Rescue series might go over better or some of Capstone’s Interactive Survival Stories.

What R2-D2 would read, I have no idea. However, I could see him programming a replica of the castle from Tuesdays at the Castle.

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