Thursday, March 31, 2011

Aunt Betty Skypes

Today Aunt Betty had a new experience. She Skyped with a school- in Michigan. Pansophia Academy is a school in Coldwater, Michigan. I met the librarian at a recent workshop. Her school planned a read-a-thon, so she asked Aunt Betty to share a story with her school.

Enter Skype (or Google Voice and Video Chat). Skype offers free audio and video chats, all for the downloading of the software. You can talk (and see) someone from anywhere in the world without leaving your house. How about Skyping with an author? Try a Virtual Visit. Check out for more ideas about how to use video chats in your classroom.

To do this with a guest speaker you will want to do a few things ahead of time.

1. Download Skype,
2. Invite your speaker to be a contact within Skype.
3. Check your Privacy settings in Skype.
4. Get an LCD projector to connect to your computer.
5. Get speakers- you may need to place a microphone near your speakers, depending on the size of your audience.
6. Do a practice test with your guest before there is an audience.
7. You may want to use a USB web cam so that if you want to show other things in the room, you won’t have to move the whole computer.

Because we used a USB web cam, Aunt Betty was able to show her office and a Google map of the distance between San Diego and Coldwater, Michigan. We sang a song together and Aunt Betty told the true story of the Itsy Bitsy Spider.

As my mama always says, “a good time was had by all.” Try it. You’ll like it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

All the Way to America

“Work hard, but remember to enjoy life, and never forget your family.” Dan Yaccarino's newest picture book tells the story of four generations of his own family's history. Using a family shovel as the connecting link, an Italian family begins a new life in New York City. Michael (formerly Michele Iaccarino of Sorrento, Italy) uses his father's shovel as he works in a bakery. The shovel passes to his son who becomes the owner of a market and uses the shovel to measure out beans, macaroni and olives.

The influence of family, hard work and enjoying life are sprinkled throughout the narrative. Each generation becomes more “American,” but never loses their heritage. From family recipes to work ethics, the Yaccarino family’s strength and character moves from generation to generation.

This wonderfully told story with classic Yaccarino illustrations, causes readers to wonder. Where did my family come from? What family treasure have we passed from father to son or generation to generation? What family recipes and traditions do we have that came from past generations? Like the author, when students tell their own stories, they will have to edit. Read an interview from Publisher’s Weekly for the inside scoop.

In just a few minutes, librarians and teachers can use this book as a starting point for immigration units or for teaching narrative writing. Go to for teachers to find ready to use teaching guides. This new-for-2011 may be just the book you need- even if you don’t have a family shovel.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

At Least They Aren't Really Pink

Last week, while I was on tour, more than 1300 people in my district received layoff notices. Having already seen the budget cuts for each school, I knew that many of those notices- and those yet to come- would be library staff. It was starting to look like 32 elementary libraries will be closing and more than that will have reduction in hours. Thirteen teacher librarians would get those “pink slips.” While I traveled, I rehearsed this post in my head.

What can you say to someone who knows her job is important, yet because of money, she will not return? What can you say to someone who works hard to meet the needs of an entire school, yet because of money, she will have to figure out how to do the same thing with less time? What can you say to the people who have established collaborative relationships with teachers, yet they will be “bumped” because someone with more seniority was eliminated or reduced?

I made a list of all the things I would say to those people. Then on Friday night, as I was making my way home, my boss called me. It seems there was a surprise layoff notice waiting for me at home.

So there I was- now in the net of people who work hard at their job, yet no matter how much work needs to be done, no matter how hard we work, we could lose our jobs. What do I say now?

I say the same thing I would say before. We should prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Get your check ups. Pay off your credit cards. Meet with your union. File for a hearing. Put a little money aside. Start putting out feelers for Plan B. Plan for the end of your job as you know it.

But…do your job every day. Help the people who need you. It’s not the fault of the children that there are budget reductions. It’s not the fault of the teachers- or the parents.

So, we get up in the morning and we remember why we took this job in the first place. The library is the one place at school where every person can feel welcome. Every child can feel safe. We remember that the children are the reason we have a job. We put ourselves aside and do the best we can for as long as they will let us.

In the end, things will work out. It may not be what we planned. It may not be what we expected. It may turn out to be a big fuss about nothing. It may turn out that we get to go to a different job that we love even more. We plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Oh! And one more thing. Pink is my favorite color. At least pink slips aren’t really pink.