Thursday, January 21, 2021

President's Day Resources and More

With Auguration Day in the rearview mirror it's time to focus on the next month's coming events. With both Abraham Lincoln and George Washington's birthdays coming up, it felt timely to share this cool Wakelet that I've created to link my teachers and students to the many resources available with a Social Science focus. 

This Wakelet features the digitized collection from the Library of Congress of our early Presidents' writings. I came across the copybook from George Washington's school days (pictured above)-- there are so many primary resources! I noticed one of Abraham Lincoln's early drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation is there, plus his first Inaugural address. Honestly, the Library of Congress is my go-to for so many resources. They have more than you can imagine. Check it out!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Books, books, and more books

 2020 is a year we won't forget anytime soon. For me, it started off the best of ways-- I was a reading machine. I could not stop reading. I read 61 books with 23 finished by March 13th. Once the lockdown started, my reading slowed to a crawl. I've set a larger goal for 2021-- 70 is a nice number we'll see. Enjoy these reviews, look for a new one next week! 

I started the year with the amazing, bizarre, and truly wonderful Dig by A.S. King. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2019.

This book is utterly unforgettable, I feel like it has taken root inside me. What do The Shoveler, the Freak, CanIHelpYou?, Loretta the Flea-Circus Ring Mistress, and First Class Malcolm have to do with each other? These five teens are connected by blood yet they don't know it. Their family secrets have scattered them. These characters are all misfits and the strain of family complications keeps them in their place as outsiders. 

This book is the perfect blend of weirdness, deep pain, perseverance, and the connection that brings them all together. To tell you more would be to ruin it - trust me, it will be a book you will not forget; this one leaves a mark. 

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, William Morrow, 2019. 

If you love a mystery/thriller with an unreliable narrator this one is for you. This debut novel by Finn (aka: Dan Mallory) is somewhat similar to The Girl on the Train and is equally engaging. In this case, the woman in the window is Anna Fox, a child psychologist. She suffers from agoraphobia and is completely housebound. She spends her long, lonely days counseling other agoraphobes on the internet, looking out her window, and drinking far too much wine. One day, she sees a woman attacked in the house across the street. But, no one believes her... This one is twisty and devastating at turns. The movie starring Amy Adams will finally come out on Netflix this year. 

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019. 
This one took me two full weeks to read--what a slog. A friend and I talked about it and she said the only thing she found interesting was how much of the book was from Lerner's own life than the novel itself. The characters were largely unlikeable and it all was very disjointed. 

Sadie by Courtney Summers, Wednesdays Books, 2018. 
This was my 6th read of 2020. Boy was it a wild one! This one takes two of my favorites and mashes them up spectacularly; true-crime podcast + mystery = a real page-turner. 
This novel features two sisters- Sadie (19) and her little sister Mattie (13) both born to their drug addict mother, Claire. Sadie devoted her life to raising Mattie-- her love for Mattie is a driving force in her life. When Mattie is murdered, something snaps in Sadie. She is now on a dangerous quest to find her sister's murderer and kill him. Their grandmother enlists the help of a radio host, and eventually, a serialized podcast is started as they attempt to save Sadie. 
This book is powerful and shows us just how horrifying the monsters in real-life are always scarier than those in fiction. Thankfully, these are fictional monsters but are all too real. This book doesn't leave you; this book features multiple triggers (pedophilia, child sexual abuse, and parental neglect. 
Bonus feature: the podcast is available online and gives readers another opportunity to feel this one in a powerful way. The podcast is the transcript lifted from the book. It's a fine addition/experience for this title. 

That's it for now-- I'm reading the much-lauded, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker. This one is nonfiction which isn't my usual read, but Barack Obama had it on his Best of 2020 list. It's terrifying what families do to each other and how shame can break a person down. It shows how the stigma of mental health issues prevents proper care and absolutely plays a part in the dysfunctionality that is the Galvan family. Of the 12 children born in the 1960's, all 10 boys were mentally ill, most with schizophrenia. 
My next title will be fiction, that's a haven for me. The world today is more than real enough for me these days. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Keys to Success: the Freshmen Teacher Edition

Long, long ago in a classroom in Southern California, I began the next segment of my career as an educator. At present, I've been at VHS for 24 years. At that point, my new assignment was to teach freshmen Language Arts and I was thrilled; I love freshmen-- they are hilarious, generally energetic, and so much fun.
That first group of kids was everything I hoped to have in my class, and then some. Entering my classroom the first day was exciting-- I was ready to make connections, create a safe space for them, and teach them some of life's amazing lessons through literature. The kids were nervous as the first day of high school is for most students and I began my first day as I had the previous 5 years-- teaching kids about the Keys to Success using stories from life to help drive home the point that successful people have these qualities: Respect, Perseverance, Integrity, Honesty, Determination, Commitment, Positivity, Plan/Organization, Stick-to-itiveness Mindset, and Failure=Feedback.
Back to the present day, that amazing bunch of kids are now full-grown adults building beautiful, fulfilling lives.
Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting up with them at their 20th Reunion. It was so much fun-- lots of laughs, fun stories swapped, and a few tears.
More than a few told me that they had appreciated my efforts to help them, the lessons I taught, but most of all it meant so much that I cared for them. It was such a nice night. I'm so proud of all of you and thankful for your stories and good memories.
Thanks for the invitation! xoxo Ms. Steele

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Summer Loving - Reading, Resting, and Relaxing (2 YA book reviews)

Library life can be hard, I find it to be a little lonely at times and challenging in ways others don't understand. Decisions are sometimes made that have an enormous impact on what I'm needed to do and it has been extraordinarily stressful this year. All of which brings me back to summer. Ah, glorious summer, the time to rest, relax, and restore my soul.
 At this point, I should add a sound effect of an old vinyl album being scratched-- relaxation and rest are the hallmarks of my summer (usually), but this summer started with a trip to Washington D.C. for the Annual Conference and visit with my sister-in-law. It was a wonderful visit, but I had to endure a 14-hour journey via Southwest Airlines. Thanks to some crazy weather in DC, I got to fly from home to St. Louis, an extra hop to Chicago as they canceled my flight from St. Louis, and then to Reagan National Airport. It was the longest travel day I've ever experienced (yes, longer than our trip to France in 2013)!
 I had a great time with my in-laws Sharon and Mark as well as my conference pal Heather. The week included tons of books, reading, the amazing Scholastic literary luncheon, a trip to the Urgent Care (sis fell and needed stitches), and a glorious return to the Library of Congress. It was a terrific time with great food, family, a good friend, and books!

Heather and I managed to find the time to visit the Library of Congress-- such a beautiful building. As always, I leave wishing we had more time to spend in this amazing building. Next time, I'm definitely going to go and do some research.
I will need to get a new LOC library card-- they're only good for two years. So, it's time for me to get serious about the book that's in my head and needs to be researched/written. 
The LOC ceiling- gorgeous stained glass. 

The Year We Fell From Space, Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2019. 
I've been reading up a storm, I always come home from Annual with great books. This year was no different. My favorite (so far) is The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King. This was featured at the Literary Luncheon hosted by Scholastic Books. It features Liberty Johansen, her family, and spotlights mental health issues in a way I've never seen before.
Liberty's family is falling apart, her dad moves out (ostensibly to get his head together) and ultimately disappears, her little sister retreats from life, and mom is trying to hold them all together.
This book, meant for middle grades, is excellent. It is so relatable and leaves an indelible mark on your heart and a desire to make the world safer for anyone struggling with mental illnesses.
I have so much respect for A.S. King as she spotlights the need to de-stigmatize mental health illnesses and addresses it head-on. It's time to save the lives of teens and others who are most vulnerable. This book goes a long way to helping with that challenge.
"Stop the silence. Crush the stigma." 
A.S. King, Twitter post 06/23/2019

Scars Like Wings, Delacorte Press, October 2019.
This novel by Erin Stewart is a remarkable debut. Her protagonist, Ava Lee, is known by many names-- the "burn girl," survivor, "the one who lived," orphan, "Freddy Krueger," and invisible. Well, the last one is exactly what Ava would like to be. For the past year, since the fire that killed her parents and Sara, her only cousin/best friend, Ava has been at home or in the hospital recovering from the devastating burns. Her home is now with her Aunt Cora and Uncle Glenn who lost their only child. 
Early in the novel, she strikes a deal with Aunt Cora to return to high school for two weeks. On day one, she meets the bold, brash, Piper and Asad the only people who will look her in the eye and treat her without disdain, disgust, or pity. 
As time passes, Ava continues to heal and has opportunities to find her "new normal," she learns to look up from the floor and be there for someone else. It's a book of overcoming, acceptance and learning to love what is rather than wanting what can never be again. This debut is one that will have you alternately cheering and tearing up. Ava and her friends are unforgettable. 
Check back next week for more reviews. I love summer!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Renovation is Nearing Completion, Many Lessons Learned




We are nearly finished with our mini-renovation! Phew. It's been a long road-- it started 5 years ago when a newer colleague came to me and said she really saw my library and wanted to help turn it into a 21st Century space. This led to afterschool meetings with a few other teachers on campus to come up with an outline of what we wanted to accomplish.
First, we simply brainstormed. We just put a bunch of dreams on paper. First, new computers (both Mac and PC) to level the playing field for our kids who are affected by the digital divide by creating tutorials and help them earn their own devices, next we would expand our hours (necessitating additional staffing), free wifi for students to access within a 3-mile radius, and new modern soft seating. We priced it out and figured that $75,000 would help us get there.
Next, I set to work gathering the info needed to write the grant application. I wrote our first draft, shared it with the team. My colleague, Natasha, had several contacts that could help us get this grant request in front of some decision makers of a foundation. After numerous attempts and a re-write, the grant request was approved for 50% with the provision that we find matching funds.
That led to call a with a District administrator, I merely wanted to inquire as to whether we could get the District to match the grant. I figured that there was nothing to lose-- the answer would be no if I didn't ask. To my surprise, the answer was yes.
The District's "Yes" meant great changes to our vision and plan. Whereas Natasha and I were focused on bridging the divide, the administration had other ideas. Instead of the wifi, all new computers, and additional hours and staffing, we would receive a few cross-platform devices, numerous TV screens, a Google Jamboard (which is an awesome device), soft seating, and new tables and chairs. Additionally, we would remove our large circulation desk, and more than a few sections of shelving (along with the books housed there).
So, to make a long story short, we compromised (not really an option not to) and will have to write another grant to get the rest of what we envisioned. But, this next time we will enroll the administration in our vision (it will help that we won't likely experience a change in administration in the very near future). Second, I will better communicate my intentions and plans before I put all the work into it. Plus, I have a plan in case a grant is not immediately successful; it will be a lot of work. But, it will be worth it to see kids with the tools they need to further their skills and provide more career and college options.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Busy times

Crazy Busy Days
Like every other Teacher Librarian I know, it has been crazy busy this fall. I had hoped to blog more but, holy cow, it's been completely impossible this fall! The last 5 months have been so far BEYOND my norm.
Here are just a few things that happened:
  1. The library was renovated in 4 weeks time.
  2. We barcoded 18k textbooks- my administration gave me 3 days of pay...
  3. New Orleans
  4. Omaha for the College World Series (my team won! Go Beavs!!!)
  5. Grandson's birthday- his first
  6. We handled centralized textbooks for the first time in close to 40 years.
  7. Half of our students did NOT attend registration meaning we had soooo many textbooks everywhere, and did I mention that summer school was in the library until August 13?
  8. The renovation that was given 10 days time had no wiggle room for error - the bulk of the furniture didn't come until after the school year was 3 weeks in!
  9. And, and, and... you get the picture. 
We are closing in on the renovation being completed, we still need our circulation desk(!). You can see a few pics on the Instagram account, Valencia Library & Tech Hub (@valencialibrarytech).

CSLA Presentation- 25 Tech Tools for Teaching & Learning
I used Book Creator for my presentation on October 13 (Thanks for the idea, Jane Lofton!), you may access it below. You may also access the sites via this Padlet. I will add a doc there that will have a plain list of the sites and extensions that I spotlighted at CSLA.