Little starlings and little darlings

It’s late November, and during my Thanksgiving travel I was entertained by flocks of starlings swooping and soaring as they migrated. This flock motion is called murmuration. Today I mentioned it to my Kindergarten library class, and was delighted to hear that a few of the students recently had seen the same phenomenon. We talked about the word, “murmuration,” and how its meaning differs from two other big seasonal terms, migration and hibernation. I read the picture book, Calvin Can’t Fly: the Story of a Bookworm Birdie, by Jennifer Berne and Keith Bendis. In the story, Calvin is a little starling who prefers reading to flying lessons. When the time comes to migrate, Calvin cannot fly, so his extended family attaches tethers to him, prepared to carry him along. Calvin’s extended periods in the library pay off when he understands that the flock is in danger from a hurricane, and that they must seek shelter. All’s well that ends well, and in Calvin’s case, his joy causes him to jump about, flapping his little wings, until he surprises himself — and his family — by flying. The Kindergartners loved the story (little darlings); I hope they will remember the concept of murmuration. Go from fiction to nonfiction with this 6-minute video of starling murmuration in Scotland, by Cameron Presentations, with music by Gerry Clark.

Murmuration from Cameron Presentations on Vimeo.


Adventures in weeding, Fall 2017

An important part of curating a great school library is the regular weeding of outdated or unused items. This morning while weeding the 600’s (applied sciences in the Dewey classification), I came across a fifty-year old title, Man the Maker: a First History of Tools and Machines, by Anne Jolliffe. (Hawthorn Books, 1967). Although dated by gender stereotypes and its depiction of 1960’s computer technology, I like the book’s mod illustrations and topic. Anne Jolliffe is a trailblazing female animator from Australia who was the talented force behind the animation of Jeremy Hillary Boob in Yellow Submarine, the animated Beatles movie. She also was instrumental in creating the psychedelic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” sequence in that film.  By the way, I decided to remove the book from the circulating collection, relocating it to my office.

bottom right: Jeremy Hillary Boob, from Yellow Submarine

Thinking about Jolliffe’s achievements reminds me of a new gem of a book about another animator, Mary Blair (1911-1978). Blair, like Joliffe, incorporated unconventional color combinations and styles. Blair worked for many years for Walt Disney Studios, overcoming gender bias in a male-dominated workplace. One of her most lasting designs is the “It’s a Small World” ride, introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair, and enjoyed by millions of visitors to Disney parks. Pocket Full of Colors, by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, illustrated by Brigette Barrager, tells Mary’s story.

October 2017 Notes

It’s October, and our main book display has featured books about autumn leaves, pumpkin-picking, and other seasonal delights. The display recently has given way to Halloween stories.

Preprimary library classes have featured age-appropriate stories about colors, shapes, and fall, to complement the classroom units. After hearing Go, Shapes, Go! by Denise Fleming, the children created shapes in our mini-makerspace using craft sticks to which I had affixed Velcro dots. They also have used Joinks, tegu magnetic blocks, Duplo bricks, and loose parts to make things.

Primary class children are proving to me that they are great listeners, and they like both fiction and nonfiction. In fact, they enjoy telling me whether their book selection is fiction or nonfiction. They also enjoy “reading” their books to our collection of stuffed animals and plush book characters. When time permits, we construct with Duplos in the mini-makerspace.

In Kindergarten library class, we are focusing on story plot arcs, which we define as”beginning — middle — end.” After hearing a story, the children describe events that occurred throughout those stages of the book. Later this year we will delve into story settings and characters. Understanding and appreciating the power of literary elements such as plot, setting, and character will enrich the Kindergartners’ own storytelling.

The Elephant's Child (R. Kipling)
The Elephant’s Child (R. Kipling)

First grade library story times are devoted to folktales from around the world. We have started our exploration with “pourqoui” tales, also called “why stories.” We imagine that we are children from another time and culture, asking our parents a “why” question, such as, “why does the elephant have a long trunk?” The stories I read aloud provide culturally interesting, if not scientifically accurate, answers. We will enjoy some folk tales from India while the students are learning about that country in their classroom, and we will use Seesaw to share reflections on developing library skills and activities.


Second graders have been hearing tales and legends of the Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands. One favorite is The Great Ball Game, a pourquoi tale that features lacrosse, the official team sport of Maryland.  This story was retold by Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki Native American, and illustrated with collages by Susan L. Roth. The illustrated folktales I choose to share with the children provide both visual and textual clues about the specific Native American culture and environment being studied.

Additionally, Mrs. Opdahl joined me to co-teach the second graders how to conduct keyword searches using the KidRex search engine on classroom iPads. Our goal is for the students to understand how identification of logical keywords will help them perform efficient and effective online searches at Concord Hill and beyond. I distributed “reference questions” (such as “Who was the 25th President of the United States of America?”) for the students to answer with a partner. They highlighted keywords, performed the KidRex search, and wrote their answers on the Smartboard. The children will share some of our activities and story reflections with their families through the Seesaw app.

Third graders will be documenting library and Makerspace activities using the Seesaw app this year. The one-to-one iPad distribution in the class will facilitate using Seesaw, as well as other apps and websites, including DoInk Green Screen, the KidRex search engine, robot apps, flipgrid, and our online catalog. It’s going to be a busy year! This month they will use some of our library class periods to work in the Makerspace to design, build, and improve a Viking ship using Rigamajig, textiles, and our scroll saw. Mrs. Opdahl and I will co-teach those classes, emphasizing collaborative design and the safe use of tools and materials.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month / Latinx Heritage Month

file-oct-03-8-35-40-amI have created  a special display of books in the library  in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated nationwide and begins on September 15, the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico achieved independence on September 16th and Chile on September 18th.
Hispanic Heritage Month has been celebrated in the United States since 1974, when President Gerald Ford issued a Presidential Proclamation extending Hispanic Heritage Week into a month-long observation. Many people and educational organizations now prefer the term “Latinx Heritage Month,” to include non-Spanish speaking people of Latin America, including Brazilians. Books written or illustrated by Sandra Cisneros, Arthur Dorros, Maya Gonzalez, Tony Johnston, Gary Soto, Pat Mora, and Carmen Tafolla are being shared with the students in their classrooms or during library classes. We highlight several library books in Spanish, as well. By reading these books at Concord Hill, we are active participants in the International Reading Association’s Hispanic American Heritage Read-in program.

Get hooked on books!

With a new school year beginning, I welcome new and returning CHS parents to this blog. Today I want to recommend Common Sense Media as a valuable resource for parenting tips, including ways to foster literacy with your children. This short and sweet video has good, basic ideas; the Common Sense Media website also includes specific book recommendations, as well. (It also includes recommendations for movies and apps; get to know


Ten Picture Books About Taking (Good) Risks

It’s time for the annual #pb10for10 Google Community to share favorite picture books. This time around I have highlighted books that feature characters challenged by their own fear or reluctance to take a risk. The risks include trying new food, taking on a physical challenge, or risking engineering failure on the way to ultimate success. Enjoy these books and add to the list through comments! Scroll over the book covers for brief captions. These books are available through or your favorite independent booksellers. I have included a bonus title: The OK Book, which I have used in a Makerspace activity with Kindergartners, reminds us that there are plenty of things we are “OK” at — the kids remembered trying the monkey bars and other “firsts” that they risked trying and continue to perfect.

What’s the big idea?

I have created a special display of picture books about people who, sparked by imagination or insatiable curiosity, had big ideas they developed in order to help others. As I explained to our students, big ideas can come from observing nature or from identifying a community need. Big ideas can lead to social justice, new realms of study, artistic breakthroughs, and even new kinds of toys. Here are a few of my favorites. Scroll over the images for captions. These books are available through your local independent bookseller or several online sources.

April 2017 Notes

April is a time for celebrations! It’s School Library Month AND National Poetry Month, and it also features National Robotics Week and Earth Day. Our book displays and read-aloud selections will include titles for those topics. Additional class activities include the following.
Preprimary students have been hearing stories about frogs and insects, in conjunction with their classroom units. Two popular choices are I Don’t Want to Be a Frog, by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt, and The Little Squeegy Bug, by Bill Martin. After hearing the latter story, the students will make their own bugs using our Makerspace resources.

fix it duckPrimary students enjoyed hearing me read Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color, by Mary O’Neill. As I read those poems about different colors, we used the Smartboard to provide complementary images. The students also have heard several humorous, cumulative picture books recently. They especially enjoyed Fix-It Duck by Jez Alborough.

Recent Kindergarten library classes have been devoted to fiction and nonfiction about farm animals and equipment. As you might imagine, the children seemed most fascinated by the manure spreader featured in Fantastic Farm Machines!
underlemonmoonFirst graders have heard picture books set in Mexico, including one of my all-time favorites, Under the Lemon Moon, by Edith Hope Fine. We also watched a short video about a day in the life of a young boy in Mexico; after the video the students compared and contrasted his life with their own.
World Almanac Kids logo

Recent second grade library classes have been devoted to a special state research project. Specifically, the students found visual information and interpreted agricultural and industrial symbols on state maps from the World Almanac for Kids Online. They recorded their findings and interpretations into the books they created in library class using the Book Creator iPad app. The children will record a Seesaw digital portfolio entry about this project.
Third graders have spent library classes this month working on their second video book reviews using the DoInk green screen app. Additionally, the students are revisiting some library and maker skills they have acquired over the past year, reflecting on those skills and earning digital badges. When a student earns a badge I place it in their Seesaw folder. A few sample badges are shown at left.

March 2017 Notes


The Rigamajig House, complete with chimney and well.

During March, several of our library classes were devoted to Maker projects, including the Rigamajig house, shown at right. The house was a schoolwide project and was occupied by a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day! In addition to maker activities, we still found time to enjoy stories!

Preprimary students enjoyed listening to stories related to transportation. After hearing a story, the children like to select a book and “read” it to one of the library’s plush animals. In the photo at left, a child shares Uni the Unicorn with Harry the Dirty Dog. Harry seems to be enjoying the story!

Primary student correctly selects and drags the mammal image and explains his answer.

Primary students engaged in stories and activities related to their classroom study of mammals. During one class the children used the Smartboard to show me what they knew about mammals. I hope to design additional Smartboard activities for them.

Kindergartners enjoyed hearing stories by Dr. Seuss and began to explore interesting literary characters, starting with Wanda, of Wanda’s Roses. We will discuss story characters and their traits for a few weeks; this concentration complements our earlier exploration of plot and setting.

First grade library classes completed their unit of Australian Aboriginal folktales. We also enjoyed one of my favorite Irish folktales, Fin M’Coul, as retold and illustrated by Tomie DePaola.

Second graders completed the totem poles for the garden and shared their Arctic animal research reports. I was proud to read the informative reports aloud and to display them for the rest of the school community to see. Younger students wondered if the reports could be checked out!

Second-graders’ Arctic animal reports on display in the library
Second graders pose in the garden with their totem poles.

Students wear safety goggles and pull hair back before using the scroll saw.

Lastly, the third graders spent most of our March classes in the Makerspace, where they helped build — and later disassemble — the Rigamajig house. They also have begun using some of our woodworking tools and hope to make something in April. Before leaving for spring break, the students selected books for their next video book trailer.

Students in second- and third-grade continue to use Seesaw to document library/maker class activities. I have created several Maker and Library digital badges that the children can earn by acquiring and mastering basic skills. When a student earns a badge, I will add that badge to his or her Seesaw folder. I expect the digital badges will be incentives for many of our students! Sample digital badges are pictured below.


Kaboom comes to call!

Kaboom visitors in our Makerspace. Photo by Donna Sturtevant

On Tuesday, March 7th, Concord Hill welcomed special visitors from Kaboom, the makers of the wildly popular Rigamajig construction set. Kaboom is a DC-based nonprofit, dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids. They were interested in seeing Rigamajig being used by young students in our Makerspace.

Several Kindergartners and Third Graders came to the Makerspace to chat with the visitors and to work on our current schoolwide building project, a little house that may serve as a leprechaun’s cottage. Mrs. Opdahl and I enjoyed meeting other enthusiastic makers and even provided a couple of suggestions that might make Rigamajig even more flexible.