MSLA 2013 Conference: Initial Impressions

The MSLA Conference is timed well. We are entering the late winter doldrums, and the conference is the jolt we need to energize our practice. I am riding the conference high right now, bursting with plans for tomorrow, next term, next year.

Here are my highlights from my conference experience (in no particular order):

  • Discovering
  • Exchanging ideas at the Job-Alike session – I wish it had been on Monday so more people could join the discussion.
  • Being reminded of the powerful impact that independent, sustained, silent reading during the school day can have on students’ reading growth. I witnessed it when I was an English teacher doing reading workshop, but have not tried it in the context described by presenters Rochelle Garfinkel and Chris Leonard.
  • Learning about so many new tools: Haiku Deck, Feedly,, edModo, Catalist.
  • Hearing  Barbara Stripling speak. She was inspiring, genuine, and relatable.
  • And, of course, having time to connect with other librarians — friends and strangers — in myriad ways.

If I can find the time, I’ll do another post that delves into more detail about sessions and reflections. If not, know that the conference is worthy of time away from work and family. And I hope the jolt lasts for many weeks.



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Review: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (read by Bahni Turpin)

Published: print: Hyperion, 2007
audio: Books on Tape, 2010

Source: school library

Why I chose to read

2011 Winner of the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production.


Gratuity “Tip” Tucci is about to embark on a road trip to Florida, where all U.S. citizens have been relocated following the Boov invasion of Earth. Even worse, Gratuity’s mother was abducted on Christmas Eve, so she is alone. On Moving Day, Tip packs up her car – and her cat, Pig – and sets out from Pennsylvania, only to find her journey turned upside down and inside out when she meets J.Lo, a Boov mechanic.

What I enjoyed

  • J.Lo – he absolutely stole the show!
  • The loving relationship depicted between Gratuity and her mother.
  • Author Rex may be well known for his drawing skills, but he flexes some serious linguistic muscles.
  • Rex uses flashbacks and intersperses the narrative with other character voices/perspectives.
  • The flashback technique used by Rex is effective at engaging the reader. Tip’s first essay attempt raised so many questions, I was impatient for the story to continue so I could find the answers!
  • Gratuity’s voice is sharp, perceptive, and dredged in dry humor.
  • The parallel drawn between alien invasion of Earth and European exploration of North America.
  • Although this is science fiction, the book doesn’t take itself too seriously and pokes a little fun at the genre.

What detracted from my enjoyment

  • I had a difficult time visualizing the aliens – they were so different from Hollywood depictions! That is good, but I sometimes couldn’t keep the image in my head.
  • Happy Mouse Kingdom was clearly meant to be Disney World, but I wondered if this was in order to satirize it, or due to fear of copyright infringement. I was preoccupied by this, but I’m sure most readers wouldn’t be.

It is obvious why this audiobook won an Odyssey – it is extraordinary! Adam Rex created the characters and the story, but Bahni Turpin breathed new life into them. I don’t think I could imagine J.Lo sounding any different. A marvelous listening experience, one that an entire family could enjoy.

Related reads

Stories with alien characters

Stuck on Earth by David Klass
Boom (or 70,000 light years) by Mark Haddon
The Doom Machine by Mark Teague

Books that feature humorous road trips

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham

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Which tool?

Am I alone in experiencing wonderment at the plethora of platforms available for sharing, organizing, tagging, bookmarking, etc.,  online content?

When I click on an AddThis or ShareThis button, I don’t recognize even a quarter of the options. And I think to myself: who uses these? Are they popular? Are they more efficient than X? Should I try them out? Then I remind myself: you have no extra time to check out hundreds of potentially useful online tools! (Who does?)

As I prepare my eighth-grade classes for their first full-scale, in-depth, research-based opinion paper, I am seeking an online tool that will assist my students with various aspects of online research (bookmark sources, take online notes, and organizing information).

diigo iconMy current plan is to use Diigo with my students. The pros: as a user myself, I am familiar with the functionality; the protected accounts are a must in my district; it’s free; and students can bookmark good sources, annotate with sticky notes as a precursor to real note-taking, and tag to organize their resources. All good.

But then I remember I am dealing with eighth-grade students who can watch a carefully crafted PowerPoint about the public domain and then raise their hands to ask, “So, what’s the public domain?” Maybe tagging will be too much for them. What if annotation becomes a laborious, unnecessary step in the inquiry process? Whatever tool I use needs to be intuitive.

evernote iconFurther complicating matters, my technology director asked me recently whether we had considered Evernote, since the sophomores are using it on their iPads, and wouldn’t continuity be nice? Why, yes it would. But if I have to use protected accounts, that is not a free feature of Evernote for Schools. Even if that requirement could be waived, and we use the free version of Evernote, I’m still not sure if it will be easy enough for students to use effectively for online research.

I’ve evaluated some other sources, and now topping my list is EasyBib School Edition. I love the visual aspect of the notebook, the use of tags and color to organize notes by source or topic, and the dynamic outline. The cons: money. I know the technology director is willing to spend for a product used across the district, but not for one grade. Like my technology director, I prefer that if we are spending time learning how to use a tool now, they will use it throughout high school.

I don’t know what the answer will be. For now, I am forging ahead with Diigo, and girding myself against the expected onslaught of repetitive questions.

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Review: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Published: print – Clarion Books, 2007
audio – Scholastic Audio Books, 2007

Source: School library copy

Why I chose to read

The novel is used in our sixth-grade English classes. I thought it was about time I read it!


It is 1967, and Holling Hoodhood is the only Presbyterian in his seventh-grade homeroom class. Consequently, he is the only student left behind on Wednesdays when everyone else goes to Hebrew school or catechism. In his opinion, this draws the ire of his teacher, Mrs. Baker. Why else would she force him to read Shakespeare?

Shakespeare is not Holling’s only concern. He also has to deal with rats, avoid Doug Swieteck’s brother, confront his father’s expectations of his future position with Hoodhood and Associates, and scrape together enough money for 24 cream puffs – twice. And that is just the beginning.

What I enjoyed

  • The humor, oh, the humor! The humor was highlighted particularly by Joel Johnstone’s hilarious narration.
  • Schmidt captured the tentative dynamic of middle-school romance perfectly.
  • The rat subplot.
  • Once again, Joel Johnstone – this time for the voice of the principal.
  • Mrs. Baker – she is the teacher I aspire to be.
  • Following Holling’s journey as he finds his “guts.”
  • Introducing today’s students to the joys of sentence diagramming.

What detracted from my enjoyment

The main plot did take a while to get going. I was distracted by the myriad deviations from the subplots early on. Many of them did end up tying back in later on, so it wasn’t wasted time, and all played an important role building an understanding of Holling and his world.

Related reads

Stories set in the Vietnam era
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Kaleidoscope Eyes by Jen Bryant

Humorous school stories
Frindle by Andrew Clements
Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

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Blogging lapse

I have read a bunch of books, but have not been feeling well for the last few weeks. So although I have a couple of POC books to review, plus some recent releases — Orchards and Across the Universe — the brain power to formulate thoughts and transcribe them with words is lacking. But soon, I promise.

My next post, however, will be an interview with Sarah Bean Thompson, a candidate for the 2013 Printz Committee. Check back for that!

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