Library Assistant Yuri Kenmochi, visiting author Anjali Banerjee, and Librarian Laura Simeon
The SkinnyFor the past 9 years I’ve been lucky enough to be the librarian at Open Window School in Bellevue, Washington, just outside Seattle. We are a K-8 school with just over 300 students, sitting on top of Cougar Mountain with a gorgeous view and some “interesting” weather. We share our campus with assorted wild animals – deer, bobcats and more – who mostly wait until the humans have departed to make an appearance, though deer are regularly spotted running behind the buildings. Some classrooms keep tallies of deer sightings! So far none of them have tried eating the artificial turf – at least, I hope not!
What I enjoy most about my job is that our library is a happy place – filled with mind-expanding books, excited readers and supportive parent helpers. I never tire of the thrill that comes from matching a child, teacher or parent with exactly the right book or helping a student who has reached a dead end in his research find the source he needs to make his research paper even better.
Library Laughs:One of the best parts of working with kids is the many surprising, insightful, inspirational and humorous things they say.
One year I told kindergartners a Scottish variant of the Snow White tale, and finished off with “and they all lived happily ever after.” One boy wondered aloud why stories always end that way, so I asked the children what they thought. A little girl raised her hand and said, “Because that's how you know it's not real life.”
A third grader said she wanted a book about bees, adding “I used to be afraid of sharks, so I read a lot of books about them and I stopped being afraid. But I’m really freaked out by bees, so now I want to get some books about them.” She had designed her own experiment in exposure therapy, but I thought it would be best not to give her the one called Inside and Outside Killer Bees!
A fourth grader stopped by and asked, “Do you have any books about Harriet Tubman? I’ve been worrying about her since second grade.”
I was teaching second graders how to search the OPAC to find books by title, and one child was all fired up about finding a book on his own. He approached me and asked, “For Moby Dick should I type ‘Richard’?”
From a third grader: “Hey, Ms. Simeon! You know a complicated name for librarian would be Dewey Decimal Technician!”
A kindergartner squealed and exclaimed, while clutching Art and Max by David Wiesner, “This book is an old friend of mine!”
Two second graders asked, “Do you have any books on hypnotism? We need a book on how to get people to do what we want.” I gave them the closest thing I could find, a book called Mind Tricks. They skipped away happily, one of them saying, “And if that doesn’t work, we’ll go with Plan B!”
A Lion’s Pride of Programs:I consider research to be an endless adventure – but learning all the necessary skills can feel tedious or intimidating. We try to make the process fun and our 4th graders’ mystery square project is a good example of this. First, students search the OPAC to locate a nonfiction book about a country of their choice. Next they select six “just right” (not too obvious, not too obscure) facts about their country from the book and six from a database. They reflect on their clues, choose the four they think will work best, and create a mystery square with one clue on each flap and the country’s name and flag on the inside. Finally, we record a video of them reading their clues. On the final day of the project, we play each video clip and students make their guesses on handheld whiteboards. This allows everyone to participate and gives the students instant feedback on whether their clues were too easy, too hard or just right.
Mystery square flag
More Roars!One of the many things that make this job fresh and interesting is that you’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to teaching information literacy skills and encouraging people to read widely and often. Inspired by an ALSC blog post, http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2011/03/national-poetry-month-is-better-with-book-spine-poems/, our middle schoolers ran around the library creating book spine poems. In the process they had fun, practiced their catalog search skills, and stumbled across a lot of books with titles that piqued their interest!
Here are just a few examples:
Dead girls don’t write letters
Dead girls don’t write letters
Phoebe: Here comes our bride!
What a beast
What a beast
Each little bird that sings
Each little bird that sings
Readers Roar: Let’s hear from the kids!
“I love the library because it is welcoming and fun to be in.” Griffin, 3rd grade
“When you tell made-up stories they’re really funny!” – Abby, 1st grade
“I like that we can check out lots of different books.” – Lleyton, 1st grade
“I like coming here because I learn.” – Bess, kindergarten
“I love the library because I found my favorite book here.” – Dylan, 3rd grade
“I like reading because it gets your mind going.” –Shannon, 1st grade
I have a sense of which books never sit for long on our shelves – the Star Wars cookbooks, chess books, optical illusions, folktales, graphic novels, and anything to do with rodents! But when I ran a circulation report, these three titles came out on top:
Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds by D. Caroline Coile
Meanwhile by Jason Shiga
Peach Fuzz by Lindsay Cibos and Jared Hodges
Author! Author!We love bringing authors to campus! For years afterwards, students remember and talk about them. They look at all books in a different way after they’ve had a peek at the hard work that goes into writing. They also have a better understanding of the creative process and this informs and improves their own writing.
The perfect author visit, in my opinion, includes a lot of information and concrete examples about the writing process. What obstacles have you encountered and how did you overcome them? What does your manuscript look like after your editor has had a go at it?
Students also love to hear personal details about you – your pets, your kids, what you do when you’re not writing. When they read, they love to speculate about why you made certain decisions – character names, settings, and so on. Meeting a real live author who can answer these questions brings your books to life in a whole new way.
More than anything, we appreciate it when authors find a way to personalize their talk for our student body. I try to provide enough information about our particular school and why we really wanted to bring you – and not some author – here so that the presentation can be pitched at the right level or otherwise feel like an organic extension of their everyday school experience.
Phillip Hoose’s author visit – Phillip with Laura
Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/2064059-ms-simeon
Thanks again for the interview, Laura!
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Note to Librarians: If you’re a Youth Librarian working in a school or public library we’d love to hear about you and your library. Contact Janet at firstname.lastname@example.org for an interview slot.