Book Speed Dating

One of the most powerful things I can do for my students is work to promote reading for fun and helping students find books that they will enjoy. I feel like middle school is one of those key times in life where many students either take the path to become a life-long reader…or not. So I try to do as much as possible to talk to my students about what they’re reading and help them find books that will get them hooked!

One activity that I’ve found to be extremely successful this year is a round of “Book Speed Dating.” I know that this is an activity that many librarians have done for years…it’s tried and true for a reason!

Here’s how I’ve put together this activity:

  • I pulled books that I frequently recommend from 7 different genres and put them in boxes at each of my 7 tables. It exposes readers to new genres that they may not seek out on their own.
  • Students come in and decide on a ranking system they’ll use to rank the books they preview (scale of 1-10, five star ratings, etc.).
  • I set a timer (like the one projected on the screen) for five minutes. For the first 30 seconds, they can peruse the books in the box at their table and select a book. Then, they spend 4 minutes reading the book to see if it hooks them. With 30 seconds remaining, they make note of the title of the book and give it a ranking.
  • If at any time they find a book they want to check out, they can hold on to that book. All other books go back in the box, we rotate the boxes, and repeat this activity 4-5 times.


I always get great feedback from teachers and students with this activity…they love it! By the final round, about half of the students will typically have a book that they want to check out. And ALL of the students have spent some time with a book from a genre that’s outside of their typical reading comfort zone.

I did this several weeks ago with my 8th graders, and this week the 6th graders are having their turn. I especially like that I can customize the boxes for the classes/grades that I have visiting. And I LOVE that lots of book replenishing is needed after each class!

Do you do something similar to this? What other tried and true activities do you use for the love of reading?

Bookmark fun!

For the SIGMS Playground I designed some bookmarks as our handout/giveaway. They came out really great and were a big hit, so I wanted to make some for back to school too. I used for the SIGMS bookmarks, and when I got an email about an awesome discount that they were running I went ahead and designed some for CMS! They came in this week and I’m so excited to kick off the year with these bookmarks:CMSbookmarks

I decided to go with a different design for each grade level. And each grade has a “color” for their lanyards and IDs that stand out against their school uniforms, so I went with those colors for the bookmarks as well. I also made them so there’s a place on the back for students to write their names.

I’m so happy with how these came out that I’m definitely wanting to put a bookmark contest on the agenda for this school year! It would be so exciting for students to see their own artwork on a bookmark all over the school!

Cavalier House Books Book Fair!

One thing that I wanted to do this year to promote reading over the summer was to hold a book fair at the end of the year. I had my annual book fair back in the fall, so I wanted to take this opportunity to try something different. The librarians at our high school have been using a local independent book store for several years now to host their book fair, so I was excited to finally give them a try!

I was blown away by this AWESOME book fair hosted by Cavalier House Books! I’m telling you, this was the BEST book fair I have ever seen!! The folks at Cavalier House Books make this fair a dream — they set up and tear down the fair! AND they have someone there during the entire fair to do all of the actual book selling! I had such a great time spending the week with John Cavalier, who is so obviously passionate about what he does and full of awesome ideas to keep growing his business. He was great interacting with the kids, looking up books they were interested, and making orders on things he didn’t currently have available to bring in from the store. No lame restock orders that never come in time or come in partially full here, baby!

The selection that was made available to my students at this fair absolutely blew us all away. So many students and teachers walked in and IMMEDIATELY commented on how much better this fair was than any we’ve had in the past. There were books available for every type of reader, something to get everyone excited!

I cannot say enough good things about our CHB Book Fair! I am now a loyal customer for life and look forward to some of the great things that can come from building a relationship with such an awesome local indie book store! And check out these pictures of the fair…they will speak for themselves!

IMG_2319 IMG_2320 IMG_2321 IMG_2322 IMG_2323 IMG_2324 IMG_2325 IMG_2326 IMG_2327 IMG_2328 IMG_2329 IMG_2330 IMG_2331 IMG_2332 IMG_2333 IMG_2334 IMG_2335


You’re jealous, right? 🙂

Spring Book Challenge


We had so much fun with our January & February Book Challenge, that we’re having another one!

First, my reflection on the January & February Challenge. I was blown away by how intensely some of our students got into reading for this challenge. There were a total of 15 tasks in the challenge for a total of 15 books, and we had 5 students complete the entire thing and a number of other students come very close! About 40 students turned in their logs to me at the end of the challenge, but I know more participated. We had a total of 39 join the group on Schoology.

I could have done a better job in a few areas. First, I should have made more announcements/reminders to keep pushing students along. The ones who did participate were very much self-motivated. I didn’t even post the updates on Schoology as regularly as I should have. I’ll definitely be better about this next round. I also planned to do some type of leader board. That didn’t happen at all. The points and such were too difficult to keep up with and organize on a larger scale.

I’ve had questions from my blog and Twitter followers about a few things. First, I said I was going to do prizes. I ended up nixing the prizes. I’m not much of a prize person because I want them to be intrinsically motivated, and these kids really were. Instead, I opted to do an “event” at the end of the challenge. We had nachos, discussions, and activities including make your own bookmark. Once again, my communication skills were a bit lacking (and I had to reschedule it). I only had 7 students show up for the after school event, but we had SO MUCH FUN that it was completely and totally worth it. I have no doubt that I’ll have more show up next time. And they felt that the event was plenty enough “reward” for them.

I also had the question of how I was going to verify if they actually read the books or not. This is another reason I went away from the original idea of prizes. I wanted this to be completely on the honors system (with a little help/monitoring from their ELA teachers).  For the most part, I think the students were pretty honest about what they read. Like I said earlier, the students who truly participated in this were self-motivated and pushing themselves to read more. And WOW, did they ever!

SO, I’m very excited that today was the start of the Spring Book Challenge!

Spring Book Challenge by librariantiff

After getting feedback and seeing how things went, I made a few changes. First, I did away with the “points” for different categories. I also went from 15 tasks to 10 tasks. And we cut down the time frame from two months to one month. Some students felt overwhelmed by the length of the first challenge, so this one is pared down a bit.

I’m excited to get this new challenge started! And I love the graphic I created! And I love the 10 tasks! Yay! So, as always, feel free to take this and make it your own! I’m excited to share something that my students and I are enjoying so much.

Book Challenge Update

We are back to school and I’m so excited to have kicked off the January & February Book Challenge! As promised, here are some more resources:

Video to introduce students to the challenge:

Flier to post around school:

JanuaryFebruaryBookChallenge Flier by librariantiff

Book Challenge Reading Log:

  January February Book Challenge Reading Log by   librariantiff

I’m still undecided about how I’m going to do prizes. So far I’ve just told students that more info on prizes is still to be announced! I’m hoping that I can get a few local businesses to make some donations, like gift cards to the frozen yogurt shop and such. And maybe a Coke float party or something for students who reach a certain number of points. Like I said, I’m still thinking about that and trying to gauge how I think it’s going to play out a little before I lock myself into some prize scheme. 🙂

I’m very excited about using a Schoology group to communicate with participants — I can’t wait until our first “check-in” to see what the students are reading for the different tasks! I’m hoping that a lot of great recommendations will come of this!

January & February Book Challenge

Happy 2013 friends!

I’m very excited to get 2013 off to a great start with a January & February Book Challenge. Back in August, I had big plans for Reader’s Quest, which never even really came into existence at my school. After reading Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer last year, I got really excited about the idea of replicating what she does at our school. All of our ELA teachers read the book over the summer and it was very interesting to see how others thought they were or weren’t working along the same lines as what Donalyn does in her classroom. They didn’t all share the same opinions as me, though, so it wasn’t the miracle I was seeking. Also, we do the Accelerated Reader program at our school. I’m not even going to get into that in detail at this point and discuss what we do with it. The biggest obstacle in our getting rid of the program is that everyone feels that we need something to replace it, something to hold students accountable for their reading. So at this point, we’re just kind of stuck.

Bottom line — I can’t keep sitting around scratching my head trying to figure out this AR/Reading Program conundrum. There just isn’t an across the board solution to get all students where they should be with reading. If there were, we would all be doing it already…DUH! I also can’t keep clinging to the “we just moved/there’s a lot of change/I’m just going to take it easy” excuse, either. I did that for the first semester and I’m not overly pleased with where it got me. Don’t get me wrong, the move was HUGE and as a school we experienced a crazy amount of change in 2012. But I can’t continue to dwell on that — it’s time to get on with it!


Back in my early days of wedded bliss, I frequented the message board on The Nest (which is where you moved after your were finished with wedding planning on The Knot). One of the boards was a Book Club, and each quarter there would be a Winter/Spring/Summer/Fall Book Challenge. Basically, there are five “challenges” in each 5, 10, 15, and 25 point category. It really got me to read outside of my comfort zone. It also pushed me to read even more than usual, which was really saying something for me!

I’m thinking that something along these lines will be easier to manage than Reader’s Quest was going to be for me. Each student who chooses to participate will get a log of sorts to track their books and points. I will also have a Schoology group for these students, where each week they can post the books they have most recently finished and their running point total. Each week I’ll post an updated leader board  in the library and on our Friday Video. I’m going to have some prizes, of course. I’m also going to offer this as a competition among the teachers as well.

January February Book Challenge

A book can only count once, even if it could fit into multiple categories. You can only use each category once as well. However, books are not necessarily “locked in” once they’re read — you can move them to a different category as long as the other rules are still met. I don’t think I’m going to do a 25 point category at this time. Typically, the top 5 winners in the previous challenge create the 25 point challenges for the next round. If this is a success, we’ll go that route.

I’m planning to make a promotional video and tracking log of some sort, which I’ll share when it’s completed. And I hope you noticed the cute logo — no project can officially kick off until there is a cute logo attached to it! If you are interested in doing something similar, feel free to use anything I’ve created. The Google Doc with the challenges can be found here, and the logos are available on my Flickr.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…especially if you’ve ever done something similar!

The Wonder of Wonder

I’ve really been putting a major focus this year on reading. I always read more than my fair share, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how essential it is for me to read excessively so I can recommend amazing books to my students. This year I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying making recommendations to many of my colleagues AND my awesome principals. When our kids are getting book recommendations from all of us and hear us talking about books, I know it makes a difference. I mean, one of our fabulous counselors always introduces me to new students when she shows them around, telling them that I am an incredible “literary stylist” (shout out to Brandi!). We are making strides to growing our culture of reading, and it’s great.

While making my way through my extensive list of books to read, I FINALLY read the incredible book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Oh my gosh, it’s the best books I’ve read this year, HANDS DOWN. We are teaching “The Leader in Me” program at our school as well, and Wonder goes hand-in-hand with everything we’re promoting through this program. As soon as I finished reading Wonder, I pushed it over to my principals and insisted that they read it immediately. Of course they loved it as much as I did, and I shared some of the great things that other schools are doing with the book, including One Book, One School.

I am SO very excited that this week, we are starting a school-wide read-aloud of Wonder at Central Middle!! My amazing principals ordered 45 copies of this beautiful book so each teacher of Flex Time (where we do Leader in Me and other positive/leadership activities) will have a copy to read to their students.

I’m very excited about the possibilities and opportunities that will come with our reading of this amazing book with all of our students.

If you haven’t read this book yet, WHAT are you waiting for??

If you’re interested in more resources on Wonder, check out these links: &

Book Trailer:

Reader’s Quest

I’m still in the process of hashing out a gaming/challenge style reading program for this year. Lots of brainstorming has been going on, and I am so grateful that my PLN is full of brilliant and giving people (shout outs to @TKSlibrarian, @candidlibrarian, and @coxtl for their awesomeness!).

Here’s the background that has led me to this situation: My district uses Accelerated Reader, but I just don’t feel that it’s the best fit for my middle school students. I feel like I was able to help get the elementary AR program going in the right direction and I’m proud of the work that was done there, but I’m not getting that same feeling from AR at CMS. I’ve also recently read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, which is EXACTLY the fit that I feel we need at the middle school!

Anyway, I guess we aren’t ready to completely scrap AR just yet. And we want to give our kids choices. So kids will have the option to “opt out” of AR for another reading promotion program. Therefore, I needed to create a program. Or rather, get with some other people and steal their ideas — which is what I’m doing!

The alternative reading program is going to be called Reader’s Quest (I believe I stole that name from Tamara). Students will have the chance to earn badges such as these:

  • Fiction Ninja – books from three genres
  • Fiction Master – books from six genres
  • Nonfiction Ninja – books from 8 categories
  • Nonfiction Master – one from each category
  • Subject Ninja/Jedi – two subject pairing of a fiction/nonfiction book
  • Subject Master – subject pairing of at least three fiction/nonfiction books
  • Manga Master – finish an entire series

We definitely still have some fine points to work out, but what I really want to see come of this are discussions between students and teachers about what they are reading. In addition to working towards badges and participating in “secret challenges” (thinking about putting challenges on slips of paper, keeping in an envelope or hiding them in books for students to complete), students are going to set a goal each 9 week period for the amount they are going to read. I also want to see them create some type of product each 9 week period — a book review in Destiny, a podcast review, a video trailer, etc.

Like I said, this is all still a work in progress but I do need to get things firmed up pretty soon — especially since school starts in just one week!

The Power to Recommend

(or my Library Superpower OR why I read MG books so obsessively)

I like to think that my greatest library superpower is my ability to put the right book in the right hands. It’s a job that I take very seriously. If I ever reach the point where a comment to the effect of, “You always recommend the BEST books Mrs. Whitehead,” gets old, then I need to start doing something else. I really take a lot of pride in this ability.

Recently, one of my ELA teachers — after I passed along Lauren Myracle’s Shine and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars for her reading pleasure — explained my talent to her students in a way that totally made my day:

If you don’t have a book that you are reading and enjoying, then you NEED to go see Mrs. Whitehead. She knows exactly how to find the perfect book that you will love and not be able to put down. I’m telling you — it’s just like she can look into your eyes and see it, then know what book you need!

It’s easy to get distracted by all of the other aspects of our job, the technology, troubleshooting, programs, and day to day library business to the point that we forget that reading and recommending books is still at the heart of our job. We all know that if we’re doing our job, there’s no WAY that we have time to read at work regularly. But then the thought of my kids never seeing me read really bothers me, too. I’m supposed to be their ultimate reading role-model. They’ve got to see me read sometime! I try to keep my current read on my desk (amid everything else that seems to converge on my desk over the course of the day). I let them see it, know what I’m reading, maybe see me read a few pages from time to time, even. But like I said, if I depended on “reading time” during the course of the school day, I’d never even finish a book! So it’s something I commit myself to doing. It’s not always easy, especially when I get into a reading slump. It’s all worth it, though, when I’m able to take that book that I just finished and hand it with confidence to a child that I know won’t be able to put it down.

Here are some of my favorite go-to books to recommend —

For recovering Hunger Games addicts:


Series for girls without too much mature content:


Books for boys:


Edgy reads to hook more mature reluctant readers:


For my mature, YA reading girlies:


For my Sci-Fi/Fantasy lovers:


For those looking for a book that’s not boring:


I’d love for you share your go-to recommendations for your students! I’m working on my to read list for this summer, and it’s going to be a looong list!


Overdrive – This is the comic that I created to introduce Overdrive to my students and teachers!

SO many of my students got eReaders for Christmas and came back to school so excited. Then a week or so in, they started to realize that ebooks cost money. And middle schoolers generally are unemployed, which will really cut into an individual’s book buying budget. My budget isn’t exactly full of oodles of money for ebooks, either. However, our school is lucky to be located in the parish (now you all know, in case you didn’t before, that I’m from Louisiana) with one of the best public library systems in the country! And our public library is always adding ebooks and audiobooks to Overdrive. So even though I’m not at a point where I can offer many ebooks through our school library, I can show my kids how to access Overdrive with their public library card.


I did a short 10 minute session during each of the lunch periods this week to show students Overdrive, what our public library can offer them, and how they can use it with their various devices. There were lots of excited students (and teachers, too) that came in to learn about Overdrive. I’m sure there will be lots of excited parents, too, when their kids show them that they have access to so many ebooks and audiobooks for FREE!

Ahhh…the perks of having a library card 🙂