My Direct Route to Librarianship

I follow the amazing blog of The Unquiet Librarian, who posted her story yesterday for the Library Routes Project. This project collects the stories of librarians and the path that they have taken into this wonderful profession. I really enjoyed reading Buffy’s story, and I hope that you will enjoy reading mine!

I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember – in fact, my mom just found a picture of me standing over the crib of my infant brother, reading a book. I always took my learning seriously and growing up I wanted to do it all – astronomer, artist, meteorologist, actress, and of course a teacher.

In third grade, I moved from the urban school I was attending (due to the long-standing desegregation plan) to my community elementary school in the small town in the suburbs of Baton Rouge where my family lived. In fourth grade my love for reading became obsessive and I devoured any book I could get my hands on. That year, I also became a Library Aide at my elementary school library. My school had a wonderful librarian who was an incredible storyteller. Her reading of The Cajun Night Before Christmas is something I will never forget. I remember being in awe of that library, with its wonderful books and beautiful wall murals of the Milky Way galaxy. The library and it’s sights, sounds, and smells has always made me feel safe. I spent many recesses in 4th and 5th grade helping out in that library.

As they were for many, middle school brought on a series of awkward years. I fully embraced my nerdy persona as I settled into my group of friends in the same gifted/honors classes as me. And then in 7th and 8th grades, something great happened – my P.E. teacher noticed my non-athletic plight and let me spend half of the school year helping in the library during my assigned P.E. time. I did it all – checked books in and out, shelved and straightened, and fell in love with the Dewey Decimal System. During summers, I spent a lot of time at the public library, living and experiencing through what I read. In those difficult pre-teen years, I remember my mom punishing me by not bringing me to the library!

The library at my high school was not a welcoming place, as it was run by two very traditional, stern-faced librarians. As a junior, I went out in search of an after school job, and I was lucky to snag a position as a page with the East Baton Rouge Parish Public Library System, which is one of the best in the nation. At the time, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to have such a great system in my area. I learned the ropes of the library and gained some amazing mentors. As began to send off my college applications, I decided that I would get my degree in Education. I loved the public library, but knew that I did not want to spend the next 30 years working nights and weekends.

I was given a full scholarship to Southeastern Louisiana University, which has one of the best Education departments in the state. I commuted the 45 minutes to school so I could keep my job at the public library. I also learned that SLU had an add-on program for School Library Certification, and I began taking the graduate level classes my sophomore year. In January of 2007 I had to leave the public library after over 5 years because my school schedule wouldn’t allow me to work my required 20 hours/week. I spent that summer before my student teaching doing my Library Practicum at the Lab School Library, and it was a great experience for me to really experience the differences in a public and school library. After 4.5 years, I graduated (Fall 2007)with a 4.0 GPA and received the President’s Medal along with my degree in Elementary Education: Grades 4-8 ELA/Social Studies certified and my School Library Certification.

A job as a School Librarian was my dream, but I thought that opportunity would come many years down the road – after I had the chance to go back for my MLIS. I accepted my first teaching position at my community’s middle school – the same one that I had attended years ago. The schools in my community had broken off from a larger district to form our own community school system. Still in its first year, I was excited to get on board. I finished off the school year with them, teaching 6th and 7th grade ELA. Our district was growing at such a rapid pace, that the schools had to be restructured for the next school year, adding another elementary school (going from having PreK-2 and 3-5 schools to having three: PreK-1, 2-3, and 4-5). You know what that meant…they needed another librarian! I put in my application but refused to get my hopes up. I was called in for an interview, and my youth and enthusiasm got me the position over the more experienced candidates! I could not believe I had come into my dream job so quickly.

I’m now in my second year as the librarian at my school. I am so proud of the things that I’ve accomplished and how far our library has come. That first summer, we had to the materials from our two original libraries to serve three – this was quite a task that produced three inadequate collections. Our community came through for us and a fund-raiser provided us with the money to develop our collections. I have a wonderful administration that supports my ideas for library programs. I’m truly blessed to be part of such an amazing school in a great district – all of that and my dream job as a librarian!

That’s my story, and I know there are many great years to come in my library career!

Book Club

Between yearbook, being sick, Mardi Gras festivities, Take One, and the everyday library chaos, I have not been able to blog about Book Club! The kids are having such a great time with our after school Book Club, and I am too! I’m learning a lot about managing a program like this during our first 6 week run of the Book Club. We have 5 groups of 8-10 students that are meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school for an hour. Each group is reading a different book and at meetings the students are working on creative/research oriented activities.

The first book that my group read was Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary.

My group really enjoyed this book, and several of them have already started reading other Ramona books. For our activity, they split into two groups and made a commerical for the book. They were slightly silly, but had a lot of fun doing it. I videoed them and they weren’t overly proud of their final product to the point of wanting to share it with others, but it was a good time none the less.

Yesterday I introduced our next book – The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.

I’m really excited about our project for this book – we’re going to make our own newspaper! In the paper, each student will have two articles featured. One will be about an attraction or event in NYC, the other will be a book review. I have high hopes for the outcome of this project. I’m hoping we’ll come out with a much more polished finished product this time! I think this is something my group could be really proud of. And I really hope they enjoy this book as much as I did!

Cajun Stories

This was an incredibly busy week. Lots of exciting things are going on in the library.

For my Take One! lesson that I plan to video, I’m planning on using Cajun books. My third grade students are going to use the illustrations to make inferences and create their own readers theatre scripts. So this week, I read them a Cajun tale. I read one to my second graders too. They’re just so much fun! I read Petite Rouge and Three Little Cajun Pigs, both by Mike Artell and illustrated by Jim Harris.


I LOVE THESE BOOKS! If you have Cajun roots, then you need to buy these books for your children. They are so much fun to read – and they MUST be read aloud. It really captures the Cajun dialect and the rhyming scheme is great.  The characters are lovable and full of personality. The illustrations are so detailed and incredible. I cannot say enough good things about these books. They would be great for a compare/contrast lesson in a fairy tales unit.

Gator Gumbo by Candace Fleming is another great Cajun retelling of a classic story. This one is a version of “The Little Red Hen,” but with a very different ending. I read this one to a few of my classes to mix things up, and they really liked it.

I bought this one for my niece, but haven’t been able to part with it yet – I need to buy another copy. There Was an Ol’ Cajun by Deborah Ousley Kadair is a spin-off on the old lady who swallowed a fly. The whole series of the lady who swallowed the ocean/pie/snow/etc. is very popular with my kids, so I know they will love this one as well.

Lu and the Swamp Ghost by James Carville is a cute, original Cajun story. This one comes with a CD of the author reading the book, which I really enjoy. This is a really great story with fun illustrations.

Feliciana Feydra LeRoux by Tynia Thomassie is another favorite of mine. I love it because it captures the Cajun lifestyle with the big family full of silly nicknames. The illustrations by Cat Bowman Smith are really great as well…even the pictures have a Cajun feel to them.

I laughed through this entire story! It’s another one that really caputres the spirit of ol’ Cajuns. Four Little Old Men by Burton Brodt tells the story of four old men who play bouree together. This one has more fun names, such as “Rigger Moritz.” Like so many of these books, only an adult who has really been exposed to the Cajun lifestyle will completely appreciate all of the humor — but I’m sure the kids would enjoy it, too. Especially if it were being read to them by a parent/grandparent who could guide them through the humor.


Here are some more staples to any collection of Cajun children’s books. Mary Alice Fontenot has written 19 tales of Clovis Crawfish and his friends since 1961. Cecilia Castrill Dartez has written four stories about Jenny Giraffe and her adventures in New Orleans. Elizabeth Moore and Alice Couvillion’s Mimi and Jean-Paul’s Cajun Mardi Gras is a good one, as well.

Martin's Big Words

Being an “ancillary” teacher, I am on the DIBELs team at my school. We DIBELed all of our students on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday of this past week. And second grade had a grade level planning time on Wednesday afternoon, so us ancillary folk covered their classes so they could meet. So I taught a whopping three of my classes this week and had subs cover them on the other days. I wanted to do a lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King since we celebrated his birthday on Monday. I needed a lesson that would translate well for my subs. We read Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rapapport and AMAZINGLY illustrated by Bryan Collier. This is a great book that captures the essence of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This book has received many awards, including Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor.

After reading and discussing the story, we made a collage of words that come to mind when thinking of MLK.

It wraps all the way around my desk, and I really love it! They did a great job with their big words.

This is going to be a very busy week – really getting my Take One! lesson ready to video and the first week of our school Book Club.

Transition to Chapter Books

Half way through my second year of working with 2nd and 3rd graders, I think I’ve really started to master the art of transitioning from picture books to chapter books. For the most part, second grade is when students are ready to begin the transition. Some students do not want to make the transition because they are afraid of the length of a chapter book – they just don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. Others want the longest book they can possibly find, which tends to be something they are not going to find success in reading. Whether it’s giving them the little push into longer books that they’re leary of, or if it’s bringing them down several notches to a book that’s more realistic when their abilities are considered – I’ve found some books that the kids will embrace. Here’s my list of the go-to series chapter books.


Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant

Mr. Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant

Both of these series by Cunthia Rylant are incredibly popular with my second graders. Once they start reading a book in one of these series, they want to read them all. They have all of the characteristics of the best transitional books – colorful illustrations mixed in with the “chapter” formated text, larger font size, and adequate spacing between lines. Generally, if I have a second grader that has been DEVOURING picture books at an incredibly rapid pace, I try to move them into one of these series and they love it!


Bones Mysteries by David A. Adler

Young Cam Jansen by David A. Adler

Once again, two different series by the same author that really hits the mark right on. I go straight for these when I have a third grader who is a struggling reader that is dying to read chapter books like their friends. These books make a good stepping stone into longer series books such as Jigsaw Jones and A to Z Mysteries.

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel

Several great classic stories in this series. Not *exactly* chapter books, since each book has five stories instead of one story broken into chapters, this is a great transition none the less. These are great books for children and parents to read together.

Iris and Walter by Elissa Haden Guest

Iris and Walter are the newest additions to my go-to transition collection. I purchased this series with the Cookin’ for Our Kids funds, and the kids have really enjoyed it so far!

I’m always looking for more books that fit into this category, since helping my students make this transition is something I do every day.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Our book club selection for this month was Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. We were glad that we chose this book, because we all found it to be a “lighter” read than the other books we’ve done recently. We thought this, even though the basis of the book was pretty heavy – the placement of Japanese-American families into internment camps during WWII. It’s a love story that’s just as the title suggests it would be – bittersweet. We had a good discussion about what happened at that time in our countries history, as well as great discussion about the relationships between the characters in this story. I would definitely recommend this book – it’s one that has real substance without completely weighing you down.

I hosted this months meeting and had so much fun! I went with the Japanese/Chinese themes from the book and served: Asian salad, edamame, pot stickers, egg rolls, and sushi! I even created a cocktail using lychee (which is really great, by the way!). Of course, this is south Louisiana…and it is Mardi Gras…so we did have a Zulu king cake after the discussion. We only have a small window for those delicious creations, and Ambrosia’s Zulu is my personal favorite.

On the school front, I am extremely overwhelmed right now. Yearbook and our new school Book Club on top of the everyday madness is wearing me down, but I really am excited about everything that’s coming up. And I brought my National Board binder into the house and out of the trunk of my car where I was keeping it out of sight. That counts for something, right??

Library Manners and AR Review

I’m blogging at home on a Friday morning because school is canceled today due to “potential severe weather.” I’m extrememly bummed out since this was going to be the only week that I would see all of my classes for the entire month of January, but I guess that’s life. I’m taking it as a chance to finish Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet for Sunday’s book club meeting. I should really take this opportunity to get myself on the Take One! National Board train, but sushi lunch or dinner with my college BFF sounds more appealing. We shall see how the day goes!

Since this was our first week back from the holidays, I did a review lesson. I read Manners with a Library Book by Amanda Tourville.

It’s short and to the point, which is exactly what I needed for the quick review. It goes through a list of things that we do are considered “good manners” when handling library books.

Next, I spent a good chunk of time talking about AR and reviewing our goals. School wide silent reading time starts on Monday, so we needed to get pumped up! Then we did an activity that went extremely well. At each table, I had six books that had the exact same AR book level, but included picture books, a chapter book, nonfiction books, and a poetry book. First, the students had to find out how the books were similar, eventually discovering that they were all on the same level. Then they discussed differences and sorted them into fiction/nonfiction with their group. Finally, the group had to decide which they thought would be the easiest and most difficult books to read and take an AR quiz on. This lead to a really good discussion on how books on the same level can still vary. We talked about what makes a book more difficult (unfamiliar nonfiction topics, length of book, etc). Now getting those little guys to apply this knowledge when they look for their books is a whole different issue, but we’ll get there eventually!!

Finger Lickin' Fifteen

I don’t know if I’ll ever finish The Fiery Cross. I put it down again when I got my notice saying that Finger Lickin’ Fifteen by Janet Evanovich was in for me at the library. It’s been a while since I read #14, so I think I enjoyed Stephanie Plum that much more. Plus, this one is packed with Lula, Grandma, and Ranger, making it that much better! I’m a big fan of Ranger, by the way. In my mind, he’s Vin Diesel’s twin. Of course, Morelli isn’t so bad either because he looks just like Colin Farrell (Stephanie = Anne Hathaway, Lula = Sherri Shepherd, Grandma = Betty White). These books would make such great movies, or a TV series, if my vision of a cast was used. Fifteen books in, I no longer judge these books on the storyline. I judge them on the use of my favorite characters, how much the book makes me laugh, and the presence of memorable scenes. In my opinion, this is one of the better books in the series! But anytime Stephanie’s staying in the “Batcave”, I’m a happy camper.

By finishing the series (15 is the newest book), I was able to cross another task off my “101 Things in 1001 Days” list. Here’s my list, in case anyone’s interested: Tiff’s 101. I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions this year, I’m just going to keep at my list!

School Book Club Beginnings

We’re going to be starting a book club at school! My principal and assistant principal came to me a little while back and we talked about starting book clubs with some of our students. They came upon the idea after reading about Lit Blitz, a competitive reading incentive book club. After some of the articles that I’ve been reading about students needing to get away from being rewarded for being “smart” and the overuse of incentive programs (I’ve been reading the November/December edition of Knowledge Quest, FYI), I’m really thinking hard about the direction we should take this. I don’t think we’ll be going with the Lit Blitz model, but I am thankful that it planted the seed for our club.

I’m still in the brainstorming/idea bouncing stages, but here’s my direction so far:

  • Incorporate an online discussion board (perhaps BlackBoard, since our district has the program) that students access from home during their reading process.
  • Pull in nonfiction passages that pertain to fiction that we’re reading.
  • Have some type of hands-on/creative activity for the discussion meeting.
  • Really address teaching students how to participate in a discussion, not just answer questions.

This should be lots of fun and I can’t wait to get this thing started!

The Lace Reader

Once again, I barely finished the book before our book club meeting. I’ve got to start giving myself a little more time! We read The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. This really was a good book. I think we may have liked it better if we hadn’t read it immediately following The Thirteenth Tale, which is one of the best fiction novels of this generation, in my opinion. There were similarities between the two: the twin factor and the SHOCKER of an ending that makes you gasp out loud. Because of this, we couldn’t help but make some comparisons. We really felt that The Lace Reader didn’t have the resolution at the end or the feeling of closure that we liked so much in The Thirteenth Tale. Instead, the end left us with a few too many questions and a little too much confusion. The build up was so nicely written and detailed, but the end just felt rushed.  Would I recommend it? Sure, it’s a good read. But if I’m suggesting to someone who doesn’t read often and wants something really great: go with The Thirteenth Tale.

On a library note, I’ve been feeling kind of down since I heard about something rude that a teacher said regarding the library – basically she’d like my job because it’s so easy. It’s so upsetting when I put so much of myself into what I do and try so hard to be a resource to the teachers, to find out that some of them think I do so little. How do you find enough confidence in what you do so that jabs like this don’t bother you?