Every Book has more than one Story

A friend recently tagged me in the Facebook challenge to share seven books that have made an impact in your life. I normally ignore challenges, but this one was about books! So I duly chose the ones I felt had earned their place on my list.  And then I decided I’d like to expand on why I chose these books, as one day when I’m old(er) and grey(er), I’d like to be able to share the stories and the books with my grandkids or grand-nieces/nephews (not that I have any yet) when they visit and look through my bookcases.

Books have been part of my life since I can remember.  I wrote about this along with my favourite place to read a few years ago, so it wasn’t easy to condense my list to just seven, but I gave it my best shot.  Here we go!

Book Number 1:

The HobbitMy first love

We all love to be read to. In fact, I believe we never grow out of it, and why audiobooks have become a popular way to devour stories. One of my favourite teachers, Newfield school circa 1972, was Ms. Baker. (a close 2nd to my very, very favourite teacher, Mrs. Bayliss in Form 1 at Lithgow Intermediate). She read a number of books to the class that year, but it was The Hobbit that became my first book-friend.  I had it read to me then, I went on to read it for myself, and then I read it to my children.  I loved the adventure, the humour and the suspense!

Book Number 2:

Meg SeriesMy first heroine

I loved and treasured this, my first mystery series and would often imagine myself as Meg.  I even tried plaiting my hair in the way it was described that Meg did in the books.

I used to own the full set of these from my childhood, but unfortunately, in my last move, I seem to have misplaced them.  I’m still grieving their loss, as they are out of print and scarce as hen’s teeth at 2nd-hand stores.  A very special kindred spirit found one for me a few years ago, which was a lovely gift and a great surprise.

Book Number 3:

Alfred HitchcockMy first mystery series

I literally devoured this series!  From the chauffeur-driven car to the “We investigate anything” business cards, to the headquarters hidden at Jupiter Jones’ family’s scrapyard.  I so wanted to visit, and be recruited to the team! (I always thought they would benefit from a female in the mix!)

When I think of this series, I think of my mum.  She kept me supplied with reading material right through my primary and intermediate school years.  I would often get a new book bought for me every week, and we had a standing order for my favourite girls’ magazines, which we would collect from Whitcoulls every Friday.  They had to come from the UK, so some weeks I’d be distraught as none had arrived, while other weeks there would be a bumper crop of backlogs.  I credit my mum with fostering and supporting my love affair with reading.  Thanks, mum!

Book Number 4:

A Soldier's TaleMy first adult twist in the tale

Fast forward to 1981, and Joyce Gartly’s 6th form English class.  Boy, did this teacher know how to tell a story! I vividly remember the sheer pleasure of listening to her read, and I can recall the day she finished reading this novel. It was halfway through an English period and we all sat stunned. A Soldier’s Tale has stayed with me since that day 37 years ago.  It has had a prized place on my bookshelf ever since.



Book Number 5:

When We Were Very YoungNow We Are SixMy first poems

I am cheating a little by combining two books as my #5 selection.  I can’t choose between them. Once again, I can credit the lovely Ms. Baker (I was devastated when she left the school at the end of the year she taught me) with introducing me to what still remains my favourite poems – ever! I can still recite so many of these, and I loved reading them to my own sons.  In fact, Vespers was turned into a song which I sang to them at bedtime as well.

Book Number 6:

Where Good Ideas Come FromMy favourite thought-provoking book

I had light bulbs going off all over the place when I first read Where Do Good Ideas Come From: the Natural History of Innovation. I regularly recommend it to students to read due to Steven Johnson’s accessible and flowing writing style, and I have given it to several friends and family members as gifts.

There was so much I loved about this book, but the thing that probably impacted me most is the section about the place of Commonplace books in history.  I was so inspired by it I wrote about it on this blog!


I also love another of his books, The Ghost Map: a Street, an Epidemic and the Hidden Power of Urban Networks. I was fascinated by the story of how Dr. John Snow, with the help of a local minister, was able to prove how cholera was transmitted.  It is, once again, superbly written and I use the first two or three pages as a read-aloud with classes as it describes the sights, sounds and smells of Victorian London.

Book Number 7:

Maisie DobbsMy favourite detective

Last, but by no means least, is Maisie Dobbs.  This series is among the best I’ve ever read.  I am completely invested in Maisie’s life, which begins in the first book when she is a young girl working in a fancy house during the 1920s till the most recent installment, where she is now a grown woman navigating World War II.

She feels like a friend, or at the very least someone I’d love to meet, and that is all down to the writing of Jacqueline Winspear.  I don’t ever want her to stop writing about Maisie and the world she inhabits.

So, if you’ve read to the end of this rambling, please leave a comment with your top read – your top seven, if you’d like!  I am always keen to hear what stories other people have been shaped and inspired by.

My Favourite Place to Read

I have always loved to read – always!  As a child I lovingly and laboriously wrote my name in all my books. I shelved them in my bookcase by their author’s surname (already a budding librarian in the making!) My mum would buy me a new book every time we went to town. My favourites ranged from Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators to The Magic Faraway Tree to the Twins at St Clares to The Meg Mystery series.

WardrobeWhen I was about 10 years old my family moved into the house my parents still live in today.  I had a tiny but perfectly formed bedroom with very 70’s styled purple net curtains, room for my single bed, my upright piano and a small bookcase, and that was about it.  The only other piece of furniture in the room was a wardrobe.  It was a built-in wardrobe but not built in right up to the ceiling.  There was a  space between the top of the wardrobe and the ceiling which was just big enough for me. (This picture is the closest I could find to it.  Just imagine it without the top cupboards.)

Reading NookI loved nothing more than throwing my pillows and rug up there and, along with my book du jour and essentials such as something to quench my thirst and keep the tummy from rumbling, I would climb up there and burrow into my own personal reading nest.  I felt like it was my own wee world where I was hidden away and out of sight. Plus it had the added advantage of being out of my little sister’s reach! (she was only 6 and couldn’t climb!).  In my head this is what it looked like.  What little girl wouldn’t love a space like this?!


Perfect chair

Now, as an adult I still have that hankering for a special reading place, one where I can be in my own wee world again, surrounded by the things that make me happy.  I would settle for a special chair – I’m envisaging an oversized wing-backed chair with a seat you can sink into and lots of soft cushions with room to curl up in.  So I began an on-line hunt in search of a picture of that perfect chair.  I think this one would be the closest I’ve come across to date, though I’d want bigger arms and maybe a wider seat and I would want it in rich warm colours and textures.

And then of course the space where it would live would have to be just right.  Adult reading nookThis picture just about has it right.

Rugs and cushions – check

Footstool – check

Table for books, drinks, nibbles, notepad – check

Lamp for good reading lighting – check

Bookcases within handy reach – check

Even has an open fire next to it which would be a bonus!

I still hope that one day I can have my special reading nook.  My current home doesn’t have the luxury of enough space for this (though I do have my working/writing space the way I want it, so that’s a good start) but I feel confident it’ll happen one day.

So what about you? Do you have your own reading nook or a favourite place to read? What are your key elements crucial to creating that space? I’d love to know if you also had a special reading place as a child and if that impacted on your love of reading.

I’ve created a Pinterest page called Reading Nook with other examples of some great spaces.

Excellent Examples to Kick-start a Reading Culture in Your Classroom in 2013


Anyone who begins a blog posting with “I just cannot help myself from bubbling with excitement; my students are loving reading this year.” has grabbed my attention from the get-go!  And this is exactly how teacher Pernille Ripp began her blog on 10 Things That Helped Us Love Reading More 


I also love blogs that set out at the very beginning what you’re getting into and I especially love lists, so Pernille’s list of 10 things that helped her and her students to love reading more held huge appeal.

Her 10 suggestions are explained fully in her blog (link above) but here’s just the list to get you started:

  1. Share my own reading life
  2. Stay current
  3. Share your books
  4. Friday preview
  5. Speed book review
  6. Using book trailers
  7. Read more series
  8. Keep a read next list
  9. Give them ownership
  10. Talk books

This will help get you thinking about what could work in your classroom or library for the new 2013 school year.  Maybe you just want to try one of the suggestions on her list or add one to the strategies you’re already trying.  And if you like these ideas, share them with your teaching colleagues!

Reading, Research and Recreation: the three R’s of a school library

Last night I had the undivided attention of a small but appreciative group of parents who had come along to the monthly PTA meeting to listen to me talk about how our school libraries support their children’s learning and ways they, as parents could be doing that at home.

Reading, Research and Recreation: the three R’s of the School Library

In this presentation I introduced parents to the school-wide information literacy programme that I have developed to date and described how it fits across year levels and curriculum areas.
To support parents in their endeavours to help their children with homework and enthuse them to read (or keep reading) I also created a Parent Resource Livebinder with some good links in it for author websites, book reviews, book trailers, research help and online safety.
I had several parents stay behind after the presentation to discuss various things that had occurred to them during my talk as well as to talk about their favourite books and how some of the strategies I mentioned had already worked for them or how they intended to try this or that one out.
There was definite interest in sessions for parents to up-skill in their use of the internet and searching strategies so I am adding that to my goals for the 2013 school year.
We have also invited parents to become members of our library for the first time, so it will be interesting to see how many take up that offer and how that aspect of community involvement develops.

Reflections on the Hargest Book Club and why I need to find a new wheel

wheel, tyre and parts

I’ve been running a student Book Club here for the past 8 years …. and this year the wheels fell off …. so I’ve put it into a wee hiatus while I ponder and reflect on what has worked in the past, why it has become somewhat unwieldy and how I want it to “rise from the ashes” in 2013.

The Hargest Book Club started in May 2005  and had 17 students come along to that first meeting.  By the end of 2005 we had grown to 24 students, with 12 of them being regular weekly attenders.  I was a happy librarian.  We were feeling our way and finding our feet.

After discussions and trialling a few ideas it became clear that the main benefits of coming along to Book-club as perceived by the students were

  • Unlimited issues – as long as they had no overdue books
  • The chance to help us select new books for the library
  • The opportunity to read the latest acquisitions before they made it to the library shelves

During the ensuing years I’ve experimented with a range of activities and approaches.  We instigated a shared lunch at the end of each term, which the students loved and when numbers got too large to do this, we instigated our Hargest Library Xmas Party, which we held after school had finished for the year and stock-taking had been completed.  We sent out lovely invitations and after the first year we also included our team of 30-strong student librarians.

These parties proved very popular, and were a lovely way to end the school year. (even though Lisa and I were often exhausted and questioned our state of mind at the time of planning it!)  We just ordered pizza, provided Xmas nibbles and played Xmas carols.  We played games such as First Lines, where students had to match the title of a book to the first line from the book; Literary Hats, where they were given a party hat on arrival which had the name of an author on it and they had to ask the other students questions to work out who they were; we gave them the opportunity to select  summer holiday reading and one year we saved up books we’d weeded from our fiction collection and let them take what they wanted. The last two years, students asked to bring some games along to play and Twister  became an hilarious but firm favourite.

It is very difficult to get them all to go home!  One year my then eight year old (he’s now about to turn 11) who of course had to attend the Xmas Party (after all, I was technically on holiday!!) had a lovely time as the stayers sat round in our reading room taking turns to read a picture book out loud to him, complete with voices and gestures to fit the story.  They the proceeded to sing him happy birthday (even though his birthday isn’t until January.)  It was a sight that did this librarian mother’s heart proud.

I had a core group of Book-clubbers who had stumbled into book club after one of their gang suggested it when they were newly Year 11 students.  They referred to themselves as the “Nerd Herd” and were a bunch of bright, eclectic teenagers who were articulate and well-read.  This lot moved onto university  after finishing at Hargest last year and with virtually no Year 12 students, it left a big hole … with me too, though I’m pleased to report that they come in to visit whenever they’re home on holidays, usually with a Starbucks coffee in hand for me and we’re planning on a “Nerd Herd” reunion luncheon at the conclusion of their end of year exams when they’re all home for the summer.

Some of our book-club lovelies from 2007 in their Library OWL T-Shirts with Owly, our library mascot.

We had occasional visitors join us for Book-club.  Some talked to us about the books they have written, some came and read to us, but mostly we remained a social group where we chatted about the books we love to read, recommended our favourites to each other and enjoyed the feeling of belonging in our little group. However, our “little group” didn’t stay little for long.  Numbers continued to grow each year, until finally it reached a reasonably unmanageable 55 members in 2011 (we can only comfortably fit about half that number in our library classroom and we would regularly have 35+ attending each week).  Something had to give!  And I preferred it wasn’t my sanity!

I’d tried a couple of different approaches to combating the size issue.  Three years ago I even tried having a separate junior and senior book-club, but it changed the dynamics of the group so much that there was rebellion in the ranks, and we reverted to the status quo.

My perceived Book-club benefits included:

  • giving students a safe place to come and share about reading
  • students from Y9 to Y13  could mix together and get to know each other
  • raising the profile of the library
  • giving students who came along a greater sense of belonging to the library

Some of my challenges have resulted from those benefits. The level of ease and camaraderie within the group, coupled with the large numbers attending eventually tipped it over into chaos. They became so chatty and casual that even after gentle and finally not-so-gentle reminders of respecting everyone in the group and listening politely while someone else was speaking or giving a book review, their behaviour didn’t improve. Also our school day changed about four years ago to only one period after lunch. This also meant a longer interval and a shorter lunch break which resulted in not enough time to do anything meaningful with the group.  These challenges, coupled with busyness-syndrome and Book-club fatigue resulted in me calling a halt to our regular weekly meetings at the end of last term.

The dust has begun to settle somewhat and I’ve appreciated a little distance from the issue (and to be honest, the students!).  Enough to have been starting to think “Where to from here?”

So some of my musings around what the new and improved Hargest Book Club might look like?

First things first …. I plan to be more organised! I am a huge fan of Suzette Boyd and I’m totally in awe of what she has created in terms of library services at Scotch College.  At Scotch they have a Literature Club for their boys and they have posters made to promote what’s happening at their gatherings each term. Check out what they’ve got happening for the boys this term. They have some very cool ideas.

I’m considering meeting less frequently.  I’m thinking once a fortnight might work better.  Alternatively, I might be able to find a reliable 2013 Year 13 student from my library team to help organise and run Book-club next year.

Using Scotch College Library’s concept, maybe have certain things happening on certain weeks to encourage more non-traditional membership.  Some of the things I’m considering are

  • Running a quiz once a term
  • Having one meeting a month as a “choose your new books” session
  • Having one meeting a month where students create book reviews in whatever format they want to, be it written, videoed, maybe in book-trailer form
  • Arranging a special guest once term.  Authors are few and far between down South, but we have some cool people locally who might be prepared to come and read a short story or part of a book to them. (one year I had our Drama guru, Jonathan Tucker, who has been teaching here for 47 years this year, read his favourite horror story to the group.  (He was well-known for this delicious activity when I was a student here!)  Well, I could’ve sworn some of the younger student’s eyes were going to pop right out of their head!!)

I’m very conscious of not creating more work for myself as the time factor is a biggie, but on reflection, Book-club has become an institution here at Hargest and it’s up to me to find the right wheel to fit this buggy!

PS: Meet our Book-club mascot:

And a well-travelled mascot he is too!  Owly went with Lisa, my wonderful team-mate here in the Hargest Library, on her overseas trip to the UK last year.  We will make sure he travels to other places too during this year so we can run a competition at the beginning of next year where students have to guess where Owly went on his holidays.

Supporting Literacy in Libraries

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present to some of our literacy teachers working in Southland schools, a range of ideas for how libraries can support the work they are doing with our students.

I always enjoy being able to talk to others about what I love to do, rediscovering a shared passion and connection for reading and learning, and today was no exception.  These teachers genuinely care about their students and the outcomes they can help shape for them. And they’re great at sharing the good things that work for them with others.

As time was limited, I chose to narrow the presentation down to three main areas: Reading for Enjoyment, Extending Reading and Supporting Research.  If you’d like to view my presentation with links to resources I use at Hargest you can now do that on Slideshare.