Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New blog / website

This blog has now moved to

NB: now points to the same new website (created thanks to

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On reading and balance in four 8-book baskets -- and the ones that got away

The 2014-2015 Red Dot Book Award shortlists, the 8 books in four age categories we choose for our students to read, consider, and compare -- in order to determine a favorite -- for a school and for the island nation of Singapore -- have been announced.  I want to celebrate them, but also point out the books that almost made it -- and still could in a future year -- and certainly deserve a wider reading in the meantime.

You can read the background to our awards and criteria in a blog post I did a year ago -- see Looking Back: the evolution of the Red Dot Book Awards and the Readers Cup in Singapore.

Basically, we look at:   
  • publication date (past four years, e.g., 2011-2014);
  • ease of access (where a paperback version via one of the free-shipping online vendors (e.g., Book Depository or is the ideal -- and an ebook available is a bonus);
  • genre (one nonfiction? one graphic format? one poetry or verse novel? as well as a mix of fiction genres);
  • gender (mix of female/male protagonists or appeal);
  • country of origin or flavor (wanting a mix, but recognizing some countries just produce a whole lot more than others, and preferring at least one book with a Singapore or Asian connection);
  • literary vs. popular appeal (considering whether a book is already played out in terms of popularity or likely to be popular -- as well as books that teachers will love for their literary, teachable aspects);
  • appropriateness for the age categories of our award.  
  • content, where we favor books with multiple possible connections -- text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world.
Balance trumps everything -- which means every year there are perfectly good books that don't get in the basket, because they unbalance it in some way.  With just 8 slots, we don't really want two wordless books or two poetry books or two biographical books, etc.  So I thought it would be good to lay out what is in this year's baskets AND highlight some books we seriously wanted, which lost out in some way, due to the devil of the balance.  NB: most of the un-chosen titles are theoretically still in the running for next year's lists....

Here are this year's shortlists:

2014-2015 Early Years

A Boy and a Jaguar
Empty Fridge
Going Places
How to Hide a Lion
Just Imagine
Norman, Speak!
Vanilla Ice Cream

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread is pretty good:  2 USA, 1 Australia, 1 Iceland, 2 UK, 1 Canada, and 1 France.

We have one memoir (by Alan Rabinowitz, the large cat expert who suffered severe stuttering as a child, but found solace in speaking to animals -- listen to him tell the same story to grown-ups on this "The Moth" podcast).  One story of someone "different" finding a friend.  One non-fiction book of questions to consider, and a Peter Reynolds (of "The Dot" fame) story that considers creativity.  A beautiful French book which is a modern version of "stone soup".  A boy and his dog story that features learning Chinese.  A tale that connects creatures and humans from India all the way to Australia.  And a good-old-fashioned story of a young child befriending a lost lion, as well as a book by an Icelandic author where one unusual person finds a perfect match in another unusual person.

Click here for the longlist Early Years books we didn't choose...  including another French book (Bear's Song), a lovely simple Korean bedtime tale (Blanket Travel); the perhaps too-well-known-already Day the Crayons Quit; the latest-greatest from Peter Brown (My Teacher is a Monster); the rhyming fun of The Brothers Quibble which wasn't readily available; and the most recent wordless genius of David Wiesner (Mr. Wuffles!).

2014-2015 Younger Readers

Battle Bunny
A Boy Named Harry: The Childhood of Lee Kuan Yew
Captain Coconut and the Case of the Missing Bananas
Emma and the Blue Genie
Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse
My Happy Life
The Secrets of Flamant Castle: The Complete Adventures of Sword Girl and Friends
The Year of Billy Miller

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread is good:  2 USA, 1 Australia, 1 UK, 1 India, 1 Sweden, 1 Singapore, and 1 Germany.

We have one picture book biography of Lee Kuan Yew (appropriate as the 50th anniversary of Singapore is coming up next year).  A meta-fiction frolic from Jon Scieszka.  A similarly silly offering from the ever-beautiful Tara Books in India featuring an Inspector-Clouseau-type character.  A magical chapter book for young readers from the best-selling author of "Inkheart".  A beautiful-produced purple chapter book of historical fiction inspired (read article here) by Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord Byron and the first female programmer).  An Australian knights-and-swords fantasy featuring Tommy, a kitchen girl (where there is a SGD 15 book -- "The Secret of Flamant Castle" available containing not just the first title -- "The Secret of the Swords" -- but a further five adventures -- so a bargain of a book in terms of reading on...).  And two realistic fiction chapter books, one about a boy in 2nd grade -- "The Year of Billy Miller" -- by the American Kevin Henkes, and the other about a girl just starting school -- "My Happy Life" -- by the Swedish Rose Lagercrantz.

Click here for the longlist Younger books we didn't choose... including a picture book biography of Malala, the Nobel Peace Prize winner (because we have her original memoir in our Mature category); the knowing sarcastic humor of Timmy Failure; two realistic fiction verse novels we really liked:  "Words with Wings" by Nikki Grimes, and "Little Dog Lost" by Marion Dane Bauer; a realistic fiction story of an Australian girl who goes to Pakistan with her parents to help flood victims (Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll); a cute graphic novel about people who don't fit in (Odd Duck); a realistic novel about an Omani boy about to move to the States (The Turtle of Oman); a Singapore mystery/adventure novel in the vein of last year's Red Dot choice, Sherlock Sam (Danger Dan Confronts the Merlion Mastermind); a wordless book for older readers -- Aaron Beck's Journey; a light-hearted quest out of the UK: The Magnificent Moonhare; scary stories from James Preller (Home Sweet Horror); the trials and tribulations of a 7-year-old (Penguin Problems); and comedic kung fu chickens on a mission by Jennifer Gray.

2014-2015 Older Readers

Black Flame
El Deafo
The Fourteenth Goldfish
Light Horse Boy
Rain Reign
The Screaming Staircase

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread is not bad:  3 USA books, 1 China (Mongolia) book, 2 UK books, and 2 Australian books. 

We have a graphic memoir (think: Smile) about a deaf girl who has to cope with hearing aids.  An adventurous trio of ghost-busters in London in the future (by the beloved Jonathan Stroud) (you have read the Bartimaeus sequence, haven't you?).  A realistic fiction dog story set in Mongolia (get the hankies ready).  Another realistic fiction story involving a dog, but this one told by a girl with Asperger's Syndrome, set in the US during a natural disaster, also with tear-provoking moments.  A mystery/disaster narrative post-cyclone in Australia.  A fairy-tale-like adventure across the rooftops of London to find a long-lost mother.  A suspend-reality experience where a grandfather shows up in middle-school thanks to science fiction.  And a historical fiction story -- almost a graphic novel because of the amount of visual material -- of a young man and his horse who sign up for World War One -- and end up in the horrors of the Middle East.

Click here for the longlist Older books we didn't choose... NB:  In this category there are a lot....  We had a hard time selecting just eight.  So please -- go out and read all the ones listed here that we didn't choose.  They are worth it...  including the Star-Wars-meet-Cinderella dystopia set in Beijing, first in a sequence; Other Brother by Simon French; the Unwanteds (which won in the Morning Calm Medal in Korea); the adventure of escaping from a library; the beautifully written and sensitive offering by Sonya Hartnett re WWII evacuees; "A Time to Dance" - a verse novel about an Indian girl who realizes she can dance even though she isn't whole (and several people have suggested "The Running Dream" as a perfect complement to it); a dystopia about British refugees struggling in France by Gillian Cross; a brilliant British gothic/horror fantasy set in the 19th century by Jonathan Auxier; a realistic novel set back in the 1980s in India where boys struggle to become tiffin carriers; a moving middle-school novel about a gifted and talented girl creating a family out of a group of misfits; Rick Yancey's latest adventure; Gordon Korman's latest offering -- re an ungifted boy who ends up with the smarties and helps them develop in a different way; a noble dystopia presented by Malorie Blackman; "She's Not Invisible" by Marcus Sedgwick -- such a strong contender -- with parallels to the beautiful Picture Me Gone; Jaclyn Moriarty's "A Corner of White" -- a parallel world fantasy; "Hero on a Bicycle" by the classic Shirley Hughes; "Liar and Spy" by Rebecca Stead -- too well known already by our students perhaps; Jared Diamond re-offering his "The Third Chimpanzee" in a young adult version;  Eoin Colfer launching a new series: The Reluctant Assasin; the Indian mythology equivalent of Rick Riordan's Greek/Roman ones - the Ash Mistry series; a time travel book set during natural disasters of fire and water in Australia -- "The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie"; and a book about Aussie soldiers and horses in WWI -- to complement Morpurgo's "War Horse" and Wolfer's "Light Horse Boy" -- "Loyal Creatures" by Morris Gleitzman.

2014-2015 Mature Readers

Earth Dragon Fire Hare
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
A Monster Calls
Sita's Ramayana
The Sky So Heavy
Thrice Told Tales: Three Mice Full of Writing Advice
We Were Liars

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread isn't bad: 3 USA, 1 Australian, 1 New Zealand, 1 India, 1 UK, 1 Pakistan.

We have the memoir of the youthful Nobel Peace Prize winner.  An unreliable narrator uncovering a mystery.  A historical novel set in Malaya during WWII and the region's post-war conflicts.  A novel within a novel -- giving us parallel worlds in more ways than one (and highlighting NaNoWriMo and the writing process).  A graphic rendition of the Ramayana from Sita's point of view.  An emotional (and visual) novel that examines cancer from the viewpoint of a teen whose mother is dying.  A post-apocalyptic survival novel set in Australia.  And an amusing and informative exploration of literary devices, all based on the nursery rhyme about three blind mice.

Click here for the longlist Mature books we didn't choose... including Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone - which everyone should read;  Sara Zarr's "The Lucy Variations" about the power of family and expectations, framed in the world of classical pianists; a graphic version of war set in Uganda's LRA; an Indian novel about a girl's world coming apart upon learning she is adopted; the Carnegie-awarding winning "Maggot Moon"; dragon slayers in Canada -- not to be missed; desperate, lonely lives in Iceland; historical fiction from Australia (which proved hard to source, hence it had to be eliminated -- but worth finding); "BZRK" by the author of the popular "Gone" series; if you don't know Brandon Sanderson, then start with his "Steelhearts" re a future ruled by super-humans; "I Kill the Mockingbird", a novel re 8th graders obsessed with making people obsessed with "To Kill a Mockingbird"; a novel about the endangered bonobos in the Congo; the multiple-award-winning "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe"; and the sins of the brother achingly explored by Susin Nielsen, author of "Word Nerd".

We'll be shifting our shortlist selection announcement time to June 1, rather than November 1 -- as we always underestimate how long it takes, which means libraries are delayed in getting books on the shelves.  So with any luck we will make this a spring task, rather than an autumn one.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Themed" book recommendations... make them visible... and connected...

A couple of days ago, someone on the US-based YALSA-BK listserv (yes, listservs are still active in many arenas -- even though other social media tools have arisen) suggested we crowd-source (amongst ourselves) lists of titles for MS/HS "themed" book talks.

I'd been wanting to promote such lists to my students, but struggled to find a way to make the production process scaleable.  How to keep track of the books I booktalked as a themed grouping and continually promote the list.

A few years back The ReadAdventurer blog published some "walls of books" -- see "140+ Books for the Boys of YA", "120 YA books from the UK", "110+ Australian YA books", and "A Metric Ton of Short YA Books" -- which I loved.  Then there were the online readers advisory tools like the NPR Book Concierge, which also shared booklists using book covers in a very visual way.  I wanted to find some vehicle to do the same thing -- generate lists based on themes -- but be visible in the library all the time.

Then I found +Rebecca Dunham (blog - Lunashee's Lunacy) and her YA themed posters (freely given away under Creative Commons).   Her posters inspired us to create our own, by providing some initial themes and a basic style to copy.  As we didn't have all the books on her posters, we simply modified the selection of titles to match our collection.

Luckily I have a teacher, Mairin Raisdana, who works part-time in our library as our design and production queen; I just come up with the themes and titles I want to potentially booktalk.

Here is a Google Plus photo album of our posters, so far:

An important feature of every poster is both a QR code and a shortened URL ( or which takes viewers directly to the booklist in our Follett Destiny catalog.  So people can find out whether any copies are currently available in the library or not.  A majority of our high school students do have smart phones, but I also have a number of iPads that can be used as mobile OPACS and QR code scanners.

By linking to the catalog -- to a Resource List or to a search for particular key words or subject headings -- I can booktalk the books shown on the poster, but know there is a ready list of those books plus more -- to put into students' hands.  (Nothing worse than booktalking a stack of titles and not having enough to go around....)

The poster images are also available in our Libguides -- on a High School Reading Recommendations guide -- linking back to our catalog.

Physical copies of the poster are very important.  There's just so much in our libraries that is hidden online (or in our heads).

In the library itself wall space is limited.  So instead, we've got a circular rack of A3 (11" x 17") posters in plastic -- allowing patrons to browse the posters, like they would clothing.  The photos of our poster carousel are at the end of the slideshow above.  I've thought eventually I could get dividers on the rack, the equivalent of "Size 8", "Size 10", etc. -- "Teacher Favorites", "HS Genres", "MS Genres", "Fiction", "Nonfiction", etc.

Note that the hanging posters are not laminated.  (Bad for the environment....) Instead they are put in re-usable stiff plastic sleeves.  This allows for easy updating of the display.  In the slideshow I include some pictures of what I buy here in Singapore, where they are called "card cases" or "hard cases".  I'm not sure what they would be called elsewhere ("document cases"?).  The coat/skirt hangers are from IKEA.

Our school has a big Epson printer -- that allows us to produce posters that are 1.x meters (3 feet+) in size.  So we can also put big-scale posters in hallways and on teachers' walls.  (As we encourage all teachers to give us their list of favorite books -- from which we create a poster for them.  See this previous blog post.)

Monday, September 08, 2014

Google Apps for Education Summit: 3rd year running at the Singapore American School

Just got back from the 3rd annual GAFE Summit at SAS....  Excellent as usual.  It's not that I return with some all-empowering new understanding or tool.  Instead I get a thoroughly enjoyable two day exposure to people totally interested in technology and teaching and learning. 

See the detailed session schedule -- and click on any presentation in order to see if resources are provided.

Here are links to the sessions of expert advice and useful resources that I either attended or wanted to attend (thank god presenters give us the links no matter what):
I came away with an improved appreciation for Google Drawings, especially as I now realize it's an easy way to put links behind a schematic, e.g., I can make a map of my library floorplan and put links to each collection/bookshelf behind the location of that collection -- and embed it in one of my Libguides.

Chris Betcher's demo of Snagit in the Chrome browser so wow'ed me that I have shown it to at least 5 people today (and changed their lives, I hope).   If nothing else, the TAKE SCREEN SHOT OF THE WHOLE SCROLL OF THIS PAGE function is worth the price of the conference.....

I went to a couple of sessions on Google Scripts -- and felt humbled by my ignorance.  John McGowan -- you might have felt like your demo slam was a failure, but you are a beacon of excellent effort -- and accomplishment.  Andrew Stillman mach 2 in the making.  (Jay Atwood doesn't count for comparison, as he's already in the minor god category.....)

Kimberly Hall or Jennie Mageira mentioned in passing in one of their sessions the difference between Ctrl-V (paste) and SHIFT-Ctrl-V (paste but ignore previous formatting and copy this stuff into the space using the defaults of the destination space).  You don't know what this means to me.....

This conference is about the small-- and important -- stuff.  Productivity, connectivity, and visibility.  And I was glad so many of my colleagues from UWCSEA East were there to share it with me......