December 14

Evans Reads! The EHS Summer Reading Challenge (aka my week of madness)

I had a brain wave. About a month ago, 3am to be exact, I was laying in bed staring at the cobweb in the corner of my room, imagining I could see a dragon shape formed in its strands, when I decided we needed to do something over summer in the library. The next morning, I created a survey for people to sign up to the Evans Summer Reading Challenge, without really knowing what it would look like, and I’ve pretty much been winging it since then! Posters went up, I spruiked at assembly, and staff muster, and did random drop-ins to English classes. I bullied … ahem, encouraged … everyone to get involved, not really expecting a lot of uptake, and the registrations slowly and steadily climbed. It made me happy in my heart.

Prep work was really minimal. I emailed a few publishers, and the wonderful people at Penguin Books Australia and Allen and Unwin got involved, sending me some great books and bookmarks. A few years ago, I’d found some awesome little notebook packs on clearance at KMart for 1cent (not a typo) which I’d been hoarding for an occasion such as this. And I splurged on $1 packets of lollies from KMart, and the smaller pringles packets, which were half price (yay for Coles’ sales!) All in all, this venture cost me about $40 out of my own pocket (end of year = no budget left) and a lot of time. Totally worth it.

This week, the real fun began. We printed out the registration forms, and started scouring the shelves, sometimes consulting borrower records to make sure we weren’t giving a participant something they’d already read. I wanted to give everyone about 6 books, one per week of the holidays, and include a graphic novel and a non fiction title in the mix. Some people were easy to pick for, and we had a fabulous time putting together packs that we know they’ll love. Others were a bit harder, and the process has helped me refine my text recommendation skills, as well as to recognise some areas in our fiction collection that may need a bit of work next year! I spent more time on the staff selections that the students, generally, because I wanted to make sure that they were getting texts that would meet their interests, as well as give them an understanding of the lay of the land in YA fiction. I particularly wanted to challenge their assumptions about graphics, so put a lot of thought into what they got for that selection!

These are the finished packs, all ready to go today. A break down of contents, for those interested:

  • 5-6 books total, chosen to engage participants with their interests, and to provide them with opportunities to explore something different
  • 3-4 fiction titles per bag
  • 1 non fiction title
  • 1 graphic novel/ comic
  • a snack item (either a bag of lollies or a packet of pringles)
  • an activity book, compiled with thanks to the awesome resources available at http://www.summerreadingclub.org.au/
  • a selection of bookmarks, including one custom made one with our logo, and some info printed on the back about sharing on instagram, writing reviews, etc
  • a notebook pack and pen
  • a free book for participants to keep! Some of these are full length novels, brand new and donated from our wonderful publisher friends, and some are sample/ extract copies, or books we’ve removed from our collection for various reasons but still think they’d be great for the person receiving them.

For those who've been asking about what our packs contain. #evansreads #summerreadingchallenge #librarylife

A photo posted by Evans High School Library (@evanslibrary) on

I’ll definitely make some changes to our challenge for next year. Remove the second “romance” option in the genre preference list for starters (one of the kids asked me if I was just double checking – “are you sure you like romance? Do you want to change your answer?”), and remove the “fruit” option for the snack (what am I going to do, put a banana in the pack? That’s NOT going to end well!) The bags we used for the challenge packs were found tucked away in our filing room, and they are a perfect size – one of our tasks next year is going to involve a design comp for an “Evans Reads” fabric bag, and we’ll get a heap of them printed, so we can use them for this, as well as to pack up our thank you gifts for our visiting authors throughout the year. But ultimately, I think it’s been a great first run for the Summer Reading Challenge at Evans.

The Challenge has been a great way to end the year in Library Life, and it’s provided me with many opportunities for reflection. I realised just how prone I am to recommending books I love to people. There is no Neil Gaiman left on our shelves: ditto Alan Baxter and Judy Blume. I was wishing I had about 37 more copies of Illuminae than we have, so I could give it to everyone. (If you haven’t read this yet, get onto it. Now. I’ll wait – go order it straight away, or check if your local library has it in. You’ll thank me later.)

This collection of books, heading home to find their way into the imagination of 40 lucky Evans readers, represents a little more than the total of books that were borrowed from our library the year before I took over. I’m blown away by that, and it makes me really proud of the change we’ve been able to bring about in the reading culture of our school. The time spent browsing the shelves so thoroughly has given me great pride in the state of our collection, as well as ideas for future directions. And the ability to spend a week tailoring reading packs for staff and students, based on reading passions, subject interest, and extension opportunities has reminded me of the many reasons I love this job.

Connecting people with the stories that will move them, finding the information they need, providing opportunities for them to fall in love with words, and stories, and ideas … I get paid for this. I feel so lucky to have such an amazing job, in an incredibly diverse and wonderful school community. If you’re in a school library, I’d highly recommend running a similar challenge next year, it’s been a fantastic experience. I can’t wait to see what books I get in my challenge pack!

 

September 13

I stand with you

It’s a Tuesday afternoon. I’m sitting in the library as a babble of voices filters over the counter. Broken English, hesitant and accented. Arabic, Cantonese, Samoan, and so many more languages that I can’t even begin to identify fill the air, as students, proud in their blazers and honoured to be serving their school, assist our Intensive English Centre parents in finding the teachers they want to talk to this afternoon. To see how their child is settling in to school. To discuss how they are coping in this strange new world of education in Australia. To contribute to the education of their child.

I’m so incredibly proud to work in a school with an IEC. The wealth of knowledge, of experience, of stories that surround me on any given day is just astounding, and I’m honoured and privileged to be a part of a team who support refugee and migrant students in their education, as they learn how to “do school” here, as well as learn how to function in another language.

What strikes me most, as I look around the room, is the expressions on the faces, of the students and their parents or carers. They are expressions of hope, and of joy, and of deep pride for the accomplishments of these amazing children, who’ve come across the sea, and joined the wonderful community that is Evans High School and IEC. They don’t see this parent teacher interview experience as a chore, but a deep and abiding privilege, an honour to be cherished. They acknowledge the power of education, and celebrate the role that we play in supporting their child, as they continue to live out their incredible life story.

So, as I sit here, finishing up for the day, and trying to finish off some paperwork, I flicked onto facebook. A post from Neil Gaiman appeared, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how irresistable I found that. But now I’m in tears. Silent, gut-wrenching tears, for the stories that are represented in this poem, and the understanding that so many of the wonderful people outside my window must recognise this heartbreak. Could see their own story echoed in these words. I sit here crying, and feeling helpless, and hearbroken at the unimaginable horror of it all. I remember when I first moved into my current house, in a bushfire area … we were evacuated a few days later, and the terror, the dread, the oh so difficult decision of what to take in case we lose everything? It still haunts me a bit. And we spent the evening at a friend’s place, surrounded by people we loved, and sharing a meal. We got to go home that afternoon, and sleep in our beds. Hold our loved ones. Look at our cherished possessions, and make plans for what we might take with us next time, just in case. This? What to take when you don’t know where you are going, and know that you most likely will never return? Unfathomable. Indescrible. Far too cruel for words.

So, I wanted to share it here, and to remind myself just thow lucky I am, to have the opportunities I take for granted every day. And how important it is that I don’t forget to use my voice, and my privilege, to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, and to support the right of those who suffer unimaginable hardship to seek a better life for themselves and their children. I stand with refugees. I hope you do too.

August 24

Book Week Day 3 – The Sound of Awesomeness

I love music, and I can rock out with the best of them – as long as the best of them are in my car with the radio turned up, or in my bathroom sharing my hairbrush microphone. That is to say, I harbour dreams of one day waking up with a prodigious ability to play or sing, but right now, I’m pretty much rocking the “loading songs onto my phone” skill as my singular musical talent.

Yes, I know book week is supposed to be about books. But I’m a rebel without a cause. I’m livin’ on the edge, man. I make up my own rules!!! (Sigh … yes, I’m really tired, I apologise. Back to the serious stuff.) For me, what it’s about more than anything, during Book Week and ANY week in Library Land, is the recognition of the power of stories. And in planning the Evans Festival of Stories, 2016 version, I had the opportunity to get some serious storytelling happening through music!

I met Dr Elliot Gann just over a year ago, as I wandered into the wrong room and didn’t realise until it was too late to escape unnoticed. He was at Educhange15, running some hands-on sessions on beatmaking, and the power of rap and music to connect and inspire students. By the end of this session that I really didn’t want to be in initially, I was sold. I’d made something that totally sounded like music – yes, me! Hairbrush singer, air guitarist, and steering-wheel drummer extraordinaire, made music! I had the best time, and I was thrilled to get the chance to chat to him over post-conference drinks. What impressed me most about my conversations with Elliot, and with his workshop, was that for him, music is about more than just making something that sounds great.  Music has power to heal, and to connect. Music is therapy and educational intervention. Music is a universal language, that transcends social and cultural backgrounds. Music speaks, powerful and compelling stories, and it gives a voice to those who have powerful and compelling stories to tell. And that, my friends, is something I wanted to be a part of Book Week 2016.

So, Elliot got in touch, telling me he was going to be back in Australia, and we organised for him to come along. A group of kids from our IEC signed up to his workshop, and he organised a couple of his friends to come along and make music with them. The rest, as they say, is history – a history that has implanted an earworm indelibly in my brain.

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I didn’t get a whole lot of photos of the Today’s Future Sound workshop with our kids – mostly, it must be said, because I was flat out with our Write a Book in a Day workshop that was also running. But it was amazing. The guys were initially supposed to be at school for 2 hours. After the initial 2 periods, and a lunch time throng resembling a rock concert, and another hour at the end of the day, they eventually headed home, leaving in their wake many smiles, some new tunes, and an amazing rap son, written and recorded by a group of students who couldn’t speak English mere months ago.

I am so grateful to Elliot for the gift of music in our Festival of Stories. And I’m so thankful that, after some initial concerns about numbers, he assured me he’d come along anyway, and reduced the fee so that we could still provide this awesome experience to our students. He’s a genuine rock star, and I’m so proud to know him. We are going to continue to fill our library with music, and I’m looking at ways that we can get some of the fantastic equipment the guys used into our space. I’ve got no idea what to do with it, but I know that the kids will figure it out, and it’ll be music to our ears.

“We’re the science giants.
never would we lie ’cause we’ve got pride like lions,
why the violence,
I like the sounds of silence,
Whenever I’m round school
but not the sounds of sirens.
I’m down to try things,
and spread our mind wings,
found we like things
that let our minds think.”

Word!!! Seriously, how awesome is that? I couldn’t think of a better message to send – and it was composed by the awesome students of my school. That, my friends, is Book Week at Evans. Incredible opportunities, passionate story tellers, and enthusiastic students, who create stories that will capture your heart.

 

August 23

Book Week Day 2 – an action packed day with Alan Baxter!

I distinctly remember the first time I met Alan Baxter, although I daresay he doesn’t. I was at a PLANE conference, 4 years ago, and he presented a session on the importance of storytelling in learning – I posted about it here, the beginning of my fangirling author-stalking journey with him. (I say “with” him metaphorically – it’s pretty much been one-sided, and that’s ok, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mind. And it’s not nearly as restraining-order-worthy as I make it sound, I’m sure.)

This year, I was looking for some different book week events and activities. I really wanted to focus on ways that we could engage some of the students who might not normally sign up for that “nerdy library stuff you’re always bangin on about” (Year 9 boy, 2016. Snort.)

So, with the above commentator in mind, I thought about authors I stalked in my everyday non-library life. I contemplated who might impress him and his mates, who considered the library to be a great place to hang out in (#winning!!!) but who had never signed up for any of the activities we run (#boo). And, Alan Baxter sprang to mind.

Alan-BaxterHis website describes him as
an award-winning author of dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi and an international master of kung fu. He runs the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy and writes novels, novellas and short stories full of magic, monsters and, quite often, martial arts. He rides a motorcycle and loves his dog.

I mean, how much more bad-arse can you get, right? Look, he even has tattoos!! To be honest, part of the appeal of inviting Alan along was that I knew that his profile would appeal to my Year 9 male critic, I’m not going to deny it. But there’s more to it than that. I love Alan’s books. He writes fight scenes that make me want to go back to karate, no matter how much I would get my head kicked in because of my lack of peripheral vision. There’s a passage in the first book of the Alex Caine series, Bound, that made me salivate – the passion and respect with which he describes a significant book is one of the most stunning passages I’ve read in a while, and I kept rereading it over and over before I could eventually move on. And his respect for the power of stories just resonates to the core of my being.

I will say this, though. Alan doesn’t write for kids. He’s not even a YA author. He writes pretty dark, serious stuff. So much so that, when I bought the Alex Caine books for the library, it led to a conversation about age appropriateness which led us to implementing a Senior Fiction borrowing category for those books that might be a little more mature in theme, language and content for some of our younger students. So, why the choice to invite him along to talk to our kids?

Because, Neil Gaiman said so. And, whilst I’m a strong independent woman, I do what Neil says. Ok, not really (not all the time). But I do love what Neil says about censorship and allowing children to read what they want to. Librarians often deal with the murky issue of age appropriateness and censorship – a common question on a teacher librarian mailing list I’m a part of is “what age would X book be appropriate for?” I don’t fundamentally disagree with this question, but I’m also not going to limit the exposure my students get to authors who just write “books for teenagers”.

So, I flicked Alan a message. I had this idea that perhaps a “write the fight” workshop might be cool. Turns out, it’s such a great idea that he totally already does it, but takes that rhyme one step further, so on Day 2 of Book Week 2016, he turned up to teach some kids to “Write the fight right!”

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He rocked. The kids responded really well to him. After the workshop, during which he gave some fabulous advice about moving the action forward, and reiterated Maria’s advice from the day before about the importance of research (which made my librarian’s heart insanely happy!!), he spoke to a group of high school and IEC students. And he pretty much said “ask me stuff.” So they did. What followed was almost an hour of kids grilling him about his work, and the kinds of stuff he likes to read. About how he keeps a character alive in his head. And about how he plans out his stories. I was so impressed with them, particularly with the IEC students, who’ve been in the country and speaking English for only months, but who framed some thoughtful, interesting questions. And I was so impressed with Alan, who took the time to thoughtfully respond to all questions, and who made everyone who interacted with him feel like their ideas mattered.

When I see suggested authors for school visits, Alan’s name isn’t on that 14115583_10154478127491983_9101801540591420055_olist. He commands the stage at events like Supernova, and has won numerous awards, but isn’t usually the first port of call for high schools. Can I suggest though, that if you are looking for someone to work with some students on creative writing, or to talk to some kids about why stories matter? Check him out. Or check out some other authors that may not necessarily be on the list of best selling YA authors, but whose books you’ve read, and loved. Our students are diverse, and their interests are diverse. They need to see that diversity represented in the literature they read, whether it’s diversity in character, or setting, or genre. If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to extend your author stalking – ahem, expose students to some stories that they might not normally consider. And you never know where that’s going to take them.

August 22

Book Week Day 1: Werewolves and mermaids and dragons, oh my!

Book Week 2016 was EPIC – so much so that I’m breaking it up into multiple posts. This first one will deal with the awesomeness of our first guest, and the sensational sessions they ran with the Evans rockstar students. I’ll post a others with some reflection on out other activities, and how I feel about book week in general, so keep an eye out for that – coming as soon as I recover from the conference I’m currently on, and the uni study visit I’m probably going to be on by the time I get around to posting any/all of these posts. Week 6 and 7? Completely nuts in Library Land!

So, Day 1 of book week 2016 saw me getting to meet one of my favourite instagram author stalking victims … ahem, subjects. I stumbled across Maria Lewis via a link on someone else’s profile. Her hair initially caught my eye, but then I saw her posts about the upcoming publication of her first novel, Who’s Afraid? and I loved the way she talked about her work. I loved it more once I read it (which, I have to say, took me a while – both my copy and our library ones were always in someone else’s hands!!) And, I loved her work on The Feed on SBS (check out this video on Armoured boobs and ingrained sexism in fantasy – epic!) I contacted Maria via Facebook, and she was super-excited to come along and share in our book week celebrations with us. She’d just gotten home from a book tour of the UK a couple of days before coming to visit us – now, that’s commitment!

Maria spent an hour with a group of fantastic students – some of whom want to write, and some who’ve just adopted my habit of author stalking (I’m so proud). What impressed me was her emphasis on research – she spoke about how she used google maps and various other web tools to create a realistic background to her paranormal fiction, and outlined the process she used to created her were-world. They then worked on looking at researching their own paranormal/fantasy character and story, and it was a fantastic session of brainstorming and sharing.

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Following this, she spoke to a couple of high school classes, as well as 2 classes from our Intensive English Centre. The inspiration continued, and I was particularly impressed when she talked about why she wrote her novel – she was sick of seeing thin, 14 year old red head girls saving the world, and wanted to see someone more like her on the pages of a book. I love that so much – the idea that representation matters. The acknowledgement of the importance of difference in our stories.

Lunch time saw Maria sharing tattoos (of the temporary kind of course!), signing multiple autographs, and basically developing her own army of fangirls and guys. There were some starry-eyed school kids in her wake as she left that afternoon.

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I’m so grateful for the time she gave us, and I know that the students at Evans are looking forward to having her back as much as I am. I’d totally recommend reading Who’s Afraid?, and if you have the opportunity to get Maria to come and hang out at your school, you absolutely should. She’s awesome, and a much-loved addition to the Evans’ Author Rockstar Crew.

August 9

Book Week; or, why stories matter.

Book Week is one of my favourite times of the year in Library Land. My first year in the library, we didn’t do much at all, apart from posters and a display of my favourite CBCA shortlisted books. Last year, though, I hit my stride. We had a slam poet and a cartoonist in to do workshops and talks to students, and we had our first annual Great Evans Read-In.

bookweek1This year, the Evans Festival of Stories, as it’s becoming known, is looking even bigger. Because I’m working on a limited budget, and I want to create some different opportunities for our students, I’ve been a bit liberal with my interpretation of this year’s theme, “Australia, Story Country.” We have a British expat author coming, who writes dark speculative fiction and does martial arts. We have a purple haired, studded jacket wearing author, who plans on marrying Idris Elba, and whose first novel deals with Maori culture, werewolves, and PMS. We have a yank coming out to run a beat making workshop with some of our music obsessed kids. We have groups of kids lined up to write a book in a day. And, we have plans for an even bigger Great Evans Read-In this year, with more people reading, more costumes, and hopefully more cupcakes.

So, where does the limited budget come in? That’s a great question. I’ve had some fantastic support from our authors and workshop facilitators, who have helped out by giving me a really great deal on their appearance fees – still valuing their time and expertise, but also recognising our budgetary constraints. We’ve had numerous offers of support from our school community to help out with catering – which is a huge deal, when I have a literary lunch/morning tea on 4 days in the week! Students are being charged a minimal amount for attendance at author events, and any costs that aren’t covered by that will come out of my library budget – this will allow students who may not have the funds to attend, the opportunity to get to be a part of our celebration of stories. With some careful planning, and incredible support by our school community, the whole shebang should come in at under $1,000.

Why am I going to so much trouble for Book Week in a high school though? A friend asked me a few weeks ago this exact question, followed up by “but isn’t book week just for primary school kids?” My answer is twofold. Firstly, you’re NEVER too old to celebrate the power of stories. I’m an unapologetic story junkie, and a self-confessed author stalking fangirl. I truly believe that stories are essential – food, water, oxygen, these things keep us alive, but stories give us something to live for. Whether it’s a fantastical story about a magical school, or a harrowing tale of teenage love surrounded by the spectre of cancer, stories create worlds for our imaginations to live. They allow us to think, and dream, and feel. And, most importantly, they allow us to consider the importance of our own stories:  in a world filled with tales of wonder, our chapter, our volume, our verse, matters. Our story matters. And that’s the most powerful gift my library can give to our students, I believe.

Secondly, I teach in a school with an Intensive English Centre. There’s such diversity of experiences in our IEC students, both in their lives, and in their experiences in schooling. I want them to know that their stories are important, and I want them to be able to experience the excitement, the wonder of the book week experience that those who have traveled through primary school in Australia take for granted as part of their cultural experiences.

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And finally (I know I said twofold, and this is a third point – I take liberty with numbers when it suits me!) Book Week gives me the opportunity to get my fangirl cosplay on. Last year saw me come to school as Wonder Woman, Dorothy, Doctor Who (Four, in case you’re wondering), Hermione Granger, and the Mad Hatter. This year’s list is still being worked on as we speak, but will include Harry Potter complete with invisibility cloak – I’m going to be away from school on the Friday, sadly. So, what are your plans for book week? And, more importantly, do you have any costume suggestions for me? I’d love to hear them!