Is there any time more ripe with possibility and expectation than the beginning of a new school year? I’m brimming with ideas and excited to see students coming back. I must admit, however, that I’m less excited about library orientation: the same lesson over and over again, the listing of rules and expectations. If I don’t plan well, the first week of lessons can be boring for me and the kids.
So, every year, I look for something fun and different to use with each grade level. (I try very hard not to teach the same thing across grade levels, so if I love a lesson, I can use it again the next school year.) In my K–8 school, that means I need nine different lessons to address those orientation ideas.
This year, I’ve seen some fabulous ideas online, like a scavenger hunt using QR codes and a truly timely orientation that uses Pokémon Go. (I used the QR code scavenger hunt myself, and it was a hit.) Although I do a lot with technology and research throughout the year, I try to incorporate books as much as possible even in tech-heavy lessons.
Each year, I use classic books about what libraries are and what you should or should not do in the library. In the past, I’ve used Lauren Child’s But Excuse Me, That Is My Book, Carmen Agra Deedy’s The Library Dragon, and the lovely The Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen. I like Alexander Stadler’s Beverly Billingsley Borrows a Book for first grade. It’s a good reminder to students that I’m not going to be mad if a book is late while providing a quick lesson on book care. (First-graders are always shocked—shocked!—to see Beverly read her library book at the dinner table and in the bathtub. I love Toni Buzzeo’s The Library Doors because it allows you to choose verses of her song to use for your lesson, to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus.” I put other library-related books out for kids to read when they’re done with their work: Anna McQuinn’s Lola at the Library, Bats in the Library by Brian Lies, and Book! Book! Book! by Deborah Bruss.
This year, I decided to branch out a little bit and try some books, particularly with my older students, that weren’t overtly library-themed. I did my spiel about rules and expectations, then read each intermediate and upper-grade class a book. Please Mr. Panda by Steve Antony worked very well with a group of intermediate kids who are a bit more of a challenge, behavior-wise. In it, Mr. Panda offers a doughnut to animals, who apparently weren’t paying attention when someone tried to teach them manners. Each time the animal responds to his offer rudely, he changes his mind about wanting to share. They thought the book was hilarious, and I got to make some pointed remarks about using kind words to get what you want.
Although some eighth-graders couldn’t believe I was actually going to read them a picture book, even the skeptics enjoyed the dry humor of Cathleen Daly’s Prudence Wants a Pet. Prudence, desperate, tries to convince her parents to get her a pet, even as she uses found objects (a branch, a shoe, her long-suffering baby brother) as substitutes. I used the book as a springboard for writing an outline of a persuasive essay convincing me to change or add one thing in the library. While food was an automatic no, the boy who wants to make new library posters will have a far easier time persuading me to let him do so. This week, I let anyone who wanted debate me try to convince me to do whatever it was they had chosen. One girl’s request to show movies as a part of class led to a great discussion about licensing and copyright. Prudence was a fabulous springboard.
My second- and third-graders have loved Chris Van Dusen’s If I Built a Car and If I Built a House, so I thought I’d give
one of those a try with seventh grade. Seventh-graders were wowed by If I Built a Car’s over-the-top plans. When I was done reading, I asked them to work in groups to design their own over-the-top libraries. They had to include books, a way for people to do research, and a librarian.(Even if they hadn’t done any reading on the importance of certified librarian in schools, I certainly have.) One group asked if they could have a library with just e-books. Since this particular group of kids reads actual books more than e-books, I was surprised. I told them to consider their imaginary patrons before making a decision.
This week, they presented their ideas to the class. Some of the designs were surprisingly tame, but one fabulous idea had an alien as the librarian who brought super-advanced alien technology to the library. There were also a lot of swimming pools in the designs—though every group made sure to mention that books were not allowed in the pool area. Anyone who works with middle-schoolers will understand how much it warmed my heart that one group designed the tables in their imaginary computer lab to spell “Ms. Rowe THX.” Even better? In order to squish all those tiny computer tables into their computer room, they decided you had to go through a shrinking machine.
With fourth grade, I read Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book, then had students write about important objects in a library. If you’re not familiar with this book, each double-page spread describes an object or place with the following phrase at the beginning and end of the description: “The important thing about a ____ is ____.” I hesitate to even mention this book, since so many teachers already use it for lessons, but it worked so beautifully. My students believe the following things to be important about the library: that it is full with books, that it’s fun, that it’s an interacting place, that it has a librarian, that it’s a place where knowledge is shared. Most of their ideas for what’s most important about a library were ideas I had considered and predicted when I planned the lesson. The student’s answer, “The important thing about a library is that it’s for everyone,” was one I had not considered, but I certainly should have.