Reading Challenge 2018


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A new year, a new set of reading goals to aspire to…

I wrote last year about why I do not do a numbers-based reading challenge. And now I am out of the school library game, I do not need a challenge that is displayable, shareable, or has a YA bent to it either. This left a world full of options available to me in 2018!

So this year I have decided to do a little bit of this and little bit of that for my reading challenge.

I am a big fan of The Spinoff’s book reviews. I love the way they are written and the irreverence in which they hold the serious business of “literature” – book snobs, beware! They also choose an eclectic range of books to review, with a definite New Zealand focus. On this basis, I decided that part of my reading challenge this year will be to read through The Spinoff’s 20 best novels of 2017 (and maybe a fair few of the nonfiction choices as well). My aim is to read at least one of the books from this list each month.

Rory Gilmore (of Gilmore Girls fame) always impressed me with the number of books she was seen reading – as well as how fast she could talk! Hence, the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge has been on my radar for a while, but this year I have decided to think about it more actively. I have already read 91 of the 339 books Rory was seen reading over the seven seasons of the show – a mere 27%! To improve this statistic, I will again aim to read at least one of the books from the list each month.

I would like to add that my aspiration is not to reach 100% of Rory’s list. Life is just too short for me to read poetry. It just does not do it for me, so I will not be reading any of the poetry books on this list. I also will not be reading any of the plays. Unless plays are being studied, I really do not see the point in reading them. Plays are written to be performed or watched. If I get the opportunity to see any of these plays I will grab it – but I will not be reading them.

The last part of my 2018 reading challenge is to do something about my TBR pile! It is getting quite large and, for my own state of anxiety, should be brought under control. Or, at least, I should give the appearance of trying to get it under control! I have both a physical pile (containing library books and the enormous number of books I have bought but have not got around to reading yet…) and, increasingly, a virtual pile (on Goodreads and Litsy, because, you know, having one place to hide them was not enough). So again, each month I will endeavour to read at least one book from Mount TBR.

If you would like to follow my reading progress this year you can do that on Goodreads. I was also inspired by this post over at BookRiot to use a reading log to keep track of how diversely I will be reading. And while the motivation is high, I will try to keep a monthly reading round up to check I’m hitting the three parts to my challenge (ie, one book each from: The Spinoff list, Rory Gilmore’s list, my TBR pile).

Good luck to anyone else that is embarking on a reading challenge this year. I would love to hear what weird and wonderful things you are challenging yourself with. And may it be a source of enjoyment, not anxiety, for you!

An apology to my blog


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Dear blog,

I am sorry you have sat here neglected for all of 2017. I thought about you often over the year but did not make the time to come and visit. Life just kind of got in the way…

I spent January getting my house ready to sell.

Then February and March was spent maintaining the place for open homes and its eventual sale.

April was spent packing the house up into a container and moving into temporary shared accommodation.

May and June was spent busily procrastinating after realising that there were three presentations to write for the fast approaching SLANZA conference.

Then July was spent with a long and protracted bout of the flu.

The rest of 2017 was spent in a state of unfocused confusion, wondering what I’m going to do with my life, and realising that the shared accommodation was maybe not going to be as temporary as first anticipated and that it definitely does not have a quiet place for me to sit and think. Oh, and a change in employment status, writing and facilitating online PD for SLANZA, going over new house building plans, and a rather nasty sinus infection.

Anywho, none of this is to excuse the neglect you have suffered, but rather to go some way to explain it. I am sorry. I have come up with a plan for 2018 so that I will make contact more regularly. I look forward to hanging out with you again this year! See you soon. Promise.


Steph copy


Reading Challenge 2017


Image shared on Pixabay under a Creative Commons license

It’s that time of year when I start thinking about the reading challenge I am going to set myself for the year ahead.

Lots of people I know sign up to the Goodreads’ Reading Challenge, however, I find the thought of a numbers-driven challenge absolutely anxiety-inducing. I personally do not find this type of challenge motivational. And, after completing a 1000 kilometre running challenge in 2016, I know that a similar type of reading challenge would not be right for me!

The Goodread’s Reading Challenge does also not really fit with the other reasons I like to set myself a reading goal each year. One of the main reasons I set a challenge is to share it with the students. I display my latest challenge in the foyer of our school library to show the boys that even experienced readers can be challenged and that there are many different ways to approach these challenges.

I also like to set a public reading challenge to promote a reading culture within our school, and to show that reading can be a social activity. Some of the challenges I’ve undertaken have been really good at prompting student discussion. I especially appreciate it when boys give me reading suggestions to help me along with my challenge.

On a personal level, I like a reading challenge to broaden the types of things I read. Left to my own devices I would be entirely happy reading police procedurals, narrative nonfiction, and anything written by Anne Tyler, Kate Atkinson or Margaret Atwood for the rest of my life. Sure I’d be happy – but  I wouldn’t be very good at recommending engaging reads suitable for the teenage boys I work with!

Some of my past reading challenges have been more successful than others. The challenges that I have failed at have tended to be ones where the focus has been too narrow, for instance, historical fiction, and haven’t taken into account my need to remain current with the library’s latest book stock.

Challenges I have undertaken so far have been (photos to follow):

  • 2016 – Reading A-Z: for each letter of the alphabet I read books with titles starting with that letter and a separate book that was written by an author whose name started with that letter (ACHIEVED)
  • 2015 – Reading Through the Ages: for each century AD (until the 19th and then it became each decade) I read books that were either written or set during that period (FAILED)
  • 2014 – Reading Bingo: this one has probably been my favourite so far. I used Random House’s Reading Bingo cards (I completed both as 25 books didn’t seem like much of a challenge). This challenged me to read widely and also some students elected to join in. (ACHIEVED)
  • 2013 – Read Around the World: for each country in the world I read books that were either set there or written by an author who came from there. This challenge was made harder by the fact that I am only fluent in English! (FAILED)
  • 2012 – Read as High as Me: this required me to read a stack of books as tall as myself. This was not too hard as I’m pretty short – but this challenge probably prompted the most discussion with students. (ACHIEVED)

With all this is mind, I’ve decided that 2017 is going to be the year that I read harder. Using Book Riot’s Read Harder challenges from this year and last year, I’m going to personalise a NBHS Read Harder challenge. Using Book Riot’s ideas, I’ll create a list of 52 book types that will challenge me to read widely, allow me to keep up with our latest book stock, and encourage a few of the students to join in too. I’ll get back to you when my list is complete.

How about you? What reading challenges are you giving yourself this year?

Edited to add: here is my personalised read harder list. Wish me luck!

You’re never too old for picture books : Part 2

De la Peña, M., & Nelson, K. (2013). A nation’s hope: The story of boxing legend Joe Louis. New York, NY: Puffin Books. [Sophisticated picture book, non-fiction, biography]


There is a section of my clientele who will read anything boxing related, so I got this one for them. Matt de la Peña’s text is written in verse, which lends a satisfactory rhythm to the story. However, it is the illustrations that make this a much enjoyed book. The double page spreads add atmosphere and tension with their composition and use of colour. And the detail is stunning.  My favourite is the back cover.


Suitable for upper primary and above, though historical context (eg, Jim Crow laws) may need explaining.

Themes: race, heroes, resilience, perseverance, hope

Find out more about A Nation’s Hope here.


Mizielinska, A., & Mizielinski, D. (2014). Maps. Scoresby, VIC: Five Mile Press. [Sophisticated picture book]maps

Maps is larger than your average book. It is beautifully crafted with lovely, thick pages. And its double page spreads of countries and continents just beg to be poured over with a friend. Each country’s map contains main cities, famous landmarks, native animals, facts and other points of interest. The quirky illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the out-of-the-ordinary information. The boys at my school love to gather round this book in groups and discuss the things they find. They find the New Zealand map particularly controversial and argue about what they would include if they made the editorial decisions.

Suitable for all ages.

Themes: N/A

Read more about Maps here.


Szymank, M., & Bixley, D. (2016). Fuzzy doodle. Auckland, New Zealand: Scholastic. [Sophisticated picture book]


Aaaaargh! I love this book so much it makes me speechless! It is quite new into the library so I haven’t had a chance to observe the students with it yet, but I love it on so many different levels. Firstly, the story, which is told in verse. It can be read in two ways: as a straightforward caterpillar transformation story, or as a metaphor for the creative process. Fuzzy Doodle is the idea that must be feed.

But my main love for this book is the illustrations. They are divine! The illustrations demonstrate various artistic styles and use different interesting media as well. The printing process is a mystery to me, but whatever shiny black material is used just begs to be touched. I shared this book with our HOD of Art and she loved it almost as much as I did – it’s always nice to have your opinion backed up by an expert! And I haven’t even told you about the different text styles that have been used and how they convey meaning. This is one of those books that I know that I would use a lot if I was still teaching in the classroom.

Suitable for all ages.

Themes: creativity, growing, metamorphosis, transformation

Find out more about Fuzzy Doodle here and there is a teacher resource here.

You’re never too old for picture books : Part 1

I have loved picture books my entire life. I still have all my childhood picture books. And I used picture books regularly in the classroom when I was teaching. Since becoming a high school librarian I have really missed keeping up with the latest titles.

This year I decided it was time to update my school’s sophisticated picture book section (though I call them “illustrated texts” to keep them free of teenage stigma). I’ve spent a bit of time, money and National Library loans looking for the best books to add to our collection.

These books will never show their worth with issuing statistics, but they are browsed heavily and there is nothing I enjoy more than seeing teenage boys surrounding a picture book and enjoying it together. Here are some of the boys’ and my favourites.

Tregonning, M. (2016). Small things. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. [Sophisticated picture book]


This is a wordless picture book about a young boy struggling with anxiety and a whole lot of worries. The black and white illustrations are breath taking. That such detail and expression can be shown in two-dimensions will never cease to amaze me. New detail emerges with each re-reading of the book and this is a book that demands to be re-read. This is a sad story, however, it ends on a note of hope. Suitable for upper primary and above.

Themes: friendship, loneliness, anxiety, worries

Find out more about Small Things here.


Munroe, R. (2015). Thing explainer: Complicated stuff in simple words. London, UK: John Murray. [Sophisticated picture book, non-fiction]


This book does exactly what it says on the cover: it explains things, complicated things, in simple words. What it doesn’t tell you on the cover is that it’s FUNNY! Every day things, like elevators (aka “lifting rooms”) and batteries (aka “power boxes”), are explained in diagram form and labelled with everyday language. My personal favourite is the explanation for water rooms, or bathrooms as they’re more commonly called! Brought to you by the xkcd guy.

Themes: N/A

Read more about Thing Explainer here.


Säfström, M. (2016). The illustrated compendium of amazing animal facts. New York, NY: Ten Speed Press. [Sophisticated picture book, non-fiction]


This is a beautiful book full of random animal facts. The illustrations are black and white and add a touch of whimsy to the fascinating facts. My favourite one is of these adorable sea otters:


A great book for dipping in and out of.

Themes: N/A

Find out more about The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts here.


Feel free to suggest other great titles to me in the comments!


Interesting reading this week:


Interesting Reading by Gyula Kardos, shared on Wikimedia Commons as a public domain work of art

For the last time, Google is not our competition in libraries… I really enjoyed this smart, pithy piece. Of course Google is awesome at some stuff – and why would we try to compete with it? After all, I bet you use it all the time in your librarian life. But Google is not so good at other stuff, deeper stuff, the people-based stuff, so let’s show off our skills in that! (Shared by Carole Gardiner of Twitter.)

Words matter: Why I’m not ready to drop “digital” from the #DigCit conversation. Some interesting thoughts and provocative questions about digital citizenship and how it differs from citizenship. I like the idea of programmes focusing on the positive, as a lot of digital citizenship lessons seems to focus on plagiarism and cyberbullying aspects (and don’t get me wrong, these are aspects of #DigCit – they just shouldn’t be the whole focus).

Google to highlight fact-checking articles with new labels. This is a promising sign in our “post-truth” world. However, it would be great if some of the social media giants would look at doing something similar, with 44% of Americans getting their news from Facebook. Education surely plays a part as well, but it is a slow way to effect change. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

Pre-university skills course boost students’ A-level success. This was shared on the NZ schoollib listserv as a kind of self-congratulation to those librarians involved in tertiary transition library programmes. And that’s okay. But I read it as a single cohort study, with anecdotal reporting, self-selected participants (who are more likely to apply themselves and do well), and no significant discussion of the data and what it means. It’s great if these types of programmes are having an effect on wider student learning and achievement. But let’s not all hang it on one study. We’re better than that, we’re information professionals.

Interesting reading this week:


Interesting Reading by Gyula Kardos, shared on Wikimedia Commons as a public domain work of art

Oh Greta! The library’s real role on campus. Why is it always people that don’t use libraries that feel the most compelled to comment on them? And why do they always have such a big audience? We need to get library users in all shapes and sizes to comment instead! Do any blue-ticked people use libraries?

What does your blog really say about learning? I really like this post. Calls into question those blogs / posts / tweets that are increasingly becoming like the “perfect lives” we see in our personal social media feeds. Learning is messy. Let’s keep it real and keep showing that too.

Voting: information is power. While the US has now elected their next president, this is still an important post. Information is power and maybe the dissemination of it shouldn’t simply be left to the media. We have a general election due in New Zealand next year and we will have some first time voters among our senior students at school. It would be handy to put together something like this for them too. Thanks for the inspiration, Joe!

Constantly surprised. I bet this is pretty common. I wonder how many of our students have successful endeavours outside of school that we know nothing about. Last year we had one of our Year 13 students making a five-figure sum each month from a game he created. Funnily enough, his interest in school showed a sharp decline! We need to harvest the power and creativity of these students. There is much that educators and other students alike could learn from them.

Lessons from uLearn16: Keynote 4

Karen Spencer: Beyond the echo chamber – The extraordinary possibilities of a networked profession


Karen was probably a really sensible keynote to end uLearn on. After a couple of days of being exposed to numerous ideas, Karen spoke about ‘so what now’? What happens when you get back to your school?

It is so easy to get caught up in the energy and enthusiasm of events such as uLearn. Being surrounded by motivated professionals (it was the school holidays after all!) and without facing the barriers of your school environment, it is easy to get creative about the changes you’ll make or get swept up in the latest educational fad. But Karen reminded us to pause and take a step back before implementing the next big idea.

Ways to do this are:

  1. Find the urgency. What are the most important things for our learners? Any changes should be focused on creating desired outcomes for our students. Choose the most important initiatives and make sure they are sustainable. Too often we fall into the trap of trying too many new things at once.
  2. See the story behind the data. Data gives us a picture, but it is not the whole picture. Talk to students and ask them for their stories – understand why the data says what it says. Consider the viewpoints of all learners and ensure planned changes are going to help them.
  3. Be able to embrace discomfort. Acknowledge that people see different things in the data and student stories – there is no one correct interpretation. Look for ways to hear diverse views and have biases challenged. Learn from those who think differently. Work to avoid the dangers of being in an echo chamber.

Unsurprisingly, this was my favourite idea of Karen’s:


This is the attitude I try to have towards changes I make in the library. Want to make a change? Just do it. And if it doesn’t work? Stop doing it. Be prepared to fail, and be prepared to walk away from an initiative that is not working. Remembering that the focus should always be on students and their learning – not staff ego!

So what, now what?

What does this keynote mean to me and my practice? What impact does this have on the school library?

  • I have a great PLN, but am in serious danger of being in an echo chamber – find some diverse viewpoints quickly!
  • I need to get some student feedback and stories – remember non-library users as well

Some links and follow ups:

What I think about when I’m running: uLearn edition


It seemed rude to travel all the way to Rotorua for uLearn16 and not spend some time exploring the Redwoods. So with a full brain on Thursday afternoon, I snuck off to enjoy some “fresh” air and some world-famous-in-New-Zealand trails. Here’s what I thought about while I was out there.

  1. The 11.5km Tokorangi Pa track should be totally doable before dark.
  2. Follow the purple arrows – how easy is that?
  3. Hmm, maybe going off-road after all this rain wasn’t such a good idea…
  4. Mud is fun!
  5. Man, there is a lot of up.
  6. The other people on this trail are so polite!
  7. This is awesome. I can see why people get addicted to trail running.
  8. This trail is really clearly marked.
  9. Yay, finally some down!
  10. Whoa, nearly ended up in a big mud puddle there.
  11. Hmm, which fork in this path should I follow?
  12. Where are you now, purple arrows?
  13. This doesn’t look much of a path.
  14. I’ll go back and follow the other one.
  15. This looks like even less of a path…
  16. I’ve come a long way down now, I can’t be bothered going all the way back up.
  17. Hmm…this looks like a dry creek bed…
  18. Yep, this is definitely no longer a path.
  19. I wonder where the path is?
  20. I’ve tried retracing my steps but all the mountain bike tracks have confused me.
  21. I am surrounded by hills and trees and can’t see any landmarks, paths or people.
  22. Good one.
  23. Oh, now you’re going to start raining?!
  24. Okay, think.
  25. Nope, no cell phone signal.
  26. Better keep moving to keep warm.
  27. I’m going to be one of those people on the news that is mocked for not being prepared.
  28. Why did you leave your jacket and hat in the car?
  29. And why didn’t you tell anyone where you were going?
  30. Or when to expect you back?
  31. Amateur.
  32. Someone should notice I’m missing in about 24 hours.
  33. I’ve been out here over an hour. I wonder how long I can keep going?
  34. It feels like it’s starting to get dark…
  35. Is that a road?
  36. Yes!
  37. Okay, roads have to lead somewhere.
  38. I should go up the hill so I can get my bearings again.
  39. Hey! A purple arrow! I’m saved!
  40. Of course it’s pointing back down the hill…
  41. Right this feels more like it.
  42. I wonder how far I’ve actually gone.
  43. Up again?
  44. Ooh, look, another runner! I must be close to civilisation again.
  45. A tarseal road!
  46. Where have the purple arrows gone again?
  47. How do I get on the other side of this fence.
  48. Wah! I just want to get back to the car!
  49. OMG, it’s the carpark!! Hooray!!
  50. Thanks for the adventure, Redwoods.


(For my more usual running thoughts see this post here.)

Lessons from uLearn16: Keynote 3

Michael Fullan: Early lessons from implementing New Pedagogies for Deep Learning


Michael Fullan continued the theme, common among the keynote speakers, of student-centred education. And in particular, the idea of transforming pedagogies to tap into the incredible reservoir of children’s creativity.

Michael talked about how humans are innately wired to: connect, create and help humanity. This was tied in with the idea of millennials gravitating towards good. And they do this not because they’re altruistic, but because that is what it is to be human. It was nice to hear of this positive aspect of millennials, as they generally get a bit of bashing (particularly, it must be said, from baby boomers). And made me think back to John Couch’s keynote and the fact that we don’t use student-power to solve community problems.

Perhaps most excitingly, NPDL helps those most disaffected with current education systems. It does this because it: connects with the real world by providing relevance, is congruent with native values, has a culture of high expectation, builds relationships on trust, increases efficacy and optimism, and provides support for students who don’t have much. Like the other keynote messages, this doesn’t seem like rocket science to me. Coming from the primary sector, I feel like there is a lot of this going on already in their classrooms, and it saddens and frustrates me that there seems to be little or no educational innovation happening in my environment. We seem to be bound by NCEA, becoming slaves to it, rather than making it work for our students.


Because we don’t need better leaders. Leaders are not the solution, better citizens are.

One of the things that made this keynote more interesting is that Minister Parata was sitting in the front row as it was delivered. And she was watching on Twitter as those listening reacted to messages that seemed incongruent with current education policy. Points such as: bad strategies for whole system change are accountability and standards (and evidence proves this!), and focus on long-term success rather than units of work (which is not was NCEA encourages).

Again I left a keynote address thinking that we need some brave leadership in more secondary schools so that we can do our best by all our students. The “tail” of NZ education tells us that the current system is not working for 20% of our kids, and in particular our Māori and Pasifika students. Something needs to change so that these young people can reach their full potential.

The session did end on a hopeful note. Michael encouraged leadership from the middle. That is, to exploit policy from the top but add to it to make it work for you. This, in turn, leads the top to learn from the middle. Let’s get exploiting!

So what, now what?

What does this keynote mean to me and my practice? What impact does this have on the school library?

  • I’m not sure yet…need to keep thinking

Some links and follow ups: