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

Screw digital natives: Behaviour not age, is what matters. As an educator, I hate the term “digital natives” and this post pretty much sums up why. Lots of our students think they are really awesome online, but actually their skills are pretty limited or limiting. And maybe so are some of the tasks we set. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

Millenials as digital natives: Myths and realities. Another interesting read on the “digital native” myth that appeared on my timeline. I particularly love the last two paragraphs in the section titled “How Being a Digital Native Does Influence Behavior” – which is certainly the behaviour that I observe at school! (Shared by Trish Webster, I can’t remember where!)

Literary fiction helps us ‘read’ others. Just in case you know someone who needs convincing that reading is good for us. Or who perhaps needs encouragement to read a “literary” novel in between all the crime fiction. It’s not being a book snob, it’s encouraging being a better human! (Shared by Rachel van Riel on Twitter.)

5 tips for helping a student find the right book. Some good reminders here about how we can help our students find “the” book. Time to find a book is one of my favourite strategies – and something I need to remind our busy teachers about! (Shared by Rebeca Zuniga on Twitter.)

Interesting reading this week:


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

I can’t even with librarians that don’t read diversely. This. So much this. This to all those school librarians who say they don’t need to buy Pasifika books because there are no Pasifika students in their schools. This to all those school librarians who don’t even read. I. Just. Can’t. (Shared by Book Riot on Twitter.)

John  Dewey hate your digital citizenship curriculum. I’m part of my school’s ICT steering committee and we have been talking about how we don’t teach our students anything about digital citizenship. I think this post is full of important messages and questions we should be asking ourselves before we develop any sort of programme. I’m a big believer in just teaching our guys to be good citizens no matter what space they are in. But I love this idea of COMMUNITY as well. I’ll be sharing this with the rest of the committee. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

Daniel Pennac, The Rights of the Reader. I love the way Austin Kleon writes about the books he’s read. I was a late discoverer of this book. And I’ll admit to having bought a copy that I haven’t yet read. This post has moved the book up to the top of my TBR pile. And I have no doubt that I will refer to it often as I think about devising a long-term literacy strategy for my school. (Shared by Austin Kleon on Tumblr.)

Libraries matter: 18 fantastic library infographics. Some great facts and figures here to help advocate for libraries. And while it’s heavily American-based, there’s also some really good dos and don’ts of design to be seen in the various infographs.  (Shared by Bridget Schaumann.)

Close reading VIII: The reader-friendly library service

Open book

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Chapter eight: Readers online

I’ve been slow to get a library website up and running – and after reading this chapter I’m kind of glad! I think I would have fallen into all the online traps that are mentioned here, and probably wouldn’t have put the user-experience at the centre of the website design.

I definitely do want to create an online space for my library users (because I know that a lot of them leave their schoolwork to the last minute – when the library is often closed) but I want it to be a useful space. Not something to impress the senior management team or Board of Trustees, but something that the students will actually use.

Things I will need to think about before creating the library’s online space:

  • organise information so that students can find what they want by a direct route (minimise the number of clicks!)
  • don’t simply reproduce what the library offers offline – what is suitable for a web audience
  • the web thrives on users sharing information they discover – allow space for students to do this
  • think about who needs what online and why – don’t rush into writing web content that nobody will ever visit
  • interactivity is one of the biggest advantages of online spaces – use it

There is a lot of thought that needs to go into online services and these also need to be maintained once they are up and running. Limited staffing and resources are what have slowed me down at this point. Maybe it is time now to start putting aside time to do this and prioritising it the same way that offline services are?


Actions arising from this chapter:

  • start designing a library website
  • make a plan to get LMS opened up anytime / anywhere
  • make a plan for catalogued websites to be accessed through the LMS – it’s 2016, people!


Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.

Close reading VII: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter seven: Reading groups

For reasons too inexplicable and frustrating to share here, I am unable to run a reading group in our school library. However, that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about one, or reading enviously about groups that other school librarians are running. It also probably explains why I decided to start my own out-of-school-hours group with other children’s and young people librarians in our local area.

I’m a fan of the type of reading group that is encouraged in this chapter. A group where members read what they want to read and share their thoughts and feelings with others. Nothing prescriptive, snobby or on a theme; and all about the reading experience – no need for deep analysis!

The benefits of reading groups to a library service are outlined in this chapter, and there are many.

  • Reading group members are library advocates.
  • They provide a ready-made audience for consultation.
  • They are an excellent resource for reader-to-reader recommendations and promotions.
  • They can take charge of a ‘reading group choice’ display area.
  • They can take on the role of event hosts.
  • They can help make stock decisions in areas of weakness.

I particularly liked this message from page 220:

Understanding a little about group dynamics, appreciating that people read primarily for pleasure, and are coming because they want to share that pleasure with others, and simply putting the kettle on are more important skills for the reading group facilitator than a degree in literature or, indeed, librarianship!

Another interesting point to note is that some libraries have found that teen groups are more successful if they are “for a limited time”; open-ended groups did not generate the same interest as groups that were run for a set number of weeks. I can see how this would probably be the same in school settings.

Most importantly, remember that a reader-centred approach to reading groups will ensure (page 212)

that everyone in the group will have something to say, confident in the fact that they are the expert in their own reading experience.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • I can still get most of the benefits of reading groups without actually having one
  • consult my known readers more
  • ensure my student librarians are readers – get those suckers to work for me!


Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.

Close reading IV: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter four: Reader-centred stock management

This chapter raised some interesting points for me. The buying plan in my school library is fairly simple: BUY WHAT THE BOYS WILL READ. But there are other points to consider too.

One of the most important ideas to think about from this chapter is the reminder to consider the “invisible” borrowers as well. I have a lot of students who are comfortable telling me what they want me to buy, however, I also need to think about the boys who aren’t demanding and those that don’t even consider themselves readers.

Another significant point is to use “evidence-based stock management”. That is to base decisions on evidence derived from loan and collection data: what is being borrowed? what is not being borrowed? what is worn out? what is in the collection? what is not in the collection? what has big reserve lists?

Reader development is about opening up reading choices and helping people find books they didn’t know existed, not only about managing the most popular titles.

This (page 114) is why it is really important to know the book stock in your collection, and also to keep up with new releases. I know I need to have multiple copies of Muchamore’s perennially popular Cherub series, but I also need to know what other books and authors are similar. This way, when all the Cherub books are out, or a student has read the whole series, I can point them to other books that may keep them reading.

Does a library service have a responsibility to meet needs as well as wants? But who determines what those needs are?

These questions (page 132) are easier to answer in a school library because we are not solely focused on recreational reading, we are also concerned with the curriculum. These “needs” are mostly determined by teaching staff, so it is important to keep in regular contact with these stakeholders as well.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • update collection management policy and buying plans
  • survey reluctant and non-readers to see if their wants and needs are being met


Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.

Close reading II: The reader-friendly library service

Open book

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Chapter two: Finding out what readers want

This chapter outlines how public libraries can gather statistics and information about and from their users. Again, school libraries have a bit of an advantage as we can gather a lot of information from our Learning Management Systems and the age range of our users is quite specific. However, I think it is important to remember not to make assumptions about our students’ preferences and how they use the library. We can still gather information that will help us improve programmes, stock, and library organisation.

The image of the library is as much a barrier as the reality.

There is so much truth in this statement (page 54). One of my biggest frustrations is how our library is perceived by some students and staff. Throw away comments about libraries as quiet spaces, being only about books, and perhaps not being required in our changing educational landscape reveal to me that many people do not see the library as it is now. Or worse, lack the imagination to see how the library can contribute to teaching and learning. This is not only my biggest frustration but also my biggest challenge.

Another common discovery is that people are very prejudiced about what they will not read but not so definite about what interests them.

This (page 74) is certainly true of my experience helping teenage boys select reading material! I like the suggestion that staff don’t have to take the expert role and can encourage users to recommend books. I know I have found this helpful when a student has asked for a recommendation and a classmate overhears and suggests books they’ve enjoyed. The students almost always take what their classmates suggest over what I offer them. I need to encourage more of this peer discussion around reading.

I like the authors’ suggestion to tempt users to overcome their prejudices rather than preach to them. Instead of making a “worthy” display about diversity in literature include diverse books in displays with other themes, such as “Books we love” or “Bite sized books”. This way reading choices are being opened up and barriers are being broken down. Someone who might swear they would never read chick-lit / fantasy / gay fiction could quite happily pick up a brief one of these if they were displayed with other short books (aka Bite sized).

How do you choose what to read next?

This is a simple question (page 75) that can provide library staff with a great deal of information. The answers to this question reveal barriers and provide a greater awareness of issues such as displays, stock arrangement, signage and library organisation.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • Change the way the library is perceived
  • Encourage peer discussion about books and reading
  • Survey students about how they choose what to read next: include regular library users as well as non-users, keen readers and reluctant readers


Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.

Close reading I: The reader-friendly library service

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Chapter one: Starting with the reader

I think school libraries have a bit of an advantage over public libraries when it comes to being reader-centric. After all, our readers are literally in our face every day! However, when it comes to displays I think we do still fall into the same trap of making them about the books rather than the readers. I certainly jotted down a lot of display ideas while reading this chapter!

Reader development means active intervention to:

  • increase people’s confidence and enjoyment of reading
  • open up reading choices
  • offer opportunities for people to share their reading experience
  • raise the status of reading as a creative activity

This (page 14, with my emphasis) should be at the heart of what school libraries do for their readers. One thing I need to especially work on in our school is raising the status of reading. It is invisible and I battle the pervasive myth that “boys aren’t readers”. They are and they do, despite the time available for them to do so becoming increasingly squeezed by schoolwork, extra curricular commitments, paid employment, and digital distractions.

Reader development begins from valuing and respecting individual reading preferences; each reader is expert and judge of their own reading experience.

This quote (page 15) stood out to me because of the attitude I encounter with some of the English teachers at school. I work quite hard not to put my value judgement on the books that students select (because I am a book snob – but at least I know I am so I can work on not showing that to the boys!). However, I am often dismayed at teachers that bring students into the library and list off the number of things they are not allowed to read (newspapers, magazines, non-fiction, graphic novels, picture books, easy reads…). I understand that part of the teachers’ job is to raise literacy levels, but surely one of the best ways to do that is to encourage reading for pleasure! I will definitely be tackling this issue when I put together my literacy manifesto for the principal and head of department.

Reading is a creative partnership with an author, providing a way to embrace different lives, cultures and new experiences as well as supporting us in confronting the things we fear.

It is important to remember this (page 27) particularly when faced with controversial or challenging material. But also when we are endeavouring to open up students’ reading choices and encouraging them to experiment or read outside their comfort zones. Reading is a safe and supportive way to encounter dangerous places and behaviours.

Actions arising from this chapter:

  • Raise the status of reading as a creative activity; make it more visible (both for students and staff)
  • Educate teachers about the “and” of selecting books; ie, you must issue a novel and then you can have a book of your choice


Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.

Close reading: The reader-friendly library service

Open book

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Lately I have been (virtually) introduced to the fabulous Rachel van Riel.  I love her genius, yet simple, ideas for catching readers’ attention in a busy library.  Having begun watching a presentation van Riel gave to Scandinavian public librarians, I decided I wanted to get closer to some of the source material – her book The Reader-friendly Library Service.

After a quick search online, I discovered that (in New Zealand dollars) van Riel books are quite expensive to buy!  Luckily Hastings District Libraries came to my rescue and allowed me to borrow a copy from their staff collection.  Sometimes it helps to live in a smaller centre – I know two of the CYP librarians there and they put in a good word for me!

I have just started reading the first chapter of The Reader-friendly Library Service and have already made copious notes of great display ideas and things to share with our school teaching staff.  Rather than write notes in a book that I’ll never open again, I thought it would be a better idea to keep track of my learning here.  So as I make my way through the book I will share my responses to its ideas here, chapter by chapter.

I hope you’ll stay tuned and be as inspired as me!



Riel, R. V., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.