by Esme Raji Codell, UIUC LIS506LIB, October, 2009

Suppose you were a brand new k-5 elementary school librarian on a desert island, with only a few professional resources available to help you do the best job possible. Which would you choose? Here are the top ten tools I wouldn't want to live--or teach--without, as well as some related resources.

Hopefully, with the help of these materials, even as a "newbie" you will be able to confidently:



Trelease, Jim. The Read Aloud Handbook. 6th ed. New York: Penguin, 2006.

In a universe of educational theory about how children learn, the benefit of read-aloud is a fact. Over 10,000 reports from the U.S. Department of Education culminate to suggest that "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children," and it should continue through the grade levels. So why shouldn't the the teacher-librarian be at the helm of cross-curricular improvement, reading aloud to every child in the school? Who better to model this technique for staff? This is the book shares the "why," the "how" and even the "what" that is needed to make it happen. Even if you already read-aloud, the great strength of this book is that it offers the documentation and research base to defend your best practice, which is so necessary in these NCLB days of assessment and documentation. Besides addressing common questions such as when to begin to read aloud and how books can compete with other glitzy, modern media, the book also includes a whole chapter of read-aloud "do's and don'ts, and a "giant treasury of great read-aloud books," and Jim Trelease's corresponding website supplements and updates the handbook so the approach always stays current and in context. Even if you have never read aloud to a class before, you can enjoy the confidence that comes with knowing you are being guided by the approach's greatest champion.

School Libraries Work! A Research Foundation Paper. Danbury, Conn.: Scholastic Library Publishing, 2008.
This timely report, according to the report itself, "...brings together position statements from a variety of findings from nearly two decades of empirical studies that cite the measurable impact school libraries and library media specialists have on student achievement." Besides case studies from 19 states (and one province) and detailed documentation from reports in Illinois, Ohio and Indiana all underscoring the relationship between the school library and student achievement, the report includes a defense of the school librarian's role in No Child Left Behind, the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science's assertion for a need for state certified school librarians, and a bulleted list of traits of an effective school library. Since its release in 2004, this report has been distributed to over 200,000 administrators. Keep it on hand in case someone in your school system could use a peek, and in case your own sense of purpose needs to be fortified.

Related resources for best practices: Artillery to add to your research-based arsenal.

Lance, Keith Curry. "The Impact of School Library Media Centers on Academic Achievement." School Library Media Quarterly 22, no. 3 (Spring 1994): 167-170, 172.
A landmark resreach report that has been come to be known as the "Colorado study" offers up this equation: big staff + wide selection of books + a media specialist playing an instructional role = success on tests (one measure of student achievement)! Useful for advocating for any of the addends that make up the sum.

Miller, Donalyn. The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. San Francisco: Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2009. Another best practice, research-based treatise celebrating the value of free, unscheduled time to read, and the importance of children getting to choose their own material. Full review here.


Freeman, Judy. Books Kids Will Sit Still For 3. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, 1990.
The author has undertaken the Herculean task of compiling this hefty volume of over a thousand annotated bibliographic entries, arranged by grade levels and genres and indexed by author/illustrator, title and subject. The author goes the extra mile to include related titles, "germs" (discussion starters, hints for sharing, weblinks and activities), and possible subject headings for topical connections. Introductory bonus "chapters" in these reference books invite exploration into topics such as how to use books across the curriculum, storytelling and reader's theater, "17 Things You Need to Know to Be a Great School Librarian," book evaluation and what it's like to serve on an awards committee. What differentiates this title from other resource books is that despite its dictionary-like girth and despite its encyclopedia-like wealth of knowledge, it has personality. You can feel Freeman's enthusiasm and heart on every page, and her desire to pass on everything she knows to you. Further, the variety of headings and extensive index makes it easy to locate a book, whether you're looking for a title in particular or hunting for an inscrutable storytime Snark. Boasting a professional vitae almost as long as her book, Freeman is a prolific children's book reviewer and a consultant for James' Patterson online reading advisory site,, and using this book will help you feel capable about recommending age-appropriate books, even while you are still learning what's between the bindings. Also check out her prequels, Books Kids Will Sit Still For and More Books Kids Will Sit Still For.

Coon, Cheryl. Books to Grow With: A Guide to Using the Best Children's Fiction for Everyday Issues and Tough Challenges. Portland: Lutra Press, 2004.
This author really did her homework in creating this resource of issue-related recommendations falling under such clear and helpful headings as sharing, bullies and teasing, feelings, fears, babysitters, stuttering, being gifted, boasting, lost teeth, honesty, sleepovers, self-esteem, adoption, moving, glasses, divorce, strangers, aging, illness, disabilities, death, teasing, making friends and many more. Each entry has publishing information, a line-long description of art style, and specific considerations for sharing (such as "read-aloud," "intermediate readers," "multicultural") followed by a succinct description of each book's content. With character education enjoying wide popularity in school curricum, and students (and teachers and parents!) contending with more social challenges than ever before, there are so many occasions for use, allowing even a novice librarian to seem expert in prescribing bibliotherapy when requested. So the next time you have an issue, don't reach for a tissue...grab this title instead!

Related resources for reader's advisory and collection development: A bonanza of booklists.

Lima, Carolyn W. Rebecca L. Thomas. A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children's Picture Books. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, 2008. Teachers working thematically? Child wants a book on a particular topic? Go ahead, look up any old theme under subject headings, subject guides, bibliographic guides, title indexes, and illustrator indexes, and you'll find a nice long list of picture books that relate to the theme. This book is golden when it comes to helping teachers plan units, creating thematic story times, or trying to remember "that book about a train." One of the snappiest places on the web to go to find out the most current releases in children's literature, with an especially helpful focus on "tween" reading (for 9-12 year olds). Besides very nice descriptions of the latest novels and updates on series books that are so useful for collection development, it's a source for author interviews, contests, a guide to how to make your own book club and regularly updated information about which books are being made into movies and what's coming out in paperback. Kid-friendly, this is a site that you and your students can use--and enjoy--together.

Kidlitophere Central: The Society of Bloggers in Children's and Young Adult Literature. A cyber-collective of professionals and enthusiasts who regularly and critically review the best brand-spanking-new books for young people. Grab a nice cup of cocoa and spend an afternoon going though the blogroll to discover names and tastes you trust, and that you can visit regularly and add to your "reader" to stay current.


Bauer, Caroline Feller. This Way to Books. Bronx: H.W. Wilson, 1983.
Yes, I know it's from 1983. Yes, I know it's out-of-print. But during a youth librarianship class, someone mentioned that she wished there was someone out there who still had the vim for children's literarure that the mother of children's libraries, Anne Carroll Moore, embodied. I think Bauer captures that energy in a modern context. The author of many inspiring and pragmatic resource books for teachers, this one is my most dog-eared, containing a little sampling of all of her best ideas and how-to's. She introduces skills and sources for standard library practices such as storytelling and booktalking, but also brilliantly presents ideas that are out of the box: creating museum-like exhibitions in the library based on children's own collections and interests, hosting poetry presentations, playing games, and even initiating a schoolwide "parade of books" that I was able to undertake successfully for many years with the help of her model. So many books about programming focus on the youngest child, but Bauer prepares her professional readers to create fun things to do for patrons across the grade levels. Another valuable aspect of this book that is hard to find elsewhere is that she addresses fundraising, and offers over thirty suggestions for earning money to buy books, even integrating programming as she goes (penny collections while celebrating Lincoln's birthday, for instance). This is a real-world librarian sharing her expertise and her contagious enthusiasm with great generosity. A thorough index will help you find just when you need when you can't savor the pages of this book like a visit with an old friend.

Related resources for programming and promotion:
Puppet? $28. Picture Book? $16.95. Paper plates, popsicle sticks and and yarn? $8.99.
Knowing what you're going to do at storytime? Priceless.

Cobb, Jane. I'm a Little Teapot!: Presenting Preschool Storytime. Point Roberts: Black Sheep Press, 1996. Over fifty common storytime themes are presented, each followed by a related booklist, A bevvy of fingerplays, and "more ideas" which include discussion points, crafts, flannelboard ideas, games and connections to other resources. It also includes very helpful ideas and songs for "opening" and "closing" your program. Even if you've never done a storytime in your life, this will direct you in a straightforward way to everything you need to keep the youngest listener's eyes on you. Whew! A busy portal to craft connections, fingerpplays and songs, this website is largely arranged by season but searchable by book title, book series, genre, character names, author, storytime themes, alphabet letter, craft type and storytime theme. Populated with suggestions that use templates and simple, inexpensive materials, you'll find that with the help of this site, most any reading can be made participatory, and can be followed by a hands-on creative response.

Hamilton, Martha and Mitch Weiss. Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom, Second Edition. Katonah: Richard C. Owens Publishers, 2005. Storytelling is a fundamental part of good library programming, and this guide, full of exercises, games and techniques is aimed at creating curriculum for students but is equally effective at turning a librarian who feels like a zero into a storytelling hero. Very much step-by-step, the latest edition also comes with a DVD so you can see the tactics being demonstrated. The resource underscores communication over memorization. Teach yourself, and then you can teach others...even start a troupe, as the book suggests!

Nancy Keane's Booktalks: Quick and Simple. Saying a few words that are short and sweet to get those pages turning and circulation numbers burning is an art form, and also a common part of library programming. To that end, check out this on-line database of over five thousand ready-to-use descriptive enticements for readers, to which librarians may contribute. One of the nice things about this resource is that you often have a choice of text; for example, look at Tomie DePaola's 26 Fairmont Avenue for a half dozen ways it was presented, and find the one that works best with your style. Though this link provides some basic tips, if booktalking is your passion you may also want to supplement with the inspiring guide The Booktalker's Bible: How to Talk About the Books You Love to Any Audience by Chapple Langemack (Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, 2003).

Upstart Library Promotions Catalog. Ever wonder where librarians get those cool bookmarks and posters? From reading-themed pencil erasers to snazzy reading logs and scout-like patches, this is the place. While reading should be its own reward, this resource at least keeps us moving in that direction, and the decorations are a delight for the frustrated interior-library-decorator on a tight budget. A division of the library supply company Highsmith, request an Upstart Library Promotions Catalog.


Library Sparks Magazine. There are many excellent periodicals out there, some with impressive scholarly or professional ties, but the one that I would have delivered by rowboat to my desert island would be this one, out of sheer pragmatism. Each issue features a large "curriculum connections" section with a popular theme ("Ocean Life") or timely topic ("Hispanic Heritage Month"). The section includes pages of related resources (both analog and digital), and even more pages of activities which are arranged by subject across the curriculum, allowing me to easily connect as a librarian with everyone from the math instructor to the foreign language teacher. This alone would be worth the price of the subscription, but every month the magazine also sports a reader's theater script, a meaningful and meaty "meet the author" section that allows me to connect children with the people who create the books they love, a "Keep 'Em Reading" section that specifically aims at integrating reading into all of the curriculum ( a recent issue featured "Taking a Bite Out of Fractions and Percents"), a fleshed-out storytime plan, fiction-nonfiction connections, a monthly calendar featuring author birthdays and crazy holidays (national tap-dance day can bring kids to the 700 section!), a technolgy feature, plus things especially for the purpose of rejuvinating me in my curriculum: recommendations of new books, "Freebies, Doodads and Helpful Hints," worksheets, and just plain fun (sing a song about nonfiction to the tune of "Oh My Darling Clementine," or play a dice game to learn the Dewey Decimal system). The back page of every issue features "standards," a list of how each lesson in the magazine matches up with state objectives. Glossy, colorful and easy to read, what makes this publication superior is that it assumes we are teacher librarians, not just "book checker-outers," and articles are largely written by teacher-librarians who truly know from experience what works and what would not. There isn't a page in the magazine I couldn't use myself or share with someone on staff...or both.

Related Resources for curriculum connections: No librarian is an island. Here are more tools for making love (and learning) connections with teachers and students.

Book Links Magazine. A little more text-heavy and arguably little less fun to read in the bathroom, this publication from the American Library Association sports similar features, such as thematic bibliographies and links to the web, but also includes thoughtful articles and more in-depth interviews, very extensive and comprehensive annotated thematic bibliographies that will make you revered as an "expert" among faculty, and a knowledgeable recurrence of focus on award-winners. Like Library Sparks, there is a connection between content and standards on the last page. Publisher advertisements offer the opportunity to see what's new and "hot," and the au courant makes for the currency of this publication, which is helpful when it comes to grant announcements and keeping "cool" with the kids (you don't want to be the last one to know about the likes of Lemony Snicket or Spiderwick again, do you)?

Editors of Chase's Calendar of Events. The Teacher's School Year: the Day-by-Day Almanac of Historic Events, Holidays, Famous Birthdays and More! Columbus: McGraw Hill, 2009. Every day is a teachable moment! Updated annually, this guide is more than a calendar, offering background information om topics, related links, and plenty of inspiration for thematic planning (a storytime for National Pig day on March 1st, perhaps?). Use it to create lists or calendars for teachers, include in library newsletters, inspire research in students, and the content is also dandy for "morning announcements" that start the day the library way!

The Core Knowledge Sequence. It's helpful to have a broad overview of the kind of things children might be learning at different grade levels. Every school and district has its own curriculum guide, but if you've never taught school before, this guide might give you an overview of a sample educational trajectory. Formerly referred to as the controversial "Cultural Literacy" program, I don't care; I refer to it regularly regardless of what my school system mandates when looking for themes that inevitably connect to and support the work of my cohorts and the children we serve.


Coping with Challenges: Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials from the American Library Association.

Even on a desert island, there's bound to be some dude who doesn't agree with our selections. When a book is challenged, take a deep breath and surf on over to this website, which very clearly and systematically offers hints on communicating effectively whether one-on-one ("Greet the person with a smile. Communicate your openness to receive inquiries and that you take them seriously. Listen more than you talk") or while weathering a full media blitz ("Anticipate the standard "Who-What-When-Where-and-Why" questions and develop your answers beforehand. Keep your answers brief and to the point. Avoid giving too much information. Let the reporter ask the questions," remember, deep breath!). The site offers some very helpful sample Q&A's, key messages to reiterate to irate administration, how to introduce a reconsideration process, and very helpful hyperlinks to support groups and ALA Resources, including contact information for the very important Office of Intellectual Freedom and a direct link for "reporting a challenge." This site takes a tone more toward getting everyone on the same page rather than preparing for battle, because we already won the war. Remember the American Revolution, ya'll?

Related resources for book challenges and censorship: more tools to assert the right to read.

The First Amendment. Always good to know, this is the cornerstone of defense for inclusion of library materials.

Texas Library Association Request for Reconsideration Form. Be prepared! When a parent challenges the presence of a book on the shelves, filling out a form is usually part of the response protocol. This one is especially nice, because in a friendly way it requires that the challenger actually examine the work as a whole and imagine others for whom the work might be suitable. Here's an example of a thoughtful question: "In [the book's] place, what work would you recommend that would convey as valuable a perspective of the subject treated?" A handy prototype to use or to tweak for your own community, this bit of homework might cool someone's jets long enough so you have time to gather your own thoughts.

Challenged Children's Books. A handy list of the hundred most frequently challenged books of the last century, especially useful during Banned Books Week. (Hey, is that my book on there?! What the f*%#!)


LM_NET. Check out the amazing archive of messages to new librarians, including a (lo and behold!) "new school, new librarian survival guide" compiled by Alice Yucht and arranged very palpably in a timeline format, "words of wisdom" compiled by Joy Hendrickson (including my favorite: "'Be Switzerland,' remain neutral"), time management tips and a link to management strategies from the Gloucester County Librarians Workshop, "The Best of the Web." But you don't have to live in the archives, or the past; by signing up for the free listserv, you will receive messages, news, calls for help and answers from professionals all around the world every day! Anytime you face a challenge or wonder how to do something as a novice (or seasoned) librarian, this on-line community will rally for you, and when a colleague needs input, you can contribute or watch as it plays out for your own information. Book repair? Choosing an overhead projector? Weathering a book challenge? Need clip art, or a cheap barcode scanner? Looking for a thematic poem, the spookiest story that a preschooler can handle, or "that book with a yellow cover about a wolf"? No query is too big or too small for this community (so you may want to get your membership in digest form so your e-mail in-box doesn't get overwhelmed), and you can tell it's a librarians' network because the queries are so well organized under "hits" and "targets." This is the cyber-space place to get a little help from your friends, and where there's no such thing as a stupid question. Sign up, and you'll never walk alone. Illinois librarians, supplement with ISLMA_NET, a similar professional support network that affords a greater chance of having coffee with the people you are messaging, and also a great way to learn and participate in discussions about statewide reader's choice awards, such as the Monarch and Caudill.

Related Resources for professional development and community: It's all about connection.

The Bureau of Education and Research. Even a librarian on a desert island has to get out of the house once in a while. Blow some professional development bucks at one of the full-day seminars offered by this reputable company that boasts such legendary literacy talents as Regie Routman, Dr. Peggy Sharp and Anita Silvey. Check the seminars by grade level and geographic area on-line or get on their mailing list, and discover dates you can spend learning about pertinent topics such as bringing together boys and books, using small groups for more effective instruction, and effectively teaching special education students who have been mainstreamed into your program. Also offering on-site training, videos and audio recordings, they offer the kind of support that can put the teacher back into teacher librarian.

A Librarian's Guide to Etiquette. This blog's subtitle is "A Polite Librarian is a Good Librarian." I would say a smiling librarian is a good one, too. Arranged in tidy librarian syntax, tonuge-in-cheek words to the wise tackle common challenges not limited only to the school librarian ("Web site, Designing your library: When redesigning a library web site, libraries can make up for their lack of a real web designer by assembling a committee of librarians to tackle the job. Five or six untrained, tasteless, design-illiterate people can surely tackle the task of site architecture, user interface, and graphic design" and "Up, Beaming yourself: It is never, under any circumstances, appropriate for a librarian to come to work dressed in a Star Trek uniform"). Laughing out loud? Shhhhh.


Webquest generator at A WebQuest is defined, at Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators by Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University, as "an inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the Internet." Since this is the direction in which 21st century research is inevitably headed, the WebQuest model is workable towards integrating the World Wide Web in your classroom-wide projects. Moreover, WebQuests are a fun learning tool that feel more like a treasure hunt than a homework assignment. Though the model is described most comprehensively and academically at, I prefer the Web-Quest Maker Teach-Nology site for sheer grade-school usability. Simply type the requested information in the fields: introduction, tasks (what the children are trying to find out), resources (where to look, which cyber-safe links to explore, as directed by the teacher), process (what to do), evaluation and conclusion (what was learned). Choose a visual icon, and fill in the subject, title of the webquest and your name, and the program will generate a webquest that your students can use! Additionally, the site has a wiki of many marvelous WebQuests already designed by other teachers, arranged mainly by subject matter, including topics like "The Great Rainforest Web Quest," "It Takes Money to Make Money," and "Dream a Dream, Reach a Goal" (about the Iditarod race!). Since research skills require some requisite literacy and synthesizing of skills, many of the webquests are aimed at older children, and frankly, not all the links are still live, but on the bright side, the "50 Early Childhood Webquests" still has plenty of examples to choose from and/or to use for inspiration. Ultimately, children will have to learn to set their own criteria and evaluate websites on their own, but this model provides focus and training toward that goal and is safe and workable for research objectives in grades k-5, while providing a framework for assessment for educators. The next time a classroom teacher wants to collaborate with you to create a research assignment about "blank," no need to have a big quest on how-to. You will be ready.

Related resources for teaching library skills: Your content doesn't have to play second fiddle to other subjects.

Cohen, Sharron. The Mysteries of Research, Second Edition. Fort Atkinson: Alleyside Press, 1996. One of my favorite teacher-librarian books, this resource offers twenty-four narrative "mysteries" that students must solve using conventional, familiar materials such as the encyclopedia, atlas, dictionary, almanac and the Guinness Book of World Records. The mystery can be solved by discovering which culprit is presenting the most false information. The author's recent update, The Mysteries of Internet Research, is sure to be excellent as well, but I still covet my old-school copy, and cherish the opportunity for students to learn to use this engaging approach to discovering the more traditional analog materials that have served us for so long. Great for group work, too!

RADCAB: Your Vehicle for Information Evaluation. A mnemonic for helping students to evaluate and begin setting criteria for the information they encounter in this time of "infobesity." While I personally find the actual conepts the letters represent to be a bit of a mouthful and brainful for the average fifth grader (relevancy, appropriateness, detail, currency, authority, bias...really? A kid is supposed to remember and contemplate all that?) it's a nice starting point for conversation and consideration. Plus, you can always put up the posters. Children nowadays are exposed to more commercials, more visual and aural medium, and more complex messages from the media than any other generation. As information resource professionals, it may be considered part of our duty to help them navigate this kind of information as well, helping them to be conscious of the thousands of words which a picture may be worth. This kit contains media examples (tv commercials, magazine ads, movie scenes, website pages) and a discussion and activity guide for exploration, help young people to recognize "tools of persuasion" in the media, including bias, spin and misinformation, and get a general understanding of how media messages create meaning and plan on our own experiences and desires. Though a comprehensive tookit is available for purchase, three basic kits are available for free download. Also, check out the PBS Don't Buy It! site, As librarians, we must work towards an informed citizenry...even in elementary school!

AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner. A wonderful lesson planning tool, this colorful, non-intimidating checklist from the American Association of School librarians will help you assess whether your program is preparing young patrons with skills for the future.

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR CONNECTIONS Authors and illustrators are part of the library community, too! This fee-based, membership program is worth every penny, allowing for access to author/illustrator videos for thousands of creative people, filmed in their homes and workspaces. It's like getting over five thousand author visits for one fee! It's especially amazing to watch illustrators as they create works (watch Denise Fleming do her pulp paintings, for example). The resource also boasts over 12,000 teacher guides for books, so any time a teacher is looking for activities and discussion guides, they can be accessed in a jiffy. Also, check out the free pronunciation guide to authors' names (do you really know how to say "Sciezka"?). This database is the most effective, insightful and comprehensive on-line tool for connecting kids to the real people behind the books they love...and we love, too.

Related resources for author/illustrator connections: Artists are people, too.

The SCBWI-Illinois Speaker's Directory. A guide to authors and illustrators throughout the state who are available for school visits. Click on names for program descriptions, bibliographies, availability and rates. This page is especially for Illinois, but you can visit the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators website and click on "find a speaker" to search for creative guests from around the country.

The Author Wish List compiled by the POD, at A sensitive, thoughtful, Emily-Post-like guide for folks who would like to host a visiting author or illustrator. If you're "way into it," also check out Buzzeo's guidebook, Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators, and Storytellers: Real Space and Virtual Links, co-written by Jane Kurtz, (Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, 1999), which also explores appropriate protocol for author e-mail exchanges and live chats.

Author/Illustrator Study Unit. Seven lessons and a cumulative project that will have children being able to describe their favorite talents with the panache of a literary agent and the enthusiasm of a sports fan reading the back of a baseball card. Use the displays to hold an author/illustrator fair, and to decorate your library space!