Thursday, November 20, 2008

Saving Thanksgiving

New England has maintained considerable "Thanksgiving awareness" since the days when the Pilgrims were supported by native people along the Massachusetts coast in growing and harvesting indigeneous foods, a real cause for celebration in a hungry colony. Thus, it may be a little known fact that our national Thanksgiving holiday needed saving at one point in history. The picture book entitled Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving (by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner) tells the story. Sarah Josepha Hale, a teacher, writer and editor, felt Thanksgiving should be a holiday across the nation, not just at the whim of an individual state's decision to make it a day of thanks. Beginning with U. S. President Zachary Taylor, Sarah (who wrote letters and editorials about many causes of the day) began a letter-writing campaign that spanned five presidencies. Finally, in 1863, she was successful in getting a "Yes!" from Abraham Lincoln. Thanksgiving was firmly established as a holiday the fourth Thursday in November (well, for a while in the 1930s it was moved a week earlier to make a longer shopping season, but that failed). Sarah Hale proved that "the pen is mightier than the sword," though it took a long time!

In third grade library classes this week, we explored several sources of information about this event in history. Made curious by Anderson's book, we looked at a full biography of Sarah Josepha Hale in the Lawrence library collection and discovered how passionate she was personally about Thanksgiving as a time when an extended family comes together to give thanks; we then looked at the long Thanksgiving article in World Book Online, which linked us to its biography of Sarah Hale. Making connections among different sources of information is a satisfying and informative adventure. Long live Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Life Stories

A biography is the true story of a life, and the 921 section of our library contains literally hundreds of such life stories of individuals. Biographies recently added to our collection include Roberto Clemente, Wangari Mathaai, John McCain, Barack Obama, Coco Chanel, Edward Hopper, Isamu Noguchi, and Althea Gibson, to name just a few. Some of these are written in a narrative style -- as a prose story beginning to end, without chapters though with perhaps a timeline or afterword providing further information. Others are written in a more "typically" non-fiction manner, with tables of contents, chapters reflecting the chronology of the subject's life, pictures with captions, and indexes. We even have some life stories captured in poetic form, such as Carver: A Life in Poems, by Marilyn Nelson.

Often reading a picture book biography alongside a more detailed biography provides a complete experience, particularly for middle grade readers. The initial step of becoming intrigued, in short form, by a person's life is a delightful one, and it provides a context for more in-depth information. Building an inviting, varied, and comprehensive collection of life stories in our library is an on-going task -- challenging and inspiring!

Friday, November 07, 2008

New England Cranberries

It will come as no surprise the we are in the process of changing our election bulletin board in the library hallway to a Thanksgiving theme. The Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian sent us a handsome and informative poster that we will feature along with an illustrated glossary of harvest terms from 4C, now studying Indian cultures. In fourth grade library classes this week we read the book Cranberry Day: A Wampanoag Harvest Celebration, published by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Education Department, Martha's Vineyard. We then examined other materials in the library containing information about Wampanoag culture or about cranberries.

The history of cranberries as a valued fruit in New England is long and interesting. Back in the 1600s Indian children welcomed the tart crunch of fresh berries as they harvested them, and families dried them in cakes in order to preserve them as an important, nutritious part of their winter diet. Our fourth graders tasted and compared fresh and dried cranberries in the library and came up with a variety of adjectives to describe the raw berries: tart, bitter, crisp, even smoky! We learned that today Massachusetts ranks second after Michigan as a commercial producer of cranberries, and we learned that it is fairly easy to see a cranberry bog on Boston's south shore or Cape Cod if you go in search of one. Meanwhile, the library is conducting its 40th annual Cranberry Counting Contest, providing the opportunity to practice estimation skills!

Monday, November 03, 2008

MSLA -- Our Acronym

MSLA is the acronym for the Massachusetts School Library Association, the official organization representing a vibrant group of school library professionals at work in the state. This past weekend, I (along with several other Brookline Public School librarians and our director of Educational Technologies and Libraries) attended its annual meetings in Sturbridge. High on the agenda was exploring the American Association of School Librarians' newly-published Standards for 21st Century Learners and our state's new draft of school library standards and practices. For me, making a very real connection with my daily library practice was an important consideration. These recent documents are strong, well-articulated guidelines for "best practice" in school libraries, focusing on the literacy and information skills that genuinely provide a foundation for student success and life-long learning. For people outside the library profession, the details of these documents may seem boring; to those of us on the front lines who know "in our heads and hearts" the reasons why we work hard to provide welcoming, useful libraries, it is terrific to have them articulated so well.

Another important reference document for school libraries is the newly-revised School Libraries Work!, the 3rd edition of a seminal survey documenting the direct impact well-staffed school libraries have on student success.