In March, my students’ anticipation starts to grow. They are finishing reading their last Dorothy’s List book, discussing which one was their favorite, and eagerly looking forward to voting. My anticipation is growing as well, but for another reason. I know that the new list is about to be released. What books are going to be on this year’s list? Have I read any yet? Which ones am I looking forward to reading? I’m just as giddy as my kiddos.
The books are one excitement. The upcoming Dorothy Canfield Fisher Conference is another. And this year was no exception. This year’s conference was held at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, Vermont. Right when I walked through the doors, I was greeted warmly and given a full bag of free books! Then on to coffee, breakfast goodies, and chatting with friends I haven’t seen since last conference. What a great way to start the morning!
The conference kicked off with a Keynote from author Cynthia Lord. She gave a moving speech about how to become a writer in four steps: Read, Write, Revise, & Dream. These steps sound simple but they are peppered with lifelong lessons that empower our work as librarians. In her speech, Cynthia recalled wanting to share a book with her mother, but was turned away. Her mother felt that Cynthia should practice her reading by herself to make her a stronger reader. But we all know that sharing a book isn’t always about getting help with reading the words. It is a bonding experience. Sharing a book should be an ageless activity, happening between all ages and members of a family & community. Reading can make us closer. She suggested to “read crap” because it helps you get a better understanding of good literature and it is often fun! Cynthia also gave a great example of how librarians can empower students in their choices. A school librarian she worked with at her first teaching job always told students “Good choice” regardless of the book they chose. She realized that books are more than the words that are printed on them. We don’t truly know what a book holds for each child. We need to celebrate that they are making their own choice especially when they don’t get that power in much of the rest of their life. Some other gems from her speech was about how students equate revision with failure instead of coaching. That we need to tell students “Make it shine. It’s worth it!” Cynthia Lord’s speech help me feel this way about the work that we do: Make it shine. It’s worth it!
Next I was off to a break out session. It is always hard to choose where to go. This year you did not need to sign up for a session prior to the conference but got to go where your feet took you in the moment. Luckily, handouts & other materials relating to each presentation can be found on the Department of Libraries’ Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award webpage. I chose to go to the presentation of this year’s list because I want to increase my students’ participation and knew I could get some good book talking points to get them going. I’ve read about half of them so far and this presentation got me excited to read the rest, nevertheless get my students reading.
The second session I went to was the Rapid-To-Dos with Annie Brabazon and Charlie Farrell from Grand Island School. I believe this is the 3rd year in which I’ve gone to their presentation and I always come away with some great activities I can use with students. This year I got activities such as an animal sound icebreaker for the Terrible Two in which scraps of paper were handed out. Each one has a match. One was an animal, the other was the sound the animal makes. One partner kept making the noise and the other needed to walk around to find their match. Another activity was figuring out celebrity’s roller derby names for Roller Girl such as Atticurse Flinch, Smack Galifianakis, Nuke Skywalker, & Mouth Guardashian. And yet another was creating secret codes like the kind that can be found in The Blackthorne Key. Even better yet was getting kids to crack some codes such as this celebrity cipher where you have to work backwards from one clue to see if you can figure out the whole message. (Do not notice that I made a mistake! :) ). I know that I can get kids revved up using these engaging activities.
The conference’s endnote speaker was native Vermonter & graphic novelist, Gareth Hinds. (He sketched the portrait of Cynthia Lord that is included above). For those that don’t know, he specializes in creating graphic novels of classics like Macbeth, the Odyssey, & Poe’s short stories. It is amazing the amount of work & thought that goes into these adaptations. Hinds studies multiple texts, determines what is essential in the story, & how best to tell these tales in the graphic format. School librarians know that students are attracted to the graphic novel medium now more than ever and Hinds books help make these classics more accessible to a larger audience. Not to mention that the artwork is pure awesome! Gareth Hinds also made some points that are important to our work. Letting students doodle does not distract them from listening. It uses a different part of their brain and might even help them focus better on listening. Also at that certain age when students stop seeing themselves as an artist, he offers a similar reminder that Cynthia Lord made about revision that needs to be brought to their attention. Everyone needs practice and coaching, even those that you think of as experts. Students should continue to practice and revise their art skills. They should be reminded to “Make it shine. It’s worth it!”
At any conference, a lot of learning is done outside of the sessions. We are often working solo in our positions in school. The time that I get to spend with other school librarians and other like minded folks is invaluable. This year was a transition year for me. I had the exciting opportunity to start at a new school (Moretown Elementary) but regretfully had to leave an old position (Newport City). While at the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Conference, I could catch up with my Northeast Kingdom colleagues. I could also visit with those that went through the UVM sequence with me. I could talk about the successes & challenges that we all face. These networking ties are great for furthering my practice. It also gives me the boost that is often needed at the end of the school year. The conference is a nice day to remind me about how much I love this profession and to be part of this group of educators in particular. It reminds me to “Make it shine. My students are worth it!”