Picture Book Month: Week Two (Identifying Author’s Purpose)

This is the graphic I used to help introduce author’s purpose.

Week two’s objective was to explore author’s purpose with students through picture books. I began by connecting author’s purpose to work that I knew students had done previously in their writer’s notebooks. We talked about how writing changes depending on the purpose and the audience. I then read a powerful new picture book Lubna and Pebble.

In this book, Lubna, a refugee child from a nondescript war torn country arrives on a beach and finds a pebble which becomes her best friend. The soft, dark illustrations set a tone of somber contemplation that begin and end with full page spread of the face of a child. Lubna shares her pebble as a way to give friendship and peace to a new immigrant. The cycle of kindness is a central theme of this rich and powerful book.


I shared this book with the students as an example of pure entertainment as the author’s purpose. I intentionally did not choose a humorous book because I wanted to show students that entertainment can be more than humor. They were fully engrossed as I read this book aloud to them.

After reading, we viewed this graphic I created in google drawings. We talked about the book and cited several pieces of evidence of the author’s purpose.

Next, the students, in teams of three, chose from a stack of books at their tables. I explained to them that the books they were choosing from would have the author’s purpose of persuade or inform. They would choose one, read it and give three pieces of evidence as to the author’s purpose.

We wrapped up the lesson by sharing out our titles and our evidence for the author’s purpose. Students and teachers enjoyed the process. I enjoyed the conversations students were having trying to justify their thinking!

ALA International Sharjah, UAE 2018 Reflection


Last November I had the honor to be part of the American Library Association’s International Conference in Sharjah, UAE. This conference ran concurrently with the Sharjah International Book Fair. Over one hundred countries were represented at the book fair and the ALA International Conference brought regional librarians together for several days of professional development and discovery.

Wendy Garland, an elementary librarian from Dedham, Massachusetts and I collaborated for many months prior to the conference to plan and organize a variety of workshops and experiences for our colleagues in the region. A highlight of this planning was connecting our students prior to our trip to the UAE.

We both explored books about the region and had our students come up with ‘homework’ for us to do while we were in the UAE. We even read a book together about the ‘story’ of the UAE formation called Our Unity is Our Strength. We skyped together and took turns reading aloud and learning about one another. Two of Wendy’s students even taught us a few words in Arabic!

We collaborated on a pre-conference session for regional librarians that was one of the highlights of my professional career.

Our day-long pre-conference consisted of several sections. All with the main goal of connecting and networking this group of dedicated professionals. After getting to know one another, we celebrated the collective knowledge of the group. This quote reminded me of one I use to describe our library all the time: “The library is the living room of the school.” After having spent some time in the UAE, I now understand a bit more, the importance of the kitchen in the culture. It makes perfect sense to me now.

We wanted to introduce Twitter and the power it has to develop a Professional Learning Network for our colleagues in the UAE region. Wendy and I shared how it has connected us and has played such a powerful role in our own professional development. In fact, we hadn’t met until we came together in the UAE, but we had been collaborating for months prior to our meeting!

We began with some ‘analog’ tweets to get the ‘juices’ flowing.

I LOVE seeing the variety in these analog tweets. It warmed us up to explore the power of Twitter. Many had not set up accounts, but others were active and learned about tools like TweetDeck to help manage chats and explore hashtags.

We introduced Breakout.edu to our friends and had them complete a simple game to show them the possibilities. We were even able to leave a kit with one lucky winner!

There was time at the end of our day for a ‘playground’ where we had a variety of tools and experiences for all to explore. The greenscreen center got a lot of laughs and ignited some interesting ideas for integration into learning spaces.

Wendy and I taught several other sessions during the general conference as well. One highlighted Breakout.edu and we had our attendees complete a game based on The Dot by Peter Reynolds.     It was a big hit!

Another session was about how we each work to engage and excite readers in our libraries. I learned so much from listening to Wendy and from what our attendees share as well.

Our last session was about using literacy to help develop empathy All of these workshop sessions are available through the QR code or links above.

My colleague @AliSchilpp shared a Lego Travel Buddy with me prior to the trip. I decided that I would use him to help share the trip with my students and colleagues in IL when I returned and while it was happening via Twitter. The name badge we wore at the conference was a perfect spot to keep my Lego Travel Buddy!

We didn’t have a lot of free time, but when we did, we jammed as much into it as we could. We visited Mosques, ate authentic cuisine and learned about the UAE culture through several tours and lectures.

What do two librarians do when in a new city? Of course, they go to the library! We wanted to show our kiddos that the Dewey system works all over the world.

My biggest take away from the trip to the UAE was that librarians around the world struggle with the same challenges: schedule, budget, ‘that’ kid. We are a solitary and profession; often the only librarians in our buildings. We are thirsty for collaboration and for collegiality.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

I am proud to see that the hashtag #UAELibrarians continues to be used and shared. It makes me proud to see librarians of the region and the world connecting in ways they had not before. Every day I see and learn things from my new colleagues on the other side of the world. I am eager to continue to learn and grow with them.

I am immensely grateful to the librarians in the UAE, the American Library Association and my school district for helping me make this experience a reality! I not only grew as a professional, but I also gained dozens of more friends and colleagues. I’m also grateful to my incredibly talented colleague, Wendy Garland. She is such an inspiration.

If you want to take a look at the trip to the UAE through Lego Travel Buddy’s eyes, I created a book to share the experience that you can download here: Lego Travel Buddy visits the UAE

How We Created a Makerspace

This post is a cross-post from eSchool News published on March 20, 2018

[Editor’s note: Welcome to our new series, The New Librarian. In this series, we will be profiling innovative and award-winning library media specialists who will share their favorite tools, lessons, and advice. If you are or know a librarian we should include, send a note to eullman@eschoolmedia.com.]  

Here’s how one school transformed a traditional library into an IDEA Lab in only four months (but continues to grow every day!)

As an elementary educator for most of my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with a variety of learners—from inner-city students in North Carolina to university-level students in Chicago—but I found my true calling as the librarian at Hubbard Woods Elementary in Winnetka, Illinois. I’ve been called the “Willy Wonka of school librarians” because I transformed our traditional library into what I call an IDEA (Innovation, Design, Engineering, and Art) Lab complete with flexible furniture, robotics, engineering tools, iPads, laptops, and sewing machines.

To get started, I used my experience as a classroom educator to create a cross-curricular library curriculum that supports classroom teachers’ lessons, marrying the idea of books and bytes. Daily activities include robot bowling, using robots to paint pictures, and filming and producing music videos staring (you guessed it) robots!

For other districts that want to turn their libraries into IDEA labs, here are some insights into how we made it all happen.

4 steps to turning your space into a 21st-century library



My dream binder is full of awesome spaces like this one at Central School in Wilmette, IL. While I might not be able to physically recreate this in my library, the layout, color scheme and use of furniture can help inspire new ideas!

1. Create a dream binder.

In 2015, I received a lump sum of funding to help transform our traditional library into a flexible, collaborative makerspace. One of the conditions of the funding was that we needed to spend it in a certain amount of time, so we had four to five months to make some big decisions.


Luckily, when the PTO asked what I needed to create the space, I pulled out a three-ring binder of photos, drawings, and ideas I collected during my first few years as a librarian. I had been searching the Internet and library magazines for inspiration.

The binder was ready before we started, and that helped my PTO realize that my dream was a good dream and they wanted to support it. Using pictures of furniture and spaces was a great way for me to communicate my ideas and make them come to life.

This BEAUTIFUL Makerspace at Summit School is in Oconomowoc, WI.  We visited and had lunch with Wendy Harrop and her colleagues.  We learned so much from them as they reflected on their new space.

2. Ask a lot of questions—and really listen to the answers. 

During the process of building our makerspace, a group of parents and teachers visited schools all over Illinois, Wisconsin, and Colorado to see their spaces. We asked librarians and teachers thoughtful questions about which tools they liked the most and which ones they could live without.

At every school we visited, someone said, “If we could do something different, when we were first starting out we would not have gotten a 3D printer and instead put that $3,000 into XYZ.”

Because of that feedback, we didn’t put a lot of money into 3D printers until later on.

This was a fun collaboration with our Art teacher who was exploring Jackson Pollock with our students. We used Sphero to ‘paint’ our picture which now proudly hangs in our library!

3. Do all that you can to help educators see the cross-curricular value.

I love to incorporate coding and robotics into my library, and the kids love it too. One of my favorite tools to introduce our youngest students to the world of coding is KIBO by KinderLab Robotics. Students link wooden blocks to create code, then use the robot to scan the blocks and make it go. It’s a good, device-free way for students to learn about coding and robotics.

KIBO and MATH!  We coded KIBO to ‘bowl’ over the pins and we computed our totals using the tally mark skills we learned in class.

Part of my role is to help classroom educators see the cross-curricular value of coding and robotics. A big part of the first-grade curriculum is learning about our community. To support the classroom during library time, the students and I created a Lego city and used KIBO to navigate around to the major landmarks. Students thoroughly enjoyed the activity, and the classroom teacher saw the connection that robotics has to the curriculum.

Students love Rigamajig!  We use it to prototype creations and to explore

4. Incorporate digital and physical tools.

We have a wide variety of engineering tools and materials that I use alongside traditional robots to encourage students to prototype solutions to problems. One of my favorites is Rigamajig, a collection of wooden planks, wheels, and pulleys that connect easily with heavy-duty plastic wing nuts and bolts. The kids can prototype and build large things like cars, chairs, and benches quickly and easily. With the simple machine add-ons, we’ve been able to introduce complex concepts like cams, cogs, and pulleys in ways that kids can physically understand.

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We love our Janome 3128 Sewing Machines!  They are a workhorse!

Although some people think cardboard boxes and sewing machines are non-traditional makerspace tools, I strongly disagree. We believe in having students learn valuable skills and appreciate the process as much as the final product. To that end, we have emphasized both hand- and machine-sewing in our K–4 progression. It’s exciting to see them gain confidence and skill.

We have a massive Lego wall and tons of cardboard, cardboard tools, and hand tools. We know that saws and drills can hurt children, but why keep a good tool away from them when you can teach them how to use it safely and it makes the work easier?

One of my idols, Gever Tulley, said, “Children can build anything, and by building anything, learn anything.”

Our IDEA Lab is a balance of high- and low-tech tools that encourage students to explore learning in a whole new light. Hanging in our IDEA Lab is a giant light bulb that I found online from a thrift shop in Paris. It glows the words “IDEA Lab” in our space, which is symbolic of the passion kids have for learning about the world. I’m lucky that I get to have a space to help kids explore the things that will “light up” their own metaphorical light bulbs!


How Treating Custodians, Associates and Parents as Colleagues Can Impact Community

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have a conversation with our custodians about a project I’d like to make happen.  Sometimes I wonder if they avoid me because they know that I’m probably thinking about something that would require efforts above and beyond their daily work. Nonetheless, they greet me with big smiles and grateful hearts.  These folks are typically the first to arrive and the last to leave; often (and I’m not saying this is always the best approach) but it might be just ‘us’ at school early or late in the day.  It’s those times when I feel like I’ve learned the most from my colleagues.  I’ve taken the time to learn more about them and they’ve listened to stories about my family and my dreams for the Hubbard Woods School.  Both our ‘daytime’ and ‘nighttime’ custodians have their very own ways of interacting and communicating with the staff.  One is outgoing and incredibly gracious; the other is introverted and extremely observant, but hesitant to begin a conversation.  I can identify with both of them.

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My dad once said to me that you should treat the custodians in the school like you would the principal.  Actually, I think his reference was more along the lines of like the CEO; but he was a businessman.  A businessman who ended up at the top, but started at the very bottom.  He started sweeping up and loading packages at United Parcel Service.  By the end of his career, he was a Chief Maintenance Engineer for the ENTIRE midwest.  He was a hard worker, but he never lost touch with the folks who shined the floor and polished the brass.


I took that same approach with me into my first teaching job in a school in North Carolina.  I remember Mr. Fritz, our custodian.  He loved to chat.  He thought I was crazy, trying to find all sorts of ways to reach my students.  One of which included hanging ‘thought bubbles’ I had created with positive sentiments to encourage students to change the soundtrack in their minds.  There were many early mornings when he and I were the first in the building and we would chat over a cup of coffee.  I remember him once saying something along the lines that he enjoyed talking like ‘equals.’

That’s been a theme in my life.  I was a janitor for a wacky company in high school.  We cleaned all sorts of businesses and honestly I got into more trouble with my good friend in the packaging rooms of businesses than we did much cleaning.  The point is, I had experience at the ‘bottom.’  I never made it up the ‘ladder’ too far in that job but did eventually work for a temporary agency in college where I did everything from working in a shoe factory to a plastic bag plant.  Glamorous!  It did more to encourage me to complete my college degree than any counseling my guidance counselor offered.

At each and every one of the schools I’ve worked at, I’ve befriended the two most important people in the building: the custodian and the secretary.  Both have saved me numerous times.

Recently, I’ve added parents to this mix.  When the IDEA Lab began to take shape, I knew I needed help.  I invited parents and kids in to help paint, clean, organize and create the space.  When I was badly injured in a fire, they continued the work we’d started under the guidance and steerage of the custodial staff.  Again, they saved me!  Now, parents are a permanent fixture in the library and IDEA Lab.  They are welcome and present to help with just about all aspects of the learning and growing process.  They might be painting green walls one day and documenting learning the next.  I like to keep them on their toes!  The point is, they are there because they feel valued and part of the process.

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All of this is to say that treating all of these folks as colleagues have totally transformed the way I see school.  I’m no longer anxious about making a mistake in front of a parent.  I know it’s part of the learning process and what better way to model it than by making mistakes, lots of them.  It’s what we do with them that actually matter.


I do my very best to treat the other ‘team members’ as equals as well.  My technology and library associates know that I could do NONE of the crazy and amazing things we do without their COMPLETE patience and attention to detail.  They make it all look effortless; well, at least a bit more effortless than otherwise.  True observers know anything that ‘looks’ effortless is actually incredibly well orchestrated and practiced.

THANK YOU to all of you who have and will continue to help make learning exciting, engaging and limitless!