Book Review: Free Verse

Free Verse by Sarah Dooley

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Published by G. P. Putnam and sons in 2016

Sasha has experienced more loss than most 8th graders should. Her mother left her years ago. She and her brother were raised by their father, Ben until a mining accident claimed his life. Then her brother puts off college to raise her until he his killed fighting a fire in a bakery. She is moved in to foster care with a lady named Phyllis. Phyllis is patient as Sasha is dealing with all her trauma. Then Sasha discovers that a cousin of her’s is Phyllis’ neighbor. She befriends the cousin’s son, Mikey.

School is a challenge. Meeting with the guidance councelor, having the school bully watch a meltdown, getting invited to join poetry club (which happens to be run by the school bully), and making a friend on the bus.

Since this book is called “free verse” it would be a let down for it not to have poetry in it. The third section is told in poetry as Sasha explores different formats. She also uses it as a coping mechanism when trauma makes speaking too much to bear. These poems are beautiful and move the story along smoothly.

Sasha has a tendancy to run. When an accident causes them to no know if Mikey’s dad is alive or dead, she decides to take Mikey with her. She gets a few towns over, until she’s picked up by the cops, but Mikey stays on the run. Will Mikey be found? Will Sasha have a family that will stay?

This book does a good job of being realistic and making each character 3 dimensional. They are responsive to trauma in their situations. Almost everyone that Sasha gets to know has a backstory and a reason/motivation for their actions. In this polarizing time, this book does a good job of imaging a part of the country complexly without being patronizing or focused on a handful of issues. Mining accidents are mentioned multiple time in this book, but Sasha points out that miners are people with lives outside of work. They are parents, artists, adventurers, and many other things. Huebert, Sasha’s cousin mentions the “smarts” that are necessary to work the incredibly delicate/dangerous machinery involved in mining.

FTC disclosure. I recieved this book from the publisher, I recieved no monetary compensation for this review.


“Wake me…Before you go running off again…just wake me. Then if you run, I’ll run with you.” (p. 69)

“It’s like haiku opened a door inside me that I’m trying with all my might to shove closed again.” (p. 98)

“You can’t understand what makes a good story if you’ve never starred in one, or at least been a particularly memorable (sometimes tragic) supporting character.” (p. 258)

“I’m secretly awful.” (p. 264)


Book Review: The Girl in the Well is Me

The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers


Published by Scholastic in 2016.

Kammie is new in town, attempting to fit in. She tried to be accepted by The Girls, a group of popular kids. After they convince her to cut her hair, she sings for them on a rotting wooden cover over a well. She falls through and is now stuck in the well. The Girls don’t seem to be moving to quickly to get help.

As her situation goes on, she is forced to reflect on why she has to be in Nowheresville, Texas. Her father embezzled from a charity, and is in jail. She is forced to face the fallout that her father caused her. Wondering if anyone would care enough to come find her, she is guided by hallucinations to help her cope.

This story is incredibly layered and beautiful! Middle grade readers will enjoy this!


“We left a lot of things behind, but not enough. It turns out you cna’t get away from yourself. The museum of you is inside you.” (p. 180)

VR App Review: Random 42

We were lucky enough to get a set of Virtual Reality Headsets and a set of ipods. Now that the ipods are imaged, we’ve begun our foray into education VR.

Our first lesson was an introduction to cells with a learning support science class using Random 42. Students watched the simulation, and we discussed what we saw.

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The Random 42 app is designed for medical professionals, so educators can only access the free demo, but the demo is visually stunning with excellent narration. The demo goes through several situations that are easy to connect to the PA Core standards (we talked about the fact that everything is made of cells, organelles, cells reproduction). We were able to have a great discussion on concepts that are abstract in a method that is concrete.

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From a technical standpoint, this app is not webbased, so it will work even if they wifi is being cranky. If you are going to start with a VR app, I would recommend this one because it is less likely to have technical issues and will wow students and teachers alike.

I understand that this is geared toward the medical community, but I hope that they will expand into education because they have such a solid, beautiful product.




Book Review: Pilfer Academy

Pilfer Academy by Lauren Magaziner


Published by Penguin Young Readers Group in 2016

George comes from a big family, so he tends to get into mischief. This mischievous streak gets him noticed by Pilfer Academy. Now, most academies may send acceptance letters to their students…not Pilfer Academy. Pilfer Academy is a school for thieves, so they steal all of their students. George is lured in by an ice cream truck and winds up at a school where the teachers seem like bumbling goofs and everyone is willing to sabotage each other. He befriends Tabitha and she guides him through all the quirks of Pilfer Academy.

The story is fun and fast paced, with interesting characters. George and Tabitha are loyal, likable characters. The teachers care, but they sometimes seem odd. One teacher messes up words when he gets excited. Although it was an entertaining read, it didn’t feel like an original concept.


Reflection on Part 3 of ILEAD USA

Last week we wrapped up ILEAD USA, which is a 9 month leadership/mentoring experience for librarians. This session provided technology training, but also gave us the chance to present our projects and appreciate each other’s hard work.

This experience was unlike any other that I’ve been involved with. I am so involved in the school library/education world, that I become unaware of what is going on in public, special, and academic spheres. While we have many similar issues, we also have different problems and approaches to those situations. It also helps us realize what resources are available at these other institutions and how to prepare our students to use public and academic libraries.



Our group presenting

In addition to presenting our projects, we had several techology workshops. Topics included Google Fusion Tables, Google Analytics, Marketing your library program and several other topics.

This program took me out of my building for several days, which makes many people wonder if it is worth it. It takes a lot of effort and anxiety to develop sub plans and be out of the library, but the in depth trainings that this experience provided not only got me out of my comfort zone, but forced me to reflect on my program and think about how I can develop a future ready library. Professional devlopment helps take our programs to the next level, but only if it’s worthwhile. ILEADUSA was in depth and incredibly worthwhile, and I would recommend it to folks who are looking for a fresh perspective.

Libraries are complicated places that fill many roles, depending on the community need. For me this means that I am always looking for collaboration resources, technology, information literacy resources, ways to foster intrinsic motivation for learning, and ways to promote a love of reading. Doing programs like this force me to assess my program and think of ways to keep moving it forward.

Our project was based on information literacy. Our resources can be found at and our youtube videos can be found at More resources will be posted as the year goes by.

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Our ILEAD Team with Glenn Miller, Acting Secretary/Commisionner for Libraries. Team members include Ellen Stolarski (St Marys Area Middle School,  Peggy Tseng (Frank Sarris Public Library),  Bryan McGeary (Ohio University),  Angela Hegadorn (Newtown Public Library), and Lauren Pfendner (Indian Valley Public Library).  Not pictured: Group Mentor, Barb Zaborowski (Pennsylvania Highlands Community College)

Alien Invasion! Using STEM programming as teambuilding

One activity that I have had so much fun with is my “alien invasion activity.”This activity could be done with any STEM challenge, it’s more focused on teambuilding and communication

“Knowing your strengths”

Students are put into groups and told to assess their strengths, they can choose to be tactile (good with fixing things) or verbal (good at explaining). The group should be half tactile and half verbal.

<cue plot twist>

The aliens are not friendly. If you want them to leave you alone, you must fix their spaceship…but the verbal people cannot speak, and the tactile people cannot touch.

Fixing the Spaceship

Each student gets a manila folder with a spaceship outline, a battery, 2 wires with the ends stripped, tin foil, a Christmas light bulb, and electrical tape. They have to make a circuit that goes around the perimeter of the spaceship and gets the bulb to light.


The finished product!

In Reflection

Using your weakness can be difficult, but it’s something we have to do in life. Not only does this activity teach about circuits, conductors and insulators, but encourages students to grow as a learner.

Silent STEM!

One of my favorite activities involves everyone ending at different times. Instead of having students do busy work, one option I use is “silent STEM.” I have supplies in baggies and students are given an end result instead of directions.

This edition of “Silent STEM” involved baggies of Little Bits. We had the bits to make a flashlight. The students had the option of using a supply table if they needed more parts (to make the outside of the flashlight).

I loved that everyone’s results were slightly different, and it gave students another chance to be hands on without distracting from the first activity of the period.