Stars in the Star

A Stage 2 student from our school will be published in the “Penrith City Star” newspaper next week: with a book review of the picture book, “The Terrible Plop” by Ursula Dubosarsky & Andrew Joyner! The student gets his photograph and book review published in the newspaper (and we put the review on our school library wiki). The newspaper uploades all six reviews to their website. Another student in the six is drawn from a barrel to win a $25 book voucher from a local bookshop (Dymocks this year). That student is also photographed with his certificate.

I coordinate the reviews each year as part of my fifth day (I’m a 0.8 teacher-librarian), as a 0.2 Priority Schools Funding literacy support teacher. The Penrith Star Readers Program was developed with the DET and local principals as an annual event, rotated amongst various primary schools, modeled on a similar program in St Marys – and it gives K-6 students a great opportunity to be professionally published.

A meeting of the Supermen? PRC 2010


Only a few days after hanging up the framed Premier’s Reading Challenge poster of our students in our new BER school library (our students were selected this year’s Challenge “poster kids”, below), and opening the library to its first timetabled week of visitors, I was off to represent us at the annual reception. This year, the PRC celebrated another successful year at the Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour.


My official job this year was to be the minder for football heroes, Mario Fenech and Hazem El Masri (that’s Hazem in the background of the first pic, behind those two handsome superheroes). Mario and Hazem had a great rapport with the students attending the event, and slipped in plenty of references to the value of reading, as each group wound its way through short, meet ‘n’ greet activities – with a host of popular children’s authors and illustrators, including Duncan Ball with Selby the Talking Dog (who stayed mute), and Kim Gamble sketching yet another “Tashi” masterpiece as we watched, gobsmacked.

Kim Gamble draws Tashi
Kim Gamble draws “Tashi”.

Snow White was also there, making balloon animals, and there was a very gregarious Superman, who, at the event’s close, did additional duties – as Selby’s minder and Grug’s wrangler!

Yes, Grug is back! Remember that shaggy caveman creature from the 1980s, in Ted Prior’s hugely popular little picture books? Well, Grug is back in print, and many of the younger students found their own little stuffed Grug in their goody bags (look out for them in bookstores this Christmas!) Several of the adults noticed, just before the Premier’s car was due, that a huge blue vinyl bag had arrived in the foyer. Normally, such an occurrence may have caused a security alert, but we were abuzz with “It’s Grug! Grug’s in that bag! What else is that shape like that? That’ll be Grug!” (Well, we had noticed his name on the guest list, which helped immensely.)

Grug undercover
Grug arrives undercover!

Grug uncovered
Grug unleased!

Selby has left the building
Selby unleashed!

PRC GoH Kristina Keneally
Premier of NSW, Kristina Keneally, spoke passionately about the joy of reading, and the many rewards that books can bring.

PRC GoH Andrew Daddo
Children’s author Andrew Daddo sums up. Boori “Monty” Pryor is in front of me!

Superman is asked to round up the overheated Grug and Selby.

Superman escorts

Grug has left the building
Grug has left the building!

Poster children!


I feel like a proud father. The students at my school, Penrith Public School, were asked (late last year) to be the “poster children” of this year’s NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge poster. The posters arrived today and they look fantastic! Not that I’m biased. Definitely one to get framed for our new BER school library when it’s built.

Meanwhile, a teacher-librarian colleague recommended this great Youtube video clip:

Ocoee Middle School’s “Gotta keep reading” Youtube song, based on a Black-Eyed Peas hit song.

Meeting a Challenge

We’ve deliberately made the annual Premier’s Reading Challenge (PRC) simpler to administer each year, as more and more students and teachers take up the Challenge.

Our first year, 2006, the teacher-librarian spent a lot of time providing booklets of titles for all students and teachers, parent information notes (very few came back), and little slips that parents also signed-off on for every book read, and we used them to record those titles as they were returned during borrowing sessions. Class teachers maintained paper records for each student, and the T-L did all the data entry. The K-2 (Red) books were placed on a special stand. All PRC levels were labelled with Syba Signs spine stickers. A huge amount of work, but 209 students out of about 400 completed the Challenge. We did note that, for many students, the PRC gave them a buzz about reading, so we considered it all worth the trouble.

In 2007, I returned to a T-L position and we made the parental note an “opt out by signing” form (we already knew that one existing family would be taking that option). The students filled in their own paper records. (No need for the weekly parent slips; either the student is honest about reading the books or they’re not. If anything, the students are going to be more honest than some gung-ho parents.) As T-L, I did all the data entry. 313 students out of about 400 completed the Challenge.

In 2008, the parental note was an “opt out by signing” message in the school newsletter, and the students still filled in their own paper records. I did some of the data entry, but my new clerical is much faster at it, so she helped me whizz through them in no time. I did show students that “soon” they’d be able to access their own records online. Since most of the time they’re reading they are nowhere near a computer, the paper records are still very useful. One of my parent helpers misunderstook my instruction and pulled every PRC book off the regular shelves. I decided, rather than reshelve them in secret, that I’d create a “Green” and “Purple” PRC section of the library. This worked surprisingly well, and will work even better when OASIS locations match properly in OASIS Enquiry. 329 students out of 410 completed the Challenge, and three students, who’d started PRC at previous schools, received their Gold Certificate from our State Government representative!

In 2009, the “Green and purple” PRC section of the library now has a comfy purple couch against a green wall, as part of our ongoing library makeover. I’ve still made hardcopy student booklets of titles; the paper for doing this is part of our Priority Schools Program (PSP) funding, with the Challenge an intrinsic part of the school’s literacy programs. I’m hoping the students will enter their own books online this year, and I’ll only have to do the K-2 classes (copied records from each teacher’s master list) and acknowledge the 3-6 entries online. We have many students aiming for their gold certificate in our fourth year of running the Challenge here. Again, the PRC still gives most of the students a buzz about reading, so we consider it all worth the trouble. We are aiming at 100% participation this year.

Library nooks – updates!

It’s time to update my post on reorganising my library nooks, one for Premier’s Reading Challenge (PRC) titles – needing a comfy couch – and another for highlighting new titles – requiring some bright signage!

I finally cajoled a friend with a truck to bring my spare two-seater couch from my front veranda (at home), and then I bought a box of purple Dylon dye to change the colour of an old navy blue and beige lounge throw-over. (In fact, I dyed two matching covers, so I could have cushion covers made for the seating area, since the cover itself often slides off when people slump into the couch.)

Why purple? Well, I still didn’t know what colour to make our main wall, but the library owns an original Kim Gamble artwork in gorgeous pastels, and the professional mounting and frame are mauve and purple, so it was important to decorate around this feature.

The dye job worked perfectly. On the way home from the city the other night, I found this wonderful Tigger cushion for $15, marked down from $30 (and with a $45 price tag underneath):

PRC nook

I’m thrilled with the way the couch has turned out! The colour match the picture frame perfectly. Now our Stage 2 and Stage 3 PRC titles are with easy grasp of a relaxing place to browse them.

Meanwhile, I spent the school holidays painting and lacquering some more MDF letters to identify the “NEW” titles (in yellow), and the library’s pink “J” (“Junior”) and green “F” (“Fiction”) sections. The left and right “rocket” arrows are actually wooden doorknob hanger signs, templates intended for craft projects. I used old dustjackets to find appropriate book characters to “drive” the rockets, appearing in the hole normally filled by a doorknob.

reno nook for new books

Scattered across the “NEW” titles’ shelves are some die-cut “It’s new” signs. $4 for a packet of ten. My reasoning is that “NEW” shelves are often quickly denuded, so at least the signage will keep the area colourful until the shelves can be restocked.

Reinventing library nooks

For many years, my teacher-librarian predecessor and her clerical staff pondered over a better location for the “New Books” nook in our portable school library, but there really never seemed to be anywhere else that suggested itself. The existing corner is/was close to the main entrance, but too far from the Circulation Desk. It was also quite hidden by a bulky, free-standing, double-sided stand of shelving, currently chock full of Premier’s Reading Challenge (PRC) titles for the Stage 2 and Stage 3 students.

There was one viable alternative location, perhaps: outside the office (and Teacher Reference), but the adjacent exit door is one rarely used by students, and the sloping display shelves outside that room seemed more suited to showcasing new Teacher Reference resources.

The most frustrating thing with the old “New Books” section, at least as it occurred to me over the past two years, has been that the Early Stage 1 and Stage 1 students rarely ventured into “New Books” territory, despite many of these new books being gorgeous, new picture books, displayed cover out, and obviously aimed at their reading levels. Too often, newly acquired and processed titles in “New Books” have remainedin pristine condition weeks, sometimes months, after our volunteer covering parent placed them there, because they weren’t being touched! I’m sure there’s nothing worse than dusting “New Books” additions! Ideally, these beautiful, inviting books should have been leaping off the shelves, being wanded at the Circulation Desk, and into students’ library borrowing bags to leave room for the next batch of new books.


PRC, audio and new books nook
Before: The crowded old nook, trying (and failing) to focus on the PRC books, AND new books AND a listening post area, all at the same time. Icky clutter – and an OH&S trip hazard to boot! All paper signs on the window were removed on Day 1 of my renovations, of course.

PRC nook underway
Underway: The PRC nook awaits the arrival of a couch, some PRC books to go on display, and some new signage, of course. The coloured papers at left belong to a class Book Week display, plus a few library-themed famous quotations. Earmarked for removal/rethink.

Nook ready
Continuing: Shelves and display of books in place.

A few months ago, in a somewhat desperate attempt to bring a little more drawing power to the “New Books” corner, I introduced the listening post set, which was obtained free via bonus coupons from Scholastic Book Clubs. Well, it sounded like a wonderful idea! Moving some of the new titles aside, I showcased some (hardly used) audio books and music, on CD and audiocassette, from Teacher Reference. As there wasn’t really room for more than four bench seats in the nook, I plugged in only four of the eight headphone sets.

While moderately popular, the listening post has caused its own share of niggly problems, mainly concerned with students tripping over the leads (or tangling them all together), as they left the area at the end of lunchtime.

Last Friday afternoon, I had an epiphany! The solution to the display and OH&S concerns! I hope.

I began preparing a new area for “New Books” and the listening post set… between Fiction and Easy Fiction. This new area is equidistant from both main doors, essentially in the centre of the library. (Moving many of the sloping display shelves from the Stage 2 & 3 PRC area also means that there’ll be room left for a small comfy couch and cushions – an attractive retreat for ready PRC books at lunch breaks? I already even have a free couch on standby. It’s been on my front veranda at home since last January, while I pondered if I’d ever locate the exact, best place for it. I’ve even had two cute cushion covers to go on it, waiting in their original packing, since Easter!)

Fiction shelving
Before: Easy Fiction blurs into Fiction, distinguished only by tiny, alphabetised, shelf labels in pink or green, plus handmade lettering in little perspex picture frames.

Fiction shelving reno
Underway: The goal was to have some front-facing books separating the two areas! New signage to come!

Spines-out “Easy fiction” was shunted to the left, “Fiction” was shunted to the right, leaving a new, clear space to add some sloping shelves (cannibalised from a free-standing magazine rack that was never used. The regular shelves were then placed on the magazine rack. Now the PRC section can be expanded to fit the space.) There’s certainly lots more “face out” fiction on display now.

Fiction nook
Before: Another angle on the cramped Fiction sections.

New books and audio nook underway
Underway: A similar angle on the revamped Fiction section, now boasting heaps of “New Books” display space. Even the cat and dog library beanbags look happier! New signage to come.

And the answer to the question you’ve perhaps been mulling over?

Total cost of this renovation: Nil. (So far.)

An update to both of these nooks has been posted!

Bookmark my words

I was up and out of the house before 7.00am this morning, and did a detour past school, to drop off messages for my casual teacher replacement, so I could attend the Premier’s Reading Challenge presentation ceremony, an annual event.

This year, a new venue, Riverside Theatres at Parramatta, and a new Premier of NSW, Nathan Rees. Once again, we had glorious weather, and the lucky groups of students who were invited to attend had a great time rotating around various activity stands, meeting lots of Australian authors and the newly announced PRC “ambassadors”.

They tried something a bit different this year. Nathan Rees participated in a reading of a rollicking poem from Norman Lindsay’s “The magic pudding”, and Peter FitzSimons led a short panel discussion about favourite books. The student participants were so eloquent.

I was assigned to be minder/chaperone for author Frances Watts – a huge honour, since I’m a great admirer of the book she did with illustrator, David Legge: “Parsley Rabbit’s book about books”. Between denials to hopeful school students, many of whom assumed that I was David Legge (who at home trying to meet a deadline on their third book together), I was able to swap anecdotes with Frances about how her book is used in schools. She mentioned that many years of observing teacher-librarians introduce new books gave her the inspiration for the book.

What a coincidence that I wore my black and silver Superman jacket today; Frances was giving out bookmarks for her book, “Extraordinary Ernie & Marvellous Maud”, the story of two unlikely young superheroes. And, yes, the bookmark even has its own secret identity! Flip it over and make your own superhero domino mask!