Readers' Book Bin

Book reviews, library topics, author interviews

New Modern Classics

  • April 21, 2013 1:25 pm

I came across this article by Jessica Scott of Random House Canada via a Twitter and it totally captured my attention.

Unsurprisingly, we talk about books a lot at our office. Books we are reading now, books we can’t wait to read, books we would never read and of course, our favourite books. (Jessica Scott)

Seriously, what a terrific place to work, talking about books, letting authors know they’ve been published! Sigh!

What actually captured my real life attention, not my day dream life, was what Jessica said about modern modern post 2000 books being around for the next 100 years. It got me thinking what would be my picks.

Picture Book: Pete the Cat: I Love My New Shoes – Eric Litwin






Children’s Novel: Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowlings






YA Novel: The Book Thief – Markus Zusak







Adult Novel: The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger







Adult Non-Fiction: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver

What would your picks be?






A Journey From Library to Learning Commons: Step Two

  • April 21, 2013 12:26 pm

The Thinker

When is it time to make the transition from ‘library’ to ‘learning commons’?

Our mindset (Step One) was changed, we were revved up and ready to go! We (my library clerk and I) brainstormed what vision we had for this learning commons space. The current ‘library’ space is being used for inquiry research. It has a strong academic focus. The current ‘library’ space is also being used for reading as our school has a very strong culture of reading for pleasure. The current ‘library’ space is also being used for technology exploration and socializing. It is open most recesses for students and is open all day long for classes, prep teaching, book exchanges and collaborative inquiry-based projects.

Our brainstorming revealed that we inherently understood what we are using the space for and the ways in which we would like to enhance its current use was to incorporate models, kits, Lego and technology along side the existing library holdings to support the curriculum and both the academic and pleasure reading cultures. But in order to accommodate these ideas we needed to look at how they would be utilized by students and staff and that discussion lead looking at the physical space in our library, and that became a very animated and excited discussion!

My clerk and I looked at how we could re-paint, re-carpet  decorate and  re-arrange our library. We found the colours we loved from an international school library, we found the area carpet for the reading centre we wanted and we began to add stuffed toys from the pictures books that were the most popular. Fly Guy, Llama, Llama, Harry Maclary, Pete the Cat graced the tops of our books shelves woven in between the books and delighted the primary students. Our Parent Advisory Committee purchased $3000 of Mity-Builld wave tables for us. We were on our way! Great things were beginning to happen. The Principal told us were were on the list to be re-painted and re-carpeted that summer (2012). Wonderful! But it ended up that this work was delayed a year and this delay was a blessing in disguise although we did not know it at the time.

The following September we realized very quickly that we needed more physical space in order to create the interactive space we were looking for. In order to create more physical space we would have to open up the floor area that is currently full of bookshelves. We measured shelf lengths and walls and realized that there were too many shelves and not enough wall space. Our solution was to look at the collection and see what was weeded and when it was last weeded. The non-fiction section was looked at hard and a run of books not used in 7 years was looked at and the weeding began. When we finished we still could not remove any more shelves and we could not weed any more books. We were stalled and we were discouraged again! How could we change the physical space to accommodate the interactive space we were trying to create? The discouragement was a second blessing in disguise – it created wait time for reflection.

Looking back, what would have happened had we continued to move ahead without taking the necessary time for reflection is that the transition from library to learning commons would have happened but not as it should have happened. There were too many things that we had not taken the time to think about.

We had not taken the time to reflect on the idea of space. What is space? How is space used? How does how we use that space affect those using our library? Would the colours we chose work with the tables, book covers and carpet? How would those colours affect students in our school with autism and other issues? How would those colours affect any learning that needed to happen in this interactive space? Who else on staff had we consulted about this other than our principal? Had we collaborated with the staff or students? No. Had we taken time to reflect on these questions? No. Painting, replacing carpet and adding mobile computers and labelling this ‘learning commons’ would not make it so…a name would NOT create the ‘place’ we were looking for.

Thank goodness for the delays in our plans! Taking time for reflection, deep reflective thinking is essential to the transition from traditional library to learning commons. We have since sorted out our physical space issues, but they remain on hold for anywhere from 12 – 24 months. This has allowed time to address the questions we had not thought about. It is providing time to research colour choice, invite collaboration from both staff and students, to look at issues of storage space and the vision of our new ‘space’. It is also given time to encourage and develop deeper collaboration between me, the teacher-librarian, and the classroom teachers in creating inquiry projects and discovering how we can work together in a more meaningful and deeper way.

Step Two: Take at least 12 months for deep reflection on the practices in your current library.

Have you considered taking time for this type of reflection before you make the transition from a traditional library to a learning commons?

A Journey From Library to Learning Commons: Step One

  • April 14, 2013 12:43 pm

tradition library

Our elementary school is undergoing a shift; from a traditional library to a Learning Commons. This is not an easy transition for some as it requires a mental shift that involves a changing what one thinks a ‘library’ is and what users need today as opposed to what they needed yesterday.

A Traditional Library

I remember my elementary school library and my public library from when I was young. It was a wonderful, exciting place that housed books. It was the centre of knowledge and the librarian was the keeper of that knowledge.

Remember the card catalogue!

The physical space was quiet, that was a rule. It had rows and rows of books shelves that I learned were called stacks. It had a large reference section with encyclopedias and other interesting books about ‘hard’ subjects that users were not allowed to take out of the library. It had some tables and chairs for people to work at quietly. You moved about carefully and quietly and did not disturb others. If you needed to find a book, you used the card catalogue. If you couldn’t find the book in the card catalogue you asked the librarian, in quiet, hushed tones. There was a library card to sign out books and there was a book pocket with a card in it as part of that sign out process. A due date slip replaced the sign out card when the book was checked out. You went to the library to gather knowledge. It is a wonderful, nostalgic memory. A memory of a space and time that is no more. I miss this space and time. I miss absolutely everything about it, including my incredible public librarian. This is a part of my childhood and those childhood memories play an important part in my psyche. I would venture to say, they play just as an important part of yours as well, especially if you are a reader, a teacher, teacher-librarian or public librarian. There is a old Chinese proverb that says:

Well we are now in that “other time” and our children are not learning in the same manner as we did. The Internet and computer technology have changed the face of how people learn. Now it is time for libraries and librarians to make the huge shift in mindset to the 21st Century and out of the past. This involves a transformation of the library space that is physical, virtual and pedagogical changes in how we teach.  It is difficult for many, especially those with fixed mindsets (Dweck, 2008) who find change very difficult. Not everyone is ready to make this change, nor has everyone been supported to make this transition.

What is a Learning Commons?

 The term “Learning Commons” is apparently rooted in long-standing academic tradition,

“According to Bennett (2003), the idea behind the Learning Commons comes from a long tradition of the use of Common Rooms in higher education. Common Rooms were used as meeting rooms by the academic community where one could informally dialogue and debate about issues. This idea supports the notion that learning also takes place in social and networking situations, which is one of the founding principles of the Learning Commons design.” (Celsus: A Library Architecture Resource – The Learning Commons)

Loertscher, Koechlin & Rosenfeld (2012) define the learning commons as “a common, or shared, learning ‘space’ that is both physical and virtual…it is designed to move students beyond mere research, practice and group work …” (1) to allow students to explore, experiment, collaborate, create, share and celebrate their learning. It is a space that takes learning into the 21st Century. There are still books, plenty of those, but added in is the digital age. Along side our books are e-books, databases, social media, mobile devices and computers. Students are using print resources as well as digital resources in their learning. They are creating and sharing their knowledge using social media and other Web 2.0 tools and they are celebrating that learning with their classmate and peers around the world. No longer is the library a quiet, shushed place. It is, as Joyce Valenza, says, “The kitchen of the school”. A place where teachers and teacher-librarians collaborate to create inquiry-based units that transform what Loertchester, Koechlin and Zwaan describe as “bird units” where, in the past, teachers have provided all the sub-topics, questions and resources to the students who just regurgitate the information back on the paper. It is a place for  the integration of technology, experimentation with that technology and a space that is ‘owned’ by teachers and students alike because they have been given the opportunity to collaborate on what this space should look like and now have a vested interest in it. “If they build it they will use it.”

What does learning commons look like?

This shift in mindset brings about questions:

Is it necessary to change the physical space to create a Learning Commons and how does one do that?
How does the role of the Teacher-Librarian change in the Learning Commons model?                                                                        Where does one start when making the transition? (ASLC: What is a Learning Commons anyway?)

Work Cited & Photo Credits:

Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Bennett, S. (2003), “Libraries designed for learning”, Council on Library and Information Resources, Washington, DC, available

Loertscher, D., Koechlin, C., Rosenfeld, E. (2012). The Virtual Learning Commons. Salt Lake City: Learning Commons Press.

Loertscher, D. Koechlin, C., Zwaan, S. (2011). Beyond Bird Units. Refresh Ed. Salt Lake City: Hi Willow Research & Publishing.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

  • October 30, 2012 6:47 pm

This is the first steampunk genre book I’ve read. I am a fan of Scott Westerfeld’s work and the copies of this series have not exactly been flying off my Grade 7 Only Shelf and I was curious as to why so I read the book.  I loved this book and will have to book talk it up to the students to get them interested.

The story is an alternative version of WW1 and it is a form of sci-fi.  Steampunk “reinvents sci-fi through a fantasy of the technological past with a 19th Century take on high technology - gadgets, gauges and goggles” (NY Times, Sunday Book Review, Nov 2009).  It also uses vintage slang that is appropriate to this time period. The slang took me by surprise and I had to think about a few of the words to figure out the meaning!

The book begins with the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which really started WW1. Upon the death of the Archduke and his wife his son, Aleksander, becomes potential heir to the Austro-Hungrian Empire. This is a fictional character as the real Franz Ferdinand had three children and none of them would inherit the throne as their mother has ‘common’ blood thus making her children unable to rule the country. Westerfeld keeps that part of the Ferdinand history in his book and Aleksander is also not suppose to be able to inherit the throne except that before his death, Franz Ferdinand plays some sneaky politics to circumvent this and so Alek becomes the next legitimate heir to the throne after the Emperor dies.

The world’s mighty empires begin to take sides; the Darwinists (British and their allies) and the Clankers (Germany and its allies). The war begins only it is not fought with tanks, machine guns and mustard gas in trenches. It is fought between the Darwinist’s genetically engineered mutant animals and the Clanker’s steam powered multi-legged machines (kinda like Star Wars), zeppelins and airplanes.

We are introduced to a very different set of cultures than the ones that really fought during WW1. Westerfeld creates two opposing cultures and introduces us to two strong, moral characters and one is a girl which is great to find in good YA literature!  On the Darwinist side we have a young Scottish girl, Deryn Sharp, who joins the British Airforce by pretending to be a boy named Dylan Sharp.  I thoroughly enjoyed this female character:

Deryn had always reckoned herself a tomboy, between Jaspert’s bullying and Da’s balloon training. But running with the other middies was more than just punch-ups and tying knots – it was like joining a pack of dogs. They jostled and banged for the best seats at the middies’ mess table. They taunted each other over signal reading and navigation scores, and whom the officers had complimented that day. They endlessly competed to see who could spit farther, drink rum faster, or belch the loudest. 

It was bloody exhausting, being a boy. (Westfeld, 102-103)

Well it may have been ‘bloody exhausting being a boy’ she does it with great gusto through-out the entire story and no one knows any different. Along with this character comes the bioengineered creatures which Westerfeld gives fantastic descriptions of:

“The Leviathan’s body was made from the life threads of a whale, but a hundred other species were tangled into its design, countless creatures fitting to­gether like the gears of a stopwatch. Flocks of fabricated birds swarmed around it-scouts, fighters, and predators to gather food. Deryn saw message lizards and other beasties scampering across its skin.

. . . The motivator engines changed pitch, nudging the creature’s nose up. The airbeast obeyed, cilia along its flanks undulating like a sea of grass in the wind — a host of tiny oars rowing backward, slowing the Leviathan almost to a halt. The huge shape drifted slowly overhead, blotting out the sky.” (Westerfeld, 69 & 71)


The book is enhanced by illustrations provided by Keith Thompson whose black and white images create a real steampunk feel to the novel.

Over on the Clanker side we have Aleksander Hapsburg, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Alek pulled himself up from the blanket, squinting through the darkness…”Where are we?” Alek said, trying to use the steely tone of command his father had taught him…

“All right, Bauer,” he [Alek] said in  a calm, even voice. “I’m ordering you to let me go. I can drop out the belly hatch while we’re still moving. You can follow and help me get home. I’ll make sure my father rewards you. You’ll be a hero, instead of a traitor.” (41-42)

“Two weeks ago Alek would have found the contraption fascinating, but now the jittering toy seemed childish. And it was insufferable that this commoner was calling him boy.” (121)

And the Clanker machines, a Cyklop Stormwalker:

It stood taller  than the stables roof, its two metal feet sunk deep into the soil of the riding paddock…it was a real engine of war, a Cyklop Stormwalker. A cannon was mounted in its belly, and the stubby noses of two Spandau machine guns sprouted from its head, which was as big as a smokestack. (8)


Some things that I did not like about this book though were the vintage slang, which I found annoying at times, “barking spiders” and “bum-rag” just seemed like weird phrases that leapt off the page and bugged me, could be just me though.  I also am not very mechanically minded and so creating the images of the machines both the bioengineered ones and the steam ones was a huge challenge and those descriptions remained nothing more than words for me. I could not translate the words to images as I normally do when I read. Now having said that, I really enjoyed the story itself and kept thinking about it and what was happening next when I wasn’t reading it.  So that would indicate to me that this is a darn good book!

There are two other books remaining in this trilogy: Behemoth and Goliath.

Scott Westerfeld’s official website 

Keith Thompson’s official website


Mortal Engines by Philip Reeves

  • September 9, 2012 3:07 pm

After my initial foray into the genre of Steampunk with Leviathan, my curiosity was peaked. I visited The Ranting Dragon on my iPhone where I discovered a post introducing readers to the genre of steampunk.  It listed twenty ‘must reads’ so holding the iPhone in one hand I scoured the library shelves for the titles listed.  I happen to be in a branch library, not our city’s main library so the only title I could find was Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engines. Lucky me, it was a fantastic read!

The first thing that grabbed my attention as I began to read was that “it’s a town eat town world, out there in the Great Hunting Ground”! Town eat town world??? How do you eat a town?  Are there cannibals in this book?  Definitely NOT going in my library if there is!  Well, there was no cannibalism, but I did have to understand “Municipal Darwinism” for this book. This is what I learned:

The little town was so close that he could see the ant-like shapes of people running about on its upper tiers. How frightened they must be, with London bearing down on them and nowhere to hide! But he knew he mustn’t feel sorry for them: it was natural that cities ate towns, just as the towns ate smaller towns, and smaller towns snapped up the miserable static settlements. That was Municipal Darwinism, and it was the way the world had worked for a thousand years, ever since the great engineer Nikolas Quirke had turned London into the first Traction City. “London! London!” he shouted, adding his voice to the cheers and shouts of everybody else on the platform, and a moment later they were rewarded by the sight of one of Salthook’s wheels breaking loose. The town slewed to a halt, smokestacks snapping off and crashing down into the panicked streets, and then London’s lower tiers blocked it from view and Tom felt the deck-plates shiver as the city’s huge hydraulic Jaws came slamming shut.

Welcome to Municipal Darwinism!  

Also, I especially enjoyed the characters that Reeves created as they developed with the theme of the book: good vs evil; trust & loyalty  & moral ethics.  The female characters, both Katherine and Hester were very strong and I liked that.  The male characters, Tom and Bevus were very moral and very loyal. I also liked the fact that Katherine is ‘beautiful’ and Hester who was beautiful but horribly scarred:

A terrible scar ran down her face from forehead to jaw, making it look like a portrait that had been furiously crossed out. Her mouth was wrenched sideways in a permanent sneer, her nose was a smashed stump and her single eye…

Yet Tom finds her beautiful. I liked this, gives the kids something to think about.

The setting is a futuristic London that is stuck together, piecemeal by bits and pieces of Old-Tech, technology from the past. The society is still appears to be like Victorian England and very class based. There are Guilds. The two predominate Guilds in the story are the Historians and the Engineers. (Very cute, the arts vs science).



Image from:

The story begins when Valentine, a historian and explorer returns to London with a piece of Old-Tech machinery called MEDUSA. In order to procure this ancient piece of techno-junk he kills the parents of Hester Shaw. Hester survives Valentine’s onslaught, but barely as the description above demonstrates. She is hell-bent on revenge. 

This is a story of Hester’s revenge, Katherine’s (she is Valentine’s daughter) & Bevus’s journey in moral ethics, Valentine’s awakening and Tom’s love. It was a terrific story that I couldn’t put down. I found it a wonderful collection of technology, old world values, interesting characters and an action-packed plot.

I now know why this book is considered to be a steampunk classic!

Rating: 5 stars!

Great Finds on Twitter

  • August 17, 2012 11:57 am

I have to say I LOVE Twitter! Since completing my teacher-librarian certificate at the University of British Columbia I now have time to haunt Twitter again.  I have been out of the loop for almost a year and it feels like it too!  Catching up has been interesting!

Quill & Quire has podcasts on their Quillcast site with various Canadian authors/publishers here.  I found this wonderful! Where have I been for the past year? ShelfLife (HarperCollins)has an interview with Lorien elder Pittacus Lore for the upcoming 3rd installment of the I Am Number Four series for teens.  

Quill & Quire are at it again to tell about a new Canadian literary magazine: Little Brother.

From HarperCollins Children’s Books – a sneak peak at a new Pete the Cat, Rockin’ in my School Shoes.    I love cat stories!

The best for last; from HarperCollins because it made my day; ”A Nine Year Old Tells Us How to Raise Cats“.


If you don’t have a Twitter account – you need to get one.



The Alchemyst – Michael Scott

  • August 9, 2012 2:00 pm

Oh, but I love a great fantasy book and right next to Harry Potter and Fabelhaven, is The Alchemyst by Michael Scott. Just like with the Harry Potter books I could not stop reading this book and cannot wait to read the rest of the series!

The truth: Nicholas Flamel was born in Paris on September 28, 1330, Nearly seven hundred years later, he is acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of his day. It is said that he discovered the secret to eternal life.

The records show he died in 1418.

But his tomb is empty.

The legend: Nicholas Flamel lives. But only because he has been making the elixir of life for centuries. The secret of eternal life is hidden within the book he protects – the Book of Abraham the Mage. It’s the most powerful book that has ever existed. In the wrong hands, it will destroy the world…Sometimes legends are true.

OK, so like the Harry Potter books I was had by the end of the first page. I was reading this book while fishing on a major British Columbia river and could have cared less if a spring salmon ran off with my rod and tackle…just don’t interrupt my reading! While this story doesn’t have Hogwarts and the school of wizardry which really made the Harry Potter series unique in the fantasy genre, this one has a fantastic Celtic mythology bent to it that I loved as much as I loved Hogwarts.

Plot Summary: (wikipedia,

Sophie and Josh Newman are 15 year-old twins who are working at their summer jobs in San Francisco when a mysterious man, John Dee, comes into Josh’s workplace for a book, the Codex – or Book of Abraham the Mage. Sophie and Josh witness Nick and Perry, the book store’s owners, using magic. They discover that Nick is not an ordinary bookseller, but is the medieval alchemyst, Nicholas Flamel, being kept alive by making the elixir of life (a secret from the Codex) for him and his wife, Perry (Perenelle). Dee also uses magic and takes the Codex by force while Josh is holding it – resulting in two pages being left behind. Both Flamels need the Codex to make the elixir of life, or they will age rapidly and die within a month. Also, if they do not retrieve the Codex, Dee will summon the Dark Elders to destroy the world and return to an age in which humans are but slaves and food.

Flamel quickly takes them to a hideout to enlist the aid of Scathach, a powerful Next Generation Elder. There they are forced to run, threatened by rats sent by Dee, which are thwarted by Flamel and Scathach. Chased again almost immediately by tens of thousands of birds, Flamel then leads the twins and Scathach to secure the aid of Hekate, an Elder, who can awaken the twins’ magical potential. Dee discovers this, and enlists the aid of Bastet and the Morrigan. The trio mount a massive assault on Hekate’s shadowrealm, to destroy Yggdrasill – the world tree – that is the heart of Hekate’s power.

While Yggdrasill is attacked, Hekate awakens Sophie’s magic abilities, but does not have time to awaken Josh, as the tree has been set on fire by Dee. While she rushes to defend her home, Scathach, the Flamels, and the twins attempt to escape the shadowrealm. While escaping, they encounter Dee, and witness the power of the ancient Ice Elemental sword, Excalibur. They see Dee transform a wereboar into pure ice, then shatter the statue. Scathach remarks that she thought that Excalibur had been lost when Artorius died.

The twins, Scathach, and Flamels escape the shadowrealm, shortly before the destruction of Hekate, Yggdrasill, and the entire shadowrealm. As they escape, Dee uses Excalibur to freeze the tree, and Hekate, whose life and power is linked to it, transforms to ice as well. As this occurs, Dee is informed that the Flamels and Scathach have escaped with the twins. In his rage, he shatters Yggdrasill, which crushes Hekate into dust, killing her. The Flamels, Scathach, and the twins travel to Scathach’s grandmother, the Witch of Endor (also called “The Mistress of Air”), who teaches Sophie her magical secrets quickly by giving the girl all the witch’s memories and the power to know how to use air magic.

While they are there, Dee has found out that a prophecy in the Codex speaks of Sophie and Josh

What I loved about this book was that the main fantasy characters, Dr. John Dee and Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel are real people from history.  Dr. John Dee was in real life the most brilliant man of this time and an alchemist, a mathematician, a geographer, an astronomer and an astrologer. He worked for Queen Elizabeth I. He was her spy and he signed his messages “007″ (Scott, 317) Cool hey!  Also, Nicholas  Flamel was also a real person who was born in 1330 and who one day bought a very special book: The Book of Abraham of which he left a very detailed description of. Along with his wife, Perenell, he spent twenty years travelling Europe attempting to have the book translated. No one knows what happened to Nicholas Flamel during that twenty year journey, but he returned a very rich man and used his money to open hospitals, churches and orphanages. Rumor had it that he discovered the elixir of life and how to create a philosopher’s stone that would change base metal into gold. Neither Nicholas or Perenell would confirm the rumors or explain how they became so wealthy. (Scott, 374).

So now that you know that, think of the possibilities!

Rating:  5 stars

Michael Scott:  Official website


Author Interview: Iain Lawrence

  • August 9, 2012 1:20 pm

Each year at school I sponsor the Red Cedar Book Club for our students which I wrote about here. For several years the Red Cedar Awards committee sends out emails to participating schools offering a chance to participate in an author interview. This year when I received the email I pounced all over it because I WANTED Iain Lawrence! His nominated book, The Giant-Slayer was wonderful and very popular with my students. Well I got that interview! 

Iain’s nominated book is The Giant-Slayer. It is a very unique story and one I very strongly connected to. It is a story about children with polio and woven through the story is a second story told by Laurie, about a giant slayer, to entertain these sick children. My connection to the story is that I have three aunts who were victims of polio, but none who were in an iron lung. I actually had to look that up to find out what it was!  What I appreciated about Iain’s book was that he wove two stories together, created a wonderful metaphor and never once felt his young audience would not be able to follow his plot line. Not once did he talk down to his readers or dummy down the story. This novel was my personal favorite of the nominated ones and it was the winner of the most votes from our school’s book club as well.  Some of the students even created a monster-sized poster of the cover for our District’s Red Cedar Battle of the Books.  The poster was displayed at the Battle as well as in our school library.

The interview questions were created by the students in the book club, sent to Mr. Lawrence by email and he kindly responded. This interview was forwarded to the official Red Cedar Book Awards site and I posted it on the Blogmeister site we were using for school blogging. Now here it is, albeit late….

How long have you been an author?

That depends on where you start counting. I started writing just after high school, for newspapers and magazines, but didn’t have a great deal of success.  In my twenties I went to college and studied journalism, then worked for newspapers in Houston, Burns Lake and Prince Rupert [all north-west British Columbia communities]. I became an avid sailor in Pr. Rupert, and my first two books were about my travels in the part of the coast that is now known as the Great Bear Rainforest.  I spent almost ten years writing novels before I sold my first one – The Wreckers – in 1998.

What inspires you to write books and what do you do about the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ if you get it?

I think I write books because I was a shy and lonely child. My family moved so often that I went to eight different schools before I finished Grade Seven.  I didn’t have a real friend until I was a teenager, so I learned to live in my imagination. In The Giant-Slayer, it is said that Laurie Valentine, “lived in stories that she narrated constantly in her head”. It was the same for me. I’ve been creating fictional worlds since I was very young. Now it’s a job, though one I enjoy a great deal. I stick to a loose schedule, starting work every morning after breakfast. Some days are certainly more productive than others, but I just keep working. When the writing is going well, I’m barely aware of doing it, though I say every word aloud. If it is going badly, I go back through the story until I find a place where it shifts, and begin again from there.

Of the books you have written, which is your favorite and why?

I think it would be The Winter Pony, because the writing was so intense. It’s a true story about a pony who took part in an expedition to the South Pole a hundred years ago. In the novel he is the narrator, and his story is so sad that it sometimes overwhelmed me. There were days when I just sat at the computer and cried. When I finished, my agent was afraid the book was too sad to be published. Now I am pleased that the pony’s story has been told, but it took a lot out of me to tell it.

What was your favorite book as a child and what is your favorite book as an adult?

My favorite book from my childhood is Treasure Island. My father read it to my brother and me as a bedtime story in Calgary, when I was about nine years old. I thought it was a true story, and I often lay awake in the darkness afterwards, afraid that the pirates would sail up the river that flowed past our house.

It’s difficult to choose a favorite from the books I’ve read as an adult. Among the writers I’ve enjoyed the most are Herman Wouk, Nevil Shute and C.S. Forester. But I think it would be very hard to find a better book than The Princess Bride by William Goldman. If I HAD to pick a favorite, that would be it.

Have you written any adult books? (The students had been reading John Grisham’s books for kids and knew he also wrote for adults.)

My first two books were for adults. But I don’t count them, in a way, as ‘real’ books. When I started writing novels I began with adult stories, but nobody ever wanted to publish them. Now I’m perfectly content to be a writer for younger readers.

Was there a family connection to polio that led you to write about polio?

I have never known anyone who had polio. My father worked all through the 1950′s in the X-ray departments of different hospitals, but he has no memories of treating – or even meeting – polio patients.

How does the little boy who fights the giant relate to polio?

I don’t mean to sound evasive, but I would rather leave this for the reader to decide. The question could be answered in several ways, and not one of them would be wrong.

What do you want your readers to take away from The Giant Slayer?

I think some of the best things about writing – at least for me – come about by accident. When I started The Giant Slayer, it was not in my mind that fighting a giant might be a metaphor for battling an illness. Laurie’s story of Jimmy the giant slayer is actually a left-over from an earlier novel. It changed, of course, once it became joined with polio patients and the connections became obvious, but the basic combination is just a lucky turn of events. I certainly don’t want the novel to be a lesson about polio. In my mind, all through the writing, was the phrase: “The power of story.” I don’t remember where I came across it, or even exactly what it’s suppose to mean. But I hope that’s the part that stays with readers. If they continue to think about The Giant-Slayer after they close the book, I hope they wonder if stories have the ability to change people’s lives.

How do you feel about being nominated again for the Red Cedar Award?

Of course I’m proud – and pleased – to be nominated for the Red Cedar Award. It’s wonderful to see students enthusiastic about books and reading, and I wish there had been something similar when I was in school. I remember hating the books that I was forced to read and then dissect – as though they were frogs in biology class. But now I’ve seen that I learned a lot more than I imagined at the time. I treasure some of those same books, and I thank them – and my teachers – for inspiring me to be a writer.

Do you know any of the other Red Cedar nominated authors?

Not personally. I’m nearly as shy now as I was as a child – though I’ve been trying to change that – and tend to avoid big events. But I think they are all terrific writers, and I’m proud to be among them.

I have had the pleasure of having each author that has visited our school and two of the Red Cedar nominees honor me with an interview. Each author’s interview has been an absolute pleasure to conduct and post, but this one is my favorite. There is just something very special about such a shy man who writes such wonderful children’s stories taking the time to respond to questions by the very children who are reading his books.

Personally, besides the polio connection, I have also lived in the areas that Mr. Lawrence has previously worked in.  I grew up in the town right after Houston, heading west towards Pr. Rupert. I have fished in Pr. Rupert and my best friend used to live there and we had the best New Year’s gatherings there complete with fresh dungeness crab and prawns and getting soaked to the skin while attempting to get from the car to Breaker’s Pub in what can only be called “Prince Rupert rain”! I love that there is this shared connection to place.

My favorite part of this interview is about the ‘power of story’. When I think of that line I think of Joseph Campbell, Wade Davis, and Kieran Egan and how story reflects the most primal part of humanity and how it reflects our imperfections and can teach us so much about ourselves and in the end…”have the ability to change people’s lives.”

Thank you, Iain for the interview.

Iain’s website


First Two Weeks of the Caldecott Challenge

  • March 5, 2012 10:19 pm

We are on week 3 of our Caldecott Challenge with over 900 books having been read. I have been reading books to grades K – 2 and I have been more than amazed at the enjoyment the students have had in listening to these stories. I tried to pick books that they may not choose themselves.  Here are the selections:

Week One

Kindergarten:  The little ones loved this simple story of friendship with its expressive pictures.

Grade 1 & 1-2  & 2

The grades 1-2 LOVED this story and I chose to read it to kick off the Challenge due to the incredibly expressive art that really moves the story. I read parts without showing the pictures at first and then re-read it with the pictures.  I will have to replace this book next year as it has been ‘loved’ to death and is hanging in by a spine-thread!





Week 2


This book had the little ones chanting along, remembering it from daycare and/or preschool.   They loved the picture I had for them to colour at the end of the story and wanted to know when they could take out this book!  They filled out their pink hearts with their names and I added on the title of the book – 42 times – over 2 classes of K’s. You’d think I would pick a book with a shorter title!




Grade 1 & 1-2

The Grade 1 & -12′s loved the repetition in this story and the art is just stellar which is in all Audrey & Don Woods books. 








“Come in,” said the King, with a trout, trout, trout. 

This was a favorite part of the story as the students thought it would be a great idea to go fishing in the bathtub!




Grade 2

This book is one of my all time favorite Caldecott books. When I read this to the Grade 2′s they were dead silent. They watched the pictures with such intensity. I had a wonderful owl picture for them to cut out and mount on black paper to go with this story. Some student’s decided to colour their owls like in the book. I think they were so quiet because you “…have to be quiet when you go owling…” This is an incredibly magical story of a father and son. 

We are on our way to Week 3!

A Flexible Library Catalogue – LIBE 465

  • March 4, 2012 1:31 pm

The degree to which a library catalogue can be consulted easily by teachers and students is of great significance if teacher-librarians wish to encourage user-dependence. A flexible catalogue will allow broader use of the school library.

Our District uses  Sirsi-Dynix Symphony rather than Follett’s Destiny. We are also using Enterprise as our front page. What this has done for our users is provide a multi-media page where they can find the District’s databases that can be accessed from both school and home (by remote access logins) and search our library’s OPAC. But, there’s always a but…while the databases can be easily seen and accessed, searching for books in the library on the computer, especially for the younger students is not easy!  For those students in Gr 1 and 2 it is almost impossible to use the computer. With Destiny, Follett provides a very image oriented, colourful front page that has great icons for the youngest students to click on to help them find books.  Our system is a bit more unfriendly.  I have to directly teach and let students practice with me around to assist when necessary, the searching of books. Once they get it, usually only 2 lessons of practice, they get it. The problem is, and I believe it is a fixable problem, the default setting in the search for the library you are searching in is our District Resource Centre. The students, or staff, have to change this to their school’s library from a drop-down box. They then have the option of searching by keywords, title, author, keywords in author headings, subject, keywords in subject headings. They then type the title etc…in the search bar.  See the complications for the younger students?  Not really accessible.  Some might also comment that the entire search system is too complex for elementary age students. I beg to disagree. The students from grade 3 – 7 grasp this very quickly.  They just need my assistance for the first 1 -3 times they go onto the system. They are having more difficulty transitioning from Windows XP to Windows 7 than they are figuring out how to use the Enterprise search features. Once they have had several practice runs in the lab or in the library itself, they are very independent users. 

Another issue to consider here as well is, yes the students can find the books on the OPAC, but did you teach them how to find them on the shelves independent of you, the teacher-librarian?  Nice to be needed, but it is the same as helping Kindergartens get dressed to go outside, some help is required but the ultimate goal is doing this independently. So is finding books on the OPAC and then on the shelf. It has taken me longer to get the students to look on the shelves independently than on the OPAC! Just sayin’.

One of the features I do like about our front page is that it has ‘fuzzy logic’. It has percentage settings that allow for the degree of fuzzy logic to be used. Fuzzy logic allows for the misspelling of words and the program’s ability to find what the user is looking for. It took some fiddling at the District level to find the right level of fuzzy logic to set the program to, but once that was done it worked.

Enterprise also allows for social media use.  It provides the District two extra webpages which our District Resource Administrator is offering to the elementary teacher-librarians and to the high school teacher-librarians to use as their District library webpages.  The idea is that we could have one collective webpage each so that maintaining the one page might be easier than each of us maintaining our own webpages given that most of us teach outside the library – we are not full-time in the library position. There is also features that allow for liking on Facebook, sending tweets on Twitter and to blog as well, I believe – not sure about the blog but seem to remember this being said.  These features have not yet been totally unpacked as the current labour dispute’s job action in British Columbia has had an impact on the library and having the Administrator of the District Resource Centre at our Teacher-Librarian Assoc meetings. We need her there to discuss these features and which we want to have students access etc…

For me, all these features add to the flexibility of the system and user independence.  The older students where really impressed they could like a book on Facebook or Twitter though most only use Facebook. The idea that they could eventually post a book review to a school website also had great appeal as they are already posting book reviews to their blogs with me. Sirsi-Dynix also allows for multiple functions including digital resources without having to add upgrades, or additional modules so it is also cost effective for our dollar strapped District.

Finally, for me an additional bonus is that Sirsi-Dynix is also used at our local public library and community college. While I am teaching the students to use our system I am also constantly reinforcing that they can now use the public library OPAC as it is just the same, only the pictures on it are different. That they can access both our school library and public library catalogues from home and show them how that is done. Our local TL association has spent a good deal of time and effort collaborating with our local public library children’s and teen’s librarians to share information, programs and even some professional development, having the same OPAC is just another bonus in this on-going collaboration.

My ultimate goal in my library is to have my students as independent as possible and I feel that Symphony has the flexibility to allow that to happen. While stating that, I also must state that I have no experience with Destiny beyond having seen it as the front page of other school libraries and it looks very nice.

Link to our District Portal:

How do you think your District or school’s library system fairs in encouraging your users to be independent?



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