Two years ago, on the first day of my job as a librarian, I met four of my local media specialists at a Battle of the Books practice event. One in particular was very eager to work with me. She, too, had just started a new job at an elementary school and confided in me that she could use all the help she could get. Her school system had shifted her there from a middle school and those teens were really everything to her. As our relationship grew, I also learned that on her first day, she came in to find a destroyed library. Over the winter break and during the transition period between media specialists, a flood put the entire media center under two feet of water. She lost hundreds of books.
I started building up our partnership, first by listening to what she struggled with and then providing resources to help. She needed more books, so I came to her with every suitable donated book and every weeded title that was still in good shape and interesting. She also needed help in connecting to her youngest kids, so I came in to do storytimes with kindergarten and first grade. Over time, it became a beneficial thing for me, as well. I have a standing invitation to come to staff meetings and parent nights, and I’ve provided training on using our digital resources to staff and students.
This year, the school became interested in pushing our partnership further. The principal and media specialist pulled me aside to discuss coming up with a project that they may be able to present at our state’s school library conference. They saw it as a way to set an example for the other schools in our state. We thought briefly on what we could do specifically for second graders to help them engage with this year’s grade level read, A Good Night for Ghosts from the Magic Tree House series. At first, we didn’t come up with much, so we decided to stew on it.
I had a very busy fall so my stewing went on for a few months before I came up with something very spectacular and sparkly to me. The Magic Tree House books take place in countries all over the world and during lots of periods of history so there are a hundred different directions you could go. The first thing that came to mind was history, but that’s not so sparkly to second graders. You need something else to jazz it up. The second thing that came to mind was cultural foods, but that would be a disaster when you’re talking 80 kids. The third thing was music.
Duh! Music! The main character in A Good Night for Ghosts is Louis Armstrong (or Dipper in the book). It was there for me the whole time.
I pitched my idea to the school administration first. “Hey guys, what if I brought in live performers to play music from the time periods and countries featured in three of the books? We’ll do jazz first to go with your grade level read, then African drumming, and then Irish music.” They fell all over themselves for it.
So I started sourcing performers. The most trusted place in town was a music factory that puts on lots of live events and also mentors youth. They also loved the idea, but when they provided me with the costs, I got very worried. It was much more than I’d hoped. I asked my director if there was anything we could do and she immediately responded that she’d cover it. Hooray for administrative support!
We all coordinated our schedules, settled on some dates, and then we divided our parts. I would do a little dramatic reading from the book first, their media specialist would talk about the history of New Orleans and introduce jazz, and then the performer would speak more on the history of jazz and play some songs for us.
We did our first in the series last week and it was perfect! The kids were so interested in the book afterward and couldn’t wait to get their own copy. Each of them will receive one from the school system to keep in the coming weeks. It couldn’t have worked out any better.
I’ll be back with more on this series after our African drumming program.