Day in the Life

Mission (Almost) Impossible

Day: Thursday

My mission, should I choose to accept it: In my one full day of work on this campus, impart a love of reading, match students with books, and teach writing, history, math, Bible, art appreciation, and library skills.

0920 hours: Fifth grade. They have worked for a month on biographies in class, preparing for oral presentations. I have helped them locate books, use databases, and narrow facts into coherent narratives. Today, in honor of Black History Month, we are exploring books on Martin Luther King Jr.: long chapter books, easy reader books, and picture books. How do the authors decide what to include and what to leave out? We discuss how authors come up with a dominant impression they want to impart to their readers (or listeners) and how to choose facts to support that. We end with Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. The author builds a narrative around the influence of words in King’s early life, and how he used his own words to fight for justice. You really can’t go wrong starting the school day with Dr. King.

1020 hours: Fourth grade. We read Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by author and illustrator team Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, which is about the 1960 Woolworth sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina. Andrea Pinkney weaves food references throughout the book, using action verbs and meaningful repetition. We discuss what a challenge it would be to illustrate a whole book about people just sitting. How does Brian Pinkney match those vibrant words? We discuss the choices of bright, hopeful colors and look at the swirls of paint over the ink drawings that seem to convey movement and energy around people “just sitting.” Since teachers often focus on teaching students words, I love being able to point out the conscious choices of illustrators.

1100 hours: Third grade. With my head full of beautiful pictures and big words, I return to earth with a quick overview of the Dewey Decimal System, as I prepare to introduce the online library catalog next week. Third graders are the masters of, “Do you have any books about _____?” and it is time to help them gain independence in finding books. First, of course, they must understand fiction and nonfiction shelf organization, be able to alphabetize to three letters in, and understand decimal places well enough to find books in order. “Math in library? Not fair!” After a boisterous activity to practice finding, sharing, and replacing nonfiction books, the students are released to find books for themselves and their kindergarten reading buddies. It’s good to see small steps toward independence, but I’m very ready for lunch.

1220 hours: Second grade. Since the school’s chapel is focusing on the parables of Jesus this year, in library we’re exploring the literary elements of Jesus’s parables and finding examples in other stories. This month we are exploring stories that contain contrasts (good versus evil, wise versus foolish, just versus unjust) and ask us to choose a side. We read New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer. In the Jim Crow south, Ella Mae needs new shoes but must wait for a white customer to be served first. Ella Mae is not allowed to try on the shoes because she is black. Incensed by this injustice, she and her cousin hatch an ingenious plan to give community members dignity in the small act of buying shoes. Second graders have a highly developed (if sometimes overactive) sense of justice and injustice and have no problem finding the contrast in this story. I’m encouraged by the examples they find in other books as well.

1310 hours: First grade. Piggybacking on a classroom unit on graphic novels, we read Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner. Since the book has very few words, we are able to focus on the author’s use of pictures to tell the story. Students are writing their own graphic novels, so I point out the use of close-ups to show important details or make characters seem large or small depending on the danger they’re in. Will they try some of these in their own stories? I plan to ask teachers to have students share their final products during library time. If even one student tries a more complex picture, I will be thrilled.

1400 hours: Mission accomplished. Time to order books, grade reading-program quizzes, e-mail the computer teacher about helping fourth and fifth graders create citation lists for their research projects, contact teachers about the upcoming spelling bee, and get ready to do it all again next week. People sometimes ask if I miss teaching. I tell them I never left.

Works Cited

Meyer, Susan Lynn. New Shoes. Holiday House, [repr.] 2016.

Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down. Little, Brown, 2010.

Rappaport, Doreen. Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hyperion, [repr.] 2010.

Wiesner, David. Mr. Wuffles! Clarion, 2013.

Heather Altena divides her time between the libraries of Chicago Christian High School and Southwest Chicago Christian School’s Oak Lawn campus.


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