Banned Books Week

With Banned Books Week just around the corner, I thought it would help to curate some of my favorite resources around the topic. 


There are many resources out there to help you have meaningful discussions with your students (and teachers) about this issue. I operated on a flexible schedule, so most of my programming was passive in the terms of displays and morning announcement information.

Here is a picture of our display a few years ago. The students did not discuss BBW in the elementary school so they were very confused to see this display of books they couldn’t read (especially since many were so popular).

Banned Books Week display at Hershey Middle School (2015)

You can most definitely do Banned Books Week programming at the elementary level – and I strongly believe you should!

Here is a website dedicated to BBW programs for the elementary level 

Below is a Pinterest board from ALA with lots of other creative displays and programs to do with students (and adults) of all ages!

Favorite Banned Books Week Resources

ALA Banned and Challenged Books Page 

This year they’re doing a really cool “Rebel Reader” Twitter Tournament. Be sure to sign up to be a participant and be sure to follow the hashtag #rebelreader during BBW. ALA also has lots of links to promotional materials and lots of “Top Ten” lists.  Be sure to check out the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom‘s page for past year activities and other advocacy resources, including this awesome infographic:

Originally published in the State of America's Libraries Report 2017

Banned Books Week

Every year I look forward to the Virtual Read-Out. There is a dedicated YouTube channel and you can participate any time throughout the year. This site also has resources for artists, booksellers, kids, librarians, publishers, students, teachers, and writers! 

Freedom to Read Foundation

The Freedom to Read Foundation is a great resource year-long. In addition to resources on Banned Books Week, the FTRF has resources on many other hot issues in the library world including, collection personal data, labeling of books, and patron privacy.


Something I love about Groups is the ability to Activate/Deactivate groups without deleting. This makes it so easy to use groups from previous years without having to recreate each year. 

If you’re interested in the resources I put in my MackinVIA group (and some other resources specifically for educators), you can access my bookmarks here. 

Don’t forget – MackinVIA is COMPLETELY FREE. Not only is it free, but we actually GIVE YOU FREE BOOKS! You get 10 free eBooks in your account and you can claim loads of free promotional books throughout the school year. With MackinVIA, I can put eBooks, audiobooks, database articles, websites, and videos all in one location – without signing in again. That’s right people – SINGLE SIGN ON TO YOUR DATABASES. I repeat – its free. If you want to learn more about MackinVIA, just shoot me a message or visit this page.

Turn Your Read Aloud into an Immersive Experience

As you’re getting ready to head back to school, I’m sure there are tons of tools you’ve discovered this summer that you’re excited to try with your students.

Well here’s another one that you don’t want to miss.

Campfire App is a free app that is available on the App Store (iOS devices only). Once you enable the microphone, it will listen to the words of the story (similar to if you were using text to speech to send a message) and as you read certain words or phrases in the story, music, sound effects, and lights will surround you (and your students). The music and sounds will play from your phone or a speaker you connect and certain smart bulbs (such as the Phillips Hue bulbs) for an even more amazing experience!

While there are many apps that try to make popular picture books more engaging, I love that the kids don’t need a single piece of technology to enjoy this tool. In fact, if you can manage to set up your iPhone or iPad in a position where your students can’t see it – they may not even realize that you’re using technology either! 🙂

Campfire App works with a number of Bluetooth speakers, but you can also connect it to a speaker with a traditional headphone jack. 

Another helpful feature of the app is the ability to manually trigger the sounds. This is helpful if you want to have a student do the read aloud that might not have the precise pronunciation needed to trigger the sounds in the app. This is also great if you have an accent 😉 

The app has a catalog of about 50 books but they’re taking recommendations constantly. My favorite is Where the Wild Things Are and my four-year-old is a fan of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I see so many great ways to use this app in the classroom and library. Imagine – projecting your MackinVIA eBooks onto your whiteboard and doing a read-aloud with this app. With just a few simple tools, you can turn a typical story time into an immersive, magical experience!

Add it to your list and share this app with a friend.

Virtual Learning Commons AASL Webinar

I’m so privileged to have been given the opportunity to present a webinar for AASL eCOLLAB on a topic I am very passionate about – Virtual Learning Commons.

In additional to discussing the idea and elements of a Virtual Learning Commons, I showed lots and lots of tools to use to address each of the elements of the VLC as listed below. 

You can view all of the slides on my Presentations page and you can view the entire webinar here (1 hour in length)

Of course, if you have any questions about any of the resources shared, please feel free to contact me!


Webinar Resources (hyperlinked)

Make a Classroom Library – of eBooks

Last year we began our eBook journey (and I never looked back). To date, we have about 150 carefully selected titles – both fiction and nonfiction and we’re adding a bunch more this month in preparation for our literature circles project. Most of the titles I purchase are student or teacher requests. They get used for the project, and then the just kind of…don’t.
But sure enough, every time I show a kid MackinVIA, I get comments like, “Whoa! I had no idea we had this!” or “Are you kidding!? That’s beast!” or “That’s legit”. (Middle school here…if you couldn’t tell).
And as they scroll through the titles I see them favoriting 5 more titles. It’s not a matter of kids loving VIA – they do. It’s a matter of keeping it at the front of their minds when they’re looking for a book. I guess it’s just ingrained in them to think physical book when they are looking for something to read.
I needed a way to remind kids about MackinVIA aside from the many times I’ve told them before. But I get it – they’re middle schoolers. When they come to the library and get to pick their seats, they’re totally engrossed in the boy that sat next to him rather than the awesomeness I’m telling them.

So – time to get creative!

In case you didn’t know, Mackin has these awesome FREE eBook shelf markers. You can get them made customized to your collection (with title and cover art) sent to you as a PDF or they can print them for you. We decided to print ours ourselves. We printed them on card stock and laminated them.

When I originally printed them, I had intended on using them as pictured above. I was hoping that kids would see the shelf marker for a book that was checked out and turn to the eBook without leaving disappointed.

It just didn’t work. The shelf markers were getting mistaken for bookmarks and the ones that weren’t taken were all over the floor. That ended quickly. The book the kid wanted was checked out and they would say, “It’s okay, I think my teacher has it in her classroom library.”

Then it hit me!

I was advertising eBooks in the wrong spot. The magic of ebooks is their convenience and portability. So I should make it as convenient as possible to access them.
Instead of disposing of our eBook shelf markers, we actually had 50 sets printed (yeah…7,500 eBook shelf markers). God bless my library aide and my library helpers for cutting and laminating them all. Oh, and hole-punching them. Why hole punch?
Because of THIS:
We put them on keyrings! And we’re giving them to every teacher in the building. It’s going to be EPIC! Kids can now “browse” our eBook collection without even having their device. Once they find a title they want, they simply scan the QR code and their directed straight to the book. BAM!
We also made this handy little poster for the teachers. They can hang it next to the eBook keyring or anywhere in their classroom. The QR code on this poster directs to our MackinVIA homepage.
Obviously I’m a little biased, but I think this is genius at it’s best.
I had genius like this once before. That is when I attached a shovel to my son’s power wheels. I really think I’m on to something with that one.
Want to get your hands on your eBooks shelf markers? Reach out to your Educational Sales Consultant. They’ll get the specs you want and send you over a PDF file of your shelf markers.
Looking for other ways to promote your eBooks? Check out Mackin’s resource page – they have a load of bookmarks, posters, flyers, table tents, stickers, etc. to promote your eBooks.

Why I Stopped Selling on TeachersPayTeachers

TeachersPayTeachers is this fantastic website with nearly TWO MILLION resources made by teachers*, for teachers. Prices for materials range from free to $1,800, although the average price is $5.

(*Actually a lot of people that sell aren’t educators although they still make some awesome stuff.)

I used TPT a lot when I was an elementary school librarian, particularly after having my first child. I knew what I wanted to do in class, but all of the resources I had were old and unattractive. While I know it’s about the content and not about what it looks like, I just couldn’t stand to look at the yellowing transparencies. However, I didn’t have the time to recreate everything. Many a time I would hop on TPT and find this amazing ^free (because I have yet to buy something on there) resource and use it the next day.

Well, during that time I had heard how first-grade teacher Deanna Jump made $1,000,000 (yep, 6 zeros) by selling on TPT. Now, there are over 12 teachers that have earned over a million dollars and over 300 have earned more than $100,000.

I was (and still am) totally broke and was spending hours creating what I thought to be awesome teaching resources. TeachersPayTeachers seemed like a perfect option for me. So, I listed a few things. One of my resources (free) was downloaded over 20,000 times! Awesome, right? So I began putting a price of some of my things. I had bookmarks, a call number game, etc. I never marketed my products and I never bought the premium version of TPT, so I got about 20 cents on the dollar for anything I sold. But whatever – when you’re that broke, an extra $10 a month is awesome!

But then, it just started feeling yucky. I’m a librarian for crying out loud! Sharing is what I’m all about! And despite the fact that my mother raised me to be a coupon clipping, never-buy-anything-unless-its-on-sale kinda gal, this just felt wrong. I couldn’t help but picture the new teacher scrambling for resources on TPT and whipping out their pre-paid credit card that their grandmother got them for Christmas to purchase my dumb worksheet.

…Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit dramatic.

…And maybe I’m just seeing myself. Anyway.

So yesterday I made all of my “products” free. I still think TPT is a great place to go for resources and I will probably continue to list items I create on that site (for free), but I will also list them on my blog (stay tuned!) as well as other resource sharing sites.

Til next time.

Making Digital Reading Easier

Literacy is the ability to read and write. Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. []

As a librarian in a 1:1 school, my students are consuming most of their information in a digital format (eBooks, websites, databases, video clips, etc.). In addition to consuming information, students are doing a great deal of producing via digital tools. While there are tremendous benefits to using digital tools, they can also pose some challenges. Finding. Reading. Organizing. Saving. Sharing. All of these can be difficult for some. Not only can it be difficult, but some students and teachers just prefer reading print.

At my school, my students and teachers have access to eBooks via MackinVIA. Fortunately, MackinVIA has a bunch of built in features allowing my students to adjust size, color, contrast, and even highlight text. And since MackinVIA works on virtually all devices, my students can customize their reading experience no matter whether they are reading.

Unfortunately, these customization options aren’t as easy to access or as obvious when reading text on the open web or through a database. Here are some of my favorite tips and tools to make reading online text a bit easier.

1. Change text size

Seems obvious right? The easiest way to change text size is using your keyboard shortcuts. If you’re on a Mac, use Command +. PC users use Ctrl +. Unfortunately, the keyboard shortcuts will zoom your entire screen, which can sometimes distort what you’re trying to read. If that is the case, you can always change the default text size through your browser settings.
I am a lover of Chrome (there’s no place like Chrome), and it is very simple to change the text size. I had to get into the Advance Settings to see the text size options. As you can see, I have multiple options and I can also change the font (note: depending on how the website is formatted, not all fonts will be impacted by this change).

2. Readability

Readability is my go-to for making reading easier. It removes all the clutter and makes online reading much more like print.

Readability is available as an app on both iOS and Android and is also available as an extension for Chrome.
I love that you can send to Kindle or print this version.

3. Clearly by Evernote

If you’re a user of Evernote (or even if you aren’t) another option is Clearly. While Clearly has some more customization options than Readability, it isn’t available as an app. Clearly is an extension for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.



4. BeeLine Reader

I am so excited about this one! BeeLine Reader is different than anything I’ve used before. Instead of changing font or size, it changes the gradient (crazy, right?). I’m totally digging it! It took me a few paragraphs to figure out which gradient I liked best (I like dark), but it made a huge difference.
Want to see if BeeLine Reader can help you? Take the challenge.
BeeLine is a web extension but you an also copy and paste text to be changed. You can also upload PDFs. As a librarian, I LOVE that BeeLine reader works with Overdrive and Amazon Kindle books.
BeeLine Reader is free with unlimited use for 30 days and 5 times per day after that. The Premium plan is still very reasonable at only $10 year.
There are many other tools out there that can help make your digital reading experience more enjoyable. Although a lover of technology, I prefer reading text in print. However, most of my reading is done digitally simply because it isn’t available in print. I’m sure many of you are in the same boat. But you don’t need to suffer. Since using these tools, I have found reading text online to be much easier. Do you have any go-to tools that you or your students use? Share your favorites in the comments!

[For more information on the advantages of digital resources, check out this webinar]