Creating a Reading Culture: Parent daughter book clubs


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“How do I get my daughter to read?”

It seems to be the question that every teacher librarian or English teacher of teenagers is asked by desperate parents. Competing demands placed on my students means that they often don’t have time to read. Many of my students find it difficult to concentrate on a book for more than a few minutes at a time (conditioned by screens big and small). It also seems like something that doesn’t really lead to anything – academically and socially – in their eyes, but we know for a fact that reading plays a big role in academic results, emotional sense of wellbeing and in the age of social media, sometimes social cohesiveness.

I could go into the many reasons why reading is fab, but the fact is that we all know it is important and parents are wanting to find ways to support reading in their teenagers – so what do we do to support them?

I have recently introduced an initiative at my school called “Bonding Over Books”. This is a book club for our senior school students and their parent (or significant adult in their life). It is open to anyone in year 7 to 12 (but aimed mostly at 7-10).

Our first book was the amazing Life on the refrigerator door by Alice Kuipers. This little book appeals to students of any age but is also very appealing to those girls who are not big readers. This is due to the nature of the writing style – the book is written entirely in notes between a mother and daughter. I have given this book to kids that wouldn’t touch a book with a ten foot pole and they have borrowed it and asked for something similar (I am yet to find something similar – help!).

I also wanted it to appeal to the parent reading the book with their daughter. The mother character allowed the parents (mainly mothers) to both reflect on their own self as a mother – but also see how their behaviour affects the choices their daughter makes. The main character, Claire, really wanted to understand what was happening to her mother, and their relationship made for very interesting discussion within the group.

Although I wanted to challenge my book club members with young adult fiction that pushed some boundaries, Life on the refrigerator door was a very safe first choice – at least while I got to know the members.

We broke the group into a few small groups and then came together as a big group at the end. This helped ensure that each parent and student were able to contribute to discussion and they weren’t dominated by other members of the group. The teacher librarians had discussion questions prepared on cards, which I asked one of the students in my group to read to the others and lead the discussion.

At the end we voted on the books that we would read for next term. We chose The Protected by Claire Zorn and Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza (reviewed here).

 Tips for starting a parent / student book club at your school:

  • Collaborate with others – we convinced a very enthusiastic English teacher to help lead discussion. In addition to this, we worked with the Head of English and the English staff to market the book club to parents through email and parent-teacher nights. We also worked with the wellbeing team (our school psychologists) who read the books and will attend some meetings where books deal with particularly meaty topics (such as mental health, bullying, death).
  • Advertise both through the kids and the parents – we found that the parents were the real drivers of attendance at book club so worked at building pages of information, Google forms for sign up, leaflets for parent teacher evenings, emails from English teachers and tutors and posting in our digital magazine.
  • Pick books that will engage all ages –  unless you are targeting a small age group, it is essential to choose books that will spark engagement with teenagers of all ages and interests. Our first book, Life on the refrigerator door was great for this. Claire Zorn’s book, The Protected, is one that I would generally suggest for year 9+, however this book was chosen by our group so it obviously meets the interest level of the group.
  • Provide food – we have a small budget for catering, which we use to provide a cheese platter and tea/coffee/hot chocolate. It makes for a cosy atmosphere.
  • Make it short – our book club runs for 45 minutes to 1 hour. This seems to be a perfect time for a brief introduction, small group discussions about the book, whole group discussions and questions at the end and time to choose the next book.
  • Purchase extra copies of books for the library – we have a couple of extra copies for the teachers that are working on this project to read as well as the wellbeing team.
  • Provide reminders prior to events.

Have you started a book club at your school? What format did it take? Do you have any book club reading suggestions?



Review: Because of You by Pip Harry


CBCA Shortlisted Book for 2018, Because of You, is one of those books that content does not match the cover. The innocence of the hand drawn illustrations does not match the depth that Pip Harry delves into within her books, and although I loved Head of the River more than Because of You, I have been recommending this book left right and centre since I read it.

Because of You follows a final year student, Nola, who is every bit as sheltered as the teenagers that I have taught for the past ten year (both at public and private schools – and I say this in the best way possible because who doesn’t want to shelter their kid from the big bad world?). She is required to do some volunteer work in her final year in order to graduate and because pickings are slim, works at a writers club in a homeless shelter.

This is where she meets Tiny, who on the surface is every bit the stereotypical homeless teen, but seems only one bad decision (or one panic attack) away from living Nola’s life. As they get to know each other, Nola and Tiny form a friendship and the mystery of Tiny’s life and how she became homeless is revealed.

I liked this book because it is accessible and thought provoking while also retaining perspective that is true to the reality of Australian adolescents. Pip  Harry’s Head of the River really exposed the competitiveness of the private school world of sport and academics, while this book reveals homelessness through the lense of Nola, who is incredibly relatable to most students because she has never really met someone that has gone through incredibly difficult periods of their life.

I also liked the growth of the character, who begins by being disillusioned with school and with her friends but unsure how to deal with it, and ends by having a strength of character that is commendable. Once again, Australia YA writers have hit the nail on the head with issues facing contemporary teenagers.

Book Club Questions:

  1. What are some of the characteristics of Nola’s personality and experience that you relate to at the beginning of the book?
  2. Can you identify some of the characteristics of Tiny that Nola related to when they began to become friends?
  3. What is the role of the parent in this book? Do you agree with how Nola’s mum reacted to her friendship? Can you understand why she would have reacted this way?

I am reading my way through this year’s CBCA shortlist. Next up: Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield.

Review: FlipGrid as a tool for reflective learning

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Recently I picked up a Commerce class as part of my load. Although my passion is in libraries, research and reading, I do like to keep my classroom skills up to date and it can never hurt to immerse yourself into a faculty as a classroom teacher. I think this supports the perception of teacher librarians within the school. More on that in another post.

One of the tools that I have recently discovered is FlipGrid. FlipGrid is a tool that allows you to teach a number of different skills that I believe are essential in developing critical thinking, analytical skills, reflective learning and engagement in the classroom.

All it took was a little bit of thinking about how I could incorporate it into my program, 5 minutes set up time and 2 minutes demonstrating to the class.

In the lead up to this, I used Loom to create Flipped Classroom resources for my students. They did love that I created little videos just for them. So I asked them to do the same for me – and this seemed to provide enough motivation that I had no complaints at all.

In the spirit of academic risk taking, I asked each student to post a FlipGrid answering a question about the validity of juries in the Australian legal system. Each FlipGrid is a 90 second video where they record their responses. I make sure that they had to prepare some justification for their response to include in their FlipGrid.

I was expecting my students to become embarrassed at having their video available for their classmates to watch, but this didn’t seem to be the case at all. Perhaps this was all down to the safe environment that I hoped I have created, in which all questions and discussions are good questions and discussion – nothing is silly.

On the whole my students loved the process and we now use it regularly in our lessons to synthesise knowledge and understanding, reflect on learning, and engage with the content. I really liked using it as a formative assessment tool to better understand how the girls understood the content as well as their ability to use higher order thinking to assess and critically evaluate some of the arguments that I had presented them relating to juries.

The students were able to watch each other’s responses and build on arguments. I think perhaps they also enjoyed the fun side of taking selfies and using the emojis as part of their response.

Review: Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza

Tin Heart

Marlowe is a girl with a borrowed heart. For real. She’s also a vegan with an intensely embarrassing mother and a brother who lives by his own rules.

Marlowe is back at school after surviving a heart transplant. She feels an incredible sense of guilt because, as you would know, in order for her to survive, someone else has to die. She sets out to find her donor’s family and after a possible clue of Facebook points her towards the death of a boy her age, she tracks down his sister and befriends her.

She also finds it difficult settling back in a school – which raises issues of how schools deal with bullies – and finally begins to make a friend, when her choices begin to blur and right and wrong are not as simple as they were before the surgery.

Marlowe makes a lot of mistakes. She doesn’t tell this girl her real identity and yet she cannot find a way to break off the friendship. She doesn’t know how to make the right choices at school, nor does she know how to break free of her mother’s loving (but controlling) behaviour.

She’s also having issues with the boy next door, who not only is the son of a butcher, but seems to rub her up the wrong way that makes her feel….something.

I really liked this book because it deals with universal issues of making mistakes, bullying, identity, friendship and family. I also like the sense that this girl was obviously a good person that made mistakes that put her relationships at risk, which is something that is a common part of any persons journey through adolescence and beyond.

Some possible book club questions:

  1. How did you feel when you read about Marlowe’s first day back at school? Does this bring up memories or feelings about your first day?
  2. Why do you think Marlowe found it so difficult to come clean about her identity to Carmen?
  3. What are some of the characteristics of Marlowe’s relationship with her mother that reminds you of your own relationships?
  4. Do you think Marlowe’s friend Zan was right to be upset about Marlowe keeping her identity a secret?
  5. Was there a point in the book when you wanted to give Marlowe advice about something? At what point did this happen, and what would you tell her?



Review: Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers


Dear readers,

I wonder if there are any teachers out there that need one book that they just know that their students will love. You know the ones. The ones that claim “thats too long” or “I hate reading” or “books are boring”. What about the ones that just can’t get into those Hi Low books that actually you quite agree are boring.

This book…I had heard this book was the one. The one that you could place in that student’s hands and they would come back wanting more. This happened to me.

Life on the Refrigerator Door is a story about a mother and daughter. The mother is a busy, single, working mother, and the daughter is 15 years old with a social life. They are passing each other in the night and so they begin to write each other notes. First they are short, sometimes containing shopping lists. Then they begin to write to each about the really important things – the ones that are hard to talk about. The notes are beautiful.

Then tragedy strikes and it absolutely breaks you.

I sat reading in my wide reading class. I reached the end in 45 minutes (I hardly looked up – it was lucky that my class are BIG READERS). I had to do that thing where I needed to sob, but choked it back instead.

The reason I feel that this book is suitable for struggling readers is that it is one of the very few books I have found that are meaningful and yet accessible for those who need something short and sharp. This one also tugs at the heart strings, that brings together two characters who are both complex and relatable.

I would love to know if you have a books like this that is a sure thing for struggling readers. Leave a comment below!


Not a handout in sight: Collaborative tools in the Guided Inquiry Design process


GID Web banner 600px & Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L.K., & Caspari, A.K. (2012). Guided inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school. (Kindle ed.) Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO

This is a second post in a series reflecting on the use of Guided Inquiry Design (GID) as a model for developing information literacy and 21st century learning skills. In this post, I would like to discuss the use of collaborative tools within GID and demonstrate how they add value to the learning process.

As discussed previously, I recently collaborated with a team of Science teachers to design and implement a problem based learning / inquiry unit where students were using the GID process to develop a deep understanding of environmental problems in Taiwan, compare it to Sydney and create a movie which aims to convince and educate others about a possible solution.

Students worked in small groups (inquiry circles) of 3 or 4 students, within their class and year group as a whole (inquiry community) while also accessing a global inquiry community whereby they were given opportunities to connect with students from our Taiwan sister school to access information.

Collaborative tools were an incredibly important part of this process because they enabled the students to work effectively in their inquiry circles and communities, whilst also making it super easy to communicate on a global level.

Tools for collaboration:

Google Docs was probably the most important tool for collaboration. As a teacher librarian, I designed Google docs that scaffolded the selection and interpretation of information resources. Students made a copy of the scaffold and shared it within their inquiry circle, enabling all members to simultaneously edit and contribute to the inquiry process.

Google docs also enabled the inquiry community to work collaboratively. Students added inquiry questions to a single Google doc which was shared with the students in Taiwan. They then edited the document with their answers. It worked incredibly well!

Mindmeister was used during the Identify step of the GID process. Inquiry circles collaboratively contributed to a group concept map in a similar fashion to the Google docs. As the teacher librarian, I modeled the use of the Mindmeister concept map with the entire year group and then worked with one member of each inquiry circle to ensure that it was set up and being used effectively. Students commented that it enabled them to synthesise their knowledge of the content and plan for the creation of their movie. They were able to use it to set tasks for inquiry circle members and work to deadlines.

Skype is another tool used to communicate with the students in Taiwan. We utilised our school agile learning space which has a multimedia room for recording and communicating via tools such as Skype. We were only able to fit one student from each class in the room (plus a few teachers), and chose students who had some understanding or were fluent in Mandarin in case of language/communication difficulties. This was a very exciting process and the students in Taiwan really enjoyed sharing their own research with our students here in Australia. The conversation was recorded using Quicktime Player by using the screen recording function. This recording was shared with the rest of the year group by uploading to our library Youtube channel and embedding it into our learning management tool.

Line is a very popular social media application, used extensively in Asian countries such as Taiwan. It is very similar to Whatsapp in that we were able to communicate with the teachers in Taiwan in real time using the chatting function. When evaluating the project, we discussed how this might be more widely implemented for student use next year when the project is repeated.

None of the ICT tools embedded were used for the sake of using technology. I firmly believe that technology is something that should be used to advance learning and not used just for the sake of using it. The collaborative tools enabled students and teachers to share and collaborate beyond the classroom and provided a more authentic learning experience. It also allowed the students to build upon their own knowledge and understanding and gain insight into how students in culturally different situations learn and share information. The students not only engaged in problem solving relating to the content, they also worked within their inquiry circles and community to solve problems to do with technology, team work, language difficulties, creating and communicating their understanding for persuasive purposes. In short, these tools allowed for the building of skills that go beyond “what” they learned, to ones that they will use in the future.

How do you embed technology into your inquiry projects for collaboration? Share your experiences in the comments below!


Review: The Yearbook Committee

The Yearbook Committee by Sarah Ayoub is a story about five year 12 students and is set in a inner west Sydney private school. Each of the students are unlikely to form a friendship….Ryan is the popular school captain, whose soccer playing dreams are shattered when he is injured. Gillian is the daughter of an MP, who has a big profile on her own in the world of social media but is victim to some vicious bullying. Matty is the scholarship kid who is only just keeping it together at home, let alone fitting into a world where he doesn’t have a thing in common with the rest of his year. Tammi wants to fit in but can’t stand up to her circle of friends who insist on bullying others. Finally, Charlie is new, a Melbourne girl and she is definitely going back there as soon as possible…so don’t even try to be friends with her because Sydney sucks.

Each of the five students are roped (or volunteer themselves) into forming the Yearbook Committee despite their differences. This becomes the glue that brings them together. It is a simple story, but so many parts of it reflected a reality that has become all too common in the lives of teenagers in Australia today.

One of the major themes is the issue of bullying via social media. The chapters begin with the various ways that the characters connect with others via Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and blog and highlights the way that others can use these tools to make their world collapse around them. Cruel comments and #hashtags, sharing embarrassing images or just ignoring a post are all ways that adolescents socially isolate others.

Another theme is social pressure, something which most students have to contend with. Whether it is pressure to have sex, or do something you don’t agree with, or become something you don’t want to be (pressure from parents is also incredible in the senior years of school), this is really nicely explored within the novel.

The relationships that each of the characters have with their parents and teachers is also a big theme within the book. Often parents take a back seat in YA novels, however conflict is created by using the relationships each of the characters have to explain why each of them are different and struggling. Gillian, the daughter of an MP, may have a huge social media following, but when she is slammed online, her father is more interested in his political career than her emotional well being.

Some of the relationships seemed to be a little bit over the top, but that is only in my own experience. For example, Matty’s mother is suffering from depression and that makes her incredibly cruel and indifferent at times and rather than treating this with compassion, the story makes her out to be quite weak. Gillian’s mother worries more about Gillian’s weight and her own figure than being a mother which Im sure does occur, but again, the indifference this mother shows does not seem normal. The teachers are also a little bit cookie cutter. The Principal is a “I have done this too long to care” kind of guy, the Deputy is a “I’ll visit you at home and make it better” contrast, and there is another teacher who fails to identify a violent act of bullying when a girl is pushed off a waterfall and sprains her ankle. Don’t even talk to me about the librarian who won’t let them in to create the Yearbook. Does that happen? Really? (ok, Im biased)

When I compare this to YA novels by authors such as Melina Marchetta (who is also a teacher so has the inside scoop on the reality of schools in Australia), some of the characters seemed to be flat and lacking depth. Perhaps this is because there were so many of them in the book.

Despite these things that made me cringe, there were some really realistic elements that I think would really challenge the way students communicate, form friendships and create identities online. There is also a little bit of a nice romance happening which can lighten the heaviness of the topic.

I would recommend this book for students in year 9 +.

Review: Anna and the Swallow Man


This is a small book for big readers.

It is 1939 in Poland. 7 year old Anna is left by her beloved father, a man who taught her many languages, with a German doctor in his shop and never returns. It is a dangerous time to be a little girl without a father and when Anna sits waiting for her father to return, she meets a man without a name. The Swallow Man.

They begin to walk together and have their own language, Road, where words are replaced with untruths in order to survive. Anna gives up her name and never knows the true identity of the Swallow Man. She must completely trust the Swallow Man in order to survive and often there are times when she, other characters, and the reader begin to waver in this trust.

Like other Holocaust novels such as The Boy in Striped Pyjamas the voice we hear most in this story is 7 year old (and older as the story progresses) Anna. The story is told through third person omniscient narrative which means, unlike The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, we have a much more adult understanding of why Anna might think this way. It also allows for a much more complex language and therefore I would recommend this to a more mature reader.

Knowledge of this period of history is almost essential in having a more complex understanding of the themes. The historical facts are often hidden within the voice of a young child. This is actually a good thing. Rarely is a plot point (and there are some gruesome and terrible ones that are in line with this period of time) explicitly described, so younger readers will take away something different to more advanced readers. Students may need to do some research to find out about the period to gain a full understanding, but would still benefit from the story even without this.

I think this is also a book that could be interpreted in many ways. This review describes the book as magical realism, but in my own mind, I read it as the magical explanations that a little girl would give for the atrocities that would have been occurring (and she would have been witnessing) during this period (although the flocking of birds during a couple of intense scenes were incredibly magical).

The writing has a lyrical and literary quality to it. It asks the reader to look beyond the words on the page to gain meaning and explanation. Literary fiction is also often a study of character and the nuanced changes that occur over the course of a story. In this sense, Anna and the Swallow Man challenge the common young adult theme of parenthood and family. The Swallow Man is incredibly intense and both good and bad.

I must point out that there is a sexual assault at one point in the book that teacher librarians might wish to be aware of when referring this book to students. This should not be a reason to hold it back from secondary school aged students, rather the language and themes overall may be better suited to students that are able to gain a better understanding of the story. I would recommend this book to students in year 9 or 10 + or to teachers.


Guided Inquiry Design: Connecting and Collaborating

Hi everyone. It is school holidays here in Australia and we are enjoying some unseasonably good weather. Usually we get loads of rain and instead the sun is ready to play. Although the sunshine is calling me, I thought I would share the first of a series of posts about a Guided Inquiry Design project I have been working on.

You may remember my post about team work from a few weeks ago. I have been working with the Science teachers in a learning team to produce a program for Sustainability as part of their Year 9 curriculum.

In this first post, I wanted to share with you how I go about connecting with teachers within my school. I had read that this is often a challenge for teacher librarians and it is something that I have focused on in my first term at a new school.

According to Montiel-Overal (2005), collaboration has become quite a trend in schools, particularly with the current focus on developing 21 Century skills. Not only is it important for teachers to learn to work collaboratively in order to create connections between content areas, but it is essential that we model this and create opportunities for our students to do this too.

In fact, Wall & Bonnano (2014) identify collaboration as a key 21st century skill to ensure that students are able to contribute to the ever changing society (and workplace). With increasing demands relating to “results” and learning the content being thrown at both our students and teachers, it can be incredibly difficult to convince teachers (and students) that collaborative work is a good idea.

In relation to this particular learning team, I was asked to participate in a meeting where ideas were being thrown about regarding the upcoming project. As a new teacher, this was my first interaction with many of the teachers in the room and I used this as an opportunity to create a clean slate for how the library would position itself. It was also an opportunity to begin building trust, an essential part of having influence within schools.

In my past roles, I have been well known to the teachers within the school (in fact, many of them taught me as a student!). I believe that building relationships based on trust is the way forward for many teacher librarians. Becoming known as an expert in our field, that is, learning to think and inquiry, is the way forward.

Often, working with one teacher or faculty provides the stepping stone to working with others. Laying the groundwork with one teacher by building a relationship based on a mutual understanding of how each of you will contribute to the project will allow word to get around.

I am interested in hearing how you build collaborative relationships with staff. Leave a comment!

The Teacher Librarian’s role in facilitating teamwork

Within my role as a teacher librarian, I am a member of a number of teams. I like to work within a team environment, and I am extremely fortunate to work within a school that values teamwork and it’s role in achieving the vision as set out by the school.

I work within a team environment with the other members of the library staff. We each bring something different to the role and I learn from my colleagues every day. I also like to form teams outside of the library – collaborating with members of staff brings a number of positive outcomes for the students, the teachers I collaborate with and for my own professional development.

The school vision is clear in its purpose, containing 4 aspects or ‘pillars’, which enable the school community (and the teams within that school community) to align their functions and achievements successfully. The first pillar particularly relates to my own work within the library – purposeful learning.

Purposeful learning includes:

  • Using data and evidence-based research to inform teaching practice;
  • Provide feedback to students and teachers and vice versa – a dynamic two way process;
  • Differentiation; and
  • Quality teaching and pedagogy.

Recently a team was formed to create an international focused inquiry project for Year 9 Science using Guided Inquiry Design (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2012) as a model. Guided Inquiry Design (GID) is one of the only inquiry based models which is based on research into the way students think, feel and act when conducting inquiry based research. The international focus links the school with a sister school in Taiwan.

The team is made up of science teachers, a teacher librarian, a languages teacher with links to the school in Taiwan, and the Director of Global Connections. Each team member brings particular expertise to the table and is facilitated by the Science teacher to provide direction (Aguilar, 2012).

The project works towards our vision in the following ways:

  • Guided Inquiry Design is based on research conducted by Kuhlthau and therefore is an example of using best practice pedagogy in programs;
  • GID facilitates the two-way feedback process because throughout the course of the program, students are provided with the opportunity to reflect on their learning and the process. This is an assessment tool for the teachers, while also being evaluative (for next year), allowing us to improve our practice in the future.
  • The reflection allows for specific team members (based on their expertise) to provide assistance according to the students needs, depending on their own abilities, thereby differentiating according to abilities;
  • Collaboration outside of the Science faculties (e.g. with languages, the library and with the Director of Global Connections) also ensures that the expertise within the school is fully utilised to create a dynamic program.

Aligning the project with the school vision is proving to be a useful exercise for the team. It provides purpose and ensures that the value of each team member is respected. It also motivates team members to contribute according to their skill set and expertise. I have found it particularly useful in developing relationships outside of the library (Saunders, 2011) which may result in further collaborative opportunities in the future.

The team meets on a regular basis to ensure that the project is still on task. The use of social media and other collaborative technologies will enable the team to continually communicate even when we are not meeting in a face to face environment. For example, the use of Google Docs enable us to share resources and simultaneously contribute to the learning of the students. The use of the school learning management system is also a way to share information with the students and each other. Students will use Skype, Google Docs and other social media to work with the school students in Taiwan. It is very exciting for all of us and would not be possible if not for the various members of the team.

Teams in schools are so important. We can no longer work in isolation within the four walls of our classrooms. Teacher librarians in particular need to get beyond the walls of the library – whether that is in an online environment, teacher librarians outside of the school or with other members of staff within the school. This is important because in order to help students develop into discerning members of the global community, they need people like us to share and teach transliteracy skills. Being a member of a team ensures we have access to students, that we have input into the teaching and learning of the curriculum, and ultimately we can contribute to the strategic vision of the school.


Aguilar, E. (2012, November 28). Effective teams: The key to transforming schools? In Edutopia: What works in education. Retrieved 7 March 2016 from

Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari (2012). Guided Inquiry Design: a framework for inquiry in your school. Libraries Unlimited. California, USA.

Saunders, L. (2011). Librarians as teacher leaders: Definitions, challenges, and opportunities. Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Conference papers, (pp. 264-274). Retrieved 7 March 2016 from

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