As 2022 comes to a close and another difficult academic year is settling into a groove, PW invited teachers and librarians to reflect on the bright spots they’ve experienced this year and to share some things they’re looking forward to in 2023. We spoke with Rachel Grover, a librarian at Rocky Run Middle School in Chantilly, Va.; Kimberly Gutierrez, a second grade teacher at Kent Lake Elementary in South Lyon, Mich.; Blake Hopper, a librarian at Tazewell–New Tazewell Primary School in New Tazewell, Tenn.; James Klise, a high school librarian at CICS Northtown Academy in Chicago; Cassy Lee, an upper school librarian at Taipei American School in Taipei City, Taiwan; Elissa Malespina, a teacher librarian at Verona High School in Verona, N.J.; Katie Richert, the head of youth services at Bloomingdale Public Library in Bloomingdale, Ill.; and Andrea Trudeau, a library information specialist at Alan B. Shepard Middle School in Deerfield, Ill. Here’s a sampling of their responses.

What has been your favorite book to teach or share with students this year? What did you and/or they love about it?

Klise: Our student book club finally read Neal Shusterman’s award-winning, provocative, gloriously twisty novel Scythe. At the October meeting, the book sparked a lively conversation about life and death, laws and duty, government control, and, of course, love. We always talk about love.

Gutierrez: A standout favorite for me is the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. I read the entire series to my students each year as our first chapter book for an after-lunch readaloud, and I cannot tell you how much the children love this series and these characters. The copies in my classroom library are constantly checked out, and students are always asking me to get more copies. I am looking forward to unveiling the newest Mercy Watson Christmas picture book, A Very Mercy Christmas this month. I just know the children will be so excited, and the look on their faces will be a highlight of the day!

Trudeau: As a Fulbright-Hays grant scholar who taught in both rural Tanzania and Kenya for five weeks this summer, my favorite book to share has been Voices of the Jane Adeny Memorial School by Teresa Wasonga. This book is a collection of stories, or rather voices, of resilient, inspiring young women who attended this school, and it gives readers an honest view of what life is like for girls living in the region. I have shared this book with everyone around me in conjunction with sharing my own profoundly life-changing experiences from my time spent in East Africa. In turn, this has opened people’s eyes, and even has some of my colleagues thinking about visiting the school one day to volunteer their time and talents. This book is a powerful reminder of how important it is for girls around the world to have access to education.

Grover: I have really enjoyed sharing Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass. The combination of a school field trip to Barcelona with Ellen’s neurodiversity, Jewish faith, and the sprinkle of LGBTQ aspects is really believable and done well. Every student who has read it has enjoyed Ellen’s character and the engaging plot.

Richert: A book we are using a lot in storytime and shared reading is Mel Fell by Corey Tabor. The fun layout of this book really shows the students a new way to see—and use—a book.

Lee: We read Circe by Madeline Miller and invited the author for a virtual visit. Circe and Miller’s The Song of Achilles are both brilliant retellings of Greek myths from different and exciting perspectives, and we had a large crowd join our epic trivia battle to prepare for Miller’s visit. Miller was an incredibly knowledgeable and passionate storyteller, and we were very lucky to learn from her.

Hopper: I loved sharing The Very Last Leaf by Stef Wade, illustrated by Jennifer Davison, with my students. This book is about a leaf who was good at everything, except he was afraid to fall off the tree in the fall. It helped us open the conversation about fears and being okay with having to build up the courage to do some things.

Malespina: I have been recommending Me Before You by Jojo Moyes to some of my students who want a good romance novel, and they are loving it. They come back begging for the next book and telling me how much they cried. I have also been recommending one of my favorites, Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson, and man, do the students love it. They are like, “I don’t love reading, but this book totally hooked me.”

What’s your favorite lesson, unit, project, or program that you taught this fall?

Trudeau: My favorite, and very unexpected, program that we now have in our school library is Tea Club. It arose out of some enthusiastic tea-sipping sixth graders who visit our library nearly every day during their lunch periods who realized that I was drinking green tea each time they visited. They shared their love of tea with me, too, and asked if we could have a tea party in the library. This resulted in me finally peeling the labels off of my wedding china from more than 20 years ago and bringing it to school to create a proper tea party with my students. We started with tea parties during sixth grade lunch, but because our parties have gotten so large and because the interest spans all grade levels at my school, we now host parties after school to make them accessible for everyone. It’s a fun way to try new teas that our hosts provide for each party, and it’s amazing to see students put down their technology and just enjoy the simplicity of tea and conversation. However, we do sometimes break out into musical karaoke from time to time. Tea Club in my school is the perfect reminder of how important it is to tune into the interests of our students and try to bring those interests to life in our school libraries.

Grover: I love teaching about intellectual freedom to my graphic design classes. We discuss the differences between copyright, public domain, and Creative Commons, and where to find royalty-free images online that they can use in their assignments. We also focus on intellectual freedom of original work as artists and the rights they have with what they create. Students are engaged the entire time and consistently share with the art teacher that it is one of their favorite lessons for the semester.

Klise: Last month, our juniors kicked off their U.S. History Fair project research. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, because not only do we introduce databases to find and cite reliable sources, but I also demonstrate how to use the databases to narrow the scope of their projects. Every conversation leads us down a fascinating rabbit hole, so I learn a lot, too.

Lee: We hosted a human library with teachers and staff members as the books. They shared about so many fascinating aspects of their identities to help our students not judge a book by its cover. Being Indigenous in Taiwan, struggling with depression, being a competitive marksman as an Indian woman, coming out in a religious family, converting to Judaism as an adult—there were so many amazing stories! It was wonderful to see students and colleagues view each other in a new light and challenge stereotypes.

Malespina: I was looking for a way to make freshman orientation interesting. I thought about doing a scavenger hunt but was trying to figure out a way to use technology to do it. I was reading my friend Martha Bongiorno’s blog and found a post about how she did Flip Scavenger Hunts. She even included her template. I customized it for my school, and the students loved it. They had so much fun making the videos that a number of kids asked when they could come back to the library again. I will be using it for years to come. It’s a much better way to do freshman orientation than a lecture on library resources.

What tech tool has been most helpful to you so far this school year?

Grover: I cannot function without Canva. It is my go-to platform for creating advertisements for upcoming programs, designing book display signs, and more. Their templates and graphics are quality, and my finished creations always turn out so professionally.

Trudeau: Focusable is a new app that helps users with something we all struggle with more than ever: focus! It allows you to create timed “Progressions” for various tasks you want to complete. Within the Progressions, there are opportunities to self-regulate through breathing, visualization, and movement exercises. This tool has been instrumental for me in completing work both professionally and personally.

Hopper: Novel Effect has been an awesome addition to the library. It is an app that adds sounds to your readalouds. We also use Chatter Pix and Quiver a lot. PebbleGo! has been a great addition, as well. Teachers use it in the classrooms along with the students.

Gutierrez: In our classroom the biggest piece of “technology” in use is our projector. It’s on all day and allows the children to see things larger and engages them. We use it constantly to share one another’s work as well.

What is your students’ favorite tech tool to use?

Trudeau: WeVideo has become a renewed favorite. With an increasing sense of normalcy returning to our school, students are excited to work together to create all kinds of media: green screen videos, screencasts, podcasts, and even GIFs. WeVideo is instrumental to us for creating this content on a student-friendly platform.

Richert: We use Osmo [interactive, hands-on, educational kids’ games used in conjunction with tablets] a lot in passive programming around the library. This is great because the kits can be rather expensive, and this allows everyone to use them.

Klise: While our teens use tech throughout the day, the most popular tech tool is—surprise!—their own phones. Second-most popular: the machine we use to make buttons during GSA [Gender and Sexuality Alliance] meetings. What could be better on your backpack than a shiny new custom-made button? We are obsessed.

What are some books that have been flying out of your classroom or library?

Trudeau: While we deemed the last school year the “Year of Manga” and worked diligently to build that section of our library, this year the tide has turned, and it’s now our mystery section that is suddenly drawing the most interest among students. More specifically, anything by Karen McManus has been a huge hit. Students are also drawn to the works of Holly Jackson and E. Lockhart, as well as classics such as The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney.

Richert: We are getting asked a lot for Newbery winner The Last Cuentista by Donna Barbara Higuera, and of course, as always, the latest Dog Man title by Dav Pilkey. Each has their champions for sure.

Hopper: I recently added book bins to the “everyone” section in the library. This really helped my kiddos see different series that they had overlooked. They are loving the Biscuit series and the Charlie the Ranch Dog series. They are also loving two nonfiction series: Tiptoe into Scary Places and Danger Below!

Malespina: My manga and graphic novels are always flying off the shelves.

Klise: Last year, graphic novels ruled the school; this year, I cannot keep mysteries and thrillers on the shelves: anything by Tiffany Jackson, April Henry, Tom Ryan, or Jennifer Lynn Barnes, among others. Also, to my delight, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is having a renaissance. All five copies are out!

Is there a book you are most excited to share with students in the new year?

Trudeau: It’s no surprise that the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series remains consistently popular in our middle school library. At least one book from the series is checked out by a student every single day. As a result, I have been acquiring the first book in a variety of languages such as Italian, Mandarin, French, and Arabic, and I plan to put together a “Books Unite Us All” display—huge shoutout to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Wiki website for providing translated titles to help me with my hunt! I even purchased a copy of the book in Braille for students to experience. I hope to have around 15–20 books in various languages that students can explore. A few students have already stopped by while we were processing the books, and their reactions indicate that when we release this display, it’s going to be hugely popular. I am thrilled to provide my students with opportunities to explore various world languages.

Lee: We are having Paula Yoo join us for a virtual visit to talk about her nonfiction book From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry in May. While it’s a tough subject, many of our students are Asian or Asian American and will go to school in the United States after leaving our international school in Taipei. They, and all Americans, should know about Vincent Chin and how his killing led to Asian Americans and allies rallying together to fight for social justice. Sharing Yoo’s book alongside Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the ’90s to Now by Jeff Wang, Phil Yu, and Philip Wan, which highlights the many cultural achievements of Asian Americans, feels like an important primer for understanding some of the historical context of the place they will be heading.

Klise: So many! Honestly the one I’m most excited to share with students is my own new novel, I’ll Take Everything You Have, coming in February. It’s a queer coming-of-age crime story set in Chicago during the notoriously hot summer of 1934.

Hopper: I am looking forward to sharing a series I recently found called Area 51 Files by Julie Buxbaum. My students are always looking for supernatural series.

What about a book you would like to read, either for pleasure or professional development?

Trudeau: I am very much looking forward to an upcoming break from school so I can sit down and relish the 2022 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature winner, All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir. It sounds like such a powerful and breathtaking book, one I certainly would like to experience myself.

Grover: I cannot wait to read the latest installment of James Ponti’s City Spies series, Forbidden City, releasing in February. The entire series is incredible, and I’m looking forward to having new adventures with some fantastic characters. Students love this series, too.

Malespina: I really want to read The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson. It sounds great. Having minored in Black history, it is a topic I am very interested in, and I love Tiffany Jackson.

Klise: I’m excited about our book club’s winter/spring lineup, which includes Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, What I Carry by Jennifer Longo, as well as Deborah Heiligman’s Vincent and Theo—we’ll spend that meeting at the Art Institute of Chicago, getting an up-close look at some of Van Gogh’s brilliant work.

Are there any tech tools you would like to try out in the new year?

Trudeau: Thanks to information shared by Melanie Sowa-Li in a recent Future Ready Librarians App Smash webinar, I am planning to try out Halo AR in the new year. As someone who researches augmented reality and virtual reality and utilizes these technologies in the library, I’m always exploring new tools that can be used in a school setting. This tool looks amazing, and it will help fulfill a need due to the loss of discontinued tools such as Aurasma/HP Reveal.

Malespina: I am interested in Post News, which is a startup alternative to Twitter and looks like it could have some great educational uses. I just got on the site, so I am looking to see what it becomes.

Klise: The library just acquired a pair of Infocus portable smartboards, which will bring my research presentations into the 21st century. They also will be useful for sharing the daily events calendar, fun videos during club meetings, and even live cams of baby penguins frolicking. Step one: learn how to power them on.

Can you share a lesson, unit, project, or program you are looking forward to tackling in the new year?

Grover: I love the lesson I teach with the family and consumer sciences class during their babysitting unit, when we talk about the art of reading a picture book. Students learn about various ways to read a picture book aloud to younger students and strategies to keep them engaged while reading. We also partner up the students and give them a chance to practice their techniques on each other. Students really enjoy it, and some even check out our picture books when they are scheduled to actually babysit.

Lee: Our school is in the second year of a five-year strategic plan with a goal to more systematically develop our students’ information literacy and critical thinking skills. I am looking forward to continuing the process of collaborating with teachers to embed these standards and skills into the curriculum. Some new skills I will have to lean into for this are curriculum mapping with a large group and creating lesson modules in Canvas, our school’s learning management system, in an engaging way. This will mean getting better at screencasting, chunking lessons into manageable online modules, and creating fun assessments to gauge learning so that teachers can use these tools in their classrooms and we can measure outcomes.

Malespina: I am looking forward to continuing to help districts shape their policies in ways that can help fight censorship and make it so that students have access to a diverse range of materials that represent the many religious, ethnic, and cultural groups, as well as persons of a diversity of genders, gender identities, and sexual orientations, and their contribution to this country and the world, thereby enabling students to develop diverse intellectual integrity. Yes, that was taken from the policy I wrote.

Klise: I am determined to expand our collection of popular fiction in Arabic, Gujarati, and Urdu. Not as easy as it may sound.

Gutierrez: I cannot wait to do our unit on mapping in social studies. I love teaching the children about maps, the world, and all the different places that we can see. I read a few National Geographic books about places around the world and discovered a new one called A Ticket Around the World by Natalia Diaz and Melissa Owens that will allow me to take them on a great little trip.