Author Archives: susangrigsby

Review: One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo; pictures by David Small

“Elliot was a very proper young man.”  So begins Toni Buzzeo’s new book One Cool Friend.  Elliot and his father go to the Family Fun Day at the aquarium and while his father sits on a bench to read his National Geographic, Elliot skips the masses of children at the other displays and discovers the penguins. “…their tidy black feather tuxedos with their proper posture” makes an immediate and delightful impression on the boy. When he asks his father if he can have one, his father agrees and hands him a $20 bill. What happens next is a perfectly silly story that kids will simply love – and the surprise ending delivered by David Small’s expertly penned illustrations will have them begging to hear it (read it) again.

This is a delightful story that I think should be a first choice purchase. This is one of those rare books in which the illustrations provide a story of their own. Think Officer Buckle and Gloria and you’ll see what I mean. It is as if Toni and David are winking and grinning at the reader throughout the tale and we are happily in on the joke. Elliot is instantly likeable and his father jovially oblivious. I love the fact that Toni, a school librarian herself, included a visit to the library so that Elliot can do some research on his “cool friend.” The look on the librarian’s face as Elliot asks for help is priceless and her assistance in accessing both print and online resources is a nice touch.

This is not just for elementary schools, folks. There are so many extension activities you could do with this title in both middle and high school writing or art classes. The idea of the illustrations telling a different dimension of the story would make an interesting introduction to a unit on graphic novels or video production.  The subtle but important touches that Small adds to his drawings could lead to a discussion of book cover design or inference or visual storytelling. The only limits are the creativity of the educator!

I highly recommend One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo illustrated by David Small. It will make a wonderful addition to any library!

Susan K.S. Grigsby
Elkins Pointe Middle School (Fulton County)

School Librarianship . . . The Whirlwind Tour

By susangrigsby

I honestly don’t know where October went. One minute I was pulling out the Halloween decorations and the next minute I was looking for the cheapest turkey at the grocery store for my Thanksgiving dinner. Part of the issue is that I spent 4 amazing days in Minneapolis, MN for the AASL 2011 “Turning the Page” National Conference.

If you’ve never been I highly recommend that you go at least once. Save your pennies and squirrel away a little nest egg to make it to the next conference – you won’t be sorry. I know there was some recent LM-NET “discussion” about having to pay for the handouts and conference materials and, while I see some points on both sides of the issue, there is no substitute for being there in person. The energy and camaraderie was electric for me. Suddenly I’m in a convention center that is FILLED with people who get me! I can speak the language of school librarianship that is like the mother tongue to me. I can throw out ideas to like-minded practitioners and I am not met with the blank stares of educators who think I’m all about checking out books. I can see examples of student work that brings me to tears with the poignancy and vulnerability they display. I’ll be thinking about these things for months as I work towards implementing some of the ideas into my own classrooms.

Interestingly, after getting back from AASL I turned around and went to GaETC in College Park. And here’s the thing… I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of these conferences in my professional life. At AASL, we talked about tools and new ways of thinking but the underlying message was one of content-rich instruction. At GaETC we talked about the tools and the websites and the smartphone apps with a little less emphasis on content. The message from that conference was about enriching the classroom with technology. Now, I’m not saying that was the entire focus since there were, indeed, educators talking about using tools to transform instruction into a more student-centered model. There were educators talking about making sure the students are the ones creating content, understanding their innate creativity, and becoming confident in their ability to direct and “own” their learning. Is it conceited of me to think that librarians have been talking about this a LOT longer? Why is it that we librarians find ourselves in an echo chamber – speaking to each other about this shift in focus? Why does a system technology director have more clout than a school librarian or even a system media coordinator? And why is it that here at my own school a teacher actually said to me, “I thought librarians were in charge of checking out books!”?

I don’t know the answer. What I do know is this: Andy Plemmons was right on target when he said in an earlier post that we need to start spreading our message to conferences other than our own. We need to be presenting ourselves to NMSA, ASCD, principals’ associations and superintendents’ associations. And this: make sure you have a good quality, mutually respectful relationship with your technology person on the school level. When that person recognizes you as the expert on content and you recognize that person as an expert (or at least willing to become one) on the tools then there is no limit to what you can accomplish. In short, the collaborative relationships we have been talking about (to each other mostly) for years is more important now than ever. Because when your school system or your principal has staff options that include you, you want to make sure you’re included.

BTW: I’d like to publicly thank GLMA and GAIT for choosing me as the Georgia Library Media Specialist of the Year. The District Winners: Chris Parker (Henry Co), Andy Plemmons (Clarke Co), Shannon Robertson (Bulloch Co), Cheryl Youse (Colquitt Co), Angela Dallis (Columbia Co), and Beverly Brostek (Glynn Co) are phenomenal media specialists and I am humbled to have been selected from among this group. I think it’s funny/sad that the AJC has been running regular articles highlighting county system teachers of the year but have (to date) ignored the press releases and emails about these district winners and me. Sigh…  Onward.

Book Review: The Lighthouse Christmas by Toni Buzzeo

Review by Susan K.S. Grigsby

One of the perks of doing a little extra for the library profession here in Georgia is the chance to meet some really interesting and wonderful people. And so it was 2 years ago, as a member of the COMO XXI committee, I met author/educator/librarian Toni Buzzeo. I had the pleasure of driving her to the Atlanta airport from Columbus at the conclusion of the conference and we chatted, sharing stories and anecdotes for the entire trip. We have kept in touch ever since and I was delighted when she asked me to take a look at her new book The Lighthouse Christmas to review for all of you. Did she know that I am a Christmas freak? Did my kids tell her they think it looks like the North Pole threw up in my house every year? Did she suspect that I still have fond memories of throwing gobs of thin, metallic tinsel strands on our puny tree while my mother stood behind me begging “One string at a time!”? No, I don’t think so … just call it serendipity.

The Lighthouse Christmas opens with Frances and her little brother Peter, children of the widowed lighthouse keeper, anticipating Christmas. Frances is older and aware that since her mother’s passing and her father’s acceptance of a post at a very isolated and lonely lighthouse, Christmas will not be the buttery sugar cookies and family Christmas carols and presents from Santa that she and Peter remember. Storms have kept the supply boats away and the thought of leaving her Papa alone on Christmas while she and Peter visit their Aunt Martha on the mainland makes Frances feel “like a boat moored to a dock.” When a heavy storm hits, Frances must keep the flame lit in the lighthouse while Papa goes out to rescue a fisherman from his upturned boat. Both of the children are sad to realize they won’t have the kind of Christmas they had hoped for and make the best of it by celebrating with some makeshift decorations, simple gifts, and helping the rescued fisherman feel welcomed into their family. And then, well yes, Virginia… the magic of Christmas happens in a most wonderful, believable, and heartwarming way.

The illustrations are beautifully simple with rich colors and nostalgic touches that put the reader into the time and place of Toni’s story. Frances is given such expression and personality with just a few pen strokes. Peter is drawn with an obvious warmth and tenderness. All in all, I believe this book will become one of those classic stories that remind us of what Christmas is really about: families, caring hearts, and the pure joy of giving. Have a hankie ready if you plan to read this aloud. This one is going into my personal collection…

The Lighthouse Christmas by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter; published by Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-0-8037-3053-3

Leadership and the school librarian: Take Control of Your Space

When I was in college getting my undergraduate degree – a B.S. in Commercial Music Recording and Production – I took a class through the psychology department simply titled “Leadership.” The professor was a woman who chose to guide the class with The Tao of Leadership  by John Heider. If you go to and look up the title you will find this description: “The Tao of Leadership is an invaluable tool for anyone in a position of leadership. This book provides the simplest and clearest advice on how to be the very best kind of leader: be faithful, trust the process, pay attention, and inspire others to become their own leaders. Heider’s book is a blend of practical insight and profound wisdom, offering inspiration and advice. This book is used as a Management/Leadership training text by many Fortune 500 corporations, including IBM, Mitsubishi, and Prudential.” (; accessed 5/17/2011). 

I have owned that book since 1991 and I still refer to it 20 years later. Not because it is a “how to” type of book but because it is timeless in its wisdom. It isn’t about how to run a company and it isn’t about how to take control of a group. It is, however, a guidebook for the personal journey to that place in ourselves that is confident (not arrogant), joyful (not ignorant), and intelligent (not elitist). I think it should be required reading for the school librarian. Why? Because I  consistently hear from colleagues who complain that teachers “won’t collaborate,” administrators “don’t get it,” and legislators and lawmakers think “we’re expendable.” All true. But I rarely, if ever, hear those same colleagues talk about where they are making changes within themselves or their programs to address these issues. Rarely do I see that there is an acceptance of some personal responsibility for this state of affairs. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist and I’ll even go out on a limb and say that those who are making the effort to read this blog are not the librarians to whom I am referring. But if you’re reading this blog, you know I am speaking the truth. We are surrounded by those that blame “the other” before ever taking a critical look at their own contribution to the problem.

In the May/June issue of School Library Monthly there is an article titled “Success is an Attitude” by Kara Fribley. This article is part of the magazine’s “Taking the Lead” series and, in my humble opinion, a must read. Ms. Fribley opens her article by saying “School librarians can be leaders who positively impact the tone for the entire school” (p. 34). The article is about how Ms. Fribley looked critically at the physical space of her library and made changes that altered the feel and usability of it. Isolated seating areas were opened up and made more accessible. Individual study carrels were removed and open tables with flexible seating were put in their place to foster collaborative learning. In some areas the changes cost absolutely nothing but a little sweat worked up by moving some furniture around. According to Ms. Fribley, “…it ultimately falls to the librarian to encourage or discourage patron usage of the library” (p. 35). Truer words are rarely spoken. The words spoke to me directly because I am putting thought into action by changing my library space, too. I am taking on the leadership needed to improve my space and it is already paying off.

For starters, I painted a rainbow of colors on the cinderblock columns that surround the collection space. Suddenly, the beige and cream color scheme (if you can really call beige and cream a color scheme) was brightened up and brought a little joy to the library. What did it cost? About $60 for paint, brushes, and painter’s tape and a couple of my days during the summer. Then I looked at the entrance – more beige and cream, nothing inviting students in, nothing that said I welcomed them. So, I came up with a quote and stenciled it on the walls of the entry way in the same rainbow colors I used on the columns. As you walk in you see the first part of the quote “Enter with Curiosity…” and as you leave you see the second part, “Exit with Knowledge.” It looks professional but was beyond easy and anyone who wants to know how I did it can send me an email and I’ll explain. I am a creative problem-solver, not an artist!

Next, I tackled my Reference collection. Surrounded by overstuffed shelves and no teaching space I had to think critically about how to rearrange that area. I did some very necessary weeding and opened up some of the shelving. I had the county come in and remove the tall shelves that took up one entire wall – those were distributed to grateful teachers for classroom use. I then did some serious negotiating with our county warehouse and found a dry-erase board sitting unused that they were willing to install on that wide open wall. Now my reference collection is updated and the area is more like a small classroom. How much did it cost? Nothing (although I did offer our warehouse manager a plate of brownies for his help – he declined).

Finally, I looked at the flow of traffic in my media center and did not like what I saw. This school is only 10 years old and there are still many “opening items” here that had to go. I had rows of shelves that had never held any books and, quite frankly, it did not make sense to just fill them up because they were there. I began looking at the emptiness and began thinking in terms of efficiency. My clerk, my intern, and I began rearranging the collection. No shelf is stuffed but the Dewey categories are now closer together. By tweaking the shelving arrangement I ended up with 16 double-sided bookshelves that were completely empty right in the center of the collection. I asked the county to come and pick them up (they did), I asked teachers to let me know if they wanted any of them (they did), and asked the rest to be taken to the county warehouse for storage (done). Now I have this open area with a couch and 2 chairs, 4 beanbag chairs, and a round table with 4 chairs where those empty shelves used to be. And you know what? That area is full of students every morning and has been since the shelves were removed. I didn’t advertise, I didn’t make a big deal about it – but they came and they sat together and they read books and worked on projects together. And they seemed happy! I have a lot more transformative projects up my sleeve and I will let you know when (notice I did not say “if”) they happen. You can click on the pictures below to get a better view of what I’ve done.

The Tao of Leadership tells us that the great leader knows when to listen and when to speak. It tells us that the great leader understands that s/he becomes empowered by empowering his/her team. It tells us that leadership is sometimes quiet and evolutionary rather than vocal and demanding. It is an ebb and flow of action and assistance. It tells us that if we want to make a change we must begin with ourselves because clarity of thought and action draws others to us more powerfully than anything else. So… start rearranging!





“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Pogo said it well, didn’t he?  But what did he really mean? Allow me to muse on this since it’s been on my mind as I look at the continuing dismal picture that is Georgia’s K-12 public education.
It is this writer’s humble opinion that Pogo was commenting on the fact that we are all personally responsible for the polluted waters in which we live. It reminds me of a concept in Zen Buddhism that says (and I’m paraphrasing) if you meet an obstacle in your path that does not yield in spite of your every effort to overcome, then you need to understand that you put it there yourself.
Every single day I see emails and hear stories from teacher-librarians about how things don’t work in their schools. The culprits range from uncaring administrators to micro-managing central offices to incompetent clerks to not enough money to… You get the picture. Yet in nearly every one I yearn to hear the suggestion of a solution. Take a look around this state at the teacher-librarians that are making their programs work and are making a difference in their schools and the one thing you will NOT find is an absence of any problems like those mentioned above. They work in spite of those things, folks. So what makes the difference in programs/teacher-librarians that work and those that don’t? I belive it is a kind of divergent thinking exhibited by those who are successful.
Do you have an uncaring administrator? Okay…maybe you’ve talked until you’re blue in the face but nothing has changed. Have you thought of a different approach? Maybe that administrator needs to be shown what you do, not asked if you can do it. Maybe that’s a person who will be impressed with results and turned off by complaints. Maybe you should take a moment and re-examine how you’ve dealt with this person in the past and get suggestions from your successful colleagues about how they’ve overcome this issue. It IS possible but the possibilities begin with YOU.
Do you have a micro-managing central office? How have you approached your building level staff for ideas and suggestions on implementing successful programs? Is there a colleague at your school that is able to get innovative lessons/ideas into practice that you could collaborate with? Sometimes approaching successful staff members with an attitude that includes admiration, respect, and “how can I help you make it even better” will go a long way to changing the status quo.
Do you have a clerk that has no training or experience in a media center? First and foremost, ask yourself what you have really done to bring that person up to speed. Maybe you’re working with someone who needs their duties spelled out in a list format prioritized by daily, weekly, or monthly tasks. Is it extra work? Yes, but isn’t it better than simply complaining that the assistant isn’t assisting? Working with someone who carries a bad attitude with them is probably the most difficult thing in the world and will bring you down quicker than almost anything else. Does that mean you throw up your hands and give up? Well, you could but how does that make YOU look? Find a spot in your school or your media center where you can go and center yourself. Take some deep breaths and repeat “I can handle this. I can rise above this. I can smile and do my job.” I’m not a Pollyanna, folks. I’ve been there. It’s hard. It’ll make you question if you’re really doing what you were meant to do and it’ll make you question whether you even want to get out of your bed and show up every day. But keep one thing in mind – you serve a purpose that is more global and far-reaching than just about anyone else in the building. Allowing one person with a bad attitude to subvert that purpose is ultimately on you. And, who knows, if you can find a way to shift your focus from problems to solutions you may find an administrator willing to entertain suggestions on solving the issue. Show that administrator how your program works, how it affects every single stakeholder in your school community, and how appropriate personnel makes a difference and you just might get some relief from an untenable situation.
These are difficult times made more trying by the economy and a social climate that places public education and public school teachers somewhere in the spectrum of used car salesmen. What are WE doing to change that? Look critically at your situation and determine where your realm of influence ends – then work backwards. Change your world and change the world of a student. That’s why we’re here, after all, isn’t it? To improve student achievement? To help them navigate the tangled overload of information thrown at them every day? To help them think critically about what they see or hear or read? Yes, there are problems – deep problems – but look at them in terms of solutions and you will soon find your focus in a different place. You do indeed have the power to move the obstacles, my friends. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you and don’t be afraid to tackle it head-on. You make a difference when you choose to do so. What will you do differently today?