Words from Pat Scales

National Social Work Month

National Social Work Month is celebrated every March.  Some children and young adults may have encountered social workers, but many may not understand what social workers actually do.  Try some of the following activities to help them understand the focus of social services and why social workers are needed in our communities.

  • Tell readers that Frances Perkins was the pioneer of social work.  Ask them to find out about Perkins and why the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 caused her to become dedicated to social work.
  • Suggest that readers write a tribute to her for the school or library website.
  • Have readers read about the Orphan Trains and discuss why The Children’s Aid Society is classed a social service organization.  How was this movement the beginning of the foster care system in the United States
  • Suggest that readers find out the many duties of social workers.  Then have children ages 9-up to write a job description for a social worker in their city or county.
  • Ask a social worker to speak to readers and tell them the specifics of their job.  Why do school districts and hospital employ social workers? Have readers prepare questions to ask the guest speaker.
  • “Forging Solutions Out of Challenges” is the theme for 2016 National Social Work Month.  Display books about children and families may benefit from the help of a social worker. For example, how could a social worker have helped Zachary in When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. Then have them share the book they select.  Suggestions from Random House include:

Dealing with the Poor

A Chance to Shine (picture book) by Steve Seskin

Something Beautiful (picture book) by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

The Mighty Miss Malone (middle grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bucking the Sarge (young adult) by Christopher Paul Curtis


Foster Care

Carolina Harmony (middle grade) by Marilyn Taylor McDowell

But, Not Buddy (middle grade) by Christopher Paul curtis

Grover G. Graham and Me (middle grade) by Mary Quattlebaum

Pictures of Hollis Woods (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

Ball Don’t Lie (young adult) by Matt De La Peêa

Shifty (young adult) by Lynn e. Hazen

The Story of Tracy Beaker (young adult) by Jacquline Wilson


Adopted Children

Ten Days and Nine Nights (picture book) by Yumi Heo

All the Way Home (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

Finding Miracles (young adult) by JJulia Alvarez

Invisible Threads (young adult) by Annie Dalton and Maria Dalton


Troubled Families

Holes (middle grade) by Louis Sachar

Liar and Spy (middle grade) by Rebecca Stead

Nest (middle grade) by Esther Ehrlich

A Piece of Heaven (middle grade) by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Black Box (young adult) by Julie Schumacher

Grief Girl (young adult) by Erin Vincent

Life is Fine (young adult) by Allison Whittenbert

Prizefighter en Mi Casa (young adult by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo


Aide to Immigrants

Return to Sender (middle grade) by Julia Alvarez

Enrique’s Journey (young adult) by Sonia Nazario

Red Glass (young adult) by Laura Resau

Love & Friendship in the Air

There are many special occasions to celebrate the month of February.  Almost all schools find creative ways to connect Presidents Day to the curriculum, and many school and public libraries include a way to commemorate Valentine’s Day.  When I was in elementary school, and even into junior high school we had a class Valentine’s box.  There was usually a committee of students charged with decorating it.  Then everyone put valentines addressed to their friends in the box.  Sometimes we made our valentines; other times we bought a variety package of cards with the idea that there would be a card appropriate for each special friend.  I seem to remember that the number of cards we received was far more important than the sentiment inside.  Then in high school everything changed –the sentiment meant everything to you.  I don’t think that I, or any of my classmates ever understood the history of Valentine’s Day; it was simply a time to have a class party or display love and friendship.

There are so many resources available about all holidays that it’s easy to develop curriculum and library programming around this special day.  Here are some ideas:

  • Readers may enjoy finding images of vintage Valentines. A book that may be used with all ages is Vintage Valentines by Golden Books. Encourage them to explore the Vintage Valentine Museum. Then have them create a vintage Valentine for someone in their family.
  • Have older readers research the history of Valentine’s Day and create Valentine’s trivia. The following websites are helpful:
    Nova Reinna
    Info Please

Then have them divide the trivia into five categories.  Ask for volunteers to compete in a Jeopardy style game with the clues taken from the research.

  • Allow older readers to create a Valentine maze for younger readers where a card is delivered from a postal worker to a recipient.  Or, consider a Valentine’s Day hidden picture.
  • Have readers draw various sizes of hearts and cut them in puzzle pieces.  Then mix up the pieces and take them to another class or group and see how long it takes them to fit the pieces together.
  • Finally, introduce readers to books that celebrate love.  The youngest readers may want to make a Valentine card for a character in a book.  Older readers may enjoy writing a special love poem from one character to another.  Suggested titles from Random House include:

Picture Books

Donovan’s Big Day by Leslea Newman & illus. by Mike Dutton

Everything I Need to Know about Love I Learned from a Golden Book by Diane Muldrow

How to Mend a Heart by Sara Gillingham

Love Always Everywhere by Sarah Massini

Three Little Words by Clemency Pearce & illus. by Rosalind Beardshaw

Tweet Hearts by Susan Reagan


Easy to Read

Junie B. My Valentime by Barbara Park & illus. by Denise Brunkus

Princess Hearts (Disney Princess) by Jennifer Liberts Weinbert & illus. by Francesco Legramandi


Middle Grade

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Crush by Gary Paulsen

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

With Love from Spain, Melanie Martin by Carol Weston


Young Adult

Another Day by David Levithan

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Hollywood and Maine by Allison Whittenbert

Mismatch by Lensey Namioka

Geography Awareness Month

I never enjoyed geography in school.   It wasn’t information that I ever thought I would use.  I’m not even sure my teacher saw the use for it or she would have made it a more interesting subject.  Her method of teaching included writing notes on the chalkboard (that dates me) and asking us to copy them in notebooks.  Then we simply memorized the facts and spit them back on weekly and end of term test. I do think if I had had someone point out to me that a geographical area helps define the culture of the people I might have seen the subject differently.  Even if we had made use of the globe that sat on a table in the front of the classroom, I might have made the all-important connections between the lands and their people.  That said, I admit that as I began traveling the nation and the world, whether physically or through books, I am surprised how much of the information has come back to me.

The National Geography Bee has become quite the event to watch, and I’m amazed at the kids that compete.  It’s clear that they aren’t just spitting out facts, but they truly understand lands of the world.  November is Geography Awareness Month, and I think it fitting to introduce all ages to fiction and nonfiction that help them see the importance of geography.  Only then can they fully understand all the lands that constitute the world in which we live.  Here are a few programming ideas with book suggestions from Random House:

  • Introduce young children to the following books:

Me On the Map by Joan Sweeney & illus. by Annette Cable

There’s a Map on My Lap! By Tish Rabe


Talk with them about what maps tell us.

  • Then have them color a map of their state.  Show them important areas in the state, like mountains, deserts, beaches, etc.
  • Talk about books where the geographical setting is important:

Picture Books

The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown & illus. by Leonard Weisgard

Why Oh Why Are Deserts Dry? By Tish Rabe & illus. by Aristides Ruiz & Joe Mathleu

 Middle Grade

Child of the Mountains by Marilyn Sue Shank

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Faith, Hope and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Holes by Louis Sachar

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

River Thunder by Will Hobbs

Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Written in Stone by Roseanne Parry

 Young Adult

Blue Skin of the Sea by Graham Salisbury

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen

 Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larsen

Island Boyz by Graham Salisbury

  • Introduce world geography with the following:

Picture Book

How To Make An Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman

Somewhere in the World Right Now by Stacey Schuett

Middle Grade

Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins

  • Have them read a biography about an explorer or adventurer that made their living or hobby seeing and studying the world.

Picture Books

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino


Climbing Everest (Totally True Adventures) by Gail Herman & illus. by Michele Amatrula

The Race Around the World by Nancy Castaido & illus. by Wesley Lowe

Young Adult

The Beet Fields by Gary Paulsen

  • Have readers take facts from books (both fiction and nonfiction) they have read, and make questions for a group geography bee.
  • Ask older readers to make cutouts of countries of the world.  Then scramble the cutouts and sponsor a competition to see how quickly small groups can create a continent with the countries in the right places.  Younger readers may be encouraged to do the same thing with the 50 states.
  • Suggest that readers use reference sources to find out information about the geography of a particular region of the world.  Then have them write and illustrate an adventure they may take to that area.  They should include specific geographic facts as a way of educating their readers.
  • Divide readers into groups and assign them each a continent.  Then have them gather geographical facts about that continent and write and perform a rap that teaches the facts the larger group.

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was born October 11,1884 and died at the age of 78 on November 7, 1962.  Some Americans felt she was too outspoken as a First Lady.  Others thought she was a woman beyond her time. She worked with her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on programs that helped the nation recover from the Great Depression, and together they dealt with a nation at war.  Perhaps her greatest contribution came after her husband’s death when she began her work with the United Nations.   She oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  History has been kind to Mrs. Roosevelt, and it is important for the young to understand the difference she made to our nation, and to the world.

  • Introduce students to President Roosevelt so that they may understand the contribution Eleanor made to his administration by using the following books:

FDR’s Alphabet Soup: New Deal America 1932-1939 (elementary) by Tonya Bolden

FDR and the American Crisis (middle grade) by Albert Marrin

The Great Depression

Children of the Dust Bowl (middle grade) by Jerry Stanley

A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt (middle grade) by C. Coco De Young

Leo and the Lesser Lion (middle grade) set during the Depression by Sandra Forrester

The Mighty Miss Malone (middle grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

  •  Read about Eleanor Roosevelt on the following websites. Then have readers write a one-page paper called “Eleanor Roosevelt: First Lady of the World.”

The White House: First Lady Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

The Official First Ladies’ Website – First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

FDR Presidential Library & Museum Website

  • Have readers brainstorm all the things Eleanor Roosevelt cared about.  Then have them read a few of the following books and share how the book represents the spirit and believes of Mrs. Roosevelt.

As Good as Anybody (picture book) by Richard Michelson & illus. by Raul Colon

Dear Malala, We Stand with You (picture book) by Rosemary McCarney

Lillian’s Right to Vote (picture book) by Jonah Winter & illus. by Shane W. Evans

A New Coat for Anna (picture book) by Harriet Ziefert

A Thousand Never Evers (middle grade) by Shana Burg

Goodbye, Vietnam (young adult) by Gloria Whelan

Laugh with the Moon (middle grade) by Shana Burg

Sylvia & Aki (middle grade) by Winifred Conkling

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina (middle grade) by Michaela DePrince and Elain DePrince

Before We Were Free (young adult) by Julia Alvarez

Children of the River (young adult) by Linda Crew

Enrique’s Journey (young adult) by Sonia Nazario

Hattie Ever After (young adult) by Kirby Larson

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer (young adult) by Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong

One Thousand Paper Cranes (young adult) by Takayuki Ishil

The Red Umbrella (young adult) by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Slumgirl Dreaming (middle grade) by Ali Rubina in collaboration with Anne Berthod and Divya Dugar

  •  Have younger students make an appropriate birthday card for Mrs. Roosevelt from the viewpoint of a favorite main character.
  • Ask older readers to find out about Mrs. Roosevelt’s radio show. What was Mrs. Roosevelt’s focus on her radio show?
    The PBS Website
  • What social and political issues might she care about today?  For example what might be her views about immigration? The Pope’s agenda? Syrian War refugees?  Then plan a feature about one of the events in the style of Mrs. Roosevelt.
  • Ask readers to interpret the following quote by Mrs. Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”

The New Kid

Kids who have moved understand what it’s like being the new kid in the class, or in the neighborhood. But even kids who have never moved experience new kid anxieties at the beginning of every school year. They are in a new grade, have new teachers, and they may face new subject areas. Those who move from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school feel a bit like a fish out of water as they adjust to a new environment. Sharing books is a unifying experience, and may do a lot to relax new kid fears. Allow time on the first day for kids to share a book they’ve read. Then tell them that you are going to introduce them to your favorite book, and begin on the very first day reading the book aloud. Here are some other new kid activities.

  • Ask students to pick a character from a favorite book and introduce them to the class as a new kid. Instruct them to tell three interesting things about the character.
  • Have students grade 3-up brainstorm the information that should be recorded in a reading journal. Then instruct students to pick a character from a book that they have read and write an entry in a reading journal that reveals that character’s favorite subject. Ask them to make specific references to the book to support their thoughts. For example, Brandan Buckley from Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment (middle grade) by Sundee Frazier would really like science.
  • Then use books to introduce students to the subjects they will be studying. Suggestions from Random House include:


R is for Rocket: An ABC Book (picture book) by Tad Hills

How Rocket Learned to Read (picture book) by Tad Hills

Eleven (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff


Tyrannosaurus Math (picture book) by Michelle Markel

Piece = Part = Portion (elementary) by Scott Gifford

G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book (elementary/middle) by David M. Schwartz


I, Galileo (picture book) by Bonnie Christensen

Dangerous Planet (elementary) by Bryn Barnard

Frozen in Time (middle grade) by Mark Kurlansky

The Great Trouble (middle grade) by Deborah Hopkinson

Outbreak! Plagues That Changed History (young adult) by Bryn Barnard

Ringside, 1925 (young adult) by Jen Bryant

Black Gold: The Story of Oil in Our Lives (young adult) by Albert Marrin


I Pledge Allegiance (picture book) by Pat Mora & Libby Martinez & illus. by Patrice Barton

The Ballot Box Battle (picture book) by Emily Arnold McCully

Me on the Map (picture book) by Joan Sweeney & illus. by Annette Cable

The American Story (elementary) by Jennifer Armstrong & illus. by Roger Roth

The Hope Chest (middle grade) by Karen Schwabach

The Century for Young People (all ages) by Peter Jennings & Todd Brewster

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia (young adult) by Candace Fleming


The Noisy Paint Box (picture book) by Barb Rosenstock

The Chalk Box Kid (early reader) by Clyde Robert Bulla

Pictures of Hollis Woods (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

Pieces of Georgia (middle grade) by Jen Bryant


Theater Shoes (middle grade) by Noel Streatfeild


Junie B. Jones #22: One-Man Band (early reader) by Barbara Park and illus. by Denise Brunkus

Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century (picture book) by Carole Boston Weatherford & illus. by Raul Colon

Harlem’s Little Blackbird (picture book) by Renee Watson & illus. by Christian Robinson

Physical Education

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies (young adult) by Mick Cochrane

Toby Wheeler: Eighth-Grade Benchwarmer (young adult) by Thatcher Heldring

Good Sports (picture book) by Jack Prelutsky & illus. by Chris Raschka

Out of Nowhere (young adult) by Maria Padlan


Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (elementary school) by Chris Grabenstein

Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) (picture book) by Barbara Bottner & I  llus. by Michael Emberley

Random House Teachers and Librarians