Ms. Donnelly Reads

"A Reader Lives a Thousand Lives" George R.R. Martin

So, being a crazy new librarian with TONS of stuff on the cooker, OF COURSE I’ve decided to create a themed bulletin board. Each month, a different theme will be represented with books that relate to the theme. This month, we’re working on BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS! With all of the violence happening in my school’s neighborhood, it’s more important now, than ever before, that kids get to know one another and understand that everyone is struggling with something. You gotta be a friend in order to have a friend.

In a world where you can be anything you want, be kind.

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September books (all descriptions come from Amazon):


1. Wonder by R. J. Palacio- August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance



2. The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine- As twelve-year-old Marlee starts middle school in 1958 Little Rock, it feels like her whole world is falling apart. Until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is everything Marlee wishes she could be: she’s brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn’t matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.



3. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan- Esperanza thought she’d always live a privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico. She’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home filled with servants, and Mama, Papa, and Abuelita to care for her. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard work, financial struggles brought on by the Great Depression, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When Mama gets sick and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances-because Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.



4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson- Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.



5. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein- When Kyle learns that the world’s most famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello, has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on opening night, he’s determined to be there! But the tricky part isn’t getting into the library—it’s getting out. Because when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route!



6. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate- Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”―people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with a crow named Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighborhood.
You might say Red has seen it all.
Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experience as a wishtree is more important than ever.
Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, this is Katherine Applegate at her very best―writing from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.

Well… the time has come for the BIG REVEAL!! There are still many things that need to happen and I’ll post those updates once they’re tightened up. I’m working on creating a “donations” section with all of the books that you donated to my library ❤️ thank you to Lisa Balandes Donnelly for painting the bookcases and Maddie Schmidt for giving me so much of your time this summer to paint the walls and bookcases, Dodi Wians and Lisa Komorowski for donating posters from their shop to decorate the tops of the bookcases, Michelle Radice Nelson and Margaret Foggin for encouraging me through the program, Michael Dufner and Tom Barry for urging me to create an Amazon wishlist to bulk up the shelves, Tony Zungrone for hosting the Donors Choose (which was fully funded!!) for new tables and chairs, Mary Lou Rowan-Harrington and Kristin Kramer Dube for the boxes of books, and so many others for every ounce of support and encouragement through this process! I appreciate it more than you know!70155948_10220415498201362_3824123667860684800_n69937458_10220415497881354_4601449917360111616_n69635305_10220415498041358_3403236758551265280_n69349526_10220415497561346_4693399476335804416_n69353643_10220415498561371_3938273607846723584_n69304386_10220415498801377_5554856129344831488_n

HUGE news! A few weeks ago, I held my breath, made a wish, and put it out into the universe. And, guess what?! The universe answered! It sent me wonderful humans that understand that children need to read and explore in order to grow and mature. By the way of personal library donations, an actual library donating 3 jam packed boxes of books and almost 40 purchased off of my Wish List! Can you believe it?! Yeah, neither could I!!

There are more than what’s been photographed, but those bad boys are all labeled and ready to go to their new home tomorrow!! I’m making a shelf dedicated especially to all of the generous donations! The books will don book plates listing the donors’ names.

I’m a firm believer in what you put into the world, you will receive. I’ve been at this teaching gig going on 19 years now… And, I’ve put a lot of effort, blood, sweat, and tears (so, SO many tears) and I’ve been treated to some really wonderful paybacks- my children, former students who stay in touch and tag me in Facebook (say what you will, but it’s nice to know they never forgot me… I’ve got a Winnie the Pooh complex, sometimes). When I’ve asked for things for my students, and once a huge ask for my son, I’ve been met with nothing short of  pure, unadulterated generosity. That is no joke. I LOVE to exaggerate and basically live in a hyperbolic state, but this is legit.

So, what else is there to say other than…  THANK YOU!!!!


Hello Book Dragons,

In addition to revamping the actual library space, I also need to beef up the collection. Over the last five weeks, I’ve literally put my hands on every single book in the library and find that while it’s decent, most of the books have been there for years and there’s not too much that’s fresh and new for the kids.

Again, with the advice of smart and supportive friends, I put together a “Wish List” from Amazon that will breathe life into my collection. AND, Amazon Prime Days are around the corner!

So, if your kind heart is so inclined to help build up my middle school library collection, trust that I am forever grateful to and for you!

Live a thousand lives,

Sarah Donnelly

Roosevelt Jr. High Library Wish List

Well, I forgot that today was free Slurpee day. Wanna know why? Because I’ve got a whole lotta stuff on my mind. Let’s start here…
Since the last day of school, I’ve been in the junior high library 3-4 days a week for 4-5 hours a day. I know what you’re thinking… “WHY?!” Well, as some of you may (or may not) know, I am the new RJH librarian! It’s a HUGE move for me. I’ve spent the last 18 years in the classroom. But, my love of reading and cultivating a reading atmosphere is all consuming and I needed to find a place where my sole focus is READING.
That may sound very boring to some of you… And that’s because you just never found your book. The book that speaks to you and captures your imagination and heart. The book where you relate to characters in a way you never thought possible. THE BOOK that changes the way you see the world and the people around you. George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones novels and HBO series, once said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” It’s true, friends.
So, I’ve spent the last FIVE WEEKS in the library cleaning and clearing it out. Cleaning shelves, relabeling books, painting (YES! I said painting!!), and figuring out how to change the vibe so it FEELS like a place to come and read, think, and dream about things.
My hope, of course, is that you feel the difference when you walk in. Because every single thing I’ve done to that library has been for you. No one else. Just you. Because you deserve to have a soft place to land. And read. Don’t forget about the reading part.
So, let’s begin our adventure of a thousand lives!
Yours in reading,
Ms. Sarah Donnelly

My district has used the Accelerated Reader program for as long as I’ve been there (18 years) and probably longer than that. It’s an easy, but ineffective, way to make sure kids are reading their library books.

The gist:

  • Accelerated Reader, or AR, is a computer program that monitors students’ independent reading that schools began using in 1986. Since then, the program has undergone name changes and program upgrades. The latest version is called Accelerated Reader 360™.
  • Each book, and there are over 180,000 in the catalog, is assigned a certain number of points based on the reading level. Since the learning is individualized, it’s thought that children will be more invested when they’re successful on the tests which will create a love of reading.

The nuts and bolts:

  • Students take the STAR Reading test, also owned by Renaissance Learning, to determine students’ reading scores and their AR goal is set from those scores
  • Once students know they scores, they can choose their own books based on interest and/or reading level
  • After they read the book, they take an online test with 5, 10, or 20 questions depending on the length and content of the book
  • If a student scores 60% or below, they do not receive any points for that book. Scores of 70%-95% are awarded a percentage of the total points. Only a score of 100% will earn a student full points for the book

“A parent’s guide to Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360.” Renaissance. Accessed 29 January 2019.

The cost in both time and dollars:

  • The program’s developer recommends using Accelerated Reader™ during in-class time dedicated to reading practice for at least 35 minutes
  • Teachers can use points to set goals for the quantity and quality of reading practice for each student. Point accumulation, as well as other optional teacher-provided rewards, are intended to motivate student learning (though the program does not explicitly suggest giving external rewards)
  • Accelerated Reader™ and Accelerated Reader 360™ are sold on an annual, per-student subscription. Additional cost information is available from the distributor (I’ve seen the numbers vary from a one-time $1,500 fee and $4/student to the cost being flexible depending on the district’s contract

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2016, June). Beginning Reading intervention report: Accelerated Reader™. Retrieved from


None of these numbers surprise me, because they all validate my argument against AR in the schools. All too often, a district gets stuck in a rut and stays there simply because it’s easier than finding something that truly fits in with the makeup of their students.

The last few years I’ve forced myself into making friends with technology and social media in my classroom. I developed a website for my students, started using Remind to stay in contact with them, and created an Instagram account for my classes (that, though, was short lived. I didn’t want there to be any trouble with postings or comments).

In reading 9 Ways to Use Social Media in Your Classroom, there were several items that I may try next year. I liked the idea of focusing on ONE social media component a month. School is overwhelming for students and teachers. There are so many demands, so laying them all down at their feet the first month of school is premature and they won’t have any connection to it in May. And, by having them zoom in on one social media topic, they can really flesh out the uses and distractions of each program.

Getting Social: everyone, including the teacher, needs to pick a platform and follow it for the month. Once a week, everyone checks in with what they’ve learned, terms they’ve come across, and information they’ve found for academic purposes.

Blogging: Teacher sets up a blog platform for kids. They write about a topic and provide meaningful feedback to each other (sound familiar)? The accounts are password protected, so it’s private for the class. Students can go on to use this work for their portfolio.

Twitter: Have kids create Twitter accounts (if they’re old enough) and populate their account with topics in class, post their homework, or start a #TrendingTopic for the class to discuss.

Scoop: It’s ok. But, teachers need to pay $7/month for a subscription. This may put educators off because they already spend SO MUCH of their OWN money every year.

Tumblr AND Pinterest: Curate pages for classroom topics with images and/or websites that are relevant. There are so many ways to use these two platforms in a classroom! It’s a less messy way to create collages 🙂

Flickr: Document what’s going on in school: field trips, class projects, presentations, etc. Alongside Twitter, this is another place to create a #TrendingTopic that deals with the classroom.

Skype: What a wonderful way to connect with people! Bringing experts into a classroom without having to do anything other than set up a connection. Students are exposed to a great number of people, places, and ideas that they may have never experienced before.

Time It: A great history class tool. Kind of like Google Hang Outs, students can be in a document at the same time to create timelines. It can be used in other classes, too. Also, students are able to comment and critique other students’ work.



I think a lot of what Rheingold says is still valid inside a classroom. The one topic that rang true with me was Attention. As an educator for the last 18 years, I’ve noticed a significant drop in attention rates in children. Now, I’ve never seen a class at 100% all the time, but a good 70/30 would probably make sense. Now, in a class of 20, it’s safe to say that I’m usually at 50/50. Reasons for inattention range from daydreaming to the inability to read. We are not a device driven school, our laptops are about 5 years old and show it, and the teacher technology isn’t always working, either. But, because I’m not doing handstands and cartwheels or singing and dancing (wait, I do do that in class from time to time), it’s difficult to hold their attention.

The article explains that students were so engaged with their laptops they missed the actual lecture. Kids in my district are not allowed to use their mobile devices in the classroom. I cannot begin to fathom the chaos that would ensue if they were allowed to do that. When they use classroom laptops or we take a trip to the computer lab, they’re always either: rushing through the work so they can play whatever games they can access with our network OR there are tabs open that shouldn’t be and they can switch quickly back and forth between them in case a teacher is walking by.

I really liked the three probes exercise (Rheingold, 2010).  especially the one where the other students got to “feel” what it was like to be ignored when they were trying to instruct the class. There are wonderful teachable moments here. It’s easy to ignore a teacher when you’re playing on your laptop because you think you’re the only one… Except, EVERYONE thinks they’re the only one. And my other favorite was what I call “musical laptops”! Talk about an exercise in collaboration!

It’s important to take students’ heads out of the laptops and allow them to “marinate” in the sage on the stage every once in a while. I know that education has changed exponentially in the last 20 years, but there are tried and true methods throughout the span of time that suggest at the head of things, you need an educational leader.

Rheingold, H. (n.d.). Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies. Retrieved from 21stcentury-social-media-literacies

Congress designed CIPA and COPPA to protect children who use the internet. And, while all of their efforts are applauded, the honest truth is, kids are going to do what they can and want to do on the internet because they feel like they can’t be seen by adults.

My district has students and parents sign internet safety agreements at registration. Kids cannot use the internet without having a signed copy on file. And, in school, our filters are super stringent. They cannot even access Youtube under their log in credentials, but can find their way in to music websites. My district files for e-rate funding, so I’m guessing that our user agreement that the parents have to sign covers that requirement. The consent letter has been the same for as long as I’ve worked for my district, which is 18 years.

While walls are a super popular topic in the news, lately, I’d like to draw this wonderful comparison about children finding their ways around firewalls if they want something bad enough. They may not do their homework or read or do math at grade level, but they can hack their ways into off-limit places on the internet. (lol)

I’ve been guilty of this a couple of times… But, it was for the purpose of education. I’ve had students in love with Harry Potter and they wanted to know which House they belonged to. Except, Pottermore has an age requirement… And… I may or may not have told those students to just change their birth year… I know… I know… I’m an Irish Catholic, I’m good with holding on to the guilt…

So, are kids really safe? No way! Neither are adults! This is hilariously appropriate:


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I think schools do as much as they can to protect kids in school. But, as we know, there’s no way to always protect them from everything. Even in schools, kids find porn sites, intentionally or unintentionally (recall my comment), music sites, gaming websites, etc. And, even when they’re supposed to use the school’s internet for academic purposes, a simple browser history will have even the most observant of the most stringent of teacher raise their eyebrows.

Kids lie. They say they’re older than they are for a multitude of reasons: to gain access to websites, post pictures, Tweet, post on Facebook (if they aren’t of the opinion that FB is for old people), to listen to music, etc. It’s impossible to keep them completely safe on the internet, especially if they aren’t being honest or following internet rules. And predators can sniff out the liars and set their traps for them. And that’s terrifying.

As far as data mining and children, I know that a couple sites I’ve used as a teacher, Biblionasium and MobyMax, do not collect information on children. If there’s an accidental info capture, they purge those records as soon as they find the mistake. I’m not sure how they do it, but they state that this is their policy about children under 13 that do not have their parents’ consent. Aside from their names, there’s nothing linking them to their actual identity.



The last 25 posts on my Facebook account have me cracking up and really do portray who I am as a human being. Honestly, I try to not post political things because it’s so divisive and my family and I do not agree on politics and I’ve got many friends who are not afraid to comment and take offense to any post I make regarding the state of our government and the complete sham that it is (oh! that’s what I try to avoid on the book of  faces…). All in all, I think you can tell that I love music, my kids, and new hair. My posts are relatively positive and I support friends and family who are starting businesses or fighting for what’s right. Looking back, I’m not sure I do any more or any less than anyone else on social media.

Is it “REAL”? Well, no. Not really. I mean, the love I have for the good stuff is real. My kids are real. But, there’s personal stuff that I don’t smear all over the internet, because it’s not everyone’s business. There are days where I want to throw ALL technology away because it consumes so much of my time and take me away from my children. I can’t get laundry done because I’m doing homework for one class or another. My daughter sat on my lap the other night while I was writing the Side Chat, and asked when I’d be done with my homework because she missed me. I’M SITTING RIGHT HERE AND SHE MISSES ME. That’s the stuff I don’t post on FB. I’m not looking for sympathy or pats on the back. I’m doing this because in order for me to be a better mother, I need to get out of the classroom. There are some people litter the feed with personal problems, political dissension, and general overshares. But, really, who wants to read that crap? I like to keep it light most of the time and I’d like to think that my page is a fun place to visit. Like Forrest Gump says, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

First, I got my hair done and it was SUPER hotsy totsy! And it was BEGGING to posted. That’s the start of my 25 posts.


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Next, in reflection, there are my daily song posts; I’ve been on featuring one artist a week lately. Here are the last few posts from #365MoreSongsWithSarah:


Open Arms

Elton John:

I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues

Sad Songs (Say So Much)

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Tiny Dancer


And then there was a KNOCKOUT performance of Your Song by Lady Gaga that I posted because of my Elton John kick… Sublime!

Bennie and the Jets

Lionel Richie:




You Are the Sun

Running With the Night


Then, in a lame attempt at finding some sucker to get me a Star Wars Valentine Plush Bouquet. They look a little angry, but I feel like, for me, it’s appropriate! LOL!


Star Wars Plush Bouquet – I love you, I know


Also, there was the weather and my sheer exhaustion of it, as well as a Timehop from 4 years where I cussed out Mother Nature.


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And then a post about education: There’s a link to a riveting article from NCTE about how teachers don’t need fancy curriculum, they just need to talk to kids about books and READ books with them. I’ve been saying this for 15 years… But, what do I know? I’m just in the classroom every freaking day with the kids…

Beyond the Stacks: Why High School English Teachers Should Be Talking about Books

My mother is making waves! Briefly: her employer HOBO went bankrupt and everyone was robbed of vacation days and any PTO they were owed. Then, medical bills started coming in. That shouldn’t have happened, because all of the employees paid for the insurance and HOBO was responsible for paying the insurance providers. Except, they didn’t. None of the money the employees paid for insurance was actually paid to the provider. All of that money disappeared. So, my mother, the Norma Rae of her time, decided to start calling around to see if any news outlets were interested in the story. And she found Dorothy Tucker with Channel 2. It’s a terrible story that’s getting a lot of attention. I’ve attached the link to the investigative report.

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HOBO Closing Leaves Employees With Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars Of Medical Debt

I did two “shout outs” to people who started a side gig or are hosting a painting party.

And, I wouldn’t be a good Facebook mom if I didn’t post my darlings! So, I took down my Carrie Fisher/Harrison Ford FB cover for my children. It was taken at Disney World last year for their 7th birthday. It is, by far, one of my absolute favorites!


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Lastly, I wasn’t sure if people posting to my page counted, so they weren’t counted. But, those, too, were hilarious! So, I’ll add this one as an Honorable Mention! My sister and I love Napoleon Dynamite and there’s this meme that NEVER fails to make me laugh:

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