Author Spotlight: Lois Lowry

” . .  My name is Gooney Gird Greene – that’s Greene with a silent ‘e’ at the end – and I just moved here from China. I want a desk right smack in the middle of the room, because I like to be right smack in the middle of everything.”

The class stared at the new girl with admiration. They had never met anyone like Gooney Bird Greene.

– from Gooney Bird Greene (2004) by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry, a Maine author, will be speaking next Tuesday, October 8 at the Trinity Episcopal Church on Forest Avenue. If you have heard of Lois Lowry, it is probably through your students. Many of them have encountered Lowry’s books either in the classroom (fifth graders read Number the Stars) or in the library (I love reading Gooney Bird Greene aloud to first and second graders). She is also the author of many of my favorite books – like the Quartet series (starting with The Giver).

Lowry’s books are filled with humor, compassion, and a message of embracing peoples’ differences. If you don’t get a chance to hear her in person, I highly recommend trying one of her fabulous books, so you can appreciate what your children love about this author.


I’m New Here



I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

I highly recommend I’m New Here  – a wonderful new book donated by Catholic Charities Maine  – perfect for helping your classroom community understand more about the lives of refugees.

A starred review from Kirkus Review states, “Whether readers are new themselves or meeting those who are new, there are lessons to be learned here about perseverance, bravery, and inclusion . . .  O’Brien’s lessons are heartfelt and poetically rendered.”

Anne Sibley O’Brien, the author and illustrator of I’m New Here, knows what it’s like to be the new kid in the class. Although she now lives on Peaks Island, at the age of seven, she and her family moved from New Hampshire to South Korea, where she was raised bilingual and bicultural. Her experience prompted her to cofound the I’m Your Neighbor project, which promotes the use of children’s literature featuring “new arrival” cultures and groups. O’Brien’s website includes resources on creating conversation about welcoming immigrants and refugees.

This book provides a respectful and accurate portrayal of the refugee experience, at the right level for elementary school kids and is available for you to borrow from the library. Thanks again to Catholic Charities Maine for its generous donation.


We Can Be Heroes in the Fight Against Hunger

In this Holy Year of Mercy, the Work of Mercy for April is to Feed the Hungry, as designated by Bishop Deely. Every day we teach our children every day about the importance of spiritual nourishment. If you choose to educate your students about how hunger affects children around the world (including Cumberland County where 1 in 5 children experiences food insecurity), please know that there are excellent resources in the community to make the reality of food insecurity relevant to our students and that there are ways we can make a difference.

In the library 

The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference by Barbara A. Lewis and Pamela Espeland.
This book provides children a variety of topics and projects to help make a difference in their community, including a chapter

December, a children’s picture book that tells the story of a homeless boy, Simon, and his mom, and their generosity toward a frail stranger a Christmas. While it doesn’t sugarcoat what it’s like to experience homelessness from the perspective of a child, it ends on a hopeful note. The illustrations by David Díaz are beautiful.

Stone Soup, the classic story by Marcia Brown, shows us how communities make a difference in the fight against hunger, by working together. Empty Fridge is a modern-day version of the same story with charming illustrations.

Local resources

In addition to the resources within Bishop Deely’s release, there is the Good Shepherd Food Bank, a local food bank offering hunger programs that focus on feeding children through programs like the Back Pack Program and Summer Food.

Classroom Resources on the Web

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a website devoted to classroom resources designed to educate students about the issues that create injustice. By keying “hunger” into the Teaching Tolerance search engine, you could find numerous references to classroom activities that can be filtered by grade level and subject (social studies, math, science, reading/language arts), etc.

When students go online to, they help feed the world as they learn new vocabulary words. The World Food Programme site offers students (and philanthropic adults) a game that asks users to match the right synonyms to a list of vocabulary words-10,000 in all, representing 50 levels of difficulty. For every right answer, the Web site’s corporate sponsors donate 20 grains of rice to WFP aid projects in developing nations like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sudan, and Ethiopia. The website also offers links to valuable resources about world hunger for young learners.
Taking on World Hunger. (2008). School Library Journal54(1), 19.

For younger students, the Feeding America Talk About Hunger toolkit is a PDF containing activities (build your own donation collection can), coloring pages, and simple infographics that invite discussion about what it can mean to be hungry.

Hunger is an important issue; equally important is having the right tools to discuss it in the classroom. If you have other suggestions for resources that should be included, please let me know. I appreciate feedback.

What are We Learning in the Library?

In the library, learning to ask good questions is probably more important than knowing all the answers. Students ask themselves what they’re looking for, so they know where and how to look for what they need. When they learn how the library works, they start asking really good questions.

Until about fifth grade, we get by with observational questions like, “Have you noticed that the informational books about dogs are all on the same shelf?” Or, “If you’re not sure what you want, is it better to browse, use the catalog, or ask Ms. Contrino?” By fifth grade, most students know how to find what they want to read by sight (by knowing where their favorite authors or subjects are likely to be found) but if they stretch into what they need in the library (a biography, research on Maine animals) they need a few more tools in their library toolbox – like the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) System.

Fifth graders are becoming DDC experts through activities, videos, and worksheets designed to help them figure out Dewey. The goal is to be able to find what they want and what they need in the library. The bonus is that they learn how to find cool books on really interesting topics that they may not have considered.


Are Introductions in Order?

Hi Folks —

My new year’s resolution is to increase awareness of your children’s connection to the library. Many of you know me by sight, if not by name but maybe you’re not really sure what’s going on in the library. This post explains who I am, what I’m trying to do, every time your student comes into the library, and why I’m doing it.

To begin, students call me “Ms. Contrino”; some preschoolers just call me The Librarian, as in, “Hey! I just said ‘hi’ to the librarian!” I am a certified School Library Media Specialist in Maine. Before coming to Saint Brigid in 2012, I was a public librarian in Saco. I loved it but wanted the hours and calendar working in a school provides working moms (I have two kids -now eleven and twelve).

Having assumed school librarianship would be much the same as public librarianship (story time – book recommendations – book circulation -repeat) I have been proven wicked wrong. All librarianship is about making a connection with your community;  but school librarianship is about revelation. My job is to offer students book recommendations that make them excited about reading and the world around them. Students choose their own reading paths – based on these recommendations or other factors – and become better readers as a result.

In a library with almost 4,000 books, thoughtful curating is important: younger students like the “Choosy-Choosy” shelves of books selected for their interest, age range, reading level, and library “need” (research topics,genre exploration, etc.). Older students steer toward “New and Recommended” books. Children of all grades use their knowledge of the library and its catalog to follow their curiosity to the right books for them.

The library is a work in progress, and I always need  perspective of the Saint Brigid community (students,parents, teachers)  to manage the collection to keep it relevant to their lives. I enjoy showing students how to access information (through books, electronic databases and other online resources) that makes their lives better, easier, more enjoyable. Everything I do in the library is geared toward showing students the relevance of libraries to anyone who is curious about something- whatever that something is.

In short, as it says in my Twitter feed, I am living the dream. If your dream is to make the Saint Brigid School library all it can be, I’d love to hear from you. Feedback and constructive criticism is always welcome.


Ms. Contrino

Teen Read Week! Why It Matters.


Oh yeah! Teen Read Week is a national literacy initiative of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) aimed at teens, parents, librarians, and educators. This year’s theme is Read For The Fun Of It. Why? Students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not (Cullinan, 3).

By highlighting great YA (Young Adult) series available in the library, we hope to encourage our upper grades to use the library to its fullest. On Wednesday, we had a mini-matinee (ten minutes long) featuring book trailers for series that might be flying under students’ radar.  There was a very small audience this week but we’ll try again next Wednesday to get more of our core YA audience (grades 6, 7 and 8) there.

Most programming in our library is aimed at older students, who tend to use the library less, even though they are required to use more library-based skills (research, source evaluation, proper citation) in the upper grades. We feel that programming gives students great reasons to be in the library and make them want to come back again and again.