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Can one book make a difference?


After learning how the library media center is organized through use of a call number system, students can apply this knowledge within any library setting to help them locate materials. This paper explains how a single picture book can be used to illustrate the growth and development of an idea to early elementary students by providing an opportunity to explore a variety of genres and how they can be located in the library media center through utilization of the Dewey decimal call number system.


Children must develop skills in using the library media center and selecting appropriate materials. The quality of the foundation that is established in the primary grades will ultimately affect the success of students in later endeavors. The library media program can and should be an integral part of the elementary school curriculum. Working in partnership with the classroom teacher, the library media specialist can provide opportunities for students to begin learning how to use the library media center and select appropriate materials to meet their own interests and needs (Woolls, 1997; Vandergrift, 1994; Information Power, 1988). Through careful planning, the library media specialist can provide experiences that are informative as well as enjoyable. Once students learn how the library media center is organized through the use of a call number system, they have acquired knowledge that can be applied within any library setting to help them locate materials. The library media center then becomes a place where children seek information through a variety of materials (Huck et. al., 2004).

When developing lesson plans to be used in the library media center, it is important to establish learning objectives. Without having a desired outcome in mind, it is impossible to evaluate how effective the activity has been or how it might be improved upon. "As we look at written texts of various kinds, we must consider what we want our students to understand about them" (Fountas and Pinnell, 2001, p. 390). With a group of younger students, it can be very easy to select a fictional story or folktale to read aloud for enjoyment week after week. With established goals, the library media specialist is able to make selections that can be read aloud for enjoyment as well as providing valuable learning opportunities. "Because written texts are not just representing but actively creating views of the world, the kinds of expectations that readers have for them have to be seen from a more complex, intricate perspective than most current models of reading might suggest" (Pappas and Pettegrew, 1998, p. 43). Fountas and Pinnell (2001) included developing skills in using the library media center, learning how to select texts for themselves, and learning to read differently for different purposes in their list of goals directed toward helping students gain content literacy, concluding that "their literacy experiences in the elementary grades win set the scene for their later performance" (p. 390).

Through modeling and the utilization of hands-on activities that introduce information skills, students are able to observe and participate in learning how to seek information rather than receiving this instruction through lectures and worksheets. It is also much easier, and more productive, to engage an entire group of students of varying learning abilities in a hands-on environment rather than focusing on one or two students to model the example behavior. The repetitive aspect of opening the activity up to the entire group provides ample reinforcement for those students who require it, while allowing more advanced students additional opportunities during the reflection and discussion phases. More importantly, by actively engaging all levels of learners during the activity, each member of the group is then able to make a positive contribution that leads to the successful completion of the activity (Wesson and Keefe, 1995).


This paper describes an activity used with first graders during their weekly visit to the library media center at an elementary school where I was the library media specialist for four years. Designed to demonstrate how a single picture book can be used as a preliminary tool to illustrate the growth and development of an idea, it further provides an opportunity to look at a variety of genres and how they can be located in the library media center by utilization of the Dewey decimal call number system. At first this type of activity may seem to have little relevance to the students' classroom curriculum, but its purpose is to provide an activity parallel to what the students will be doing for classroom projects in order to help them begin learning how to locate and select materials they will need for a unit on ants, spiders, etc.

The book chosen was the humorous No Moon No Milk! by Chris Babcock. Other materials utilized, in addition to books from the media center collection, included a basic map of the United States, a copy of "The Cat and the Fiddle" nursery rhyme, and two sets of index cards for the call number activity. Preparation for the lesson involved identifying the books that would be used in the call number expansion activity and standing them on display at the end of the appropriate shelf with the corresponding call number card displayed before each class session began.

The session began with an introduction of the book that was to be read aloud to the group. The map of the United States was then consulted to give a visual identification of all the places the characters would visit during the story. Students were also informed that during the story, Martha, the cow that is the main character in the story, makes a reference to her great-great-grandmother who jumped over the moon. Through a brief discussion we identified what was meant by this remark and reviewed the nursery rhyme together. I then read the story aloud. At the conclusion of the story, I pointed out that a lot of different subjects had been mentioned during the story and asked students to name some of them aloud so we could create a list of topics. 1 then emphasized the point that the more we talked about this story, the more ideas I got and maybe we could try an experiment. Each student was given a research card with a topic and call number and sent to find its location in the library media center. At the correct location, in the fiction and non-fiction areas, the student found a matching copy of their card and a book to bring back with them to the story area.

Once all the books had been collected, I began a dialogue that made a statement about the story and then asked an expansion question followed with who could help me? For example, I commented that Martha traveled to three different states in the story and then asked the group how 1 could learn more about each of these states. The students who had 979.5 (Oregon), 979.4 (California), and 974.7 (New York) were able to assist me. Other non-fiction subjects that we could learn more about were museums (069.5), nursery rhymes (398.8), sign language for cow (419), how to say cow in German (433), French (443) and Spanish (463), the moon (523.3), mammals (599), astronauts (629.4), farms (630), farmers (630.2), farm animals (636), cows (636.21), dancing (793.3), surfing (797.1), and poems featuring cows (811). For each of these topics, a student raised his/her hand and came up to show the non-fiction book s/he had retrieved from the collection that could provide further information on the subject.

After working our way through the non-fiction subjects that were related to the story, I then expressed curiosity about other fictional stories about cows that wanted to try something special. Students who had located these books were invited to bring them up one at a time and we discovered that there were stories where a cow dreams of world travel in Daisy by Brian Wildsmith, becomes a singer in When Bluebell Sang by Lisa Campbell Ernst, and dreams of sailing the ocean in Sailor Moo: Cow at Sea by Lisa Wheeler. We also found there was a book about the cow that originally jumped over the moon, Moonstruck: the True Story of the Cow Who Jumped over the Moon by Gennifer Choldenko. Next, wondering if other countries had stories that featured a cow, the two students who had the 398.2 research cards shared with the rest of us the fact that we had The Tsar and the Amazing Cow, a folktale from Russia, and The Tiny, Tiny Boy and the Big, Big Cow, which is a folktale from Scotland. At the end of the activity I summarized how this illustrated the way research is conducted by starting with a basic idea and then expanding and examining it to include additional related information. The session was ended with a brief non-fiction work, See How They Grow: Calf which is composed almost entirely of photographs.


At the conclusion of this session, students had participated in an activity that introduced them to books from several genres, provided an opportunity to locate materials using the Dewey decimal call number system, and helped to demonstrate the steps involved in researching and expanding a topic. This activity was used in each of the six first-grade classes for three consecutive school years. With each group, students loved the story and circulation always increased all over the non-fiction section. The call number portion evoked a lot of feedback as students made the connection that the call number always determines where the book is shelved and students began asking "what is the call number for" to find specific topics they were interested in when they returned for later sessions in the library media center. Another interesting feature was that students began to notice books that had been misplaced and were able to help rectify the problem of books being re-shelved incorrectly by other students.

Prior to my arrival, development of research and material selection skills was not being taught to students until third grade. By incorporating activities such as this one which began introducing basic research and material selection strategies during the first grade, I observed over time that the students from these first-grade classes, including those with special needs, demonstrated much more ability and depth in identifying and locating materials during later grades than those students who did not have the benefit of library skill development until later in their library media program.

Children's Books

Babcock, C. (1994). No Moon, No Milk! New York: Scholastic.

Choldenko, G. (1997). Moonstruck: the True Story of the Cow Who Jumped over the Moon.

New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Clayton, G. (1993). See How They Grow: Calf. New York: Dorling Kindersley.

Ernst, L. C. (1989). When Bluebell Sang. New York: Bradbury Press.

Lewis, J. P. (1988). The Tsar and the Amazing Cow. New York: Dial Books.

Van Laan, N. (1993). The Tiny, Tiny Boy and the Big, Big Cow: a Scottish Folktale. New York: Knopf.

Wheeler, L. (2002). Sailor Moo: Cow at Sea. New York: Atheneum.

Wildsmith, B. (1984). Daisy. New York: Pantheon Books.


Fountas, I. C. & Pinnell, G. S. (2001). Guiding readers and writers grades 3-6: Teaching Comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Huck, C. S. et al. (2004). Children's literature in the elementary school (8th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Information Power: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs (1988). Chicago: American Library Association.

Pappas, C. C. & Pettegrew, B. S. (1998). "The role of genre in the psycholinguistic guessing game of reading," Language Arts, 75, 36-44.

Vandergrift, K. E. (1994). Power Teaching: A Primary Role of the School Library Media Specialist. Chicago: American Library Association.

Wesson, C. L. & Keefe, M. J. (1995). Serving Special Needs Students in the School Library Media Center. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Woolls, B. (2004). Helping teachers sustain the vision: a leadership role. Emergency Librarian 25, 14-18.

Susan E. Russell, University of Oklahoma

Russell is currently Assistant Professor of Bibliography and was previously School Library Media Specialist at Little Axe Elementary.
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Author:Russell, Susan E.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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