February 15, 2016

Meet Author, Ni-Ni Simone

She has been in love with writing since she was a child.  
Her affair with words resonates with teens and adult readers.
The stories she is privileged to tell are mixed with little humor and life lessons.

I had the pleasure of speaking with author Tu-Shonda Whitaker on a snowy Saturday morning in January.   The conversation that was supposed to last only :30 minutes instead lasted two hours.   We talked about the importance of family, her childhood, writing for teens and adults and her commitment  to continue to delivering the stories that we have fallen in love with.   The humor that is present in Whitaker’s books is a reflection  of the woman herself…..she’s naturally funny!  I truly believe that she missed her calling as a stand up comedian.  

Whitaker writes for teens under the pen name, Ni-Ni Simone.  The name ‘Ni-Ni’ has nothing to do with Jazz great, Nina Simone, instead the name has a much deeper meaning.  While she is a fan of Jazz music, she wanted to pen her books under a name that would capture the attention and sounded like the name of teen we would meet.   She also felt that her first name was too 70’s-ish and really wanted to choose a name that they could identify with.  Given that today’s teens drive off of nicknames, she decided to use her daughter’s nickname, Ni-Ni and the rest is history.  

Whitaker is from New Jersey and is the only child of two parents as she describes,  ‘have been together forever.’   She earned a degree in English from Kean University and has taken additional coursework in African-American History, Creative Writing and Fiction Writing.   Whitaker takes her work as a teen author seriously and understands the impact that she can make on their lives.    She believe that the art of simplicity is the skill that an author has to hone in on and master.  Whitaker credits ‘The Color Purple,’ by Alice Walker and ‘Jazz,’ by Toni Morrison as excellent examples examples of this skill that she tries to emulate in her books.

Her work with teens as a social worker was also a catalyst in jumpstarting her career for writing for teens.  She wrote her first teen novel, ‘Shorty Like Mine,’ in two weeks.  She loved the story and ten books later is now hooked on writing for teens.   One of Whitaker’s strengths as a writer is her ability to observe the challenges teens are faced with today and incorporate it into her stories.  Her new series,  the ‘Throwback Diaries,’ accurately describes what happens in the lives of second generation adults affected by the crack epidemic within the African-American community.  As Whitaker describes, this series will take the reader on a journey with teenagers who have nothing, no stable homelife, poor family life, and little  guidance from parents/grandparents who have personal issues.   

Some of her most popular books to date are, “Shorty Like Mine,”  “Upgrade You,”  and  best selling, “Teenage Love Affair.”  These stories carefully blend struggles, love and hip-hop music/social media for a memorable journey that leave teens wanting more.   It is these stories that keep Whitaker’s fans reading and their feedback provides her with the inner drive to continue to write.   Frequent comments she receives from her teen and adult fans are that the characters accurately reflect the struggle within their lives.  Based off of these responses, Whitaker is convinced that the top three challenges teens are faced with today are:
  • Teens are living in poverty and it affects their view of themselves and the world
  • Drug use, not just for themselves, generational use i.e. grandparents, parents etc.
  • Teens today suffer from not understanding their rich history as a people

Whitaker’s Facebook fan page is her favorite social media site to use when promoting her books and interacting with fans.    Some of her most memorable responses/comments from teens are:
  1. Can we hang out?  
  2. (After the kids see her picture on social media) OMG….I didn’t know you were that old!
  3. Can you write a book with me?
  4. This story is MY life!

Check out her books today!

January 20, 2016

A New Discovery: Aquarium Music

A New Discovery and Tip of the Week:  YouTube's Aquarium Music

     For the past two weeks I've been out of my office and working  at a school in my new school district.  The librarian is new and we are working side by side to manually import marc records and other books into her new Alexandria circulation system.   

     For music and relaxation for her students, she plays aquarium music found on YouTube.com.  In YouTube's search menu, type in 'aquarium music' and you will find several videos to choose from.
     Let me tell you it's addicting.  I've always used classical and gospel music in my libraries.   I've observed that the kids love it, and I have grown to love it too.  When you are sitting in her library, you can watch a beautiful array of tropical fish swim gracefully across the screen.  The music isn't over the top, it's soothing and best used when played at a low level.  

     View one of the videos below and enjoy!

January 18, 2016

Monday Memes: Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today's Monday's Memes is dedicated to the 'Prince of Peace', Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

New Pinterest Page

The beginning of a new adventure.  
Check out the East St. Louis Sr. High School Pinterest Page
Search:  East St. Louis Sr. High School

January 10, 2016

Monday Memes

Image courtesy of School Library Journal, January 2016

January 6, 2016

My Next Presentation

Using Technology to Engage the Reluctant Reader

Presented by: 
ISTE & School Library Journal

Event Date & Time: 
Wednesday, February 17th, 2016, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM ET / 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM PT

January 4, 2016

Monday Memes

Here's a couple of memes that have provided me with some inspiration.  Hopefully they will inspire you too.

New Opportunity...

East St. Louis, Illinois:  City of Champions
     July 2015, I was presented with an opportunity that I couldn't turn down:  Serving as a district librarian.  I interviewed for the position and was offered the opportunity to serve in a hybrid administration/high school position that began in August of 2015.
     It was difficult saying goodbye to a great group of Phillips students, teachers and community members.  The blessing is:  I still have a relationship with the students, in particular my Anime/Manga Club Members.   I am now the Lead Library Media Specialist for East St. Louis School District #189 in East St. Louis, Illinois.  Previous posts from Wendell Phillips Academy High School can still be viewed.  Those experiences were valuable and are precious memories.  

     I hope that you will follow me as I rebuild the high school library, support a great group of librarians and help integrate print/technology resources into the district.  Most importantly:  Getting kids excited about reading is what I'm committed to executing.   I'm excited about this opportunity and I hope you will follow me as I begin a new journey in school librarianship.
My New Home!


December 21, 2015

The Clear Bookbag

Image Courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor
     There is something that a high school teen in a lower economic neighborhood  despises: A clear book bag.

     For some of these neighborhoods, these clear book bags are in response to crime that permeates into high schools and holds them hostage.  Over time, the clear book bags have become  common practice, and are now used in some elementary schools across the city.  Teens have reluctantly accepted this form of adult invasion of privacy.

     For some teens the use of the clear book bags frustrates them because their personal items of value are exposed to all making them a target for theft.  Teens that resale candy, chips and box drinks during school hours are also frustrated because their grocery items are exposed in these bags and often confiscated during the morning x-ray scan.  In a post-Columbine school age, many would argue that this type of added security will provide a safe environment where learning can take place.

Image Courtesy of K.C. Boyd
     Individuality is often times very difficult to celebrate in high school for teens who live in lower income, crime stricken communities.   Teens must adhere to strict policies that dictate the appearance of their uniform, accessories, hair, piercing and the use of the clear book bag.  There are some teens that have embraced this practice as so much that they decorate their book bags with markers, stickers and other symbols that celebrate their individuality.

     Another group of students who display a creative form of teen expression are those teens who enjoy reading Street Literature books.  Also known as Urban Fiction, these soft covered books with their undaunted hip hop inspired titles and eye catching cover art are easily identifiable.  Students enjoy placing the current book that they are reading in the back of the book bag so that it can been seen by others while they are walking down the hallway.  One may observe that this type of display as a walking advertisement, for teens it’s an outward expression of what they feel is hip to read.  Generation Z teens living in economically challenged neighborhoods have found direction, solace and pleasure reading through this often overlooked and misunderstood genre called Street Lit.

October 3, 2015

An Honor

This is truly an honor.  I'm featured in the September/October issue of American Libraries!


July 7, 2015

ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge
My view

I attended the American Library Association's Annual Conference in San Francisco. The trip was wonderful! I had the opportunity to meet a couple of authors that I have been wanting to meet for years. In addition, I participated on a very insightful panel discussion about PH.d candidates of color. The exhibit hall this year was so engaging and I purchased so many things. Here's a couple of pictures from the trip with captions. Enjoy!
One of the coolest displays on the exhibit floor
Jacqueline Woodson!
Christopher Myers
Nancy Pelosi!
So serene and quiet before the madness begins
The famous Lombard Street


ALA President, Courtney Young

My first ever panel selfie!

Pride parade #LoveWins


April 27, 2015

School Library Month, 2015

School Library Month has been so much fun.  I participated in a number of online forums, meetings, training sessions and of course Twitter hangouts.  All in all, it was great.  Here's a video my Behind the Paws and Anime/Manga Club made celebrating this special month.


#PhillipsDecisionDay 2015
Friday, May 1st
Phillips Auditorium
Will you be there?

Getting Ready!

Getting ready for our upcoming #PhillipsDecisionDay Assembly.  Here's a promo video featuring just some of our many scholarship winners.  Enjoy!

CPS Tech Talk, 2015

Chicago Public School's 'TECH TALK 2015'
Everyday Innovation:
Integrating Technology in the Classroom and Beyond

I had the wonderful opportunity to give a presentation on the use of social media in the classroom.  Check out the many wonderful presentations here:

Members of the Behind the Paws Crew attended the CPS Tech Talk Conference!    
The students...
- Shot an interview with Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871 Chicago
- Shot video that appears in the latest episode of Behind the Paws
      -    Attended technology sessions
- Ready to apply what they have learned from this exciting day!

Here's the latest episode of Behind the Paws!

Busy At Work

My Phillips Anime/Manga Club is busy at work on their next project.

Cute Shirt

I'm SO in love with this shirt I purchased off of Amazon.com!

Sometimes I Have to Indulge

Whenever I get a little down time, I read.  Lately I've been drawn to the drama in the teen series called, "Rumor Central," by Reshonda Tate Billingsley.   There is so much drama in these books for teens and I must admit, I'm hooked!

A Taste of Spring!

We failed at origami but excelled in color!

My circ desk
A little bit of spring on my circ desk.