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Library World Tour Arrives in AFRICA!!

We are halfway through our World Tour of books and it’s time to bang the drums loudly! Thanks to the gift of National Geographic Atlases from St John’s Church of Lafayette Square, various grades started 2024 with a deep dive into geography. Terms became real: hemisphere, compass, physical features like mountains and rivers as boundaries, latitude, longitude, and political borders that change over time.

BWS Board member Toya Carmichael shared her passion for travel by discussing her goal of visiting 50 countries before her 50th birthday. She brought a photo album of her first international trip to Ghana. Toya described the preparation needed to travel: passport, visas, vaccinations, packing, and researching the country. She read to Kindergarten about the mythic origin of Kente cloth.

Then the librarians stepped in to show the scholars all the books we had about African countries and cultures. 5th graders had to choose a country and come back with 3 fun facts to post on the hallway world map. Share the news!

From Ghana we went to nearby Benin with the help of Aaron Hilton. He is on a Fulbright Scholarship to study the artisanal economy of this small country. He organized a Zoom call with the 5th grade. Some of the artwork was on display during the call and Aaron answered many questions, including how can a BWS grad get a Fulbright!

We ventured into two genres to discover the traditions and inventions of several African countries and regions. By looking through the Biography section we discovered stories of individual people making real change. Whether you read about Nelson Mandela moving the world against apartheid in South Africa or Wangari Maathai planting trees in Kenya or William Kamkwamba who brought electricity to his village in Mali, our boys could see the values of creative problem-solving and persistence and serving your community like KINGS.

The other genre that revels so much about a culture is Folklore. From the origins of the world, how humans came to be, how the natural world gives to us (Kente cloth) or the instructive parables using animals, values and traditions are passed to the young. The Ashanti people used the antics of a little spider, Anansi, to show how a trickster can stop a bully or be caught in his own selfishness. Anansi learns many lessons as we laugh along with him.

As we celebrated Black History, we brought music and dance into the library space. Nana Ghana (aka Ernest Frimpong) hauled over 20 African percussion instruments to our school for a fabulous concert. He began by giving the history of drumming in sub-Saharan Africa. They were a means of communication, religious expression, and ceremonial announcements. Nana showed different techniques and rhythms.

Then he asked various students to demonstrate. Oh, boy-now this got exciting. Starting with kindergartners and simple drumming to the oldest and quite complicated multi-rhythms, the library was Alive. Of course, we followed up with many fiction and nonfiction books that included drums as a major element.

What is drumming without dance? At a Community Gathering, Ms. Walker from the Development office shared her experience coaching a team of girls to compete in Dance Competitions. Then she showed us all the awards they had won. Next, we split the school in half. Both Mr. Harris and Dr. Arrington took turns teaching their team a particular African dance. Brother Reggie blasted the music and we were all transported to Africa.

During Black History Month, Ms. Herron had a special theme or event every day. When students arrived dressed as their favorite scientists or inventors, we brought out the corresponding books. We also introduced some local civil rights history such as the integration of a Baltimore amusement park and the heroism of Marylander Harriet Tubman who has a new US stamp in tribute to her bravery on the Underground Railroad.

Both 1st and 2nd graders received a brand new stamped envelope from Ms. Ware who was at the unveiling on the Eastern Shore.

All grades were thrilled with the range of animals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians found in the huge continent of Africa. We did a deep dive into the 500’s on the north wall of our library. Another traveler shared her photos from a real Safari: Dr. Arrington gave us a full picture of her real trip to Tanzania. Then, she read a fictional book about a safari and it corresponded with the exact same animals. Some stories carry the truth within.

Along the way, 3rd graders continued reading leveled books for the Accelerated Reader program. Mrs. Ochmanek filled crates with books about water which is the science/social studies theme that Ms. Clark is teaching. A watery chart followed the progress of the readers as they finished books and cleared high marks on their short weekly assessments. This data gives good feedback to the student as well as the teacher for further instruction. (The pilot program will end this spring but will return next fall.)

The Great Dewey Hunt was a major focus for 4th graders. They had to become experts on finding any nonfiction book or folklore/literature between 000.1 and 999.9 in the stacks.

After mastering all the categories from psychology to religion to myth to social science to folklore to language to domestic technology to the arts and sports to natural science to poetry to geography to history and finally, to biography, 4th graders could teach their fellow students the ropes. Small trinkets representing a book stood at the exact spot. The boys then recorded titles and call numbers and described the subject area. We conducted The Great Dewey Hunt with 2nd graders just as it was done in the book by the same name… ending with We Love Dewey flags.

The scholars ended their tour of Africa by reading books about the history of some of its most famous leaders and eras. Venturing to the Northeast of the continent, we went way back in time to Ancient Egypt.

Sarah Hake’s family is Egyptian and she spent long periods visiting family there. She shared stories of customs of hospitality in the Muslim faith and offered a spread of typical food that our boys dug into. So fresh and tasty. We then opened books about the ancient civilization along the Nile River.

Sarah brought real papyrus for the scholars to practice actual hieroglyphics which is one of the first languages ever written down. We discussed the value of written language for marking land ownership and trade contracts. It allowed Egypt to flourish over a large area, all the way to Alexandria which is where we find one of the largest and oldest Libraries. From the Mediterranean, we travel to the Middle East and Asia!

And another Thanks to Christ Church Washington Parish for their enormous gift of science books to update the 500’s!

In December the BWS scholars left the continent of South America to take an imaginary flight across the Atlantic Ocean to a small continent with a big impact on world history: Europe. So many centuries, so many cultures, so many empires.

While we reviewed the geography with all the grades, the 5th grade jumped right into the Ancient Civilizations of Greece and Rome. The impact continues today as seen in the DC architecture and TV shows like Percy Jackson. Our library offered a wealth of books full of Myths, Heroes, and some origins of Scientific and Political thought. How about concepts like Democracy and Republic?

The entire school surrounded our Baby Grand Piano on that first Friday for a real introduction to the origin and mechanics of the musical instrument first created by Cristofori in Italy back in 1698. The instant hammer release and pedals add piano and forte dimension to the sounds. Our boys had many questions for the professional pianist Christopher Schmidtt who played a concert full of Beethoven, Bach and Liszt. When he played Jeux d'Eau (Water Play) by Ravel, the group seemed to sway like the droplets depicted by the music. The fun fact that Mr. Schmidtt is a member of the President’s Own Marine Corps Band had an allure, but his expressive talent kept our scholars absorbed for over an hour of classical music!

The first two continents we visited are dominated by English and Spanish. But in Europe we encounter many different languages and traditions. For Kindergarten, we started in England to make sure they know we speak English and to find one of the first children’s book authors: Beatrice Potter. A lonely child, she took to drawing nature and small animals near her family farm. In a letter to a friend’s son she said she didn’t know what to write so she invented a story about one of her rabbits and drew charming illustrations of Peter Rabbit. She tried to publish the stories but no one would make books the size of a child’s hand. She published them herself on simple paper and finally got some attention. Her 22 books are still being published after more than 125 years. She used her money to preserve green space in central England and her drawings of mushrooms went into scientific journals. The stories offer high drama and simple messages. Remember the mean old Mr. MacGregor?!


Over the next weeks we explored the variety of make believe, small creatures that invade all the different European cultures. Our library holds books of all sizes and reading levels on the subject of fairies, sprites, gnomes, pixies, brownies, trolls and elves. Some are kind, some are scary and some are simply mischievous.

Mrs. Marquardt opened up a folding paper house that her daughters played with in Holland where they were born and raised. The little toy family and gnomes, known as Kabouters in Dutch, lived together in this cardboard cottage. Our BWS boys created imaginative stories about these folks at each session.


What we call Fairy Tales are more like folk tales. The older students learned of the Brothers Grimm who recorded the oral traditions of folk all around Germany, such as Hansel and Gretel and Snow White. Anderson tales, like The Ugly Duckling, are well known from Denmark. And French folktales such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast seem as much a part of American culture as European. Now our students know the European origin of many favorite children’s tales, as adapted by Broadway, Disney and comic characters and spoofs.


Mrs O  spent the month challenging 4th graders to decipher the letters, numbers and colored stickers labeling the spine of every single book in our Library. The green F,S,P, G and E stickers indicate the Fiction, Series, Picture, Graphic and Early Reader books in our fiction collection. All Fiction books within a category are organized in Alphabetical order by author’s last name.

The real challenge comes with the Nonfiction which is organized according to Dewey Decimal order. In addition to the alphabet, students need to know their decimals to find that exact book. Some sports books go to the thousandth place value!  She organized games with Starburst rewards. Once mastered, our scholars can walk into any Library and find that soccer technique section in the 700’s.


Both 3rd and 4th graders still have a story read to them at the beginning of Library. Many lead to rich discussions encouraging keen comprehension skills. Some books compliment classroom curriculum and some introduce new cultures and historic moments to the student, such as a French girl Mirette who encourages one of the most famous high wire acts in Paris.

The Accelerated Reader program continiues  with 3rd grade. They are learning to find their own particular leveled book and take assessments each week to boost their comprehension skills. What could seem like a chore seems more like a game. These readers want to rise up into a wider choice of books within our collection.

We had two European visitors to give an authentic view of their home countries. Andrew Clarke, the Head of our BWS Board, took time to talk with both 5th grade and Kindergarten about Ireland. He began by saying The Lord’s Prayer in the Irish language and describing the dairy farm where his family still lives. With the older students, he discussed The Troubles with England and with the younger ones he read a story about Leprechauns.  Andrew shared a video of the game of Hurley and let the boys hold a real Hurley stick-not unlike hockey played on grass. Then we shared homemade Soda Bread (thanks Mrs M.) with real Kerry butter from Ireland.

A second visitor, Finja Laxler , came from the Austrian Embassy to share her culture with 1st and 2nd graders. She focused on the geography and language, with an example of children skiing down Alpine mountains to go to school in the winter and cows being led up the mountains in the spring to freely graze on the new grass. Finja talked about the ease of getting around in Europe with its fast and expansive train system. She also focused on the Danube River and recommended a ferry ride to Bratislava. She read an Austrian tale I Am Me. We shared chocolate wafer cookies and waved Austrian flags just like 6-year-olds in Vienna.

This year, The Bishop Walker School Library received generous and much needed contributions to its collection of books. Beauvoir School donated specific books from a check list we made for the Scholastic Book Fair. St Andrews Church donated specific books about countries so that our year long journey around the world in books could have many different reading levels. St John’s Lafayette Square parishioners gave 4 class sets of Nat. Geo. World Atlases which we will use for the rest of the year.


The donation from Monsignor Stephen Rossetti of Catholic University allowed Mrs. Ochmanek to obtain much-needed books for middle elementary readers. And Christ Church Washington Parish used their St. Nicolas Party as a chance for their own young parishioners to make bookplates for the specific science and tech books offered to our scholars. These gifts filled gaps in our collection, as did the many small gift donors using the “BWS Library Wish List” on Amazon. We are truly grateful!

By the end of the month, we turned to the Story of Christmas with the traditional books like Christmas Carol by Dickens, Polar Express by VanAllsberg and the story of Jesus’ birth told through Room for One More. We reenacted the animals welcoming Mary and Joseph after each animal had welcomed its enemy into the manger to get warm. The cat said to the mouse, “There’s always room for one more here.”

With our imagination, we can picture the animals that live outside our windows sharing the space and staying warm in their nests just beyond our very doors. Here is the creek beside Bishop Walker School still flowing on a December morn.

May we have Peace on Earth!

Our BWS World Tour goes to Latin America. We started in Mexico which is technically in North America but shares more culture with South America. Just after Halloween, Dias de Los Muertos is celebrated. The Day of the Dead is a joyous time that allows families to remember  those who died. Parades, songs, dances, good food, flowers and an Ofrenda full of tokens from the past keep the memory alive every year. Even our youngest scholars wished to share memories of those who died in their family. We had our own fiesta by shaking maracas and eating pan dulce. Reading about traditions in other cultures also introduced a different language.

Next we packed our virtual bags with novels about South America as an introduction to this huge continent.  With 12 countries in all, we had to focus our travels on just a few . The topography first informed us. Bolivia has a capital that is miles high atop the Andes mountains. We studied the flora and fauna of these, the second highest mountain range in the world.

For the youngest, lilies and llamas were featured both in folktale and fact books.  Llama, Lama Red Pajama holds new meaning when you learn of how these animals work so hard carrying loads up mountains and by giving their wool for clothing.

Through the books in our BWS Library, older students learned more of the Spanish colonization and destruction of amazing civilizations such as the Mayans in Peru. We felt some of the culture by sampling Bolivian street food from a new shop in DC, wearing an alpaca poncho and trying to make music from Peruvian pipes while listening to indigenous tunes.

We came down from the mountains into the Amazon rainforest and the country of Brazil. Students entered the library to the tunes of Bossa Nova. They read about the deforestation of the trees from the rain forest in order to make grazing ground for the cattle that get sold to the US for hamburgers. They saw satellite photos of the vast Amazon river and forest that covers the width of a continent. And they sampled an unusual tropical treat called Dragonfruit shipped here from Ecuador.

The youngest scholars encountered stories and fact books about the unique animals such as the Sloth, Poison Dart Frog and Jaguar, not mention the millions of insects.

Mrs. Ochmanek continued her library skills instruction with 4th grade with a Starburst candy challenge to find and describe different subject areas in the Library nonfiction collection. This is an opportunity to fully understand the organizing structure of any library in the country- using the Dewey Decimal System. While she reads a challenging story at the start of library time, the scholars must prove their knowledge each week before moving to the next category. Then they get to choose up to 4 books to read for pleasure.

A study of water and oceans informs the 3rd grade social studies curriculum. Mrs. O adapted her stories to match that study. One example is the biographies of marine biologists and the deep sea diver Jacque Cousteau.  The class is continuing the Accelerated Reading Program by selecting one book at their exact reading level to read and take a comprehension quiz every week. We have seen readers maintaining and progressing in their reading abilities. This is a cooperative effort between Ms. Clark and Library staff.

We ended the month focusing on the origin of our Thanksgiving feast and how South America harvests fill our tables. Produce from roots and vines fill pies and casseroles and the Wild Turkey is very American-both South and North. In the end, we were very grateful.

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