Last year, I followed the ALA YMA on Twitter while preparing to teach seventh graders online research skills; the year before, I watched in my pajamas with my five-year-old on my lap. This year, I missed the beginning of the livestream, but the timing worked out so that a third grade class was in the library when the Caldecott awards were announced, and they were so excited!
As I watched not just the Caldecotts but all the other awards roll in, it struck me more than any previous year how many deserving books there are. Not that I disagree with the committees’ choices – plenty of books I cheered for, others I hadn’t read – but there are just so. many. good. books in any given year! And because I was on this year’s Heavy Medal committee (Mock Newbery) and ran a Mock Caldecott program at my school, I was more attuned than usual to award predictions.
So rather than recap today’s winners, I’m going to list a few middle grade and picture books I think could have gotten awards, and just happened not to, but are still wonderful and you should read them:
A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
Violet and Jobie in the Wild by Lynne Rae Perkins
The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff
Where the Sky Lives by Margaret Dilloway
The Insiders by Mark Oshiro
The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternak
A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
Mina by Matthew Forsythe
Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, illustrated by Daniel Minter
Sweet Justice by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
A Spoonful of Frogs by Casey Lyall, illustrated by Vera Brosgol
I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal
Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Dan Santat
Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
Snow Horses by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Micha Archer
Squirrels that turn out to be cats, magic doors that lead to a refuge and friendship, a Mars rover with human emotions, a choose-your-own-adventure fairytale, escaping frogs, an unsung civil rights hero, some beautiful collage, and more – there’s something for everyone, and awards are only a piece of it all. Congratulations to all authors and illustrators who put something out into the world in 2022; readers are grateful.
In my first year as an elementary school librarian, I had to do a Mock Caldecott. It was one of the programs I’d heard other elementary librarians (and some children’s librarians at public libraries) talk about for years and it always sounded like a fun way to get kids engaged and excited. Plus, it’s a good chance to focus on the (incredible) art, and consider things like trim size and shape, endpapers, use of the gutter, use of color, light and dark, and media. I always look to see if there’s an art note on the copyright page about what materials the illustrator used, and kids are sometimes surprised (especially the born-digital art).
Introduce the Caldecott Award. What is it for? Who decides? Which books (illustrators) are eligible? Even the youngest students grasp the difference between an author’s job and an illustrator’s job, and learn that if there’s one name on the cover, it means that person did both jobs.
Read two past Caldecott books, and have a vote (by show of hands). Make the tally visible on the whiteboard. In kindergarten and first grade, we read Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes (2005) and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (2013). In second and third grade, we read Beekle by Dan Santat (2015) and Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin (2022).
Now it’s onto this year’s Caldecott contenders! I requested several books from my public library, using my own reading from the past year as well as The Horn Book’s Calling Caldecott blog and Betsy Bird’s predictions on her Fuse8 blog at SLJ. Ideally, I’m looking for books with less text, because classes are only 40 minutes and we want to do book checkout too. I use the Whole Book Approach, which means I welcome students’ observations while we’re reading – which means it takes longer to read a book aloud.
Kindergarten and first grade read I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by real-life best friends Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal, and Like by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Leo Espinosa. Second and third grade read The Blur by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat, and This Is Not A Story About A Kitten by Randall de Sève, illustrated by Carson Ellis. I note when illustrators have previously won a Medal or an Honor.
Kindergarten and first grade read Somewhere in the Bayou by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey, and Little Houses by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek. Second and third grade read Knight Owl by Christopher Denise and Hot Dog by Doug Salati. Actually, this week we mixed it up a little bit; one of the first grade classes read the second and third grade pair of books, and one of the other first grades read Hot Dog and Little Houses. Attention spans vary, and it seemed like the right call at the time.
Here we started to run into a few scheduling snags, including a (planned) holiday and some (unplanned) weather-related time off (a full snow day, a delayed start, and an early dismissal). It’s winter in New England, after all. That’s okay! We’re not being super scientific or mathematical about this, though I am keeping track of the tallies and figuring out the total votes for each book each week, and noting the number of classes that read each book.
Kindergarten and first grade read Don’t Worry, Murray! by David Ezra Stein and Witch Hazel by Molly Idle. Second and third grade read Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall (who has already won twice!) and Snow Horses by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Micha Archer. This final pair of books is absolutely gorgeous, and my second- and third-grade students are an observant bunch, so we’re pretty squeezed for time given that these two are more text-heavy than some of the others (and Farmhouse is all one long sentence!).
Now, are the titles we read my top picks for the 2023 Caldecott? Not necessarily, although I think a lot of them have a very strong chance and I’d be delighted to see them get a shiny gold or silver medal. A few contenders we’d read earlier in the year: Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Dan Santat; Mina by Matthew Forsythe; Berry Song by Michaela Goade, John’s Turn by Mac Barnett, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. So, these are the ones that were fresh for my students, and that I could get from my public library in time.
Visual supports: The award is for illustration, after all, so I wanted to create a visual environment to support our Mock Caldecott. Here are a few ways I did that:
A few years ago at a conference I got a poster with all of the Caldecott winners on it, plus that year’s honor books. I put that up on our whiteboard, and kids frequently pointed out books they’d read (even pre-readers could recognize the book covers). (Note: I would love an updated poster like this, and no one seems to make one! Let me know if you know of a source…)
On the easel whiteboard, I kept each week’s tally (photographing it regularly in case anyone erased it, accidentally or on purpose). Results were so different from class to class!
On my bulletin board, I printed out cover images of the Caldecott contenders we read, along with title, author, and illustrator info. This helped us remember what we’d read in past weeks, and make connections; for example, one third grader noticed that The Blur and Farmhouse took place over a long span of time, whereas This Is Not A Story About A Kitten and Snow Horses took place over the course of just one day/night.
I covered several tables with face-up Caldecott winner and honor books from past years and encouraged students to check those out – many did! (And some just wanted My Weird School or A-to-Z Mysteries or Wimpy Kid or the Biscuit books, and that’s fine too. But at least they saw them as choices, and picture book circulation increased! Though lots of students were baffled about why some books had “the sticker” and some didn’t.)
Whiteboard with vote tallies
At the end of our program, I figured out all the tallies and reported our results to the 2023 Mock YMA blog. Knight Owl got the most votes, followed by Somewhere in the Bayou, The Blur, Don’t Worry Murray, Farmhouse, and Hot Dog. And today, it worked out that one of my third grade classes was in the library during the live Caldecott announcements, and they went wild for Knight Owl and Hot Dog. It was gratifying to see them throw their hands up and cheer for books they recognized (I was cheering too, of course!).
Did we predict the winner? Not exactly, but two out of five ain’t bad. Did we read some great picture books? Absolutely! Will I do it again next year? Yes! What will I do differently? Mainly, I’ll start requesting books from my public library ahead of time, really concentrating on the ones with less text, so we can focus on the illustrations without being rushed during our 40-minute periods. I could change the way we vote – I was thinking of some clear jars and colored pom-poms that kids could use as their votes after reading four or five books over the course of a few weeks, instead of having two books go head to head each week.
Overall, it was a fun program I hope to run again next year. Now, as we’re about to enter Black History Month, I’m thinking of doing something similar (minus the voting) with Coretta Scott King award and honor books. Heck, there are enough awards to focus on a different one each month of the school year…
It’s the Oscars of #kidlit! (And honestly, at this point in my life, I’m much more excited about the ALA Youth Media Awards than about the Academy Awards.) This year I was following the announcements on Twitter and relaying them to my co-worker while we prepared to teach a bunch of seventh graders how to find reliable results when searching the internet (pro tip: there are more results after the first result! O brave new world…).
SLJ posted the winners of all the awards, but didn’t include the honor books on the same page; American Libraries has a complete write-up. I was thrilled to see Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin, win the Caldecott medal (and a Newbery Honor and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature – Picture Book), and equally delighted to see Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff and Last Night at the Telegraph Club win the Stonewall.
Angeline Boulley’s Firekeeper’s Daughter won the Morris, the Printz, and an American Indian Youth Literature honor for YA; other AILA honor books I cheered for included Christine Day’s middle grade novel The Sea in Winter, Traci Sorrell’s picture book We Are Still Here, and YA novel Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger.
Sea in Winter
I can’t imagine anyone was surprised that Unspeakable by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, won two Coretta Scott King awards (for author and for illustrator), as well as a Sibert honor and a Caldecott honor. I’m looking forward to reading CSK illustrator honor book Nina, but I’m really surprised that Christian Robinson’s other 2021 book, Milo Imagines the World, didn’t get any official recognition.
By the time the Pura Belpré awards were announced I was busy in the library, but I was happy to catch up later and see that ¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge by Raul III won the Youth Illustrator award, Yuyi Morales received an honor for Bright Star, and Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet got a YA honor!
Other Printz honor books included Starfish by Lisa Fipps (a novel in verse!), Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, and Revolution in Our Time by Kekla Magoon (the latter is the only Printz book I hadn’t already read, but it’s on my list now).
Also added to my to-read list:
Pura Belpré Children’s Author Award and the Newbery Award winner The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
Schneider Family Book Award winner My City Speaks, and honor books A Walk in the Words, A Bird Will Soar, and A Kind of Spark
Sydney Taylor Book Award Gold Medalist How to Find What You’re Not Looking For and Silver Medalist The Summer of Lost Letters
Theodore Seuss Geisel Award winner Fox at Night, written and illustrated by Corey R. Tabor
Sibert Award winner The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art
I’d actually read a bunch of Sibert honor books, though not the winner; I was super excited to see The Great Stink on the list. We Are Still Here by Traci Sorrell and Unspeakable also got honors, as did Summertime Sleepers (which taught me the word “estivate,” which is like hibernating but in the summer).
Finally, I was so happy to see A.S. King receive the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, Grace Lin receive the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, and Jane Yolen recognized with the Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award. A.S. King’s particular brand of magical realism/surrealism is completely unique to her; her books are deep and weird and thoughtful. Grace Lin writes for children of all ages, and her novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a favorite in our house. And Jane Yolen is Jane Yolen.
Previous year’s incoherent ramblings about ALA YMA:
Banned Books Week – misnomer though it may be – is probably my favorite display to put up every year, because I believe so strongly in the freedom to read (which is what we should probably call this week). This year’s promotional materials from ALA feature the phrase “Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us.” I made a small sign for the display with this logo and phrase and a quote (“The freedom to read is essential to democracy”); then I looked up the ALA’s Top 100 Most Challenged Books by Decade and Top Ten Most Challenged Books List (top 10 by year) and pulled as many of those titles as I could find in our library to put on display.
I also put a small display on the desk near where students check out and return books: my “books change lives/books change lives” jar. This is something I’ve made part of my Banned Books/Freedom to Read display in public libraries for the past several years (see my 2017 post for the Robbins Library here, and the 2016 post here). With the jar, I invite patrons (students, this year) to write the title of a book that has meant something to them; the jar fills up with evidence of the importance of books to people’s lives. This year, I accompanied the jar with a quote from Ban This Book by Alan Gratz:
“How do you say why you like a thing? …How do you explain to someone else why a thing matters to you if it doesn’t matter to them?” (Alan Gratz, Ban This Book, p. 39)
This whiteboard stands near the checkout/return desk; it always has today’s date, the due date of books checked out today, and a First Line Friday – the first sentence of a book. I change it out every week, and visitors to the library can guess the book or peek underneath the flap to find the source. This week – spoiler alert! – the quote is from Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. Ban This Book is about a girl named Amy, who, when she discovers that her favorite book, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankeweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, has been removed from the school library – over the protest of the school librarian and against the school library’s own established request for reconsideration policy – begins a secret “banned books library” in her locker at school. This builds into full-blown activism by Amy and her friends; they realize that “if you can ban one book, you can ban them all,” and they all show up at a school board meeting to advocate for their books’ return to the library shelves.
Below: Rotating spinner display rack featuring Speak, Monster, George, Bridge to Terabithia, Blubber, The Giver, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Golden Compass, Stamped, Ban This Book, Goosebumps.
With our songs
And our drums.
We are still here.” -We Are Water Protectors
“A cure is not about what we want. It’s about what we need. The same is true for stories.” – When You Trap A Tiger
“When you believe, that is you being brave. Sometime, believing is the bravest thing of all.” – When You Trap A Tiger
I was excited about the books (and authors and illustrators) in every award category, starting with the Asian/Pacific American Awards: I loved Danbi Leads the School Parade (picture book honor) and Prairie Lotus (children’s literature honor), and When You Trap A Tiger (children’s lit winner – and Newbery winner!).
Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim (Asian/Pacific American picture book honor)
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (Asian/Pacific American children’s literature honor)
When You Trap A Tiger by Tae Keller (Asian/Pacific American children’s literature winner)
Welcoming Elijah by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Susan Gal (Sydney Taylor picture book winner)
I Talk Like A River by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Schneider Family Book Award winner for young children)
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Schneider Family Book Award honor for middle grade)
Show Me A Sign by Ann Clare LeZott (Schneider Family Book Award winner for middle grade)
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson (Stonewall honor)
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (Coretta Scott King author honor, Stonewall award)
Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (Coretta Scott King author winner)
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (Alex Award)
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Odyssey honor)
Sharuko by Monica Brown, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri (Pura Belpré illustrator honor)
¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl Gonzalez (Pura Belpré illustrator winner)
Honeybee by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann (Sibert award winner)
Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom! by Kelly Starling Lyons (Theodor Seuss Geisel honor)
What About Worms!? by Ryan T. Higgins (Theodor Seuss Geisel honor)
Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby (Caldecott honor)
We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (Caldecott winner)
Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Newbery honor)
We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly (Newbery honor)
When You Trap A Tiger by Tae Keller (Newbery winner)
Travis Jonker over at SLJ invites readers to fill out a 2021 “Caldecott Comment Card.” Since I only read two(!) out of the five Caldecott honor/award books this year, I can’t say how the handful of titles I was hoping for compare, but I was sad not to see Minh Lê and Dan Santat’s Lift on the list at all (I think Sophie Blackall’s If You Come to Earth was tremendous also, but she’s already won twice). As a wise librarian friend said this morning, “I don’t envy the committees. Such hard decisions.”
So, thank you to everyone who served on any committee; thank you to all of the authors and illustrators who created books last year, and their publishers; and thanks to the booksellers and other librarians who are going to get these (and many other) books into the hands of readers, one way or the other (hurray for contactless pickup!).
Last Monday we were closed for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and next week I get to do a double storytime (2- and 3-year-olds on Monday as usual, preschool storytime on Tuesday), but this week was a regular Step into Storytime session. Attendance was on the low end to start with, about seven kids (all boys, coincidentally), but a few more came in during our initial songs and first few books.
Welcome and announcements (including “storytime is my favorite part of the week.” I borrowed this lovely phrase from a librarian at the library in Arlington said this at her storytime last week. It is 100% true for me as well, as long as we’re talking about the work week)
“Hello Friends” with ASL
Name song (“___ is here today”)
Goose by Laura Wall
There’s A Dragon in Your Book by Tom Fletcher (this book encourages plenty of interaction: blowing out fire, popping a water balloon, etc.)
Song cube: “The Wheels on the Bus”
Pirate Jack Gets Dressed by Nancy Raines Day, illustrated by Allison Black: This is such a fabulous book to talk about colors (and getting dressed). I made a set of felt shapes to correspond to each item of Jack’s clothing and placed them on the felt board as we got to their page in the story. Before starting the book, we also took a look at what colors we were wearing.
Mouse house game (by request). “Little mouse, little mouse, are you in the [color] house?” Apparently this never gets old!
Song cube: “Zoom zoom zoom, we’re going to the moon” (twice)
Make A Wish, Bear by Greg Foley: I had A Parade of Elephants with me too, but decided to save that for next week and made Bear the last book of today’s storytime. We noticed the star shapes on the cover and in the book, to tie in to our craft project.
“Goodbye Friends” with ASL
Invited questions, and one boy raised his hand and said, “I have a question! Will you put the paper out now?” (Later, a grown-up came up and asked for books for her kindergartener who likes funny books like Elephant & Piggie and Pigeon, so I helped her find several funny picture books.)
Craft: Butcher paper taped to the floor, pre-cut colored construction paper stars, glue sticks, crayons.
And when I was finished cleaning up from storytime, the ALA Youth Media Awards had been announced! I was so excited to see that New Kid by Jerry Craft won the Newbery AND Coretta Scott King, and that Dig by A.S. King won the Printz, and Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez won the Pura Belpré. Many other winner and Honor titles were books I’ve liked or loved this year:
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Newbery Honor)
Bear Came Along by Richard Morris and LeUyen Pham (Caldecott Honor)
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (Coretta Scott King Honor)
What Is Given From the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack and April Harrison (Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award)
The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais (Schneider Family Book Award Honor)
Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya (Schneider Family Honor Book)
Dominicana by Angie Cruz (Alex Award)
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz (Alex Award)
Children’s Literature Legacy Award to Kevin Henkes
ALSC Children’s Literature Lecture Award to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (if you’re heard of mirrors, windows, and doors in children’s literature, she is why)
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka (Odyssey Award for best audiobook, though I read the print edition)
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell (Odyssey Honor; American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor)
We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (Odyssey Honor)
¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raúl Gonzalez (Belpré Illustrator Honor Book)
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar (Belpré Author Honor Book)
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal (Sibert Award; American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor)
This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy (Sibert Honor)
Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis (Sibert Honor)
Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell (Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor)
The Book Hog by Greg Pizzoli (Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor)
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed (Asian/Pacific American Picture Book Honor)
Stargazing by Jen Wang (Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature)
Frankly in Love by David Yoon (Asian/Pacific American Young Adult Literature Honor)
Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell, cover art by Marlena Myles (American Indian Youth Literature Middle Grade Award)
…and naturally I added several others to my to-read list this morning. Congratulations to all the authors and illustrators, thanks to the committee members, and happy reading to everyone! | School Library Journal ALA YMA announcement
It is Banned Books Week again (a.k.a. Freedom to Read Week). I’m going to quote from Rob’s BBW/FtRW post from the Robbins Library blog:
During Banned Books Week, we celebrate the freedom to read. As you can imagine, this is most librarians’ favorite theme week; after all, as our code of ethics states, “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” But you don’t have to be a librarian to enjoy Banned Books Week – all you have to do is read!
(The word “Banned” is in quotation marks in the title of this post because the name “Banned Books Week” is a bit of a misnomer. First, we celebrate Banned Books Week not because we like or support books being banned – we celebrate to support intellectual freedom and the freedom to read whatever you want. Second, it’s now much more common for books to be challenged than actually banned, thanks to the efforts of teachers, librarians, and other supporters of the freedom to read. You can read a bit more about Banned Books Week here (or in our blog archives here) and check out a few lists of books that have been banned or challenged here & here.)
They link to a few of my Banned Books Week posts for the blog from past years, as well as the ALA site. Here are ALA’s infographics for this year:
There is a difference between a challenge and a ban; there are many more challenges than bans. And just because a book is removed from one library, that doesn’t mean it’s removed from all of them, or unavailable at bookstores or online. But you’ll notice that almost all of these titles are children’s or teen books, and kids don’t always have options beyond their school library (if they’re lucky enough to have a school library and librarian) or their local public library. If a book is removed from those places, it’s effectively unavailable for that kid.
It’s easy enough – for many of us pro-intellectual freedom types, at least – to see a story like the recent one from Nashville, Tennessee, where a Catholic school banned the Harry Potter series, and rail against it. Most librarians – and plenty of teachers and parents – believe that while parents do have the right to decide what their own children can and can’t read, they do NOT have the right to decide that a book should be unavailable for everyone.
However, there’s a subtler kind of censorship that I see a lot of, and I’m sure I’ll have moments where I wrestle with myself about this as well: the “is my kid ready for this yet?” question. Parents with eager, advanced readers, especially, see their kids racing through all the chapter books and middle grade novels and into the teen section. They’re concerned that their readers will encounter bad language, violence, sex, drugs (maybe even rock ‘n’ roll), etc.
So far, I’ve developed four responses to this: one, of course, is to talk with the parent (and the kid!) about the books they’ve liked, and suggest any others I can think of or find along those same lines, without going into more mature territory. Two is to suggest to the parent that they read the book too (either before the kid does, or at the same time, or after), so they’re prepared to talk about anything that concerns either of them. Three, if a kid is reading way above their age level (content-wise), they will likely either put the book down, or some things will just sail over their heads; they’ll take something away from the book, but they won’t understand it on every level, and that’s okay. Four, books are the safest places to encounter scary things. Plenty of fantasy and sci-fi scenarios won’t happen in real life (probably, hopefully), but realistic fiction that deals with death, divorce, poverty, bullying, mental health issues, violence, sexual assault, and any of the multitude of things that can and do go wrong in our world…those things happen. If they don’t happen to you, then knowing about them can build empathy for others; if they do happen to you, you know you’re not alone.
A final note: one other way that adults censor kids’ reading is by designating “girl books” and “boy books.” Here, I’m going to turn it over to author Shannon Hale:
Stories make us human. We form bonds by swapping personal stories with others, and reading fiction is a deeply immersive exercise in empathy.
So, what happens to a culture that encourages girls to read books about boys but shoos boys away from reading books about girls?
11:45am “Advocacy for Access and Equity to Massachusetts School Libraries,” Greg Pronevitz, James Lonergan, Robin Cicchetti (Concord-Carlisle Regional High School)
Greg Pronevitz (formerly of MLS, currently a consultant) introduced this session off by acknowledging the great impact of Judi Paradis, a school librarian and advocate for school libraries. Judi was instrumental in the formation of the Legislative Special Commission on School Library Services in Massachusetts, which produced the report The Massachusetts School Library Study: Equity and Access for Students in the Commonwealth. “This study is a result of her efforts,” Pronevitz said.
The report concluded that there is a lack of equity in Massachusetts schools. In its long-range action plan to build equity, it suggests hiring someone at DESE (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) to manage school library services; at present, it isn’t even possible to get a complete count of the number of schools that have libraries (let alone librarians, book budgets, and appropriate technology). A possible partnership between DESE and MBLC could conduct a census of school libraries, librarians, and services. School libraries should also be included in ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) funding. The report also recommends that the state set regulatory minimum standards, to ensure at least some level of equity and access for students, whether they’re in rural, suburban, or urban districts.
James Lonergan from MBLC (Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners) mentioned a number of other possible partnerships and stakeholders, including COSLA, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, EveryLibrary, and MLA. MBLC already supports school libraries through LSTA grants, the Commonwealth Catalog, and access to statewide databases; in fact, schools account for two-thirds of the use of state databases – would DESE consider contributing?
Robin Cicchetti, Head Librarian at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School and one of the authors of the Equity and Access study, spoke about the important takeaways from the school library impact studies:
A strong school library program (SLP) leads to higher overall test scores
Access to better libraries means higher reading scores
School librarians provide much more than access to books
High levels of poverty mean little access to books
Access to books appears to offset the impact of poverty
Economically disadvantaged children benefit at a higher rate
Unlike a classroom teacher, a school librarian can have a relationship with an elementary student for six years (in a K-5 school), getting to know their interests and preferences and helping them find the right books and other resources for them. Because many schools have lost their librarians due to budget cuts, nearly a whole generation of students (and teachers) does not know what a librarian can offer – “And you don’t know what you don’t have.”
“Neutrality replicates existing oppression. Being true to our professional core values around access, diversity, and social responsibility requires finding ways to make historically marginalized members of our communities feel that they belong in our libraries and are reflected in our collections, staffing, and services.” -Meredith Farkas
Some questions that arose during the session (from the speakers and the audience) included: Are libraries ever really neutral? How do we define “neutral”? What does that mean in practice? What/who are we including/excluding? Our libraries reflect our communities; how do we make sure our libraries reflect everyone in our community? Do all library users feel safe? What voices do we support and amplify?
Are libraries neutral, can we be neutral, should we be neutral? (Remember, a position of neutrality doesn’t necessarily mean an outcome of neutrality.) As information professionals, do we want to promote/defend intellectual freedom when it comes at the cost of social responsibility? What are the impacts of intellectual freedom? Which voices will be limited, which will be amplified? If access to information is a human right, should the education to be able to evaluate information be a human right also (information literacy)?
It was pointed out that freedom of speech is a “negative right” (i.e., “Congress shall pass no law…”). Government cannot get in the way of freedom of speech, but it doesn’t have to promote it either.
The session closed with Saunders’ reference to Dante’s Inferno, in which neutrality was found to be “not just unethical, but damning.”
Brennan brought plenty of energy and enthusiasm to this session, which wasn’t quite what I expected but had an important core point: Identify your “tribe” (or team, or pack), what they need to know, and what you can learn from them. There are a couple “tribes”: one is library staff, especially those who may be working only a few hours a week in the children’s department and may feel especially overwhelmed and underprepared to answer specific questions about levels from kids, parents, teachers, and caregivers. Make sure everyone who works in the children’s department feels comfortable answering those questions, or knows where to find the information. (This might be preparing a binder full of pathfinders, posting the various levels and their grade equivalents and some representative books, or whatever else works for you and your staff.)
Another “tribe” includes those who come into the children’s department and may have knowledge to share with you: parents, teachers, caregivers, coaches, kids, siblings, peers, librarians. Find out what the schools are using, talk to teachers (especially if they have very specific requirements). People are usually happy to share what they know, what they like, and what they don’t like.
Brennan shared two readers’ advisory tips that I liked: one was simply asking the kid to give a thumbs-up/thumbs-down when you show them or tell them about a book. This saves them from talking if they’re shy, but quickly allows you to gauge their interest and move on. Another strategy involves tiny colored post-it notes, which she sticks on/near books in the stacks so kids can browse without a librarian hovering; if it’s busy, you might use different colors for different kids.
“Everyone deserves to be trained in kid’s services, but not everyone is” – Brennan gave an overview of the areas of the library (fiction/nonfiction, picture books, early readers, chapter books) and the different levels (Lexile, Fountas & Pinnell, DRA). Kids need books at their “level” to learn certain skills and grow as a reader, but can “reach” for books they’re interested in and are motivated to read. She is a big fan of the NoveList K-8 database, which can be a useful tool for those who aren’t as familiar with children’s books.
Brennan is passionate about children’s services and early literacy in particular; to that end, she has developed backpack kits that kids can check out for pre-K, toddlers, and infants. It’s never too early to start reading together; “families that read together achieve together.”
Librarians can “model it”: be open, be cool, be confident, be fun. Encourage a growth mindset with a “Let’s find out together” approach. Remember that “There’s no more important library patron than our youth,” and “The windows and mirrors you have as a kid literally shape the rest of your life.”
Tuesday, 9am: ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo’s “Big Ideas” Talk: “Libraries = Strong Communities”
ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo’s speech put libraries at the center of their communities, and gave examples of the many different ways libraries serve their communities, from the usual (“When it comes to connecting people to information, librarians do it better than anyone…We promote reading, lifelong learning skills, equal access to information for ALL”) to the unusual (one library has partnered with a hospital so that every time a baby is born there, the mother can push a button and a gong rings in the library to announce the birth).
Garcia-Febo showed a slide of the text of Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” She said, “Access to information is at the core of what librarians do” – and access to information leads to education, citizen engagement, and empowerment….Libraries play a critical role in leveling the playing field.”
She concluded, “We are all creating the library of the future every day. We need to continue working with community members and local organizations….Libraries are the cornerstones of democracy….Information is a human right.”
Additional resources with links, and tweets below:
Tuesday, 11am: Free Speech & Libraries, Edward Fitzpatrick
Much of the content of Ed Fitzpatrick’s talk can be found in his October 2017 Providence Journal article, “Nation needs First Amendment refresher course.” The roomful of librarians (unsurprisingly) did much better than the national average at identifying the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment, and after the talk there was some articulate pushback on the pithy idea that “The best answer to hate speech is great speech.”
A particular dilemma faced in libraries centers around our public meeting rooms. If they are open to all, does that mean we must allow hate groups such as the KKK to use them? A July 2018 feature in School Library Journal, updated with comments by Jamie LaRue and a sidebar by Martin Gardnar, “Free Speech Debate Erupts with ALA’s Inclusion of Hate Groups in Revision of Bill of Rights Interpretation,” summarizes the issue neatly. In short, the ALA’s answer is yes. (So is Ed Fitzpatrick’s: ““When you’re a public library, you’re committed to that public experiment…It doesn’t mean the library is supporting or welcoming these groups or advocating for them.”) But there are other things libraries can do to show that we don’t agree with hate speech or hate groups. However, no matter how inclusive our collections, how welcoming our displays, or how diverse our events, patrons who are the target of such hate groups may well feel threatened and unsafe in the library.
Fitzpatrick cited two books repeatedly, both by Anthony Lewis: Gideon’s Trumpet (1964) and Freedom for the Thought We Hate (2007). Even as he defended free speech, including hate speech, he admitted, “Hate speech does exact a toll. We all pay a price, some more than others….Such freedom carries a real cost.” Fitzpatrick, a white man, may not bear as much of that cost as others in our society.
Tuesday lunch: Gregory Maguire
The author of Wicked (the book the Broadway show was based on) and many, many other books for children, teens, and adults spoke during Tuesday’s lunch, and he was an amusing and engaging speaker. I hadn’t known much about his childhood, or all the picture books he wrote, and I may dip into one of his more recent novels (After Alice) – it’s been a long time since I read Wicked or tried (but didn’t finish) Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Here are some tweets from the talk:
Tuesday, 2:30pm: Ignite!
The “Ignite!” sessions are quick, five-minute presentations on various topics:
“Time Travel Toolkit: Historical Maker Activities for Modern Kids,” Elise Petrarca, Youth Services Librarian, Cranston PL: Attendance at kids’ technology programs (like 3D printing and coding) was dropping off, so Petrarca used her background in history to come up with a new series of programs, branded “Time Travel Toolkit,” featuring stories and crafts related to a particular time period. Open to kids in grades 3-8, the goals of the program were to provide a unique, hands-on experience around an era of history, and to engage kids so they have fun and learn a little bit. It was a success, with the older kids helping the younger ones. The most popular activities were bread baking and butter churning (nor surprising, if they got to eat their creations…).
Sue Sullivan talked about ArtWeek (#ArtWeekMA); many ArtWeek events take place in collaboration with Massachusetts libraries.
“Collapse & Rebirth: Librarians as Architects of a New Humanity,” Madeleine Charney, UMass Amherst: Charney talked about hosting discussions on climate change, using the World Cafe dialogue model. She also recommended the book Emergent Strategy: shaping change, shaping worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown.
Four presenters from Johnson & Wales University presented “Who’s Got Your Back? Empowering Student Chat Ambassadors”: J&W librarians talked about training student employees to answer chat questions, and the results of their training.
“Touchscreen Digital Displays to Showcase Local History at the Watertown Free Public Library,” Brita Zitin: Zitin spoke about how they had made local history more accessible to library users in Watertown by placing touchscreens throughout the building. Using the software Intuiface, they made an interactive historical map, partnered with their local history society to make biographies of local historical figures, and – always popular – made features from high school yearbooks (such as guessing the decade from the hairstyle).
“From Reference Desk to Genius Bar, Public Libraries of Brookline” Callan Bignoli: Bignoli spoke about rethinking how library staff offers tech help at the (very busy) Brookline Public Library. In addition to one-on-one tech appointments, patrons can now come during drop-in tech help sessions, “Lunch and learn” sessions, and use LibChat reference. Bignoli’s advice if you’re rethinking how you offer tech help at your library:
Make sure staff are prepared – not for everything, but for many things.
Think about who’s coming in (and when). What are they asking you for help with?
Meet people where they are.
Try to get them what they came for. Does the format fit the person/topic? (Class, drop-in, 1-on-1)
Finally, Anna Mickelson from the Springfield City Library and Alene Moroni from the Forbes Library in Northampton presented “Weed This, Not That.” (Aside: I just noticed that the Springfield City Library’s tag line is “All Yours, Just Ask,” which is brilliant.) Their rapid-fire presentation included two case studies with before-and-after pictures (Before: crammed shelves. After: shelves with plenty of space for face-out titles, and no books too high to reach or so low they’re on the ground). When there’s “too much stuff” on the shelf, “people can’t find what they need. Find a reason to keep something not a reason to get rid of it.” Weed in accordance with library mission, space, etc. Different methods include item-by-item, “dusty” lists (low/no circulation in last __ years), and at the shelf (e.g. pulling books that have obvious problems like torn covers, water damage, or appallingly out-of-date information). Use professional discretion; you can do things like keeping series while getting rid of years-old “incandescent debuts,” and keep the inclusive, diverse books (put them on display!) and “get rid of the old white guys.”
Are you excited to weed, but need some talking points to convince others in your library? Weeding makes room for new items, seating areas, welcoming spaces, display opportunities, and it increases circulation. After all, “Do you still have every pair of shoes you’ve ever bought?”
All in all, a fantastic conference experience. Thank you to all the presenters, NELA and RILA, and the staff of the Crown Plaza in Warwick – professional, courteous, and unflustered in the face of fire alarms.
The New England Library Association (NELA) annual conference was in Warwick, Rhode Island this year, and it was a fantastic conference; all of the sessions I attended were worthwhile, and I saw lots of activity on Twitter (#NELA2018) to indicate that many other sessions were generating a lot of excitement as well. To top it off, the food was good, and the room temperature resembled neither saunas nor igloos. Well done, Rhode Island! Now, on to the sessions:
Monday, 9am: Finding Appeal Factors: Or What I’ve Learned from Being Twitter’s Resident Reader’s Advisory Specialist by Margaret Willison (@MrsFridayNext)
Willison had spoken the evening before about debunking the myth that “smart people like smart things and dumb people like dumb things.” Her presentation Monday morning was two-pronged: (1) how to learn to like what you don’t like (e.g. how to recommend horror if you don’t read/watch horror), and (2) cross-format recommendations (e.g. “I just watched ___, what should I read next?”). She talked about the need to step outside your natural tastes and build enthusiasm/information for other things; a great way to do this is to ask an articulate friend, and have them explain why they like what they like (not why you should like what they like). By discovering the appeal factors, you can build a common ground and work back. After all, “Just because something isn’t your cup of tea doesn’t mean you can’t understand why someone else likes it.”
Willison did a live example with an audience member who reads the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, finding out the appeal factors, making a “wrong” recommendation (a series of books that matched in character and content, but differed in tone). This can be done for music and movies as well as for books, and that’s where cross-format recommendations come in. See, for example, NPR’s Read, Watch, Binge series (and while you’re at it, check out their incredible Book Concierge tool, which they make annually; here’s 2017). Other resources are Goodreads, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and The Ripped Bodice (for romance), The Criminal Element and Stop, You’re Killing Me! (for mysteries and thrillers), and the publisher TOR (for sci-fi and fantasy).
Monday, 11:30am: Sensory Storytime at the Public Library by Babs Wells, Maria Cotto
Shifting gears from adult readers’ advisory to children’s services, I attended two librarians’ joint presentation about sensory storytimes they offer at their libraries. Sensory storytime is geared for kids on the autism spectrum or with other developmental issues, though neurotypical children are welcome. Wells and Cotto strongly encouraged anyone thinking of offering a sensory storytime to use the book Programming for Children and Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Barbara Klipper, and also pointed to an ALSC blog post that serves as a brief how-to guide. It’s important to be aware of community resources as well, to partner with and to spread the word. (If you’re in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, or nearby, check out The Autism Project.)
Wells and Cotto described their usual sensory storytime, starting with registration: not required, but helpful, especially if it gives the librarian a chance to talk with the parent/caregiver beforehand about any special needs their child might have. They might also want a “social story,” a one-page handout that can help prepare the child for a new environment or event; it can be read like a picture book. Once the storytime has begun, it’s helpful to have visuals for everything, to ease transitions from one activity to another (books, bubbles, songs, activities, etc.). Starting with a hello song is a good idea; the librarian learns everyone’s names (parents too!) and can roll a ball to each kid and have them roll it back. Cotto said she always has a felt board or a puppet, and stools or mats for kids to sit on, and things for them to hold in their hands and fidget with. “These kids need something that will capture their attention, they need something in their hands, they like to participate.” She only reads one book, something like Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd or The Deep Blue Sea by Audrey Wood. “Go with the flow,” she advised – much like toddler storytime. After the organized part of sensory storytime, it’s playtime: they bring out more activities – popsicle sticks with velcro on the ends so kids can make different shapes, sensory sand, water marbles (but not together!), dried beans with little treasures kids can find and scoop into a cup. This can be a time for parents and caregivers to socialize (they shouldn’t be socializing or on phones during storytime; they should be involved. “I get in everyone’s faces!” Cotto said). Be sure to give plenty of warning when the program is wrapping up: five minutes, three, one, goodbye!
Lastly, remember: “When you meet one child with autism, you meet one child with autism.”
Monday, 12:45pm: NERTCL Lunch with author Tracey Baptiste
The New England Roundtable of Teen and Children’s Librarians (NERTCL) had their annual business meeting over lunch and then invited author Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies, Rise of the Jumbies) to speak. She tried out a new talk on us, “Creativity Under Pressure.” Here are my tweets from the session, which was probably less polished than one she’d given many times, but definitely interesting (and mark your calendars for the third Jumbies book next year!).
Monday, 2:15pm: Fake News or Real News? Helping Our Patrons Tell Fact from Fake, by Victoria Palmatier and Lisa Lipshires, Springfield City Library
Palmatier and Lipshires’ initial workshop was a lecture format followed by discussion, and they said that next time, they would offer a more hands-on approach in their computer lab. Another great idea they had was to have a copy of the day’s local paper for each workshop attendee, and then look at the local news online as well. They said that an in-person workshop makes the library and librarians seem approachable and legitimate, and as resources that can provide human connection in a meaningful way and make the world less confusing. (We all know we’re not going to change anyone’s mind on Facebook…)
Monday, 4:30pm (slightly delayed due to fire alarm): Great Expectations: Leaping from High School to College, by Sarah Hunicke (Portsmouth High School), Mary C. MacDonald (University of Rhode Island), and Marianne Mirando (Westerly High School)
There is a gap between what college and university professors expect in terms of research skills and information literacy and the students’ abilities in these areas. Because this year’s high school senior is next year’s college freshman, these three presenters worked together to examine what high school librarians (and high school teachers) can do to bridge the gap. College faculty expect students to be able to: 1. determine information needed to answer questions, 2. recognize information bias, 2. distinguish scholarly vs. popular, 3. understand the publishing cycle.
“Where do our students struggle?” Practice, Process, Assessment. “Where do our instructors struggle?” Assignment design (format vs content), Process (time commitment), Additional burden (grading). The two high school librarians who were presenting wanted to help teachers integrate information literacy into their students’ assignments without greatly increasing their grading burden. They each brought an example assignment from their schools, and we split into groups to come up with ways to do just that. In one case, it was as simple as adding a section on research quality to the grading rubric, and having the students hand in an annotated bibliography early in the process. Of course, librarians can also model searching library databases and online, showing students how to broaden or narrow searches as needed, and how to use keywords instead of natural language; if students see librarians working through problems (like getting no results, or too many results), they feel more confident to work through the same problems themselves.
Some teachers may not seek librarians’ help or even accept it when it is offered; however, the idea of “coaching” is big in K-12 education right now, so one approach librarians can take is to ask teachers, “If you’re not happy with your students’ sources/bibliographies, what can we do about that?” and work together.
And that was Monday! Stay tuned for Tuesday’s sessions: the ALA President’s “Big Ideas” speech, the First Amendment in libraries, Gregory Maguire, and the Ignite sessions (quick, 5-minute presentations on different topics).