New year, new look (and ALA YMA!)

After several years (long enough that the theme I’d been using, Misty Lake, was retired), I’ve chosen a new WordPress theme to have an updated look. (In real life, I also got a haircut, new glasses frames, and a new job. So. Changes.) Please let me know if something isn’t working the way it should!

As part of my new job, I get to work in Children’s Services, and I am loving it! I am “upstairs” at the adult services desk most of the time, but I work “downstairs” in children’s once a week. Neither desk is as busy as the library where I worked before, which is nice for me as I learn on the job. So far, projects have included cataloguing the storytime collection and organizing and updating booklists by topic/theme/genre and age/grade/reading level. (I’m making booklists “upstairs” too – read-alikes for book group selections.)

There are definitely some different questions in children’s, and some of them are much more serious and emotional than any I encountered working at the adult desk; for example, twice in less than two months I’ve helped people find books to help explain death and grief to their young children. I’m also working hard to familiarize myself with books for younger readers, particularly the chapter books and early middle grade books. A self-assigned project I’m working on is to read all of the 2017/2018 Reading Rocks books, a program for fourth- and fifth-graders in the town. (I made a new tag for it in LibraryThing; I’ve read 5 out of 20 so far.)

Big news in the children’s/YA world today is, of course, the ALA Youth Media Awards (YMA), including the Newbery, the Caldecott, and the Printz. The live stream of the announcement was here, and the award and honor books are listed below the video. As usual after the announcements, I celebrate the titles I read and enjoyed (this year: A Different Pond, Piecing Me Together, The Hate U Give, Saints & Misfits, The Eyes of the World) and start requesting those I haven’t (Wolf in the Snow; Hello, Universe; Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut; Long Way Down; The First Rule of Punk; We Are Okay).

Did you watch the ALA Youth Media Awards? Which winners did you cheer? Are there any books you wish had gotten awards or honors that didn’t? Which books have you added to your to-read list?

Screenshot of old blog theme
Goodbye, Misty Lake theme. So long, and thanks for all the fish.
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2017 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Previously: 2016 year-end reading wrap-up | 2015 year-end reading wrap-up | 2014 year-end reading wrap-up | 2013 year-end reading wrap-up

Number of books read in 2017: 240

Number of reviews by month
Number of reviews by month (2017)

Audiobooks: 15, mostly children’s and YA, and including three of the partially-read books (though one of those was a Neil Gaiman short story that I realized I’d already read in another collection)

Nonfiction: 34, including a couple of nonfiction picture books and a few of the partially-read books. Also, one entire book about compost.

YA/children’s (middle grade) books read: 31

Picture books: 104, including an unspeakable amount of Maisy

Partially read books: 16, including a few cookbooks and gardening books (i.e. not necessarily designed to be read cover-to-cover)

Books read in 2017, excluding picture books and partially read books: 120

Average number of books read per month (excluding picture books and partially read books): 10

Five-star ratings: 13

Total page count: Too damn annoying to calculate from LibraryThing exports. A lot.

Author Gender pie chart
Author Gender pie chart from LibraryThing: now a definite majority of my authors (nearly 54%) is female, while 46% is male.

Looking ahead (well, further into) 2018, I haven’t set any specific goals and am not participating in any challenges.* Some of my favorite authors are publishing new books this year, and I’m looking forward to those, of course – Gayle Forman, Maggie O’Farrell, Jo Walton, Curtis Sittenfeld. Like last year, I’m aiming to read even more in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks area, for myself and for the little one. (Lately, she’s really liked Jabari Jumps, Thunder Boy Jr., and A Different Pond.)

Books that have been recommended to me by more than one person (triangulation: not just for fact-checking anymore!) usually move up on my to-read list. I’ve already made a dent in the to-read list I made in November: I’ve read Fun Home, The Hate U Give, Rebecca; I have Far From the Tree checked out from the library, and my book club just chose The Bear and the Nightingale for February. (I have the cape, I make the whoosh noises! Note: that’s a link to a Cyanide & Happiness cartoon panel.)

*Okay, not entirely true: I do plan to read all of the “Reading Rocks” books [PDF] for the 4th- and 5th-graders in Winchester, where I am now working. Proper blog post about this change to come! So far I’ve really liked Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier and am listening to the excellent audiobook of Stella By Starlight.

I do occasionally read things other than books, though I don’t get credit for it in LibraryThing: most days I read at least one article from The New York Times, and most weeks I read a few pieces from the LitHub (“the best of the literary internet”) email newsletter. I read most of the Library Link of the Day links, and occasionally will find a good piece in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, or somewhere else (Teen Vogue!) via Twitter or Publishers Lunch.

So that’s the 2017 wrap-up. How was your year in books?

Early literacy and 1000 Books Before Kindergarten

1000 Books Before Kindergarten logoThe 1000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative is one I first heard about via the Cambridge Public Library. Like all the best arts & crafts projects and recipes, it looks wildly impressive, but is actually quite simple and manageable. As their mission statement says, “Numerous studies estimate that as many as one in five children have difficulties learning to read. Reading has been associated as an early indicator of academic success. Public formal education does not typically start until ages 5-6. Before then, parents and caregivers are the first education providers during the 0-5 early critical years.” The goals of the organization are simply “to promote reading to newborns, infants, and toddlers” and “to encourage parent and child bonding through reading.”

A thousand books sounds like a lot, but remember that picture books are short, and board books are really short. If you read just one book a day, that’s 365 books in one year, 730 books in two years, 1,095 books in three years, and 1,460 books in four years. It doesn’t have to be a thousand unique books, either; young children love (and learn from) repetition, growing more familiar with words, rhymes, and patterns.

If your parents, caregivers, and teachers read to you when you were a young child, then you’ve already shared this experience and it will be easier for you to model it from the other side. If reading aloud to/with a child isn’t as natural for you, or if you aren’t sure why it is important, here are some resources to help:

  • Reading Tips for Parents from the Department of Education (in English and Spanish)
  • Early Learning tips from the Hennepin County Library: “Learn how all family members and your public library can help prepare young children to be readers with five early literacy activities [talk, sing, read, write, play] that are fun yet powerful ways to encourage early learning.”
  • The Six Early Literacy Skills [PDF] from Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR)

If you don’t know what books to read to (or with) your child, librarians can help! If you can get to a storytime, that’s great – a good storytime librarian will model great read-aloud strategies, and for younger ages will often include fingerplay, songs, and rhymes; reasonable people don’t expect two-year-olds to sit still and listen quietly for half an hour! A decent bookstore is also likely to have a weekly storytime, and staff who can recommend great books for little ones.

If you can’t get to a storytime, just ask a librarian or bookseller what they recommend, and they should be able to give suggestions based on your child’s age and interests. Here are some other resources for finding great books to share with your child:

Does your library, bookstore, school, or other organization support 1000 Books Before Kindergarten? Have you participated with your child? There are participation resources on the site, from reading logs to certificates to apps to hashtags, though my favorite idea is keeping a handwritten reading journal. In general I don’t like incentives (e.g. “if you read 100 books you get a sticker”) because reading is its own reward (intrinsic motivation), but I like the T-shirt – it reflects pride in an accomplishment, and helps spread the word about the program.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten display at the Guilford (CT) Public Library
1000 Books Before Kindergarten display at the Guilford (CT) Public Library (names and faces obscured for privacy purposes)

We Need Diverse Books

The most recent issue of Kirkus is a “diversity issue,” with about 40 pages of articles and essays that give different perspectives on diversity in literature. I’m still making my way through it, but I loved this quote from author Padma Venkatraman:

“Books are more than mere mirrors or windows; they are keys to compassion. And novels don’t just expose readers to differences, they allow readers to experience diversity. They allow us to live within another’s skin, think another’s thoughts, feel the depths of another’s soul. Novels transport, transform, and, most importantly, allow us to transcend prejudice. When we immerse ourselves in characters whose religions are different than our own, our empathy is enhanced. We move closer to embracing people of all religions.”

It reminded me a bit of the way Neil Gaiman talks about fiction (“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been”), and what Caitlin Moran wrote in her essay “Alma Mater” about growing up in the library:

“The shelves were supposed to be loaded with books – but they were, of course, really doors….A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination….They are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”

When Venkatraman writes about mirrors and windows, she is referencing Rudine Sims Bishop’s 1990 article “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Books that are mirrors reflect the reader’s self and own world back at them; books that are windows show the reader another person or people and world; books that are sliding glass doors allow the reader to “enter” another world.

The San Antonio Public Library page “Diversity in the Classroom: Building Your (Early Childhood) Library with Mirrors and Windows” has a video clip of Bishop from January 2015. In it, Bishop says, “Children need to see themselves reflected, but books can also be windows, so you can look through and see other worlds, and see how they match up or don’t match up to [your] own. But the sliding glass door allows you to enter that world as well, so that’s the reason diversity needs to go both ways.” She says that just as children of color need to see themselves in books, white children – who see plenty of themselves in books – need to see characters of other cultures, races, and religions as well, to provide a more accurate picture of the world as it is (“colorful”).

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement FAQ page cites an infographic produced by multicultural publisher Lee & Low Books (“About everyone. For everyone”), which used statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and census data. Although 37% of the U.S. population are people of color, only 10% of published children’s books contain multicultural content. Note that that includes books where the main character might not be a person of color, and it also doesn’t mean that the author was a person of color.

We Need Diverse Books virtual buttonWhere do we go from here? We need more diversity at all levels of publishing, in libraries, in schools, in the bookselling business. We need to write, publish, read, and promote diverse books; “multicultural books don’t sell” is no longer a valid argument, if it ever was. We need more stories about more different people and places. We’re getting there, but too slowly.

8/17/17 Edited to add:

As I made my way through the rest of the issue, I found two more quotes I wanted to share. The first is from Megan Dowd Lambert, an author, senior lecturer in children’s literature at Simmons, and Kirkus reviewer; she in turn is quoting Mary Robinette Kowel:

“It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.”

Though our society is far more segregated than it ought to be, and some kids may rarely see people outside of their own race, culture, or class, the world is “colorful” and literature ought to reflect that. In fact, books are where many people encounter new ideas and perspectives and learn about the world. “Armchair traveling” isn’t just for seeing the lives of ancient royalty, dangerous mountain-climbing expeditions, or sea voyages; it may be a way to see into the next neighborhood.

“…Disability comes from scarcity and environment and other people’s prejudices as much as the body. Silencing the word can silence real injustices, emotions, and experiences. Diverse books are tools for empathy, but we can’t address what we won’t say.”

This is from Amy Robinson, children’s librarian and Kirkus reviewer. She makes an important point about environment contributing to disability. Are our built environments inclusive, or do they present barriers? (Do elevators work? Are aisles wide enough? Are there ramps or only stairs? Is signage large and clear? Are there curb cuts on sidewalks? Are sidewalks even or broken, covered in snow or cleared?) In many cases, a disability may only present extra difficulty because of obstacles in the world – in the built environment or as part of prevailing cultural and societal ideas. Let’s figure out what those obstacles are (it’s often very hard to imagine, so ask people who confront them) and start removing them.

Board books for babies and toddlers

A friend with a four-month-old recently asked me for recommendations for board books for babies – not because she couldn’t find any, but because the selection in bookstores and libraries was overwhelming. Of course, I suggested she ask booksellers and librarians, who usually know exactly what book(s) to give to kids of every age, but here is my own list:

  • I Kissed the Baby by Mary MurphyI Kissed the Baby! by Mary Murphy: This is my favorite for little babies! It has the high contrast of Tana Hoban’s Black & White books, but also has repetitive, sing-song words and a touch of color.
  • Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden: Another favorite for little babies, or kids of any age who still enjoy peek-a-boo.
  • The “That’s Not My….” series: These touch & feel books are thin on plot, but nice and tactile for when infants start reaching for the pages. They’ll start to remember where the different textures are on each page.
  • The BabyLit series: These board book versions of classics are a little silly, but a good introduction to the world of literature. We like Jabberwocky (though it’s not the complete poem), and Don Quixote, which is bilingual.
  • A Kiss Like This by Mary Murphy: Murphy’s books are sweet without being cloying. Again, this one has the repetition that kids love, and you can do the different kinds of kisses (gentle and tall, quick and small, etc.).Wow said the owl
  • Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood: A little owl stays up all day and is wowed by all the colors she sees.
  • What a Wonderful World, illustrated by Tim Hopgood: Can you sing as well as Louis Armstrong? Give it a try! Or just read it.
  • Happy Hippo, Angry Duck: A Book of Moods by Sandra Boynton: Boynton is one of the queens of board books. I don’t love all of her books universally, but Happy Hippo, Angry Duck is just the right amount of goofy (and also teaches that moods change). Others of hers that I like are Hippos Go Berserk, But Not the Hippopotamus, Tickle Time, and The Belly Button Book.
  • Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett: Gravett’s watercolors are simple and charming. For babies who like single images on white backgrounds, this is a good choice; toddlers will enjoy the fruit and the bear.Orange Pear Apple Bear
  • I Dreamt I Was a Dinosaur by Stella Blackstone: These unique illustrations are made from felt, sequins, beads, and other craft supplies, and the text rhymes.
  • How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen: A perfect rhyming goodnight book, this outlines all the bad behavior and ends with the good (“they tuck in their tails, they whisper ‘good night’…”).
  • All three of Chris Haughton’s board books: Oh No, George!, Shh…We Have A Plan, and Little Owl Lost. The first is my favorite but they all bear up well under endless repetition. The illustrations look like they were done in MS Paint, but don’t be put off.The Monster at the End of this Book
  • The Monster at the End of This Book (Sesame Street): Grover is frightened of the monster and implores the reader to STOP TURNING PAGES, taking more and more extreme measures…but it turns out the monster is not so scary after all. Great opportunity for dramatic reading here.
  • Hug by Jez Alborough: A baby monkey observes other animals hugging, then goes in search of its mommy for a hug.
  • Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann: Should you get sick of Goodnight Moon, here’s an alternative featuring a mischievous gorilla and a clueless zookeeper.
  • Finger Worms by Herve Tullet: This book has holes in the covers and through the pages so readers can stick their fingers through to become part of the illustrations – very interactive! (Older kids will enjoy Press Here and Mix It Up by the same author.)
  • Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss: Rhymes and sound effects, what could be better?
  • Dr. Seuss’s ABCs: The board book version is slightly abridged from the picture book version; both are good and include plenty of Dr. Seuss’s invented words.Chu's Day
  • Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman: This is a huge hit with my toddler (she also loves Chu’s Day at the Beach and Chu’s First Day of School). Fake sneezes are very entertaining! (See also: The Mitten by Jan Brett)
  • I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen: stories of hats stolen and retrieved, the implications are dark but babies won’t notice. Anything Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett write together is worth checking out; I love Extra Yarn.

Poems

  • My First Winnie the PoohClassic Mother Goose poems in board book form, such as The Real Mother Goose Board Book and Tomie’s Little Mother Goose (that’s Tomie dePaola, author/illustrator of Strega Nona).
  • My First Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne: short versions of the gentle poems we all know and love, including “The Engineer,” “Halfway Down,” and “Us Two.”
  • The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, compiled by Jack Prelutsky, is a collection that truly has something for everyone: poems short and long, funny and saccharine and sad, rhyming and not.

Read-aloud tip: “For infants, what book you read is less important than your enjoyment of it. If you have fun, baby will too!” (From my library’s pamphlet on Books for Babies, which also includes a book list by section: Board books, nursery rhymes, picture books, lullabies and songs, and poetry.)

Read-aloud tip: More often than not, the character(s) in children’s books is/are male. If this isn’t an important part of the story (e.g. the character is nameless), try using female pronouns some of the time. There’s no reason the default needs to be male.

 

Reading Passport: Book a Trip Around the World

Reading Passport
Reading Passport, 1994-1995

During the 1994-1995 school year, the school librarian (we had those, back then) issued the students a Reading Passport, which entitled (pun intended?) the owner to Book a Trip Around the World (pun definitely intended)! Because I am a highly organized pack rat whose mother had storage space in her garage until recently, I still have mine.

Like many of today’s popular reading challenges, students chose books in various categories (and got stickers for each book read. Who doesn’t love stickers?). Categories included classics, mystery, “true to life” (i.e. realistic), fantasy, humorous, adventure, historical fiction, animal, sports, and biography.

Some of these books I have entirely forgotten; others I remember vividly from re-reading them so often, and still adore – The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop, Matilda and The BFG by Roald Dahl, and Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville. Though it’s not on the Reading Passport, 1994-1995 was also the year I read Buffalo Brenda by Jill Pinkwater. I think it was the following school year when I first read Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, and the year after that when I first read The Giver by Lois Lowry.

reading passport with stickers

Since 2007* when I first joined Goodreads and LibraryThing, I’ve kept a record of all my reading, but I’ve often wished for a lifelong record. I’m pleased to have unearthed this piece of my elementary school reading history, and grateful to the librarian who made it a fun experience worth documenting.

*TEN YEARS AGO.

 

 

2016 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Number of books read in 2016: 201

Picture books: 90

Partially read books: 8

Books read in 2015 minus picture books and partially read books: 103

YA/children’s books read: 40

Average number of books read per month (including YA, excluding picture books and partially read books): 8.58

Audiobooks: 11

Nonfiction (adult/YA): 22

Total page count: 27,536 (This seems suspiciously low, given that the last two years my page count was just over 50,000, but exporting the data I want from LibraryThing is frustrating, and honestly I don’t have the patience to dig into this. It’s still a pretty good chunk.)

Male or

Female/male authors: Tipping female for the second year in a row but still pretty close to 50-50.

Five-star ratings: 23, including re-reads; lots of childhood favorite re-reads this year, including The View From Saturday and Ella Enchanted. And Greenglass House, again.

Previously: 2015 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Again, no specific reading resolutions for the year. I have continued to winnow down my book collection at home, and have just a few books on the shelf that I’ve been meaning to read; one of these is The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which I suppose would be appropriate to check off the list.

I have enjoyed reading without the lurking feeling of each book being part of a “to do” list. I’ve discovered (and revisited) many, many picture books, from my own childhood copies (One Woolly Wombat!) to the brand new and delightful (too many to name). I’ve ventured more into children’s chapter books and met Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine.

Like many others, I’m also trying to read a broader variety of perspectives: books by women and people of color and other minorities, books whose subjects or main characters are something other than straight, white, middle-class Americans. There have been some spectacular collections of scathingly funny and serious feminist essays (Lindy West, Caitlin Moran, Mindy Kaling), and Rebecca Solnit has a new book coming out in March). And YA authors have been at the forefront of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks charge from the beginning, which means we’re growing a generation more open-minded than any before it.

“And so to read is, in truth, to be in the constant act of creation.” -Caitlin Moran, Moranifesto