ALA Youth Media Awards 2023

Cover image of Hot Dog
What a day for a dog!

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:

Middle grade:

  • 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

Picture Books

  • 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.

Mock Caldecott 2023

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).

Here’s how I ran our program, loosely based on Travis Jonker’s:

Intro/practice week (first week of January):

  • 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).

Week One:

  • 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.

Cover images of I Don't Care and Like

Cover images of The Blur and This Story is Not About A Kitten

Week Two:

  • 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.

Cover images of Hot Dog and Little Houses

Screen Shot 2023-01-25 at 8.40.44 PM

Week Three:

  • 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!).

Screen Shot 2023-01-25 at 8.42.49 PM

Cover images of Farmhouse and Snow Horses

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.

Bulletin board of 2023 Mock Caldecott with images of book coversVisual 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.)

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…

Update: Back to School

Bulletin board with WELCOME BACK message and paper hearts and rainbow border

As the veteran educators say, August is the Sunday of months – and now it’s back to school! (For this analogy to work perfectly, September would be Monday and school would not start until September, but here we are, starting school in August.)

This year I’ll be the Library Media Specialist at an elementary school for preschool through sixth grade. I’m looking forward to getting to know the people and the space, and developing the library program, from the curriculum to the collection. (Hat tip to the excellent library staff on the MSLA listserv, who have been so generous in answering my questions lately.)

Here’s one of my first displays, featuring books that have themes of kindness and friendship:

Display of books on Kindness and Friendship

Picture book read-alouds to make you laugh

What makes a picture book funny? A sense of humor is unique and personal – what makes one person laugh out loud might elicit only a small smile from another, and vice versa – but there are a few themes. Slapstick, physical comedy is one; “potty” humor is another (the farting pony in The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton, Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea). Cleverness is appreciated, especially the kind that winks at the reader and lets them in on the joke; kids like the feeling of knowing more than the main character does (hide-and-seek books use this tactic). Interactive, fourth-wall-breaking humor often works equally well in storytimes and one-on-one reading, as kids are ready and willing to engage. Some readers delight in the absurd (the increasingly strange to-do list in Bathe the Cat, the pile of unlikely “solutions” in On Account of the Gum). A twist or surprise ending can be very effective as well, such as in A Hungry Lion or Tyrannosaurus Wrecks!, especially if it follows a sweet emotional moment of resolution.

Recently I ran into a friend who is a youth services librarian at a public library. She said that they’d just put up a display of funny picture books, but realized they were not a diverse bunch. She thought I might have some ideas, and…I do!

onaccountofthegumTo be quite upfront, the first picture book that jumped into my head in the “funny” category was Adam Rex’s On Account of the Gum, which I maintain is one of the all-time funniest books to read aloud, and which absolutely does not get old, no matter how many times you read it. Though adults tend to think of picture books as being for little kids, this one appeals just as much or more to older kids, and even teens and adults; they can use the rhyme scheme to anticipate what’s coming next, and they have more context (e.g. they know what Picture Day is). But littles enjoy the over-the-top illustrations and the pattern and flow of the story…it’s just, hands-down, a brilliant read-aloud. Rex also wrote Pluto Gets the Call, illustrated by Laurie Keller (just think about the title for a minute) and School’s First Day of School, illustrated by Christian Robinson. (This book, narrated by a brand-new school building, contains the phrase “nose milk.”) Rex is a funny guy, but let’s move along…

Cover image of I Don't Want to Be A FrogI Don’t Want to Be A Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt, is told entirely in dialogue between a young frog (who, you guessed it, would rather be a rabbit or an owl or a pig or anything but a frog), their dad, and…I won’t give it away, but this book really lends itself to the read-aloud experience, and it has delightful companions (I Don’t Want to Go to Sleep, I Don’t Want to Be Big, and There’s Nothing to Do). Dev Petty also wrote Claymates, which has some of the most unique illustrations (by Lauren Eldridge) I’ve ever seen, and plenty of humor.

wolfiethebunnyIf you can hear the title Wolfie the Bunny and NOT want to read that book immediately, then we probably don’t have much in common. Ame Dyckman’s words paired with Zachariah Ohora’s illustrations absolutely live up to the promise of the title. In a neighborhood based on Park Slope, Brooklyn, a family of rabbits finds a wolf pup on their doorstep, but only little Dot is freaked out by the new addition to the family (“He’s going to eat us all up!”).

Tyrannosaurus WrecksZachariah Ohora also illustrated Tyrannosaurus Wrecks! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. (Every list of picture books has to have a dinosaur book, right? Pretty sure that’s a rule.) This is a sure-bet hit for the toddler and preschool set, and there’s a sweet social-emotional learning (SEL) component in addition to the slapstick humor. (While we’re talking about Zachariah Ohora, he also illustrated Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea, another very funny book, despite its serious-sounding title.)

herecomesvalentinecatDeborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda’s “Here Comes…Cat” books (Tooth Fairy Cat, Valentine Cat, etc.) star a cat that only communicates through signs (sometimes with words, often with images), facial expressions, and body language. The narrator is in dialogue with the curmudgeonly cat, and these books definitely tickle my funny bone; Valentine Cat makes an appearance at our house every February.

sparkyJenny Offill has produced such delightful gems as Sparky! (a book about a girl and her pet sloth; just look at the juxtaposition between the name – with an exclamation point! – and the sloth on the cover), While You Were Napping, 11 Science Experiments That Failed, and 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore. The titles are descriptive enough, I think, and any grown-up who has read Offill’s books for adults is in for something completely different with these.

Cover image of A Hungry LionA Hungry Lion, Or, A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins: The sheer genius of this title, oh my goodness. And the vocabulary. And the smile on the little turtle’s face. And the moment the lights go out. And the double twist ending. And, and, and….If you liked the slightly macabre humor of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back but you haven’t read this, go ahead and remedy that now.

grumpypantsGrumpy Pants by Claire Messer: “I’m grumpy,” declares a little penguin, and it tries a number of solutions to improve its condition, finally stripping off its clothes piece by piece and diving into a nice cold bath. Children (and adults, too!) might find that a bath, clean clothes, and a cup of cocoa are just the thing to soothe a grumpy mood.

stillstuckStill Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake: You’re getting undressed and your shirt gets stuck over your head – it’s happened to everyone, right? It happens to this kid, who definitely does not want assistance from Mom, and decides to accept their new state. In their imagination, they spin out what life will be like with a shirt over their head. Despite the kid’s adaptability (or resignation), Mom does swoop in to move the bedtime process along, but there’s another snag when it’s time to put on pajamas.

mightbelobstersThere Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Laurel Molk: Poor little Sukie is afraid of everything at the beach, but when beloved toy Chunka Munka is swept out to see, Sukie must find her courage. This is an excellent read-aloud for summer storytimes for all ages – get kids to repeat the titular refrain together –  and if you happen to have props with you for this read-aloud (a stuffed lobster, say, or a beach ball) all the better.

Cover image of The Oboe Goes Boom Boom BoomThe Oboe Goes BOOM BOOM BOOM by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Lian Cho: A band director introduces instruments one by one, but little Felicity just can’t wait to bang on the drums and keeps interrupting – until she’s blown away by the sound of the tuba. There’s actually quite a lot of information in here about different instruments, and the way that Cho translates sound into a visual medium is outstanding.

notapenguinI Am Not A Penguin: A Pangolin’s Lament by Liz Wong: A poor pangolin wants to give a presentation, keeping its cool while confused audience members interrupt, until a penguin arrives to steal the show. One little girl remains for the pangolin’s informative presentation. (See also: The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young, which taught me permanently that penguins live “at the bottom of the world” (i.e. Antarctica) while puffins live “at the top of the world.”)

kingbabyKing Baby by Kate Beaton might be funnier for adults than for kids, but kids enjoy it too; it’s one of my go-to recommendations for families who are about to add a sibling. And let’s not forget Beaton’s other picture book, the crowd-pleasing The Princess and the Pony (pony farts feature prominently).

bathethecatBathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty and David Roberts: A cat who definitely does not want a bath scrambles up a family’s to-do list as they rush to tidy before grandma arrives. Clever use of fridge magnet alphabet letters, plenty of pride, and increasingly ridiculous tasks all add to the joyful hilarity.

wedonteatourclassmatesWe Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins: Pink, overalls-wearing Penelope is nervous about the first day of school, and indeed, it doesn’t go as well as she’d hoped…she discovers that it’s hard to make friends when everyone is afraid you’ll eat them. Penelope learns to exercise self-control with the help of Mrs. Noodleman and a fearless goldfish named Walter.

Finally, every kid I know would insist that The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak be included on any list of funny picture books, and they’re right. BLURP.

What are your favorite funny picture books?

MSLA 2022: final session recaps

The final two sessions I attended this afternoon were “Building and sustaining an effective school library program: Exploring state impact studies for ideas to improve the evaluation of school libraries” and “Pleasure Reading for ELL.” I’m combining them into one post not because they are related but because I am tired.

Deeth Ellis, a PhD candidate at Simmons and the head librarian at the Boston Latin School, presented “Building and sustaining an effective school library program: Exploring state impact studies for ideas to improve the evaluation of school libraries.” It’s a pretty big topic for a 50-minute session, which started late because of technical difficulties, but here are some takeaways:

  • School library impact studies show that school libraries make a difference to student learning.
  • The role of the principal is important; a Mississippi study showed that the attitude of the principal toward the school library program had a significant effect.
  • “Advocacy is powerful. Research that underpins advocacy is really powerful.” Yet advocacy (”cheerleading”) takes time away from other library work and can lead to burnout. “We can do some things, but we definitely need partners to help us”; advocacy needs to be a combined effort.

Resources:

The Fault in Our Stars cover (Spanish)“Pleasure Reading for ELL” was presented by Katy Gallagher, library teacher at Hingham High School, and Erin Dalbec, library teacher at Newton North High School. Katy cited research on immersion and dual-language education programs that showed positive outcomes for students who maintained their native language in addition to English; libraries can support English Language Learners (ELL) by providing materials in other languages. First, however, you need to figure out what language(s) the students in your school speak. Even then, it may be difficult to build a collection of books in that language; librarians using the chat feature discussed the difficulty of finding affordable, popular titles in various language, from Portuguese to Arabic.

Public libraries can fill in the gap somewhat; high school students don’t need parental approval to get a public library card, and can request books throughout the consortium. School librarians can bridge the gap by showcasing some of the titles from the public library; Katy used a padlet to do this. She also went to the public library to pick up books for students who couldn’t get there on their own. Students can also get BPL cards and use e-books and audiobooks from Sora. (There was much love for Sora at this conference; it has been “a lifesaver” during the pandemic.)

For her part of the presentation (the last few minutes of which I missed because I had to go pick up my kiddo at the bus stop), Erin talked about identifying your ELL students, encouraging them to share their own stories via writing, reading, and speaking. Her students did active listening activities and podcasting: they listened to a sample podcast, wrote one page on a topic of their choice, practiced reading it aloud with peers, then recorded it. Erin and Katy also mentioned that ELL teachers and world language teachers could be good resources.

Resources:

  • Colorín Colorado
  • MA DESE School and District Profiles: you can look up the percentage and number of ELL in your district and school, although to get more detailed information about which languages they speak, you’ll need to ask your “district data person” or ELL teachers
  • WIDA
  • Deep L (an alternative to Google Translate)
  • Narrative4: “Share Today. Change Tomorrow.”

So that was my MSLA experience. Whew! Check out recaps of other MSLA sessions and keynotes here. Did you attend the conference? What were your key takeaways?

MSLA 2022: Book Challenge Panel

Bonnie McBride, Anja Kennedy, Collen Simpson, Lizz Simpson, and Luke Steere are all librarians who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, some form of book challenge in their school libraries, whether it’s a formal challenge or “soft censorship.” Although national news has focused on widespread challenges in states like Texas and Florida, Bonnie said, “Book challenges have always been a part of librarianship….They are happening here.”

A few themes and solid pieces of advice were repeated throughout the panel:

  • Be prepared. Have a collection development policy that includes selection guidelines and a procedure for the request for reconsideration of materials. This policy should be approved by the School Board and the administration should be aware of it. “Your first line of defense is a strong policy that people can’t argue with” – not even the superintendent.
  • A challenge or ban in one part of the country affects us all: Fears of challenges may cause librarians to self-censor (avoiding purchasing or promoting certain texts), and may cause teachers to make changes to the texts they use in their curriculum.
  • Some good things can come from challenges: while one panelist said “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” she acknowledged that some good things came out of it: there was a good examination of policy (which was strong), thoughtfulness about what we present in our curriculum, teachers chose more current books (in collaboration with librarian), more voice and choice in lit circles, students came to school committee meetings, increased transparency, and school committee has educated itself on public forum measures and the law.
  • “Promoting and defending our books should be a given.” A majority of the books being challenged have LGBTQIA+ content, and “there are LGBTQIA+ kids and families in every community, whether you know it or not.” Luke said, “I like using the word ‘challenge’ because it’s something to rise to” and not something to work against. Libraries are for everyone.
  • Be proactive. When a new administrator is hired, go and talk to them. They might not know the history of the district, if there have been challenges in the past and how they were handled. Ask them, “Where do you stand on this? What do we do when this happens?”
  • Keep the focus on the book. If it’s a student bringing the challenge, offer to sit with them and help them fill out the form. This can be a learning experience, and it keeps the focus on the book, not the complainant or the librarian.

Resources:

  • Library Book Challenge Resources Wakelet, curated by Bonnie McBride
  • Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) online manuals
  • Massachusetts Library System (MLS) Policy Collection
  • ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) Challenge Support
  • the MSLA listserv
  • Library Link of the Day: there has been an significant uptick in links that have to do with censorship, book challenges, and bans in school and public libraries over the past several months.

MSLA 2022: Cynthia Leitich Smith keynote “Brighter Days”

Author, teacher, publisher, and Muscogee Nation citizen Cynthia Leitich Smith delivered this morning’s keynote, “Brighter Days: Decolonizing Hearts, Minds, and Books for Young Readers.” She began by zipping through a number of essential fiction and nonfiction titles for young readers, from picture books through YA; children’s literature created by Indigenous authors shows that “we have a past, a present, and a future…[we are] 3D human beings with a full range of emotion.” Still, Native books make up just under 1% of books published for kids. “Why does that matter? Because we are still here….There are Native families in your communities whether you realize it or not.” Some of these families may “fly under the radar,” partly because of distrust of schools due to past experience. That makes it more important, not less, to seek out, include, and promote literature from Native authors, because “erasure hurts kids” and “Native kids deserve more from all of us.”

Cynthia acknowledged that publishing is a slow-moving industry and “it’s hard to shake up the conventional wisdom,” but with new imprints, new interest, and demand from readers, librarians, and booksellers, change is happening. Ellen Oh and the WeNeedDiverseBooks movement have been a force for positive change, as have conferences like LoonSong and Kweli. “A single voice…is not enough,” Cynthia said, referencing times that she had been told by people within the publishing industry that there was no room, or no need, for more Native voices beyond one or two established ones. But we need more: Cynthia said, “factual information won’t matter or stick if we don’t focus on humanity. Native people are modern people. Every kid, Indigenous or not, can benefit from exposure to Native values” like honoring ancestors, and protecting land and water. Young readers deserve a chance to read the work of many Native authors.

Librarians, Indigenous or not, have an important role to play; we are ambassadors to young readers. “We can’t do it without your continued support and activism,” Cynthia said. When purchasing and recommending books, she had a few tips: look for tribal specificity, contemporary settings, present tense, accuracy, and stories of daily life. It’s important to balance the historical with contemporary, tragedy with joy. “Unfortunately, much of what happened in the past is terrible”: Acknowledge oppression, integrate joy and achievement, address miseducation, and be aware that there is diversity within each tribal nation and “identity is nuanced.”

This is year-round work and should not be limited to Native American history month or just around Thanksgiving. Cynthia encouraged us to integrate Native books into year-round reading, and across the curriculum: “We are Native every single day…[it is] otherizing and marginalizing” to limit reading books by and about Indigenous people to one time of the year. “All kids deserve a truthful education.” She closed on a hopeful note, declaring, “We are seeing tangible progress” in the publishing industry and in Hollywood.

Resources:

MSLA 2022: Melissa Stewart, champion of nonfiction

Melissa Stewart gave an excellent presentation (“Tips and Tools for Nonfiction Read-Alouds“) at last year’s MSLA conference, so I was looking forward to hearing from her again this year, this time on the topic of “The Role of Equity in Creating Passionate Nonfiction Readers.” She started out by asking attendees to do an activity: jot down “five children’s books you love.” Then, put a check mark next to the nonfiction ones. No check marks? You’re not alone. However, we shouldn’t let our own preferences, biases, and assumptions get in the way: research shows that kids love nonfiction, both expository (nonfiction that explains, describes, and informs) and narrative.

Melissa’s talk was heavier on the “nonfiction” part than the “equity” part, but she made one crucial point that became my main takeaway from this session: Expository nonfiction is straightforward and gets right to the point, which is good for beginning readers; it is more accessible than fiction for kids who haven’t been read to (emphasis mine). For children not yet comfortable and familiar with storytelling conventions, nonfiction is more accessible. Plus, kids enjoy learning about specific topics (animals, things that go, sports, etc.) and it’s empowering for them.

Melissa asked us to consider what barriers exist between students and nonfiction books in our libraries. These barriers might stem from the organizational system the library uses (does it make sense to kids? Can they find what they want?), teacher assignments (are kids allowed to use nonfiction books as well as fiction? Do they know that?), or lack of communication between departments.

There are many things librarians can do to help kids find the nonfiction books they want: highlight them on displays, read them aloud, promote them in book talks. But the most important factor in helping students find nonfiction they love, Melissa said, is TOPIC: “the number one way” to turn “an expository nonfiction kid” on to reading is to give them a book – or some other resource – on that exact topic.

Resources:

Since Melissa’s presentation last year, I’ve been much more mindful of incorporating nonfiction into my displays, book talks, recommendations, and lists, and reading more of it myself (I particularly love picture book biographies). If/when I get the chance to work with younger elementary kiddos, I will be keeping this takeaway in mind.

MSLA 2022: “We respond to many names”

Reset Recharge Reimagine logo

Although K.C. Boyd’s keynote was hampered with technical difficulties, we persisted. (All of us librarians, library media specialists, teacher librarians, etc. are familiar with tech hiccups after the past couple years.) In the first half of her talk, she spoke about the school librarians’ advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., after schools went remote during COVID. “Always remain ready” to advocate, she advised, even when things are going well, and keep the focus on the students: “It’s not about the librarians, it’s about the children.” It is unfair to students, especially those in already under-resourced schools, to lose access to school libraries and librarians.

(This reminded me of the Massachusetts Equity & Access study from 2018, available for download from MBLC. Even across the Commonwealth, there are dramatic disparities between schools, meaning that some students have access to fully staffed, high quality library media centers, while others have no certified librarian and less (or no) access to library resources. Research has shown that students in schools with a certified librarian and a school library have improved reading scores – something everyone wants – so funding school libraries equally is essential.)

When school libraries are threatened, librarians must become activists as well as advocates. (An advocate speaks on behalf of a person or group; an activist acts intentionally to bring about social or political change.) K.C. suggested that mid-career, late-career, and retired librarians are the ones who should be on the front lines of this advocacy work, and she provided some guidelines for teamwork:

  • listen to understand
  • be respectful
  • let go of your privilege
  • gently “check” your peers
  • wellness checks
  • we are all in this together

Library activists should BE PREPARED with messaging: one message, many voices. K.C. advises, “Remain student-centered at all times….Keep ‘I’ out of the conversation….[the message is] We care about students.” Root your message in research; K.C. cited Dr. Keith Curry Lance and Dr. Stephen Krashen. Librarians can testify at education hearings, write op-eds, use social media, and tap local and national organizations, like EveryLibrary, for help. The bottom line is that “Inequity in school library services is wrong,” and we must work toward equity. She closed by saying, “We all must be truth tellers. Tell the truth. There is strength in numbers.”

Hashtags: #GoodTrouble (a reference to a John Lewis quote, though apparently it is also a TV show now), #DCPSHasLibrarians (DC-specific), #FReadom

Photo of Read-In protest
Photo of read-in protest from NBC Washington https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/dc-school-librarians-hold-read-in-protest-over-funding/2690626/

NLP logoSeparately from her keynote, K.C. Boyd also presented a session on “The News Literacy Project and Digital Citizenship.” KC is a national ambassador for the News Literacy Project (NLP) for the DC/Maryland/Virginia region. K.C. said, “I think it’s very important that digital literacy is taught in our K-12 schools.” Students are bombarded and overwhelmed with information and sometimes it’s not reported well. “We want students to be responsible users of media” and “it is our responsibility…to create a digital world we want to live in.” Particularly in the turbulent past two years – the Black Lives Matter movement, the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and the COVID-19 pandemic – it is “important for kids to understand where they could get good information.” K.C. said that she wanted her students to have “a full understanding of what was taking place,” so she used the NLP and Checkology to teach media literacy. Those lessons helped kids understand the news and how it is presented in society. “We owe our students the truth,” K.C. said, acknowledging that every community is different and advising librarians to “walk the line.”

The Checkology program is free for educators to use. I first heard about it a few years ago from Damaso Reyes at the “Libraries in a Post-Truth World” conference.

MSLA 2022: Every library is organized…differently

“Ditching Dewey or Sticking With It?”

Demco Dewey poster 900sAnna Ring of Chickering Elementary School in Dover/Sherborn conducted an action research project, surveying hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school libraries to find out what organizational systems they use: the Dewey Decimal System, an adapted version of Dewey, or something else (Library of Congress, BISAC, or a homegrown system). She found that most elementary libraries are still using Dewey or adapted Dewey, while some middle and high schools are using other systems. A few key themes emerged from Anna’s presentation and from the discussion among the participants:

  • Students should understand that every library has some organizational system; it may not be the same in every library, but once you understand the system, you can learn how to use it to find what you want. Understanding that there is an organizing principle is a transferable skill, even if another library uses a different system than the one you’re familiar with.
  • Librarians want students to feel successful, and for collections to have “maximum browsability”: “I want to make it as easy as possible for kids to find things.” This might mean grouping certain series together (like the Who Is/Who Was books) instead of sticking rigidly to Dewey. Many librarians also championed labeled bins as a way to increase visibility, browsability, and findability – there might be bins for biographies, easy readers, I Survived books, Magic School Bus, animal books…
  • Reclassifying and reorganizing takes a LOT of time, so take a slow, considered approach, and get student input!

A final small but important point: some libraries choose to “keep Dewey but ditch the decimal,” as students don’t learn decimals in math until third or fourth grade. And good signage helps!