Homeschooling in Middle Grade Fiction

Tonight in my #kidlit class (“Collections and Materials for Children”), we discussed two middle grade novels that featured homeschooled characters. I started building a list of others (see below), but I’m sure there are more out there. What did I miss? And what do you think of these portrayals of homeschool education in fiction?

Libraries, museums, and parks are all valuable resources that support lifelong learning for all ages. As a public librarian, I was always happy to see homeschool groups come in to use the library resources.

  • The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue (sequel: The Lotterys More or Less)
  • All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (graphic novel)
  • Schooled by Gordon Korman
  • The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy (the main characters are not homeschooled, but they have some friends who are)
  • For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
  • Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord
  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
  • Sunny by Jason Reynolds (part of the Track series, but works as a standalone)
  • The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss
  • Just Breathe by Cammie McGovern (decidedly YA and not MG!)

Moving and Grooving: Picture Books About Music and Dance

pokkoThose of us who do storytimes for little kids know that we shouldn’t expect them to sit quietly, hands folded in laps, listening ears on – not at all! The best storytimes I’ve attended or led incorporate movement, singing, and plenty of wiggling. (Directed movement is better than chaotic movement: one of the best tips I got when I was new to leading storytimes was that if things got rowdy, to sing “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” – with motions – because it’s soothing and works as a good reset. You can also sing any short rhyme three times: first regular, then loud, and finally very softly.)

Here are some picture books about music and dance that work for storytime or sharing one-on-one. Most are just right for the preschool set, with some fine for toddlers (Punk Farm, Pokko and the Drum) and others (The Piano Recital, Jingle Dancer) best for early elementary. They range from silly to poetic but all show an appreciation for music and the various ways of making it.

88 Instruments by Chris Barton, illus. Louis Thomas88instruments

Because by Mo Willems, illus. Amber Ren

We Will Rock Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (sequel to the deservedly popular We Don’t Eat Our Classmates)

Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! by Lloyd Moss, illus. Marjorie Priceman

The Orchestra Pit by Joanna Wright

Punk Farm by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (gives “Old MacDonald” a fresh treatment)punkfarm

What A Wonderful World illustrated by Tim Hopgood (a picture book version of Bob Thiele and George Weiss’s song, popularized by Louis Armstrong; best for those confident in their singing voices, though of course you can read it without singing)

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

Music for Mister Moon by Philip and Erin Stead

The Piano Recital by Akiko Miyakoshi (translated from Japanese)

How Do You Dance? by Thyra Heder

Let’s Dance! By Valerie Bolling, illus. Maine Diazletsdance

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illus. Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (this one has more text and would likely sail over toddlers’ heads and test preschoolers’ patience, but it would be a great read-aloud for early elementary)

This isn’t an exhaustive list and I’m sure I’ve missed some great ones. What are your favorite picture books having to do with music or dance?

Picture perfect families

A few picture books we’ve read recently started me thinking about the theme of families. Once I started making a list, one book quickly led to another – and this is not an exhaustive list! Many of these books include grandparents and extended family; a couple include foster parents (Just Like A Mama and A Family Is A Family Is A Family); one explains “what makes a baby” in a way that includes all kinds of families; and many are multicultural and inter-generational.

I have a separate list of books about when new siblings are added to a family, which I’ll share in a future post.

How families get started…

  • What Makes A Baby by Corey Silverberg, illus. Fiona Smyth
  • Nine Months by Miranda Paul, illus. Jason Chin

GrandparentsCover image of Grandma's Tiny House

  • Grandma’s Tiny House by JaNay Brown-Wood, illus. Priscilla Burris
  • Maud and Grand-Maud by Sara O’Leary, illus. Kenard Pak
  • Between Us and Abuela by Mitali Perkins, illus. Sara Palacios
  • I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illus. Julia Kuo
  • A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu, illus. Christina Forshay
  • Drawn Together by Minh Lȇ, illus. Dan SantatCover image of Mango Abuela and Me
  • Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina, illus. Angela Dominguez
  • Just in Case by Yuyi Morales
  • Yoko’s Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells
  • The Button Box by Margarette S. Reid, illus. Sarah Chamberlain

Mamas

  • Saturday by Oge MoraCover image of Saturday
  • Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illus. Sophie Blackall
  • City Moon by Rachael Cole, illus. Blanca Gomez
  • Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Dads

  • Jabari Jumps by Gaia CornwallCover image of Jabari Jumps
  • Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illus. Vashti Harrison
  • The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl

Families together

  • A Family Is A Family Is A Family by Sara O’Leary, illus. Qin LengCover image of A Family Is A Family Is A Family
  • Home Is In Between by Mitali Perkins, illus. Lavanya Naidu
  • When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith, illus. Nicole Neidhardt
  • Just Like A Mama by Alice Faye Duncan, illus. Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
  •  All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illus. Paul O. Zelinsky
  • Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illus. Charlene ChuaCover image of Just Like A Mama
  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams (1983 Caldecott Honor)

Early readers/beginning chapter books

  • Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi, illus. Hatem Ali
  • Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy by Laurel Snyder, illus. Emily Hughes

I hope you discover something new on this list that you come to love and share. And please, feel free to add your favorite family books in the comments!

Mid-April, middle grade

It’s been a little while since I wrote about middle grade novels, which I continue to inhale because they are so good. Middle grade characters are at an age where they’ve got a little bit of independence, they’re figuring out their identities and their friendships and their feelings. They’re making mistakes, they’re learning, they’re having ideas, they’re testing boundaries. In short, middle grade is absolutely fascinating, and although publishing is still overwhelmingly white, it’s getting more diverse (and therefore more interesting) by the year. Reading fiction has always been one of my favorite ways to learn about history and about other cultures; I read nonfiction too, but it tends to be the stories in novels that stay with me. Here are a few recent (2019-2021) middle grade novels I’d love for more people to read:

Wash your hands and grab your aprons…

  • Cover image of A Place at the TableA Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan: Pakistani-American Sara’s mom runs a cooking club at school, and that’s where Sara meets Elizabeth, who’s Jewish, and whose mother is also studying for the U.S. citizenship exam. The girls orchestrate a study group of two for their mothers, and become friends in the process.
  • Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu: In this graphic novel, twelve-year-old Cici, who has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle, enters a cooking competition, but is unsure if she can win by cooking Taiwanese food.
  • From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks: After receiving a letter on her birthday from her father in prison, Zoe strikes up a secret correspondence with him, enabled by her grandmother, and decides she must clear his name – all while winning a baking competition, and (maybe) making up with her best friend next door.

Now put on your dancing shoes (or not)…

  • Cover image of Lupe Wong Won't DanceLupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera: If “Chinacan/Mexinese” Lupe gets all As, she’ll get to meet her hero, pitcher Fu Li; but her A in P.E. is threatened when Coach announces that the next unit is…square dancing. Lupe goes on a campaign against it, roping her friends into helping her. Readers will see that it’s possible for kids like them to be activists and make change that’s meaningful to them. I did not get hooked immediately, but I kept going, and toward the end there was a part that made me laugh so hard I couldn’t talk for several minutes.
  • Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina: Anything new by Meg Medina is cause for celebration in my book, and Merci doesn’t disappoint. Adolescence keeps tossing Merci curveballs (“If I’m too young for it all, why is it happening anyway?”): her beloved grandfather Lolo has Alzheimer’s, her older brother is away at college, she’s stuck working in the school store with Wilson, and Edna Santos won’t shut up about the Heart Ball. Merci makes some big mistakes, but she still has the support of her family and friends.

On the road and Underground:

  • Clean Getaway by Nic Stone: Scoob’s dad cancels their vacation when Scoob gets in trouble at school, so when Scoob’s grandma swings by in a new RV, he hops in – and leaves his phone behind. But the road trip turns strange, with G’ma, who’s white, telling Scoob, who’s Black, about using the Green Book when traveling with his Black grandfather decades ago. Scoob learns some family truths before he returns home.Cover image of Planet Omar
  • Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian: Middle child Omar introduces his British Muslim family in a funny, relatable way. Sketches accompany the story, which includes getting lost in the Underground on a field trip with only the school bully for company.

New York and New Jersey:

  • Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable: Katie’s two best friends go off to camp, leaving her stuck in sticky New York, so Katie tries to earn the money to join them for the last week of camp. She gets a sweet cat-sitting gig for an upstairs neighbor, but begins to wonder…is Madeleine actually the supervillain known as the Mousetress? Super fun; I read it in one sitting.
  • Cover image of Like VanessaLike Vanessa by Tami Charles: Vanessa is elated when a Black woman is crowned Miss America for the first time, and a white teacher encourages her to participate in the first-ever Miss King Middle pageant, even though her skin is much darker than Miss America’s. Vanessa is skeptical, but Mrs. Walton isn’t the typical white savior, and she understands Vanessa better than Vanessa expects. Throughout, Vanessa writes in her diary, and works to solve the mystery of her mother’s absence.
  • Cover image The Year I Flew AwayThe Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold: Ten-year-old Gabrielle’s parents send her from their home in Haiti to live with relatives in New York, where she promptly makes an ill-advised deal with a witch called Lady Lydia. Gabrielle’s new friends – a talking rat called Rocky and a Latina classmate called Carmen – help Gabrielle regain what she’s lost. Readers willing to go with the flow will love this magical book about identity, language, culture, and what it means to be American.

Historical fiction (1930s, 1970s):

  • Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk: When the Great Depression hit, Ellie and her family move from a town to a mountain in Maine; Ellie and her father take to it, but Ellie’s mother and older sister haven’t adapted as well, and when Ellie’s father is injured and lies in a coma, the burden falls on all of them. Ellie takes the initiative to explore and meet others on the mountain – some of whom are already connected to her family in surprising ways. This immersive book reminded me a bit of A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.
  • Cover image of Dawn RaidDawn Raid by Pauline Vaeluaga Smith: Thirteen-year-old Sofia’s diary entries show a dawning awareness of anti-Polynesian racism in Wellington, New Zealand. She writes about McDonalds and go-go boots, the Polynesian Panthers and dawn raids (police raiding Pacific Islanders they suspect are “overstayers,” though the 60% of overstayers who are white are never targeted), and eventually makes a speech at her school recounting her first-hand experience. A time and place rarely written about for the middle grade audience in the U.S.

Poetry/Novel in verse:

  • The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park: A teacher asks the class to think about the one thing they’d save in a fire (assuming people and pets are safe). The class muses, then shares; grayscale illustrations of their rooms and possessions accompany the modern Korean sijo poetic style.
  • Cover image of StarfishStarfish by Lisa Fipps: Ellie doesn’t mind that she’s fat – she minds that almost everyone, including her own mother, bullies her for being fat. Luckily for Ellie, she has two good friends – one old, one new – and a skilled, kind therapist to help her realize a way forward in the world.

Pacific Northwest, Native American #OwnVoices:

  • The Sea in Winter by Christine Day: During a week of spring vacation in the Pacific Northwest, Maisie goes on a hiking trip with her family, but struggles with a healing ACL injury and with the idea that her dream future as a ballet dancer might not come to pass. Maisie’s family – mom, younger brother, and stepdad – are all Native American; both Maisie’s parents support her, gently explaining that “dreams change.”

Fantasy, Newbery Honor:

  • Cover image of A Wish in the DarkA Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat: Is life fair, or unfair? Characters’ beliefs change in this dreamy yet fast-paced Les Miserables-inspired Thai fantasy novel. Pong, born in prison, and Nok, daughter of the warden, start out on opposite sides but move toward similar conclusions. Absolutely original, hard to put down once you’ve started.

MSLA 2021, Part 2

If you missed the first half of this write-up about the Massachusetts School Library Association conference, it’s here (Part 1). Now, on to the excellent sessions from Monday, March 22.

Morning keynote

Cultivating Genius and Joy: Culturally and Historically Responsive Education for Equity, Excellence and Joy, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

Cover image Cultivating GeniusDr. Muhammad is the author of Cultivating Genius, and an amazing speaker with an inspiring message, a deep understanding of history, and the expert delivery of a slam poet (the live chat was full of librarians planning to buy her book or see if she was available to speak to their schools or other organizations). “STORIES MATTER,” she said (it sounded like it was in all caps), and she referenced the danger of a single story (see: “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk). In this case, the story she was referring to was one of “at-risk, confrontational, defiant, unmotivated, non-readers.” Instead, “We must not call readers struggling until we call systems struggling.”

Dr. Muhammad delivered a fast-paced history of Black educators in U.S. history, much of which has been forgotten or intentionally erased: “When you have an erasure of Black genius in education, we see it transfer over to our schools and our communities.” She referenced the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), which consistently produces data showing that children’s literature overwhelmingly is produced by white creators and features white characters. She asked, If our books are supposed to be windows to the world, how come only one kind of kid gets to see themselves as astronauts, superheroes, etc.? “It is a human agenda when some people’s stories matter more.”

Dr. Muhammad talked about multicultural education and social justice: “Our schools must have justice at the center….If the system does not help all, it helps no one.” And finally, she described and gave examples of the five lenses/pursuits she uses to examine a text or teach a lesson: Identity, Skills, Intellect, Criticality, and Joy. Most assessment – especially standardized testing – only focuses on skills, but that is only a piece of learning. Dr. Muhammad asked, “How will you make it impossible for students to fail?” (and, “Is it ethical to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing?”).

After the [Diversity] Audit, Liz Phipps-Soeiro

Phipps-Soeiro is an elementary school librarian in the Cambridge Public School system, as well as a consultant and a community organizer. She had an excellent, break-all-the-rules slide show that led with the statement, “I am learning and unlearning every day.” (The second piece of this is so important. Librarians often claim the identity of “lifelong learners,” but much of the new knowledge is really updating and improving on the old.)

Before beginning a diversity audit, a librarian should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What does “diverse” mean to me?
  • How am I using that word?
  • Am I still centering a dominant cultural narrative?
  • Am I only thinking about race?
  • How does my identity affect what I value and judge as “diverse”?
  • What might I consider? (race, region, power, urban/rural, gender, class, sexuality, religion, ability, chronic illness, neurodivergence, oppression/liberation, collectivism/individualism

A diversity audit is a good first step, but move beyond quantitative data. “Stories are our profession.” Look beyond the identity of the character and creator, while acknowledging that “no one book can do everything.” Books can uphold some stereotypes/tropes/myths and break others at the same time.

Engage in self-reflection, hone your critical lens, and beware of “tourist curriculum” (a superficial approach, often featuring holidays or food, then returning to the “regular” curriculum, which further centers a white identity). Be aware of which narratives are amplified or erased.

And involve your students! Give them the vocabulary they need, demonstrate that it is okay to ask questions. The librarian can engage and facilitate powerful book discussions with children (“Does this book support or challenge any stereotypes?”). Analyze books explicitly; kids bring that vocabulary and willingness to discuss out of the library and into classrooms and home.

During the Q&A, a high school librarian commented, “Audit for bias, not just diversity.”

Here is a tool for selecting diverse texts from Learning for Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance).

Beyond Books: Supporting English Learners in Your School Library, Emily Houston, Kendall Boninti, and Paige Graves

Houston, Boninti, and Graves all work at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (CRLS), and their presentation was about a concerted effort they’ve made to bring English Language Learners (ELL) into the library and make it a welcoming space for them. They’ve done that by focusing on the physical space, partnering with community-based nonprofit Enroot, and using a Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach.

  • Physical space: You want students to be able to “feel that joy” of navigating the space independently. Are there spaces to meet different needs (independent study vs collaboration vs socializing)? Are signs in multiple languages, are they color-coded, do they include images? CRLS has created an Inquiry Lab/Makerspace with lots of donated/upcycled materials for hands-on experimentation.
  • Student-centered space: Once you’ve identified an underserved group, how do you get them to come into the library? The CRLS Library partnered with Enroot to develop a monthly series: “Lunch & Learn: Building Community Through Playful Learning.”
  • Project-based learning: PBL is an equitable and authentic approach to teaching and learning; it connects students to issues that matter to them and gives them an opportunity to do something. Best practices for PBL: student-centered (voice and choice), authentic and complex problem/challenge (do not simplify, amplify), builds community (social aspect of language), tap into students’ fund of cultural knowledge, explicitly teach vocabulary, scaffolding, lots of visuals, hands-on, play and joy, reflection (include in every lesson with ELL), equitable assessment. All of this is good for ELL and good for every student! “To ignore important issues [in our country, the world] in school makes school irrelevant.”

Tips and Tools for Nonfiction Read-Alouds, Melissa Stewart

Melissa Stewart has written so many nonfiction books for kids. She is a rockstar! And her website has a ton of resources, including this whole section on nonfiction read-alouds. Stewart made the case that kids love read-alouds, and kids love nonfiction! The most recent data (1996) suggests that at least 40% of the books kids check out for pleasure reading are nonfiction; if that’s the case, shouldn’t read-alouds mirror that percentage? (She wants to do an updated study/survey of how much of kids’ pleasure reading is nonfiction; if you work in a library and want to help her out with that, get in touch!)

What are some of the barriers to reading nonfiction aloud?

  • Locating appropriate nonfiction titles
  • Reading aloud in a way that engages students
  • Encouraging and facilitating student responses to nonfiction read-alouds

Spoiler alert, it turns out that these “barriers” are easily overcome! To start, Stewart offers guidance on choosing appropriate nonfiction titles. And, each year, she writes a nonfiction roundup, so you can search her blog for “best nonfiction of” and get annual lists. As for making your reading engaging, “There’s no reason you have to read an entire book,” and sometimes with nonfiction it works better not to. If there’s primary and secondary text, you could just read the main text (especially for younger students); you could also just share one part, or a little bit at a time, rather than reading cover to cover in one sitting. Students will get excited and respond, especially if you’re enthusiastic about it.

Some teachers and librarians just need the nudge that “nonfiction read-alouds can tie in to curriculum, but can also be ‘just for fun.'” When I was doing storytimes for two- and three-year-olds, I admit I didn’t use many nonfiction picture books at all (exception: Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh), but the next time I get in front of a read-aloud crowd, I’m definitely going to include more nonfiction picture books.

Author Panel: M.T. Anderson, Heather Vogel Frederick, Janae Marks, Mitali Perkins

This was just so fun. I’ve read books by all of these authors (Feed, The Mother-Daughter Book Club, From the Desk of Zoe Washington, and Forward Me Back to You, respectively) and they all really seemed to enjoy talking about books and writing together. A few quotes:

  • You learn something from writing every book even if they don’t end up on shelves. (Marks)
  • You just never know what you’re going to discover. (Anderson, re: traveling and research)
  • “Stories written long ago are not all good or all bad but a mix of both.” The books you read early in your life are formative. Eras shaped people (and authors). (Perkins)
  • “So many of our books grow from our own lives.” (Frederick)

Whew! So, that was my first MSLA conference. And while I’m excited to meet all these librarians in person someday, the virtual conference experience was very smooth and enjoyable (and the coffee and meals were excellent. And I got to be in my sweatpants and slippers the whole time. There’s a silver lining to Zoom for sure). Thank you again to all of the presenters and conference committee, and thank you if you’re reading this!

MSLA 2021: What can we help you discover today?

Banner: School Librarians at the Crossroads: Be the Hero of Your Journey

This was my first year attending the Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA) annual conference. It was entirely virtual this year, and it was great! Between an app (Whova) and various platforms (zoom, YouTube), everything worked smoothly. I noticed that most attendees were chatting when live chat was enabled, but not many were tweeting, even though several are on Twitter. As usual, I took compulsive notes, which I’ve tried to consolidate here into useful takeaways. Thank you to the MSLA Conference Committee, who did amazing work, and to all of the presenters, keynote speakers, and panelists, who delivered inspiring and thought-provoking ideas.

Saturday, March 20

Jarrett Krosoczka, Awards Night Keynote

Cover image Hey KiddoKrosoczka is the Massachusetts-based author of the popular Lunch Lady series of early graphic novels, as well as the award-winning graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo. He talked about his long history of virtual author visits and book launches, and how his model has changed over the years as technology has changed. He asked himself, “I don’t want to be just a talking head, how can I make this more interesting?” When the pandemic arrived in March 2020, he began “Draw Every Day with JKK,” a popular series of drawing sessions. His home setup has improved with time; he noted that phone cameras are usually better quality than computer cameras, and if you mount one on a tripod, it doesn’t hurt to put googly eyes on it so you know where to look. Krosoczka closed with, “Students just want to be heard. They just want an adult to listen.”

Sunday, March 21

Books and Bytes Keynote: The School Librarian as Information Specialist, Jennisen Lucas (AASL president-elect)

When it comes to libraries – school or public – there is a huge equity issue. Generally, affluent towns and cities have library buildings staffed with qualified professionals who manage a collection of a variety of materials and offer a range of services. Poorer towns’ libraries aren’t as well-funded, may not have the same number of open hours (an access issue) or amount of materials or the same program offerings. In school libraries, the inequality is even starker, if possible, and it seems as though the barely-adequate staffing levels can be slashed at any time. School libraries might not have a budget at all, or they may have an insufficient budget; libraries might be staffed only by paraprofessionals or parent volunteers, or by a certified librarian serving several schools at once. This knife-edge existence is frustrating for a profession that knows its vital importance to student learning outcomes, yet constantly has to explain and defend itself. School librarians don’t just check books in and out; SLs nurture a love of reading, teach research skills, support the curriculum, and teach media and news literacy. “We are vital,” Lucas said. “We are trying to be everything to everybody.”

Lucas addressed the common misperception that “what we do is read to kids and check out books”; that now that there’s the Internet, librarians aren’t necessary anymore. Lucas argued that we have workout videos – and yet we still have gym teachers. We have calculators, and yet we still have math teachers. “We teach things that no other teachers teach.” Lucas said, “Our school library ensures learners become effective and ethical users and producers of ideas and information.” All learners deserve libraries with certified librarians.

A few more takeaways:

  • Recommended books: Start With Why by Simon Sinek; Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman; The Information by James Gleick; Our Enduring Values Revisited by Michael Gorman
  • “It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge. It is the interconnectedness.” -James Gleick, The Information
  • “Information” is one of those words like “research,” we use it all the time to mean a lot of things. Information is directly tied to communication.
  • Ask students: “What is research?” (Their answers will surprise you!) Research is answering questions: start with a question. Teach learners how to ask a question. 
  • Many hats: School librarians are “a guide, instructor, facilitator, coach, administrator of programs.”

Fostering Diversity in the Library, Felicia Quesada Montville

Felicia Quesada Montville works as a middle school librarian in the Newton Public Schools. Her presentation focused on diversity, inclusion, equity, and antiracism. Librarians have many tools to move past “superficial” representation and build an antiracist library.

  • Collection development: Prioritize diverse voices. Seek multiple review sources. Weed, weed, weed! Know your community and assess their needs. Analyze your collection and identify gaps. Do a diversity audit. Identify priority areas (e.g. summer reading lists, books taught in classrooms). Examine the images in your space and on your website.

  • Displays, and a student-centered environment: “There’s a lot of power in the books that we choose to put on display.” Students and teachers and people coming into your space see the books that are there. Make the library a safe space for everyone by centering students. What professional practices can you improve to help your students?
  • Advocacy outside the library: Librarians have power – use it for good. Advocate for inclusive and diverse texts outside of the library. Use position in school as a leader to help move social justice forward. Advocate for equitable school policies. Lead by examples – lead by doing. Speak up.

Using Picture Books in High School, Susan Harari, Morgan Keohane, Blake Barich

Blake Barich, and English teacher at Boston Latin, developed an assignment for her 12th grade students to find and examine “existentialist themes” in picture books. School librarian Susan Harari helped find the picture books, using both her own library collection and the Boston Public Library to provide 150 texts for the students to choose from. She also taught a lesson on picture books, covering Rudine Sims Bishop’s concept of windows & mirrors, what is(n’t) a picture book, types of children’s books, the role of author/illustrator, audience, design elements, and interplay between text/illustrations. Thus equipped, students chose their picture books and began work on a 4-6 page essay.

But the unit didn’t end there. In a fantastic example of inter-school collaboration, the 12th grade students took a field trip to a BPS elementary school, where each was paired with a younger student (K-1) and read their book aloud. Elementary librarian Morgan Keohane got teacher buy-in by presenting the many arguments in favor of the collaboration: it’s a chance for students to get personalized, individual attention from an older peer (who is very familiar with the picture book – not a typical guest reader). It models the value of 1:1 reading time (child:adult). In their diverse community of learners, a lot of volunteers are white; this is a chance for students to see themselves in successful older roles.

“The value of this project is that it’s a learning experience for both sides.” High school students gained an appreciation for visual literacy, an understanding of windows and mirrors, and increased literary criticism skills. Younger students (who completed simple book reviews with a star rating and a sentence or drawing about their favorite part of the story) got one-on-one attention from enthusiastic older peers who were deeply engaged in the book they had brought to share.

Cover image of I Want My Hat Back

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post on Monday’s sessions.

2021 ALA Youth Media Awards

The ALA Youth Media Awards were announced this morning. Last year, I was doing storytime for 2- and 3-year-olds at my library during the announcement and caught up right after; today (like many others), I watched in my pajamas with my five-year-old next to me or in my lap, waiting impatiently through the YALSA awards for the ones she really cared about…the Pura Belpré and the Caldecott! (When We Are Water Protectors was finally announced as the winner, she said, “That’s the one I would have picked, too.”)

“We stand
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!).

School Library Journal has already published an article and a complete list of the honor and award books, so, like last year, I’ll continue with the books I’ve already read in each category. I’ve already requested several of the ones that I missed (including three of the Caldecott honor books, I am embarrassed!) from the library.

  • 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!).

2020 Reading Wrap-Up

Well, 2020 was a year. (As Sloane Crosley wrote in The Clasp, Was there a worse compliment than the one with no adjective?”) At many times during the year, the only good news was news from the publishing world: wonderful new books from debut authors and illustrators, and eagerly- (impatiently-) awaited new books from established authors and illustrators.

As always, I read many new books this year, as well as many new-to-me books published in previous years. In this post, I’m going to highlight only my favorites published in 2020, because this was a tough year for authors and illustrators and I want to cheerlead their books as best I can. Betsy Bird at SLJ is doing a superb and even more detailed/themed job of this over on her blog; see “31 Days, 31 Lists.”

Here’s my 2019 reading wrap-up. And now, on to 2020’s reading:

Total number of books read: 619. Fewer than last year! But we did a lot of re-reading.

Partially read/started-didn’t-finish: 12. Some cookbooks, some poetry, some children’s books that were over the head of the kiddo so we only read sections, or I skimmed.

Picture books: 324. There were so many outstanding picture books published this year. We also re-read many of the picture books we discovered last year and the year before, but I’m focusing on 2020 titles especially:

  • My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
  • One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole
  • Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
  • Maud and Grand-Maud by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Kenard Pak
  • If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall
  • On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex
  • Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le
  • Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton
  • Lift by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat

Early readers: 31. I still love Laurel Snyder’s Charlie & Mouse with my whole heart. We also discovered Saadia Faruqi’s fabulous Meet Yasmin this year. (If you are in charge of a school library or children’s section of a public library and don’t have Yasmin – get them!!) Mo Willems’ perpetually popular Elephant & Piggie books are even more fun now that the kiddo reads, so we each choose a part (I’m usually Gerald) and read aloud together.

Chapter books: 21. Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory was a huge hit with everyone in our family this year, in audio and print. We also read Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace, more Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows (with illustrations by Sophie Blackall), and the Questioneers series by Andrea Beaty.

Middle grade (some overlap with YA): 88. A few standouts published in 2020:

  • The Thief Knot (A Greenglass House Story) by Kate Milford
  • Show Me A Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
  • Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
  • The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
  • Wink by Rob Harrell
  • We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
  • Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (novel in verse)
  • Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
  • A Place at the Table and A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi (of Yasmin fame)
  • The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman
  • Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar
  • Three Keys by Kelly Yang (sequel to Front Desk)
  • Of Salt and Shore by Annet Schaap
  • King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (National Book Award)

YA/teen (some overlap with MG): 41.

  • Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
  • Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (graphic novel memoir)
  • Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (The Poet X, With the Fire on High)
  • Parachutes by Kelly Yang
  • Again, Again by E. Lockhart
  • Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

Adult fiction: 51 (including about 16 romance novels, because if there was ever a year where a HEA was required, it was this one).

  • The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
  • The Book of V by Anna Solomon
  • A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
  • Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • The Searcher by Tana French
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
  • The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
  • Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
  • Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (2019)

Nonfiction: 35ish (some overlap with other categories; not including 9 how-to books; 87 total nonfiction books, including books written for children). A few standout 2020 titles in this category:

  • Having and Being Had by Eula Biss
  • How You Say It by Katherine D. Kinzler
  • You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy
  • The Genius of Women by Janice Kaplan
  • The Line Becomes A River by Francisco Cantú
  • The Black Friend by Joseph Frederick
  • The Story of More by Hope Jahren
  • How to Be A Conscious Eater by Sophie Egan
  • It’s Not About the Burqa, edited by Mariam Khan (2019)
  • Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
  • History Smashers: The Mayflower by Kate Messner (middle grade)

Graphic novels: 17. I heard New Kid author Jerry Craft speak (virtually, of course) and he mentioned that there are several storylines that are only depicted in the illustrations of his books, not in the text at all; careful readers (or re-readers) will pick up on those. Visual literacy is literacy! A few more 2020 titles to mention:

  • Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm) by Lucy Knisley (middle grade)
  • Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (middle grade)
  • Twins by Varian Johnson (middle grade)
  • When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson (MG/YA)
  • Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams (MG/YA)
  • Class Act by Jerry Craft (MG/YA)
  • Flamer by Mike Curato (YA)

Short stories/essay collections: 14. I have a whole separate post about this coming up, but to highlight just a few more 2020 titles:

  • Disability Visibility, edited by Alice Wong
  • A Map is Only One Story, edited by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary
  • A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott
  • Why Did I Get a B? and Other Mysteries We’re Discussing in the Faculty Lounge by Shannon Reed
  • Come On In, edited by Adi Alsaid
  • Once Upon an Eid, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

Audiobooks: 15. We also do a lot of re-reading on audio – for example, the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker, narrated by Jessica Almasy; the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, narrated by Stockard Channing; the Dory Fantasmagory series by Abby Hanlon, narrated by Suzy Jackson; the Princess in Black series by Shannon and Dean Hale, narrated by Julia Whelan.

Screenshot of LibraryThing Author Gender pie chart

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: 132. And our reading life – and life-life – is so much deeper and richer for having these mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. More faces, more stories, more variety.

Five-star ratings: 17. (There are an awful lot of 4.5 and 4-star ratings as well.) Several of these were picture books, but there’s also a cookbook (Pastry Love by Joanne Chang, which I happened to have checked out from the library when everything shut down in March and kept – and baked from – for months) and Alix E. Harrow’s smashing new novel, The Once and Future Witches.

Re-reads: 8 according to LibraryThing, but I don’t have an accurate way of tracking this, other than to note “re-read” in my review. It was definitely more than eight, but they were mostly picture books, early readers, or chapter books. I did read Seanan McGuire’s In An Absent Dream twice this year – it’s my favorite of her Wayward Children series. And I’ll likely re-read Kate Milford’s Greenglass House or one of its companions between now and New Year’s, as is my December tradition – I just bought a copy of Bluecrowne.

None of us can be sure what 2021 holds, but I feel reasonably certain that whatever else, there will be books. Thank you to everyone involved in that process: the authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publicists, publishers, booksellers, librarians, teachers.

Spooky Storytime

This morning I recorded a “spooky storytime” for my library to post to our website. We’re offering some live programs and some recorded ones, because as all caregivers (and program planners) have figured out by now, you can’t always get kids to show up at a certain time, even if it doesn’t involve leaving the house.

It wasn’t quite the real thing, but I pretended some of my usual “Step Into Storytime” kiddos were there and brought my best storytime energy.

  • Welcome to Spooky Storytime!
  • Here is my Pumpkin, Round and Fat” (to the tune of “I’m A Little Teapot”) from KCLS
  • Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh and Scott Campbell, published by Atheneum (Simon & Schuster)
  • Pumpkins on the Ground” (to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle”) from KCLS
  • The Halloween Tree by Susan Montanari and Teresa Martinez, published by Sourcebooks
  • Goodbye friends, have a spooky day/evening!

And here are a few other “spooky” books (some mention Halloween, some don’t):

  • Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds
  • I Love My Fangs by Kelly Leigh Miller
  • Monster Needs A Costume by Paul Czajak
  • Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
  • Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins
  • The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams
  • I Want to Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor

What are your favorite picture books to read this time of year?

Books I Wish I Could Read at Storytime

Back in March, I began checking out WAY more books than usual to prepare a stockpile for when the library closed – and I was glad I did. I was able to refresh my stash of library books once while the library was operating with very limited in-person staff, and since August I’ve been going to work in the building twice a week, so I have more or less regular access again.

But while I love reading books one-on-one with my kiddo, I miss doing storytimes for two- and three-year olds! And we’ve read some picture books that I can’t wait to read to a live audience of kids.

For laughs:

  • Little Penguin Gets the Hiccups by Tadgh Bentley (2015): And what’s the best cure for hiccups? A good scare! Maybe you can help… [Note: your fake hiccup game has to be on point.]
  • I Love My Fangs by Kelly Leigh Miller (2020): What happens when a little vampire gets a loose tooth?
  • I Can Be Anything by Shinsuke Yoshitake (2020): Fantastic if your audience has even the most basic grasp of charades.
  • Nothing Rhymes With Orange by Adam Rex (2017): Poor Orange feels left out of the rhyming fruit game, but when the others see they’ve hurt Orange’s feelings, they find a way to include them. Full of snarky commentary and even a Nietzsche reference.
  • Bo the Brave by Bethan Woolvin (2020): Turns classic fairy tale tropes on their heads in a most delightful way.
  • Unstoppable by Adam Rex (2020): Animals who envy/admire each others’ abilities (flying, swimming, etc.) team up, and then work together to save their habitat. Environmentalism and civics with a huge dose of humor.
  • Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton (2019): This instantly became one of my favorite summer books, along with Jabari Jumps and There Might Be Lobsters. Little Crab is excited about leaving their tidepool and going to the ocean, but once they see the ocean, they aren’t so sure….and then, once they’re there, they don’t want to leave!
  • This Is A Dog by Ross Collins (2019): My kiddo loves what she calls “cross-out books” – books where part of the title is crossed out and written in differently – and this scene-stealing dog was no exception. See also Z is for Moose.

Touching/thoughtful/interesting:

  • No Ordinary Jacket by Sue Ellen Pashley (2020): This definitely has echoes of Something From Nothing: a beloved jacket is passed down from elder sibling to younger.
  • Our Favorite Day of the Year by A.E. Ali (2020): At the beginning of the school year, a teacher asks each student in her class to share about their favorite day of the year, so everyone learns what is special to their classmates. A cut above regular show-and-tell, especially in the way that holidays are introduced and made familiar.
  • The House Full of Stuff by Emily Rand (2020): Beauty – and usefulness – is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Under the Lilacs by E.B. Goodale (2020): A little girl, failing to get attention from her mother and sister, runs away to the lilac in the yard and recreates her home there.
  • Trees Make Perfect Pets by Paul Czajak (2020): Her parents probably expected her to choose a cat or a dog, but Abigail defends her choice beautifully. An especially good choice for older preschoolers in springtime, around Earth Day.
  • Goodnight Veggies by Diana Murray (2020): Do you have an evening storytime at your library? This is a unique take on a bedtime book, set in a rooftop garden in Brooklyn.
  • Rita and Ralph’s Rotten Day by Carmen Agra Deedy (2020): Repetition is used to great effect in this story of how friends hurt each other, apologize, and forgive – but it’s an up-and-down journey.
  • Only A Tree Knows How to Be A Tree by Mary Murphy (2020): If you like to incorporate yoga into your storytimes, there are natural  opportunities here.
  • Play in the Wild: How Baby Animals Like to Have Fun by Lita Judge (2020): This is a nonfiction picture book with primary and secondary text, and great big illustrations of the baby animals at play. For a storytime with younger kids, I’d stick to the primary text and make it as interactive as possible, acting out the different animal behaviors.
  • Lifesize by Sophy Henn (2018): Henn shows animals (or parts of animals) life-size in this large trim book. Try on a toucan’s beak, compare your toes to an elephant’s, look through the eye of a giant squid!
  • Imogene’s Antlers by David Small (1988): OK, I’m late to the party on this one, but I saw that there’s a sequel coming out this year and I had to read the original…and it’s wonderful. Imogene’s mom has fainting fits, but Imogene cheerfully rolls with the sudden appearance of her antlers – and the twist at the end is priceless.