Professional Development during COVID-19 Closure

It’s now been nearly ten weeks since my library closed due to the spread of coronavirus, but people in both of my departments (children’s services and adult services) have been doing plenty of work from home. One early request from a department head was that we find one webinar of our choice each week to “attend” and share notes with the rest of the staff. Here are brief summaries and takeaways of some of the webinars and programs I’ve attended/watched over the past couple months – maybe they’ll be useful to you as well.

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“READ WOKE: 5 Ways to Identify a #ReadWoke Book—and 3 #OwnVoices Authors to Diversify Your Collections,” Cicely Lewis, School Library Journal, October 23, 2019

Cicely Lewis, who started the #ReadWoke movement, introduced and moderated this panel of three authors: Kao Kalia Yang (A Map Into the World), Melanie Gilman (Stage Dreams), and NoNiequa Ramos (The Truth Is).

Read Woke books:

  • Seek to challenge the status quo 
  • Have a protagonist from an underrepresented or oppressed group
  • Challenge a social norm
  • Give voice to the voiceless 
  • Provide information about a group that has been disenfranchised

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement was cited, as well as #OwnVoices (“stories about diverse characters written by authors that are a part of that same diverse group”).

Author quotes:

  • Yang: “Want to write about things that matter. Write the kind of books that kids can grow up/old with. Books that make the world a more beautiful place.” 
  • Gilman: “It’s important for everyone to have access to their own history.” (Not the whitewashed version in textbooks)
  • Ramos: “Our whole society is built with white supremacy and systemic racism in place…homophobia….those things leak into everything.”
  • Gilman (re: school librarians worried about pushback): “Do you value the lives of the children who are going to be looking for books like this in your collection? Do you value the responsibility of libraries to have a book for everyone who walks through that door?”

Article: “‘Read Woke’ School Reading Challenge Makes an Impact,” Cicely Lewis, School Library Journal, March 29, 2018.

After this webinar, I developed a “Read Woke” middle grade book list for the library blog, and worked together with our teen librarian to put together a “Read Woke” book for teens as well.

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Libraries and COVID-19: Providing Virtual Services, American Libraries Live, March 26, 2020, with Jason Griffey, Francisca Goldsmith, David Lee King, and Lindsey Gervais

I didn’t keep close track of who said what during this webinar, but here are the main takeaways:

  •  Don’t worry about fully replicating the experience of being in the library….any service you can provide is incredibly appreciated by the public…. Don’t try to be perfect…just meet your patrons where they are. Remember, we’ve been providing “virtual reference” by phone (and e-mail and chat) for ages!
  • Make use of existing resources. Where do you already have an online presence? What digital resources do you already offer that you can advertise heavily now (e.g. databases, Overdrive/Libby, hoopla, Ancestry, etc.)
  • Check other libraries’ websites to see what they are prioritizing and how they are communicating; consider having an FAQ on your landing page (e.g. “What do I do about overdue materials?”)
  • Best practices for managing staff collaboration when many are working remotely? “Reset expectations.”
  • Ask: What are your patrons’ needs? What is the easiest and simplest way to reach them?
  • What about patrons who don’t have access to computer/internet/phone? Leave library wifi on so people can use it from outside; lend out hotspots if you can; partner with local radio and TV stations.
  • How is virtual reference different from in-person reference? It’s harder to remember to be open-ended in our initial inquiries. (Figure out what they actually want to know, not what you first think they want to know.) There is less personal connection when you can’t rely on eye contact, body language, tone of voice. Be more tolerant. People might be more frustrated, having already done some online searching. Communicate when it may take you some time to answer a question. Use a variety of formats to reach your patrons.

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SLJ Middle Grade Magic: A Virtual Event Dedicated to Middle Grade Literature, School Library Journal, April 8

Twitter: #middlegrademagic

Cover of Ways to Make Sunshine

1pm Lunch keynote: Renee Watson, Ways to Make Sunshine

Renee Watson is a captivating speaker who grew up in Northeast Portland (OR) and was a reader and writer from an early age. She said that “magical spaces that nurtured me” included the library, her neighborhood, and the theater, and said, “Miracle and magic come out of desolate places…it’s a realistic thing to dream big.” 

Watson said, “The work we are doing as librarians and writers and educators makes a difference, you don’t always know [the impact you’ll have],” mentioning the teacher who encouraged her to keep a journal in second grade, and the teacher who produced a play she wrote in eighth. 

I really enjoyed two of the author’s previous novels (Piecing Me Together and Some Places More Than Others) and am looking forward to this one, when I can get my hands on it.

Cover of Prairie Lotus4pm Closing Keynote: Linda Sue Park, Prairie Lotus

In Prairie Lotus, Park wrote a book for herself as a young girl, reading the Little House on the Prairie books and wishing she could see herself in them. But she began her talk by showing illustrations of characters knitting in picture books: some were holding their knitting needles in a way that would have made it impossible to knit, while others were holding them correctly. Though it’s a small thing, “I still think it matters….because these pictures show, to me…that knitting isn’t important. It’s not important to get it right. And that feels disrespectful….They could have gotten it right (as Christian Robinson does) if if mattered to them.” And then she did a Brilliant Teacher Pivot and said, “This is just about knitting – but what if it’s about your culture? What if people don’t care enough to get it right with those kind of things?….Then you’re in the kind of territory where a book can actually harm a reader.” Though it’s not possible to get everything right, “We have a responsibility to try.”

(Let me just say, if I was a student, and a teacher started a class this way, I would be hooked. I would take every class they offered for the next four years.)

Park talked about “The danger of the single story,” the title of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk. She said, “The essence of Prairie Lotus for me is to try to dismantle the single story of that era of history.” In historical fiction, first question is, “Who else was there?” (Gilman also raised this point in the ReadWoke presentation.) The single story “is easier. It’s easier to tell that single story….The real story is more complex, more difficult, it takes more time. And it is worth every minute of that time.”

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Libraries and COVID-19: Considering Copyright During a Crisis, American Libraries Live, April 3, with Lesley Ellen Harris, Jill Hurst-Wahl, and Kenneth D. Crews

I attended this webinar mainly because I was interested in what they’d have to say about public libraries offering virtual storytimes and read-alouds. They did discuss that – as well as getting students and teachers access to materials – but because of the nature of Fair Use, they didn’t offer hard-and-fast rules. Instead, they suggested (1) documenting all decisions you’ve made so far and that you make going forward; (2) applying Fair Use principles consistently; (3) being in touch with the library director and Board of Trustees; (4) using public domain, Creative Commons, and open access materials instead of copyrighted works whenever possible; and (5) keeping careful records – we will be looking back on this in the future.

  • “Now is a time to think about copyright but not obsess about copyright.”
  • “Make your decisions today with a view to how you’re going to reflect back on them.”

My take: Most publishers have relaxed their copyright restrictions temporarily, and have put forward specific ways their copyrighted materials can be used. (Here is the SLJ COVID-19 Publisher Information Directory.) Overall, they seem to prefer a closed platform (such as teachers may have in place with their students already), but realize that that may not be possible, so they generally allow posting to public platforms as well, if the material is taken down after a certain period of time, and if they’re notified by e-mail and/or tagged on social media.

Cover of Lift

Authors want their books to be read and shared during this time, and publishers are highly unlikely to sue libraries for putting storytimes online while most of the country is under some version of a stay-at-home order. (Personally, I bought a copy of Minh Le and Dan Santat’s lovely picture book Lift from one of our local independent bookstores after my daughter and I watched Santat read it online the week before it came out. Book sales seem to be doing pretty well right now.)

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Demo & Overview of Beanstack Mobile App and Web Service: “Make a Splash with Project Outcome: Measuring the Success of Summer Reading Programs,” April 13

This was a quick, thorough demo of how the Beanstack platform can be used for summer reading programs through the library. Different programs can be set up for children, teens, and adults; in keeping with library privacy values, minimal information (name and age) is required (the library can choose to add additional fields). Participants earn badges throughout the program, for books read and activities completed; the library can award prizes or have it just be for fun. Patrons can print their reading logs if they wish. There is also an “offline reader” mode.

Beanstack seems easy to use for both staff and patrons, and they claim to be “obsessed with [customer] support!” It can be used throughout the year for other challenges as well, such as 1000 Books Before Kindergarten or winter/spring vacation reading.

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“Supporting Family Literacy While #SocialDistancing,” Mackin, April 30, with Jennifer Plucker, Deidra Purvis, and Greta Schetnan

The intended audience for this webinar was classroom teachers, but there were important takeaways for children’s librarians in public libraries as well. Classroom teachers have established relationships with students and parents, and a direct channel of communication (one hopes), but in terms of providing access to resources, public librarians can help prevent “summer slide” as well.

COVID-19 presents new challenges: increased time away from school and the “faucet” of resources; increased stress; the opportunity gap (some families have internet access and enough devices, others don’t); separation from support systems; and an exacerbation of existing inequality.

Just as classroom teachers and school librarians can, public librarians can provide access to “high-interest titles that serve as windows and mirrors,” and communicate with caregivers that they are their children’s first teachers. Literacy doesn’t come only from reading, but also from talking, singing, writing, and listening; many everyday activities (like cooking and baking) can build literacy skills.

Finally, though, “Time spent reading is the biggest predictor of reading achievement.” Ensuring access to high-interest books is paramount if we are to grow a generation of readers.

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Form-Based Readers’ Advisory: When Your Readers (and Staff) Are At Home,” NoveList, April 29, with Angela Hursh (NoveList), Melissa Andrews (Boston Public Library), Monique Christian-Long (Dallas Public Library), and Kristy Lockhart (Weymouth Public Library)

Three public librarians spoke about the personalized, form-based readers’ advisory services their libraries offer. Each has a different brand (Shelf Service, #DPLWhatsNext, BookMatch) and a slightly different process, but all three use a LibraryAware template/newsletter to send results to people who use the service (LibraryAware and NoveList are both EBSCO products).

Form-based RA is a great service to offer while the physical library building is closed; patrons get a personal touch, which is extra appreciated in these times, and librarians can make sure that the titles they recommend are available as ebooks or digital audiobooks. Though it wasn’t mentioned, I believe that the Williamsburg (VA) Public Library reader preference form was the original model for these libraries’ forms. (It is long and thorough, and can only be used by library cardholders.)

One of the most important questions is the first one an in-person readers’ advisory interview is likely to lead off with: What are some books/authors you love (either recently, or all-time favorites)? When sending suggestions back, include an explanation for “why we thought you’d like this title” – make a connection with something they wrote on the form.

With or without LibraryAware, form-based RA is something most libraries can offer, tailoring the variables (see below) to suit their capabilities and patrons’ wants/needs. Consider:

  • The number and type of questions on the form
    • Which questions are required and which optional; is the form open to anyone, or only cardholders?
  • Turnaround time (how long between a patron submitting a form and receiving a response? One week is good)
  • How many titles are suggested (usually between 5-10)
  • How many library staff will answer the forms (is there a strict rotation, does it depend on current workload or RA strengths?)
  • How is the form built? How are the replies generated? LibraryAware is one option, but a Google form and e-mail work too
  • How will you advertise this service? How will you handle “surges”?

I loved answering these forms at my last library, and my current library is about to launch this service too.

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“Trivia Pursued Remotely: Hosting Online Trivia Contests in a Time of Social Distancing,” Massachusetts Library System, May 12, presented by Mikaela “Miki” Wolfe of the Sharon (MA) Public Library

Ingredients for a successful trivia night: host, technology, content, audience.

Host: Miki was already hosting in-person trivia nights quarterly at the Sharon Public Library; now she is offering virtual trivia twice monthly, on Saturdays at 8pm, to give people a fun way to “hang out.”

Technology/gameplay: Miki said that the transition from in-person to online was fairly easy; they use the presenter view in Zoom to share slides with questions. The chat feature is used for questions and comments, NOT for answers; teams self-score(!) and a designated person from each team reports their score in the chat at the end of each round.

Content: There are three rounds, with 15 questions per round (one per slide), plus a picture round and some bonus content. Miki creates most of her questions from scratch (she generously shared years’ worth of questions), and while she recommended a few trivia sites to find questions, she warned against trusting what you find online – it’s always wise to cross-check. She also varies the difficulty of the questions.

Audience: Audience feedback is key to make sure the audience returns! (They had 50+ people at each virtual trivia event so far.) Each registered participant receives a survey, which can be shared with teammates.

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cover image of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHarry Potter Trivia, Arlington (MA) libraries, May 13

Luckily, the day after Miki’s presentation, I got to attend a virtual trivia event through my town’s library – also using Zoom, also having participants self-score. It was low-key and fun, and with 10+ participants, there was room for casual chat (all related to Harry Potter). Fox Branch Manager Amanda Troha ran the event; she started by “sorting” participants into Houses by pulling slips of paper out of a hat – a great way to start while waiting for those who show up a few minutes late.

There were three questions per slide/round, and there were eight rounds, plus two picture rounds. Each slide of three questions was followed by an answer slide. The program lasted about an hour, and at the end, Amanda asked the participants (mostly kids/tweens) if they’d liked it, would they come again, were there other things they’d want trivia about? (Yes; yes; Star Wars, Disney, Marvel superheroes, Percy Jackson, Keeper of the Lost Cities, etc.)

After hearing about and experiencing virtual trivia with self-scoring, I am a convert! I’ve already started to work on shifting our planned Harry Potter trivia for late July from an in-person to an online event.

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Are you a librarian working from home? Have you attended any webinars you’d recommend? Read any fantastic articles? Please share!

Book lists galore

What kind of work do librarians do from home? We plan summer reading (it’s online, but still awesome), keep in touch with colleagues, stay current on book reviews and publisher news, take professional development webinars (and share notes, of course – librarians are all about sharing), host virtual storytimes, suggest fun STEAM activities, and make lots and LOTS of book lists. Here are a few I’ve put together for our library:

For kids

For adults

I also hosted a virtual book chat, which was about the same as the in-person ones I’ve done, attendance-wise (i.e. not crowded), but we discussed a LOT of books! The complete list of titles and authors is below, sorted by genre. I had prepared a list of new novels and nonfiction, all published in 2020, but we ended up talking about plenty of older titles as well as new ones.

Covers: The Starless Sea, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Glass Hotel, Rodham, A Good Neighborhood, Voyage of Mercy

Books Discussed in the Book Chat, Friday, May 8, 2020, 1pm

Literary Fiction
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Ann Fowler
American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Normal People by Sally Rooney
 (author of Conversations with Friends)
Ann Patchett (any!)
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The Language of Flowers and We Never Asked for Wings
 by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow
 (Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet)
Gold by Chris Cleave (novel, London 2012 Olympics, love triangle)
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
 (YA)
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano

Speculative Fiction (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Dystopia)
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. McGuin
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (first in a trilogy, all three have been published)
Martha Wells series of novellas (Murderbot Diaries; Murderbot books have “sarcastic tone, funny”
)
Seanan McGuire, Wayward Children series (Every Heart A Doorway, etc.)
The Age of Miracles
 and The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz (time travel, history, feminist)
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (novella – short, poignant, with a twist)
Shirley Jackson (We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Haunting of Hill House 
“The Lottery”)
Stephen King
The Changeling, Victor LaValle
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
 by 
Charles Yu

Romance
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Historical
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (set during the Blitz, three main characters)

Thriller/Suspense
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Nonfiction
Voyage of Mercy, Stephen Puleo (author of Dark Tide)
Peabody Sisters
 by Megan Marshall
Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner (if you liked Downton Abbey, etc.)
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
 (well written, a lot of research; author of 
Dead Wake, Devil in the White City)
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (family/mental health)
The Lost Family by Libby Copeland
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

We also talked about how our reading habits and tastes have shifted (or not) during this time. Many of my reader friends and colleagues find themselves unable to concentrate on new titles, and have turned to re-reading old favorite books, listening to audiobooks, or picking up short stories, essays, or humor; others continue their reading as usual. Either way, you’re not alone. Donalyn Miller wrote “Reading Joy in the Time of Coronavirus” for School Library Journal (April 10, 2020) and Sarah Wendell (of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) wrote “For A Lot of Book Lovers, Rereading Old Favorites Is the Only Reading They Can Manage at the Moment” for the Washington Post (May 2, 2020).

My reading habits have stayed pretty much the same, and I’ve even read some “pandemic” or pandemic-adjacent fiction: Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I’d highly recommend both, but your mileage may vary – it may be that reading about the Black Plague (or the “blue sickness”) isn’t your cup of tea right now, and that’s okay!

 

STEAM activities for home

Our library closed on March 15 due to the spread of COVID-19, and will be closed through April 6, if not longer. Librarians have been working from home on professional development activities and creating content we can share online. We’ve been making lists of book recommendations (with links to e-books and digital audiobooks, of course), advertising our other online resources (such as access to newspapers), providing timely and accurate information about COVID-19, and bringing a little fun and entertainment to families with kids at home. Here are a couple booklists I’ve worked on:

Audiobooks for the Whole Family

March & April Adult Fiction Titles

Over on my personal blog (there’s some overlap…I write about books and early childhood activities in both places) I did a round-up of many of the online resources we’ve been using or planning to explore: Kid resources and activities for quarantine. One activity we had fun with was “Sink/Float,” which is a great activity for kids (mine is four and a half, but younger kids will still enjoy the sensory aspect, and older ones can make better predictions). All you need is a bowl of water and a dozen (or more) objects that can get wet. If you happen to have a copy of Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis or Ice Boy by David Ezra Stein, those would be great companion books for this activity.

My kiddo hasn’t ever been the type to spend a lot of time drawing by herself, but we had a great time yesterday morning doing some mixed media art: we used crayons to color on watercolor paper, then used watercolor paint over the crayon (which resists the paint). It was colorful and fun, and we worked on them together for almost an hour. (You can also sprinkle some kosher salt on watercolor paint before it dries and observe the neat effect!)

Today we watched a couple of short videos by SciShow Kids about simple machines and “The Coolest Machine Ever!” a.k.a. a Rube Goldberg machine. (Shout out to the Portland (ME) Public Library, which had an excellent exhibit on Rube Goldberg a few years ago.) Then we raided our recycling bin and arts and crafts supplies to make our own Rube Goldberg machines. Great companion books for this activity are Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, and Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty. (For older kids, Beaty has brought Rosie and Iggy into the chapter book realm in her Questioneers series.)

We’ve also been doing Cosmic Kids yoga every day: host/teacher Jamie takes viewers through a fast-paced half-hour routine, telling a compressed version of a story from a movie or book (e.g. Frozen, Moana, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). I happen to have a beautiful 1946 edition of Alice (from my mother-in-law’s basement – thanks, Nana!) and we began reading that aloud as well. There may be a tea party in the near future…

Speaking of tea parties, baking is a great activity to do with kids. Wash your hands (we all have plenty of practice with this now, if we didn’t before), put on an apron, and pick out a recipe from a cookbook or one of the many sites online. (I’m partial to King Arthur Flour recipes.) Make sure to read the recipe all the way through first, and make sure you have all the ingredients you need before you begin. Even really young kids can be helpful in the kitchen, unwrapping sticks of butter or stirring eggs with a fork or whisk. When you think about it, baking is math (measuring), science (chemistry), literacy (reading a recipe), sensory/art, and, of course, nutrition!

And if you feel like growing your own food, now’s a great time to start a garden. Seed packets should have information about when to plant seeds, whether they can be started inside and transplanted or not, and how long before you can expect them to sprout (“days to emerge”), as well as what kind of care they need in terms of sunlight and water. You don’t need anything fancy – you can start seeds with potting soil in egg cartons. Many herbs, like chives and basil, are easy to start from seed.

Chives and basil seeds in egg carton seed tray

I do miss doing my weekly storytimes, and will be excited to return to those once it’s safe to do so. Luckily, the #kidlit world has really stepped up to make sure that kids still have access to books, and publishers have temporarily eased restrictions on public performance of copyrighted works so that authors and others can read books aloud to share. Two children’s librarians at my library put together a “virtual storytime,” and many other libraries and authors are doing similar things, so check your local library’s website and social media, as well as Storyline Online, Mo Willems Lunch Doodles (Dan Santat, author of The Adventures of Beekle, makes a guest appearance in the March 25 episode), and Story Time from Space. (Also, here’s B.J. Novak reading The Book With No Pictures.)

Do you work at a library? What have you been creating/sharing from home? Do you have kids at home? What are your go-to activities?

Bookmatching: Readers’ Advisory for Developing Readers

In January, the Youth Services Interest Group (YSIG) hosted librarian Rhonda Cunha to present on the topic “Understanding Literacy Acquisition for Targeted Reader’s Advisory” at the Woburn Public Library. Rhonda is the Early Literacy Children’s Librarian at the Stevens Memorial Library in Andover, MA, and her presentation was detailed and thorough. I’m going to try to condense six pages of notes into a coherent overview here, starting with an important definition:

Reading is making meaning from text.

In the public library, Rhonda often overheard misconceptions about how children learn to read; her presentation corrects some of those misunderstandings. As children’s librarians, we are ideally placed to promote literacy, help children love reading, and help parents.

Early Literacy Skills slide

Early literacy skills include print motivation, phonological awareness, vocabulary, narrative skills (storytelling), print awareness (how books work), and letter knowledge. Two major ways that public libraries help children develop early literacy skills are through storytime programs and readers’ advisory services: talking with readers and helping them find books they’ll love (ideally, talking directly with the kids; talking with the parents is second best).

Readers’ advisory is more complex for children than for adults, because they are still developing these literacy skills: the book’s content needs to be interesting to them, and the book needs to be the right level. However, we don’t “level” books in the public library, for several reasons. Part of helping kids see themselves as readers and develop a love of reading is supporting them, not labeling them. (Benchmarking is a teaching tool for teachers to evaluate what the kids know, determine the point of need, and enable them to teach to the child’s need. “Levels” – Lexile and Fountas & Pinnell are two common ones – should not be shared with the kids themselves, let alone their parents.) A young reader’s background knowledge might enable them to read a book more advanced than their designated “level,” or they might want to pick up a book that’s easier – and that’s fine.

How to Help Kids Choose Just-Right Books for Them:

  • Helping children develop independent reading identities requires respect, trust, and lots of patience.
  • Encourage kids to vary their reading diet, in terms of genres and interests. Give them what they want, and slip in a few extras.
  • Provide lots of choices.
  • Encourage them to abandon books that don’t “sing” to them: “Good readers abandon books!” If you don’t like it, don’t read it. (But give it a chance – start with 10-20 pages, and if you don’t like it, stop. This goes for adult readers, as well.)
  • Use the 5-finger rule. Open a book to a page and start reading; put a finger up for each word they don’t know. (1=easy, 2=still easy, 3=okay, 4=challenging, 5=too hard)
  • Knowing what they don’t like is as important as knowing what they do like.
  • Use the acronym BOOKMATCH: Book length, Ordinary language, Organization, Knowledge prior to book, Manageable text, Appeal to genre, Topic appropriateness, Connection, High interest

Self-efficacy is key! Children need to see themselves as capable readers and to believe they can succeed. There are four steps to self-efficacy:

  1. Mastery experiences (reading to themselves without difficulty)
  2. Social models (seeing adults reading and writing)
  3. Social persuasion (encouragement and cheerleading, “I know you can do it!”)
  4. Mood

“While children are learning the skills of reading, they must also develop a positive reading identity or they will not become lifelong readers.” –Donalyn Miller

Advice for Parents:

  • Reading aloud to children builds receptive vocabulary, which becomes expressive vocabulary. Additionally, kids’ listening comprehension level is usually higher than their reading (print) comprehension. Reading aloud is the most important thing parents can do!
  • Social modeling: Kids should see their parents reading and writing (writing grocery lists, to-do lists, thank you notes, etc.).
  • Read familiar books to keep success high. (“If they want to read Wimpy Kid sixteen times, let them!”) Read predictable, repeating texts and short books. Read the books they bring home from school to bolster confidence.
  • Make reading a special daily ritual – try for at least 20 minutes a day/night.
  • Keep it fun and positive. Balance corrections with story flow (focus on one thing each time). If the kid is reading aloud and gets stuck on a word, count to 5 (silently) and supply the word so they can move on.
  • Name the strategies they are using.* Reread the same sentence/book if decoding is slow. Use the language that the school uses when recognizing strategies.
  • Readers who self-correct are checking for comprehension (this is good!).
  • Be aware of cognitive overload** – it’s okay to take over. Make them happy about reading/being read to.
  • End on a positive note.

*Recently, I was reading Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill to my four-year-old, and we came across the word “weary.” I asked her if she knew what it meant, and she said no. I read the whole sentence again, and asked her to guess what it meant. “Tired?” She got it! I was so excited. I explained that what she’d just done was figure out the meaning of a word from context – the words around that word. She was really pleased and proud.

**Cognitive capacity: you have X amount. How much are you using for decoding, how much for comprehension? Accuracy and fluency are important, so readers aren’t using all their cognitive capacity for decoding. Phonics will only get you so far; 40% of the words in English cannot be decoded.

Reading is making meaning from text, so how do we learn to do that? Here are some decoding strategies used in school:

  • Ask: Does that look right? Does it sound right? Does it make sense?
  • Get your mouth ready to say that word. Skip the word and read around it (to get context – see above).
  • Ask: What would fit there?
  • Break the word up into smaller known words or sounds (families, blends, compounds).
  • Look at the picture for clues (Cunha said, “There are pictures in books for a reason! There is no cheating in reading”).
  • Before you start reading:
    • Activate prior knowledge (e.g., “What do we already know about dolphins?” Look at the book’s cover – what do you see, what do you notice?)
    • Preview difficult or unknown vocabulary and/or take a picture walk.
    • Be present to notice behaviors, give support, and watch for burnout.

More advice and strategies for reading and reading together:

  • As books become more advanced, cognitive demands on the readers increase. The more a kid has in their head already, the less dependent on the text they are (top-down vs. bottom-up processing).
  • The way children acquire language is through a direct connection with people they’re conversing with (“serve and return” communication).
  • When a kid reads aloud, you hear their mistakes, which are informative; in order to teach, you have to hear the errors.
  • Monitor for meaning: Ask big-picture questions, not detail questions (e.g. “How do you think he felt?” vs. “What color was his shirt?”)

Want to learn more? See below for more resources.

Cover of Reading Picture Books With ChildrenRecommended reading:

The Reading Zone: how to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers by Nancie Atwell

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Reading Picture Books With Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

BOOKMATCH: How to Scaffold Student Book Selection for Independent Reading by Linda Wedwick and Jessica Ann Wutz

Reading teacher newsletter from International Literacy Association: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/

“Learning, Interrupted: Cell Phone Calls Sidetrack Toddlers’ Word Learning,” American Psychological Association, November 21, 2017

“Thinking Outside the Bin: Why Labeling Books By Reading Level Disempowers Young Readers,” Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal, August 28, 2017

Great books of 2019

All year, every year, I read like it’s my job. (It kind of is, but in case anyone still believes the myth that librarians get to read while at work, let me swiftly debunk that one for you: NO.) However, I don’t hold a candle to librarian/reviewer extraordinaire Betsy Bird, so I want to recommend her “31 Days, 31 Lists” feature for School Library Journal, which is comprehensive. There’s also no shortage of year-end lists from other sources, including but certainly not limited to:

I do read a lot of new books, so there are plenty of 2019 titles on my list(s), but there are older ones as well. Publication year is noted along with author and title. If I listened to an audiobook, I’ll note that as well with “(audio)” (if I only listened to it) or “(+audio)” (if I listened and read it in print as well). I may winnow this down to a Top Ten list later in the month (after all, the #libfaves countdown on Twitter is starting soon has already started, see below), but it’s hard to leave out books that I feel deserve more eyeballs! All of my reviews are on LibraryThing.

Picture Books (Fiction)

Lambslide by Ann Patchett (2019)
Little Taco Truck by Tanya Valentine (2019)
The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol (2019)
Red Light, Green Lion by Candace Ryan (2019)
Truman by Jean Reidy (2019)
Is 2 A Lot by Annie Watson (2019)
Penny and Penelope by Dan Richards (2019)
Here and Now by Julia Denos (2019)
Twins by Mike Ciccotello (2019)
Just Because by Mac Barnett (2019)
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang (2019)
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed (2019)
Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller (2018)
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (2018)
The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker (2018)
Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack (2018)
Ginny Goblin Is Not Allowed to Open This Box by David Goodner (2018)
It’s Springtime, Mr. Squirrel by Sebastian Meschenmoser (2018)
Pirate Jack Gets Dressed by Nancy Raines Day (2018)
I Am Not A Fox by Karina Wolf (2018)
Waltz of the Snowflakes by Elly MacKay (2017)
I Really Want the Cake by Simon Philip (2017)
World Pizza by Cece Meng (2017)
Are You A Monkey? by Marine Rivoal (2017)
My Dog’s A Chicken by Susan McElroy Montanari (2016)
Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis (2016)
Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian (2016)
Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood (2015)
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev (2015)
Down Here by Valerie Sherrard (2015)
Spots in a Box by Helen Ward (2015)
The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young (2014)
Froodle by Antoinette Portis (2014)
Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder (2013)
I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry (2010)
Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig (1998)

Picture Books (Nonfiction)

If Pluto Was A Pea by Gabrielle Prendergast (2019)
Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex (2019)
Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh (2019)
The Spacesuit by Alison Donald (2019)
Magic Ramen by Andrea Wang (2019)
Just Like Beverly by Vicki Conrad (2019)
You Are My Friend by Aimee Reid (2019)
Ladybugs by Gail Gibbons (2013)

Early Readers/Chapter Books

Penny and Her Sled by Kevin Henkes (2019)
Charlie & Mouse; Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy; Charlie & Mouse Even Better by Laurel Snyder (2017, 2017, 2019)
Louise Loves Bake Sales by Laura Driscoll (2018)
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale (2015)
Bink & Gollie; Bink & Gollie, Best Friends Forever; Bink & Gollie, Two for One by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee (2010, 2012, 2013)
Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems (2010)
Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows (2007) (+audio)
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (2006) (+audio)
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (2013) (+audio)
The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo by Judy Blume (1981)

Middle Grade

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell (2019)
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (2019) (audio)
All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (2019)
The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King (2019)
Sunny and Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2019) (audio)
A Tale Magnolious by Suzanne Nelson (2019)
Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (2019)
Roll With It by Jamie Sumner (2019)
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart (2019)
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington (2019)
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu (2019)
Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu (2019)
Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (2019)
We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (2019)
Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (2019)
To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (2019)
The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (2019)
My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder (2019)
This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce (2019) (nonfiction)
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (2018)
The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (2018) (audio)
Blended by Sharon M. Draper (2018) (audio)
The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobsen (2018)
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018) (audio)
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (2005) and Princess Acacemy: Palace of Stone (2012)
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (2011) (audio)
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (2005)
Frindle by Andrew Clements (1998)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971) (audio)

Middle Grade Graphic Novels

New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019)
Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer and Matthew Holm (2019)
Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (2019)
Stargazing by Jen Wang (2019)
Guts by Raina Telgemeier (2019)
Best Friends by Shannon Hale (2019)
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis (2019)
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (2018)
Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley (2014)
The Babysitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgemeier (2015)
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon (2017)
Awkward; Brave; Crush (Berrybrook Middle School) by Svetlana Chmakova (2015, 2017, 2018)

YA

The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (2019)
The Poet X and With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (audio) (2018, 2019)
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (2019)

Adult fiction

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (2019)
Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess (2019)
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz (2019)
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames (2019)
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (2019)
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz (2019)
Dominicana by Angie Cruz (2019)
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017)
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (2019)
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey (2019)
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (2019)
Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen (2019)
Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger (2019)
Normal People by Sally Rooney (2019)
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer (2019)
Milkman by Anna Burns (2018)

Adult Nonfiction

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (2019)
Dear Ally, How Do You Write A Book by Ally Carter (2019)
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty (2019)
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (2019)
Wordslut by Amanda Montell (2019)
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (2019)
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda (2016)
Peacerunner by Penn Rhodeen (2016)
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (2016)
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2015)

YA and Adult Graphics

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (2019)
Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley (2019)
Good Talk by Mira Jacob (2019)
The Unwanted by Don Brown (2019)
The Mental Load by Emma (2018)
March (Books 1-3) by John Lewis (2013, 2015, 2016)

My #libfaves19 picks  (Updated 12/17/19)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
The Year We Fell From Space by Amy Sarig King
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
Wordslut by Amanda Montell
The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Honorable mention #11: New Kid by Jerry Craft

#MiddleGradeMay

Abby the Librarian’s #MiddleGradeMay wrap-up made me think of all the middle grade books I’ve read this spring (and of course it lengthened my to-read list; I’m especially excited to get my hands on Dear Sweet Pea, Pie in the Sky, and Roll With It).

My reading has certainly shifted along with my job in the last couple years; when I was the adult fiction buyer for my library, I read mostly adult literary fiction, young adult fiction, and some nonfiction (I was also the “speed read” buyer, for especially high-demand titles). Now that I’m working partly in children’s, I’m reading a lot more children’s books, especially middle grade books. In May, I got to go along and give book talks to classes of fifth graders in two different elementary schools in town – not about their required summer reading books for middle school, but a list of books we’d come up with that we thought they’d really like. (There’s actually a little bit of crossover with their middle school list, which is great.)

Some of the books I book-talked most enthusiastically at the schools were: New Kid by Jerry Craft (graphic novel), Blended by Sharon M. Draper (realistic fiction), The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (realistic fiction), To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (epistolary realistic fiction). I also really liked Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (realistic fiction), We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (science fiction), and It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (realistic fiction) but my co-worker talked about those ones. Teamwork!

Here are some of the (mostly new) books I’ve read so far this year. Books on our list for students entering sixth grade next fall are in bold.

Cover image of Night OwlNew(ish) middle grade books:

  • Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (2017)
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2017)
  • The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (2018)
  • Breakout by Kate Messner (2018)
  • Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks (2018)
  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (2018)
  • It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (2018)
  • Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live In A Castle by Hilda Eunice Burgos (2018)
  • So Done by Paula Chase (2018)
  • The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn (2018)
  • Blended by Sharon M. Draper (2018)
  • Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (2018)
  • Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018)Cover image of Paulie Fink
  • You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino (2018)
  • Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever, edited by Betsy Bird (2018)
  • The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (2019)
  • To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (2019)
  • We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (2019)
  • A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata (2019)

This kind of diversity did not exist in kid-lit when I was a kid. There is so much here and it’s wonderful. These books tackle issues head-on: contemporary racism, poverty and wealth, restorative justice, Deaf culture, historical fiction that isn’t set in WWII Europe or the American home front…lots of mirrors, lots of windows.

Classics:

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)
  • Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, and Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary (1955, 1968, 1975)
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971)
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996)

These all stand the test of time with flying colors. I read Frindle in print on a friend’s recommendation, and listened to the audio of the others; Stockard Channing reads the Ramona books (and Neil Patrick Harris reads the Henry Huggins ones!). I appreciated The Phantom Tollbooth more as an adult than I did as a kid (“it goes without saying”), and I’d never read Mrs. Frisby before but it’s pretty timeless.

Cover image of New KidGraphic Novels:

  • Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin (2014)
  • Awkward, Brave, and Crush by Svetlana Chmakova (2015, 2017, 2018)
  • The Babysitters Club (Kristy’s Great Idea, The Truth About Stacey, Mary Anne Saves the Day, Claudia and Mean Janine) by Ann M. Martin/Raina Telgemeier (1986/2015, etc.)
  • Little Robot, Mighty Jack, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke  (2015, 2016, 2017) (See also: Zita the Spacegirl)
  • Bingo Love Vol. 1 by Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge, Joy San (2018)
  • Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, Giovanni Rigano, Chris Dickey (2018)
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019)
  • Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero (2019)
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry/P. Craig Russell (2019)

The rebooting of classics like Little Women and The Babysitters Club and The Giver is an interesting trend. In some cases, the graphic novel adheres closely to the original (e.g. The Giver). In other cases, there’s a major update and overhaul: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is set in present-day New York, the Marches are a blended family, and…I don’t want to give too much away, but some other major plot points change as well. (I really liked it. That said, I’m not a die-hard fan of Louisa May Alcott’s version.) The Babysitters Club books fall somewhere in between, but closer to the “faithful to the original” end of the spectrum. (There is also, for those who are interested, a funny podcast called The Babysitters Club Club. More for a teen or adult audience.)

Cover image of The Poet XYoung Adult:

  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)
  • Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (2018)
  • The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (2018)
  • Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (2018)
  • 500 Words Or Less by Juleah Del Rosario (2018)
  • With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo (2019)
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019)
  • Sunny by Jason Reynolds (2019)

I’ve been reading less YA lately but I absolutely loved both of Elizabeth Acevedo’s novels. I read With the Fire On High in print, and listened to the audiobook of The Poet X, which the author reads – I’d highly recommend the audio version.

And what about adult literary fiction? I still love it, and there are a bunch of new novels coming out this summer and fall that I’m excited about, but that’s a post for another day.

 

We Need Diverse (Picture) Books

Recently a parent friend of mine asked me for book recommendations for her kid’s upcoming third birthday, and she specifically requested diverse books. I loved the question, and wanted to share the list I came up with. I’ve written about #WeNeedDiverseBooks before (here’s the official WNDB site), and I’m also mindful of #OwnVoices, i.e. diverse characters written/illustrated by diverse authors (as opposed to, say, a white author writing a Black character). For this list, I’m including books that feature characters that are something other than straight, white, cisgender, upper/middle-class, and non-disabled.

With one exception (And Tango Makes Three), these books have human characters. A tremendous number of picture books have animal characters; they often have wonderful, inclusive messages, but I feel that they don’t quite fit the description.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are books my daughter (also about three years old) and I have enjoyed repeatedly over the past year or so. Many are award winners, and I’ve included the names of the awards so that you can find other past winners and honor books.

Alma And How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal: Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela has a very long name, which she doesn’t like, until her father tells her where each part came from; in this way, Alma finds something in common with each of her ancestors and takes new pride in her name. (Caldecott Honor, School Library Journal Best Picture Book)

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole: Here’s the animal book exception. Roy and Silo, two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo, hatch an egg and raise Tango as their own chick. (Nonfiction)

The Class by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee: Twenty different children get ready for the first day of school, when they become one class. The rhyming text and the illustrations work together to show the broad range of personalities and backgrounds coming together; it’s a light and lovely first day of school book.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James: A joyous celebration of the confidence a new haircut gives a young Black boy. (ALA Notable Book, Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, Kirkus Prize)

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui: A young Vietnamese-American boy goes fishing with his father very early in the morning – not for fun, but to have food to eat. This whole book has the feeling of a starlit, predawn hush, as the boy enjoys the time with his father even as he learns about the family’s tragic history. (Caldecott Honor, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Charlotte Zolotow Award)

Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin: A little girl goes to a dim sum restaurant with her parents and two older sister; each person orders their favorite dish and they all share. A simple story, but an excellent introduction into another culture via food. (See also: A Big Mooncake for Little Star by the same author.)

Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller: A young Black girl, Aria, loves her hair – but doesn’t like when other people touch it without asking permission. A strong and necessary message about consent.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales: A mother brings her infant son to the U.S. from Mexico; a public library helps them feel welcome, and inspires the mother to create her own books. (Pura Belpre Award)

Hanukkah Hamster by Michelle Markel, illustrated by André Ceolin: Edgar, an Israeli taxi driver in a U.S. city, finds a hamster in his cab and cares for it while he tries to find the owner. (Maybe not the best choice for a March birthday, but keep it in mind for December. See also: All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky [Sydney Taylor Book Award], and The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Paul Meisel.)

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall: A young Black boy goes to the pool with his father and little sister, ready to jump off the high diving board. His bravery wavers, and his dad gives him both encouragement and an easy out. Ultimately, Jabari jumps. (ALA Notable Children’s Book, Charlotte Zolotow Honor)

Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love: Julián loves mermaids, but when he dresses up as one, how will his abuela react? She takes him to what looks like the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. (Stonewall Book Award)

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson: CJ takes a bus through the city with his grandmother to help at a soup kitchen. (Newbery Medal, Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor, ALA Notable Book) Note: This author/illustrator team also produced Carmela Full of Wishes, and pretty much everything that Robinson illustrates could be on this list; I particularly love School’s First Day of School (with Adam Rex), When’s My Birthday? (with Julie Fogliano), and Rain.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington: Mae Jemisin was the first African-American female astronaut and the first African-American woman to go into space, and it started as a childhood dream – one that her parents encouraged, but her white teachers and classmates didn’t. (Biography)

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts: The story of second-grader Rosie, great grand-niece of Rosie the Riveter and a passionate inventor – in secret, because she’s afraid of being laughed at. When Great Aunt Rose comes to visit, she brings an encouraging message: “Life might have its failures, but this was NOT it.
The only true failure can come if you quit.
” (See also: Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie, and Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen.)

Want to Play Trucks? by Ann Stott, illustrated by Bob Graham: Two little boys – one white, one brown – meet at a playground; one likes dolls and twirly dresses, another likes trucks. They find a way to play together easily; in the background, the moms chat. (Bob Graham also wrote and illustrated Let’s Get A Pup, Said Kate, in which Kate’s parents are casually tattooed and pierced.) Deftly pierces stereotypes about “boy” and “girl” toys and preferences.

As I said, this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are so many incredible, diverse picture books out there, with more being published every year. Check out other award winner or honor books, or the publisher Lee & Low (“About everyone, For Everyone”). The titles above are just a few I think are worth checking out of the library or adding to your personal collection. Happy reading!

Top Ten Books to Read in 2019

There are some exciting books coming out this year! (I say that every year. It’s true every year.) Here are the ones I’m looking forward to and intend to read, as well as some older books that I plan to move to the head of the queue this year:

  1. Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken: I’ll read whatever she writes.
  2. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: I’ll read almost anything she writes, and historical fiction is one of my favorite genres; this one is set in New York in the 1940s.
  3. Feel Free by Nick Laird: This poetry collection, his fourth, was slated to come out last year and the pub date got bumped to July 2019. Waiting…
  4. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern: Will it be as magical as The Night Circus? We’ll see…in November.
  5. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker: Literary fiction, good reviews so far, and I liked The Age of Miracles.
  6. Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley: Relish is still my favorite of hers; I think I’d like the others better if I was her exact contemporary, or a little younger instead of a little older, but I do like her style, and graphic novels are quick reads.
  7. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas: Also due out last year and then the pub date got bumped. If it’s the same quality as The Hate U Give, though, I’m willing to wait.
  8. Getting toward the end of the list, I’m going to crowd three books into one here, as they all fall under the #WeNeedDiverseBooks/award-winning YA umbrella: Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. Also Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, which is already sitting at the top of my pile.
  9. Walking Home by Simon Armitage: This has been kicking around on my to-read list for ages; this is the year.
  10. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link: I’ve been meaning to read more of her deliciously weird, off-kilter stories.

So that’s adult fiction and nonfiction, teen fiction and nonfiction, a graphic novel, and a book of poems…and that’s just for starters. I’m also looking forward to reading plenty of middle grade, more nonfiction in general (always a goal, and this year I’m broadening it to include TV as well), more recommendations from fellow readers. What books are you excited to read this year?

 

Edited to add: Also, short stories Tenth of December by George Saunders; nonfiction on climate change (e.g. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert or Rising by Elizabeth Rush); and more fiction by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I’ve already read Americanah, so it’ll be either The Thing Around Your Neck, Purple Hibiscus, or Half of a Yellow Sun. Opinions, anyone?).

#Libfaves18, or, Top Ten Books of 2018

#Libfaves18 is a Twitter phenomenon in which librarians tweet out their favorite books published in 2018, one a day, for ten days, and someone compiles a list. Librarians love their lists, and in fact we already have a “Favorite of Favorites” list from LibraryReads, but librarians just love talking about books. And also, the year wasn’t over yet when the “Favorite of Favorites” list was published – there’s still more reading time in the year! (By that logic, we should wait till January to make our year-end lists – some of us do.) Another difference is that, to nominate books for Library Reads, you need to get galleys, read, and nominate them ahead of time; with Twitter, anyone can jump in.

Here are my #Libfaves2018:

  1. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (adult fiction)
  2. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (young adult fiction/fantasy)
  3. The Witch Elm by Tana French (psychological mystery/suspense)
  4. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (picture book)
  5. Transcription by Kate Atkinson (adult fiction/historical/suspense)
  6. The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis (middle grade fiction/fantasy)
  7. I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell (memoir)
  8. Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love (picture book)
  9. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll (young adult graphic novel)
  10. Call Them By Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit (nonfiction essays)

This list may look quite different from my list (coming soon-ish) of best books I’ve read this year, because many of those were published before this year. For example, I just finished listening to the audiobook of Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, narrated by Jim Dale, and it was magical, but it’s from 2011 and therefore doesn’t qualify for #Libfaves18.

What are your favorite books that you read this year? Published in 2018 or not?

Updated 12/19/2018: The blog RA for All has a more thorough explanation of #Libfaves18, and past lists are hosted at EarlyWord.

NELA 2018: The Library is Your Space (Part 2)

See Monday’s recap of NELA 2018 here.

Tuesday, 9am: ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo’s “Big Ideas” Talk: “Libraries = Strong Communities”

ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo’s speech put libraries at the center of their communities, and gave examples of the many different ways libraries serve their communities, from the usual (“When it comes to connecting people to information, librarians do it better than anyone…We promote reading, lifelong learning skills, equal access to information for ALL”) to the unusual (one library has partnered with a hospital so that every time a baby is born there, the mother can push a button and a gong rings in the library to announce the birth).

Garcia-Febo showed a slide of the text of Article 19 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” She said, “Access to information is at the core of what librarians do” – and access to information leads to education, citizen engagement, and empowerment….Libraries play a critical role in leveling the playing field.”

She concluded, “We are all creating the library of the future every day. We need to continue working with community members and local organizations….Libraries are the cornerstones of democracy….Information is a human right.”

Additional resources with links, and tweets below:

ala1ala-because

 

Tuesday, 11am: Free Speech & Libraries, Edward Fitzpatrick

Much of the content of Ed Fitzpatrick’s talk can be found in his October 2017 Providence Journal article, “Nation needs First Amendment refresher course.” The roomful of librarians (unsurprisingly) did much better than the national average at identifying the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment, and after the talk there was some articulate pushback on the pithy idea that “The best answer to hate speech is great speech.”

A particular dilemma faced in libraries centers around our public meeting rooms. If they are open to all, does that mean we must allow hate groups such as the KKK to use them? A July 2018 feature in School Library Journal, updated with comments by Jamie LaRue and a sidebar by Martin Gardnar, “Free Speech Debate Erupts with ALA’s Inclusion of Hate Groups in Revision of Bill of Rights Interpretation,” summarizes the issue neatly. In short, the ALA’s answer is yes. (So is Ed Fitzpatrick’s: ““When you’re a public library, you’re committed to that public experiment…It doesn’t mean the library is supporting or welcoming these groups or advocating for them.”) But there are other things libraries can do to show that we don’t agree with hate speech or hate groups. However, no matter how inclusive our collections, how welcoming our displays, or how diverse our events, patrons who are the target of such hate groups may well feel threatened and unsafe in the library.

Fitzpatrick cited two books repeatedly, both by Anthony Lewis: Gideon’s Trumpet (1964) and Freedom for the Thought We Hate (2007). Even as he defended free speech, including hate speech, he admitted, “Hate speech does exact a toll. We all pay a price, some more than others….Such freedom carries a real cost.” Fitzpatrick, a white man, may not bear as much of that cost as others in our society.

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Tuesday lunch: Gregory Maguire

The author of Wicked (the book the Broadway show was based on) and many, many other books for children, teens, and adults spoke during Tuesday’s lunch, and he was an amusing and engaging speaker. I hadn’t known much about his childhood, or all the picture books he wrote, and I may dip into one of his more recent novels (After Alice) – it’s been a long time since I read Wicked or tried (but didn’t finish) Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Here are some tweets from the talk:

Screenshot of tweets from Gregory Maguire talk

Tuesday, 2:30pm: Ignite!

The “Ignite!” sessions are quick, five-minute presentations on various topics:

“Time Travel Toolkit: Historical Maker Activities for Modern Kids,” Elise Petrarca, Youth Services Librarian, Cranston PL: Attendance at kids’ technology programs (like 3D printing and coding) was dropping off, so Petrarca used her background in history to come up with a new series of programs, branded “Time Travel Toolkit,” featuring stories and crafts related to a particular time period. Open to kids in grades 3-8, the goals of the program were to provide a unique, hands-on experience around an era of history, and to engage kids so they have fun and learn a little bit. It was a success, with the older kids helping the younger ones. The most popular activities were bread baking and butter churning (nor surprising, if they got to eat their creations…).

Sue Sullivan talked about ArtWeek (#ArtWeekMA); many ArtWeek events take place in collaboration with Massachusetts libraries.

“Collapse & Rebirth: Librarians as Architects of a New Humanity,” Madeleine Charney, UMass Amherst: Charney talked about hosting discussions on climate change, using the World Cafe dialogue model. She also recommended the book Emergent Strategy: shaping change, shaping worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown.

screenshot of Johnson & Wales library chat options (Ask a Librarian and Ask a Student)
Johnson & Wales University library chat options

Four presenters from Johnson & Wales University presented “Who’s Got Your Back? Empowering Student Chat Ambassadors”: J&W librarians talked about training student employees to answer chat questions, and the results of their training.

“Touchscreen Digital Displays to Showcase Local History at the Watertown Free Public Library,” Brita Zitin: Zitin spoke about how they had made local history more accessible to library users in Watertown by placing touchscreens throughout the building. Using the software Intuiface, they made an interactive historical map, partnered with their local history society to make biographies of local historical figures, and – always popular – made features from high school yearbooks (such as guessing the decade from the hairstyle).

“From Reference Desk to Genius Bar, Public Libraries of Brookline” Callan Bignoli: Bignoli spoke about rethinking how library staff offers tech help at the (very busy) Brookline Public Library. In addition to one-on-one tech appointments, patrons can now come during drop-in tech help sessions, “Lunch and learn” sessions, and use LibChat reference. Bignoli’s advice if you’re rethinking how you offer tech help at your library:

  • Make sure staff are prepared – not for everything, but for many things.
  • Think about who’s coming in (and when). What are they asking you for help with?
  • Meet people where they are.
  • Try to get them what they came for. Does the format fit the person/topic? (Class, drop-in, 1-on-1)

See: Phil Agre, “How to help someone use a computer” (1996)

Finally, Anna Mickelson from the Springfield City Library and Alene Moroni from the Forbes Library in Northampton presented “Weed This, Not That.” (Aside: I just noticed that the Springfield City Library’s tag line is “All Yours, Just Ask,” which is brilliant.) Their rapid-fire presentation included two case studies with before-and-after pictures (Before: crammed shelves. After: shelves with plenty of space for face-out titles, and no books too high to reach or so low they’re on the ground). When there’s “too much stuff” on the shelf, “people can’t find what they need. Find a reason to keep something not a reason to get rid of it.” Weed in accordance with library mission, space, etc. Different methods include item-by-item, “dusty” lists (low/no circulation in last __ years), and at the shelf (e.g. pulling books that have obvious problems like torn covers, water damage, or appallingly out-of-date information). Use professional discretion; you can do things like keeping series while getting rid of years-old “incandescent debuts,” and keep the inclusive, diverse books (put them on display!) and “get rid of the old white guys.”

Are you excited to weed, but need some talking points to convince others in your library? Weeding makes room for new items, seating areas, welcoming spaces, display opportunities, and it increases circulation. After all, “Do you still have every pair of shoes you’ve ever bought?”

All in all, a fantastic conference experience. Thank you to all the presenters, NELA and RILA, and the staff of the Crown Plaza in Warwick – professional, courteous, and unflustered in the face of fire alarms.