Many voices, many stories

As promised in my 2020 Reading Wrap-Up, a separate post about essay and short story collections.

Reading fiction – especially fiction about people whose lives are different from your own – builds empathy.

Meeting someone in real life can be the most effective way to break down prejudice against a group.

Even those who normally read voraciously have had trouble concentrating on reading, due to anxiety, trauma, or burnout this year.

How are these three things related? They all highlight the value of short story and essay collections, particularly anthologies. These collections have both breadth and depth: each piece of writing delves deep, and each has a different perspective. Together, each facet makes up the whole, and the reader comes away with more insight, more knowledge, more empathy.

Every person is only one person; we are all our own main characters. But we can do the work of learning about others’ lived experience, through fiction and memoir and essay. We cannot be considerate if what needs consideration is invisible to us; as Minh Lê writes in The Talk, “Obliviousness is not an excuse.” (My alma mater takes it one step further with its motto, Non satis scire – to know is not enough. And my husband’s alma mater continues with the motto Do something.) We cannot do something until we know.

So, for those who are short on time and/or attention, but who want to enjoy the reading experience again, delve deeply into others’ lived experiences, and hear from more and more varied voices, I recommend any and all of the following essay and short story collections.

Above: Cover images of A Map is Only One Story, Disability Visibility, and Come On In

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alice Wong – If I could choose a handful of required reading books for everyone, this would be one of them. “Stories are the closest we can come to shared experience….Like all stories, they are most fundamentally a chance to ride around inside another head and be reminded that being who we are and where we are, and doing what we’re doing, is not the only possibility.” -Harriet McBryde Johnson

A Map Is Only One Story: Twenty Writers on Immigration, Family, and the Meaning of Home, edited by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary – The statue of liberty has one message for immigrants; our current media landscape and politics tell another. But, except for Native Americans, everyone in the U.S. is an immigrant or is descended from immigrants, and it is incumbent on us all to ensure that the doors that were open for us remain open for others. “Immigration is not, ultimately, the story of laws or borders, but of people.” -Introduction

It’s Not About the Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality, and Race, edited by Mariam Khan – If you’re a Muslim woman, this book may be a mirror; the rest of us should be grateful for the chance to peer through this incredible bank of windows (see “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” by Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990). “I believe the role of the writer is to tell society what it pretends it does not know.” -Mona Eltahawy

The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love, and Truth, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson – Many of the pieces in this collection take the form of letters or poems to the authors’ children. The creators have different backgrounds and identities – African-American, Jewish, Cherokee, bilingual – but, as Duncan Tonatiuh writes, “Recognizing our similarities is a powerful way to combat prejudice.

The Moth and The Moth Presents All These Wonders, edited by Catherine Burns – The stories in these collections come from NPR’s “The Moth” radio show and podcast. The storytellers are wildly diverse in age, gender, race, class, socioeconomic status, career, geographic region, and any other way you can think of, but they have one thing in common: they can tell a story. “We live in a world where bearing witness to a stranger’s unfiltered story is an act of tremendous compassion. To listen with an open heart and an open mind and try to understand what it’s like to be them…takes real courage….And when we dare to listen, we remember that there is no ‘other,’ there is only us, and what we have in common will always be greater than what separates us.” -Catherine Burns

Come On In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, edited by Adi Alsaid – The characters come from different places and have different experiences, every single one worth reading. “Don’t let anyone’s ignorance make you feel that you don’t belong somewhere. You belong wherever you are.” – Sara Farizan

Once Upon an Eid, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed – Joyful stories of teens celebrating Eid with their families and friends. It reminded me a bit of My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins, but there are so many Christmas books published in the U.S. and not nearly enough about Muslim holidays. “Special days start when you run toward them.” -S.K. Ali

Do you have short story or essay collections you’d like to add to this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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.

Thanksgiving, Gratitude, and Native #OwnVoices

A version of this piece will be posted to the Winchester Public Library website later this month.

Thanksgiving and Gratitude, Past and Present

On Thanksgiving Day, the myth goes, we remember the “first Thanksgiving,” where Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated a good harvest and shared a meal. But that story is often told in an inaccurate or outright harmful way, and the history that followed is obscured, such that many families now choose to focus on the “giving thanks” aspect of the holiday rather than the historical one. 

As educator Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo) writes, “Here’s the thing. I want teachers, parents, and librarians to consider that a lot of American Indians don’t necessarily ‘celebrate’ Thanksgiving as it is celebrated in the mainstream American holiday scheme….Native peoples and our cultures were attacked. But we persevered, and many of us have a different view of this holiday….I want you to see me and Pueblo people (in my case) as a people that existed and exists on its own merits – not as minor characters, or colorful ones, in the story that America tells about America.” 

So below is a list of books about giving thanks and being grateful, books about cooking and sharing meals together, and books by Native American authors, centering Native kids, both historically and in the present. For more #OwnVoices books, check out the American Indian Youth Literature Award.

Additional Resources:

Books for Littles: Decolonizing Thanksgiving is an Oxymoron

Center for Racial Justice in Education: A Racial Justice Guide to Thanksgiving

Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) “Talking with Young Children about Race” 

Nashville Public Library “Tackling Racism in Children’s Classics: The Thanksgiving Story”

Teacher and Librarian Resources for Native American Children’s and Young Adult Books, Cynthia Leitich Smith

Books (alphabetical by author’s last name)

Thanksgiving and Native History

  • Bruchac, Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving
  • Messner, The Mayflower (History Smashers)
  • O’Neill & Bruchac, 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving
  • Ortiz, The People Shall Continue
  • Waters, Tapenum’s Day 

Sharing Food & Gratitude

  • Cabrera, The Thank You Letter
  • Chen, Hot Pot Night!
  • Cooper, Pumpkin Soup 
  • De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street
  • Falwell, Feast for Ten
  • Horowitz, The Ugly Pumpkin
  • Ledyard, Pie Is For Sharing
  • Maillard, Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
  • Marchand, How Food Was Given: An Okanagan Legend
  • Mora, Thank You, Omu!
  • Mora, Gracias / Thanks
  • Muth, Stone Soup
  • Paul (editor), Thanku: Poems of Gratitude
  • Peters, Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition
  • Ram, Thukpa for All
  • Regguinti, The Sacred Harvest: Ojibway Wild Rice Gathering
  • Saeed, Bilal Cooks Daal
  • Sorell, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
  • Swamp, Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message
  • Tamaki, Our Little Kitchen
  • Walker, Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition
  • Wittstock, Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking

Native Voices

  • Akulukjuk, The Owl and the Lemming
  • Akulukjuk, Putuguq & Kublu and the Qalupalik! (graphic novel)
  • Campbell, A Day With Yayah
  • Child, Bowwow Powwow
  • Dupuis, I Am Not A Number
  • Erdrich, The Birchbark House
  • Flett, Birdsong
  • Flett, Wild Berries
  • Highway, Caribou Song
  • Jameson, Zoe and the Fawn
  • Jerry Cans, Mamaqtuq!
  • Lindstrom, We Are Water Protectors
  • Minnema, Johnny’s Pheasant
  • Peacock, The Forever Sky
  • Qitsualik-Tinsley, The Raven and the Loon
  • Robertson, The Water Walker
  • Robertson, When We Were Alone
  • Sammurtok, In My Anaana’s Amautik
  • Smith, Jingle Dancer
  • Smith, My Heart Fills With Happiness
  • Smith, When We Are Kind
  • Sorell, At the Mountain’s Base
  • Vandever, Fall in Line, Holden! 

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 as gifts for the classroom

Many daycare, preschool, pre-K, and elementary school teachers have their own classroom libraries. They usually develop these libraries out of pocket, or through donations; adding a new book is a way to build that library and increase the number of books kids have ready access to.

Here are a number of relatively new books that would be great additions to classroom libraries – and the majority of the authors and illustrators are BIPOC. I’ve separated them into categories by age, but please don’t treat that as a hard-and-fast rule.

Ages 2+

Hello, Hello by Brendan Wenzel

Carrot & Pea by Morag Hood

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin

A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes

Rain! by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer

Ages 3+

Saturday by Oge Mora

Want to Play Trucks? by Ann Stott, illustrated by Bob Graham

Hank’s Big Day by Evan Kuhlman, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love

Ralph and Rita’s Rotten Day by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Pete Oswald

The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

Lift by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington

Ages 4+

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Owen by Kevin Henkes

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

The Someone New by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EJ Keller

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua

World Pizza by Cece Meng, illustrated by Ellen Shi

Unstoppable! by Adam Rex

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

First Day of School

The Class by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

Truman by Jean Reidy

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

 

As an additional resource, Tinkergarten pulled together a list of “24 Books with Black Protagonists by Black Authors.” Representation matters – all kids need to see themselves reflected in literature (positively!). And if your students are homogeneous, then diverse books can serve as “windows” to show them that the world is full of all kinds of people. (The “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” analogy was coined by Rudine Sims Bishop; Debbie Reese, founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature, would add “curtains” as well, that certain stories may be kept within a culture.)

Teachers, please chime in on the topic of classroom libraries. Do you welcome donations? Do you keep a wish list? Do you (or your students) have favorite titles, either for read-alouds or reading alone? What else should parents/caregivers/guardians/volunteers know about classroom libraries?

 

Anti-racist book lists: a place to start

No one would argue that 2020 has been a pretty rough year so far. We’re facing the effects of climate change and the very real and immediate specter of worse to come; we’ve got a global pandemic; and here in the U.S., we have a president who refuses to lead a coherent, science-based, national response to either the COVID-19 pandemic or the epidemic of racism our country is also battling.

I’ve done a lot of reading about all of these things, but less writing about them. I compiled most of the anti-racism resources below in early June, but at the time, the internet was flooded with similar resources; did I need to create a selected bibliography of them? (I didn’t, really, but my instinct is always to take notes, document, and share, so if they are useful to you, fantastic.)

On June 15, the New England Library Association (NELA) published a statement that reads, in part, “Let us all stand together, build coalitions, and be each other’s accomplices in the struggle to end internal, interpersonal, and systematic forms of racism and all other forms of oppression….Racism, in all its forms, destroys our communities. We must all proactively work on eradicating racism anywhere and everywhere it exists” (emphasis added).

I have been thinking – as a white parent and librarian – about how to do that, and what advice I can share about how to be anti-racist and how to raise anti-racist kids. I’ve boiled it down to a few points, for now:

  1. White parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians need to normalize talking about race. Though some of us were taught to be “colorblind” in the ’90s, what we really need to be is “color conscious.” If talking about race is taboo, that makes it seem uncomfortable, and shameful, and then we arrive at the point where even mentioning race is considered racist. But if we refuse to recognize the racism around us, and can’t talk about it, we can’t work to dismantle it. (Note that even the option to talk about race or not is part of white privilege.)
  2. Books provide an entry point to discuss many topics. If you’re involved in selecting books for kids (if you’re a parent, caregiver, teacher, librarian), make the effort to choose books that show all kinds of people. Don’t let white be the default. Don’t let animals be the default (as much as we may love hedgehogs and bears). Most of us live in communities that are effectively segregated; if kids don’t see diversity around them, at least they can see it in picture books.
  3. If you’re seeking books that show Black characters, make sure you are not just getting biographies of civil rights heroes or stories of enslavement. Select books that show Black joy as well. There is a wealth of contemporary Black stories – enough for every month of the year, not just Black History Month. Seek out and read #ownvoices books.
  4. Definitions are important. Racism is structural, historical, and present-tense. We live in a racist society; it’s “the water we swim in.” As the song from Avenue Q goes, “Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes,” even if our intentions are good. But white intentions don’t matter as much as white actions. So…
  5. Listen. Speak with care. Have humility. We will make mistakes; don’t let fear of making mistakes keep us from doing the work. Apologize, repair, listen some more.

A selected bibliography of anti-racism resources, June 2020

CrownOde

“Discussing Race with Young Kids,” Rachel G. Payne and Jessica Ralli, School Library Journal, September 24, 2018. https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=discussing-race-with-young-kids-first-steps

“What White Children Need to Know About Race,” National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), https://www.nais.org/magazine/independent-school/summer-2014/what-white-children-need-to-know-about-race/

“Talking to Kids About Race,” Lindsey Krabbenhoft, Jbrary, July 21, 2016. https://jbrary.com/talking-to-kids-about-race/

“A Nonfiction Anti-Racist Reading List,” Publishers Weekly, June 3, 2020. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/83485-an-anti-racist-reading-list.html

“Antiracist Books for Kids,” Kirkus https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-lists/antiracist-books-kids/#a-good-kind-of-trouble

“10 Antiracist Books for Teens,” Kirkus https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-lists/10-antiracist-books-young-adults/

“10 Books That Challenge Racism,” Kirkus https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-lists/10-books-challenge-racism/

“Antiracist Resources and Reads: Lists for All Ages,” Elizabeth (Betsy) Bird, School Library Journal, June 2, 2020. http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2020/06/02/antiracist-resources-and-reads-lists-for-all-ages/

“Because Black Lives Matter, A Collection of Antiracist Reading Lists,” Karen Jensen, School Library Journal, June 1, 2020. http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2020/06/because-black-lives-matter-a-collection-of-anti-racist-reading-lists/

“Our Modern Minstrelsy,” Kekla Magoon, The Horn Book, June 3, 2020 https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=our-modern-minstrelsy

“Young Dreamers,” Christopher Myers, The Horn Book, August 6, 2013 https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=young-dreamers

Reading While White http://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com

We Are Kid Lit Collective https://wtpsite.wordpress.com

The Brown Bookshelf https://thebrownbookshelf.com

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