In her Printz Honor acceptance speech, Taylor discussed the importance of fantasy, now more than ever. “Human decency depends on empathy,” she said. “Empathy depends on imagination.” And what fantasy gives readers, especially young ones, is the ability to imagine worlds that can be remade. They can look at a community that mirrors our own and imagine it changed, and only by imagining it changed can we hope to change it.
That reminded me of what Neil Gaiman had to say on the topic of fiction and empathy. I’ve quoted from this speech of his before, but here it is again, slightly abridged:
“And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy….You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed…
You’re also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this:
The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.
….Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”
The bit above in bold (emphasis mine) is crucial. I included it in a slide when I presented on “Readers’ Advisory in an Age of Uncertainty” at MLA last spring, alongside recommendations of fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, and other speculative literature.
Personally, I haven’t encountered anyone who has flat-out declared that fantasy books are lesser than other books. Certainly, there are people who say they don’t like the genre, and that’s fine – every reader their book, etc. – though in closing oneself off to entire genres, one is likely to miss some great stories.
As a side note, SLJ and Library Journal are pretty much the only places on the internet where the comments are constructive, intelligent, interesting, and relevant. Elsewhere, I usually stop scrolling at the end of the article and pretend comments don’t exist.
On the topic of fantasy, The Atlantic recently ran a piece entitled “Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories.” I forwarded it along to all my children’s/YA reader/librarian friends, and while a few objected to the competitive aspect of the comparison (“There are so many good books on both sides of the pond!”), I won’t hesitate to admit that many of the magical books I loved as a kid (and still love) start with that tear in the fabric between our world and the other: “A tear in this fabric is all it takes for a story to begin.”
Of course there are incredible, magical, fantastical books from the U.S. and the U.K. (never mind all of the other countries in the world). But I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, read by Jim Dale, and I shivered when I heard Wendy ask, “Boy, why are you crying?” Pure magic.
It’s almost time for the mid-year wrap-up of books I’ve read and liked best so far this year. There’s still plenty of June left, but I’m preparing for a book talk later this month, so it seemed like a good time to go over the past five months of reading in my LibraryThing catalog. This isn’t BuzzFeed so I won’t be doing a “Top [odd number] Books You MUST Read RIGHT THIS SECOND” style of list, but I have separated them by category. As always, these are books I’ve read in this time frame; some are recently published, but others are older.
There are a lot of picture books, because we read a lot of picture books (and, at about 32 pages each, you can read many more of those – even with repetition – in the same amount of time it takes to read an adult book). So we’ll start there, and if you have no interest in picture books, then skip ahead!
Picture Books Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi (illus. Laurel Molk) The Way I Feel by Janan Cain A Different Pond by Bao Phi (illus. Thi Bui) Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins (illus. Paul O. Zelinsky) Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski Sleep Like A Tiger by Mary Logue (illus. Pamela Zagarenski) Flyaway Katie by Polly Dunbar The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman 88 Instruments by Chris Barton More More More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams Perfect Square by Michael Hall Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
Interestingly, all of these fall under the umbrella of “speculative fiction.” Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon Starlings by Jo Walton Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill (esp. the novella “The Unlicensed Magician”).
Nonfiction Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling by Philip Pullman So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
Cookbooks Dinner by Melissa Clark: lots of good ideas to follow or riff on, all based on the idea of a single dish being a whole meal (though that single dish usually has many components)
Middle Grade & Young Adult Stella by Starlight and Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper The Marvels by Brian Selznick The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille P. DeAngelis Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll (graphic novel) The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
And this batch of novels, each of which is satisfying if you’re looking for contemporary realistic fiction with some romance and diversity: I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman; The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler; When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon; Puddin‘ by Julie Murphy; You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
Looking ahead to the second half of the year, I’m excited to read new novels by Kate Atkinson (Transcription), Rebecca Makkai (The Great Believers), Angie Thomas (On the Come Up), Hank Green (An Absolutely Remarkable Thing), and Therese Anne Fowler (A Well-Behaved Woman). Looking back at a to-read list from November 2017, there are still a few titles there I haven’t gotten to, and more coming out all the time….What books are you looking forward to reading?
Tim Wu is a lawyer who clerked for a Supreme Court justice, worked at a Silicon Valley startup, then moved into academia; he’s now a professor at Columbia and a columnist for the New York Times. But if his name rings a bell for you, it’s probably because he coined the term “Net[work] Neutrality” in 2003.
The fundamental idea of Net Neutrality, said Wu, is that the user should decide what the internet is. The carrier (Internet Service Provider, or ISP) shouldn’t get in the way. ISPs should be “a medium in the true sense of the word medium, respecting the wishes of those on each side.” They should be “faithful agents” providing reliable service, not blocking, discriminating, or censoring.
The federal government adopted Net Neutrality as a rule under the Bush administration, but the Trump administration killed it (though it’s likely to return under the next administration). Why were they focused on that? “Free flows of information can be very threatening to those who wish to consolidate their power. The censorial instinct remains very strong.”
The next issue threatening our democracy, said Wu, is the “crisis of attention.” (His newest book is called The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.) “Our attention has become our scarcest and most valuable resource…[and] when you have a purely attention-based business model, the competition runs to the bottom. It’s not who can be the most accurate, it’s who can capture attention.”
As Cory Doctorow says, if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Wu put it differently, as he described an 1830s New York newspaper publisher’s idea to re-conceive the audience as a product to sell to advertisers. The advertising model, he said, is “the harvesting and resale of human attention.” And this is the “original sin” of nearly all of the Internet’s giants: they “embraced advertising as their only business model and tied themselves business to attention harvesting.” (Wikipedia, as a recent New York Magazine article pointed out, is an exception.) This, despite Google founders’ early recognition that “advertising-supported search engine will always be biased, always serving two masters (users and advertisers) and cannot be expected to produce reliable results.”
The dark consequences of this setup are clear, with new examples in the news every day (most recently, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal). Sites and platforms based on an advertising model are driven to capture people’s time and attention, and to learn more about them in order to offer targeted ads – or to manipulate them.
“We’re at a moment in our democracy…information flow has changed how this country is governed.” What can be done? What should be done? Wu asked. Whose responsibility is it, who are the trustees of our time? He argued, “The largest information intermediaries of our time…must start operating with a true sense of fiduciary public duty or face regulatory consequences….The goal of aiming for truth is something that the tech industry needs to learn right now. The time has come.”
For the final two programs of the day, I indulged my YA-loving side. First was “How to Adult: Teaching Life Skills to Teens” presented by Kayla Marie Figard of San Mateo County Libraries and Elizabeth “Biz” Tanner of the County of Los Angeles Public Library. Their “How to Adult” programs teach “life hacks,” i.e. necessary life skills like healthy cooking, public speaking, car maintenance, etiquette, time management, organization, stress management, mindfulness, finding a first apartment, money management, self-defense, first aid, laundry (and sewing and mending), and the list goes on!
The presenters provided many short activities (tongue twisters for public speaking; a “multitasking is a myth” task) and a very handy program planning worksheet (see below). Some of their workshops for teens were single events, while others were a series. Nearly all included food, a surefire way to boost attendance at any program. Librarians ran some workshops, while others were conducted by outside presenters. With some research, you can find willing partners, like county/city/town departments, credit unions, and local businesses; some presenters may come for free, others may charge a fee.
To decide on the topic(s), ask teens what they want to know! Think about your own young adult life – what did you wish you had known, and what surprised you? Talk to teachers at local high schools – they will know what school does(n’t) offer and where students’ knowledge gaps are.
Along with planning and running the programs, the presenters discussed evaluation and measuring outcomes – required for grant-funded programs, but good for every program. They suggested: (1) determine anticipated outcomes, (2) ask: do the programs teach teens something? Do they feel better prepared for adulthood? (3) conduct pre- and post-program surveys to assess growth.
This was an excellent program: the presenters were good speakers, and came prepared not just with their slides, but with copies of their worksheets, planning documents, examples and activities from their workshops. A+!
For the very last PLA program, I went to the YA Crossover, or “AAP Crossover Appeal: Books that Work for Teens and Adults.” Despite the program’s title, it didn’t really focus on the “crossover” aspect so much as the teen aspect, except in the sense that some of the audience had read some of the authors’ books as young adults, and still loved them.
Luanne Toth of School Library Journal moderated the panel of four authors:Ally Carter, Carolyn Mackler, Gayle Forman, and Ashley Woodfolk. Woodfolk is a debut author (The Beauty That Remains), and the other three are further into their careers. Mackler’s most recent book, The Universe is Expanding and So Am I, is a sequel to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things (a Printz honor book in 2004).
Here are a few quotes and paraphrases from the panel:
“I write about young people but I don’t write young stories” -Gayle Forman
“Young people are given license to feel your feelings.” There’s this idea that as you age you don’t feel things as strongly/intensely. You do have to moderate your feelings but you do have them. Satisfying as a writer and a reader. -Gayle Forman
“A lot of what happens in high school shapes your adult life….And you don’t really get it until you get older.” YA writing is cathartic because it helps revisit and dissect what happened & what you felt. -Ashley Woodfolk
“The world would be a lot better if we all read more broadly and more representatively.” -Ally Carter
“Libraries are our outposts in every corner of the country” (some places don’t have bookstores or people can’t afford books) -Ally Carter
“Encourage people to read everything…a kid might want to read something you won’t expect they want to read. Find out what a kid wants/needs” – Ashley Woodfolk
“Every book is a mirror. No matter how different somebody is from you, there is still an emotional through-line.” -Gayle Forman
And that is a wrap! See all PLA 2018 posts here. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go to this conference, and I think I made the most of it, attending a variety of sessions and programs. I do wish I had a Time-Turner and could have been to even more. If you were at PLA, or followed along via a great blog or Twitter thread, please share your favorite links!
Despite “winter storm Toby,” PLA went more or less as planned. Over the next week or so, I’ll be condensing and revising my sixteen (16) pages of notes into a more easily readable, digestible format to share here, but for now, here is an outline of my conference activities:
Wednesday: Drove from the Boston area to Philly. Definitely not the worst weather conditions I’ve ever driven in, but bad enough to keep lots of people off the road, so no traffic! Arrived safely and in good time, checked in at the hotel, and went to the convention center to sign in and walk through the exhibit hall. Met some friendly vendors (especially from Charlesbridge and Candlewick), and picked up several Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs).
Thursday: Started bright and early with the morning’s “Big Ideas” talk, with author Elizabeth Gilbert. The exhibit hall opened up after her talk, and I was able to meet a few authors and pick up a few more galleys (Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead!). Then I caught a quick (20-minute) talk at the PLA Pavilion about “Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR): Play in the Library,” and – on the other side of the exhibit hall – caught part of the AAP Children’s Publishers Book Buzz, where we heard about upcoming titles.
For the first program of the day, I chose “Talking is Teaching: Opportunities for Increasing Early Brain and Language Development,” where we heard about a partnership between the San Francisco Public Library and Too Small to Fail. Then I zipped back into the exhibit hall to meet Simon Winchester and pick up his upcoming book, The Perfectionists. Lunch, and then the first afternoon program, “Push Comes to Shove: Supporting Patrons of Color in Your Institution.” At the break between that session and the next, I caught some of the AAP Adult Publishers Book Buzz. Finally – and this was the hardest time slot to choose a program, because so many looked so good – I went to “Lost in the Library? Never Again with User-Centered Design.”
Friday: Another visit to the PLA Pavilion for a quick session on “Early Literacy Enhanced Storytimes: Intentionality is the Key,” then over to sit in on part of the Children’s Book Buzz. (I ran into an old acquaintance from publishing, Juliet Grames, who is now working for SoHo Teen!) The morning program I had planned to go to, “Re-envisioning the Library: Engaging Staff and Building Capacity for Change” with Maureen Sullivan had been cancelled, so I went to “The Path to U.S. Citizenship Can Start at Public Libraries” and learned about U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Following a tweet from NYPL Recommends, I went to visit Gwen and Frank to talk about books, and I might have been on a podcast. (Do you listen to NYPL Recommends? Let me know!) They were excellent to talk to (and they were handing out neat “The Librarian Is In” buttons). I grabbed a quick lunch from Reading Terminal, then sat on the floor to listen to some of the Adult Book Buzz before it was time for the afternoon programs: “Refuting the Idea of ‘Neutral’: Supporting Civic Engagement & Information in the Library” and “The Information Needs of Citizens: Where Libraries Fit In,” the latter with Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center.
Saturday:Started the day early with the final “Big Ideas” speaker, Tim Wu, at 8:15. Two more sessions after that – “How to Adult: Teaching Life Skills to Teens” and “AAP Crossover Appeal: Books That Work for Teens and Adults” – and we were packed up and on the road back home.
Throughout the conference, I met library people from all over. I tried to strike up conversations everywhere, and met people from Grand Forks, North Dakota; Peterborough, New Hampshire; The Portland (ME) Public Library; Arkansas; New York (the Brooklyn Public Library and the NYPL); and Calgary, Canada. The Convention Center itself was also great: easy to navigate, pretty temperate (many conference centers are either overheated or like refrigerators), and full of art. And the section of Philly where it’s located is on that lovely, lovely grid, which makes it so easy to get around. Overall, a great conference!
After several years (long enough that the theme I’d been using, Misty Lake, was retired), I’ve chosen a new WordPress theme to have an updated look. (In real life, I also got a haircut, new glasses frames, and a new job. So. Changes.) Please let me know if something isn’t working the way it should!
As part of my new job, I get to work in Children’s Services, and I am loving it! I am “upstairs” at the adult services desk most of the time, but I work “downstairs” in children’s once a week. Neither desk is as busy as the library where I worked before, which is nice for me as I learn on the job. So far, projects have included cataloguing the storytime collection and organizing and updating booklists by topic/theme/genre and age/grade/reading level. (I’m making booklists “upstairs” too – read-alikes for book group selections.)
There are definitely some different questions in children’s, and some of them are much more serious and emotional than any I encountered working at the adult desk; for example, twice in less than two months I’ve helped people find books to help explain death and grief to their young children. I’m also working hard to familiarize myself with books for younger readers, particularly the chapter books and early middle grade books. A self-assigned project I’m working on is to read all of the 2017/2018 Reading Rocks books, a program for fourth- and fifth-graders in the town. (I made a new tag for it in LibraryThing; I’ve read 5 out of 20 so far.)
Big news in the children’s/YA world today is, of course, the ALA Youth Media Awards (YMA), including the Newbery, the Caldecott, and the Printz. The live stream of the announcement was here, and the award and honor books are listed below the video. As usual after the announcements, I celebrate the titles I read and enjoyed (this year: A Different Pond, Piecing Me Together, The Hate U Give, Saints & Misfits, The Eyes of the World) and start requesting those I haven’t (Wolf in the Snow; Hello, Universe; Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut; Long Way Down; The First Rule of Punk; We Are Okay).
Did you watch the ALA Youth Media Awards? Which winners did you cheer? Are there any books you wish had gotten awards or honors that didn’t? Which books have you added to your to-read list?
Audiobooks: 15, mostly children’s and YA, and including three of the partially-read books (though one of those was a Neil Gaiman short story that I realized I’d already read in another collection)
Nonfiction: 34, including a couple of nonfiction picture books and a few of the partially-read books. Also, one entire book about compost.
YA/children’s (middle grade) books read: 31
Picture books: 104, including an unspeakable amount of Maisy
Partially read books: 16, including a few cookbooks and gardening books (i.e. not necessarily designed to be read cover-to-cover)
Books read in 2017, excluding picture books and partially read books: 120
Average number of books read per month (excluding picture books and partially read books): 10
Five-star ratings: 13
Total page count: Too damn annoying to calculate from LibraryThing exports. A lot.
Looking ahead (well, further into) 2018, I haven’t set any specific goals and am not participating in any challenges.* Some of my favorite authors are publishing new books this year, and I’m looking forward to those, of course – Gayle Forman, Maggie O’Farrell, Jo Walton, Curtis Sittenfeld. Like last year, I’m aiming to read even more in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks area, for myself and for the little one. (Lately, she’s really liked Jabari Jumps, Thunder Boy Jr., and A Different Pond.)
Books that have been recommended to me by more than one person (triangulation: not just for fact-checking anymore!) usually move up on my to-read list. I’ve already made a dent in the to-read list I made in November: I’ve read Fun Home, The Hate U Give, Rebecca; I have Far From the Tree checked out from the library, and my book club just chose The Bear and the Nightingale for February. (I have the cape, I make the whoosh noises!Note: that’s a link to a Cyanide & Happiness cartoon panel.)
*Okay, not entirely true: I do plan to read all of the “Reading Rocks” books [PDF] for the 4th- and 5th-graders in Winchester, where I am now working. Proper blog post about this change to come! So far I’ve really liked Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier and am listening to the excellent audiobook of Stella By Starlight.
I do occasionally read things other than books, though I don’t get credit for it in LibraryThing: most days I read at least one article from The New York Times, and most weeks I read a few pieces from the LitHub (“the best of the literary internet”) email newsletter. I read most of the Library Link of the Day links, and occasionally will find a good piece in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, or somewhere else (Teen Vogue!) via Twitter or Publishers Lunch.
So that’s the 2017 wrap-up. How was your year in books?
The 1000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative is one I first heard about via the Cambridge Public Library. Like all the best arts & crafts projects and recipes, it looks wildly impressive, but is actually quite simple and manageable. As their mission statement says, “Numerous studies estimate that as many as one in five children have difficulties learning to read. Reading has been associated as an early indicator of academic success. Public formal education does not typically start until ages 5-6. Before then, parents and caregivers are the first education providers during the 0-5 early critical years.” The goals of the organization are simply “to promote reading to newborns, infants, and toddlers” and “to encourage parent and child bonding through reading.”
A thousand books sounds like a lot, but remember that picture books are short, and board books are really short. If you read just one book a day, that’s 365 books in one year, 730 books in two years, 1,095 books in three years, and 1,460 books in four years. It doesn’t have to be a thousand unique books, either; young children love (and learn from) repetition, growing more familiar with words, rhymes, and patterns.
If your parents, caregivers, and teachers read to you when you were a young child, then you’ve already shared this experience and it will be easier for you to model it from the other side. If reading aloud to/with a child isn’t as natural for you, or if you aren’t sure why it is important, here are some resources to help:
Early Learning tips from the Hennepin County Library: “Learn how all family members and your public library can help prepare young children to be readers with five early literacy activities [talk, sing, read, write, play] that are fun yet powerful ways to encourage early learning.”
If you don’t know what books to read to (or with) your child, librarians can help! If you can get to a storytime, that’s great – a good storytime librarian will model great read-aloud strategies, and for younger ages will often include fingerplay, songs, and rhymes; reasonable people don’t expect two-year-olds to sit still and listen quietly for half an hour! A decent bookstore is also likely to have a weekly storytime, and staff who can recommend great books for little ones.
If you can’t get to a storytime, just ask a librarian or bookseller what they recommend, and they should be able to give suggestions based on your child’s age and interests. Here are some other resources for finding great books to share with your child:
Does your library, bookstore, school, or other organization support 1000 Books Before Kindergarten? Have you participated with your child? There are participation resources on the site, from reading logs to certificates to apps to hashtags, though my favorite idea is keeping a handwritten reading journal. In general I don’t like incentives (e.g. “if you read 100 books you get a sticker”) because reading is its own reward (intrinsic motivation), but I like the T-shirt – it reflects pride in an accomplishment, and helps spread the word about the program.