SLJ Day of Dialog at Cambridge Public Library

The School Library Journal (SLJ) Day of Dialog at the Cambridge Public Library was a day-long event that brought librarians, authors, and publishers together. The day included:

  • Three keynote speakers: Erin Entrada Kelly (Hello Universe), Deborah Heiligman (Torpedoed), and Nikki Grimes (Ordinary Hazards)
  • Three panels: picture book, nonfiction, and tween/teen
  • Two “book buzz” presentations, where representatives from different publishers gave lightning talks highlighting their upcoming books

There was an hour break for lunch, and a few minutes between the keynotes, panels, and book buzzes to speak with folks from the publishing houses, meet authors, and get books signed. It really felt like we were all book-lovers, all on the same side: the side of making great books and getting them into the hands of readers.

Highlights from Erin Entrada Kelly’s keynote, which focused on honesty in middle grade literature:

  • The most important thing is to write honestly; it’s important for young readers to experience practical truths
  • In Blackbird Fly, bullies don’t get comeuppance. “A lot of times that does not happen…That’s how the real world works.” It’s important for young people to see the world mirrored back at them.
  • Young people are already their own complex beings with their own beliefs
  • “My hope is that young readers, when they finish reading my book” or any book, is that they can be their own hero, see their own worth and value…they don’t have to conform to our society.
  • “Walking around like an open wound” -being sensitive, empathetic, compassionate, etc. – is not a liability, as long as you’re the best version of yourself. “Characters don’t change the core of who they are, they accept the core of who they are.”
  • “Even though the world isn’t perfect, we can make it better….Change happens when ordinary people do extraordinary things”
  •  “Someone once told me, Everyone has a year in their childhood where things change, and there was a before and an after…for me that year was twelve.”

The picture book panel was Julia Denos, E.B. Goodale, Kyle Lukoff, Vita Murro, and Cornelius Van Wright. I was already a fan of Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale’s picture book Windows, and was delighted to pick up their new collaboration, Here and Now, which is a wonderful book for bedtime or any time you need to wind down. Kyle Lukoff (When Aidan Became A Brother) and Vita Murrow (Power to the Princess) were engaging speakers, and Cornelius Van Wright’s (The Little Red Crane) response to the question “How would your book have been different a decade ago?” made me laugh out loud: “A truck book would have been the same.” The moderator’s last question was what the authors’ favorite books were when they were kids, and if those influenced the kinds of books they create now.

In the first book buzz, I wrote down several titles from Candlewick and Charlesbridge to look up when they come out, including This Boy by Lauren Myracle and Not A Bean by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez. I also chatted with the editorial director of Owl Kids about Sloth at the Zoom, which was on the cover of one of their catalogs. (If you haven’t read Sloth at the Zoom, you should go do that right now. It’s about a sloth that gets sent to the Zoom instead of the Zzzzzoo.)

After lunch, Deborah Heiligman gave the afternoon keynote, about the process of writing her new book, Torpedoed. (See her interview in the Horn Book: Deborah Heiligman Talks With Roger.) She talked about “Deb’s Rules for Researching”: start with primary sources, don’t write everything down, only take “oh wow” notes. She also talked about writing for middle grade: what does that mean? What do they know, what don’t they know?

The nonfiction panel was Kim Chafee (Her Fearless Run), Marge Pellegrino (Neon Words), Melissa Stewart (Seashells, Feathers), and Carole Boston Weatherford (Box). The moderator, Maggie Bush, observed that children’s nonfiction used to be more “utilitarian,” whereas now it’s often more heavily illustrated, and there are more narrative nonfiction books than the type of dry fare students might use for book reports. One of the authors – I think Melissa Stewart – explained that her picture book nonfiction has “Multiple layers of text” to “make the book accessible to different age groups.” There’s the main text, secondary text, etc. I’ve definitely noticed this in picture book nonfiction (e.g. Gail Gibbons, Nick Seluk), and it’s great.

The teens & tweens panel was Craig Battle (Camp Average), Ryan LaSala (Reverie), Maulik Pancholy (The Best At It), Christina Soontornvat (A Wish in the Dark), and Karen Rayne (Trans+). Moderator Ashleigh Williams observed a “a common theme between these different books…how compassion shows up in difficult places.” All of the authors spoke about representation and diversity. A few key quotes:

  • Christina Soontornvat: “In your middle grade years, you are really ready to confront…Maybe it’s not working the way it should….maybe the way society is set up is not fair”
  • Maulik Pancholy: “Kids live complex lives…you can’t lie to them.”
  • Ryan LaSala: Internal fantasy worlds are sometimes a response to unkind realities… “just because you’ve gone through shit doesn’t mean you are absolved from having compassion for others”
  • Christina Soontornvat: “One small act of kindness or one small act of cruelty has these reverberating impacts”
  • Karen Rayne: “You are the expert on your self.”
  • Christina Soontornvat: Kids are eager to push back, ask questions, be activists, be aware of the world they’re living in, they want to be more inclusive.

I got fidgety during the second book buzz and went to visit the publishers’ tables. The last speaker of the day was Nikki Grimes. Highlights:

  • A tenth grade teacher told her “Good enough, isn’t” and taught her to strive for excellence.
  • “The words you traffic in have the power to save lives….reading and writing were my survival tools”
  • “The right story at the right time for the right reader is magical.” What is the right story? One to which the reader can relate in some special way.
  • Representation matters, and not just for children
  • Library card: “a magic pass I used to climb into someone else’s skin any time I needed”
  • “Stories unite us, stories transform us, stories anchor us”

Thank you to SLJ and the Cambridge Public Library for a fantastic day! I’m already looking forward to next year.

 

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Banned Books Week/Freedom to Read Week

It is Banned Books Week again (a.k.a. Freedom to Read Week). I’m going to quote from Rob’s BBW/FtRW post from the Robbins Library blog:

During Banned Books Week, we celebrate the freedom to read. As you can imagine, this is most librarians’ favorite theme week; after all, as our code of ethics states, “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” But you don’t have to be a librarian to enjoy Banned Books Week – all you have to do is read!

(The word “Banned” is in quotation marks in the title of this post because the name “Banned Books Week” is a bit of a misnomer.  First, we celebrate Banned Books Week not because we like or support books being banned – we celebrate to support intellectual freedom and the freedom to read whatever you want.  Second, it’s now much more common for books to be challenged than actually banned, thanks to the efforts of teachers, librarians, and other supporters of the freedom to read.  You can read a bit more about Banned Books Week here (or in our blog archives here) and check out a few lists of books that have been banned or challenged here & here.)

They link to a few of my Banned Books Week posts for the blog from past years, as well as the ALA site. Here are ALA’s infographics for this year:

ALA Censorship by the numbers infographic

2018-bbooks-graphic-2-rev_1-1

There is a difference between a challenge and a ban; there are many more challenges than bans. And just because a book is removed from one library, that doesn’t mean it’s removed from all of them, or unavailable at bookstores or online. But you’ll notice that almost all of these titles are children’s or teen books, and kids don’t always have options beyond their school library (if they’re lucky enough to have a school library and librarian) or their local public library. If a book is removed from those places, it’s effectively unavailable for that kid.

#4 Hate U Give_0

#7 This One Summer_0

It’s easy enough – for many of us pro-intellectual freedom types, at least – to see a story like the recent one from Nashville, Tennessee, where a Catholic school banned the Harry Potter series, and rail against it. Most librarians – and plenty of teachers and parents – believe that while parents do have the right to decide what their own children can and can’t read, they do NOT have the right to decide that a book should be unavailable for everyone.

However, there’s a subtler kind of censorship that I see a lot of, and I’m sure I’ll have moments where I wrestle with myself about this as well: the “is my kid ready for this yet?” question. Parents with eager, advanced readers, especially, see their kids racing through all the chapter books and middle grade novels and into the teen section. They’re concerned that their readers will encounter bad language, violence, sex, drugs (maybe even rock ‘n’ roll), etc.

So far, I’ve developed four responses to this: one, of course, is to talk with the parent (and the kid!) about the books they’ve liked, and suggest any others I can think of or find along those same lines, without going into more mature territory. Two is to suggest to the parent that they read the book too (either before the kid does, or at the same time, or after), so they’re prepared to talk about anything that concerns either of them. Three, if a kid is reading way above their age level (content-wise), they will likely either put the book down, or some things will just sail over their heads; they’ll take something away from the book, but they won’t understand it on every level, and that’s okay. Four, books are the safest places to encounter scary things. Plenty of fantasy and sci-fi scenarios won’t happen in real life (probably, hopefully), but realistic fiction that deals with death, divorce, poverty, bullying, mental health issues, violence, sexual assault, and any of the multitude of things that can and do go wrong in our world…those things happen. If they don’t happen to you, then knowing about them can build empathy for others; if they do happen to you, you know you’re not alone.

A final note: one other way that adults censor kids’ reading is by designating “girl books” and “boy books.” Here, I’m going to turn it over to author Shannon Hale:

Stories make us human. We form bonds by swapping personal stories with others, and reading fiction is a deeply immersive exercise in empathy.

So, what happens to a culture that encourages girls to read books about boys but shoos boys away from reading books about girls?

Read the rest of Hale’s article here: “What are we teaching boys when we discourage them from reading books about girls?” The Washington Post, October 10, 2018

Happy Freedom to Read Week, everyone!

Happy birthday, Harry Potter! More HP trivia at the library

Last January’s Harry Potter trivia was so successful that we decided to do it again on the last Saturday of July, as close to Harry’s birthday (7/31) as possible. Once again, registration filled up and we had a few on the waitlist (not as many as last time, but I suspect that has to do with it being summer and lots of people being away on vacation).

The program still required plenty of (team)work to run, but it was easier and smoother the second time around.

Ahead of time

  • Make up new questions and print two copies (one for MC and one for scorer)
  • Set up a new spreadsheet for scoring
  • Create calendar event (registration opened three weeks before the program)
  • Promote on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
  • Order prizes
  • Plan music (we used a library laptop streaming Harry Potter music from the London Studio Orchestra via hoopla)
  • Make refreshments
  • Gather decorations (re-used from last time: stuffed owls, Golden Snitches)
  • Gather supplies (“quills” from last time, pads of post-its, raffle tickets)

LEGO Hogwarts

Another added element to the program this time around was the display of LEGO Hogwarts, which had been build in the preceding weeks by kids (10+), teens, and adults in eight separate weekend and evening sessions. They did an incredible job and finished just in time! (Now, we’ll have to see if anyone wants to take it apart in such a way that it can be built again.)

Registration table with door prize raffle, quills, and post-its; owls; Golden Snitches

Day of trivia

Despite opening the doors and starting registration before our 2pm start time, the program did run past 4pm. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it was in part due to some younger teams taking longer to turn in answers, and partly me adding short breaks between most question rounds. Next time, just one break about halfway through, and full steam ahead (from Platform 9 3/4, naturally) the rest of the time.

Like last time, we had seven rounds of five questions each, one round per book in the series. We started with a practice question (for no points) and had some between-rounds questions for no points too – teams would just raise their hands, and I tried to let everyone who wanted a turn get to answer.

Snack table with pretzel wands, lightning bolt sugar cookies, jelly beans, and butterbeerThere were some really clever team names (Granger Danger was my favorite), and I was so happy to hear that at least one team at the event had been waitlisted for trivia in January, and were able to come to this one. There was also a team that left after round four because the kid on the team hadn’t read books five through seven yet, but said they’d had a wonderful time.

The questions were just about right, with most teams being very successful but not perfect (we didn’t want a fourteen-way tie for first!). Most of the snacks got eaten; we had pretzel wands, lightning bolt sugar cookies, jelly beans, and butterbeer. Some people used the Daily Prophet photo frame to take pictures.

Our door prizes were House-themed socks (Gryffindor socks for the Gryffindor winner, etc.), first prizes were Harry Potter postcard coloring books, and two teams tied for second place. One of the “teams” was a girl playing on her own, so I let her have first choice between Harry Potter themed socks (“Mischief managed,” etc.) and a vial of Felix Felicis (not edible! but good for putting on a necklace). The other second place team also chose between socks and Liquid Luck and everyone seemed pretty happy.

What to do differently next time

Other than running slightly over time, which no one seemed to mind, everything went smoothly, but there are always small improvements to be made – mostly to do with making the scorekeeper’s job easier.

  • Our participants got very sugared up on the snacks, so next time we might replace “Every Flavour Beans” (jelly beans) with popcorn. And maybe have pumpkin juice instead of Butterbeer.
  • Have teams bring their team names to the scorekeeper as soon as they decide on them – before the practice question.
  • Add a question for no points between each round, to give the scorekeeper time to catch up.
  • Multi-part questions are fine, but space them out – don’t do two in a row.
  • Design questions so the answers can be as short as possible (a few words, not a sentence or a paragraph!).
  • Calculate the total possible score in the spreadsheet (i.e. a perfect score), in case teams want to know how many they missed.

LEGO Hogwarts on display; a happy team on the front page of the Daily Prophet; a pile of answers on post-it notes

 

 

#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.

 

NERTCL 2019: “Transform Our Communities, Transform Our World”

Last Friday, I went with our teen librarian to a one-day conference put on by the New England Round Table of Teen and Children’s Librarians (NERTCL) at the beautiful Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen, MA. The conference was called “Transform Our Communities, Transform Our World,” and featured Rita Meade (@ScrewyDecimal), a panel about drag storytime, Luke Kirkland from the Waltham Public Library talking about “Selling Social Justice Programs to Your Teens and Your Community,” and another panel about spaces and programs for the library’s youngest patrons (birth-5 years), as well as round table discussions before and during lunch. It was a fantastic day!

Rita Meade ScrewyDecimal Twitter bioRita Meade: “Keep Calm and Transform the World”

Rita began her presentation by acknowledging that the “do more with less” message that library staff so often hear is frustrating and unhelpful. (Actually, she began by mentioning her anxiety, and the fact that she almost turned down the offer to come speak to us. I’m glad she didn’t!) Then she gave her background and the path she took to working in a library: working as a page, then later getting a teaching degree, and only later turning to library science. She reviewed for SLJ and wrote for Book Riot, and also started a blog: “It’s frustrating and it’s tiring to always have to defend your job….Basically I kept running into people who didn’t understand what librarians did. ‘Oh, libraries are still a thing?’ So that’s where the blog came from.”

Libraries Are For EveryoneNow, she works at the Bay Ridge branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, where she believes that “Our job is to respond to community needs. It’s a balancing act….We fill a lot of gaps in society – We are being asked to fill a lot of these societal gaps, but we don’t always have the resources to do so….You can’t make everyone happy but our job is to try.” Because LIBRARIES ARE FOR EVERYONE, Rita is always working to counteract her own assumptions and biases, work against intolerance and ignorance, promote diversity in staffing and collections, and promote underrepresented voices. “Make inclusion the default. Err on the side of inclusion. Think about how your choices might affect the people in your space. More often than not, people are not telling us something.” She gave examples of ways that libraries can be political without being partisan: a march against hate, or a display about migration, illustrated with butterflies (“Migration is brave / essential / gorgeous”).

To our group, Rita emphasized that big changes don’t happen without risks, and normalizing helps promote acceptance. “One program at a time, one small thing at a time. These small steps lead to big changes.” (Here’s a small example that everyone can do: make your descriptions more inclusive: instead of “men and women” or “boys and girls,” say “people/everyone/friends.”) Programs she mentioned included drag queen storytime (about which more below), Genderful, and TeleStory. “We are in a unique position to be a positive influence.”

Nevins Memorial Library interior
Nevins Memorial Library

Drag Storytime Panel and Presentation

We heard from four people about their different experiences hosting drag storytimes: Megan McLelland from Sturgis, MA; Jennifer Billingsley from Middletown, CT; Hillary Saxon from Cambridge, MA; and Alli T.  Ultimately, my favorite quote from the session was this one from Alli T.: “People in fun costumes reading beautiful stories to children is not a new concept.”

“People in fun costumes reading beautiful stories to children is not a new concept.” -Alli Thresher

Each librarian who decided to host drag storytime at their library approached it carefully and thoughtfully. All were aware of the possibility of pushback from the community, and the importance of administrative support, but all felt it was worth it: “Reading to kids isn’t really what it’s about, inclusion and making everyone comfortable is what it’s about.” Overwhelmingly, the drag storytimes were well-attended, joyful events.

Here are some of the book titles mentioned:

  • The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak
  • 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Rex Ray
  • Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato
  • Some Monsters Are Different by David Milgrim
  • Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, illustrated by Suzanne DiSimone
  • It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
  • Red: a crayon’s story by Michael Hall

If you’d like to host drag storytime at your library, and you have (or can get) admin support but are lacking funds, try The Awesome Foundation, or, if you are a bit edgier, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

IMG_20190329_093707
Nevins Memorial Library

Luke Kirkland: “Selling Social Justice Programs to Your Teens and Your Community”

Luke is the teen librarian at the Waltham Public Library, and his presentation was about how to foster social justice in the teen population. Waltham is far more diverse than many other towns and cities in New England, so one of the questions that came up during the Q&A is how to start these conversations about social justice and racism that white kids might not already be having; how do you get them to ask the questions? Luke pointed back to the “Fandom Trojan Horse,” approaching a subject or topic they’re already interested from a social justice angle, as well as the documentary Accidental Courtesy, a TED talk by a former white supremacist, and even the picture book Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller.

One interesting project Luke presented was a presentation on “The Birth of Hip-Hop.” Nestled inside this attractive topic was a history of Jim Crow, fair housing protests, and redlining; see the Mapping Inequality project for more info.

As librarians, “We do research, we build community, we encourage civic dialogue.” Frame activism as a project-based learning activity. In Waltham, the library partnered with several other organizations (“lots of community collaboration takes some of the pressure off”) in the For Freedoms project, covering the front lawn of the library with yard signs. (Luke is planning to do this again, and noted that, while yard signs are expensive, the price drops when you order in bulk. Contact him if you want in!)

Additional takeaways: Libraries are not neutral; privilege has a way of reinforcing privilege; human rights are not partisan.

Hungry Caterpillar for Reading
A display outside the Nevins library children’s room

Early Learning Spaces and Play

The last panel of the day featured librarians from four different libraries. Rachel Davis from the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, ME, and Kayla Morin from the Goodwin Library in Farmington, NH, both spoke about becoming Family Place Libraries. Core components of Family Place libraries include: having your parenting collection near/next to/with the children’s materials; parent/child workshop series; specially designed spaces to play, learn, grow, and explore; and programs for babies and toddlers (focusing on the birth-3 years age group). In order to become a Family Place library, one youth services librarian and one administrator from the library must attend a four-day institute, complete an online training, and commit to the core components. Kayla said that becoming a Family Place library involved “retraining staff and patrons to think of the library as a welcoming space for everyone, including small kids.” Rachel said that once parents had time to socialize outside of storytime, they became more engaged during storytime (rather than talking to each other).

Seana Rabbito from the Waltham Public Library talked about turning an unused room into a PIE room (Play, Imagine, Explore) with a “Mind in the Making” grant. (Side note: What libraries have these unused rooms lying around??) The PIE room encourages play, nurtures curiosity, and fosters a lifelong love of learning. Theme-related learning activities hold attention and spark curiosity. It supports early literacy through play; book displays accompany each theme. Each different playspace helps build vocabulary, increase subject knowledge, hone communication skills, develop problem-solving skills, and improve gross and fine motor skills. Seana said the rotating display/theme does take a lot of work, but it’s hugely popular and has revitalized the space.

Finally, Katrina Ireland from the Northborough Free Library, MA, spoke about Mother Goose on the Loose (MGOL). Developed by Dr. Betsy Diamant-Cohen, the program is intended for kids birth-3 years and their caregivers. Katrina offers a series of 10 sessions of the 30-minute program, which includes opening rhymes, a drum sequence, Humpty Dumpty, and two developmental tips for adults; 80% of the content changes week to week (some repetition is key). MGOL embodies all five practices from Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR): singing, talking, reading, writing, playing.

Overall, it was a day full of fantastic ideas from presenters and attendees (particularly the table of Rhode Island librarians I was sitting with, most of whom I’d seen present at NELA last fall!). And the nice thing about the library world is that, while we care deeply about citing our sources, we’re always happy to share ideas – or as Rita said, “Steal the ideas, steal them all day.”

Middle grade graphic novels

As I think I’ve said before, I have rediscovered middle grade novels over the past year and have a new appreciation for them. Lately, I’ve read many graphic novels for this age group, and they are excellent – plus, some readers will pick up a graphic novel more eagerly than a traditional one. (Graphic novels: the gateway drug of reading.)

Raina Telgemeier, Svetlana Chmakova, Victoria Jamieson, and Shannon Hale depict the real struggles of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders – the interpersonal conflicts and developments with friends, parents, siblings, and teachers. They address bullying and kindness; they know that middle school is a time when people are figuring out who they want to be, when what most of them want desperately is to fit in – and often, they act in ways they aren’t comfortable with in order to achieve that goal. (Hale’s Real Friends is autobiographical, as are Telgemeier’s Sisters and Smile).

New Kid by Jerry Craft covers that territory as well, but adds complexity by addressing race; Jordan Banks is one of the few Black kids at his New York private school, and while for the most part he doesn’t face overt racism, the microaggressions pile up, and it takes him some time to make friends he can talk to.

“So far, being a teenager is no fun at all.” -Smile, Raina Telgemeier

“I wasn’t sure leaving the group was the right choice. At least I’d had friends. Now sometimes I was so sad I could barely breathe.” -Shannon Hale, Real Friends

“I just…I feel like I don’t know who you are anymore.” “Well…maybe I don’t know who I am either!” -Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson

“Kindness is the truest form of bravery.” -All’s Faire in Middle School, Victoria Jamieson

“Life is more complicated than sports. It’ll throw a lot of curveballs at you. You win some games and lose others…but in the end, it’s who’s on your team that really matters.” -Crush (Berrybrook Middle School), Svetlana Chmakova

“Oh, I see…it’s okay that this stuff happens to us…It’s just not okay for us to complain about it.” -New Kid, Jerry Craft

Cover of SpeakThe past few months have also brought us graphic novel adaptations of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. The former is YA rather than middle grade, and the art is quite different from the books above; Emily Carroll did an absolutely haunting job translating Speak into a new format. Melissa’s silence, the claustrophobic atmosphere of menace, and the slow healing and emerging that takes place are rendered in a way that honors and enhances the original.

“If you’re tough enough to survive this, they’ll let you become an adult.
I hope it’s worth it.” -Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

Cover of The GiverThe Giver is often read in late grade school, though it’s one of those books that is thought-provoking no matter when in life you encounter it. Unlike the rest of the books here, it is set in a different reality than our own, a futuristic place of Sameness. P. Craig Russell produced the graphic novel version; cool blues and grays prevail, until Jonas’ moments of “seeing beyond” introduce flashes of color, and The Giver’s memories do the same. The Giver himself looks less Kindly and more ominous than I had pictured him, and the whole community has a 1950s vibe (on purpose). It’s very hard to improve on the original, and as one of the first utopia/dystopia novels that young readers encounter, it’s not in danger of falling by the wayside, but if this version of The Giver finds a new audience, all the better.

 “We gained control of many things, but we had to let go of others.” The Giver, Lois Lowry

 

2018 Reading Wrap-Up

Here’s the 2017 reading wrap-up, with links to all previous years (through 2013). This year, I read a rather astonishing number of books: 597. But let’s start breaking down that number…

Partially-read and Started-didn’t-finish: 19. Some of these I read a few pages of, others a few chapters or chunks; there were some cookbooks, gardening books, and how-to books that I didn’t read cover to cover, as well as a novel I gave up on, a book of essays, and a book of poetry I read parts of but didn’t finish.

Early reader: 35. I created this new tag in LibraryThing this year as I started reading these with my daughter. They have more words than most picture books – certainly more text per page – but they still have illustrations on every page.

Picture books: 359. Yeah, here’s where it gets crazy. Almost all of these I read with my daughter, most more than once (some many times), and I probably used a few dozen in my storytimes.

Now we’re down to a much more reasonable 184 books this year, especially when you consider that a lot of those are middle grade or young adult:

Middle grade: 44

YA/teen: 41. (Some books (8) were tagged both middle grade and YA, because I don’t have a “tween” category.)

Graphic novels: 18. Nearly all of these were middle grade or YA, and thus are included in the numbers above.

Audiobooks: 25. These are also included in other tags, mostly children’s, middle grade, and YA, with the exception of one Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express), Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman’s The Greatest Love Story Every Told, and Morgan Jerkins’ This Will Be My Undoing.

That brings the number down to 107 adult fiction or nonfiction books.

Nonfiction: About 32, including some how-to books on gardening, sewing, quilting, cleaning, and cookbooks, along with Big Biographies and Serious Works of Nonfiction and Critical Essays etc etc etc.

Fiction: 36

Short stories: 11

And people said I wasn’t going to be able to read as much once I had a kid!

Math whizzes will notice that the numbers don’t entirely add up; that’s due to overlapping tags.

 

Pie chart showing author gender
For as long as I’ve been a LibraryThing member (about 6 years now), my “author gender” pie chart has been very close to 50-50, tipping definitively female just last year. That trend continues this year.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: I started using this tag in LibraryThing toward the end of 2017. I use it for books by authors of color (AOC) or about characters who are diverse in some way – their race, socioeconomic status, nationality, immigration status, abilities, etc. In other words, if it’s not straight, white, middle-class America, I’m trying to use this tag.

Five-star ratings: 36! I was much more generous this year than last year. Of these, 16 are picture books or early readers.  (Blog post about favorite books read in 2018 to come.)

Re-reading: As a kid, I re-read my favorite books all the time. Now I re-read less, in no small part because I worked in publishing after college and realized how many new books there are, and now I work in libraries and am surrounded by them every day. But I do believe in the pleasures of re-reading, especially after many years have gone by (or not). This fall I re-read the entire Harry Potter series start to finish (including The Cursed Child) and it was delightful to zoom straight through them all without having to wait years for the next one to be published. I also re-read some of Kate Milton’s Nagspeake books this winter, Ghosts of Greenglass Hosue and Bluecrowne. I re-read John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down because I read it so fast the first time, and I re-read Mandy by Julie Andrews, which I barely remembered at all but loved all over again. I re-read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, which I hadn’t read since my first semester of college, and The Princess Bride by William Goldman, and of course I read many, many picture books over and over.

Another year of reading is off to a great start – 21 books already in January, include Kelly Link’s excellent story collection Get In Trouble, which I’ve been meaning to read for years, Kelly Loy Gilbert’s astounding YA novel Picture Us in the Light, and Laurie Colwin’s 1988 book of food essays/memoir, Home Cooking.