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.
It’s been seventeen years since we left Lyra and Will under the hornbeam trees in their two separate Oxfords; twenty-two years since we met Lyra and Pan, scurrying through Jordan College. When the kind bookseller at Porter Square Books slid my copy of The Book of Dust across the counter, I teared up. “A lot of people are excited about this book,” she said, smiling. I mentioned that my daughter’s name was Lyra, and that today was her birthday. “Oh,” she replied, “You’re really excited.”
True. I took that day off and the next to read La Belle Sauvage, and when I finished, before noon on the second day, I immediately wanted the next volume. Alas, it will be another wait – so I simply began reading this one again.
Pullman brings us back to Oxford ten or eleven years before The Golden Compass begins, when Lyra is a six-month-old baby, and Malcolm Polstead – our new protagonist – is the eleven-year-old son of the owners of the Trout Inn, across the river from the Priory of St. Rosamond. Malcolm does work around the inn and and for the nuns, goes to school, and paddles around in his canoe, which he has named La Belle Sauvage. But things are changing, in Malcolm’s small world and in the larger one: the Magisterium (the Church) and the Consistorial Court of Discipline (CCD) are growing more powerful and frightening, and the League of St. Alexander comes to the schools, encouraging children to sign up and turn in anyone disloyal to the Church; this encouragement to inform on friends and family felt reminiscent of 1930s Germany.
This swing to the political/religious right is countered by liberal forces working in secret; one of these, Oakley Street, has a few familiar members, including scholar Hannah Relf and gyptian Coram van Texel (later to become Farder Coram). Malcolm becomes involved, meeting with Hannah weekly, but his true loyalty is to baby Lyra, who is in the care of the nuns at the priory. When a flood comes – as Coram warned – Malcolm and Alice Parslow (Parslow being another familiar name from The Golden Compass) take Lyra and flee in the canoe, but they are pursued by the CCD and by Gerard Bonneville, a scholar with knowledge of the Rusakov field whose daemon is a terrifying three-legged hyena.
The second half of the book takes place on the water, as Malcolm and Alice try to keep Lyra and themselves safe. First they plan to head to Jordan College in Oxford, where Malcolm thinks they could ask for sanctuary for Lyra, but the river is flowing too fast, and they head for London instead, hoping to find Lord Asriel and deliver Lyra to him. On the way they have several run-ins with scary figures, lose Lyra and get her back, and meet a fairy (a different sort of magic than any Lyra or Will encountered in His Dark Materials, but consistent with British fairy lore; Pullman has said he was inspired by William Blake). In the very last pages, Malcolm and Alice do find Asriel, and he manages to get them all to Jordan, where he entrusts the Master of the college with Lyra’s care; there the book ends.
Although La Belle Sauvage takes place about a decade before The Golden Compass, it has much the same feel. The CCD is immediately sinister, and unsurprisingly, Mrs. Coulter is behind the League of St. Alexander. Lord Asriel is much the same as he is in His Dark Materials. Hannah is to Malcolm much as Mary Malone is to Lyra; a scholar who mentors him, though she is somewhat in the dark herself. Baby Lyra’s brief time in a sort of orphanage, and Malcolm’s rescue of her there, is reminiscent of Bolvangar. But the most similar part, oddly enough, is Malcolm himself: he is like a blend of (older) Lyra and Will, with her facility for thinking on her feet (making up false names, for example) and his ability to be unnoticed. In their steadfastness to each other, despite initial antagonism, Malcolm and Alice are a bit like Lyra and Will as well; they rely on each other because they’re all they have, and that bonds them.
Aza Holmes – Holmesy to her best friend, Daisy – has a mental illness, a version of OCD. More than most people, she lives in her own head, but she doesn’t feel like she has control over her thoughts; she gets into obsessive thought-spirals, during which she withdraws from her surroundings, down into her worries, fears, and compulsions – only none of those are strong enough words to communicate her experience to others. Metaphor is the best she can offer, but even metaphor falls short: “The words used to describe it – despair, fear, anxiety, obsession – do so little to communicate it. Maybe we invented metaphor as a response to pain.”
The plot, such as it is, is rather simple: Daisy convinces Aza to reconnect with an old friend from “Sad Camp,” Davis, so they can collect a reward for information on his recently disappeared billionaire father. But there’s more sadness than mystery here: Davis knows his father was a criminal and a jerk, but his younger brother Noah still hopes his father will find a way to get in touch with them. Aza and Davis do rekindle their friendship, while Daisy finds romance with fellow high school student and artist Mychal.
Climactic scenes are not related to plot, but to character: Aza going deep into a spiral; Aza and Daisy fighting; a car accident, an underground art show. The people and the relationships are the heart of the book, and it’s Aza and Daisy’s friendship that is its core. The romances fizzle, but the friendship remains – even through to adulthood, as we find out in the last few pages, which have the flavor of an epilogue even if they aren’t marked as such.
John Green’s hallmarks are all here: the fast-talking, articulate teens (who are more likely than the average bear to launch into enthusiastic speeches about science or art or history), the realistic relationships with parents and other adults (Aza’s therapist, for example), frequent literary quotations, and the way that technology suffuses all the teens’ relationships, from texting and FaceTime to blogs and fanfic and Wikipedia.
But Turtles All the Way Down is a deeper dive than, for example, An Abundance of Katherines. The characters face difficult issues, and not just mental health problems, though that is the primary one for Aza; there are also tensions around money and what it means to have too much (Davis) or not enough (Daisy), and the impact of losing one or both parents.
For all Aza’s difficulty in communicating her struggle to those closest to her, Green succeeds as well as one can in bringing readers into her experience (which is also, in many ways, his own). Turtles All the Way Down met, or even exceeded, my high expectations, and I plan to read it again. The not-an-epilogue toward the end was especially touching; I teared up a little on the last page.
Additional reading: Green answers many questions from readers on this reddit thread, including an image of the Pettibon spiral (image above) that Aza appreciates at Davis’ house; he also reveals that the fast-forwarding into Aza’s adult life at the end of the novel was his wife Sarah’s idea.
The most recent issue of Kirkus is a “diversity issue,” with about 40 pages of articles and essays that give different perspectives on diversity in literature. I’m still making my way through it, but I loved this quote from author Padma Venkatraman:
“Books are more than mere mirrors or windows; they are keys to compassion. And novels don’t just expose readers to differences, they allow readers to experience diversity. They allow us to live within another’s skin, think another’s thoughts, feel the depths of another’s soul. Novels transport, transform, and, most importantly, allow us to transcend prejudice. When we immerse ourselves in characters whose religions are different than our own, our empathy is enhanced. We move closer to embracing people of all religions.”
It reminded me a bit of the way Neil Gaiman talks about fiction (“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been”), and what Caitlin Moran wrote in her essay “Alma Mater” about growing up in the library:
“The shelves were supposed to be loaded with books – but they were, of course, really doors….A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination….They are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”
When Venkatraman writes about mirrors and windows, she is referencing Rudine Sims Bishop’s 1990 article “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Books that are mirrors reflect the reader’s self and own world back at them; books that are windows show the reader another person or people and world; books that are sliding glass doors allow the reader to “enter” another world.
The San Antonio Public Library page “Diversity in the Classroom: Building Your (Early Childhood) Library with Mirrors and Windows” has a video clip of Bishop from January 2015. In it, Bishop says, “Children need to see themselves reflected, but books can also be windows, so you can look through and see other worlds, and see how they match up or don’t match up to [your] own. But the sliding glass door allows you to enter that world as well, so that’s the reason diversity needs to go both ways.” She says that just as children of color need to see themselves in books, white children – who see plenty of themselves in books – need to see characters of other cultures, races, and religions as well, to provide a more accurate picture of the world as it is (“colorful”).
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement FAQ page cites an infographic produced by multicultural publisher Lee & Low Books (“About everyone. For everyone”), which used statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and census data. Although 37% of the U.S. population are people of color, only 10% of published children’s books contain multicultural content. Note that that includes books where the main character might not be a person of color, and it also doesn’t mean that the author was a person of color.
Where do we go from here? We need more diversity at all levels of publishing, in libraries, in schools, in the bookselling business. We need to write, publish, read, and promote diverse books; “multicultural books don’t sell” is no longer a valid argument, if it ever was. We need more stories about more different people and places. We’re getting there, but too slowly.
8/17/17 Edited to add:
As I made my way through the rest of the issue, I found two more quotes I wanted to share. The first is from Megan Dowd Lambert, an author, senior lecturer in children’s literature at Simmons, and Kirkus reviewer; she in turn is quoting Mary Robinette Kowel:
“It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.”
Though our society is far more segregated than it ought to be, and some kids may rarely see people outside of their own race, culture, or class, the world is “colorful” and literature ought to reflect that. In fact, books are where many people encounter new ideas and perspectives and learn about the world. “Armchair traveling” isn’t just for seeing the lives of ancient royalty, dangerous mountain-climbing expeditions, or sea voyages; it may be a way to see into the next neighborhood.
“…Disability comes from scarcity and environment and other people’s prejudices as much as the body. Silencing the word can silence real injustices, emotions, and experiences. Diverse books are tools for empathy, but we can’t address what we won’t say.”
This is from Amy Robinson, children’s librarian and Kirkus reviewer. She makes an important point about environment contributing to disability. Are our built environments inclusive, or do they present barriers? (Do elevators work? Are aisles wide enough? Are there ramps or only stairs? Is signage large and clear? Are there curb cuts on sidewalks? Are sidewalks even or broken, covered in snow or cleared?) In many cases, a disability may only present extra difficulty because of obstacles in the world – in the built environment or as part of prevailing cultural and societal ideas. Let’s figure out what those obstacles are (it’s often very hard to imagine, so ask people who confront them) and start removing them.
MITM is an “effort to share the science of children’s learning with the general public, families and professionals who work with them” – including, of course, librarians. Why libraries? We already have engagement (parents bring their kids) and community partnerships (people trust libraries).
Katrina, Mia, and Steve all shared wonderful ideas they had implemented in their libraries, from making changes to the physical space, to buying new furniture and toys, to incorporating educational tips into storytimes and other children’s programs. Here are some of the ideas they put into action:
Get new furniture and toys to fuel imaginative play
A “dramatic play center” can be a puppet theater, grocery store, bank, farmer’s market, doctor’s office, and more – rotate themes regularly
Train tables are always popular!
Lakeshore and Playscapes were mentioned, but if you don’t have a budget, look for donations or see if a local vocational school can build something that you can buy for the cost of the materials
MagnaTiles are “one of the most imagination-fueling toys” and good for all ages
Blocks and animal figures are a must-have. Get alphabet blocks in other languages – reflect your community
Incorporate play into storytimes
Label toy bins with pictures of the contents (for kids) and educational tips (for caregivers)
Make connections with other community organizations
Is a plain or ugly surface showing, like the back side of a shelf or desk? Cover it with felt and make a felt board. (Or make a chalk board or a magnetic board…)
Move underused collections around; one library put their parenting collection on a mobile cart so they can bring it in to children’s programs for caregivers to browse
Vroom cards were also mentioned (“Vroom turns shared moments into brain building moments”)
As the libraries made the changes mentioned above, library staff saw changes in their children’s spaces: parents engaged with their children more, there was less arguing over toys, spaces were less messy because kids were better about cleaning up (“a place for everything and everything in its place” only works if everything has a place).
It’s not enough to get a bunch of new toys – there has to be intentionality. Librarians can model how to make connections between play and learning (for young children, play is learning) so caregivers can do the same.
During the “YA Smackdown,” about a dozen of us sat around on chairs and on the floor in one of the unused rooms at lunchtime. Prompts were pulled out of a box and anyone who had something to contribute spoke up. It was “a fun, low-key environment,” as promised. A comprehensive set of notes [PDF] are available from the MLA YSS wiki, so here is just a sample of our discussion from my notes:
Q: What’s the most successful Banned Books Week display you’ve done or seen?
A: (1) Covering book covers with brown paper and writing the reasons the books were banned on them (language, sex, violence, talking animals, etc.); (2) Making new book covers that illustrate the opposite of the book’s title (e.g. David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing becomes Two Boys Not Touching At All).
Q: How do you encourage kindness?
A: Model it! Say hello to teens when they enter, goodbye and “hope to see you again soon” when they leave (even/especially if they’re being kicked out). Participate in the Kindness Rocks project, which leaves kind messages painted on stones for people to find. Don’t allow insults (“Did you mean that as an insult? You can’t say it”).
Q: How do you connect teens with community resources?
This can be tricky, but one good idea used by Mattapoiset is to create a binder full of resources in the teen area. They can look through it without checking anything out, and take copies of anything they might need.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the day?
Coffee! No, seriously, readers’ advisory – “let’s go browse” the shelves to find some books. When teens come up to ask questions. Ordering books, receiving and unpacking new books.
Q: Recommended books with good racial/ethnic diversity?
A: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Upside of Unrequited and Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, the Ms. Marvel graphic novels, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz, The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue (for tweens and up), The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon, Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (first book in the Rivers of London series – for older teens and adults).
Step Into Your Office: The Library as a Coworking Space
Susannah Borysthen-Tkacz (Cambridge Public Library), Gregor Smart (Boston Public Library – Kirstein Business Library and Innovation Center), Patrick Yott (Northeastern University Libraries)
Susannah moderated this session, guided by the overarching question “Is coworking a novelty or a profound shift in how we do things?” Statistics indicate that more and more of the workforce is made up of entrepreneurs, “solopreneurs,” and nontraditional workers. How can the library best serve these people?
One type of place we can take inspiration from is paid co-working spaces, like Workbar, which offer physical space (sometimes with 24/7 access), open work space, desks, locking file cabinets and storage space, meeting rooms, phone rooms, mail, a dining area, event space, and access to the other members to create an instant network and encourage “accelerated serendipity.” Co-working spaces aren’t free, though, so many people may choose to work at the library instead.
The library may not be able to offer all of the things that co-working spaces can, but we have one thing co-working spaces don’t: librarians. Most co-working spaces are unstaffed, and don’t offer research help or access to databases or other resources.
Gregor and Patrick talked about the changes that have been made at Kirstein and Northeastern’s Snell Library, respectively. Gregor said that people want spaces for small meetings, webinars, learning languages, etc; it’s constantly a challenge to meet demand for collaborative workspaces. Both libraries use moveable screens (or, better yet, moveable whiteboards) so people can reconfigure the space as needed. Built-in alcoves are first-come, first-serve, while meeting rooms and work stations (Macs loaded with specialized software like Garage Band, PhotoShop, and Illustrator) can be reserved. Large event space can be rented.
Most libraries won’t have a budget for a major redesign like Kirstein and Snell, but there are ways we can serve those who are seeking space to work solo or collaboratively. In fact, “Demand is higher for space than collections” might be the theme of most of the sessions I attended at MLA this year, from “Transforming Teen Spaces” to “Mind in the Making” to “Step Into Your Office.”
If there’s any space in your library that is under-utilized (and have you weeded your print reference collection yet??), see if you can carve out spaces with movable screens. If you are buying furniture, make sure it moves too. Consider: is your food & drink policy friendly to people who use the library for long stretches of time? What is your policy on cell phones? (On Wednesday, there was a session about Private Talking Spaces from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab. I am curious to know more!)
That was the last session of the day for me. I enjoyed reading tweets from the other sessions throughout the day and afterward; the conference hashtag was #masslib17 if you want to catch up via Twitter. Did you go to the conference? What were your most exciting/useful/important takeaways?