The TBR pile grows: boosting upcoming spring/summer titles

All industries have been affected by the massive economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Publishing and bookselling are certainly not immune, so I thought that one very small thing I can do is to champion the books and authors I’m excited about this year. Books are still being published (and written and represented and acquired and edited), and people are definitely still reading.

Libraries’ physical locations are closed in most places – or if they’re not, they should be – and while some staff are working from home and being paid, others have been furloughed or laid off, or forced to use their PTO or do unrelated (and sometimes risky) jobs (for no hazard pay). If you are in a position to do so, please consider supporting your local library by donating to their Friends group, contacting Town/City management to express your appreciation and support, or donating to the EveryLibrary HALO Fund (or any of the EveryLibrary initiatives).

Okay, on to the books! It’s looking like 2020 might not be the best year (politically, pandemically, planetarily, take your pick), but there are always good books being published. Titles in italics are those I’ve already read and would recommend; the rest are those I’m looking forward to reading in the coming months.

Adult

  • 19 Love Songs by David Levithan
  • You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy
  • The Genius of Women by Janice Kaplan
  • Weather by Jenny Offill
  • A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
  • Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
  • Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit
  • The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
  • Go to Sleep (I Miss You) by Lucy Knisley
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey
  • Show Them A Good Time by Nicole Flattery
  • A Map Is Only One Story, edited by Nicole Chung
  • Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
  • Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan
  • Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Or What You Will by Jo Walton

YA/Middle grade

  • On the Horizon by Lois Lowry
  • The Thief Knot by Kate Milford (Greenglass House)
  • The Night Country by Melissa Albert (sequel to The Hazel Wood)
  • Just Breathe by Cammie McGovern
  • Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann
  • Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles
  • Almost American Girl by Robin Ha
  • Chirp by Kate Messner
  • Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker
  • Show Me A Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
  • Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
  • We Dream of Space by Erin Estrada Kelly
  • The Sisters of Straygarden Place by Hayley Chewins
  • Music from Another World by Robin Talley
  • Goodbye from Nowhere by Sara Zarr
  • Catherine’s War by Julia Billet
  • When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Mohamed Omar
  • Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
  • Wink by Rob Harrell
  • The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
  • Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk
  • Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar
  • Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen
  • Folktales for Fearless Girls by Myriam Sayalero

Picture books

  • Beehive by Jorey Hurley
  • The Only Woman in the Photo by Kathleen Krull
  • In A Jar by Deborah Marcero
  • World So Wide by Alison McGee (this would make a great gift book for any family with a new baby!)
  • My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano
  • Charlie and Mouse Outdoors by Laurel Snyder
  • Just Like A Mama by Alice Faye Duncan
  • The Oldest Student by Rita Lorraine Hubbard
  • Only A Tree Knows How to Be A Tree by Mary Murphy
  • The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee
  • One Little Bag by Henry Cole
  • I Can Be Anything by Shinsuke Yoshitake
  • What About Worms?! (an Elephant & Piggie book) by Ryan T. Higgins
  • The Next President by Kate Messner
  • Lift by Minh Le
  • Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey by Lori Mortensen
  • Things That Go Away by Beatrice Alemagna
  • What If Soldiers Fought With Pillows? by Heather Camlot
  • In My Anaana’s Amautik by Nadia Sammurtock
  • Under the Lilacs by E.B. Goodale
  • You Don’t Want A Dragon! by Ame Dyckman

Looking even further ahead: Alix Harrow’s new novel The Once and Future Witches comes out in October of this year, and Kate Milford’s The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book comes out in 2021. Still waiting on the final chunk of Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust trilogy, and the rest of Alba De Tamble’s story from Audrey Niffenegger…

Remember that you can borrow e-books and digital audiobooks for free from your library, and most indie bookstores are offering local delivery or some sort of contact-less pickup option. Keep calm, wash your hands, and read on.

STEAM activities for home

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

Audiobooks for the Whole Family

March & April Adult Fiction Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chives and basil seeds in egg carton seed tray

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

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

Wands Out: Harry Potter Trivia at the Library, round 3

Daily Prophet photo frame
Daily Prophet photo frame

We hosted our third Harry Potter trivia event almost a year to the day from our first one. Registration didn’t quite fill up this time (we cap at 52 due to the room capacity), but we still had about 50 people: a lot of kids/tweens around 10 years old, plus some families, teens, adults, and even younger kiddos. We’re planning to do it again this summer, around Harry’s birthday, and then make it an annual thing instead of a biannual one.

Program time: 2-4pm. We started checking people in as soon as they showed up, about 10-15 minutes before 2pm. We were going to finish on time, but ended up needing about seven tie-breaker questions, so we went a few minutes past 4pm.

Staff: Four staff members are present at this program. I check people in and MC the event; another one makes the refreshments and manages that table; and two more do the scoring (one collects answers on post-its and the other enters them into a google spreadsheet. If that seems like something that one person could do alone…I invite you to try it!).

Cost: We usually spend about $100 on food and drink and $100 on prizes. I like to do House-themed coffee mugs or travel mugs for door prizes, so we can pick one winner from each House, as well as prizes for the first- and second-place teams. It’s a little bit of a challenge finding cool items in the right price range, because they ought to be equally suitable for adults, teens, and kids, and teams can be up to 4 people, so there must be 4 of each prize for the winning team(s).

Setup:

  • Large table for food and drink: This time around, our magical chef whipped up lightning bolt cookies, pretzel wands (not chocolate-dipped this time), jelly beans, and gillywater (seltzer, mint, and cucumber water. Less popular than the butterbeer – cream soda and whipped cream – but also way less sugar and not so sticky).
  • Small table for registration and door prizes. If people registered ahead of time, have that list of attendees so you can check them off as they come in. Also, the door prizes, raffle tickets, pens (our teen librarian decorated some bic pens with feathers to make quills), and pads of post-its.
  • Small table for scoring
  • Chairs for the participants, organized in clusters of 2-4 throughout the room
  • A working mic
  • Music: We used a laptop streaming from hoopla, but with so many devices in the room it was lagging.
  • Decorations: We are minimalist where decorations are concerned. I hung five handmade Golden Snitches from the doorframe, and scattered a few stuffed owl puppets around.
  • Photo op: Our teen librarian made a mock-up of the Daily Prophet on posterboard that people can hold up to frame their faces.
punch bowl with mint leaves
Gillywater

Cleanup: There are usually several spills and some dropped food. Chairs need to go back to their places around the edges of the room or get stacked up and returned to storage.

Review: Thanks to my “what to do differently next time” section after last July’s trivia event, and the fact that we’d run this twice before, it went pretty smoothly. When making up the questions, I designed them so that they could be answered in one or two words, and most were single-part questions worth just one point each (there were a handful of two-point questions). However, this made the scores very close, and I had only prepared three tie-breaker questions. With a lot of Potterheads in the room, it can be hard to design questions that are very hard but not impossible! (And, one team caught a mistake in one of the answers about who was the Minister of Magic at the start of the sixth book. After verifying that she was correct, we threw out that question.)

All our attendees seemed happy, and it’s a pretty fun program for staff, too (in my opinion). We’ll be doing it again in July. For now…nox.

2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Here’s the 2018 reading wrap-up.

Using data from my LibraryThing account, my total number of books read in 2019 was: 779. Which seems stratospheric and/or false, but remember that some I didn’t finish (16), and more than half were picture books (452) or early readers (46).

Partially read / started-didn’t-finish: 16. Sometimes it’s a case of right book, wrong time, or right book, wrong reader. Whatever the case, if you’re reading for pleasure, and you don’t like the book – put it down and find another!

Picture books: 452

Early reader: 46. If you haven’t read the Charlie & Mouse books by Laurel Snyder, please check them out immediately. They have a Frog & Toad / Bink & Gollie vibe that is just – as Mary Berry would say – perfection.

Now we’re down to 265 books, which is still, even in librarian circles, respectable. I’ve broken that down into categories below, but math-minded folks take note: there’s a lot of overlap within those categories (particularly between chapter books and middle grade, middle grade and YA, audiobooks and pretty much everything except graphic novels, graphic novels and fiction/nonfiction).

Chapter books: 22. It’s been such a pleasure to revisit Ramona Quimby and Clementine, and to meet Ivy & Bean. Nate the Great, Anna Hibiscus, and Princess Magnolia are good, too.

Middle grade: 96! I’ve been reading more middle grade novels since I’m working more hours in the children’s department, and MG has some of the most amazing characters. (There’s setting and world-building and all that, too, but what sticks with me is the characters.)

YA/teen: 38 (including 14 that overlap with middle grade. For the uninitiated, “middle grade” does not mean “middle school”: it usually refers to upper elementary, but it can also include middle school territory.)

Adult fiction: 46 (approximate genre breakdown, keeping in mind that there is plenty of overlap between genres: 47 fantasy, 13 historical, 11 sci-fi, 6 mystery, 4 romance)

Nonfiction: 29 adult (including 11 how-to), 117 total (children’s/teen/adult). Kids’ nonfiction is often presented attractively and is really informative! Together with my kiddo, I learned a lot about ladybugs, the Northern Lights, and outer space this year (that “a universe of stories” summer reading theme was influential).

Graphic novels: 49. My appreciation for this format continues to grow. Standouts this year included Good Talk by Mira Jacob (adult, memoir) and New Kid by Jerry Craft (MG/YA), plus new books from Shannon Hale, Raina Telgemeier, and Ben Hatke. My standard line for adults who hem and haw about their kids reading graphic novels instead of “real books” is: Graphic novels ARE real books. Kids develop visual literacy along with print literacy, and they might read them fast, but they re-read them often. If they’re developing a love of reading by reading graphic novels, fantastic.

Short stories: 8. There’s some incredible speculative short fiction out there: see Kelly Link, N.K. Jemisin, and Ted Chiang for a start.

Audiobooks: 52. See note for graphic novels: audiobooks ARE books. In fact, they have one specific advantage over print: the narrators pronounce words correctly! There are so many words that I can spell and define but not pronounce confidently because I’ve never heard them out loud…until audiobooks. Also, many narrators bring so much talent and expression to their performance – like Jessica Almasy’s reading of the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker.

Author gender pie chart LibraryThing
Screen shot from LibraryThing stats on author gender

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: 92. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center collects statistics about diversity in children’s publishing. Looking at the infographic comparing 2015 with 2018, what struck me is that while the percentage of books featuring white characters dropped from 73.3% to 50% over three years, the percentage of books featuring non-human (animal/other) main characters rose from 12.5% to 27%. So, we still have a ways to go before our children’s literature reflects the actual children reading the books. More diverse books, more #OwnVoices.

Five star ratings: 26. The Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Secret Commonwealth, Invisible Women, City of Girls, Wordslut, Good Talk….See my “Great books of 2019” post.

Re-reads: 24. Mostly picture books, but a few others as well: Slade House by David Mitchell, because I bought the beautiful UK paperback at No Alibis in Belfast; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, because it had been ages; and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlotte’s Web with the kiddo.

Although I’m not setting any particular goals or reading resolutions for this year, I’m  looking forward to more wonderful books. I’m already in the middle of Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez (fun!) and Inconspicuous Consumption by Tatiana Schlossberg (not fun).

How was your reading year? What are you looking forward to? I’m always adding suggestions to my ever-growing to-read list…

Great books of 2019

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

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

Picture Books (Fiction)

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

Picture Books (Nonfiction)

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

Early Readers/Chapter Books

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

Middle Grade

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

Middle Grade Graphic Novels

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

YA

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

Adult fiction

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

Adult Nonfiction

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

YA and Adult Graphics

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

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

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

NELA 2019: Challenging Expectations Together

The New England Library Association annual conference (#NELA2019) was in Mystic, CT this year. I went for just one of the three days, presenting one session and attending three others. (I also lucked out in the exhibit hall, picking up three galleys I’m really excited about, plus a pair of socks.)

Feeling Pot-lucky? Library Cookbook Clubs (9am)

I presented on this topic with Theresa Maturevich and Lilly Sundell-Thomas; our slides are here: NELA 2019 Feeling Potluck-y

What’s Play Got to Do With It? Every Child Ready to Read in Action, Andrea Grant, Deborah Morrissey, and Marty Mason, Chelmsford Public Library (11:15am)

Three youth services librarians from Chelmsford, MA talked about the Playspace program they’d developed, inspired by the launch of the second edition of Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) at PLA in 2012. Playspace, as the program name indicates, focuses most on play, though it also includes reading (one story), singing, and talking (and play includes some fine-motor pre-writing skills).

ECRR is to educate parents and caregivers to help nurture pre-reading skills at home: reading, writing, singing, talking, and playing. The importance of play for young children is well documented, and the audience brainstormed some of its benefits: fun, builds social-emotional skills, fine/gross motor, imagination, exploration, bonding between adult/child. Children’s natural instinct is to play; with Playspace, they set up the environment for that. It is designed for the two- to three-year-old age group. (Older and younger kids are welcome, but “don’t complain” if you’re not in the target age group (“We don’t actually say that”)).

The basic outline of the program is:

  • Start with a song (“The more we play together” with ASL)
  • Read a story
  • Offer activities related to that story
  • Use each story twice (two weeks in a row)
  • Related craft
  • Closing activity

In order to encourage reading and play at home every day, the librarians use low-cost, simple, easy-to-replicate-at-home activities (e.g. make a cave by draping a tablecloth over table or chair and put a stuffed bear in there; use painters tape to make a path/maze on the floor; fill a bin with soapy water and plastic animals, whisks, and spoons, etc.). All of their activity sheets are available on the library website!

large poster with colored post-its

The librarians plan a Playspace by:

  1. Choosing a story
  2. Brainstorming appropriate themes
  3. Brainstorming activities related to the story/theme

They try to offer activities in each of the different developmental areas (gross motor, fine motor, art, sensory/sciences, drama, felt board, literacy), though they acknowledged that not every book lends itself to all of these areas equally. During the session, everyone in the audience got some sticky notes and helped plan a Playspace around “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

The Playspace program is offered weekly (there are two 14-week sessions in fall/winter/spring) in a large room and lasts for about an hour. It’s a drop-in program (no registration) and they usually get about 45 people (grown-ups and kids).

Starting from the Ground Up: How to Promote Civic Engagement & Inform Teen Voters, Charlie Gluck, Youth Services, Boston Public Library (2pm)

Charlie (who presented at MLA in 2018 on “The Role of Fantasy in the Library”) did a ton of research for this session on informing teen voters and future teen voters about the voter registration process and (to a lesser extent) how to learn about candidates and issues, especially on the local level. Each state in New England has slightly different rules about when people can register to vote, but all of them allow pre-registration (before you turn 18). The Secretary of State’s website should be the most helpful place to start to learn the rules for your state (if you’re a Massachusetts resident, it’s here).

Charlie is part of YALSA’s 22×20 Task Force, which recognizes that there will be 22 million new voters eligible to vote in the 2020 elections (since 2016), and is intent on helping them become active, informed voters.

While of course we cannot be partisan in a public library – most of this session’s attendees were public librarians – we can encourage people (including teens) to vote. Libraries are meant to promote civic engagement and democracy; “Libraries are democratic institutions first and foremost.” We can have sample ballots, make displays or handouts about how to register and when the deadlines are (and the number to call if you’re turned away at the polls). We can partner with other organizations (such as high school political science classes, model UN and student government, teen advisory group/boards, NHS, student/community groups that serve diverse or underserved populations such as GSA, BSA, and ESL groups, local transportation or school transportation systems).

Do's and Don'ts on Voting Day slide
Do’s and Don’ts on Voting Day

Charlie also encouraged outreach to specific underserved populations, like those in juvenile detention centers or those without a fixed address. For the teens that you do see regularly in the library, ask if they have a birthday coming up – and if they’ve registered to vote yet. And while she acknowledged that teens might not flock to a program called “know your voting rights,” she suggested making it part of an “Adulting Decathlon,” where they could learn a little bit about several different necessary life skills.

Sparkin’ a Love of Literacy: 1st and 2nd grade literacy programs at Newton Free Library, Lisa Norcross and Sandra Leifeld, Newton Free Library (3:45pm)

Lisa and Sandra talked about two programs they run together at Newton, Book Bunch and Write Stuff. Both programs were born in response to interest from parents. Book Bunch is a book discussion program exploring different genres by reading, discussing, and follow-up activities for first- and second-graders and their caregivers. It meets monthly from September-January and February-June; a second group was added during each session to meet demand.

The first Book Bunch title of the session is usually an early reader (e.g. Mouse and Mole by Wong Herbert Yee). At the first meeting, they discuss what’s on the cover: the title, author, and illustrator. Follow-up activities are as varied as the books themselves, and have included a pajama party, making stone soup, popcorn and “movie” (a Cece Bell video), made and wrote their own books, used typewriters, and talked to authors and publishers in person or via Skype.

What works, what doesn’t? The level of the book is important; some 1st graders are reading 1st grade books comfortably, while some 2nd graders may be reading 6th grade books. For Book Bunch, they don’t choose books beyond beginning chapter books – and of course, there have to be enough copies in the system. Librarians come prepared with questions to discuss, but kids are welcome to bring questions too. And “If you don’t/can’t read the whole book, that’s okay – that’s why we have the discussion.”

Rocket Writes A StoryWrite Stuff is for second graders and their caregivers; the program covers writing basics and story structure. Two five-month sessions run during the school year, and at meetings, participants share stories and build vocabulary through mini-lessons, writing time, and sharing time.

There are six guidelines/things to remember in the group:

  1. Everyone is learning and at their own level
  2. Do your best
  3. Be creative
  4. Everyone shares (in small or whole group)
  5. Respectful and constructive feedback to help each other
  6. One conversation at a time

The librarians prepare a folder for each kid including a schedule, writing paper, final edit paper (with “airplane line” like they use at school, glossary of Words to Know (e.g. dialogue, fiction, nonfiction, characters – with pictures, good for ELL), and Word Wall ideas (the Word Wall is a collaborative project; all participants can add to it throughout the program, to share their expanding vocabulary).

How This Book Was MadeEach meeting is one hour, and starts with reading a story aloud. The first and last book are always the same (Rocket Writes A Story and How This Book Was Made), but they use different ones for the three middle sessions. Then there is a writing prompt and an activity. The final product is a finished book, including a story (fiction or nonfiction) from each participant, including a beginning, middle, end, and “about the author.” The librarians make copies of the book at the town printer, so everyone gets one to keep, and the kids also get a journal and a pencil at the end of the program to continue their writing.

Lisa and Sandra also mentioned “Story Time From Space,” which puts an interstellar twist on traditional story time.

And that was my day at NELA 2019. If you went to different Monday sessions, or attended on Sunday or Tuesday, I’d love to hear about the highlights! Fewer people were on Twitter than usual, but again, the hashtag was #NELA2019. And now, I’m off to read my ARC of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern!

 

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.