MSLA 2022: Every library is organized…differently

“Ditching Dewey or Sticking With It?”

Demco Dewey poster 900sAnna Ring of Chickering Elementary School in Dover/Sherborn conducted an action research project, surveying hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school libraries to find out what organizational systems they use: the Dewey Decimal System, an adapted version of Dewey, or something else (Library of Congress, BISAC, or a homegrown system). She found that most elementary libraries are still using Dewey or adapted Dewey, while some middle and high schools are using other systems. A few key themes emerged from Anna’s presentation and from the discussion among the participants:

  • Students should understand that every library has some organizational system; it may not be the same in every library, but once you understand the system, you can learn how to use it to find what you want. Understanding that there is an organizing principle is a transferable skill, even if another library uses a different system than the one you’re familiar with.
  • Librarians want students to feel successful, and for collections to have “maximum browsability”: “I want to make it as easy as possible for kids to find things.” This might mean grouping certain series together (like the Who Is/Who Was books) instead of sticking rigidly to Dewey. Many librarians also championed labeled bins as a way to increase visibility, browsability, and findability – there might be bins for biographies, easy readers, I Survived books, Magic School Bus, animal books…
  • Reclassifying and reorganizing takes a LOT of time, so take a slow, considered approach, and get student input!

A final small but important point: some libraries choose to “keep Dewey but ditch the decimal,” as students don’t learn decimals in math until third or fourth grade. And good signage helps!

“We can do something about it now”: Pablo Cartaya keynote at MSLA 2022

The Massachusetts School Library Association annual conference began tonight with a keynote speech from Pablo Cartaya, author of the middle grade novels Each Tiny Spark, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, and The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora. The self-described “Cuban-American guy” spoke about the importance of reflection and representation. He talked about a code-switching childhood in which he spoke Spanish at home and English at school, and never saw a character like himself in the books he loved to read: “When I was growing up I never read one story about a Cuban-American kid.” However, as an author, Cartaya said, “We can do something about it now….I want to do something about the fact that those books didn’t exist for me.” How many people, he wondered, “imagined themselves as a hero that looked nothing like them?”

Cartaya shares a belief common among authors, librarians, and others in the book world: that books can ease transitions and increase empathy. He told our group, “You’re stewards of so many lives and so many stories.” And while it’s vitally important that kids see characters like themselves in the books they read (mirrors), the stories he and many others write are “human stories…about the human condition” (windows). Cartaya said, “I think if COVID taught us anything, it’s that we can have a little more empathy for each other….Books can do that.”  Books can show us what it’s like to “live in another person’s skin,” feel how another person feels; books are a way to experience and understand the multitude of people and stories in this world. Embracing multilingualism and multiculturalism, said Cartaya, is what makes our communities thrive.

Cartaya spoke about the importance of reflection as “integral to our way forward.” He is continually asking, “What went wrong, what can we do better, what did we miss?” He showed respect for young readers, and described how he changed his approach to in-person author events, saying, “I don’t think authors should presume” what kids are thinking and feeling, “we should ask them. They need a space to tell their story, not me telling them how they feel.” (In the chat, several librarians shared their pandemic prompts and writing projects they use with students.)

Overall, a great intro to MSLA 2022! I’m looking forward to tomorrow and Monday’s sessions, and will write about those here as well. For now, buenas noches.

Virtual event: Starfish author Lisa Fipps at the Newton Free Library

Cover image of StarfishBig thanks to the children’s librarians at the Newton Free Library for organizing, promoting, hosting, and moderating a delightful virtual author visit with Lisa Fipps, author of the novel in verse Starfish, a Printz honor book. Lisa was incredibly friendly and personable, doing only a short introduction before answering tons of questions from the Newton Free Library book club and other attendees.

Some snippets:

  • On the writing process: Lisa sees “movie trailers in my head”
  • On autobiographical fiction: Ellie got “the watered down story of my life” with authentic emotions
  • To those who say “things like that would never happen”: “They do.”
  • On growing up without seeing herself in books: “I didn’t know anybody like me” (#RepresentationMatters)
  • On wanting to make post-publication changes: “I don’t know any writer who doesn’t look back on a book” and want to change something. Lisa didn’t read Starfish until six months after it was published, and while there are small things she would change if she could, “I’m okay with it.”
  • On how to get published: “First you have to write the story.” Then find an agent (hers is Liza Boyce), who will help you find an editor (hers is Nancy Paulsen).
  • Will there be a sequel or prequel? The Printz committee asked this too! Not sure.
  • On future books: Nancy is editing book number two now, and Lisa is writing book number three.
  • How long does it take you to write a book? Starfish took eight months, the next book took six. Lisa is trying to write 2-3 books a year; “I want to be a full-time author and you need to write a lot to make that happen.” (Currently she works at the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library in Indiana)
  • On that stuff on the table behind you: the penguin collection is because Nancy Paulsen’s imprint is part of Penguin Random House (which at least two librarians agree should have been called Random Penguin when they merged). The “inspiration jars” (see photo) are full of good reviews, fan letters, kind words, etc. That’s a lot of warm fuzzies!Screenshot of "inspiration jars"
  • On the role of music in writing: Lisa creates a playlist for every book she writes, to get into the characters’ heads; when actually writing, she listens to music with no lyrics.
  • How have family members responded to Starfish? “I have no idea, I’m estranged from my [biological] family” (except for a nephew); “I have families of choice.”
  • Advice for young writers? Write. And read a lot. “I try to read 3-5 books a week.”
  • What time of day do you write? Evenings after work, with marathon writing sessions (8-10 hours!) on weekends.
  • Do you read other novels in verse? Yes! The first one she read was Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones. “I think verse is a way to tell a powerful story in a short amount of words.”
  • On Ann Patchett’s advice to read your work aloud to yourself: “You will hear any clunkiness in your writing like that.” Lisa even recommends doing this while wearing foam earplugs.
  • On the therapist character in Starfish: Lisa used the wisdom of therapists mixed with the personality of a critique partner. (Readers loved Ellie’s therapist. Librarian Ms. Bery included Starfish in her list of books that normalize therapy.)
  • On Catalina’s character: Catalina is a “composite character” (bits and pieces of different people).

Thank you so much, Lisa Fipps and Newton Free Library!

How reading shapes us

For many years I have loved this quote: “It’s what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” I’m not sure where I first heard it, but it was attributed to Oscar Wilde. However, I’d never found an original source – it’s not in Dorian Gray or The Importance of Being Earnest – and somehow it didn’t quite sound like him. I searched online again recently and found this Quote Investigator piece from 2019, which gives a more likely source (Unitarian minister Charles Francis Potter) and explains how the mix-up occurred: Potter and Wilde each had a quote attributed to them in the “Reading” section of The Macmillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, & Famous Phrases.

I was able to request the 1965 reprint of this nearly 3000-page book from my library system and see for myself on page 1939:

section of page 1939 of

“If you cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use reading it at all.” -Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying (1889)

“It’s what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” -Rev. D.F. [sic] Potter, Slogan, to encourage un-prescribed reading (1927)

So there we have it – the likely origin of the mis-attribution. But why is this quote important, and what does it mean? There’s also the poetry and rhythm and repetition of it; it’s almost iambic. But I think it’s stuck with me all these years because I didn’t completely understand it when I first heard it; of course, I heard it out of context, and the context helps.

Potter was urging students to read more than just what was assigned to them, to go above and beyond. Our assigned reading may not truly interest us; we’ve all had the experience of re-reading a paragraph several times without really absorbing it. As Samuel Johnson writes, “What we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention (Boswell, Life, 1777, quoted on page 1938 of Macmillan).

What Potter seems to be saying is that what you read in your free time determines what kind of person you will be. And I think these days we can expand the definition of “read,” or at the very least include all kinds of reading/listening/watching: car manuals, political podcasts, history books, sung-through musicals, fairytales, cookbooks, how-to books, game instructions, long e-mails from school superintendents, nonprofits’ annual reports. Everything we read, or consume, makes us what we are – or put another way, “you are what you eat.”

Some more quotes on reading from The Macmillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, & Famous Phrases:

Some read to think,–these are rare; some to write,–these are common; and some to talk,–and these form the great majority. (C.C. Colton, Lacon, Vol. ii, No. 9, 1820)

To read a book for the first time is to make the acquaintance of a new friend; to read it a second time is to meet an old one. (S.G. Champion, Racial Proverbs, p. 351, 1938, A Chinese proverb)

It is a tie between men to have read the same book. (R.W. Emerson, Journals, 1864)

‘Tis the good reader that makes the good book. (Emerson, Society and Solitude: Success, 1870)

Reading is the best medicine for a sicke man, the best musicke for a sadde man, the best counsel for a desperate man, the best comfort for one afflicted. (John Florio, Firste Fruites, fo. 52, 1578)

640px-Bates_Hall_-_Boston_Public_Library
Bates Hall, Boston Public Library. By Hari Krishnan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74145423

2022 ALA Youth Media Awards

It’s the Oscars of #kidlit! (And honestly, at this point in my life, I’m much more excited about the ALA Youth Media Awards than about the Academy Awards.) This year I was following the announcements on Twitter and relaying them to my co-worker while we prepared to teach a bunch of seventh graders how to find reliable results when searching the internet (pro tip: there are more results after the first result! O brave new world…).

SLJ posted the winners of all the awards, but didn’t include the honor books on the same page; American Libraries has a complete write-up. I was thrilled to see Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin, win the Caldecott medal (and a Newbery Honor and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature – Picture Book), and equally delighted to see Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff and Last Night at the Telegraph Club win the Stonewall.

Angeline Boulley’s Firekeeper’s Daughter won the Morris, the Printz, and an American Indian Youth Literature honor for YA; other AILA honor books I cheered for included Christine Day’s middle grade novel The Sea in Winter, Traci Sorrell’s picture book We Are Still Here, and YA novel Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger.

Cover image of UnspeakableI can’t imagine anyone was surprised that Unspeakable by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, won two Coretta Scott King awards (for author and for illustrator), as well as a Sibert honor and a Caldecott honor. I’m looking forward to reading CSK illustrator honor book Nina, but I’m really surprised that Christian Robinson’s other 2021 book, Milo Imagines the World, didn’t get any official recognition.

By the time the Pura Belpré awards were announced I was busy in the library, but I was happy to catch up later and see that ¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge by Raul III won the Youth Illustrator award, Yuyi Morales received an honor for Bright Star, and Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet got a YA honor!

Cover image of StarfishOther Printz honor books included Starfish by Lisa Fipps (a novel in verse!), Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, and Revolution in Our Time by Kekla Magoon (the latter is the only Printz book I hadn’t already read, but it’s on my list now).

Also added to my to-read list:

  • Pura Belpré Children’s Author Award and the Newbery Award winner The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
  • Schneider Family Book Award winner My City Speaks, and honor books A Walk in the Words, A Bird Will Soar, and A Kind of Spark
  • Sydney Taylor Book Award Gold Medalist How to Find What You’re Not Looking For and Silver Medalist The Summer of Lost Letters
  • Theodore Seuss Geisel Award winner Fox at Night, written and illustrated by Corey R. Tabor
  • Sibert Award winner The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art

greatstinkI’d actually read a bunch of Sibert honor books, though not the winner; I was super excited to see The Great Stink on the list. We Are Still Here by Traci Sorrell and Unspeakable also got honors, as did Summertime Sleepers (which taught me the word “estivate,” which is like hibernating but in the summer).

Finally, I was so happy to see A.S. King receive the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, Grace Lin receive the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, and Jane Yolen recognized with the Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award. A.S. King’s particular brand of magical realism/surrealism is completely unique to her; her books are deep and weird and thoughtful. Grace Lin writes for children of all ages, and her novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a favorite in our house. And Jane Yolen is Jane Yolen.

Previous year’s incoherent ramblings about ALA YMA:

2021 ALA YMA

2020 ALA YMA

Edited 1/26/2022: Note to self: next year write a post more like Abby’s (ALSC blog).

Mother/Daughter Book Club: One Year Anniversary

In February 2021, not long after our move across the state, we started a mother/daughter book club for friends old and new. Now we’re celebrating one year of monthly virtual meetings full of picture books and arts and crafts!

Cover images of picture books in caption
What A Lucky Day, A Butterfly is Patient, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, My Best Friend, Laxmi’s Mooch, Hansel & Gretel, A Small Kindness, The Very Last Castle
Cover images of picture books
I’m Done!, Extra Yarn, The Halloween Tree, Thank You Omu!, On Account of the Gum, Jabari Jumps

Through these books, we’ve encountered instant best friendship; how kindness can spread and generosity comes back around; the importance of perseverance, courage, and open-mindedness; and how a unique twist on a mainstream perspective can make things just right. Here’s to more reading and togetherness in 2022!

Reading Resolutions and TBR for 2022

I don’t make reading resolutions every year, but past ones that I’ve set and achieved (eventually) include:

  • Read at least one nonfiction book each month (circa 2008)
  • If I’m not enjoying a book, and it’s not for an assignment or book club, put it down (circa 2014)
  • Stop using important things as bookmarks (more recently than I’d care to admit)

This year I want to focus on reading more diverse books by BIPOC creators. Last year just over 20% of my reading fell into the #WeNeedDiverseBooks category; I’d like to get to 30% this year. (It might be that I’m closer than I think, since I don’t always know how an author or illustrator identifies.)

And here are some specific titles I’m excited about, but I’m sure that plenty more will come along during the year:

Children’s/YA

  • Amari and the Night Brothers #2 by B.B. Alstonamari2
  • Luli and the Language of Tea by Andrea Wang
  • I’ll Go and Come Back by Rajani LaRocca
  • The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
  • Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder and Dan Santat
  • When I’m With You by Pat Zietlow Miller and Eliza Wheeler

Adult

  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel seaoftranquility
  • Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire
  • When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East by Quan Barry
  • Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American by Wajahat Ali
  • The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

Have you made any reading-related resolutions this year? Are there any books you’re looking forward to? Leave a comment!

2021 Reading Wrap-Up

Here is 2020’s reading wrap up. Many of those books are ones I’m still talking about, thinking about, and recommending, especially:

  • The picture books On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex, Lift by Minh Lê and Dan Santat, My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano and Jillian Tamaki, and Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina and Sonia Sánchez
  • Early reader and chapter book series (Elephant & Piggie, The Princess in Black, Ivy & Bean, Dory Fantasmagory, Clementine)
  • Nearly all of the middle grade books I listed, including Show Me A Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte, The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead, and Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Adult novels The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, and The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
  • Nonfiction: the History Smashers series by Kate Messner. Even more titles came out this year and I’ve been recommending them all to students and teachers alike.

Now, on to 2021. This year was another good year for reading, even if it wasn’t good by (m)any other metrics. Betsy Bird did her marvelous and comprehensive #31Days31Lists again, and though I’ve read many of the titles she mentions, I requested a bunch of others from the library – they’re already starting to roll in!

Total number of books: 743. Yeah, this is a lot, even for me – I was surprised when I counted them up, especially since the number of picture books stayed approximately steady from last year to this year. Early readers, chapter books, and YA went up a bit, while middle grade dropped some (that was a surprise, too); graphic novels went way up.

Partially read or started-didn’t-finish: 19. Again, a cookbook, a book of poetry, and some children’s books that the kiddo wasn’t into (or took away to read by herself).

Picture books: 327.

Note: I’m limiting my list of standout picture book titles to those published in 2020 and 2021, because…327 books! In the other categories below, I haven’t limited myself to books published in 2020-2021, though many of them were.

  • When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith, illus. Nicole Neidhardt Cover image of What A Lucky Day
  • What A Lucky Day! by Jashar Awan
  • Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho
  • The Polio Pioneer by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illus. Lisa Anchin
  • All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimentel, illus. Nabi Ali
  • A Small Kindness by Stacy McAnulty, illus. Wendy Leach
  • Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand, illus. Nabi Ali Cover image of Laxmi's Mooch
  • Scarlet’s Tale by Audrey Vernick, illus. Jarvis
  • The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer, illus. Mariachiara DiGiorgio
  • Avocado Asks: What Am I? by Momoko Abe
  • Oh Look, A Cake! by J.C. McKee (reminded me of I Really Want the Cake!)
  • I Am Not A Penguin: A Pangolin’s Lament by Liz Wong (reminded me of The Angry Little Puffin)
  • Watercress by Andrea Wang, illus. Jason ChinCover image of The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom
  • Don’t Hug Doug (He Doesn’t Like It) by Carrie Finison, illus. Daniel Wiseman
  • A Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illus. Seo Kim
  • Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. Floyd Cooper
  • The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom by Colleen AF Venable, illus. Lian Cho
  • Dad Bakes by Katie Yamasaki
  • Maybe… by Chris Haughton

Early readers: 42.

  • “Living In…” series by Chloe Perkinsflubby
  • Disgusting Critters series by Elise Gravel
  • Elephant & Piggie by Mo Willems
  • Fox & Chick by Sergio Ruzzier
  • Pea, Bee, & Jay by Brian Smith
  • Chick & Brain by Cece Bell
  • Flubby Will Not Play With That by J.E. Morris

Chapter books: 55.

  • Zoey & Sassafras series by Asia Citrotwigandturtle1
  • Twig & Turtle series by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
  • Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
  • Ruby Lu by Lenore Look
  • Unicorn Rescue Society series by Adam Gitwitz and others
  • Princess Pulverizer series by Nancy Krulik
  • Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (graphic novels)
  • Book Buddies: Ivy Lost & Found by Cynthia Lord

Middle grade (some overlap with YA and GN): 56.Cover image of Starfish

  • Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar
  • Starfish by Lisa Fipps
  • Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
  • The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford
  • The Sea in Winter by Christine Day
  • A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold (all three Bat books)
  • Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy DavidowitzCover image of Imaginary
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
  • The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo
  • Imaginary by Lee Bacon
  • The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung
  • Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden
  • Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
  • Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRoccatroubledgirls
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen
  • The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu
  • Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff
  • Simon B. Rhymin’ by Dwayne Reed
  • Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
  • Yusuf Azeem Is Not A Hero by Saadia Faruqi

YA (some overlap with MG and GN): 51.

  • The Selection (series) by Kiera CassCover image Firekeeper's Daughter
  • I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
  • Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (re-read)
  • Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon, Angie Thomas, & Nic Stone
  • Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
  • The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
  • Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Graphic novels: 88.

  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore and Gareth Hinds (YA)Cover image of Witches of Brooklyn
  • Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte (MG)
  • Haylee & Comet by Deborah Marcero (early reader/chapter book)
  • Hildafolk (series) by Luke Pearson (MG)
  • Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani (MG)
  • Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (YA)
  • Blancaflor by Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez (children’s)
  • Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse (MG)sanitytallulah
  • Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks (MG)
  • Bear by Ben Queen (?)
  • All Summer Long by Hope Larson (MG/YA)
  • Friends Forever by Shannon Hale (MG/YA)
  • Act by Kayla Miller (MG)

Adult fiction: 34.

  • Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculiacloudcuckooland
  • We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
  • Skye Falling by Mia McKenzie
  • We Are the Brennans by Tracy Lange
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  • The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Nonfiction (adult): 28.

  • You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coesaynothing
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
  • Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami
  • Candyfreak by Steve Almond
  • From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
  • Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach
  • Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
  • Learning in Public by Courtney E. Martin

Nonfiction (children’s): 87.

  • The Great Stink by Colleen Paeff, illus. Nancy CarpenterCover image of If the World Were 100 People
  • Rescuing Titanic by Flora Delargy
  • If the World Were 100 People by Jackie McCann, illus. Aaron Cushley
  • Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Rachel Dougherty
  • Drowned City by Don Brown
  • Yummy: A History of Desserts by Victoria Grace Elliott (GN)
  • Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe, illus. Jos A. Smith

Short stories/essay collections: 13.

  • Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self and The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (stories)
  • The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken (stories)
  • Ancestor Approved by Cynthia Leitich Smith et. al. (linked stories)
  • Calypso by David Sedaris (essays)
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (essays)

Audiobooks: 16.

  • Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin, narrated by Kim Mai Guestboycalledbat3
  • Elana K. Arnold’s Bat books, narrated by Patrick G. Lawlor
  • No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen, narrated by Nissae Isen
  • Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff, narrated by Jax Jackson
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, narrated by Graeme Malcolm
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, narrated by Judith Ivey
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale

Five-star ratings: 33. Sometimes I’m blown away by a book when I finish it but it fades in my memory; others stay vivid. There were some of each this year; those that made a sustained impact include (in order from picture books to adult books) Sootypaws, All the Way to the Top, The Polio Pioneer, Haylee & Comet, Castle Hangnail, Amari and the Night Brothers, Red White & Whole, Imaginary, Winterkeep, The Firekeeper’s Daughter, Piranesi, Braiding Sweetgrass, Say Nothing, and Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Re-reads: Not so many this year, other than familiar series (Ivy & Bean, Lunch Lady, Clementine) and picture books (we revisited This Is A Dog, Bo the Brave, Binny’s Diwali, A Small Kindness, On Account of the Gum, The Last Loose Tooth, The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution, and others), and the graphic novel Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: 161. That’s about 20% of the total, which feels low to me – better next year. I use the #WeNeedDiverseBooks tag any time the creators of or characters in a book are outside the dominant narrative (white, straight). These stories are essential.

LibraryThing has changed their “stats” page to “charts and graphs.” As in previous years, I read more female authors/illustrators than male ones, and more living authors (1,560) than dead (304). And as the genre chart below shows (no surprise), I read a lot of children’s books!

Screen shot of LT genre statistics

LT also provides a map of authors’ nationalities. I read mostly American, Canadian, Australian, and UK authors, but some Iranian, Indian, Pakistani, Mexican, Japanese, Russian, Nigerian, and others as well. If anyone has books to recommend by authors from outside the US/Canada/UK, please share your suggestions!

Screen shot of LT

And that’s the 2021 reading wrap-up. Onward to 2022! What books are you looking forward to this year?

What to read next?

How do you find the next book you’ll read, especially when you need a new book every one to four days? I gather suggestions from many places, adding titles to my to-read list faster than I can read them (even picture books!). Here are some of my best resources for finding books:

  • Recommendations from friends and colleagues: True, a lot of my friends are librarians, or teachers, or simply bookworms. After years of trading recommendations, we’ve learned each other’s tastes, so we have a good idea who will love a certain book (or not) and why. I also add to my to-read list monthly(ish) during my Adults Who Read Children’s Books Club meeting; it’s a group of school and public librarians, and their recommendations are incredible.
  • Reviews in trade publications: School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus are my go-to sources. Even if you don’t have access to these, most public library online catalogs have at least one or two review sources built into them, so if you look up a book, you can see a review (or two or three).
  • Other reviews: Larger public libraries often have free-to-the-public copies of BookPage, and there are a handful of sites I check in on occasionally, like BookRiot.
  • Wowbrary: Some public libraries use this service; I get a weekly e-mail from mine with a list of new books in different categories.
  • Book Twitter: I joined Twitter when I was in library school, and I mainly follow authors (and illustrators), bookstores, libraries, publishers, agents, editors, and other bookish accounts. It’s the one social media app I have on my phone, and often enough I’ll see book news there before anywhere else.
  • Publisher newsletters: What with one thing and another, I’ve ended up on a lot of publishers’ newsletters: I get notices from Candlewick, HarperCollins, Little Brown Young Readers, Penguin Random House, Chronicle, and more. These tend to promote upcoming titles or those that are topical in some way (e.g. for Hispanic Heritage Month or Black History Month).
  • Publishers Lunch: An industry newsletter I started getting in 2007 when I began working at a literary agency and never unsubscribed from. I no longer read it every day, but often find something good when I do.
  • Edelweiss and NetGalley: These two sites offer digital Advance Reader’s Copies (ARCs, or galleys) to librarians; they’re a good place to browse for upcoming titles and get an early look.

  • LibraryThing Early Reviewers: As an active LT user, I browse these offerings monthly and often request (and receive!) an ARC of a book I’m excited about.
  • Library Link of the Day: This is more for library news than specific book recommendations – and lately, sadly, a majority of the links have been about attempted challenges or bans at schools and public libraries throughout the country. (Then again, these are recommendations, in a way, since I’m definitely the kind of person who will seek out a book others are trying to limit access to.)
  • Library patrons: Working in a library, I’m not only surrounded by books, I’m surrounded by readers! Readers are happy to tell you when they think that you, too, would enjoy their most recent favorite book. And isn’t it my professional responsibility to see what all the fuss is about?
  • Logo of 31 Days, 31 Lists from Fuse8End-of-year lists: For #kidlit people, Betsy Bird’s “31 Days, 31 Lists” is a treasure trove; I think at least three-quarters of the books on my kitchen table right now are because of her. I also enjoy NPR’s Book Concierge, which has been renamed Books We Love; there are lots of filters to play with along the left side, so you can narrow down the many recommendations, or search past years (it goes back to 2013). Of course, every trade and popular publication does its own end-of-year list(s) as well.

Where do you get your book recommendations? Is there a fantastic source I could add to my list?

Edited 1/8/2022: Bookshops! I can’t believe I left them off my original list, but I’ve discovered many, many wonderful books through in-person browsing and recommendations from booksellers (especially at the Carle Museum shop) and bookstore e-mail newsletters. If you haven’t already, sign up for your favorite local bookstore’s newsletter.

Can you judge a book by its cover…or its title?

We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” While this is a great lesson when it comes to people (don’t judge someone’s insides by how they look on the outside) it actually doesn‘t apply so well to books. Cover design is someone’s whole job, and if they do it well, potential readers should be able to tell a lot about a book by its cover! A great cover is eye-catching in some way; it makes people want to pick up the book and learn more.

But what about a book’s title? There are perfectly good books with generic, forgettable titles; and there are excellent titles for mediocre books (fewer of the latter, though, I think). Below is a list of titles that have stood out to me over the years: some are laugh-out-loud funny, some are poetic, and some inspire instant curiosity. (I requested Wolfie the Bunny based on the title alone; I didn’t even need to read the review. How could a book called Wolfie the Bunny be anything but amazing? Likewise, those of a certain generation can’t help but laugh at Pluto Gets the Call. And with adult novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – well of course she’s not, you know that right away.)

Adult

  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  • I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
  • How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by Dave Eggers
  • How to Talk to A Widower by Jonathan Tropper
  • What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us: Stories by Laura van den Berg
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • That’s Not A Feeling by Dan Josefson
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Above: Cover images of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Children’s

  • Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman & Zachariah Ohora
  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
  • The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
  • Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex & Laurie Keller
  • I Can See Just Fine by Eric Barclay

Above: Cover images of Wolfie the Bunny, Pluto Gets the Call, and The Rock From the Sky

What titles have made you laugh, made you curious, or otherwise compelled you to pick up a book?

Edited 1/8/2022: How could I have forgotten We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider? And Brita suggested some good ones in the comments as well, including A Tale for the Time Being and Nights When Nothing Happened.