I’m winding my way home slowly on the ALA party train, but I wanted to have a post up that people who found my postcards at ALA could comment on.

I have quite a few things to write about ALA so I’ll try to roll those out in the next few weeks… but until then, here’s a picture that kind of sums up the experience:

fact and fiction: tiger, tiger burning bright

Can We Save The Tiger? by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Vicky White


Dorje’s Stripes by Anshumani Ruddra, illustrated by Gwangjo and Jung-a Park

These two titles both address the topic of extinction, and in each title it is the artwork that most strongly pleads the case. In Can We Save the Tiger?, Vicky White’s pencil drawings are sparingly augmented with color. In a time when high quality photos of animals are relatively easy to take and distribute, there is something about illustrations that gives these animals the charming wonder of storybook characters, and may perhaps make a certain kind of child connect with them even more strongly than they would if viewing a photograph. White’s dodo could be cousin to Tenniel’s Dodo from Carroll’s Alice books, and her sleeping, lurking tigers bring to mind the great feline Aslan from the Narnia books. Yet this book is decidedly non fiction, and it includes an index and a list of more resources for readers to peruse.

Djore’s Stripes covers much the same territory via an original narrative that reads much like a fairy tale or fable. Each of the stripes on Djore, a tiger who lives with monks, represents a number of tigers. As tigers disappear, so do Djore’s stripes; as the population slowly recovers, Djore’s stripes follow in kind. The watercolor artwork by Gwangjo and Jung-a Park illustrates this beautifully, with the washes of color giving the story a haunting loveliness that goes beyond the text.

Can We Save the Tiger? reviewed from a library copy; Djore’s Stripes, publisher review copy.

post script

As much as I railed the other day about the institution of summer reading, today is the first day of the program at MPOW and I am loving talking to all of the kids and getting them excited about coming to our programs and reading.

I think my real problem isn’t with summer reading. I love the fun, the whimsy, the decorations and the special events. I think what I resent is the idea that we’re being held responsible for helping children maintain skills, when really we should be sharing literature and stories with them, without any ulterior motive.

I also just really detest the American school system. Too many tests, not enough play, and not enough emphasis on the joy and fun of learning.


Summer Reading, pain in my…*

Summer Reading. We spend all year working on it. We can’t escape it.

I hate it. I hate summer reading.

But…but…it helps kids retain their reading skills over summer vacation!

You know why we even have a summer vacation?

So kids could spend the summer months helping out on the farm.

Wait…your kids don’t live on farms? They live in the suburbs? Or the city? Or even if they do live on a farm, it’s such a large farm that their meager help isn’t necessary during the summer months?

“Why operate on a calendar designed for the economy of the last century?” Kelly Johnson, communications coordinator for the National Association for Year-Round Education, asked Education World. “As we head into the 21st century, I don’t know of very many children who must work on family farms. So why do we continue to implement a calendar which has no educational advantages?

There’s no reason for summer vacation. Sure, it’s nice. Teachers love it, and probably want to punch me in the face right now. But really, why are we holding onto something that is nice but ultimately detrimental to our children and families? It has to be terribly difficult for working parents to find child-care for three months out of the year. I’m assuming a lot of kids just stay home unattended, or they get dropped off at the library for eight or more hours a day, without even a snack. Rarely will a child spend all of that time reading. Most of it is spent talking with friends, playing on the computer, or rolling around on the ground, rending his garments and crying “I AM SO BORED!”** Wouldn’t that time be better spent in school?

Are American schools serving up a quality education for all students? Although we provide students more years of formal schooling than any other nation, our school year is short, usually only 180 days. The world’s average is 200 to 220 days per year, and Japan’s is 243. (See “Give Kids More School,” USA Today, August 31,1992.) Over time, this difference can add up. [emphasis mine]

Further, in Chicago (where I live but do not work), our school days are among the shortest in the nation. We spend fewer days in school and even on the days we’re there, we’re not there for very long. And how many of those days are no more than an hour long?

Don’t worry about it, though! Summer reading will fix everything! Prizes from Oriental Trading and reading logs are an amazing cure-all for YEARS of educational neglect!

When a child is struggling with reading, I think the last thing s/he wants to do is spend the entire summer being forced by a well-meaning parent to read. Because that’s all it is– we give them a piece of paper or a database log-in and say, Here ya go! Read! Maintain your skills! What if Billy’s an eighth-grader and his reading level is only at the second grade? What good does it do for him to maintain that? How is he supposed to begin reading at his grade level without support, direct instruction, intervention–you know, SCHOOL?

The library is NOT school (no matter how many of my little patrons call me teacher), and most librarians are not equipped to teach children–or anyonehow to read, and I believe this is a major failing of most library school programs. How do we expect people to be invested in the library when they lack the one skill that makes it worthwhile? And even if libraries move away from storage and preservation towards content creation, how can we expect illiterate people to create content? How can we document community stories when the majority of the population lacks the ability to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end? If we’re going to be putting on this “program” that is supposedly going to keep kids from falling behind in school, shouldn’t we know how literacy is developed, how kids learn how to read, how adults learn how to read? How many librarians reading this right now have a clue as to how any of that works, and how to apply it in a library setting?

This doesn’t mean I am opposed to fun programs at libraries, especially for children. I love programming and telling stories, and filling the library with whimsy. I think decorations kick-ass. I just think that libraries should do that sort of thing ALL YEAR, and not just spend all of their time, effort, and money during the summer, when, frankly, most people are just there for the chintzy prizes. Kids that want to read will read, regardless of how charming and well crafted your summer reading program is. Children who can’t read and don’t like to read won’t read, and your posters, prizes, and logs won’t help them one damn bit.

Much like a Vulcan, I can’t stand things that I find illogical, and I find the Summer Reading Program, with its high minded, idealistic mission, to be a completely illogical artifact of the past. I also never participated in it as a child, so I don’t adore it slavishly out of misplaced nostalgia. Yet I am an above average reader and writer, so I guess the lack of summer reading really didn’t hurt me any, did it? And I was one of those farm kids who was so urgently needed on the farm during the summer, one of those bare-foot, dust covered urchins that summer reading was supposed to help so much. Perhaps all that time I spent listening to my father ramble on about hog prices and what the neighbors down the road were up to helped my literacy skills more than I knew.

In summary, I do believe that the average summer reading program is little more than a crutch for the failures of the average American school system. What do you think?


School calendars around the world

This article has a ton of links at the end about school calendars, start times, etc.

*to the tune of “Summer Lovin'”

**This is only a slight exaggeration.