Picture it: a program

Do you want a program that you can do at your library that is:

  • intergenerational?
  • collaborative?
  • creative?
  • involves multiple departments, including tech services?
  • celebrates picture books and novels?

Well, here it is:

Buy a bunch of blank books from Bare Books. They have paperbacks, picture books, graphic novels, board books–all of them blank and ready to be filled with your patrons amazing stories.

Have programs throughout the month about writing picture books and board books; novels; and graphic novels. These can be as elaborate or as laid back as you desire:

  • Use the picture book month site to get program ideas about the importance of picture books. Programs can be for kids, parents or teachers. As a creative part of the workshop, have attendees write and illustrate their own picture books.
  • Make it an outreach program! Take blank picture books out to schools and talk to students about the parts of a book. Show off stellar examples of endpapers and under jacket surprises. 100 Scope Notes is a great resource for examples of picture books with hidden delights. (I’ve actually done this and it’s a joy.)
  • Have a display of “how to” books, and encourage patrons to stop by the check out desk to pick up their blank book to create.
  • Bring in speakers, including writers in all genres for all ages, either in person or via skype.
  • Have booktalks on exemplary books in each format, then allow for time for patrons to work on their own works.
  • Have children interview seniors and then have them work together to write the life story of the senior, in any format they choose: picture book bio? Memoir? Graphic memoir? Whatever! You can have anyone interview anyone–5th graders interviewing 8th graders about what middle school is like, daughters interviewing mothers, etc and so forth.
  • As a NANOWRIMO challenge, have participants try to condense their novel into a 32 page picture book format. I’m sure afterwards they’ll have new respect for the picture book format!

Have patrons return their finished books to a designated location, and send the books off to be cataloged and added to the collection! Kids, teens and adults will delight in coming to the library and finding their book on the shelf. Feel free to have a limited number of books eligible for this treatment, and for a limited amount of time.

The Bare Books site doesn’t have pictures of its books, only drawings, but I’ve used them multiple times and I can vouch that they are solidly constructed, wonderful items. They have better examples on their pinterest, and this blog post also has a great photo of the books in “finished” form.

If you end up doing this program, please drop me a line and let me know how it goes! I’ve only done the outreach version– I’ve love to see how it works out it in different permutations.

 

No, really, let kids choose what they read

In case you need something to tide you over while you wait for your copy of Reading Unbound to arrive, here are some more quotes about why we need to let kids choose what they read.

We want to help our students fall in love with books in ways that foster a life-long devotion to reading. So what should schools do? We think the implications of our research are manifold, but two seem especially compelling.  First, our data make clear that educators should consider interpretive complexity in concert with textual complexity, a centerpiece of the Common Core State Standards.  Every text our participants read—from graphic novels to dark fiction to Harry Potterrequired sophisticated strategies for entering a story world and absorbing the twists and turns of the plot line and character relationships.  All fostered deep intellectual engagement.

Our data also convinced us of the importance of choice. Students should have regular opportunities to behave the way adult readers do and choose their own reading.   They know the kinds of texts from which they will take pleasure. At the same time, teachers should expand the possibility of pleasure by introducing students to new books they might not select on their own.

http://edublog.scholastic.com/post/why-kids-need-read-what-they-want

I love that this quote illustrates the role that “gate-keepers” should have–opening gates rather than closing them. Once a kid has read through everything they could find on their own, teachers and librarians can help them find the hidden treasures that will still meet their needs.

Reading is indeed crucial to success in school and in careers.  But we worry that discussions of reading, especially public policy discussions, focus almost exclusively on its utilitarian value. What’s missing is the pleasure readers derive from the reading they do.

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/11/the-most-important-lesson-schools-can-teach-kids-about-reading-its-fun/281295/

Again, people making these policy decisions know very little about children and child development; however, I do believe that Common Core, with its breadth of text types, actually encourages what I believe is important–giving children a wide variety of choices when it comes to what they read. Have you ever had it suggested that novels in verse are better for struggling readers because of the white space and shorter length? Then what about play scripts? White space abounds, it is mostly dialogue, and it very pointedly tells you what you’re seeing–but then again, it’s like a graphic novel without the images, and your imagination needs to fill in the pictures. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?

If I were Queen of the World, I would decree that all students be given the gifts of time and books they want to read throughout their schooling, and all pre-readers would have an adult who would read aloud to them everyday. Through independent reading children gain a wealth of background knowledge about many different things, come to understand story and non-fiction structures, absorb the essentials of English grammar, and continuously expand their vocabularies. Many also remember visually how to spell words. In a nutshell, the habit of reading does as much, if not more, than Direct Instruction and the rigorous demands of the Common Core. All without boring kids to death or persuading them that they’re dumb.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/09/08/why-kids-should-choose-their-own-books-to-read-in-school

Yes.

Years ago, I received a phone call from my godson’s mother. She said, “I know you told me to wait, but David is reading Harry Potter on his own.” David was in kindergarten. David read Harry Potter at 5 for the plot. He reread it at 10 for the plot, characters and emotional truths. He reread the entire series repeatedly the summer he was 13, to his mother’s dismay. “Can’t you get him to read something else?!” I didn’t even try.

NY Times Room for Debate

Yes. The importance of re-reading. I know, I know, there are so many books! But every time you re-read something, you gain something new. It’s magical.

The latest salvo comes from a survey released late last week by Scholastic Corp., a publisher of popular children’s books, which suggests that middle and high school students who have time to read books of their own choosing during the school day are also more likely to read frequently for pleasure.

“For us, choice is key,” said Kyle Good, a spokeswoman for Scholastic. “When you let kids choose the books they want to read, they’ll be voracious readers.”

In the survey, 78 percent of students, who read frequently for fun (at least five days a week), said they had time to read a book of choice during the school day. By contrast, 24 percent of infrequent readers — those who read for fun less than one day a week — said they had time to read a book of choice during the school day.

Chicago Tribune

Review of Reading Unbound, with links to supplementary material 

Top 5 Reasons to let kids choose their own books

 

Wondrous Pitiful

My story being done
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs.
She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange,
‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful. – Othello, Act 1, Scene 3

The stories of Othello’s youth moved Desdemona to love; they intrigued her, inspired her, incited her to action and emotion. The best stories do this to us–provoke strong response, either positive or negative. Laughter, or tears, or fists clenched in rage.

My American Literature professor once related the story that when he first read As I Lay Dying, this chapter incited him to throw the book against a wall and leave it there for nearly a week:

As-I-Lay-Dying-Vardaman-William-Faulkner-My-Mother-Is-a-Fish1

This is the power of literature, of art, of story.

I finally got my hands on a copy of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, and read it several times over. It was a disorienting experience; not quite on the level of “My mother is a fish” but I was perturbed nonetheless–yet only mildly so. I was sad that this story had fallen so short of the work that its subject truly deserved.

The work is not completely without merit. I found the text to be more successful on its own, divorced of the images. The text at least hinted at the tension there must have been between Hercules and his owner: how his stern expression became a smile when Martha Washington entered the kitchen, and his tone of voice changed as well; how everyone held their breath when the cake was taken upstairs; how Delia’s heart hammered in her chest when George Washington came down after the cake was eaten. After all, if the honey experiment had failed, wouldn’t there have been a punishment for Hercules? But this is never mentioned–only the gifts of fine clothes and theater tickets. Their lack of freedom is certainly unspoken, both in the text and images.

The images, I think, went too far in the direction of trying to depict the slaves as “happy” and “prideful.” There was none of the nuance of the text, where tension could be inferred from word choice and description. In every image and spread, everyone’s expression is happy or, at least, neutral, except for perhaps Martha’s expression of concern early in the book.

I still think Hercules’ is a story that should be told, but it deserves to be told in such a way that we are left aching from how passing strange and wondrous pitiful it was for such a talented man to have and achieve so much, while being denied the only thing he truly desired–his freedom.

How Much Can A Picture Book Do?

update 01/17/16: Scholastic is no longer distributing this title. 

The picture book, as a form, has been around for years, and has contributed to literature some of its most stunning masterpieces, in terms of both text and illustration. No one can dare deny the genius of Sendak, Kraus, Keats, Williams, or Raschka.

The picture book can do many things, and tell many stories, yet on the whole is often closer to poetry than to prose, even when a narrative is involved; with only 28 to 30 pages for actual story, the best picture books include meaning and poetry with their covers, end papers, and even in dedications and author’s notes.

The realm of picture books is vast; it contains multitudes. Yet, how much can these slim volumes be expected to reveal and share? Can every story be told well and accurately (and by accurately I include emotional as well as factual or historical accuracy) within the constraints of the form? Just as a poet knows when to use a sonnet, villanelle, or haiku, should an author know when to choose between a picture book, a chapter book, or a biography?

I ponder these questions because of a new title that is generating a lot of discussion, A Birthday Cake for George WashingtonI have not had a chance to review this book myself, so I am only going on reviews and descriptions– there has been much written on it already, including essays by both its author and editor, and a response from the publisher, wherein they sort of admit that the book might fall short of its intended aim:

Because we know that no single book will be acceptable to every reader, we offer many other books and resources that address slavery and Black history here and here.

The author, Ramin Ganeshram, certainly seems to have done an immense amount of research, yet one review notes that there are no sources cited in the actual book.

Ganeshram defends the upbeat, positive tone of the book and its cheerful (and admittedly beautiful) illustrations thusly:

Bizarrely and yes, disturbingly, there were some enslaved people who had a better quality of life than others and “close” relationships with those who enslaved them. But they were smart enough to use those “advantages” to improve their lives.

It is the historical record—not my opinion—that shows that enslaved people who received “status” positions were proud of these positions—and made use of the “perks” of those positions. It is what illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton calls out in her artist’s note as informing her decision to depict those in A Birthday Cake For George Washington as happy and prideful people.

This is not something I will endeavor to dispute. Slavery was an immense, complex, and shameful time in our history, and like any other grand horror, the feelings it inspires, in both those who lived through it and those who can only learn about it through other channels, including testimony, biography, and yes, even art, will not be easily or neatly categorized.

Ganeshram goes on to write:

In a modern sense, many of us don’t like to consider this, fearing that if we deviate from the narrative of constant-cruelty we diminish the horror of slavery. But if we chose to only focus on those who fit that singular viewpoint, we run the risk of erasing those, like Chef Hercules, who were remarkable, talented, and resourceful enough to use any and every skill to their own advantage.

I do not fault the author, illustrator, and editor for wanting to explore this facet of an American tragedy, or even this facet of Black history. There is a definite need for books that reflect diverse experiences. The black experience is about so much more than just slavery or the civil rights movement, and even within those historical narratives, I’m sure opinions and feelings on the situations varied widely.

But here’s the thing: just last year a textbook was published that called slaves brought over from Africa “workers.” This usage slipped past countless editors and educators, only to be caught by a boy named Coby as he read the textbook in his classroom. This term was used on a page discussing “patterns of immigration.” Now, slanting enforced capture and kidnapping as “immigration” is offensive and inaccurate, no matter how you try to slice it.

This indicates that in many ways, many children–and adults–are still not learning about or aware of the accurate history of what happened during slavery, and many (white) people in power are still deeply in denial about it:

Still, Ratliff, a Republican, found 16 other references to slavery in the geography book that he believes were accurate. He says the story of that one, problematic caption has “gotten blown out of proportion.”

Dean-Burren disagrees. She’s concerned about the words textbooks use — or don’t — to teach our nation’s rich history. Still, she’s proud of her son and the lesson he’s learned.

In this light, can we reasonably expect any picture book, no matter how well-intentioned or well-researched, to do justice to this infinitely complicated subject?

We could contrast this effort with a picture book that has been well-reviewed and well-received– Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad*.

Kirkus describes Henry’s Freedom Box thusly:

Related in measured, sonorous prose that makes a perfect match for the art, this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved, especially those who may have been tantalized by the entry on Brown in Virginia Hamilton’s Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom (1993). (emphasis mine)

Ganreshram places Henry’s Freedom Box and other picture books like it in this context:

In the sadly not-so-distant past, enslaved people were often depicted in children’s literature as childlike, foolish, or happily insensible of their condition.

Counteracting the industry’s previous wrongs, recent books like Dave The Potter, Henry’s Freedom Box, and The Story of African Americans have been gorgeous, intense and…pervasively somber. These depictions lend legitimate gravitas to their subjects—but the range of human emotion and behavior is vast, and there is room in between how the literary world depicted historical African American characters [then?] and how it does now.(I think perhaps she’s missing a “then” in that sentence)

 

Again, not having read Ganreshram’s book, I can only surmise certain things, and it seems like she’s saying her book is an update because Hercules is aware of his condition (that condition being slavery), but is making the best of it anyway. Which is not, I suppose, a wholly untenable approach to take in a story. After all, didn’t Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl detail how she made the most of a horrific situation?

Yet– consider the formats. Anne Frank’s work was a diary, consisting of hundreds of pages, allowing her narrative, characters, and setting the time to bloom and be fully explored. The complexity of her situation is given the time and the space to develop, giving us a fuller picture of what was happening, and providing us the context required to understand her and her story.

Within the constraints of a picture book, I think Ganreshram is hard pressed to succeed in her mission, no matter how well-intentioned, and thusly Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s beautiful artwork will also suffer within the context. I just don’t think that the complexity of Hercules’ story is possible to condense into the poetry of a picture book at this moment in time.

I think those “pervasively somber” books are much more successful because they have a unified vision for the work. The story and art work in tandem, evoking the sorrow and sometimes horror of what they describe, whereas A Birthday Cake For George Washington is trying to have its cake and eat it, too, by calling Hercules a slave yet not indicating any of the darker emotions that entails, and having no tension between the art and the text.

I believe that the story of Hercules is an important one, and deserving to be told; but I don’t think that the picture book format, as versatile, diverse, and wonderful as it is, is up to the task of this complex narrative and character.

*Henry’s song inspired another picture book telling, Freedom The Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown. Even in 1849 it was included in a book of children’s stories:Screenshot 2016-01-16 09.07.14

Interview with Alexis Coe, Author of Alice + Freda Forever

I’d like to say that I got to sit down with Alexis in a lovely little diner somewhere, drinking coffee as we chatted about vicarious menstruation and murder, but alas, I only got to email her my bizarre questions, but the answers are fabulous, and I appreciate her being a good sport about my admitted weirdness. Here we go!Alice+FredaForever_9781936976607 Alexis Coe_Alice and Freda Forever_1Julie: One of my favorite details in Alice + Freda Forever was that Sarah Bernhardt was trying to get an opera written about the couple–I think that would have been amazing.  Do you think your book might spawn a movie which will then become a musical which will then become a movie musical? And who would you cast as Alice and Freda? 

Alexis: I like this question so much—you clearly read the endnotes! Fortunately, my literary agent is at William Morris Endeavor in New York, and their LA office is handling the creative rights, so we might just see AFF the movie->musical->movie musical. I’ve only seen one of her movies (“Hanna”), but I can see Saoirse Ronan playing a wild-eyed Alice. I’ve got no idea who would play Freda, but I imagine she’d be very pretty and flirtatious. I’ve been on a serious “Good Wife” kick, so I picture Julianna Margulies as Alice’s mother, Isabella Mitchell.

Julie: I’m now fascinated by vicarious menstruation and erotomania. Are there any other esoteric and/or antiquated diseases that you are particularly interested in?

Alexis: This is going to seem morbid, in addition to writing a book that opens with a gruesome murder, but when I worked at the NYPL I spent way too long perusing a log book about causes of death in the 1820s. That’s where I was first introduced to “bad blood,” which is syphilis, and the many ways people died by horses hooves. They were most often kicked in the face, but children crossing the street were trampled by buggies, too. Memphis had a series of Yellow Fever outbreaks that devastated the city, and there were reports of “black vomit,” which was vomiting old black blood.

Julie: The story of Alice and Freda has been compared to the Parker-Hulme case in New Zealand (upon which Heavenly Creatures was based). What do you make of these comparisons? Are they apt?

Alexis: Although Alice was never tried for murder, I can see how the Mitchell-Ward case reminds some readers of the Parker-Hulme case. In both instances, media coverage was sensational, and same-sex love was linked to insanity. Issues of morality were at the forefront. But from there, I think their stories and lives were quite different.

Julie: As a librarian I love how well-researched your book is, with great citations and list of sources. Once you’ve researched a topic, how do you transition into writing the narrative so its engaging to readers while still adhering to the facts?

Alexis: Thank you! That’s high praise from a librarian. I write a very dry first draft in order to lay a solid foundation. It could probably pass for a graduate thesis, and is by far the most agonizing part. I then rewrite as often as I can. If I take a break to walk my dog, I think about what I’m writing, where I’ve been and where I need to go. I worry. I get upset. I laugh. I get angry. That’s when I know the historical actors have become real people to me, and that shows in the writing. If I’ve got a lot of time, which almost never happens, I’ll try to take a few days away from the project. That’s the ultimate luxury.

Julie: I loved Alice + Freda Forever so much, I’m already curious about what your next book might be. As a farmer’s daughter I’m hoping it might come from one of your Modern Farmer articles. Can you tell us anything about possible future books?

Alexis: You’re so kind! I know what you mean. When I finish articles, I often think, this should be a book! People need to know about this! Alas, saying that and starting the process of researching is quite different. There have been a lot of ideas that I thought about often, bemoaning how little time I had to explore them, and then, when I finally do, they never get past the first day of research. As far as the next book, I’ve been researching an economist who had been blacklisted by McCarthy, but then AFF came out, and it has taken up all my time since October 7th. I’m still the Toast’s history columnist, so you can find me there, and check out my Author Facebook page or twitter for the latest. By the time this goes up, Vice may have posted a personal essay I wrote about AFF.

Thanks, Alexis! When that essay goes live, I will link to it here.

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis

Publisher’s information:

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis
In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn’t her crime that shocked the nation – it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell planned to pass as a man and marry seventeen-year-old Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden to ever speak again. Desperate and isolated, Alice pilfered her father’s razor, and on a cold winter’s day, she slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat. Now more than 120 years later, their tragic but true story is being told. Alice + Freda Forever, by historian Alexis Coe and with illustrations by Sally Klann, is embellished with letters, maps, historical documents, and more. (Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe / Published by Zest Books and distributed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / ISBN-13: 978-1-936976-60-7 / $16.99 Hardcover; 224 pages, Ages 16+)

Alice+FredaForever_9781936976607I have to say I love this book. Like many I go through reading phases, including but not limited to: YA Fantasy and Sci-fi, YA Romance, Adult Fantasy and Sci-fi, Comfort Rereads, Biographies, Radiolab-esque nonfiction, and the genre that Alice + Freda Forever falls under, True Crime. One of my favorite true crime stories is that of Juliette Hulme and Pauline Parker, which, while a different story, does contain a couple of similar elements (which is something I asked Alexis about in my interview with her, which you can read here), so when the chance to read Alice + Freda Forever came up, I quickly took it.

In my work as a youth librarian who works closely with educators, I often think about how the books I read could be used by teachers, and I can see a lot of ways that Alice + Freda Forever could be used in high school classrooms and even in college classrooms, in addition to just being a great, high-interest read. Pair it with Orlando and discuss gender identity, or with In Cold Blood to compare and contrast murder narratives. Assign it in a course about civil rights along with reading the works of Ida B. Wells. Include it in a reading list about obscure and outdated diseases. The possibilities are endless and that is, for me, a mark of quality nonfiction.

Although this book is definitely aimed at an older audience, with upper high school at the low end, I am really, really happy to see the copious amount of research that was done, and the list of sources that were referenced. Nonfiction for youth, despite being an in demand property, is, in my opinion, often lacking in references and source material, and the authority of the author is often questionable (have you noticed how many former lawyers write children’s nonfiction these days?). This is not the case with Alexis Coe, I am glad to say.

I also thought the design of this book was beautiful, and spot on for its audience. I can see teens who enjoy graphic memoirs easily embracing this beautifully illustrated title, and reluctant readers being pulled in by the striking red cover.

AliceFreda_parting
Alice and Freda parting.

One final note about this book and its imprint, Pulp. Ever since the term “new adult” appeared on the scene, I’ve scorned it. It seemed silly, redundant, and none of the books bearing that stamp seemed at all fresh or interesting to me. But then Pulp gave me a definition of new adult that I could accept and even support:

At Zest Books, we’ve been publishing nonfiction books for teens and young adults since 2006, but we’re growing up a little bit in 2014: Today we’re proud to announce our launch of Pulp, an imprint for “new adults.” Like our previous Zest titles, the books in the Pulp imprint will include contemporary and narrative nonfiction books, specializing in memoirs, graphic novels, and art and humor books, but for a slightly older audience. […] We’re looking forward to taking even more risks with these books, especially in terms of how we cover our topics. Many of our Zest authors were coming to us because, as readers, they appreciated our honesty and curiosity, but that sensibility is something that has value for adults as well. In fact, that sensibility is already being reflected at sites like Rookie and The Toast, where some of our current authors now publish. Additionally, the issues that we’re now covering for teens—such as sexuality, health, behavior, and relationships—shift significantly as young adults mature, and the Pulp line allows us to expand both what we can cover and how we can cover it. Some of our Pulp books will have immediate appeal to teens in the same way that our Zest Books titles often sell into the adult market. We embrace that fluidity, while at the same time recognizing a need to let booksellers and librarians know how our respective books are intended. (Emphasis added. Via Zest’s website).

Anyway, this book is a great read and belongs in most public and academic library collections, and could certainly see some applications in upper high school courses. Highly recommended.

author, author!

The past couple of conferences I went to, there was some chatter about author visits at libraries—namely, how do you get anyone to care about and come to your author event? (I’m assuming here you’ve found the money already. Top notch authors are almost always going to be quite expensive, so start budgeting now and looking for financial partners. Also, start locally if you’ve never done an author visit before. Cutting down on travel costs cuts the budget significantly). I’ve done a few author events at my library, and seen other well done events in action, so I thought I would share some of my hard earned wisdom with you, my dear and lovely readers.

1) Choose your author wisely.
Not every great book has an author worth visiting with. Harsh, but true. When selecting an author to bring to your community, you need to consider reputation, charisma, and speaking skills just as much as you consider the quality and appeal of the author’s work. People have already spent time with the book(s). You want to get them excited about spending time with a person. When choosing an author, make sure to….

2) Consider your audience.
Think about who your author writes for– lower elementary, upper elementary, middle school, or teen. Sometimes there is overlap. Andrea Beaty has both picture books and chapter books, and is great for Prek-5th presentations. Adam Selzer has middle grade, middle school, and upper YA novels, as well as adult nonfiction about Chicago history and hauntings that appeal to teens /and/ adults. You really want to target your audience, because this will tie in so much to your promotion of the event. You can have an author present for more than one audience, but make sure those events are clearly delineated. Also, think about your community– is it conservative? Artistic? Older? Younger? Make sure you have a population that will be interested in the person you’re bringing in.

3) Promote.
This seems like a “duh” moment but it’s very important. It’s not enough to put a few lines in your newsletter or a picture on your webpage. You need to hustle. This is not a drill, people. Most authors worth having are going to be expensive, and you want to make the turn out worth everyone’s while. So target your audience. For me, I hit the middle schools–and I mean hit. At the two middle schools in our main district, I physically went to the school and presented a 15 minute, high impact promotion about the author to as many kids as I could. (At one school, I managed to see every student during the day; I was on my feet from 8-3 and it was amazing.) I’ll talk more about my specific promotion strategies at the end.

4) Get a bookseller.
If everyone’s done their job, there will be a hunger for your author’s work, and people will want to get their copies signed and maybe even take a picture. Also, you want your authors to make money so they can keep writing books. Partnering with a local, indie bookseller is imperative. Further, booksellers often have insider knowledge about when and where certain authors will be touring– if you form a strong partnership, oftentimes a bookseller can get you free author appearances for your library. They are more likely to do this for you if you have a record of bringing out good crowds for events, which you will if you follow these guidelines.

5) Make the event an EVENT.
You’re essentially throwing a party, so throw a damn party. Have a cake decorated to look like the book cover. If there’s a special or unique food mentioned in the book(s), serve it. Decorate. Have music that relates to the tone of the book playing before the start. Make sure to introduce your author with appropriate excitement and pomp. Hype everyone up. Throw your hands in the air. Whatever you have to do, do it. Bust out your best Neil Patrick Harris hosting the Tonys here, because that’s what it deserves.

Let’s walk through an example of an author visit that I worked on.

ADAM GIDWITZ!

860661_515247835185202_1408791629_o1) Choose your author wisely.
Adam’s visit to my library and local schools was already in the works when I began my job last fall, but I quickly jumped in and started implementing my master plan. Adam is a perfect visiting author. He is energetic, engaging, interesting, and an excellent performer. His books–A Tale Dark and Grimm, In A Glass Grimmly, and The Grimm Conclusion–are excellent and have high appeal factors for a wide variety of readers. Adam was also extremely gracious and easy to work with, providing me and my coworkers with lots of information we could use to promote his visit– including making a short video just for our middle schoolers.

2) Consider your audience.
From working with the schools and the school staff, we knew the personalities we were dealing with, and we knew that plenty of kids would be excited about seeing Adam. Word of mouth about his books spread quickly as kids talked it up to each other. We also knew the fairy tale element–fairy tales being one of the text types in the new Common Core State Standards–would lend the presentation a whiff of educmacational value, which doesn’t hurt when talking a program up to parents.

3) Promote.
I’m lucky to have a great marketing department to work with, so they did a wonderful job of getting this event in the newsletter, on the website, and in the community (including a local newspaper blurb!) As the School Outreach Librarian, it was then my job to TAKE IT TO THE SCHOOLS. This is one of my favorite parts of the process, and while I’ve found a formula that works for me, be aware that your mileage may vary. Like any creative, personality driven library presentation you need to promote in a way that makes sense for your style, especially if you’re working with kids. You need to be genuine and genuinely enthusiastic. If you’re not, your promotion will fall flat, and no excitement will be generated.

My promotion formula is based largely on the author, as illustrated by this mostly gratuitous pie chart:

piechartStart off with a quick, punchy book talk about the author’s works. I talked up Adam’s two novels (this was before the third one was released) and also showed an awesome book trailer in German, because everything sounds more awesome in German. Then, I segued into talking about Adam as a person and an author. I gave a brief biographical sketch, including–and this is important—pictures of Adam when he was the same as the teens I was promoting the event to.

I cannot state enough how cool this is. Even the most jaded eighth grader will guffaw when shown a picture of someone in their youth. Suddenly the teens can relate just a little bit easier to this person, just by seeing their dork-tastic 90’s hair and braces. Contrast this with a picture of what the author currently looks like, just so the kids know who they will actually be seeing at the event.

Also: food. Most people are into food and get excited about it. I ask authors their favorite foods then and now. Adam’s answer for his current favorite food was blood pie. I used this heavily in my promotion. “WHAT is a BLOOD PIE?” I asked dramatically. “You’ll have to come to the event to FIND OUT. Because we will be SERVING one.” Cue 45 middle schoolers groaning excitedly about BLOOD.

All of my presentations were about 15 minutes (yep, only 15 minutes). I wanted my message to be brief and intense. Between the BLOOD PIE and Adam’s middle school picture, and a gory 3 minute retelling of Cinderella, the teens were left with strong images and a strong incentive to attend the event. You can see my keynote slides here: gidwitz copy

4) Get a bookseller.
The bookseller we brought in sold out of paperbacks and sold almost all of the rest of the stock he brought with him. This made everyone happy.

4) Make the event an EVENT.
Our attendance exceeded expectations. We were hoping for around forty five people but had over one hundred kids and teens  held in thrall by Adam’s presentation, which included a full telling of the fairytale “The Juniper Tree.” As promised, we served BLOOD PIE (berry pie with no top crust). No one was more surprised and delighted by this than Adam. “Wow. That was just something I made up,” he said. That’s me…the person who makes dreams come true. Especially when they involve BLOOD. We also had cookies decorated to look like the cover of Adam’s book. They were so gorgeous, one girl just held her cookie, crying that it was too beautiful to eat. IMG_0400 IMG_0402Not mandatory, but forcing your author to pose by the food can’t hurt. You can see the BLOOD PIE to the left (to the left, all the blood pie is on the table to the left). We also had BLOOD PUNCH because BLOOD. BLOOD YOU GUYS. This entire post could have just been the word BLOOD.

So that’s how I (and my awesome coworkers) achieved author visit success. What about you?

let’s stop worrying and love the common core

You’ll live to be read another day, sweet Catcher in the Rye. Beautiful illustration by naomi yamada.

Dear sweet baby Jane.

So if you want a rage stroke, read the articles I’ve listed below. If you want to just read an accurate description of how the fiction/nonfiction actually breaks down in the Common Core, just read this one.

I think the way everyone (yes, LITERALLY* EVERYONE EVER) was misquoting the 70% figure and assiduously babycrying about Recommended Levels of Insulation being an exemplary text (which it IS, for INFORMATIONAL TEXTS, not LITERATURE) really shows us that our ability to read different types of text SUCKS.

Listen. I think the common core probably has flaws, but I don’t care, because it has at least one major strength: knocking lexile off its perch as the definitive way we give kids books to read.

See, a major component of CC is text complexity. This concept forces us (us referring to teachers, parents, and librarians, mostly) to consider a whole text when we’re deciding when to read it and who to read it with. (I love this mostly because it reminds me a lot of the whole child approach to teaching). Lexile is only one piece of the puzzle. It must be used in conjunction with theme, levels of meaning, structure, prior knowledge demands, etc, to decide where a piece of writing would best be used. (I’d never be able to explain it better than Jackie Owens did in this presentation, so if you want to see how to evaluate a text, check that out, bookmark it, print it out and laminate it–it’s an excellent tool to use.)

The idea is that we want to empower kids to be stronger, more well-rounded readers. We want them to be exposed to a wealth and breadth of reading materials so that they can discover their talents and passions. You know that some kid is going to geek out intensely on that insulation text (well maybe not, but don’t we all know kids who pore over game manuals who could easily and happily make the leap to, say, car repair texts? or mortgage applications?), and who are we to deny that kid that opportunity?

Being able to adjust one’s reading style to the text at hand is an important skill, and one that we’re sorely lacking. You don’t read a verse novel the same way you read your tax form, and if we don’t teach kids that, we’re setting them up for failure. Maybe if more kids knew that it was okay to skim the boring parts of a novel (hello, flensing in Moby Dick and architecture in The Hunchback of Notre Dame) they’d be more able to stick with a difficult novel and get out of it what they could. Further, if we read more informational and technical texts, maybe we’d have been better able to avoid some of the effects of the financial crisis because it wouldn’t have been so damn difficult to read and understand loan documents and mortgage applications.

So teachers, don’t worry, you can keep teaching The Catcher in Rye (shudder) until they pry Holden Caulfield’s literary corpse out of your cold dead hands. But you can also spend a little time reading biographies of some of the famous people mentioned in the text (such as Gary Grant, or the Lunts, perhaps, although I can see many a middle schooler having a field day with that name), or looking at articles of the period from the Saturday Evening Post. CC isn’t about taking anything away, it’s about adding supporting materials to deepen and enrich the experience of reading.

It’s also a great opportunity to insist that literacy isn’t solely the responsibility of the LA teachers and librarians any more. Read a novel in math class (Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth both lend themselves wonderfully to big, beautiful, crazy making math discussions), or read Silent Spring in biology class. I read Silent Spring in biology class when I was in high school, and it’s pretty much the only damn thing I really remember, frankly. For kids who aren’t technically minded, having stories to hang these concepts on is a wonderful scaffolding and support technique. And for kids who love to crunch numbers and muck about with beakers, being exposed to the lyricism of Rachel Carson’s prose or the sheer goofiness of Milo’s adventures will remind them of the human element inherent in every discipline, no matter how far removed it may seem.

SO FRET NOT FRIENDS. The world of literature for children has expanded, not contracted; there is a bounty out there, with something for everyone. Rejoice.

AND DING DONG LEXILE’S DEAD. Or, at least, not so very powerful.

Now I want a ding dong. Or actually, a zinger.

*Chris Trager style

How To Do it Right

Two Common Core Blunders To Avoid–and How to Do It

The Role of Fiction in the High School English Language Arts Classroom

How to measure text complexity

Common Core and Nonfiction, Again

Rage Stroke Articles

Common Core Nonfiction Reading Standards Mark The End Of Literature, English Teachers Say

English Class: Hold the Literature?

Catcher in the Rye dropped from US school curriculum

 

Boundtracks: Pete the Cat and “New Shoes”

Oh, Pete the Cat! I can practically recite you from memory, and there isn’t a group of kids and adults in existence who aren’t magically swept up in your bouncy tale of sloppy shoes. (Although some more savvy color mixers insist that first your shoes should turn pink then purple but I call it a quick charming lesson in suspension of disbelief.)

As I await the arrival of Four Groovy Buttons (having not been terribly impressed with Rockin In My School Shoes, ymmv), I’ve been revisiting the original Pete the Cat, and during my commute this morning I thought that Paolo’s song “New Shoes” would be a great pairing (ha! pairing! shoes! ahem) during a storytime. You could have the kids just get up and dance, or if they need a bit more encouragement, pass out shakers or dancing scarves to help them find the groove.

Videos:

 

Beginning Reader Storytime, Art Adventure: The Final Countdown

So now the kids have their backgrounds and their characters.

Then they just had to glue them down and voila! Their very own Eric Carle-esque creations!

Has anyone else managed to do a long term author/illustrator based program like this one? Ours went off pretty well; for those with attendance concerns, this is a registered program and we did stress that regular attendance was important, but for kids who missed some sessions we just caught them up as best we could, and no one seemed the worse for it.

If you’re interested in my Beginning Readers Storytimes, I’ve begun collecting them under their very own category, so they should be much easier to find.