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

 

Why Kids Need to Read What They Want

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Is this how we want kids to act when it comes to reading? / flicker, C. Bitner

In the most recent edition of Cover to Cover by K.T. Horning, there are no early childhood, middle grade, or ya distinctions in books for children. Encompassing fiction and nonfiction, the breakdown is:

  • Picture books (including board books)
  • Readers/Beginning Readers/Easy Readers
  • Transitional books
  • Chapter books

That’s it. We have those formats, and within those formats, every genre is covered, for ages birth to teen. (Oh, but wait–where should graphic novels go? I’d include them with chapter books, honestly; the art in a graphic novel serves as a concurrent visual text, in my opinion. Or, heck, let’s put them in with picture books, maybe? I don’t have all the answers, clearly.)

In my ideal, imaginary library, this is how it would be– those formats would be organized, so kids who are being read to can find board and picture books, pre-readers can find the books they need, transitional readers the same, and then chapter books for independent readers who can make their own choices (with guidance from their parent/guardian and, ideally, a librarian). There would be a call number, and no other designations– no guided reading, or any of that other stuff. Just books and excellent staff and seemingly limitless choices. (I’m getting chills just writing about it.)

Does a library like this exist? Probably not. Although my personal library is like this. I’m sure everyone’s personal library is like this. So why do we insist that youth follow dozens of arbitrary guidelines when it comes to the stories they get to read?

Anyway. This summer I tried something different with our suggested reading book lists, in an attempt to create a small scale version of this literary utopia. I wanted to move away from parents just grabbing the list of their child’s grade, and slavishly following those suggestions we’d made, with the best of intentions. Instead of lists covering 2 grade levels, as had been the practice in the past, I had:

  • Pre-readers (babies-Kindergarten): includes board and picture books, all genres
  • Beginning readers (K-3rd): easy/beginning readers, all genres
  • Transitional Third Grade reads: transitional chapter books, all genres
  • Third Grade and Up: picture, beginning, transitional, and chapter books, all genres

Now, there isn’t just one Third Grade and Up list, oh no. There were several, with titles like:

  • Smile Diary: books for Wimpy Kid and Telgameier Fans
  • Murder and Mayhem: stories that are scary and thrilling
  • WONDERing what to read next: Wonder readalikes
  • Full STEAM ahead: books for kids who like to tinker and create
  • Myths, Magic and More: fantasy, science fiction, and the just plain strange
  • Game On: books for gamers
  • Tell Me A Story: books about the magic of storytelling
  • That’s Funny: Books to make you laugh
  • Can You Believe It?: Books to make you see the world in a different way

The books were listed not in alphabetical order, but rather in order of literary and thematic complexity.

To explain, each list had an introduction like this:

3rd Grade and Up

Murder and Mayhem: stories that are scary and thrilling!

If you enjoy scary stories, thrilling tales of true crime, forensic science, and the unexplained, then these books are for you!

Read from the beginning of the list when you’re short on time but still want a good story. Read from the end of the list when you’re up for a more textually and thematically challenging experience.

Not every book on every list will be right for your child. If you have questions about any title, please see [library] staff for guidance.

Third grade and up meant just that: independent readers from third to twelfth grades (or beyond! Mom and Dad, you can read these books too!) could read these books, all of which were chosen from our children’s department collection. I wanted to do this so that an older student who wasn’t reading at grade level wouldn’t be stigmatized by reading from a list that was clearly marked for a younger age. By having only a lower limit, rather than a lower and upper, the list was more open to more readers. And by keeping the selections limited to our children’s department, we were still helping parents make appropriate choices for their child (advocate for freedom that I am, I still want to make things easier for parents, so I’m not going to hand them a third grade and up list with really intense themes and situations).

Oh, and another cool thing–the books on these lists were jointly nominated by my library staff as well as school librarians from our main school district, and they used these lists as their district’s recommended summer reading. How great is that? School librarians got to suggest awesome books that they loved, while I did all the grunt work of collating and organizing them, and our wonderful graphics department made them into beautiful brochures.

Ultimately, I wanted these lists to provide some guidance, while also encouraging kids and parents to use library staff to help them find the  best book for them.

For teens we had 7th grade and up lists, with items exclusively from the teen collection. (Now, ideally I’d want to include picture and other books, but with display and cataloging restraints, this just wasn’t possible; and, again, these teens could also enjoy all the books on the third grade and up lists.)

For teens, our themes were:

  • Social Justice: books about making the world a better place
  • Not Okay: readalikes for The Fault in Our Stars 
  • Get Real: Realistic fiction and memoirs
  • Myths, Magic and More: Fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative fiction

I have to say, the impetus for this project was the book Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want—and Why We Should Let Them. We actually recommended this title to parents in our lists, and amazingly, the book got checked out. How many people actually read it, I don’t know, but it just goes to show that if you make something available, people will take advantage.

I was concerned about confusion and push back–would parents get on board? Would they understand it? Was I creating a problem where there wasn’t one?

I don’t think so. I actually think these lists have been doing what they are meant to do–broaden the scope of what kids read, and providing guidance while also encouraging choice.

Now, summer’s not over, so the verdict isn’t completely in yet, but so far I’m going to call this a success. Books are still getting checked out at a rapid clip, I’ve heard people express delight at the themes, and so far no one has been upset that a book about the Lizzie Borden case was on the “Murder and Mayhem” list (really, with a title like that, I was suspecting parents of sensitive kids would know to steer clear).

What do you think? How do you handle suggested reading/passive reader’s advisory?

 

 

 

 

say hi to Miss Sarah

the teen librarian you wish you had (or were)

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I met Sarah Jones (Teen Librarian) via twitter, and I’m happy to say that via the gloriousness of the internet we’ve become real life friends. I’ve been continually amazed by  her efforts whenever she talks about her job on twitter or facebook, and I finally decided that I needed her to tell her story, in her own words, for all my blog readers to see. So, without further ado, here’s a tale of how one teen librarian, through gumption and awesomeness, took her library’s teen programming from pathetic to positively awe inspiring. 

A few months ago I gave a presentation at my state’s annual conference about teen programming.   I submitted the proposal because I recognized that I hadn’t heard anything new about teen or youth services at a conference in a long time, and decided that might mean that I’m an expert.  The presentation went great; it was standing room only, people took notes, and people had so many questions that we ran over our allotted time by quite a bit (and they were GOOD questions, not the kind of questions that come from that ONE person at every conference.  You know who I mean.).

I’ve been a full time teen librarian for a few years now, but the position was new when I started it.  I took over for someone who made a genuine effort but was a youth librarian not only at heart but 4 out of 5 of her work days.  A lot of libraries have that murky position—a staff member who does storytime three days a week but still stays late on Friday to throw a video game night for the local teens.  There were a lot of such librarians at my presentation, great people who WANT to be doing a good job, but who aren’t passionate about teen services, and aren’t sure where to start.  The great news for those librarians is that those of us who come to work each day barely able to believe we got so lucky as to score full time teenbrarian positions are often very, very willing to talk about of successes in excruciating detail, and will encourage you to steal our ideas.

I started my position in the Spring of 2010, which meant I took over an SRP (Summer Reading Program) that someone else had already planned.  I don’t remember many details of how things worked that summer, but my stats show that about 220 teens participated across three buildings.  The next year I burned the thing down and planned my own program from start to finish.  The very simple breakdown:

-read anything you want for ten hours, get a prize

-read anything you want for another ten hours, get another prize and get entered into the grand prize drawing and an invitation to the wrap-up party

-for every hour you read beyond that, you get an entry into a prize drawing for one of 5 or so super awesome other prizes

That’s it!  Super simple!  No dictating what they read or how they read it, or even what quantity they read.  If a special needs teen participates and only reads one book in 20 hours, that’s fine by me and he or she has no reason to be embarrassed, because I don’t even know.  If all they read is online fanfic, they don’t have to worry about figuring out how many pages it would be equivalent to.  It’s all just time.

To keep prizes cheap but also fun and motivational, I go the grab-bag route.  Every grab bag gets a full sized candy bar.  Some grab bags get an additional little something.  Smencils are a hit, and I also throw in things like rubber ducks, weird things I find in the $1 bins at Target, books I have left over from book clubs, really anything works.  A smaller number of bags get a small gift card, usually to Target or Game Stop.  Depending on budget, I might do 15-20 $5 gift cards.  I like to give a few $10 Coldstone gift cards, and then I always throw in one $20 card to a random bag.  They all get stapled shut, and the rule is that they can’t fondle them before they pick.  It’s important that you say fondle so they laugh.  I clearly mark and set aside a set of bags that only contain things that have no nuts and do not have a nut allergen warning, and another set that have no candy at all in case of a diabetic or severely food allergic teen.  Before they pick I ask “any food issues?” and so far it’s worked just fine.

The grand prize is easy.  When you were a teen, what did you want more than anything?  MONEY.  Last year, I gave away 5 $50 Visa gift cards.  Even at 30 I would totally join a summer reading club for a chance at winning fifty bucks!  And I’d likely spend it on the same things the teens do, realistically.

The Above-and-Beyond (that’s what we call the entries that come after they’ve finished the 20 hours) prizes are where I get to have a little fun.  Usually one or two are bigger gift cards for Game Stop or Barnes and Noble or something like that.  And then the other three are based on some theme.  Past themes have been Twilight, The Hunger Games, Manga/Anime, and Art Supplies.  For my Winter Reading program this year I’m making a Nerdfighter basket and a Doctor Who basket, among others.  It’s all about what your teens are into and what you can afford.

I’ve done this program two years in a row now.  That first, sad year when I took over someone else’s program I had 220.  The first year of my own program I had 435.  Last summer I had 647.  It turns out that spending less on incentive prizes in order to give them a chance at winning a BIG AWESOME PRIZE totally works.

There is, of course, more to my success than a prize basket including Hunger Games kneesocks.  Another important thing is that if teens are IN the library, they are more likely to turn in their forms.  So PROGRAM PROGRAM PROGRAM.   The ins and outs of my programs and failures and successes therin would take a whole separate post, but QUANTITY is seriously important.  At our Main library I’ve got something going on each week—often 2 or 3 or 4 things a week.  At each of our two branches I’ve got at least one thing a month throughout the year, and during the summer I try for 2.  I’d love to do more, but I’m the only person who does teen stuff for three buildings, and I have to sit at the reference desk sometimes or the youth department will mutiny.

There is ONE summer program that has to be addressed here though, and that’s the Summer Reading Wrap-Up Party.  While the grand prizes are a huge incentive,  getting the invitation to this party is the big awesome thing that EVERYONE gets.

And the party must be awesome.  This could mean different things for different libraries, but it definitely has to be something you don’t usually do as a program, and if it can be something you don’t usually allow at all, even better.  For me this means the dreaded after-hours program, where the teens get the run of the library after closing.  It also means LASER TAG.  My first summer as the planner of the SRP, I got the crazy idea that there should be laser tag at this event.  I quickly realized the terribleness of the idea of letting them play in the library proper, and I found a place nearby where I  could rent  a giant inflatable laser tag course. Since only about ten kids could play at a time, I had other things set up that were a little less exciting—video games, karaoke,  and lots and lots of pizza.  I made sure when handing out the invites to stress how insanely awesome the party was going to be, and also that I was going to be VERY VERY STRICT about not allowing anyone who didn’t complete the SRP to attend, so if they wanted to bring friends to this party, the friends had better finish the program too.  Guess how many teens came to that party?

…..

115.  Luckily I had roped a LOT of friends into helping supervise, and I’d required registration so I was ready for them.  By then end they were getting a little nutso, but overall it was a great time with no big problems.  As they were leaving, I heard many kids say “I CAN’T WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR!” so I knew I was going to have to bring it in 2012.

And bring it I did.  A little thing happened called The Hunger Games, perhaps you’ve heard of it?  One morning I had one of those great “in the shower” ideas that I should make it a Hunger Games themed party—I could still have laser tag, because that TOTALLY makes sense!  It would be the arena, where they’d kill each other!  On the invite I encouraged the teens to cosplay and held a costume contest.  I had many stations with HG games I found online so that they would keep busy while waiting their turn in the arena.  I made a scavenger hunt and a trivia game and gave out copies of the then just-released DVD as prizes, and one girl was so excited she’d won it that she squealed.  I kept them so friggin’ busy that they didn’t have a chance to misbehave, and I got a TON of adult volunteers to help me run all of it.  For me it was key to have my friends help, and not my coworkers, because I knew I needed people with a high teen tolerance level.  As soon as they saw the Hunger Games font on the invitation the teens started to get REALLY excited about the party.  Total attendance?  216.  TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN TEENAGERS AT ONE PROGRAM.

Don’t be discouraged by humble beginnings.  Don’t start out thinking that this wouldn’t work at your library.  I never thought that the attendance at a wrap-up party two summers after that first one would have been the same as the total participation in 2010.  I’m not special, I’m not anybody you’ve heard of, and I’m not a mover or a shaker.  But I’m on the front lines, talking to teens, throwing programs and hoping they come over and over and over again until they do.   Start now, keep it up all year, and they’ll come to your SRP.   If you asked me what I’ve done to build the relationships with my teens that I have, I’d say, “Eighteen programs this month” and then probably eat a Kit Kat.

Read more about Sarah’s programs and teenbrarian philosophy at teenbrarian.blogspot.com

ego, thy name is librarianship

cc license photo by flickr use r zoonabar
cc license photo by flickr use r zoonabar

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a bit of an attention problem. No, not attention deficit– I have a need to be, if not the center of attention, at least left of center. Even though I am an introvert at heart who needs significant alone time to recharge and prepare, I am actually happiest when I am in front of a crowd. I meet this need for attention in many ways–by working in an area of librarianship that demands that I present storytimes and other programs, by being a performing songwriter on my personal time, by writing this blog. Often these endeavors are satisfying enough in themselves, but sometimes–during dark, lonely afternoons as I type up program plans, or ponder what to write about next on the blog–I crave even more attention, but I don’t know how to get it.

Doesn’t this all sound awfully conceited? I know. It does. But I’m nothing if not honest, so yes, I’ll admit to thinking I am awesome. I think I do excellent work, and have unique contributions to make, even though I don’t have a slogan or a hashtag or a large, slavish following. Sometimes I wonder if I were a man, writing about ebooks, if I’d get more attention. But since I am a lady writing mostly about playdough and early literacy, decidedly unsexy topics in librarianship (and when did “sexy” begin to equal “intriguing” or “worthwhile” or “interesting”?) I have a decidedly smaller circle of admirers and colleagues, most of whom are my fellow unsung heroes of the library world. As a children’s librarian, if you write more about how you use books with children than you do about the books and authors themselves, you don’t get as much notice.

Perhaps it is just my sensitive ego at work, but I feel like the librarian bloggers who work with children and teens and who write primarily about programs don’t get the recognition they deserve. Storytime blogs such as So Tomorrow, Awesome Storytime, Mel’s Desk, Playing by the Book, Tiny Tips for Library Fun, Bryce Don’t Play, and Storytiming provide real, concrete advice for creating worthwhile programming, which should be the bread and butter of libraries. If all of us wrote more book reviews and less about the programs we created using those books, or why we create the programs we do, perhaps we’d get more notice. If we blogged about hot button topics like e-books for babies or stripping our children’s departments down to look like futuristic lunchrooms filled with ipads, perhaps we’d get a ton of traffic. But we don’t. We write about our quiet successes and failures, about the simple craft of creating a flannel story, about what rhymes will fit with certain themes, and when we do review books, it’s always with an eye to How will I use this with a group of children? When we get dressed for work, it’s always with a thought about how easily we’ll be able to get up and down from the floor during storytime, and whether or not sweat will show if we’re doing a lot of jumping songs that day.

In a profession that’s supposedly dominated by women, I find it sad that the librarians who get the most attention are mostly men (and, admittedly, some women), men who very rarely write about honest, simple, day to day issues in librarianship (Swiss Army Librarian being a rare exception, with his marvelous ref questions of the week). These men spin elaborate fantasies about librarians being information rockstars who dress to impress (either flashily or with an eye to ironic hipsterism), dismiss librarians who still use books to connect with patrons as hopelessly backwards, and come up with gimmick after gimmick to get libraries “noticed” without ever once writing about a concrete, applicable thing that they have actually done. Show me how libraries and librarians are amazing, don’t just tell me and expect me to be convinced.

I’m on very precarious ground as I write this, because honestly, my main motivation is that I am sad that I am not more recognized. [I really regret this sentence right now! While I, personally, do want to be recognized, more than that I want my tribe–kid and teen librarians who work so damn hard with little to no recognition in the wider library world–to be noticed and appreciated. Which they might be. I’ll admit to not being able to read everything ever printed about libraries. JJ 01/16] I want to be noticed. I want people to listen to what I have to say. I want to be offered speaking engagements, to have a larger platform to  discuss my ideas of how to better librarianship, to be valued. I want to win awards. I crave approval and recognition, and yet, to paraphrase Lillian Hellman, I cannot and will not cut my librarianship to fit this year’s fashion. I don’t particularly care about e-books, only that I wish we could give our patrons what they want. I don’t particularly want to shove ipads into the faces of babies and toddlers because I still believe screen time is ultimately damaging. I don’t really care to have the perception of librarians go from shushing bun heads to strutting pimps. (I think Frank Zappa* is a better rock star librarian model than any rapper, but that’s just me. Like Frank, I believe in free speech, showmanship, and being a decent human being. Like Frank, I think you can push the envelope of expression without being hateful to women.) I like books, and I believe librarianship is about books, if you stop and think about how books equal stories, and it doesn’t matter what goddamn container they come in, be it paper, digital, audio, or a film or a video game. Stories are what people crave, and stories (like the storycorp partnership with libraries, or the not so new resurgence of reading aloud to adults–and adult librarians, if you need help on reading aloud, you know who to ask) are what libraries have and always will do best.

So next time you need a keynote speaker, perhaps consider one of us librarians who spend most of our time on the floor–often literally. Our subject matter might not be “sexy”, but we know how to tell a damn good story.

*”If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.” – Frank Zappa

September, I remember

September, how did you get here so fast? Oh, yeah, summer reading (Ingrid breaks it down for you, animated gifs and all). And, oh, yeah, I have a new job (which makes another Ingrid link relevant).

I’m going from being a storytime all the time librarian to a school services coordinator librarian. It’s been hard to say goodbye to a community I’ve served for four years, but it’s an exciting opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to all the new duties, challenges and experiences ahead of me.

Since the playdough post was so popular, I wanted to pass on these links with more ideas: Garden Playdough from Bakers & Astronauts and Playdough Power from NAEYC

How was your summer? And what are you looking forward to this fall?

Beginning Readers Storytime: Art Adventure

After having my Beginning Readers Storytime for several sessions, I began to feel a familiar feeling: boredom. I was bored. I needed something new, exciting, thrilling. I needed to challenge myself.

Yet, I am not completely insane. The program was popular and well-attended, and people looked forward to it. I didn’t want to sabotage that. So what could I do?

I decided to tweak. (Not like a meth head. As in, to fine-tune or adjust a complex system. Because, yo, storytime is a complex system if ever I saw one.) I would keep the name, the day, the time, and the basic format–but this time around, the literacy activities would be replaced by art activities. Which, when you think about it, are literacy activities. There’s a rich, fun vocabulary in the art word: brush; stroke; acrylic; watercolor; collage; paste. Using a paint brush or colored pencil to draw develops the same fine motor skills that one uses when writing. And, of course, we began each sessions by reading aloud a  picture book with beautiful art  to serve as inspiration for our own art projects, specifically the collage technique of one Eric Carle. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

This is a five week series. Week one we talked about the project and I gave everyone time to peruse Eric Carle’s books and other picture books that use collage. The second week we painted our backgrounds onto our very own canvases (foam board from the craft store). I’ll talk about the next steps in further posts.

How about you? Do you use art in your storytimes–art, rather than just a craft? Do you ever get BORED?

top 11 posts of 2011

When I first started this blog, I had no grand aspirations. I am passionate about the library field, child development, and children’s literature, and I wanted to have a place to express my thoughts, and I hoped that I would garner at least a dedicated, engaged readership. Fairly early on, I experienced the Elizabeth Bird bump, and for that I’ve always been grateful. I appreciate my twitter friends for all their conversation and ideas, and frankly, without them I probably wouldn’t be writing much at all.

Looking at my top posts, I realize that people love it when I write about things that a lot of librarians are probably thinking but are too scared to talk about, and my programs for children. I’m going to make an effort to write more about these topics in 2012, and also write more from the gut and the heart, no matter what the topic (my angsty review of Ingenue being an example of this new goal).

Thank you to all my readers for commenting, emailing my posts to your colleagues, and generally being awesome. Let’s do more of this in 2012.

top posts (excluding static pages):

11. Meow Mix. I think this is solely because of the cat picture, although I think my cat who doesn’t know how to meow storytime through line is pretty awesome.

10. Make it Happen: Teen Space. Pretty much an airing of grievances post that also allowed me to congratulate and laud a fellow librarian. Now complete with a comment I didn’t initially approve because it’s super negative, but hey, whatevs. Different strokes for different folks.

9. New Storytime Favorites. Why is this so popular? I dunno. Probably because I mention cats and I’m a librarian. The cat/librarian diagram is so venn it’s almost just a circle.

8. Tales of the Madman Underground: A Love Letter. This was a very personal post and book review, and I almost didn’t publish it. But this book is amazing and I think that librarians—much like teachers—need to fight for the right to be real, flawed, human people with pasts and problems like any other people. Just because we work with children doesn’t mean we’re all Mary Poppins, and we shouldn’t be punished for being real people. But seriously, read that book.

7. The Ethical Librarian. This one is me totally ranting and raving on my high horse while my horse is standing on a soapbox. You might as well call me the Bughouse Square librarian. I took an information ethics class in library school, one of the few actually challenging courses I took, and it ruined me forever. You’re welcome.

6. #makeitbetter. I just hate bad librarians. Sorry if you’re one of them.

5. You might not being doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better. Ah, my screed against library schools. I might not get so worked up if I weren’t $50,000 in debt, but that ship’s sailed, huh? Good times. And by good times I mean kill me.

4. Librarian, Weed Thyself! Wherein I apply the CREW and MUSTIE methods to people. I am a monster. A pudgy, cuddly, hyberpolic monster.

3. Beginning Reader Storytime. A warm and fuzzy post about how I revamped my library’s preschool storytime. How…charming.

2. How to Become the Best, Most Versatile Baby & Toddler Programmer Ever. Babies and toddlers are tricky audiences.

And, unsurprisingly, the number one post of 2011 is…

1.  Summer Reading, Pain in my a**. So many people enjoyed my rants about the sacred cow of summer reading, which really pleased me. I love when people reassess long running programs with a fresh eye. Can’t wait to see what people do with their 2012 summer reading programs.

Happy new year, everyone!

Love,

Miss Julie

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?

NOTES

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.