reasons I despise banned books week

  1. BBW is already widely used internet lingo, and it ain’t about books.
  2. Why are we promoting something we’re against (banning books) instead of promoting something we are FOR (the freedom to read)?
  3. It confuses library users. I’m sure nearly every library worker has a story about someone seeing a “banned books” display and saying something to the effect of, “Oh, are these all the books that the library’s banned?”
  4. Books are rarely actually banned. Sometimes they’re challenged, but most people don’t even go that far when they’re faced with paperwork to make the actual challenge. Shouldn’t we, as information professionals, care about accuracy of language?
  5. 50% of book challenges happen in schools and school libraries, so why doesn’t the OIF lay off “banned books week” and throw some support and effort towards helping schools keep books in the hands of kids?
  6. Oh, and also in prisons. That’s another place where books are actually being banned, not just challenged. Why don’t we focus on helping that situation? If what we really care about is making sure people can access the books they want to access, this should be a bigger concern for the profession.
  7. Look up images for Banned Books Week and groove on the cognitive dissonance of the imagery. If reading “banned” books is something to be proud of, why is so much of the imagery based in shame? And some of which is blatantly offensive, featuring images of shackles, and the ever popular “banned book mugshot”, which has to be one of the whitest and most offensive things I’ve ever seen. Mugshots aren’t a cutesy pinterest friendly promotional tool, y’all. Jesus. Do you have people of color in your community? Are you aware that “African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites” for shit that is just about as dumb as reading a banned book? Have you ever considered how these mugshots might impact people in your community who are affected by incarceration? COME ON NOW.

8. It’s divisive rather than inclusive, promoting an “us against them” mentality.

Consider this my perpetual treatise on banned books week. So long and thanks for all the misplaced effort.

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Us, Too.

On being complicit.ustoo

As a Youth Services Librarian, I sometimes have opportunities to mingle with those in the publishing community, including the authors and illustrators of books. I’ll meet them at signings or events at conferences, or from booking an author visit to my library and community, or from an excited phone call to tell them that they’ve won an award.

Much like children’s publishing, my profession is “blindingly white and female“. Also just like in publishing, despite being overwhelmingly female, more often than not it’s the men who get more recognition and opportunities. In publishing, the winners of the Caldecott are overwhelmingly male.  In librarianship, library directors and managers are predominantly male. (The whiteness also needs to be addressed, but is not the focus of this essay).

I am not blameless in this. I’ve fawned over ‘attractive’ men in publishing, and giggled over the “hot men of children’s literature.” I’ve bought into the idea that men are to be congratulated for deigning to write books for children and teens, elevating the work by their very presence. I’ve told male colleagues that if they go into Youth librarianship, they’ll get ahead at a much faster rate since they’ll be such a novelty. (However, anecdotally, I’ve noticed that most men become teen librarians, and will rarely work with younger children.)

Still, I do hold a certain amount of power in the library field–after all, if youth librarianship is so white and female, it must be librarians like me who are giving all these Caldecott awards to men, right? To many writers and illustrators, I am seen as someone who can either get their work into the hands of readers and help them build their careers, or I’m someone who doesn’t buy their books for my collection because I don’t have “those” kinds of kids in my community.  To many parents, I am the person who knows good books and I am a trusted authority when it comes to finding material for their children to read, either for pleasure or edification. To teachers, including teacher librarians, I am an integral part of the team, helping make sure youth have access to many types of materials, including those outside the scope of a tightly focused school collection.

The trust relationship I hold most dear, however, is the one between myself and a child or teen who comes to me asking for help to find “the” book–you know the one. The book that can change their life, that can turn a non-reader into a voracious one, the book that can help an abused girl realize she’s not alone (and it’s not her fault), the book that can turn a passive observer into a passionate activist, the book that makes a child feel seen and important, or the book that just takes the reader somewhere else for a while. This is not always an easy task, but it’s often the most rewarding.

Most librarians and teachers make sure to let children know that there are people behind the books and stories we love–someone had to think up those beloved characters and scenes and plots, and work very hard to bring them to life. Sometimes, when we can, we facilitate it so children can meet the creators they love. This can change a child’s life. After meeting an author or illustrator, children are almost always inspired to read more, draw more, write more, and tell more stories.

So what am I, the Youth Services Librarian, supposed to do when the perfect book for a child happens to have been written or illustrated by someone who has repeatedly assaulted women, or made racist comments, or behaved appallingly in other ways? Or, what can I do when these books are already an integral part of so many lives? Is there anything I can–or should–do, when a child idolizes a monster who has created something they love?

Sometimes I think about this in light of having grown up in an abusive family. I was desperate for the love of my parents, who showed their love in dark and painful ways; yet I can’t throw out every hug they ever gave me just because they used those same arms to slam me against a wall when I was mouthy. There’s no separating the two– it would be madness to try. To hold on to the good things they gave me, I must acknowledge the bad things, too.

Is there a way to walk this line when it comes to the literature children desperately love that’s been created by men who have used the power they gained by publishing this literature to bring harm to others? Should we even try to explain? Is that any less cruel than letting a child find out, on their own, years later, that the author of the books they loved most as a child was also someone who committed violent atrocities? I wouldn’t wish loving a monster on anyone, but is that a choice that needs to be made?

Again, to make this huge discussion personal, I think of the stories we’ve lost. My mother was a poet who stopped writing poetry after she dropped out of college (not enough money) and married my father. Who knows what kind of poetry the world would have if she’d kept writing? The cruel thing is, we never will know. We’ll also never know what kind of children’s literature (and, honestly, art in general) we’ve missed because women were passed over by editors and agents in favor of men, or what books never had a chance to find their audience because the publisher put all of the promotion behind the men in their catalog.

What we do know is that there is a huge amount of work that’s been created by women and nonbinary creators, and when we decide we don’t want to contribute to the careers of men who’ve made bad decisions, there is a bountiful body of work that we can turn to instead, and should have been considering all along.

Because perhaps instead of mourning what we (think) we have lost, we should start thinking about everything we have gained (a door opened to honest conversations, where we believe and value women and the stories they tell), and could possibly gain going forward: a culture around literature for children and youth that is safer, more fair, and more welcoming to everyone.

Related reading:

View story at Medium.com

https://www.slj.com/2018/02/industry-news/unpacking-anne-ursus-survey-fallout-changes-coming-events-sexual-harassment-childrens-publishing/

http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2018/02/sexual-harassment-in-kidlit/

http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/

https://www.slj.com/2018/01/industry-news/childrens-publishing-reckons-sexual-harassment-ranks/

https://bookriot.com/2017/10/24/sexual-harassment-library/

 

 

 

View story at Medium.com

Out of STEAM

I have a confession to make:

I don’t care about STEM. Or STEAM. Or even STREAM.

I just don’t care.

.fin. 

Ha, no, just kidding.

Here’s what I love:

The Boombox at Skokie Public Library. They had a ton of middle schoolers who needed something to do and exposure to teach, so they decided the library could help meet that need. But the Boombox is for all ages, Kindergarten through adults, making it multi-faceted and intergenerational.

Gail Borden Library’s live video chat with an astronaut. As part of their space themed summer reading initiative, they connected kids with an astronaut, getting to ask questions about space, and science. Their summer reading program included interactive exhibits to extend the experience and further

Teen film festivals at libraries, including my own place of work. Teens get to express themselves creatively while learning a ton of applicable skills, including storytelling, dramatic structure, editing, sound design, costuming, and much more.

But wait a minute Julie! Those are all STEAM programs, aren’t they? Why do you like them but say you don’t like STEM or STEAM or STREAM? 

Well, you got me there. I guess I don’t hate STEM or STEAM or STREAM–as long as it’s done well. You notice I don’t mention a single 3D printer sitting idle in a back work room, or technology for technology’s sake. These three examples all show intentional, thoughtful programs and services that are more than just tech–they use tech in service of storytelling, making connections, bridging gaps, and building community.

I do hate it when STEM is promoted, funded, lauded, and idolized above all other things. Just because as a nation we’re trying to make up for a lack in one area that doesn’t mean we should focus on it to the exclusion of everything else.

How will a kid ever grow up to read a technical manual if they don’t know how to read? How will they be the next black Steve Jobs in the making if they can’t tell a compelling story to consumers and stakeholders? How will they get funding for their amazing new project if they can’t speak and write persuasively to sources of funding?

So no, I don’t really hate STEAM–I just think a lot of other things are equally important, too.

.fin.

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?

 

 

 

 

Every Action Has an Equal, Opposite Reaction

In my post Where Do The Teens Go? I posited a Youth Services Department which is formed around a core staff of four two-person teams. Ideally they would all be full time, but that might vary depending on the size of your community and the number of schools you serve. Certainly some of the positions could blend, depending on the interests and skill sets of the people you hire. But I’m pretty adamant that positions be either devoted to in-library work or devoted to outreach, with collaboration led by the appropriate lead. This is because outreach is a full-time job, or if it’s only part-time, it should be the primary focus of the staff member.

Why so much outreach? I’ve always been a firm believer in outreach, because I’ve seen it be successful from both sides of the equation. I’ve been the in-library person benefiting from excellent outreach efforts, and I’ve also been the outreach person who brings people into the library and acts as a recognized face from one place (school) to another (the library).

In my experience, here are all the things a person in any outreach position must do, and if you don’t think these duties deserve a full-time staff member, or at least a staff member dedicated to it, I don’t even know:

  • Reaching out–writing emails and making phone calls can take up a lot of your time, and if you have too many other duties (desk, collection development, in house programs) you’re going to play a lot of phone tag and a lot of email threads are going to get buried in the process.
  • Making connections–I’ve come up with a lot of great ideas just hanging out and chatting with teachers during a program break or while having lunch with them in the staff room during a day of multiple book talks. Making the time to just chat is very important, and often overlooked when people consider outreach positions.
  • Researching community partners–like you research a company before you apply for a job, research potential partners so you can propose projects and programs that meet their needs
  • Remembering names.
  • Booking visits–you need to check your calendar, check everything else, offer times, accept counter-offers, and be prepared for changes. If you have your outreach person staffing a desk for fifty percent of their work time, good luck. You’re setting them up for failure.
  • Tapping appropriate collaborators from the community and your own staff–I’m not great at everything (I know, shocker!) so when certain events come up on my radar, I’ll often reach out to my ever-widening network and see if I can’t collaborate and make the experience that much better for the entity I’m working with.
  • Being in the library– yes, I just said you’re setting your staff up for failure, but only if you take up too much of their time with duties other than outreach. Having some desk time, and helping with some in-library programs, is great for an outreach person, because the people they see in the community will be really excited to see them in the library. Countless times I’ve been on the reference desk and kids have walked by, staring at me wide-eyed, and then they’ll finally remember why they know me and yell, “You came to my school!” I once even had a child formally introduce me to his parent, by saying, “Dad, this is my librarian who comes to my school.” We shook hands and then I died.

Essentially, and to vastly simplify (for the sake of a Hamilton reference), outreach staff are the Hamiltons of the library, and in-library staff are the Burrs.

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You see, outreach staff should be constantly (non-stop?) going out, talking, telling everyone about the library and what it has and what it can do, and yes, sometimes they should talk less and smile more, so they can learn from their community partners.

On the other hand, in-library staff can be a little more laid back–they can wait for users to come in, after they’ve been charmed by the outgoing Hamilton approach.

While both approaches can yield results, neither is as successful as when they both work together–which means no one in the library has to throw away their shot.

 

 

 

Where Do The Teens Go?

Where do the teens go? (saxophone solo) Where do the teens go?

I’ve long had a belief that service and programs in the public library, especially Youth Services (if you define Youth Services as 0-18), is a conveyor belt of sorts. We start with children in lapsit storytime, and our ultimate goal should be to create life-long library users who stay with us well into young adulthood.

I think that most public libraries do a pretty good job of getting kids from storytime to elementary programming, but start to lose those same kids during middle school. In my experience, middle school is rarely anyone’s favorite group or specialty. They’re hard to work with. They’re like toddlers, but bigger, and with more hormones. They’re trying on different personalities from day to day, and again, like toddlers, like to say no and push boundaries.

But you don’t have to (just) take my word for it!

The emergence of the middle school movement in the 1960s represented a milestone in the history of Human Development Discourse. This movement recognized that young adolescents are not simply older elementary school students nor younger high school students, but that there are dramatic changes that occur during this time of life requiring a radically different and unique approach to education. Middle school educators understood that the biological event of puberty fundamentally disrupts the relatively smooth development of the elementary school years and has a profound impact upon the cognitive, social, and emotional lives of young teens. In line with this important insight, they saw the need for the provision of special instructional, curricular, and administrative changes in the way that education takes place for kids in early adolescence. Among those changes were the establishment of a mentor relationship between teacher and student, the creation of small communities of learners, and the implementation of a flexible interdisciplinary curriculum that encourages active and personalized learning. (emphasis added)

I argue that middle school students require a unique approach to library programs, spaces, and services. Librarians for the middle school set can, and do, apply these same principles–a mentor relationship, small communities of learners, programming to appeal to interdisciplinary interests and encourage personalized learning.

Yet many libraries consider “Teen Services” 6th-12th grade, which is (in my opinion) a ridiculous age spread. A sixth grader has as much in common with a 12th grader as a baby does with a 5th grader. But so many libraries wonder why they are grappling with the question, “Where are the teens?” Can you imagine anyone being happy with your programs if you had lapsit lego time, or booktalked board books to a fourth grader? No! Then why do we do this disservice to our varied teen audiences?

But this approach doesn’t work for older teens who are in high school, which is where the 6th-12th “teen” melting pot really becomes sticky. 9th-12th graders are more firmly aware of who they are and what they want, and they have an increasing amount of autonomy.

By high school, youth are largely independent, making their own decisions about how to spend their time and exercising their increasing freedom. They are starting to think about what will come next for them postgraduation, and many have developed interests that they can pursue in youth programs. As a result, high school programs’ efforts to retain youth are different from those of middle school programs, as a provider acknowledged:

‘I think the high school programs are easy to run. I think a lot of times you have kids in a middle school program who may not want to be there, but it’s used as a form of afterschool day care by the parents who are working. I think once you get to the high school level, most of the participants really are motivated to be there, and they’re doing it because they want to—not because they have to.’ (emphasis added)

While librarian positions for early childhood have become more targeted–many libraries have a staff person in charge of early literacy programming, which is sometimes held by someone with a master’s in early childhood rather than an MLIS–and programs and materials for the elementary set have never been lacking, the expectation that one (or no!) teen librarian or a youth librarian who is interested in teens can adequately serve the entire population of sixth to twelfth graders in any one community is a bar set impossibly high.

(A lengthy aside, that perhaps deserves its own post: Serving audiences by age groupings is a popular model in libraries, and while it is a fine model, we must never forget that within any age group–from middle schoolers to senior citizens–there is a diverse range of interests and abilities, and when we program and develop collections, we need to hone in even further– twenty-something tech geeks are not interested in the same programs and resources as twenty-something organic backyard farmers. While age groupings can be a starting point, don’t forget to dig deeper.)

This also ties in to the discussion about where the Teen Librarian/staff should exist within the library ecosystem. In my experience, staff for teens are either part of Adult Services or Youth Services. (Although, sadly, sometimes there is no staff at all explicitly devoted to teen services, but just a children’s librarian or adult librarian with an interest in programming and/or literature for teens.) Both placement options have benefits and drawbacks.

I think in terms of collections, having teen books–and in this article, teen books are aimed at 9th grade and older–closer to the adult collection makes more sense. No self-respecting 16 year old wants to have to go into a children’s section for their reading material.

However, when it comes to programming, I believe that teen staff are better served by the programming know-how and collaborative nature of a youth department.

In my ideal and imaginary library, there would be the following full time positions, in terms of teams:

Middle School Team

  • Middle School Librarian (5th or 6th-8th, depending on where local middle schools put 5th grade; partners with Elementary staff for 5th grade)
  • Middle school outreach librarian (5th or 6th-8th grade, partners with Elementary staff for 5th grade)

High School Team

  • High School Librarian (9th-12th, but collaborates with Middle School staff for 7th/8th grades)
  • High School outreach librarian (9th to 12th, but again collaborates with Middle School Staff for 7th/8th grades)

Early Literacy Team

  • Early literacy librarian (0-3rd grade, partners with Elementary staff for 3rd grade, and with High School staff to provide services to teen moms/parents)
  • Early literacy outreach (0-3rd grade,partners with Elementary staff for 3rd grade, and with High School staff to provide services to teen moms/parents)

Elementary Team

  • Elementary librarian (3rd-5th, partners with both Early Literacy librarians for 3rd grade programming, and Elementary outreach librarian for 4th/5th)
  • Elementary outreach librarian (3rd-5th, again partners with both Early Literacy librarians for 3rd grade, and Elementary librarian for 4th/5th)

Further, the Adult Department would have a Young Adult librarian for 12th grade to early post college, and they’d collaborate with the High School Team.

Why does the Early Literacy team go up to third grade? Because early childhood is defined as such; when you are certified to teach Early Childhood, it goes up to 3rd grade/eight years old. Further, 3rd grade is typically a fraught time for emerging readers, and they can often use the support and skills provided by targeted early literacy programming.

I’ve lovingly collected several articles and posts for you about this very subject. Go forth, read, and learn.

3rd grade reading success matters

Grade level reading- 3rd grade

Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters

Early Warning Confirmed 

Middle School Students and Their Developmental Needs

Can’t Stop Talking Social Needs of Students in the Middle

Middle Schools Need to Focus on Caring and Connections

Developmentally Responsive Middle Grades Practices

Characteristics of Middle Grade Students

Developmental Differences Between Middle School and High School Programs – Engaging Older Youth: Program and City-Level Strategies

Are Middle School and High School Students Really That Different? Observations and Advice From MS/HS Teachers

Working with Middle and High School Friends: What Are the Developmental Differences?

Middle Schools: Social, Emotional, and Metacognitive Growth

CONNECT, CREATE, COLLABORATE: TEEN LIBRARIANS UNITE! THROW AWAY YOUR PICTURE BOOKS.

Talk the Talk

Talk the Talk: The Art of Booktalking to Young Adults

Whether you’re talking to a single 12-year-old or an entire classroom of high school seniors, an effective and engaging booktalk can be a challenge. Learn best practices for presenting to young adults and how to find your finest booktalking voice. Try your hand at constructing an impromptu book talk of your very own, and leave the session with greater booktalking prowess for talking up some great reads to teens.

In October at the Illinois Library Association conference, I had the honor and the pleasure to collaborate with Alice, Katie, and Mike to talk about one of my favorite job duties: book talking to teens.

For the first seven years of my library career, I didn’t get to book talk, even during my brief tenure as a teen librarian. I was primarily an early literacy librarian, so I spent all my time reading picture books, crafting story times and other programs for young children, and occasionally doing reader’s advisory for teens on the reference desk.

So when I switched jobs in 2012, one of the things I most looked forward to was the chance to book talk, something I’d scarcely learned about in library school.

Being excited did not equal being prepared, however. I will admit, some of my first solo book talks were TERRIBLE. I talked for too long, I wasn’t familiar enough with the books (or I was talking books I wasn’t excited about), and I was talking solo. Over the last three years I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, so when Alice asked me to collaborate with her on a presentation about book talking, I was eager to share my own hard earned knowledge, and that of my collaborators as well.

While this blog post can’t replicate the awesomeness of our ILA presentation, I hope to cover some of the main points for those who attended, as well as lay it out for those of you who are just reading the post.

Who
While normally I am great at working alone–and prefer it–when it comes to book talking, I definitely want to be part of a duo at the very least. (Recently I had a book talk with four different staff members on hand, and it was amazing). When it comes to book talks, there is power in numbers, and I now do my best to avoid solo book talks that are longer than one class period.

Why talk as a team?

  1. Variety, of books and voices. We don’t all love the same books, or talk them in the same way, so students benefit from hearing a realistic fiction fan and a sci-fi fan during the same book talk session.
  2. Endurance. For my schools, it’s often easiest to schedule us to see an entire grade during one day, so having more book talkers on hand guarantees that you can get through six hours of book talks without losing your voice or your mind.
  3. Fun. With a team book talk, you can go from being a solo act to being the Smothers Brothers or Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. It’s nice to have another person to riff off of and look to, and it makes your book talks more diverse and dynamic.

Where to talk
Does anyone just, like, hold book talk programs in the library that teens will come to? I think this is probably a rarity, so most of the time I’m guessing you’re going to be book talking in a school to a class or a set of classes.

My ideal situation is book talking to one or two classes in a group, in a larger space such as the library media center or common area. I’ve grown to like having a few tables at the front where I can display my books covers out.

I also take out a mobile circulation station (laptop, hot spot, scanner) which I set up away from the book talk area, so teens can check out books they are excited about ON THE SPOT. This has changed the game when it comes to book talks– no more handing out lists and hoping they’ll come to the library to check something out, nope, if they want it they get it. (This means the number of books you bring is radically different, which I will address in the next step).

What to talk
Ideally, you’ll talk books that you have 1) read and 2) are really, really excited about. However, none of us live or work in an ideal world (if you do, you’re a lucky duck!), so sometimes we’ll have to book talk on an assigned theme, or we’ll accept a last minute book talking request and we won’t have enough new books read to fill the request, so we’ll have to fake it.

If you’re trying to talk books you haven’t read, the team and I had a few strategies to share:

  1. Read a LOT of reviews. Certain reviewers are better at indicating potential readers than others, so once you figure out those reviewers, turn to them first. Bookshelves of Doom is great for Fantasy/Horror, and Stacked is great for realistic fiction and fantasy/sci-fi. I also turn to common sense media quite a bit so I can be more certain of the content of thornier books, especially when I’m talking to sixth graders.
  2. Observe your fellow book talkers. This is another pro of talking in teams. There are some books I still haven’t read, but I’ve heard my colleagues talk about them enough that I’ve memorized their talks.
  3. Admit it! I’ve taken out a few books based solely on their covers and blurbs, so I admit this to the kids. “I haven’t had time to read this one, but it has a rabid squirrel on the cover, so I was pretty sure someone would want to read it.”

Remember the mobile circulation station I mentioned? This affects how many books we bring. We try to bring multiple copies of as many books as possible, so we can repeat book talks throughout the day. This reduces the number of unique book talks we need to prepare and present, and the physical number of books that we have to take out to a school. Each book talker generally brings out two to three large tote bags full of books, and we usually take back one or two tote bags of books that didn’t get checked out.

How to talk
The right way to  book talk is the way you feel comfortable, excited, and enthusiastic. Everything else is up to your personal preferences and strengths.

I will say this– if you’re able to take a stand up comedy class (seriously!) or another kind of live literature or storytelling class, this could improve your book talks immensely. Because really, what is a book talk other than a story about a story? And while you don’t have to be a laugh riot, the ability to land a joke can go a long way in making your book talks more enjoyable for your audience (don’t forget the teachers in the back!).

My style involves a lot of personal anecdotes. Teens are fascinated by personal narratives and making yourself even the tiniest bit vulnerable can have a huge impact on how they perceive you.

Why
Why do we book talk? To get teens to read, yes. To circulate books, yes. Book talking was created by teen librarians for teens because even in the 1920s, teens who could read were choosing not to, for many reasons. Very noble goals, and goals I try to achieve with my book talks.

I also see book talks as a way of developing relationships– with the teens, with their teachers, with the school librarians, with their school, with your coworkers. Even if teens don’t care for any of the books you talk during a particular session, with any luck they’ll realize you know a lot about books, and might come seek you out to help them find what they want to read.

So that’s the Hi, Miss Julie guide to book talking! Thanks for reading.

Read More About It!

Everyone’s favorite, wikipedia

How Did YA Become YA? (includes why book talking was created for teens)

A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy book talks

YS Wikispaces Booktalking

Randomhouse Booktalking 

We Need Diverse Books Booktalking Kit

The Librarian Dating Game

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I started writing this post in October 2015; finally published August 2016.

Once upon a time some librarian colleagues and I presented a program at our state conference talking about how public, school, and academic libraries can and should work together. We formatted it as a game show–The Dating Game, obviously–and had different librarians ask their counterparts what they could do for them, and talked about what they could offer.

It was a fun program and an incredible conversation.

As you can see from the above graphic, library users use multiple libraries in their lifetime, and multiple departments within each library. Just as a well functioning public library has collaboration with children’s, teens, and adult departments, so should the public library collaborate with school and academic libraries, and vice-versa.

Here’s some of my favorite sources on this subject. Let me know what you think.

NYC Public and School Libraries MYLibrary NYC Program

Teach More, Librarian Less

Libraries and English Language Learners 

Good School Libraries Bring Stronger Learning 

Study Ties Quality Library Programs to Student Success

Study Ties College Success to Students’ Exposure to a High School Librarian

How to Create a Knockout Summer Literacy Program

It Takes Two: The Need for Tighter Collaboration Between School and Public Librarians

Partners in Success: When school and public librarians join forces, kids win

We Need Tag-Team Librarianship: Active collaboration between public and school librarians benefits all

The Public Library Connection: The new standards require that public and school librarians pull together

School and Public Libraries Collaborate to Help Teen Community: Reports from the Field

A School and Public Librarian Find Common Ground on the Common Core

Nashville’s Limitless Libraries Hopes to Merge School and Public Library ILS

School and Academic Librarians Must Join Forces to Foster College Readiness

Factors Affecting Students’ Information Literacy as They Transition from High School to College

Informed Transitions: High School Outreach Program at Kent State

Community Collaborations: Librarians Teach High School Students

Academic Library Research Visits for High School Students

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?

Uncommonly Good Books (and more!) for Common Core Instruction

uncommonbooks (pdf of slide show)coreNovember 1st, ISLMA Conference 2013, Springfield, IL

Hi ISLMA friends! I’ll be updating this post during the upcoming week, adding annotations and the new resources I added for the second chance presentation. Thanks so much for coming, and if there’s anything you’d like to add please leave a comment!

Here is my list of resources from my presentation for ISLMA. Annotations in quotes taken directly from the website of the resource.

This post is updated as of 11/8/2013. It will be a living document and be revised as further resources are found.

ALA

The ALA award and booklists are a natural place to start. Here’s a handy run down of all the lists and awards.

YALSA

http://www.ala.org/yalsa/great-graphic-novels
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/outstanding-books-college-bound
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/popular-paperbacks-young-adults
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/quick-picks-reluctant-young-adult-readers
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/readers-choice
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/fabulous-films
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/best-fiction-young-adults
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/amazing-audiobooks

ALSC

http://www.ala.org/alsc/booklists
http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia
http://mrschureads.blogspot.com/ (Newbery and Caldecott Challenges)

Other Book Awards

Cybils
http://www.cybils.com/
The Cybils are given out by book bloggers, whose ranks include teachers, librarians, authors, and voracious readers. Awards are given in many categories, including book apps, speculative fiction, beginning chapter books, poetry, and nonfiction. “The Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year’s best children’s and young adult titles.”

Eisner Awards
http://www.comic-con.org/awards/eisners-current-info
The Eisner awards are considered the “oscars” of comic books.

Science Fiction Awards

I’m a big proponent of using science fiction and fantasy as a way to ease into having kids read books with more “text complexity.” The world building, vocabulary, and themes inherent in most speculative fiction make an easy argument for complexity. Plus, the genres can have a lot of reader appeal (seeing as the dystopian and paranormal subgenres are part of speculative fiction).

The Hugo Awards
http://www.thehugoawards.org
The Hugo Awards are a set of awards given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year.

Mythopoeic Society
http://www.mythsoc.org
The Mythopoeic Society is a national/international organization promoting the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantastic and mythopoeic literature through books and periodicals, annual conferences, discussion groups, awards, and more.”

The Nebula Awards
http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/
The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy is an annual award presented by theScience Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) to the author of the best young adult or middle grade science fiction or fantasy book published in the United States in the preceding year.”

Multicultural Awards

You can’t deny that we live in a global society, and kids need books that act as windows into this wider world. Being aware of what other countries consider to be excellent examples of children’s literature is one way to do this; seeking out awards for specific cultures is another.

Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals
http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/home/
“The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are the UK’s oldest and most prestigious children’s book awards. Often described by authors and illustrators as ‘the one they want to win’ – they are the gold standard in children’s literature.” Essentially Britain’s Caldecott and Newbery.

International Board on Books for Young People
Hans Christian Andersen Awards
http://www.ibby.org/index.php?id=273
Every other year IBBY presents the Hans Christian Andersen Awards to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature.”
IBBY Honor list
http://www.ibby.org/index.php?id=270

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award
http://www.bookcentre.ca/awards/td_canadian_childrens_literature_award
“On October 28, 2004 the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and the TD Bank Group announced the establishment of a brand-new annual, children’s book award, the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award for the most distinguished book of the year. “Distinguished” is defined as marked by conspicuous excellence and/or eminence, individually distinct and noted for significant achievement with excellence in quality.”

Tomás Rivera Book Award
http://riverabookaward.org/book-award-winners/
http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/tomas-rivera-award
“Texas State University College of Education developed the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience.  The award was established in 1995 and was named in honor of Dr. Tomas Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State University.”

Bibliographies and Databases

The Center for Children’s Books
http://ccb.lis.illinois.edu
The Center for Children’s Books (CCB) at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) is a crossroads for critical inquiry, professional training, and educational outreach related to youth-focused resources, literature and librarianship. The Center’s mission is to facilitate the creation and dissemination of exemplary and progressive research and scholarship related to all aspects of children’s and young adult literature; media and resources for young (age 0-18) audiences; and youth services librarianship.”

Cooperative Children’s Book Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison
http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/default.asp
Cooperative Children’s Book Center is a unique and vital gathering place for books, ideas, and expertise in the field of children’s and young adult literature.”

Picture Book Month
http://picturebookmonth.com
http://picturebookmonth.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Picture-Book-MonthTeachers-Guide.pdf
Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November.

Picture Book Database
http://www.picturebookdatabase.com
Anyone who loves picture books … authors, illustrators, public librarians, media specialists, educators, researchers, students, and parents. The database eliminates the need to consult multiple resources and helps readers find picture books that best suit their needs.”

Reading Rockets
http://www.readingrockets.org
“Reading Rockets is a national multimedia literacy initiative offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help.”

Text Types

One of the elements of the Common Core State Standards is the different text types children will be required to read, including fairy tales and folk tales, myths, drama, poetry, and technical writing. These are some of my favorite sources for a wide variety of text types that have kid appeal.

Best American Series
http://www.hmhbooks.com/hmh/site/bas
The Best American Series is an annually-published collection of books, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, each of which features a different genre or theme. Each book selects from works published in North America during the previous year, selected by a guest editor who is an established writer within the given field.”

Sur La Lune Fairytales
http://www.surlalunefairytales.com
SurLaLune Fairy Tales features 49 annotated fairy tales, including their histories, similar tales across cultures, modern interpretations and over 1,500 illustrations. Also discover over 1,600 folktales & fairy tales from around the world in more than 40 full-text eBooks. Read the SurLaLune Blog where daily postings discuss fairy tales in popular culture and academia and more.”

Bloggers

Bookshelves of Doom
http://bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com
Leila reviews a lot of speculative fiction, and also reviews for Kirkus.

Shakespeare Teacher
http://www.shakespeareteacher.com/blog/
“This blog isn’t exclusively about Shakespeare. Instead, it is approached with the philosophy that a love of Shakespeare is only the beginning of a life of examination and discovery. This is a blog that documents that journey, and tries to have some fun along the way. The title, I think, has more to do with the author than with the intended audience at the moment.

I am involved with a variety of professional activities in the broad field of teacher education. I only occasionally teach Shakespeare, but that’s where my background and passions lie, and the name Shakespeare Teacher makes sense to those who know me.”

Stacked Books
http://www.stackedbooks.org
One of the most comprehensive book review sites for YA literature. Great booklists, great information about the publishing industry, and thorough reviews– great to turn to when you need the full scoop but don’t have time to read the entire book yourself.

Audio & Visual Resources

Lit2Go
http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/
Lit2Go is a free online collection of stories and poems in Mp3 (audiobook) format. An abstract, citation, playing time, and word count are given for each of the passages. Many of the passages also have a related reading strategy identified. Each reading passage can also be downloaded as a PDF and printed for use as a read-along or as supplemental reading material for your classroom.”

L.A. Theatre Works
http://www.latw.org/
L.A. Theatre Works is a non-profit media arts organization based in Los Angeles whose mission for over 25 years has been to present, preserve and disseminate classic and contemporary plays.

Our unique hybrid form of audio theatre and innovative use of technology in the production and dissemination of theatre keeps this venerable art form thriving, assuring wide and affordable access.”

National Theater Live
http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/
“National Theatre Live is the National Theatre’s groundbreaking project to broadcast the best of British theatre live from the London stage to cinemas across the UK and around the world.”

Digital Theater
http://www.digitaltheatre.com/
“Digital Theatre works in partnership with Britain’s leading theatre companies to capture live performance authentically onscreen. With our unique methods we bring online a library of diverse and acclaimed productions from some of the finest theatre talent around. Each production is available to rent online for a limited period or downloaded to your desktop and enjoyed as many times as you wish.”