Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why do books "appeal" to different readers?

I just finished my third book from my holiday reading stash. I purposefully chose books that were not at all similar to help me think about what makes a really good book. The books I began my break with were Gary Paulsen's Notes from the Dog, Frances Hardinge's Fly by Night, and Leslie Bulion's The Trouble with Rules. Still waiting in the wings are Enrique Flores-Galbis' 90 miles to Havana, and James Patterson's sequel to Witch and Wizard, The Gift.

Back in November I wrote about two very dissimilar books that were both about mermaids. I have continued to think about and apply the "Appeal terms" discussed by Olga Nesi. Most recently I have used her ideas in building online book review forms that I have posted on my web site.

Reading these three books back-to-back once again pointed out that the sophistication (grown-upness?)of a topic is not a predictor of the style of a book. I expended the least effort in reading Paulsen's gentle, character-centered Notes from the Dog. Finn, the fourteen-year-old narrator is completely realistic and believable. Both he and his family grow positively through their friendship with Johanna, their new neighbor and breast-cancer "survivor." Although the plot seems to center around Johanna, her chemotherapy and activities to raise money for the cause, what I took away from the story was a feeling of connection to and between the characters.

The polar opposite of Gary Paulsen's book was Frances Hardinge's Fly by Night. The story is less about Mosca, the central character, than about the evolution she witnesses in her society. The complex plot demands that the reader keep track of layers of history while lush descriptions help paint pictures of the geography. The importance of reading and of freedom of thought and religion are the issues behind the story. I was left with a lot to think about.

I began my holiday reading with The Trouble with Rules, but I put it down half-way through, took a break and finished it today. The feelings evoked by Nadie, the first person narrator of this book and her struggles with the social scene in her school and her fourth-grade class were so vivid I literally couldn't stand it. The complications of fitting in without giving up things you really care about is something many children can empathize with.

I'm really glad that I read all three of these books. I suspect that I will find more opportunities to recommend Notes from the Dog and The Trouble with Rules than I will find readers for Fly by Night, but I am proud to have all three in my library.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

New Yorkers Read

I am in the thick of the New Yorkers Read program. The materials arrived at the end of last week so this week has been largely devoted to rolling out the program.

I have visited every class in grades 3 to 6 and invited the students to sign up to be "Reading Ambassadors." Those that sign up get a passport to record their reading. The passport also explains the requirements to be recognized as a Reading Ambassador: Read (and talk about) 15 books between now and June 3. Write two book reviews. Rad across at least 5 Dewey areas. Find 2 adults to fill out a postcard saying what they read and why they read. (I read____ because____)Every student is also given an "I read-because" postcard during my spiel in their classroom.

So far 126 students have signed up for the program! Admittedly, the passport is rather cool looking, and provides a nice incentive. Students are also promised recognition at the end of year ceremonies, but the enthusiasm right now is almost scary. So here is the awkward part: How will I manage to listen to all those "book talks so I can stamp the passports?" I will have to budget some time in my schedule each and every day if I will even get close to hearing from every student. I have some ideas about how to manage this problem of "flow," but I probably should pass them by my principal so I don't step on any toes.

A big part of New Yorkers Read is encouraging diverse reading. (That's the point of the whole read across at least 5 Dewey areas piece.) To make that more enticing a big chunk of the grant is a substantial non-fiction collection. The first half of this collection arrived about 2 weeks ago and is already on the shelves (or checked out.) The second half should arrive this week. There are some fabulous books in this collection! I try and read a couple of new non-fiction books each day, but as I explain to the students who ask, it just isn't possible for me to read all the books.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


My library Facebook page is up and running and it seems like it could be a useful way to reach out to people in my school community. This is a page for the library, not a personal page so it doesn't have friends, instead it has fans. So far I have 5 fans. I think there is something important that happens when I have 25 fans...

This is actually my second attempt to join Facebook. The summer before last in a library technology class at St. John's University the professor required my class to use Facebook. I was suddenly besieged with friend requests, and as a school librarian I just didn't see how I could say no and not be friends with the teachers in my school community. What I got was way to much information! I felt like I could accidentally become a conduit for personal information between students, teachers, and parents - a pretty scary idea! I ended up using this page very little, and eventually closed it entirely. I am much more comfortable now with this corporate page.

The page is still very much a work in progress. So far It gets a fair number of "impressions" (19 people looked at my posting of an event for next week) and two students have posted comments. This Wednesday I have a Family Reading Night. I will mention my Facebook presence to the parents at the event and see if that helps spread the word. It will be interesting to see how this develops over next few months.