Monday, October 29, 2012

Bankstreet Book Fest

Saturday was the the Backstreet Book Fest.
It was a wonderful day.  I got to talk to many people who share my day-to-day experiences. The whole group presentations were wonderful.  When there is video I promise to put a link here - I learned a lot about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books.  Mary Pope Osborne deserves a big thank you for her generous offer!

The best part of my day was the mock Geisel  award workshop. This was led by Caroline Ward who literally "wrote the book" for the Geisel award criteria. The Geisel award is for "a book for beginning readers who, through their literary and artistic achievements, demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading." We examined and discussed some of the contenders for this year's Geisel award.  Talking about literary excellence and the needs of beginning readers is something I don't often get a chance to do at a professional level.  Many fine librarians are hesitant to explore what beginning readers need.  It seems to smack a little to much of censorship to say that a reader needs books at a particular level or written in a particular way. But, realistically, what beginning readers really want are books that will support them as they learn to read. 

The verdict was unanimous.  Kevin Henkes Penny and her Doll is the best book for beginning reader that we looked at.  However it is very pink... For boys, Elephant and Piggy is still the best of the best.  We showed the most recent entry Let's Go For a Drive a lot of love. 

The problem is that writing really good books in a way that supports children who are learning how to read is really, really, hard.  We need more excellent authors to take up this gauntlet.  Thank you Kate Dicamillo for doing something that is hard, when you could just keep writing great books for older readers.  If you haven't read Bink and Golly, buy one for yourself and one for a friend. 

Three Little Pumpkins

On my circulation desk I have three miniature pumpkins. The first question is always "is it real?"  Usually a student will pick up a pumpkin when they ask this question.  Because this is often asked while students are on line to check out books, I answer briefly "yes, they are real pumpkins."  Many students will then identify them (a la three bears) as big, medium, and little.  Here I have some fun, saying that (picking up the largest of the three) this is a small pumpkin.  (pointing to the next) this is a smaller pumpkin, and this is my smallest pumpkin.  This explanation usually echoes back through the check out line, as students explain this to each other.  The pumpkins were 69cents each.  I'm glad I bought them.

Halloween and Sandy

Hello Sandy!  My do-list for tomorrow is rounding up materials to help students better understand storms and hurricanes, so I can be better prepared on Wednesday when we return to work.  Wednesday is also Halloween.  It will be a high impact day for the school librarian

Update on Sandy - no school on Halloween!  I hope to be back by Thursday.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

I haven't stopped reading, even if blogging fell off the radar!

Two yummy books from Net Galley:

Pale by Chris Wooding was exciting and thought provoking - until I realized it was a tease, and I only had the first few chapters!  So far, it seems like it would need almost no salesmanship - a book that could easily go viral.   This is an edgy take on some of the same themes from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.  A serum makes it possible for people come back from the dead and live for ever.  The only problem is that it only works for certain people and it is very expensive.  People are angry at the "pales" (people who are brought back and live forever) and society is crumbling.  I definitely want to finish the book!

Another delicious book:
The boy Sherlock Holmes; His Final Case.  by Shane Peacock

This is the end of a series that delivers on its promises.  I find that when watching a Sherlock Holmes TV take off, my mind wanders into the back story stunningly and believably provided here.  However, I feel that this would be a hard sell in my library.  Fun for me partly because I have enough background information to summon old London up in all its creepy glory.  (The description of Graves End is worth the price of admission! )  For kids who don't already know and love S.H.  - it just wouldn't be the same experience.

Monday, September 3, 2012

My Summer Reading

Tomorrow I go back to work, so today is the last day of summer vacation.  (sob)

On the general principal that I don't want to ask students to do anything I wouldn't do myself, here is my summer reading log. 

2012 Summer Reading
Words in parentheses are tags.  Interest level (picture book, elementary, middle grades – i.e. 4th-6th, YA, adult) genre, comments, abandoned (books that I read more than half but didn’t finish), review means I reviewed the book either on this blog or submitted to Library Media Connection. ( LMC is an excellent magazine from Linworth Publishers.  They send me boxes of goodies several times during the year that I get to keep in exchange for sending them words.)

Adult fiction 1
Adult nonfiction 1
YA fiction 3 (I classified Captain Blood as YA.  Do you agree?
Middle grade fiction 6
Middle grade nonfiction 1
Elementary fiction 4
Picture book nonfiction 3

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini  (YA, old fashioned, historical fiction, fun)
The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin (elementary, fantasy, noir, detective, animals, funny)
Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (middle grades, realistic fiction, action, review)
Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner (middle grades, realistic, bullying, family, death, memory loss)
Inside out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (middle grades, poetry, historical fiction, Vietnam)
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (adult, historical fiction, entertaining, long)
The Game of Silence by Louise Erdrich (middle grades, historical fiction, Native Americans, sequel)
Unlocking the Spell by E.D. Baker (middle grades, fractured fairy tale, happy ending, review)
Invisible Inkling by Emily Jenkins (elementary, invisible friend, bullying, school)
Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen (middle grades, realistic fiction, abandoned)
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan (picture book, color book, Muslim)
Ivy and Bean; What’s the big idea? by Annie Barrow (elementary, realistic fiction, science, family)
Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week by Caroline Adderson (elementary, realistic fiction, family, new baby, review)
Lincoln Tells a Joke by Kathleen Krull (picture book, biography, Lincoln)
Octavia Boones Big Questions about Life the Universe and Everything by Rebecca Rupp (middle grades, realistic fiction, family, divorce, religion)
Okay for Now by gary D. Schmidt (middle grades, YA, realistic fiction, historical fiction, Vietnam, art, thought provoking)
Two and Twenty Dark Tales edited by Georgia McBride (YA, short stories, fractured fairy tale, dark, review)
Republic of Noise by Diana Senechal (adult, nonfiction, professional, thought provoking)
No Ordinary Apple by Sara Marlowe (picture book, nonfiction, mindful eating, review)
Just Write by Walter Dean Myers (middle grades, YA, adult, writing, how to, reflection)

Looking at what I read this summer, I will try to read more extended nonfiction - picture books almost don't even count! (I didn't list picture book fiction)  I also want to read a bit more contemporary adult fiction.  I just finished a free sample of Anthill by Edward O. Wilson and think I might order the book for my Nook.

No Ordinary Apple

Marlowe, Sara.  No Ordinary Apple: A story about eating mindfully. Wisdom Publications.  June 2013.

Yes - 2013!  Time is flying!

I was completely prepared to be annoyed at this book. It's subtitle sounded more than a little preachy!  But I was curious enough to request it from Netgalley, and was pleasantly surprised.  The story about Elliot and his caregiver, Carmen is a little contrived.  Elliot expressed his disappointment in the apple Carmen offers for a snack and tells her he was hoping for candy.  But the story is just an excuse for a lovely, detailed, sensory description of the experience of eating an apple.  The writing was much more fun than I expected.  Like Elliot, I could barely wait to go try some other foods, maybe even some I don't like, just to see what they smell, sound, and taste like.  I especially liked the concept of tasting in all the different parts of my mouth. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Two and Twenty Dark Tales

Two and Twenty Dark Tales.  Edited by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink. Month9 Books.  October 2012.  ISBN 9780985029418.

This rather uneven collection of stories are each based loosely on a Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme which is quoted at the start of each story.  Some stories left me wanting more, wanting to spend time in the eerie world the author created with the echo of the nursery rhyme.  Other stories were more like pat horror stories uneasily attached to a rhyme, and several dragged on making me remember advice that shorter is sometimes better.  Despite my quibbles, I can imagine an imaginative tween reader being inspired by this collection. The right reader could start to imagine what other worlds could be created by unfolding these rhymes and perhaps use them as magic portals to create their own stories. 

Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week

Anderson, Caroline. Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week.  Illustrated by Ben Clanton. 2012.  ISBN 9781554539895.

Jasper John Dooley, the quirky star of the week in this easy chapter book, collects lint and makes music by sloshing water in his belly.   After his teacher pins a star to his shirt each morning he gets to be the center of attention in a different way each day; show and tell  on Monday, family tree on Tuesday, etc.  Throughout the week he spends time with his best friend Ori, whose mom just had a baby.  As Ori and his family struggle to adjust to the new baby, Jasper wishes that he had a sibling.  Ultimately Jasper creates an imaginary brother out of wood, and this "brother" gets him into a few scrapes.  In the end Jasper realizes his family is just the right size.  This is a great book for young children who are proficient readers and it is rare to see a chapter book that is solidly in the kindergarten/first grade world.  Don't worry if these precocious young readers miss some of the jokes and even overlook the message - the message may trickle in later when it is needed.  As with the Junie B. Jones series, some of the humor is really aimed at the adult or older sibling, and that's okay.

Pondering some books from Netgalley

I picked up a couple of interesting books this week from .  Both books sent me back to the old question of reading level vs interest level vs what are kids (or adults) going to actually do with the books? The first book I picked up from Netgalley was Jasper John Dooley, Star of the Week. This is a comfortable chapter book level with a funny and sophisticated protagonist, a boy  that seems to be in kindergarten or first grade, max.  The other was Twenty-two Dark Tales edited by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink.  This dark and sometimes confusing set of short stories are loosely based on Mother Goose nursery rhymes and are probably intended for teens.  Both of these books could be read and even enjoyed by children who are too young to get the point - or what you or I would see as the meaning of the story.  So should children read them before they are ready?

The classic Junie B. Jones series provides a similar challenge.  Junie is in kindergarten when we first meet her, and then becomes a First Grader at Last.  The humor, however, is often well beyond a child of Junie B.'s age.  After all, part of her charm is that she doesn't know she is funny!  I sometimes try to dissuade parents and teachers from reading  Junie B. Jones to kindergarten and first, or even some second grade students.  I warn them that they will find themselves explaining almost all the jokes, spoiling the sudden discovery at the heart of humor.  With teachers, in particular, I ask that if they must read a Junie B. Jones book to their class that they not read more than one.  Let the students read these very funny and rewarding books for themselves, discover the humor, and reassure themselves that they would never act that way!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ice-cream and Literacy

I was just reading an article emerging language and library story time. But my mind kept wandering, playing back a scene that I witnessed this afternoon.   A charming little girl was being treated to ice-cream by her grandmother.  The girl was talkative yet obedient, and was probably about six - just the right size for thinking about reading. And one of those magic moments when reading could start to make sense just drifted right passed her.

Grandma and daughter sat on stools at a table, a bit too far away to really read what was posted above the counter.  Grandma asked the little girl what she wanted, and the girl pointed to a sign above the counter and said "that one, with the stripes!"  Grandma asked a few questions trying to figure out what flavor she might mean, but finally threw in the towel.  "Do you want an ice-cream cone?" she asked.  When the girl nodded enthusiastically Grandma got up from her stool and asked the girl, "So, do you want vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry?" Having heard her grand-daughter request vanilla and chocolate together, Grandma walked got on line at the counter, remonstrating as she walked away, "now don't you move! Don't move from that spot!"

On one hand, this little girl had a wonderful outing with her grandmother.  But on the other hand, it was so sad that I almost committed a monstrous faux pas.  I really wanted to tell the girl and her grandma that they were aloud to walk up to the ice-cream counter and read the names of the flavors!  For so many children, the ice-cream store (or the side of the ice-cream truck) is the most meaningful print they have ever seen.  And to see the names of the flavors (and gaze longingly at the tubs of ice-cream) you have to know it is okay to walk up to the glass and look.

I will go back to the article, but will still be pondering in the back of my mind:  Should I have invited the grandma to let her little girl go up to the case and look at the ice-cream and read the labels?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer Reading - my experience as a parent & some questions

My sons also grew up expecting to read. Reading was the default activity, what you do when there was nothing scheduled. Our home was filled with books but we were still regular customers at the local library. When we traveled they were expected to select a few books (along with the inevitable Legos, etc.) to carry along. What has changed for this generation is that now there is summer homework. Packed with each child’s final report card is a summer homework packet. As dutiful parents we pondered over the messages from our children’s teachers and began the summer by requiring that each child do some work each day. Part of the summer work was a reading log. Since my kids were reading every day, a reading log should by easy, right? Wrong! My kids were often reading “nothing” or “it doesn’t count.” Re-reading the first three Harry Potters because they are getting number four next week is a prime example of “it doesn’t count!” Sometimes it seemed like if a book was read for pleasure, my kids didn’t want it on the log! But we muddled through. By hook or by crook I made sure they went back to school with the required log and homework. A month or so after school began, backpacks would be a disaster and I would do my parental duty and insist that they be dumped out, cleaned and reorganized. There, crumpled in the bottom of the bag would be the dreaded summer homework. It was never handed in or collected. Years passed by and middle school arrived with assigned books on the summer reading list. Now, for the first time ever, I had to beg and harass my children to get them to read. One awful summer, when my oldest son was heading into sixth grade, a young and enthusiastic teacher required the class to read a list of six required books on the topic of “identity formation.” Each one of these serious, artistic, thought provoking books was devastating in its own way. More than half were adult titles on topics that made him feel very uncomfortable. (I allowed him to “swap” two of the adult titles for books on similar topics addressed to his age group.) That summer, I don’t think my son read for pleasure at all. Although it was never again quite that bad, that summer spelled the end of something special. From then on, our summer reading forays to the library or bookstore always had the specter of requirements looming over. My younger son recently came home from college for a short visit. It was reassuring to me to discover that he had bought a thriller to read on the long bus ride from Cleveland. Both he and his brother still choose to read, but not, perhaps, as often or as passionately as one would have predicted from seeing them in elementary school.

We all know how important summer reading is.  Children who read during the summer make progress and return to school as better readers.  Those who don’t read over the summer break are doomed to return to school as less proficient readers than when they left, enlarging the gap between the reading haves and have-nots over every vacation. I have always taken summer reading seriously and spend much of the last spring talking to students and parents about how imperative it is.  But what kind of assignments, requirements, or encouragement will really get kids to really read?  What kind of reading is necessary for students to grow as readers, as learners, and as people?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sad News

Else Holmelund Minarik, the author of the Little Bear series and No Fighting, No Biting, passed away on Thursday. She was 91 years old. Lee Bennett Hopkins shares some of his memories in this blog post

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer Reading

I have been thinking a lot about summer reading and what it has meant to me. Reading was a part of almost every routine when I was a child. From weekly library trips to “packing” for trips, finding and organizing what books to bring was part of the ritual. Of course, taking the familiar books along on a trip didn’t mean I would actually read them! The Oz books I had so lovingly packed would still be there, and my older sister sister’s books about Captain Horatio Hornblower was sure to be more interesting. My younger sister’s Cherry Ames books were also begging to be read, even though she never thought her older sisters gave them the respect they deserved! I remember visits to used book stores where Amazing Science Fiction magazines with lurid covers and gripping stories could be had for a quarter or less. The bags of books brought from home were never used as an excuse to keep us from gathering more! These books, purchased as a special treat, were conversely never used as a lever to keep us from touching the books that mixed with the treasures in grandma’s attic. There ancient paperbacks (Perry Mason and The Saint originally priced at just 10 or 20¢!) and stacks of old National Geographic magazines shared shelf space with glamorous antique editions and treasures that included an Ouija board. Summer vacation meant freedom to do nothing, and doing nothing often meant lying around reading. Now it takes a certain amount of effort to allow myself to lie around and read. But I am doing it. Along with a lovely collection of childrens’ books (which are half way between work and guilty pleasure) I am reading The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory. What fun! This also ties in nicely to my enjoyment of the opera Anna Bolena at the Met last year. I wish everyone could have the time to enjoy “summer reading” as much as I do!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Home work and Home Reading

My school requires daily homework of all students, and one standard part of that homework is reading. Students are required to read for a given amount each evening. The number of minutes is different in each grade, with 5th and 6th graders being told to read for an hour or more each night.

I have started wondering how this homework requirement is interpreted by various students. As I check out books to students I often ask them about the books they are returning - whether they enjoyed them, and whether they finished them. Many students are not finishing the number of books I would expect if they actually read for the amount of time that they claim.

Last Friday I was talking to a fifth grade girl about this issue. She does all of her homework, but seems to be stuck in a rut, reading two short and easy books each week. I asked her to record the time she began and ended her nightly reading over the weekend. When we talked on Monday I was surprised that she brought me the times, but had not figured out how many minutes those times represented. In the end it turns out she is reading around 20 minutes a night. Tomorrow I will meet with her again. I expect she will be ready for another book!

I suspect that this girl may not be alone, but I would be interested in finding out how students at different ages are doing with their home reading. I have written a survey that I plan to ask all 2nd - 6th grade students to complete. It should give me some interesting data.

The survey can be accessed here