Our First High School Book Fair

Every fall, when we do our big middle school book fair, my high school students tell me fondly of how much they loved the book fair and ask me why we don’t have one in the high school. The reason for that, of course, is that none of the big book fair companies offer a high school option and I was worried that working with an indie bookstore would require a lot more work on my end (let’s face it – Scholastic makes it pretty easy). When our on-campus bookstore decided it wasn’t going to purchase summer reading books for students, I decided it was the perfect time to try it out. My friend at our local indie was totally game, and it turned out she had just attended a bookseller conference session about how to do book fairs with schools! We did 3 days in the middle school at the beginning of the week then finished the week in the high school. My goal was to get students excited about books and reading before school ended in May and also have a convenient option for families to buy summer reading books.

Prep and set up was really easy. We made a list of titles that we knew students would like or listed genre-type things like “realistic fiction graphic novels,” “Karen McManus-style mysteries,” “romances like Caraval or The Selection.” Over a few days, we went back and forth with the store adding things to the list and changing up titles as needed, and we ended up with a list of 35-40 different titles for each division. I opted for a variety of titles with a few copies of each, rather than tons of copies of just a few books, to give our students lots of options. I also knew that we could easily order anything we ran out of and just deliver to students later. The bookstore ordered the books and set up a Square that we would use for checkouts during the fair. They also ordered some “treasures,” as Nicole so aptly described them a few weeks ago. I made a joke at one point about how we’d have fun pencils and bookmarks but nothing that smelled like chocolate, only for chocolate-scented erasers to show up – needless to say they were a hit. Once everything arrived, the bookstore rep brought everything to campus and we set up the books on a few tables, making levels with some display stands.

In addition to taking cash and card, we allow students to charge book fair purchases to their student accounts, which means a lot less handling of cash for all involved. In order to do this, we require students to have a form signed by a parent that gives them a budget they’re allowed to spend. All middle school students got a paper form to take home, high school students could grab a paper form in the library, and all parents in both divisions got an email with a link to an online form. We then keep a spreadsheet of purchases that we can turn into our business office and can pay the bookstore in one lump sum. The Square app that the bookstore set up allowed us to put students’ names in the purchase notes, so we could easily keep track of who purchased what, and the Square also made it really easy to pull a quick report and make sure our spreadsheet matched actual sales.

So how did it all work out? Our middle school fair was pretty par for the course – lots of traffic from 6th grade, less from 8th – but I did have one kid come back in the afternoon to say how much he was enjoying the book he bought that morning! For me, the high school was the really fun part. See, my fiction and narrative nonfiction books are in a “Reading Room” on the opposite side of the building from the Research Library where I spend most of my day, so I don’t often get a chance to have impromptu conversations about just-for-fun books with students. I loved being able to have these readers advisory conversations, and both students and teachers were excited to come shop for books. I had conveniently read most of the books on offer, so I was able to make lots of recommendations, and I had several students who would just sit and talk to me about what they’d been reading lately. We have a lot of discussions about how our students aren’t reading, and there are plenty that aren’t, but a lot still love it and just lack the time to read during the busy academic year. This was a nice reminder of that.

The only thing I would change is scheduling the fair during the high school field day. Our Research Library, where the fair was set up, is right off the football field, and my plan had been to be open during the field day powderpuff game as a nice break from being outdoors. However, it rained all day, the powederpuff game was postponed, and students were dismissed early, so I had very few visits that day. In a perfect world, I’d also move the fair to May, but that’s up to my business office and not me.

I loved working with our indie store, and we plan to make this an annual fair. It was so much easier than I was anticipating, and I left with all the warm fuzzy feelings, plus a few new books for the library. Have you worked with an indie bookstore for a book fair? How did it work for you, and what else would you recommend to those looking to try it out?

Making Books Easy

I recently read Daniel Willingham’s The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. The book leads readers through each aspect of cognition that contributes to being a successful reader. And, perhaps of no surprise for librarians, the constant message was that folks who are good at reading are folks who read a lot. So, I was particularly interested in Willingham’s suggestions on how to get students to read more. It boils down, in many ways, to this: kids need to have books in their space all the time, it needs to be easy, otherwise the things that are easy (tik tok, anyone?) will win their attention. What I’m sharing here is one small step I’ve taken to help smooth the path between “I have some time on my hands” and “I’m reading.”

There are readers who always have a full TBR queue, and then there are those who go deer-in-the-headlights when they close the back cover on their latest book. While some of us are skilled at articulating what we like about the books we love–intense worldbuilding, deep character development, particular storylines, found family, etc.–there are also those who have a harder time putting their finger on what part of a book caused a connection. What better way to help figure that out and find their next book than a bit of gentle prompting by way of a decision tree!

Another way to reduce friction is to find the right attention getters. When we meet our students where they are at, like getting excited to see the next installment of Dune, and guide them to options that they may not have considered, we make it just a little bit easier to get a book in their hands.

My goal for now is to build out decision trees and mind-map style book finding aids for each of our genres. Genrefication made it easier to get out students to a subset of books they might find interesting, hopefully these diagrams can help a bit more.

What are you doing to make books easy for students? What are the books that win your students’ attention?

Glimpses of the Future in Fiction: Simulations and Lost Knowledge?

Note: Some plot reveals

Truth is stranger than fiction. This saying is cited often, and now with advances in AI, it may well be more apt than ever. However, lately, I find that novels can call us to consider the features of our new world in innovative ways.

Seemingly unconnected to each other, two novels have some similar themes, related to concerns of our “real world” and a possible escape to better ones. For example, The Ferryman by Justin Cronin and Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land each feature certain similar plots relating to “new worlds” that aren’t quite as they seem. At the same time, each of these bears similarities to The Truman Show, in which Truman realizes he lives in his own artificial world. I am sure there are even more books and films that share these ideas of simulations. It is clear that the idea of space travel to another alternate safer place is buzzing our collective imagination. And yet, there is often an important catch to that dream, according to these works. Sometimes, we can’t quite reach our destination. And what collective knowledge should we bring with us on the journey as we begin anew?

These novels also share a concern with preserving knowledge, or discovering lost knowledge. Each has a secret trove of literature stored just in case. I wonder if there is a collective concern for a new era of information richness and clarity as our current information sources become muddled and distressed. This fiction coincides with at least two relatively recent nonfiction titles related to the idea of lost knowledge: The Library: a Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Richard Ovenden’s Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge. Meanwhile, Simon Winchester’s Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge: From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic details the changing ways society views the concepts and conveying of shared knowledge. Interestingly, issues with disinformation and misinformation lurk throughout the centuries; they are not new. But perhaps more prevalent now.

These titles, nonfiction and fiction, could constitute an interdisciplinary course on these interrelated themes. At the same time, the rise of AI will add new dimensions to these issues, and how we address them. As the use of AI chatbots increases, there could come a time when we will no longer reference one standard “body of knowledge.” At least the newer iterations add live links to their cited source material. Meanwhile, a related worry is that of “model collapse” in which the data sets are distorted and unreliable; another concern is “Catastrophic forgetting” which “refers to the phenomenon where neural networks lose the ability to complete previously learned tasks after training on new ones.” Each of these issues highlight real anxiety about the future of knowledge in our new age.

In these revolutionary times, fiction can open new avenues for deliberation and exploration of these important issues. A central plot feature in Cloud Cuckoo Land is the discovery of a missing Greek text–does this portend our own future scramble for lost sources of information from within our constructed new worlds? When coupled with relevant nonfiction, these fictional texts offer engaging and thought-provoking ways to explore solutions to current concerns and they are also fun to read.

Book Bingo

Hopefully, you are all enjoying some meaningful (or not!) summer reading. For those interested, let’s check in on AISL Summer Reading Bingo:

Click here for the bingo card & guidelines:

Check out this shared doc for recommendations – intriguing and helpful on its own but also supportive of one of the bingo squares

Look at the AISL Instagram page for additional inspiration, particularly the #aislfridayfeature

Mark your calendars – live bingo on Monday, September 11 (at 5:00pm Pacific, 6:00pm Mountain, 7:00pm Central, and 8:00pm Eastern)

Yours in reading,

Shelagh (with shoutout to my bingo-planning partner, Catherine 🙂

The Joys of Book Juggling

As I sit at my desk trying desperately to focus between questions, printer drama, and the need to tell that student that he can’t surf wheelie-chairs in the library, all while trying to will away the constant din of conversation on the the silent floor, I’ve decided to write this post about something a little further from my day to day. Today is the last day of regular classes here, so the real day to day is ending for the year. We are moving into exams and then those year-end traditions that transition us into summer, off to college, up a grade level. So I’m taking a moment to pause, and invite you to my reading realm.

I never used to be a book juggler. I get so invested in each book that I don’t want to be reading anything else until I’m done with the characters, ideas, and worlds that I’m so immersed in at the moment. Over time though, and for a variety of reasons (children, long commutes, competing desires), I’ve shifted to being someone who is often reading at least 2 books at any given time. Right now I find myself in the delicious early pages of two pleasure books, while also slowly eking my way through one “work” book.

One aspect of book juggling I have come to appreciate is how the mental hangover from one to the next can sometimes lead to interesting connections and insights. Because I’m still mulling through the as-yet-unresolved thoughts and threads from one book as I shift to pick up the others, I bring those muddled thoughts to a new context and I often apply the same questions there.

Looking back at my reading list since the start of 2023 I’ve been on a real fantasy kick: Bardugo, McGuire, Roanhorse, and Clarke.There are other books mixed in, but fantasy easily sweeps me up. Rarely is a new world contained in just one book, there are trilogies and series to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole into. So, it was, in fact, a bit of a surprise to myself, when this week I paused and realized I was juggling 3 non-fiction books for the first time in a while.

I picked up Gathering Moss: a Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, by Robin Wall Kimmerer when my kids brought me to the bookstore for Mother’s Day. A few days after I started reading, I was not entirely surprised to find out that our Environmental Science teacher is also reading it currently. Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass has been a book that clearly made an impact on our school in the past year. The only book at all mentioned in our weekly Meeting for Worship, it has actually moved students and teachers to speak at three different Meetings with entirely different queries. Given how infrequently our community has been moved to speak at Meetings this year, it is clear that this book has power. Beyond that, it has also been one of the most frequently shared books by faculty on our “What’s We’re Reading” display. I myself managed some strange hybrid of both devouring and savoring Kimmerer’s words when I read it last year. Gathering Moss has been on my to-read list ever since.

Also sitting on my list for several months has been Katherine May’s Wintering: the Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. After reading an old NPR review sometime last fall, I’ve been intrigued by the narrative and mildly anthropological exploration of wintering, which May describes as “a fallow period in life, when you’re cut off front he world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider.” As someone whose personal “to-visit” list is topped by northern destinations, May’s inclination to also turn north for strategies to manage the cold and dark times in life piqued my interest (and also makes me want to make time for a sauna).

Meanwhile, on my desk at work, sits Attention Span: a Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity, by Gloria Mark. I find no shortage of irony in my inability to focus on reading it between notifications on my laptop and students dropping by. I often intend to read something professionally useful in the earliest part of my mornings, between opening the library at 7:30 and the end of first period. While most of this year those have been books more specifically on pedagogy, Attention Span caught my interest to perhaps help me to understand our student’s device dependance (and that deep discomfort they feel at being physically separated from their phones when I have to confiscate ones being used against our device policy) and also think through those tensions of student stress at just how much homework they have, declining mental health, and simultaneously large amounts of free time during the school day used in academically unproductive ways. Perhaps understanding a bit more about attention will give me some insight, too, into how to physically structure our library space to serve the real needs of our students.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Right now, in the early stages, there are threads from each that I want to tease out. I see the importance of cycles shining through. Nature and people cycle through seasons, we need dark and light, joy and sadness, energy and rest. Mosses thrive in moisture and go dormant in drought, only to reemerge healthy when the conditions are right again. Our attention needs both focus and distraction in order to maintain balance–we cycle out of deep focus to periods of rote engagement in order to restore our ability to enter periods of focus again. The restorative and calming power of nature is there too. Pause, look closely, notice the details. Kimmerer describes how her world changed upon first seeing a snowflake through a magnifying glass–that experience taught her that there was more to see if we look closely. Observation is akin to mindfulness in ways that appear through May’s writing, from nature walks to mid-night watches and restorative baking. I also see threads of a need for acceptance. May finds power in accepting winter as part of life. One cannot simply avoid that cold dark season, by accepting winter one can prepare and embrace the unique parts of that season. So too, with our attention. Times of distraction restore our ability to focus. Accepting that not all our time will be focused we can better consider how to be distracted well. These are some of the threads that seem to connect from all sides. As I turn the last page in these and the juggling act shifts, I look forward to where else the interleaving of pages will take me.

In the meantime, I’m really excited for the change in our cycle that comes with the end of classes. In my reflective mood, the exam period feels like an important liminal moment in our year. Soon we will have various ceremonies, formal and informal, where our students will transition. Our juniors become the senior class of 2024, our graduates become alums. The academic cycle moves us all into summer. And I, for one, am ready to accept the summer.

Fiction Genrefication

I have long been in favor of genrefying fiction collections so students will be better able to find books they know they will enjoy. With our school, we took the plunge starting in the fall of 2019, and here are the steps we went through to complete the process.

1. Genre Stickers

We started with our middle school fiction, and for step one, added genre stickers to every book. Although we had stickers for fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, adventure, humor, historical, realistic, romance, sports, and graphic novels, we combined realistic, romance, and sports into one “realistic” section when we moved the books. We also kept graphic novels intermixed by genre, but in their own separate collection.

2. Tally Books

For step two, I went low-tech, though I’m sure there are more sophisticated options out there! I printed out a form with spots for each genre, then took a clipboard and pen and went into the collection and did a hand-count of titles in each genre. That gave me a rough count (assuming some books were checked out) of the numbers for each section.

3. Estimate Shelf Space

I estimated how many feet of shelf space each section would need, based on number of books plus extra space for growth. Then I measured our shelving, which, as you can see from the image (MS Fiction in purple), is divided into a number of different places and sizes of shelf. I noted how many feet of shelf each unit contained, front and back for double-sided units, and then figured out which section would fit where. For many of our shelving units, continuing to a second unit would create a non-intuitive flow, so we avoided that as much as possible.

4. Move Books

We moved books during winter break, when no students were around; we had the three library staffers plus one volunteer. Starting with the shelves on which our alphabetized collection started, we moved all the books from the shelf space needed for the new section up to the tops of the shelves, leaving them in order. Then, using book carts, we went through the whole collection and pulled all the books for the new genre section. As our fiction was already in alphabetical order, pulling them by genre sticker did not disrupt that order and allowed us to move them to their new shelves without much reshuffling. I believe eventually we each started moving different sections, which worked so long as the books removed from the shelves to make space for the new sections went to the top of the shelves in order. The process went reasonably quickly, and I think we moved the collection in a couple of days.

Here are some photos of our current genrefied collection.

Humor on the left, the start of Fantasy on the right

One side of the Fantasy collection

Graphic Novels and Thrills & Chills

Realistic and Adventure

5. Change Location in Catalog

The part that took the longest was changing each book’s sublocation in our Follett Destiny catalog. We all worked on different sections over a couple of months, going book by book.

6. Signage

We are still working on the ideal signage for the collection. Currently we have small labels above each rank of shelves, and larger signs on the endcaps, but students still ask where a section is (though they have no trouble finding the graphic novels!). Here is a sample of the cool signs Andrea designed, though we think the genre title needs to be a little larger, and arrows would be helpful.

7. YA Fiction

The procedure for genrefying our recently completed YA fiction section was spearheaded by my colleague, Andrea. It started with a previously-finished diversity audit that included the genres, then adding genre stickers to all the books. As I had done with our middle school fiction, Andrea mapped out the YA fiction according to genre, with some genres like humor getting lumped into realistic. With a volunteer, she moved books by pulling out genre-stickered titles to put on carts in alpha order, then consolidated the remaining books to make room for the new section.

8. Conclusions

I’m really happy with how the collection turned out, and while the pandemic has made it difficult to assess whether circulation has increased as a result, it has made it easier for students to browse their favorite genres and find some new books to try.

Creating a children’s collection in a high school library

I don’t think our high school library is unique in getting requests for children’s materials from time to time. Whether for young families living on campus or our students tutoring young kids from our local community, we’ve had a number of picture and chapter books on hand for years.

This year, 2 members of our library team decided to formalize this collection and did so by harnessing the power of  Week Without Walls (WWW), an annual event when all Senior School students & staff perform volunteer service in our area, including some sites on campus. 

One month prior to WWW, a team member emailed staff & posted a notice in the parent newsletter, asking for donations of books suitable for up to 12 years of age; 10 families donated a total of 203 books.

When the week arrived, 4 students were assigned to this WWW group based on their shared passion for reading & children, and over the course of 8 hours:

  • Reviewed donations; a handful of books didn’t make the cut based on physical condition and appropriateness
  • Created a variety of materials to support the collection including identification stickers (items aren’t barcoded so the stickers highlight where they are to be shelved) and dividers noting their creative and unique categories, such as “Kids in Charge” and “Interactive” (pop-up books and I Spy), “Guide for Life”, along with some traditional genres.
  • Colourfully painted book ends (seen above)
  • Bookmarks that celebrate and encourage reading 

Initially, the students were keen to catalogue the books so that they’d be searchable in our database but time didn’t allow for this, although it was great to have students get a glimpse of how much goes into this detailed behind-the-scenes work.

I’m grateful to work with colleagues who created such a meaningful initiative for our students and for students who enthusiastically embraced the opportunity!

Summertime reading hits different

We’re in Illinois for the next several weeks, in my childhood home in a small town in the middle of the state. Shifting gears from Los Angeles means there is an abundance of time and space and quietude. There is nothing to do here, really. Oh, there are plenty of pleasant, quiet, serene outings that take up a morning or an hour – the Abraham Lincoln New Salem village, the tiny zoo, a walk around the duck pond, a trip to the drive-thru coffee shop. I can drive my son past my old high school and show him where I played in the park as a kid. There are scrambled eggs in the morning, sandwiches at lunch, dinners made by my mother in the evening. It’s an absolute retreat from the world of Los Angeles, and my parents’ house is a house designed for reading. Every chair with a lamp and a side table and a foot stool. Every table with a pile of books and magazines. Trips to the well-appointed public library happen every other day, at least.

For me, reading in the summertime just hits different. I read more, for one. I may read three or four books a week, because I can read for several hours a day. I read more indiscriminately because my purpose has shifted. During the school year, I most often read for business. I keep up with trends, I vet books for the collection, I read teacher or student recommendations, I re-read a book that’s going back into the curriculum, I skim, I assess, I “librarian”. Summertime reading, however, is just for me. The activity itself is the purpose. The long, lazy mornings on the patio or the sofa with coffee. The heat-induced siestas where my eyes close for a few minutes and that drowsy, timeless feeling blurs the lines between my book and my dreams. The quiet nights where I read long past my bedtime because I don’t have a bedtime, for now.

If you looked through my goodreads ratings and isolated the summertime books, you’d see a whole lot of five stars! Five stars! FIVE STARS! That’s because I also like books more in the summertime. I like books more because I’m not judging them or studying them. I’m just enjoying them. In summertime, a five star book is a book I had a great time reading. A book that swept me away, or kept me guessing, or just filled the time pleasantly. Maybe the ending was too tidy or too swift, and maybe there are holes in the plot, and maybe this character wasn’t so well developed. Who cares? It’s summertime! Did I enjoy reading it? FIVE STARS!

I can’t help but wonder if my students get to experience this transformation in summertime. I suspect some do, if they aren’t over-scheduled by summer school, internships, camps, sports, etc. If their summers include empty time, do they fill it with murder mysteries and romance novels? Perhaps. For many of them, their required summer reading is likely to be looming over them, making summertime reading bliss harder to achieve. Do any of them read those books first, to get them out of the way so they can relax into their library books? I doubt it. They wait to read them until late summer (if they read them at all) to make sure the book is fresh in their minds for the first days of school when they’ll need to retrieve details for discussions and essays and possibly even quizzes. With Jane Eyre sitting on the bedside table, lurking, can they sink into a cozy fantasy novel without guilt? Do they lose themselves in a random bestseller if 1984 is just sitting there, daring them to start annotating it?

Every summer I think about this. Every summer I think that maybe I should create a summer reading challenge, or a summer reading book club, or a summer reading incentive for my students. But then, wouldn’t my own summertime reading become business again? I haven’t been able to make that sacrifice for my students. It means too much to me to have this retreat from my professional life. Perhaps if my school’s campus and library were open all year, it would be different. I know for some of you, you’re working right now, and summer reading programs are part of your school culture. At my school, everything goes quiet. There’s a little summer school, and then the campus empties. If I built it, would they come? Maybe. But for now, I’m going to go make another cup of coffee and pick up my next book.

What does summertime reading mean for you? Did you just go to ALA and pick up a new stack of ARCs? Do you use your summer to binge watch all the shows you missed during the year? I’d love to hear!

My most recent reads: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett, Search by Michelle Huneven.

#BookTok: the collection development tool I never knew I wanted and now refuse to live without

I love TikTok. Like, I really love it. Years from now, when we’re all sitting around talking about what got us through the COVID era, TikTok will be one of the things at the top of my list. It’s brought me so much comfort, joy, and humor. It’s a place I’ve returned over and over for solace and escape. For the year we were remote-teaching, it was pretty much daily that I would call out to my family  “I’m taking a TikTok bath!” and then disappear for an hour into the bubbles, aromatherapy, and TikTok trends that would soothe my weary soul. I don’t create any content, but I follow hundreds of creators, from gardeners to miniaturists to satirists to frustrated and exhausted educators. I’ve learned to hack my instant ramen, make super spicy chile paste, and marinate mayak eggs. I’ve witnessed epic thrifting hauls and seen women sewists craft exquisite period costumes. I’ve found daily affirmations and asmr creators that bring my anxiety down three notches in an instant. I’ve learned new vocabulary and word origins, toured ruins, and been exposed to obscure historical trivia. I’ve seen a lot of talking dogs. It’s been a safe haven and a gift.

Little did I know that this habit would also lead me to one of the best collection development tools ever – #BookTok! If you are not familiar, BookTok is a community of readers, book lovers, collectors, preservationists, sellers, and librarians who make videos about what they are currently reading, what’s on their tbr lists, their favorite books, their least favorites, you name it. BookTok occasionally includes controversies, just like any social media community, but mostly it’s just a lovely place to learn about new (and old) titles and authors. In some cases it has even driven books onto bestseller lists or revived the popularity of older titles. In many cases, my students have read books because they’ve seen them on TikTok, so it’s also been an unexpectedly effective readers’ advisory promotional tool that I am super grateful for. I love it!

Here are some of my favorite BookTokkers and why I find them especially informative in terms of collection development.

@the.ace.of.books

This booktokker reads a lot. She posts frequently with weekly reading updates, and also sometimes does one-off posts about specific titles or addressing questions she receives in the comments. She sometimes talks about how her ADHD and ASD inform her reading choices, which is a great way for me to think about how to best serve my neurodivergent student population via collection development. I really love the variety of titles she reads. While she is perhaps primarily a fantasy reader, she also reads poetry, nonfiction, literary fiction, memoir, and more. Also, because of her popularity, she often receives ARCs or other gift boxes from publishers and subscription services, which means I’m also kept up-to-date on what’s in the hopper in terms of new releases.

@schizophrenicreads

This booktokker also reads a huge number of books, though he focuses almost exclusively on nonfiction. He reads widely across subject areas. Most of his picks are very current, which is helpful to me because I sometimes think keeping track of new nonfiction releases is like drinking from a firehose. He makes great connections between titles, often talking about how one book he recently read reminds him of another, so many of his videos offer multiple points of entry for thinking about nonfiction curation. He also values excellent writing, not just interesting content, and so is a really good source for essayists and literary nonfiction.

@bookpapi

This booktokker is an independent bookstore owner (Golden Lab Bookshop). He’s an excellent source for titles by authors of color, and particularly Latinx/e authors. He talks a lot about decolonizing book collections and intersectionality, and so regularly offers alternatives to mainstream titles that, while good or popular books, are representative of the dominant culture rather than exploring marginalized voices. His store’s website has really nice curations, and he offers a BIPOC Lit mystery subscription box, which is cool.

@schulerbooks

This is one of many independent bookstore BookTok accounts. I like this type of account because of the “book challenge” structure of most of their videos. One person working in the bookstore will issue a challenge to their coworkers to find a certain type of book – scariest book, book with the best ending, book that made you cry, etc – and then you get to watch all the bookstore employees go find their books and give a short ‘book talk’ about why they chose it. This is great for me for a few reasons. One, I get to hear about new books. Two, I get ideas about fun curations or displays for my library because of the challenges they do. Three, I get a glimpse into how independent bookstores organize their collections, which is helpful as I consider ways to genrify and de-Dewey portions of my collection.

There are SO many great BookTok accounts out there, I couldn’t possibly list them all. I’ve encountered so much variety and diversity on this app, and of course I didn’t even scratch the surface with this post. I’d love to know what your favorites are and why you like them!

One School, One Book – fingers crossed and breath held

[Correction: I originally credited one of the guides linked in this post to Amy Voorhees. The guide was actually created by Nancy Florio. So sorry for the error!]

The summer before I arrived at this school, someone made an attempt to start an all-school summer reading initiative. It did not work out. I don’t really know the details, but from what I gleaned in the aftermath, the book wasn’t chosen carefully enough, buy-in wasn’t built…I’m not sure what else happened. All I know is that there were boxes of unused copies of the book in my library storage room and a clear “don’t try this again anytime soon” vibe coming from pretty much everyone. So, I didn’t. Until now.

Thanks to a graduate of the class of 2021, we are launching One School, One Book for summer 2022. Brenna spent her senior year conducting research on books that are and are not typically assigned to students in independent schools through their English sources. She did this for her Honors Statistics Research course, one of our six capstone courses for seniors. She concluded not only that many voices are underrepresented in high school English courses, but that some types of stories may be better experienced outside of class and within different kinds of reading communities. In the end, she proposed One School, One Book (OSOB) as a new way the school can engage students and community members in reading experiences that act as mirrors for some, windows for others, and (we hope) provide an opportunity for community-building around literature.

Her proposal was approved, she graduated, and then it became time for me to make this happen. Eeks! For those of you who do this regularly, you rock. So far, it’s a bigger undertaking than I imagined, but it’s so much fun. While we’re experiencing a few novice hiccups, things are chugging along. We started by consulting the ALA guide and this excellent one from Nancy Florio at an AISL Summer Institute (thanks, Nancy!). We then set out to create our book selection committee, which consists of twenty-two members – a combination of current students, alumnae, teachers, staff, and parents. We drafted a mission statement:

One School, One Book (OSOB) brings the Flintridge Sacred Heart community together – students, faculty, staff, alums, and parents – to share a reading experience that amplifies the voices and experiences of  mis- or underrepresented individuals and groups. It is an opportunity to discuss stories that may diverge from our own lived experiences, as well as to find our own stories in the books we read. One School, One Book  is designed to engage our minds collectively, to exercise our compassionate hearts, and to open our arms to diverse and inclusive perspectives. 

Then we started talking about books. In the beginning, we created a list of thirty-eight books (curated by library staff and some committee members). After reviewing synopses and book reviews, we narrowed our list to five titles that the committee would read over the course of about two months. They were all YA titles, since we wanted to keep the books suitable for all students grades nine to twelve, and since we wanted the protagonist to be in that age range. We were sensitive to the length of the books and our students’ other summer reading and homework obligations, so books over 325 pages were excluded (a difficult choice!). And then, we read.

Committee members submitted written feedback as they read, but the best discussion came from the zooms we held during those two months. It was so much fun to talk with these amazing readers about the books in such detail. Would the story resonate with our community? What would our students gain from reading each book? What community engagement opportunities would there be? How will we create excitement around whichever title we choose? This has been, so far, my favorite part of the process.

Did I worry at one point that we wouldn’t agree on a book and that we’d have to delay another year and that the entire thing would crumble before we’d even really started? YES! Our entire committee agreed that if that happened, it would be ok. We’d try again next year with another batch of books. We wouldn’t be discouraged.

We voted, and though not everyone was head over heels about the same titles, we did have a clear majority winner. This summer, our One School, One Book selection is Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. We are so stupidly excited about this book! It may seem odd to have chosen a book about a boy for an all-girls school, but it’s actually a great fit. Darius is a fantastic kid, for one. And a book about a boy may ensure that none of our students feel completely spotlit by our selection, which some of the other books may have done. Darius includes important storylines about friendship, family connections, depression, intergenerational communication, and living with multiple identities (not all of which feel ‘right’ all the time). It also includes soccer, tea, Star Trek, and lots of other topics that we can design activities and events around for the fall.

Now that we’ve chosen the book, it’s time to really get down to business. This is where novice hiccups will probably show up the most. We’re going for local bookseller sponsors, parent involvement, faculty buy-in, student buy-in, and the participation of our entire community. Will this effort flop like the one more than a decade ago? I really don’t think so (fingers crossed and knock on wood). We’ve been thoughtful and thorough so far, I believe. We have a great team assembled, I know. We are flexible. We are ok with some novice hiccups.  If this all works out, we’ll have an annual program in place that was started because of a student’s capstone project, which is pretty cool. 

So wish us luck! And for those of you who’ve done this before, please send advice !