#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 !

School librarians — Fiction.

My students love books about school librarians, especially those that are unconventional – think the protagonist from The Librarian from the Black Lagoon, or Mrs Roopy from the My Weird School series. We often discuss how they would fit in at our library, and whether their methods and quirks would add to or detract from the library program we already have. Strangely, my own reading this summer has also led me to discover some school library-focused books, some of which get every detail of a school librarian’s day correct, and some which…don’t. Below I share some of these titles, as well as some fun independent school-set reads which I have enjoyed this summer. Happy reading, all!

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

This novel opens with the main character, Amy Byler, arriving in New York for a conference (not entirely dissimilar to an AISL conference). The details of this school library conference experience are uncannily accurate, and the discussion and details of the topic she is presenting on ring true. However, it veers into ‘really?’ territory when Amy decides to stay in New York for the rest of the summer, effectively abandoning her family in rural Pennsylvania. So, five stars for the first part, but from a library perspective, it really loses its way (doesn’t Amy need to get back home to set up her library for the start of school? What about all those books that have to be cataloged and those displays that have to be created?).

Quiet, Please by Brea Brown

Failed Public Librarian Kendall Dickinson decides she needs a do-over, and takes a job as a librarian at a small North Carolina School. She does not like children, or noise, but figures the job will be a good distraction from her other worries. The usual characters show up: the quirky kid obsessed with reading, the colleagues who nod knowingly across the auditorium during assembly, and the flighty principal who spends more time at the spa than at the school. And of course, there’s a complicated, brooding Kindergarten teacher who makes Kendall’s life more… complicated. The details of the school librarian life are pretty accurate in this novel, but it must be said that if you don’t like children or noise then this probably isn’t the profession for you.

What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Katherine Center was due to be the Skip Anthony speaker at our conference in Houston, and I would have love to have heard about her research and her perspective on school librarians! This novel features Sam, librarian at the Kempner School on Galveston Island, TX. After a tragedy involving the long-standing principal, a new principal is appointed who Sam knows from her previous school (well, you know how everyone in independent schools knows each other). But on the first day of school, Duncan Carpenter is not the man Sam remembers. The details of the school librarian’s life are accurate, and her observations of young readers (and their over-invested parents) are spot-on. In particular, the description of the library is wonderful, and I would love to know if this is based on a real school!

The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson

OK – no school libraries in this one, but the main character is an elementary art teacher, and her best friend is the school librarian. When her local public library closes, Dodie decides to open a replacement in her home’s sunroom. As the members of the town pass through, picking up books and sharing their secrets with Dodie, it becomes clear that the town misses not only its books but the sense of community that the library brought. There is a subplot involving Dodie’s ticking biological clock, and to be honest, the way in which Dodie ran the library made me feel a bit anxious; thankfully, no one suggests that she leaves her art classroom and heads to the school library instead.

In addition to these books about libraries, I’ve also read three great books set in schools this summer. In The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger, four families will do anything to get their child into an elite new school for the very gifted & talented. Anything. In Tiny Imperfections by Alli Frank & Asha Youmans, we meet Josie Bordelon, admissions director at the exclusive Fairchild Country Day School in San Francisco, CA. You will not believe (well, maybe you will) the tactics used by parents to gain a coveted spot at this school. The story also focuses on Josie’s aunt, one of the longest-serving kitchen workers at the school, and her daughter, Etta, who is a senior and has very specific ideas about where she wants to go for college. Finally, Minor Dramas and Other Catastrophes is a wonderful novel by Kathleen West, an Independent School teacher here in Minnesota. This book is a fast-paced read about helicopter parents, social media and what it’s like to teach in an elite high school bubble, where the teachers are mostly liberal, and the parents are mostly not…

If you’ve read something good recently, school-related or not, leave a comment! And I’m looking forward to the first school-related novel featuring COVID-19: “She opened up her computer and logged on to her Google Meet. There were three students there already…”

Pop-Up Party: Books for Breaks

As we slowly inch towards spring break (!), I am thinking about how to promote our library books to our upper school students. A couple of years ago, the English department began assigning free reading for winter and spring breaks, and I want to do something as special for this spring break as we just did for winter break to promote the library books.

Last year, many English teachers brought students up to the library in groups, but this year, after  four unexpected days off of school due to local fires (our lower school and many of our students’ homes were in the evacuation zone), our teachers were pressed for teaching time and weren’t sure they could bring their classes this year. I wanted to do something festive and different, which would work with either whole classes or students coming in on their free time. 

Our party “invitation” was sent to everyone via email and on display boards around the Upper School campus.

This is where teamwork came in. I am lucky to work with two fabulous full-time Library Assistants. We developed the Pop-Up Party: Books for Breaks, which was located on one end of the library. The Pop-Up lasted one month, to give time to check out books for both Thanksgiving break and winter break. We decorated the area with twinkly lights and centerpieces made from weeded books. We brought the best of the best books and put them in areas by theme. We extended due dates until our second week back in January, and even distributed goodie bag reading kits full of holiday treats, cocoa packets, bookmarks, and instructions for using our Overdrive ebooks and audiobooks.

Library Assistant Maggie Lara made our entry display.

Approximately half of the English classes came to check out books, and I taught them about our ebook and audiobook collections and highlighted particular books of every format. I even told them it was my birthday party, when in fact it was my birthday, and asked them to celebrate with me by taking the time to find books they like. Other kids came on their own. By the end of the month-long party, many of the twinkly lights burned out and we ran out of goodie bags, but by then our new students learned about the library as a welcoming and fun space, and everyone is now more aware of our collection. We were able to start conversations with readers we didn’t know well, and perhaps people who don’t call themselves readers but still checked out books. Students are returning the books now, asking for sequels, and actually responding to emailed overdue notices.

Maggie Lara made table runners and centerpieces out of weeded books and twinkly lights (which I had left over from my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah 4 years ago).

What do I do for spring break to keep the book excitement going? How do you promote free reading and your collection? I would love some ideas from you for March!

Thanksgiving Break #Readinggoals

Do you look forward to school breaks as a time to dig into your “to be read” list? You DO?!? So do I. I hope my students do too, and I approach pre-break readers advisory with the assumption that every student has been looking forward to getting cozy with some reading of their choice. This assumption, happily, proves to be correct a fair amount of the time. Throwing “you need a good book for the break!” into casual interactions with students more often than not is followed by “yeah, I guess I do” or similar. That kid is leaving the library with at least one book, and probably a double check that they have our digital collection app and know how to use it.

My intention two weeks ago was to host a splendid study break snack spread in the library to welcome students to browse at their leisure with fall vacation reading on the brain (an idea from our Assistant Librarian before a break last year). That will have to happen another time, as it went the way of other sort-of plans. However, I did start a new reading promotion idea that also ties to new student life programming. We’ll see how it goes!

I have offered a reading challenge to the students, to be completed, if they so choose, by mid-December. The product will be a short written review for the catalog or a brief book review video. The suggested challenges include:

Challenges met will earn points for the readers’ Purple & Gold Team – tying reading to school spirit! 

Some of My Own Thanksgiving Break #ReadingGoals:

Frankly in Love by David Yoon David Yoon made an appearance at a local independent bookstore and I was able to bring three enthusiastic boarding students along to meet him. I am partway into it now, and so far it deserves the hype.

The Wicked King by Holly Black I love Holly Black’s books, and for some reason have not picked this up yet. The sequel, The Queen of Nothing, has been released recently and I’d better catch up before my student faerie fans dish the spoilers!

Following Through on Book Clubs, and, Windows & Mirrors

Over the last few years, avid and ambitious readers among the students and staff have pitched their book club desires to me. Naturally I’m game, but as our clubs and organizations already are challenged by finding time to meet I admit I’ve been pessimistic about book club success. A handful of times such an effort would result in one meeting and then fizzle out. This year I’m giving it another go, inspired by two things. First is our newly formed Global Diversity Council, comprising students and faculty members and tasked with ensuring “effective diversity engagement, inclusive excellent practices, a multicultural environment and curriculum, equitable activities, and social justice actions.”

The second was a recent well-timed article from Teaching Tolerance, in which Chelsea Tornetto writes:

“A story is often the most effective way to create personal connections between very different people. Reading a novel allows us to see the world through someone else’s eyes, remove the context we are used to and replace it with something new. We are more prepared to accept things beyond our own experiences because we know we are reading a ‘story,’ and yet we also actively search for similarities between our own lives and the lives of the characters. A novel can begin to open students’ minds and shape their hearts, without doing battle against their sense of self.”

While this is something we all know already, evoking Rudine Sims Bishop’s often referenced “windows, sliding doors, and mirrors” metaphor, I read it at the right time. This past summer our faculty and staff read Global Dexterity by Andy Molinsky, and the last line of this quotation points beautifully to the concept of this title; that we can find and should seek ways to effectively engage, identify with, and relate to people who are culturally different from ourselves without compromising our own identities and values. Reading about a fictional yet realistic character’s experiences is a safe way to practice this, which our school community wants and needs to do.

This article reminded me how simple yet powerful a program this could be, and with the right book, the right group to participate in and promote it, and enough (widely publicized) pizza, it could be a success.

This feels a little hard to say, but one of the stumbling blocks our book clubs have faced in the past is perhaps too much student ownership. I think my belief in wanting to give students voice and choice in this type of activity may have deprived them of a valuable experience. Of course I would like student voices heard and student ownership of our selections and discussions, but well-intentioned as our students may be, they, like all of us, just don’t always have time to do “extra” things like prepare, make posters, and successfully book talk an extracurricular novel. Reminder to self – reading promotion, awareness of current publications, and facilitating discussions about literature are my job. Those things aren’t “extra” for me. So maybe, for the students to have a great experience, a little adult (read: librarian) ownership is not such a bad thing.

I went to a GDC meeting last week and shared this idea. Rather than asking for book suggestions from the students, I said “The first book will be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and first meeting will be during lunch on December 13 in the library with pizza. I hope that if we decide to continue the book club that you folks will have some suggestions.” An interested buzz made its way around the room, so that’s good enough to forge ahead.

Then I sent this poster to Upper School students, faculty, and staff:
Window and Mirrors Book Club

With interest and partnership from the GDC, I think this will go very well. Our library collection holds copies of this particular title in three formats, and the GDC was able to purchase a few copies for students, faculty, and staff to bring home over Thanksgiving break. The books came in yesterday and three copies had already been claimed by 8:30 this morning. I’ll spring for the pizza.

I would love to hear about others’ Windows and Mirrors Book Club successes, stumbles, and book choices. My hypothesis is that we will need to choose very current titles representing diverse identities and experiences, personally invite some folks who might not be paying attention to emails and announcements, and make sure everyone knows about the food.

Let’s give them something to talk about

I want to share with you some really good books that I’ve been reading that you might like to consider for Black History Month, or an all campus read, or maybe you’re looking for a book to anchor your mental health awareness discussion.

[Will update this post first thing in the morning with an original review, but I have to go coach a volleyball game right now and I don’t want to wait to post this as it’s already a day late. Did I mention that I’m having a crazy week? Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:]

Winner of the NBCC’s John Leonard First Book Prize
A New York Times 2016 Notable Book
One of Oprah’s 10 Favorite Books of 2016
NPR’s Debut Novel of the Year
One of Buzzfeed’s Best Fiction Books Of 2016
One of Time‘s Top 10 Novels of 2016, Winner of 2017 PEN Hemingway award for debut fiction.

Homegoing is an inspiration.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates 

The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

SUCH A GOOD BOOK. Perfect choice for your BHA group or to feature in a display in February.

 

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas is the first YA title I’ve read that addresses the Black Lives Matter movement. You will devour it like you devour a John Green novel. It is the story of Starr Carter, an African American girl who lives in the same impoverished neighborhood that her father was raised in, but who attends an elite private school a half hour away. One Friday night, when Starr attends a neighborhood party, a fight breaks out, shots ring out, and she flees with her childhood friend, Khalil. As they are driving away, Khalil is pulled over by a white police officer. You can guess how it goes. The story that follows is like a many-layered onion, you have Starr dealing with the trauma of losing her friend (and being the only witness), her interesting relationship with her family, her frustration over having to have a split personality–not wanting to be the “angry black girl” at school and for “acting too white” when she’s in her neighborhood. You have the trial of the police officer and Starr’s interesting relationship with her uncle who is a police detective. I could go on and on about the writing, the empathy that Thomas creates for her characters, just how REAL the story feels, it’s as horrible to experience as you might imagine it is for those we read about in the news. For those of you working with upper schoolers, this would make for an AMAZING community book discussion. We’re working on bringing it to my school now.

Some recent articles on the book are here, from NPR and this review from The Atlantic.

Note: we just ordered, All American Boys, that deals with similar issues. I plan to start this tonight.

And lastly,

You guys are already reading this, right? I sat down and read it on Saturday. And then my son asked if we could watch “My Girl”. I think he wanted to see if I had any tears left in me?  Shockingly, I did. This book is as painful as “The Fault in Our Stars” but in a completely different way. Stuck inside the head of a young girl with severe anxiety and OCD, JG does it again, crafting a young adult book that is the perfect blend of witty dialog and smart teens dealing with heavy things–like the death of a parent, our place in the universe, philosophy and mental illness.  Sixteen year old Aza suffers thought spirals and has profound fears about microbes waging war on her body from within. She questions who the “real” her is, judges her wellness based on how far the space is between therapist appointments, debates whether to medicate or not, and wonders how she will ever be able to go to college, live on her own, or maintain a relationship with a boy she really likes when being close to him sends her into total panic attack.

Oh, and intertwined in the story is a quirky best friend, Daisy, who writes love story Fan Fic about Chewbaca and Rey and also a mystery–where has the billionaire father of Aza’s love interest disappeared to? Who will claim the $100,000 reward for information leading to his return? How could $100,000 change her and Daisy’s lives?

Your students will be reading this book. You should too.

Playing book fairy

(Warning: I’ll be library-nerding hard here, it being a safe space to do so 🙂 )

Oh, the thrill of connecting a reader with just the right book, at just the right time! I particularly enjoy making a literal connection; this could be placing a book in a reader’s hands (although a member of my library team brought back an interesting tidbit from our provincial conference, about how to find greater success by not holding a book when talking about it, but placing it on a table/bookshelf, allowing for something akin to transfer of ownership to the reader…fascinating! But I digress…)

Making a literal connection could also be following up on a conversation over the lunch table or by email, by placing a book in a school mailbox, or on a reader’s desk.

As I’m on and off campus throughout the summer, I like to keep this going when opportunity allows. Sometimes I’m dropping things off for people who live/work on campus, sometimes I’m bringing things to people who live near me (we’re in a small town, and I’m lucky to live close to quite a few colleagues)

I had 2 deliveries this morning:

  • A teacher has finished reading Narnia to his kids and was curious about Percy Jackson, so I gave him the first 2 Olympians. He also likes Michael Lewis, and we didn’t have The Undoing Project – I’d ordered it, it recently arrived, so it’s in there too.
  • I ran into a colleague in the park yesterday, which gave me a chance to tell him that I was disappointed about being off my game when he asked me for some summer reading suggestions at the very tail-end of the school year…my brain was fried by then. Based on his reading interests, two books had come to mind, and bumping into him reminded me to get them to him – The Mandibles and The Art of Fielding.

Note the ziploc bags, also doubled-up with plastic bags on this misty morning.

This is strictly for fun, when my schedule allows, not onerous in any way – and I’ve found people to be so appreciative. I’ve also found it a good motivator for getting myself out for a walk!

 

 

Beyond Read-Alike: A Read-Within

As I’m sure many of us are, I am taking advantage of summer’s looser schedule to fit many more books a week into my reading time than I normally am able to. A delight, of course. But, even more delightful – twice in the past week I have had one of my favorite experiences when reading a novel. I don’t know about you, but I get a little frisson of geeky excitement when I am reading a book and the characters read or make reference to a book that I also love, or that I selected for the library collection hoping for a clamorous reception. This doesn’t happen with any old book name-drop. I don’t get a thrill when characters are reading Lord of the Flies in their fictional English class, for example, even though such a reference could help a reader relate to a character. I’m talking about books that are less ubiquitous reads, that a reader might have picked up on their own and now they get to reap the rewards of that choice again. Or, perhaps, something they’ve never heard of but now might be persuaded to pick up after reading the referencing book to get new insight into a character and stay with them longer.  I want my students to experience that same feeling of recognition in a character when a shared taste in literature is revealed. I want them to have that feeling of inclusion, or at least get the joke. If a reader loves one book or the other, its partner could become an easy sell! Anyway, I think it would make a cool display.  I have started making a list of examples when I run across or remember them. Here are a few I have gathered so far, in no particular order:

       

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven / We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

In Holding Up the Universe, Libby, formerly housebound, identifies with the main character of her favorite book. After her house is demolished to rescue her, an unknown person sends one of her own copies of the book to the hospital with a life-changing message written inside: “I’m rooting for you.”

       

Two for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky and Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

In these two books, The Bell Jar is not just casually mentioned; the characters’ engagement with the text plays a central role in the story. Readers may get more from these two novels after or before reading The Bell Jar.

   

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead/A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Plenty of middle schoolers love When You Reach Me, but may not have read or otherwise heard of A Wrinkle in Time. The Hope Larsen graphic novel adaptation and upcoming film could help this out the door, too.

  

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner/Just Kids by Patti Smith

The three main characters in The Serpent King are shopping in a local bookstore. One of them buys a copy of her favorite book, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which presumably she already has, just to pretend she’s about to read it for the first time. 

    

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell / Watchmen by Alan Moore

Eleanor and Park bond over this classic comic book. When I read Eleanor & Park, I also happened to be reading Watchmen for the first time, through sheer coincidence. What?!?

They spoiled the end.

 

Buck: a Memoir by M. K. Asante / Howl by Allen Ginsburg and On the Road by Jack Kerouac

In his memoir, M. K. Asante relates a story of a teacher who gave him these two books and thereby a voracious love of reading. He mentions several more works and authors that he read next including James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston. Asante visited our school, and students lined up for his book and autograph in droves. If he loved these I think a few students will be more interested in them too. 

Displaying books side-by-side with a well-placed note could bring new attention to some overlooked titles. “Loved The Serpent King? Read Lydia’s favorite book!”

The same interest can be piqued in music, movies, TV shows – any other work of art. I HOPE my students look up unfamiliar songs that are mentioned in books they read. What a wonderful window into the world of a favorite book and sensibility of a favorite character.

What would you add to the list? I know I’m missing some good match-ups!

Art Exhibition: Get the Picture! Contemporary Children’s Book Illustration

Over this Labor Day weekend, my family and I ventured out to the Brandywine River Museum of Art to see the exhibit Get the Picture! Contemporary Children’s Book Illustration. This exhibit featured the illustrative work of eight notable picture book illustrators: Sophie Blackall, Bryan Collier, Raúl Colón, Marla Frazee, Jon Klassen, Melissa Sweet, David Wiesner and Mo Willems. Seeing artwork from books I remember reading to my daughters and those I currently share with my students in an exhibit space, enabled me to appreciate the illustrations more fully. The collection of work curated by H. Nichols B. Clark, former director and chief curator of the Eric Carle Museum of the Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, was a phenomenal representation of the high caliber artwork made accessible through so many of the picture books in our school library collections.

The exhibit materials were grouped by artist, which provided the perfect platform for drawing comparisons. The museum also utilized iPads for an interactive exploration of David Weisner’s illustrations. This dynamic use of technology created a hot spot for the youngest museum goers. Films made with each of the artists discussing an aspect of the creative process were streaming in the gallery, and are available through the Brandywine’s site about the exhibit. I would highly recommend using any one of these videos in conjunction with a read aloud of one of the illustrator’s books to show students how they choose various media and how artists accomplish research for specific illustrations. Check out Jon Klassen’s video which captures his process of using atypical materials to draw a dog!

Get the Picture! Exhibit

Exhibit attendees reading books by the authors featured in Get the Picture!

The lasting lesson for me from this exhibit is to keep looking critically at the books we select. There are so many new styles and techniques emerging in the books we read to students, as well as a limitless crop of new talented artists rethinking the art of stories. Barbara Elleman provides a framework for picture book art evaluation where she stresses that we actually look at picture books with a multifaceted perspective: “with the lens of an artist, the needs of a librarian, and the appetite of a child.” After viewing the exhibit and reflecting on this helpful summary of how we engage with illustration, I plan to reinvigorate our class discussions about the illustrations in books we read together. My aim will be to have my students critically think about illustrations and how they add to a story, especially through recognition and analysis of artistic techniques utilized in picture books. I know that these questions will stimulate our discussions and provide students with an opportunity to showcase their visual observations and understanding.

This is a page from the exhibit guest book which reads, "I love knuffle bunny and pigeon books."

This is a page from the exhibit guest book which reads, “I love knuffle bunny and pigeon books.”