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.

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!

Interactive summer reading

I know it’s (only) April, but with just seven weeks of school left, my mind is on the finish line – summer! I don’t want to think about database renewals or cleaning the mess that is the workroom, nor do I care to give another thought to the book hospital that is overflowing with patients or the inventory that is calling my name. That can all wait until tomorrow (or the next day). No, right now, I’m planning summer reading!

For the past two years, I have created recommended summer reading magazines – my favorite picks from the year (here’s 2015 and 2016). I include them in my end-of-the-year library newsletter and send black-and-white copies in our end-of-year reports which go out mid-June. I print some in color and place them on our Parent bookshelf in the lobby, so that all who walk by can see and take them. I have ideas in mind for this year’s magazine, but I want to do more – I want this year’s summer reading to be interactive.

Lower school students do not have required reading over the summer, but I know they are reading voraciously. I have wondered about how to stay connected with students and their reading over the summer and have dismissed many ideas because I didn’t think they would work with our population. Send me a picture? Write me a letter? Blog about it? What’s a quick and easy way to collect and share our summer reading?

I am always looking to connect the right student with the right book at the right time, and now I find myself in need of the right tool. Books, I’m pretty good at and manage to stay updated. Tech tools, I always feel a step behind. So, please try not to roll your eyes when I introduce the new (ahem: four years old) tool that I plan on using for summer reading this year:

I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of Flipgrid until just recently, but I feel like I am seeing it everywhere nowadays. For those of you, maybe like me, who may not know what it is – Flipgrid is essentially a video discussion board. Imagine if Padlet and Voicethread had a baby (though I wonder about the ages of those two…). For my summer reading Flipgrid, I plan on taking video of myself talking to students about sharing their summer reading. Then, they can go to my Flipgrid page and add their own video about what they’re reading. In the end, I hope to have tons of videos of students sharing with me and each other. What I love about Flipgrid is how easy it is to use – go to the board, click the plus sign, and record yourself! It organizes the videos much in the same way as Pinterest, very neat rows, and students can watch each other’s videos.

I’m looking forward to introducing this next month and might encourage some beta testers to add videos of what they want to read over summer break. Have you done anything similar? Advice to share?

Anatomy of an 8th Grade Book Look

8thBoysBookLook

TVS 8th grade book browsers. Pink Out day supports community members touched by cancer.

I bet you have heard this before: “I don’t have time to come to the library.” In our Middle School, 5th and 6th graders have an Academic Flex period that becomes a class in 7th and 8th grade. This replaces a 45 minute period they previously had for keyboarding practice, library visits, free reading and study hall. Sports become more time-consuming for some students. Add in blooming hormones, “too cool for school” attitude and our school’s rich selection of extracurricular activities, and time is a precious commodity. We’ve been able to schedule “Book Looks” for the 8th grade about every 3-4 weeks (so far). Our book checkout period is three weeks, so that works out neatly. We also take a “pop up library” (similar to Alyssa Mandel’s idea) to a weekly study hall. This gives another opportunity for 7th and 8th graders to check out, turn in, browse a few titles and get help with their library account.

Book Selection in 10-15 Minutes

bookshelvesWe front fiction books with 8th graders in mind (usually we front with 5th/6th graders in mind.) We make two table displays, with (what we hope are) tempting books for 8th graders. This prep work means teachers can bring students for  part of a period, with the realistic expectation that most students will quickly be intrigued by something. As much as I want to stand by and discuss, I think many students are like birds at a bird feeder: they scatter at the sight of an approaching adult. When we have the “right” books displayed, I will hear the most effective recommendation: a peer leaning in to say “I read that. It’s great!”

What’s Been Popular With TVS 8th Graders?

8thgirls

8th grade girls Pink Out (and browse books)

Who knows what draws a reader? Great cover? Check. Made into a movie lately? Check. Seen others reading it? Check. None of the above? All of the Above? I have yet to pin down the X factor of title popularity. Our general policy is buying a single copy of a title, so when we are pulling books for display, we keep a backup stash of books close at hand, to fill gaps. We don’t want any person to feel that someone else got the only good book. These are some books that our 8th graders were excited about (in no particular order:)

  • Rollergirl (graphic novel) by Victoria Jamieson
  • The Bordon Murders by Sarah Elizabeth Miller
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne
  • Ashes (and Chains and Forge) by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The Great White Shark Scientist, The Octopus Scientists  (Scientists in the Field series generally)
  • Books by Nicholas Sparks (the sadder the better)
  • One Crow Alone by S. D. Crockett
  • Booked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Untwine: A Novel by Edwidge Danticet
  • Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
  • Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  • In the After by Demitria Lunetta
  • Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children; Hollow City; Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
  • books by Cassandra Clare
  • When by Victoria Laurie

I’d love to hear what’s worked for you, in attracting teen and ‘tween readers!

 

 

 

Embracing Fanfiction

When talking books with a group of seniors before winter break, one of the girls said, “My friends don’t think that I’m a reader, but I actually read all the time! It’s Fanfiction. They don’t think that counts, but it totally does! I read hundreds of pages a week, actually.”

Apparently, I have been living under a rock.

O.k. so maybe not completely under a rock. I have heard tale of certain infamous Twilight Fanfiction that came in various shades of…poorly written mega-bestselling material. But the Fanfic this student was referring to, and that of which her group of friends began passionately extolling on, was not about that  business. It’s an entire world…a world made of fandoms. Have you seen sites like this?

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 8.57.39 PM

 

They LOVE IT. In our five minute conversation, I heard about story lines inspired by characters from books, television series, and video games. I heard that some of it is poorly written, some is gratuitous R rated material that they deem me too young and innocent to read :), but according to these girls, some of it is really, really good (and addictive). They’re reading. A lot.  And some of them are contributing their writing. I want to know more. Quite honestly, I want to know about what they’re reading, from comics to the Classics.  If I try their suggestions, I feel like they will be more open to trying mine.

So, what to do?

Acknowledge it.

Discuss it as a community. If this group of five is this into it, who else can contribute to the conversation?

Encourage them to create some of their own?

After reading this School Library Journal  Guest Post by Christopher Shamburg… When the Lit Hits the Fan in Teacher Education, I’ve decided to add a unit on Fanfiction this week in my senior English elective (I blogged about this class last year). However,  I think it’s something that we could all do as librarians. Perhaps an all school program, a collaboration with your English department, a fun activity for your book club, or an after school activity?

Per Shamburg’s recommendation, I’ve done a bit of research into the history of Fanfiction. I can’t wait to talk to my students about Shakespeare in particular. And then there’s Fanfiction of biblical proportions. “Paradise Lost” anyone? This could (and is) an entire course at universities. Lacking a degree in literature, I know that will touch on the proverbial tip of the iceberg, but I think that it will be a fun way to engage with texts in a new way.

I’m looking forward to hearing what influences my students have noticed in works that they have read. I read March by Geraldine Brooks years ago and liked it, yet I didn’t know the word “Fanfiction” then. I just thought, “Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, Little Women style”.

march

Think about these Fanfic writing prompts (offered again by Shamburg):

·      Alternate Perspective—the story is told from the point of view of another character. For example, what would the Cinderella story be like if the stepmother told it? (Or maybe the father from Little Women?)

·      Missing Scenes—scenes that are not in the original story, but would make sense in it.

·      Alternate Universe—a major character or event in a story is changed, and a “What If…” scenario ensues.

·      Alternate Realities—characters from one story enter the world of another story.

·      Sequels—the story that happens after the original story.

·      Prequels—the story before the original story.

·      Self Insert—the story is rewritten with an avatar (representation of the author). For example, what would a Harry Potter adventure be like if you were in the story?

(Shamburg, 2008, 2009)

I’m going to ask them to choose one of the above scenarios, to adopt their author’s tone and writing style as much as possible, and to add a Fanfic chapter to their story. I might even ask them to weave together all four books that they read throughout the semester for a final creative writing exercise. How fun would that be ?!

Are any of you members of a Fandom that you’d care to share?

Is anyone doing anything with Fanfiction at school? If so, I would love to hear about it. Please use the comment section to share your ideas with us all!

Goodbye Shelfari. Hello Goodreads.

Last weekend when I logged onto the computer, I saw my world crashing down. Hours of labor gone. The blackboard erased.

Here’s what I saw.

shelfari1

Shelfari’s New Temporary Homepage (Yes, I read a lot. And quickly.)

Goodbye, Shelfari and thanks for the last eight years.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t care about the social network component. Occasionally people have reached out to recommend books or authors have asked for feedback on their work. Well, this was back four or five years ago when people actually used the site. I’m guessing that some people thought that Shelfari went the way of MySpace years ago. Yet it hung on, the ugly stepsister to Goodreads.

favorites

A glimpse into my “favorites.” Seems I love young adult romance and poetry, and American authors. Yeah, I’d be pretty much thrilled for people to read any of these.

If it’s not for social networking, and it’s not for the technology, per se, why will I miss Shelfari?

-For three years before I joined Shelfari, I kept a word document where I wrote a list of all titles I read. In parentheses, I’d put a one word description of the type of book, but there was no real summary. It was unwieldy and long. Shelfari loads the book and helpfully includes all publication information and a summary.

-I am an oddly (some have said freakishly) visual learner. While I may not remember the names of characters in a book I’ve read, I can describe the cover and shape in detail. This is a skill that is hugely helpful working as a school librarian, but Shelfari gives me a quick reminder when I can picture a book but can’t immediately draw up the title in my mind.

-It’s fun to examine the stats and make sure that I’m reading across a range of genres. It’s also easy to see if there are certain “types” of books that I rate higher than others. Basically it provides me the data to metacognitively examine my reading patterns.

-But really it all boils down to my comfort with the site. I wasn’t going to leave until I was forced out.

general stats

I think about this frequently with kids and the “must have” messaging apps. To communicate with my best friend in Germany, I was happy with the Viber app until she stopped using it. I followed her to Telegraph. If she finds something new, I’ll diligently follow along. The important part is the function of the technology, not the name brand.

What bothered me most as I opened my screen and the pink bar jumped forth was not the demise of Shelfari, but the immediate realization of the tenuous connection that I have in maintaining access to all sorts of my data online.

What’s next?

My YahooMail account with emails from the last 15 years? Backup photos on Shutterfly? Google Drive files from presentations I’ve given? Podcast recommendations on Wunderlist? I already lost access to all the library’s Delicious links I so diligently marked and labeled years ago because I got locked out my account when I got a new computer. The cloud giveth, and the cloud can taketh away. I reminded that the best protection for preservation of data, physical or virtual, is having it located in more than one place. And it’s good to have that as a reminder rather than as a cautionary tale.

In good news, I did click on the link in the pink bar.

csv

I downloaded my data to a csv file and imported it. This is easier than work I do with technology on a daily basis. Also, they actually do it for you, linking your account through Amazon. It’s just button pushing step by step. Plus, now you’ll be able to find me, and maybe I can get into the social side of reading recommendations. Welcome to Goodreads, and remember to back up your data.

Books: Still A Love of Mine (And Many of Yours!)

In reading the origin stories over the summer, I notice how many of us entered the profession through a love of reading. For Allison Peters Jensen it was Ramona Quimby. Claire Hazzard was a vociferous series reader. For Rivka Genesen, a family history of library visits. Barbara Share was at the library as a child. Kate Hammond had a “right place, right time” experience. Katherine Smith Patin rounds out the group, proving that there are many avenues to librarianship.

Making Reading a Priority

For me, reading feels as vital as eating. I try to keep my reading diet varied —a little junk food now and then, and hearty, mind-feeding fare. Like everyone, my job with middle school and high school students has become more enmeshed in technology. I look at database usage and consider what to switch up. Teach search strategies, ethical use and information skills. Review DVDs and check out new apps. Experiment with ways to communicate with colleagues and how to make library interactions flow more smoothly. Continue to think about how ebooks fit into our library and curriculum. I read about the user experience, design thinking and collaboration. And yet, as the Trinity Valley School mission contains phrases like “wide, constructive interests,”  “fulfillment at college” and “intelligent citizenship” I feel reading is a key, and modeling a love of reading is an important part of my job

Four Books Currently On My Mind

I start many more books that I finish. Time is short, and many times I am reading to get a flavor of the book, looking for titles to suggest to other readers. These four are currently in my mind.

Go_Set_a_WatchmanGo Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. It will have a place in our library, if for no other reason than it is by Harper Lee. If you wonder about the true story (if there is a single “truth”) behind its publication, her publisher says they will “speak candidly” about the subject at a webinar on August 19.

 

newt's emeraldNewt’s Emerald by Garth Nix. Spunky heroine, ye olden days, bits of magic. Nix started this book about 25 years ago, but it is just now coming out in hardcover via HarperCollins’ Katherine Tegen imprint. Easy to recommend to those who enjoyed Etiquitte and Espionage and Y.S. Lee’s The Agency series. Due out in October.

TBlackthorn Keyhe Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands. This debut author hits the nail on the head with this tale of an apothecary’s apprentice and his adventures in London. Suggest to those who liked The Accidental Highwayman, The Hunchback Assignments and Jackaby. Due out in September.

 

Boys Who Challenged HitlerThe Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose. World War II continues to fascinate students and adults . This story focuses on Danish high school students who stood up in resistance to the Germans. Hoose makes the story accessible to ‘tween readers, with enough meat for older teens as well.

What are some of the books that have stuck with you this summer?

Oh yes, the books!

Do you ever feel so busy juggling your <insert a thousand library related duties here> along with ‘big projects’, faculty meetings, team meetings, committee meetings, collaborative meetings, research lessons, EMAIL, Libguide design, and oh yes, working with students, teaching classes, and other various non-library related school responsibilities that sometimes you look longingly at the cart of new books that you’ve  purchased, knowing you won’t get to many of them until summertime?

This comes to mind:

I drew a line in the sand for myself a month ago. It might have been around the time that reeeeeaaallly cold temperatures arrived and I went into hibernation, I’m not sure, but I basically said “no more putting the kids to bed and escaping into mindless Netflix, no more half-hearted attempts at professional journals when I’ve been neck deep in the issues all day long. Nope, I’m escaping into the books.”

I’ve read three books in three weeks, people. I’m in heaven. I thought I would share them with you here and then maybe you’ll reciprocate with some good reads of your own?

I started with two National Book Award finalists:Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The most beautifully written dystopian book I believe I’ve ever read. The premise is this: set in the present day United States, an absolutely deadly, fast moving flu has wiped out over 99% of the world population. The entire infrastructure has collapsed: there is no gasoline, no electricity, no medicine, no security. A troop of traveling Shakespearean actors and musicians makes a loop through a region, risking much, honoring the Star Trek quote that dons the side of their makeshift caravan, Because Survival is Insufficient. This is a survival story and so would be most appropriate for mature middle schoolers or high schoolers, but it’s a good one that I highly recommend.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. If you or your students are fans of historic fiction, this is your book! Written in alternating perspectives, it’s the story of Marie-Laure, the French daughter of the locksmith of the Museum of Natural History, who has gone blind at a young age and whose natural curiosity is in itself a thing of wonder. You then get to know a German orphan named Werner whose gift at assembling radios and deciphering radio frequencies gains the attention of German officials as Hitler begins his quest for world domination. The story weaves together like a beautiful, albeit tragic wartime tapestry.

It’s quite clear why both of these books were nominated for the NBA. They are excellent. Now onto my third book, which I’m honestly still reeling from. It’s not for the faint of heart, so consider yourself warned.

It’s An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. Ms. Gay is coming to visit our school this spring so I purchased both of her highly acclaimed books (Bad Feminist, a collection of witty, culturally and politically charged essays is her other).  Our faculty book club selected the novel as our February read so I went ahead and read it over the weekend. I knew from the blurb that it would be tough: an affluent woman of Haitian descent, living in Miami, living a pretty idyllic life with her loving husband and adorable baby boy, goes to visit her parents back in Haiti. As they leave the family compound to go spend a day on the beach, three SUVs pull up with masked armed men, the wife is kidnapped, and a mighty ransom is demanded. Her father refuses to pay and the ultimate stand-off begins, one in which some pretty graphic torture scenes take place and Mireille does her best to survive with her sanity intact.

If you have a strong fortitude, I say read it. It’s brilliantly written, the character development is superb, there are some really interesting relationships, and the tension is palpable when you experience the desperation that abject poverty brings. My blinders were removed regarding how routine kidnapping is in other parts of the world and this story, the good and the bad, is going to stick with me for a very long time, I can already tell. All marks of a good book in my opinion.

So now I ask you, what books have you read lately that you would suggest? Ready, set, comment below!