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!

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!

Spicing Up Book Promotion

There is a certain magic that happens when you find just the right book for a patron, isn’t there? For me, it’s that look in their eyes when they pass by in the hall, stopping in their tracks and greeting me with an enthusiastic, “Oh my goodness, I’m at the part where _____!” or “I read until 2 a.m. and I am so tired but oh wow, it was so worth it.” It’s one of those pinch me, I’m getting paid to do this, moments for me.

This year, I hope to spice up my matchmaking attempts. I’m going to share a few ideas here and I hope that you will add to the list using the comments below!

  • Promote Peer Readers’ Advisory.
    In my last library, I started a blog dedicated to book reviews. To generate student reviews, I created a competition between English classes–the class with the largest percentage of participation, creating well-written, *usable*, original reviews (added after a student copied/pasted one from Goodreads–a teachable moment ;-))–with the winning class getting a donut party from a local shop. Dunkin’ might have done the trick, but supporting local business is awesome and those donuts were a-maz-ing. I got approximately 80 good reviews a year employing the donut bribe…ahem, I mean competition.This activity allows you to teach the elements of a good review, to boost student confidence when you email them to say “your review has been selected to feature on the blog this week!”, and  really is effective in inspiring your community to talk about books. I also encouraged all adults in the community to write reviews to share their love of reading with our students. So easy. You can post as often as you like, write a few reviews yourself, your communications department can share the site with alums, prospective families, etc. You could easily do this with book trailers, podcasts or other promotional materials.
  • Student Volunteers
    If you are short on tasks and long on your list of student volunteers, why not give them the autonomy of creating and maintaining a reading campaign? READ posters, book displays with index card reviews (a la independent book stores), Flickr Photo Streams of friends “caught reading” around campus, creative assembly announcements maybe?
  • Pop Up Library
    Where will the pop up library appear next? A lunch table? In a dorm alcove? In an unused classroom? Outside the college counseling office? You could promote new books, particular genres, beach reads before breaks, Overdrive titles and downloading instruction. Use social media to share where you’re set up, sort of like the floating food truck phenomenon that happens in bigger cities. Bring an iPad with the Destiny app and check out to students on the spot!
  • Speed Dating
    I was so inspired by the brilliant Sarah Kresberg of the Allen Stevenson School, who used this speed dating program to promote reading in her community, I hope to replicate some version of this in my school this year. I asked Sarah to share her program details here, so that we might all benefit from it. Thanks Sarah!
    The goal: to introduce teachers to some of the best and most appealing books published over the past three years and encourage them to read some of them
    Age groups: we offered three simultaneous sessions – Teachers of K-3, 4-6, 7-9. Everyone from those divisions came, no matter their subject area.
    Team:We have three librarians (Liz Storch- Upper School, Bonnie Tucker – Lower School and me in the Middle School) so each one ran a session with our library associate (Pilar Okeson who has now left) taking care of a lot of the set up.
    Timing: a faculty meeting during Allen-Stevenson Book Week in November.
    Promotion: since attendance was compulsory we didn’t have to do much but we did make large posters to place at the entrance of each session. We also made book marks on our theme to give at the end (hopefully inside a book that they were checking out!)
    The hook: since it is speed dating we adopted a valentine theme. When teachers entered they were offered Prosecco and sparkling water in plastic champagne glasses. We baked shortbread hearts, made chocolate dipped strawberries and scattered hershey’s kisses and rose petals. We also played music. We stood around eating, drinking and chatting for about twenty minutes before beginning which put everyone in a great mood!
    The activity: We put together large tables and placed a clipboard, worksheet and pencil (red, naturally) at each table. The worksheet listed all the titles that were included in the speed dating, with three columns next to the titles. The columns were headed ‘Love at First Sight’, ‘Worth a Second Look’, ‘Not My Type’. I went over ways you can evaluate a book quickly (examine cover, read blurb, read Library of Congress summary, start reading the first page etc.)
    We handed each teacher a book. The teacher had 90 seconds to examine the book and put a check mark in the column to indicate their interest in the reading the book. At the end of the 90 seconds I directed them to pass the book to their left.
    The outcome: (This is the what happened in the Middle School session I was running)
    Everyone loved it. So much so that they suggested that I run one for parents (I ended up doing one for middle school parents in February). After a while the teachers wanted to take a break to talk about ideas they had had while doing the activity. After talking we decided that we would have each faculty member sponsor a  different summer reading book, offering book discussion groups on the first day back to school this September. We didn’t get many check outs that day although a few teachers did come back to check out books another day. I would have liked to have seen more books circulate. However what we mainly achieved was an increased awareness of newer children’s literature. Also, those teachers who are really into children’s books were able to share their enthusiasm with other teachers. It was great hearing teachers of music, science etc. talk about the books so that it doesn’t seem like solely the domain of the librarian. I was trying to get across that there is so much great children’s literature out there, and our boys would love to see their teachers reading some of them. If they see kid lit on a teacher’s desk they are going to start a conversation about it.

Note, the one piece that she omits is her donning of a rock-star-sassy-leather-pant-clad-librarian outfit for the program–not all of us could pull this off, but hey, wouldn’t it be fun trying? 🙂

These are but a few ideas for going beyond the traditional book display to promote books and reading. What do you plan to do to spice up book promotion in your library this year?

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?