#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!

Around the World in 80 Books

I find upper school programming a delightful challenge, so this year I debuted a program for our upper school community to promote global reading. This year-long program–Read Around the World–started as a riff on Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, encouraging students to read books from a curated collection of books from 80 different countries.

Why? Well, in 2019, according to Statista, the top 4 US publishing companies published 98,800 new titles–a mere 737 of those titles were published in translation, fewer than 1% (0.74%). Even among those works in translation, there is not nearly the diversity one might hope for. Though there were 52 original languages of publication, 79% of the titles translated were translated from a European language, 14% from Asian languages, 7% from Middle Eastern languages, and a mere 0.2% were translated from an African language. Think of all the books we’re missing out on!

I know I’m preaching to the choir when I claim that through reading we are able to work towards eliminating what author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the single story” and the proliferation and reinforcement of stereotypes. The problem with a single story, she notes, is the way that it “creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” Furthermore, there are many stories that go entirely unheard when we read and engage solely, or primarily, with literature that is written by U.S. or British authors for American and British audiences in English.

That same data did make this program a challenge–to add exciting global literature to our collection that may not be readily found in our traditional lists, to read as much of it as possible, and to keep things equitable. To facilitate the latter, I selected a number of books from each continent proportionate to the number of countries within that continent.

To provide boundaries to the massive curation project that this otherwise could have become (it was big enough as is!) I gave myself the following criteria:

  • Works of fiction (most were novels, but there were some other formats too–poetry, short stories, graphic novels).
  • The author needed to be from the country and, when possible, currently residing there; there are certainly countries with extensive censorship and authors in exile. Ex-pat and immigrant authors will be another program for another time. I also preferred authors writing for their own country-folk as an audience, so I was often getting books in translation. Furthermore, in formerly colonized countries, I sought out indigenous authors.
  • They needed to be recent–most of the books were from the past few years. In a couple cases I had to dig deeper in time in order to meet my other criteria, but this was not the time for “classics;” I wanted students to be reading fresh works.

In the end, the list included 105 books from 81 countries, which allowed some elements of choice (some countries had 2 books to choose from) and permitted the inclusion of sequels. 

Digital Passport

Once I had the books, it was time to make it a program. For fun, I gamified it through our school’s LMS (Canvas) by creating a class for the program and badges for each country through Badgr, which allowed the process to be pretty automated once it was all built. In order to get students into the program “course,” they were invited to apply for a passport from the main library page through a link that added them to the program course. From there, they can get their passports stamped (with the badges) for each country from which they read a book. Badgr provides a dashboard so participants can see their badges/passport stamps, and what badges/stamps all other participants have earned. Students can also earn badges like “Globe Trotter” for getting a stamp from each continent and “Region Rover” for sweeping a stamp for every book in a continent. I’ll award prizes at random throughout the year by drawing a name from anyone who is participating, as well as at the end of the year to whoever reads the most globally. 

In addition to the gamification, the global books are on display all year organized by genre, with a rotating featured display each month of a particular region. This keeps the books visible while also allowing me to put fresh subsets in front of our community in new ways through the year so the program doesn’t get stale.

Europe books on a display. Covers from earlier displays (North America and Oceana) will be joined as the year progresses.

We’re only mid-year but I’m calling this one a success already. So far, books from the Read Around the World program have 66 checkouts. For one semester, I’m thrilled. Perhaps more tellingly, our global books account for a full 25% of all fiction checkouts so far this year (through January 1). I’ve also tried out new tools for gamification, acquired great books for our collection, and personally read books from Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Barbados, Nigeria, China, and Vietnam. I have more regions yet to visit!

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 !

Enhance Your Library with an Author Study

This school year transformed our middle school library in several ways as we adapted to safety precautions in response to Covid-19. One room in our library is set aside for quarantining books before librarians safely recirculate items to new readers, but, most noticeably, students no longer browse bookshelves or gather in groups to read in our comfortable seating areas. In a time of physical distancing, how can books continue to keep us connected? This blog discusses how students in grades 6 and 7 tackled this dilemma through an Author Study project, which challenged students to enhance library resources and build personal connections to books.

The Author Study project was divided into 3 steps: 
1. Curate 3 book titles
2. Research 3 authors (through author websites and interviews)
3. Create a book review or a video book trailer to be linked in our Destiny online catalog

*View Author Study project for sample videos and activities for the author research.

Curating a Personal Book Shelf

The library online catalog has taken on a new importance as students select books for themselves and as they recommend books for each other. Students used our Destiny Discover online catalog to create a graphical curation of favorite books for future reading. In addition to selecting one book they had already read and loved, students chose a book featured in one of our genre collections and searched for a third book that was an award-winning book title.  These 3 books became the basis of the next step, researching the author.

Researching the Author

Students used a bond phrase search to locate author websites and examined the “About” or “FAQ” section of the websites to gather details about the author’s craft of writing. Fascinating insights emerged, such as authors’ advice on the writing process or examples of how real life situations and people inspire storylines and characters.  One student discovered on Kelly Barnhill’s website that the author’s experience as a park ranger taught her the merits of “taking the worst part of the trail and making it the best” (a life lesson that she uses when the author approaches revisions in her own writing). 

Another student discovered on Rachel Vail’s website that Vail and J.K. Rowling both identified this as an essential writing tool:  “eavesdropping” on other people’s conversations.  In addition to the author websites, students used Teachingbooks.net to locate author interviews. An interview with author John David Anderson revealed that he writes for middle school students because he feels there is so much drama in what middle schoolers experience, and he identifies strongly with those students who are “outsiders.” Anderson stated that “language has the power we give it: it can break and mend, include and exclude, uplift and beat down. We get to decide”  (interview from All the Wonders blog).

Creating Personal Connections (Book Reviews and Video Book Trailers)

Students were challenged to enhance our library catalog by adding rich content (book reviews or video book trailers), which would entice readers to check out recommended books. This Creating a Book Review video explains the steps of adding a review to our Destiny Discover catalog. Rather than just relating a book summary, students were required to share a personal connection to the book.  Here are two sample book reviews by 6th graders:

The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas has a remarkable story plot throughout the book. The Magnolia Sword is a romance/historical fiction book. I have never been a great fan of adventure books, but this made me change my mind. Sherry Thomas did an amazing job of showing the main character, Hua Mulan. Mulan is on an adventure to find out secret plots, and she discovers romance. I really connected with the main character when she was struggling with her personality. She isn’t the typical gentle, soft-spoken daughter;  she is a courageous free-spirited girl. I admired her courage and strength throughout the book. I don’t just see her as a fictional character, but I see her as a person to look up to. (Review by Grace P.)

The book Rebound by Kwame Alexander was a very motivational book. The part that made this motivational and sad was the dad dying. I related to this book well because I have empathy for those who lose something or someone special. Also, I love sports and sports are my life. This book really helped me discover what kind of books I like, other than graphic novels. So now, I read poem books instead of reading a comic book. I recommend this book to people who love sports and who can relate to a story with tragedy. (Review by Luke L.)

Our 7th graders are currently working on book trailers, using Wevideo.  In this project, students evaluate their use of images and audio to respect Copyright and explore options of Creative Commons licensing and Fair Use. As a flipped classroom activity, I created videos about the use of Britannica Image Quest, Fair Use, and Creative Commons to aid this discussion of respecting copyright and adding value and repurposing creative content. Students are looking forward to a screening of their book trailers, and they will help to vote on those book trailers that meet a criteria of excellence, book trailers that will be linked to book titles in our online catalog.

There is a power in storytelling; it connects us and builds empathy.  Now, more than ever, libraries and books are vital ways to ward off feelings of isolation. Encouraging students to become advocates of books and reading enhances our school libraries, but more importantly, strengthens our school communities so that we can navigate today’s stormy waters.

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…”

Summer Reading on Reading

In this season of free voluntary reading a-plenty (hallelujah!) I have recently had some collaborative brainstorming sessions on piloting a new reading project with colleagues who, like me, feel concerned and motivated to continue to build our school’s culture of reading. Inspired thus, I just reread Stephen D. Krashen’s The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research, which has started me down a happy rabbit hole of reading about reading. This has helped me rediscover some excellent advice for professional practice and affirmations of why we do some things we do.

Sometimes (what I consider to be) the most engaging and creative parts of this job are the things that have trouble making their way into daily library life; things like enticing, timely, and thoughtful displays, eye-catching promotional bulletin boards, and book talks. Revisiting and recommitting to the power of reading and its role in education is exciting, and helps focus my own summer work; thereby re-engaging through some deep fun.

AASL’s Position Statement on the School Librarian’s Role in Reading currently comes with a disclaimer of sorts, indicating that the statement is currently under review to align with the new National School Library Standards. Be that as it may, it’s pretty good as is and I don’t imagine the gist will change much. The last bullet point reads as follows: “Along with classroom and reading specialist colleagues, school librarians provide and participate in continual professional development in reading that reflects current research in the area of reading instruction and promotion.”

[Hey, look, I have all these books about reading! Let’s read them, shall we?]

Here’s what I’ve revisited in the last few days:

Bernadowski, C., & Kolencik, P. L. (2010). Research-based reading strategies in the library for adolescent learners. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited.

Farwell, S. M., & Teger, N. L. (2012). Supporting reading in grades 6-12: A guide. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. D. (2004). The power of reading: Insights from the research (2nd ed.). Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. (2016). The purpose of education, free voluntary reading, and dealing with the impact of poverty. School Libraries Worldwide, 22(1), 1+. Retrieved from Academic OneFile database.

Miller, D. (2015, February 8). I’ve got research. Yes, I do. I’ve got research. How about you? [Blog post]. Retrieved from The Book Whisperer website: https://bookwhisperer.com/2015/02/08/ive-got-research-yes-i-do-ive-got-research-how-about-you/

Miller, D. (2019). If kids can’t read what they want in the summer, when can they? School Library Journal. Retrieved from https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=if-kids-cant-read-what-they-want-in-the-Summer-when-can-they

Richardson, J. (2014). Maryanne Wolf: Balance technology and deep reading to create biliterate children. The Phi Delta Kappan, 96(3), 14-19. Retrieved  from JSTOR database.

Questions I have:

  • If, according to Krashen, direct vocabulary teaching is less efficient than reading, how can research/library specific vocabulary best be acquired, especially for ELLS?
  • While I hope that our learners consider the school library to be a comfortable place conducive to free voluntary reading, students can’t spend all of their reading time there. Do we as a boarding school create or even allow space in our schedule and facilities for reading?
  • Extrinsic motivation is generally considered to send children the wrong message about why we read, however, is this also true for young adults? Or adults? Could the kitsch factor of badges, buttons, and leaderboards actually serve to encourage older readers to join the “literacy club” (Krashen, 2004, p. 130)?
  • Serving our English Language Learners is an issue often on my mind, and about which I’ve written before. Krashen and others point to the importance of engaging in one’s first language as well as the learned language. Should I be providing more pleasure reading material in my students’ home languages? I’m thinking yes.
  • It may be that some of our students, for a variety of possible reasons, have not had the experience as younger children of being read to often by a caring adult. Is there a way with older students to recapture a connection between feeling safe and cared for with story and language acquisition, or do we just need to hold that as a piece of our students’ social-emotional learning?

Newly appearing on the to-read pile:

Baye, A., Inns, A., Lake, C., & Slavin, R. E. (2019). A synthesis of quantitative research on reading programs for secondary students.Reading Research Quarterly, 54(2), 133-166. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.229

Beers, G. K., & Probst, R. E. (2017). Disrupting thinking: Why how we read matters. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Merga, M. K. (2019). Reading engagement for tweens and teens: What would make them read more? Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO.

Miller, D., & Anderson, J. (2013). The book whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child.

Miller, D., & Kelley, S. (2013). Reading in the wild: The book whisperer’s keys to cultivating lifelong reading habits. John Wiley & Sons.

Ross, C. S., MacKechnie, L., & Rothbauer, P. M. (2018). Reading still matters: What the research reveals about reading, libraries, and community. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO.

Wolf, M., & Stoodley, C. J. (2018). Reader, come home: The reading brain in a digital world. New York, NY: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

What are your favorite sources on reading?

Take a Reading Inventory

“Summer slump” is an oppressive-sounding term, describing loss of learning during the summer when reading can stagnate. How do you avoid the summer reading doldrums and learning loss? A recent Harvard study stresses the importance of teachers personalizing the reading experience for students, shaping “lessons and activities” to support the reading experience. One way that our school is personalizing reading is through the Teacher Favorites program. Teachers sponsor books, allowing a wide variety of choice for students, and each book has a plus factor, suggested videos, websites, and art/writing activities that can enhance the experience of reading the book. (A big nod to McCallie School which shared their plus factor reading program through our AISL listserv.)

Whether students and teachers are blogging “what if” scenarios about a Harry Potter book or visiting online Holocaust museums as they read The Diary of a Young Girl, student engagement in the activities can enhance the reading of the book and enliven the small group book discussion with teachers and students in August. View our school’s suggested books and activities: Teacher Favorites 7/8 and Teacher Favorites 5/6.

Families can also build excitement for summer reading by placing an importance on reading habits in their home. This suggested Reading Inventory provides ideas to start conversations about the enjoyment of reading and how books can be an important part of the summer routine. Below is a checklist to jumpstart how families can infuse a reading climate in the home and include the reading habit alongside the demands of summer activities.

Step One: Make a Shelfie.
What were the books that ignited you as a young reader? Arrange those books for a “Shelfie” photo and share with your child the meaning books had for you. If you no longer have the books, capture screenshots of book covers or use GoogleSlides to arrange your Shelfie stack. Interesting conversations about books can arise as you share the types of books you loved to read and how your reading grew or changed. Modeling your love of reading and your reading habits is a powerful message to children.

Fairy Tales (upper left to right): Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tales, Brothers Grimm Folk and Fairy Tales edited by Jack Zipes, Andersen’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1945), and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1928).

Step Two: Create Book Reading Corners.
Where are the prime locations for Book Reading Corners in your home? Do you have a basket of books by a favorite reading chair, bedside table, and even magazines or books in the bathroom? All of these are prime locations to make reading opportunities readily available and enjoyable, and these reading corners are a visible reminder of the value your family places on reading. Encourage your child to personalize and develop their own favorite reading corner.

Step Three: Read Poetry, Aloud.
My mother loved to share a large volume of children’s poetry, and she dramatized, sang, and engaged us in choral reading of the poems. She even (gasp!) invited us to write our initials next to our favorite poems and color in the line drawing illustrations. This poetry book became a living, breathing reflection of our time shared in enjoying poetry. Discover your own poetry anthology such as those by poets Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, J. Patrick Lewis, Paul Fleischman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Margarita Engle, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jacqueline Woodson, and Nikki Grimes. Poetry anthologies are also themed to experiencing art (Hopkin’s Make the World New: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum) and even objects (The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, selected by Paul B. Janeczko).

And, poetry is not just for young children. Poetry connects to tweens and teens in dynamic ways that reflect their own voices and concerns. Poetry can transport the reader through a historic moment (such as the sinking of the Titanic in The Watch that Ends the Night) and personal crisis (such as Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down), or celebrate heroes (such as Margarita Engle’s Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics) and feature voices of hope (such as Naomi Shihab Nye’s Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners). Encourage your tween or teen to perform a Poetry Slam of a favorite poem. Poems spoken aloud allow us to savor the sounds and rhythms of words and connect powerfully to emotions.

Step Four. Read Aloud.
Reading aloud creates moments of bonding with your child as you share the mutual love of a book. Dive in and do the voices, and invite the child to chime in on favorite lines or read a page in the story. You can read aloud a chapter book that is above the reading level of your child, thereby building vocabulary and encouraging empathetic listening. Many children’s books have cliff-hanger chapters and cause children to beg for the next chapter to be read. For an extensive list of read-aloud books for all ages and genres, see Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook. Jim Trelease stresses that reading aloud not only increases I.Q., but also H.Q.(the heart quotient). Award-winning children’s books from ALA and books for young adults from YALSA are another way to select excellent writing from diverse voices.

Step Five: Books on the Road.
Summers are busy with family road trips and commutes to activities such as swimming lessons and ball games–perfect opportunities for stretches of time to enjoy books. Encourage your child to pack favorite books in the car (I always traveled with collections of fairy tales) or take advantage of wonderful audio performances of books to enjoy as a family. Many public libraries have audiobook collections, and our own school library is showcasing new audiobooks through Overdrive this summer. For quick free browsing and sampling, you can search a book title in Amazon Audible and listen to a few minutes of a book. Listening to audiobooks can be a delightful way to fill long car commutes, and children can read along to reinforce the experience of the book.

Illustrated books, nonfiction informational books, and short story collections travel well because these books invite browsing, lingering over illustrations and short text boxes, and short chapter reading. Author Melissa Stewart’s Celebrate Science website has wonderful recommendations for informational books and activities. Graphic novels, magazines, and comics can also be good choices for books on the road. Classic Comics were my first exposure to the “classics,” and new graphic novels adaptations include Anne Frank’s Diary, the Graphic Adaptation, The Giver, Manga Classics, and Shakespeare, Poe, and The Odyssey adaptations by graphic artist Gareth Hinds, not to mention the hilarious Hazardous Tales history series by Nathan Hale.

This five-step Reading Inventory may help families re-evaluate the importance of reading and reading habits in the home. See also the National Education Association, which features research on preventing the “summer slump” and provides tips to encourage reading. Spark enthusiasm with families for reading this summer!

Modeling Good Writing

In an NPR video series on Billy Collins, the poet laureate was asked how young poets could get started writing poetry. Billy Collins responded, “it’s such dull advice, there’s really no key to it, you just have to read, read poetry for 10,000 hours.”

Immersing young writers in models of fine writing was an idea echoed during a 2017 NCTE conference session on literary magazines. This session was a wonderful brain trust for individuals new to sponsoring a school’s literary magazine. In addition to bringing back copies of other schools’ literary magazines, I brought back the advice repeatedly heard: provide student writers with models of good writing and read, read, read.

In an earlier AISL blog, “Inspire Writing with Memorials,” I mentioned that our library and student LitMag editors are sponsoring a writing contest. Our LitMag editors were challenged to make promotional posters that not only advertised the contest, but also featured a poem example reflecting the contest theme of memorials or collections. As our LitMag editors searched for models of well-crafted poems, the library poetry book shelves became a cornucopia of inspirational ideas.

Below are two examples of poetry books that sparked imaginations, along with students’ poem reflections and poster design decisions.

Bravo! by Margarita Engle.
Margarita Engle, named in 2017 as the Young People’s Poet Laureate, celebrates the lives of Hispanic people from all walks of life in this collection of poems.

Poem Reflection:
LitMag editor, Sebastian, chose the poem “Life on Horseback”and explained, “this poem is a memorial to a Mexican-American cowboy named Arnold Rojas (1898-1988). Due to lack of job opportunities for immigrants, he worked as a farmworker. He leaves that job for a more exciting life as a cowboy. This poem emphasizes that you must take pride in your work and if you don’t, you should search for a more meaningful job.”

Design principle for poster: Symmetry.
Silhouetted horse heads face each other on the poster and displayed below are flags of Mexico and the United States of America, indicating the duel heritage of cowboy Arnold Rojas.

Maya Angelou (Poetry for Young People).
This collection of poems by Maya Angelou display her emotional connection with struggles
and triumphs of African Americans, including the struggle from oppression to attaining
lives of dignity.

Poem Reflection:
LitMag Editor, Alex, chose the poem “One More Round” and observed, “this poem shows a man who loves to work and believes his work is much more than slavery:  ‘I was born to work but I ain’t no mule.’”

Design Principle for poster: Repetition.
An intricate assembly line shows miniature factory workers heaving, hoisting, and loading large flour bags onto automated belts. These bags of flour are being processed so another man, drawn above the assembly line, can enjoy a bowl of cereal. Alex reflected that his drawing shows “a man that’s just eating a bowl of cereal and is treating it like any other. Look further down on the poster and you can see the work that goes into making this bowl of cereal is worth a whole lot more than it looks.”

This process of selecting poems to model well-crafted writing was a creative stretch for our LitMag editors: an opportunity both for design thinking and personal reflection on how poems communicate to an audience. The finished posters are now displayed throughout the school, inspiring our young writers through reading poems by established poets.

For further exploration of how writers rely on models of good writing, see these books that celebrate famous poets:

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Margery Wentworth
Kwame and co-authors pay tribute to famous poets by imitating the poetic style or enkindling the emotional connection of these poets.

Boshblobberbosh: Runcible Poems for Edward Lear
by J. Patrick Lewis
Lewis, the 2011 Children’s Poet Laureate, writes poems in the style of Edward Lear to honor Lear’s whimsical language and playful use of the sounds of words.

To read more on how NCTE supports school literary magazines, see REALM Awards (Recognizing Excellence in Art and Literary Magazines).

Lower School: You can find it anyplace–even in the Middle School

Scene 1: It’s a Tuesday in the Middle School library, and Sophie–a 5th grader–is arriving for library class. She has her iPad in her hands, and has evidently walked all the way from the Middle School building (close to 100 yards, admittedly across mostly open grass) holding it in front of her face, playing a game that the ever-resourceful tween population has been able to get to despite the firewall.

Having made it all the way across campus, up the wide concrete-and-steel stairway (I tried not to imagine that part), across the lobby and through the library doors, Sophie is headed straight for the massive column that separates the circulation area from the seating area.

Surely she sees that column?

Surely she’ll stop before she–

“Sophie!”

She looks up and does a last-second course correction before placidly making her way to the chairs where her class meets (back at the game, of course).

Scene 2: On another library-class day, I tell the 5th grade that we will be using their iPads to access our library catalog.  Several of them do not have the catalog app downloaded on their iPads, and their school-controlled App Manager doesn’t have it as an installation option either.  Frantic swiping through home pages ensues.

“What does it look like?!”

“Mine doesn’t have it!”

“I can’t find it!”

“That’s okay,” I say, “I’ll show you how to make a shortcut for your home screen.”  They are still staring at their screens, swiping and yelping and talking to one another about how they do or do not have the app installed.

“Guys,” I say.  Swipe, swipe, yelp, yelp.

“Boys and girls.”  Swipe, yelp, swipe.

“People!”  They stop.  “It’s okay. I’ll walk you through it step by step.  Go to your home screen and open Safari.  Now type this address: heathwood dot–”

“It’s not working!”

“How do you spell heathwood?”

“Mrs. Falvey, it’s not working!”

(Meanwhile those who did have the app already installed are back to playing a game.)

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Of course it all works out all right, but scenes like these underscore the fact that we may be in  the middle school library, but this isn’t middle school.  In all but geography, these are still Lower School students.

I don’t know how many schools have moved their 5th grade classes up to the middle school.  Our school did it a number of years ago as a response to running out of room in the Lower School classrooms, and overall it has worked very well; our middle school is divided, with the first floor limited to 7th- and 8th-grade classrooms, and the second floor to 5th and 6th.  Day-to-day procedures and teaching methods are different for each section, even 5th grade compared to 6th, and these accommodations work well.  As I’m sure all of us have noticed, there is a world of difference between a 5th grader and an 8th-grader!  Fifth-graders may have shot up over the summer–especially the girls–but they are still, as our counsellor says, much more like little kids than teenagers.

In the library, as well, we make distinctions between 5th graders and the rest of the middle school.

For example, I have found that I need to introduce new concepts gradually, especially involving tech.  Our 5th graders may be digital natives, but they do need guidance in approaching tech as an academic tool (and in being willing to stop and listen to directions!).  At the beginning of the year, especially, when we are not actively using the iPads we put them down out of reach.  Impulse control–the struggle is real!

Also, our collection has to be carefully managed.  The Middle/Upper School library serves students in the 5th through 12th grades.  While I hope we will one day have a new building with separate space for the middle-school collection, in the meantime I have to manage two very different collections catering to a wide range of tastes and interests.  My predecessor handled this by choosing to skew the collection to the middle-school level; while this avoided any potential problems of inappropriate checkouts, the result was an entire group of students who were left without a collection.  This year, I am developing a YA collection separate from the general fiction collection.  These books have a different spine label, as well as a silvery holographic dot just above the spine label as a way to try and prevent “mistake” checkouts.  These books are also in a separate area of the library where I can easily see who is browsing.  While I do not plan to be a martinet about letting students browse that area, I do plan to limit checkouts to Upper School students.  We’ll see how it works out!

Finally, I have found that I have to be careful about seating for my 5th (okay, 6th too) graders.  I purchased some awesome beanbags (stuffed with foam pieces, not polystyrene beads–highly recommended, with reservations as noted next) from Ultimate Sack (http://www.ultimatesack.com/) this fall.  The students love them–mostly because they are actually big enough to take a nap in and therefore nearly impossible to move (hence the conditional recommendation as mentioned above).  Did I mention that I bombed the spatial reasoning section on my high school career-skills test?

Exhibit A:

It’s the size of a small car!

Yep, these are very popular.  So we began the year spending anywhere from 5-10 minutes at the beginning of every class discussing where the beanbags were (Upper Schoolers take them to the back to nap on), how to move them (roll them like you’re a dung beetle), who should to sit on them this week, who got to sit on them last week, and who can do the best parkour pattern using *all* of the beanbags.  (Mrs.Falvey = facepalm). Needless to say we had to lay some ground rules for the beanbags!

All this to say that even though they may be located in the middle school, 5th grade is still very much still in the Lower School for most of the year.  And that is okay!  iPads and pillar-obstacles and beanbags and keyword searches are all learning opportunities in their own right.  I try to keep in mind that early-middle school students are still learning a lot about navigating life, and overall they are a joy to work with. I love their wide-open enthusiasm, the fact that they still love to read and be read to, and the fact that they will still speak to me when I see them on campus!  But oh, how I wish I had measured those beanbags ahead of time!

 

 

 

A eulogy for our local newspaper

Last fall, I read Cecily Ross’ The lost diaries of Susanna Moodie, a fictionalized journal based on the life of a woman who emigrated to from England to the backwoods of Canada in 1830s.

If that hasn’t put you to sleep, know that I am fascinated by Moodie (and her sister Catharine Parr Traill) for a number of reasons, the greatest of which is that they settled in the area I call home. I often walk by the Cobourg wharf where their ship landed, have made the 10-minute drive into the country to see the historic plaque posted where Moodie first lived, and read the daily paper in which she published her poetry.

But no more – our local paper, published since 1831, has been shuttered. Sad but not surprising; many of the people indignant about the cut hadn’t shown their support with subscription dollars, and advertising revenue has understandably declined along with readership.

What will I miss about having the local paper in our library?

  • Reading coverage of school events (and having someone to ask to cover an event)
  • Learning about students’ & colleagues’ non-school activities in the community
  • Keeping up with obituaries of those who’ve passed in our small town
  • Watching someone complete the crossword or Suduko
  • Having a plethora of newsprint for art teachers in need (she says with partial sarcasm)

I am no Luddite, but felt it important to mark the end of this chapter. I’m curious to see what fate lies ahead for our national papers – one has recently changed formats, and I’ve been surprised to see it being read more frequently in our casual seating area. Coincidence? Temporary halt of the inevitable?