Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“what does it profit them if they read many books and love none?”

So the day after I present at OLIS and make all these declarations about how summer reading programs have changed little from the 1970s, I learn that they have actually changed little since the 1900s! While putting together the powerpoint for the presentation, I stumble upon this blog post from NYPL describing the evolution of the online component of their summer reading program. Sort of interesting.

But the blog post links to this master's thesis: A History of Youth Summer Reading Programs in Public Libraries! Fascinating! In the early literature, some librarians accuse other librarians of doing summer reading programs just to increase circulation. How funny, when these days I don't think anyone would be abashed about trying to get their numbers up.

But what really got me were the excerpts from an attack on summer reading programs written by one librarian Latimer (his or her first name isn't mentioned) in 1923. That's where the title of this post comes from. According to the thesis:
This was the first negative response encountered to summer reading programs. It raises the issue of incentives used for reading, one that is still debated. It is critical of creating an atmosphere similar to school during the vacation, when children should be on a break, and creating a negative connection with the library and reading by forcing children to read. In the article the first mention is made of a private company, Gaylord, publishing materials, available for purchase, to support summer reading programs in public libraries.
I can't decide if it's encouraging or discouraging that people have questioned the distribution of prizes and the emphasis on quantity of summer reading for almost 90 years. It's encouraging that other librarians (dead librarians, probably, but whatever), agree with me. It's discouraging that these questions have been raised for so long, but still prizes and logs are default parts of summer reading. Prizes and logs can be used to support specific goals, but I feel like in some cases, they have replaced the goals.

Some questions I think everyone could ask while planning their summer reading program:
  • How does this fit into my year-round relationship with children and schools?
  • How can I bring new people into the library community this summer?
  • What is necessary for children to have positive reading experiences? (Think really basic, like a place and a time to read.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Summer Reading presentation

Today I presented some of my summer reading research at the state children's librarians' meeting. It was magical to be surrounded by so many librarians! I love professional development.

The complete citations for the studies I mention are:
Dominican University (2010). The Dominican study: Public library summer reading programs close the reading gap.” Retrieved from http://www.dom.edu/academics/gslis/imls/ClosetheReadingGap/

Heyn, B. (1978). Summer Learning and the Effects of Schooling. New York: Academic Press Inc.

Kim, J. S., & Guryan, J. (2007). “The efficacy of a voluntary summer reading intervention on reading activities and reading achievement.” Journal of Educational Psychology 99, 505‐515.

McTague, B., & Abrams, B. (2011). “Access to books: A scaffolded program creates readers.” Reading Improvement, 48(1), 3‐13.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Review: Marvel Origin Story Picture Books

I picked up three of the Marvel Origin Story picture books at Borders for about $4.50 each. I figured they'd fall into the category of "books with high kid appeal and questionable literary merit." That said, don't ask me why Marvel picture books bother me less than Disney books. I never buy Disney books.

So I read them (The Mighty Thor, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Uncanny X-Men) and I thought they were solid choices. They're written like fables--all narrative and no dialog. I did feel like there was a huge missed opportunity there. I mean, these are stories from comic books. Why not add some word bubbles to the art? The readers would understand Spider-Man's character better if they got some of his witty banter.

Without the dialog, the characters seem very serious. There's a surprising lack of humor in the stories. But that's not exactly a complaint. You do get a sense of the epic-ness of these comics, which works particularly well with Thor's origin story.

The main thing Marvel got right was the amount of text on each page. Unless you're Patricia Polacco, you can't get away with too many words on the page anymore. At least, not if you want to appeal to 7-year-olds. These are the right length for read-alouds, even if they are 48 pages rather than 32 (wow, I just counted and that surprised me), except for maybe the X-men story. I feel like they could have cut that one off earlier. They tried to cram a lot in.

The way that these work well in a school is that they give you so many opportunities to talk about character traits. Again, the Peter Parker and Thor stories are all about how those characters developed into decent people who took responsibility for their actions, and for their community. Obviously, the Thor story also gives you an opportunity to talk about mythology. In case it isn't obvious, the X-men story is the weak link. I don't really know what you'd do with that. Science? Mutations? Tolerance? The story skims too much. It doesn't give you a lot to work with.

There's also a Captain America Origin Story, but I didn't find that at the Borders where I was shopping. I bought these partly because I already have Ralph Cosentino's picture books about Batman, Superman, and Wonderwoman. I love them, because the art has this really retro vibe. They capture the feeling I imagine 1940s kids having when they read the original Amazing Stories, etc. These Marvel Origin Stories are much better, in my opinion, than the easy readers Capstone is putting out there (although I may buy those, too).

And basically, I'm a fan of introducing kids to this American mythology. People try to say Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed are our mythology, but I believe it's comic books.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tween: it rhymes with scene!

As some of you know, I'm working as a consultant for two different libraries this summer. (What is this "vacation" of which you speak? We do not have this where I come from ...) At the Derry Public Library, in New Hampshire, part of what I did was look at their programming schedule, plus data from past programs, to identify gaps in service.

I discovered that there were 4 regular programs for kids between 0 and 5, but only the occasional program for kids 6 to 11. I'm surprised by the number of libraries at which this is true. Of course, there's a lot less competition when you're offering programs for 0- to 5-year-olds. While elementary school kids also have karate and piano lessons and homework and street gangs (not funny, but true), the only other demands on preschoolers' time are nap time, snack time, and play time.

But I think there are two other factors at play:
  1. There aren't the same tried-and-true formulas for working with kids in "middle childhood." You have to respond to the needs of your community and play to your strengths. You can't just look up a story time format in a book and execute a successful program. I'm not saying preschool story times aren't super important. They are super important! But, sorry. They're just not rocket science. It's really hard to fail with them. Whereas it's easy to fail with programs for older kids.
  2. Many libraries lump 6- to 8-year-olds and 9- to 11-year-olds into the same programs. You're not going to attract 9- to 11-year-olds that way. Maybe that used to work, but have you heard the maxim KAGOY? It stands for "Kids are getting older younger." Love it. Marketers have created this "tween" category, and there's no way we can go back to lumping those budding adolescents in with the kiddies. We've got to show that we "get" them and we welcome them.
In response to this, I have searched the Internet high and low for resources on programs and services for tweens. And I've found some real gems, so I thought I'd share:

Amanda Crowley's "What is a Tween?" website for the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Tween-friendly Programs from the ALSC's Kids@Your Library Publicity, Programming, and Promotion Tool Kit.

Joanna Axelrod's presentation to the California Library Association on a Tween 2011 Summer Reading Program [PPT].

Rita Solan's article on The Tween Market in the Michican Library Association Forum.

Brianne Wilkins Bester and Tiffany Pahman's "The Tween Scene" presentation [PPT] from the 2010 Ontario Library Superconference and "The Tween Scene: A year of programs for 10- to 15-year-olds" website.

Faris, C. (2009). Betwixt and Between: Tweens in the Library. Children & Libraries, 7(1), 43-5. Retrieved August 4, 2011, from

URI only Library/Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text (EBSCOhost).

Goodstein, A. (2008). What Would Madison Avenue Do?. School Library Journal, 54(5), 40-3. Retrieved August 4, 2011, from

URI only Library/Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text (EBSCOhost).

And of course, each of these has a bibliography so you can choose your own adventure!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Shopping at Borders

Too bad you can't combine the word "Borders" with "Apocalypse" or "Armageddon." That would have made a real snappy title for my post.

I went to Borders to see if the prices had gone down enough to compete with Amazon, and the answer is: nope. Most things are still 25% off, although "Literature" is 30% off. That's literature--not sci fi, graphic novels, or new fiction.

However, Borders is selling their fixtures--at least the store in North Attleboro is--for around $100 for a double sided bookstore shelf. They have end caps for $50 and tabletop displays for $25. You can only purchase the fixtures at certain times--til 5 p.m. on Sunday, and until 8 p.m. during the week, if I recall correctly.

I'm tempted by the fixtures, but all I bought today were some poster hangers. I have a vision for redecorating my library that involves hanging posters--not sticking them to the walls where they'll just look wrinkly, but hanging them a few inches away from the wall like banners.

So now I'm poster shopping, but instead of finding things I could actually use in my library, I keep focusing on things that are not actually for sale, like these mashups of movie posters and children's books ...

... or things that are not really intended for children, like these minimalist takes on classic kids titles.

Anyone have suggestions besides the ALA store?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I can read without moving my eyes!

Oh man, wait til the people who hate ebooks hear about this! They're all upset that we're dispensing with physical pages, the smell of new bindings, and the varieties of type face. Wait til they hear that we're dispensing with paragraphs and page layouts!

I just finished the third article in the Boston Globe's series about reading. There were three articles--the past, present, and future of reading--and the third one was by far the most interesting. Reporting on current reading research, the author proposed a way to deliver large amounts of text through small screens: Rapid Serial Visual Presentation or RSVP.

Basically, the words appear on the screen one after another and you just read them before they disappear. Sounds stressful, right? But there are some popular RSVP apps and extensions on the web, and their creators emphasize that you can read much faster this way.

I had to try it, so I downloaded this Firefox add-on. The tutorial gives you a pretty good idea of how it works.

I have to try it more, but what I immediate notice is that I don't like seeing the first half of some punctuation, like quotation marks or parenthesis, without seeing the other half. Also, I'm so used to line breaks being meaningful, like in poetry, that when I'm reading two or three words at once, I keep looking for significance in the groupings. But I'm intrigued!

Also, I've decided that I would like the next generation of ebook readers to work like snap bracelets: I want them to be flexible, so I can roll them up, but I also want to be able to hold them above my head with one hand while reading in bed, so then they would have to be rigid.

The Boston Globe article mentions some other interesting possibilities. It's definitely worth reading in its entirety.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Adult Lit: My Picks

The Atlantic has a little article on YA lit, including its popularity with "old adults" and the possibility of an imprint for "new adults" at St. Martins [via Bookshelves of Doom]. We all know I love the idea of books for twenty-somethings, so in honor of the discussion, here's a list of the books that sort of hit me in the face in my twenties. I read them and thought: this is my life.

*The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon. In which the son of a mobster briefly--for the summer after graduating from college--considers leaving the comfortable straight and narrow path his father has put him on.

*Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. When her father drags her to a new boarding school for her senior year, Blue van Meer is folded into a clique of cool students curated by a film teacher. But the film teacher is dead in the introduction, so obviously things go horribly wrong. Other books about academia/boarding school: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostokova, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, and On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

*Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I think this happens to everyone at some point in their twenties: you become involved with someone fascinating and magical but damaged, and eventually you want to escape, but feel obligated to stay. The protagonist of Norwegian Wood, Watanabe, gets involved with no less than 3 magical but damaged people.

*Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. A young reporter with a thing for her editor researches her Grandmother's story of what happened to her during the Holocaust. Part of a whole series of retold fairy tales. I also read Tam Lin by Pamela Dean and loved it.

*I Was Told There'd be Cake by Sloane Crosley. There are so many memoirs that qualify as new adult lit. I related to Crosely's tales of longing for coolness in New York--her sad wanderings through European cities and disappointments in apartment hunting--more than I wanted to. I also loved Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, although that might only resonate with people who grew up religious ... or in a historical reenactment? Other memoirs that come to mind: Tweak by Nic Sheff, Smashed by Koren Zailckas, A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown, and Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel.

*Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine. Ben is annoyed by the fortune cookie metaphor in the film that wins his girlfriend's Asian-American film festival, and she's annoyed when he hires a pert white girl who's "just his type" at the movie theater he manages. It's like he wants to ignore the fact that he's Asian--haven't we all wanted to ignore an important part of our identity? Other graphic novels: Life Sucks and La Perdida by Jessica Abel, Blankets by Craig Thompson, Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O'Malley.

*Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah. Right, so this doesn't exactly reflect my life, but it's an obvious pick: Winter Santiaga takes over the family business of drugs and violence when her Dad is locked up. It's a rags-to-riches-to-rags story, part wish fulfillment and part morality play. In fact, lots of urban fiction features protagonists crossing over to adulthood: Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree, Moth to a Flame by Ashley Antoinette, B-More Careful by Shannon Holmes, Harlem Girl Lost by Treasure E. Brown, and Criminal Minded by Tracy Brown, to name a few.

*The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The sequel just came out, so I guess most people know this is a story of what it might really be like if a bunch of disaffected high school students got access to a beautiful but weirdly hollow other world like Narnia.

*Where She Went by Gayle Foreman. Follow-up to what was certainly a YA novel. Concert cellist Mia and her ex-boyfriend, indie rocker frontman Adam, spend a night walking the streets of New York and untangling what happened between them. Two other series that follow their protagonists from teenhood to adulthood: (starting with) Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty and The President's Daughter by Ellen Emerson White. Arguably, also the Hunger Games?

*How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez. Works backwards from four sisters' early twenties to their arrival in the US--from the DR--in their teens. They're Dominican, not Mexican, but I still feel like if you loved reading The House on Mango Street in 10th grade, you'll love the vignettes about the Garcia Girls. Other stories of being between cultures: Brick Lane by Monica Ali, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Londonstani by Gautam Malkani, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

And I didn't even include historical fiction, the ouvre of the Brontes and Jane Austen, popular series like Sookie Stackhouse, Kalisha Buckhannon's books, stories by Karen Russell or Kelly Link, the Bell Jar, early Madeleine L'Engle, or Momofuku, which is a cook book but is also the story of one Dave Chang. But that's 10, which is a satisfying number.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Things I read this weekend

Jessica Lawlor is looking for books about twenty-somethings (we totally need a new section in the library!), and I have a suggestion: Girls in White Dresses, reviewed at Full Stop.

Local rag the Phoenix starts a library vs. kindle cage match. (Not much new here, but three people have now mentioned the article to me. I read it so I could discuss intelligently.)

No one's particularly impressed with the iriver. Which leads me to ponder, who do I trust least? Google or Amazon?

Will Khan Academy allow me to identify the math geniuses among my third graders?

Also, I read about Africa. Specifically, I read the work of three winners of the Caine Prize:

Local writer E.C. Osondu (he teaches at PC) reviews Binyavanga Wainaina's memoir for the Boston Globe.

That led me to Wainaina's 2005 essay, "How to Write About Africa." If you want a crash course in what not to look for when evaluating children's books about Africa, read it.

Then I read the story that won this year's Caine prize, "Hitting Budapest" by NoViolet Bulawayo. Recognize these children?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Oh, Google

People are always telling me that Google is going to steal my job. Like Google would want my job.

I was filling in at the reference desk of another library recently, and a patron wanted to show me a website, so she put her cursor in the Google toolbar on the browser and typed--I kid you not--"Google" and hit enter. When the list of search results appeared on the screen, framed by what was obviously the Google interface, she clicked on the first result, which was, of course, Google. Only then did she do her keyword search.

Am I even making sense? What I'm saying is, she Googled Google and then clicked on the first link in the list of results from Google, which was also Google.

Google is not going to steal my job, because my job is to teach people how to use Google. Among other things.

But that's not really what I wanted to post about: Did you know that the Google search results you get are tailored to you? I knew the ads were tailored to my searches, and to my emails when I'm logged in, but I didn't realize that when I search for "Debt Crisis," I get a different list of results from you. I thought we all got the same results--whatever pages were most popular based on that magic algorithm. But no. My preferences and past searches are also taken to account, so my list of results might include different news sources than yours.

I do think this is kind of a big deal, even though I usually yawn at people who decry Google. I guess it isn't inherently bad, but I didn't know it was happening until I read this article, so until then I treated Google results as an indicator of what The World is clicking on. Now I have to treat it as an indicator of what I am clicking on, which is less interesting to me.

There was a recent article in the New York Review of Books about how Google's product isn't really searching--it's advertising. That's what made me think about all this. And everyone knows that Google's making us stupid, too, right?

But not stealing my job. Just for the record.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Social Networking Sites for Kids

>>For a more recent post on this topic see: Online Tools: Biblionasium (1/21/13)<<

Inspired by NYPL's summer reading site, I've been checking out different social networking sites for kids. I'd like to teach my students how to "social network" safely, and of course, developing my own online playground seems like the most awesome way, so I was curious about what the standards were for developing safe sites.

I like how the NYPL and Scholastic "Stacks" site have username generators that let kids pick an animal, color, or adjective, but don't let kids put any of their personal information in their username. I also appreciate that they don't require an email address, which kids are practically discouraged from having in public elementary schools (not that I agree with that).

I noticed that other sites have controlled vocabularies kids can use in their posts--and sometimes even prefab statements they can use, like those comments teachers put on report cards. So kids can't really chat freely, but they can respond to other people's, you know, stuff.

With a lot of these SVEs*, the emphasis really isn't on communicating with other kids, as far as I can tell. On sites like WebKinz and StarDoll, you're creating and maintaining an online creature--it might be an avatar, but it's not necessarily a representation of you--it's more a representation of a pet or toy you wish you had.

I haven't spent a lot of time playing around these sites yet, but I did explore StarDoll's Mortal Kiss site--apparently the publisher collaborated with an existing kids' social networking site to promote a particular title. Is this a model for libraries?

I'm cautious about partnering with commercial sites, but I wonder how many libraries have the capacity to develop and maintain their own social networking sites. On the other hand, I know very little about programming. I just know that when I tried out BuddyPress on my other site, I got malware the first week, so I just deleted the whole thing. I think it happened because I removed the email validation.

I also noticed that Follett offers something like social networking as part of its Destiny Quest--not that it's turned on for my library's catalog. This makes the most sense to me: have social networking be part of the online catalog, a database which already includes peoples' personal information as well as access to the collection. Now that RI public libraries have Encore, you can tag books and see a Google preview. Soon, can we write reviews? And will any aspect of this be designed with kids in mind?

Other sites to check out:

The Doll Palace
Club Penguin

*Like how I threw that in there? It stands for "Shared Virtual Environments" and I got it from "Tip of the Iceberg: Meaning, Identity, and Literacy in Preteen Virtual Worlds," by Eric M. Myers. This article was published in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Vol. 50, No. 4--Fall 2009. I got it through URI's access to Ebsco's URI only Library/Information Science & Technology Abstracts.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I finally read some of that Tiger Mother book

There are excerpts in lots of places, including WSJ, where I read it. What I find most interesting are other people's reactions, especially an African-American perspective on NPR.

I'm trying to figure out if any of my students have tiger mothers, or if there's any part of being a tiger mother I could (or should) apply in the classroom/library. Obviously not the part where Amy Chau calls her kids garbage! Nor can I spend hours one-on-one with a child, badgering her into achieving perfection. But maybe the idea of never giving up?

I let my students slide out of finishing work pretty frequently. I give them a mediocre grade because their work is incomplete, but then I move on, because I don't want to keep the class waiting. Would it be better to make that child keep working on step one until she gets it right? It's hard to imagine making one child sit at her desk working on the same thing until it was perfect while other students raced ahead. But I want to be brave enough to do whatever it takes to really teach kids. Not just coach my kids into doing enough work to get them an S on their report card.

Actually, we should make it harder for kids to read

I read this article on Salon.com about how using hideous typeface in your presentations actually helps people retain the information you're sharing. Since this was a Salon.com article, it was more about typography than learner outcomes, but the article is based on an education study [pdf] that definitely messes with some of my assumptions.

If you're like me, you dream of super slick lesson plans that allow information to flow effortlessly through your students' brains. This study suggests that when we make it easy for students to take in information, we also make it easy for them to forget the information--in 15 minutes or 15 days or after they take the test. If we make it a little harder--by, say, writing the information in a jazzy font--we engage their brains better and help the info stick.

I still think the typeface thing seems kind of gimmicky. Although the article points out that it's cheap and easy to implement! And I'd like to tell the guy in the Salon.com article who worries that the Kindle makes it "too easy to read" that I can give him more serious things to worry about if he's interested. But I like the idea of "desireable difficulties." In what ways do I want my students to struggle, grapple, and wrestle with information?

Sorry--I've been transitioning

I have a new job! Which is why I've been useless at posting to this blog. I'm now an elementary school librarian, which means I have a captive audience of over 500 kids a week! It also means I have to be more of a censor and rule-enforcer and teacher. Also I no longer work with teens. But I have snow days! Like today! So here I am again, with a whole new set of challenges and hopefully a more focused range of topics to explore on this blog.