Book Knowledge Challenge: Accepted

Our 9th and 10th grade English teachers asked me to present books to their classes before the winter breaks and I decided to switch it up this year. In the past, I’ve organized faculty ideas and requests and laid out a few tables of books. Students descend and I have shortshort conversations with each about one good title. This has led to some serendipitous moments, a majority of happy-ish readers, and, always, a few student slipping through the cracks without books (or with books that are in the return bin at the end of the day).

This year, I’ve decided to challenge myself to push my own boundaries of Reader’s Advisory and book knowledge. Students have been asked to fill out a form detailing their preferences: recent books their enjoyed; genres; particular titles of interest; pop culture; and a book they feel they “should” read. From these, I am selecting 3 books per student from our collection. One teacher has asked that his student each receive a modern classic or Alex Award-style “adult book with appeal to teens”. So, here’s my progress so far on selecting 240 titles for 80 students from our collection.

I used a Google Form  to gather student data and then converted it into individual reader’s advisory.

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This was the hard part! The range of reading and book knowledge, particularly in 9th grade was all over the place. One student had recently read the Autobiography of Malcolm X while others listed only books they’d read for 8th grade English. I used NovelList a great deal in connecting their personal interests to titles in our collection. I also learned a lot about the television they like. My students and huge fans of Hemlock Grove, Criminal Minds and superhero shows.


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I selected three books for each student. If they specifically requested a title, they got it. I’m surprised by the number of students who requested non-fiction and memoirs, and it’s a good reminder that I need to develop these parts of the collection this year. I also learned that the majority of our paperback classics look like they’ve been living in a garage. I need to replace a lot of them this year.

On Monday, my first group of students will be presented with their books and my notes on why I picked them. The goal is for each student to leave for Thanksgiving break with ONE great book – hopefully one in their pile – and come back with feedback. If this goes well, I hope to do it again before Spring Break.


Another big takeaway is that I tend to rely on titles I’ve read – and I need to read more classics. It’s been a while since I read a Faulkner or Steinbeck and I have no idea how much they resonate with teens. I’m still not convinced of the necessity of reading “the great books” of the Western canon. It’s too old, white, male and upper class for me. I need to be careful my bias doesn’t negatively affect my readers. More to think on…


Weeding Young Adult

I’m spending a lot of time weeding the general fiction collection since winter break and this NYT article about young adult fiction came at exactly the right time. As I’ve weeded, I’ve noticed our share of literary novels diminish and noticed how dominant YA is here.  Of course I love YA and I love how much it circulates but it’s becoming harder to get excited about the new Morris, Alex and Printz award winners.  I’m kind of sick of reading young adult.  I need to take a break because it all seems so much the same, same, same.

I’m discouraged by the plethora of new authors with trilogies.  I’m over the love triangles, the need for regime change, the “beautiful” boys.  I spend 8 hours a day with smart, interesting, charming teenagers and I think their lives are more complex and compelling than many YA characters.  I want to read books that honor those complexities and don’t constantly tie their lives neatly into a bow.  (Thank you Maggie Stiefvater, Kristin Cashore, AS King, Tamora Pierce, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green and many others for doing just that).  It’s hard to not notice that most of these authors have 4 or more non-series titles under their belts.  They understand how to construct a satisfying beginning, middle and end.  They can write great sentences.  And yes, they are all over 30.  They have been reading and (probably) writing for over 25 years.

I agree with Michelle Dean that YA has becomes a young/new writer’s game.  And I agree the books have suffered for it.  I want to have a collection full of excellent titles to share with teens. I have “a desire for stories substantial enough to withstand the ages, that are like smooth river rocks you can turn over and over again”. For me, that means not collecting a substantial swath of new authors this year.  I’m spending our budget dollars on new copies of much loved books instead. This is a year for weeding and replacements.  Next year we’ll take another look at the field and find more new authors to love.

Reading Challenge: Accepted!

penumbra-coverLike many of my fellow teen librarians and YALSA members, I’m going to take up the YALSA 2013 Hub Reading Challenge.  I need to read (or re-read) 25 of the 83 award winning titles.  I haven’t spent a lot of time with the list, but I think I’ll probably read the following:

The Diviners, Heist Society, Seraphina (re), the Protector of the Small series, In Darkness, Every Day (re), I Hunt Killers, Dodger (re), Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Bomb, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, The Raven Boys (re), Code Name Verity, Beneath A Meth Moon, We’ve Got A Job.

Want to join me?  What are the books you are excited to read?