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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 11.35.42 AM.png

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.


Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 11.37.29 AM.png

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…


A Reading Life? Is Modeling Reading Behaviour Enough?

I think I’m a reader because my parents are readers.  I grew up watching my mom devour romance novels and my dad dive into the paper every day.  We always had magazines, books, academic journals and newspapers in our home.  While we rarely went to the library after elementary school, twice a month I was given a few bucks to spend at Annie’s Book Stop, a local used bookstore.  I bought gems!  I found The Hitchhiker’s Guide and the Belgarion at Annie’s.  I bought poems and pulp fiction and Sweet Valley High for 50 cents each.  I still have my copy of the complete stories of Edgar Allen Poe.  Thus was my reading life sustained during the years I might have given up on reading from lack of choice and access.  

I’m thinking about this as I read more about Sustained Silent Reading, book choice, summer reading, incentive programs, etc.  How do we create readers and, in the MS/US environment, keep them reading?  How do we create an environment in which reading for pleasure is a given and students are excited to read a wide array of sources?  There are so many answers in educator’s circles and even some arguments (for or against summer reading prizes, anyone?)

This is all to say that I think we need to do more to model reading in my library.  I think it sends a powerful message to kids to see adults and their peers reading for pleasure.  Maybe we need to have a Read-in or create Read posters or create a nook specifically for reading magazines.  Maybe I need to spend more time documenting and sharing the excellent reading behaviour I already see in some students and teachers.  It’s always been a goal of mine to have a One Book program with an author visit…

What are the things you do to model and encourage reading for pleasure?

Big Data, Privacy and Teen Behaviour

As librarians, we spend so much time talking talking about and thinking about all of the information available in the world, on the internet, and in our student’s/patron’s hands.  But how are we using all of this data?  And how is the information we’re creating being used?

I’ve been interested in Big Data since reading this article in the New York Times magazine about how Target uses a wide variety of information to track and change buyer’s habits.  Big data was also a major part of President Obama’s victory.  We have reached a time when a critical mass of government, private sector and user-generated data is on the web and available for almost any group to use for any purpose, positive or negative.  It’s striking and exhilerating and terrifying.  In Target’s case, data is culled from shopper’s own purchase histories.  The DNC and Obama campaign created a database from publicly available voter registration records, voter records and home addresses to inform, educate and (in some cases) shame likely voters to the polls.  There is just so much information available and so many different ways to use it. These datasets have been generated by our own actions and there is little we can do to stop them.  But what about the data we do control?

As of October 2012, Facebook has one billion active users.  Twitter has 500 million.  Every day these users generate millions of bits of data and most of its available for public consumption.  Recently, the web has lit up with a new form of data collection, the aggregation of public tweets and Facebook statuses about President Obama by racist teens. Inspired by  this article on, the Tumblrs Hello There Racists and Public Shaming are outing adults and teens for racist and inappropriate statements.  Many of these sites feature the teen’s full names, schools, places of works and extracurricular activities.  These aggregate sites have created profiles of young people at their worst and will live, potentially, forever.  Some have argued that creating these profiles will negatively affect these teens’ college and employment prospects.  I don’t know what the shelf life of a stupid statement on the internet is these days, but it’s clear that there is a disconnect between what Amber Case calls “our second self”, our expression of self that lives online.

This has gotten long and link-heavy, so I’ll keep thinking and writing about this later.  I just… I wonder how we prepare students for adulthood when the stakes of their onlines lived are so high.  I’m concerned about the ever-increasing desire to get younger and younger students onto social networks.  I’m worried about how parental involvement and wealth do or don’t help these kids.  If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.



Mock Elections and Internationalism

Good Morning!  It’s another beautiful day for democracy in America!

Our library hosted a mock election and here are our results.

As you can see, Mr. Obama won by a landslide.  One hundred sixty-eight students participated, which is about half of the Upper School.

We also added four state ballot measures to the ballot.  These are real voter-driven initiatives from States around the country.

Choosing our ballot measures was a challenge because we wanted the ballot to reflect a range of conservative and liberal initiatives as well as being appropriate for both Middle and Upper school students.  We discussed and rejected the Massachusetts Death with Dignity initiative and the Colorado legalization measure for their controversy.  At the same time, so many of our students don’t think of themselves as American, so it was fun to challenge them to think about the views and positions of citizens around this country.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the DP learner profile and the idea, embedded in the IB mission, that “other people, with their differences, can also be right”.  This idea is the polar opposite of the campaign we’ve just survived and I wonder how we reinforce this level of intellectual engagement and flexibility in students when they are constantly bombarded by small-mindedness.

Is the answer in engaged mindfulness?  Or in an equal bombardment of diverse points of view?

Reflections from the YA Lit Symposium

Wow, what a weekend!  I’m just back from St. Louis and the YALSA YA Lit Symposium.  It;s been 2 and a half days of non-stop teen fiction and my head is swimming.

On Friday, I attended a pre-conference called What’s Next? Trends, Fads and the Next Big Thing in Publishing.  A lot of the session was a discussion about the impossibility of determining what will catch teens’ imaginations next (trolls and leprechauns = less helpful) but this list did emerge:

  • New Adult
  • Detailed World Building
  • Urban Settings
  • Realistic Fiction

This discusion was also a big part of another session. Sounds to me like books like Jellicoe Road are about to become even bigger.  In fact, there was a whole session on Australian authors called Globalize Me.  Here’s the handout of Aussie Printz winners.  It was great to hear from a representative from Australia but I wish the session had dealt with a wider range of international authors.  A session about The Next Generation of Author Visits was presented by a group of YA authors themselves. I found the discussion helpful because I’ve never organized an author visit but hope to start next year. I imagine more experienced librarians have detailed needs and author agreement templates.

Far and away the best session was the last one, Guys Talkin’ to Guys: What Will Guys Read Next, which featured real, live TEEN BOYS!  It was the only event at the Symposium with real teens, which I find sort of disconcerting.  I find my students’ opinions to be vital to everything I order and would have loved to hear their impressions during all of these sessions.  Authors Greg Neri,  Torrey Maldonado and Antony John brought so much energy and inspiration.  Maldonato’s incredible advice guys read what guys read (#grwgr) is really going change the way I think about collection development in my library.

Two sessions I’m sorry I missed are Rollie Welch’s Classic Literature vs. 21st Century Novels: Survival of the Fittest and Social Reading: Inside the Ebook Discussion.  I am sharing Mr. Welch’s handout with my MS English faculty and am going to develop it to include the books we are using now.

Speaking of books,  we scored a bunch of ARCs and signed copies during the Book Blitz.  I got

  • Elemental and Thou Shalt Not Roadtrip by Antony John (presents on Guy Reads)
  • The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats (presented about author visits)
  • Lie by Caroline Bock
  • Intentions by Deborah Heiligman
  • Of All the Stupid Things by Alexandria Diaz
  • Ask the Passengers by AS King
  • Son by Lois Lowry
  • Dodger ARC by Terry Pratchett
  • The Last Dragonslayer ARC by Jasper Fforde

I was really surprised that there were no graphic novelists at the Symposium.  In fact, I didn’t hear a single presenter talk about the futures of manga, comic books or independent graphic novels, but many librarians spoke about the high demand for them.  Why this disconnect, YALSA?

Lastly, I was really interested in Hannah Gomez’ paper on The Badging of Biracial Identity in YA Literature.  I think there’s a lot of research to be done about race and identity in teen fiction.  Maybe there’s an ALA poster session to be made…