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2013 May

31

May
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Summer Reading

On 31, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Okay, I’m like most (all?) librarians in that I have approximately a million books on my TBR pile give or take a few hundred thousand. With summer is nearly upon us I’ve decided to use my blog to hold myself accountable for tackling one of my (many) TBR lists.

I’ve pared my YA To Read list down to a reasonable and manageable length and I’m hoping to work my way through the titles over June, July and August. You can see the list here:
my 2013-summer-reading shelf:
Elizabeth's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (2013-summer-reading shelf)
You may or may not (probably not) have noticed I tend to post reviews on Wednesdays, but this summer I’m going to shift my blogging to focus primarily on my reviews.* It’s only a temporary thing to force me into really reading this summer and play catch up (you’ll notice a few older titles on my list).

To kick off my summer reading I’m going to participate in the 48 Hour Book Challenge. At least to the degree that I am able with a 21 month old toddler. :) It’s not about winning or tracking my reading so much as it’s an excuse to really get going. And I do love to binge read. I have to admit, I will probably start earlier than the 48HBC actually starts, but I can also use the date as a timeline for checking books out of the library, which is where I get 99% of the YA I read.

*I just wanted to make a little note about my reviews. I know they aren’t long and may not really constitute reviews. My purpose, for the time being, in reading YA is to both broaden my base of literature that I can draw on for readers advisory and to be steeped in the YA lit culture. I like sharing my feelings about the books I’ve read, but don’t feel like I have enough of a foundation to start recommending lots of read alike titles or major thoughts about themes. I hope to one day, but just don’t feel like I can now. I do love to turn to several other blogs in my blogroll for that kind of analysis, such as Stacked Books and Forever Young Adult.

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29

May
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

On 29, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Never Fall DownFrom GoodReads:

When soldiers arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn is just a kid, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, hustling for spare change, and selling ice cream with his brother. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever. Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children, weak from hunger, malaria, or sheer exhaustion, dying before his eyes. He sees prisoners marched to a nearby mango grove, never to return. And he learns to be invisible to the sadistic Khmer Rouge, who can give or take away life on a whim.

One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers. In order to survive, he must quickly master the strange revolutionary songs the soldiers demand–and steal food to keep the other kids alive. This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated from the Khmer Rouge, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier. He lives by the simple credo: Over and over I tell myself one thing: never fall down.

I almost put this one down at the beginning. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good and yet so tragic. Ever since I became a mother, and I’m sure this is true for many women, I have a really difficult time reading about atrocities that befall children. Never Fall Down is full of those atrocities. However, I feel it’s really important to know that these things do happen so that we can prevent them from happening again (although I don’t think we, as humans, do a very good job of that).

One thing I really dislike about my high school education was that the history I learned didn’t focus enough on other cultures or on modern times (post-WWII). A lot of really awful things (and interesting and important events) have happened in the past 50-60 years and yet I had no idea until I stumbled upon them on my own (Cambodia’s civil war, the Biafran War, etc.). I think having read about them earlier would have made me more humble, more sensitive, more grateful for what I had, and better rounded. I also think I would have engaged more with current events. Never Fall Down gave me a much greater appreciation for Cambodia knowing that they have emerged from such an oppressive and cruel regime.

I know this book isn’t for everyone, but it’s still an important book. Arn’s story is absolutely heart breaking and shouldn’t be lost. It’s also a very powerful story of the ability of someone so young to survive and come through things that it would seem you can’t live through. And his power to accept and forgive and find beauty and purpose after such a unimaginable horror is nothing short of amazing and inspiring.

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27

May
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Horn Book, YA and NA

On 27, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I came across an interesting editorial by way of Kelly at Stacked Books. In it The Horn Book‘s editor-in-chief suggested that maybe it was time to stop reviewing young adult novels. You can read the piece here, it’s pretty short, but I wanted to share a few of my thoughts about some of the things he said. I didn’t necessarily disagree with what he was saying, but I didn’t really agree either.

What struck me about this piece was a possible argument for labeling books as New Adult, which I talked a bit about in this post.  My understanding is that he is suggesting children’s and youth review publications, like The Horn Book, stop reviewing YA novels, the stuff intended for 12 and up or maybe 14 and up. He makes the point that YA is read by a lot of adults and there is a lot of it out there. Sure, if it makes your job easier and it’s still labeled as YA so it’s easy for teen librarians to find, I think that’s reasonable.

Sutton notes that, as the years have passed, the age ranges have been shifting upward and the content is becoming more mature. He even receives requests to review books that are labeled as adult for The Horn Book, but points out that there is a distinctive and important line between adult books and children’s books. I totally agree. But I wonder if some of the books he sees as too old could and/or should be classed as new adult? This makes me wonder what age group is really reading all that YA? Because it might actually be “new adults”, like myself, who aren’t really interested in true adult literature and have some nostalgia for the late teen years. In addition classing some literature more accurately as NA could  sort out some of the content that’s more for older teens and alleviate some of the pressure created by the amount of YA being published.

Along the lines of his final point, commenters wonder if teens are becoming guests in their own sections and I agree that’s what it sounds like. However one commenter went so far as to suggest filing YA with adult books and I think that would be a mistake. Teens won’t always go looking for them there and what about all that research into giving teens their own space. The teenage years are very different from the middle grade and adult years. That’s why all that literature is written for them.

I worry that by pushing YA more into the adult realm, however, it could make the work of youth services librarians seem unnecessary. It might be a leap, but if the literature they work with is somehow lumped in with adult literature, why not have adult services subsume youth services? I don’t think libraries are all about books, but I do think the two are very intimately connected, so when you erase a distinction between the adult and young adult literature the distinction between the two groups of patrons suddenly seems a little less clear.

All in all this sounds to me more like a broken or damaged publishing system. Labeling a book as “14 and up” feels a lot more like a marketing ploy to give adults (or new adults) permission to read something that really isn’t intended for them. Which isn’t to say adults can’t or shouldn’t read YA, just that it sounds a bit like publishers fishing for the next big cross over like Hunger Games or Twilight than a genuine suggested age range.

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24

May
2013

In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Tweets Round Up

On 24, May 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

There wasn’t much this week:

Thank you Rita Meade for putting it so well.

Last week I participated in readers advisory chat on Twitter lead by Sophie and Kelly. It was a lot of fun and I got a few great ideas from some of the other participants.

 

Check out the awesome Pinterest board for movies to books! A really great use of a library’s Pinterest account.

 

I am so relieved to hear that Moonbird is still out there. I really loved this book that I read for The Hub Challenge.

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22

May
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

On 22, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

DramaFrom GoodReads:

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!

Why wasn’t there a hold list on this book when I requested it?! Everyone needs to run, not walk, to get a copy of this book. It was awesome.

Drama really spoke to the awkwardness of middle school/early high school romance. Some people are more experienced or in relationships; some people are questioning their sexuality; some people are interested when you aren’t (and vice versa); some people aren’t there yet; you can’t drive so your parents have to. It’s just all so, well, dramatic. Despite the fact that it’s all mostly wondering about crushes and quick kisses, I didn’t find myself wanting to roll my eyes at its relative purity, which I attribute to the sentiments and actions being very organic.

I was totally a drama nerd in high school and I imagine, had I been in drama in middle school, this would have been the story of those years. Although I was not nearly as confident, mature, or self reflective as Callie in some regards. But despite the fact that she felt a bit older than middle school it still seemed in line with the novel. As if she was someone a middle school reader could look up to or emulate without her actions appearing overtly didactic.

Even if you are or weren’t a drama kid, this book really speaks to the middle school experience. Plus the graphic novel format makes it very accessible even for the most reluctant middle school reader. Sure the format and story aren’t really for everyone, but Drama should be!

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20

May
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

And Another Thing

On 20, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

A few weeks ago I talked about how staying home with my daughter is, much to my surprise, making me a better librarian. I have also talked about how my parenting philosophies have crossed over into my professional philosophies. I have since realized another crossover between my parenting and my career.

Now, I have virtually no experience with babies and very young children. I was terrified when they wanted to send me home from the hospital with no manual for my daughter. To calm myself down I did the next best thing, I read. I read a lot. I read books and websites and just about anything I could about parenting. After a few weeks with my daughter, I realized that my instincts and common sense were enough to get me started.

I also realized I could rely on all the literature I had read, instead of choosing one method or approach. There was a lot of trial and error as we figured out things like sleeping arrangements, feeding, weaning, sleeping, schedules and the like, but I was learning what suited our personalities and our family values in terms of parenting techniques. And that in turn made it easier for me to find ideas for what to do when my daughter cried in the middle of the night or how I wanted to go about introducing solid foods.

It may not be a new or particularly original idea, but I think it’s really important to realize that knowing your culture is applicable to libraries. Just as I needed to discover our family culture, it is essential to learn the institutional culture in order to know what kind of tools and programs will work. I love to look around at ideas for library activities and services, but that doesn’t mean every good idea I come across will work for whatever library I find myself in. I can pick and choose activities, services, and technologies or adapt them to fit the culture I find myself in. The whole messy parenting process taught me this.

I think I should note that none of this is meant to imply culture can’t or shouldn’t change. I think changing the culture of an institution can be extremely necessary and important, but knowing the culture will help you implement programs and innovations much more successfully. It can also be immensely helpful when beginning to work toward changing the culture itself.

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17

May
2013

In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Twitter

On 17, May 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’ve decided to do something a little different with these posts for the future. Now that I’m feeling more on top of following blogs and librarians on Twitter, I want to start actually tweeting more. To that end I am going to start actually tweeting the links I would normally include here. Then every Friday, I’ll aggregate them here for anyone who missed them or isn’t on Twitter. I can also add a little more detail to my thoughts on the articles.

Since most of the links I find to share are in blogs I follow, I tend to come across them on Thursdays when I read my blogs. I found a service that allows me to set up tweets in advance (Twuffer, a Twitter buffer) so that I don’t inundate my tweeps. Without further ado:

I agree so much with the idea here that customer service in libraries needs to be top notch and of a type that is more than pointing to the bathroom. I know added value is an irritating buzzword, but I think it’s still a relevant and necessary concept.


I have mixed feelings about this piece. I agree in so many ways, but I also think that undergrads (and other patrons like the general public and younger students) do not always approach librarians. It’s true that the results they get from new fangled, improved search interfaces may not be the best, but are they better than what they got before? I don’t really know the answer to that. I think the issue lies more with marketing reference services and getting students to the reference desk (virtual, real or otherwise). However, I hadn’t really thought of those types of tools in regard to writing librarians out of reference. I think this underscores the importance of digital/information literacy skills.

I didn’t work with these types of teens, but as a new parent I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be a single, teen parent. The sentiment is really sweet and I think the ideas are really awesome.


I think a lot of people believe technology is some sort of silver bullet. That you can just take a new technology and use it the same way in every situation. But that just isn’t true. As with any program or tool you need to know your culture in order to know if it’s right and how it should be implemented. I’m going to address this topic in more depth next week.

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15

May
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

On 15, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Pregnancy ProjectFrom GoodReads:

Growing up, Gaby Rodriguez was often told she would end up a teen mom. After all, her mother and her older sisters had gotten pregnant as teenagers; from an outsider’s perspective, it was practically a family tradition. Gaby had ambitions that didn’t include teen motherhood. But she wondered: how would she be treated if she “lived down” to others’ expectations? Would everyone ignore the years she put into being a good student and see her as just another pregnant teen statistic with no future? These questions sparked Gaby’s school project: faking her own pregnancy as a high school senior to see how her family, friends, and community would react. What she learned changed her life forever, and made international headlines in the process.

In The Pregnancy Project, Gaby details how she was able to fake her own pregnancy—hiding the truth from even her siblings and boyfriend’s parents—and reveals all that she learned from the experience. But more than that, Gaby’s story is about fighting stereotypes, and how one girl found the strength to come out from the shadow of low expectations to forge a bright future for herself.

This book would make a nice companion to Girlchild in some ways. It read a bit like the real story behind that book, minus actually living in a trailer and the sexual abuse.

I thought The Pregnancy Project had a really wonderful message about being your own person and defying stereotypes. As a librarian, I can see championing this message with patrons or students. Like Gaby says, sometimes all it takes is one person to be there for you, cheering you on. I agree with Gaby that you don’t need to be beholden to what other people think or what the statistics tell you and this is a great story for that message.

However, the book also felt very young. Or rather, Gaby sounds very young and inexperienced. She can be endearingly preachy in the way that only adolescent girls can be. I don’t think this is a bad thing, I was certainly that way in high school, as were a lot of my friends and I love her optimism. Part of my issue is just me as a reader coming to it from the other side of my twenties. I’m not exactly the targeted audience for this book.

While I found myself agreeing with her on a lot of points, such as how problematic shows like 16 and Pregnant are, I also think there is a lot more nuance to the topics she tackles. Nuance that you come to see with time, age and experience. Teen pregnancy isn’t always about simply taking a breath and not “going all the way”. There are a lot more emotions and baggage and history that can get tangled up in sex that someone in their teens (and far beyond) may not be able to disentangle. I was really glad she pointed out that abstinence is not always a realistic method of birth control.

Her brief discussions of abortion were another place I think she addressed things as too black and white. I also didn’t feel the topic was especially germane. While she may be pro-life, not everyone is. Abortion a touchy subject and I think it is also a very personal choice. Even if it wasn’t a choice she would have made, many girls do make it to avoid the gossip, lowered expectations, limitations and general disappointment she faced. I think by putting it down she detracted from her own message of being non-judgmental.

As a side note, I think this was a fabulous, if over-the-top senior project. The school where I was working does a similar project although the time allotted to it is much much shorter. Every year I found myself wishing students would choose something more than cake baking and decorating. I don’t think everyone needs to go to quite the extreme of faking a pregnancy, but I do think making a difference and really learning something would be a great goal.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. Gaby’s perspective is something I would be very interested to hear in another 10 to 15 years and once she’s become a mother herself.

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13

May
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Blended Learning and Educational Change

On 13, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I talked briefly in an earlier post about my research into parenting philosophies that had led me to ecuational philosophies, which in turn led me to begin thinking about how I want to teach in the library. I was reading the CUE journal a few weeks back and these connections occurred to me again. I was struck by this quote from one of the feature articles by Ferdi Serim:

“In reflecting back on two or three decades in which the rallying cry was ‘integrating technology into the classroom,’ I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to call the contest. We didn’t win. But the opportunity to learn from failures is how we progress. The classrooms we were trying to integrate into were still ‘stand and deliver, lecture driven, knowledge transmission’ environments. In too many classroom the lecture now shines on a whiteboard.”

So many people think technology is going to be a silver bullet. If you put technology in the classroom all students will be engaged and learning and they will all ace the test. But if you want students engaged in the learning process, technology alone is not going to do this. Technology is a fantastic tool, but it is only a tool.

The issue of On Cue and the article were focused specifically on blended learning and I take Serim’s point in regards to it, but I don’t think the issue is limited to blended learning. One of the biggest failures in (American) education, in my opinion, has been it’s failure to innovate and change on a pedagogical level. Or at least it took a wrong turn and focused on the wrong pedagogy. Like Serim says, classrooms are still lecture based. This is the transmission model of education in which people belive there is a body of knowledge that must be taught to students (and then tested to ensure they have learned it) and I really disagree with strict transmission.

I think educators need to accept the idea that students have valuable contributions to be made to the classroom and to content. One of the reasons blended learning really appeals to me is because it encourages using a variety of ways to interact with information and curriculum. I think it also encourages a mix of transmission and discovery. You engage everyone (or should) and have the flexibility to meet students where they are and teach them in a way that works best for them. It also creates a much more autonomous classroom where the teacher can be both a resource and a facilitator of learning. They help the student gain knowledge through exploration rather than exclusively giving it to them. I think that takes some of the pressure off the teacher, too. It’s okay to say you don’t know and that you will find out together. I suppose in theory this could happen in a traditional classroom, but I have yet to see it.

I realize this isn’t necessarily a library issue, but I do think as central learning hubs, school libraries are well situated to make shifts in their pedagogy and in their programs. They can then serve as evangelists of sorts and even help with integration of new ideas into the classroom. I also think blended learning doesn’t necessarily have to focus on technology. To me it’s so much more than any one physical piece (like an iPad or a laptop), it’s about pedagogical change. Libraries are already champions of knowledge and content creation. They are already facilitators of knowledge. They are already resources for knowledge. It seems a natural step into pedagogical shift and blended learning.

I know none of these ideas are new and I’ve even talked about them here before, but I guess this article really made me realize how important I find it. Apparently CUE really gets my feelings about education and how it needs to innovate.

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10

May
2013

In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Makers and School Libraries

On 10, May 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

Just a couple links this week. Two are related and the other is something I ran across through Pinterest.

  • Kollabora is a maker community where people can post and find projects. It’s mostly sewing and knitting with a bit of crafting thrown in. I thought it would be a pretty cool site to promote in a library that has an active crafting/knitting/fabric arts community.
  • David Lankes gave a presentation at the Texas Library Association about school libraries. I thought he made some really great points. “The school library is about exploration, not regurgitation.” I wish that was also true about the classroom, but that’s my topic for Monday. You can see the presentation here.
  • Maureen Sullivan published a piece on the Huffington Post about the state of school libraries. In it she talks about how important school libraries are, but that they are on the chopping block due to budget cuts. It’s a short piece well worth the time to read it.

 

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