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2015 June



In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Summer Reading Update

On 04, Jun 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Although it wasn’t officially anything I had to do, the librarian I’ll be working with this fall asked me about the summer reading. She hated the format of the current lists (lists she didn’t put together) and wanted to work with them. I volunteered to take a look at them and see what I could do. I ended up completely revamping them. The project was a lot of fun and since I had the time and expertise, the librarian was more than happy to let me run with it.

I completely agreed with her. The lists were a mess. They were really long and hard to read (OMG comic sans!). There were quite a few way-out-of-print titles (things that didn’t even come up on Amazon) and a handful of typos per each grade level. It was definitely time to redo them. The first thing I did was simply read through the lists and figure out problems with them that we could fix. None of them were terrible lists, but these were the things I decided to focus on:

  • length (way too long)
  • old (many titles were quite old)
  • very, very white
  • not much poetry
  • virtually no nonfiction

I don’t know exactly why, but I decided the new lists should have three sections: suggested authors/illustrators, suggested series, and suggested titles. I went through and highlighted all the titles I wanted to keep (only about 3-5 per list), any series that were worth keeping on the list, and any authors or illustrators worth keeping. There were books recommended by very prolific authors (Jan Brett, Eric Carle, etc.) and there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why the specific title listed was chosen. These authors went into the suggested author/illustrator list. A family could read any book by them and it will be good.

I made a point to be sure there were authors and illustrators of color as well as stories featuring characters of color in them or characters with disabilities (although that one was a lot harder). I also tried to get some books with different family structures on the list (The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, for example). The school has a pretty diverse population and I think we need to reflect that in the reading suggestions we make.

If there were series on the list I often put them into the new suggested series section, although I dumped a fair number of older ones. Especially the Little House on the Prairie series. Yikes. I replaced that with Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series.

The new lists of suggested titles range from about 20-25 titles. Much more manageable than the 50 or so of the old lists. I should note, none of this is required reading so long lists didn’t seem necessary. I also made a point to put in a few poetry books and quite a few nonfiction books. Nonfiction books also ended up in the suggested series section as there are quite a few good series out there for elementary school ages (Scientists in the Field, for example).

As far as older titles, my feeling is that parents have heard of or even read many of them. Classic children’s literature is easy to find at the library and in the book store. These lists were an opportunity for us to feature things parents might not come across on their own. We could highlight more diversity, new material, and some of our favorites. I also made a point to include books that would tie in with themes and topics I know each grade level studies (birds for first grade, insects in second, biographies in third, California history in fourth).

We did one final thing. The letters that accompanied the reading lists kind of had links to ALA award lists and a note to look at the California Young Reader Medal website for more suggestions. A year or two ago I got really frustrated with the ALA website. It’s slow to load and it’s hard to navigate when you’re trying to look at the award lists. They are on two different division pages (ALSC and YALSA) and are about a hundred clicks deep within those. The formatting is all over the map. Some lists have tons of information (most of it totally unnecessary) from ISBNs to publication dates to titles while others have next to nothing. And there is no consistency. From a user’s standpoint, they’re awful. I wanted lists of the awards so I could refer to them and read through them so I created PDFs of all the major awards. The lists are clean, they don’t contain too much or too little information (mostly title, author, illustrator, and year of the award) with a blurb about what the award is for at the top. The formatting is consistent across all of them and they look uniform and clean.

Now, I can’t imagine sending a parent to look for award-winning titles on the ALA website pages. They would give up. So we decided to post the PDFs of the award lists that I created on our summer reading page for parents to download. Each summer reading letter has a short list of the grade appropriate award lists parents can download/consult. A lot of the books from the old summer reading lists are award winners and this not only provides another place for parents to find reading suggestions, but gives them a way to find many of those oldies, but goodies.

We’re still working on the lists, but by and large they are done. Next week I’ll be posting some reviews of some of the books I previewed for the lists. They’re lumped into two large posts otherwise I’d have a full month’s worth of content. Maybe two and I didn’t want to do that. So stay tuned.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Wedding Week by Chimaechi Allan

On 03, Jun 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Wedding WeekThe Wedding Week: Around the World in Seven Weddings written by Chimaechi Allan, illustrated by Amber Cooper-Davies

From Amazon: You’re invited to seven diverse weddings around the world! Join Femi, Kemi and Geko the Lizard on a journey from saris to chuppahs. Each day, you’ll discover an exciting new thing that happens at weddings in different cultures. This vibrant story is set in contemporary Africa.

This is the book from the Kickstarter campaign I posted about awhile back. We’ve had the digital copy for about a month or so now, but I have to admit I don’t tend to read digital picture books to my daughter. I’m not opposed to them, I just don’t bust out the iPad during the day with her. So, I was really excited when a package arrived from the UK with this beauty in it.

You kind of worry with nontraditional publishing channels (i.e. Kickstarter) that a picture book will be poorly written and badly illustrated. That is not at all the case with The Wedding Week. The story is engaging, fun and well written and the cut-paper illustrations (as you can see from the cover) are lovely.

I was personally even more excited because we chose a dual language Igbo and English edition of the book. I don’t speak Igbo, but I want to expose my daughter to tons of languages. Even if we don’t know how anything is pronounced, just seeing the language written out and knowing that someone out there speaks it (and where they speak it) opens her world view up immensely. Even more so because it isn’t a language Americans normally see or hear (there’s more than French and Spanish out there).

In The Wedding Week Femi and Kemi are excited that they will be attending a wedding. To build excitement, and tied in with weekly goings-on, various family members share tidbits about what weddings are like in other countries and cultures. The story was incredibly engaging. My three year old sat through the whole book. She was especially captivated by the little Geko who acts as a guide and appears in every two-page spread. In the Kickstarter video I believe Allan discussed the idea behind choosing weddings for the book was that they are so universal. They are also joyful occasions filled with food, music, and tradition and I think she’s right that kids click with them and are interested in them.

Each tradition and culture that was introduced comes through a connection to the wedding Femi and Kemi will be attending and I like that the reader isn’t overloaded with tons of information. It’s a simple introduction to a few wedding customs around the world with a beautiful and intricate illustration that adds depth. Kids love little facts and the book doesn’t beat them over the head with too much information that would detract from actually telling the story of Femi and Kemi preparing for a family wedding. In other words, it’s a perfect mix of information and storytelling.

Personally, I love the cut-paper illustration style and the pictures for The Wedding Week are fantastic. It’s fun to spot different patterns and colors of paper and I also think this is an inspiring type of art for young readers. Obviously it would take years of practice and training to turn out something this lovely, but I think the idea of layering paper and breaking objects and people into parts that you cut out of different papers is not beyond kids. It’s also a great lesson in really looking at the illustrations and thinking about creating your own art.

In terms of reading level the book is on the upper end of elementary I think, but it would make a perfect addition to any classroom or library collection. The story is incredibly accessible and enjoyable for all ages through elementary school and I’m sure read alouds will elicit many stories of weddings kids have been to. It’s also a great addition to home libraries (we’re loving our copy) particularly if you are going to attend a wedding, have attended one, or if you like books that expose your child to traditions and cultures around the world. Chimaechi Allan wrote the book so Nigerian children could see themselves in books, but works beautifully for giving our children in the US a window onto the world.

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In Uncategorized

By Elizabeth Wroten

Summer Schedule

On 02, Jun 2015 | In Uncategorized | By Elizabeth Wroten

Just a quick post to note that I may not be as regular posting this summer (mostly July and August). I’m hoping to get some reading done, but may or may not have time to write about it.

I’m pretty excited to be teaching a week long Makerspace summer camp in July followed the next week by a sewing class. I am also going to be at ALA annual at the end of June which I’m looking forward to.

Hope everyone has a happy and safe summer.