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.