By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, Feb 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Forgive me, but I’m about to get a little passionate about kids and education. We recently had an author come visit our library (shout out to Bruce Hale, he was awesome and we have a lot of budding author/illustrators thanks to him!). He was really great with the kids and had lots of interaction with the audience and at one point asked what some of the kids in the audience wanted to be “when they grow up”. It’s a pretty traditional and mundane question and we got the range of answers: vet, doctor, lawyer, engineer, architect. But we also got a couple YouTube stars. That led to a couple chuckles and a lot of eye rolling from teachers.
I had forgotten that I had heard a rant about this a few months back. I cannot, for the life of me, remember where or who was ranting or anything beyond a collective hand wringing over “kids these days”. But I think we need to stop wringing our hands over this particular phenomenon and need to step up to harness this interest. (I have a lot of choice expletives about getting off kids backs when it comes to things adults deem unworthy, but I’ll spare you that rant for now.)
For starters, “YouTube star” is a pretty nebulous concept, especially for these kids. Why don’t we roll our eyes at lawyer? I mean for a third grader what the hell does being a lawyer mean? Nothing more or less than a YouTube star. It has very little meaning to them. Except it YouTube star DOES mean these kids want to be content creators. We love to spout off about how we’re teaching kids skills for jobs we can’t even imagine. One thing I think we can know about their futures is that they will need to be content creators. Be that writing, report making, building, or scientific research. They will be creating content of one kind or another. So all those potential YouTube stars have a head start over their peers in that they already want to be doing what they probably will be doing.
Instead of rolling our eyes, we need to be harnessing these kids’ energies and interests and showing them how to bring their ideas into the world. Teach them to record themselves, make podcasts, write scripts, sing, play instruments, draw and animate, and make technology a tool (e.g. stop fucking wringing your hands over kids using technology). Teach them to make things and sell them on Etsy. Help them find what they are good at and enjoy and then help them put it out there into the world. Encourage them to be creative. Certainly if you have a makerspace, this is where it comes in and plays a HUGE role in our children’s education. But even if you don’t, that’s okay. Providing them with the support and a few materials is better than all the eye rolling and hand wringing I see going on right now.
As a fairly creative kid I made all kinds of crap. From voice recordings on an old-ass tape recorder we had, to scripts for a TV show I performed in a box, to fully illustrated picture books, to weird “inventions” out of leftover foam, and comic books. I even sold them to my friends and family so I could go to the drugstore after school and buy comic books, candy, and makeup. There is no reason any of those projects couldn’t be updated with modern technology and put online. And no reason why we shouldn’t be encouraging our children to use their creative skills to make a few extra bucks to pay for fun little things. Why should be discourage our kids from doing these kinds of things? Because a few crusty, technology-phobic teachers think kids shouldn’t want to make money or create videos?
YouTube star is probably not a realistic life goal for most of our students, but let’s not lose sight of what these kids are really telling us. Instead of throwing up your hands, help them form that interest into something they can be proud of, even if that involves wacky videos posted to their YouTube channel.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 16, Dec 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I just had to share this conversation. It took place between one of the girls who is in the Makerspace and her mom.
On the way to school this morning, my daughter said, “I don’t want to go to school today, mom.”
When I asked her why not, she replied, “Like, there’s no Makerspace today. So, what’s the point?”This is coming from a kid who LOVES school, by the way.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 22, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I just read a post about banned comics over on The Hub and was inspired to write my own little post about how comics really helped me. I know as librarians we are all about letting kids read, but I don’t think you can emphasize enough how important it is to let them read what they are drawn to.
I’ve talked about it before, but when I was younger I struggled with reading. There were books I would get into and I would read through them quickly, but that didn’t happen all that often. I didn’t have a special librarian I connected with and I didn’t really use books as escapism. Then in late elementary school I had a really good friend that got me into the Archie comics. Sure they weren’t any great piece of literature, but I would be lost for the evening reading through the new issue I picked up at the grocery store check out. I can’t say that comics got me into reading. I did already read and there were other books that I enjoyed. I also didn’t run out and start checking out stacks of books from the library. It took many more years for that habit to develop. I think that what comics did for me, really, was to keep me engaged with reading. They kept me looking for more material and encouraged me every time I picked one up. I only wish that there had been the profusion of comics and graphic novels that there is today. I think then I would have become a voracious reader.
I was so struck by a comment from Amy Koester at the ALSC Institute last week where she said she doesn’t really like the term “reluctant reader” because she feels that they are simply readers that haven’t found their niche yet. I wanted to get up and shout when she said that. I cannot agree more! Especially because I am one of those readers. Comics helped keep me reading through a time when I thought I didn’t really like reading, through a time I struggled with reading, through a time when assigned reading was way above my head and could have turned me off to it completely.
I’m really grateful that despite their eye rolling my parents did buy me those Archie comics and kept buying them. I went on from there to read the TinTin comics which are both beloved by many and really problematic (I have another post coming up about that topic). I read those a million times each and they kept me reading too, through middle school when I thought I wasn’t a reader. So, keep graphic novels in library collections. Put them in the hands of readers. They are real reading and maybe they will keep another kid reading.
For more about Banned Books Week see the website here. The official week runs from September 21-27, but I think we can always celebrate reading banned books.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 02, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
<—-This is the book. It was required reading the summer before ninth grade. And I hated it. There were some sex scenes in it that, as a young and immature ninth grader, I was not ready for. I think we all have one or two Required Reading books that we’ve really hated. I’ve been thinking about writing a bit on this topic, especially because I think required reading is problematic. Since it’s back-to-school season and because The Hub also wrote up a post related to the topic I thought now would be a good time to tackle it.
There were plenty of required texts that I liked. Several I loved (Jane Eyre, The Scarlett Letter, and The Heart of Darkness). And some I wasn’t fond of but could appreciate (The Great Gatsby, Beowulf, Gilgamesh). I can only think of two that I really disliked (The Chosen and A Separate Peace) but I know it’s because I didn’t get them. I doubt I would adore them if I did get them, but I could have respected them.
Then there are a couple text that tended to be required reading that we did not read and I am SO GLAD. Because I read them when I was a little older and could appreciate them more, specifically The Joy Luck Club and Things Fall Apart. Things Fall Apart is one of my all time favorites and, along with Jane Eyre, I reread it every couple years.
Some of this required reading kicked off a classics reading binge. Or maybe it was the looming AP test? I’m not sure, but I went on to read most things Bronte and loved them. And that turned me onto gothic novels and ghost stories. I loved The Jungle and Fitzgerald’s short stories (Flappers and Philosophers is a great anthology, I’m really glad Gatsby didn’t turn me off to his work all together). There were plenty of other American and British novels I went on to read.
I went through another classics phase when I was living in Cairo. I needed to fill the time I wasn’t in class or at the museum. Reading options were limited, but the AUC had a wonderful bookstore that was well stocked with British versions of the classics. I started to read through a ton of those. Moll Flanders, Wilkie Collins ghost stories, Rebecca, The Four Feathers, and many more that I don’t remember. I’m glad I came to all those when and how I did.
I think there is a conundrum of required reading. I understand why we have required reading, to get kids to read outside themselves, to read outside their comfort zones and to expose them to classic, quality literature. But what if that exposure turns you off? I worry that by taking such a rigid tactic, that in some ways presumes to tell kids we know what they should be reading, we run the risk of turning them off to good books, good authors, or, worst of all, reading in general. For me, I went out and found more and kept coming back to the classics, but that can’t be said for a lot of kids. Working in a high school library I heard more complaints about the books they “had” to read than compliments or expressions of a desire to read more.
How do we keep require reading from making that mistake? First and foremost students need a good English teacher to walk them through many of those books. Often you are too young to appreciate or relate with the themes and characters and situations, so having a knowledgeable adult walk you through it is essential. That is what I needed when I read Leaving Cheyenne. It wouldn’t have been my favorite book, but I doubt I would have taken as much issue with it as I did. I think as librarians we can help kids find YA novels that can speak to them more directly. That they do enjoy. I think we can also encourage English teachers to use a few well-written YA novels in their curriculum. I know there are a lot of complaints about YA, but there is well written content out there (The Giver, anyone?). By showing students that reading material can be great and lofty (with classics) and can meet them where they are (with YA) I think we would do them a great service. It would give them the gift of pleasure reading.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Jul 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
One day we’ll have scads of money and I’ll be able to go to all the professional conferences I want. In the meantime I can’t help but wish we were in Las Vegas for ALA Annual Conference. I keep seeing all this awesome stuff that people are doing and reading about all these interesting sessions they are attending.
I made the decision a few months back to go to the ALSC Institute instead of Annual. It wasn’t necessarily cheaper, but it is closer to home (in Oakland) so it would be easier for my husband and daughter to tag along. They plan on spending their days in The City doing fun things like visiting the Exploratorium and the Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, going to the Institute meant there was no money to go to Annual and seeing all this great stuff I can’t help but hope I made the right decision!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 11, Jun 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Here I am again, hopping on the bandwagon. Good thing this is a good bandwagon to be on. Between my job I have as children’s book curator for a small company and the library world I feel like I’ve recently become a lot more aware of diversity in children’s publishing (or maybe I should say lack of diversity). I’ve been trying very hard to ensure that I am getting a selection of diverse books. I was really pleased to see the #weneeddiversebooks campaign taking off over the last month or so.
So many of the responses and ruminations on the importance of diversity in literature has focused around race and “seeing yourself” in the books you read. I could not agree more, but as a white, middle class female, raising a white middle class daughter I think the importance (for us) is different.
My daughter has an enormous library of books in our home. So enormous that we have trouble finding space for all the books. So enormous my husband may have banned me from buying more books (champagne problem! I know, I know). While many of the books we have are simply appealing stories or classics, I have also tried very, very hard to use our library (and the public one) to expose my daughter to all kinds of topics. And that includes diverse cultures and people.
I got a decent, private school education. Certainly the best education available in my hometown (thanks, Mom & Dad!). But it was still incredibly lopsided and white in scope. I had inklings, through limited and small projects that we did in high school history, of what was out there in the world, but my eyes were really opened and my curiosity became insatiable in college when I began my anthropology classes. I was exposed to fascinating cultures all around the world and I was amazed. Seriously, if I could read some of the ethnographies I read in college to my daughter now I would. Sadly, she is two and these books just don’t appeal to her yet. Instead I use as many diverse children’s books as I can to build that foundation.
This really came into focus for me the other day when I was listening to PRI’s The World, one of my favorite news shows because it focuses on places outside of the US. There was a story about ethnic tensions in western China between the Han Chinese and the Uyghur people (pronounced wee-gurr). I would have only partially listened to this story had I not recently read The Vine Basket, a middle grade novel about a Uyghur girl and her family. I was excited that I knew who they were talking about and a little bit about the tensions in the region.
But it’s about more than just people half way across the globe. I also want her to know the diversity we have her in our own city. I want her to know that there are people with mental disabilities, with mental illness, who go to bed hungry and scared and cold. I want her to see how lucky she is to have a home, two parents, (eventually) a private school education, the possibility of college. Obviously I don’t want to frighten her now and I don’t want to guilt her, but as she gets older I want her to see that these situations exist. And I think a very good way and a safe way to do this is to let her read about it in books.
So, we need diverse books so we know our world. So we can learn. So we aren’t so focused on ourselves. We need diverse books so the world doesn’t seem so foreign or frightening. We need diverse books so we don’t always see ourselves in our books.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Mar 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Well, it finally officially happened. I was at a party last weekend and someone said to me, “Do you really need a master’s degree to check out books?” He then proceeded to say that he thought libraries were on their way out and then ask me if I agreed.
In all honesty, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before, but I was caught completely off guard. I rather lamely told him libraries do a lot more than books, but I wasn’t really sure how to respond. It didn’t help that we were in a social situation and I didn’t want to get all evangelist librarian on him and start some hour long lecture on what it is libraries (and librarians do) and how important they are. I also hate having this conversation because it often feels like you won’t convince these people who think we’re irrelevant.
The whole incident put me in mind of two things, though. First, that I need some kind of elevator speech, a brief, well-stated speech, that tells people what libraries are about (beyond books) and why they are important. Second, I wondered when did libraries become synonymous with pleasure reading?
As much as I hate having the conversation about the value of libraries (because I think it’s obvious and also think it’s very hard to quickly convince people who are decided against us), it’s obviously going to happen. And probably at awkward and inconvenient times. Like at a housewarming party. I would sound more convincing and probably more authoritative if I had a few thoughts prepared and always at the ready. Something less lame than, “well, we also do research and storytime.”
But the really irritating thing to me about the particular argument that this person shared, is that it sees libraries as places that merely check out pleasure reading to patrons. When did that attitude happen? Do only people who don’t go to the library think that? Have they never been to a college library or a school library? Even the public library, who does check out a lot of pleasure reading, obviously has more going on. I don’t have any good thoughts or answers on this, but I do find it incredibly baffling.
In the end I told him that yes, you do need a degree. That there are different kinds of librarians (such as law and school) who have a variety of responsibilities that require more in depth knowledge. I also pointed out that libraries provide access to people who maybe can’t buy all the books they read, have Internet access, and provide a community space. I also explained that people do a lot of research in libraries, especially college libraries, and that those librarians provide materials and research help. I don’t think my answer was bad, I just wish it had sounded less apologetic when it came out and that it had been more eloquent.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 05, Mar 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again.
I recently read May B. and enjoyed it, largely because it’s a piece of history you don’t read a lot about. The idea of living on the vast open prairie in a little sod house is rather terrifying and the book doesn’t glorify the life much. It would have been difficult and dirty and probably a bit frightening at times.
The book put me in mind to make a few comments on the format. May B. is written in verse. The first novel in verse I read, Ringside 1925, really took me by surprise. I loved it. It was quick, impactful and cleverly done. I’m not a “poetry person”, but the novel in verse format has been really appealing to me. I have since read a handful more novels in verse and loved each of them. I do wonder though, can this be a hard sell with teens and tweens, who like me don’t think of themselves as “poetry people”? In the library where I worked kids didn’t check out much pleasure reading and certainly the more obscure titles, like many of the novels in verse, were even less likely to be checked out, so I’m really not sure how to answer that.
As far as May B. was concerned I felt like the verse format wasn’t absolutely necessary. I don’t think it made it a bad book by any means. It mostly highlighted the suspense of her dire situation, which would be a great way to hook in a more reluctant reader, but I wanted more about May’s life, her learning disability and what made her tick.
Does anyone else like novels in verse? Do any of your patrons love them? How do you sell them to the kids?
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 26, Feb 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I’ve been reading a lot lately. A lot. As I’ve said on several occasions I can pretty much enjoy any book, even if it has flaws that bother me. I’ll get lost in the world and the characters and notice little things, but not let them get in the way. I’m also pretty acutely aware that these books were not written for a thirty-something stay at home mom. My inner tween or teen can connect and I see value in the book or can see what would appeal to the target audience.
But every once in awhile I find a book that just doesn’t click with me. I will want to put it down because it interrupts my reading rhythm. It might take me two or three times as long to slog through it, which throws off the other books I have lined up to read. I get kind of resentful (at a book!), but you know what? I can’t seem to put a book down once I’ve started it.
Now I know Nancy Pearl has the 50 page rule* and in theory I think it’s a great idea. Especially if you have a long list of books you want or need to read. I can’t do it, though! I can’t do it for two reasons. First, I usually feel compelled to finish books once I’ve started them. Second, I can’t help but think it might get better. I have read several books that don’t pick up until much later than the first 50 pages. Jane Eyre comes immediately to mind. But books that just don’t get much better I wish I would just put them down. They just slow me down.
I can’t help but wonder, is there a way to assign a page number that takes into consideration the length of a book and is percentage? That might give longer books (like Jane Eyre) a little longer to develop. Nancy Pearl makes a point to say that you should feel free to return to a book once you’ve put it down, but the chances of me doing that are slim to none. There are way too many other books on my TBR pile and that pile seems to grow daily (another problem of mine).
Just a little musing on my reading habits today. I wonder, though, does anyone else struggle with putting a book down once they’ve started?
*If you aren’t familiar, it’s simply that you read the first 50 pages of a book and if you aren’t engrossed you can put it down and not finish it knowing that you can come back to it later if necessary.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 15, Jan 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Just before the holidays I read a post on the YALSA blog about dreading book recommendations. The author talked about how she reads mostly YA but around the holidays most people want suggestions for book gifts for their friends or acquaintances. I don’t have very many friends that ask me for reading recommendations, but the post still got me thinking.
Whenever people ask what I’ve been reading (or when I brag about how many books I’ve read lately — 7 in 2014 so far!) or ask for suggestions, I tend to apologize and say I don’t read adult fiction, just YA. I know most people I hang out with aren’t really interested in reading YA or MG, so I rarely have ideas for them that aren’t popular adult fiction I have heard of or read about in the New York Review of Books. But, you know what? I like YA and I like MG.
Let me say it again. I like Young Adult books and I like Middle Grade books.
I touched on this idea in my post about New Adult literature. Actually, upon further reflection and honesty, I might have lied a bit in that post. I read a lot of YA and MG and I love almost all of it. Not all of it, but almost all of it. And I can’t imagine reading anything else, fiction-wise. I am just not drawn to adult fiction, for the reasons I discussed in my New Adult post. It’s about people in unhappy marriages, with miserable families, cheating on their spouses, etc. (I know this is a gross generalization, and there actually a few authors who write for adults that I love.) There is also a lot of post-modern fiction out there that’s just too pretentious. If I want something intellectual and hard to follow I read a lot of nonfiction. I actually really, really love adult nonfiction. But adult fiction is Just. Not. My. Thing. NA was supposed to fill a gap, or at least I think it should, but it has yet to do that. It’s turned into a romance genre. Romance is great, but by and large it isn’t what I want to read.
The problem for me has been admitting that I love YA and MG and that problem largely stems from two places. One, that I think people think of me as an adult even if I don’t self-identify as an adult. And two, that YA is written off as badly written and silly. Of course people who say that must not read. Because a lot of YA is written really, really well (this month I’ve been reading Holly Black and holy shit can she write!) and a lot of adult fiction is written so poorly it’s not even funny (50 Shades of Grey, anyone?). Both of these excuses for not proclaiming my love of YA and MG are so lame. To that end, my true New Year’s Resolution is to STOP apologizing for reading and loving YA and MG.
I read YA and MG and I am not sorry that I can’t give you a book recommendation. I’m not sorry that I love it. I am unapologetically a YA and MG fan! Maybe you should try it.