By Elizabeth Wroten
On 01, Jul 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I thought since I talked about the summer reading lists that I created I thought I would share pdf versions of them here.
Our lists go home with a letter attached that explains summer reading. In it, in all grades, we encourage parents to read WITH their children. Thus you will see books that are not necessarily grade level. We also point parents to ALA award lists (actually I have pdf versions that I typed up that we post to our website for parents to download).
Note that I was asked to add back in a few titles. Titles that were not diverse. Ones that I had removed because I figured that parents visiting any bookstore would find these classics and popular titles and did not need me to tell them about. It’s fine. They’re all good books. But it does skew the numbers I shared in my statistics posts. The lists are less diverse because books were added back without being intentional. It’s a work in progress and I’ll be updating them again next year too, so I can keep making it better. I am not sharing the fifth grade list because the one published is not the one I came up with.
We also include a Bingo card at the end of each list and ask that the kids fill out each square (there are only 9 so it isn’t an insurmountable task!). Here is a copy of that in case you want to use it or do something similar. The kids who fill it out can come to the library for a treat and a summer reading badge in the Fall.
Here is a reminder about my Creative Commons License:
This work by Elizabeth Wroten is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
If you want to use these for personal use, please feel free! I would also be happy to see them built on and if you do drop me a line to let me know. I would love to know what people add and subtract from them.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 24, May 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I recently came across this project called The 100 Day Project. It encourages you to do one thing for 100 days, with an emphasis on making or doing something. The project technically started back in April, but I just don’t have time to do this kind of thing every day during the school year and I feel like I had my plate full this spring. So instead I decided to start late and use it to guide some (most) of my summer reading. I have a couple larger projects planned this summer, like revamping my curriculum for the library and also, with the generous help of my best friend, who is also one of the second grade teachers, weeding our Native American content in the library.
The plan is to read one diverse book a day and review it. This will give me a lot of good practice reviewing and force me to seek out a lot more diverse books. Many will be picture books (my line up is on Goodreads if you want a sense of where I’m starting out and going) because they are faster to read and a lot of these books I’m looking at with an eye toward adding them to our library collection and I do a lot of the development in the picture book section. I am really trying to hit more than racial diversity, although we need plenty more of that in our collection, so if you have any suggestions please feel free to share them.
One final note, the project asks you to document your project on Instagram. As much as I dislike taking daily pictures and as much as I dislike having one more social media account to manage I’m going to try and do this. I will be adding my Instagram account in the sidebar, but as of writing this I haven’t done it. I think I can set it up to only see the hashtag for this project (fingers crossed). If not you’ll be seeing my other 100 day project which is 100 days of simple science play with my daughter. I suppose the Instagram will serve the purpose of documenting the reading even if I don’t get around to writing reviews each and every day.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 02, Oct 2014 | In Uncategorized | By Elizabeth Wroten
This is just a quick note about what I’ll be reviewing in October. I am going to keep plugging through primarily middle grade and kidlit books and reviewing them. I’m shifting a little younger for awhile for a couple reasons. First that TBR pile got big. Really, really big. And it needs to be pared down a bit. Also, I’m working with those ages of kids right now and I am woefully ignorant when it comes to the space between picture books and upper middle school. It’s such a shame when you have to read tons of good books for work.
I also have a few ghost story anthologies that have been sitting on my bookshelf for…ahem…several years. I thought this would be the appropriate month to read and review them. They are technically adult books, but I think there is appeal across age groups. I’m going to do a whole post about gothic ghost story anthologies and favorite authors too, since I have read a lot of them.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 30, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
When I was at the ALSC Institute about a week and half ago I attended a breakout session about diversity in children’s publishing. It was a really great discussion and I’m hoping to talk more about the issues when I attend the Kidliosphere blogging conference in a couple weeks.
While we were talking at this breakout session, though, I had a question that I’m not sure how to answer. Our discussion never really steered in that direction so I didn’t bring it up, not wanting to derail the whole session, but it definitely pertains to diversity in children’s literature. I’m wondering what you should/could/would do with problematic books that are already in a collection? Books that have stereotypes or racist over/undertones.
Specifically the Little House on the Prairie come to mind, but so do the TinTin comic books and I’m sure there are many more out there (especially some of the classics). I like to think that there books make for good discussion starters with kids, but I think the reality is that kids check them out, their parents don’t know that they have these issues, the kids read them, and bring them back. No discussion. The Little House books are pretty ubiquitous, at least at my school. They’re in several classrooms, they are in the library and a lot of kids read them. The teachers and librarian also hand them out/recommend them without making note of or even knowing about the racism in them. In fact I know many of them have fond memories of reading the books when they were young. I think it’s a problem if kids read this stuff and internalize the stereotypes and rhetoric and I really think it’s a problem if we don’t talk about it with kids. I don’t think the answer is to not let kids read the books, though. They have value, but how do you balance that with their issues?
So, what do you do with these books? Do you leave them in the collection? Do you weed them? Do you ask that kids present their parents with a note when they check the books out that details concerns with the book? Do you educate the teachers? Do you remove them and find better alternatives? Do you start the conversation with the kids? Does this cross boundaries that the parents may not want crossed?
I’m sure there is no one perfect answer or solution, but I think it’s really important that we don’t let the label of “classic” or our own nostalgia get in the way of being sensitive to the very dark issues that these books have.
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 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.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Jun 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
In honor of summer and all the (terrible) summer blockbusters that will soon be storming the local cineplex, I wanted to talk about movies. And books. Movies and books. As a librarian and reader I love books, but I frequently hear that “the book is always better” or “you thought that was a good movie, you should read the book”. I’ve seen some pretty abysmal adaptations of some amazing books, but I’ve also seen some really amazing adaptations. I hate to write off film adaptations based on a few bad movies, so all of this started me wondering, is the book always better? And just because the book is good does that preclude a good movie? And, why are we so loathe to see film versions of our favorite books?
Film is, in and of itself, a very powerful medium. It can tell beautiful, incredible stories. Case in point: Wall-E. Pixar told an incredibly poignant, touching story with almost no dialog. I walked out of that movie with my mind blown. So, I don’t think the medium of film is ill suited to telling great stories like we find in books.
Books and film are, however, very different mediums. Plot devices, narrations, and character insights that are possible in books are not always possible in movies. But the challenges of creating a good adaptation can be handled well by a good director, someone with a good eye, a good vision and a reverence for the source material. In the most recent version of Jane Eyre the screen writer began a ways into the story and then backtracked, condensing a good 125 pages of pretty boring content. I absolutely adore the novel and have read it many times, but I wouldn’t have wanted to watch the majority of those events on screen just as they were written. The two methods worked perfectly for their mediums. All of which I think points to the fact that the book doesn’t have to be better nor does a story being first written as a book preclude a really good film. And what about taking mediocre books and making them into great movies?
But, why do we hate movie adaptations? I think when you read a book your mind constructs the world and characters around you. It becomes a secret, private place to retreat in our minds. Having a filmmaker impose their vision of the world and characters can feel very intrusive and rude. That other person’s vision can also push out your own. As you read, you picture the characters and the events, but those memories can be disturbed by the bombast of a movie.
Of course what will appeal to you in a movie depends very much on your personal preferences. Like with reading, the “goodness” of a movie is pretty subjective. I personally prefer arty, cerebral movies over the more popular rom-coms that show up at the cineplex in droves. It doesn’t mean one is better than the other, just that I prefer one over the other. If a director creates a film that doesn’t fit with your preferred movie style, then it’s going to be a lot harder to accept it as a good version of the book. If Michael Bey had directed Jane Eyre I don’t think I would have even bothered to see it.
The thing is, I don’t think we should write off movie adaptations. A lot of times they bring people to the book or to read alikes and series. And that’s never a bad thing. I think it can also provide an entry point for people into literature. Just as a final thought, I think we sometimes get caught up in worrying about too much screen time and forget that movies can be incredibly powerful and worthwhile.
What about you? Any books you want to see made into a movie? Any favorite adaptations? Any adaptations you hated?
My List of Movies
In my experience movie adaptations fall into one of four categories: movie is better, movie and book are equal, book is better and book and movie are just different.
Movie and Book are Equal
- Jane Eyre (most recent version)
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- True Grit
Book is Better
- okay, none come to mind but we know they are out there lurking
Movie is Better
- The Painted Veil (I liked the movie ending better, it was a little more redeeming)
- The Whale Rider (I thought the characters were a lot more complex and more interesting in the movie)
- Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get into the books!)
- Watchmen (there were some scenes in this one that really came alive for me in the movie in a way they didn’t in the book)
Some are just different
- The Woman in White (as much as I loved the book, I thought the choices for the movie made for a good story too)