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09

May
2016

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The State of: Biographies and Summer Reading After Weeding

On 09, May 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Shortly after starting to look at our diversity numbers I decided that I could tackle weeding the biography collection. It was relatively small and the third grade students would be using it at the end of the school year for a project. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have the biography of Christopher Columbus removed as an option in which it states that Columbus knew the “Indians” he “discovered” couldn’t be Chinese because they were not yellow with slanted eyes (I SO WISH I WAS JOKING ABOUT THIS, BUT I AM NOT!). There were several other questionable bits of information in that book as well as some incredibly questionable other books. I also pulled biographies of people who were white and male and no one cares about. A handful of books were moved to other collections that are used for very specific units of study in the classrooms. Here are the new numbers:

Sure, they still aren’t great, but it’s a start. There is probably another stack we could get rid of, however we’ve got a decent core collection and now we can work on building it up. No more biographies of dead white men. We have a lot of those already, time for something new.


I also went back and revamped the summer reading lists before they went out to our families. I thought I was intentional last year, but I was way more intentional this year. Way more and I think the numbers really reflect that. Here they are:

Note, this lumps all the grades together. As with my last post on summer reading you can see individual grade level numbers here. I was just going to be WAY too many charts to do each one. Please do go look at numbers. It’s also telling. Also note that there was no fifth grade list last year. The teacher wanted to make her own. This year she is leaving so I made up a list.



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02

May
2016

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Final Thoughts on the State of Our Collections

On 02, May 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

This was such a telling exercise and I’m so glad I did it. I know now how I can target my collection development dollars and attention to help build up a much better collection. It also shows me where I need to begin my efforts to really clean out our collection.

I’m aware, with all of these numbers that gender and race are only two types of diversity, but the other types are almost nonexistent in our collections. I think they appear in a very few books and maybe incidentally in a few books. I’m not quite sure what to do about that. I will be sure to purchase books and create lists that show things like disability and different family structures and economic diversity from here on out. Paying attention to this will also be really important in terms of ensuring we don’t create a false narrative about certain ethnicities (I’m thinking specifically of making all African Americans or all Latinos appear poor or part of a slavery narrative).

If I have time (that’s a big if) this summer I may take a look at some or all of these same collections again to see how they look after adding to them and subtracting from them. If not this summer I would like to revisit it next year sometime and that may be necessary as I am not sure how much time I’ll have to tackle all of this.

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25

Apr
2016

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The State of: My Personal Collection

On 25, Apr 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

The Collection

Okay, I forgot to count exactly how many books we have and really the number tallied isn’t quite the right number since there are a few collections not included (more on that below) and a pile or two I may have forgotten. There are books all over our house, not surprisingly. There are about 320 picture books. I don’t have very many chapter books lying around yet since my daughter is not even reading yet so they are not in here.

I thought this would be an interesting collection to look at and was spurred on by this talk by Grace Lin. It also prompted me to get rid of a lot of books I had, but didn’t really like (or my daughter wasn’t really interested in). It’s also given me a good look at where I would like to build the collection up (more diversity, not surprisingly). Multitasking for the win! I was able to purge and look at how I can better support diversity in our home.

The Numbers

Once again the numbers don’t lie, I need to work on building diversity in my home collection too. In this first chart none refers to books with weren’t really nonfiction, but didn’t really feature people or animals prominently or have inanimate objects (think The Day the Crayons Came Home).


Thoughts and Ideas

I got most of the books tallied, but not all of them. I think it doesn’t really matter if I have all of them it wasn’t going to push my numbers either way.

I did not included our poetry books in this count as most of them don’t have main characters (although many feature incidental diversity). I also skipped the non fiction collection for basically the same reason. Only a handful even feature people that could be counted for their diversity or lack of diversity.

I also did not tally in our holiday collection. It would have skewed our numbers for sure, but really that part of our picture book collection is all about supporting the holidays we celebrate as a family. Unlike the library collection there is only one child using this collection and she is white and German, so that’s very strongly reflected in our holiday books. I would very much like to get a handful more diverse holidays, but those books will primarily be informational since we don’t celebrate Ramadan or Kwanza or Diwali. I guess what I’m trying to say is these are probably not books we’ll own, but will get from the library. I want to read them, but I would rather devote the money I have to spend on books for us to building diversity elsewhere.

Can you tell I have a soft spot for animal books? So does my daughter. Too bad animal books often look pretty white too.

All in all, we need more diversity. The bulk of this collection was built while I worked in a book store in my very early twenties at which point I was totally oblivious to everything. Meaning, the bulk of the collection was built completely unintentionally. I did get a fair amount of diversity in despite that, but not nearly enough. As the years have continued I’ve added favorites of mine as well as things that I know feature diversity and are amazing books to boot.

I have work to do, but as with all the collections, this will be better and easier with these numbers in hand.

I would love to see more Native American stories and books in here and, considering the wonderful stuff I’ve seen lately, I’m surprised I don’t have more. I did recently weed through the folk tales portion of our collection so that I could remove anything that wasn’t quality content and that basically removed a good portion of those books. I would rather have fewer high quality ones than a lot of crappy, racist books.

This is going to be really good when I start buying chapter books. I can be super intentional as I build up that collection (seriously I have maybe 25 upper elementary and middle grade chapter books).

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18

Apr
2016

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The State of the: Summer Reading List

On 18, Apr 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

One of my goals and major projects this year has been to examine the different sections of our collection, weed and update them, ensure they are being used, and introducing more diversity into them. I’m going to start sharing the numbers and my ideas on how I’m going to improve the collections. 

The Collection

We publish a list for each grade, Kindergarten through fifth, with suggested titles for summer reading. Parents can download the list off our school website along with a reading log. While summer reading is encouraged it is not mandatory until third grade and not until fifth is there at least one required book for all students (we are in the process of hiring a new fifth grade English teacher so that may not be the case this year).

Last year I completely revamped the lists so they were much shorter than previously. They also have sections for series, single titles, and suggested authors & illustrators. For this last section I am able to look at the ethnicity of the them which I have not done for any of the other collections.

The Numbers

I ran numbers for the summer reading as a whole:




However I added them up as each individual grade so I can look more directly at each list. If you wish to see all the lists click here. Each grade would have required four charts and with five grades that seemed like a lot, so I think it would be easier to just share the numbers.

Thoughts & Concerns

I put together these lists last year and paid very close attention to diversity on them. Or I thought I did. They still don’t look good (although the higher grades are better than the lower, which isn’t saying much). In fact it looks like I paid closest attention to balancing male and female authors and main characters. I think this shows how much I’ve learned over the past year and how much more conscious I have become. To be honest, I’m embarrassed by these lists. I made sure we had a bigger mix of ethnicities, cultures and women, but I can do so much better!

The worst grades are Kindergarten and first with the best being second. That doesn’t surprise me in that I made sure to line the second grade list up with some of their curricular units and their social studies units are probably the most diverse over the course of the year.

Fortunately one of my projects over spring break is to work on these and with these numbers in hand I can do a MUCH better job of that.

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11

Apr
2016

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The State of the: Holiday & Seasonal Collection

On 11, Apr 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

One of my goals and major projects this year has been to examine the different sections of our collection, weed and update them, ensure they are being used, and introducing more diversity into them. I’m going to start sharing the numbers and my ideas on how I’m going to improve the collections. 

The Collection

We have 25 different holidays or seasons represented in our collection. There is one section for miscellaneous holidays (April Fool’s Day, Arbor Day, etc.) that have only one book about them and one small section for books that are collections of holidays- these are shelved in with our regular nonfiction.

The Numbers

Here is how the collection breaks down by holiday. There were a couple nonfiction books that collected Jewish holidays, Hindu holidays, and also National holidays. The miscellaneous holidays are days like April Fool’s, Arbor Day, Memorial Day and New Years- holidays that aren’t really religious and tend to be generically American. There were only a few so I lumped them together. Be sure to scroll through the legend to see what holidays there are- it’s a long list.

Here is a look at the percentages of nonfiction books within some of the religions. I totaled all the titles of the Christian holidays, Jewish holidays, Muslim holidays, etc. and then looked at what percentage of these are non fiction. I will talk below about why this matters.

 

Thoughts and Concerns

Here is another place we can easily support and promote diversity and it’s a collection that circulates A LOT. We always have out holiday/seasonal displays. Not surprisingly we don’t often have ones that center around Jewish (I don’t think the Hanukah books made it off the shelf this year and that was my fault and I’m very sorry) or Muslim (let’s mark Ramadan on our calendar every year so we’re sure to get those out) or Hindu (Diwali lines up with the Winter Solstice) holidays and that needs to change right away. Our school has a diverse population both in terms of race, but also religion. And once again the collection is overwhelmingly Christian (and therefore white). We need more Hindu holidays and especially Jewish. We do have a fair number of Jewish kids and how sad to see only a handful of Hanukah books next to the shelves bursting with Christmas books. I also have to say, with both Hanukah and Christmas, these are not the most important holidays in their respective religions so we should see more for the more important holidays. I personally think it would be fine to have books about Jesus, so long as we have books about Judaism and Islam and Hinduism.

I actually would like to weed out our holiday section and get rid of a few things (Christmas, I’m looking at you!), but really I have a long list of other holiday books I want to purchase to beef up the weaker sections. Thanksgiving will probably get the royal treatment this summer when I examine Native content in our collection. But really I love this collection and so do our students. It’s just a matter of making sure we’re all there in it and in roughly equal numbers.

It’s good to see these numbers too, because, unless I find a stellar Halloween book, I won’t be buying any more. Same goes for Christmas, Winter, and Valentine’s Day. We just don’t need more of those. Our shelves are bursting and there are other places we can use the money more effectively.

Now to address the nonfiction percentages. These are important to look at because they indicate how Christian- and white-centric our holiday collection is. If you are Muslim you do not need a nonfiction book about Ramadan. Sure, a Muslim kid might check one out, but as with Christians and Christmas, those kids are probably more interested in story books about their holidays. Books that don’t make them seem abnormal (or out of the norm) and needing explaining. They already know about the holiday. I will say this is going to take a bit more digging to find stories about Hindu holidays and Muslim holidays and Chinese holidays, but they are out there. I already have a list started.

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04

Apr
2016

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The State of the: Folktale & Fairytale Collection

On 04, Apr 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

One of my goals and major projects this year has been to examine the different sections of our collection, weed and update them, ensure they are being used, and introducing more diversity into them. I’m going to start sharing the numbers and my ideas on how I’m going to improve the collections. 

The Collection

This is all our 398.2s. There are a couple books that fall outside, but I didn’t worry about them too much. We have some books in our harder 4th-5th grade yellow section, but the vast majority of these books are in our easier/picture book red/blue section.

There are 412 books in the collection.

The Numbers

By and large I went with the culture the book identified with unless it was obvious that skin color and setting were just window dressing and the story remained very much the same. So for example Rachel Isadora did a version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Sure the people are black and the setting is some where in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the story is exactly the same as in the Western European tradition and quite frankly that makes it a Western European book. I’m glad to see authors and illustrators making books that don’t default white and I think that’s important, but I also think we really need to get away from an almost exclusively Western European folktale tradition. African cultures have plenty of folklore of their own that would be wonderful to draw on.

Please note that you need to scroll through the legend on the chart. The list is long.

Thoughts & Concerns

This is another collection that directly supports many of our cultural/social studies units across grades which I thought would also give us another slice to look at and see how well we incorporate diversity. It’s also an easy place to get diversity into a collection because publishers like to put these kinds of books out.

I mean I guess I can say thank goodness it’s not 50% Western European, but it sure is close. The next closest number is the number of Native American tales (many of which I think need to be weeded), but it has 100 fewer titles. That’s a lot.

As with the biography collection, many of these titles need to be weeded . They are culturally insensitive and disapproved of by the groups they say they represent (Paul Goble, I’m looking at you). Again, I am not drilling down into this collection (yet! there are plans in place to work on this over the summer) looking at who actually wrote the stories or evaluating their accuracy. This just scratches the surface of what’s here and the issues present. I may return to this series after I weed the collections over the summer and look at where they numbers stand then.

And once more, as with the other collections I’ve looked at and the library as a whole, we just need to be really intentional in what we add from here on out. Unless it’s an outstanding Western European fairy tale then we probably don’t need it. Once we weed we should by anything we can find that is high quality folklore from any other culture or tradition.

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28

Mar
2016

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The State of the: books added this year

On 28, Mar 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

One of my goals and major projects this year has been to examine the different sections of our collection, weed and update them, ensure they are being used, and introducing more diversity into them. I’m going to start sharing the numbers and my ideas on how I’m going to improve the collections. 

The Collection

The books we’ve added through out the year have been a mix of materials. Some have simply been new releases that are intended to build our fiction collections. Others support specific curricular units.

I worked hard on updating and upgrading our transitional chapter book collection (the red books) adding new books with more appeal, weeding older titles that didn’t circulate and were in poor condition. I also worked very hard to get a more diverse set of books into that part of the collection.

We also bought a fair amount of fiction and nonfiction to support various areas of the curriculum. I bought a lot of Native American books and Latino books to support the second grade social studies units in these areas. I am especially proud of this collection development as I made sure to purchase books written by native authors and that were well reviewed by Native Americans (thank you Debbie Reese in particular!).

The Numbers

So far this year we have added 588 books to our collection (I’m sure that gives you a sense of what our budget is). We are working on purchasing a few more books shelves so we probably won’t add more than a 50 more books for the rest of the year. Which is my way of saying this is pretty close to our final number.

The numbers here aren’t perfect. I looked specifically at the main character in most of the books, although sometimes there were two, in which case I counted both of them. I think a few books that I added new records for slipped in but weren’t technically new books. Also, if I could tell in a nonfiction book that there was a specific gender being shown throughout the book or on the cover I counted this into my tally (for example How to Fly a Jet Fighter, a math-based graphic novel, is narrated by a woman), but it wasn’t possible for every book. Incidental ethnicity in some of the nonfiction and fiction isn’t reflected here because it was hard to tell if people pictured were an actual ethnicity. There are also plenty of longer chapter books that I am not completely familiar with. If they weren’t on the cover I marked the book as white. Let’s face it, people will assume the characters are anyway.

Some of the animals were actually inanimate objects or insects (Stick and Stone or The Day the Crayons Quit). Sometimes you could tell that there was a gender, but not an ethnicity. “Other” refers primarily to Indian characters, but there were two or three Ancient Greeks which I didn’t want to call white (which I think of more as Western European ancestry). In the gender section, +3 refers to three or more main characters that made it difficult to count everyone accurately.

This time around I did look at family structure and at religion because I know I intentionally bought books that showed these things, but for the majority of the books we bought there wasn’t a particular religious or family theme. We added three books that specifically mention or deal with Judaism. We added three books with Muslims in them and only two that were overtly Christian. There were two books added with same-sex parents and two that dealt specifically with divorced parents.

So again, these numbers aren’t perfect, but they give a very good snapshot despite this.

Thoughts and Concerns

This was harder to look at because many books we bought didn’t specifically deal with race or religion, etc. The numbers are still pretty bad. Okay, abysmal. Much as our numbers with the biography collection.

I understand that race is not the only form of diversity, but frankly other types just didn’t feature in the books we have added (I know one book I bought shows a child in a wheelchair). This is a place we really need to focus our attentions. I didn’t want to look too closely at disability either because many of the books you see it in are our chapter books and I know many of those don’t fair well under scrutiny of their portrayals of the disabilities.

I am ashamed to admit many (6ish) of the Asian characters in books are actually Lego Ninjago characters. Ugh.

I am going to pat myself on the back here for a minute. I looked at the books I specifically bought since I made a concerted effort to be buying more diverse materials. I think I did an okay job. Okay stop patting. That being said, I can do a lot better and am challenging myself to do better for the rest of this year and next year (and any years to follow). My point in running these numbers was not to make me look good, but to show that if you focus on getting more diverse materials it makes a BIG difference in your numbers. We have to be intentional about this.

I put the Star Wars books in their own category because it was this big set I bought. I guess I’m trying to make myself feel better about my numbers, but I am also not sure if there are any in there that have any of the female characters featured or the new character that is black (I know so little about Star Wars, I’m sorry!). The animal character numbers are high because I have a soft spot for them!! Good to see that so I can work on checking that bias.

It’s not easy to find good quality literature that celebrates diversity, but it is out there. And the last thing our library needs, as the numbers are beginning to show, is yet another book with a white boy (and to some extent girl) in it. I believe we have a good collection at its core, by weeding and being more selective in what we purchase we can make it an even better collection. We can sell what we already have in the library and worry less about adding new books. I do hesitate when I know kids come in and ask for certain books that might not fit with my efforts to buy diverse titles, but I have to balance wanting to encourage kids with wanting to spend our budget on better books.

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21

Mar
2016

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The State of the: Biography Collection

On 21, Mar 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

One of my goals and major projects this year has been to examine the different sections of our collection, weed and update them, ensure they are being used, and introducing more diversity into them. I’m going to start sharing the numbers and my ideas on how I’m going to improve the collections. 

The Collection

The biography collection is broken into two sections- yellow and red/blue- that very loosely indicate the reading level of the books. Many of our picture book biographies are in the red/blue section. The colors are indicated by stickers on the spines of the books. There are two series that are set aside on the shelves (more on them below).

The Numbers

There are 533 books in the collection about 423 subjects (people). There are 270 books in yellow about 219 subjects and 216 books in red/blue about 204 subjects. Note that there are books in the red/blue section and in the yellow section that overlap on subject (person) which when you look at the pie charts makes it seem like there are more subjects than there are.






329 are men 138 are women

338 are American 129 are not (as per traditional curriculums we study a lot of American history which in part explains the big difference in these numbers)

319 are White, 83 are Black, 2 are Asian, 22 are Native American, 26 are Latino/Hispanic, and 15 are Other.

(If you want to see the charts and graphs in Google Sheets click here.)

If you want me to name names here’s a link to my list that’s broken up into the series and sections. The Childhood of Famous Americans series is yellow (it’s not listed as such in the document). The Who Is…?/Who Was..? series is considered red/blue. And the DK Biography series is yellow.

Series

We have two series of biographies, the Who Is…?/Who Was…? and Childhoods of Famous Americans.

The former works well enough for our third grade biography project and the later is hit or miss. My biggest complaint is that they read much like a novel with dialog and detailed scenes from the person’s life. I think this gives the wrong impression for our younger readers who are not nearly as savvy as older readers and may confuse this for fact. I also find they have a huge range of reading levels (400L-980L with most falling in the upper 500s to 700s range) which makes it hard to say they work well for classes with a mix of readers. It’s also very hard for kids in lower school to pull information out of what they are reading, understand it, and put it into their own words. Adding the invented dialog and novelization of the information makes that even harder for them.

I decided to find Lexile numbers for the Who Is…?/Who Was…? series. Turns out they are just as high if not consistently higher than the Childhood series. I think it works out well enough, though. The Who Is…? breaks up the information more and intersperses pictures more frequently. They are also more factual than novelized. This makes pulling information out of them a little easier.

As a side note I don’t find Lexile numbers especially useful except in relation to one another (is one book harder than another). I find their grade level ranges often don’t apply to my students and overlap a lot. I also hate to limit children’s reading based on reading level. I’ve talked about this before at length, but thought I would mention it again. I do like them as a reference point though which is why I include them with my chapter book reviews and in this series.

Thoughts & Concerns

Well, the numbers don’t lie. I know this is just a slice of our collection, but I’m sure it’s a microcosm. To be honest, it’s probably a better balance than most of the rest of the collection. I also know it directly supports curriculum and learning of our students. We may say we support diversity, but these numbers are pretty abysmal. I don’t think this is intentional, however we can do better. MUCH, MUCH BETTER. I can think of two ways we can do that. First is by weeding out biographies that are old, incorrect, or don’t circulate. Second we can buy more, A LOT MORE, biographies of people who are not white and who are women. For an expensive private school we have a surprisingly diverse population and our library collection needs to reflect that. Our students, white and not white, deserve that.

One aspect I want to look at are the picture book biographies. I want to be sure that they are in the correct reading level sections. None of the collection sees much circulation outside the third grade biography project and I think picture books for older readers, unless they are being hand sold to kids, don’t tend to circulate. I think they might circulate better if they were in the red/blue section, but only if they aren’t way too hard or contain older content. Plus, the third grade tends to rely on our yellow biography section and while the picture books are great starting points they do not often contain enough information to be a single source for the project and so they may be better down in red/blue.

Per my observation a few weeks ago that many children’s nonfiction books perpetuate incorrect information I am concerned that our biographies do just that. I am also concerned that they do not portray history accurately enough e.g. they whitewash a lot of it. I am at a loss of what to do about it considering that I cannot read and fact check all the books in our collection. I am withdrawing the worst offenders, but that only goes so far and admittedly doesn’t get rid of the most egregious books or worst offenders.

UPDATE 3/22/2016:

Just a few more thoughts about these statistics. The first is that there are a few books missing out of the collection that are checked out. They won’t actually make much, if any, difference in our numbers, though.

I also want to add that this doesn’t actually drill down deeper into the collection. I did not examine the books about people of color to see who wrote them. I suspect many were by white authors (although not all) which makes a difference. And the same is true about the authors in the collection in general- I don’t know how many are people of color.

I largely ignored sexual orientation and religion. Quite frankly the numbers are just so overwhelming that it wasn’t worth it. There are maybe three Muslims in the collection (Muhammad Ali , Saladin, and Malcolm X). There are maybe as many jews (Anne Frank being one and a man in connection with her). As far as sexual orientation, we don’t really deal with that too much in the lower school as a stand alone issue. We do have biographies of Bill Peet and a few others who were gay, but I’m not sure that’s even mentioned in the biographies.

I would also like to add that while many biographies about white subjects can and should be weeded, unfortunately many of the biographies about people of color need to be weeded too. I just read yesterday one of our biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr. In it the book uses the n-word twice. TWICE! And says nothing about the word and only implies it as an insult, to say nothing of calling it out for the racial slur that it is. The book is also so old it refers to African Americans as Negroes and colored people. If I’m not mistaken, these terms are outdated and maybe even insulting.

Finally, going back to the idea that our numbers aren’t intentionally bad. This is problematic, though, because with the current state of the publishing industry we need to be intentional in what we are adding to our collection. This is especially true when we want to ensure we have a diverse collection. To that end I will be looking at the books we’ve added just this year.

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01

Jul
2015

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Quick Thoughts on ALA Annual, Diversity, and Collection Development

On 01, Jul 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

So I just got back from ALA Annual in San Francisco. I’ve been two other times, but this is the first time I’ve been and had a real purpose. I wanted to visit sessions that might be pertinent to my library and I wanted to get posters and bookmarks and things to give away to the kids this year as little prizes. I also ended up picking up a bunch of ARCs to read and give to the kids.

This being the first time I’ve really gone around looking for ARCs and books to buy I wasn’t clear on how exactly the exhibits worked, but now I feel like a I have a handle on it. And now I see what people mean by how white all the books are and what they mean when they say to ask publishers for their diverse books. I get it now.

I wish I had done that this year. I wish I had been quicker on the uptake when it came to figuring out how the publishers give out ARCs. But we plan on going to Orlando next year and I will be way more selective about picking up diverse books then. I am glad though, because the books I bought and had signed (for our home collection and for our library collection) were almost all diverse (the exceptions being a hamster, a Scottish folktale because we are Scottish, and a writing prompt picture book).

My plan this year is to be buying primarily diverse books for the library. There are a few series and a few titles we need to replace that aren’t, but by and large my collection development selections will feature diversity. We have a very strong core collection and don’t need the latest and greatest shiny new books. Sure, we need a few (when the kids ask for them or if they are actually worthwhile), but I want the latest and greatest shiny diverse books to make our collection great.

As a side note, I am teaching two summer school classes over the next two weeks (Makerspace and sewing) so I won’t be posting, but I will post one or two things in the last weeks of July.

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04

Jun
2015

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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