Thursday, October 30, 2014

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

stevie and me

Every Monday, my mother takes us
to the library around the corner. We are allowed
to take out seven books each. On those days,
no one complains
that all I want are picture books.

Those days, no one tells me to read faster
to read harder books
to read like Dell.

No one is there to say, Not that book,
when I stop in front of the small paperback
with a brown boy on the cover.

I read:
One day my momma told me,
"You know you're gonna have
a little friend come stay with you."
And I said, "Who is it?"

If someone had been fussing with me
to read like my sister, I might have missed
the picture book filled with brown people, more
brown people than I'd ever seen
in a book before.

The little boy's name was Steven but
his mother kept calling him Stevie.
My name is Robert by my momma don't
call me Robertie.

If someone had taken
that book out of my hand
said, You're too old for this
I'd never have believed
that someone who looked like me
could be in the pages of the book
that someone who looked like me
had a story.

Whenever I read a book, I usually talk about the book itself, but this passage in brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson struck a chord with me as a librarian for several reasons.

I'm a big advocate that you should read what you want to read. In fact, I tweeted about an article in the New Statesmen that was published on October 14, "Read Whatever the Hell You Want: Why We Need a New Way of Talking about Young Adult Literature." I also retweeted a statement from Donalyn Miller,

I've seen too many well-meaning people decide that they know best what a child should read. Parents often come to the library to find books for their kids. I've seen teachers who will tell a kid to go find a book more on "their level."  Really? Kids know what they want. They don't need anyone else telling them.

What bugs me even more is when teachers tell me to screen what the kids checkout. (This happens a lot to our Lower School Librarian.) NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! As Betty Carter used to say in my library science classes, "A third grader wants to read what a third grader wants to read."

As I've often said to those well-meaning but misguided people, "When I go to the public library, NO ONE has ever said to me, 'Mrs. Woody, you've got two master's degrees. You cannot check out this picture book.'" NO. ONE. They weren't concerned that I was reading books on my level. (I don't even know what my level is nor do I care.) I just want to read what I want to read.

Ms. Woodson points this out so beautifully in this selection. I love it when she states,
"No one is there to say, Not that book." No one should ever be there to say, "Not that book" or "You're too old for this."

Now I'm not advocating that a third grader read inappropriate material, but I think that kids generally select things THEY want to read. In fact, it worries me when I see a student selecting books based on what s/he thinks others want her/him to read.

I had a student a couple of years ago. This student was and still is a fantastic student and an all-around great kid. When he brought Shen of the Sea to check out, I knew something was up. I asked him why he wanted to read Shen of the Sea. He told me that someone had told him that he should read the Newbery books, so he was trying to read them all. Shen of the Sea? Really?

I also have some very well-meaning parents who insist that their child read "the classics." If a student wants to read the classics, I say go for it. If the child isn't really interested, however, forcing him/her to read a book is just about the best way to kill the joy of reading.

My second soapbox has to do with diversity in books. Or should I say the lack thereof?

I'd never have believed
that someone who looked like me
could be in the pages of the book
that someone who looked like me
had a story.

Far too often, I think, kids don't see themselves in books. I also loved another tweet that I read recently.

Ms. Woodson, of course, refers to Stevie by John Steptoe, a landmark book for having  African American characters and authored by an African American author.

How empowering it is to see someone like yourself in a book,"that someone who looked like me had a story." How great that there's "brown girl" in the title and a character of color on the book jacket.

Of course, we should have diverse books in our collections. Of course, ALL kids should be reading them. Of course, teachers and librarians should be reading them as well.

Of course, everyone should read brown girl dreaming. (But only if THEY want to!)

My rant for the day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

What defines a "hero?" 

I just finished listening to the memoir Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson. Because all of our books are presently checked out, I cannot quote from the book directly although I wish I could. I don't think I can replicate the graciousness that Mr. Leyson uses in his writing to describe his hero, Oskar Schindler.

Polish-born Jew, Leib Lezjon grew up in a large family in a small town. In order to help the family prosper, his father moved the family to Krakow prior to the start of World War II.  Thinking that the Nazis were like the Germans in World War I, the family did not try to escape when Poland was occupied by the Germans. As the restrictions against the Jews became more and more oppressive, Leib's highly skilled father takes any job even though he gets no pay. He just hopes for some food to help feed his family. When he cracks a safe for Oskar Schindler, Schindler hires him to work in his enamelware factory. This job was fortuitous because it inevitably save the family's lives.

Schindler was a Nazi who moved to Poland to make his fortune. He used bribes and trickery to do and get what he wanted. It was after he observed the destruction of the Krakow ghetto and the murder of innocent people that he secretly protected "his Jews." Lieb became his youngest worker, having to stand on a box due to his stunted growth to do his work.

Leyson describes the horror of the Holocaust as only one who has been there can. It seems inconceivable that these atrocities happened, especially to a young boy. Had Schindler not protected him and his family, they all would have surely perished. Two of his brothers, however, did not survive.

After the war and three years in a relocation camp in Germany, Leib and his parents came to the United States. After a time, Leon as he was now called, served in the military in Okinawa (even though he spoke four European languages fluently), got a college degree, and became a teacher for thirty nine years in the same school. He married and had children.

Leyson was reticent about the Holocaust. He felt like he didn't have the words to describe the horrors he'd lived through. It wasn't until the publication of Thomas Keneally's book, Schindler's Ark, and Steven Spielberg's movie, Schindler's List, that Leon decided to tell his story.

Fortunately, for us, he did. Leyson died in 2013 shortly after the publication of his book. After I listened to his story, I decided to do some research about him and discovered his death. I felt devastated. It felt like a friend of mine had died.

In the Epilogue, Leyson describes his admiration for Oskar Schindler, a man who risked his life to save 1200 Jews. Leyson tells of a meeting with Schindler twenty years after the war when Schindler still remembered who he was.

While I agree that Oskar Schindler was a hero, Leon Leyson was also a hero. How one so young could have withstood such horrific conditions and yet went on to live such a full life is powerful. I hope everyone reads his memoir.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Texas Book Festival Tweets plus some added fun

Over the weekend, I attended the Texas Book Festival in Austin. This is its nineteenth year, and I've been to eighteen. It surprised me that it has been going on that long and that I've been there that many times as well.

On Friday evening prior to TBF, my husband and I stopped at BookPeople, the great independent bookstore in Austin. BookPeople is my favorite bookstore, and I always like to stop there when in Austin. Even if I don't need a book, I always buy one at BookPeople.

LeVar Burton at BookPeople in Austin on Friday,
October 24, 2014.
Anyway, guess who was doing a reading? Mr. Reading Rainbow himself, LeVar Burton! My husband was thrilled because he's a major Star Trek fan, and here was Geordie LaForge! He was reading his picture book, The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. Needless to say, the place was packed, and his book sold out!

On Saturday afternoon, my husband and I went to the Harry Ransom Center at UT to see the exhibition The Making of Gone with the Wind. This is my favorite book and movie of all time! (Fortunately, I had just seen the movie on the big screen a few weeks ago, so all of this was fresh on my mind.) The Ransom Center was packed with other fans, but it was still great to see some of the costumes and all of the primary source materials about the movie! The green "Portiere Dress" was there with its original chicken feathered hat along with a reproduction of Scarlett's wedding dress and two dressing gowns from the movie. I would have loved to seen Clark Gable's costumes as well.

Scarlett's burgundy dress was my favorite!
I could write a great deal about the Book Festival itself, but I tweeted in every session and took a number of pictures that also appear on my Twitter account. My Twitter handle is woody_donna or you can find it here: .

To sum it up, I still have an author crush on Adam Gidwitz, I'd like to have lunch with Meg Wolitzer, I wish Edward Carey would become a narrator for a book I'd like to read because I love his British accent,and I'd like to go shopping with Jennifer E. Smith, Rebecca Serle, and Stephanie Perkins.

It was a great weekend.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Evolution in Weeding

“Next to emptying the outdoor bookdrop on cold and snowy days, weeding is the most undesirable job in the library. It is also one of the most important.”

Will Manley, “The Manley Arts,”
Booklist (March 1, 1996)

Carefully evaluate anything over five years old. Pay particular attention to the physics, environment, and astronomy sections. Keep basic works of significant historical or literary value, such as Charles Darwin's classic Origin of Species, or Michael Faraday's Chemical History of a Candle. Replace worn copies with new editions. Watch for multi-volume sets; if the titles are not indexed individually it may be necessary to weed the entire set, especially if the set is cataloged as a single entry.

(Crew: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries, 2012)

Weeding is one of the most misunderstood jobs that I do in the library. Usually, I get the following comments and questions from teachers and students:

How can you bear to get rid of books?

Why would you want to get rid of books?

This book looks perfectly good; why are you deleting it from the library?

I liken weeding to cleaning out my closet. There are clothes that no longer fit, are the wrong color, are worn out, or don't serve the purpose that I thought they would. If I keep everything, I won't have room for new clothes. Frankly, I don't want to wear what I wore in the 1970s.

People seem to understand that, but they don't understand why we do the same thing in the library.

When I came to Greenhill eight years ago, I was appalled at the library collection. It was really OLD. It was obvious that many books in the collection had been donated from people's home libraries. (When folks get rid of books, let's face it, they AREN'T getting rid of the stuff they like.) It was also obvious that the collection had not had a thorough weeding for a very long time, if ever. The library staff chuckled when we read from the ISAS 2004 Self-Study, "The Junior Fiction and Young Adult collections in the main library underwent a major weeding in 2003-2004." Really?

During the summer prior to my first year, I lightly weeded the Teen Fiction collection. There was a ton of stuff that was really dated. It became very evident to me that may books had been acquired in the 1980s because of the artwork on the book jackets. I pulled off a large cartload of books. The shelves had been stuffed and books piled on tops of the shelves. I shifted everything to make it more presentable and usable. My predecessor commented, "We bought new shelves to accommodate all of the books; what are we going to do with them now?" In other words, "we don't really weed here." So... when the new shelves arrived, I shifted again. While there was still a bunch of stuff that needed to go, at least the shelves were not crammed packed with books. There were still plenty of books left.

During that fall, I asked if I could weed the 500s. It is crucial that the science section be kept up-to date. I was informed that the section had been cleared of things that were "just wrong," such as Pluto being a planet, but the area had not been weeded. I was also admonished not to pull off books if there was not other books on the topic because we needed to have "something." I  pulled off a great many books, but there was still a great many that should have gone.

Four years ago, I decided that we needed to have a better plan than randomly weeding when we had time. I divided the main library into three sections in order that my two colleagues and I could more easily attack the problem. We referred to the circulation statistics of the books that we compiled from a report from our library management system. At that point, we got rid of books that were older than six years and had never circulated. In other words, unless it was of historic value, if the book had not circulated in the history of our library management system, it was withdrawn.

Needless to say, this was a painstaking process that took us a couple of years. We literally withdrew thousands of books. Some were simply ridiculous. I remember withdrawing a yellowed paperback textbook with notes written in pencil in the margins from the history section. Box after box after box went to the recycle bin. Our maintenance department didn't even want to talk to us anymore!

Our friends in the Lower School Library also weeded a mountain of books the last couple of years. While some had not been used in quite a while, many had just been "loved" to death and were very shabby. The library program was blessed with quite a few donations from Grandparents' and Special Friends' Day and the Lower School Library Staff replaced many series with fresh, new copies. One of the Lower School students asked if he could check out one of the copies. He didn't think he'd be allowed because the books looked so new, and he had been accustomed to such old books!

We still have a yearly weeding schedule. I no longer assign a month to a section, but each librarian has several sections that must be weeded prior to the end of the year.

The weeded books from the 500 section.
Yesterday was parent conference day, and I had no classes in the library. I decided to tackle weeding the 500 section of the main library. In the past, we had weeded books that had not circulated or really ratty looking books. This time, I decided to look at books by their copyright date. Anything older than 2004 was examined. As you can see, I pulled off almost an entire large cart of books. We had many books that were from the 80s or 90s. Some of these books had circulated many times which begged these questions:

1. Were the books so good that the students loved reading them?
2. Is there really nothing else in the collection that has the same appeal? In other words, is there nothing else to suffice?

For the most part, our science section is frequented by Middle School Science students who have a "Science Literacy" requirement. In the past, those books had to be at least eighty pages long. Because most of our kids don't read science books for pleasure, this hampered my collection development efforts. I could only purchase books that were eighty pages in length. Otherwise, the books languished on the shelves.

While the collection is in much better shape than it was four years ago, I still found some old chestnuts like the pictured title. I'm so glad it was up-to-date to 2010!
For Use Anywhere in North America Through 2010?

Even with my weeding efforts, however, the science section is out-of-date. Using the CREW method quoted above, anything over five years old needs to be evaluated carefully. We haven't yet "evolved" that far.

When a library's collection is not carefully tended, the "weeds" squelch out the beautiful volumes we do have. Because of years of neglect, we are still playing "catch up" even with all of our work. Hopefully, in the next year or two our science section will be where it needs to be.

Unfortunately, there are librarians that are more concerned with numbers of volumes than with quality. Or they are concerned that due to budgetary restrictions, weeded books cannot be replaced. I contend that quality far outweighs quantity.

Now I go back to the process of collection development to replace many of those old books with new, up-to-date information.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

I seldom actually get to read what I wish. Most of the time I read books from recommended YA lists or from books that teachers and/or students recommend. A few times I'll read a book that I've purchased for the library that looks intriguing or if I've seen an author discuss their book. So... one of my secret pleasures is "reading" an adult book. I've been hooked on Ken Follett's book since I read Pillars of the Earth many years ago. Historical fiction is my thing, and I don't know almost anyone who does it better than Ken Follett.

I actually "read with my ears" Ken Follett's new book, Edge of Eternity. (Considering it runs almost 37 hours, it was a great investment of my time.) It's the third in the Century Trilogy. This covered the period from 1961 to the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Follett continues the saga with the next generation of the characters that he introduced in his first and second books. The cast of characters is so broad there's a web page dedicated to it. Because the plot is so complicated and covers so much history, I'm not going to bore anyone with it. Suffice it to say, he covers everything from the Civil Rights Movement to the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. His characters are involved in every aspect of the period and rub elbows with all of the movers and shakers of the day. He also spent a lot of time discussing the music scene in the 1960s.

Several things I notice about all Follett's books that I've read:

1. He likes women and there's always strong female characters in his books. That said, those women always have a downfall usually involving a man that they eventually overcome. In Edge of Eternity, he's got several strong female characters. For example, Maria Summers is an African American woman with a law degree from the University of Chicago. In a later part of the book, a character comments that her accomplishments would have been outstanding for a white man, but were amazing for an African American woman. She works in the State Department, but early in her career had an affair with JFK that nearly destroyed her. Another character,  teacher Rebecca Hoffmann Held, unknowingly marries an East German Stasi agent. When she discovers what he really is, she embarrassingly kicks him out of her home which causes him to have a long-running vendetta against her family in East Berlin. She and her future husband, Bernd, escape across the Berlin wall. Although Bernd is handicapped in a fall, they have a happy marriage. Later she becomes a high-ranking politician in the West German government.

2. He's a liberal. It isn't hard to see that Follett likes JFK, RFK. and Martin Luther King, Jr. in this book even with their faults. Using Greg Peshkov to foreshadow events, he evidently despises Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Sr. showing that despite all of the United States' best efforts, Communism destroyed itself. One of his characters, Cameron Dewar, rises high in Republican administrations, but is not a likable character. Follett doesn't even let Cameron marry a sympathetic wife.

3.  He seems to hate the church. While the church really doesn't play a big role in this volume, other than Jacky Jakes attending services, none of this cast of characters has any religious affiliation. Caroline(?), Walli's young love interest and mother of his daughter, later marries a minister who proves to be gay.

4. There's always a lot of sex in his books. I sometimes wonder how his characters have the time to do all of the great things they do. I'll leave it at that.

No, this isn't for middle schoolers. I wouldn't even recommend it for most high school students. However, I always anxiously await another book from Ken Follett.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Poison by Bridget Zinn

Master Potioner, Kyra, has visions that her best friend, Princess Ariana, is out to destroy the Kingdom of Mohr. Using her skill, she shoots a poisoned dart at the Princess, but she misses. Now everyone in the Kingdom is out to find and kill her.

Asking help to locate the missing Ariana, Kyra receives a magic pig which will help her find the princess. Along with way, she meets a farmer, Fred, who she cannot stop thinking of especially after they share a kiss.

All is not as it seems, however, with Princess Ariana. And with Kyra, too. That's where the fun comes in...

Here's a YouTube Book Trailer:

I really liked Poison. While there was a certain "Disneyesque" quality about the book (it was published by Hyperion), there was also enough edge to make it interesting. Several threads were left hanging which could have pointed to a sequel, but unfortunately, Bridget Zinn died before the publication of the book.

More New Books!