Sunday, November 4, 2012

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Many avid literary nerds might know that November is National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write an entire novel (that's about 50,000 words) in one month (or, if you are math challenged like myself, roughly 1600 words every day for 30 days). An astonishing feat for any person, especially a child, NaNoWriMo is meant to be a jumpstart for aspiring novelists to begin writing without abandon and self-editing that so often plagues a writer's progress and blocks creativity.

For the first time ever, I heard about children taking part in the festivities through NaNoWriMo's own Young Writer's Program (YWP). This article features stories of librarians taking charge of programs set up within a Common Core curriculum to get classes involved in the novel writing month, and also setting up after school NaNoWriMo programs with goal word counts adjusted for grade and ability. Gaining popularity over the years these librarians have put on these programs, this push toward not only reading, but writing, really excites me.

Any writer knows that reading and writing go hand in hand; that the better you can read, the better you can write, and vice versa. What a wonderful, encouraging way to not only inspire young writers to do so, but to garner interest in writing altogether and, while doing so, gaining patronage in the library. While I can agree that sometimes these "weeks" aimed at readership and sponsored events may fall short of expectations, I think that NaNoWriMo YWPs have a real chance at popularity and participation  simply due to the self-competitive nature of the activity, as well as the vast popularity of NaNoWriMo on the whole.

I for one cannot wait to gain employment in a library and hopefully raise NaNoWriMo awareness, if not actually implementing a program!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Death to Dewey?

Perusing the submissions portion of the School Library Journal, I came across a letter referencing another article: "Summer Project: Kill Dewey." This article referenced a school librarian's attempt to make browsing easier for her students by dividing the collection into more child-coherent categories. The letter in SLJ, ends on this note, "I think teaching children that once they learn how to use a library they can go to any library anywhere in the world and find what they want is more empowering than breaking up a system that works!"

This debate got me thinking. The Dewey Decimal System is a widely accepted means of organizing a library's collection and, although foreign at first, especially to a child, is quite easy to master with a little instruction and practice. However, one could also argue that language is easy to acquire that that most every child learns to do it, too; but do we start off teaching children to read and write before they can speak? Do we teach them syntax and vocabulary before letters and pronunciation? Are alternative categorization methods in elementary schools an educational stepping stone on the way to Dewey, or is the ease of browsing more important in a school setting than learning a library's specialized categorization system?

This circular debate could go on endlessly, perhaps, as long as Dewey remains a relevant means of categorization in libraries outside of the schooling system.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Character Role Models

While reading an article from Flavorwire called the Wildest Teenagers in Literature, I started to think about the positive role models in children's and young adult books. This made me think, in turn, about the not-so-positive characters featured in children and young adult books. I'm not only talking about the villans or companions of the heroes and heroines of stories, but of the main characters themselves who turn out to be not-so-savory in the end.

I feel like it is these types of books, those which have a leading character of questionable, well, character that get challenged or are looked at unkindly by certain parents and officials because they do not serve as good examples for growing minds.

However, is that the point of a book geared toward a younger audience? To merely teach them good versus bad and that they should always do good? A young reader is more likely to commiserate with and understand a flawed character, a character who thinks bad thoughts and does bad things of his or her own volition or under peer pressure than one who is always virtuous. The point of reading is to experience a world outside your own, and one would hope that would be the dangerous and daring for a young child; so that he can experience this world through a book would, in my opinion, make him less apt to feel that he must do so in his real life.

I believe that a good role model in a book has more so to do with the overall message of the book, of the consequences from actions and the affects of others, than of the absolute goodness of a character or the whole virtue of a plot line. Because of this, more corrupt characters in more corrupt circumstances serve as the best role models for readers and, when challenged or disapproved of, should always be argued for.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Teen Read Week - A Better Approach?


Today marks the beginning of Teen Read Week hosted by the Young Adult Library Services Association (more casually known as YALSA). By every year dedicating a week in October to young adult readership advocacy, YALSA hopes to broaden the amount of young readers in every community, as well as broaden the scope of what young readers, novice and seasoned, are reading.

At its core this program of advocacy is a great idea; it helps teens, librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, etc. maintain a focused effort in young adult readership awareness so that a similar message is conveyed in one loud voice over the span of Teen Read Week instead of faintly over the course of the year (which may be the case anyway). However, outside of those already working with children or books, there does not seem to be a lot of outreach by way of marketing or extended outreach. Seeing this, it seems that only children who are already exposed to quality learning environments or already seek out books through typical means would be exposed to this message, which seems counterintuitive. The young adults who receive the message that it’s good to read are the young adults who are already reading.

Today marks the beginning of Teen Read Week hosted by the Young Adult Library Services Association (more casually known as YALSA). By every year dedicating a week in October to young adult readership advocacy, YALSA hopes to broaden the amount of young readers in every community, as well as broaden the scope of what young readers, novice and seasoned, are reading.

At its core this program of advocacy is a great idea; it helps teens, librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, etc. maintain a focused effort in young adult readership awareness so that a similar message is conveyed in one loud voice over the span of Teen Read Week instead of faintly over the course of the year (which may be the case anyway). However, outside of those already working with children or books, there does not seem to be a lot of outreach by way of marketing or extended outreach. Seeing this, it seems that only children who are already exposed to quality learning environments or already seek out books through typical means would be exposed to this message, which seems counterintuitive. The young adults who receive the message that it’s good to read are the young adults who are already reading.

Although smaller community units are encouraged to endorse their efforts within their scope of available outreach, I can’t help but believe that a larger, more connected and broadly available outreach would not only more effectively reach a larger number of young adults, but create a more consistent message that they could discuss amongst each other. Of course, where the resources for this type of outreach would come from remains to be seen, as does who exactly would plan this effort. But I believe that with this and many other programs of advocacy, especially those aimed at young adults, a clear, global message is far more effective than smaller, individualized ones.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Reading for Sport

While perusing Twitter, I stumbled across a link posted by Scholastic about football players and their favorite or most memorable books. It's fitting given the ramping up of football seasons and I thought, "What a great way to encourage kids to read- show them what their favorite athletes are reading!" Because, believe it or not, some of these plays have great, classic tastes in books, ranging from Green Eggs and Ham to Where the Red Fern Grows.

One step further, I thought, would be to show all different kinds of celebrities and their favorite books, because I'm certain more than just young NFL fans could use some encouragement to read. That is when I stumbled upon Celebrity Bookprints! Celebrities of all sorts -authors, singers, TV hosts, politicians, etc.- that children would recognize and most likely want to emulate, have a bio and, of course, their favorite books listed.

Taylor Swift enjoys Charlotte's Web and Eat, Pray, Love.

You might catch Bill Gates reading The Hunger Games or A Separate Peace.

Hilary Clinton likes Joy Luck Club while R.L. Stein prefers The Adventures of Hucklberry Finn.

As anyone who works with children and teens, or anyone who has been a child or teen, knows, outside influence from peers and celebrities is a driving force in many young people's lives. By promoting the reading habits of the famous and influential, it is possible to encourage young people to pick up the classics, or anything for that matter, and become readers for just that book, or for life.

I cannot help but wonder if and what other means of dispersing this information, that in Bookprints, to a broader audience there might be to encourage more than those who happen to stumble upon the Scholastic hosted cite- those who I would assume are already readers, or at least thinking about it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pomp and Circumstance

In honor of J.K. Rowling's new book's publication this week (The Casual Vacancy, released Sept 27) and inspired by an article on the topic, I'd like to look at the possible implications of an author "graduating" from a children's or young adult genre to adult fiction.

In Ms. Rowling's instance, as I'm sure are present in the other authors' readership, I can imagine concern about children growing to love a book (or, in Rowling's case, series) and, upon searching for more material by that author, stumbling upon a book that may be out of their reading and maturity level. While this concern is legitimate, as again in the instance of Ms. Rowling, her children's books, though dark and challenged, are naught in terms of adult themes compared to her adult book, I believe it leads to a gateway of adult-level reading once the reader is ready. This view is even more heavily facilitated in the instance of genre-separated libraries, where children, teens, and adults have their own specific spaces and thus, a child searching for books by J.K. Rowling may be deterred from reading her adult book, located in a different section, unless the reader is willing to venture out of their comfort zone both physically and literarily. If a reluctant reader, in many instances of those who read Harry Potter, ventures to the adult section to try a book by an author they are comfortable with, they may tread upon something else within their interests and encourage them to delve even further into the world of reading.

In short, while many arguments can be made for separate children, teen and adult spaces and collections within a library's walls, "graduating" authors not only support this separation of collections, but may even promote extended library patronage.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chicago Teachers Turn the Tables

Amidst a chorus of dissent against the CTU's strike, I sat stunned. I could not believe that, sitting in a room of intelligent, well-educated people, a strike of such impeccable importance and forward motion was being ridiculed.

The teachers are being greedy, said one participant.
Everyone is overworked and under-appreciated. They need to get over it, said another.
What's going to make these changes they want, anyway? More money. There IS no more money; don't raise MY taxes so THEY get paid more.
They're already the highest paid district in the country!

Had I spoken up, I would have asked if today's children's education is not the foundation for the wellbeing of our own future.
I'm certain the unanimous opinion would have been, yes, of course.
Then how can anyone justify this kind of attitude toward a group of educators fighting not only for a salary increase, but a more fair education for their students?

What this sparked in me is that if teachers are being this heavily scorned for doing what is right and necessary not only for themselves, but for their students, what chance does a school or public YA/children's librarian have? We are not the hands-on educators. We are not the active mind molders and lesson givers. To the public, we rank as less important than teachers, although studies prove that a library in a school alone does wonders for a child's reading comprehension and, therefore, grades. This isn't even to mention what a well-staffed school library does, or what access to a public library does for students, as well.
What chance, then, do we stand in asserting our importance and our needs and rights, as well as youths' rights and need to access US.

However, with this small movement and small successful compromise, teachers around the nation have the awareness of their special spot as public servants and what their worth really is. Awareness has been raised about the true value of a teacher, and possibly, of a school or youth-oriented librarian. We still have far to go, but I believe the strike was the right move and I support it and any other like it.