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The Door of No Return

  • Posted on December 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Ever read someone else’s blog post or review of a book and wonder if you were both The Door of No Returnreading the same book or not? I disagree with Ms Yingling’s Reads blog post on The Door of No Return, when she writes:

I wanted to like this, and the first 200 pages were great. Suspense, action, a smart and likable main character who struggles successfully against the odds. Since I’ve had students from Ghana, I thought it was great to see the cultural heritage discussed. However, when Zac lands at a leper colony in Ghana, the book lost momentum and the next 200 pages didn’t appeal to me.?

I had exactly the opposite response. I found the beginning of the book slow-going and raced through the last half fascinated with Ghana and the details of the European slave-trading /English betrayal. I believe this title is a must-have for high school libraries and I’m going to market it to mature 8th graders looking for more information on slavery and African heritage.

Fortunately, Miss YingLing’s blog post pointed out this article in Publishers’ Weekly More (and Better) Books for Black Teens which led to this article of African American Book Listing 2008-2009. The Door of No Return has a 2007 copyright, but a 2008 US release so I wasn’t surprised to see it made PW’s Best Books of the Year 2007 list. (Remember I was reading elementary titles then, not this near high-school YA fiction so it was okay to miss it earlier this year.)

I did find a review on Amazon.com that helped explain why I was interested in The Door of No Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With YouReturn on many levels. I managed to stumble across the blog Voice in the Desert with its list of Children’s books set in Africa for 2007. Stephen Davies did include another title I thought perfect for high schools – Over a Thousand Hills I walk With You. If you missed any of those titles, this coming year is a great year to go back and catch up on some mighty-fine titles. 

What makes The Door of No Return so powerful? I believe the deft interplay of history and mystery with powerful racial connections that provoke responses to the history of slave-trading from the Gold Coast. Zac Baxter’s grandfather has told him he is a descendant of African kings and that somewhere there is a map to a treasure of gold. Zac witnesses his grandfather’s murder and a series of crooked government employees attacking him as they try to destroy the evidence of British wrongdoing in the history of Zac Baxter’s family. 

The descriptions of Ghana are intriguing. Students will have many access points to research after reading The Door of No Return. Topics such as Leprosy, Portuguese and British slavers, the Gold Coast, Ghana, the doors of no return, and slavery will stimulate students to learn more. 

I can see why Junior Library Guild picked this title for one of their levels. If it weren’t for JLG and an order that arrived by mistake, I might have missed The Door of No Return entirely.

My resolution is to WRITE (and read)

  • Posted on December 29, 2008 at 9:23 AM

Yes, readers. I have spent too much time thinking and not enough writing. Those great posts I intended to put out, but I didn’t finish because they weren’t good enough, they are going to see daylight. After attending several wonderful author sessions at the TASL conference, SLJ Leadership Summit, and YALSA Lit Symposium in November, I realized most of my favorite authors were still keeping print journals. 

The authors shared pages from their journals, notes, and even their attitudes about writing. Many of these authors are highly connected via technology, but they still record every title they read, checklists, and lots of minutae. They don’t worry about their audience in their journals like we bloggers do with every sentence we write. So, this year I intend to begin again with a written journal where I will record every title I read. 

I posted on facebook and received several suggestions from friends of sites to use: Shelfari, goodreads, librarything, etc. I’m trying to give you a glimpse of what each looks like so you can help me decide where I should put my energies. Last year I had 2 different databases in Excel listing every title, all kinds of details and whether I had blogged or reviewed the title. Could I find the file when I was at school or home? Nope. This year, I’m returning to print (but I am open to suggestions).

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 My compromise will be that I will periodically list what I’ve been reading. In part I hesitated to do this because I am a re-reader. I like to revisit novels that I’ve read before. Sometimes an author comes out with book 5 and I go back to re-read books 1-4. I will revisit nonfiction books in series after I’ve read a different publisher’s series to keep fresh in my mind which aspects I like or dislike in both. As a diverse reader I intersperse classics and simply-old-trashy books with more modern titles. Hopefully I will catch up with many of the titles that I felt everyone else in the universe had read but me and I will not be ashamed that I’m not only reading the most current works.

The big thing this year is that I will not apologize for what I read. If I decide to read trashy romances and gruesome forensic science, so be it. I’m beginning the new year with a down-to-earth practical look at reading patterns and I’m going to write more.

What will you resolve?

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog

Share a book review on Shelfari, where this reader meets fellow readers.

The librarian video?

  • Posted on December 29, 2008 at 8:55 AM

Last summer I received my first link to the "Mom video" on youtube. Amy Bowllan wrote about it last week. Sometimes it takes some deep thinking on a topic so I’m ready for the discussion. If we were to compose the "librarian" video, what phrases would we include?

What words fall out of your lips without any brain processing? What has become so embedded in your professional-being that people will immediately recognize your words for library-speak?  Wouldn’t it be great fun for someone to gather all these phrases and create our own version of the librarian video? 

Share your phrases. Not every librarian says the same thing, but there has to be come commonalities. What are the phrases new librarians must learn?

Look it up
Use a bookmark
Cite your source
Line up quietly
Check it out?
Put it back
Can I help?
What do you need?
What have you read?
Why are you here?
Who sent you in?
Do you have a pass?
Didn’t anyone teach you anything?
Bring it back.
Renew it.
You aren’t the only one.
You have to share.
Use a shelfmark.
Don’t put it there.
Use your abc’s.
Where’s your pencil?
How can you take notes with no paper?

Come on, you are a creative bunch. I’m not very creative today. Help me out. What do you really say?

Where's my collection development plan?

  • Posted on December 29, 2008 at 7:24 AM

In Christopher Harris Next Big Thing column entitled "Should Libraries Be Run Like a Business?" he suggests we should be detailing our collection development plan that shows we "are deliberate and thoughtful in your spending and provides a base from which you can address the impact budget reductions will have on the long-term health of the collection."

For the past 11 years while at one elementary school, I had a written collection development plan of acquisitions based upon Karen Lowe’s strategies and book Resource Alignment: Providing Curriculum Support in the School Library Media Center. Every year while meeting with administrators, PTA, and vendors, I could pull out my 5 year plan and assess where we had made advances or needed an extra boost. One year the PTA added several thousand dollars of books to help improve the areas of nonfiction needed. Other years the administration allowed me to assist them in spending surplus funds the last day of school. I was always prepared to spend funds on books.

This year I am starting fresh at the middle school. I don’t have my plan together yet, and here are my excuses why: First, I had to catalog the back load of books behind my desk – over 1,000 titles to catalog in the first month. Then I did an inventory so I would have an accurate assessment of what was missing. I discovered an addition 400 books that were on the shelf without having been cataloged and I’m still correcting those. Plus I had to order my books using the district funds before they disappeared. 

I met with a larger number of vendors than usual so I could rapidly assess what was available for a middle school curriculum. I collected requests from faculty and students and began developing wish lists. I am only half way through the year so I don’t have a total grasp of the middle school curriculum yet, but I’m working frantically to get to the information place I need to be. Between helping students research, teaching, and circulating 10,000 items in the first semester (a new record for our school), analyzing the collection dropped to a much lower priority.

I cannot wait until I can systematically assess the collection based on the Karen Lowe model so the next 3 years are not as difficult. The Tennessee Association of School Librarians will be holding refresher courses on collection analysis and development with Karen this summer and I plan to attend. Why? Don’t I remember how? Sure, but I need the structure and discipline of having to sit down for 2 days to assess what’s there and what’s lacking then to develop the plan for the future.  I need a little structure. Another advantage to analyzing while with a group is that I can look at titles that are my favorite and lose my "logical approach" while other librarians with me can simply say, "That’s got to go! Update it." 

Why is this so important? Right before winter break, I met with my principal for 5 minutes to help spend additional funds on library materials. I entered with 12 lists of orders, my circulation system’s analysis record, the district’s analysis and justification for funds and a HUGE amount of knowledge in my head. I quickly reviewed everything and pulled out the top priorities to present for approval. One interesting change I had to make was to swiftly put fiction higher on the list than I intended. The principal wanted to meet the needs and requests of the students/faculty. He did not want to spend the majority of additional funds beefing up the nonfiction collection except for the 4 areas I pointed out. After looking at 4 lists, he was finished. Too much information available and I had to carefully funnel what was my highest priority.

Instead of funding all of the nonfiction requests, he suggested that we should be looking at using the internet and our databases as sources for nonfiction material instead of maintaining large collections of nonfiction titles. He could not guarantee that additional funds were available in the future so wanted to maximize spending to reach students. Readers, do not judge us too harshly here. We only had 5 minutes and a short time to spend funds, so I chose not to present reasons why that approach wasn’t perfect. I am grateful for the extra funding and thankful that we were able to work together to meet the needs of our population.  

This is what I should have brought in: my circulation records showing that students read 49% nonfiction to 51% fiction in my middle school. I should have maintained the list of subject areas for which teachers needed large numbers of titles available. (Each teacher, 5 classes in one day, 120-165 students). If I had finished the collection analysis, my orders would look vastly different right now. 

This is not a bad thing. I had over $6,000 in fiction requests, $2000 in biographical requests, and $13,000 in nonfiction suggestions. I’ll fund fiction and some biographical reference with those additional funds and I will continue to raise funds for the nonfiction improvements. Next year I’ll spend the majority of funds on nonfiction titles. This year I’ll meet the recreational fiction needs.

I will actually look for library donors to help establish collections in the nonfiction area. I can understand in these economic times why administrators worry about locking themselves into long-term investments, but having a plan would have greatly improved our five minute meeting. Even though it’s winter break, I’m still logging in to my database to analyze trends and needs of our collection. 

I’m also taking the advice of youth librarians who suggested that I give the local public library copies of the requests I receive so they can order more of these titles. I can count on the public library for fictional recreational reading, but now I need to get my analysis in order so my administration can see the needs of my instructional component in the middle school. 

Yes, Christopher, a better business model would have been to have the analysis ready and detailed, but I am also busy in the real world of school librarianship interacting with students and teachers. The interactions are my greatest asset to the school. The analysis and a perfect collection will always come second.

Do you NEED to read?

  • Posted on December 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Yesterday I wrote about my needing to slip away for a "moment to recover." Code phrase for "mom needs to go read for a minute so everyone leave her alone!" I received an email from someone asking why I would want to be apart from everyone to read on the holidays. 

Yikes! I am not a bad mommy. I am a very attentive, involved mommy. But my sons are 19,19,17, and nearly 17. For some reason, they also have need to get away for a moment to recover. Does this indicate that we are all introverts? They even had friends and other family to visit. Even the dogs and cats took a nap while I read. Is this unusual behavior? Should I have sat in front of a TV and pretended to watch the game?

Readers, if I don’t get away to read for at least a few minutes every day, I am not a nice person. It’s true. I must find time to read even if it’s just one chapter. If deprived of reading materials, I will memorize menus, nutritional information, road signs, anything in print to devour to feed my need. 

Are any of you like this?

I love Enola Holmes

  • Posted on December 25, 2008 at 5:01 PM
Dear Nancy,
I am sending you best wishes during this holiday season. Thought I’d drop you a little note to say after all the bustle of my 4 boys, presents, feasts, card games, and visits, I was able to slip away for a "moment to recover." Code phrase for "mom needs to go read for a minute so everyone leave her alone!"
Book Cover Art 
I had saved reading "The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan" of the Enola Holmes Mystery series for just such an occasion. I didn’t have more than an hour to read so I quickly immersed myself in Enola’s latest adventures in London. What a fun romp in late 19th century London! I enjoyed the many costume changes of Enola, her quick intelligence (despite Mycroft’s vehement denial of women’s ability to be intelligent), and the insights into Ladies’ Lavatories and midden-pickers.
 
From your website at http://www.nancyspringer.net/ I see you have a new Enola Holmes mystery coming in 2009 — The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline. Just wanted to let you know that I cannot wait. I will have to excavate my collection of business cards to locate any contact at Philomel Books to expedite the process. After S.H.’s nicely done flaunting of decency in M.H.’s face, I cannot wait to see what happens next. Readers, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you shall have to go get your own copy of the Peculiar Pink Fan.
 
Thank you for creating a series that includes details of history for this younger age audience. Until my students are ready for Anne Perry, Nancy Springer will have to suffice. 
Diane

But wait, dear blog readers, In case you have forgotten last year Elizabeth Bird reviewed The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets and actually opened with: "Sweet god, how I love these books!" After re-reading her review, I should have sent Nancy my first draft:    

Dear Nancy Springer, I love your Enola Holmes series so much that I cannot stand knowing there is a new one out and I’m going to have to wait for it. Please, please, please, it’s Christmas and I’ve been very good this year (well, I tried anyway) and I really want to read The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline. I celebrate New Year’s, 3 King’s Day/Ephiphany, Chinese New Year, and my birthday in January just in case you need an excuse for a holiday. If someone will send your new book, I will even celebrate "Read Enola Holmes Day" when it arrives. 

Thank you for writing this (and the Rowan Hood) series. I noticed that you have written steadily since 1979 with books published every year but 1984, 1997, and 1998. Some years you have even had 4 books published in the same year. If enough of us plead, could we please have some more Enola? Thank you.
Diane

Award Lists & How Nancy Werlin saved my reputation

  • Posted on December 21, 2008 at 7:51 PM

The short of it:  I handed a student The Rules of Survival based solely upon the fact that A) Nancy Werlin wrote it, B) it was a National Book Award finalist, and C) was on our TN state reader’s choice award list for this year. The Rules of SurvivalI staked my reputation on Nancy’s ability to reach readers. SUCCESS!!! The student now trusts me to be right some of the time.

The long of it:  A teacher drags a 6’2" student to me and says to him, "Ms Chen will find you something, anything, but you’ve got to read a book." By now you are thinking to yourselves, "Oh boy, this student is really receptive to anything you suggest right?" HA HA! The student we’ll call Jay crosses his arms defying me to reach him and says, "I hate reading all these goddamn happy books. I hate reading."

My response? Clasp a hand to my chest and pretend to dramatically fall to the floor. Then I dramatically tell a group of students that they have the desk because I’m on a mission. I lean confidentially towards the student and say, "let’s get away from this teacher." We then stroll over to the stacks and stacks of review books, ARC’s, waiting to be cataloged books that have accumulated, and personal copies of books I have brought in from home that are best for sharing with just 1-2 students;  and we turn our backs on everyone else. 

I give my usual speech that he should be more precise, it’s not that he hates reading (because I have witnessed him reading in corners of the school). It’s that he hates reading the stuff the teachers cram down his throat as if they are good for him. I commiserate that I can’t stand some of that either, but fortunately I have access to all the good stuff for people who are discerning readers.

Then begins the reader’s advisory stuff that truly distinguishes great library service from blah! service. What was the last good book he read that was worth his time? What titles have people given him that made him think reading wasn’t for him? How does he want to feel when he reads a book? and on and on as the reader cooperates or doesn’t depending upon the situation.

Jay tells me that he cannot stand these happy books as if life is going to be okay. So we chat about how books impact us. Sometimes we want a nonfiction self-help book. Other times we want to learn something new or about something real. 

Sometimes we want to escape from everything in a fantasy world. Sometimes we want to pit ourselves against the book character and solve all the riddles before the end of the book. Sometimes we want something light that won’t overly stress us. Sometimes we want such deep thinking ideas that our brains actually hurt from all the stimulation. 

Sometimes we want books with such impossibly happy settings that we can pretend we are living there. Sometimes we need to see book characters who are dealing with really bad things (maybe not exactly our things) just so we see how somebody else copes. Sometimes we need a little hope. Sometimes we need to see societal despair flung in someone’s face to force them to look around and wonder if anyone else is suffering. 

Then begins the wild presentation of books. Librarians should tease and tempt readers more. Pull out lots of different things, take some of them and put them back, give brief hints as to what’s inside or how it will make you feel. Demonstrate the decision-making process. Read aloud little bits from the back or from inside. Share insights as to the author. Let the reader know it’s okay to delay reading a book. Talk about why the author wrote a title. Then take a step back and let the student hold several titles in his or her hand. Let them take them out, put them back, and dither. Dithering is good. Dithering shows thinking. Dithering shows decision-making. Dithering ends.

Share the message: The important part of choosing a book is not giving up on all books when the book in your hand doesn’t match your mood. There is something out there and it may take time to find it. 

Back to Nancy Werlin. For a brief time I wasn’t able to keep up with all the YA novels that came out. I was busy with elementary, my family, and very focused on school issues. I had not yet read The Rules of Survival. Remember when Double Helix came out? I read Double Helix in ARC and mentioned it to Toni Buzzeo while we were preparing for the Youth Media Awards that year. Toni proudly waved her hand to her left and there was Nancy Werlin. I was so excited to sit with them through my first Youth Media Awards ceremony. So, this week I knew who the author was. 

This year I was impressed anew with Impossible by Nancy Werlin. This week I knew this author knows teens. But, I had not read The Rules of Survival. I knew a little bit "about it" such as the fact that it was dark and involved child abuse. Was I willing to stake my reputation as a book matchmaker on this title? Yes! I took the gamble. I put the book in his hand and said, "Trust me that this book is different."

Jay returned 29 hours later with the book and said, "Give me another and you choose." We went through a book a day every day this week. Thursday afternoon we had a serious conversation about why he liked Cut so much. Jay shared that he and his sister were survivors and had both been cutters during the terrible time. Even though they’d been seeing counselors, he still needed some book somewhere that didn’t sugarcoat the bad feelings. I shared with him my concern that my #4 son had been cutting lately and I didn’t know how I was supposed to react. Jay was able to share his feelings and concerns. 

We built a closer bond because I trusted the award lists and Nancy Werlin. I didn’t rush out for the most popular book based upon sales, I looked for quality. 

This is why we need award lists like the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Printz, and the National Book Award to help the best of the best rise to the top. Any time you put a book in a student’s or a teacher’s hand, you risk your reputation and your relationship. Sometimes the risks are worth it. Thanks Nancy and get back to writing the next book. It’s needed.

Readers, be sure to check out LibraryThing’s approach to The Rules of Survival. I’m sure you’ll be able to identify potential readers.

ALSC online courses

  • Posted on December 20, 2008 at 7:58 AM

Want more training but you can’t afford to a) Go somewhere else; b) Take time away from school; or c) Work on someone else’s schedule? ALSC has an answer to this that is quite exciting. Registration will open December 29th for four online asynchronous courses using Moodle. 

To learn more, visit ALSC’s website. There is a limit of only 25 participants for each course so you know these will fill quickly. Don’t miss your opportunity to interact. 

In fact, you may even want to set a calendar alert on your cell phone, google calendar, or Outlook calendar. With so many details buzzing in my head every day, I have had to set alerts for: Wake up, GET UP, Pack computer & GO to school, Go HOME, Buy groceries, Nag sons, and Turn off computer to go to bed. Remember when we relied upon people to remind us of these simple daily things?

Speaking of reminders, don’t forget that  The Youth Media Awards Press Conference will be held once again Monday morning, 8:00 – 9:30 am. Awards to be announced include the Caldecott, the Newbery, the second annual Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production (administered by ALSC and YALSA and sponsored by Booklist), and more. For the first time, the Pura Belpré Awards, administered by ALSC and REFORMA, are being presented annually. They have been presented every other year since their inception in 1996.  If you can’t be in Denver, you may be able to log on to stream the conference. This is the academy awards for children’s literature. When you attend, you witness the crowd’s enthusiasm for their favorites and the sheer hysteria of delight from publishers, agents, editors, and authors.

Best Book Lists

  • Posted on December 20, 2008 at 6:40 AM

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Chains. Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. The Boy Who Dared.
Booream, Ellen.
     The Unnameables.Broach, Elise.
     Masterpiece.Bryant,
     Jennifer.  Ringside, 1925:  Views from the Scopes Trial : A Novel.
     Collins,
     Suzanne.  The Hunger Games.Connor,
     Leslie.  Waiting for Normal.
     Dowell,
      Frances
     O’Roark.  Shooting the Moon. Erdrich,
     Louise.  The Porcupine Year. Freitas,
     Donna.  The Possibilities of Sainthood. (set in Rhode Island)
Frost,
     Helen.  Diamond Willow.Hesse,
     Karen.  Brooklyn Bridge.Horvath,
     Polly.  My One Hundred Adventures. Kadohata, Cynthia.  Outside
     Beauty. Law,
     Ingrid.  Savvy. Levine,
     Gail.  Ever.Look,
     Lenore.  Alvin Ho: Allergic to
     Girls, School, and Other Scary Things. O’Connor,
     Barbara.  Greetings from Nowhere.Park,
     Linda Sue.  Keeping Score. Rodman,
     Mary Ann.  Jimmy’s Stars.Smith,
     Hope Anita.  Keeping the Night Watch. Staples,
     Suzanne Fisher.  The House of
     Djinn. Venkatraman,
     Padma.  Climbing the Stairs. (Rhode Island author)

After Tupac and D Foster
Bird Lake Moon
Cabinet of Wonders
Chains*
Diamond Willow*
The Graveyard Book*
Gully’s Travels
Half Magic*
Highway Cats
The Hunger Games*
My One Hundred Adventures
The Porcupine Year
Savvy*
The Seer of Shadows
She Touched the World
The Totally Made Up Civil War Diary of Amanda MacLeish*
Trouble
Waiting for Normal*
We Are the Ship
When the Black Girl Sings*

BearPort series: Uncommon Animals, Gross-out Defenses, No Backbone: Spiders, Dino Times Trivia, and Earth in Danger.  We’re also adding new titles to our popular sports series, Super Bowl Superstars and World Series Superstars.

Nonfiction Series Lover

  • Posted on December 19, 2008 at 6:07 AM

As 2008 winds down I see more and more best lists. This year a couple nonfiction titles have risen to the top of these lists (a cross-over miracle). We Are the Ship, Nic Bishop Frogs, and some Lincoln books are receiving attention. Marc Aronson posted about this in Come One, Come All: The Year in Nonfiction, but I believe some of you are sitting out of the conversation. I want to know what nonfiction series you loved this year. 

I’m not seeking Newbery quality nonfiction titles. In addition to quality works of nonfiction that stand alone (think Race by Marc Aronson and Dennis Brindell Fradin’s DUEL!: BURR AND HAMILTON’S DEADLY WAR OF WORDS), my students read series after series of nonfiction. I respect their choices because they are seeking information and are enjoying reading informational texts having mastered the nonfiction series format.

Before I share MY lists, I want to see what nonfiction series you acquired this year and what has become your favorite. If you have a favorite publisher, tell me that, too. 

If you have ANY problems posting a comment, copy your information and email it to me at dianerchen@comcast.net and I will post for you. 

Readers, I am pleading with you to post your comments. I think it’s ridiculous that one of the Reed Publishing blogs that receives the most comments is the Romance group. If they judge our blogs based upon how many people comment, then my writing attempts are failures. Come on youth librarians, participate and tell us what you and your students really like to read.