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Intellectual Freedom article in the Tennessean today you should comment upon

  • Posted on May 31, 2009 at 10:14 AM

Claudia Pinto of the Tennessean called several times this week for background information on Intellectual Freedom and book challenges. She had a copy of ALA’s 2009 list of the most challenged books and was writing an article. I was happy to answer her questions, send her links to this blog and connect her with one of my favorite supporters of intellectual freedom – one of my teachers Susan Norwood. Please go check out the article here Be sure to click the link to the list of books and to the side is a picture link leading to a slide show of the Most Challenged books.

I think the article is very well-written but I am totally biased here. Readers of the Tennessean frequently comment and I have been worried that some of the more aggressive commenters would provoke a battle. So far, it seems intellectual freedom is winning.

As you know, I believe in openness and the Freedom of Information, so I think it’s good the list of books that are restricted in my district has come to light for all to see. Do I agree with the list? What?! Are you kidding me? Why on earth would I ban or restrict Judy Blume? I do think it is vital that others see this list. Perhaps we should go back and "reconsider" these materials to put them back IN the collections and remove restrictions.

Does this look like nothing yet? Or what school librarians do when school is over

  • Posted on May 29, 2009 at 11:00 PM

The blog was mostly silent this week because I was busy… working. Yes, those of you who are not school librarians may not realize that we do not walk out the door with teachers the last day of school and begin our vacations. Oh, no, many of us continue to "volunteer" our time completing tasks to help. 

For example, this week I spent 25 hours working on a technology inventory. That includes the last 4 hours when my poor principal woke me from a migraine-med-induced nap 3pm Friday to plead for help finishing his portion. Since he hadn’t had the training and I had the only working password, I crawled out of bed and dashed back to school to work until 7:30 p.m. I had already worked all morning. But finally the project is done.

I also had lots to organize. When books weren’t due until the Friday before we left and all notes had to be turned in for payment on Monday if the books weren’t received, I was frantically finishing overdue notes. The guidance counselors had to continually receive up to the hour reports so they could hold report cards or remove holds if the books came in. The office staff had to have complete, simple, lists of every student owing a book with the amount owed just in case a parent came in and I wasn’t there.

While I was doing technology inventorying, parents were dashing into school with the notes I sent (175 hand-written envelopes) and were returning their child’s books or paying for lost books. Since I sent overdue notes every payday, I knew the students had plenty of warnings. (Yes, that is a sick pleasure to give overdue notes on payday, but at least I remembered them) I love meeting parents and tried to use the time to encourage them to visit the public library during the summer. No one vented at me this year.

I needed to coordinate with the school bookkeeper to be sure every bill was paid for library accounts and that I had the appropriate receipts. Yes, I had an end of the year report due last Friday but the secretary met with me this Thursday so guess the status of my report. I’m still working on it, I promise. 

Don’t forget the 2 meetings of the school leadership team called at the very last moment after school was out. They meet in the library and I’m a part so it was lots of fact-finding and support for production. Then off with the team to the board office for a presentation and defence of the budget to accompany our school improvement plan. I ran into many school librarians volunteering their time to help present. 

Did anyone remind me that all the last minute returns had to be shelved and the library prepared for summer cleaning? Everything in my office had to be on a shelf and off the floor. Even worse, brace yourselves, my desk had to be cleared totally. So while I was clearing all files off my desk, I organized all catalogs again, checked that I had packed up all the wishlists to type in my spare time at my house, and fantasized about keeping the desk this clean all the time. 

Slap! Woke myself up from that fantasy. A clean desk is an empty mind for me. I am a lateral organizer. I need to see every project I’m working on so they get my attention. A file in a file cabinet is finished. I’ll never pull it out again unless something pops up and tells me to get it. 

Speaking of things popping up, I had to make changes to the school web site and begin prep for the 20 or so teachers changing classes, grades, and subjects so parents can find out information before school starts. I’ll be editing the school web page from home all summer for kicks. 

Yes, reader, I may have resented "volunteering" the entire week of my first week of vacation so I did work "Diane" style. I have surround sound speakers in the library so I brought in my copy of BlackHawk Down to watch in the dark while I worked. Two technicians joined me and we all worked (them silently) on our computers while watching the movie. Perhaps this was our form of protest. 

Finally I hauled 6 boxes of books to my car to work on over the summer and patted the shelves of books still waiting for me to blog about. I promised them I’d be coming back for them soon. I left 4 boxes of surplus books on a counter for district pick up. Labeled my to-do list of technology needing tags when I returned. Loaded up the last of the cookies and turned off the lights. 

Now, the vacation begins. Well, there is still that report to finish. So I pulled out all the pieces I’ve been accumulating all year at home. Do you really have time to enter on the computer how many times your newspaper is read daily? I forget and mark it on my weekly calendar. Then I take it home on Fridays and compile the data. Since all that is at home, I’m going to finish the report from my sofa with 3 cats perched around me and the dog on my feet. 

While I’m playing with data, I ran a report comparing last year (before me) and this year. Here’s some circ info:

  2007-08 2008-09 Change%
6th 3677 6200 168.6157
7th 1496 4647 310.6283
8th 1017 2514 247.1976
faculty 881 1904 216.118

While my circulation doesn’t come close to elementary circulation, I am still happy to see growth – especially in 7th and 8th graders. It is my goal to diminish the gap and to keep them reading. Ah, yes, goal setting. Something else I need to do while this past year is fresh in my mind. 

Vacation? I don’t know what you are talking about. I’ve got way too much to do.

Anticipating doing nothing?

  • Posted on May 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

School’s out! I witnessed a bizarre event Thursday after escorting students by class to the bus (to prevent a rumored water balloon fight). The teachers stood at the curb, jumping up and down, waving vigorously and cheering as the horn-blowing buses loaded with waving children roared by. I have never witnessed such enthusiasm from my staff! 

When I asked them what they plan to do all summer, most said, "NOTHING! Absolutely nothing and I’m going to love it." HAH! I blogged about Let’s Do Nothing May 11th and today received a very fun animated video clip for the book that I hope you’ll enjoy. Since we couldn’t see the clip, we are trying this in YouTube.

Since it’s in a flv format, I’m not sure if it will work 1st or 2nd try so here’s the link in the meanwhile: 

Raves and Libraries

  • Posted on May 25, 2009 at 2:15 PM

ALA’s American Libraries had an article Academic Libraries Become All the Rave on May 1, 2009. I had seen the footage on YouTube the weekend the students flash-mobbed the UT Chattanooga Library and had the typical 40+year-old’s response: <snort?, "how stupid!" 

I’ve heard of students using blogs, Facebook, text messaging, and Twitter to coordinate “impromptu” flash raves but I just don’t get it. I don’t see the purpose in raving when they could use their powers to accomplish something good. For example, let’s say there was a social injustice which had occurred and needed some attention drawn to it. That would be a good excuse to bring everyone you know together to protest. 

Or let’s say that you discover a cause where you can help like a neighborhood preschool which has parents desperately in need of food. You could flash rave and bring a can of peanut butter. Or maybe an animal shelter that needed volunteers to stay open and donations of food. 

There are so many areas where you bringing people together with enthusiasm could help. Why waste our powers on straight silliness? Sure you let off steam, but a far more efficient use of gathering would be if everyone there had chanted "Love your library!" 

Maybe someone will organize a rave during ALA in Chicago. I’d love to see thousands of people chanting messages of support for libraries around the Buckingham fountain in Grant Park. But then again, since they’d trace the idea back here, let’s just forget I even typed it. Instead, let’s go organize something useful and helpful to society.  Use your powers for good you twittering, facebooking, texting activists.

What is happening to Intellectual Freedom in Tennessee?

  • Posted on May 20, 2009 at 8:05 PM

Sometimes I’m simply frustrated with acts occurring around me. Take the article in the Tennessean today on "‘Salacious’ book list removed from school web sites." It seems one parent and board member objected to some of the titles on YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults list which was included in 2 schools’ Summer Reading Lists, and had it removed from their district web site. 

Is this censorship? The books haven’t been challenged, but access to one of the best lists for young adults has been denied to these students. This is just one step in a small group of people denying others the freedom to explore their interests and locate books that may not be locally available. 

I think if we started going through the lists of titles that ARE promoted by this district, someone would object to everything. As the late Gerald Hodges taught me, once "everyone" has finished removing every title they object to, the remaining book would be so utterly boring that he’d have to object to it, also. 

Another instance of what’s happening in the background:  ACLU Sues To Stop Tennessee Schools From Censoring Gay Educational Web Sites. Filtering Software Allows Anti-Gay Sites. More information about the case, including the ACLU’s complaint and a video featuring one of the student plaintiffs, is available online at: 

I’m sorry to say that my district is one of those being sued. Those of you who have worked with me before know that I am a passionate advocate for school librarians within the building having the capability of bypassing the filters to provide access at the local level. I lost that ability last year. Many of you never had it.

What frightens me more is to read the comments on the local newspaper. Sometimes I cannot believe the prejudicial, hateful comments that are shared. But I will not take away anyone’s right to express their opinion. Sometimes you need to lift the rock and expose those critters to the light.

Best first chapter so far this year goes to Fortune's Folly

  • Posted on May 20, 2009 at 12:00 AM

I love Fortune’s Folly by Deva Fagan. I also love blogging because I can simply state that. Reviewers have to be more distant Fortune's Follyand try to write objectively, so you, the reader, can make your own decision. As a blogger, I don’t mind if you disagree with me. I’m simply telling you that I love this tale. 

"Life would have been much easier if I believed in fairy tales." 

I read the first line (above) and it resonated with my practicality and recent disillusionments with romance. Then I read the first paragraph and had to stop to look at the book again because it was so good. Who is this Deva Fagan and is she going to sustain this opening through to the end of the novel?  

Ah, we go on to the second paragraph and I read, "I could not afford such hopes." Wow, this author is reading my mind…. When I reached the last sentence of the first chapter, I had to slip my bookmark into place, close the book and sigh with satisfaction. This, readers, is how a book should begin. It should draw you in, make you feel something for the characters, then set off for a grand adventure – all in the first chapter.

After reading the entire novel, I wanted to go into a classroom to read this to the students and conduct a character study. The potential in being able to use graphic organizers for this novel make me shiver with glee. I could graph the plot, the predictions & how they come true in their twisted way, the motivations of each character… oh, reader, the possibilities for this novel. 

I decided to read this chapter book "cold" without any publisher notices, other blogger reviews, etc. I simply slid it from my towering pile of Must-Reads and thought to myself  "Okay, let’s settle down with some mushy girly fantasy." HAH! Could this be a fantasy novel? There is no map of the kingdom in the front for readers. Isn’t there some law that if you are writing a current fantasy novel, you must include a map? Rule breaker! (but I like it)

What this book does have are masterfully woven characters who defy conventions. The good guys and gals are not perfect. The supporting characters are just hazy enough that you aren’t sure if their motivations are good or bad. The villains – ahhh – we have a satisfying number of evil-doers. I counted 8, but there may be more. Let me know who you consider the villain.

Fortunata  and her father – the former Master Shoemaker of Valenzia, set out to seek their living in a new environment after Fortunata tricks evil villain #1 Captain Niccolo (also known as the Bloody Captain) into buying and wearing one of her father’s hideous footwear creations. With their donkey Franca (who is promptly stolen), they encounter a wandering group of troubadours who utilize all of Fortunata’s intelligence, perceptiveness, and insightfulness to become a fortune-teller. 

One of the troubadours is Allessandra the All-Knowing, Mistress of Magic, Doyenne of Dreams (yes readers, I typed doyenne because Fortune’s Folly is also a vocabulary lover’s delight). She teaches Fortunata the tricks she needs to survive and to try to free herself and her father from the clutches of Ubaldo, Coso & Cristo (AKA villians #2-4). 

A satisfying segment of fairytales is the grand quest and the call for a hero(ine) to emerge from the commoners  and to come to the aide of the castle-dwellers – in this case Prince Leonato, his mother the Queen of Domo and Princess Donata. Tricked into providing an outlandish fortune for the prince, Fortunata is then forced to accompany Prince Leonato on his quest to save her father’s life and possibly earn their freedom. 

Fortune’s Folly is no wimpy silly feminine tale of wiles. Instead we have strong female characters who were trapped by society, yet manage to make their own fortune through their efforts. The practicality of each encounter makes this novel enchanting. 

I’ve noticed a dearth of fairy tales for middle schoolers which is a tragedy given the 350 students I had needing to study them this spring. Fortune’s Folly has redeemed my belief in folk tales and strong characters who make the impossible come true without any ridiculous magic or unbelievable supernatural happenings. Your skeptical students will rejoice at their vindication of individuals making their own luck. Your dreamers will embrace the allusions to other fairy tales like The Shoemaker’s Elves, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and the Arthurian tales. 

Still need convincing from other sources? There are excellent blogs and reviews out there. You can waste time going and checking all of them or you can simply open another tab and order your copy of Fortune’s Folly today.

On a different note: Did you read Jennifer Howard’s article "From ‘Once Upon a Time’ to ‘Happily Ever After’" in the Chronicle of Higher Education? An interesting take on the history of folk and fairytales. I am enjoying the arguing that is resulting from this debate on the origin and history of folk tales.

public library envy

  • Posted on May 17, 2009 at 3:08 PM

I woke up shocked to discover I was envying the teen public librarians. I have never wanted to trade my job for theirs until a dream provided an answer to a problem I’ve been stewing about. We have only 3.5 days of school left and our library will be closed for most of those to frantically get everything done. I suddenly realized that I won’t be seeing those 8th graders ever again after Thursday and I don’t like that idea. I will miss them.

I have watched 4th graders leave for 19 years and have been sad the last day of school, but the intensity of my feelings this year surprised me. I have worked really hard to build relationships of respect and collaboration with all of the students, but for some reason, more 8th graders have been free to leave their classroom to work/ research/ study/ hang out/ and checkout books in the library than any other grade level. They’ve received special instruction on participatory culture, reading & writing teen reviews, and in creating a vibrant atmosphere. Now they are going to be leaving. 

In my dream I was discussing this face to face with you, reader, and you said to me, "If you were working at the public library, you’d never have to tell them goodbye." 

Now I wonder, what are the other advantages to being a teen public librarian?

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

  • Posted on May 15, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner. Random House, 2009. ISBN 9780375845635 $16.99

A post-apocalyptic fantasy that grabs you at the beginning, throws your preconceived ideas out the window, and leaves you asking "Just what happened?, how?, and why?"

Blog reviews on the Reading Zone, Karin’s Book Nook, Fantasy Book Critic, MyFavoriteAuthor, Charlotte’s Library, and
Read an excerpt here

There are great reviews and excerpts already out on the web for you to click and explore. I don’t like to rehash the plot when you can read someone else’s well-written reviews. I want to ask you why you haven’t read this yet. Sometimes we see a book and don’t immediately pick it up. I think Bones of Faerie is in this category. I found it on my Scholastic Spring Book Fair and it seemed dark, menacing, and mysterious so I took it home for a fun read. (That probably says something about my deep, dark, mysterious side, but let’s skip glibly over that)

I’m glad I did snatch up Bones of Faerie because this book hooked me with it’s opening, shocked me with it’s twists, frustrated me with it’s racing through the magical knowledge transformation, satisfied me with interweaving locales I’d recognize like St. Louis’ arch, and most of all because this book left me hanging and wanting more. 

Jannie Lee Simner has created characters that intrigued me, left me wondering how they did that and what motivated them. I think we are seeing a new world here with the opportunity for many voices to tell their stories. While many reviewers commented on the quickness of the read, I enjoyed it. I like books that leave me wondering about the details and that enable me to create my own suppositions on the past and predictions for the future. 

Bones of Faerie is complicated and daring. It has horrifying and appalling moments, yet the overall book is not as dark as I predicted. I think this title will fit nicely on my list of "after the disaster" titles. I like the interweaving of fantasy and ecothriller. Any novel where you fear the plants is deliciously scary. 

I think it was humbling, too. As much as I read, Scholastic Book Fairs still manages to surprise me with titles I’ve never seen. We finished our itty-bitty mini-3-day-book fair last week. I took the books for profit and stayed late Friday to process every one of the titles before the middle school dance. 

Monday morning a gaggle of guys (you know they can be silly geese) raced into the library to start "nagging" me to see if I was going to order any of the books from the fair that they couldn’t afford. Imagine my glee when they had to immediately shut their beaks and start snatching the books from the new book shelves to check out. They only had 4 days of circulation this week, but those books raced through my student body. Bones of Faerie has found its group of thriller-loving teens already.

Is this Fantasy week?

  • Posted on May 14, 2009 at 8:27 PM

I didn’t set out to read all fantasy novels this week, but that’s what’s happened. They really aren’t comparable because each speaks to a different audience, need, type of fantasy, etc. Still, I’m going to look for some links. 

I refuse to review some of them this far in advance because you’d just be frustrated. (But if you ask me what I think in person, I’ll spill the beans)

MagicKeepers: The Eternal Hourglass Book One by Erica Kirov. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, May 2009. ISBN 978-1-4022-1501-8. $16.99
Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
Forest Born by Shannon Hale (release date September 2009)
PastWorld by Ian Beck (release date November 2009)

You are being timed…

  • Posted on May 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Yes, readers, I know that many of you spend less than one minute reading each blog post. Do you know how long it takes me to write these wacky, humorous, didactic, and irritating posts?! Couldn’t you spend at least one minute? Try taking just a few seconds longer and actually reading to the bottom of the previous post on the new book I like Let’s Do Nothing

Then try to post a comment here about whether you think the book is referring to a Taoist concept, a Buddhist principle, or neither and it just doesn’t matter. I’d like to test the comment feature since they are trying to improve it. And maybe, I’d just like to know that what we write on these blogs matters and is read by real people – not just speed-reading machines.

If you are still reading and my one-minute isn’t up, tell me, how long do you spend reading blog posts every day. Do you glance at the typical post in under 30 seconds? Is 58 seconds a long time for you? Should I just break everything into teeny-tiny posts? Oops, looks like my time is up.