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Serving Teens Through Readers’ Advisory is targeted toward the librarian who is motivated to help teens find the books and materials they really need and want. It is laid out in five main parts, as follows:
- What do we do and why do we do it? (covers the history of RA, teens in the library)
- Foundations (Why is RA for teens different; tips for the generalist librarian who may not already be familiar with teens and/or YA lit)
- Taking Action (How to get the RA interview started, how to talk about appeal with teens)
- Special Circumstances (How to deal with situations where the teen in question is not present or when you’re helping the teen with an assignment book)
- Resources (how to move beyond lists of award winners, how to create meaningful resources to be used in-house, and an intriguing section on indirect RA / Marketing)
Following these, an Appendix section is chock-full of useful lists: (popular authors, “sure bets,” and teen-selected book awards).
The section that is of most interest to me is Part 3, as I feel that I already have a basic understanding of the foundations of RA and also of how and why teens use the library. Below I have laid out a few of the tidbits that one can glean from a careful reading and reading of this section.
Part 3 – Taking Action
This section has three chapters, entitled Opening the RA interview, Detecting Interest, and Articulating Appeal. As I read the first, I found myself nodding in agreement as Booth describes ways to convey that one is open and interested in helping the teens, but without being too forceful. She also makes an excellent point when she points out that we as adults tend to monitor the teen area when we think something is going wrong, but that “it is imperative to be a positive, proactive presence as well if we hope to have positive interactions.” (p. 49) This is a strategy that I take to heart: although I believe I already practice this, I find myself thinking I should keep this in mind as a “best practice” and endeavor to keep this in mind every day.
Booth also provides a short list of conversation starters to use when trying to connect with teens while at the shelves. I won’t list them all here, but they include statements like “Have you read this one? I’ve been hearing a lot of people talking about it,” and “Looking for something for fun or for school?” All of these are excellent suggestions and should help the librarian who is a bit nervous about jumping in!
In the Detecting Interest chapter Booth gives wonderful advice, in the form of four questions that we can ask teens as a part of the RA interview. These are:
- Do you read a lot or not so much?
- Are you looking for a specific book that you know of?
- Can you think of a book that you’ve liked recently?
- Have you read anything recently that you really hated? (pp. 54-58)
Below each of these, she gives a rationale for the question and explains how one can read the answer to provide better RA service to teens. It’s brilliant advice, and I intend to reread this chapter several times, in an effort to make this a more intuitive part of my current RA interview strategy.
In the last chapter of this section, Booth covers the art of how to pitch books to teens — watching one’s language so that it is neither too erudite, nor dumbing it down (teens, as all of us, hate condescension.) She also has excellent advice about how to “form your pitch,” meaning how to couch the book talk that you may do with teens about a particular book. She explains, for example, that the same book can be pitched in widely varying ways to emphasize different appeal factors for different types of readers. She gives the example of the book I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak, and provides three different “book talk pitches,” each one emphasizing a different appeal factor.
This is another section I would like to keep bookmarked, for rereading. In fact, it would be a great activity, in a YA services meeting, to have several YA librarians get together and practice writing out pitches for the same book, to hit on the various appeal factors in a collective setting.
In this entry, I have only covered one section of Booth’s book; but even in this one slim section, this book proves its mettle, and I believe it’s worthy of the YA librarian’s hard-earned dollar. While the copy I’ve been perusing is an ILL book, I plan on buying my own copy!
Ms. Olga Nesi is a dynamic middle school librarian who speaks of appeal terms and book hooks with a gleam in her eye. Not only is her library well-loved and her books constantly in demand, not only does she seem to know every child in her school by name, but she has found the Holy Grail of librarianship — she has devised an active way to put Readers’ Advisory principles into practice to help her kids find books they will love. Of course after I heard about her (and read her stellar article on the topic in School Library Journal) I just had to meet her!
So, this past Wednesday found me on a Brooklyn bus, very early in the morning, clutching my rapidly cooling coffee and on my way to Cavallaro Middle School. Upon arrival, Ms. Nesi woke me up in a way that coffee could not: we immediately got down to talking about how she conducts Readers’ Advisory in a busy school of 1400+ kids who often barely have 20 minutes to spend browsing for books.
Here’s what she does. When you first walk into the library, your attention is arrested by two huge posters on which she has blown up simple lists of appeal terms from Joyce Saricks‘ book, Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library. Listed under headings like Tone, Pacing, and Story-line are lists of adjectives that describe a myriad different types of tastes. Words and phrases such as “dark,” “bittersweet,” “humorous,” “action oriented,” “engrossing,” “magical,” and “lesiurely” catch the reader’s eye. When I remarked on the posters, Ms. Nesi explained that they serve several purposes. First, they are there to remind students of terms that they have already learned — from Ms. Nesi and in their English classes. They silently reinforce previously learned knowledge in a way that no long-winded lecture can. Secondly, when students come to Ms. Nesi for reading recommendations, she can stand with them in front of the posters and, with the appeal terms right there, can have a conversation about what they are in the mood to read. In fact, she also has printed them on bookmarks, so that kids can check off what about their reading material appeals to them, making explicit what is often a mute, internal proces. Simple, but genius.
Here’s another thing she does. She reads. Avidly. Widely. Incessantly. And for each book, she writes what she calls Read the rest of this entry »
Vardell explains why this chapter is entitled “informational books” rather than “nonfiction books as follows: Many in the field of children’s literature prefer not to use the term “nonfiction” as it “suggests a negative association, a definition by non-example.” She does point out that “informational” is not entirely accurate either, as even fiction books do contain information, and then explains that she chooses to use the two terms interchangeably, depending on the intended audience.
I like the fact that she is more intent on good practices than on splitting hairs, as evidenced by the following:
“The key is understanding the genre and recognizing its purpose, seeing the wealth of information available on a wide range of subjects and the variety off approaches and formats that can engage readers of all ages.
The thing to keep in mind is this: usually the purpose of a nonfiction book is to inform. The purpose of fiction is to entertain or provide escape… Don’t worry about memorizing literary genre definitions as much as about making sure children have a steady diet of informational books. not only will you find that children enjoy them immensely, but this provides excellent preparation for the vast amount of information they’ll be processing for the rest of their reading lives.” (Vardell, p. 236)
Vardell quotes critic Jo Carr’s statement that there are two categories for nonfiction:
- nonfiction chock full of facts “as if children were vases to be filled”
- nonfiction to ignite the imagination – “as if children were indeed fires to be lit” (Vardell, p. 234, Carr, 1982)
But then Vardell goes on to explain that over the past thirty years the genre has become robust, full of a greater variety of topics and even formats.
Here are some types/categories of informational literature as set out by Vardell:
- Survey books
- Photo Essays
- Concept books
- Social Histories
- Informational Storybooks
- Activity Books
- Trivia Books
- Series Books and Reference Tools
One subgenre that she does not include above, because she dwells on it in a longer, dedicated section is that of Biographies.
Vardell states that in the past, (similar to other informational books), biographies written for children were limited in scope (both of the type of lives covered – “dead white men” – as well as the type of information provided about the lives (information to glorify rather than give a well-rounded sense of the person’s life). However, now the trend to have biographies available “on all kinds of people–women, people of color, ordinary citizens, even villains (such as Adolf Hitler. In addition, biographies now include a more well-rounded portrait of the subject that shares the flaws as well as the successes of the person.” (p. 244)
The types of Biographies, according to Vardell:
- Complete bios – a way of introducing kids to famous historical figures. One book that Vardell singles out as a stellar example of this type of bio is Russell Freedman’s Lincoln, A Photobiography
- Picture Book bios – this format makes it easier to entice reluctant readers of nonfiction to read biographies. Vardell points out that as the illustrations are key to the book, they must be as carefully researched as the actual writing.
- Series – these tend to be used as supplementary-to-curriculum materials by schools
- Celebrity bios – self-explanatory. Vardell mentions that this type of bio is a more recent trend in publishing. I notice that these biographies are quite popular, especially with the tween crowd, at my library. While many a librarian might bemoan the latest bio about 16 year old Justin Bieber, it’s important to keep in mind what Vardell astutely points out:
These may not be the most in-depth or well-balanced types of biography writing at its best, but they are often very popular with children and may lure them into reading and discussing the genre of biography when no other subject will. In fact, this is a good example of how biography reading can become pleasure reading, and not just reading about famous people for an assignment.” (p. 246)
- Collective bios- as the name suggests, these are compediums of several short biographies, organized around a theme. One example that Vardell puts forth is Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (And What the Neighbors Thought), illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt
- Autobiographies- Vardell recommends the autobiography series “Meet the Author collection”
I appreciate the advice provided on how to evaluate biographies. It is key is to “hold them to the to the same rigorous criteria we apply to all nonfiction: accuracy, organization, design, and style.” She goes further to discuss the idea of “documentable dialogue.” She warns that if a biography contains dialogue, it should be documented in a primary source such as a journal, and that if it is not verifiable, then the biography runs the danger of turning into historical fiction. While I understand her point here, that especially for children and tweens, it is important that informational books be well-researched and painstakingly accurate, I find myself wondering. Is there room for the genre of “creative non-fiction” in youth literature? And where do memoirs fall? Can they be considered biography? These issues are tricky enough in adult literature, but they are compounded when it comes to kids, probably because we hold ourselves to a higher standard of accuracy, as there is the implicit belief that kids and teens are susceptible to believing as truth anything that is considered “nonfiction” and are less likely to critically evaluate the authenticity and accuracy of the research for themselves.
Readers’ Advisory for Children and ‘Tweens by Penny Peck is suitable for those librarians/would be librarians who seek practical advice about how to help kids and teens find appropriate and enjoyable reading material. The first chapters have a sort of smorgasbord approach to the history of RA and teen/children’s literature, only briefly sketching in details about the definition of RA, adolescent brain development, child psychology, and reading response theory. As a student of library science focusing on learning about RA for this age group, I found this introductory section to be somewhat thin, but I understand that this book is primarily intended as a practical aid for new librarians or possibly even experienced librarians who are new to serving this age group.
The features of the book I find most useful are:
- The short, well-organized chapters– easy to refer to at a moment’s notice.
- The brief and yet astute summaries of a variety of genres for different age groups (from picture books, to board books, to an informative section on easy readers, to an in-depth and yet succinct exploration of transitional books, to genres read by tweens). In fact, as most of my own experience is in helping teens and older tweens, I personally found the discussion of the importance of transitional books to be one of the most informative sections of the book.
- Her advice on proper body language when discussing books with kids/tweens is stellar– amongst other tidbits, she reminds the librarian to “listen with your full attention. Put away your other work.” This is such simple advice but absolutely necessary, especially when working with kids and tweens who are so used to adults not having the time to really pay attention to them. She also states that after offering /showing several book choices to a child or tween, one should “walk away and let the person choose without pressure.” Absolutely brilliant advice, which I plan to take her up on!
- Lastly, this book provides invaluable booklists, from ready-to-use read-alike lists for Diary of a Wimpy Kid (a currently wildly popular kids title) to books which have made into popular films, recommended easy readers, and recommended multicultural poetry books. These lists are wonderful resources for the harried/hurried librarian who needs quick and yet solid advice in helping to guide a child or tween to his or her next great read.
However, there was one area that I was surprised to find not covered in this book, given its title. When the author discusses the Readers’ Advisory interview, she does not discuss the ever elusive appeal factors— those factors that, according to Joyce Saricks, are what really make the reading experience meaningful in unique ways for each individual reader. In fact, in his August 1st article entitled “Serious Fun: Readers’ advisory, young readers, and you” Brian Kenney (editor in chief of the School Library Journal) writes, “… what’s largely missing in the discussion about RA and young people is what adult librarians call “appeal terms,” the language that readers use to describe what they appreciate in a book.” He goes on to state that this thinking about appeal factors for and by young adults is crucial, as:
… reading is too often presented as part of testing, a reading management program, or for assignments. Reading for pleasure can be marginalized, and too often students, in discussing books they like, are allowed to move from the middle school years—when the most they will say about a book is “I love it,” accompanied by the requisite plot summary—to the high school years—when they encounter formal literary conventions (the protagonist!) without ever thinking about what they enjoy in a book.
Appeal terms give readers a way to articulate what they like in their leisure reading, fiction or nonfiction, and let them know that these preferences are OK. They allow them to own their reading experiences and signal that reading for fun can be taken—just a little bit—seriously. And best of all, appeal terms offer young people a way to think about reading that can sustain them throughout their lives.
If Ms. Peck had incorporated this admittedly difficult-to-discuss-with-kids idea of appeal factors, this book would be the perfect short and sweet and yet “quickly comprehensive” reference on the topic for all librarians. As it is, the book still fulfills this role, and yet savvy would-be Readers’ Advisors would be well-advised to supplement their reading of this book with readings about appeal terms. Some recommended readings:
Nesi, Olga. “It’s All About Text Appeal.” School Library Journal 56.8 (2010): 40-42. http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/885803-312/its_all_about_text_appeal.html.csp
Saricks, Joyce. Readers’ advisory service in the public library. 3rd ed. Chicago: Americal Library Association, 2005.
Right about now, all of the MLS and MLIS students I know are quite stressed. So I thought I’d share some Library/Librarian Humor that I found on various blogs and websites. Not too many though, since I need to get back to my own website project!
LISNews: Librarian Pickup Lines
YouTube (Sesame Street): – Rock & Roll Readers
Warrior Librarian: Library Quiz Answers From Middle Schoolers
Life Story Writing Network: Something Called B-O-O-K
ERIC’s serious take on humor: Librarian Humor in Classroom and Reference
Biblia’s Library Weekly: Computer error alerts for OPACs (wishful thinking)
The South Asian Literary Recordings Project is an exciting project in which 79 authors from the South Asian region have been recorded reading works written in their native languages — 18 different languages, in fact! I was first introduced to the website for the project by an e-friend who had been listening to a podcast of mine in which I interviewed a family member who recited Ghalib’s poetry in Urdu and who thought I’d be intrigued by this broader and more encompassing audio project. Read the rest of this entry »
Apparently there is an entire conference out there for librarians who want to whole-heartedly embrace the internet and its related technologies in their librarianship.
It is called Internet Librarian and this year’s conference is entitled 2.0: INFO PROS, LIBRARY COMMUNITIES, & WEB TOOLS and it’s coming up soon – in Monterey, California, October 27th – October 31st. Here’s the schedule, if you’re intrigued enough to take a peek, as I was. Read the rest of this entry »
Today I announced that on my coffee break I would be heading to the library across the street to return a couple of books, and possibly even browse a bit… (Hey, I had to remain true to my moniker, despite pressing homework for grad school!)
My co-worker, who is a 1.5 generation Russian immigrant, and hasn’t visited a library in at least a decade, but loves books, perked up and asked if she could tag along. Read the rest of this entry »
More and more, I have heard through librarian friends and library school professors, librarians are being cast in the role of not just information specialists and educators, but also social workers. Libraries are often one of the few refuges for the homeless population. Some librarians see serving the homeless as part of their overall mission to serve the public. Others assert that libraries are not social service institutions meant to serve the homeless in any way further than in the way that they innately serve the general population and that local and state governments ought to pour more funding into shelters that are equipped precisely for this purpose, as they feel libraries are stretched to the max. Still others state that whether Read the rest of this entry »