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today, a 5 year old whom I’ve known since she was 3 kept coming up behind me and poking me in the neck. it was her way of showing her love. (I used to see her all the time, but lately she has had karate class during the arts and crafts time, so we haven’t seen each other much.)
and then two of my 11 year olds spontaneously burst into song and dance during creative writing class. and afterwards begged me for help on finding books.
pure, unadulterated joy.

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:

  1. What do we do and why do we do it? (covers the history of RA, teens in the library)
  2. Foundations (Why is RA for teens different; tips for the generalist librarian who may not already be familiar with teens and/or YA lit)
  3. Taking Action (How to get the RA interview started, how to talk about appeal with teens)
  4. 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)
  5. 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:

  1. Do you read a lot or not so much?
  2. Are you looking for a specific book that you know of?
  3. Can you think of a book that you’ve liked recently?
  4. 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 »

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:

  1. The short, well-organized chapters– easy to refer to at a moment’s notice.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.

Saricks, Joyce. Readers’ advisory service in the public library. 3rd ed. Chicago: Americal Library Association, 2005.

Just strolled around the new book section and picked up these to scan/flip through as I sit at the reference desk:

~The Book of Other People edited by Zadie Smith
~The Importance of Being Kennedy by Laurie Graham
~Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas
~Mistress by Leda Swann
~Making a Difference by Being Yourself by Gregory E. Huszczo

Figure it will help with my Reader’s Advisory skills. :-)

What are you scanning these days?

May 2020