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Today, a young girl came to the library, seeking two specific books. One was a Grimm’s fairy tales book which she knew was checked out and which she wished to place on hold. The other was a fairy tale book which she wanted to find on the shelf. As we were seeking the second book, I took the opportunity to explain to her the magic of the 398.2 shelves and all the treasures contained therein. She beamed at this bit of library lore, and so we got into a bit of a longer conversation. Wanting to encourage her to join our Summer Reading program, I asked her name and what grade she was in. “I’m in fifth grade,” she said, “and my name’s Arieanne**, that’s Ari with an ‘e,’ and Anne with an ‘e’)”

At this, I stared at this clear-eyed ten year old, and remarked, wow, that reminds me so much of a character in a book called Anne of Green Gables! “Oh yes, I know,” she said, “Lucy M. Montgomery is my second cousin twice removed.”

Stunned and thrilled, I told her how many times (embarrassing to admit here) I’d read and reread Anne of Green Gables in middle school. Turns out her mother is reading the eighth “Anne book” to her now.

I feel like I’ve met royalty. Pinch me, someone, please and bring me down to earth.

Here are a couple of Anne of Green Gables quotes, for those who are just as delighted as I am with this very Anne-ish encounter:

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

“But if you call me Anne, please call me Anne with an ‘e’.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

**The name and some other details have been changed, for privacy reasons, but the spirit of the exchange has been saved.

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Calling all bookish folks:

Do you have favorite, go-to books that you immediately turn to when recommending books for third and fourth graders? I’m compiling a recommended books list for my library, and thought it would be fun to learn the favorites of other library people (and bookish folk) to better inform my selections.

  • Frindle by Andrew Clements
  • the Fudge series by Judy Blume
  • The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
  • The Year of the Book by  Andrea Cheng
  • Dumpling Days by Grace Lin
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • Half Magic by Edward Eager
  • Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw
  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
  • The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
  • The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling

A few that I often rely on are listed above, (in no particular order), but I look forward to refreshing my repertoire with your tried-and-true suggestions!

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As a librarian working with children and teens, I often am asked about what are some of my favorite books for various age groups. The problem is, I have a zillion “favorites!”

But I thought it would be fun to list just a few today, a taste, as it were, of beloved books that come to mind. There are more, but those will have to come another day!

For the first five years set, Goodnight, Gorilla and Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman make great read-alouds. I also love Bark, George by Jules Feiffer and Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora. This last one is a riff on the “Old MacDonald” song, and it was a hit at our Día de los Niños celebration!

For upper-elementary kids, one perennial classic that I simply adore is Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I love the fact that even though this book is 50 years old, its themes of friendship, secrets, and betrayal continues to appeal to children today. For this age group, one of my favorite newer fantasy series to recommend is the Wildwood series by Colin Meloy. Set in Portland and its adjacent (fictional) “Impassable Wilderness,” this book captured my heart with its refusal to follow any set stereotypes about heroic characters.

For young teens, I love Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan, in which the voice of the main character immediately engages the reader into wanting to know what will be the fate of this unique teen.  A creepy (but in an awesome way) book that I loved was The Riverman by Aaron Starmer, which is a haunting exploration of coming of age among children just on the cusp of their teen years, with a strong fantasy theme that interplays very well with what it means to come of age.

And last but not least, in this age of Hunger Games and Divergent, one series that I always recommend to all teens – old and young – craving more post-apocalyptic dystopian excitement is the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, which, with its intrepid female lead characters really gives those other books a run for their money!

So, for today, these are a few of my favorite go-to Children’s and Teen books. What are some of yours?

 

Today was just oh such a satisfying creative writing day at the library — every week I host a creative writing workshop for teens and tweens. While last year I had a crop of older teens who were just drop dead gorgeous writers, this year I’ve had a bunch of sweet and yet slightly recalcitrant tweens, who really want to come to the program but often have second thoughts about actually writing… So we do a lot of (a LOT of) ice breaking and chatting about what’s up in middle school, to coax them into something resembling a writing mood. Dude, middle school’s tough stuff, you know? Plus, writer’s block at any age is a doozy. (I should know, I’m mired deep in a writing project that’s going at the pace of… frozen ghee.)

At any rate, I don’t know what to attribute it to, but both this week and last, the girls (yes, mostly it’s girls that are drawn to this program, at least at my library) produced some beautiful work. And better even, they seemed to get into it! They were sweetly proud of what they had written and wanted to share, and truly, some of the images they came up with were just marvelous. (I don’t have examples in front of me, but, some real good showing vs. telling, which by the way, I’m breaking the rule right now, as I write this, and yes, I know it!) Yay, them!

… maybe it’s the fact that both last week and this week we did activities that somehow hit the sweet spot for them and hooked their interest. I noticed that it’s always better if I give plenty of opportunity for them to talk about stuff that’s on their minds, especially small (to us adults) irksome things that happened at school, but which for them, are major… It’s like talking them out for a bit lets them relax into writing.

The activities? Last week we did “found poems,” where we cut out a whole slew of interesting words and phrases from newspapers and magazines, pushed them all together into a big shared pile, and then people grabbed whichever ones caught their fancy, arranged and rearranged them on a piece of construction paper until they had “found” their poem, and then there was the über-satisfying act of glue-sticking them down. And then the grand finale of sharing creations with the group. (Or not, in the case of certain shyer individuals).

Today’s activity was to create a “list” or “catalogue” poem – one which lists a bunch of ways to think about just one idea. My tweens tend to be concrete thinkers, so for this first foray into list poetry, I gave them a template, and everyone wrote on the same topic – “Happiness is…” Now one would think that this would lead to rather sticky-sweet treacly goo-messes of poetry, but the results were deeply touching, especially in illustrating the importance of family in their lives.

It’s times like this that make me smile.

Oh and one more unrelated thing. I also do a weekly arts and crafts program for kids of all ages. Yesterday a little boy came running up to me an hour after the program and asked, Are you really my sister’s art teacher? Looking backward, he directed me to his sister who was sitting at a table some distance away, smiling and waving at me. I waved back and smiled too. “Yes, I surely am,” I declared, so pleased to be termed “an art teacher” that I was probably beaming. “Will you be my art teacher too?” he asked. “Sure, Sure, definitely!” Gosh. I had a smile on my face for at least an hour after that… love the kids. Got to love the kids.

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 »

Book: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Genre(s): Very difficult to categorize, but here goes: Mystery, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction (in some ways)
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication date: 2009
Hardcover: 208 pages
Other:
Newbery Award Winner, 2010

When You Reach Me coverSummary: Sixth-grader Miranda is having, well, a sort of weird time lately. Her best friend Sal has suddenly stopped talking to her, and won’t say why. There’s a bum who’s recently taken up residence on the corner near her apartment building (located in 1970s Upper West Side Manhattan), and who creeps her out with his sudden laughing episodes. And then there are the cryptic notes that start appearing in odd places where no one could have access.

What does it all mean? Figuring out what is going on is half the fun of this literary sci fi realistic mystery. (Yes, this book does indeed defy categorization!)

To whom will this appeal?: When You Reach Me is a literary novel written for the “middle grades” (and as such has extremely well-observed and realistic middle grade characters) but will appeal to a number of different “constituencies.” Fans of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (which, incidentally, won the Newbery Award in 1963) will appreciate the literary (and timeless) quality of Stead’s writing. Stead herself is a fan of A Wrinkle in Time, as evidenced by the ubiquitous AWIT references in WYRM. In fact, one could go so far as to say that reading (or re-reading) A Wrinkle in Time is a necessary prerequisite to properly enjoying When You Reach Me.

It is a pity that many libraries will only carry this in their children’s section, as this book has an appeal for all ages, especially the teen or adult who enjoys the challenge of solving a tantalizing esoteric mystery that is zillions of miles away from (and more sophisticated than) the average juvenile mystery. Any child/teen/adult who has enjoyed the books of E. L. Konigsburg (especially From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View from Saturday) will be very likely enjoy WYRM.

Another audience to whom the book will appeal is adults who may have grown up in, or relish the description of, 1970s New York. The description of late 70s era NYC — the freedom the kids had, the vague feeling of danger and yet innocence, the falling-apart-ness of buildings, the ethos of the time — is extremely well-done. While tweens or teens may also appreciate this description, I suspect that the draw of this type of historical detail is especially strong for those who have lived through the era and in the place. (Having myself lived in 1979 NYC, this observation may well be colored by my personal experience!)

Yesterday was quite stressful at the library. I came home soul-exhausted. There were some incorrigible customers who seemed to relish putting the librarian through her paces. But on second thought, there were some thought-provoking and delightful encounters that made the day well worth living. Here are some highlights.

Two Pakistani-American girls befriended me at the children’s desk. One of them shadowed me all day and even helped with reference transactions. I think it made her feel grown-up and responsible. The best part was when we were talking about how bad my spoken Hindi/Urdu is. I explained to them that Hindi isn’t my mother tongue. Then they asked me where I come from. India, I replied. We silently digested the fact that “our countries” are having some “problems” at the moment. One of them said, Read the rest of this entry »