Read or Be Written

bookmarksYes, it is time for the annual Bookmark Contest Slogan post, to celebrate National Library Week! Yay! Yay!

These were all written by my library’s grade school kids, submitted along with artwork for a bookmark. My favorite slogan is probably the one in the title, which I love for its slightly ominous feel: Read or Be Written. Oooh.

Some other inventive slogans included:

The Lyrical
Let us read like a rainbow shines
Fly into stories
Sometimes the smallest book takes up the most room in your heart
Reading is dreaming with open eyes
Books shower with knowledge

The Instructive
Leave time to read!
Read! You don’t know where it will take you!
Read cuz you can. (Depicted with a person saying, “Well, duh!”)

The Mysterious
You don’t have to believe to have your wildest dream–just read!
God is the Book. Read Me. (Shown with a book floating over a cloud)

The Food-Oriented
Reading is sweet, just like ice cream
If u love donuts, u should love books

The Minecraft-Oriented
Minecraft Books
Read to Mine (which would have been completely ambiguous without the picture of the Minecraft block on the bookmark)

and The Downright Enthusiastic
Reading is my middle name
Yay! Yay! Reading is fun! Yay! Yay!

Don’t you feel like reading something now? I do!

Posted in Children's books, Library marketing, patrons, Uncategorized, Youth Services | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Not an expert in library marketing but…

winter springI am a children’s librarian and a library administrator, not a library marketing expert. Yet even I can tell you that:

  • On March 30, after a long and brutal winter, on a day in which my neighbor said that if it snows again, please come over and shoot her, it is probably a mistake for my neighborhood library branch to have a big snowman in their front window. We are so ready for spring. Why isn’t the library?
  • Remember how when you were in school (talking to you older people here) and you would be doing a report and someone showed you the green volumes of the Reader’s Guide to Periodicals, and you would look up your subject and then have to go find the article it cited? At least half of the time, they didn’t have the magazine so you had to try again, and then you finally got one and you had to go copy it and maybe the copier was broken?  Ebsco’s periodical database is where you can get full text articles from well over 1,500 magazines and journals, so it is fantastically useful, and yet they continue to call it by the terrible name of Masterfile Premiere as if anyone would have the faintest idea what they would find if they clicked it, so it sits almost unused on so many library websites. Nobody knows what Masterfile Premiere is, not even the librarians half of the time. Market your product better, Ebsco!
  • And another marketing thought…What would it be like if one year every public library in the country did the same summer reading theme? And everyone encouraged people not just to go to their own library but to go to The Library to sign up for Summer Reading? It would be awesome, that’s what. Everyone’s numbers would shoot up because we would all be promoting the same thing to everyone at once. It will never happen, because part of the success of public libraries is being able to tweak things for their own community, but I still think it would be a cool thing to do once. It would send the message that no matter what library you go to, you can sign up for summer reading there, and that it will be fun, and help you do better in school in the fall. We could even pool our money for national TV commercials. I sometimes think in my part of the world at least that we end up competing more than cross-promoting, and it’s a missed opportunity.
  • We should move National Library Week. Far too often, it begins with the Sunday where Easter falls, and virtually all public libraries close for a spring holiday. That seems like an extraordinarily bad way to start our biggest national marketing campaign, doesn’t it?

If I were not a children’s librarian, and not a library administrator, I think I would like to go into library marketing. In this day and age, it is one of the most interesting and challenging jobs in the field, because of Google, Wikipedia, e-readers and Netflix changing perceptions about information access and reading. Libraries are still such vital places but without the great library marketing teams out there, no one would ever know it. It is such a worthwhile job.



Posted in Library marketing, Management, Public libraries, Reading Incentive Programs, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

What I Have Learned in Dog Training

Maybe everybody does this. I am always trying to relate something I learn from one area in my life to the other areas of my life. The thing I’ve been doing lately that has been one big learning experience is dog training. But relating that to other areas of my life is, well, rude. People do not generally like being compared with dogs.

Still, I think I’ve picked up some ideas from Mac’s classes, and I want to share them. Please do not take offense, or if you do, please do not bite me.

  1. Your dog is not the worst dog in the class. Okay, sometimes he is the worst dog in the class, but then one week you will go and for some reason he is doing everything (and by everything I mean 80% of the everything, which is absolutely the best I would hope for) you tell him to do. He sits. He walks nicely. He pays attention to you when you talk or gesture. It’s like a miracle.
  2. The week after your dog has a great week, he will have a not-spectacular week. Maybe even a bad week. Maybe even an awful week. That’s how it goes.
  3. You will think, from looking at some of the other dogs in class, that they are SO much better-behaved than your dog. But then one day you will get to class a little early and you will see how every dog, even Princess Incredibly Well-Behaved Last Week, is pulling her owner through the door and not paying the slightest bit of attention to anything they say or do. YAY! Your dog is not the only one that does that after all!
  4. Some weeks, something will happen (and it might be invisible to you at the time) and your dog will go on red alert. Our dog came from a shelter in Kentucky, and he is very wary of movement–we speculate that it’s because he was out running around as a stray for awhile and learned to be worried by sudden movement. He does not care for cars at all–not the ones driving by, not the ones he is driving in. And other dogs worry him a lot. On a week when all of his alarm bells are going off, all you can do is listen to the instructor, keep feeding your dog treats to keep him happy, and try to give your dog some space. Your dog gets the message that there is nothing to be afraid of, and gradually, he relaxes.
  5. You will begin to notice that every dog has its quirk. There are the barkers, the lungers, the jumpers, the whiners. They all have some quality that probably makes their owner feel mortified.
  6. Little by little, your dog will get the hang of it.
  7. The dog who doesn’t behave at all for his owner will be perfect for the instructor.
  8. The dog who behaves beautifully for the owner will freak out on the instructor.
  9. If you don’t practice during the week, you and your dog will be nervous at class the following week.
  10. You will communicate your anxiety to your dog. That’s never good for either of you.
  11. Remember how I said little by little, your dog will get the hang of it? It’s true! You have to hang in there.

So what does this have to do with libraries? Dogs and kids are not so different. I just wish that the parents who see little Princess Sits Nicely During Storytime and compare their own child (Princess Roaming Around the Room) unfavorably get the chance to notice that some weeks, their own child is the one who is the envy of the group.

I hope that the parent who is mortified by Child Who Will Not Share notices that Child Who Shared Beautifully screamed his head off when it was time to leave.

I hope that the adults who notice Child Who Screams When It Is Time to Leave remember that their own child was not always so perfect.

I even hope that everyone sometimes remembers to cut people a little slack, especially themselves. Nobody/No dog is perfect. We’re all working on it. Our dog training class graduate Mac is trying hard. We all are.

Mac March 2014

Posted in Child Development, Parents, Public libraries, storytime, Youth Services | 2 Comments

The Modern Public Library

When I first started working at my library, it was at a temporary site while the old building was being extensively remodeled. A few months later it opened for a thrilled community. Another nearby library was also under construction using the same architects. Some elements were the same but where that library chose glass and marble and chrome for its surfaces, our library decision-makers felt that our community was old-fashioned and would prefer wood and nature motifs. So that’s what they built, and it was beautiful. But the library world has changed a lot in the past 15 years, and it was definitely time for an update.

We spent the last year under construction. This time we did not move out to a temporary site, but did the project in phases, moving people and collections multiple times. In case you were wondering, that is not fun. It is super-stressful for everyone concerned, particularly if the project includes installing a new HVAC system with its associated duct work and noise and temperature swings. But we survived, and now we are welcoming the public into their new spaces.

For awhile, I felt a little conflicted about the results. We threw out the nature theme and went with the glass and chrome look, but with eye-popping color on the walls and color and pattern in the carpets. The more adult areas are sleek and elegant, and the lighting design throughout is spectacular. We pulled out the circulation desk and added self-checks, and we downsized the public service desks. I’ll admit, it no longer feels like a quaint and cozy library as you enter, and it is not the Mayberry Library any more. I wondered, have we changed the library to not match the community?

They would have loved an update on the old look, with new nature-themed fabrics and new versions of wood furniture and wooden shelving. But the message that would have sent is one of nostalgia, prompting responses like, “Aww, here is the library like I used to remember.” That wouldn’t have been a bad thing, exactly. But would the community have continued to think of the library as a vital part of their lives? Would they have been willing to continue funding something they associate more with the past than the future? Would they understand how essential it continues to be to the community?

The message they are getting instead is: This is a whole new library. It is vibrant and gorgeous and bright. There are museum-quality installations for children to play with while picking up early learning skills. There are rooms to use to study in or to conduct meetings, with quiet space for thinking. There is a place for the teenagers to go be together and another space for the middle graders to hang out after school. There is a whole floor of computers, with a training lab for learning new things. It is all about the future.

We retained most of our book collection, and we haven’t lost sight of what the community is counting on us to provide. But we have sent the message loud and clear that we are the library for now and the future, with cozy areas and noisy areas and staff who step up to help them. We have retained the best of the past while moving forward. I am pretty proud of that.

circle area

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Battle of the Books


34 years is a long time. That is how long my library has collaborated with our area schools to run a Battle of the Books competition. 34 years! Last night we celebrated  with an awards ceremony for the winning team and all of the Battle participants and their families. Just today, an author I admire, Rosanne Parry, commented in a discussion of multiculturalism that book battles can really motivate young readers. And that made me think it was time to explain how we do our Battle in the hopes that maybe other libraries and schools will continue the tradition.

Battle of the Books began as a radio program in the 1930s in Chicago, co-sponsored by the department store Carson Pirie Scott and the Chicago Public Schools. There are many different versions of it around the country, but its basic structure always centers around kids answering questions about the books they have read. (This is not to be confused with a March Madness type of book face-off, which is fun but isn’t Battle of the Books.)

It’s an old-fashioned, book-centered program, just like the Summer Reading Club and storytime. It’s a classic, even when you are reading your Battle book on your Kindle. Here are some things you need to make it a wonderful program:

1. A great list of books. That’s a no-brainer, but believe me that it takes a lot of work. The children’s librarians at my library read year-round to find titles to add to the list, because 20 new books rotate onto the 60-book list every year. We include a mix of entertaining and well-written fiction and nonfiction books at the 4th-6th grade level. Some authors are perennial favorites, like Lois Lowry and Kate DiCamillo, and some books rotate back onto the list every few years, like A Wrinkle in Time or Charlotte’s Web. One of the best things about keeping the list fresh is that it motivates the staff to read new books as they come out, and the need for balance always keeps us remembering to include all kinds of books about all kinds of kids.

2. Interesting quotes from the books to make into questions. If you use quotes from the book instead of pulling out trivia, you catch the flavor of the writing, which is good for competitors to notice and more interesting for the audience, too. Here is one of my favorite questions:

First, he sharpens the pencils. Then he sharpens the chalk, and then some popsicle sticks, and then his finger. Name the book.

Our questions all end with “Name the book” and we make it a rule from the beginning that you have to get it exactly right for the sake of fairness. We do not want to be stuck in the position of deciding that one almost-right answer got points and another doesn’t. Not all great books make great questions, and there’s no question that sometimes it is hard to write questions that aren’t complete giveaways, especially with a popular book like Harry Potter, or a nonfiction book. But having some easy questions is good too. I frankly have no idea how kids get as many correct answers as they do–they amaze me.

3. Kids and coaches. There isn’t any special kind of kid you need to run Battle of the Books. Competitive kids, shy kids, big readers, reluctant readers can all be successful in a well-run Battle. What they need is a good coach. In our Battle, the teams are formed by our schools, and coached by either a librarian or a parent. Some of our coaches run a highly-organized operation with requirements for written reports, and others make it a loosely run lunchtime activity. Some coaches put in just their best team members, while others try to give each kid a chance to participate on stage answering questions. You can win with one really strong reader, and you can win with a team that collaborates well and takes lots of turns. You can have fun without winning.

4. Support from school administrations and your library administration. Battle is a partnership, and like most partnerships it requires commitment.

I’m not going to lie–it is not the easiest program to execute. But it gets kids excited about reading in a way that continues later on. They get a chance to compete on behalf of their school without being athletic. It gets the librarians reading new books so they exercise their own reading muscles. It gives us the opportunity to push our favorite authors, and to help widen the worlds of our kid readers by exposing them to other cultures, history, and knowledge. Most of all, it is an on-going celebration of books and authors and writing.

We always end Battle by inviting one of the authors of our Battle books to come speak to the kids at the awards ceremony. In my years of author speeches, I’ve only encountered one snooze that involved a lot of slides involving historical research. All of the other authors have been fun and engaging and seem to enjoy the opportunity to meet face-to-face with their readers just as much as their readers enjoy meeting a real-live author and getting their autographs. Every year, it does my heart good.

P.S. Did you get the answer to the question?

Posted in Childhood reading, Children's books, Programs, Public libraries, Reading Incentive Programs, Uncategorized, Youth Services | Leave a comment

Hey, Al and the 1987 Caldecott Committee

I love second-guessing the children’s book award committees as much as anyone. I used to even be pretty accurate at predicting what would win the Newbery, though the Caldecott has always been more unpredictable.  I spent a certain amount of time speculating on what the committee might have been thinking when they picked/did not pick a particular book. Maybe the book came out too early. Maybe it came out too late. The number of honor medals given is always great fodder for trying to figure out what motivated the committee–what does a lot mean? What does just one mean? I had some good ideas.

Now I have had the very unsettling experience of having MY committee’s choice publicly labeled as “quirky.” My longtime editor Roger Sutton has berated me for many years that we didn’t select his top pick that year, and others have wondered why another especially strong title that year didn’t win. But it is a really startling experience to have the work of your committee held up to scrutiny after so many years.

K.T. Horning, the extremely astute Director of the Center for Children’s Books, wrote a piece for the November/December 2013 Horn Book as part of a series celebrating the Caldecott’s 75th anniversary. She titled it “Hey, Al and the Quirky Choice,” and in it she says, “The selection left most people scratching their heads, wondering what made this book the ‘most distinguished’ picture book of the year. It may have even caused some to wonder what the word distinguished meant to the 1987 Caldecott committee.” She comments that “The birds that populate paradise are beautiful, and Eddie the loyal dog is appealing, but what kid wants to sit around in a waterfall-fed pool, doing nothing but eating
tropical fruits and sipping drinks all day? This is is clearly an adult’s fantasy.”

Horning also wonders if the Committee was influenced by a discussion going on at the time about the style of picture books that had been winning the Caldecott for the past few years, and if we particularly on the 50th anniversary of the Caldecott wanted to go with something more in keeping with  earlier winners. She wonders if we thought of it as an homage to Where the Wild Things Are.

Even 25 years later, I am still bound by confidentiality–discussions are supposed to be kept secret forever. I think every committee member entrusted with an award grapples with the meaning of the word “distinguished” and that all committees do their best to meet the demand of that word. I can’t say what we discussed, but I can tell you what I think myself about our choice all these years later.

First, 1986 was an incredibly rich year for picture books. The number of excellent books that came out that year was astonishing–I still have a shelf of them because they have stood the test of time that well. Some years, though more with the Newbery than the Caldecott, a particular book just blows the others out of the water, but that was most certainly not the case that year. There were about 15 books that I looked at over and over and over, and tried out on storytime groups and classes in schools multiple times.

Here’s what K.T. misses. Kids love that book. It’s one where the story begins before the first page, so you point out the mop and the bucket before the title page, and then you see Al walking along carrying the bucket and mop accompanied by his dog, Eddie, who is looking worriedly at some birds following close behind them.  You see them walking into their very shabby tiny apartment. In the picture, the room makes a box, the frame of the picture, and the door opens outside of the frame and Al is walking into the picture. You ask the kids to look at the picture, and ask if it looks like a nice place to live. (They don’t think it does.)

The story beguns, “Al, a nice man, a quiet man, a janitor, lived in one room on the West Side with his faithful dog, Eddie. They ate together. They worked together. They watched TV together. What could be bad?” Then at the turn of the page: “Plenty. ‘Look at this dump!” A mysterious giant bird pops his head into the bathroom window and says, “Al, are you working too hard? Still struggling and going nowhere? Hmmmm?” Kids know enough to be wary of sweet-talking strangers, even when they are giant birds, so they are already suspicious.

After the bird returns to pick them up, we get the first double-page spread, with a  island in the sky, which strangely has a giant bird-shaped mountain in the middle. It’s a wow moment, followed by the next double-page spread with another wow as Al and Eddie are unceremoniously dumped onto the island: “Unbelievable! Lush trees, rolling hills, gorgeous grass.” The third double-page spread is the moment that completely grabs the kids.

Hey Al 1

And here’s the thing that they notice that adults don’t always see:

Hey Al 2The beautiful and bizarre birds have human elements. It is a chilling discovery. So while the adult readers are looking at the page with Al leaning back in a waterfall, wearing a lei, with his drink in a umbrella-decorated coconut  beside him and thinking This is an adult fantasy–kids won’t be interested in this, kids already know that Al is in trouble even before the next page where he sprouts wings and his nose begins turning into a beak. At the end, when Al and Eddie have escaped and are joyously reunited after Eddie nearly drowns, the kids notice the newspapers piled up outside of Eddie’s door. They see that on the last page, Al is painting his ugly apartment so it won’t be so ugly anymore, and they notice that the endpaper facing that last page is the same bright yellow that Al is painting his room. It’s an extremely satisfying conclusion.

Now, we don’t pick the Caldecott according to whether it’s a favorite book of kids, but some books don’t come fully to life until you have used them with kids. And the elements of the book that work so well for kids are great picture book-making, with thoughtful endpapers, beautifully composed pictures that draw your eye, entertaining details to find, and the brilliant use of framing. The voice of it is also very strong. I will admit that I don’t care for the last line (“Paradise lost is sometimes Heaven found”) but other than that, I think it’s beautifully paced and with a great relationship between man and dog brought to life.

So those are the things I liked about it. I’ll certainly allow that it might have been a quirky choice, but I stand by it.

Here’s the thing I realized when reading K.T.’s piece. If someone as well-versed, thoughtful, and insightful as K.T. Horning mis-guesses when she’s speculating on what an award committee might have been thinking, then there’s just no question that we are all off by a mile when we try it ourselves. I will be a lot less certain that I know what went on during the discussions and how things played out…not that it will stop me.

To hear the results of this year’s committee discussions as they are being announced, click here on Monday morning, a little before 8am ET. Then speculate away! It’s fun as long as, like K.T., you are respectful to the committee members. We just can’t know what went on in their discussions.

Posted in Children's book awards, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Not-Disappearing Print

reading-to-son-1151008-mI want to pass along a couple of interesting pieces that both relate to whether print books will continue to be needed and loved. While I like ebooks and was pleasantly surprised when I had one to review that I didn’t miss the print format, it’s a very different experience to read on a screen. I find it difficult to get immersed in the same way, and clearly the author of this New York Times piece agrees. Even digital natives, people who are completely accustomed to electronic devices, still find a particular pleasure in print books, with their pages to turn, and the wide variety of the ways they look and feel.

The second piece was on NPR, and I wish every parent of young children could hear it or read it. It talks about how children who don’t have regular bedtimes walk around feeling almost jet-lagged a lot of the time, and not surprisingly, it has an effect on behavior. Sometimes I feel so sorry for kids walking around in the morning looking dazed with fatigue. One of the points they make here is that kids need a bedtime routine that doesn’t involve screens, because screens disrupt the body’s rhythm and throw off the natural rise in melatonin that makes kids (and grownups) sleepy.

There are some very cool treatments of picture books on iPads and other tablets, and they have their place, as do the great DVDs of picture books. But they aren’t a substitute for print picture books, with their page turns (fast one time, s-l-o-w-l-y another) and a grown-up doing the reading, and pointing things out to each other in the pictures. It’s a more peaceful experience altogether. I’ve always thought that picture books were going to be the last remaining print books to be published and purchased, because they are just so different. Holding Harold and the Purple Crayon in your hands and turning its small pages is an entirely different experience from holding the large, vertical How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Changing the rotation of the electronic device is just not the same as the feel of those sizes and shapes and weights in a child’s hands.

It is always so nice to read something that agrees with what you already thought!

Posted in Childhood reading, Disappearing print, Parents, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,