Sunday, December 28, 2008

Are we ruining publishing?

It's not easy to blame readers for ruining publishing, but David Streitfeld in the N.Y. Times manages to do just that. He suggests that people who buy books from other individuals online are hurting publishers and authors by bypassing the usual purchasing channels. It's true that finding used books online has become easier in recent years, if not quite as much fun as browsing through a used book store. But I doubt there is much proof that people who buy online have cut down much on the number of books they buy. Using Streitfeld's logic, you could complain that lending books to friends is also destroying publishing, but in fact reading and book buying tends to feed on itself. For most readers, the more books they read, the more they buy even though some may be secondhand. They are still buying more new books than most people these days. And secondhand books, especially for children, are a wonderful way to spread the word about great new authors and books. If a child reads a library copy, then decides to take a chance and buy the book online, chances are you have a lifelong reader budding. In years to come these readers will support book publishing no matter how much moaning and hand wringing we do about the perils of secondhand books. Let's just celebrate the joys of avid readers both young and old.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another look at Narnia

Thousands of children have been fascinated by the world of Narnia created by C.S. Lewis during the early years of the 20th century. And thousands of adults continue to have nostalgic feelings for the books even though most of them do not go back to reread the stories. Now Laura Miller, a respected critic, has written The Magician's Book, a reexamination of the books she loved so much as a child. Although most children miss the references to the Christian tale of redemption when they first read the books, by the time they become teenagers, many have been enlightened by friends or teachers. This can lead to disillusionment or to a greater love of Lewis's fantasy. Miller's book takes a careful look at her own response as a skeptic and a critic. Librarians and teachers will find insight in Lewis's life, his friends and his ideas. Miller has produced a book well worth reading for any adult who interacts with children and books.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More than meets the ear

Thousands of children this holiday season will listen to their parents or other adults read chapters from The Wind in the Willows to them. Others will read or reread the book themselves. This famous children's book is 100 years old this year, but as an absorbing article in tells us, the story behind it is not childlike at all. Like some other famous children's book authors, Kenneth Graham was a complex man who found solace in writing for children even as he went through many adult tragedies. Why is there a link between a feeling of failure in adult life and an ability to reach into the mind and thoughts of a child? Does the introspection these authors are driven into give them a chance to reimagine the depths of childhood? Perhaps we'll never know, but while we wonder we can still enjoy the magical world that Graham and Lewis Carroll and others have constructed for us. They may have felt their lives incomplete, but they left a greater legacy for the world than many happier individuals have been able to achieve.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wasting time or studying?

Children and teens can spend hours browsing through YouTube videos and sharing the jokes and spicy bits, but now some students are discovering that YouTube also offer help with classes. Math is an especially difficult subject for many students and a visual approach can make it easier. More than 50,000 people have watched some of these videos on calculus, algebra, and other complicated subjects. Once again librarians should take note of a development that may affect the way young people use library collections. While books continue to be the basis for teaching in most areas, supplementary materials add a lot to the mix. Rather than libraries having to buy AV products--remember all those filmstrips we used to have?--they can now link to valuable free material online. Of course, the usual problem of sorting the best from the shoddy misleading products is a vital service. But think how useful it will be to be able to offer teachers and students a vetted list of supplementary materials available free both in school and at home. Another valuable resource brought to us by technology.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Learning through Sharing

As librarians and teachers we are always asking ourselves how we can help our students learn the skills and facts they will need, but also learn how to learn because those skills are constantly changing and new facts appear every day. Books are one way of keeping up with the world, but books are not sufficient for modern schools. As businesses and government turn more and more to collaborative ways of bringing experts together to solve problems, our children have to learn this way of interacting with one another and learning. Collaborative learning through sharing blogs, wikis, and using social networking sites has become more and more important in education. Edutopia is one organization that helps teachers and other adults understand how these tools can be used in schools and libraries to make education a positive force for our children.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Who wrote that?

As Christmas nears, books are pouring out from publishing companies in the hopes of increased sales for the holidays. Who are the authors of these books? Well, many of them are not writers; they are celebrities known for success in media, the arts, or just because of a fluke of publicity. An op-ed piece in today's New York Times points out how insulting this is to the hard-working writers who labor to produce worthwhile books. The examples used in the column are from adult publishing, but librarians know the situation is the same for children's books. No one who has been featured in a news story seems exempt from the temptation to produce a book that some publisher will seize upon. Adults must fend for themselves, but it is librarians, teachers, and parents who usually are responsible for what children read. Do we really want to feed our children a diet of mass-produced word packages (with lots of pictures) just because they can recognize the name of the so-called author? What about the hundreds of skilled writers and illustrators who are giving children a truly literary experience with carefully wrought words and imaginative pictures? Surely it is up to us as adults to let children read these books and come to know the names of authors who may never appear on TV or YouTube (although some of them do). Writing and illustrating are hard work and we should honor those who do it well.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A month to celebrate

It seems unlikely that all of December's celebrations will be widely acknowledged, and perhaps the one least known is the one announced in the New Yorker this week-- December is National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give It to Somebody Not Black Month. Now this is one that children's librarians should definitely notice. Often we buy books about one group's heritage to make them available to that group, but we fail to recognize that it is the outsiders who need to learn about our minority cultures. Knowledge and acceptance of a variety of cultures is a cornerstone of our country and of the global community. Not only should we provide books by African American authors for white, Asian, and Hispanic children. We should also celebrate the Chinese New Year with African American children and Ramadan with Jewish children. Books are not meant to serve narrow interests but to broaden all of our horizons.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Who owns the tunes?

Copyright and the variations of laws about it have troubled librarians for years, but seldom has it been as major a concern as it is today with electronic downloading of copyright material. Lawrence Lessig of Stanford University has written several books on the way copyright has been handled in the U.S. over the years. His latest book Remix deals with how government should handle the difficult problem of downloading and using music from the Internet. A fascinating review from the U.K.'s Independent compares Lessig's views with a fictional exploration of the revolt of techies portrayed in Little Brother. Although these issues may seem remote from the world of children's librarians, children grow into teenagers very quickly and they learn how to download and reuse both ideas and music. Is this creativity a good thing or do the rights of the creators of art and information overshadow all other concerns? This is something all librarians need to think about, and here is a little reading to get us started.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Still more views of ebooks

Are we or are we not teetering on the brink of a major change in the format of our books? Almost every week, it seems, some author, publisher, librarian or teacher weighs in on whether children are likely to adopt books on machines. The recent issue of The Horn Book gives three useful viewpoints on the value of reading ebooks. All three have a favorable view of the idea of reading an electronic format and all three have experience with the gadgets. Stephen Roxbugh points out that the format in which we read doesn't matter nearly as much as the content. If children immerse themselves in the world of the Hobbit it doesn't really matter whether they do so on a page of on Kindle. For librarians this is probably the most important thing to remember. Our goal is to introduce children to literature--the magic of story and the fascination of facts--whether on a page or a screen is not really important. Whatever we do, let's not waste our time arguing about the life, death, or flourishing of books, let's consider how we can best offer them to children.

This blog, like the rest of the country, will take a brief vacation this week. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sharing good ideas

Media phenomena like the current Twilight stories now appearing on movie screens to thrill preteen girls offer a good opportunities for librarians to encourage reading. Somehow the books chosen for wild popularity seldom are the ones recommended by librarians and professional organizations, but series reading does bring patrons into the library and may even lead to further reading. The value of technology is helping librarians build on this interest increases every year. A recent post on a library mailing list offered a link to this attractive collection of quizes on the Twilight books posted on a library wiki. All of us owe gratitude to our colleagues who make the effort to develop these resources and take the time to share them with the library community. Once gain we have to recognize that technology is not our rival but our partner in reaching out to young people.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

All children literate?

With the growth of audio books, large print books, and talking computers, Braille materials have been dropped out of many library collections. For children with severe vision difficulties, however, learning Braille is still important. A recent SLJ article describes a campaign to support Braille teaching for children. The "Braille readers are leaders" campaign will encourage all states to pass legislation requiring the teaching of Braille to all blind children. Many blind scholars report that being able to keep records and record ideas in Braille has helped them immeasurably in their work. As the teaching of Braille becomes more widespread, many library systems may find that Braille materials will become an important part of of their collections for a niche audience of blind individuals. More information can be found at

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Everything is different here!

Technology changes everything--we've all heard that many times over. But how much have school and public library children's spaces changed lately? Taking a fresh look at the problem of bringing children and information together has sparked some professional thinking of entirely new ways of operating a school library. David Loerscher's article "Flip the Library..." in SLJ this month suggests that school libraries be changed into Learning Commons where various educational professionals could offer learning materials and situations to children. Although the concentration in the article is on school libraries, it will cause public librarians to wonder how they can change children's libraries into Commons. Just as Google has made all of us think about technology in new ways, integrating it into our lives more closely than it ever has been before, perhaps the time has come to look at technology not as an add-on to library services, but as an integrated part of service. It's one more step in putting the emphasis less on bricks and mortar and more on experiential learning. The time to move is now before we lose our chance!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An electronic future?

Most children's librarians are so immersed in the world of books that they don't always recognize changing trends. How popular is the Kindle with teenagers and even middle-school students? Has anyone tried to study that yet? The N.Y. Times has tried to sum up some of the ways publishers are moving toward making books available in electronic format. Although the article doesn't specifically talk about children's books, we all know that young people are among the first to adopt electronic forms of recreation and information. Will book publishers avoid the problems that have beset the music industry? The Google agreement with the Author's Guild appears to offer a good model for offering profits to authors while also offering the convenience of electronic for mat for readers. It's important for librarians to be away of changes in publishing and to move to take advantage of trends that benefit libraries and children.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Where do books fit in?

Although this article from the Los Angeles Times is not specifically aimed at the youth market, the behavior it talks about definitely apply. Both books and the Internet are important tools for searching and understanding information. Neither one is complete in itself, at least not for the 21st century. The knowledge base of the world has exploded in recent years and instead of searching out all possible information, the task now is to narrow down the barrage into usable chunks. As librarians we need to provide information in all formats and help children to learn how to use them all. Books are not going to disappear; they have new allies in the world of online sources and user-generated content. It's not a change to bemoan, but one to celebrate.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Poetry and music merge

Another reminder of how the arts and popular culture intertwine has come out in a book called Hip Hop Speaks to Children, which combines hip hop lyrics and poetry from the past to offer children "poetry with a beat". The barriers between the high culture of the library and the everyday culture of the streets continue to come down. Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes seem at home among their young descendants of the hip-hop era and many children (and their parents) may be happy to learn they've been hearing poetry all along as they listen to their favorite songs. Although some in the media still view the library as a citadel remote from daily life, increasingly the energy of popular culture is being welcomed and reflected back to children at the same time that librarians introduce them to the vibrant worlds of the past. The value of libraries lies in their universality and the easy mingling of cultures and ideas from all times, all places, and all peoples.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Building skills with games

Even though many librarians and other adults deplore the amount of time young teens spend on video games, American Libraries reports on a conference that reported research supporting many games as skill-builders for young people. Speakers at the conference pointed out how complex many games are and how players must learn the weaknesses and skills of numerous characters in the games if they hope to win games such as Pokemon. The settings of some of the video games are related to real life history and may even encourage youngsters to learn more about the wars and other struggles that have shaped our world. Over the years, adults have fretted about the bad effects of children's recreational choices, but it may well be that once again the adults are wrong.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Children's Lit at the movies

One of the biggest names in comic strips, at least in Europe, is Tintin, a Belgian strip that is read by adults and children alike. Now the Tintin stories are about to be turned into not one, but two, movies--potential blockbusters that will doubtless raise Tintin's profile in American libraries. As this story from the business section of the N.Y. Times makes clear, Tintin is a valuable property being fought over by major studios. With Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson behind the films, you can expect a major impact on publishers and libraries, starting in 2010 when the first film is slated to be released. Publishers are no doubt firming up projects to capitalize on the expected popularity of the films and prudent librarians may look ahead and plan on fitting Tintin into their summer reading programs. It never hurts to be prepared and librarians who read the business pages are usually a step ahead of those who stick to the book review section.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What do they learn about sex?

The sexual habits of teenagers may not seem closely related to children's libraries, but at an early age children start learning attitudes and habits that will influence their future behavior. A New Yorker article about the different attitudes toward both sex education and sexual habits is the surprising source of insight into what may trouble parents when they look at the books and other materials in our collections. The religious and political backgrounds of the families in our communities influence their views of marriage, teenage pregnancy, and sex education. Evangelical teenagers tend to become sexually active earlier than some other religious groups and teenage pregnancy is more common among them. At the same time, evangelical parents promote abstinance only sex education and feel strongly about the importance of traditional marriage. Understanding these attitudes is important for librarians who have to respond to concerns about library materials and defend their selection of materials. The more we know and understand about the families we work with, the more effective we will be in meeting the needs of all members of the community.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Will newspapers disappear?

The announcement today that the Christian Science Monitor will no longer publish a print edition on weekdays may not touch children's library services very closely, but it does have an effect. For many years this newspaper has provided information that librarians could rely on for objective news about many topics. No youngster or high school student was going to run into a scandal story or racy picture while searching through the Monitor either online or in print. Most newspaper reference searches have already shifted to the online versions of papers, but the print source remained a backup for many libraries. The decline and eventual disappearance, as predicted by many people, of our newspapers will inevitably lead to greater dependence on the Internet, on the expensive machine that access online sources, and on the basic electricity and high-speed connections we have come to rely on. Most Americans take these utilities for granted, but in rural areas in the country there are still patches of non-connectivity, and there are still homes where electricity is not always certain and reliable. As librarians we mourn the loss of one more source of news we can offer our patrons. We are moving on, but let's be sure the people we serve are not being left behind.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Listening to the masters

One of the lovely things about working with children's books is being able to hear and sometimes see the authors and illustrators who give us those books. To most librarians these days, Judy Blume is a master of the genre. She has entertained and informed several generations of girls now (and some boys) which is why it is so gratifying to be able to hear her talk about how she came to writing and why it means so much to her. Recently Judy Blume gave the Charlotte Zolotow lecture at the University of Wisconsin and you can watch the video to hear what she has to say Watching her and listening helps us understand why she means so much to the readers in our libraries. Despite the years of experience she has had in writing and the fame she has won, she retains the sense of wonder as each book comes to life for her. She is a living demonstration of why children's literature is so important for our culture.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Always something new

It's disappointing to see the N.Y. Times referring to "prim librarians" on the front page of their online edition, especially when the article is about street lit, one of the newer forms of publishing now being bought by libraries. These urban stories, many of them set in New York City, tell stories of drug dealing, poverty, and crime and the characters are mostly African Americans. This is not children's literature by any means, but many teenagers are attracted to it despite the disapproval of adults who deplore the rough language and behavior--or perhaps because of adult disapproval. Whether a librarian decides to buy fiction in this genre is a decision for each institution to make, but we owe it to our patrons to know what it is about and to seriously consider whether the books should be included in our collections.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A different kind of bookmobile

Books inspire some people to do great things and today's N.Y. Times reported another case of a dedicated man spending countless hours to take books to people who are unlikely to have them otherwise. This story comes from rural Colombia where a school teacher began to collect books from friends and supporters to take to people who live far from libraries or bookstores. He straps the bundles of books on a burro and walks the long roads in Colombia delivering books to people who want them. When a story about him appeared in a local newspaper, his supply of books shot up and his limited efforts expanded into a full time operation. It's hard to know what may happen after this story reaches the worldwide circulation of the Times. Why is it that librarians are so touched by these stories? Perhaps because it is the greatest justification that can be found for our efforts to give children access to books. Sometimes the children in our affluent neighborhoods may seem indifferent to our offerings, but when we read about how important books are in the lives of people living in harsh circumstances in a faraway country we know again that books are important and our work is vital. The books we offer today may not be highly valued, but someday many of the children who come to our libraries will remember them and will recognize how their lives were shaped by the books the librarian gave them in the children's department.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Are we shrinking the kids?

Parents, librarians, and teachers pride themselves on broadening children's minds and introducing them to new characters, ideas, and cultures. An article on the Frankfurt Book Fair in the N.Y. Times today, however, reminds us that most Americans limit their reading to books by American authors. Although the article discusses mainly publishers of adult books, the truth is that children's publishers are equally limited. At many international conferences, European and Asian librarians are surprised to learn that Americans do not know the work of favorite authors and illustrators translated and published in most of the developed world are unknown in the United States. Of course the classic works of famous Europeans--Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm brothers, and several British writers are known and loved here--but modern works by French, German, and Nordic writers who tell children about life in today's world are seldom translated. No wonder many school children know little about geography and can scarcely find Asia on a globe. They haven't had a chance to enter the lives of children who live in other countries, so they haven't developed any curiosity about them. It's time that librarians urge publishers to translate more of the great modern works for children. We owe it to our children and their futures in a global world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New role for series books

Children's books have been used to support many good purposes over the years, teaching moral values and discouraging bad behavior. When John Newbery started publishing children's books his major aim was to teach children to follow the right path in life with Goody Two Shoes. Early children's writers, however, probably never dreamed that children's books would join the fight against obesity. This year a new series of books, Beacon Street books encourage good eating habits in girls. It's a refreshing change from the Gossip Girls whose preoccupation appears to be more and more consumption rather than restraint, and there is some research to support claims that the books can help. Girls who read the new series were more likely to lose a bit of their BMI (body mass index) than girls who did not read these books. The big question is whether girls will flock to reading these books when they are not enrolled in a study. Will the adventure of living a healthy life attract a mass audience? That question rests with the author and publisher of the books, but librarians and teachers will be watching eager to see what happens.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Candidate or saint?

Librarians have been discussing the new childrens' biographies of Barack Obama and John McCain for several weeks, but the controversy has now reached the wider world of the N.Y. Times and its readers. In a review this weekend, Bruce Handy raises the question of whether anyone can live up to the "symbolic, even messianic, baggage" he's been given. It's important for children to know that the election of an African American president would be a milestone for the United States, but raising the stakes so high without mentioning the problems and struggles he'll be facing if elected puts an unfair burden on any human being. The job of President is a difficult and important one and all of our leaders have struggled to meet the challenges. We would serve the candidates better by giving children a simple, straightforward account of how the two leading candidates have demonstrated the promise that let's people believe they can do a good job rather than talking about either one of them in terms of mystical hopes and dreams. Children deserve the truth as we know it, they do not need to be fed the longings of adults whose expectations are beyond what any human being could meet.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Books for the times

As the stock market sinks lower every day, and many parents fear the loss of a job even if they haven't lost it yet, kids are caught up in the gloomy worries that pervade the media. Now is the time for children's librarians to remember some of the children's books that give a glimpse of life in hard times and fortunately Slate magazine has come up with a slideshow to remind us of some of the best. The old favorites like Little House on the Prarie and the Five Little Peppers and How they Grew remind us that hard times are nothing new and children in the past faced even more difficult circumstances than kids today. And more recent books deal even more realistically with the tensions and insecurities that children face during tough times. These books may be a lifeline for some children in today's libraries.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Coming on strong

The N.Y. Times and other mainstream media seem frequently to be surprised that children's reading and online activities are so closely related. Librarians have been aware of this for some time now. The latest report from the N.Y. Times describes how writing a book and devising an accompanying game may go together. It's important for libraries to be aware of this trend and to make both books and video games available to young people. But it is also important, it seems to me, to remember that many of the old classics and some newer print-only books still have great appeal. We don't want to neglect those or to believe that children will only accept media on a screen. It is the librarian's job to introduce books and other media and to stretch the boundaries of children's experience rather than restrict it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Opening new worlds

Usually we think of crossover books as books published for adults that find their way into the children's room where they become classics. Occasionally a children's book comes along that is so informative and appealing that it crosses over into the adult market. Not long ago Harry Potter did that and now a new nonfiction book, David Macaulay's The Way We Work seems destined for a similar fate. Everyone is fascinated by the mysterious way human bodies work, but few of us understand the mechanics of digestion, circulation, or reproduction. Thanks to Macaulay's curiosity and hard work, as described in this N.Y. Times article, adults as well as children can have a visual tour of a body and come to understand the remarkable way it works. Children's librarians are often lucky to have a front row seat on some of the most innovative literature that's being produced.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Would you let them read that?

Banned Book Week has come around again and once more librarians, teachers and parents are reminded of all the great children's books that have been challenged in our libraries and schools. Judy Blume, still one of the most popular children's authors in our libraries, is also one of the most frequently challenged. She is articulate on the subject of how book banning can limit the variety of information and recreation that children find in books. The freedom to read is one of the basic tenets of our democracy, and the American Library Association is one of the guardians of this freedom. It's worth taking some time to think once again about letting our children find the courage to search and judge opinions and actions on their own.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

When books meet film

Librarians still see books as the major media for storytelling to children, but popular books that remain tied solely to the printed page are few and far between these days. Like so many other picture books, Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux is being transformed into a movie but the transformation is not without pain. Unlike a picture book, many of which are still produced by an individual author with a little help from an editor and later partnership with an illustrator, movies are group projects from the beginning. The result may be an exciting movie for viewers, and a money-maker for studios, but it can also be a source of jealousy and dissatisfaction for its creators. The basically simple moral tale of Despereaux has turned into such a complicated dispute that the average librarian will find it impossible to figure out the rights and wrongs. It's just as well, however, to be aware of how complex the arts world is because it affects the quality of the materials we share with children. It will be interesting to see how the legal issues are finally resolved, although at the moment it is perhaps even more interesting to see the picture of how our little hero Despereaux will appear on screen. Take a look.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Good sense or censorship?

Scholastic book fairs are a staple part of many school, supported by parents, teachers and librarians. Recently controversy has arisen over Scholastic's ads for materials based on the Bratz fashion dolls. Some adults argue that these sexualized dolls and books about them are not suitable for middle school children and Scholastic has now agreed to drop references to them in its new book fair materials. Whether this was done because of the complaints or because of dropping sales in the Bratz branded products is not clear. Like most skirmishes in the battle to provide children with the best and most suitable materials while at the same time letting them choose what they prefer, the victory is ambiguous. Commercial publishers and producers of materials for children must seek a profit, so they will continue pushing borderline items that stretch the boundaries of acceptable. And librarians will continue to buy what their patrons want, but remain vigilant to reject materials that would harm children. The battle will never be completely won or completely lost, but it is still worth fighting.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pleasant to contemplate

With all the bad news in the newspapers this morning, it's pleasant to read a N.Y. Times review of the Babar exhibit at the Morgan Library in New York. The story of Babar and the unforgettable pictures of the ungainly elephant linger in the minds of many adults and still bring pleasure to children. Even though the books have been criticized for their simplistic picture of the benefits of bringing civilization to undeveloped societies, there is something charming about the story. Just as Babar has to learn to cope with the rules of society, so do children have to adapt to rules at school and at home. Something is lost as well as gained in the process. It's too bad this exhibit will not travel to other cities, but many libraries will no doubt purchase the catalog and thus allow those of us far from the East Coast to see how Babar came to life.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How do you score?

Children's librarians pride themselves on being able to match children and books. We watch children's choices, listen to their requests and make suggestions about what they might want to try next. Do we usually choose correctly? It's hard to tell. This month The Horn Book presents a Children's Literature Application Test for school librarians (although it's just as applicable to public librarians). On a quiet weekend morning you might do worse than read through the test and try to answer the questions. You may not always agree with the answers, but they will certainly make you think. How much can we actually tell about a child by observing his or her book choices? What does it mean when a child rejects a book you just know she would enjoy? The quiz will give you a lot to think about as you do your weekend shopping.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We missed the party

Maurice Sendak is getting plenty of well-deserved publicity as he celebrates his 80th birthday. Children's librarians, who were among the first to recognize his genius must be happy to see that he is now being hailed by other writers and dramatists, who probably pay little attention to children's literature. We've always known that children's books hold hidden gems that not many adults readers know about. It's nice to see that for once the recognition and acclaim has reached many corners of the literary world.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

More of the same

Book banning has unexpectedly turned into an election issue this year as some people have accused the Republican VP nominee of trying to ban books in her local public library. Every years, it seems, librarians are reminded that books can be an explosive topic. ALA has recently published a new list of challenged titles and most of them are titles that reappear year after year. The top title Tango Makes Three is a recent picture book with a theme of homosexuality among penguins and already it has already attracted a strong band of supporters and attackers and appears to be destined to remain on the list for years. Other books like The Chocolate Wars and Huckleberry Finn are veterans that appear year after year as new readers discover that even children's books can have disturbing content. Phillip Pullman's Golden Compass, which was turned into a movie this year, is somewhat unusual because the only objection to it is its religious viewpoint. As librarians choose materials from the hundreds of titles produced each year, they can't help but wonder how many of them will cause complaints among some community members. It's good to be aware that challenges may come, but also important to remember our professional commitment to offering a wide range of choices rather than choosing to avoid all controversy. A library with no complaints may be a library that is too dull to notice.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New view of Sendak

Maurice Sendak has been a dominant figure in children's literature for more than 50 years. Where the Wild Things Are has been a classic for several generations of children. It's difficult to remember that when it first appeared, some librarians and parents thought it was too scary to read to young children. Children of course knew better and several generations of them have been reading it to tatters. Now Maurice Sendak is preparing for his 80th birthday celebration and in this thought-provoking interview in the N.Y. Times, he looks back at his career and forward to his next book. Sendak is a serious man who has coped with losses and depression in his personal life, but somehow he has transformed his private sorrows into joyful art that reaches the hearts of all children. Librarians are privileged to be able to introduce his books to their intended audience and to see, year after year, the rich experience they provide for children.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Librarians are helping

As librarians gear up for a fall season of increasing children's programs and library use, they must sometimes wonder how much good their hard work accomplishes. As the School Library Journal recently pointed out, research can demonstrate that public library programs and resources help children become readers. Children who attend public library programs and who take out books from the library tend to have higher reading scores than those who don't. The three states highlighted by SLJ as offering effective children's services--Colorado, Minnesota, and Ohio--offer high levels of support for public libraries. This is an article to read, savor, and send on to library and city administrators. It can make a busy day of story reading and finger plays glow with satisfaction.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Media-book tie-ins

As if any more proof were needed, a couple of news stories of the past few days tell of publishing ventures that tie books and authors in with newer media. Rick Riordan, popular author of the Percy Jackson books, is starting a new nonfiction series with tie-ins to the Internet. He has outlined the series, but other authors will be writing some of the books. Librarians will want to watch how kids react. And going back to old favorites, a DVD of the 1930's book Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild has been released. Her books were popular fifty years ago, but I think most libraries have found them shelf-sitters in recent years. Perhaps presenting them in TV format--taken from a BBC series--will bring the books to life again. The publishers are clearly hoping for that.

Monday, September 1, 2008

TV worth watching

Parents, teachers and librarians are always on the lookout for worthwhile TV programs for children and now another one has come along. Martha Speaks, based on the picture book series by Susan Meddaugh, is an animated series coming to a PBS Digital channel. Martha the talking dog introduces fairly long and complicated words to young children while telling an entertaining story. The appeal of the new show to children in Kindergarten and the early grades of school should be high, but unfortunately the show is only available on a digital channel--at least for now. PBS is promising a DVD version in the spring, and episodes are available on i-tunes both of which should be good additions to many children's libraries. Keep your eyes open.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Teens as authors

Nothing develops an interest in books more effectively than seeing your own book in print. The L.A. based project WriteGirls makes this possible for many teenagers. Writing is a way for teen to express themselves and understand their turbulent feelings, and having their writing published validates their personal experience. Libraries could become a part of this effort by buying the books, even though they are not carried in many mainstream booksellers, and by sponsoring workshops to help girls get started writing. It's a great opportunity for school and public libraries to cooperate in supporting a project that has encouraged so many teens to complete high school and enter college.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Libraries on KQED

It's always nice to see libraries being talked about in mainstream media. This morning NPR listeners in the Bay Area could hear a Forum program, hosted by Michael Krasny, which brought together library leaders to talk about new developments and the future of public libraries. Most of the trends will be familiar to people who work in libraries, but it is heartening to hear about increased use of libraries, greater outreach services, and innovative reference services. Of course the lack of funding, especially for school libraries, and California's dismal record in supporting libraries were also mentioned. The program will be available for downloading as a podcast, probably by tomorrow, so you don't have to live in the Bay Area to hears these opinions.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

TV for babies

Libraries have expanded their collections to include plenty of visual media both for adults and children. Among the most controversial of these, are the television shows aimed at children under three. Heavy advertising has urged parents to buy DVD versions of these shows for their toddlers and librarians have responded by adding them to the collection. But is television good for young children? Many scientists and doctors tell us that it is not. Recently France banned TV programming aimed at children under three. Librarians are sure to hear repercussions from this. Some parents will reject the shows and tell libraries not to buy them, others will supply anecdotes about how much their children enjoy the shows and have learned from them. Here's one more topics children's librarians should be aware of and willing to discuss. Should libraries adopt policies about the age level of media products? It's an open question, but one worth talking about.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Media merging

Another indication of how book publishers are trying to tie in with other media, is the new "Gossip Girl" DVD. Most librarians know that the Gossip Girls first appeared in book form and later mutated into a TV show, but many young women who watch the show are unaware that it started life as a book. Now, according to the NY Times, the book publishers are trying to capture the attention of viewers by including an audio version of the book on the DVD of the show. Audio books have not been very popular with teens, but publishers are hoping to tap this market by producing podcasts. It's a move that librarians will want to watch. Will audio books become a larger part of the children's and YA collections in our libraries?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Laptop for every child?

Low cost laptops have been designed and used for children in developing countries, but now they are reaching the U.S. An experiment in Birminham, Alabama, has provided a laptop for every child in the classroom. These small XO laptops look like toys but they are able to handle most of the chores that a regular laptop does. Would it be possible to have a supply of these laptops in a library for children to use in doing their homework or searching for information? This hasn't happened yet, but as budgets grow ever tighter, it may be time to think about moving low cost laptops from the classroom to the library--both school and public libraries.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Taking a Second Look

The old, classic Anne of Green Gables books (there are seven sequels) are still in many children's collections, although they don't hold the central place they once did. Nonetheless they have inspired generations of girls, especially in Canada, where their author lived, and Japan, where they were overwhelmingly popular. It was the Japanese who made Prince Edward Island, the setting for the book, into a popular tourist destination. This year is the centennial of Anne's appearance on the book scene and the N.Y. Times today reviews a new biography of the author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Few librarians will be surprised to learn that Montgomery was a dedicated professional writer rather than a nice lady who sat down to write a children's book, as so many people think children's authors are. This new book "Looking for Anne of Green Gables" by Irene Gammel, uses Montgomery's journals and notebooks to show how ambitious she was. Lucy Maud would probably not appreciate being called a Pioner of Chick-Lit, but the book should be interesting reading for many of us fans of children's literature.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Welcome to Youth Library News

This blog is designed to share news and events that might affect the way we serve children and young adults in libraries. All sorts of changes in the economy, in media, and in education have an impact on libraries--or should have. This blog will offer you a chance to keep up with some of the major ones and add others that you notice.