Saturday, December 26, 2009

What are they searching for?

Librarians have known for a long time that most kids have a hard time finding specific online information. Skill in gaming and using social networks doesn't easily transfer to searching Google. Now the company itself has recognized the problems young children have in searching and is starting to conduct research to make its product easier to use. Choosing a search term that will lead to the correct bit of information can be tricky, as research by librarians over the past 15 years has shown. Many schools have developed training programs to help students learn how to search. It's good to see that the search engine companies themselves now recognize the problems and are looking at user needs. Making the Internet easier for children to search will make it easier for all of us. As so often happens--unsung librarians led the way to new knowledge.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Revisiting Cinderella

Looking for new books is a natural this time of year as we search for holiday gifts for friends and family.For librarians it's also a time to catch up on the year's books that we've missed during the busy summer and fall. It's been a good year for YA novels in which new young authors experiment with old stories and formats. One of the most unusual approaches to the Cinderella story is Malinda Lo's Ash,which combines a classic Cinderella story with some elements of Irish folklore. The combination works and Publisher's Weekly includes Lo as one of the rising new stars of the YA publishing world. There is something very encouraging to see that as books stream out of publishing houses year after year, some of them repetitive and clearly designed to capture a media sensation of the day, there is still room for a fresh new approach that succeeds. Teens are lucky because so much of the writing talent today is focusing on the YA market where there is still room for innovation and imagination.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Now the digital magazine

Children's magazines were a flourishing business only a decade or two ago, but many of them have disappeared as more and more children seek content online. Few families have subscriptions to magazines for their children and many schools and libraries are dropping them too. What does the future hold for short-form writing in the digital age? Adult magazines, which are also feeling the pinch, are experimenting with new ways of delivering content. One prototype that's being talked about is the digital magazine. As described by the NY Times, a tablet version of a magazine might be able to contain both the articles and visuals of a magazine in easily manipulated format. As with most digital products, the cost of the e-reader will be a deterrent for many casual magazine buyers, but it's possible that costs will drop if enough people want to read magazines this way. And if adult magazines can be successfully marketed as e-products, children's magazine publishers are likely to try to do the same. Take a look at the article, which shows what a Swedish publisher is planning, and be sure to watch the embedded video

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Who owns the rights?

An article in the NY Times today discussed a problem that may not at first glance seem related to children's books--the questions of who owns the rights to e-book versions of literary works published before e-books existed. Books by several of the authors who wrote in the mid-twentieth century have slow but steady sales through the years. These sales might grow if the books were available in popular e-book formats, but the heirs of the authors are arguing with publishers about who owns the rights to that format. Producing an e-book from material already available in electronic format is cheap and quite easy. Publishers can earn a lot of money if they sell well, while authors or their heirs get about 25% in royalties. The issue of what a fair royalty payment would be has not been settled, but many publishers have long backlists of titles that would find new sales in e-book format. Children's books often last longer than adult titles and it is likely that as publishers decide to produce them in electronic format, the same issue of rights will come up. Librarians will have to keep on eye on how the legal battles are progressing because unless a reasonable arrangement is reached, children may be denied access to some of the books they could and should be able to enjoy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gloomy publishing news

Writers, publishers, librarians and others involved in the book trade have for many years been looking to Kirkus Reviews for the earliest and savviest book reviews to be found. Now, we get an announcement that Kirkus is ceasing publication. What we loved about Kirkus was their willingness to take a chance and pan a bad book even if it was written by a celebrity and published by a major house. This fearless quality is hard to find in today's media world where most reviewers hesitate to disturb anyone who might someday have a chance to strike back. Too many reviews in major review journals are written by old friends and colleagues eager to put in a good word for a pal. And for those of us who take children's books seriously, it was good to have a source of reviews that didn't pander to the popular celebrities who turn out children's books at an alarming rate. Online journals and blogs are doing good service in letting people know about what's worth reading and what's not, but so far none has come up to the standard of Kirkus. Let's hope someone does soon; we'll miss the astringent voice of Kirkus.

Monday, December 7, 2009

At last--practical e-textbooks

According to reports in the N.Y. Times, a practical device for reading textbooks, complete with color illustrations, graphs and charts may be available before long. The device being planned has two screens, one of which fits behind the other for storage. One screen would be for text and would not be back-lit, so that it would be easier to read or long periods of time. Students could also take notes on their reading and highlight sections of the text. The other screen, facing the first like two pages of a book, would off color graphics to show pictures, graphs, or charts. The two screens would work together, so an item mentioned in the text could be opened on the color screen, back-lit for easy visibility. Of course the initial expense is likely to be high, but like all electronic products, the cost will drop over over. The device may not be perfected yet, but it offers great possibilities for the future. It's a far more practical way to distribute textbooks than to expect students to read them on a computer screen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Looking for lists?

This is the time of year when librarians and teachers are being asked over and over again about gifts for children. It's hard to keep the titles of all those good books on the tip of your tongue, so we turn to lists of best books thoughtfully published by many journals and some newspapers. You probably already know about the School Library Journal list and the N.Y. Times Book Review list, both of which appeared recently. Here's another that's not quite so familiar--the Boing Boing list. You may have missed some of these titles, but so many of them sound enticing that you'll end up ordering some for your library as well as for your nieces, nephews and friends, maybe even yourself. It's always nice to have another source for good holiday ideas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

More talk about tech

Sometimes it seems that tech innovations get all the media attention, while librarians who push books and help kids learn how to use them get very little attention. This year's conference of the National Conference of Teachers of English (NCTE) had some good sessions on bringing electronics and print together. It's good to be reminded that print and e-books aren't locked in some kind of combat; they are complementary formats to help children connect with books. Twitter, Facebook and hand-held computers can all be used in teaching and learning. School libraries are often ahead of public libraries in seeing the value of tech tools for young people. It's well worth looking over the fence to see what the schools are doing instead of focusing too closely on keeping up with other public libraries. Our audience is the same, we ought to work together to serve all children in all libraries.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is everything O.K. if it's in a book?

The Twilight series of books is hard to escape these days, and the recent movie will no doubt increase their sales. Some librarians are questioning the messages being sent in the series, but there's no way of keeping them out of girls' hands. A recent post on the YALSA blog gives an excellent critique of the way abusive behavior is glorified in the series. The poster notes that one way for skeptical adults to influence the teenagers' reactions to Edward and Bella's relationship is to educate girls about what stalking is and what an abusive relationship can be like. There are materials available for teens on healthy relationships and how to avoid falling into an unhealthy one. Why shouldn't a librarian organize educational sessions of this topic? We know that teens are struggling with how to relate to others; the more we can help them to tell the difference between good and bad relationships the better. Sounds like a no-brainer for an alert librarian.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New business model for publishing?

Romance writing is a distinct genre and may be seen as quite separate from writing children's books, but the business models are similar. Both of these branches of writing have a well-defined audience and a stable group of authors producing most of the best-selling books. Perhaps less noticed is the fact that both genres also have a huge number of would-be authors hammering at their publishing portals. Harlequin Publishers, which dominates the romance field, has lately taken a highly-debated step into letting their wannabes work under the Harlequin label. The newly-launched imprint Harlequin Horizons (which is being pressured to change its name) allows authors to buy a publishing packet that enables them to publish their own book under a quasi-Harlequin imprint. The publisher would collect the up-front money, but authors will get royalties for the sale of the books, which they must publicize for themselves. Sounds like an ordinary vanity press, doesn't it? That's what the Romance Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America think and they are demanding that Harlequin remove itself from the self-publishing business if it wants to keep its reputation as a respectable publisher. But all publishers of print materials are hard-pressed these days to keep profits high. Will other groups, even perhaps children's book publishers, consider launching similar initiatives? No one publisher dominates children's publishing the way Harlequin does for romance, but a firm like Scholastic is so big it could surely encompass one more arm and make a little extra money from all the slush pile contributors who beg to get in. There's no indication this is happening, but librarians should keep an eye on all branches of publishing. The future may be upon us sooner than we think.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Comics, comics and more comics

With science-fiction and other genre fiction as popular as it is, librarians who serve teens are frequently looking for a way to build on this interest. Once again School Library Journal has helped by providing a listing of genre comics with wide audience appeal. The sites listed here are available online, which is where many teens prefer to get their entertainment. One site will often lead to another, so fans can find hours of enjoyment whether their genre is science-fiction, romance, or gamer comics. The article might even provide a focus for a teen comics club devoted to sharing sites possibly even developing comic of their own. Every library has its share of teen patrons with talent for illustration and writing and comics offer a good outlet because of the flexibility of length and format. The possibilities are worth exploring.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In defense of scaring kids

Parents may fret over whether children will be scared by books, movies or TV shows, but Sam Leith in the Guardian staunchly defends scaring children. Scaring children is the point of children's books, he proclaims, and being scared is a natural prerogative of children. As I search my memory for scary stories I read as a child, I find it hard to think of any. It was the fairy godmothers and the princesses that pleased me, and the scenes of reconciliation when the Beast or the frog turned into a handsome prince that made me sigh with joy. I wonder if Sam Leith is talking about boys when he extols the virtues of frightening encounters with monsters and dragons. Perhaps girls develop earlier a sense that all is going to turn out right and therefore don't linger so much on the dark side. Or perhaps girls are taught that some prince will rescue them so they don't have to worry. It's when girls become mothers and are expected to get up three or four times in the night to comfort a frightened child that they develop a respect for the scariness of children's media. Someone ought to do a the meantime, read the article.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Little Critters calling

News about children's books being offered in varied formats appears almost every day. Publisher's Weekly has just announced that Mercer Mayer's Little Critters books are now appearing as i-phone aps. The touch screen allows children to touch various hot spots on the screen and to listen to the story or to see animations. The book Just Me and My Dad allows plenty of scope for action and sound and Mayer is planning on bringing many of his books to the small screen. Some of them have already been available for PCs, but the touch screen of the i-pod makes it easier for children to handle. Mobile phones are also, of course, much more portable than PCs, so parents can look forward to hours of driving pleasure while the kids in the back seat huddle over their i-phones absorbing literature.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Judging the covers

People who love picture books--both children and adults--almost always judge a book by its cover. But who judges the covers? Well, read this blog "Jacket Knack" to find out about some of the best covers now appearing. Once you get starting looking at them it's hard to break away. How many children's picture books have no words at all on the cover? That's not a question I've ever thought about but it's fascinating to see the examples given in this blog. Anyone who cares about children's picture books will enjoy reading the posts about their covers.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Season of Awards is starting

As winter comes, librarians scan the journals, newspapers, and websites for lists of Best Books of the Year. One of the first contenders in this contest of lists is the N.Y. Times list of the Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2009.
No one interested in picture books should miss the thumbnail pictures of the book covers, each linked to its review in the paper. Most of the styles of illustration now popular for children are represented--except for the growing group of graphic novel formats. One of the chosen books is an unconventional retelling of familiar folktales with stark, bold illustrations, another is an elaborate pop-up book that would never survive a child's handling. Some of these books will be more popular with adults than with children, but each of them represents an aspect of children's book culture today. Komako Sakai's The Snow Day brings memories of Ezra Jack Keat's classic Snowy Day, but this time instead of a recognizable child, the leading character is a bunny who lives like a human. Is this perhaps a move into abstraction so critics cannot raise issues of race or stereotyping? All of these books, although beautiful and worthy of a child's attention, seem curiously remote from the world our children live in. They exist perhaps to serve the needs of artists and other adults more than the needs of children. This is a trend worth thinking about.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hardcovers gone forever?

An article in the Huffington Post today by a book-publishing insider suggests that while the Kindle and other e-book readers may not kill off all books, they are likely to kill off the hardcover format. Anyone who has been observing the growth of the Kindle market may have noticed the type of people using Kindles. Aside from young people who are encouraged to use them by some schools, Kindle users are often teachers, librarians, publishers, writers and other avid readers. For years many booklovers (and almost all young people) have preferred paperback to hardcover formats because of the convenience and size difference. The Kindle has taken the paperback to a new level of convenience--it is light and portable. Many, if not most, books are read in places other than home. They are read in airports and on airplanes, in hotels, on commuter trains. Their transportability is important, but conventional hardcover books don't recognize that. Paperback books in recent years have been growing bigger and heavier, more like hardcovers, but that's a move in the wrong direction. In a world that prizes portability and convenience, hardcovers may well have lost their place. Publishers beware!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is twitter the future of books?

Although it hasn't hit the children's publishing market yet, twitter is making an impact on the adult publishing world. The N.Y. Times today reported that a new literary journal will be published in several electronic formats including twitter. The journal "Electric Literature", a quarterly, appeared last spring and has received good reviews. So far the stories have been of conventional length, but in November, Rick Moody will tweet a story over three days. The two founders of the new journal believe that electronic formats of many types are a natural for fiction. Mr. Lindenbaum, the fiction editor, said, “The short form could work increasingly well in a hectic age.” Librarians will want to keep an eye on this development and see whether the journal and the format take hold. It's an exciting time to be in publishing and in the library world as new materials keep appearing in a variety of forms that challenge our settled ideas about what reading material should be. (As well as challenging our ability to organize and access the mass of electronic materials.) The children's field will surely be an arena that will welcom innovations as they develop.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What's best for baby?

For several years, videos for babies have been big sellers, especially popular among middle class parents who have set their eyes on the prize of a brilliant baby with an assured route to an Ivy League school in 18 years. Now the Disney Corporation that produces the Baby Einstein videos has announced it will give refunds to people who have purchased the video. As the N.Y. Times story announcing this move, tells us, this is a "tacit admission that they [the videos] did not increase infant intellect". Whether is policy will mean the end of videos or other electronic media for infants is not clear. After all, babies do seem to like the Baby Einstein and similar videos. Parents have become accustomed to using television as a distraction to soothe fretful infants, and the simple baby videos are less objectionable than much of broadcast television. The American Pediatric Association has recommended that children under two not be allowed to watch any TV, but most American children today do see a great deal of it. It's unlikely this will change in the near future. The one important step forward that Disney's choice makes is to acknowledge that it's unlikely videos of any type can change or influence a child's intelligence. For centuries parents have tried to figure out what will enhance their child's chances of becoming a genius. It seems we still have to look further--videos won't do it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A different take on Indians

Choosing materials from ethnic groups different from our own is a difficult and sensitive task for many librarians. Professional journals often run articles about the faults of presentations in children's books of racial, religious and ethnic groups. We turn with relief to writers who spring from the culture they write about or make films about, but still we worry. It's refreshing to read a frank interview with Sherman Alexie in the N.Y. Times. Mr. Alexie, author of the hugely popular book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian talks, among other things, of the ways in which tribal culture has changed over the years, the effects of pop culture on his life, and his passion for basketball, a most un-Indian sport. It's important for children and teenagers today to learn about the Indian way of life both on and off the reservation, and that means allowing some of the idealization of tradition to fade away. Alexie has been criticized for portraying misery and failures in life on the res, but young people have to learn to live with truth. We owe a debt of gratitude to Sherman Alexie for bringing realism, as well as humor, into his portrayal of growing up Indian. We must trust youngsters to sort the good from the bad and develop a healthy respect for cultures different from their own.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Talking about picture books

Children's books are being discussed in the general media more than ever. The New Yorker has an article on the behavior of children in picture books that every librarian ought to read. The author, Daniel Zalewski, compares the behavior of recent protagonists like Olivia the cheerful little pig to earlier ones like Frances the Badger in Russel Hoban's classic picture books. The more recent heroes and heroines triumph over their parents, misbehaving in wildly inappropriate ways without experiences any downside. Unlike the parents in the Frances books or the even earlier Robert McCloskey books, today's parents are unable to restrain their children's tantrums. In the new Constance series by Pierre LeGall, the young heroine is able to fool all the adults around her by acting virtuous in boarding school without really changing her outrageous behavior while at home. Do these new books reflect a change in parental behavior or simply a new freedom for editors, authors and illustrators to portray naughtiness that would ge many children into trouble? Fantasy is fine for young children, but librarians might do well to talk to kids at storyhour about whether these stories reflect something that might happen or whether they are pure imagination. Let's hear some feedback from the target audience!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why is this boy so successful?

You know a children's book series is a success when it's written about not just in the book section, but in the general news sections of newspapers. The phenomenal success of the Wimpy Boy series is attested by the N.Y. Times article about the books. This article appears in the Times's health section and the attention paid is far more psychological than literary. Why is it that a boy who calls himself wimpy turns out to be a hero to so many child readers? Usually the heroes in books for preteen boys are athletic or at least successful in school and in life. Can anyone picture either of the Hardy Boys calling himself wimpy? (Of course the word probably didn't exist when the Hardy boys romped through their adventures.) The Harry Potter books have been a huge success, but they make no attempt to picture the life of real kids in a contemporary world. Perhaps this is why the Wimpy Boy series has reached thousands of kids who think they don't like books. Librarians may not approve, but it's hard to argue with success.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Do we need a new term?

Recently there has been a flurry of online chatter about whether we need a new term for reading from a screen as opposed to reading on a page. Take a look at this blog for example. The term that seems to be cropping up most often is "screening", although that ruins the image of wealthy people in the Hollywood hills screening films in their rec rooms. Not to mention the screening we all endure at airports. You have to wonder whether reading words differs from one medium to another. Does reading handwriting differ from reading printed type? What about reading characters in Chinese as compared with reading alphabetic scripts? Are the differences great enough to require a new word? For librarians and teachers the important issue may be whether children who habitually read from a screen are having a different experience from those who read from a book. And are these differences great enough to require a different word? It's still an open question, but after trying my first Kindle yesterday, my own feeling is that the differences between e-books and paper books are far less than the similarities. One will be more convenient than another under specific circumstances, but in reading it's the ideas and story that matters--not the material on which it appears.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A new pal for Pooh

Children and their parents, and especially grandparents, have enjoyed the Winnie the Pooh stories for many years, but perhaps the major impact of the books has been as a revenue stream for Milne's estate, the Disney Company and manufacturers of Pooh products. Pictures of the familiar characters are available on clothes, bedding, calendars, tableware and other products. Now a new book is being published to take advantage of the interest. It is the first authorized sequel to the Pooh books and offers new stories and new illustrations as well as a new friend for Pooh--an otter. The New York Times article announcing this gives a sample of the illustrations, which seem pleasantly close to the originals. We will be lucky if the author, David Benedictus, captures the original spirit in his writing too. If he does, the children's publishing world may have another blockbuster, that is, if today's children can accept anything other than the Disney version.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Yet another kind of e-book

Publishers are becoming very creative in devising new formats for the products formerly known as books. The latest version reported in the NY Times is being called a "vook" Unlike the standard e-books we've seen on Kindle or Sony readers, this version integrates video clips with the text. The reader can read the book on a printed page and then go to a computer to watch the interspersed videos, or the book can be read entirely online or listened to in an audio version. The key feature is to have some of the scenes presented as video pictures rather than text. It seems likely the next step toward this vision might be on a mobile phone which already has facility to show both text and video. Jumping back and forth between media sounds awkward to a traditional reader, but we have learned to do that when reading newspapers online, so perhaps we could adjust to doing it with books too. No one can predict where this will all lead, but librarians are going to be hard pressed to keep up with the ever-changing media formats patrons might want--and young patrons will probably be among the most eager.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Books without paper

Drawing on the vast popularity of its stories and films, the Disney Corporation has decided to offer its storybooks in a new format. The company is setting up a website which will make Disney books available for children to read or for parents to read to their child. Each book is reproduced on the screen and children can move through it page by page with the click of a mouse. If they encounter an unfamiliar word, a click of the mouse brings an audio definition. Books are listed in age categories so both parents and children can choose age appropriate titles. A subscription to the site will cost each family $79.95 a year. Although the company insists their website will not supplant the experience of having a parent read while the child snuggles on her lap, it is easy to guess that some busy parents will encourage their children to switch on the computer instead of asking for an individual session. Will other publishers follow this lead? None has shown interest so far, but then no other publisher has such deep pockets and such a large collection of content. It's too bad the Disney illustrations are so similar to one another. A child would benefit from a wider variety of styles. Nonetheless it seems likely this project will catch on and librarians may soon be asking for institutional subscriptions to the website.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Taking education home

Educational videos have been a staple of classroom instruction for years, but a new program in Indiana will now make many of these learning tools available for home use. Comcast and the Discovery Channel will collaborate to provide this material at no cost to families in Indiana. No doubt these videos will serve homeschooling families as well as those enrolled in schools. The value of the availability depends, of course, on how good the resources are and how well children are able to use them. When teachers use videos they usually supplement them with commentary and follow them up with questions and discussion. How effective the resources will be without teacher guidance remains to be seen, but for reference and reinforcement of previously viewed material, they will undoubtedly be helpful.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What do we do with films?

Many teachers show films to introduce concepts and topics in science, history and other subject areas, but as many librarians know, visual media present even more problems than print in arousing parental objections. Even a film as clearly educational as An Inconvenient Truth has caused objections in some school districts. Often school districts simply ban the film from classrooms, but students would benefit if they adopted the stance of public libraries and decided that a parent could only prohibit his or her own child from seeing a particular film--not the entire class. The prejudices of a small group should not inhibit most students from learning in as many formats as possible. As more films, both old and new, become available for download, it is easier than ever for young people view them whether adults want them to or not. Raising objections to films may cause more interest and more viewing than would otherwise occur. This was the lesson of book banning and it is likely to be repeated with films. It's probably lucky for educators that so many censorship attempts backfire.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Keeping science up to date

Librarians and teachers know that keeping a science collection current is one of the most difficult tasks in a children's collection. Books can go out of date almost as soon as they are published and certainly long before the book is worn out. Popular subjects like dinosaurs need constant updating as discoveries and interpretations change year by year. The Internet is a good place to find accurate and up-to-date science material and here is a new website to add to your list of resources ScienceNews for Kids. The language is easy enough for 8 or 9 year old children to follow and there are plenty of illustrations. The S.F. Chronicle made this their website of the week, so you can expect parents and kids to be asking about it soon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Digital publishing

Publishers Weekly is an indispensable source of information about the book trade. Although aimed at publishers, it is one of the best ways for librarians and teachers to keep up with what's going on in children's publishing. A recent forum on Children's Publishing in the Digital Age offered many insights into the direction publishing may take in the future. One particularly thorny question for children's publishers is what to do about picture books. None of the e-book platforms now available are suitable for picture books, which rely on a marriage of print and graphics. The lack of color in many e-books limits their use for children's books. In recent years picture books have been turned into films and videos, but that changes the impact and emphasis. A film is not a substitute for a book, it's a different entity. No one is sure where e-publishing of children's books will be going in the next few years, but this forum gives us some possible directions to consider.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who reads newspapers?

The death of newspapers is a favorite topic not only among journalists but among teachers, librarians and others who think reading is important. It's hard to know what the future of print newspapers will be, as subscriptions dwindle week by week. Reading newspapers online continues to be popular, and for teens it's almost the only way to get newspaper content. The problem is that newspapers haven't been able to make a profit by providing content online. Now google has come along with a service designed to make reading newspapers and other news sources online faster and easier. As this N.Y. Times article reports, getting news faster is the goal for most people. Google's new service makes scanning the front pages of newspapers and magazines faster and easier. The revenue will still come from ads, but if more people start using the tool, ads may bring in more revenue. Check out the news story and take a look at google's new initiative. This may be the future of newspaper.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Always controversy

Librarians sometimes feel it's impossible to do everything right. SLJ's report on the recent controversy in Brooklyn, NY, over a Tintin book is a case in point. The 1930s versions of many books were undoubtedly racist. Most of them have disappeared from library shelves, but Tintin is a classic, and Tintin au Congo has been a part of library collections, but has now been moved to a limited-access section of the collection. Showing Africans as childlike and dependent on white people to help them is undoubtedly unrealistic. Most of us do not want our children to see images or read stories that show such dated and unjust portrayals of Africans--or anyone else. But the New York Civil Liberty group objects to removing the book from open shelves because that is censorship. Who is right? When a book is in a restricted collection, it is undoubtedly kept from most children. Should a book like this be available only to adults who can understand the historical context? Many of us would agree that it should be, but that puts us on the side of censors and that's an unpleasant place to have to stand. But we can't have it both ways. Glib anti-censorship statements often don't cover all the situations that arise in real life libraries.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are they really going digital?

The announcement recently that a school library in Massachusetts was going completely digital, based apparently on the lack of book circulation, has caused concern. A thoughtful post on the YALSA blog raises some of the questions we librarians should be asking before we send out mournful tweets. What was the school library doing before this decision was made? Was the school librarian an important figure in the decision to make a basic change in the library collection? How many books circulate in other school libraries every day? What do the students think? Are they reading books at all? Do they have a great public library next door to the school? There are too many questions that beg for answers, and too many opinions thrown out without any facts to back them up. It's not enough to jump on a story and assume a position--pro-book or pro-digital--without asking the more important questions about the impact of any decision. In this world of easy, inexpensive blogging it's more important than ever for librarians to share their experiences, their knowledge and more especially the facts behind their opinions. That's the only way to earn the respect of administrators and the public.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Have you phoned any good stories?

Children's books have appeared in many settings so it shouldn't surprise us that some will now be appearing on the i-phone and i-pod. Instead of reading a story to their child at bedtime, a parent could click on an i-phone version. As both parents and children get more used to using their phones to meet all their entertainment needs, this development seems a natural. Many children will find the small screen idea for their viewing and the thought of keeping a pocketful of books is surely a winner. It's starting small, of course, but this is one development that librarians and teachers will want to keep an eye on.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Will the wild things survive?

Librarians often have an uneasy relationship with movie versions of beloved children's books, as well they might because the success of a movie can change the way a book is perceived. Does anyone remember what Cinderella looked like before the Disney version? Now Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are is being filmed and it looks as though the wild things may be even more changed than Snow White was a generation ago. The New York Times reports on the struggles involved in producing a film version of one of the most straightforward and effective children's books of the past fifty years. Will the simple story of Max's journey to the country of the wild things survive the transition to the screen? It's hard to say. What we can assume will happen is that to many children the film will become the "real" Where the Wild Things Are and the printed books on our shelves will seem but pale imitations. Let's hope that at least a few children will encounter Max and his buddies on the page before being subjected to the wild antics of the film.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Should they read what they like?

For generations children's librarians debated whether children should be allowed to read any book they wanted--series books? comic books? books with bad grammar?--or whether libraries should concentrate on collecting only the best books. That debate has pretty well been ended, with popularity conquering "elitist" librarians' tastes. Now the schools are going through the same arguments. According to a front page story in today's N.Y. Times, English teachers in some schools have given up on class novels and turned to a new approach that lets every child choose his or her own reading. Tempting books on a variety of reading levels are offered to middle grade or high school students who choose according to their own taste. The teacher discusses the reading individually with each student. Does this work? Apparently in some schools children become enthusiastic about the books they choose and enjoy the process. Whether it is realistic to expect a teacher in a large class to read and discuss the dozens of books on an individual basis is another question. And whether it is important for children to have some experience with the classic reading of recent years is yet another issue. The results aren't final yet, but teachers, desperate to get kids to read anything, are offering wider and wider choices in reading and the trend seems to be toward more pop culture and fewer class novels.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Losing a great generation

The generation of children's writers who started publishing books in the years after World War II brought a produced a great outflowing of children's stories that have lasted for the past half century. Now, slowly, those pioneers are passing away. Today brings news of the death of Karla Kuskin whose poetry and stories were loved by children and parents from the 1950s onward. She had a gift for quiet, unassuming poetry that spoke directly to children and her straightforward approach appealed to adults as well. She was not a author who sought out fairylands or reworked familiar motifs. Believing that too much time is spent writing about moons, she wrote a poem about radishes. That is true, fresh, imagination. We will miss her, but fortunately generations of children will continue to be able to read her books.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Heavy topics in Milan

The IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Milan this year is filled with papers and discussions aimed at children's and school librarians. Lots of good reading if you go to the website and look at the sessions under the Milan Conference. One paper I heard yesterday at a session on multiple literacies. was about the importance of comics for children and how comics are being used in South Africa to encourage children to read. In a multilingual society like South Africa, it's important that children learn to enjoy reading in English--usually their second or perhaps third language--so it's important to have materials that appeal. One of the references listed in the paper is accessible at
You might want to take a look. It will encourage you to see comics from a child's point of view. They are increasingly important for many of us in this global society where we are all learning new literacies.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Long silence

It's been too long since I posted here. I've been visiting Italy and enjoying the sights of Florence, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The weather was hot but not unbearable. It's a pleasure to be able to see so many paintings and statues.

Now I'm in Milan attending the International Federation of Library Associations conference. I hope to hear the latest news about chidren's publishing and libraries in Europe. It will probably be a few more days before I can post the news.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lots of hope out there

A record number of registrants attended the Annual Conference of the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators last week in Los Angeles. Hopeful new writers and illustrators listened to talks by seasoned editors, authors and publishers. The advice they got was hopeful. There is still a strong market for children's books, although the bad economy has had some effect. Advances for writers are smaller than in the past (they've always been relatively small for children's authors) and publishers can offer fewer services in publicizing and selling books. Many sales depend on hard work by the book's creators through websites, school and bookstore visits, and generally hand selling as many copies as possible. A successful children's book still begins with a great idea and takes form through plenty of hard work. Editors are a tremendous help in bringing a book to completion and making it as good as possible, but on the whole their contribution ends there. The authors must interact with librarians, teachers and other adults who care about children's books. Let's remember that and help our local authors and illustrators by arranging school and library visits. They are good for the school, for the library, for the author and illustrator and most of all for children.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Another step for e-readers

Amazon's Kindle has been the standard for e-readers for the past few years, but new, lower cost devices are now entering the market and may grab a large share of it. One of the most fought-over components of the e-reader market is textbooks. More and more colleges are using electronic versions of textbooks and K to 12 educators are hoping they can switch to more of them too. The cost and the lack of graphics has been holding back the development, but if the price hurdle can be overcome, the technical difficulties will surely be solved soon. Meanwhile the argument over the usefulness of electronic textbooks is becoming muddled by confusion over textbooks and miscellaneous content from the Internet. A N.Y. Times article reporting on the "death" of textbooks lumps together the use of an authored textbook provided in electronic format on an e-reader with the use of a variety of articles, videos and other material found online. But these are two very different educational sources and both of them are useful in their place. A well-written and ordered textbook can lead students through various concepts and guide them to understanding concepts and actions, while the use of a variety of sources in various formats can bring lessons to life and make them memorable. Both these formats have a place in today's education. Educators can celebrate the advances in technology that make it possible for students to learn effectively and to remember what they have learned. Old formats almost never die, they accommodate the new and we all benefit from the mix.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

New information formats

The Alaska Library Association has started a new initiative to make state documents available on flash drives for use in Alaskan schools. As reported in School Library Journal, a number of small communities in Alaska have limited or unreliable internet access and having documents available in a robust format would help teachers and students. There hasn't been much coverage of the use of flash drives for storing and sharing information, at least not in the library press, yet the technology is available and used by most high school students these days. When you think about the sheer volume of material that could be made available in small packages, the advantages and possibilities seem huge. Let's hope there will be some funding for similar projects in other parts of the country and around the world.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A change for the better

In a previous blog post I commented on the furor over the jacket photo on the book Liar. Now a story in Publisher's Weekly tells us that the publisher, Bloomsbury, has listened to the complaints from bloggers, librarians, and readers and has promised a new cover for the book. The issue was whether a book about an African-American girl should have a cover showing a white girl with long, straight hair covering part of her face. The original explanation was that the cover represented the way the character was hiding the truth from others, but while that rings true psychologically, the difference between having a photo of a white girl or one who looks like the book's character is more important than the pose. Every reader expects a photo on a book cover to represent the characters in the book Bloomsbury wouldn't have used a teenaged boy to represent the character no matter how nicely he might illustrate the trait of hiding the truth. Characteristics like gender and race are just too important to ignore. It's good to see Bloomsbury has recognized that fact.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Zero tolerance strikes

Where's the spell-checker when you really need it? SLJ's Bowillan's Blog
today includes a story about a ten-year-old banned from Club Penguin because she made a typo and wrote "sex" when she meant "sec". It's easy to see how that would happen, and any human being who looked at the message "I'll be back in a sex" would guess what had happened, but the unforgiving computer that monitors Club Penguin automatically bans anyone who slips. Club Penguin is a useful site for young computer users and it's too bad they don't correct this problem before too many kids are hurt by being kicked off a site. (Of course, they may be working on this as I write and if they are, they get a gold star.) As librarians and parents, we should remember not to jump too fast and scold children for inadvertent mistakes that make make them seem subversive when they are only making the same kind of mistake adults make every day. We must keep our human eyes alert to check the mindless settings of the computer systems we let our children use.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Is this what we've been dreading?

The Kindle craze has swept some schools, and some librarians and teachers are predicting that textbooks and entertainment reading alike will be moving to electronic format. There are roomers that a new Kindle 3 will revolutionize reading by bringing graphics to the Kindle screen. Reactions to this have been mixed, as shown in this Publisher's Weekly blog and the College Humor video clip. It makes you laugh, but also makes you think about what might be gained and lost as more and more text moves into electronic format. Is this really what we want?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Comics bigger than ever

The recent Comics-Com international conference in San Diego was attended by a crowd of eager fans with a strong representation of publishers, and children's books were a major topic. According to Publishers Weekly the biggest news for children's books was the announcement by Scholastic that they will be publishing new books and stories by Jeff Smith based on Bone, Smith’s bestselling epic fantasy adventure series. There's no questions about the popularity of comics and graphic novels for childen and teens and as librarians, teachers and parents embrace these formats, there will soon be no question about their critical acceptance either. History minded librarians may wonder what Anne Carroll Moore and Frances Clark Sayers might say about this trend.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Do you remember....?

How long do children's books linger in the memories of their readers? Well, clearly there are no statistics on that, but it's still a good question. As librarians, parents, or teachers we often wonder whether the books we provide for our children really do influence them. A recent series of essays on books read by thousands of girls during the 1960s and 1970s sheds some light on how many women still recall Harriet the Spy, Judy Blume's Margaret, and other heroines of the time. Whether we imitated the characters in books or turned our backs on them, it seems that many of us paid attention and remember them. Perhaps we should take a look at today's books and try to figure out what kids will remember from them in 2030 or 2040.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Can covers be liars?

The fall publication of a YA novel called Liar by Justine Larbalestier is causing a stir in the publishing world because, as shown in this PW story, the cover depicts a white girl with long hair, while the book is about an African-American girl who describes herself as having "short, nappy hair". Obviously the publisher thinks the book will sell better if a white girl is shown on the cover rather than a minority girl. Is this a fair representation of the book? Is that even a fair question? Will the readers feel betrayed if they buy a book in which they don't recognize the heroine they expected to find? In the PW story, several bookstore buyers comment on the cover and their reactions to it, we'll have to wait to find out what librarians--and more importantly potential readers--think. The controversy certainly raises questions worth thinking about.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Another view of e-textbooks

California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has announced a policy of offering electronic textbooks to students. He suggested that this would save the state millions of dollars because the books would be free, although it's not clear how the content would be produced unless people were paid to write it. Pilot programs in various states have tried to study how students react to e-textbooks and the results, according to the Wall Street Journal, are mixed. Cost for commercially produced e-books are approximately the same as the costs for print versions, and publishers would like to keep it this way. Some students don't like reading on a screen and some complain they are unable to take notes or skip around to find specific content. Apparently the choice of how to read, as well as what to read, is very personal and schools and libraries will be experimenting for years to find a way of serving the greatest number of students. In this time of budget woes, it may not be easy to change a system even one that is as expensive as our current textbook market is.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Nancy Drew one more time

The reputation of Nancy Drew has been growing for the last 50 years as women who read books in the early series move into positions of power and prestige. Perhaps her greatest recent fame has come from the hearings of Sonia Sotomayor, the latest candidate for the Supreme Court. Now the N.Y. Times us about some of the other women who have declared they were fans of the girl-sleuth while they were growing up. Even though libraries often did not purchase these series books during the 1940s and 1950s, many American girls found them on their own, traded them with friends, and were strongly influenced by them. What was the appeal? Probably the independence and cleverness of Nancy who refuted all the images of dumb, timid girls that other media of the time presented. Nancy was a thousand times stronger than all the little sisters who tagged after the heroes of boys adventure books favored by schools and libraries. While Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn had adventures, girls were supposed to sit back and wait to be rescued. Nancy inspired all the fervent readers who longed to have adventures of their own. And see where she has led--to presidential candidates, Supreme Court justices, and Secretaries of State. Let's keep today's Nancy Drews in our libraries to inspire other young readers.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Provocative view of e-books

Like the recording industry in the early 2000's, the publishing industry today is struggling with the question of what to do about electronic content. In the view of one Slate columnist, they are leaving themselves open to the same Napster battles the recording industry went through. with its Kindle reader has inspired many people to download the electronic version of a book they want to read rather than buy a print copy. The price of most of the books for Kindle is $9.99, considerably less than even a trade paperback much less a hardcover. Of course it is not only the price that attracts users; the convenience and small size of the Kindle is also a benefit, but the price is certainly a factor. Now publishers are trying to force and other booksellers to charge more for e-books so the electronic/print difference will not be so great. Is this a good idea? Slate writer Jack Shafer thinks not. He says publishers should learn a lesson from the recording industry and give consumers what they want. Librarians who also wonder whether the provision of e-books is going to become an integral part of their services will do well to watch the outcome of this battle. It's hard to believe that e-books won't triumph in the end, but we can all hope that publishers adjust to the new situations and not try to go back to the past.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Websites for coping

The American Library Association has been meeting in Chicago and so librarians, teachers, publishers, and parents have had a chance to learn more about the books and other media being produced for children. One of the useful lists unveiled this week has been the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) list of great websites for teaching and learning. Although the professional media are filled with praise for how technology is helping children to learn, people on the ground who spend their time interacting with real live children often find it difficult to manage the flood of new materials and messages being sent. It was hard enough in the old days to try to match children with the perfect books to fill their needs, but now the task is overwhelming. Fortunately, the new tools allow youngsters, as they grow, to find and manage more of their own material. Education is becoming more of a collaboration rather than a teacher dominated experience. Check out some of these websites and think about some of the ways children's learning experiences can be expanded and strengthened.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Everything old is new again

One of the perennial habits of children's book publishers is recycling old favorites for a new audience, sometimes for a new generation of children and sometimes for adults. This season two annotated versions of Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows aimed clearly at adults have appeared. Grahame's fantasy of life in Edwardian England has a lasting appeal for many adults who grew up with tales of the forest animals that take off on an unplanned trip to see a new world. Children will accept almost any story that celebrates freedom from the constraints of daily life, but when adults re-examine the stories they see all sorts of themes that were invisible to their child-eyes. What does the story "really" mean? Does it matter? Every reader takes something different from a story, which is why many classics have continuing appeal. Perhaps the best thing for librarians to do is to make the stories available and let children--and adults--take what they will from them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What's a publisher to do?

Librarians and teachers often complain about the range of books from which they make their choices, but it's not often we see someone directly address the publisher about what's wrong with their products. The July School Library Journal has a straightforward article listing ten strong suggestions for publishers. These run from the practical perennial plea for stronger bindings on books to a more novel complaint about the emphasis on books about World War II. It's odd how authors and publishers in recent years have focused on the ten year period of that war, neglecting both earlier and later wars fought by the United States and other countries. We urge our children to think globally, but rarely supply them with exciting stories about the lives and history of Asian, African and South American countries. Unlike the world they live in, most children's libraries are heavily slanted toward books about Europe and North America. It's time for a change.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fast selling YA series

As a follow-up to the NY Times story of last week, the paper wrote today that James Frey and a co-writer have had their YA series picked up by Harper Collins. The movie rights have already been sold, and this sale within a week of its first offer, is an indication of how much faith publishers are putting in name brand authors. Mr Frey, it appears, had the idea of the books, but much of the text will be written by his young associate, Jobie Hughes. It's a great opportunity for a recent graduate from Columbia University's creative writing program. It will be interesting to see how well the collaboration works.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What will they read this summer?

Summer reading lists have been popular--at least with teachers--for a long time. Often the books listed by the schools are featured in public libraries and large bookstores so students can pick them up easily. One questions that's often raised is how to balance classics with popular reading on these lists. The scales are turning in favor of popular books according to an article in the Boston Globe If the reason for these lists, the argument goes, is to get students to enjoy reading, there's no point in assigning books that are too difficult and/or "boring". Who would read Jane Austen when Pride and Prejudice and Vampires is on the list, as it is on several high school lists this summer? Many librarians and teachers hope that developing a love of reading will lead teens to wider reading and eventually perhaps to the classics. And if they don't read the traditional canon, is that so bad? Maybe encouraging teenagers to read manga from Japan, journalists from India and Afghanistan and novels from South America will be better preparation for 21st century life than reading the old standbys like Kipling, Dickens and Melville.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Publishing in a recession

Children's book publishers, just like the rest of us, are suffering through economic hard times. Does this mean the number of children's books available to schools and libraries will be dropping? It's hard to tell but Harold Underdown, creator of the Purple Crayon website, gives us a lot of important information in his latest entry on working through a recession. Throughout 2008 publishing for children seemed less affected by hard times than general publishing was, but 2009 presents a bleaker picture. Underdown looks back at history to compare what is happening now to what happened during the 1930s and the 1970s. Conditions are different, of course, because the market for children's books in those days was much more dependent on school and library sales. Many of today's children's books are aimed at parents and children, especially the fiction titles. Nonfiction titles sell better in the institutional market, so as schools and libraries lose funding, publishers will be affected too. This is an important article for librarians whether in school or public libraries. We depend on publishers to supply the resources we give to children. For all our sakes let's hope the recession doesn't last much longer.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Intrigue in children's publishing

We've come a long way from the stereotype of a children's author as a solitary woman scribbling away in a garret, like Louisa May Alcott working on Little Women or H.K. Rowling sitting in a coffee shop with a pen and paper handwriting the first Harry Potter book. Still it's a surprise to read in the N.Y. Times that several publishers on Madison Avenue are looking at a new young adult sci-fi series of books by an anonymous author rumored to be James Frey of A Million Little Pieces fame. Has the celebrity author decided his fame might influence publishers against his books for youth? Surely the teenagers themselves would be pleased to know that an author made famous by appearing on Oprah is writing for them. And with movie rights also on offer, the books are not likely to remain unknown. This is just one more example of how publishing for children has grown into a mainstream media industry. Whether this is good or bad for developing talented authors who have something important to say to young people is a question we'll long be arguing about.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More cooperation

Schools and public libraries often work together to help children have better access to the resources they need for homework and pleasure. Often this is done by simple means such as linking to each other's catalogs on the homepage of each system. New York City is now aiming for a more elaborate way of inducing students to use their public library resources through developing widgets to make the process easy. School Library Journal reports that work has started on these widgets and the first of them will be introduced at the NYC School Library Conference in the fall. Librarians throughout the country will be keeping on eye on the developments. It sounds like a winning idea for everyone.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Copyright for the grandkids?

Arguments over copyright will probably never end and librarians need to be informed of the legal and moral rights of people who write, draw or otherwise create content. There is a difference, however, between the moral rights of a creator of content and the legal rights of a corporation that controls the copyrights of many creators. Many new works and creative commentary on published materials are stifled by narrow and sometimes absurd restrictions. A new book about the Internet and its follies, Digital Barbarism, written by Mark Helprin, comes in for some thoughtful criticism by N.Y. Times columnist Ross Douthat. Anyone who has read through the long columns of comments appended to many news stories and blogs, will sympathize with Mr. Helprin's anger, but it's important to remember that a few of the comments will be thoughtful and offer new insights into any subject. Listening to the voice of the people is tedious, but in the long run we often discover that truth lies somewhere in the welter of words and is often worth seeking out. Our copyright laws need revision, but we need to listen to more voices than that of Mr. Helprin.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's in a title?

Have you ever looked at the titles on a library shelf and wondered why so many of them echo other books? Patricia Cohen in the N.Y. Times speculates about titles that have led to a series of take-offs. Freakonomics is one that started other authors and publishers thinking about similar titles. This is not a new phenomena, as Cohen points out Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire has led to dozens of other titles that chronicle the decline and fall of all sorts of other things. Although the trend is most prevalent in adult books, children's publishers are not immune to it. Of children usually like repetition, consider the Nancy Drew titles The Case of... over and over again, or the Harry Potter titles which always open the same way. But books that use inspiration from one title to write another on a completely different topic should be looked at carefully. Borrowing the idea of a title is all right, but we want to be sure the ideas inside the book aren't borrowed, or derivative, as well.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Another way to interact

Authors, editors and librarians have learned the value of live chat sessions, Facebook postings and other Web 2.0 formats for publicizing books, but Publishers Weekly reports on yet another avenue--Twitter. It's beginning to be clear that Twitter is a format that hasn't reached its full potential yet. Comedians still poke fun at the twittering habits of famous people, and columnists love to report that most people drop twittering after only one or two posts. But for those who can adapt and take advantage of the quick-moving give and take of a twitter session, the medium does offer possibilities. This account of an author and editor talking about a newly published book about Neil Armstrong suggests that tweets can arouse interest in a book, or presumably another product, and even spark sales. Children would surely be a good audience for a fast-moving exchange, a suggestion of a title or author to investigate, a quick answer to a question. More librarians ought to try it out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Paying for digital textbooks

Governor Schwarzenegger's announcement that California schools will soon be using open source digital textbooks for science and math--and perhaps other subjects--was a welcome one to many teachers and librarians. The process by which schools and libraries can move to providing this material instead of paper books is still not clear. Digital material needs equipment to make it usable and school boards as well as library boards are notoriously stingy about buying enough computers and especially maintaining them well. It's not unusual to see a cluster of computers in a classroom and library in which half of the machines are "temporarily" unusable. The new Kindle and other electronic reading devices seem ideally suited to textbook use, but how will those stand up to repeated use by students year after year. It's important to look at the quality and cost of our textbooks, but librarians and teachers ought to be equally concerned with the quality and cost of the machines that give access to them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Separate and not equal?

The difficulty of communication between parents and their preteen or teenage children has often been noted. Now that many young people spend much of their time online, is the gap becoming better or worse? Check out the blog hosted on the Digital Natives website and you can read about another website full of complaints about parents who joing Facebooks. Librarians and teachers may want to consider the implications of this. Will setting up a library page on Facebook be seen as a friendly gesture by young library patrons or will it be an intrusion into their space? Probably the best way to find out is to talk with the kids. In this world of interactive media, we adults should do our best to focus on honest interaction--asking kids what they want and listening to what they say.

Friday, June 5, 2009

More ways to get kids reading

Children love to make their own videos and express their own ideas and smart librarians and teachers help them along as much as possible. School Library Journal offers a roundup of digital products that will spark children's interests in learning and reading. Media producers are aware that many teachers are not adept at working with video cameras or editing the results, so a product like Animoto will cause rejoicing. With this tool, students can produce lively, inviting 30-second reviews of books. These will get other students talking and reading. Other products listed include a new database of books and authors that will help kids choose what they want to read next. This is a list to print out and use as a resource for providing your own stimulus package for reading.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

And the voltage grows...

Reports from the American Book-Expo confirm the growing influence of electronic books are having on the publishing industry. Although e-books are a small proportion of the market now (only one to three percent of sales) they are a growing presence in the market. Will more book buyers shift to the electronic versions or will e-books always be a minority niche-market for people who commute on trains or travel on planes? That's the question publishers and authors are asking. Those of us who are primarily concerned with young people's reading have an even narrower focus. It seems inevitable that many textbooks will shift to electronic format (California is certainly moving in that direction) but will this shift affect recreational readers too? Will children who have studied science and history on screens want to read about vampires and superheroes in the same format? Librarians who see children on a day-to-day basis will need to watch closely to see what the trends are in their libraries, schools and neighborhoods.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Have you read this book?

Parents and other adults are often irritated when their child asks them to read Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or some other favorite story "one more time". Kids know the value of repetition and will happily listen to the same story, word by word, over and over again. Even in today's fast-changing world, children appreciate the new but still value the familiar and we ought to keep that in mind. In today's N.Y. Times Verlyn Klinkenborg reminds us that many adults have also learned the value of rereading familiar books. One of the reasons books won't disappear from our lives is because of the stability of the text. We can go back time and time again to see the same words telling the same story, but our vision and our experiences open new paths into the book. Even those of us who welcome change and enjoy the new avenues opened by technology in recent years have to be sure we don't discard the past. New formats add to the mix but they don't lessen the value of older ones. Each new perspective helps weave a richer fabric in our minds and in our memories. Let's be sure to share them all with children.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nancy Drew again

No one can say that children's literature is irrelevant when references to it continue to pop up in some of the most serious policy discussions. When he introduced Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor yesterday, President Obama mentioned that as a girl she had been a fan of Nancy Drew. Over the years Nancy Drew has been a folk hero to many American women, some of whom have gone on to high office while others lead quiet, busy lives in the suburbs. But somehow they all seem to remember Nancy Drew and the promise she held out for an exciting, fulfilling life exemplified by solving minor crimes in a small Midwestern city. We may have moved far beyond Nancy Drew's ambitions, just as today's children will move beyond those of Harry Potter, but the literary experience leaves a lasting mark on people's minds and lives. That's something for librarians to ponder as they go through the endless task of choosing materials for tomorrow's leaders. Our jobs truly do make a difference.

Monday, May 25, 2009

More books coming

Librarians pride themselves on following news in publishing and keeping up with the latest trends and the latest books. That task becomes more overwhelming every year. It used to be we only had to browse through the catalogs that came in the mail from major publishers, but now there are thousands of books being published in all sorts of formats. Even for those of us concerned only with children's book, the numbers are growing. Self-publishing is becoming a major trend, making waiting for formal notices even less feasible. One good way to keep up is to follow the blogs and newsletters directed at children's writers and one of the best of these is Alice's CWIM Blog The CWIM stands for Children's Writers and Illustrators Market, the bible of children's publishing outlets. On her blog you'll find notices about editors moving from one house to another, workshops being offered, and general publishing trends such as the move documented by Publisher's Weekly about print-on-demand books outnumbering conventionally published books for the first time in 2008. That's a change that librarians will have to monitor.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Publishing online

Techniques in publishing are changing so fast that librarians can scarcely keep up. One of the newest ventures starting this month is a site that will offer authors a chance to upload books, documents, stories, articles or whole books and then selling them. According to a N.Y. Times article, the author will receive 80 percent of the sales price--far more than authors receive as royalties on print books. The trick, of course, will be in the marketing. How will potential readers learn about what's available? Will they be willing to purchase books from new and untested authors who haven't been vetted by a publisher or reviewed by a critic? It's expected that the price of the books will be low, perhaps two dollars each, so buying one is more like buying an extra coffee rather than buying a book. And an author could offer a chapter free or at very low cost so the reader could sample the goods before investing the full price. It's impossible to know how this experiment will turn out, but important for librarians to follow. Will we be building collections this way in the future?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Where is the school magazine going?

Producing and distributing a school newspaper or magazine is a time-honored way for students to practice writing and photography, but HP's new Mag Cloud has taken the possibilities to a new level. I haven't heard any reports of this being used in a high school, but undergraduates and the University of California at Berkeley are already producing a glossy fashion magazine of their own. Using HP's technology they can put together a package of photos with text and layout and then upload the result to HP which will handle the printing and production. The result can be a very glossy, professional looking product. Costs will limit the introduction of this technique, but it's so attractive and so appealing to young people today that I wouldn't be surprised if more affordable versions will become available during the next few years. And wouldn't one of these eye-catching publications be a nice supplement for a college application?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More multiplatform books--or are they books?

Once again we hear of a publishing project which sounds more like a business plan than a traditional book publication. Publisher's Weekly explains that the new Mackensie Blue series aimed at tweens--those 10 to 15 year old girls who are such a media target these days--will utilize websites and music deals as well as producing a series of books about Mackensie Blue, a heroine with a desire to be a rock star. From all indications, this type of publishing is going to be increasingly profitable and therefor will grow over time. We can't help wondering how long these books will last, but perhaps immediate profits are more important than longevity.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Who needs the big publishers?

Every once in a while we hear of a self-publishing story that makes us wonder whether the face of publishing is really changing. Jason Spencer-Edwards is the latest example of a writer who has found fame, and a livable income, by publishing books that appeal to tweens and teens in urban settings. He writes stories that tell of teens going through the hard times and triumphs of city life and he writes them in a style that reaches youngsters whether they are readers or not. More than that, he managed to convince the New York City School system to put his books on their purchase lists. That's the real secret of his success--writing books that reach their intended audience and then persuading adults gatekeepers to make them available. The books are not only bought by the schools and used in classrooms and libraries, but Mr. Spencer-Edwards also visits schools and talks to students about his stories. It's this in-person contact that makes his audience into fans of his books and most likely other books too. While editors in most of the big publishing houses hedge their bets by buying manuscripts that echo successful books, it's people like Mr. Spencer-Edwards who are bringing fresh new ideas and viewpoints and finding new audiences. Let's hope some big publisher takes a chance and makes these books available around the country and around the world. Not all young people are looking for yet one more series of pseudo-twilight fantasy.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The future of textbooks? has introduced a large-size Kindle reader designed for people who want to read newspapers, textbooks and other documents. While the device has not yet been tested in the market, educators are already wondering whether this is the development that will move high school and college textbooks off the printed page and onto the electronic screen. Unfortunately there are no color graphics available, and those will be missed especially by the younger readers, but that enhancement is no doubt coming. How the economics of distributing e-textbooks will be worked out remains to be seen. In California, Governor Schwarzenegger is seeking e-textbooks to supply students there. Who will pay for all the digital readers for students? How expensive with the content be? Publishers will save on production costs but skilled authors and editors are essential for producing quality materials. Much remains to be seen, but perhaps this is one step in solving the problem of unaffordable textbooks in schools.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Taking comics seriously

There are few librarians today who don't take comics for children seriously as manga and other graphic publication forms gain a bigger foothold in libraries. School Library Journal has done an especially good job in pointing the way for librarians to develop solid, well-regarded collections of comics. Whatever your responsibilities for collection development, you should take time to read SLJs columns and blogs that spread the word about research into how comics affect children's reading and the role they play in children's lives. As a special bonus, the most recent posting shares a graphic review of Harriet the Spy one of the perennial children's favorites. Don't miss it.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Is it The Hunger Games?

In case you haven't been keeping up with YouTube lately, there is a big Battle of the Books going on. It's worth watching as an example of marketing books, and keeping up with what is on teens' minds. A hit video posted in response to the battle is by two young sisters who want to see The Hunger Games win. Talk about viral marketing, probably more people have become aware of this book through the YouTube video than through all the print ads in library journals. There has even been an article and interview in SLJ. Anyone who thinks YouTube deals only in pop culture and has nothing to do with libraries had better take another look and think it over. If a short video made by two amateurs over a weekend can have this much impact, think of what librarians and teachers could do to promote books.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Will e-books destroy publishing?

Although it hasn't had much impact on the children's textbook market yet, e-textbooks are changing some aspects of college textbooks. The exorbitant prices charged for college textbooks has been a deterrent to many students and their parents, many of whom are already struggling to pay college costs. Now a major study of e-textbooks in the UK has suggested that the future for this form of publishing should be bright, and not only for students. E-textbooks have not impacted the sale of print books very much as there are still some people who prefer print; what they have done is open alternatives for students. And the age of students does not seem to matter in predicting whether or not the e-textbooks will be welcomed and used. Although these findings may not be applicable to textbooks for young students in high school, it's quite likely that they might be. Of all the areas of e-publishing coming along, e-textbooks appears to be the one with the brightest future.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What's happening in social media?

Librarians and teachers who want to help young people use social networking sites for information and recreation can learn a lot by following If you want to know the latest news about twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or a host of other social networking sites, there's no better place to look. Not only can you find articles giving the latest business news about the companies behind the sites, but you'll also find a section of How-to articles on using tools to set up a business or increase productivity. Not many young people are ready to start a business, but many could use tips on improving their google skills and using effective labels on YouTube videos. You'll find answers to a lot of questions you may never have thought of asking.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Are you really a children's author?

Looking at the lists of new children's books coming out, you can't help but notice how many authors who have written books for adults are now turning to the children's market. This trend has been apparent for quite a few years, and may be growing stronger. Why do they do it? Some of them, like many other adults, think writing for children must be easier than writing for adults, but that isn't true. Money also plays a role, as children's publishing has become more lucrative and advances to children's authors are higher than they have ever been. Children's books last longer in the market than most books for adults. Librarians reorder copies of popular books year after year and a successful title brings the author royalties for eight to ten years rather than the two or three year limit on most books for adults. Parents who recognize the name of a popular author is more likely to buy her book than a book by someone who has written only children's books over the years. But the question remains--do the adult authors bring new vision and creativity to their children's books? Some do, others try to slide by with watered down versions of their adult-book plots and characters. It's up to librarians and parents to look carefully at a children's book and not to buy it just because the author happens to be a best-selling writer of thrillers. You can't judge a book by its cover, and often not even by its author. It's the words on the page that count.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Libraries lose a leader

This week American librarians lost a leader who has served as an inspiration on censorship issues for several decades. Judith Krug, who headed ALA's Intellectual Freedom Office, died at the age of 69. Krug conceived the idea of Banned Book Week and set it up in 1982 to call attention to the number of challenges made to materials in public and school libraries. The publicity surrounding Banned Book Week has mades the general public aware of how many individuals and groups want to control the materials that people can access in libraries. With the growth of the Internet censorship issues have grown and the Intellectual Freedom Office has been called in many times to help librarians fighting against excessive restrictions on access. The importance of Judy Krug's work has long been celebrated by librarians, now others, including the N.Y. Times, are raising their voices in her praise. She richly deserved all the tributes she has received.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Where are magazines headed?

Magazines for children are struggling these days as families, schools and libraries all try to cut costs. The general magazine market is not very healthy either, as fewer people buy magazines at the newsstand and subscriptions dwindle. The N.Y. Times today describes the strategy some magazines are taking to keep their profits strong. As advertising revenue drops, some magazines are increasing subscription prices. Time, Newsweek, and most other general magazines sell their product for far less than it costs to produce, depending on advertising to make a profit. Other magazines, notable the Economist, charge unusually high prices both for single issues and subscriptions yet seem to maintain their readership. What does this mean for the children's market and for the librarians who generally are the backbone for subscription sales for children's magazines? That remains to be seen. How valuable are magazines in a library collection? Do librarians and teachers know how often they are used or how highly they are valued? Is the trend away from magazines as more children and teenagers move to online sources? Because magazines don't usually circulate, very few statistics are available to measure there use. It is time librarians started noting and recording their usage because deciding whether to continue subscriptions may become a pricier choice if costs rise. Only solid information will help us make good choices.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A lesson to us all

It's easy to complain about lack of funding, we all do that, but some people just rise above the obstacles. An 8th grader in New Jersey has created a nonprofit fundraising organization that's already donated hundreds of books to hospitals, schools and community groups. "Adele's Literacy Library" as reported in School Library Journal, has a goal of presented millions of books to disadvantaged groups. Donations and fundraising events appear to be bringing in enough money to make a real difference in new Jersey and the ambitious Adele is hoping to expand her efforts nationwide. She is surely an example to all of us who sometimes grow weary after years of trying to find funds for books. It's good to know some younger folks are carrying on the work.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Book videos for/by kids

If you want to hear a great review of Puss in Boots, click on this blog and see a master reviewer, all of eight years old do the job. There will be many more reviews of books coming into the Story Tubes contest, so it will be useful for all librarians and many teachers to keep tabs on them. So many of us waste time decrying technologies that supposedly take kids away from books, it's good to see an example of using technology to encourage and develop reading. This is a contest, and a blog, to keep your eye on.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What is the world thinking?

The Bologna Book Fair has ended for another year and American publishers, like those around the world, are trying to assess what the trends in children's publishing are. Publisher's Weekly has hosted a Bologna Blog that gives a sketch of what has been going on. Europeans seem to be as fascinated by the Twilight series as Americans are. Everyone will no doubt be looking for the next hot series for the youth market. Meanwhile electronic publishing does not seem to be as much of a talking point in Europe as it is in the U.S. Of course no one knows how important a development that will be in the children's market, but U.S. and U.K. publishers are the ones to watch for future electronic moves.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Poetry online

April is poetry month, so as the spring brings color and life gradually to homes and libraries across the country, so does a celebration of poetry explodes with color and life across the Internet. One especially interesting project this year is "Thirty Poems for Thirty Days" which will add a new unpublished poem to the Gottabook site every day during April. Poets from Arnold Adoff to Jane Yolen will be represented, so we can expect to see lively language and delightful rhythms to cheer each day. Poetry is one of the oldest forms of creative expression from the days when bards sang their poems to listeners around a fire, through the first days of written language, printed books, recorded recitations and now to the Internet. Media techniques come and go, but the basic charms of language last forever and will enchant humans not matter what the format--print, audio, digital. Let's all enjoy its continuing life.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

America's endless argument

Most Europeans look with amazement as Americans continue to argue year after year about whether or not the world was shaped by evolution. Scientists have accepted Darwin's century-old theory of evolution, which has been refined and amplified over the years, as the basis of modern biology. Not so in Texas! Some Americans are convinced that the world was created less than 10,000 years ago and has remained without change ever since. These arguments wouldn't bother people if the believers in creationism didn't insist their beliefs should be taught in schools. The battleground for this year is Texas, where the Board of Education has been trying to mandate the inclusion in all biology textbooks of language questioning the validity of evolutionary theory. This change would affect not only students in Texas but throughout the country because textbook publishers like their books to adoptable in all states. It saves them a lot of money even though it may shortchange students. Although the creationists on the Texas Board of Education did not get their suggestion passed at this week's meeting, it was defeated by a margin of one vote. Science teachers, librarians and will have to be watchful to be sure that changes don't creep into the books sooner or later. We will go on providing comedy for educated people in other countries for as long as the endless battle continues.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is the book as good as the movie?

One by one, for better or worse, our favorite children's books are coming to the big screen. This fall it will be Where the Wild Things Are, one of the most beloved classics of the twentieth century . Its perfect blend of illustrations and text capture the feelings of a young boy whose anger is scary even to himself. It's too early to say whether the transition to the screen will enhance the charm or lose it, but it's safe to say the movie will be seen by many children who have never heard of the book. Librarians should be prepared for a sharp increase in demand for the book and to answer questions about whether the book can live up to the movie. For some children it won't. While the picture book is aimed directly at young children, the live action film will no doubt appeal to an older group no longer satisfied with static images on a page. Whether the translation to a different medium enhances the book or devalues it is something we may be arguing about for years to come. At the moment all we can say is that it was bound to happen and we can only hope for the best.