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.