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?