Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What are the big books?

Although librarians and teachers often have a good sense of what children are reading, it takes Publisher's Weekly to give us the nuts and bolts of how many books in various categories are actually selling. The lead for their story of sales during 2010 is the news that series books rule as far as sales of children's books go, in hardcover, paperback and electronic format. Everyone who works with young people know the phenomenal success of the Twilight series, but as that set of books fades slowly (very slowly) away, they are being replaced by other series. It seems that knowing the characters and having a strong connection with them is what many children look for in choosing a book. Librarians may fret over the number of series going out, and worry about the outstanding non-series books that are passed up, but it's hard to fight against the trend. Of course, it's also true that bookstores--especially the big box bookstores and the big-box general stores--carry lots of series books and very few singletons. Libraries are pretty much the only place where children will find the type of book that wins Newbery or Caldecott awards, not to mention the more unusual books translated from other languages which introduce a new world to children. Surely we still have an obligation to offer children more than just the top sellers in the field. The early library leaders like Anne Carroll Moore and Lillian Smith were dedicated to the proposition that "only the best is good enough for children". Perhaps we ought to keep some of that spirit today and at least give children the chance to sample books that might really change their lives in a way vampires never will.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What about the universal library?

Big news in the literary world this week is the rejection of the settlement between Google and the Authors Guild over the development of the universal library. Even though he rejected the arrangement, the judge emphasized the value of having someone develop a facility where most of the world's English language literature could be found online. The New York Times today published an op ed piece by Robert Darnton advocating a public institution to collect and make available access to these books. Children's librarians may feel far removed from this argument, because most of the books being scanned are meant for adults. It won't be long though until someone realizes that we have a wealth of important classic children's books that should be preserved in digital format and made available to adults and children alike. With more and more children finding their favorite reading on their iphones or iPads, digital books for children and young adult are a growing format. Librarians should keep a careful watch on what is happening to the Google settlement and what arrangements are being made to protect the heritage that belongs to all of us.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Can we learn from museums?

Both libraries and museums are institutions dedicated to making enriching experiences available to their communities. For a long time both institutions tended to remain behind their high walls, offering riches but not advertising them very much and not pushing them to the forefront. All that has changed over the past half century, but the pace of change has accelerated greatly particularly in museums. New technology makes it possible for museums to invite their publics to participate in the selection and evaluationg of art and to see exhibits that may be otherwise inaccessible. The N.Y. Times recently produced a special section on museums outlining the initiatives taken in New York, Brooklyn, Indianapolis, and San Francisco. Libraries have been expanding their web presence too, but perhaps not as spectacularly as museums. What ideas can children's librarians borrow from the museums to offer their patrons? Well, clearly announcing events and posting slideshows of visiting authors, illustrators, and performers is one way. Perhaps some events can be streamed live through Facebook or other social media. Teenagers and tweens would probably find this congenial. Offering glimpses of new acquisitions in the picture books, or excerpts of books, as does, would surely attract readers. Following library accounts of programs and PR work is valuable, but it's time to reach out further and take our cues from sister institutions which may offer fresh ideas.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Order more copies

The Wimpy Kid series of books has proved to be a durable favorite with tweens. Last year's movie based on the first book was a quiet success--no Oscars, but good solid returns--now the second film Diary of a Wimpy Kid--Roderick Rules will be released as a film on March 25. According to a Publishers Weekly report, the books themselves will be available in tie-in versions soon. Libraries that keep tabs on what the local movie houses are showing may be able to offer events based on the Wimpy Kids titles. At the very least they can put a link to the movie on their website and be sure some of the new titles are posed in high visibility spots in the library. With very few objections from parents or other adults, this series is a winner for libraries, so let people know they don't have to spend money on the books--they can find them at their local library.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reading and/or writing

Kids often don't know where books come from They appear on library shelves or in their parents' hands complete with text and illustrations in place. It's not easy for a child to connect the beautiful book on the shelf with the smudged, sheet of paper on her desk. Now a teacher in Oaklnad CA has invided his third grade class to share to labor and rewards of writing a children's book. Hearing a story chapter by chapter as the writer puts it down in a first draft is a surprising and empowering event for a child. Joe Imwalla not only reads his story aloud to his class, he also invites comments and criticism. Of course, the best criticism comes from the children's behavior--do they giggle or do they yawn; do they gasp with surprise or do they poke their neighbor? These unguarded actions tell Mr. Imwalla whether he's reaching his listeners or whether he should go back for another rewrite. The exercise, of course, is not just about improving Mr Imwalla's writing, it's also about letting children know more about the process of writing. They become inspired to write their own stories, perhaps with the help of a friend, and suddenly the class is not a task, but an exciting challenge. Maybe public libraries could try this kind of program with writers in their communities. You can contact a local writers' group and ask whether any members would like to preview their work for children (after the librarian has a chance to see it). Learning that a book does not spring from a writer's or illustrator's brain in its glorious final format but is a document forged with thought and effort can give children a new respect for books as well as a new ambition to try writing their own. And doing this in a public library where there are no grades and no tests can be especially helpful to children whose self-confidence is not high. It's certainly something to keep in mind.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What are you doing this summer?

Sometimes we come across a book that deals with such an important topic that we, as librarians and teachers, think we should read it, but hesitate to take on the daunting task. James Gleick's new book The Information sounds like just such a book. Mr. Gleick writes about the basic matter of all libraries and educational institutions--information. How it developed over time, how it was disseminated in times past, and how it is produced and used today. Some of this may sound too heavy when we consider that we deal with such basic information as books on baby animals and trips to the zoo for three-year-olds.But gathering information is a human trait that starts in infancy and the says in which information is structured and passed on to others is fundamental to any society. We won't give up reading the children's books that brighten the collections of libraries and delight both children and adults, but sometimes when we have a block of time (summer is coming) we might want to take a look at this basic approach to our most important product.