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Sweet success

Sweet Success

Our high school hosted its first author visit in 2011. I’ll never forget it both as a first for the school and a first for my librarian career. It was also Ellen Hopkins (go big or go home, right?) And it just seemed to stick. I can honestly say that it is a part of our school culture now. It’s not if we have an author visit, it is when.

Jeff Zentner was our second author visit of this school year, with our first being Nic Stone as part of a partnership with The New York State Writer’s Institute. Zentner visited this past Thursday and resoundingly captivated our student and staff attendees with his stories from music, publishing, and law. It’s one thing to write for teens and it’s another to know what kind of stories they’ll be engaged in during school visits. Zentner certainly knew our teenagers, regaling them with snapshots of cases he’s tried, a few chords on a guitar, and a no-flash-photography cover reveal for his upcoming book Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee. In return, our students shared their concerns with writing their own stories, played their music for him, and queried him on politics. He spoke Portuguese with a student, signed posters inspired by his books, and sat “between two ferns” interview-style in a conversation about leading a creative life.

I took notes on inspiring messages he shared, teared up watching our students show off their sound recording studio and music, and smiled from ear to ear at another successful author event when I sipped my tea after the day was done in the darkness of my living room viewing pictures taken by our school’s communications staff.

Days before the visit, an art teacher shared a few images on her social media account with a group of students touring an art museum on a field trip. She quoted her colleague who said “this is why I became an art teacher” as she watched her students enjoying themselves at the museum. I had commented that we all need days like these. And not more than two days later, that day was again knocking at my door because nothing can beat the connection that students make with authors: it could be from reading their books. It could be the motivational messages imparted by them. It could be validating our teenagers’ struggles. Zentner’s words struck a chord when he mentioned that Toni Morrison was 39 when she published her first book, and she is a pillar in the literary world– writing knows no age. Readers want mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Everyone has a story to share.

Are author visits stressful? Absolutely. No matter how many we do, they’re still nerve-wracking. Are they worth it? Every last moment spent on them because I get to talk to the students for days and years after the visit about what we learned from their visit. I still reference Jason Reynolds’ message from his with us two years ago. Plus, I feel more connected to my colleague as we support each other in our efforts to build the best library program we can for our school because they deserve it.

As I close, I’ll share several of my favorite pictures courtesy of our communications person, Jake. And, a picture of a sweet treat I made to celebrate the sweet success of the visit.

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A case for reading picture books

ACaseForReadingPictureBooks

This post was originally published on the Times Union Books Blog on March 24, 2018

Every reader has their preferences, yes, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sticking with them. Children know what they like, teens, and adults alike. But I want to make the case for adults (even after their children have grown, like the excuse that the grandchildren are coming over to buy chocolate milk when you’re the one that wants the taste) to read picture books.

PictureBooks

Why? You can usually take the pulse on what’s important socially. Which are getting awards and which are in store fronts? I guarantee they’re part of a national dialogue.

Why? Because they’re just so damn good. Visually, creatively, organizationally. Why scroll Pinterest when you can borrow a picture book? Need to present in a few weeks at work? Look at how a children’s book author can write a standard 32-page book with precision over and over and over again. It’s a science. And so are great presentations (if you’ve never seen this TED talk, it’s worth a look).

Why? They make great gifts for any age. We’re all a bit exhausted purchasing copies of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go in bulk for graduation gifts only because there librarians are waiting to recommend a few alternatives. Yet, the concept remains the same- picture books are elemental. Their dual simplicity and complexity astound us.

Of course I’m sharing this because I’m going to recommend a few that hit all the right buttons. So whether you’re 2 or 72, stop by your local independent bookstore to page through them, buy them to gift, or purchase to remind yourself of something from your own childhood worth remembering.


Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis

Focused on two damselflies with a language of its own, it’s an adventure of the natural world where readers can create their own annunciations to entertain young readers.

 

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James

Who doesn’t feel like they’re ready for the spotlight after a trip to the barber? It brings you right back or leaves you pulling at your own hair figuring that you’re overdue for one yourself.

 

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann

The ocean’s depths are always fascinating but when you spotlight an equally mysterious creature and share little-known facts with vivid illustrations, anyone would wish to dive deep.

 

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

She’s certainly kept all of America captivated through her tenure on the Supreme Court. This just brings it to the littlest of people and demonstrates that healthy discourse isn’t something to fear.

 

Love by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Loren Long

This needs no introduction and if you didn’t read it after the last time I recommended it, consider yourself warned that you’d be missing out on a spiritual experience.

 

My Pet Wants a Pet by Elise Broach and illustrated by Eric Barclay

C’mon! Every pet needs a pet and our main character is just trying to be sure that each creature has some other creature to care for because how awesome it is to feel needed and loved.

 

Penguin Problems by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith

Nobody likes cranky people and that goes double for penguins. This hilarious romp might point out that you need to work on your growth mindset.

 

She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

A brief paragraph with a powerful image of each woman who persisted along with a quote showing their perseverance from Nellie Bly to Virginia Apgar is a reminder to anyone to persist.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2018 in Childrens, Cover Love, Fiction

 

Whatcha been reading?

WhatchaBeenReading

March is a month of uncertainty– between weather in upstate New York (a fourth Nor’easter possible next week?!) to party schedules with numerous birthdays (including my own two sons’) and things to plan and schedule. Yet no matter what, I manage to squeeze in some reading. This is certainly not a “six sensational” list nor a glowing review of a five-star book I recently read, instead a snapshot of what I’ve been reading just in case you were about to ask.

 

  • Some true crime… The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century by Simon Baatz
    • Who doesn’t love true crime, honestly? Give me documentaries, podcasts, and books about real life crime dramas and I’m hooked!
  • Some middle grade… Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
    • Read this award-winner so that I can meet up with some librarians and eat some pizza and discuss some books #mykindofparty
  • Some re-tellings… The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice writing under her pen name A.N. Roquelaure
    • Ask me to tell you this story in person
  • Some nonfiction… Noah Webster: Man of Many Words by Catherine Reef
    • Who doesn’t love someone who loves words? And to know that many people disliked him made it even more fascinating
  • Some graphic novels… Speak illustrated by Emily Carroll based on Laurie Halse Anderson’s 2001 classic and another The Breadwinner: A Graphic Novel based on Deborah Ellis’ series of the same name adapted from the animated film available on Netflix that I literally watched a week before this book was shipping to our library through Junior Library Guild
    • I get that visual content appeals sometimes to a different audience, but I’d say both graphic adaptations captured the mood of the original books in a way that makes me adore them both.
  • Some feel-good humor and hijinks that never gets old… Lumberjanes: The Moon is Up by Mariko Tamaki
    • Three words: hecka heart eyes
  • Some more “love and madness”… Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge
    • I’ve already tweeted my adoration for the mashup of beautiful black and white images and the captivating story Judge shares about our favorite haunted woman who created a horror classic
  • Some women’s empowerment for Women’s History Month… What Would She Do?: 25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women by Kay Woodward
    • With a vivid cover and a unique voice, it stands above others being published in recent years focusing on women who made an impression

While these are just a handful, it’s a taste of the wide-ranging reading that I do daily because I follow my interests and passions, want to be sure I have books in my back pocket to recommend to my students, and heck, there’s just awesome books being published every day by awesome authors. If you want to follow every book I read, you can find me on Goodreads.

 

 

Celebration

Celebration

It wasn’t a secret, but it wasn’t something that I readily discussed- being on a selection committee through the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) arm of the American Library Association (ALA) for 2017. I sat on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee with an amazing group of public, school, and academic librarians from across the country deciding on the best graphic novels. And from that list, selecting the top ten. You can see the final list here, just announced last week as part of the yearly celebration of books at the Youth Media Awards. You’ll notice looking back at 2017 that I rarely shared and definitely didn’t review graphic novels because of this appointment but was immersed in this world (no complaints here!)

The midwinter ALA conference is smaller in comparison to the annual conference but it packs the biggest punch because of the Youth Media Awards. That’s where winners of awards like the Coretta Scott King and Caldecott Medal are announced. Committees hunker down and make those final decisions and in one hour, people across the country stream it and hundreds sit in person to hear them spoken aloud with the gleaming medal proudly shared on a big screen. There is applause and some exclamations, dancing in the aisles and gasps. All drama and and sparkles.

2018-02-12 07.49.39.jpg

There’s an added bonus because for some committees naming their top picks, the authors are at the conference to speak about their books and bask in the glory of literature lovers and book pushers after the ceremony itself. I got to listen to some finalists and award winners of the William C. Morris Award and the Nonfiction Award.

It’s an inspiring way to end the conference on the highs of excellence in literature…. on a Monday morning at 8am. I hope it inspires authors to keep writing and contributing to the shaping of young minds and inspires the students who sit in their classrooms and libraries across the country streaming it to one day want to be like them.

 

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2018 in Authors, Childrens, Events

 

Being a librarian

Being a librarian

What does it mean to be a librarian?

I’ve written about why I like the title, what my favorite parts of my job are, and activities that I’m involved in and in the last week, it’s been a perfect blend of all of the reasons that I love what I do.

  • I spent four days at the American Library Association Midwinter conference in Denver, Colorado (more to come on that!)
  • Took a picture with one of my favorite 11th grade students holding the first three volumes of a graphic novel that he loved and that made our Great Graphic Novels for Teens Top 10 list- in part because of his love for it.
  • I finished up the last day of 10th grade visits to the library for stations around social justice topics for their third quarter project.
  • We hosted a librarian from a local private school for an hour to share and talk collaboratively with all of us leaving better off than we were.
  • I spent a teacher’s lunch strategizing a new way to address a class that needs major modifications to be successful and brainstormed an amazing idea to address their curricular needs while saving the sanity of the teacher and making the learning engaging for the students.
  • Advising for our Anime Club every Friday afternoon.
  • Meeting our newly appointed principal for our monthly gathering to advocate for our program.
  • Talking with teachers and students who have big ideas to highlight our student community with positive acts and events hosted in the library.
  • Facilitating a book group of middle and high school librarians who get together over snacks and share their recent reads
  • Starting and continuing to lead several professional development opportunities.
    • And asked to do another in May!
  • I’m reading- flush with spring 2018 (and some summer and fall 2018) advanced reader copies from authors whose amazingness is unrivaled and going through them like a bag of Sour Patch Kids.
  • I’m going in to this coming week’s winter break with a few tea or dinner dates with librarians who make me appreciate the collegiality of our profession and inspire me to be better.

Love2Some of these will get their own posts, but like I said to the teacher today when I was dropping off some books for her to peruse in preparation for our new adventure, “you made my librarian heart full today, thank you!”

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2018 in Librarian Life

 

Let me profess my love

Let me profess my love

So far, I have read “The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer and now finished the newly published Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Assassin. Yes, James L. Swanson has written adult novels about similar topics, but as a high school librarian I’m more interested in the young adult novels or adaptations, though have it on my list to read the adult ones. I can only imagine how engaging the adult content is if the young adult content is any indication.

ChasingKingsKillerImage

What do I mean? Swanson writes the real life dramas as if they were heart-stopping tragic adventure stories, not real life acts of terror and rampage. In the case of each of his books, the parallel stories of (at least) two men on a collision course with one another is riveting. It’s the engaging prose and pictures. Swanson does not distract readers with footnotes or text boxes, instead it is the essence of wonderful narrative nonfiction because it flows seamlessly, uses the elements of story with command, and connects with readers.

 

As I finished Chasing King’s Killer, I thought out loud to anyone who would listen how tragic this decade must have seemed and hopeless Americans felt: In the span of a handful of years, there were assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. Anyone who was standing up for something was torn down by violence. And, like an encyclopedia, I repeated “did you know?” facts to anyone in earshot.

  • Did you know that James Earl Ray was actually a prison escapee when a year later he took Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life?
  • Did you know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was stabbed with a letter opener at a book signing years before his assassination by a mentally unstable woman? He literally could have sneezed and died but in true calm fashion, he asked that the opener not be removed from his chest until he was at the hospital. Good thing because it was a hair away from nicking his aorta.
  • Did you know that James Earl Ray left the country (and went to more than one) before being apprehended?

I could go on. But it’s the presentation of the information in a balanced way that makes readers appreciate Swanson’s skill. You forget the history you know in order to be swept away by Swanson’s captivating storytelling.

Swanson is a much-recommended author in my high school library because of it’s content equal to it’s beauty. I hope to get a few minutes to meet him in less than a week at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference where he’ll be on stage with a panel of authors celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. But I’ll have to get back my already lent copy of the most recent book from the people I’ve shared it with because he’s one author I’d love a John Hancock from.

He’s unforgettable and makes his stories this way as well. Post-It count: high.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2018 in Adult, Authors, Nonfiction, Young Adult

 

Brothers Heath

Brothers Heath

This post was originally published on the Times Union Books Blog

This past October Chip and Dan Heath, brothers and co-authors published their fourth book called The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. It was a book that had a powerful impact on me like Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle (2015) did when I read it over a year ago. These kinds social psychology books shed light on everyday topics and encourage conversation around why people do the things they do, but provide examples and context for understanding it on a deeper level and making changes or becoming more aware. Both of the books are regular references in conversation for me. And with The Power of Moments, there was a relatable opportunity to use the book in my work as well as personal life. (You can see my post about that here).

Then I went on a binge; I downloaded through the public library or borrowed the print copies of their other three: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (2013), Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard (2010) and Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2006). And again, I was either ferociously highlighting on my eReader or Post-iting the print book when a concept or example struck a chord. There was full engagement with each of them.

Why are the books important? First and foremost, there is a relaxed humor that shows the personality of the brothers. Every now and then you get a taste of it and smile. Second, the books are well-organized. Each has a formula that makes them accessible to every reader. There’s the identified issue that they’re discussing, a quick acronym or mnemonic device to remember the steps, then subsequent chapters that dive into the steps individually. Within the chapters are subchapters that highlight tangible examples. Think businesses like Southwest or the military. Usually it’s followed by a clinic or “what should you do?” that you can investigate (or skip) to apply your newfound knowledge. And then the ever-present summary of the main points. Like I said: well-organized and comforting when moving from book to book. Third, the examples are succinct and useful. Nary is there a long-winded bad example. They’re inspiring which is why the books have received awards from business and leadership fields. Fourth, there is plenty of backmatter like additional reading material and their website with one-page cheat sheets of the concepts, podcasts, and “how to” manuals: they’re not hiding their genius but spreading it around.

What did I learn from Moments? That any moment can use one to all four of the concepts of EPICness, so think 1) elevation, 2) insight, 3) pride, and 4) connection. What did I learn from Switch? That self-control is an exhaustible resource and that if you 1) direct the rider, 2) motivate the elephant, and 3) shape the path you can work toward change. What did I learn from Decisive? To WRAP: 1) widen your options, 2) reality-test your assumptions, 3) attain distance before deciding, and 4) prepare to be wrong. And, what did I learn from Stick? Achieve SUCCESs for ideas by 1) keeping it simple, 2) unexpected, 3) concrete, 4) credible, 5) emotional, 6) through stories and again, keep it 7) simple.
Whether you pick up one of the books or all four like I did in a two-week span, you won’t regret the added insight you’ll gain, especially if you’re a fan of social psychology. Have I steered you wrong yet? Right now, the only question you should be asking is which one you’ll start with. And if you’re thinking that, you might want to pick up Decisive first.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2018 in Adult, Authors, Blogging, Nonfiction