Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bookends

There's a new blog in town: Bookends.

It's written by Lynn Rutan and Cindy Dobrez: "The DNA testing has not been run, but we are certain we must be twins separated at birth. And like genetic twins, we know what each other is thinking at all times, but we don't always agree. Our passion for teen lit is almost older than the genre itself! We are middle school librarians who have chaired both ALA's Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature." You probably also recognize Lynn and Cindy's names from their smart, witty and observant contributions to various professional listservs.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Welcome, GalleyCat Readers!

It's been a whirlwind of activity the last two days, topped by coming home, checking my bloglines, and finding out I've been quoted in GalleyCat!

So welcome, GalleyCat Readers!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

We Don't Need No Stinking Book Reviews

GalleyCat tackles, once again, the subject of book reviews in main stream media: Should we mourn the dying book review? As they say, "We've long considered (argued, really) the possibility that the so-called "crisis in book reviewing" is really only a crisis for a handful of staff editors and freelance writers who are occasionally helpful in steering people towards interesting new books but not, ultimately, indispensable." GalleyCat goes on to say it's more important to get prepub buzz; and trusted opinions. It points out (for genres, at least) that online people gained the trust of readers because the mainstream media let those readers down.

I'm looking at this, of course, thru the lens of children's/YA and a librarian to boot. And, of course, reviews can mean so many things.

Professional reviews to get other professionals to buy stuff -- these won't be going away anytime soon.

When it comes to blogs and the like, yes, we help bring books to the attention of teachers and librarians. But those teachers and librarians will still need reviews from SLJ and Hornbook and Booklist and Kirkus, to support their buying decisions, place the book in the right area of the library, and to defend against challenges.

Blogs are also not arranged for someone who is going looking for what to buy, not the way these journals are. In addition, blogs come and go. Great ones disappear. Or, like me, other things happen -- my number of reviews of books has been cut back drastically because of being on the Printz committee. Journals have stability that at this point, independent blogs lack.

Blogs don't always write for the buying audience. Some do; some do sometimes. I've read of authors being frustrated at reviews that "give away the ending," but that is exactly the type of thing that a librarian who is never going to read every book in his or her library needs to know. They don't need a synopsis, which they can get from the publisher's catalog; they need to know whether its the type of book "their" kids and teens will read, so yes, that often includes "giving" away plot points. Because the purpose of these reviews isn't to get someone to read the book; it's to get them to buy the book so someone else will read it.

Reviews to get me to read a book.

My personal 'what to read next' pile is influenced by a variety of things; bloggers, newspapers, authors I like, covers that look attractive, friends, articles in magazines, etc. As I've said before, children's/YA books get little mainstream media coverage; blogs have filled a gap. And, at least it seems to me, I've seen more mainstream media coverage of children's/YA in the past few years. Which is good. I don't want to see mainstream coverage of books disappear; it would be a loss. And, frankly, I don't think the blogosphere can "take over" for that disappearing coverage. What we can do is complement each other.

Reviews that make me think about what I've read

Some reviews are really nothing more than mini ads to get me to read a book. Nothing wrong with that; if its a reviewer I trust, and they mention reasons for me to read something that reflect my own reading tastes, perfect.

But a review can also push beyond that; and become a discussion of the book. And while some people may be intrigued by that discussion to read the book, it is as much for the people who have already read it. And this, I think, is where online blogging has helped people tremendously; they have given people a place to talk about books. And, as I said above, it is too bad that mainstream media didn't realize sooner that while yes, I do like to read the experts opinion in The New York Times, I also like to be able to respond and to talk and to discuss and to have my own opinion valued. The "listen to me I know better than you" model has disappeared. It's become the "let's discuss it" model.

That said, frankly, I do think some people do in fact "know better" than others. Reviewers and bloggers who have no sense of literary history (ie a "this idea has never been done" type of review) turn me off; I like writers who can link a book and connect it to other works, or historical perspective, etc. Frankly, some people do know more about certain things and their writing is richer for it. And some people have no idea what they are talking about. Here's the thing: the people who know stuff can just as easily be bloggers; and the people who have no idea can just as easily be writing for traditional print media. The assumption that the newspaper writer always knows better is gone. And newspapers, instead of clinging to that presumption, should have gone looking for fresh blood and reexamined whether or not their experts were, in fact, knowledgeable.

It's not too late for print media

That said, I think too main mainstream outlets are "giving up". This is a time to be inventive; to think outside the box; to realize that bloggers and their readers are not "the enemy." I think SLJ has a great model that newspapers should pick up: having their traditional print reviews, but also having bloggers like Fuse who review on their blogs. Bottom line: instead of cutting back book reviews, newspapers and magazines should be increasing the book-talk that appears on their websites.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Beyond Leveled Books: Supporting Early and Transitional Readers in Grades k-5 by Karen Szymusiak, Franki Sibberson, and Lisa Koch; foreword by Sharon Taberski. Stenhouse Publishers. 2008. Copy provided by author.

A few months back, there was a conversation on Yalsa-Bk about reading levels. I had a couple of questions, so did what people usually do; turned to friends who are experts, Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of Reading. In addition to answering my questions, I found out about Franki's new book, Beyond Leveled Books, and Franki kindly sent me a review copy.

In the foreword, Sharon Taberski says, "Leveling does have a place in our classrooms - a practical one. It can help match a child with a range of books he's likely to be able to read on his own and during guided reading, and it can play an important role in helping struggling readers become more proficient. . . . [T]here's a lot more to teaching children to read than finding their levels and moving them upward. Children need to plateau in their reading. They need to consolidate their skills and strategies, to read widely and deeply, to increase their vocabulary, and to experience life and gain humor so that they have more knowledge and insight to bring to texts and consequently understand them better."

Libraries have books. And librarians. And librarians are very good at matching a book to a reader. But what we don't learn in library school is how to teach reading or how reading is taught. Which means when a kid comes in looking for a book, it's great. But when a parent (or teacher) comes in asking for level this or that, it's a blank, because for us it's about the book, not the level.

Beyond Leveled Books is also about the book, not the level. Aimed at teachers, it is a must read for librarians. While showing teachers why it is good to go beyond leveled books, it also works as a great primer as to what is a leveled book and how reading is being taught in the classroom. Yes, as public librarians we focus on the book; but it's also good to know what is going on in the child's classroom.

I'd further suggest it to parents who are trying to understand what is going on in their child's classroom and what is happening with their child's reading skills and how those skills are much more than a "level." What about comprehension, understanding what is going on in the book, etc? The authors and other contributors, all classroom teachers, explain some of the "critical needs" of their students, using examples, including how and when an adult can help the student meet those needs. The parent who complains about a teacher using picture books or graphic novels, or who doesn't use books grades above the child's grade, needs to read this book to understand better how reading is much more involved than learning how to read words.

The book is full of articles, reading lists, lesson plans, and suggestions to address a child's reading as something much more than a vocabulary level. Over and over, I found examples and illustrations of reading being more than words. When a child reads "right" in a sentence, do they understand they are being directed to look at a photo to the right of the text? Or do they think the author is saying "right!" How does a child learn about the use of flashbacks in a text?

I especially liked the ideas of grouping books by authors, characters, genres, series -- a wide assortment of ways that kids can find the book they want, rather than obsessing about what level they (and their classmates) are at. These suggestions for classroom libraries can easily be used in public libraries, for displays and booklists. The chapter on series books is perhaps my favorite, because I read them as a kid and read the grown up versions now (Nora Roberts is my comfort read).

The authors address one of my pet peeves about levels and reading above levels. When books are viewed as simply the sum of their vocabulary words, kids are given books above their age level that are best left for a few years down the road. The example in the book is The Giver, with a well-meaning teacher using this book with third graders. (While the book uses all school examples of this "reading up", I also see it happen with parents and relatives selecting books for kids). The teacher writing about this notes, "I understand the importance of giving children books to read that support their growth and development as readers. They won't make progress as readers if they read only easy books. However, there are better options for young advanced readers than young-adult books. Teachers need to look at more than the readability level of the book when book selections." She then notes that the theme of the book is just as important, if not more so, than vocabulary. When children are pushed into books that are above their comprehension, the result is books they won't reread once they do have "the life experience, cognitive development, and emotional maturity to truly comprehend the book." They also miss out on the books they missed in the hurry to rush them into older books.

Stories about reading include the authors mentioning their own children and their students. I am very thankful that in doing this, the authors presented a variety of types of kids and readers; there is no "this is how I raised a reading genius and so can you." Instead, this is about teaching reading, and teaching a love of reading, with a huge emphasis on how reading is more than just vocabulary and grammar.

As Franki wisely reminded me in a comment to a post of mine last week, "I have worked with lots of kids over the years who really struggle with reading and it is hard to love something if it is never easy enough to enjoy--thus the teaching how to read being essential. It is the teacher's/librarian's job to know books and kids well so that a child can find books they love--and books they can read. They go through the motions, and say they love lots of books, but when you talk more, they never actually finish the books or they've not understood the book. So, for me, it is a combination of the two--always."

Looking for how that combination works? Read this book.

Cross-posted at Pop Goes the Library.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Teens: Show me the money

Sometimes it seems like so much I read about teens and Gen Y revolves around how much money they spend and on what.

Then I remind myself I'm reading marketing sites, trying to use that information to apply to libraries. So, of course, it's a bit skewed.

Still, I wonder, with economic times being hard, what will that mean to teens who have always expected to be able to buy certain things? For example, buying the cool bright orange winter coat? When I'd read that last year, it was teens take chances and buy things that stand out! Me, as older (but not necessarily wiser) thought, you only buy bright orange when you think you buy a new winter coat every year. When you realize that coat is going to last ten years, orange isn't so appealing.

Will teens turn to thrift stores and less expensive brands and labels? But even that is spending money.

Anyway, I'm not the only one wondering this: The Frugal Teenager, Ready or Not at The New York Times.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Introduction

Hi, everyone! I was tempted to come up with some cheesy opening, like "Melissa's the name--reading's my game," but since I can't provide complimentary wine and crackers with the cheese, I thought I'd best just press on. My name's Melissa Rabey, and I'm delighted that Liz has invited me to contribute to A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy. I've been a big fan of the blog for a long time, so it's great to be here contributing!

I'm the teen librarian at the C. Burr Artz Public Library, part of Frederick County Public Libraries in Frederick, MD. For several years, I've been a proud member of YALSA. I've served on the Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults and Youth Participation committees. Currently I'm the chair of Organization and Bylaws, as well as serving as an ex officio member of the YALSA Board of Directors.

At my blog, Librarian by Day, I review books and discuss other thoughts about teens. I have a great love for historical fiction and realistic fiction--as well as a soft spot for anything with a pink cover. As today's bit of blatant self-promotion, I'm standing for election to the 2011 Printz Committee. I hope that you'll enjoy the posts I make here at Tea Cozy and that you'll take a look at my blog.

Thanks for having me here! [curls up in her own chair with a cup of hot chocolate]

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pop Goes the Book: Review

The first review of Pop Goes the Library: the book comes from the brand new blog, In the Library with a Lead Pipe. (I know, don't you love that name!)

Here are some snippets:

If you’re not interested in pop culture, it may be tempting to dismiss the importance of this book’s message or to overlook its ambitiousness. That would be a mistake: Brookover and Burns cover most of the important lessons on librarianship that can be taught in a book: creating a niche; building a collection; using technology; and developing crowd-pleasing programming, among others. As an added bonus, their writing style is as much fun to read as Michael Buckland, S.R. Ranganathan, Jesse Shera, or Elaine Svenonius. (Speaking of pop culture: does anyone know if Elaine is related to Ian?)

and

I very much like this book’s execution and I strongly agree with its message: we’re going to remain relevant by acquiring and marketing materials, and by providing programs, that appeal to the people whose libraries we steward. You don’t have to like every popular item in the collection, you just have to make sure it’s available.

Read the full review here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Buffy Quote of the Week

Buffy: There is no problem that cannot be solved by chocolate.
Willow: I think I'm going to barf.
Buffy: Except that.
Ep: Fear, Itself

Monday, October 06, 2008

Learning to Read, or Loving Reading?

Today's "but are the kids reading" article is from the New York Times, part of its The Future of Reading series. Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers examines how publishers, authors and libraries are using video games to get people reading. Easy example: PJ Haarsma designed a video game to tie in with his book. (Those of you who attended the 07 Kidlitosphere Conference may remember meeting PJ.) Jack Martin from NYPL is quoted: “I think we have to ask ourselves, ‘What exactly is reading?’ Reading is no longer just in the traditional sense of reading words in English or another language on a paper.”

A reading professor is quoted in the article; and I wonder at what he said that didn't get in the article. Because what he says seems incomplete: "So rather than say, ‘Oh, books are irrelevant in the modern era because there are all these other media available,’ I would ask shouldn’t we be doing a better job of teaching kids how to read?”

My knee-jerk response to this is that it's not about teaching kids HOW to read; it's teaching kids to love reading. Oh, some kids are born loving reading; but for other kids, it is all about the right book at the right time, which may occur at age 5, 15, or 30. Are people encouraging that reading is to be loved? Or is it viewed as another lesson, another chore? Of course, this professor may have gone on to say that. Or his definition of "how to read" may include reading because you want to, not because you can and you have to.

In viewing the literacy skills and interactions with text we see with games and books, I point once again to Cathy's Book. My prediction: game tie ins with books, or book tie ins with games, isn't the future. The future is authors raised with gaming as a part of their regular lives writing books like Cathy's Book, bringing that interactive, reader controls the story attitude towards traditional books, with electronic publishing providing a reading experience that is different from anything we've seen today.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Newbery Means What?

Oh what the hell, everyone else is posting about it.

The latest What is the Newbery discussion. Looking for an idea of the linkage out there? Check out Fairrosa's Reading.

My scattered thoughts:

To those who disagree with Anita Silvey's article: why do you assume she, or others who raise questions about Newbery winners, hasn't read the rules? Some comments seem to be along the lines "if you only read the rules, you wouldn't think that." It may not be about whether the rules are being read, it's how those rules are being interpreted.

To the "the Newbery doesn't mean what you think it means" argument. Goodness knows, I agree with this. But. If there are that many people out there, including professional librarians, who don't "get" what the Newbery is about, whose fault is it? I'm a bit reminded of a time in fifth grade where my entire class failed a test. My mother, a teacher, told me that while I still needed to do my best, etc., that when that many children in a class didn't "get" the material, the fault was as much on the teacher as the students. Where are those who don't "get" it getting their impressions from? I'm wondering if there is a bit of having ones cake and eating it, too, going on. On the one hand, literary award (and see what Carlie has to say about what that means.) But are we (global we, libraries, librarians, etc.) promoting it as something else, resulting in people thinking the Newbery is something it isn't?

Finally, yes this argument happens enough we could turn it into a drinking game. Still, I am disturbed by just how insulted people get over people raising questions about the Newbery winners. I love discussions of things and different viewpoints, and the idea that there can only be one viewpoint for the Newbery (either you agree totally with every selection, or you're someone who didn't read the rules, don't get the award, and is blinded by 'popularity') bothers me.

My introduction to the Newbery was the gift of a boxed set of Newbery winners. Do they still do that? They were books I wouldn't have picked up on my own, but because now they were there, I was bored, I read them and enjoyed them. (Come to think of it, being bored plus access to books at home led to many great discoveries of books I would never have picked up otherwise.)

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