Monday, July 13, 2015

A Much Needed Victory for School Libraries: Senate Bill 1177

Every parent, student and teacher should be outraged if their school does not have a library.  Instead, there is a sense of  inevitability about the situation.  Well, we  all knew it was going to happen sooner or later, right?   That shouldn't be the case.   Unless people prefer WebMd to getting their medical diagnosis over getting the right information from a doctor.   Then by all means accept the inevitable and be prepared for a dumbed down school program.  A bit dramatic?  Perhaps but none the less true.

Studies after studies have proven that schools who have an established library program to assist students in their academic endeavors excel in their educational goals.  Students read more.  Comprehend their assignments easily and have better critical thinking skills then their peers who have no to libraries.   With so many studies making the critical case that libraries are needed then why are so many schools opting out of the library programs?   Why are there so many school librarians reassigned to the classrooms as aides?   It's mind blowing.  Yet there is a small glimmer of hope for school libraries and the students who need them.

On  July 8 the US Senate unanimously passed legislation  (Senate Bill 1177) to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/NCLB to include support for school library programs.    School districts are authorized to develop effective programs using certified school librarians at its core.   This is important because it is the first step in recognizing what the studies have been showing all along.  Librarians and libraries are valuable tools to have at students' disposal as they grow and learn.    It goes without saying that a huge applaud and pat on the back is due to the two senators who cosponsored the amendment Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) .

While this is a huge leap in the right directions for schools and their libraries, there is still much to do to reclaim this vanishing education gem before they are all gone.  Quite frankly, it is imperative that anyone who has a stake in the education of children  should speak up and ask Congress to follow the Senate's lead.   This means that parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators and even students themselves should contact their local Congressional representative to ask for their support.  Consider this, if children are failing in schools, the community fails as well.   School libraries are important to the educational growth of each child.  To say that it weakens the educational outcomes is not an exaggeration, it's a fact.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Kate DiCamilo's Flora and Ulysses Are Hopeful Heroes

Kate DiCamillo is one of a kind storyteller.  If you have not yet read this author's books,  then it is either because you're not an avid reader or you live under a rock.  In either case, it is definitely a crying shame not have been touched by her stories.   As the Summer Reading programs progress, it is appropriate to mention the author who has been chosen as the 2015 National Summer Reading  Champion.  It's an inspired choice.

There are stories that stay with a reader long after they are read.  This is only true of stories that are well written.  Ms. DiCamillo has managed to create these stories not once but several times over.  Do the titles, Because of Winn Dixie or  The Tale of Despereaux ring a bell?  They should.  Not only because they were fabulous books but because they were made into blockbuster movies as well.  Her soft and soul stirring style in these stories contain a mix of magic and wonderment of what if's that truly belong in the world of children's stories and dreams.   The stories are timeless.  Her characters in spire readers to look beyond what they know and find a new reality  where a lonely girl finds a furry best friend in a grocery store,  a simple mouse can defend a princess,  a beloved toy find his way home again and a superhero squirrel can save the day.   Timeless, yes and special as well.

DiCamillo's latest book, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures  is another exceptional tale that brightens the children's literature bookshelves.   It fits in with the theme, "Every hero has a story" and what a story she shares about Flora and Ulysses.  It is well worth the time to read.  Especially, out loud.  The reader and audience will enjoy the story that flows from the pages, dances softly in the air and drifts directly into the heart.    The cast of characters are quirky, lovable and strange but in a normal kind of way.  This is especially true of Ulysses,   your typical run of the mill, neighborhood squirrel who suddenly finds himself changed by a vacuum cleaner.   Changed how?   Some might say the vacuum cleaner changed him.  Others may say it could be something more deeper and wonderful.  Friendship. Love.  Acceptance.

The brilliant part of this tale of an unlikely superhero is that it is a reminder that hope comes in all shapes and sizes.   To be perfectly honest,  it's a nice reminder.  Which is why, this is a need-to-read book for this summer.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Firefighters Are Heroes too!

This years's Summer Reading Program theme  provides librarians lots of ideas to explore the world of Superheroes.  Of course, the first instinct is to search out books about superheroes that leap tall building,  get the bad guys and lives to fight another day.  All very well and good.  However,  here's a different spin on the theme.  Why not celebrate the heroes in our neighborhood who fight the good fight every day?  Yup,  talking about the firefighters who step up to help get a cat out of a tree or go into a burning building to put out a fire and save lives.

There are three wonderful titles for children that stick with theme of heroes and saving the day that can liven up a story time.  (As a personal note,  never begin a story time about firefighter without the proper firefighters hat. It just adds more flare and fun to the event! )   

The first title to take a look at  is  Firefighters to the Rescue by Kersten Hamilton.  This title is such fun to read because of it's invitation to audience to get into the story.  Children will quickly learn when to chime in "Firefighters to the rescue" during the story.   The illustration are vivid and bright to   catch and keep children's attention.   If this book is not a hit with the crowd, it just may be that the crowd is filled with boring three and four years olds.   

If the first title is not available or you have children begging for more exciting firefighter stories,  Patricia Hubbell's Firefighters: Speeding! Spraying! Saving!  is an excellent choice.  As the title suggests, this book is filled with action words that paint a clear picture of what firefighters do everyday.   Add to this Viviana Garofoli’s digital art that add to the simple, rhyming text that preschoolers take great delight in.

It goes without saying that Mark Teague's Firehouse! had to make the list.  Teague's humorous tale begins with Edward and his cousin's Judy trip to the firehouse.  Everything is fine from the slid down the fireman's pole to riding on the firetruck.   After a little excitement, Edward learns how it feels to  save the day.  It's every child's dream to be a fireman and through the eyes of Edward, they get a small taste of what's it's like.  It is great fun for everyone. Even for the librarians sharing the story.

Of course this is not a complete and final list of books for Firefighter heroes.  It is a great beginning.
Enjoy the stories with the little ones.and don't forget your hat!

Firefighters' helmets hung at the station!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Unmasked: Why Shakespeare Still Matters.

To teens, William Shakespeare is a really old dude that died thousands of years ago.   Not only that, he writes in foreign English.  Who even uses words like thou, doth and footlicker?   (Foot what?)  Yet, in almost every high school english class Shakespeare's works are still on the required reading list.  Some veteran high school teachers like Dana Dusbiber of Luther Burbank High School believes that Shakespeare is too "white and old"  to reach a diverse ethnic class.   Seriously,  how can a multi-racial teen relate to these works?  The answer is really simple.  They relate because all the emotions, trials and loves of Shakespeare's world go beyond race or time.  They speak to humanity as a whole.   There are compelling reasons  to unmask the beauty of Shakespeare then to put it out to the curb like an antique heirloom that has become trashy and outdated.

It is disturbing to say the least, that a English teacher would want her students to only read from others who are just like them.   What happened to the idea that readers  should be exposed to an array of authors  that tell their story from a different perspectives.   Ms. Dusbiber prefers that her ethnically diverse students read books from Hispanic, African and other minority authors.  Her reasoning is that the authors offer better opportunities for students to learn about their culture and themselves within the pages of their works.  In other words, hold up a mirror and see someone just like you.  Perhaps even more frightening is she may be implying that ethically diverse teens are not capable of learning the plays?    The only way to grow is to learn more about the world, not less.   Students should be required  to  read Shakespeare from the standpoint that at least they have an exposure to the plays.  If Shakespeare is not their cup of tea, so be it.  However, at least they will have a familiarity of  one of the famous plays.

 To be perfectly honest,  Shakespeare may be a white dude who died  450 years ago (not thousands)  but his works are timeless.  The characters are just as intriguing as when they were first introduced.  What bothersome about Ms. Dusbiber's blog is that she seems to be unfamiliar with the diverse characters of Shakespeare.   Here's a suggestion  for an ethical diverse class,  read Othello. Unmask the true nature of a black man so madly in love with Desdemona and so insecure of her love for him that he allows his closest confident Iago to convince him that Desdemona is unfaithful.   There are so many layers to go through here that one finds that in the end, regardless of race, as humans deep down we are the same.   We cry the same way.  We love passionately and sometimes jealousy gets the better of us.  Does one have to be a particular race to experience any of these emotions?  Not at all.

Let's not stop at Othello.  In, Merchant of Venice we find even more passion, jealousy, discrimination and yes, greed.  Oh what tangled webs were woven when Shylock feels that he has been cheated by a Christian community that has never welcomed him. He loans money to Antonio with the agreement that if the money is not paid back on time it will be paid back in a pound of flesh.  Secretly, Shylock wants only revenge.  The Christian community of Venice never welcomed him as a Jew, so Antonio must pay.   Alas, Shylock loses out on this demand in the Venetian Courts.  Add insult to injury he loses his beloved daughter Jessica in marriage to Lorenzo, a Christian.   Again, any teen of diverse ethnic background could sympathize with anyone of these characters.  If it is the language that is a barrier, then reveal the beauty of the language by using No Fear Shakespeare.

Suffice it to say, each of Shakespeare's play can be dissected and shown to be very useful in exploring raw human emotions.  Even if it is from an old, dead white guy.   This is not to say students couldn't learn from authors such as Maya Anglou.  However, why limit the students to just one voice?  Let them experience as many as they can.  From every corner of the world, not just the ones that are familiar to them.  Great literature lives on from age to age.  That is what makes them classic and timeless.  Keep Shakespeare in the classroom and in the libraries.  If a teacher or librarian takes Shakespeare away from students that would be a great tragedy.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Unlikely Heroes : The Best of the Best In Children's Literature

Who doesn't love a story about a hero who wins the day?  Superman flying in to stop the bad guy in his tracks.  Spiderman spinning a safety web to help a damsel in distress.  Batgirl racing in on her motorcycle to rid Gotham of one more bad guy. The comics have filled young minds (and adult minds as well) with images of good defeating evil.   These scenarios have led to discussion "If you were a superhero, what powers would you have?"  The possibilities are endless.  However, there are other heroes that are a little more down to earth.  They have no super "powers" to speak of yet they are able to do heroic things just by being themselves.  In children literature,  authors and publishers like to call them the unlikely heroes.  Children simply call  them their favorites.   Here are Librarian At Large's top five unlikely heroes.  If readers have not met them yet, this summer is the perfect time to get to know them.

1.  Roald Dahl's Matlida  is quite the intriguing character.  Everyone around her under estimates her, except for her observant teacher, Miss Trunchbull.  Matilda, who has been neglected by her mother and father, learns ways to get what she wants.  It isn't until meeting and befriending her teacher that she begins to want to help someone other than herself.

2.  Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux has a huge heart in a little mousy body.   Who needs a night in shinning armor when Despereaux Tilling is ready to take on a feat that no man, er, mouse has ever taken on before!  This is one mouse who reminds all readers that mighty things come n small packages.

3.  Percy Jackson of  Rick Rioridan's Percy Jackson Olympian series is the perfect example of a hero dealing with multiple challenges at once.  Not only does he find out that his dad was a greek god, but on top of that he has ADHD.  Percy goes from one adventure to the next with his trusty pals who see to it that the good conquers evil and Percy makes it back to camp in one piece.

4.  Never one to shrink away from a challenge, Katniss of Suzanne Collin's  Hunger Games has become a favorite female unlikely heroine.  With her skillful handling of her bow and arrow, Katniss proves that in a do or die situation, girls can be just a strong and tough as their male peers.   Collins brilliantly weaves a plot that has the reader sitting on the edge of their seat asking,  "What now?".  In every situation, Katniss does the unexpected and comes out the victor not the victim.

5. Gordon Korman has introduced readers to many wonderful characters.  However, in Schooled,  the unlikely hero is Cap (as in Capricorn) Anderson.   One has to admire a character that can beat the odds of growing up in a hippie commune and not only survive  middle school politics but breaks the stereotypes and wins the support of his peers.   Feel good story told in a very humorous way,  making readers wish they could unleash their power of humor to get out of sticky situations.

This is only a list of five. To be honest it was a very difficult list to put together because there are so many to choose from.  Perhaps the unlikely hero list should be expanded next time?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Who's Your Hero? Summer Reading Programs 2015

This year's theme from Collaborative Summer Library Program is inspiring.  Love the idea of using "hero's" as a way to entice children to read all summer long.   Children  love heroes of all shapes and sizes: super heroes,  military heroes, mystery solving-heroes, knight in shining armor heroes and  most of all everyday heroes.  It is really hard to pick just one type of hero. Just as the theme suggest every hero has a story and to pick just one, well that as difficult as picking which ice cream is better the chocolate or double chocolate flavor.  They are both wonderful.    In honor of the theme and to get started on suggestions for  books to read this summer, there is one title that has stood out as the "story" that should be on every middle schooler's reading list and to be honest, even on the adults list as well.  El Deafo is a quick, delightful and eye opening graphic novel that explores the world of a hearing impaired hero who imagines that her hearing aids gives her super powers.

This heartfelt yet humorous memoir  from Cece Bell will have readers cheering for a new super hero. One who does not have perfect hearing or perfect eyesight or even athletic abilities to leap tall buildings in a single bounce.   El Deafo is the perfect superhero who wants what every middle schoolers wants, to be excepted for who they are and to fit.  This type of book has been long over due for so many reasons.   Bell's illustration on what is is like to face challenges of hearing impairment are spot on and clear. Everything from watching TV, to embarrassing sleep overs  and bulky hearing aides, is dealt with a touch of humanity and warmth.   This book is for every child -- deaf or hearing --- it will without a doubt show the possibility that anyone can be a hero.  Some heroes need a little more help then others but given the opportunity they can and will "save" the day.  

It is not a surprise that this book has already won numerous awards.  Quite frankly,  it should be the "poster" book for CLSP.  Cece is a true hero and her story is worth becoming familiar with.  Will readers find out about the next adventures of El Deafo?   That would be wonderful!  Here's  to keeping the fingers crossed that there will be more stories about Cece and her true friend, Martha.

In the meantime,   there are so many heroes to meet this summer!   The list is  long and there is not time to waste! . Not to mention the  many hero crafts to do as well!  Summer is just staring and Librarian at Large is just getting warmed up !  Stay tuned there is so much more reading fun to come!

(Blogger Note: As a child of the 70's and hearing impaired as well,  many of the situations described in the memoir struck  a cord of familiarity.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Unfair" Bedtime Stories?

A philosopher and professor at University of Warwick in England has made a suggestion that should make every children's librarian sick to their stomach.  The professor, Adam Swift, suggests that reading to children before bedtimes gives an unfair advantage to children from supportive homes to achieve in their academic endeavors.  Children are not read to at night, don't fare as well.  This should be a celebration of family bonding.  Not only that but it should be encouraged world wide.  This is exactly what librarians have been advocating for decades.  Read to your child.  It is sincerely hoped that this professor is being misquoted and that there is not need to be alarmed.  However, there is a way of turning this thought around to be advantageous for all children.

Since Professor Swift correctly states that reading to children at bedtime is a good thing, the best response would be to promote this activity to every family.  PSA announcements, reminders to parents at schools, and perhaps even establishing a volunteer effort to read to children who don't have the luxury of someone at home to read to them.   These are just a few ideas but surely some of them could work to give every child an opportunity to be read to.

Additionally, librarians should continue advocating for reading to children (at any time of the day) so as to prove and persuade that this is a better alternative than not reading to children.  Which is what Professor Swift seems to be suggesting in his theory of "fairness".    It is true that it is almost impossible to be sure that every child is read to but librarians can continue to remind parents, and even neighbors, that reading to one child is better than not reaching out to any child.

Last but not least, here is a personal challenge to Professor Swift, should he really believe that reading to children is unfair.   Do your part in making things equal for all children.  Read to a child in your family, or your neighborhood or go to a local library in England and discover if there are programs just for the purpose of filling in the void for children who have no one to read to them.  If England's libraries do not have these programs then perhaps it is time that they begin.