Monday, January 26, 2015

The Debate About Third Grade Reading Levels

In the past couple of years , there have been several articles that have brought up the fact that the reading levels among elementary school children is low.  Actually, there are some states that have passed laws stating that a child can not go on to fourth grade until they have mastered the reading level of third grade. Some educators argue that holding back a child would be more harmful then helpful.   Reading skills and preschool was  among the topic of President Obama's 2013  State of the Union address.  The president was hoping to get bipartisan support to help children  in low income areas the opportunity for preschool education which may enable them to get a head start in the right direction.  In 2015, the debate is far from over.  One thing remains clear, when separating the emotions from the rhetoric,  everyone can agree that strong reading skills are necessary for a success in every area of life  Where the debate get's muddled, is how can educators, librarians, parents and even politicians find the perfect answer to this complex problem?

Studies have shown that students who are not reading at their grade level or lower are four times less likely to graduate from high school (  Consider what that means for a moment.  It's harder to get a job without a high school diploma.  Chances are these students will be living at poverty level.  What is the percentage of high school drop outs who are incarcerated?  In a 2009 study by Northwestern University it is a staggering 63%.   In this day and time in America, this is just not acceptable.

If all indicators,  statistical as well as anecdotal data, point to Third grade level reading skills as the tipping point of success or failure for students, why is there still a debate on how to handle the problem?

Simple.  From educators to parents, school boards and public officials, everyone has an answer but few realize the common sense solution.  The only proven way to encourage and improve reading skills if it is promoted in the home.  This can not be legislated.  It can only be promoted and encouraged from professionals to parents.   From the very beginning, parents should be reminded that reading to a child is beneficial on so many levels.  From emotional,  quality time spent with a child interacting with them,  to the cerebral when tiny minds are absorbing new ideas, words and imaginative worlds.  It is priceless.  In many homes,  reading is not encouraged either because there are no books or the adults in the house do not read for pleasure.   In June of 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics jumped on the bandwagon of urging parents to read to their babies from day one.  It's an important step forward in helping to bring reading levels up for all children.  Let's not forget that the public library has many ways to promote reading.

One of the best books about how reading aloud impacts a child was written by Mem Fox, notable children's authors. In her book,  Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, (which is a quick read), Ms. Fox demonstrates with passion and humor how reading aloud to a child helps them want to learn to read themselves.  How it stimulus the emotional and intellectual part of learning paving the path to lifelong readers.   If parents are too busy to read Ms. Fox's book, then at least they should be given the statistics that were given earlier in hopes that it will encourage them to at least change  habits at home.  For example, set aside fifteen minutes a day to read with the child.  Find ways to participate in library programs such as story times, or other children programs that encourage early reading.  Many of these programs are on Saturdays or evenings to accommodate busy work schedules.  In a nut shell, educate and encourage the parents so that there is no excuse not to read to children.

Is a person who is illiterate as an adult out of luck when it comes to learning this skill?  Not at all.  It's never to late to learn to read.   That discussion will be saved for next week's post.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Inspiring Children With A Dream -- Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.  inspired a nation to look within themselves and consider ways to change. As in, changing the way we  look at the world.  Changing the way we looked at each other .  Most of all changing the way we looked at ourselves.    His famous speech "I have a dream" still challenges us today to reach for the ideals of finding the goodness in all races.   In our collective memories of the man, there are images of a peaceful, strong leader who wanted nothing more than to see that everyone  in the America would be treated equally and fairly.  His words reminds every person, old and young alike, that the dream of every parent is the same regardless of race or culture.  Every parent wants their chid to grow up in a world where they can prosper and grow according to their character and talent.  That every child could find their passion and pursue the American dream.

There are many books for children about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but one that stands out as unique is written by his son Martin Luther King III.  It's simply titled,  My Daddy : Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..   This perspective is not only thought provoking for children but also for adults.   This intimate portrait gives a glimpse into the family life of this great legend.  It cause the reader to ponder on what it must have been like for a small young boy to see his father arrested for speaking his mind?  What was it like to watch the news reports about his father's work?  What it is like to remember his father now.   It's a somber look but also touching.  Mr. King describes these memories an eloquent style  that is similar to his father.  This book is  a tribute to his larger than life father but it seemingly bursts with  pride and love that this son still has for his dad.  The family man, who did great things for his country with the hope that he was making the world a better place for his children.

Librarians might shy away from a story time with a Martin Luther King Jr. theme.  For that matter, parents may find it a little awkward to read books about this legend.   In reality there many titles that fit well with this theme that there is no need to worry if there is a "perfect" book to be found.  Everything from preschool biography titles to Mr. King's personal view of his father.  Each have a unique viewpoint that will capture a young audience's attention.  As demonstrated in the photo at the top of this post,  the title list does not have to solely rely on biography titles.   Titles such as One by Kathryn Otoshi works well with it's inspiring message that One person does and can make a difference.

As a nation, it is good to remember and honor our heroes.    This is a good opportunity to teach the young ones about the men and women who have contributed to our country's rich history.   There's no better way to introduce children to heroes than by reading books written about them.  Let's face it, every child should have the opportunity to be inspired  by the words, "I have a dream.... "  It's never too early, it's never to late either.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Censoring Ourselves? The Charlie Hebdo Lesson

The events in Paris surrounding the Charlie Hebdo slayings has  caused many to rethink and challenge the idea of whether it is better to remain silent then to draw, write or say something that may spark an angry outburst from certain groups or organizations.   Charlie Hebbo's depiction of the Prophet Mohamad was deemed offensive by two Muslim men.  They took it upon themselves to be judge and executioner of those in and around the publisher's office, whether these individuals were directly involved in the cartoon publishing, it didn't matter.  The objective of these men was to have revenge on anyone who crossed their path because they were offended.  It won thought or remorse the pleas were ignored.  What does this violent act have to do with libraries?  More than one can imagine.   Especially when considering  "offensive" materials in a library's collection.  Should libraries remove books that may be too controversial or spark rage? Should libraries subscribe to publications like Charlie Hebdo?   These questions can be viewed as complex with no right answers.  That might be true if librarians didn't believe in the ideals of Intellectual Freedom.  Thankfully, the profession has been on the forefront of Intellectual freedom and hopefully will stay the course.

Now is not the time to ban books, burn magazine or destroy cartons because they have a view of the world that is different than our own.  It is also not the time to kowtow to a specific group who is easily offended and threatens violence in retaliation for printing materials that are offensive.  In recent history, there have been no incidences of Christians, Buddhists, or even Atheists who have killed in the name of being offended.  They voice their objections.  They may even ask for the removal of "offensive" material but they don't respond with violence.   In the past, librarians who promoted Intellectual Freedom and protected the "freedom to read"in their libraries,  felt their biggest threat would come from groups with the Religious Right, but reality is setting in that the true enemy to Intellectual Freedom is political correctness.

Christopher Hitchens is not a stranger to controversy for his written works and debates.  When reading this statement attributed to him, one has to admit his observation is spot on.    “I'm very depressed how in this country you can be told "That's offensive" as though those two words constitute an argument.”  Anyone who is reasonable will agree with that statement.  However, not everyone is reasonable, especially one with a semi-automatic weapons. However, this is exactly what political correctness has done to debate in our country and around the world.  If words are spoken that are offensive or pictures are drawn that inflame emotions the knee jerk reactions is to quickly denounce the publication and censor it.  Really?   What was the response when protests were made against Harry Potter books based on the theory that the spells were "real" and satanic?  Librarians and educators alike defended the work stating that it encouraged children to read.  To censor the book was  considered radical.  Agreed it is radical. It's just as radical to censor books and magazines due to their satirical expression.  Isn't satire suppose to make people think?  To show readers a view of   absurdity and reality at the same time?   Librarians in every library, small or large, public or private, should not be afraid to continue to defend their patron's  right to read.   Not only that  but political correctness should be tossed out on it's ear to allow for honest,  thoughtful debate about the issues.

Censor ourselves at this time?  Nope. Not now. Not ever.   The freedom to read is too important to lose because if it is lost, all freedoms are lost.   Come to think of it... libraries will be lost too.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Inspiring Thoughts For The New Year

The new year is always the perfect time for a brand new start.  Countless memes shared on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and other social media sites have a common theme: the new year is the first page of a 365 page book with your story.  What an inspiring thought.  What will this year's story be for Librarian At Large?  Hopefully, it will be one that mirrors the American Library Associations' President's initiative  "Libraries Change Lives."  This vision is from ALA's Presdient Barbara Stripling of transforming libraries, empowering individuals and transforming communities.  Libraries are at a unique point where they can be the center of the community providing the leadership to forge through an era formed by the digital world.

In 2013, this initiative began with asking the question of how libraries have changed the lives of the patrons they serve in their community.   Each story is unique and inspiring on it's own but when they are viewed together they all sing the same song.  Libraries do matter because they offered a place to go after school,  programs to help find jobs, and books to explore  fictional worlds and debate ideas that were important to their lives.  Most importantly, the libraries in every community offered the opportunity to make one's life better.  In tangible ways, the library made a unique impact that could not be filled by other institutions in the community.   The library stands alone as the one place where anyone, regardless of background in education, culture or economics,  can use the resources that are available.   On the Facebook page, there are inspirational stories that demonstrate this unique impact.  

As libraries transform to fit the needs of the 21st century patron,  librarians have found that the skills needed to navigate the labyrinth of information has become a little more cumbersome. Thus, librarians had to transform to  in order to help patrons adapt to the ever changing landscape of digital information.  If for nothing else, to keep patrons from going into information overload and grasping at any information, even if it doesn't fit their needs or answer the questions they had.   This is truly the age where information is power.  All the more reason why public libraries should remain open in urban settings where opportunities are minimal but the possibilities become endless once the community is empowered to grow and learn.   The Ferguson Municipal Library is one such example of a empowering a community.

Every profession, every person should be inspired to look within to transform their own lives to make life a little better, brighter.  than it was last year.  Little things as simple as a thank you card can change an attitude or build a better relationship   The stories of how libraries have changed lives are the "everyday" type of change that are unnoticeable at first but over time it is as bright as a candle in a dark room.  Everyone sees it.  With Librarian At Large, perhaps that means more story times in hospital settings with children,  more workshops for adults who need to hone their job hunting skills or more author luncheons to introduce wonderful writers to new readers.   It just seems all the ore worth it when realizing that what we do can have a positive impact in someone's life.  When given that opportunity, how can it be turned away?  Quit simply it can't

Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Resolutions For The Library Geek

First, let's begin the post with the understanding that everyone is a geek about something.  It's not just to describe a passion for  computers, sciences or mathematical numbers. It's about knowing a topic so well that in a Jeopardy category, one would not only know all the questions/answers but would be able to come up with harder questions/answers to stump  highly knowledgeable likeminded geeks  In the case of this blog, well it isn't hard to guess what the "geek" is here.  Libraries. All kinds, shapes or sizes of libraries. It's what can be labeled as an addiction or in some cases abnormal obsession.  Is it wrong to question what is so abnormal about a library obsession?  Nah!  Nothing abnormal about it! Wondering how to spot a library geek?  First, foremost a library card is a MUST for all library geeks. Second,  a visit to a library at least once a week.  Bonus if the visit to the library is while on vacation (triple bonus when on honeymoon) just because it's good to know if the library at home is better (or worse) than the one seen on vacation.  Third,  hearing the mention of "library" on the TV makes the viewer rewind to find out why the library was mentioned.  Four,  library geeks can name every movie that has a library scene in it. Quick: how many times did Indiana Jones movies have a library scene?   Five, conversations with friends and family usually involve one or two mentions about libraries.  Six and yes this is the final test to spotting a library geek,  T-shrits, sweatshirts, or tote bags that have literary quotes or have the word "library" on them is part of the library geek's wardrobe.

Now that the basic understanding about "geek" has been established, it is safe to suggest a  list of New Year's Resolutions for library geeks.

1. Resolve to be more vocal about library advocacy.  Libraries' best weapon to fighting back against legislative budget cuts,  city council demands for more service with less funds and naysayers who claim the Internet has replaced the library is the people who love going to the library.   Legislatures need to know that the library isn't just a building within the community with empty tables and chairs. No!  It's busy with people coming to workshops, leaving with armloads of children books to keep little ones entertained and bustling with librarians who are ready to answer any reference question that patrons' have.

2. Resolve to read at least one book this year that is a "new-to-me" genre or writer.  This gives the opportunity to hear from a fresh perspective and voice.

3. Resolve to read to a child whenever the opportunity is available.  The joys of reading is ten times better when sharing it with a youngster.  It is sure to brighten anyone's day.

4.  Resolve to leave a book for others to pick up.  The Free Little Libraries have inspired many to share the books that they love with with others in the pay it forward ideal.  Why not go with that idea a step further.  Leave books on buses,  at malls, or doctor's offices.  Consider how one simple book could make a difference in a person's day?

Four suggestions for resolutions should be a good start for any library geek.  Then again, library geeks tend to be very creative in finding ways to spread the word about libraries.  I'm sure that these suggestions could very well turn into something unique and interesting as 2015 unfolds.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Message of Peace : Libraries As Havens of Hope.

There are moments when the headlines of the news can not be ignored.  Issues that were once considered better to be left alone are now surfacing to the top and ready to boil over.  It would be nice if there were a book that can be accessible to everyone and be read by everyone in order that calmness can conquer chaos.  There doesn't seem to be a book that can put out the flames that have been set by recent incidents in New York and Ferguson, Missouri.  The "mob" mentality seems to be winning the day and clear heads are not prevailing.  Libraries play a vital role in every community.  They provide a place to gather, a place to discuss issues and a place to learn.  This must have been the reason why the staff at Ferguson Municipal Public Library felt that it was important to remain open when the schools shut down due to the civil unrest.   The library was one of the few places where children of Ferguson could go to find a safe refuge.  It can not be ignored that the decision to remain open was powerful and positive for the citizens of Ferguson.   The library isn't just about providing a safe place for children.  It is about finding  answers to problems or finding the truth buried in the issues of the day.  Three days before Christmas,  there is only one gift Americans need most:  PEACE.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if libraries could point the way to that gift of peace through books.

 May wonderful and prolific writers have tackled the complex issue of racism in their works.  Most of these titles have been listed as required reading in high school or entering into a university.  Novels such as Harper Lee's  To Kill A Mocking Bird and  Toni Morrison's Beloved invited readers to see the injustice that blacks in America have faced.  In Lee's book it was about a black man accused of raping a white woman in a small Southern town.  We see the prejudices of the town folks who readily accept that the accusation is true.  Why? Simply because of the skin color of the defendant.  It is a book that forces the reader to examine why it is easy to accept the guilt of a person solely on the basis of his skin color.  Morrison's tome deals with a former slave, Sethe  who had escaped to Ohio.  What follows is the events that depicts her escape from slavery but is forever enslaved by the memories of her past.  In particular, the child she lost who now haunts her.   It seems that with freedom Sethe also needed peace to make her life complete.  Unfortunately,  this was something that was never a possibility for Sethe.  Perhaps life was simpler with Twain's Huckleberry Finn but now  his work has been criticized for having racial overtones because of the language used.  Sadder still is that Laura Ingles Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods has been deemed inappropriate and racist because of the not so positive views of the American Indians.  This  causes a librarian to sigh and wonder where will it end.

It may be that it will end when society as a whole is reminded of  two important facts that all four of these books prove in different yet subtle ways.  First,  as a society we have come a long way.  No longer is it acceptable to judge people with words and deeds solely because they look different.  Thank goodness for that!  These books help readers to understand different is not dangerous or detestable.   It's just merely different.  Learning from other  cultures reinforces the notion that the hopes and dreams of every child are the same regardless of culture or language.  Secondly,  everyone comes into the world the same way and will leave this world in the same way.  Realizing that, it's time to come to the only conclusion that since we share the same planet, we might as well get along.

On a final note, it may just be that humans  have never really changed.   Shakespeare points out so well hundreds of years ago, that humans are greedy, vain, and jealous.  Some are good. Some are bad. One thing that is certain, it is only during a time of tragedy that the truth to life is revealed. It was the same lesson Shakespeare taught through his works years ago that today's authors try to teach and immolate.  It wouldn't be a bad thing if it could be remembered and practiced to forgive often, understanding with patience  and that life is short and fleeting. There are no second chances to do things  over.  It is as simple as that.  At least through books,  it is possible to stop and learn from the characters who have leapt into situations with passion with little thought of the consequences.  Then painful lessons would not have to be relearned over and over again.   Libraries are the safe haven to stop to think,  reflect and learn for children of all ages.  During this season of light, whether it be Christmas, Chanukah or secular celebration, take a moment to be grateful for the good in life.  There is too much sadness that everyone needs to take a moment to see the good and to feel hopeful for the coming new year.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Santa: Finding out The Truth about the Jolly Ol' Guy

       Youngsters have often heard adults say, "If you want to know something, go look it up!"  Back in the day, there were books, encyclopedias, thesaurus, dictionaries and a whole slew of tools to find the answer.  Today, the internet has made it that much more easier to tap into a wealth of knowledge.  Yet there are still some tidbits of information that eludes youngsters.  In particular, Santa Claus and his jolly ways.  Who is this strange man who works only one night a year, dresses in a read suit and leaves presents for good little boys and girls?  Is he for real?  How does he go around the world in one night?   Why did he pick reindeers to help him travel in his sleigh?  Wouldn't unicorns be better?  (No.  Silly, unicorns don't exist!)  The questions go on and on and on.  Luckily there are ways of getting to the truth about the beloved man everyone has come to know as Santa Claus. 

     Harold Myra lays out all the facts in his book Santa, Are You Real?   From the traces of Santa's early history as Saint Nicholas to today as the  jolly red suited man children all over the world recognize. It's sweet and it reminds readers that St. Nicholas' example of love and charity is the way to keep Christ in the heart of Christmas.   The author eludes that Santa is alive through the stories of St. Nick.  However, adults can prove that Santa is real with Ingrid Ostheeren's I'm The Real Santa Claus.  How frustrating must it be for Santa Claus to find so many men impersonating him at Christmas time!  They are everywhere!  No wonder people have stopped believing in him.   In this tale, Santa get the gentle reminder that children still believe in him and in Christmas magic.  Must say, there are so adults who need this same reminder. 

        Now before the more practical, stuffy and so called level headed nonbeliever starts to explode because there need concrete facts.  Gerry Bowler's book  Santa Claus: A Biography gives the facts in a manner that would make every historian rest at ease.  Yes, Bowler insists that Santa  is a legend, mystical wonderful fictional elf that has graced greeting cards,  wrapping paper and commercial ads for centuries but that shouldn't stop the young at heart from enjoying the book.  Having said that,  readers should   not miss out on reading The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus.  The title should not fool the reader.  Tim Stover probably called it a legend to lure nonbelievers into believing in Santa again.  The details of Santa's life are rich, warm and wonderful!  How could this be fiction?  It simply feels too real to be fake.  Of course, if one really wants to be a cynic that is their choice but the facts of the story are difficult to dispute.  Such as how Santa learned to make wonderful toys, or how he met his love, Mrs. Claus.  Stover even details how Santa was able to get the reindeers to fly.  How could he just make that up?  It's simply must be true.
   In need of more proof of his existence?  Fictional characters are in books.  Authors are not in books, they write the books.  Santa can't be fictional because he wrote a book. He's a published author just as James Patterson and Danielle Steele are.    It's available for anyone who wishes to know the REAL Santa.  (It's even available in e-books, just to prove that old men can still keep up with technology our day)  Santa Responds:  He's Had Enough ... and He's Writing Back!   Frankly, it's about time that he stood up for himself!  All the letters from boys and girls who simply write them to appease their parents but truly don't believe and don't deserve half of the items on their list.  That's okay because Santa has a way of setting the record straight that isn't too confrontational and gets his message across.
      This Christmas, the best gift every reader can give to themselves is the gift of believing in Santa. If  that is too far of a stretch, then at least to start believing that  wonderful magical things can happen. .   It is never too late to start believing again.  After all, through the magic of Christmas every reader is young again and it is possible for one fat elf in a red suit to travel the world in one night on a sleigh with eight flying reindeers.  It's the magic of the season.  It's Christmas.