Monday, March 23, 2015

Quite Amazing ... Books Outselling Digital

For avid readers this may not come as a surprise but to the general public, including techie geeks,  it may come as a shock that books in print are making a strong comeback.  Publishers Weekly reported in September of 2014 that print outsold digital media by a very health margin.  It appears that print is not dead.    Who knew, right?   Librarians may not see the statistics daily from publishers, but judging from what is checked out  of the library on a daily basis, print seems to be winning the race there as well.  Let's face it, books have been around so long it almost makes one wonder if this was one wheel that did not need to be re-invented.

Patrons will often ask the question  of librarians,  about the future of libraries with digital formats?  Texas has begun the experiment of BiblioTech,  the first public library that is fully digital.  Rows of iMacs, alongside iPads  greet patrons as they walk in to sit and browse the internet or download material to read on an iPad.  Is this library of the future busy?  Yes, but there is still the complaints that the screen hurts the eyes. It's not a very welcoming, cozy place and yes print books need to be in a library.  Computers are wonderful but there is something to be said about holding a physical book.

Bill Gates once noted that the generation that would be most comfortable with the digital age were the ones who grew up with computers all around them.  The cell phones.  The computers.  The video games.  At one point it did seem as if this made sense.  However,  it is very difficult to predict human nature.   Did anyone believe that vinyl records would make a comeback?  Surprisingly, there is a surge in young college kids who want to experience the scratching tunes from a roundtable.  Goodness, to think old folks were complaining about the skips on record as if they were a bad thing!   This generation that grew up with the techie environment may be teaching the older generation a thing or two.  Maybe some things are best left untouched. 

Libraries have been trying to be the peace brokers, if you will, between print and digital formats.  Perhaps, what is really going is that the dust is finally settling and the verdict is in.  It's okay to have both formats in a library side by side.  Both have their uses and both have disadvantages.  Will there be more libraries like BiblioTech in the future?  No one can say for certain.  After all by this time,  books in print  have died many deaths and been resurrected so many times it's hard to keep count.  Let's not forget, we also have the resurgent of  vinyl record.  Could the rotary phone be too far behind?  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Heart and Soul of Ireland --- The Stories They Weave.

What is so wonderful about the Irish folks is their love for a good story.  The type of stories that take  a person to another place, another time and it's totally magical.   Frank Delaney penned the tome Ireland which features a storyteller who tells three tales and is soon  banished because the audience is not enthralled and amused with his tales.  However, young lad Ronan is not only enthralled and amused, he finds that this is his calling. Ronan follows in the footsteps of the storyteller and carries on the time honored Irish tradition of spinning a good yarn.  It is without a doubt that Irish authors have honed their skills through the very tradition that Delaney writes about.  Which brings about the observation that the folklore of  Ireland gives a glimpse into the heart and soul of the country and its people.

For starters,  the tales always take place a time long ago, in some faraway countryside where it's always greener than green and breathtakingly beautiful.  Who are these storytellers kidding?   It may have been long ago but the countryside they speak of has to be Ireland.  Where else could it be?  To be fair, there could be one small corner of Ireland that has not yet been explored and deep down in the lush green grass there may live tiny creatures that are magical and marvelous.  But the keen reader knows this magical placed could be nowhere else in the world but Ireland. 

It seems that every Irish Folklore has wonderful yet pesky little creatures called Leprechauns.  Every St. Patrick's day, these characters re-emerge with sneaky grins, green hats and black shoes. Always bright red hair is seen peeking out of the hats .   Legend has it is very lucky to run into these Leprechauns but they also warn that they can be quite deceiving as well.  Why shouldn't they be?  After all, every time  a mere mortal finds them they must turn over their pot of gold.  To be honest, that's not a fair deal for the leprechaun, is it?  

An Irish folktale is hardly ever  complete without a hero or heroine who is down on their luck,  poor as poor can be and more often than not, laziest person in the village.  They may even be the outcast of the village.  This is not to say they are bad folks.  They just don't have food on the table or a fiddle to play for the King.  In other words, they may be outcasts because they can't get their act together.   Regardless of their state in life, the reader can not help but root for the beloved impoverished hero/heroine and   hopes that things turn out for the best.  Of course, they always do and there is a happily ever after for all involved.

Three is the magic number.  In all folktales,  not just in Irish tales,  turn of events evolve around three attempts to complete a task or test.   If these hero or heroine's are going to change their luck it's going to take them a little sweat equity to earn their pot of gold.  Once the tasks has been completed the tale comes to it's ultimate completion.  Lessons have been learned.  Rewards have been earned.  Everyone, mortals and magical creatures alike, are very happy.  

This leads us back to what the folktales tell us about the people of Ireland.  They are proud, and rightly so, of their beautiful lush green land which has earned them  the moniker, The Emerald Isle.   Their tales are always  filled with warmth, humor and a poke at human nature. Yet, when all is said and done it is understood that one might be poor, lazy or unlucky,  one still has to do something to earn their keep.   The storytelling spirit is alive and well in Ireland today and may it remain to be that way for a thousand more years.   On St. Patty Day. always remember this :  Be they Kings, or poets or farmers,  They're people of great worth, they keep company with the angels and bring a bit of heaven here to earth."  Ah yes, the Irish good folks with their lively tales can usher in a bit of heaven for those who dream of  a paradise where there is no end in stories or books.    Happy St. Patty's Day to one and all.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Inspring Stories About Women For Girls Of All Ages

Little girls, as well as bigger girls, need to be inspired and encouraged every once in awhile.  There are many slogans and catchy hashtags from #girlpower to #throwlikeagirl.  There are plenty more slogans that have been used and each were created to empower girls to think beyond the stereotypes of what girls ought to do or become.  It is inspiring that our society is looking to build girls up instead of tearing them down.    That is a good thing and perhaps a little overdue. As we begin the month of March,  it's time to reflect upon women in history who have paved the way for future generations of women who long to be strong, smart and free to carve out their own place in the world.

Historical fiction is a genre that takes a special talent in weaving the tale.  The details have to be spot on to be believable and enjoyable.  For the educator, the gems in historical fiction are sometimes hard to find because of this fact.  However, when a book is found that makes history turn into a magical adventure,  this book is not to be let out of anyone's sight.  One book in particular that comes to mind is  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate  by Jacqueline Kelly.  This is the story of Calpurnia's love of  nature and frustrations of the limits society places on her because of her gender.  In 1899, a girl's place was at home with chores and needlework.   What more should a girl do, right?  For eleven year old Calpurnia that is just not enough to keep her happy.  For her, is much more fascinating and lures her to explore creatures along the riverbank, in the trees and everywhere.  The only person to encourage her love of nature is her grandfather who gives her the Darwin's book "The Origin of Species."    The tale is wonderful and inspiring in its prose.  Definitely a book that can inspire young girls to follow their passions, even if society tell them it's not their place.

In the picture book category for inspiring girls of all ages it would only be proper to mention Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride written by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustrated by Brian Selznick.  Both Ryan and Selznick have contributed much to children's literature but this book often goes unnoticed. The story is about Amelia Earhart visiting the White House as a guest of then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.   Both to these women are revered as trailblazers of their time.   In this fictional tale,  Earhart takes the First Lady for a private plane ride.  This book entices the reader to imagine what that ride might have been like for both women.  What  fans of both women wouldn't do to have had the opportunity to hear that conversation between the two.   It's magical and makes for an interesting story time.

Both books mentioned above are classified as historical fiction but the next one is an actual biography that is wonderfully written by David Adler, who incidentally has written excellent biographies for children.   One of his best works is America's Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle (illustrated by  Terry Widener).  Who is Gertrude Ederle?  In 1924, Gertrude decided to go against the odds and become the first woman to  swim across the English Channel.  Everyone around her said it couldn't be done, especially by a woman.  The water is too choppy, they said.  "The water is too cold",  they said. "It's dangerous.", the said.  Gertrude did it anyways.  After a twenty-one mile long swim which took fourteen hours to complete, she set a world record.  Her perseverance is a testimony to all girls that once a dream is in sight, there's no turning back.  One simply has to go for it.

There are so many other wonderful books that can and should inspire girls to carve out their own destiny.  The three here should be a good start at introducing girls to strong women who had big dreams and accomplished them despite being told they couldn't.   As a popular meme that is posted on Facebook and other social media states: Here's To Strong Women.  May We Know Them, May We Be Them, May We Raise Them.   The easiest way to achieve this is to read books about them, learn from them so we can be like them and share their stories so that more girls will grow up to be strong women.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dr. Seuss: Finding Gems of Facts of Life

Today is Dr. Seuss' birthday, but more than likely many already knew this information.  As one of the most beloved children's author of our times, Dr. Seuss accomplished something that many before him attempted to do but never quite accomplished.  Reading became a fun, rhyming, nonsensical and fantastical activity for children who found it difficult to read.  All the children's books before Cat In The Hat were wonderful but there was something magical about Dr. Seuss' style.  Perhaps the pure genius is in the rhyming madness which puts on no airs and it is what it is.

Looking at the various titles from Dr. Seuss array of books one can not help but smile when recalling Simple lyrical lines like "I do not like them Sam I am, I do not like Green Eggs and Ham." or  "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."  Seuss' style was so unique that it hasn't been copied or improved upon.  It is in a category all of its own. Which makes his books wonderful for all ages.   Why?   The timeless truths that are like gems waiting to be discovered.  Perhaps this is why the readers, old and young alike, are excited that in July a new Dr. Seuss will be published.   Yes, that's right.  The good Doctor left us in 1991 but his work still lives on.  Actually, it was rediscovered in his office by his widow and secretary.

The newly discovered book is titled "What Pet shall I get?".  Wonderful title for every animal lover, young and old.   What will really be a treat is to read the rhyming gems and feel as if Dr. Seuss has never left us at all.

As we celebrate the 111th Birthday of Dr. Seuss, it is really the readers that are receiving a gift.  For new readers the gift of joyful reading.  For all nostalgic readers, a trip back to memory lane of reading The Cat In The Hat for the very first time.  Rereading it because it needs to be shared or just perhaps to be reminded again of timeless truths.  What?  Don't believe that Cat in the Hat holds timeless truth?   Think again.  "“You find magic wherever you look. sit back and relax. all you need is a book”   Well, if that isn't the gem of all of the truths in life,   for young or  old, what would be?   The best writers are always the ones who are witty to make you smile and  wise to make you think.

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss and Happy Reading America!  

Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidential Readings: Three Distinctly Different Presidents and their Distinctive Biographies.

It's President's Day, and what could be more appropriate than to spend this holiday reading about men who have graced the Oval Office.  This is quite an elite group of men.  In over two hundred years there have been forty-four men who have braved campaigns and won the votes to hold the title of President of the United States.  There are many biographies about these men but some have proven to be better than others.  Not too dry.  Not too condescending and very enjoyable to read.  Some are meant for sharing with others.  In honor of this day that is set aside to recognize our Presidents, here are a few good biographies and little known facts about three of our Presidents.  Seriously these titles should not be overlooked.

Most people wouldn't be surprised to know that out of all the U.S. Presidents,  Abraham Lincoln has had more books written about him, his family and his presidency.  That's quite amazing. However, it was Edwin Stanton who coined the phrase, "He belongs to the ages."  at the moment that  Lincoln died.  How keen Stanton's prediction was back then.  Could he have ever imagined that future authors, fiction and nonfiction, would be inspired by the Sixteenth President?  It was probably a good guess but fact remains, Honest Abe's story is very much as captivating today as it was when he roamed the White House.  Which is why it's so difficult to pick out one Lincoln book that is a must read.  For the purpose of this post, there is one book that definitely stands out as a must have.  Mark Levine has put together a stunning picture book title simply Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. (2010)    It's  beauty lies in the way Levine places pictures and words tougher to give full impact on what Lincoln saw, felt and  conveyed to his audience that day.

In all honesty, every president,  has had an interesting story of their rise to the Oval Office.  Most readers gravitate to the "popular" or most remembered presidents to read about.  Consider this a challenge to read about a not so popular president whose life is not a cookie cutter by any stretch of the imagination.   Can you guess the president who  was elected to office as a bachelor,  was mayor of Buffalo before becoming Presdient, won the popular vote three times but lost the election once to the Electoral College. Give up?   The answer is Grover Cleveland.  (the 22nd and 24th president).
A fascinating biography written by John Pafford entitled The Forgotten Conservative should be on a list of books to read for every American History buff.  Cleveland was probably the last Democrat President who believed in small government.

The American Lion written by Newsweek editor, Jon Meachan is about a U.S.  president who answered to the moniker of Old Hickory and Sharp Knife.   This president had more drama than most presidents.   This includes having fought in about 100 duels, most of which were to defend the honor of his wife Rachel.  In this day an age what would the headline read if our president was shot during  duel  at a bar? needless to say it would be scandalous and tabloids would be there to try to get the best picture to grace the front page.  This president was vengeful, and he was also the seventh president.   If the name Andrew Jackson didn't come to mind, a little history review might be in order.   Meachan does a wonderful job at entertaining the readers while giving a  full education on Jackson's time and life.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Jails, Reading & Second Chances

Steve Cohen wrote an article for Forbes in December of 2010 that has stuck out as one of the more interesting articles written on Literacy in America. What is striking about the article is how it grabs the reader in with the headlines.  $5 for A Children's Book or $47,000 for a Jail Cell your choice.  It's a headline that can't be ignored or forgotten.    In Mr. Cohen's article, the facts are laid out on the harsh reality of what low reading skills leads to in our high competitive society.  Although many believe  that states use low reading scores as an indicator to how many beds they will need to fill up prison is a urban legend, there is some truth to that formula.   As it was pointed out in last week's post,  low reading skills are closely tied with school drop out rates,  poverty and crime.

Take this startling statistic from Cohen's article,  60% of America’s prison inmates are illiterate. That number was from 2010.  The number have not changed much according to the website Literacy Project Foundation, which maintains 3 out of 5  incarcerated adults  can not read.   So if nothing has changed, the problem of illiteracy is still not addressed to the point of finding the right solution for the present time.   Legislating that America's young children should have a reading comprehension of third grade in order to advance to fourth grade is not a solution for those who are incarcerated.  When these men and women are released from prison they are placed back into society with much baggage. As one can imagine, it can be very disheartening to be released from prison with little hope of a place to live, a place to work or  opportunity to make a valiant effort at a second chance in life.    What's the best way to give those who want to turn their life around the second chance?

Libraries in the correctional facilities are a good place to start.   According to 2011 report  "State of Recidivism:  The Revolving Door of American's Prisons.",  published by  The Pew Center on the State, it is noted that at least 95 percent of prisoners ultimately will be returning to their communities after incarceration.    This is an opportunity for libraries to provide services to these individual and help them find their "place" in society.   Reading programs such as Adult Literacy groups which are located in many major library systems,  train volunteer tutors to teach valuable reading skills to adults seeking assistance.  However, it takes courage to take that first step in asking for help or at times even knowing where to seek help.   That is why some public libraries are now providing library services at the correctional facilities.  It has been proven that teaching life skills, especially reading skills,  that the re-incarceration numbers fall.  That is to say, that some of  incarcerated adult who took advantage of he reading skills tutoring did not become repeat offenders and return to the correctional facilities.  it actually proves that reading does give hope for a better future.

Back to Cohen's eye-catching headline:  $5 ver $47,000.  Cohen's point was that it would be ideal if as a society we'd spend $5 for a children's book to share in low income areas then to spend $47,000 on a jail cell where some of these children will end up as adults.  His point is well stated but for those who are stuck in the correctional system something has to be done today.  Why not check out what the Adult Literacy programs are doing in your neck of the woods?  If volunteering to be a tutor is not an option, monetary donations are always helpful as well as book donations.     It really does not take much to help spread the love of reading.  Quite frankly, if everyone read a little more, our society would be in a much better place.   Just a thought.

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.