105 Ways to Give a Book

Booktalking and Being Careful

Yesterday’s booktalking session went well. Fast. Definitely fast. When it was over I realized that I’d talked about ten titles in about thirty minutes. I added a book when I got there, Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story, because I happened to see it on the shelf. It’s good that I did, because otherwise I would be plagued today by the knowledge that I did nine books instead of ten. I’m very attached to things in tens — or sometimes fives — but never nines. Nine. Yikes. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

Come to think of it, this tiny obsession with the fives times table is one component of my general tardiness. I leave for work about twenty minutes before I’m on the schedule, but on a bad red-light day, I’m more like twenty-two minutes away. But I can’t think in an odd number like twenty-two. The only other choice would be to think of my work as twenty-five minutes away, and then that feels too far. I can’t admit to myself that I spend twenty-five minutes driving to work when there is another branch of the library three minutes away. And because that library is exactly three minutes away, I’d think of it as five minutes and I’d always be two minutes early.

Anyway, back to the topic. I really enjoyed sharing the books with an interested group of high schoolers. I didn’t get a particular feel from them about one title versus another, but it was fun talking to kids who really cared about reading.

Yesterday I said that it freaked me out a bit when the librarian mentioned that several of the book group members were Mormons. I want to explain a bit. You see, I don’t work for a conservative county, but it is a very careful one. I’ve found that mentality slipping into my own suggestions, or at least making me very conscious of the “issues” in a book — a concern that came to the forefront when the librarian specifically mentioned religion.

I remember going to a teen booktalking class with a well-known presenter and being very impressed by the books that she was sharing. Someone asked, with humor, how she could get away with talking about some of these controversial books in schools. Basically, her answer was that she didn’t ask if she could, she just did it. In this era of lawsuits and challenges, it seemed so... brave. What do you think?


Paige Y. said...

As a middle school librarian I tend to be quite conservativel about the books I choose for 6th graders, a little less so with my 7th graders, and I'm more adventuresome with my eighth graders. First of all eighth graders are more mature and so can handle the more mature books. Secondly, since I've worked with these students for two years, I have more of a feel about which students (and parents) would object to my more controversial books.

I also always start my booktalks with eighth graders by telling them I will talk about some books they might consider to be "PG-13" and that they need to consider that if they want to check out a particular book. Just like I try to mix genres so that I will have books that appeal to different interests, I talk both the squeeky-clean books and the "PG-13" books at the same setting.

My most popular booktalks? Speak, Forged by Fire, The Face on the Milk Carton, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Among the Hidden, and Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key.

Julie said...

I am a Mormon and an avid reader and a mom. And, I'm committed to all three. I have no problem with my kids checking out and reading any book they wish too. And I have no problem with the librarian, or teacher, or friends, recommending any books. There are plenty of books I don't like -- too boring, too gruesome, the language too foul, or the characters just overall unlikeable. Nonetheless, I let my kids decided what they like and what they don't. As a parent, I ask them about the books they read and specifically ask them about WHY they like a book and WHY they don't. It's a great way to talk to you kids, without talking at them. My kids also know that I'm a huge reader and tend to pick up anything lying around so I have read a lot of books that my kids have. I try not to be judgemental but if there's something that concerns me, I will bring it up. I've never forbidden a book, ever, because there's nothing that makes it more appealing. I can't imagine a better way to have "teachable moments" in the home.

Mostly, I think parents who object to books in libraries or on reading lists are parents who are a. scared, b. don't have a good way to talk to their kids, and c. have WAY too much time on their hands.

Jenny said...

I teach 5th grade in your county and I understand what you are saying about being cautious. This is my 10th year of teaching and I'm getting braver. This year, during Banned Books Week, I read And Tango Makes Three to my class. I had to go to the public library to get a copy because our school library does not have it. I hesitated about sharing it, but decided there was no reason not to. I read it as I would any other picture book and, after some discussion of the book, told the students it was the most banned book of 2006. They couldn't believe it. It was wonderful to hear their thoughts about it. I haven't heard from any parents at this point.

MotherReader said...

These are great comments- and helpful too!

Paige, I've felt the same way about the range within middle school. But your assessment makes me feel more comfortable about the high school kids. (Oh, and I can always use more sure-fire books.)

Julie, I wish all parents handled their children's reading choices with such intelligence.

Jenny, I hear you county sister. Every time I do anything just a little bit daring I'm almost expect some aftershock. I think the caution in this system comes from the combination of an area where parents are over-involved paired with the proximity to lawyer-centric DC. At least, that's the best that I can guess.

Liz Garton Scanlon said...

I think it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. You know you're going to handle things responsibly and with care, but the permission-givers may be too fearful to LET you do so.

I also think that you could set your clock 15 minutes fast (notice the 3x5 equation there) and trick yourself into getting to work in plenty of time...

Saints and Spinners said...

MR: This is off-topic, but perhaps it'll spark a post for another topic that is a passionate one for a lot of us... I just read that Laurie Berkner published a new picture-book based on one of her songs. Dan Zanes (whom I love) has published two picture-books based on his songs, and I know there are more out there. It seems a bit disingenuous to me to write a book where one just takes the words to an existing song and plunks them down next to bright, cheery illustrations. One might argue that it's "poetry," but I don't know. I'm seeing quite a bit of difference between "Over in the Meadow" and "Hello, Hello." Plot, maybe?

Anyway, I think there should be a special subsection of BACA just for musicians who publish their lyrics in picture-book formats. Chances are, we love them as musicians.

Anonymous said...

This is the sort of thing that gives me ulcers. I'm only dealing with kids through the fifth grade in my work life, which makes things easier, but, still, it seems to me that there are so many things that people could find objectionable. If I think about it too much, I start getting cold feet about doing anything at all, especially because I think I'm a bad judge of what the average person might find troublesome. I don't know how school teachers manage to navigate this stuff.

Jennie said...

Oh! I hate that fear and I am so aware of it!

Just yesterday a mother said her friend had recommended Judy Blume books for her 7th grader and wanted me to give a few titles. Hello, Landmine! Especially because I think this mother would freak out with some of Ms. Blume's content.

I finally decided on Blubber and Starring Sally J. Friedman....

If she likes those, then she can find Deenie and Then Again, Maybe I Won't. oiy.

Unknown said...

I LOVE Julie's comment! I am not conservative, but like you said, I am in a county where they proceed with EXTREME caution - we just had a Harry Potter book challenge that took on a life of it's own. I am in a K-5 school, and so far I am playing it pretty safe (this is my first year here) I think I will get more "adventurous" once I know the students and parents better.

Unknown said...

Julie, I love you. Move to the eastern part of my county and tell the moms there that books in which the characters have boyfriends are not going to destroy their daughters' virtue.

Also, may I recommend It's not the end of the world by Geraldine McCaughrean?

Camille said...

I just want to thank you for taking your book talks to high school. I've seen high school libraries used for research and as a place to use computers but I do not think I have ever ever ever seen the librarian(s) do book talks. It seems like this is becoming my stock in trade when I substitute.

I know there are lots of high school librarians who do talk about books with their students but I think there is a huge number that do not.

You are filling a real void.