105 Ways to Give a Book

Cybils 2014

The last couple of weeks, I've been doing much of my kidlitosphere work behind the scenes selecting the judges for this year's Cybils awards. I'm very excited to introduce the panels for Fiction Picture Books, and we're going to have a great time sorting through over two hundred expected nominations to bring you the best titles. Get in your nominations and make us work for it!

I just wanted to say that if you weren't selected this year as a Cybils judge, don't take it personally. Please understand that the category chairs balance a lot of factors in putting together panels that can represent different perspectives and experience. Many times we were passing on former judges to let someone new have a chance. Other conversations had us comparing how many librarians versus authors we had in a category. We might "give up" an experienced candidate to other category that needed more institutional knowledge. A blogger with tons of reviews might balance a less prolific blogger. An impassioned statement of why a candidate wanted to participate in the Cybils might trump their less passionate reviewing. Or not. In putting together panels we're looking for a mix of experience levels, different perspectives, blogging frequency, community participation, thoughtful reviewing, positive referrals, and application statements. Even the state where you live can become a tie-breaker.

And all these factors don't even getting into the various preferences of the category chairs. For me, an enthusiastic statement on the application can be more compelling than in-depth reviews. The Young Adult category, on the other hand, may pass on a candidate that uses a lot of jacket-flap copy. Some of us look first to the "kidlit-related actives" part of the application, while others are noting the Twitter handle.

So while we certainly applaud all this year's judges, not being selected isn't a value judgement. Looking ahead, if I were to give any advice, I'd suggest to apply early in the process, use the two discussion questions to tell us about yourself, make sure you submit sample posts that are relevant and show off some level of book analysis. If you didn't make the Cybils judging, please try again next year. And certainly participate in Cybils 2014 by nominating your favorite titles.

Back to Basics

This past Saturday I staffed my library's booth at the local fall festival. I have two takeaways from the experience. One, never to accept the booth location downwind from the barbecue. It's hot and you'll be soooo hungry. Two, children do not know nursery rhymes. Or kids songs. Or much about books.

To encourage visitors to our booth, we had a trivia game to win a free book from our book sale donations. Given that we had brought a very very lot of books, we were very very disposed to the kids answering correctly. This turned out to be harder that expected.

The five year old who didn't know the story of Little Red Riding Hood had a hard time picking out the wolf as the bad guy. A preschooler couldn't identify "wool" as the product that the black sheep might provide. I gave up on asking the color of Madeline's dress or even - most sadly for me - what the pigeon wanted to drive. (THE BUS!)

The older kids were spotty in their knowledge, but I got better at sifting through my question choices to find easy ones. I thought the kids would know the author of Fudge and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I thought teens would know the author of Twlight. These were the questions I thought were fairly easy - and were multiple choice, by the way - but instead revealed the Book Bubble that we occupy where everyone is a reader.

I helped at this festival last year as well, finding the same thing, and it changed the way I do story times. I stopped looking for clever ways to incorporate fall leaves into "Old MacDonald" and started just singing "Old MacDonald." I went back to the basics with songs and rhymes. I brought in more classics that I hadn't been using because I figured everyone knew them already. Spoiler alert: they didn't.

Another thing on the songs and rhymes. I've noticed a difference in the participation of the kids and parents from when I started doing this. Ten years ago I had more kids sing along a bit, and definitely more parents. Now the kids look at me blankly as if they've never heard "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and the parents are looking at the handout for the words.

My fellow storytellers, I love all that is new and exciting in our book world, but it might be time to go back to the basics. What do you think?

Back to Work

I didn't intend to take a summer-long blog break. It just sort of happened. Some part of it can be attributed to a big life change of sending my eldest to college. I will admit that I spent time sort of staring at her as if she were a great work of art. And really, it's not far from the truth. But my girls didn't dominate my attention in the way they did when they were children - negotiating playdates, refereeing squabbles, fixing snacks, and making endless trips to the pool. They were self-sufficient. The eldest with her job and college-bound friends. The younger with music/theater classes and play rehearsal. But I relished the time I could spend with them, even if it was simply sharing the same room.

A bigger part of my blog absence is due to working at the library among children's books, which seems counter to expectation. But this was the busiest summer for me that I can remember. Mostly because we were continually understaffed and my work shifts were intense. When I wasn't answering endless questions at the information desk, I was shelving yet another influx of the new returns and replenishing the displays that I had just filled that morning. I'd leave the day tired and literally sweating.

While it was exhausting, I was happy to see so many library patrons and summer reading participants. I was excited to help kids find books they wanted, and I loved the attention from kindergarteners who stared at me wide-eyed before shouting, "You came to my school!" I was a minor celebrity in this little world of books.

But sometimes it could be draining, with a fair number of the summer crowd who were starting from scratch in the library. Now they wanted to know what their kids should read. But when I asked what they had been reading or liked to read, I got blank stares. Many of the parents - a diverse selection - had absolutely no idea. Occasionally I'd hit on a series like Magic Tree House or Harry Potter that helped me make a suggestion. When able, I'd turn to the child and could always find something suitable.

I was glad that they were using the library. I loved finding the books that they liked. But the interactions left a lingering discomfort of the parental role in reading. And these were the ones who came to the library and asked for help. Has recreational reading been completely outsourced to school and the teachers?

Knowing that these parents, the ones who cared enough to come to library, didn't know about books or what their child might be reading made it hard to write about books. Maybe, I wondered, no one really cares. The parents don't want to leaf through suggestions. They want lists, preferably by grade and/or Lexile score. They aren't interested in which books transcend the genre. They want to know the DRA level. They often didn't want to know what was good, just what was here - on the shelf.

So much of my summer was bittersweet. Spending time with my girls who are growing up and moving on. Spending time among my favorite books, knowing that the specifics of quality that I invest myself in finding is probably less important to most parents that what book has the right Lexile score or happens to be handy.

How does that change what I'm doing? I don't know. If my revelations and soul-searching was bittersweet, well, I tend to focus on the sweet. So I'll do that


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