Books, Collection Development, Conferences, Musings, School Libraries

Thoughts about #SLJDOD 2012

The idea of spending a day listening to people talk about books?  Heaven! Many thanks to SLJ for hosting this Day of Dialog.

Our keynote speaker was Walter Dean Myers, slightly stooped under the weight of his medal (he’s now the Ambassador for Young People’s Literature) but amazingly passionate about literacy in the United States:

  • he  used to be able to tell the lower school from the upper school letters – now he’s finding many young men (25-30) who can’t read – it’s an epidemic!
  • “I’m wondering where our next generation of readers will come from” – we’re hesitant to talk about this.
  • There are “huge pockets of language poverty” out there – why are we not dealing with this problem?
  • One solution: start reading to kids at 3months – bring books to teens – it’s ILliteracy, not Aliteracy that worries him
  • Need to deal with unequal scholars, try to level playing field (NCLB/Race to the Top isn’t helping)…
  • The problem is not the teachers, it’s unequal (aka unprepared) scholars
  • The research has been done, we know what the problems are, we just don’t want to discuss it/deal with it openly.

Very inspiring… and rather difficult to know what to do about the overwhelming problem of students coming to school unprepared, with no support at home for learning, and no hope for things getting better.

Next, the inimitable Jen Hubert Swann led a panel discussion about Minding the Reading Gap: How to Keep Middle School Readers Engaged.  The takeaways?

  • Middle Schoolers need help staying passionate about reading… they live in their own universe and are hormonally charged (“it gets better” DOES NOT HELP with the “right now”)… they are super serious & extraordinarily bright (yet know they don’t know)
  • There’s an incredible intellectual blossoming – they can handle complexity and unresolved questions (Sharon Creech assumes readers can find answers for themselves)  NB: Many middle grade readers do not know/trust this.
  • James Dasher always asks himself “is this cool?” when he writes… if it isn’t, it’s out.
  • Joan Bauer/Sharon Creech agree: kids read to access their interior lives (“how did she know that’s what I’m thinking?”) – soooo powerful
  • Being on Twitter can be good (but for many MG writers, that’s not where their readers are…) / JHS says “they’ll e-mail, not really go to blogs”… Books w/on-line component haven’t really taken off yet…. Kids are nostalgic for print (Creech: “my son fell asleep w/a book on his face – ‘it smells like a book'”)
  • Are there boy books/girl books? Yes… and no.  Many cross over, but kids think that way.  It’s an area in which e-readers can be helpful (you don’t get “caught” reading the “wrong” book)


Libba Bray, our luncheon speaker, talked about her research process for the upcoming The Diviners.  She visited libraries… scoured archives… looked at ads (to get a real sense of what popular culture was like back then)… read and read and researched some more.  She said she could evangelize for research all day – and I just wish we could get that message to our students!


The Dynamic Non-Fiction panel had some interesting things to say:

Q: is NF “conveying a body of settled knowledge via objective text”?

Marc Aronson: he’s objective, but knowledge is not settled.  He lovesCommon Core because it stresses NF reading (building a capacity for YA to read something and then say “what does it say/argue/what’s the POV” so they can compare/contrast with other POVs as they do research). All NF has a POV (it comes from an argument/passion/belief) – objectivity is not neutrality (you need to show the other side and where you got your info so the reader can argue with you) – I don’t want kids to read my books to be informed, I want them to read them to care

Q: what research do you do?

Sue Macy: loves the process of uncovering things that have been forgotten/aren’t talked about – she starts w/newspapers (“transports you back”) -her research is messy, with tons of xeroxing (everything she finds) but then highly organized.  One thing leads to another, and if you follow the threads, you’ll find interesting things and people.  Readers may not know that NF authors pay for book images out of their advance(!!)

Q: how do you bring your FIC techniques to your NF writing?

Candace Fleming : writing NF for YA is not easier than FIC – you *must* create a compelling story, recreating the person/setting/event.  After she has the bulk of the material, she looks for scenes (dramatic, emotional, core of story) and then think about them as a “pause”.  What can you leave readers with that will haunt them/stay with them (just like a fiction writer) – use authentic detail/language to set that scene (again just like a FIC writer)

Q: how do the physical and digital book work together?

Brenda Murray: it’s a great time to give readers “more” because of digital devices – digital books help prepare kids for modern world (they become used to the tech) /offer multisensory experience /offers safe space for them to explore

MA: if we want kids to use NF, the books must be available in digital… otherwise you’re not talking about classrooms, you’re talking single copy

CF: thinking about the themes/threads of the book determines the level of the book

Books that caught my eye, highlighted during the Book Buzz sessions:

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