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19 March 2018 @ 10:11 am
I have been trying to write this blog post for some time now. What has gotten in the way? Chemo brain will accept some of the fault. I learned this the first time around with chemo 18 months ago: chemo is a tad indiscriminate when it comes to attacking cells. Yes, it kills cancerous cells. However, it kills other less dangerous cells. Hence all sorts of imbalances occur within the body. Today the potassium is low; tomorrow it might be magnesium. These tests here suggest the kidneys are not functioning well enough to rid the body of the chemo and its side effects. What they really do not tell you is that chemo affects your thinking. And so just as I am beginning to put words together coherently, the docs decide to try another round of all new drugs. On god days, I see them bent over microscopes with beakers and burners and other science-y stuff surrounding them as they cry, "Aha! This is the combo that will eradicate the bad cells." On my bad days, I see the doctors gleefully rubbing their hands together chortling, "Let's see how she handles THIS batch (insert bwahahaha laughs here)." So after this last round, administered in November of 2017, I was basically incoherent much of the time. I think I am making sense more often than not finally (yes, it is now 5 months later give or take). So while I had some ideas for blog posts in the interim, the words were stuck in my head and stubbornly refused to leave when I put them to paper or screen.

Why, then, are there words appearing on the screen? This morning Jo Knowles (https://www.joknowles.com/about.html) posted to Twitter that she was committing to 600 words and issued an invitation for others to join her. While I will not hit 600 words, I did find the invitation (and not a challenge, thanks, Jo) compelling. Maybe today was the day to get some things down on paper/screen. My colleague Karin Perry (www.karinlibrarian.com) also talked about writing and the challenge she had issued to herself. Okay, I thought, I am in.

All this is prelude to the actual topic of my blog post: Passing the Torch. And there is a backstory for that as well.

Like so many of you, I spent some time glued to the screen during the winter Olympics. There was a lot of holding the breath during the figure skating, the gasps during the half pipe, etc. Every time NBC did the introductory music and images for its coverage, there was the late Muhammad Ali lighting the torch to open the 1996 Atlanta Games. The image is one that immediately pulls two competing reactions to the surface: an incredible sadness to see the palsied gait and movements of this athlete along with an incredible joy to see that his work is still honored and that he is able to face his condition squarely.

There are still a few connections to be made here for the blog post. Take this simply as the first part. I am not sure how many parts I will need to tell the complete story (because our lives are stories, after all), but I am getting some of the words down here. And as I do so, I am pulling in this:

Polonius: What do you read,my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
Polonius: What is the matter, my lord?
Hamlet: Between who?
Polonius: Imean,the matter that you read,my lord.
Hamlet: Slanders, sir for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards....
Polonius: Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. [Aside]

–Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

Is there a method to my madness? Tune in later to find out.
Current Location: lost in thought
Current Mood: cogitating
Current Music: cat purring
24 January 2018 @ 11:56 am
Well, that was a long absence from blogging for me (and I hope for my readers). Just in case you did mot know, I have been home only a week after more than 3 months in hospitals dealing with what was thought to be another round of cancer plus the treatments. Now I am home trying to grow my hair back (yes, I am bald once again thanks to chemo) and walk without assistance (apparently spending that amount of time in bed has negative effects on legs). Pun intended, I am making strides toward walking daily.

All the time in the hospital all I could thin about was going home. It made me work hard in my therapy sessions, proving my therapists I was strong enough to head home to family (BH and Scout for starters). And now I am home working on the things that are still a bit tough for me.

I think about home because the first book I managed to read after chemo (chemo makes me not able to pay attention to a text either in written or audio form)is LOVE by Matt de la Pena and Loren Long. Returning to reading was also returning home to something I love, something that has long been a part of my life, something that gives me a feeling of comfort and belonging. And how could I NOT belong in this book? I see myself on each spread. I find myself feeling as though a warm blanket has been drawn across my shoulders and i turn the pages.

And I am not alone. A quick read of my Twitter feed shows how many kids and older kids are identifying with this book.

A quick note as I finish: if you did not see Jason Reynolds interviewed on the Daily Show last night, track it down online. Watch it and rejoice about what is said about books and reading.
Current Location: HOME!
Current Mood: jjoyous
29 September 2017 @ 06:51 pm
It is not only the book that can be challenged as a recent report from Massachusetts proves: http://www.thesunchronicle.com/news/local_news/in-foxboro-library-exhibit-on-censorship-is-censored/article_6521e5e9-0b43-5ada-9639-e9a402b2aabc.html. A display against censorship is being targeted.

That calls to mind what happened in my own neck of the woods a few years ago. An ultra-conservative group attacked statues at a nearby shopping center. The statue of Venus deMilo was relocated to the back of the center. Photos deemed inappropriate at a local restaurant were the next target. Fortunately, the owners of the restaurant fought back and kept photos in place.

And that is the crux of the matter: if we cave on one request because it is easier, we make it simpler for the next challenge to come along. And so we must stand against censorship in all of its forms. Celebrate the FREADOM to read.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful
28 September 2017 @ 06:41 pm
The Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association (ALAOIF) offers newsletters with resources, links to stories about challenges, and more. Here is the current issue: http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=11018.

One of the topics addressed here is a subject I have been thinking and stewing about for a while. What happens when someone controversial is invited to come speak? There have been violent clashes over invitations to Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulis. And a recent survey asserts, "Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses." You can see more detail here: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2017/09/18/views-among-college-students-regarding-the-first-amendment-results-from-a-new-survey/.

We need to begin with younger students. Talk about the First Amendment and what it does and does not protect. Have a frank discussion abut WHY we need to protect free speech even if we do not agree with its content.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: Scared
27 September 2017 @ 09:47 am
What can we do? ALA offers some suggestions for things we could do with our students (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/rebelreader). My grad students have to complete an assignment on censorship that requires they compile a list of 20 books (10 elementary and 10 secondary). They have to see if these books are in the school library collections where they work. Finally, they have to write rationales for two of the 20 books. A good guide for writing rationales is on the NCTE web site which also has terrific resources for dealing with challenges. Here is the guide for rationales: http://www.ncte.org/action/anti-censorship/rationales. If you have potentially sensitive materials on your won shelves, having a rationale done in advance is a good thing.

Take some time to review NCTE's resources and then send a HUGE thank you to Millie Davis who spearheaded and continues to spearhead the fight against challenges. If you are a member of NCTE, you might think about volunteering to serve on the Committee Against Censorship. You can nominate someone for an intellectual freedom award, too. Take a proactive stance. Stand up for the FREADOM TO READ.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: DETERMINED
26 September 2017 @ 09:35 am
Why are books banned or challenged? It is important for each of us to know this. Fortunately, there are resources to let us know why challenges have occurred. I know that sometimes, when I read about the reason for a challenge, I want to say, "Really?" Not that there are good reasons for challenging a book, but occasionally the reasons are so incredibly, narrowly, almost insignificant that I wonder how the challenge even got beyond the original complaint.

Here is an infographic citing the reasons for banning and challenges:

Often challenges are made for "language" and for sexual content. But note the "not suited for the age group" column. Frequently, the challenge has more to do with "this is something kids can't deal with."

More charts are available here: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/statistics

You can see who is responsible for most of the challenges (parents) and which institutions are the hardest hit by challenges (school libraries).

The best defense is a strong offense. Know the facts.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful
25 September 2017 @ 09:25 am
During Banned Books Week, it is important to know as much as we can about banned and challenged books. One of the thins I try to do is not only to read the books being banned and challenged each year (it always seems there are at least a couple of new ones), I also order some titles and then give them away.

Where to begin? Here are the Top Ten Challenged Books from 2000-2009:

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

If there is a book here you do not know, read it. Check to see which, if any, are missing from your school library. Make a donation of that title. (Note: some of the books are fine for elementary readers; others are more YA, and some are adult. Not all titles might be in ONE library. Practice collection development policies here). BTW, the preceding list is taken from the list of 100 Most Challenged Books from the last decade. The full list is here: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/top-100-bannedchallenged-books-2000-2009. And here is the list of challenged books from last year: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10#2016.

When a book is challenged, the first thing we need to do is READ. THE. BOOK. All too often, those who would challenge a book have not read the entire book. They see a sentence or two or someone tells them something about the book and, BAM, challenges occur. Arm yourself in advance. Know the books.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: crankycranky
24 September 2017 @ 09:10 am
Today marks the beginning of Banned Books Week. Each and every year I can recall, there has been some sort of incredible book challenge just as we begin celebrating the right to red. This year is no exception. The novel 1984 is being challenged in Idaho. Here is a link to the story: https://www.idahoednews.org/news/jefferson-county-administrators-consider-banning-classic-novel/. what is most heartening here are the responses from the students themselves. They are fighting back against a ban while some of the adults are wanting to "protect" them from the ideas and themes of the book. And so it goes...

Anyone who reads my blog knows where I stand on the right to read. They know I eschew censorship in any form. They know I speak out against attempts to curtail access to books and reading. I am not alone, thankfully. There are organizations who fight against book banning. The American Library Association offers a ton of resources for those who wish to engage in the battle. The Office of Intellectual Freedom (http://www.ala.org/aboutala/offices/oif) and the Banned Books site (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/banned) are just two resources. Other resources are located here http://bannedbooksweek.org and here http://ncac.org and here http://www.ftrf.org.

It is imperative that we stand up and speak out when we encounter censorship in any form. There are plenty of opportunities, sadly.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: energized
20 September 2017 @ 11:30 am
"We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone
All in all it's just another brick in the wall
All in all you're just another brick in the wall."

Pink Floyd needs to pen a variation on these lyrics that includes librarians. Lately, I have seen far too many posts on Facebook in which librarians who want to exert some control over what kids read. Thought control, book control, level and Lexile control--they are all bricks in the wall, the wall that separates readers from books.

One of the posts was from a librarian who sent en email to teachers asking them to make their students stop checking out the same books (i.e., Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and move on to books that she deemed more suitable for them to read. Really? In a time when we are concerned that more and more kids are turning away from books and to their screens, we decide that pushing them out of their favorite books (and sometimes their comfort zone) is a good technique? The role of the librarian is not to chastise teachers or to reject books kids are actually reading. The role of the librarian is to support and encourage lifelong reading. And sometimes that means letting kids read Diary of a Wimpy Kid AGAIN and AGAIN. No one ever told me I would not read my beloved Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames series books. I never told Nurse Girl to give up on her rereading of Harry Potter (something she still does annually even at age 24). Nor did I snatch the Howliday Inn series books from my middle school kids who loved each new book in the series.

And then there are the other posts. You know the ones, right? They are the, "can I have this book in my library?" posts. This is a bit more difficult. There is a difference, albeit often a tiny one, between selection and censorship. Sometimes we ask about age appropriateness. Other times we are seeking a reason not to include something that might be controversial. It boils down to language, violence, sex, religion, and a few other factors. Here are the Top Ten Challenged Books from 2016:

Top Ten for 2016

Out of 323 challenges recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom

1. This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes
2. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint
3. George written by Alex Gino
Reasons: challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels”
4. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
Reasons: challenged because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints
5. Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan
Reasons: challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content
6. Looking for Alaska written by John Green
Reasons: challenged for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation”
7. Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
Reason: challenged because it was considered sexually explicit
8. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk
Reasons: challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive”
9. Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
Reason: challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author
10. Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell
Reason: challenged for offensive language

And this web site offers much more information as we approach Banned Books Week next week: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/banned.

Let's work hard to be not a brick mason but a person who help lay the foundation for future lifelong readers.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: puzzled
15 September 2017 @ 10:25 am
I am (or was) a diabetic. I now control my numbers through diet. I avoid sweets though I watch jealously as someone enjoys ice cream or cake or both. I try to allow myself the occasional indulgence. But I have to take care that it is indeed occasional. It is so easy to slide back into snacking on M&Ms (they are so little, how much sugar could they have?), wondering into Marble Slab (I'll just have some sugar free yogurt, okay?). It is a slippery slope.

So, what does that have to do with books and reading you might well ask? It all started with this online article from SLJ (School Library Journal): http://www.slj.com/2017/08/feature-articles/thinking-outside-the-bin-why-labeling-books-by-reading-level-disempowers-young-readers/#_. It has to do with leveling books and then affixing labels to them. It has happened in libraries far and wide including classroom and school libraries. The American Library Association has position statement on this: http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements/labeling.

The statement from ALA is forceful: "A minor’s right to access resources freely and without restriction has long been and continues to be the position of the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians. Labeling and shelving a book with an assigned grade level on its spine allows other students to observe the reading level of peers, thus threatening the confidentiality of students’ reading levels." (Note: there is something in this statement that addresses the practice of genrefying the library, too. Dealing with this in a later post). Labeling books with reading levels whether using Fountas & Pinnell or Lexiles, or AR is wrong on several counts.

And this is what SLJ takes on in "Thinking outside the bin." The concept of the "just right" book is something we have debated for a while now. I cannot help but think of Goldilocks: this book is too boring; this book is too long; this book is just right. Of course, this is a fairy tale. And so is the idea that a level or lexile or letter can accurately "measure" a book and its suitability for a reader. Pernille Ripp and Donalyn Miller are both quoted in this piece. Hurray, for these two voices. Rip observes that labels have become "labels that restrict our readers and tell them that their reading identity needs to be based on an outside influence." Miller asserts that labeling is “educational malpractice.”

But the comments that follow the article indicate that some folks are loathe to move away from levels and labels. And that brings me back to the sugar again. It is okay to "cheat" a few times, but it is a slippery slope. And so it is with labels and levels and lexiles (which autocorrect still changes to "exiles"). If an educator is looking for some indication of the audience for a book, he or she can consult the labels and even the publisher age range. However, this is no way to match a reader to a book. I spent several hundred pages in MAKING THE MATCH: THE RIGHT BOOK FOR THE RIGHT READER AT THE RIGHT TIME talking about the need to know the kids and the books before making a match. Levels and lexiles and labels do not take into account some of the developmental aspects of readers. Instead, they use some sort of yardstick for measurement. And they ignore elements such as student desire to read a certain book. I had a striving reader carry aroungd Stephen King's IT for the better part of a school year. He ws determined to read it. And he did, slowly, but steadily. Was it at his level? Nope. Was it the book I might have selected for him? Nope again. But it was the book he read.

We need to keep our eyes fixed on the student, the living, breathing student. Otherwise, we are descending that slippery slope and leaving readers behind.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: upset