reading ladders

Reports of my demise...

Are greatly exaggerated.  Yes, I have been absent for a while.  I am still recovering from treatments that left me pretty much bedridden from October until January.  But I am working my way slowly back to conferences and workshops.  

I am pleased to share with you the announcement of the finalists for the Walden Award from ALAN. If you are saying to yourself, "WHAAAT?", please visit the ALAN website.  And join ALAN.  And stay informed.

2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the finalists for the 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit. The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are: Dear Martin
​ by Nic Stone (Penguin Random House/ Crown Books for Young Readers)

The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins/ Balzar + Bray)

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds (Simon & Schuster/ Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

The Nowhere Girls

by Amy Reed (Simon & Schuster/ Simon Pulse)

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky

by Melanie Crowder (Penguin Random House/ Philomel Books)

The winner will be announced on Monday, July 30th. The winning title and finalists will be honored at the 2018 ALAN Workshop on Monday, November 19th in Houston, TX, and the authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion. The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the many publishers who submitted titles for consideration. The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered over 350 young adult titles throughout the process. The committee was comprised of eleven members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities. They are:

Beth Scanlon, Committee Chair Teacher Cypress Creek High School, Orlando, FL

Lisa Scherff, Past Committee Chair Teacher South Ft. Myers High School, Ft. Myers, FL

Sheila Benson Associate Professor, English Education University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Robert Bittner SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

Marie LeJeune Professor, Literacy Education Western Oregon University, Monmouth, OR

Lisa Morris-Wilkey Librarian Casa Grande Elementary School District, Casa Grande, AZ

Sarah Mulhern Gross Teacher High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ

Kerry Neuberger Teacher Garner-Hayfield-Ventura High School, Garner, IA

Jennifer Paulsen Teacher Holmes Junior High, Cedar Falls, IA

Beth Shaum Librarian St. Frances Cabrini Catholic School, Allen Park, MI

Wendy Stephens School Library Media Specialist Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville AL
For more information on the award, please visit ​ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents
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reading ladders

Passing the Torch, Part theThird (and possibly last)

Since I last had the chance to post anything here, I had 3 conversations that underscored what I have been trying to do with this series of posts. One was a lunch with Franki Sibberson, President of NCTE. I also had the chance to visit with the amazing Kylene Beers, a past President of NCTE, a long-time friend and a fellow warrior dealing with cancer. And yesterday, Donalyn Miller and I brined through our phone batteries as we talked about our book (yes, we are still writing it and yes we will finish one day. Lesson: never let two perfectionists work together on a project). What these three different conversations contributed to my thinking about the torch and Ali and our profession is this: It is important to honor the elders of the professions. Sometimes I feel as though some people believe that those of us with tons of experience should bow out and pass the torch. However, we should not forget to honor those who came before.

There are new voices that are adding much to the discussion that centers around reading (and writing, too). It is exciting to see these youthful faces who will carry the torch forward. However, it is also my fear that some of the newer voices do not know their "ancestors." They cannot trace back independent reading to some of those scholars who came before. They do not know Dora Smith or G. Robert Carlsen. They do not belong to ALAN and SIGNAL nor read the journals they publish. They do not acknowledge the work of Donalyn and Kylene and Franki who have laid the groundwork, who have done the research, and who know their ancestors well.

I am happy to pass my torch however small to others. I am by no means done with my work, but it is time to welcome new faces and voices. All I ask is that those new to the field explore the history, learn about their forefathers and foremothers, provide attribution to ideas that have their roots with our elders. I have spoken about this topic frequently over the last couple of years. Here is a link to a presentation I did for the Middle Level Mosaic of NCTE: Perhaps this is a goo place for the new folks to begin. Learn about the past and then take that torch nd light the present, searching for those who will carry the torch into the future as well.
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Passing the Torch, Part the Second

Apparently, I caused a little bit of concern with the last post which seemed to some to be my "farewell" post. It was not intended to be so, though the time for that post is not that distant that I have not given it some thought. However, what I am tackling with that post and this one and perhaps one more is the schizophrenic nature with which I observe my field these days. In part, the events are distorted or colored by dealing with cancer and its seemingly never-ending effects an side effects. Nowadays when I see one of the oncologists, the conversation might easily begin with, "Well, surely you know this..." or "It is just another side effect Didn't we tell you about this before?" Ah, yes, the treatments for the cancer are the gifts that keep on giving. But enough of the deviation. Passing the torch is the topic. And it, too, is marked by a dichotomy of sorts for me. Let me see if I can explain a but more clearly.

Someone will often remark on Facebook or in an email that they wish they had my job. They see the bonuses I enjoy: lots of books to share. They see the boxes that block my path into the office and then the packing materials filling up garbage cans, and finally the stacks of books waiting for readers. And I will not lie: getting books makes every day a bit like Christmas or my birthday. And I love watching folks go through the carts of books as I weed my office collection. What folks do not see is the newbie me asking a veteran prof about getting books sent to me. "Believe it or not," I was told, "there will come a day when you will groan at the sight of those boxes." I have not yet reached that point, thankfully. What followed though was some great advice as I ventured out into the world of children's and YA literature.

What folks do not see often is the work behind the scenes, the results of that advice. Not just the posting of books to Twitter and Facebook and other places, but the articles and columns written over the past years talking abut the benefits of books and reading. They do not see what my university terms "scholarship." I have spent most of my academic career researching books and kids and reading. That research has resulted in so many articles, and chapters and books. I also am careful to pass these books on to new readers. I do not hoard them; i gladly offer them to others in need.

So, when people ask me today how to get all the free books, my first response is the advice given to me years ago. There is some work, some that folks see and some that remains behind the scenes. This is why I am pained when I see the bad behavior I will witness over the weeks to come as the professional conferences get underway. I watched in horror the first time I saw a professional come by a booth and simply carry off every single book/ARC she could fit into her bag. I watched folks dive under the tables to get to books not out yet when the publishers left the booth for a moment or two. I have written about this only to have others defend the actions because they NEED the books and they are free anyhow. Everyone needs books, but let me be clear: books are not FREE. Publishers are lovely generous folks who make them available to us as much as they can. But this is a business and we need to support the business. See Colby Sharp's excellent You Tube video on this topic: (and this is actually something that post the third will come into play in passing the torch).

So, passing the torch here means providing passing along the light that a book can provide. If I hoard them in my office, the only light they provide is for me and not for others. So, they need to get into other hands. And as I prepare for my 25th annual book presentation at the Texas Library Association conference in the next weeks, I plan to shine some more light, to talk about books to hundreds of educators who will gather in Dallas. I hope this light will also make its way into other lives.

And, in post the third, I will talk about yet another aspect of passing the torch. Stay tuned.

Finally, may I ask your indulgence as I try to get the blog up and running again. Bear with me. I do proofread what I write, but I still miss things. Chemo brain seems to flare up when I try to out words on the page. I can assure you, having recently seen some emails I sent during the throes of my treatment, that it is getting better...
reading ladders

Passing the Torch, Part the First

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 ( 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 ( 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.
reading ladders


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.
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reading ladders

The end of the week but not the end of the work

It is not only the book that can be challenged as a recent report from Massachusetts proves: 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.
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News you can use

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:

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:

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.
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Banned: don't stand for it

What can we do? ALA offers some suggestions for things we could do with our students ( 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: 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.
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Banned! Why?

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:

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.
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Banning and Challenging

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: And here is the list of challenged books from last year:

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.