reading ladders

Banning books

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: 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 ( and the Banned Books site ( are just two resources. Other resources are located here and here and here

It is imperative that we stand up and speak out when we encounter censorship in any form. There are plenty of opportunities, sadly.
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Brick in the wall, librarian edition

"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:

Let's work hard to be not a brick mason but a person who help lay the foundation for future lifelong readers.
reading ladders

Just a little bit, please?

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): 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:

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.
reading ladders


A recent article in the New Yourk Post has caused some buzz among the YA literature community. Here is the link to the relatively short piece that is critical of the movement to ensure YA lit is more inclusive and diverse: It is simple to see the bias here. Just take in the title of the article: PC Wars Rule Young Adult Publishing as Fewer Kids Learn to Love to Read. There is an oblique reference to the fact that high school kids by and large do not read for pleasure: "In 2015, one in three high-school seniors admitted not having read a single book for pleasure in the past year, three times as many as 30 years before." I would love to have the citation for this survey. I do know Stacy Creel conducted a meta analysis of the effect of assigned reading on reading for pleasure: I highly recommend this article as it is a bit more scholarly and rooted in actual research.

But let's push the reference to a study never cited fully. The author of the NY Post article seems to question the need for diversity in books we share with our students. Instead of engaging in a more detailed examination of diversity and all of the scholarship surrounding it, the author goes for the low blows. The final paragraph of the article: "The idea that adolescents need to be “protected” from authors who don’t exactly mirror their own identity-group experience is a recipe for creating snowflake college students who’ll never want to touch a book that hasn’t been pre-approved by a committee. At this rate, the publishing world will purge itself out of existence."

The opposite is, fortunately, true. More and more readers are encountering diversity in books. Not only is this important for readers who have never seen themselves in a book or, worse, seen stereotypes of themselves in books, diversity ensures ALL readers see the diversity of the world in which they live. The use of the derogatory "snowflake" terminology seems to suggest that if we make readers more aware of the diversity and the stereotypes, we are somehow protecting them from reality when instead we are showing them the TRUTH. When someone suggests that diversity is somehow harmful, I wonder how often they have seen themselves in books, movies, and on TV.

Before DEAR MR. HENSHAW, I had never encountered a child of divorce in books. I was 32 when I read a book that finally reflected some of my childhood experience. My childish thoughts and feelings were finally "verified" through Leigh and his thoughts and feelings. To suggest that reading books about myself and my experiences makes me a snowflake is more than insulting. And to suggest that the diverse books are best written by someone within the culture/community is short-sighted. It is imperative for me to be sure I share diverse books as widely as possible. Not to create snowflakes but to create citizens of the real world.
reading ladders

So what have I been reading?


371. SOLO
376. CAT NAP
386. WET
389. LINES
399. BE A KING
405. REX vs. EDNA

Wow, what a great reading month. You can hear book talks on my Anchor station:
reading ladders

A confluence of events

Hurricane Harvey gave many of us an extended "vacation" from teaching this past week. Of course, in the online teaching biz, there is no downtime as long as there is wifi and electricity, so I had grading to do. It helped me fill the time. Between the lake rising up my street, the news of family and friends being evacuated, and the 24/7 coverage on TV showing devastation, there have been moments of feeling helpless. When those arose, I make it a point to donate $$$ to various organizations. Thanks to Kylene Beers, I donated to the Diaper Bank ( I texted Harvey to 90999 to donate to the Red Cross. And don't tell anyone, but there will be some swag from the Texas Library Association given as gifts ( since I donated to Texas Libraries Disaster Relief.

Friends on Facebook and Twitter provided other links for donations, too. And Kate Messner spearheaded the Kidlit Cares effort that has items for auction with proceeds going to disaster relief ( I hope all of you who can will donate to the organizations which will help folks hurt by Harvey.

This unexpected time of cancelled appointments and meetings meant, of course, time to read. It also resulted in time to weed. The result is (so far) 4 boxes of books, ARCs, and F&Gs. Once the flood waters recede, I know some local librarians will be happy to help me float on these books. But for now, $$$ donations will go further. My friend and colleague, Rose Brock put it more bluntly when she shared a piece from CBS news asking people to donate funds instead of "stuff."

One other thing to note here: the incredible outpouring of love from friends. I cannot tell you how many folks emailed, messaged, posted messages during this all. I had offers of places to go (and to bring BH and Scout with me no less) from so many friends and even from folks I know only through social media. I appreciate the people checking up and checking in. I am trying to do the same with my students, asking them to check in as they can and sending emails to the few folks who have not checked in online yet. I know some of them are wrestling with Harvey.

My pal Claudia Swisher reminds us every Friday: "Take care of yourself Take care of each other Buckle up Hug a dad or a mother Tell someone you love them Be kind to a stranger." Let's make every day a Friday?
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The reports of its death are greatly exaggerated

Two recent articles about reading in the popular media seems to contradict one another. One reports on the death of reading: This one, in particular, decries the fact that we spend so much time on social media when we could be reading. Whiplash! I AM reading when I am on social media. However, I do understand the central argument: if we read in these small increments (tweets, posts, etc), our brain soon becomes wired for shorter bursts of reading. “Here’s the simple truth behind reading a lot of books,” says Quartz: “It’s not that hard. We have all the time we need. The scary part—the part we all ignore—is that we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important.” I am not sure about the addicted, weak, distracted part. I think some of it has to do with TIME. And that is where the second article comes in.

How to read 200 books in a year,, talks about something we, as educators, know: it is possible to find time (even in short increments) to read more. Karin Perry and Donalyn Miller and I talk about this often in our presentations. This piece has some great suggestions for us all.

1. Set the goal and think it is possible. I am not worried about 200 books. I tend to think more about setting the time aside to read and then actually following through.
2. Do the math. I use a slightly different set of stats. 15 minutes a day means 1.5 million words a year which nets out at about 20 books a year.
3. Find the time. I ask folks in PD to set calendar time each day for 30 days with alerts that will remind them to stop, drop, and read.

Popular media, though, has largely overlooked other factors such as choice and access and response. But looking at time and habits is a good place to begin.
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Scheduled post that failed to post

This post was scheduled to pub on April 4 but somehow failed. Still think it is timely, so posting now.

Who is NOT reading?

Schedule for: April 04, 2017, 11:01

A recent piece in the news from Pew Research asserts, "About a quarter of American adults (26%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form. So who, exactly, are these non-book readers?" You can read the full report here: Education and income appear to be some of the mitigating factors. I would suggest there might be a few not accounted for in the graph included in the article.

1. Access to books. Income might be tied here to some degree. I wonder if there were better access if this figure might become smaller? What if the public library were close by? What if it were easy to obtain a card? What if the local school libraries had materials for parents and community members? What if? We already know that access plays an incredible role in the reading of our students. Donalyn Miller and I have been working on a new book whose first chapter (at this point in our writing) is about ACCESS, and we have a lot to say about that topic.

2. Motivation to read. We already know that many students graduate from K-12 with a deep aversion to reading. If those folks dislike reading due to their school experiences, how can we hope that there is a sudden turn around once they are adults? The sad ruth is that there are students who have grown weary of all the assigned reading that they eschew the very idea of reading "for fun." Often, when people ask why I do for a living, I am met with wrinkled noses and furrowed brows and some comment about how terrible their school reading experiences were. If you just want to read on the next flight you take, let your neighbor know you teach English. Unless they are a kindred spirit, you should have plenty of time to fall into your book.

3. A broader definition of reading. In the comments at the end of the piece from Pew, one reader comments about the fact that this poll was about reading a book. What about periodicals, social media, and other ways to read? Must all the reading that counts be about books? I begin each day with coffee and social media. I read through Twitter and Facebook feeds. I pass links along to my BH. Is that not reading? Shouldn't it count? The bottom line is that we need to honor reading of any kind. I wonder if asked about reading a book some respondents assumed that meant a novel? Maybe our questions need some reworking.

I do appreciate all the work the Pew Center does to monitor use of reading and technology and a myriad of other topics. I do turn to their reports often as I begin research into a topic. However, like any piece of research, we need to ask questions such as the above. We need to question. We need to look at how items are phrased. Sometimes data can obfuscate instead of enlighten. Behind the data are real people.
reading ladders

Heard of any good books?

Thanks to Colby Sharp, I now do podcast book talks on Anchor. The app is simple; the recording is effortless. Here is a link to one of the recent book talks, this one on Falling Water:

And here I am on iTunes:

You might notice some background noise. I recorded some of the book talks as BH and Karin Perry and I were driving back from the Valley. So, that is the b=noise the road makes when you are driving 75 mph.

I hope you will "tune in" to the station. I am going to use it, in part, to demo book talks for my students. And it is also nice to have some way of archiving book talks on what I am reading.
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