Thursday, September 13, 2012

Guest Blogger - View from a school library

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and kindred spirit when it comes to children's literature.  She also works a day and half in the library in the school which her children have or are attending here in Calgary.  Her experiences there provide her (and me by extension) the opportunity to see what teachers and kids do with the books we promote.

Today's post reflects on what gets kids to sign out and read books looking at the top 5 books to circulate at the school library.

Right back at it

And whoosh!! Summer has slipped right by me and the smells of new markers and freshly sharpened pencils are in the air.  Time off from the school library and lazy days spent reading on the balcony and by the side of the lake at the family cottage has given me plenty of time to evaluate the previous year and decide what (if anything) I will do differently this year.

Running a school library when you are only there one and a half days a week requires some creativity. I have several great volunteers who embrace books and reading as much as I do, so they soldier on when I am not there.  And the crossover in learning about great new books from my time at the Doucette Library and from Tammy (who read more than I did this summer, I think) helps immensely. But one of the things I have been reviewing has been the student reading patterns and what books they like. The school is built around a strong focus on academics and reading, so many students are reading far above the level that is typical for their age. They embrace complex plots and strong story lines and sometimes it feels like new books that I bring in are new only to me – they are a “been there, done that” moment for many students.

What has amazed me is the growing popularity of graphic novels. When I first started in the library, there were no graphic novels, but thanks to an outside influence (cough, Tammy, cough), I have brought a number in each year. When I reviewed the books that have been taken out the most last year, I was a little surprised to see that two graphic novels (actually, one novel and one series) were among the top five books that had circulated. The graphic novels series that was most widely circulated was the “Babymouse” series – and the top single novel was Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale.

Babymouse  by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm are the adventures of one small mighty mouse. Each book takes her through an adventure that has shades of early grade school trials in them. I admit the graphics and colour (try bubblegum pink) are hard on my aging eyes – but early elementary students love them. I have them in the junior non-fiction shelf and they are always in circulation. They are a rewarding read – not only for the storylines, but for the sense of completion that kids have when they have read not just the one book, but the entire series (and then they start re-reading – sigh). For students, the books are a step closer to reading “real” books – and the simple vocabulary and storylines are engaging. What I can’t differentiate from my review of circulation stats is the gender of the readers who have taken them out – I suspect girls, so am on a lookout for a series that is as engaging for the early reader, but will have broader appeal across genders. Any  thoughts?

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale is a more complex graphic novel – and ours has been circulated so many times that I will be ordering a replacement copy. Shannon Hale is (for me) a brilliant author – I have mentioned Goose Girl as being one of the books that I recommend to older readers, so I fell all over this when it came into the Doucette and promptly ordered a copy for the school. A great re-telling of Rapunzel (sort of), only she is a much more active (as opposed to passive) character, who uses her hair and her wits to overcome the evil Mother Gothel. I think the book has broad appeal to both boys and girls, but my instincts tell me it was mostly the girls who took it out. And I love that when someone comes back and says “Do you have anything else by her?” I can introduce them to her novels. Sometimes it takes a little persuasion to get them to opt for something more serious looking. In the end, I usually tell them that it might be too hard for them (a challenge to their capabilities often works) or I ask them to give it a try, because I need a student review.

So, that was two of the top 5 books that circulated. The other  three? Do Not Open this Book by Michaela Muntean, Hockey Now by Mike Leonetti (not too difficult to tell who took that book out) and Guinness Book of World Records 2008. Don’t ask me why 2008, when we have 2011 on the shelf – sometimes there is no reason to why kids like certain books.

As long as they are reading, does it really matter?


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