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Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Middle Grade Monday – Reader’s Advisory and Reference Interviews with Tweens

I’ve had a couple of conversations in the library Twittersphere about Reader’s Advisory, and the lack of training we had in our Library School programs. I do remember having some brief training on doing reference interviews during my basic reference class. The thing I remember most from it was that it’s important to ask a lot of clarifying questions, because a lot of patrons either aren’t entirely sure what they want or won’t be able to articulate it sufficiently on their own. Which might be a rather condescending attitude to have when working with adult patrons, but it does lend itself well to working with tweens. I do wonder, though, at the lack of training in RA. I thought perhaps it was because the program I attended was very heavily focused on academic (higher education) and business librarianship. From the conversations I’ve had, though, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

As a school librarian, I would have benefited greatly from some instruction on Reader’s Advisory. After 20 years of experience, I think I do fairly well, but it has taken me a while to get here. One thing in my favor is my love of reading books aimed at this interest level. I’ve read a good number of books, from a diverse group of authors and genres, and feel pretty comfortable recommending titles.

Some of the RA I do with my middle school students is fairly straightforward – for example, I have a number of students who only like one particular kind of book and need help branching out. Discussing their interests, after school activities, and what they enjoy doing for fun often yields enough information to introduce new titles and options to them. It’s also fun to be the person that explains to them that, although their teacher is requiring them to read a mystery for a book report, I can help them find one that is also horror, fantasy, etc. (which is what they really like.) I try to empower them by explaining how to use the advanced search function on the OPAC, but sometimes it helps if I’ve read the book and can do a little hand selling.

On the other hand, I sometimes get odd requests that take a little digging. I recently had a student come in asking for The Grapes of Wrath. After some conversation, it turned out that her class is studying the dust bowl and the Great Depression. I was able to help her search for something along those lines, and she left with Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust. Then there was the student last week who wanted ‘books, you know, about teenagers.’ After some discussion, he finally said, “I don’t mean to be prejudiced or anything, but I want a book about kids who look like me” He’s African American. I found him several that I thought might appeal to him and then made sure I let him know that there is never anything wrong with asking for what you want.

I think where I may have benefited the most, however, from some training would have been in how to interpret student requests for information. And how to help them remember why they came to the library. I still remember my first year as a school librarian (in an elementary school.) A kindergarten student came in to the library and just stood at the desk smiling at me. I asked if he was there for a book (no) or on an errand for his teacher (yes.) Did he know what she wanted? No. This was before the days of intercom phones between classrooms, so I had to send him back with a brief questionnaire for his teacher. It turns out she had asked him to ask me for some old newspapers. Flash forward to today, when a sixth grade student walked into my office, handed me a printer cartridge, and said, “This is a printer cartridge.” Yes, yes it is. Sigh…some things never change.

Take 5: Comic Book/Strip Creation Tools

This year’s Summer Reading theme is the perfect opportunity for me to share one of my favorite picture creation apps – Comic Book. But then I started digging a little bit to see if there was something easier (or better to use) and below are my thoughts (some of them incredibly brief) about 5 Comic Book and Comic Strip creation tools that would work well for this year’s superhero themed summer reading program.

Comic Book App

This is one of my favorite Apps of all time. It’s quick and easy to use and perfect for this year’s superhero themed SRC. I spent the last couple of weeks using it to make artwork to decorate my teen area. I have also used it to make blog graphics and a father’s day present for The Mr. Yes, you read that right, a Father’s Day present. We made a comic book page about what a great dad he was, printed it out on regular 8×11 paper, framed it and it is now one of my favorite pictures in my house.

I am also going to be using it for one of my TSRC programs. We’ll take photos and make pages to print and it will be a glorious good time.

To use the app I create the image – and it does give you choices in layout and panels – then I save it to my device. You can then email it, upload it, etc to print it out or incorporate it into your social media or larger designs. Some basic elements come free, but they have a lot of additional elements you can purchase if you would like. I have never purchased any additional elements. There are word bubbles, text boxes, and more that you can add to up the wow factor. I also really love that you can give it a barcode and a price sticker to make it look more authentic. The basic app costs $2.99. You can use it on most Apple devices. I have used it on both my iPhone and an iPad.

Pixton.com

This tool is new to me and I’m not very familiar with it at this point, but I wanted to let you know it was out there. It seems pretty advanced. Mashable says it is for “artists” and they’re not really kidding.

Toondoo.com

I have dabbled a little with Toondoo. One of the bonus of this site is that it lets you save mid creation and come back to it.

Bitstrips.com

Bitstrips is another app that let’s you make little cartoons. If you are on FB, you are probably familiar with Bitstrips because they are popular there. I see at least one a day in my feed. They can be a quick and easy tool to make a little cartoon, but I like the quality of the creations created by Comic Book better. Then again, that’s really a matter of personal taste. It would definitely be quick and fun to make some Bitstrips to share on your social media pages throughout the SRC.

Chogger.com

This online tool comes closer to creating comics strips and panels like I do in the Comic Book app then any of the others. And it was pretty easy for me to just jump in and start designing. I will say, I cheated because I used a picture that was already comicbookified (totally not a real word) by the Comic Book app.

 

Final Thoughts:

I am a huge fan of the ComicBook app and highly recommend it. I also thought Chogger was a pretty good tool. I would really feel more comfortable spending more time with the other tools before I gave them a solid review, but there are some reviews below that you may find helpful. Or, better yet, explore them and decide what works best for you. There are a couple of additional creation tools mentioned in the reviews below that I didn’t get to so you might want to check them out.

More Information and Reviews:

Mashable: http://mashable.com/2010/10/24/create-your-own-comics/

Teachbytes: http://teachbytes.com/2012/02/29/5-online-comic-creators/  

PC Magazine: The Best Comic Book Apps for Android

Sunday Reflections: What I Learned While Trying to Put Together a Women’s History Display

I was walking by my YA room when I saw a staff member searching the shelves for something, so I went down and asked what she was looking for. It turned out, she was looking for inspiration for a new display. So after some talking we decided that we would do a Women’s History Month display. And then the conversation got, interesting I would say.

I started grabbing a bunch of great titles off of the shelves and we started making stacks for the display. I pulled the Katherine Longshore titles and Maid of Secrets by Jenn McGowan, A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Lots of great titles about women in historical fiction. After we had some good stacks of books to fill all the display pieces we had, I could tell that something was still bothering this staff member and that she was hesitating.

“But we need some books written by men,” she said to me, “and with boys on the covers.”

I was . . . stunned. “Actually,” I replied, “I’m pretty sure we don’t for a Women’s History Month display. I think books written by women about women fits in perfectly with the theme.”

“But we need some male authors,” she said again.

“I’m pretty sure we don’t,” I replied again.

“But we want boys to read, don’t we? So we need some male authors and books with men on the covers.”

I didn’t hesitate and asked her, “Did you read Shakespeare in high school? Lord of the Flies? Dickens? Hemingway? There is no reason, none, that a boy should not or can’t be expected to read books written by a female author or featuring female characters. Nobody ever blinks at the idea that women will read books written by men or featuring male characters. Books are for readers. All of them.”

“But boys won’t read books with girls on the covers,” she replied.

And this, my friends, is a lie. I have met many teenage boys who read Sara Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson and A. S. King, for example. I once went to a teen book festival where I talked to a teen boy who went to one author and one author only: Sarah Rees Brennan. He had read everything by her.

But the truth is, if we keep feeding into the lie that boys won’t read books with girls on the covers or written by female authors, they’ll keep believing it. Somebody teaches them this lie and that somebody is us. And this lie is dangerous because it tells boys that the lives and thoughts and art of women is somehow less than that of men and they don’t need to be bothered with it. And it tells girls who grow up seeing this lie lived out around them that they are somehow less than their male counterparts. And everyone grows up believing this and it’s a really hard internalized message that is difficult to rewrite. But we have to rewrite it, because it harms us all and it defeats the whole point of reading and art and storytelling; the part where we step into lives that our different than our own, where we develop compassion and empathy and understanding, where we dare to explore other points of view. If you believe the lie that boys can’t read books written by or featuring girls then you don’t understand the purpose and value of storytelling.

So after one final discussion, we agreed to do the display for Women’s History Month with the books we had pulled.

Ironically, the next day I noticed on the other side of the display space was a basketball display for March Madness. Not a single book on it was written by a woman or feat