Friday, January 28, 2011

Getting ready to learn

I am so excited to be at Educon, at the Science Leadership Academy, one of those fantastic student-centered schools which have actually altered the trajectory of my professional life. But I arrived after days spent with an eye on the weather (Philadelphia canceled school for the second day in a row), a sleepless night broken by a 4:00 alarm & a 5:30 flight, minus the two cups of tea on which I have become quite dependent, and after an undignified spill on a spot of ice...but my point is, I wasn't ready to learn. Some of the smartest teachers I know are gathered here, and without a Starbucks stop (and a good look at the back of my favorite coat, now ever so slightly soiled by water and salt), I wasn't up for it...

It makes me come back to school readiness. And not just daily readiness, but preparation for learning, an environment conducive to thought and growth... I keep thinking about Stephen Krashen, and PISA scores.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Give them what they want

I recently got into a conversation with a friend who doesn't get conference-going. It's not integral to her profession, she says. As I was stumbling to defend my own professional development, I mentioned one of my favorite events at both Midwinter and ALA Annual, YALSA's teen feedback session for the Best Fiction for Young Adults selection committee. It is the best collection development advice I encounter outside my own student readers.

At BBFA, teens from local library teen advisory boards have access to new titles and ARCs and contribute their thoughts as readers as the committee members move through the list of hundreds of recent titles. The only downside is that the teens inevitably make me homesick for my students.

Some of my recent favorites made the Best Fiction for Young Adults list this year, including Mitali Perkins' Bamboo People, Margaret McMullan's Sources of Light and Numbers by Rachel Ward. Unlike the other two, Numbers was mentioned in the feedback session. The young woman said she didn't like the ending -- a complicated observation when the unavoidability things fuels the entire plot. I didn't understand how she could want something so antithetical. It reminded me of one of my students, who always requests romance, but ones where there is only one boyfriend. The idea of having rivals seems abhorrent to this girl. In the same way, the idea of a less-than-happy-ending ruined the whole reading experience for the BFYA teen.

The Martin Luther King holiday was the last day I will have off for a while, and I reached for the sequel, The Chaos, because I wanted something escapist. And it was terrific, it's 2027 and Jem's son Adam is seeing patterns in the numbers (which presage the death of those who meets) just as his mother had before the London Eye terror attack. Chicken House imports such consistently high products, I enjoy all of them. (And I want everything I read from here on out to have genre tags for action/adventure AND love stories/romance AND science fiction.)  But strange Ward chooses to subvert the premise of the first reality she crafted. And if the numbers are mutable? Where did that leave Jem and Spider in the first volume? If The Chaos would satisfy that reader's complaints, where does it leave its fundamental concept?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Unpacking after Midwinter 2011

My school district's on its third snow day this week, but I am feeling very fortunate not to be stranded in San Diego. I can use the extra time to follow up on ALA Midwinter, which began early with Friday's all-day #alaremix unconference convened by Allen McGinley and JP Portero, featuring a really invigorating cross-section of librarians from all different settings, sharing challenges and opportunities common to all information agencies.

That afternoon, I had an ALA intern meeting. It was really rather exciting to get to participate in "big ALA" or "ALA proper," and to my relief, I was far from the oldest intern in the room. We were welcomed by ALA President Roberta Stevens who, along with a range of other former interns, shared their experiences and encouraged our organizational involvement. I recognized a few faces from the Emerging Leaders program, another leadership development project. As far as the intern thing goes, I  feel very lucky to have a really interesting committee to work with, the Website (soon perhaps Web Presence) Advisory Committee, an umbrella group where divisional representatives come to share their group's observations, concerns and visions for networked organizational communication. Because of the scale and variability of the membership and myriad different requirements, the organization's online presence is particularly interesting. While the committee's Monday morning meeting conflicted with the Youth Media Awards, but I was able to watch the announcement hashtag to learn about the winners in what was almost real time.

Between the exhibits opening and a couple of publisher previews, I felt especially fortunate in finding the 2011 titles my students are particularly looking forward to, including Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, and Wolfsbane by Andrea Cremer. Now, a decade into librarianship and largely because of social media in general,  I am finally beginning to associate authors with houses. Understanding publishing has been vital to obtaining the ARCs my teens are already buzzing about, as well as the most lauded debuts. I expect the haunting, lyrical Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma to be a Morris contender. I'm also totally jazzed about Beth Revis's debut, Across the Universe.

Among the sessions I attended was a joint RUSA/YALSA discussion where the topic of young adult reference services were eclipsed by general Oh tempora! Oh moraes! teeth-gnashing on the part of academic librarians decrying teens as rowdy, prevaricating, disorganized, and exasperating, forcing the school and public librarians there to defend their kind wholesale. An antidote was the Best Fiction for Young Adults feedback session, where local titles weigh in on titles under consideration for that list. I am always intrigued with the reactions of actual teens to the range of literature under consideration.

I am almost always exhausted by Monday evening, but this year, a walk on the Pacific restored me sufficiently to rally for the AASL/ALSC/YALSA joint divisional reception. It was a terrific chance to see everyone all dressed up, with ambient lighting and grown-up food, especially the giddy selection committee members, done with their year's work. I don't think I'll ever miss it again and will plan to stay for the signings after, next year.

I came back from California with a handful of projects, one of them being the videotapes of the AASL candidates speeches to post to ALA Connect. As always, I was impressed with the prescience and accomplishments of my colleagues.

All the terrific conversation that will give me food for thought, and at the end of the conference I ended up with a signed petition to run as candidate for ALA Council. The real genus of that was hearing, again and again, that school librarians won't participate in ALA when asked. I think it is especially important to represent the professionals that work with the next generation of taxpayers. One of the women at the unconference made the comment that one of her concerns was helping to elevate the status of school librarians so it was more equivalent of that of public and academic librarians. My knee-jerk reaction was outrage at the perceived slight, but I have been thinking about what she is saying, and really believe it is because we are the one arm of the profession that most often works independently, without a cadre to support us in our overarching professional goals. Also, I am really compelled to better understanding the organization, its component parts, their constituencies and concerns.

There are always session conflicts, but I was especially sad to miss Nancy Pearl's interview with Neil Gaiman, where he announced an addition and expansion of American Gods, Vernor Vinge, and the session on Turning the Page on eBooks. And next time, I'll know about the Seuss Collection. There's always Anaheim next summer...

Also, in the spirit of newspaper corrections, Blythe Woolston is the Morris winning author with the uproarious speech. So sorry for misspelling her first name, which I especially hate as her pithy, "shit happens in your head when you read" was retweeted.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Forbidden love & dystopians

One of the wisest teachers in my school recently commented that maybe we shouldn't be so hard on the lovebirds who sneak kisses and cuddles at school. For those too young to drive, she said, this might be their only chance for a little affection. 

That conversation came on the heels of a recent and upcoming spate of dystopian novels concerned with the regulation of affection, as well as the New York Times panel reflections (and kidlitosphere blow-back) over the attraction of this genre for young people. So I have been thinking a lot about how teens connect in dystopias (including school). 

Probably the most on-point novel I've read recently was Delirium by Lauren Oliver, situated in a future Maine where love has been excised by medical intervention. That is made effective by a proscribed surgery to remove emotion, once the citizen reaches adulthood. Lena, the heroine, has some family skeletons related to the sickness, and over the course of the book, her attitude on the procedure which will mute her life so that will no longer want to run or sing shifts. As she considers the disorder and its victims in a new light, she must make a choice to leave society or remain in the cordon sanitaire provided when feelings challenges public health and safety.

The society in Matched by Ally Condie attempts to direct passion instead of contain it, using data to determine optimal combinations and matching young people for later marriage so that courtships are directed in the most efficient and societally beneficial ways. The novel opens with Cassia's matching ceremony and follows her through a series of events as she begins to challenge authority, including the official processes of sorting and matching which demonstrate the limitations of a rigidly ordered community. The end-of-life questions raised are powerful, and all the characters well-drawn. 

Pam Bachorz, whose first novel, Candor, was just terrific, follows up her debut with Drought, concerned with Utopian history of upstate New York and as geographically-informed as Candor, both throwing into relief the idealistic ambitions and insular natures of particular communities. Ruby is a two-hundred-year-old adolescent whose blood has the ability to heal and imbue others with longevity, so there are more unexplicated aspects than in Delirium or Matched. Ruby and her community are enslaved as water harvesters, using pewter spoons to gather the liquid believed to possess miraculous attributes. Parallels with the Christian tradition are emphasized and might be problematic for some readers, but Ruby's brushes with the modern world, and one of the guards assigned to oversee her sect, are fascinating, Bachorz writes with vigor.

Oliver and Condie's books feature interesting commentary about the future of work. Higher education does not seem to figure in there visions of the future, and Condie's descriptions of the destruction of the library, the 100 official poems, and the underground preservation of literature are particularly chilling suggestions.