‎"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
Steven Jobs, Stanford commencement address, 2005.

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The Green Room

The Green Room
Lesson plans integrating library resources into curriculum in addition to lists of green resources For teachers from books to DVDs to the web -- a work in progress. Contributions and suggestions are welcome!!!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Highlights from the 2014 ALA Annual Conference

Now that I'm recovered from a crazy busy school year and the whirlwind of Las Vegas/ALA Annual, I decided it was high time to pay some overdue attention to my blog.  To start off my summer blogging ventures, I thought an overview of some of the highlights from this year's ALA Annual Conference would be the perfect kick-off.  

This year's award winners were an obvious highlight and I got to meet, and re-meet, most of them. Brian Floca, Kevin Henkes, Holly Black, Kate DiCamillo, Marcus Sedgwick, Markus Zuzak... It's as exciting as the Academy Awards!  I was particularly excited to see Marcus Sedgwick again and have my wonderful copies of Midwinter Blood signed, meet Markus Zuzak and have him finally sign my coveted British copy of The Book Thief, and meet the legendary Judy Blume whose books led me through childhood and adolescence.

I also met the wonderful and inspirational Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of fallen civil rights icon Malcolm X.  Her presentation was remarkable, although I was disappointed in the low turnout to see her.  The audience was clear evidence to me that racial division is still rampant in our country, even in a profession that professes equality and freedom at it's very core.  Ilyasah has published a wonderful new picture book called Malcolm Little that tells the story of her famous father as a child.  It is beautiful and should become a part of school library core collections.

There was a wide selection of wonderful new books among popular book vendors like Candlewick, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster.  Lee & Low's emphasis on diverse books like Parrots Over Puerto Rico has made them a particular favorite for me.  I also fell in love with a wide array of books about art.  Emily's Blue Period by Cathleen Daly tells the story of Picasso's Blue Period for a young audience.  The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLaughlan is a beautiful story about Henri Matisse as a young child.  Yuyi Morales has a beautiful book called Frida.  And a lovely book called Edward Hopper Paints His World has a stunning painting featuring a sign for "Phillies" created by illustrator Wendell Minor right on its cover...sure to appeal to our local Philadelphia crowd.  Hip hop lovers will be excited by Laban Garrick Hill's new book When the Beat Was Born.  For discussion about the Caldecott Medal there is a wonderful book about Randolph Caldecott that explains who he was and why the famous award for picture books bears his name called Randolph Caldecott, The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing by Leonard S. Marcus.  Melissa Sweet, who has had numerous award-winning books including this year's wonderful picture book about Horace Pippin, has a lovely new book forthcoming about Roget and his famous thesaurus that is perfect for integrating into elementary writing lessons. Famous authors and illustrators like Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen, and Jon Scieska all have wonderful new books out as well that should not be missed.  Finally, one of my favorite books about math is a book called Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animals Lives by Lola M. Schaefer.

Among YA authors, there are several exciting books coming out or newly released.  Ally Condie has a book called Atlantia that is very different from her Matched series.  Scott Westerfeld, author of the Uglies and Leviathan series, has a new novel entitled Afterworld.  Meg Wolitzer has a new novel entitled Belzhar (pronounced Bell Jar) that involves two teens, a classroom, journal writing, and the works of Sylvia Plath.  PJ Hoover has a new middle grade novel called Tut that will also have associated media components including a Minecraft world.  Jandy Nelson, Marie Lu, and Cat Winters also have promising new books soon to be released.

Technology is always a highlight of library conferences and the standout new tool for me was in the area of assessment.  One of the challenges with assessing new publications in science is the lag in citation appearances.  The University of Pittsburgh (yay Pitt!) has developed technology that tracks initial mentions via social media from publication date eliminating the lag of waiting for future publications with citations of a given publication.   It's also interesting to note that while the statistics show a huge increase in ebook purchase as well as an increase in ebook lending by libraries, the demand for hardcover books has reached an all-time high and continues to increase with the digital age. For all of the soothsayers who thought paper would disappear, it doesn't look like it will be happening any time soon.  It only takes one massive ice storm that knocks out power for a week to see the virtues of the non-digital world, even for the most tech-oriented among us.

I could rattle on for pages about the amazing experiences from ALA, but I would only be entertaining myself.  Suffice it to say that the world of libraries, information, and stories in all of their various formats is thriving and growing in wonderful ways.

Brian Floca

Jen Bryant & Melissa Sweet

Ilyasah Shabazz

Holly Black

Judy Blume
Claire Rudolph Murphy & Brian Collier

Meg Wolitzer - Belzhar
PJ Hoover - Tut

Marie Lu - The Young Elites
Cat Winters - The Cure for Dreaming

Ally Condie - Atlantia
Jandy Nelson- I'll Give You the Sun

Mo Willems
Jon Scieszka

KG Campbell and Kate DiCamillo

Marcus Sedgwick

Markus Zuzak
My awesome UK edition of The Book Thief!

Susann Cokol

Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Top 50 Reasons To Hire Me

understand how difficult hiring can be.  How do you know for certain that you will choose the right person with the right skills, experience, and personality to get the job you need done, and done well?  With that thought in mind, I spent some time this evening challenging myself to create a list of 50 reasons why I would be a great choice for a school librarian opening.   I suppose I could have set that number higher - or lower - but 50 seemed like a good target number.   Obviously these are all biased since I am the one who created the list, but you can always check out my LinkedIn profile for things my friends and colleagues say about me.  My friends tend to be brutally honest.  Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's painful; but it has always led to personal growth.  

1. I keep up with all new and upcoming literature written for K-12.
2. I am an active galley reviewer.
3. I am actively involved in the American Library Association.
4. I am tech savvy.
5. I have a degree in English in addition to an MLIS and am therefore adept at both "the cannon" and new literature.
6. I have experience working with children in an educational setting from Pre-K through grade 12.
7.  I am infinitely patient.
8.  I have spent a considerable amount of time working in a wide range of special education settings.
9.  I have decades of experience in collaborative work settings.
10. In addition to my education experience, I have experience in other work settings.
11.  I am comfortable with both the tried and true and constant change.
12.  I am mature.
13.  I am able to forward think.
14.  I respond well to criticism.   (Understanding that no one is perfect, I am able to make adjustments when necessary.)
15.  I have a sense of humor.
16.  I am always professional.
17.  If I don't have the answer you need, I will figure out how to get it for you.
18.  I am loyal.
19.  I am honest.
20.  I am always concerned with student impact.
21.  I am a team player.
22.  I consider other perspectives.
23.  I am always looking for new things to learn.
24.  I always look for ways to improve how I am doing things.
25.  I speak multiple languages and understand what it is like to struggle with learning a new language.
26.  I have lived in other cultures and having an experience-based understanding of the words "diversity" and "multiculturalism".
27.  I have a solid understanding of the Common Core and how it relates to both curriculum and the school library.
28.  I have had extensive training in collection assessment and evaluation.
29.  I am equally comfortable with digital collection development as the development of collections using more traditional media.
30.  I am familiar with a multitude of high-quality vendors who serve school libraries.
31.  I have experience managing staff.
32.  I have experience coordinating volunteers.
33.  I have experience creating budgets.
34.  I have experience managing budgets.
35.  I am familiar with outside funding sources for school libraries.
36.  I am comfortable and experienced with fundraising.
37.  I have my own personal, and very extensive, library of books appropriate for K12 and teacher development.
38.  I am well-versed in a wide array of subjects including science, art, literature, business, music, history, politics, and geography.
39.  I have experience working for high tech companies filled with engineers.
40.  I have experience answering a wide variety of reference questions.
41.  I am always willing to learn something new.
42.  I have experience in multiple assessment techniques from usage statistics to developing and conducting surveys.
43.   I am experienced in using a multitude of communication tools from newsletters to wikis to blogs.
44.  I am comfortable with social media...and use it responsibly.
45.  I can effectively manage almost any classroom situation without resorting to yelling.
46.  I am polite.
47.  I have exemplary customer service skills.
48.  I am dedicated.  
49.  I am enthusiastic.
50.  I am passionate.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Fabulous New Book From This Year's Printz Recipient - Due To Arrive at Libraries and Bookstores Near You in April

I am a huge Marcus Sedgwick fan.  I first encountered his work prior to him receiving a Printz Honor award in 2011 when his book Revolver was being talked about as a contender.  After meeting him at ALA Annual that year, he kindly granted me an interview for my blog and I read several more of his books, including this year's Printz winner, Midwinterblood.  I have yet to read anything by this creative author that I have not enjoyed.  His writing is consistently not contrived or formulaic.  He is a master storyteller who weaves together rich characters, settings, and dialogue.  He writes stories that are are lasting, the sort of stories that I anticipate becoming inducted into the canon of quality literature we use for instruction.  I expect we will continue to see a plethora of wonderful things from this talented author.

His latest novel, She Is Not Invisible, has reinforced all of my previous positive sentiments about Marcus Sedgwick.  It is yet another fascinating literary work that is like nothing else I have ever read. He delves into a thoughtful contemplation about the existence of coincidences through the intrepid adventure of teenage Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin.  Weaving historical facts about famous explorers of coincidence into a fictional mystery, this read is simultaneously thought-provoking and seat-of-your-pants entertaining.  Adding an additional layer to the story, it is told through the voice of Laureth, who has been blind since birth.  I found myself pausing multiple times as I read through passages that stuck out as quotable reflections on the world.  Perhaps my favorite is the following:

          "You're black?" I said, stupidly.
          "Yes," he said.  "Does that matter to you?"
          "I couldn't care less if you were green with pink spots.  Why would it matter to me?  I don't even
           know what color is."
          He thought about that.
          "Listen, this gentleman surely won't wait forever," he said.  "But I wonder... Did you assume I
           was white?"
          "Michael, I didn't assume you were anything.  Try to understand, I don't see the world. I don't
           see colors, so I don't think about it that way at all."

Laureth will be held dear in many a readers heart, but this beautiful passage in particular will seal her into mine forever.   Thank you Marcus for giving me get another favorite for my shelf.  I can't wait to have a hard copy with your autograph!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Wither Thou Advocateth

I am fascinated by the number of conversations I have with parents, teachers, and administrators who respond to the continual slashing of public education with an apathetic, "What can do about it?  They don't have any money."  Replies like this are disempowering and allow the speaker to fall into a role of either victim or non-participant in the problem.  It places the burden of blame on someone else.  I've even encountered this attitude among teachers whose jobs could easily fall victim to the next round of cuts.  Quite honestly, all teacher jobs are at risk, but teachers who are outside of the regular classroom, which includes school librarians, PE, tech ed, family and consumer science, art, music, and foreign languages, are at the top of the list.

There never has been the elusive mythical "fat" in education.  We have cut things in many districts beyond the point of our ability to teach kids the skills they need to be successful in life.  We've moved from teaching kids to think and learn to teaching them to take and pass multiple choice exams.  It isn't unusual for me to be in a classroom and find kids unable to answer questions without a choice of "A through E".  Likewise, it isn't uncommon for students to turn to calculators for the answers to simple calculations and they don't often question the answer the calculator spews out.  There is a huge disconnect in understanding that technology is just a tool and it doesn't think for you.

If we continually buy into the attitude that there is nothing we can do and that we are mere victims in the situation, we are agreeing to be quiet advocates of continued destruction of public education.  There is a phenomenal amount of money in this country.  The key is finding a way to connect more of that money to areas that desperately need it.  We cannot afford to continue approaching funding for public education the same way we do today.  It isn't a viable model for rising costs. We also can't afford to continue addressing those rising costs with further cuts to staff and resources.  We need to begin the conversation about public education with the statement "this is what is required to educate a child."  And then we need to find a way to fund it.  If you are not a part of the conversation, part of the solution, you are part of the problem. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

ALA Mid Winter Conference is in Philadelphia through the weekend!

Hooray! ALA is here in Philly through next Tuesday! It may not really be "always sunny" but it will be productive and fun as librarians from across the nation convene to wrap up a year's worth of committee work.  The Caldecott, Newbery, Printz, Coretta Scott King, and a multitude of other awards will be finalized behind closed doors in the City of Brotherly Love.  Get ready for the big book award announcements on Monday...I have my secret predictions and will post the winners after they are announced.  If you can't wait and want to hear it "live from Philadelphia" check out the ALA website at www.ala.org and you can link to the webcast.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Becoming A Better Teacher

While I still haven't found a permanent school librarian position, since the beginning of the year I've expanded my teaching experience and knowledge in ways I never could have imagined. I began substitute teaching for a multi-district sub service.  I substitute teach in districts from Avon Grove to the edge of the city limits of Philadelphia and up to Bristol Township.  Some days my commute is over an hour and some days it is only 20 minutes.  In the 3 months I have been teaching in these districts, I have been able to observe the huge disparity among Pennsylvania schools.  We may read or hear about this disparity, but nothing compares to witnessing it "up close and personal."

The most shocking realization that I have had over the past months is how truly devastating educational cuts have hit those districts in the middle and lower economic sectors.  Schools in areas where it is predominantly upper middle class have survived cuts to funding.  While they still need more staffing and resources just like other schools, they seem to be able to compensate for some of the loss with volunteers and donations.  The rest do not fare so well.  Some of the school buildings are so in need of updating and repairs that they inhibit learning.  Imagine teaching a class of 30 in a classroom that is almost 100 degrees?  The level of technology available is limited in many schools.  Many schools no longer have libraries or only have a librarian once per week.  The books in those libraries are often worn and outdated.  Art and gym have also been cut drastically, particularly at the elementary level.  The one "special" that seems to survive is music, especially band programs. In addition, class size is often pushing 30 children - I've even had days with as many as 36 elementary school students filling my classroom. Behavior issues abound and tend to become greatest in those schools with the least.

You might think that the best teachers are at those schools with the most.  However, the teachers I
meet who are exemplary at the art of teaching are in all of these schools.  As a substitute, the schools I enjoy teaching at the most have teaching staffs and principals that are warm and welcoming and emanate a passion for what they do every day.  As an example, one of my favorite schools is an elementary school in a district that is truly suffering from educational cuts.  Highland Park Elementary exudes a feeling of warmth the moment you walk through its doors.  The lobby has a large fish tank filled with African Cichlids and adjacent is a fountain emitting the soft gurgling sound of flowing water.  The office staff smiles the moment you walk into the office.  The Principal is all over the building and oozes with an amiable authority.  Likewise all of the teachers smile, offer help, and always invite me to join them for lunch.  The walls of the school are filled with colorful artwork and posters. An "art wall" outside the cafeteria has colorful post-its with drawings by students.   As you walk up the staircase to the top floor of the school, there is an array of potted plants sitting on a shelf at the landing.  The school just "feels" good!  The students reflect that feeling.

I am becoming increasingly dismayed by the idea of evaluating students and teachers based on standardized testing.  By comparing students across the state with a test that by its nature assumes equivalent learning environments, we are not only doing students a disservice but creating incentive for teachers to opt not to teach in those environments where they are not as likely to have high-scoring students.  I am particularly concerned by the effect that cuts to education have had on elementary schools. Learning is cumulative.  If we do not ensure that students get a solid, quality education rich in resources from the very first years of their learning, we are setting them up for future failure by giving them a weak foundation upon which to scaffold all future learning. We have to do better.

How can we begin to change?  The first step we can all take is to open our eyes, voices, hearts, and wallets and become true advocates for the quality education of all children.  Vote for people who place education as a top priority, volunteer in your local schools, lift up best practices at schools where teachers and administrators are going above and beyond, educate yourself about education in general, speak out against the barrage of testing that is now impeding true learning, stop calling art/gym/music/library specials and insist on their essential role in schools, push for education that steers away from packaged curriculum with scripts and worksheets and allows professional teachers to use a diverse array of teaching techniques and resources that adapt for the incredible range of abilities within the modern classroom, and insist on true literacy skills across the curriculum.  We have the ability to change our world for the better.  The answer lies in ensuring that future generations are given the solid foundation they need.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Arts in Education

I'm finding myself increasingly frustrated by the lack of big picture vision by administrators and planners when it comes to education.  I understand that funding is tight.  However, it seems as if decisions are continually swayed in favor of testing and numbers rather than looking at balance and the well-being of the whole child.  I live in a district that is relatively well-off.  We are still maintaining a balanced budget and yet we have cut art education to the core, are looking to strip music education, have a bare bones elementary PE program, and library program and are looking to do further damage.  Statistics show overwhelmingly that these subjects are not "specials" as we like to call them in the formative years, but truly developmental in nature.  The following mini-documentary on PBS is wonderful and spells that message out loud and clear.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Fitting Into Racial Checkboxes

It’s Not All Black and White: Multiracial Youth Speak Out

By St. Stephen’s Community House

Publication date: Sept 1, 2012

I’ve often felt that we don’t talk about race enough in our society.  Despite the progress we’ve made since the civil rights era of the last century, we still have little check boxes on all of our job applications and standardized tests that attempt to classify us by the color of our skin.  The challenge is that so many of us don’t fit neatly into little check boxes.  We are a little of this and a little of that combined to make up a unique individual.  That is what I loved about this wonderful little book published by Annick Press.  It’s a collection of essays and poems by multiracial young people written during an ongoing project at the St. Stephen’s Community House in Toronto.  It is definitely a book for older teens due to the language, but it is a wonderful, raw, real, emotional, and insightful view of growing up with multiple racial identities.  For parents raising multiracial teens or school libraries, this is a terrific resource.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Goodbye 2012

2012 – Confronting Monsters and Filling in Holes

Cancer.  It is a word that has become all too familiar to most of us.  There seems
to be a new fundraising walk or colored rubber bracelet every time I turn around.
It started with pink breast cancer ribbons and yellow Livestrong bracelets.  Years
ago, I felt like I was helping out a good cause.  It was someone else’s aunt or a
friend of a friend.  Then suddenly cancer started striking closer to home.  It was
my friend, my aunt, my friend’s dad.  Then last December it was my mom.

Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  The tumor was inoperable.  Due to
the proximity of the holidays, they were unable to start her on a chemo routine
until after the first of the year.  She finally started the second week of January.
She worked through that first round and through the second round that was
combined with radiation, steadily losing weight.  The second round really
knocked the wind out of her and the oncologist suggested she needed a break
before going any further.  A few weeks later, as Mom was getting ready to leave to
go to Chicago with my Dad to give a speech before a national group of chaplains,
she fell at the hospital.  They still went on the trip and she still gave the speech,
but when they returned, she went on hospice care.

Mom only lived less than eight months after that diagnosis.  Four weeks of that
time she was on hospice care.  The rest of the time she was working for the most
part.  We had very little real time with her.  I think we all have frustrations about
that.  My Mom loved being a chaplain.  I have no doubt it was the job she was
meant to do.  But she was also an amazing Mom.  I could talk to her for hours.
My Dad would make fun of us.  Likewise she valued my brothers for being the
wonderful special people they are.  She was a terrific Grandmother – different for
each individual grandchild.  She was proud of each of them for their individual
talents.  And she used to tell me that she married “the sweetest man in the
world”, so I can’t imagine she didn’t want to spend time with the man she’d been
married to for 48 years.

In talking to my sister-in-law over Christmas, she posited that perhaps Mom just
didn’t want to face the truth that she was in fact dying quite so soon.  That if she
could just keep going, maybe it would all be OK.  And you know, I think she may
be right.  My Mom had said to me 2 months before she died that she thought
things were going well and that she’d be around for another Christmas.  She was
feeling positive despite the tough bout in radiation.   But then the fall at work
came and things began to turn for the worse.  Mom had to begin to accept the

Up until that point, the cancer had been a fairly well kept secret.  Only a few very
close friends and family members knew.  As Mom went into hospice care, the
news became public and we had to learn how to manage the great inflow of well-
wishers.  My younger brother moved into my parents’ home and became a
detailed organizer and my older brother and his family and I juggled time back
and forth.  Mom eventually allowed us the honor of caring for her, a task that
sometimes permitted the only alone time during the day with her.  I will always
treasure those small conversations snatched during those moments of care
giving.  It is still remarkable to me that she was able to make me laugh in some of
those moments, even in discomfort sharing her ineffable sense of humor.

The day Mom was buried, I walked up to one of my brother’s best friend's from
high school.
As we hugged I said, "When does the hole begin to fill up?" Wiping away the flood
of tears from my face, I added, "I mean, you've lost not one, but two parents to
this crappy disease..."
"I wasn't going to say," he said, "but since you asked...it gets worse; that'll be the
day he goes." And he shrugged toward my Dad.
"Yup," I said, "that will be a worse day."
"Right," he said,"because all of this will come right back at you and you won't
have her to talk to."
"Well," I said, "You better damn well be there."
"God willing I'm still kicking around I wouldn't miss it," he said.

During the first few months after Mom died, that hole was so huge I thought it
would swallow me up.  Perhaps it would have been easier if I’d had a routine that
forced me to march on the way everyone else did.  It is getting easier to move
through a world without her, but she is still on my speed dial.  I still have voice
mail messages saved.  I went out and got another puppy and a few kittens.  I
gained a few pounds.  I’m starting to burst into spontaneous tears far less

In so many ways, I know I am lucky.  I got my mom for 44 years.  Some people
lose their mothers when they are children.  Some people lose their children.  I
was at a bereavement workshop and two women present had lost teenage
children.  One died of cancer and the other was hit by a truck.  I felt like their loss
must be so much deeper than mine.  But perhaps we can’t compare.  Loss is loss.

I knew that this Christmas would be difficult and it was. I missed talking to Mom
in the kitchen most on Christmas Day.  Our last conversation was 12 hours before
she died.  I was holding her hand and I told her that it was OK to go.  I told her
that we would all take care of Dad and that he would be fine.  She responded with
a quiet, “OK.”  I am so proud of how Dad has taken on living.  He shopped for
gifts for everyone and they were all special.  He really is doing well, all things
considered.  I know that this is the toughest thing he has ever had to go through
and I think Mom would really be smiling to see him living the way he is.

One of the things Mom and I kept talking about over her last few weeks together
was how life is messy and imperfect.  You just never really know what it's going to
dole out.  I think that's why life is so tough for the control freaks of the world.
They just can't face the fact that life is never going to be perfect and predictable.
 That would be boring anyway.  One thing is for certain, Mom made sure life
wasn't boring even when she was dying and uncomfortable at times.  She was still
cracking jokes and singing songs 48 hours before she died.  Hope I go out the
same way.

As a librarian, I feel compelled to offer a list of excellent resources for anyone
who may be confronting cancer.  These books are all excellent.  Patrick Ness’s "A
Monster Calls" has been receiving quite a bit of attention as a book for not only
young adults to read but for adults.  The “monster” is a yew tree in the teen’s
backyard that confronts him with life stories as he grapples with his mother’s
advanced battle with cancer.  It was originally begun by Siobhan Dowd who died
of cancer.  Patrick Ness took her characters and ideas and wrote the book
dedicating it to Siobhan.

As 2012 closes, may you all have a blessed and wonderful year ahead filled with
all the dreams, hopes, health, and prosperity you can possibly wish for in 2013.
For those of you who’ve had loss, may you begin to fill in those holes just a little
bit more in 2013 and continue to heal your hearts.  Happy New Year!   Read on!

A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness

The Girl Next Door
by Selene Castrovilla

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

The Probability of Miracles
by Wendy Wunder

Just One Wish
by Janette Rallison

Before I Die
by Jenny Downham

My Sister's Keeper
by Jodi Picoult

by Chris Crutcher

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
by Jesse Andrews

by Abria Mattina

I'm Not Her
by Janet Gurtler

Before I Go
by Riley Weston

Cancer Slam
by Ansley Dauenhauer

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie (Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie #1)
by Jordan Sonnenblick

After Ever After (Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie #2)
by Jordan Sonnenblick

Friday, December 28, 2012

Graphics As a Way to Increase Literacy

Groovy Graphics on the Rise

I am a huge supporter of graphic novels in the classroom.  In my opinion, a comic book, graphic novel, or picture book is no less of a book than a book without pictures.  They are all valid forms of literacy and beautiful art forms in and of themselves.  As we are growing to appreciate graphics, they continue to grow and diversify from those early comics.  I love the wonderful array that is beginning to appear.  Once comics were primarily about superheroes but now there are graphic stories in almost every genre and age group. 

I decided to go to ComicCon NY2012 to do a little browsing a see what I could find about the current graphic market.  Aside from the overpriced photo/autograph ops with film stars, there were some wonderful talks by authors at the event.  The authors didn’t charge for their autographs.  It was fun to see all of the costumed attendees.  I’m not sure I could stand an entire day of walking around dressed as Wonder Woman, although I do love dressing up for Halloween.  When Chuck Palahniuk spoke, he tossed out body parts into the audience.  Nothing like going home and saying, “Look!  I got one of Chuck’s legs!” 

What was I most impressed with at ComicCon from a librarian’s standpoint?  The diversity of the current graphic market represented– it has exploded over the past few years to include so many different types of stories and reading levels from pre-schoolers to adult.  There were an incredible number of up and coming young artists flooding the market who were exhibiting their work.  I am excited because new artists mean new books.  While graphic books can be digital, they are better when they are not digital.  They are part of my argument for the book not going away any time soon.  It is an art form. 

I loved Oni Press.  Oni Press has the pulse on new and fresh graphics that interest me as a school librarian.  I took several titles home and like all of them.  XOC by Matt Dembecki is a terrific book about a great white shark and a sea turtle cruising the ocean.  It is essentially a nature documentary in graphic novel form and is perfect for the biology classroom and any age library as a resource on sharks and the ocean.  It has a message about the environment from the animal perspective without over moralizing.  It also refers the reader to other resources.

 Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk is a story about a teen in a small town who is an artist.  She doesn’t get along with anyone and is dying to get away to someplace new.  She develops a long distance relationship with someone who seems to be her perfect match and gets a chance to find freedom.

 Play Ball by Nunzio Defilippis & Christina Weir, illustrated by Jackie Lewis, is an excellent story about a girl who wants to play baseball, not softball.  With encouragement from her parents, she tries out for the team and makes it.  Although she faces challenges, she sticks with it and gains support from friends and team members.  It is an inspiring story that will resonate with many young athletes.

Sidescrollers by Matt Loux was on the 2008 YALSA Top Ten Graphic Novel List.  It is a wonderful story, but it must be read in context and it is meant for older teens.  It has language and a potential date rape situation.  The story is about three boys who hang out together and play video games who find out that their friend is going to be a victim of date rape and decide to stand up to the school bully.  It is hilarious and the hijinks re not unlike real high school boys. 

 The book has been subject to controversy because of its language and sexual content.    School libraries often face questions about appropriateness of material.  Librarians rate material for young adults on a scale.  This particular book does have language and sexual content, but it is within context.   Having taught in a high school, the language is no different than the language I hear in the hallways.  The sexual content is a situation which, unfortunately, is all too real.  What is great about the book is the reaction of these wonderful boys who stand up to a bully in defense of their friend.  That is model behavior and should be lauded.

Finally, from Oni, I love the Crogan series by Chris Schweizer.   I read Crogan’s Loyalty & Crogan’s Vengeance.  These terrific books take a fresh look at history for middle readers.  They pose questions about perspective.  Crogan’s Loyalty places two brothers on opposite sides of the revolutionary war at the same table in a conversation.  In Crogan’s Vengeance Crogan has a to decide whether to stay with a captain with a grudge or take to the high seas as a pirate.  Middle school readers would benefit greatly from this series.

 Scholastic has the award-winning talent of Raina Telgemeier.  Her book Smile was highly lauded and is the true story of her own trials and tribulations through dental drama from middle school through high school.  She injures her front teeth in an accident after a fall and has to undergo surgery, braces, and other dental procedures to fix her teeth over the years.  What she discovers in the meantime is that looks aren’t everything and that she has outgrown her friends.  Drama is the story of Callie, a middle school student who loves the theater but can’t sing.  She decides to join the stage crew as a set designer and makes some surprising friendships.

 Another beautiful book I found at ComicCon was The Stuff of Legend by Mike Raicht & Brian Smith, illustrated by Charles Wilson.  The story is set in 1944 as WWII is breaking out in Europe.  In a little boy’s room in Brooklyn, the Boogeyman snatches him away  and takes him to the realm of The Dark.  His toys assemble and stage a rescue led by a toy soldier known as the Colonel.  The book was originally published as separate volumes but can now be purchased as one hardbound book.  It is beautifully illustrated and the story is appropriate for upper middle school through adult.

I’ve also found some fresh graphics on NetGalley.  My two favorites recently were Diana Thung’s August Moon and Jane Yolen’s new book in the Foiled series.  Diana Thung’s August Moon conjures up images of totaro stories from Japan in her classic good versus evil story where the children save the day against the evil Mr. Monkey.  The art is fun and whimsical with mostly black & white drawings.  Those who enjoy less traditional stories like The Cat Returns, Totaro, and Castle in the Sky will probably like this story.

 Curses! Foiled Again by Jane Yolen & Mike Cavallaro is the second book in the Foiled series.  It continues the adventures of the young fencer Aliera who finds herself tied to the faerie realm and under the protection of the high school’s heart throb.  Like Foiled, Curses! Is beautifully illustrated with a nail biting storyline that will keep teens interested from the first page to the last.  Yolen has written a story that combines fantasy, non-stop action, romance without making you want to vomit, and a sense of humor all written in an intelligent and fun graphic format.  It’s perfect for teens looking for a relaxing break from the academic grind.

I previously reviewed Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown and still think it is one of the most beautiful and creative graphics done in recent years, although they didn’t get nearly the attention I think they deserved.  The story is about a young woman who marries a soldier and he goes off to war.  His ghost is seen in a portrait of the family taken at local photo studio.  Is it real?

Graphics have become so popular that YALSA and ALA actually have separate reading lists for recommended graphics.  Two that I like for middle and high school readers that came out recently are Ichiro by Ryan Inazana and Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral.  Ichiro is the story of a teen living in New York with his Japanese mother after losing his American father to a war.  He goes to Japan to visit his grandfather and is out walking the streets where he finds himself abducted by a monster.  In a twist on the fall down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, he wakes up in the realm of gods and immortality.  The artwork is incredible and the storyline is thoughtful and original.  Completely different and yet equally compelling, Chopsticks is a story told through photos, memorabilia, artwork, text messages, YouTube links, notes, postcards, and brief written passages.  It tells the story of a young piano prodigy pushed to her limits and a troubled young boy her age who moves in next door.  It’s a mystery and an adventure with a surprise ending.

Elementary readers fell in love with graphics because of the comedic talents of Mr. Jeff Kinney and his wonderful cast of characters with whom so many kids can identify.  He has just released a 4th book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series - The Third Wheel!  So far, Jeff’s books show no sign of losing popularity, so keep on writing them Jeff!  They are flying off the elementary school shelves!  Readers of Jeff Kinney also tend to like Big Nate by Lincoln Pierce.

 A new book I found on NetGalley, Snorkeling With Sea-Bots is a graphic for the pre-school reader.  It is simple, cute, and funny.  Right on target for the audience!  Jess Bradley’s illustrations are adorable.  What little one wouldn’t love to find a magic button on the bottom of the ocean floor one day while snorkeling?  There is even a little inside joke for mom and dad with names like Rip and Eddy for the robots.  A trip at the beach may never be the same again.

 These are all just a sampling of what is available in the growing graphic arena.  I hope it inspires you to explore graphics if you haven’t yet or if you are already a fan, to try some of the new titles coming out.  Encourage your teachers and libraries to stock up on graphics as a way to keep as many kids reading for pleasure as possible.  Pleasure reading is directly correlated to literacy.  The more kids reading for pleasure, the higher the literacy rate!

Oni Press

By Sarah Oleksyk

Play Ball
By Nunzio Defilippis & Christina Weir illus. by Jackie Lewis

By Matt Loux

Crogan’s Loyalty, Crogan’s Vengeance
By Chris Schweizer

By Matt Dembecki

By Raina Telgemeimer

The Stuff of Legend
By Mike Raicht & Brian Smith  illus. by Charles Wilson

August Moon
By Diana Thung

Curses! Foiled Again
By Jane Yolen & Mike Cavallaro

Picture the Dead
By Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown

By Ryan Inazana

By Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
By Jeff Kinney

Big Nate
By Lincoln Pierce

Snorkeling With Sea-Bots
By Amy J. Lemke  Illus. By Jess Bradley

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better - it's not," said the Lorax.

Dr. Suess, 1971