One of the traditions at my high school was for the school newspaper to devote much of the final issue of the last year to “wills” from the seniors to students in other classes.  My sophomore year, the advisor of the newspaper got into trouble because the newspaper editors – all seniors, all good students going onto expensive colleges – had co-opted that tradition in order to publicly print lists along the lines of “girls I’d like to…” you get the idea.

From Totally Wired:

Teens have also used blogs and Web sites to post lists or rankings of other students.

Yeah, so what else is new?  In other non-news people are still nostalgic for the past, despite the past having poorer health carer and more discrimination.

I’m not trying to say that cyberbullying is not a specific problem that presents unique obstacles, just that a certain amount of the issue – as Goldstein alludes to when she talks about people finally studying bullying – is that we are finally starting to care. Sometimes.

That kids do this isn’t new, it’s just that the scale is finally forcing us to pay attention to it, when we didn’t before. That same advisor is still teaching.* He also gets good reviews at, because, like a lot of bullies, he’s very personable. I don’t think he’d still be teaching if the story had made the news because it was posted online. But the fact that the outside world didn’t hear about it didn’t make it any less damaging to the students that were at the school at the time, it just made it infinitely less embarrassing for the school district.

I also think it’s worth pointing out that a lot of the bullying that kids do is often copying the bullying that adults do – even if the frequency is higher. If we want to teach boys and girls that, for example, they should not be passing around private photos without the permission of the person in the photo, then we need to stop acting like adults who find themselves in this situation deserve what they get. Making it about the worthiness of the victim instead of the action of the bully makes it easy and likely that the victim will be blamed and the bullying will continue.

*no, I don’t know that he knew about it beforehand, but I was around at the time – I was a member of the junior class writing staff – and I saw how he handled the aftermath. With lots of smirks and smiles.


Naked Reading: Chapter 2

I’d always meant to take this class anyway, but the specific incident that prompted me to take it NOW and not in another semester or two was the feedback we got from our focus groups at the end of our summer reading program this last summer.  It was clear that tweens were being overlooked in our overall services.

The intro to the second chapter of Naked Reading reminded me of the older teens we had questioned, however.  It was actually rather humorous to be surrounded by a good dozen young adults and have them argue that no! they aren’t readers! when this very same group were the ones who founded and now run our Animanga club.  Normally, I don’t argue with kids when we are supposed to be asking for their opinions in a focus group, but I just couldn’t let that go completely, so I kept making the questions* more specific.  Do you read manga? Do you talk about the manga you read?  Even when I was able to get an affirmative answer, they had a qualification for every “yes” that they thought made it a “no” – such as, we read manga online, not stuff checked out from the library.  So, like Erin, they were clearly readers, but didn’t see themselves as such.

It makes me wonder when that starts, and what we can do about it. I think a lot of combatting it involves, as Lesesne says, acknowledging the value of all kinds of reading – not just the novels that win Newberys, and not just novels, period.  Unfortunately, I suspect even 17 is rather too old to try to get kids to unlearn what we’ve taught them.  With older teens, I mostly hope to just give them the chance to enjoy reading without pressuring them to call it that.  But while it’s best to start young, when kids are first reading, that’s difficult as well, because there is so much focus on learning the process and that tends to take special print material.  So while I will do what I can to encourage younger kids to continue reading non-fiction, magazines, Captain Underpants, and other materials that their teachers might not count towards their literature grades, I suspect that the tween years hold a particular opportunity to encourage the joy of reading – in all it’s forms – and to teach kids that they too, are readers.

*The focus group was part of the California State Library Summer Reading Program Outcomes Committee’s pilot program.  (yeah, a mouthful)  Which means you can read the questions at their site, in anyone is interested.  They are mostly about being social readers; I’m sure I’ll get into the reasons why before I’m done with the reflective essays.

California Library Association (2010). Survey and Focus Group Questions for Download. Retrieved from

Outcomes, Social Readers, and Totally Wired

I mentioned something about eventually talking about the outcomes project, yes?

[Since explaining the difference between outcomes and outputs is a whole post itself, I’m going to assume you are already familiar with the terms.  Anyone that isn’t can find an easy explanation at this website.]

In deciding what kinds of questions to include on their surveys and focus group guides, the committee wanted to make sure that they were going back to the main goals of summer reading.  First, to encourage kids to read over the break and maintain, rather than lose, the reading skills they had gained the previous school year.  Secondly, to encourage more children and families to come to the library all throughout the year.
But how does one determine if the kids that are reading over the summer are doing so because of the library’s programs – or simply because they would be anyway?  To help answer this question, the committee looked to recent research* about youth that showed that while a certain percentage of youth are, like most librarians, are solitary readers who will pretty much read no matter what, the great number of adolescent readers or social readers – what they read and how much they read is greatly influenced by either peer groups or other social interactions.  So the questions they** fashioned are largely about reading as a social activity, the extent to which the library and the summer reading program fosters a sense of community.

I know a lot of people are worried that always being online will end up cutting into the amount of time people spend reading for pleasure.  However, aside from the fact that being online often IS reading for pleasure, I think that social media can – and often already is – a great way to encourage reading among social readers.

It can be argued that part of the reason for Harry Potter, and especially Twilight’s popularity, is the ease at which youth can share what they are reading on the internet.  Just as tweens and teens find friends and support and like-minded peers online where they may have difficulty finding it offline, fans of certain books can find communities online to help feed and foster their love of reading even if no one at their school is currently reading the same book.  Just as online chat rooms for gay tweens helps foster confidence and consequently GSA’s across the nation, so do fan sites about various books and other media help the fandom grow offline.

Not everything about the internet is full of rainbows and lolcats, but I do think there is a lot of potential for using it to solve some of the problems we think that it’s causing.

*Howard, V. (2010). Teacher- peer influences on young teen readers an emerging taxonomy. Young Adult Library Services, 8(2), 34-41.

(I’m not sure if this is the same article we were given to read, but the article we read was clearly based on this research.)

**we?  except that I came in on only the tail end; they had the foundation all figured out before I was asked to join, I only participated in the later discussions where we tweaked the language.

Week Six Readings: Realistic Fiction

The students’ toilet was at the other end of the long corridor with the spinach-green classroom doors.  Racing against time, Bastian ran as fast as he could and just made it.
As he sat there, he wondered why heroes in stories like the one he was reading never had to worry about such problems…
“Probably,” Bastian now said to himself, “these things are just too unimportant to be mentioned in stories.”

I’m not sure that whether or not Flipped matches a common experience of tweens is really a useful question.  I don’t know that many tweens have raised chickens, tried to save a tree, or have a mentally disabled uncle.  Or that many have come to the realization that their dad is a bit of a bigot, have a grandfather living at home, and go to a middle school where the booster club auctions off students as a fundraiser.  I think, as in fantasy or science fiction, what readers often relate to in realistic fiction are the larger themes – like facing up to your mistakes and learning to understand others.

Granted, one could generalize the plot and say it’s about a changing friendship, families in crisis, and humiliation in middle school, and most tweens have certainly been through several of those.  But one could say the same of many genre books.


We tend to think of realistic fiction as presenting solutions to young readers real life problems, that is what the genre used to be called, after all.  But as Lesesne point out in Naked Reading, that’s not always what readers want, or what is best for them:

This process, called bibliotherapy, can have disastrous consequences. After my daughter died a few years ago, well-meaning teachers encouraged my grandchildren, Natalie, Cali, and Corrie, to read books where a main character died. What those kids did not want was to be reminded of their loss. Instead, what they needed was to find some relief from their sadness. We read books with gentle good humor, happy to find a reason to laugh. It has only been recently, some four years after their mother’s death, that the girls are reading books like The Afterlife by Gary Soto and The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher.

All readers want to be able to identify with the protagonists once in a while at least, but that doesn’t always have much to do with why people choose to read realistic fiction.


I think that in some ways realistic fiction is rather like fan-fiction in that instead of building a world yourself, you play in someone else’s.  Except that in this case the world is the one we all live in, not a figment of someone’s imagination.  Still, the issues are the same; realistic fiction feels realistic not because of how many readers have experienced what the protagonist has gone through, but because of how well the writer matches the accepted cannon.

I think the trick to writing good realistic fiction is not to make it like reality, but rather, to make it something slightly more – but still believable.

With that being the question, I can say that yes, I think that Flipped feels very grounded in reality and the characters in it are very relatable and recognizable.  While most tweens have not gone through what Juli and Bryce have, many would act as they did, given the same circumstances, and the circumstances are well within the realm of what is likely.


Quote from:


Ende, M.  (1984) The Neverending Story.  New York, NY: Penguin Books

Serving Young Teens and Tweens: Chapter 3

There was a minor kerfluffle in the scifi portion of the blogosphere recently, this time over steampunk – was really something cool or is it just rehashed and recycled junk, all prettied up to make the prejudice from ages past seem acceptable?  Scott Westerfeld quickly stepped into the fray with a defense of steampunk…that turned into an explanation about why he writes for young adults.

“THIS is why I don’t write for adults. Their heads are all full of genre cooties and “Taj Mahal? Nah, don’t like tombs.” Whereas a kid will come home from the library with a mystery, an sf novel, an autobiography, and three books about sharks. That’s how kids read, and when something’s cool and fun and awesome (or weird and gnarly and thought-provoking), they don’t worry about how many times it’s been mentioned on io9, or whether it’s that-genre-Fortnight on”

All which made the part of our reading where Taylor discussed Dr. Dresang’s book Radical Change* rather interesting.  There’s been a lot of discussion about the recent renaissance in young adult literature and why that has come to be.  After reading Westerfeld’s post and about Dr. Dresang’s theories and observations, I wonder if part of it is due to a great number of talented authors simply being drawn to a niche where they are allowed a lot more freedom to play with themes and writing styles.  Several of the titles I’ve read have played with formats and genres in a way that seems gimmicky…until you actually read it and realize that it not only works really well, it also adds a lot to the story.  The alternating chapters in Flipped and the journal/online vids setup for Skeleton Creek both come to mind as good examples of books that play with format and do so in a way that serves both the plot and themes.  I can see that, and the corresponding freedom to mash-up genres or tell unusual stories, being something that would appeal to a great number of talented writers.

*so going on my to-read list on goodreads

S Westerfeld. (2010, November5).  Genre Cooties [Weblog post].  Retrieved from

Serving Young Tweens and Teens: Chapter 2

[ok, now for the actual reflective essay]

As I was cleaning up around the children’s room the other day I ran across a smaller book tucked inside a bigger one – the way people on television will sometimes hide their real reading material behind more acceptable, larger one.  The dummy book was some random graphic novel biography, but the title inside was one of our recently acquired books – an updated version of Joanna Cole’s “Asking About Sex and Growing Up.”

As I was reading Hager talk about her own experiences trying to get the information she was looking for as a tween, I kept thinking about the fact that making sure that your library has a good selection of materials is only half the battle.  The other part is making sure that kids can find the books they need.   This is especially hard when it comes to books about puberty because patrons in general, but especially the younger and more self-conscious tweens, don’t always feel comfortable asking librarians for help finding such materials.  The shyness – or sense of shame – that keeps kids hiding books behind other books makes it nearly impossible for them to ask for help locating such titles.

It’s important to be friendly, helpful, and respectful of privacy when answering reference questions – aside from being important no matter what, it goes a long way towards making the patron feel confident in returning the next time they have a question, no matter what the question may be.  But that still isn’t going to be enough to convince all patrons to feel comfortable going up and asking a near stranger for books about sex.

I’m sure what the solution to this is.  Displays don’t seem quite right, because finding the right book for the right child is especially important when it comes to this topic, and check-outs from displays tend to be impulse check-outs* rather than something that is picked up after looking through all the possibilities to find the perfect title.  (I also work in a fairly conservative part of Southern California, and while I don’t give much though to possible challenges when purchasing books, I do consider it when creating and placing displays.)  I have been wanting to put together topical bookmarks that list several of the titles that we have on that topic [alphabet books, “if you like…” type lists, etc], it might help to do a series on books about sex and puberty.

(now, to only find the time to start this project…)

*I worked in a bookstore for several years before switching to libraries, and I still use some of the terminology – sometimes modified – when there doesn’t seem to be equivalent in library-speak.  Apologies if this means I don’t always make sense.  “Impulse buy” is a common term in retail and pretty much what everything from the displays to the layout of the store was devoted to it.

Packaging Boyhood Redux: Brian vs. Julie

I ended up reading Hatchet and Julie of the Wolves nearly back to back this semester, and it made for some really striking contrasts.  While both are are about surviving on one’s own in the wilderness, Brian and Julie approach their similar predicaments in very different ways.

Hatchet reminded me of all the Jack London “man vs. nature” stories that I had a hard time getting into as a kid, in part because the protagonists’ relationship with nature was adversarial and the emotional lives of the characters was often only barely alluded to.  Paulson’s adventure story is not quite that stark; Brian’s parents are mentioned several times and emotions like fear play a huge part in the story.  At the same time, considering how difficult a time Brian is having dealing with his mother at home, and how much he is avoiding the interpersonal conflict that has torn his world upside down, you could even argue that crashing on that mountain was as much wish-fulfillment as it was a dangerous plot twist.
Then we have Julie, who doesn’t rely on a twist of fate to save her from sticky interpersonal conflict, but heads out for the wilderness of her own accord.  Once there, she doesn’t fight with nature, even though her landscape is clearly much more dangerous than Brian’s, instead she makes friends with a wolf pack and convinces them to care for her.  In the end, what Julie of the Wolves reminded me most strongly of is A Little Princess, in which Sarah Crew’s idyllic world is turned upside down first through nothing more than the virtue of her growing older, and then by the death of her father.  Much the same way that Julie is forced to leave behind the old ways, first through the death of her father and then as a result of the progress of civilization.  Even more, the climax of each story involves not only heroism on the part of our protagonists, but also someone else coming to the conclusion that she is family and deserves protection.


Despite being so different, I enjoyed both stories a lot; I’m glad I read both of them and I will recommend both to all kinds of tweens.  I just really wish that it wasn’t always Brian that was avoiding emotional conflict and Julie that was willing to reach out and ask for help.  Although there is still more to be done, we’ve started making some really good progress showing girls that they can rely on themselves and don’t need to wait for others (just compare Julie to Sarah).  Boys, however, still seem to always be asked to be little Jack Londons*; told they are little men before they can even walk and, most of all, taught that vulnerability is not something that boys admit to.  It’s important that we have books like Hatchet; firstly because it is simply a good book, but secondly because it particularly speaks to the boys that have already internalized the idea of boyhood that we sell ourselves.  However, it’s just as important that we have examples of boyhood that are not so closely tied up in the myth of boy as an island and emotions as nothing more than weaknesses.

*The Jack London story that stuck with me the most was not any of the ones about the Alaska Gold Rush or the like, but a short story he wrote based on his own experiences as a child laborer at the twilight of the industrial revolution.  Like many oldest children at that time, Jack’s own childhood was sacrificed in favor of feeding his younger siblings.

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