Monday, October 20, 2008

Learning to Prioritize

A few days ago, I sat down to update my “to read” list. Now, I have a confession to make: my “to read” list is actually an Excel spreadsheet. When I began working at the library, the list of books I wanted to read grew from a memorable amount to ridiculous proportions. I started keeping a notebook of titles. But the longer that I was constantly exposed to books… shelving, talking to patrons, and ordering for the three youth collections… the longer the list got and I found myself adding titles that I had already listed pages before, forgetting this “little known gem” had already crossed my radar months earlier. Now, I add more books each month than I can read in the average month, so basically, I’ve come to realization that I will NEVER finish my “to read” list. At first, that realization was difficult to take (don’t laugh!)… I didn’t want to think I would never be able to catch up… to finish my list. And shhh, don’t tell anyone this, but Miss English Major-turned-Librarian actually read very little for a period of a few months! I had become so focused on the fact that I could never do it all that I was discouraged. But then I went to the other extreme... this insanity-induced idea that I could plow through the list. If I just read fast enough! And somewhere along the way it happened: reading became a chore, like the required reading in school. The concept that I had always spoken to kids and parents in the library about being against vehemently. So I kind of took that break and made some decisions. I can’t read everything. (duh.) I had to accept that. I have to choose… prioritize… which books I definitely need/want to read and which are just because everyone’s reading it or some other less-necessary-for-me-to-add-it-to-my-list reason. And the other thing I relearned was to make time for FUN reads. I need lighthearted books, I need adult brain-stimulating books… I need to be a well-rounded reader. If we don’t take time for fun, we’ll get burned out.

Okay, so you may be thinking that I’m putting WAY too much emphasis on books. (But there was an article I mentioned in this blog months ago on the very topic of children’s librarians needing to read for enjoyment, AND my favorite author, Shannon Hale just wrote an article on the same topic in School Library Journal.) But this book/reading concept has other life implications for me. It’s been a long few months for me. Work and outside work… life is busy. I'm okay with the busyness at work. I see my work as an opportunity to serve, but there are parameters put on it by my hours/schedule. Some days are busier than others, some times of the year are busier than others. But work's fine. Outside of work, I was running myself ragged. Seriously. I wasn’t home one night a week. There are SO many good things out there we can do with our time, but that doesn’t mean because it’s good, that it’s right to do. In what I like to call the “multiplicity effect”, as I’m working through some of this on my own with God, my pastor started a sermon series on Serving. He talked about how, in the Church, we are called to serve. But the phrase he kept saying every week is that we are to be human beings, not human doings. Wow. So you mean my constant pace wasn’t a good thing? ;) Just like with reading, I realized if I try to do too much, I’m going to burn out. I’m going to lose my passion for what it is I’m doing. And I need to give myself time to have a personal life (or enjoy the “light read”) every now and then. There are certain things I do that I LOVE to do and there are ones that God calls me to do. But I can’t do it all. Guilt is not a reason to do something. Even good intentions of helping others is not a good reason if it’s not what God has called me, personally, to do. So this has been good for me. Hard, but good. I’m learning how to say “no” (still). I’m learning that I can’t go at a constant pace (even when people say “Do it while you can. You’re young.”) I’m learning to pick and choose and do fewer things fully committed than a million things and be unable to give my best because I’m doing it out of guilt or because I’m so tired I can’t give my best. Getting back to the basics of why I loved something in the first place. And this is a good thing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


So I've wanted to read this for a LONG time. But after numerous recommendations and the kick in the backside of the movie coming out and January (and having a strict "must read book before seeing movie" policy), I moved Inkheart by Cornelia Funke to the top of the list.

GREAT idea! Great for kids (we have it labeled for 4-5th grade reading level, but can go either way depending on reading level or interest of your reader) and great for grown ups! Any booklover. Anyone who wants to see a warm, loving relationship between a father and child. And my librarian heart loves how well twelve year old Meggie and her "book doctor" father Mo treat books. They are cherished.

Meggie's only consistent factors in life are Mo and books. She loves both. She hasn't had a mother since she was three, and for some unknown reason, she and her father don't seem to stay in the same place for more than a year or two at a time. But all that changes when the mysterious Dustfinger arrives. She meets her book-collecting obsessed great aunt Elinor, her father is kidnapped, and Meggie finds out just how much her life mirrors the books she loves. And all of this mystery revolves around one seemingly ordinary book, Inkheart, the book within a book. Mo, also known as Silvertongue, has the fantastic (or devastating?) ability to read books to life... the characters literally come out of the pages as he reads them aloud. But he unwittingly brought some unsavory characters out of Inkheart, and it's up to Meggie, Mo, Elinor, Dustfinger and a few others to set things write... I mean right! Never thought reading aloud could be so dangerous, huh? Thankfully, I cannot read a story to life, or today the library would have been filled with snoring dirty pigs... among countless other characters!
For younger readers, there are some threats of violence to our heroes, but nothing graphic. It starts a little slow, but the story unfolds beautifully. I highly recommend it to booklovers and anyone with an imagination... anyone who ever wondered what would happen if Tinker Bell came out of the book...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You're Such a Knucklehead!

In the Scieszka household, that would be a compliment! So, after my whole "boys and books" post, I thought I would give a quick review of Jon Scieszka's autobiography (for kids... it's a whopping 106 pages): Knucklhead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka. In a word: hilarious. Seriously, I laughed out loud every single chapter. And at 2-3 pages per chapter, that's a lot of laughing!

I know I've mentioned Scieszka's perfect way of reaching reluctant boy readers, so I'll try to keep my fawning to a minimum. But this book is great, and it gives insight into how the man could have a crazy enough brain to think up the Stinky Cheese Man! The short chapters are a plus for reluctant readers, as are the laugh out loud funny stories of what it was like growing up with six boys in one house. To give you an idea, one chapter is called "Crossing Swords", and it describes what happens when you send multiple boys to use the bathroom at the same time. Oh yes, there's plenty of bodily function humor! There's also lighting things on fire, picking on the younger siblings, school trouble, and tales of brotherly "love". And there is love... you get the sense that the Scieszka parents cared about all six boys and taught them how to be pretty good kids, while at the same time, letting boys be boys. There's that fine line of teaching kids right and wrong behaviors, but also giving them room to be the way they were made to be. Loved it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

To Be a Boy, To Be a Reader

This is one of my “special interests” within my field. Ohhh, how I could go on and bore you with the statistics about boys and reading, but I think if you know enough boys, you can make the generalization yourself (and yes, it is only a generalization). But simply put, the majority of boys do not like to read. And trying to stay off my soapbox, reading (and reading well) affects more than just your language arts grade in school!

Here are some of the main problems with why boys don’t like to read as they get older:

Required reading: Whether clueless, well-intentioned but ill-equipped, or somewhere else on the motivational chart, many adults (teachers, parents and librarians) have a certain idea in mind when it comes to reading. A boy should be reading award winners, right? We can live in a dream world or we can see what boys really are reading and encourage that. Forcing a boy to read “good reading” or something that we would choose to read at their age is not going to help. It’s bad enough that you’re turning them from storytime with their friends and hearing picture books to reading picture-less books alone ;)

Expand your idea of what reading is, too. Recently, I had some mindless craft prep to do for a few hours in my office, so I tried to listen to a book on audio that I’d wanted to read for years. Oh, did that not work for me! My mind wanders during audios. And I also recently purchased a graphic novel written by Shannon Hale, one of my favorite authors. LOVE anything she writes, and this was good… but again, not my preferred style. But here’s the deal. Each reader has his or her own style. Listening to books on audio is actually a preferred format for boys. So are graphic novels (think comic books), magazines, reading things online, newspapers, and reading non-fiction. Boys like to learn why something is the way it is or how to do something. Jon Scieszka (whose name I can spell without looking it up!), the first/current National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, created an organization all about these differences: Guys Read. Check it out. I actually recommended his Time Warp Trio series to a mom of a very reluctant reader, and she came in today to say he loves it and reads it every night… he wants more of them!

So we have to watch “required reading” and expand our view of reading, two key factors in giving boys the room they need to grow to love reading. The third is modeling reader behavior. This is most important for parents, since you see your kids most often. Make the library a routine. Read at home. Especially dads. Dads, please, PLEASE, PLEASE… read in front of your kids! Show them that you read and that you see it as valuable. I’ve started a few programs at the library and they’ve been growing… slowly but surely, and it makes me love what I do all the more to see the changes! We have special Daddy and Me storytimes (no moms allowed!), and we recently began a Daddy Catchers program, where we pick one day a month to give dads a small thank you from a local business if we see them in the library with their kids. (A thank you, not a bribe.) And attendance of dads at programs as well as boys in elementary school age (the age they traditionally stop coming to library programs) has been on the rise. In fact, the most recent Daddy and Me and bedtime booktime storytimes were attended by more dads and boys than moms and girls! And I was thrilled!!

So I tried to be brief, but this is obviously a subject I’m passionate about. Trust me, I did restrain myself. I know these are generalizations, but see how they apply to your situation and use them if they help. I can’t stress how important engaging kids, but especially boys, in reading is!