Thursday, June 28, 2012

Guest Blogger - View from a school library

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and kindred spirit when it comes to children's literature.  She also works a day and half in the library in the school which her children have or are attending here in Calgary.  Her experiences there provide her (and me by extension) the opportunity to see what teachers and kids do with the books we promote.  Today's posting is an issue for all libraries of whatever size both personal and public  -- too many books, too little space.  Tough decisions to be made.
Please enjoy the view from a school library

It’s the end of the year at my school library, and along with chasing down overdue books, trying to get resources back from teachers and cleaning the library, I am also doing some long overdue weeding in the picture book area. This has been necessitated by the fact that the shelves are jammed so tight that shelving books has become almost impossible.  As new books come in, I have to free up space and get rid of some old books.

But how to decide what to get rid of? In some cases, it is easy – any book where there is more than one copy? Gone.  Any book that is held together with scotch tape and love – and not much more – is gone. In this case, however, I take a good look at the use that the book has had and decide if I want to replace it.

The biggest struggle I have had is with books that kids love, but that from my perspective offer little in the way of …….merit (not sure if that is the right word). In this case, these are books like  - well, to start,  anything by Walt Disney. Give the man and his empire its due, the films and the spin-off books have made a huge chunk of change. The books offer kids something familiar – but for the library’s money, there are better stories told with similar themes. For example, the Disney version of Cinderella (which I think every little girl has taken out at least once this year), can be replaced by the version of the tale by Charles Perrault. And the theme exists in versions from other countries and cultures. Even Canada has a hockey version (Splinters by Kevin Sylvester) – of course, take away the dress and the glass slipper and sometimes the appeal is gone as well…..however, the Disney books represent something commercial to me and in my opinion, don’t belong in the school’s library.

A second example of books that are going in the big bin of discards are the Berenstain Bears, Mercer Mayer and Franklin the Turtle books.  Personal bias here – I find these books to be somewhat dated and “juvenile”.  I know, I know, I am talking about books for children, but many of the themes in these books can be found in more current, less formulaic and better quality picture books. For example, one of the books that I am tossing is “The new baby” by Mercer Mayer – because I think a book like “Julius, baby of the world” by Kevin Henkes is a better depiction of the contrasting emotions when a new baby arrives on the scene. Similarly, “The Berenstain bears visit the dentist” can be replaced by William Steig’s ”Doctor deSoto”  or “Tabitha’s terrifically tough tooth” by Charlotte Middleton (OK, not about the dentist, but it does deal with loose teeth, which is a HUGE concern in lower school classes).  

Others being tossed are the cheaply produced ABC or number books (you know - the ones with 99 cent stickers on them).  The school seems to have been the beneficiary of a great number of these books – but when you can have a book like “LMNO peas” by Keith Baker or “M is for moose” by Charles Pachter or “One boy” by Laura Vaccaro Seeger or “365 penguins” by Jean-Luc Fromental, these books pale by comparison.

One of the principles upon which I purchase books for the library (besides the obvious ones of good stories, good illustrations/pictures, curriculum tie-ins etc.) is the idea that if a book can be easily obtained at home, I am not likely to buy it (or accept it as a donation) for the library. The books that I mentioned above are examples of ones that can be picked up anywhere and also fill the need of being an easy diversion during a shopping spree (I know that’s how many of these style of books landed in our house in our kids’ early years). I want students to find new experiences on the school book shelves and to take away from each library visit a book that gives them HUGE pleasure, and that they want to read, or have read to them, again and again. And I love picture books. There is something about them that feels like a good experience is about to happen when I open the covers. And really, that’s what I want the students to feel with each and every book on the shelf.  I think good picture books are the start of a love affair with literacy and reading and that the younger a child starts that affair, the more likely it will be that books will follow them all of their life.


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