During Banned Books Week, of all weeks, I received the first irate parent phone call of my library career. This involved father was already psyched up because his boy had taken a photo of a book on display at the library and sent it to his dad. That book - "Yay! You're Gay! Now what?". He had some very passionate concerns and an expectation for how our conversation was going to go. I hate to say it: he was angry. He was pushy. He had very strong feelings and very strong words. However, it is important to note that he was NOT disrespectful in any way.
I asked the basic questions: what book was it? What were his concerns?
And then I just listened. For about 20 minutes. Until he had everything out.
Then I acknowledged him, his concerns, and his involvement in his son's life. I explained our selection policy and what had lead to this particular book being selected. I made sure he knew his son wasn't required to read it, but it was available if he chose to. Then I told him about our challenge procedure. I offered to make the appropriate copies of paperwork and policies and leave them in the front office for him. I offered for him to read the book on school grounds - assuring him that it was very short and could be read in an hour or two. (Our policy says school copies of challenged materials cannot leave the grounds until the challenge is completed.) I made sure he knew that he wasn't obligated to go through the process if he read the material and no longer felt it should be removed from the shelves, but that the process would need to be adhered to if he truly wanted it removed.
An amazing thing happened. To this dad's credit, he calmed down. He really listened. He still didn't agree with it personally, but he ultimately decided the things we were discussing were a satisfying answer. The phone call ended amiably - with me offering to talk to him about it any time and to pull the necessary paperwork and material if he should ever choose to use them.
Then I hung up the phone and immediately began shaking. My aide, bless her heart, came over and let me pour some things out. I grabbed the book and the policies and paperwork and immediately headed for the principal's office. I briefed him, and he chose to keep and read the book in case the parent came to see him about it. My principal was impressed with the phone call and how I handled it.
I went back to the library and drafted an email to two of my best library buddies and former professors. Never would I have been able to handle that phone call without focusing on defending the actual book had they not drilled it into my head to make great selections with plenty of evidence why that book should be there AND don't defend the book - defend the process.
So, my library friends, it's going to happen at some point. It happened to me even in my small town! The best advice I can possibly give is: stay calm, be respectful, and defend the process. If you do not have your selection criteria or process in your library policy, make that happen! Also, if you do not have a challenge process in place, get it going. The ALA has a great webpage that I used to create ours. I also looked up school libraries that had those policies and borrowed their ideas and processes.
I first came to know the Hate Has No Home Here organization when I was in library school. The library goddess (as she is affectionally known around these parts) had a few posters in a stack. I couldn't grab one fast enough. My school was just beginning to receive refugees. While we are a high immigration community, the refugees were not of cultures to which we were accustomed. I loved showing that the library is a place without hate, and the sign was pretty.
The sign was up in the window for two years before I decided it was time to take it one step further. The library purchased a 1 inch button maker, printed off sheets of graphics from the No Hate website, and invited almost every student we saw for two weeks to make buttons. They did! Then, they came back and made more. We saw the buttons popping up at other schools in our district. Our kids were passing them on to family and friends!
I saw the movement spread. Pride in who they are and consideration for how others were treated made for a student body I am incredibly proud of. A safe space and a tiny button helped them put into words something that was important to them.
As kids tend to do, one kid was too rough with our button maker, and I had to remove it to see if my husband could fix it. Students were incredibly bummed when the button maker wasn't available any more. They asked on a daily basis if my husband was able to fix it. (Spoiler alert: he was after a couple of weeks and new parts!) However, we decided that we shouldn't leave it unattended by a library worker anymore.
Please check out Hate Has No Home Here. They're a wonderful organization, and all of their graphics are freely available for printing.
National Library Card Sign-Up Month.
I saw it on a calendar, and my heart skipped a beat. It was my chance to finally really collaborate with my public library in a meaningful way! My students love free wi-fi and the new teen space at our public library is something to behold. Our students even painted the mural occupying the giant wall during the library's construction. If there was ever a time to invite the PL crew over, it was National Library Card Sign-Up Month!
Via email, we quickly drafted a plan: the public library would come during all lunches on every Wednesday in September. My library advertised it to the school starting during the beginning of the school year Open House and never let up. We lit up social media. We were plastered on the tvs throughout the school. We had posters! We were in the announcements.
And I don't think a single student signed up for a library card.
Why? Well, one reason is that the vast majority of our students couldn't sign up without their parents, and parents weren't taking off of work in the middle of the day to come sign up for library cards.
Another reason: the students felt the public library was invading the school library's turf. I was shocked! I said we'd planned it together and the school library had advertised it. But since I proctored classes during lunch time and I wasn't sitting WITH the PL crew, students assumed things.
I wish this could be a different story. A tale of reaching the masses of students and every one walking out with a plastic library card in hand. It's not true.
We did do some powerful things. We put the public library into the heads of the students. We showed a bridge between school and the real world. We demonstrated that different libraries co-exist without it becoming a war between the Greasers and Socs. So, we'll keep trying with new ideas in the future.
For the record, our PL crew was amazing to work with. I am so proud to have them serving our community.
How long has it been since I was really, genuinely bursting with excitement over a YA book?
Let me tell you: it's been awhile.
I don't know what clicked SO MUCH with "A Danger to Herself and Others" by Alicia Sheinmel, but it did. Could it be that I was reading in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep? Sure. But it comes down to the fact that it gave me a lot of thoughts and feelings as a reader. Isn't that the whole point of reading?
I love the unreliable narrator aspect - and I've rarely seen it executed this well. Hannah is very easy for me to connect and sympathize with. She has a lot of anxiety and coping mechanisms in place throughout the book that honestly seem pretty reasonable. Counting steps? Sure. Not hurting anyone by counting steps. I think that's why I was so blown away by the book. We see everything through Hannah's perspective and she's a worthy narrator.
The masterful storytelling is something that has me really excited to share "A Danger to Herself and Others" with my readers. April Henry fans will devour this book. Heck, I would read it again! (And I'm known for NOT re-reading books.) It's suspenseful, nothing comes out of left field without justification, and just...beautiful. Beautifully written.
Finally, that ending... I wanted to pull Hannah to me and hug her myself. Her parents were so distant and aloof that I could barely stand it. The author doesn't cave to my need to know Hannah is going to be alright. She lets it dangle in front of me without succumbing to the trend to put a pretty bow on every ending - especially when dealing with mental illness. I am thrilled that this book is in my library's collection and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Who knew Jane Austen would be the one to credit with one of my favorite library activities this school year? You see, her birthday was on Sunday, December 16. Ms. Austen's been around our school a lot this year - our One Act team did "Darcy & Elizabeth" as their show. When I found out that one of our classes was finishing up "Pride & Prejudice" and getting ready to take a final over the book during the last week of school before Christmas break, a light bulb went on above my head.
Fortunately, the teacher is quick to collaborate and tries new things all of the time. He loved the idea of having a tea party, and the date was quickly decided upon. I stalked Amazon, dollar stores, and begged for cups and saucers. I designed name cards on Canva using one of my favorite Jane Austen quotes:
My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.
All of the preparation was well worth it! Everything pulled through - from the linens arriving on time, to beautiful "silver" serving trays at the dollar store, and finally the cups and saucers being provided from a variety of folks.
However, nothing could have been better than when the students were physically here. I taught nineteen high schoolers how to brew a cup of tea. They experimented with three different kinds of tea: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, and Candy Cane. They added lemon and sugar. They snacked on dainty biscuits as conversation flowed about anything and everything - mostly just questions about tea and how their friends were preparing it. A student played harpsichord music on his phone to complete the atmosphere. Everyone was calm and enjoying each other's company. Snapchat was BUSY!
It was so nice to be able to give students the experience to sit and chat, try something new, and - dare I say - relax. Later, they went over the study guide for their test tomorrow. When students left, some asked if they could take their name tags with them. (Of course I said yes!)
What I hope they take with them from today is the value of just sitting and being with others. Present in the moment and being open to something new - even if it's something you think isn't your thing.
We've decided that we must find an author with a passion for coffee for next semester. Perhaps a modern author with different musical tastes. Let us know if you have any ideas!
You know that feeling when you pick up a book that's about a truly underrepresented minority in YA (Young Adult) lit, and your hopes are SO HIGH but your expectations are SO LOW? That's how I went into listening to the audiobook of "A Very Large Expanse of Sea" by Tahereh Mafi.
From the get-go, I loved Shirin. She's a potty-mouth, withdrawn teenage girl who has BEEN THROUGH SOME STUFF. This survivor was assaulted in the wake of 9/11 for wearing a hijab, nearly killed. Dealing with the outside fear of her religion every day leads Shirin to the safety of solitude by the time high school hits.
Shirin is very interesting to me. As a high school teacher with a few Muslim students in my school, I sort of listened with the context of, "Is this what they go through?" Honestly, the book's events are very realistic without being over the top. Some crazy things happen, but they are not outside of the realm of possibility. For example, Shirin's love of breakdancing turns into a passion as she joins a breakdancing team. What an amazing catalyst for empowerment! (Side note: I remember the first time I saw women in hijabs playing roller derby. I cheered and may have shed a tear of intense pride.)
Conversations take place throughout AVLEOS that give the reader more information about what it's like to wear a hijab, why some girls wear them, and what the consequences are for not wearing one. Basically, any question you've secretly wanted to ask a woman wearing a hijab are addressed in the book in a natural way.
Overall, what I liked best about the book isn't the love story or the acceptance Shirin gains from her peers. It's simply an the authentic voice and experiences of Shirin. Anyone can read "A Very Large Expanse of Sea" and benefit from it. I have it in the high school library where I work and am committed to promoting it. My students have a lot of experience with Latino culture and Nebraska culture, but not with other cultures that are now being represented in our school. This book is a great way to acquire understanding both of what it's like to be a Muslim high school girl and to examine how the people around her react to her presence.
Mark my words:
YOU WILL SEE YOURSELF IN THIS BOOK.
Will you like what you see?