Monthly Archives: August 2014

White Out

White Out

The following piece was originally published on the Neumannic Times blog. We would like to thank the author for permission to post these thought-provoking words.

“This place sucks … I mean, not this place (she’s referring to my classroom), but (insert swirling hand motion as if to indicate this high school as a whole) … thhiissss place.”

Me: Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying.

Senior Girl: The walls are so bland.

Senior Boy: It’s depressing. They’re all beige. Next thing you know, they’ll have us wearing matching uniforms and planning to invade Eurasia.

Insert a collective processing pause.

Emily: I don’t get it.

Senior Boy rolls his eyes and lets out a laconic sigh. “Jesus, Emily! We’re not really going to invade Eurasia … I was trying to—Oh never mind!”

Me: No I get what you’re saying. The hallways around here do have a sort of institutionalized flavor to them.

Senior Boy: Everywhere you turn. It’s just different shades of brown. Is that supposed to be conducive to creativity?

Me: Valid question. I can’t remember when this happened, but were you guys here before the White Out? Like, before all the murals and stuff were erased? When the walls still had color?

White Out

Several students chime in, “Yeah! We were freshmen. There were murals everywhere! Then they painted over all of them.”

Me: I know. T’was kind of sad. I painted a lot of those.

Senior: You did?

Intercom: Teachers and Students, please pardon the interruption. Due to the impending inclement weather, we will be dismissing students from school 2 hours early, at 1:30. All classes for the remainder of the day will be 30 minutes long. Teachers, please check your email for the updated bell schedule.”

Wish I would’ve taken a picture of everyone’s reaction after the intercom spoke, because in that moment, everyone won the lottery. Everyone was a winner, and if you’d never yelled, “Yahtzee!” in your life, that was the perfect moment to rejoice. I’ve read about the weight of the world residing on people’s shoulders; even written about it. One thing I’d never seen though, at least until that moment, was the weight of the world actually being lifted off people’s shoulders. Tell students they’re gonna be dismissed from school early, and that it’s because of snow, and they’re floating. Carefree. Giddy. Weightless. The excitement is electric.

Out in the hallway, a boy broke free from his class and ran down the hallways shouting, “THERE ARE NO RULES! THIS IS THE APOCALYPSE!! NO RULES! HIDE YOUR CHILDREN! HIDE YOUR WIVES! THERE ARE NO RULES! …”

Hyperbole perhaps. Foreshadowing of things to come? I’ll let the reader decide. But if you were anywhere in Metro Atlanta around 1:00 PM on January 28th, 2014, the notion of an apocalypse wasn’t too much of a stretch. No need to relive the dysfunctional calamity of what happened next. Atlanta became an episode of The Walking Dead.

I left school at 4:00 PM that afternoon, and returned at 6:45 PM. The plan was to drive home (Downtown Atlanta), but I couldn’t even reach access roads to the interstate. There were just too many wrecks. Having admitted defeat, I made my way back to Pope High School. The revised plan, and only feasible option, was to crash at my parents’ house. They live across the street from Pope, but I needed to retrieve some contact solution from my classroom. So, enter, once again, I did.

Principal: Ryan! What are you doing back here?

Me: Forgot something.

Principal: Forgot something! Where do you live?

Me: Next to the Georgia Dome.

Principal: And you came back because you forgot something?

Me: Yeah. But my folks live around here. So, gonna crash at their place tonight.

Principal: Well be careful!

He begins walking, hurriedly down a nearby hallway; appearing concerned about something.

Me: Will do. What are you still doing here?

Still walking, he replies, “We still have students here! I’m not leaving ‘til their parents are able to come get them!”

His voice trails off.

Walking towards my classroom, I pass many of the walls that once portrayed murals. Some painted by me. Others by peers. They’re all buried by several coats of beige now. And unless you were here before the school was renovated a few years ago, you’d never know there were murals to begin with. It’s kind of a weird feeling. Seeing projects you devoted so many summers to, erased. Like it never happened.

While this isn’t the root cause of my distaste for artistic endeavors, it was one of the final nails in the coffin. Seeing the blank walls every day creates somewhat of an indifferent disposition, like “What’s the point? Why bother with art if it’s just going to be erased?” Guess that’s the jaded idealistic side of me going emo for a second.

The realist side recognizes the murals weren’t going to last forever. At some point, they’d have to go away for one reason or another. So what’s the big deal? No use in crying over spilled guineas, right? Oh wait … that was Jack Nicholson in The Departed. It’s Milk! No use crying over spilled milk.

Anyway, I suppose it’s more ironic than anything else. Student returns to his alma mater a teacher. Hired in part for his creative tendencies in the classroom, he returns to find that the paintings he was once commissioned to paint have become, for lack of a better phrase, collateral damage. Well that, and one of the core beliefs of the Cobb County School District state that “creativity and innovation are encouraged and embraced by all stakeholders.”

Who knows? Maybe I just didn’t get the memo.

Every once and awhile, I’ll pause at a wall that used to contain a mural. For a moment, I’ll glance and see the picture that once was. I try not to stare for long; having already established a reputation for some of my more awkward quirks as a teacher, I’d hate to compound the matter further by earning the additional label of, “that weird teacher who stares at blank walls.”

So I shake it out and move on. Out of the building. Into the snow. Where the paralysis brought on by Winter Storm Leon creates a white out of its own; facilitating a silence that is deafening.

White Out

Artwork courtesy of Ryan Neumann.

John Green Titles: Perfect YA Reads

John Green’s name is on the lips of every middle schooler I know right now. In fact, he’s been a fixture in middle schools for a few years and has several books and short stories under his belt. John won the 2006 Printz Award for his debut novel, Looking for Alaska,  and is currently holding strong to number 1 spots on book lists for the popular The Fault in Our Stars. Green is so popular that he was included as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in Time magazine because he’s so charismatic and busy with multiple platforms of writing and speaking. This is a man who calls his fans nerdfighters and they love it.

Why John Green?

Last year, The Guardian published an interview with John Green that offered a peek into what makes his writing so relatable to teens. In it, he says which, as an educator, I can wholeheartedly agree and that is that he’s “…tired of adults telling teenagers that they aren’t smart” and his writing reflects his beliefs about the realness, including all the hard parts, about being a teenager:

Teenagers are doing so many things for the first time, says John Green, and asking big questions about life, loss, love and politics. He is clearly very interested in teens and what they experience and encounter in their childhood. When he replied to my question about what makes writing for teenagers so interesting, I felt like I was talking to another adolescent.

Since we’re promoting a love of Reading Not Tweeting this month, we wanted to provide a list of perfect YA titles with a short synopsis from the inimitable John Green that you can introduce to your teen or that you can read for yourself if you haven’t already!

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By far, Green’s most popular work that turned into a blockbuster at the movie theaters this summer, was The Fault in Our Stars. Personally, when I read it I couldn’t put it down and had to complete it in one sitting. Hazel has been afforded a medical miracle that has helped her tumor shrink  but she knows, as well as anyone with a sense of understanding of the fragility of life, that it’s a terminal diagnosis. Suddenly, though, a new guy shows up at her Cancer Kid Support Group and we’re introduced to Augustus Waters who challenges her at every turn and offers her a final chapter that is alarmingly thoughtful and beautiful. Teens who read this all seem to love the strong feelings offered in this book and can relate to Hazel’s sense of apprehension of the possibility of love. 

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Teenagers love a good love story, but Colin Singleton’s experience with girls who all share the name Katherine, won’t deliver. He keeps getting dumped and is up to 19 Katherines by the time we meet this character. In order to make sense of this, he and his best friend 
Hassan, go on a road trip without a destination. Colin loves anagrams and is living with the past of being a prodigy. Somewhat of a genius, Colin sets out to prove his Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability. On the way, we’re treated to interesting characters, a dead archduke’s bones, and a heartening and hilarious ending that allows teens to realize that they can reinvent themselves.

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John’s debut novel, Looking for Alaska, debuted in 2006 and won the Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association. It’s about Miles “Pudge” Halter whose life feels like one big non-moment. Pudge has a preoccupation with famous last words and his whole existence has been one big nonevent. His obsession with famous last words leads him to Culver Creek Boarding School where he’s put in risky situation with the destructive Alaska Young, a girl who seems to have it all as well as a life full of the opposite of what Pudge has experienced. She teaches him that risks are good even as she’s stealing his heart.

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The main character is so wonderful that John Green went ahead and put it it in the title. Twice. But don’t let that make you think that Tiny Cooper, another character, isn’t entirely important and interesting. But, that’s just the thing: there’s another teen named Will Grayson just like our main character. He wrote this book with David Levithan. The common theme you’ll find in John Green books is that there is nothing but possibility and magic and the power to look beyond yourself which probably makes them so endearing to teens who are hoping to find the same in their lives. I’ve noticed that more mature YA readers tend to check this one out of the library. 

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You know how it goes. You’re a kid with an awesome name (Quentin Q. Jacobson) and someone you haven’t thought about since the time you both discovered a dead body in the park shows up at your window dressed like a ninja with black paint on her face comes to see you. Typical evening, right? But, why stop there? Why not break into houses and leave mysterious clues for people and then wake up the next day for school as if nothing happened? But, something did happen. And Quentin and Margo Roth Spiegelman know that something happened. What, exactly? As Quentin tries to get closer to Margo he realizes that he doesn’t really know her anymore. Green’s theme of delving into the personal while digging up the past is haunting and teens love when that happens.

Want More John Green?

In 2007, John and his brother Hank hosted a popular internet blog, “Brotherhood 2.0,” where they discussed the happenings in their lives, books they liked and read as well as current events. They created a vlog every day for a year and then continued vlogging. You can follow John and Hank Green’s vlog, The VlogBrothers, here, and you can read John’s Tumblr page here.
Photo credit: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (John GreenUploaded by MaybeMaybeMaybe) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Courtney Leonard, buildOn supporter.

Featured Young Writer of the Month: Courtney Leonard, Making a Difference in Nicaragua

Courtney Leonard

On July 1, 2014, seven high school students from Reno, Nevada travelled to the tiny village of Bambu, Nicaragua to build a school for the impoverished families living there. These students had spent the better part of the previous school year raising over $30,000 to fund the actual materials and construction of the school. They went with a national non-profit organization called buildOn, a group striving to better the world through education by building schools in third world countries. buildOn works in Mali, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Nicaragua, Haiti, Senegal, and Nepal. In these countries, they travel to villages in which the families fall below the poverty line. Furthermore, these villages do not have schools suitable for a learning environment.

The buildOn crew!

The buildOn organization was started by Jim Ziolkowski, author of Walk in Their Shoes: Can One Person Change the World?, who built his first school in Malawi in the early 1990’s and is now part of buildOn’s movement. buildOn not only helps students in developing countries, but it also betters the lives of high school students in the United States. In cities where high school students will likely end up associating themselves with gangs and other unsafe groups, buildOn gives these students an opportunity to be part of something greater and not only become passionate about it, but to better the lives of other people around the world while also bettering their own lives. Over 500 schools have been built around the world through the efforts of buildOn!

This year’s trip to Nicaragua demonstrated to these students from Reno, Nevada how different third world countries truly are. Despite many problems in the United States, children are still faced with much greater opportunities here than they are presented with in places like Bambu. Bambu was a two hour drive away from any city in Nicaragua, and was located in the remote mountains. The village has limited roads, no plumbing, running water, or other luxuries that we consider to be necessities in the US. The little electricity they had allowed for two single light bulbs in each house and nothing else.

Future students of the buildOn school.

Not only are the accomodations in their homes scarce, but the resources in their schools are even more meager. The previous “schoolhouse” was nothing more than a single wall, a tin roof supported by branches, a whiteboard, and a few rows of desks.  The children did not possess books and merely had a single small notebook and perhaps a pencil or pen. Ages four through thirteen shared the same classroom and sat through the same lessons directed by two teachers (both under the age of 20). The buildOn organization and the students traveling on the trek, helped to build a two-classroom, four-walled cinderblock schoolhouse with concrete flooring and a substantial roof. Additionally, buildOn partners with the local district government to ensure that they will provide teachers, books, desks, and other learning materials.   They also guarantee that at least 50% of the students will be girls.

Ready to learn, with help from buildOn.

However, one of my biggest takeaways is that the children and young adults are so eager to learn! While most of the adult male villagers work on the local coffee plantation and the women stay at home, it was exciting to hear the dreams and ambitions of the young children of the village: “I want to be a doctor, teacher, lawyer, engineer, etc.” The gift of education can help these children realize their dreams, as well as improve the lives of the villagers around them.

My other eye-opening observation was that despite lack of the “creature comforts” that we expect to have in the USA, these people were still truly happy without all of the excess we have in our lives. Other than the occasional crying baby, not once did we hear a raised voice, see an unhappy face, or see a downtrodden look. The younger generation interacted continuously and seamlessly with the older generation, and there was always a steady stream of visitors through the humble home we shared with our host family. Everyone was always smiling! In fact, we had so many visitors in our family’s home that until the last day we were never sure who was and was not a member of the extended family! While I was happy to come home to a toilet vs. a latrine, a hot shower, and a meal other than rice and beans, I truly missed the simplicity of life in the village. We rose at 4:30 each morning with the sun to make tortillas with our “house mom,” and were working on the construction site side-by-side with the villagers by 7am, followed by a well-balanced lunch of more rice & beans at noon. Afternoons were filled with learning to cook traditional Nicaraguan meals, touring the coffee plantations, hiking to waterfalls in the amazing countryside or playing pato pato ganza (duck duck goose) and “London Bridge” with the children. Dinner was a light meal followed by story-telling and games with our village families. We introduced them to Uno, Jenga, Yahtzee, marbles … Lights out by 7:30 as the sun went down and darkness settled upon the village.

The most difficult part was saying goodbye. It is unlikely that we will ever return to the village, but we have become long-distance relatives to our host families and will do our best to remain in touch despite the communication challenges. And who knows, maybe someday we shall see the name of one of the children of our village of Bambu make the national headlines of Nicaragua or the international stage of the U.N.

As a final contribution to the new school, Little Pickle Press generously donated over 25 copies of “Your Fantastic Elastic Brain” to these children. These children have always been so grateful for what we have given them, and thus showed great appreciation for the books. We could not be more grateful for the help that Little Pickle Press has given to us!

Courtney Leonard is a senior at Sage Ridge School in Reno, Nevada.  She has been a member of the Sage Ridge School buildOn Chapter since her freshman year, contributing to raising over $60,000 each year to build schools in impoverished third world countries.  She participated in the treks to build the schools in Nicaragua in her sophomore and junior years.  This year, she is the President of the buildOn Chapter at Sage Ridge and will head up the efforts to raise another $30,000-$60,000 to build two more schools next summer. This year’s goal is to raise money to build one or two schools in Haiti.

Courtney is also active in her schools’ theatre program, is the co-editor of the school newspaper, and co-chair of the Sage Ridge Honor Council. She has always been an honor student throughout her Sage Ridge career.  In her spare time, Courtney runs a dessert business with her mom, tutors in Latin and Spanish, and enjoys snow-skiing and water-skiing.

The Word Gap: The Early Years Make the Difference

When Betty Hart and Todd Risely did their groundbreaking study known as the “Thirty Million Word Gap” it made a difference not just in parenting circles but in economics and education circles as well. Intently studying the affect of vocabulary and language in the homes of 42 different families, Hart and Risely found that the words we use in the formative years of language in children directly correlated to issues of poverty for families when limiting the words used and messages conveyed to young children.

The study was rather simple: spend time in the high, middle, and low income homes of the families and gather data in the areas of speech patterns, vocabulary, and communication techniques. What they found was a word gap in the early years of talking to children that seemed to follow the children throughout school that affected their performance both during their academic years and the workforce years that followed.

When I was parenting my daughter as a single mother in the 1980s I hadn’t heard of the 30 Million Word Gap but I was, unintentionally, using best practices from what Hart and Risely learned: I spoke to my child as if she were an adult and used big words with her that probably weren’t developmentally appropriate. At the time, I just had no one else to talk with and I was studying English Literature in college so I ran my summaries of Shakespeare and Wordsworth by her even though she was just shy of 4 years of age. While she didn’t understand me she was being exposed to new words and her vocabulary was growing. Sometimes, she impressed strangers with her grasp of the language but I knew it was simply due to her mother being lonely.

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If I were being completely honest I would have to admit that I raised a smart child out of sheer ignorance: I was cheating because I truly needed someone to talk to not because I set out to rear a little Einstein. While I studied in the college library she tagged along and plopped herself in front of the children’s section pretending to read. She occasionally asked me what a sound made and, because I was busy, I quickly told her things like “When you see ‘u’ and ‘e’ together at the end of a word they make the sound ‘ooo’. See how that works? Now go read by yourself.”

When I finally got to graduate school and read the 30 million word gap study I secretly rejoiced that I had done something right as a mom. Go, me! Especially since I don’t know what I’m doing with this parenting thing!  The truth is, it taught me how to communicate better with my children as they continued to grow and more kids were added to my family. Those crucial early years are why I support the efforts of Head Start and pre-K programs where children are exposed to reading and vocabulary to help make the difference when they are in their later years of school.

The Word Gap was an important part of parenting for me even if I didn’t know it. In our case, the study turned out to have some truth to it as she’s a college graduate herself who still loves to read. For us, it made all the difference.

Photoforía via photopin cc

Depression Press via photopin cc

Too many books?

Too Many Books?

I’m not sure when the topic suddenly became important; perhaps during that Cask of Amontillado moment when my husband found himself accidentally walled into the spare room thanks to a pile of paperbacks. Elbowing his way through Heinlein and King, Larry broached the subject.

“You have too many books.”

Inwardly protesting his use of the pronoun, I marshalled my wits and summoned my most persuasive argument.

“Nuh-UH!”

After a lengthy, rational discussion that featured minimal shouting and a limited number of expletives, it was finally decided that we should cull our substantial collection. We started with “Larry’s” bookcase.

“Okay, all of these books are good, so we can keep them.” Part one finished, he promptly turned his attention to “my” shelves. “I think we can get rid of most of these.”

“Wait a minute! I need all of these; we can’t just toss them.”

“What about this one? I haven’t seen you pick this one up in over a year.”

“You were working that day.”

“What about this one? You hate this book.”

“Yeah, well … Somebody gave me that one. If they come over and don’t see it, they might get offended.”

With an expression that might have resulted in eye sprain in a lesser man, Larry made further suggestions. I met each one with calmly deliberated rationalizations.

“It’s a first edition.”

“I’m going to read that on our next road trip.”

“I borrowed that from someone, but I don’t remember who.”

“I like the cover.”

By the time we got to the last shelf, the vein in Larry’s forehead was sticking out like a relief map. Out of the few thousand books that we actually keep in the house, we had a donation pile of … one.

“Are you sure you want to part with this one?”

“Yeah, it’s okay.”

“Positive? It doesn’t hold any fond memories of the time you were stuck in line at the Post Office, and this book saved your sanity? It doesn’t contain a descriptive phrase that you’re saving to put on a T-shirt? It’s not the perfect size to use as a paper weight in a twenty-six point five mile per hour wind?”

“No, go ahead.”

“Really?”

“Well …”

In the end, I summoned the courage to part with a few dozen volumes. Larry’s face lost its purple tinge, and I mentally tallied the space that was now freed up for yarn.

I wonder what will happen when we have to start on Junior’s books.

Mabel's Fables

Featured Customer of the Month:

Mabel's Fables

Today we’re looking northward for our customer of the month. Mabel’s Fables, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, embodies everything one could hope for in an independent bookstore. They not only have a huge selection of books (In English, Italian, French, and Mandarin!), they also either sponsor or take part in many programs that make them an invaluable part of their community.

Mabel’s Fables has been “GROWING BIG readers since 1988.” To this end, they say, “Mabel’s Fables knows that loving to read and learn begins at home. Our bookstore guides you through the ages and stages of reading––to help you build strong readers––for life. The Children’s Books You Need To Know, Books Your Kids Want To Read.”

The bookstore is a drop-off location for The Children’s Book Bank, a charitable organization that provides free books and literacy support in high-need neighborhoods. They also have a holiday Book Angel program that works toward the same end. In an effort to get good books into schools, they offer a 20% off discount to schools and libraries, with 30% off bulk orders of 20 books or more. They also offer a book fair program to schools, bringing their best titles into schools for fundraising purposes. Their Mabel’s Fables Baby Basket is a popular gift for new babies (and their parents), featuring a Moses basket filled with a selection of books and music designed as a starting block for baby’s first library. The bookstore also features Sally and Erika’s Storytelling Programs for Young Children. Sally and Erika are a mother daughter team that specializes in teaching new parents how to engage their children through language and music. Their Songs, Tickles, Bounces, and Rhymes brings families together for fun and learning.

Mabel’s Fables is truly at the heart of their community in Toronto. If you are visiting our neighbor to the north, be sure and stop in and browse the bookshelves––and don’t forget to bring in any gently used children’s books you might have, to spread the love of reading even further!

Small-town libraries

Small-town Libraries: Struggles and Strengths

They occupy tiny afterthought buildings or community center closets. They are understaffed or run on an honor system. They are frequently limited in scope and run on less than shoestring budgets.

In spite of all this, they are treasured.

They are small-town libraries, the hidden jewels of literacy. Often found in rural or impoverished areas, these little libraries are in some ways far more impressive than their big-city counterparts. What they lack in grand architecture and well-funded programming, small libraries make up for with welcoming atmosphere and overall “interestingness.”

They are usually stocked by donations, which means that you’ll almost always find unique volumes, long out of print, alongside newer titles. They are frequently staffed by volunteers, which means that you’re likely to be engaged in cheery conversation with someone you only just met. They are often relegated to small spaces, reducing the chance of having to chase your kids through endless stacks of books.

The existence of small-town public libraries is a testament to the people that start them. The local community center might offer space, while citizens cull their bookshelves for donations to the nascent collection. Volunteers sit for hours at a card table “checkout desk.” Bake sales and raffles are held to raise money. With luck, a bond issue might pass that increases funding, allowing for the purchase of a plot of land on which a tiny building is erected.

The entire community turns out to celebrate their hard-earned “real” library.

A small-town library is worthy of celebration, indeed. I’ve related fairy tales to enthralled children in one town, and been invited to share birthday cupcakes with a librarian and two patrons in another. I’ve exclaimed over yellowed and crumbling maps, and offered congratulations for a newly-acquired third-hand VCR and television combo in a fledgling multimedia room.

A small-town library is a monument to the people it serves. As such, it is up to the patrons to maintain it. Donate a book, or even a buck if you can spare one. Share your time and show your support. In these ways, citizens can keep their library, and the spirit it reflects, alive.

Concord Free Public Library

Featured Library of the Month:

Concord Free Public Library

The story behind the Concord Free Public Library is as interesting as the library itself. The citizens of Concord and their guests dedicated the Concord Free Public Library on Wednesday, October 1, 1873. Located at the intersection of Main Street and Sudbury Road (the present 129 Main Street), the library was founded through the generosity and vision of William Munroe, a Concord native who made a fortune in dry goods and textiles; after retirement, he developed a desire to use his accumulated wealth to benefit the town where he had been born and raised. The library was built in Victorian Gothic architectural style, and would have seemed very exotic to the people of Concord, as the town was still a primarily agricultural town with a population of not much more than 2,500 people and a pronounced local preference for traditional New England simplicity. Realizing that the library would need to expand in the future, Munroe left provisions in his will for its eventual growth.

Concord Free Public Library

As its building has grown and evolved over the years, Concord’s library has changed in other ways, too. The collections and the staff size are now approximately twenty-five times what they were when it first opened in 1873. Separate departments have evolved to handle administration, technical services, reference services, the particular needs of the children and young people of the town, and the research demands of those who seek information on Concord history, life, landscape, literature, and people. Automation and the Web have radically changed the way the staff functions and information is accessed. And yet, even as the library has changed, there has been a continuing re-commitment to the high standards of its founder and the idealistic aims that informed its establishment. Summarized from the library website.

The Concord Free Public Library is certainly a hub and mainstay for the community of Concord. New books are added to the collection daily, and library patrons can see what new books are available on the website. They feature a monthly concert series, Music on the Lawn, which is free to all attendees. Other summer activities have included a class on origami, family films, storytimes for various ages, and singalongs.

Concord Library’s Special Collections are truly an outstanding window onto the history of Concord and the surrounding area. They include the most comprehensive archive of primary and secondary source material related to Concord history, life, landscape, literature, people, and influence from 1635 to the present day. The collection includes printed books, archival and manuscript materials, pamphlets, ephemera, broadsides, maps, photographic and pictorial holdings, municipal records, printed town reports, street directories, vital records, genealogical volumes, historic building files, works of art, artifacts, and other types of material may be all used by the researcher in the Special Collections. Much of the Special Collections is cataloged online, with records available locally through the Minuteman Library Network and internationally through OCLC/FirstSearch.

The Concord Free Public Library is definitely a great place to spend a few hours—or days—in. From New York Times bestsellers to pamphlets published in the 1800’s, the library is truly a bookworm’s dream!

Reading Instead of Tweeting: Part II

I don’t just watch trends happen in education when it comes to reading: I live them daily. In my two decades as an educator in various capacities, I have seen my share of trends come and go when it comes to instruction of reading, but there are some constants and hard data that educators and parents use to make decisions about reading. The research is telling us a number of disturbing trends about how fewer parents are reading to their children and that in the previous 30 years we’ve seen reading decline further and further amongst children.

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So, when I hear things like “Kids just aren’t reading these days!” I have to stop myself from arguing against it when the research and data tells us that it’s true. Developmentally, reading is a part of what makes our imaginations blossom and our worldview expand, but I also know that there are other things capturing the attention of children.

Naturally, much of this discussion comes with advances in technology and apps that are appealing to younger and younger children. Getting my own teens to continue reading long after I stopped reading to them was a battle but we got lucky in that they found what interested them early on and it they were varied genres. Of course, I didn’t have to compete with smartphones or easily accessible apps to get my own children to read. While they were growing up the media that vied for their attention was the television or video games and even that wasn’t seen as an “addiction” like many believe it to be today.

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Even as the data comes in we are learning that there are concrete reasons for encouraging reading. Readathon focused on the National Literacy Trust data to help us see the important connection that reading has with our own joy:

“The National Literacy Trust cites overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship with a person’s happiness and success. A deep engagement with storytelling and great literature link directly to emotional development in primary children, according to The Rose Review, 2008 Independent Review of the Primary School Curriculum.”

Not long ago, Time used the data from Common Sense Media to explore what that decline looks like in actual numbers. What they shared is alarming but not surprising:

The decline in reading for fun is most easily explained by technological advances (i.e., kids would rather text than read), but education could have something to do with it as well. It’s no surprise that 53% of 9-year-olds read for fun every day, but only 19% of 17-year-olds do. Yes, the teenagers have more Instagrams to post, but they also have more homework to do.

Censorship: who decides?

Readathon tells us that reading matters but that developmental growth is shaped by allowing children to choose their books:

Over 96% believe ‘reading what they want’ helps children develop. Neither the content nor its format is considered as important as it once was. Many teachers welcome anything to encourage reading, including comics (90%), DVDs (55%) and even mobile phones (32%).

All hope is not lost, however, and PBS offered Tips for Encouraging Summer Reading (as many sites do yearly) which includes providing children with plenty of books and making time for reading as a sacred activity. Book Riot also offered a less scientific study that may be considered action research in discussing why we read what we read if we’re constantly naming the classics as our favorite books. Be sure to check out The Problem with Reading for Pleasure because it challenges us to think about our recommendations to other readers:

Whenever I meet someone who says they love books, I am quick to ask them to list some of their favorite books of all time. Most are drawn from a familiar pool (The Great GatsbyTo Kill a MockingbirdCatch-22, and the like) with a couple of more idiosyncratic titles thrown in. In general, the books mentioned are well-crafted, serious works of literary art. This fact stands in stark contrast to something else I’ve been watching closely: the dominance of crime and romance on bestseller lists.

How is it that most people’s favorite books are neither crime nor romance but these are the books that people buy most often?

The data tells us that children are reading less but just as quickly as apps are introduced and discovered by kids there are ways in which staunch supporters of reading communicate to us the danger in allowing the drift from doing something parents view as fiercely important to simply letting them go with the technological flow. Looking at the data and research did for me what it always does: it made me realize how precious and sacred reading is but it also forced me to actively protect and cultivate it.

For all that research tells us then, is it any wonder that I feel immeasurable joy when I catch my students reading while walking down the hallway or listening to them discuss their favorite books or making recommendations to their friends. Even in teen speak when I hear things such as, “You, like totally, have to read this book. It’s so awesome.” I know that they must see the value, too.

What are you noticing in the reading trends with your own children? Do you agree that kids aren’t reading as much when you consider your own family’s commitment to reading? 

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Reading Instead of Tweeting

This month at Little Pickle Press we’re perusing a lot of data about teens and reading and what it is that dominates their time. While we know that the research doesn’t lie, it’s hard to swallow some of the research that tells us that kids and teens just aren’t reading anymore. That’s probably because we’re all readers and have cultivated a family of readers in our own homes.

Do you remember sitting in the library waiting for a book to be returned or sitting down to read a book right away? We do!

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First, however, we have some questions for you! It’s our own bit of research, if you will.

Did your reading ever slow down while growing up? When did it happen?

If you had a period of time when you didn’t read as much how did you get back into it? What book brought you back?

Do you have a top 5 list of books that you often recommend to friends? (Tell us what’s on the list!)

Are your teens continuing to read or do you see slump happening?

Tomorrow, we will share some of the data and research we’re looking at as publishers who hope to keep kids reading. We can’t wait to see your answers!

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Green Libros

Featured B Corp of the Month:

Green Libros

Visitors to our house notice two things right off the bat: plenty of Beatles posters, and a few thousand books.

The wall-to-wall shelves in our front room house only a portion of our collection, but it’s still enough to supply a small town library. Although my husband makes cracks about “too many books,” he and I both know that we are very fortunate to have access to so much knowledge and entertainment. There are many people around the world who are not so lucky.

It’s for this very reason that Green Libros was started in Chile. Although the country’s literacy rate is impressively high at 97%, the sad fact of the matter is that less than half of the population has regular access to books. The books are either too expensive or just not available. Green Libros, one of the first social ventures in South America, seeks to remedy that situation.

Started in 2009, Green Libros has collected over 160,000 books that would otherwise be collecting dust or thrown away. They redistribute, donate, or recycle these books, raising funds for twelve non-profit partners and subtly influencing market prices (and education and equality) for the benefit of the people they seek to serve.

A Certified B Corp since 2012, Green Libros (like Little Pickle Press) works hard to “B” the change they seek.