In Which I Feel Something Needs to be Avenged

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what books to add to our library’s collection. There’s quite a bit to consider, actually. Informational texts that support the curriculum and standards. Replacing outdated stuff and filling in holes. Fulfilling student and staff requests. Getting the latest installments in popular series. Award-winners, notable books, things the kids really ought to read but probably won’t, things the kids are dying to read but arguably aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

This involves reading: publications like School Library Journal, review websites, publishers’ catalogs, authors’ social media outlets, even stuff like Entertainment Weekly. It involves chatting with teachers, kids, parents, fellow librarians, and other members of the Tribe of Avid YA Readers to find out what they and their kids/friends are loving.

But the best way to find good new stuff, as far as I can tell, is to actually get into the trenches and spend a few quality hours in a bookstore. This is especially true of books that are going to fit into my “guilty pleasure” category: books that will fly off the shelves, that aren’t going to win any awards or teach any Valuable Life Skills, but that will be falling apart from the sheer force of frequent circulation by the end of the year. It’s your Minecraft novelizations, your Ever After High, your Adventure Time graphic novels and variations on the “1,000 gross things you didn’t know about _______” theme. They’re not going to show up on any of the websites or magazines, but they’re must-have items in a middle school library.

Today, while on a quest for junior adaptations of high-difficulty classic novels, I took a break to browse the new middle-grade fiction and found something that immediately caught my eye. Before I even opened the front cover, I knew it had to go on my wish list. Behold:

hulk

 

It was a perfect cream puff. Very popular movie/comic book tie-in. Library-bound so it’s durable and easy to process. Just under 200 pages, in a friendly font that would make it accessible for all but our weakest readers. Marketed for third through seventh grades, ages 8-12. Right around $10, not counting my educational discount. Perfect, perfect, perfect.

Ah, I thought. Where there’s Hulk, there might be….

Sure enough, a little ways down I found Hulk’s not-quite-as-puny-god friend:

thor

Excited, I wrote down both ISBNs for future purchase consideration and returned to my intended business. About an hour later, parsing the differences between illustrated adaptations of Great Expectations began to get to me, so I took another walk. And I found the other half of the series:

iron man

 

and

9780316383523

Dear reader, I am incensed.

Let me show you something else. I just Google Image Searched “Avengers t-shirt kids.” Here’s a screen shot of the top page of results. Click it to see it a little bigger and see if you don’t see what I don’t see.

ss

Let’s make it a little more obvious, shall we?

 

Here, what about toys?

Hmm. Funny, but I seem to remember that there was a woman in the Avenger movies. Well, more than one, obviously — Pepper Potts, Peggy Carter, and Maria Hill are all important elements of the films as well — but there’s an actual member of the Avenger team who happens to be female and who also conveniently vanishes when it’s time to print a t-shirt (or, apparently, write a junior novelization).

I’m not the only person to notice this trend. Take a peek at …But Not Black Widow, which points out that Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise is also conspicuously missing one green-hued heroine. The Geekquality blog, with its byline that “all geeks are created equal,” saw it at Target. Mommyish found the gaping absence running rampant throughout the wide world of Disney paraphernalia. There are lots of websites, lots of blogs, wondering the same thing I’m wondering, but what you really need to read is this article from Business Insider. It’s talking specifically about Gamora but I guess it answers the mystery of the missing Black Widow, too. For those of you who don’t have the time to read the article, I’ll grab the important bit:

tcp

Ah, I see. Superhero stuff is for boys, and it would make their little boy parts shrivel up and fall off if they wore a shirt with a female superhero on it or had a female superhero among their action figures.

Come on, guys. We’re officially firmly in the land of Joss Whedon here. Surely we can do better than this?

(I’m not even going to get into the whole “sexist girl’s Avengers shirt” thing. It’s similarly fantastic.)

I’m sorry, but Black Widow kicks ass, and it’s not only girls who think so. She’s a fascinating character with her uncertain alliances, believable vulnerabilities, and refusal to fall into the obvious romantic story lines. She’s witty, assertive, and possesses more common sense at times than the rest of the crew put together. I want to know more about her. I want to read her library-bound middle-grade origin story. I want to wear a shirt with Black Widow on it, and not in some ridiculous “check out my butt” pose.  (Iron Man and the other guys — hey, I’m permitted my biases — kick ass too. I’d also like to read their origin stories. And I do wear shirts with them on them.)

In the defense of author Alex Irvine and his publisher, he does say that these are the “first four” in the series. But why are they separated off like this? Why not release the whole gang at once? Why put Black Widow on the B-side?  And frankly, he hasn’t said yet what, if any, the subsequent books will be. I’m not going to be even a little surprised if Loki and Nick Fury get books before Natasha. Or maybe BW doesn’t even get her own book — maybe this “ensemble cast” book, scheduled to come out in March, is all she gets.

I just don’t get it. I don’t believe that boys really won’t want something that includes the whole team. And frankly, if that is the case, isn’t that something we should be pushing back against instead of enabling? I bet you that if their only choice was “Avengers shirt including Black Widow” (or “Guardians shirt including Gamora”) or no Avengers shirt at all, that they wouldn’t hesitate. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the “boys don’t want girls on their shirts” thing is an invention of adults who grew up in a different era.

I’ve got over a thousand kids who use my library, about half of whom are boys. I’ve got a lot of kids of both genders who love Marvel superheroes. I know a cream puff when I see it; these Avengers books are going to be wildly popular. And when — if — a Black Widow title is released, it’s going to be just as popular. Why? Because my kids recognize and respect fun characters who kick ass and would probably have all kinds of choice words to say if I suggested that they couldn’t read about a female superhero just because she’s a girl.

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Work

Mom has told me that she knows when I’m not liking something or when something isn’t going well because I just stop talking about it.

Work has been hard this year, so far. Adjustments, change, things like that. I guess no job is ever going to be a complete hayride, right?

I still am very happy to be where I am doing what I’m doing. There are just things that I miss. People. You know how it is. It is what it is.

Building a Better Yearbook

Last year I took over as the yearbook advisor (adviser? This is one of these words whose ambiguous spelling haunts me) for our middle school.

I love graphic design and bookmaking and yearbooks. I do. And I was once the editor of our school yearbook — our middle school yearbook, when I was in eighth grade. (I started to do yearbook in high school, but the story of that disaster is a whole blog post unto itself.) So sure. Definitely qualified.

Well… let’s just say that we ended the year with a yearbook. And honestly, it’s not bad. Some people even thought it was good. I love the cover art, I love that there are few enough mistakes that no one has brought any to my attention yet (I’m not so crazy as to assume there really aren’t any), and I love that we got it done on deadline.

But there are so, SO many things that I would have done differently. Fortunately I get that chance this year. Some of my thoughts as I forge ahead:

  1. I still am not sure what to do about my staff, but at least I have my applications in hand. I have too many good 8th graders applying and too few good 7th graders, too many girls and too few boys. I can take them all and have an enormous staff; I can cut some excellent applicants in favor of a smaller, more manageable group. I haven’t decided and I’ve had months to do so. Sigh.
  2. I’m not going to ask the staff about the theme. I know what our theme is going to be, I know approximately what the yearbook is going to look like, and I’m not interested in reopening a yearlong debate with fourteen-year-old girls. They’ll still have creative control of their own pages, within reason, but I’m seizing creative control of the cover, dividers, etc.. Someone may complain now, but they’ll thank me in May.
  3. REALLY hoping I can have my yearbook staff at least 1-2 times a week during Advisory… please oh please… will make such a big difference in terms of communication and organization.
  4. I want to highlight some of the previously overlooked groups and activities in the school. There’s a lot going on that gets skipped in the yearbook due to other, “bigger” organizations and lack of pages. But I think I can address that this year.
  5. I need to figure out how to teach rudimentary design to really young designers — specifically the idea of working off a grid instead of plopping down pictures willy-nilly. Last year, I was really in the “let’s just get it done” frame of mind. This year, I want to get it done well. I want them to have learned something by the time they finish it. I want them to have designed something that they’ll be proud of when they graduate high school.
  6. Definitely going to be more conscious of and deliberate about photography. I’m going to do some direct instruction on photography, and now that I’ve unraveled the mystery of the yearbook cameras we’ll have much better equipment. Last year’s photography was a fiasco. This year, I’m going to be proactive and protective.

Speaking of photography! We have one big D-SLR with some good lenses that will probably rarely be in anyone’s hands but my own. Then we have a set of Nikon CoolPix cameras that are sturdy and surprisingly good. I found the Nikon interface a little confusing, so I took the newest one with me on a family vacation to master it before trying to teach its use to students. I’ll tell you what; for a smaller digital camera without the ability to swap out lenses, the CoolPix was pretty impressive! I loved playing with the epic (yes, epic) zoom capabilities; when other people reached for binoculars to spy on distant sea lions, I grabbed my camera instead.

Here’s an example. Check out this sunset photograph I took on August 7 in Bandon, Oregon:

ship1

You may not realize it, but there’s a boat in that picture. Here, I’ll circle it for you:

ship2

See it yet? You can click on the photograph to enlarge it, if that will help.

Anyone who has ever tried to photograph the moon knows that objects appear much smaller through a camera lens. I could see that boat with the naked eye, but it certainly wasn’t clear — just an obviously manmade object, moving slowly along the horizon. I decided to use my camera to get a closer look.

ship3

From this vantage, I had about as much detail of the boat in my camera as I did with just my eyes. So I zoomed in closer. (By the way, none of these pictures are cropped or zoomed in after I took them. They are original files straight from the camera.)

ship4

I love this picture, but I knew I could see more because I hadn’t even started to play with digital telephoto yet.

I kept zooming and got this:

ship5

Look at the detail, kids. Look at that. Just look at it. Wow.

And the thing is, I think I could have zoomed in until I saw the people on the boat, if I’d had a tripod. The problem with super duper zoom is that you can’t keep the subject in your viewfinder without steadying the camera, and in this case I had the added problem of a drifting subject. This is one of several different shots I took, each with the boat careening out of view, except this one.

So yeah. I’m pretty happy with these cameras. I think we can do some really good work with them this year. I’m especially looking forward to some good sports and performing arts photography.

And no, Nikon didn’t tell me to write this. But if someone from Nikon reads this and wants to adopt my yearbook staff and give us new gear, I’d be delighted to review it. 😉

Anyway, wish me luck with my yearbook staff and with doing a good job with yearbook on top of my other responsibilities. This is my year when I’m going to kick things up a notch, or at least when I’m going to try. Lots of ideas, lots of blank slates…. whee!

 

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

[Cross-posted at GuysLitWire]

Let’s face it: we are all of us, but perhaps especially young guys, guilty of judging books by their covers. That’s why books have cover art, after all, and it’s why we have terrific, heated conversations about that art when it doesn’t match up to reader — or worse, author — expectations. (An example.) It’s no surprise that a book with a really kickbutt cover can gain wings to fly off the shelves, which is how Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas got selected for my middle school library and why I had to wait until summer vacation to get my hands on a copy.

The ingredients:

  • a ferocious, sexy female assassin
  • two male best friends, both smitten by said assassin, neither willing to violate Bro Code by pursuing her since the other also likes her
  • an evil king
  • a rebel princess
  • political intrigue
  • a competition to the death
  • a mysterious power lurking in the bowels of the castle
  • a fairy tale land that has lost its magic

This book, its sequel (Crown of Midnight), and its collected prequels (The Assassin’s Blade) proved enormously popular with my male readers, so I was imagining that it was an action-packed magical gorefest. By the time I finally got the chance to read them, I was surprised to find that these were much more feminine than I would have guessed. The heroine, Celaena, is almost disturbingly vain and girly, and the love triangle takes up a significant chunk of the story. Celaena is obsessed with her appearance and uses it like any James Bond femme fatale would — as a weapon. And as the series progresses, things in that love triangle heat up to a degree that had me running for my roll of YA stickers.

And yet, despite being clearly focused on things more commonly attributed as “girl” interests, they remain a hot commodity among my guys. There’s a lot of good fighting, dark mystery, and a thread of high fantasy running through the tale. Yeah, the guys are starry-eyed for their pet assassin, but they don’t stop acting like dudes — they still fight, they still notice other girls, they do their jobs, and they don’t forget to think about their guy friends. There are weapons, enchanted objects, duels, and betrayals aplenty.

It also bears mentioning that this series has a prominent, powerful, female PoC character, it passes the Bechdel test, and the courting behavior of the male characters would be a pretty decent example to the young men who read it.

In all honesty, this series started weak to me. Book 1 (Throne of Glass) is kind of disjointed, with an assassin who worries about breaking her nails and a bunch of bad guys with murky motivation. Something about the characters and premise made me go back for more, though, and I am SO glad that I did. Crown of Midnight was outstanding, and left me anxious for book 3 (to be released this September; Maas anticipates writing 6-7 in total, thus breaking the oh-so-common Rule of Three in YA literature). The prequels were surprisingly good as well, and did a lot to round out Celaena’s character development.

I’d recommend this series for teens and young adults, probably grade 8 and older. Guys and gals alike will find something to love about these books.

Threadbare

Two weeks ago today, someone turned in one of our copies of Allegiant. I checked it in and, as expected, saw that it was on hold for another student. I printed out the hold notice, then got one of our narrow sticky notes and wrote the student’s last name and the date on it. I remember thinking, as I sometimes do (because I’m a nerd about names) that I liked the look and feel of this student’s name as I wrote it down. Just had a pleasant combination of consonants. Like I said: nerd.

I then looked up the student’s class schedule, found out where she was at that moment, and wrote the room number on the hold notice. I handed it to one of our student library aides to be delivered. Later that day, the student came to the library, got her book off the holds shelf, and checked it out.

We check out Allegiant a lot. It’s the recently-published finale to a very popular trilogy; the movie based on the first book is still in theaters. So I don’t remember, honestly, if my memory of this transaction was for this student, or for someone else checking out the book, or how many different kids I said the exact same thing to. To some girl at about the right time — perhaps to this girl — I smiled as I handed her the book, made a comment about how she must be excited to finally get it, and then recommended that she have some kleenex handy as she read it.

This particular copy of Allegiant was due today. The girl with the satisfying last name is dead. She was hit by a car while riding her bicycle on Easter evening and died last night.

When you work in the schools, you end up knowing an awful lot of people — especially in a smallish community like ours, where you have a pretty decent chance of recognizing any name you see on the news. A lot of educators develop the habit of half-consciously scanning arrest records and news stories for familiar names. Our student’s name hasn’t been released by the media, but when I saw that evening that there had been a bike-car accident involving a 13-year-old, and saw the location, I knew that this was almost certainly one of our kids. The following day that would be confirmed. I’d learn that she was one of my husband’s students. Other devastating details came to light. For two days we held out hope, and then we learned that it was over. Queued up the emergency phone tree at about 9 pm. Spread the word. Picked out a blue outfit to wear in her honor because it was her favorite color.

As far as I really know, the entirety of my relationship with this little girl was that I processed a hold for her, and I put her picture and name in the yearbook. She was a fairly regular library patron, based on her circulation history, but not one of the ones who interacted a lot with me.

Still, I feel heartbroken. It feels deeply personal to me. I don’t know how (or if) people avoid thinking about all of the connections. My head and heart are full of her parents, her siblings, her friends who I see red-eyed in the halls at school today, her teachers who are trying to seem strong. I am thinking about the driver. I am thinking about the adolescence and adulthood she won’t have, about her infancy and all her family’s hopes and dreams for her. I’m thinking about the book and wondering if she finished reading it, whether it will come back to the library, what I should do with it if it does. I’m thinking that is a stupid thing to be thinking about.

Although it is a vastly different situation, I’m thinking about my student M—-, who died on May 12 of last year. She was upset about a break-up and ended up throwing herself under a train. I was on maternity leave and all I could think was whether things might have been different if I’d been at school that week instead of at home with my own baby. M—- and I had been relatively close; I’d been her English teacher for a few years, and had tried to help her with some bullying/bad friend issues in the past. Given the dynamics of the failed relationship, I probably would have been one of the first people she would have come to talk to if I’d been there. I’m reliving my feelings of guilt and regret.

I’m thinking about the baby I held, hugging him close to me as M—-‘s name hit the news, and my solar plexus, that day. I know one day soon I’ll have to let my little boy get on his bicycle and ride out of my arm’s reach, out of my sight. I’ll have to trust that he’ll be safe, that he won’t trust a crosswalk with his life, that he won’t ever let a broken heart stop beating. It’s hard to fathom having the strength to let go on a day like today.

I’m thinking about how my coworkers must be reliving the loss of another student, just a kid, who took his own life last year. Loss is tied to loss. Our principal reminded us this morning that this week’s tragedy might stir up pain from unrelated events, that we should look out for our colleagues even if they didn’t personally know the deceased. It was a good thing to say. I didn’t know how hard this would hit me. It is good to remember that in all of the different reactions people have to something like this, none are likely to be unique.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.” C. S. Lewis wrote that in A Grief Observed, following his wife’s death. It seems like a perfect description of today. He goes on to describe a sort of juxtaposed need for isolation and company, wanting others to be nearby but finding conversation too much to bear: “If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” It’s true that I want to hide under my desk with a box of kleenex, but simultaneously I want to walk, want to be in the back of a room where other people are talking. I want to be sleeping or perhaps just staring at a wall, but I also want to be doing something, anything, to feel like I am in some way helping. I feel wrapped up, muffled, in Lewis’s invisible blanket of sadness. It isn’t a warm blanket, but it is well-worn and widely shared.

Yearbook 2013-14: Mischief Managed

 

 

 

As of about 4 PM on April 1, the 2013-14 yearbook was complete and sent to the printers.

bookprogress

Custom cover art by Meredith Fern Messinger:

cover

 

Spreads by a staff of fifteen, plus Ryan and myself:

yearbook thumbnails

 

At the very last minute, I discovered extra space in the 8th grade section, so I ran a report of 8th graders who had no candids in the book and went on a mission. I pulled as many of them as possible from class, convinced them to do funny poses, and took their pictures. Then Ryan used his Advanced Photoshop Ninja Skills to cut them out from their backgrounds, and I stayed up until after midnight making the page on the right below. Glad I did. They’re going to like it:

26-27b

This was definitely a “building year” for yearbook, at least for me. I got off to a late start, didn’t do the best possible job acquiring staff, and really did a lot of last-minute learning on the job. Now that it is behind me, and I have some breathing room, I have SO many ideas for the future. And I just found out that we have some money to work with, so I’m excited about updating our equipment and getting some new “toys”. I want to add a signature to our book so we have some room to design instead of just cramming as much as possible into the space we have, and I think we want to buy or build some sort of green screen for cutouts. We need a telephoto zoom, too, for sporting events. I’ve started collecting ideas on a Pinterest board and am going to get all my foundations taken care of this spring, instead of next fall, so that we can hit the ground running and do an amazing job with the 2014-15 book. That said, I’m very pleased with the way this one turned out, all things considered!

Brief Notes on a Used Book Sale

Used book sale was an ungodly amount of work, and I can’t say that I’m displeased that it’s over and done with, but it was also a success. We collected well over 4,000 books, sold about 2,000 of them (or so we figure, given that we made about $1,000) and gave away a couple dozen to disadvantaged students.

We had a lot of people in the library, which was good. No one had had time to think about anything other than the sale, though, so we hadn’t updated our book display (still had valentines) and we forgot to turn on the LIB-TV. That’s not as good. But something to consider for the next one.

Ack. “Next one.” Shudder.

Supporting the notion that it is best to start children early on their road toward book-hoarding, H came down to the used book sale both days.

Henry visits the used book sale

Gah, I could just eat him up.

Anyway, we had a couple thousand leftover books, which we boxed up this morning with the help of the student council, and which are now residing in the school’s decommissioned boxcar until needed next year. Lots of great books left, so if you missed this year’s sale, make sure to pay attention for the next one. Shudder.

 

Book Drive

I’m taking a few minutes to sit, and it was either stare gloomily at Pinterest or come over here, so here I am.

I’ve just realized that I never made my work coffee this morning. The coffee in my mug, only half-consumed, was brewed at 6:30 AM. Yum. No wonder I’m tired and thirsty.

Man, I hurt.

Since having Henry, I’ve had pelvic pain — not severe enough that I’ve felt the need to do anything about it, but the muscles or tendons or whatever in there just aren’t as well-strung as they once were. I’m always “yoinking” my hips. Pushing something heavy — say, a cart full of books — goes straight to my pelvis, and because the hip bone is connected to the back bone, that then goes to my lower back, which goes to my stomach, and so basically I’m spending a fair amount of time wishing I could somehow ace-bandage my hip joint into the pelvic bone. Add to that all of the lugging-of-baby and weird positions we sit in while holding babies, and I’m pretty sure I’d make a chiropractor cackle with glee and call his accountant with good news.

So our school has a used book sale every year, which is this massive labor-intensive project, and has been head up for the past several years by a supermom volunteer who lets boxes of books take over her entire garage for the sale while they are sorted and stored. This year, I was encouraged to do the sale again despite the fact that supermom had moved out of state — and no other parents were jumping up and down to take her place. The easiest solution seemed to be for me to step into the volunteer coordinator’s role. I mean, how hard could it be to sort donated books as they come in?

And the answer is, not hard — but hard. I mean, my brain doesn’t falter under the weight of book sorting. But I’ve spent the better part of the day, every day for the last week, pushing around heavy (poorly-wheeled) carts full of often grimey books, bending over, picking them up, sorting them into cardboard boxes, and moving/stacking filled cardboard boxes. And if you’ve ever had the misfortune to help us move, or anyone else with a sizeable collection of books, you know exactly how much fun cardboard boxes full of books are. Nearly 2,200 books so far, and three more days worth coming — hopefully getting us close to my goal of 5,000 (about half of what we’ve had in the past, and not nearly as well sorted, but I’m trying to finish up a yearbook and be a librarian too, so it’ll be what it’ll be).

I don’t mean to complain. It’s kind of fun, and I took it on myself. But it is really exhausting, and really physically demanding, and I hurt.

It’s an interesting project. I open a bag or box of books and it’s a little window into the donor. Most of the kids are bringing in benign bags of outgrown children’s books, but the teachers are culling from their own collections. It’s fun to reach in and pull out a double fistful of gory thrillers, or enough romance novels to fill a bookshelf. Political books! Pedagogy books! Books that reveal religious beliefs, eating habits, family issues. I open a bag and discover a kindred spirit, or someone with whom I apparently disagree on just about everything.

(I want to take a second right now to say that I have no idea which person is connected to which book; if there were names on the boxes/bags, they’ve long since been removed by the time I get around to sorting.)

Who is this person? I wonder. We would have so much to talk about. Or: I wish I knew so I’d be sure never to bring up politics around them.

Then again, that’s a silly game to play, because maybe these books didn’t belong to any of my coworkers at all. They could be a spouse’s books, or books left over from a neighbor’s garage sale, or books they collected for the drive from all of their church friends.

And besides, they’re the books that the donor decided to get rid of — not her treasured personal library. What says more about a person: the books on her shelf, or the books in her donate pile?

By the way, I searched for a picture of cardboard boxes to illustrate this post, and found the picture below, and now I can’t wait for Henry to be big enough to do this because DUDE.

Maze-made-from-cardboard-boxes

Herding Cats, With Pencils and Word Processors

Although I’m wise enough to recognize that this is not going to be the year that I write 50,000 words toward a novel’s first draft, I was pretty pleased to once more be behind the wheel of my school’s Young Writers Program for National Novel Writing Month.

progress charts

This is the fifth or sixth year (I forget exactly) that I’ve run the YWP, and I’d had aspirations of simplifying the whole mess and putting more of the responsibility on the shoulders of the participants. In the end, I just can’t let go of the control I like to have over its (relatively) smooth execution, so once again I’m up to my eyeballs in charts, mailers, and milestone prizes. Admittedly, I make this all MUCH harder on myself than strictly necessary. Most YWP advisors are running it for a class, with about 30 participants to keep track of. Each participant earns a sticker for each 10% toward his/her goal, and then you win a button at the end. NaNoWriMo achieved.

But where’s the fun in that? So instead, I aggressively recruit schoolwide, ending up with about 100 participants (my highest was about 130; this year is my smallest group, with just under 90 kids) and set up an elaborate program that keeps them excited about recreational/quasi competitive writing. I invest time and money in extra prizes, and tend to keep the hallways well-worn with encouraging notes. We do t-shirts, an end-of-event party, the whole nine yards.

This year, I’m skipping the after-school write-ins (which involve time, energy, and candy) in lieu of providing ten lunch passes for kids to come in and type after they eat. And I’m cutting back on deliveries by creating a mailbox system, leaving it up to the kids to pick up the majority of their notes and prizes as the month goes on. This is the innovation that excited and terrified me the most, but it seems to be working pretty well. That’s the benefit to doing this out of a library instead of a classroom; I actually have a public space that is accessible to the entire school.

setupI’m SUPER excited about the prizes I have this year. I found a place that makes customized pencils, and a place that makes customized silicone bracelets, very quickly and inexpensively. On top of that, I’ve been collecting leftover buttons from past YWPs for the past few years, and have enough to give them out as milestone prizes this year. I’ll likely wipe out my supply, but I figure if I do a really stellar job with this in 2013, I might be able to parlay that into some additional funding for next year and buy more customized prizes.

prizesOne of the things I really love about this program is how it is accessible and fun and rewarding to pretty much any kid. I’ve got some really brilliant kids involved in this — you’re going to attract GT students with this sort of event — but some of my most excited writers are kids who previously didn’t have a venue to feel successful and included in the school. We’re talking kids with very limited English, or kids in almost entirely special education classes and very low academic ability. Then there’s the “freaks and geeks,” which believe me, I say with the ABSOLUTE highest affection, because they are my tribe. I just love how this event embraces the kids who may not be great students, who certainly aren’t great athletes, and gives them a community and a chance to win just by doing something that they love.

So yeah, I’m going to be a frazzled nutcase this month. But it will be worth it. 🙂

Seven Things About My New Job

This is my first Monday in the library, and the beginning of my third week as a middle school librarian. I’ve had several questions — from my new coworkers as well as from commenters on the DYHJ Facebook page — about how it’s going, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my new job.

1. No one would ever believe how bustling and busy this library is. I’ve never seen anything like it. When they release the barbarian hoards from the cafeteria before school, probably a hundred kids rush into the library, and we’re still checking out books for the “it’s worth it to be tardy if I can get this book” crowd after the first bell rings. That’s small potatoes compared to break, when the library fills wall-to-wall with children. Even with two people manning the circulation desk, we can’t get through the line before break ends. It’s standing room only with kids reading, visiting, playing chess and checkers, or watching other kids playing. Sixth grade lunch passes are the most coveted property on campus. In a normal week there are 40 class periods; we have 39 different classes who come in each week or every other week to check out books, not including classes who will eventually schedule library time for special projects. The library has only been open for book check-out for a week, and we currently have almost 1,700 books in circulation (and a great many items on hold). This library is alive and it’s awesome.

2. Did I mention that the vast majority of our library patrons are boys? Because they are. Our library is stuffed from bell to bell with 11 to 14-year-old boys. How cool is that? And we don’t even let them play computer games!

3. I’m working with special education students for the first time. I know that sounds odd, considering I taught for five years, but as a secondary English teacher I rarely worked with students whose special needs were severe enough to require out-of-mainstream classes. I worked with many students on the autism spectrum — but only very highly functioning kids — and only ever had two with significant cognitive or physical impairment. The students in our special education classes here spend a lot of time in the library, and I’m finding myself very lucky to be getting to know them. We have an entire wall of picture books, and many of these kiddos zero in on them, but others are really fond of the illustrated nonfiction books and will check out volume after volume on their favorite subject (usually animals). I watch their teachers and aides working with them and I still feel astonished at their ability to help, guide, and instruct these students — but as I get to know them, I can understand why a person would love that career!

4. I get to go shopping. For books. With someone else’s money. What a great gig, right? In fact, we had a bit of a windfall this year, which means that I get to really go to town updating our nonfiction section to include CCSS-connected informational texts, and adding the latest and greatest to our fiction and graphic novel sections. I’m about to place a sizeable order, as a matter of fact. The flip side of this coin is that I get to/have to read a lot of middle-level books now, as I need to adjust to and keep up with the current middle level literature. I had some vague idea that I’d be reading as a part of my job, but I’ve yet to see an opportunity to just sit down with a novel while I’m on the clock. So, I’ve always got reading “homework” even when I don’t necessarily want to read something at the PG level… Talk about your problems 😉

5. I’m not 100% certain where I fit in the school. I am paid as a teacher, am certified as a teacher, and even get observed and evaluated like a teacher (although I’ll be darned if I can figure out what criteria will be used for that, given the fact that I have relatively little organized student contact). On the emergency phone tree, though, I’m one of the people responsible for calling a list of teachers — keeping company with the administrators and counselors. The library is connected to the main office suite, set apart from the classrooms. I interact more often with administration than with teachers, and my duties are far more administrative than educational, most days. So what am I? A teacher librarian? A library adminstrator? This school’s social structure doesn’t lend itself toward ambiguity in this area….

6. I like my new job, but I miss my old life. In fact, I really like my new job. I love my coworkers, and I love getting to do nothing but think about books all day long (haha, that’s a joke, because we’re so busy I don’t have time to think about anything, much less books!). But I have to be fair to myself and acknowledge that in leaving, I left behind all of my friends and a career that never felt like “a job.” I have over a thousand students now instead of the 170-180 about which I used to complain, and I’m getting to where I recognize a handful of them and know a few names, but I’m not going to feel close to these kiddos in the same way that I did my most sympatico high school students. I miss bantering with my nerdy almost-adults in the ITE program, or waxing eloquent about archetypes in science fiction films from the past fifty years, or scandalizing seniors by introducing them to phallic and yonic symbols and pointing them out in classical literature. I don’t miss grading essays, feeling afraid of surly male students three times my size, wondering how to teach a lesson without printer ink/photocopies, or dealing with the latest student suicide attempt, juvenile detention, pregnancy, or conveniently-timed “miscarriage.” But I sorely miss hanging out in the teacher breakroom in the English wing, chatting with my friends about everything from Chaucer to church gossip, comparing pregnancies and babies, throwing our collective hands up in the air over the latest catastrophe to befall the district. CHS was one of my homes, and it’s hard (and surreal) to not be there any more, and to know how very different it is than it used to be — because even if I were still at CHS, it wouldn’t be the same CHS, because so many people have gone their separate ways.

7. Sometimes it is really hard to keep a straight face around twelve-year-olds. Without going into too many details, I had to confront a boy who was downloading inappropriate photos on a library computer, and the excuse he gave me — well, let’s just say that it’s been entertaining the staff here for the past couple of days!

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