CLICK HERE for quick access to the materials for the 2016-17 Speculative Fiction Genre Study.
The website now features UNRESTRICTED access, including notes from our meetings; however, in order to attend the meetings in person, you must be a member of ARRT. Click here for information about how you can join.


I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Friday, February 17, 2017

RA for All Roadshow Visits Loudoun County [VA] Public Library Teen Services Staff Retreat

Today I am appearing virtually to deliver a live program to the teen services staff of the multi-branch Loundoun County [VA] Public Library. We will be doing my RA for All Signature program which follows Becky's Ten Rules of Basic RA Service.

This program is quite easy for me to deliver live from afar. It is just as instructive and inspiring, but without the travel, it is also much cheaper. 

Another perk for everyone reading this today, attendees and non-attendees, is that since we are dealing with teen services, I also promised to include a list of RA resources for helping teen readers.

You can find that below. Now let’s get the learning started.

Becky’s Favorite RA Resources for Teens

All of the following resources are ones I use to both educate myself on the biggest trends AND to identify books that are perfect for display, booklists, or to actively suggest to readers.
  • Teen Services Underground: Their mission, "To support, promote, advocate, and build a community space to highlight the importance of Teen Services in minding the gap.” They have a strong focus on RA including this archive of RA Tools and Advice. Go here first. They are on top of trends and have very useful lists and links. The site is well organized and easy to navigate.
  • SLJ’s Teen Librarian Toolbox: Their mission, "Teen Librarian Toolbox (TLT) is a professional development website for teen librarians, created by Karen Jensen and collecting the experience of four MLS librarians and over 50 collective years of library work. Our mission is to to help libraries serving teens (and anyone who cares about teens) and to foster a community of professional development and resource sharing by providing quality information, discussions, book reviews and more.  We welcome guest posts and our book review policy can be found here.  We are available for presentations, seminars, and consulting on a limited basis. Contact us for more information.” The inclusion of reviews by actual teens is a plus here.
  • YALSA: You are probably a member, but do you take advantage of ALL of the wonderful book lists. I use them when I am stuck for a suggestion, especially the older lists. Teens love it when you can find a good read for them that they knew nothing about. And since kids age out of Teen Services so quickly, a list from only 3 years ago can be your secret weapon suggestion.
  • NoveList Plus: You guys have a subscription. The Teen content is very helpful, not only to look up books, but also, the training materials that are specifically geared toward explaining genres and trends for a Teen audience. The ARRT YA Popular Fiction List is also available for free on NoveList. So use it! 
  • Keep track of Adult books that would work for teens. Crowd source your own lists to add to ones like the Alex Award or Booklist’s Editors Choice Adult Books for Young Adults. Compile these somewhere in the cloud [Goodreads, Tumblr, Blog] where you, your staff, the adult staff, and the teens can all easily access the titles. Linking them to the catalog record is also a great idea. This will allow teens to more easily help themselves in the adult fiction area, but also, it will make it easier for the adult staff when teens come a knocking. 
  • Of special interest- “How To Use Snapchat for Readers’ Advisory” from SLJ and Heather Booth’s Keynote on serving Teens from ARRTapolooza.

I also have a few Teen Service Pro-Tips to share:
  • If you can, put all formats of books together in teen areas. The book, audiobook, graphic novel adaptation, and QR codes for downloadables all on the shelf together [where applicable]. A book to today’s teen is about the content NOT the format. Format is irrelevant. They dont want to move throughout your building to 10 different place for the same “book."
  • Put as many books on display as possible, but don’t spend a ton of time on signage. Simply put out a picture or a few words and then place some books nearby. Then, encourage the teens to add to the displays. They should be invited to pull books out of the collection that they think fit your current theme.
  • As you are booktalking to teens in the stacks, DO NOT hand them the books you are trying to handsell. Grab a book off the shelf, provide a quick appeal based soundbite and then simply place the book down on any flat surface and walk on the the next title. Pull that one off the shelf and repeat. Do not worry about scattering books everywhere. Simply walk away after you have book talked a few and go back to what you were doing. There is a higher chance the teen will actually take at least one of these haphazardly scattered title home with this method. Later, you can go back and straighten up the books that are left behind. Although leaving them out might mean that kid who doesn’t talk to you will find a good book too. If it is out of place, someone will pick it up and give it a second look. Just embrace the chaos and put whatever unshelved titles are still out on a cart before you close for the night.
  • Start a big buddy program where teens can help match younger kids with books. Teens providing RA to kids. They can do it in person or virtually, with reviews, lists, or annotations. Or simply ask them to create displays in the Youth Department. You will learn a lot more about their reading habits and what really appeals to them by having them think about their favorite books of just a few years ago. [This advice is very similar to the appeal exercise I have done with you today.] Pay attention to what they want younger kids to read and use that information to help identify books for the teens to read now. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Discussion: In the Time of the Butterflies

On February 10th, I was in Lawrence, KS leading a regional, full day training for library workers. You can see all of the details, slides, and handouts here.

As part of the event, participants were promised, “A book discussion of In the Time of the Butterflies led by Becky.” There was one small problem with this promise-- we had 100 people attend. Below is a picture of the room, taken from the back just before lunch. It doesn’t even capture all of the tables.

But never fear, I am not a book discussion expert in name only. Before the event, Polli Kenn, Director of Readers Services for Lawrence Public Library and I put our heads together and came up with a plan that worked. As you can see here in the full day schedule, we had asked the participants to come to the event ready to share some of their favortie book club title suggestions, especially those that were a bit more "under the radar." We already had a plan for people to be placed at smaller tables for the entire day to encourage this small group conversation. We had also already planned to ask them to have one person be the table's secretary and record these titles so that we could all get a much larger list of crowd-sourced titles to share after the event [by the way, that list can now be viewed, here].

So, since we had smaller group discussions already planned out, I suggested we also start the book discussion at these tables.  Here is what we did:
  • After they finished their title sharing, I directed each table to begin the book discussion, but they needed a note taker who was willing to report back to the entire group.
  • I asked them to take the liked, disliked, or so-so vote with which I begin all of my book discussions first.
  • Then, I wanted each table to have a chance to bring up the things that they were most happy or least happy about in the book. The overwhelming issues and topics that they were most eager to discuss.
  • They had about 10-15 minutes to do this.
  • Next, after a quick break, we would begin the group discussion by having each table have a chance to report.
  • This way I could identify the major issues that this group was most passionate about, I could take the temperature of the room in terms of how they felt about the book, and most importantly, I could whittle down the size of the group from 100 separate people to 12 groups of people. 
  • I had a way to address 12 "people" instead of 100 AND each person in each of those 12 tables had a chance to have their voice and opinion heard.
  • As I went around during the discussion and said things like, "but table 3 seemed to like the character you at table 6 most disliked," the person at table 3 who expressed that opinion earlier, the private conversation, could speak up.
Below, I will give the detailed report on the discussion we had. I am happy to say it went very well, and I gained a whole new skill-- leading a 100 person book discussion in which every single person had a chance to participate. It worked so well, I would be willing to try it again. 

One last thing before I begin with what we discussed, here are the links to the Pre-discussion Handout I created and the NEA Big Read info on In the Time of the Butterflies. We discussed this book because it is currently the "One Book, One Lawrence" discussion title. Julia Alvarez will be visiting them in March too. I also used these questions from the Chicago Public Library to help me prepare.

Ok, let's do this book discussion report---

Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) is a work of historical fiction based on the lives of the four Mirabal sisters, who participated in underground efforts to topple Rafael Leonidas Trujillo's three-decade-long dictatorial regime in the Dominican Republic. Three of the sisters—Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa—were slain on Trujillo's orders on November 25, 1960. Their story haunted Alvarez, whose own family had fled the Dominican Republic just three months earlier in fear that her father's participation in the resistance would make him a target of Trujillo. 
The novel is both an homage to the bravery and sacrifice of the Mirabal family and a literary work of high grace. The first chapter begins in 1994 when a young Dominican-American writer, a gringa dominicana, visits the surviving sister, Dedé Mirabal, at the sisters' childhood home, which has been turned into a museum. Exhausted by the steady stream of pilgrims who have visited her in the thirty-four years since her sisters' deaths, Dedé reluctantly begins to tell the story of a family entwined with the political turmoil of their country. 
In the body of the book, narrated in turn by each of the four sisters, Alvarez brings them to life, skillfully telling the story of four young girls who come of age wanting the same things most young women hope for: love, family, and freedom. Each of the sisters chooses to join the revolution in her own time—even Dedé, the one who lives to tell the tale and admits she only got involved "when it was already too late." 
Scattered through the girls' stories are glimpses of a nation under siege, where the simplest liberties have been stripped away. We learn the details of the Butterflies' martyrdom slowly and, as it emerges from its chrysalis, readers find a story that spreads its wings, pauses to breathe the air of freedom, and gently takes flight.
Discussion time:
  • I will begin with the report from each table. There are 12.
  • Table 1: Vote- mostly so-so with a lot of did not finish [herein dnf]. Comments: There were too many voices. It was hard to follow the story because of all the bouncing around. One person listened to the audiobook and found it easier to follow the 4 different narrators because the audio used different actors for each. I found it hard to follow because I am so unfamiliar with the history and the book did not fill in the details- it was about the characters so we didn't get that backstory.
  • Table 2: Vote- ranged from liked it to so-so. All of the historical info Table 1 wanted was in the back of the book. I would have liked it better if that were moved to the front. I struggled with how much was fact and how much was fiction. I was really interested in how the book illustrates the different ways a person becomes politicized.
  • Table 3: Ditto to Table 2. Mostly liked to so-so. Maybe more liked. We also most liked the Mate portions in diary form.
  • Table 4: So-sos all around. The way the story was told humanized them, but it was so hard to follow. Also we struggled with the history vs fiction issues here.
  • Table 5: Spilt down the middle, 2 liked, 2 disliked, and 3 so-so with a lot of dnf. One lady wanted to share that she was so-so until the ending. The ending transformed the entire book for her. Maybe if the others finished, it would do the same for them.
  • Table 6: Mostly liked with 1 or 2 so-so. There was a choppiness with the characters and time periods fluctuating  but it was so beautifully written. It also started very slow. We knew from the first lines that the girls would become political and die for their cause, but it took a while to get there. I liked the history-political-personal mix of the narrative. I could see a lot of political discussion happening around this book, ones that would be very different today in 2017 than when the book first came out in the 1990s.
  • Table 7: Mostly so-so because all dnf. Since we knew the ending-- they all die but 1-- from the first page, most of us didn't feel compelled to finish. But 1 person did comment that she really liked the writing style.
  • Table 8: Two liked and 6 so-so. Most of them preferred the stories as they were told in the real time timeline-- the one in the past, as the action was unfolding. The framing with Dede's flashback was confusing, especially because she has a story in that past time line too. Again the issue of fact vs fiction. Someone wanted to point out that this book discusses the impact of how "you treat women." Their brutal deaths made the country respond.
  • Table 9: Mostly liked. What they liked: the historical setting, connections to the author's own life, the girls last influence viz-a-vie International Violence Against Women Day and the parallels to today. Also, they wanted to discuss each girl's reason for joining the resistance. Each had a different reason and they were not all "equal."
  • Table 10: The finishers liked it, the so-so votes dnf. I didn't like Dede and she opened the novel. I couldn't get into her so I couldn't get into the book. We were all interested in what drove each woman to "the Revolution."
  • Table 11: Mostly so-so because dnf. I like Dede. Table 10 thought she was weak, I did not. I thought she was very strong. 
  • Table 12: Mostly liked but were concerned on where to start when discussing this with a group. In their small group they couldn't get away from the dictatorship issues and how to discuss it without bringing up current American politics. I told them-- good thing you are last because we are going to do that now.
  • From these reports I noted the most pressing issues and ideas that I was going to pursue with the entire group. Basically, their reports gave me the question list. If ever there was a time for me to take my own advice about going with the flow and letting the group direct the discussion, it was now.  Here is that summary of their initial reactions:
    • Spending time on each "butterfly" because different tables had different favorites and/or least favorites
    • Tackling the fact that we had mostly so-sos and a lot of "did not finish.” Why?
    • The issue of historical fiction and how much needs to be real
    • How Alvarez told to tell this story-- four different voices alternating.
    • That lady at Table 5 who said the ending transformed the entire book for her! I made a note to go back to her when we discussed the ending.
  • Question: Dede came up a few times. People like and dislike her. She frames the novel and she is the one who lives. Let's talk about her
    • People brought up her marriage. Some thought she was being ruled by her husband too much, but others thought she was being true to herself with not joining the revolution.
    • A few people mentioned the premonition of their father who said Dede would bury them all... 
    • People liked to see that she became the mother to all of her nieces and nephews. 
    • But she was so different from the other girls. Not just in the fact that she survived. It was harder for some people to latch on to her narration because of this.
  • Question: Let's give the other butterflies a turn. Minerva seems to have the most comments when we went around. Who wants to talk about her?
    • A hand shot up immediately, "I want to be her." This started a Minerva love-fest
    • She had the right arguments
    • She was bold
    • She stood up for what was right
    • She spoke her mind
    • This carried through to the people she loved. She fell in love with revolutionaries. Her relationships were based on that first and foremost.
    • She stood out from a young age as different and not belonging in the traditional woman's world.
    • She was a revolutionary first, and a person second
    • But all of this put her family at great risk. Her father's death very early on was indirectly caused by Minerva's actions at the banquet with Trujillo. For some people, that was a big flaw and they did not like her as much.
  • Question: Patria's turn
    • She was a mother and sister first and a revolutionary second. Big different from Minerva.
    • I found her to be the most compelling because her transformation to a revolutionary was so unexpected.
    • Minerva was a “badass.” She was always going to join something. But Patria is so earnest, spiritual, and thoughtful. She joined because she had no choice. She witnessed the atrocities of Trujillo while on a religious retreat. After that she was 100% in on the revolution. She was compelled to join. 
    • It showed that you don’t have to be a super-human Minerva type person to be politicized and to make a difference. You just have to be yourself.
    • She was the most relatable- someone said.
  • Question: Mate's turn
    • I loved her diary entries. She was always such a girly-girl. They made for a nice break.
    • She was so young when her part of the story began. That meant we got to see the most growth in her as a person- from child to adult. From baby sister to wife and mother.
    • I also liked the diary as a way to tell the story. It was less choppy because the long stretches of time could be easily explained as she wasn’t writing in it. Made more sense than how the other girls’ stories flowed.
  • Question: Anyone else you want to mention?
    • Lena, Minerva’s school friend at the start who goes on to be a mistress to Trujillo. I started to love her but then her story was dropped completely. When she went away I was done with the book. 
    • Maybe she was a metaphor for the thousands of people Trujillo “disappeared.” They were there one minute and then gone forever.
  • We decided that the four sisters were all so different and had such different reasons for joining the revolution that this might be why many found the novel so choppy. The story is not straightforward and easy because revolutionary are not straightforward or easy. But telling the story this way gives a fuller picture of how complex these issues are without bogging the narrative down with facts. The story was told through the women.
  • Question: This seemed like the perfect time to bring up the concerns about how much was fact and how much was fiction.
    • I started this part of the discussion off by asking for a show of hands as to how many people read historical fiction for fun. And of those, how many were the ones worried about this question? There were very few hands that stayed up.
    • Then I asked of those who don't normally read or enjoy historical fiction, how many of you were consumed with this question? A bunch of hands stayed up. It seemed that most (but not all) of the people who were most bothered by the fact vs fiction debate were also not regular historical fiction readers.
    • One person did chime in-- I read a lot of historical fiction and it did bother me but I think that is because I usually stay away from historical fiction about real life people.
    • That is a big distinction here. This book is all about actual people, people who are famous. This made the fact vs fiction debate stronger for many readers.
    • I loved the connections with Alvarez’s own story. As I read, I was able to not be bothered by everything Alvarez made up about their home life because I imagined that she was putting stories and experiences from her life into the Butterflies’ story. It made the book special for me. It was like she was sharing her own story in telling their story for the world.
    • In genreal, historical fiction sparks something in me when I read and I am driven to look up more on my own. I spent a lot of time looking things up for this book. I enjoy that.
    • I always look as reading as a mirror OR a window. Historical fiction for me is a window. I read it to learn about a world I will never know. This book was a great window.
    • I didn’t care if the details were correct or not but that was because these women have already been mythologized in their country’s history and in world history [as the reason for the date of International Violence Against Women Day]. They aren’t that “real” anymore. Their story has been coopted by others. For good, but still, they are no longer “real.”
    • The reason I liked Dede the most is because she is the only one left-- the only real one.
    • I don’t know anything about the Dominican Republic. With this book being so personal with such a tiny point of view [this one family and only the daughters], I was struggling to get a sense of the larger picture as I read. Yes I could look it up, but I wanted the book to give me more of that larger picture.
  • Question: Why did Alvarez choose to start the novel with the ending-- letting the reader know that all of the sisters but Dede would be killed?
    • It’s an old trick. That’s how Romeo and Juliet started.
    • I think this may be the reason that many people stopped reading. It was taking too long to get to them joining the revolution and eventually dying, and since I knew that was what was going to happen, why keep going?
    • If I didn’t like how the story was told, I could stop because I knew what would happen.
    • But, I went back to the lady who said the ending “transformed” the entire book for her. She said it made it all the more tragic and heartbreaking. Seeing how the girls themselves  were over being revolutionaries, yet they were still an inspiration to the entire country, and they were still killed. That was surprising.
    • Also, staring with the information that they would be killed gives us the same information as a reader from the DR would have had as they began this book. 
    • This information up front means we can’t hope for the best. We need to know this is bad. No romanticizing. 
    • You just start to like one of them and then you remember, oh she is going to be killed.
    • It is like the entire novel is the “frog in the pot” metaphor symbolizing what a dictatorship does. The girls are gently warming up, not knowing they are going to die. Then they have to decide to hop out or stay. That is what it is like for people living with a dictator. The story is slow because that’s how it felt for them-- it all changed so slowly that it took each person living under Trujillo a different amount of time to be pushed to the brink.
    • The whole book is about the choice between making concessions or being a hero.
  • Question: Why is how and when they died significant?
    • At the point when they were murdered, all three Butterflies had stopped actively rebelling. They were tired, under house arrest and didn’t have the desire to fight anymore.
    • Did Trujillo think it was “safe” to kill them then? Get them out of the way.
    • But why? They weren’t a threat anymore. He did have a lot of paranoia.
    • They were a symbol after their imprisonment and their husbands’ continued imprisonment. They were inspiring thousands just because they lived. 
    • They were a symbol of hope. 
    • He was assassinated by his own people soon after. Maybe his murder of the Butterflies was the last straw.
  • Question: What else do people want to talk about? Both things we already talked about AND new things.
    • We discussed men in hispanic culture and the machoism.
      • It was significant that the Butterflies’ dad only had daughters. Even with his mistress, only daughters.
      • It meant there was no rivalry too. These girls could be strong because there were no sons.
    • This novel showcases that there is social value in storytelling. Alvarez has helped many women and revolutionaries by sharing this story from her country.
    • I didn’t fall in love with the girls like other people did. I just didn’t care. I wanted to care more because their story was so tragic. I am not sure why this happened. Although maybe if I saw them from an outside perspective and not only their perspectives, I would have felt more of an attachment to them.
    • This book made me really understand the thousands of people Trujillo “disappeared.” It was awful and for so long.
    • We really need to understand that the “Revolution” never really was successful. They wanted to be communist. As Americans, we also got our hands dirty in their history. They are doing okay now, but it is as our luxury vacation place. Is that what the Butterflies sacrificed for? Who knows. 
Readalikes: I prepared a handout with readalikes, but since I usually post readalikes in the book discussion report, I have added them here at the end too.

If you enjoyed In the Time of the Butterflies you may also like… 
Suggested by Becky: 
Even though the narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz pokes fun at how everything Americans know about Trujillo comes from In the Time of the Butterflies, like the best jokes, it is funny because it is based in truth. Reading these two books, written 13 years apart, provides a fuller picture of the horrors of the Trujillo years and their enduring legacy across time and space.  
Alvarez is often compared to Isabel Allende mostly because they are both female, Latina, literary giants, but because Allende almost always employs a heavy dose of magical realism in her writing, while Alvarez’s work, is soberingly realistic, I find that they often do not make for a good match. However, in Ines of My Soul, Allende broke from her normal magical realism style, writing a historically accurate novel about the Spanish conquerors of Chile in the 1500s told from the point of view of Ines Suarez who was a both a witness to and a participant in this struggle. This is an Allende novel I would have no problem handing over to Alvarez fans. 
Those who are looking for a newer, Latina voice should try, The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez. Using a similar, lyrical, compelling and moving voice to Alvarez, Henriquez looks at the lives of immigrants who have come from all over Central and South America and now find themselves living in the same Delaware apartment building. Their histories in their home countries and their current lives in America are presented using a unique style which includes multiple points of view.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a graphic memoir of the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of the author, who was a teenager at the time. The time and place are very different, but the life or death struggle is, sadly, all too similar. 
The Round House by Louise Erdrich may be set on a North Dakota reservation in the 1980s, but in both theme and writing style it shares much with Alvarez’s novel, as is illustrated by this statement from the National Book Foundation about The Round House upon it receiving the 2012 National Book Award:
"In this haunting, powerful novel, Erdrich tells the story of a family and community nearly undone by violence. Using the quiet, reflective voice of a young boy forced into an early adulthood following a brutal assault on his mother, Erdrich has created an intricately layered novel that not only untangles our nation’s history of moral and judicial failure, but also offersa portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith, and stories."
If you enjoyed In the Time of the Butterflies you may also like… 
Suggested by NoveList*: 
All Souls' Rising by Madison Smartt BellA novel dealing with earlier revolution on the other half of the island, Haiti. Full of racial and colonial issues that are absent from the Alvarez novel, it is similar in being built on a historical basis, and populated with real figures from the past (e.g. Toussaint L'Ouverture). They Forged the Signature of God by Viriato SencionA translation of a Latin American bestseller, it follows Dominican political events closer to the present day, from the perspective of three seminary students.  
Geographies of Home by Loida Maritza PerezA powerful examination of a Dominican family in the United States, it examines the sometimes violent forces that both tear people apart and force them together. 
The Feast of the Goat by Mario Llosa VargasBoth titles explore the horrors of the totalitarian Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic, depicting the historical significance of the time and its effects on families and individuals. 
Memories from Cherry Harvest by Amy WachspressDespite different settings, these two engaging literary novels are both about women -- sisters in In the Time of the Butterflies; succeeding generations in Memoirs from Cherry Harvest -- fighting political injustice in the 20th century. 
Perla by Carolina De RobertisThese lyrical coming-of-age stories focus on the experiences of women (in Argentina and the Dominican Republic), whose lives intersect with brutal dictatorships and state-sanctioned murders of political dissidents. Overlap between domestic and political spheres puts a human face on tragedy. 
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara KingsolverThese lyrically intense novels depict sisters growing up foreign countries with backdrops of political upheaval, with one taking place in the Dominican Republic during Trujillo's reign of terror; and the other about missionaries in the Congo. 
*Suggestions combined from current Title Read-alikes and Discussion Guide from 2000.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Tales of the 5th/6th Grade Book Club: As Brave As You-- Week 3

Yesterday the group met to discuss Chapters 5-7 of As Brave As You.

Below I will recount what we discussed and how the meeting went without identifying any of the children, but please note that this is merely 1 of multiple meetings over which we will discuss the entire book. To access the full series of posts, use the 5th/6th gr book club tag.

Now on to the discussion:

  • Last week the kids were noticing that they had many more questions than answers, so this week a kid was ready to start off off by saying,  “these chapters answered a lot of our questions.”
    • The biggest question that was answered was how Wood died and why Grandpop and Genie’s Dad have a strained relationship.
    • We talked about Wood dying in Desert Storm, how he wanted to be a firefighter but Grandpop forced him to join the army, and how Ernie Sr. tried to stop Wood from being forced to join up. Ernie Sr became the firefighter instead.
    • One kid said, “Why didn’t Grandpop listen to Ernie Sr.” I tried to explain it in their terms. I asked her if she had a big sibling. She said a sister. So I said, ok if your parents were forcing your big sister to do something and you didn’t agree with them, would they listen to you? She thought they might, but we talked about it and decided that in the end, the little sister probably couldn’t change the parents’ minds. That helped a little.
    • What this section did do was explain exactly why Ernie Sr and Grandpop still have trouble getting along. There is a lot of anger and guilt along with sadness here.
  • A participant read the section where Genie notices that Grandpop is scared of thunder and doesn’t like the storm.
    • It was barely noticeable but he grabbed the table for a second. Genie was surprised because Grandma said they get big storms all of the time. Shouldn’t Grandpop be used to them?
    • Is it PTSD from the war?
    • Wood was born on a rainy day and they buried him on one too. Are storms still hard for Grandpop?
    • I reminded the kids that the author put that short but memorable line in the book for a reason. We agreed to file away this information in case it comes back later.
  • Everyone, including our narrator, Genie, was surprised that when Genie by mistake broke Wood’s firetruck model that Grandma was the one who was more upset than Grandpop.
    • It was the last thing Grandma had that Wood made with his own hands. And it was the firetruck. He wanted to be a fireman.
    • Grandma has been the even tempered one so far. It was surprising. There must be more about this to come.
    • Why wasn’t Grandpop upset? Guilt? He is still so sad? Or, maybe he understands what mistakes and accidents are. He made a big one forcing Wood into the army. He can forgive others more easily than he can forgive himself.
    • The wheel is still missing! Genie has looked for it once. We predict he will keep looking and eventually it will be found.
    • My son said, maybe when the boys get home, the wheel will be found and Grandpop will  send it in a letter to Genie-- the first letter he ever sends to them.
    • This led to more people making predictions that by the end of the book Grandpop will get better at being more involved in the world. He will go outside and maybe even start communicating directly with Genie and his family again. 
    • He needs to get over his big sadness and live again. The boys coming will help make that change happen.
    • We talked about Grandpop’s feelings. Why does he hide them all of the time?- someone asked. Answers: He doesn’t want to appear weak. He doesn’t want people to know how hurt and sad he truly is. He doesn’t want help. He is still to sad to deal with his feelings.
    • [Becky’s note: in general I was really proud of the kids here. They have noticed that Granpop is hurting and still grieving. It is implied but not obvious. They expect this month long visit to help him heal.]
  • Someone mentioned how the flies being drawn to the zapper and its description from the previous section came back here as Tess’ dad, Crab, brings the dead flies to Grandpop to feed his birds. She then said those flies being drawn to the zapper is like when you want something so bad you don’t care about the consequences. This could be a big theme for the whole book.
    • This led us back to the Grandpop-Ernie Sr issue. Grandpop wanted Wood in the army so badly he didn’t care that it meant he might die. Ernie Sr. doesn’t think the consequences were worth it. He never did. He is still upset about it.
    • We are filing this observation away for later. We all think the metaphor can be applied again.
  • And then we were off talking about Grandpop’s “outside room.” It is a weird thing so they had a lot to say about it.
    • We were right! Grandpop is afraid to go outside because it is not a known place. He can’t count steps. He might fall down the cliff. He has made a fake outside, inside.
    • Seeing the room through Genie’s eyes, it is kinda silly. Very fake grass, bird poop everywhere-- dirty and smelly. It is not like the real outside at all.
    • He can’t clean it and Grandma won’t help. She hates the birds. Why? They will eat her precious peas.
    • But, someone asked, is there more to Grandma’s hatred of the birds. Hmmmm. We again noted to file this question away after we read more. Maybe?
    • Genie can barely stand the smell. And, as someone notes, Grandpop for sure can smell it too. Why does he put up with it? Maybe he likes it because he never smells the outside anymore. This is a lot but it connects him to the outside. Someone else said the smell is worth it to him because it is from the world he can’t visit anymore.
    • But if he accepted help, he could go outside. The kids were frustrated by Grandpop’s choices here. We decided that the room must have more significance and we will see eventually.
  • Crab! Tess’ Dad. He is introduced in this section, and as I said to the kids, you thought Grandpop was a bit sketchy before-- Crab is definitely sketchy!
    • I reminded the that the name itself is “sharp.” I made little crab pinchers with my hands to illustrate. Names matter in books because the author picks them. A crab is prickly and pinchy-- not cute and cuddly. Let’s remember that.
    • My comments fell a bit on deaf ears though. The kids were very intrigued by Crab, as they should be. He waltzes in with cash for Grandpop so he can hunt on Grandpop’s land-- for squirrels? And he brings alcohol and dead flies (for the birds). And the cash is a secret from Grandma. He is an intriguing addition to the story.
    • It seems Crab is one of Grandpop’s only friends. I asked them if they wanted a “crab” for a best friend? They said yes at first, but I told them to really think about that. You are supposed to be a little wary of Crab. Keep that in mind.
  • Why is the money secret?
    • Grandpop says it is for his private rainy day fund.
    • The kids thought this use of the phrase “rainy day fund” was interesting considering the conversation Grandpop and Ernie had during the storm [which we talked about above].
    • On page 142 though, Grandpop says the wants the money to buy a smart phone to use if he can ever see again.
    • This could be an important statement. And, I told the kids that I was impressed with them. They kept being suspicious that Grandpop could see and I dismissed them as being overly suspicious. But, we also talked about Glaucoma as a treatable disease last time. Is Grandpop using the cash to get secret eye treatments? Does he plan to see in the near future? Can he see a little bit already? This one line really got all of us thinking-- kids and adults.
    • Our last chapter ends with Grandpop and Genie setting up a secret meeting at 10pm. What can that be about? And why did Granpop use military time to call the meeting. We will have to wait and see what happens next....

That's all for this week.  Next week we will discuss chapters 8-11 [pages147-211].

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Legislative Advocacy and You: Spread Some Library Love This Valentine’s Day

This blog may focus on helping library workers to better serve leisure readers, but every single library worker, in every single library in America needs to constantly be involved with advocacy, especially on the legislative level. We can't do anything to help anyone without the support of our community’s and, more importantly, our legislators.
I realize this point has moved more to the forefront in the last few months, but as a Trustee, this is something I have been involved with for years through my local library association. It is the main reason why I have continued to serve as a Trustee-- because I understand how important the advocacy piece of librarianship truly is.
Need a succinct reminder for yourself? From the Illinois Library Association’s Advocacy page:
One of your most important tasks as a library supporter is to communicate with elected officials whose actions can have an enormous impact on your library and your community. Whether you work with public, academic, school, or special libraries, state laws and policies affect libraries of all types. ILA monitors all legislation affecting libraries, from budgets to legislation on filtering and open meetings law, from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to pension reform, to laws governing municipalities and tax caps. 
2016 Palm Card2017 Palm CardAdvocacy ToolkitTop Ten Advocacy TipsJoin the Legislative Advocacy NetworkILA Public Policy PrinciplesMaking Your Case
As a member of the Illinois Library Association and as a Cook County elected Library Trustee I have supported all IL libraries by attending the ILA organized, regional legislative meet-ups every year. My library is actually split between the South Suburban and West Suburban meet-ups, so I split the duties with our library director. Together we are able to divide, conquer, and reach out personally to dozens of state and federal reps from all over the Chicagoland region, pleading our case for the issues we are most concerned about.
ILA also provides everyone in attendance-- library people and elected officials-- an update on all of the major state and federal legislative issues that are of particular interest to our libraries to start each session. 
So this Valentine’s Day I will be spending the early morning hours spreading a love of libraries and advocating for what is most important to us at the Tinley Park Public Library. I have the Palm Card [also linked above] to talk to all of the legislators about the big picture items and a few particular to my library issues that my director and I are going to mention specifically to our legislators. 
Obviously I realize that this event is hyper-local and doesn’t apply to the vast majority of my readers. Or does it? Why not join me? Use today and this post as the impetus for you to check out what your state library association has on their advocacy page or head over the ALA’s advocacy page, and then spend a few moments today contacting one of your representatives to advocate for a library related issue. You can click on our ILA Palm Card because it has a full report on the Federal Legislative issues too. All of you can at least do that.
Spread the library love by advocating for all of us today and continue to check in with those officials regularly, no matter if things are going well or poorly. Always advocate for libraries.

Monday, February 13, 2017

RA for All Call to Action: The Power of Our Choices by Robin Bradford

Last week over on Lit Hub, my friend and colleague, Stephanie Anderson, unveiled a new, regular column aimed at non-librarians. From the post:
Welcome to Librarians in the 21st Century, a biweekly column that will explore a profession that everybody knows but nobody understands. Including the librarians. Each essay will add another librarian’s voice to the conversation. 
I’m delighted to start our series with an essay by Robin Bradford, a public librarian whose work is devoted to one of the most enjoyable duties in librarianship: buying books. It’s not uncommon for library patrons to assume that librarians buy books based solely on their opinions or on what’s popular. Most are unaware that behind the New Fiction shelf of their library lurks a long and complicated history of arguments about what to buy and who to buy for. Buying lots of books without spending your own money may sound like a reader’s dream—but with great power comes great responsibility. 
–Stephanie Anderson, librarian and Lit Hub contributing editor 
As Stephanie has gone on to explain in other places, this really is a column to educate the rest of the world on what we do as library workers. However, this first column, contributed by Robin Bradford is important for all of us who work with leisure readers to read right now [whether we do the collection development or not].

I have highlighted the work of Robin Bradford here on the blog before and I whole heartedly stand by all of her convictions and opinions on creating diverse collections. [Actually, I agree with her on all things in librarianship.]

Below I have reprinted [with Stephanie’s permission] the beginning of the essay.  Please, I am not only calling you to action to click through and finish reading the entire column, but also, really chew on what she is saying here, take it to heart, and start living your best life as a Librarian in the 21st Century.
After spending a lifetime in libraries, as a user and then as an employee (and still a user!), I’ve been thinking about the cultural discoveries I’ve made through libraries. The first books that had me considering what it meant to understand someone different than yourself through fiction were Faye Kellerman’s Rina Lazarus/Peter Decker series. I can’t remember where I jumped in, somewhere around Day of Atonement or False Prophet. But by the time we got to Justice, in 1995, Kellerman was permanent on my auto-buy list. I had just graduated from college, but I’d still had limited interactions with people who practiced Judaism. The books are mysteries, first and foremost, but the culture and traditions of Judaism are central to the characters in a way I’d never experienced before. But it wasn’t until I started buying library books for others that I began to think of my job as being a bridge to someone else’s cultural discovery. 
As a black nerd in the 1980s who read just about anything she could get her hands on, reading about people different than myself, or reading about people like me written through the eyes of people different than myself, was a common occurrence. But the idea that reading about people different than myself, living their ordinary lives between adventures, could give me an understanding of different cultures: that was a new idea for me. If Kellerman’s books hadn’t been in the mystery section of the library, maybe I would have discovered them, but probably not. If my tiny library hadn’t ordered them, I definitely wouldn’t have discovered them. 
So, now that I’m selecting materials for the community, doing collection development, I think a lot about not only what materials we add to the collection, but also where they’ll live in buildings, and how to get the most eyes on those materials. Collection development is what librarians call the process by which we add materials to library collections, and it’s one of those library terms that sounds like it means a lot, but actually tells you very little. In the broadest sense, collection development librarians are charged with seeking out and acquiring materials in accordance with the mission of any given library. If you’re an academic library, the primary focus of the collection is usually to support the curriculum of the institution. When I did collection development in an academic library, as a paraprofessional, it was for a tiny popular collection project. It was 1996, and the most notable book I selected for that collection: some fantasy book called A Game of Thrones. What I learned from that experience was that I needed to be in a public library. If you’re a public library, the focus of the collection can be as wide and varying as the community you serve. “Community” can be, and usually is, defined in a variety of ways by a variety of library stakeholders, including librarians....
...Click here to read the column in its entirety

Wait, before you go, I have more to Call to Action here.

  • Share the entire article [and those yet to come in the series] with your entire staff. 
  • Put them on your social media and website.
  • Let patrons know what you do and why you do it-- all the time! 
  • Educate yourselves and your community about the immense power the Library as an institution holds in your community and in their lives.

You can follow all of Stephanie’s Librarians in the 21st Century with this link to help you take up this Call.

For more Call to Action posts, click here to access the archive.

Friday, February 10, 2017

RA for All Roadshow Visits Lawrence [KS] Public Library for Lots of Training

Today I am in Lawrence, Kansas to provide a full day of training, actually I also did a session for patrons last night too. You can click here to read all about the details of these programs and how and why they came about.

Let’s start with last night. I joined staff from Lawrence Public Library’s Book Squad at The Cider Gallery where I presented Recharge Your Book Club for Patrons. I have done these patron programs a few times before and they are always great fun. It is the perfect way to connect the library to all book club participants in the community, whether they meet at the library and get their books from you or not.

The participants got it already, but here is the slide access for all of you too. It is full of useful links and does differ from the talk I give to library workers.

But that was last night. Here we are in the bright morning light of the beautiful and newly renovated Lawrence Public Library where the library in conjunction with NEKLS have brought me in for a full day of intermediate level RA training.

Here is the full itinerary with all of the pertinent links for attendants and anyone else who is interested:

8:30 to 9 am – Registration and Breakfast

9 to 10:30am - RA Rethink: From Quaint and Comfortable to Cutting Edge:
You can live without a 3D printer, but without readers’ advisory, you’re not doing your job. Readers’ advisory belongs in every library, no matter your budget or size. A robust and modern program that embraces whole collection discovery is one that inspires staff, engages patrons, and builds stronger library communities. Reconnect with this core service and empower staff at all levels to connect users with your collection. RA expert Becky Spratford will offer “rethinks” that will harken back to the basics of this core service and incorporate 21st Century possibilities.

10:30-10:45 - Break

11:00 - 12:00: Recharge Your Book Club for Librarians:
Becky has been leading book clubs for 14 years and has seen it all. She will share her tips and tricks for success. All book groups go through their ups and downs, but re-energizing your group is not as hard as it may seem. Learn how to confidently identify and utilize the best resources for leading a book discussion, pick books that will engender the best conversations, lead a more interactive discussion even with the most jaded of groups. Let her show you how to take control, shake things up, and rediscover why you started the group in the first place.

12:00 - 12:30: Lunch 

12:30-1:00pm: Becky’s Example Book Talks and Networking: Share your favorite book club read - a chance to use the book talk skills we just 
learned in a supportive environment!

1:00-1:15: Break

1:15-2:15 - Book Discussion for Book Discussion Leaders:
Leading a book discussion group is one of the most personally and professionally rewarding things we do at work; however, it is an extremely challenging job too. Join Becky, and a room full of your book discussion colleagues, as we discuss In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. This program will give you the chance to sit back and enjoy being a discussion participant while also offering a forum for sharing questions and practical solutions to the problems and concerns of book group leaders.

2:15-3:00 - Networking, Troubleshooting and Success Sharing 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Library Reads: March 2017

This is your monthly Library Reads announcement.

Library Reads day means 3 things here on RA for All.
  1. I post the list and tag it “Library Reads” so that you can easily pull up every single list with one click.
  2. I can remind you that even though the newest list is always fun to see, it is the older lists where you can find AWESOME, sure bet suggestions for patrons that will be on your shelf to actually hand to them right now. The best thing about Library Reads is the compound interest it is earning. We now have hundreds and hundreds of titles worth suggesting right at our fingertips.
  3. You have no excuse not to hand sell any Library Reads titles because there is a book talk right there in the list in the form of the annotation one of your colleagues wrote for you. All you have to say to your patron is, “such and such library worker in blank state thought this was a great read,” and then you read what he or she said.

So get out there and suggest a good read to someone today. I don’t care what list or resource you use to find the suggestion, just start suggesting books. 

March 2017 LibraryReads

The Twelve Lives of
Samuel Hawley:
A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

Published:3/28/2017 by The Dial Press
ISBN: 9780812989885
“Meet Samuel Hawley, a man in a constant struggle with his violent past, doing the best he can to raise his daughter.  Meet Loo, his daughter, a girl with an obscure past and an uncertain future, on the cusp of adulthood.  And meet Lily, the dead woman who connects them both. In this finely woven novel, the past and the present gradually illuminate the story of a man’s life through the bullet wounds he carries with him and makes readers consider what it is to be both good and evil.”
Dawn Terrizzi, Denton Public Library, Denton, TX 

The Women in the Castle: A Novel

by Jessica Shattuck

Published: 3/28/2017 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062563668
“Three German women’s lives are abruptly changed when their husbands are executed for their part in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. They band together in a crumbling estate to raise their children and keep each other standing. Rich in character development, this book is narrated by each of the women, giving us a clear understanding of their sense of loss, inner strength and the love they have for each other. This story examines the human side of war, where the lines are blurred between hero and victim.”
Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

The Wanderers

by Meg Howrey

Published: 3/14/2017 by Putnam
ISBN: 9780399574634
“A private space exploration company is mounting a manned mission to Mars. To prepare for the actual event, the company plans an elaborate training program to match the conditions and potential problems the team might face. The ordeal, though simulated, is no less dramatic for the astronauts, their families, and the crew. The lines cross between fiction and reality and none of the participants is left unchanged. Part literary fiction, part sci-fi, all amazing.”
Marie Byars, Sno-Isle Libraries, Oak Harbor, WA

The Bone Witch

by Rin Chupeco

Published: 3/7/2017 by Sourcebooks Fire
ISBN: 9781492635826
“Fifteen-year-old Tea discovers that she has a power that sets her apart from the other witches in her village and will incur their hatred. She is a “bone witch” who can raise the dead. Aware that a darkness is coming, Tea agrees to leave her home and family so she can learn to save the very people who hate her. Her training, outlined in rich and fascinating detail, includes the courtly arts of singing and dancing, as well as classes in fighting. Told in short chapters, Tea reflects on her life, revealing how she becomes a courageous warrior. Although written for young adults, this will equally appeal to adults. The cliff-hanger ending will make readers eager for the promised sequel.”
Trisha Perry, Oldham County Public Library, Lagrange, KY

The Hearts of Men: A Novel

by Nickolas Butler

Published: 3/7/2017 by Ecco
ISBN: 9780062469687
“In the summer of 1962, we are introduced to popular Jonathan and social outcast, Nelson, aka ‘The Bugler.’ The only thing the two seem to have in common is that they both spend a few weeks of one summer at Camp Chippewa in the woods of Wisconsin. Yet, over the course of decades, their lives and the lives of those they love the fiercest are intertwined.  This wonderful novel peels back the layers of male friendship and shows what loyalty, compassion, and selflessness looks like.” 
Jennifer Dayton, Darien Library, Darien CT


by Caitriona Lally

Published: 3/14/2017 by Melville House
ISBN: 9781612195971
“Whimsical and different, this novel’s humor hooked me.  Vivian is an eccentric, living in Dublin and searching for a place where she can feel she belongs. How can you help but love a character who checks every wardrobe for Narnia and every yellow road for an Emerald City?  This novel movingly explores the outcasts and the different among us, showing that they are only hoping to fit in and find a friend.” 
Linda Quinn, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield, CT

Say Nothing: A Novel

by Brad Parks

Published: 3/7/2017 by Dutton
ISBN: 9781101985595
“Fans of crime fiction and fans of domestic drama will find much to love in Parks’ genre-blending thriller. Judge Scott Sampson is a devoted family man and a respected jurist thrown into every parent’s worst nightmare: his 6-year-old twins are kidnapped, and the kidnappers blackmail Scott into increasingly immoral legal decisions. Cue marital meltdown, ethical dilemmas, paranoia, and a thrill ride that suspense lovers will race through to learn what happens next. It’s a departure from the author’s lightly snarky Carter Ross series, but a welcome one for readers of Harlan Coben and Gregg Hurwitz.”
Donna Matturri, Pickertington Public Library, Pickerington, OH 

The Stranger in the Woods:
The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

by Michael Finkel
Published: 3/7/2017 by Knopf
ISBN: 9781101875681

“There are three types of hermits in the world, according to Finkel: protesters, pilgrims, and pursuers. But Christopher Knight doesn’t seem to fit any of these categories. So why, at the age of 20, did he drive into a forest in Maine and disappear for 27 years, his only human interaction a single ‘hi’ with a passing hiker? This book uses the incredible but true story of Knight, ‘the last true hermit,’ to explore themes of solitude, introversion and the meaning of life.”
Megan Tristao, San Jose Public Library, San Jose, CA 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

by Lisa See

Published: 3/21/2017 by Scribner
ISBN: 9781501154829 
“Li-Yan and her family, devote their lives to farming tea. Like her mother, Li-Yan is being groomed to become a midwife in her Chinese village. She yearns for more and is allowed to pursue her schooling. The arrival of outsiders seeking the Pu’er tea of Yunnan brings the modern world into this isolated village. When Li-Yan finds herself alone and pregnant, she leaves her child, wrapped with a tea cake, at an orphanage. Her daughter is adopted by a couple from California, but she is drawn to the study of tea. A sweeping historical novel that juxtaposes ancient China with its modern incarnation.”
Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA

If Not For You: A Novel

by Debbie Macomber

Published: 3/21/2017 by Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9780553391961
“High school music teacher, Beth, and tattooed auto mechanic, Sam, are set up by mutual friends, but neither sees a relationship developing. Their mutual disinterest quickly turns into friendship and then develops into much more. Just as their romantic relationship truly begins, Beth’s controlling mother and Sam’s hidden past get in the way and threaten to break them apart. As fans have grown to expect from Macomber, this tale tugs the heartstrings in every direction but is ultimately uplifting. It’s impossible not to fall in love with her characters.”
Jenna Friebel, Oak Park Public Library, Oak Park, IL