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 including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Newest Issue of ILA Reporter Features....ME!

The Illinois Library Association's Journal has put a spotlight on RA in their April 2016 issue.

Members will be getting the paper copy in the mail soon, but all of you can start reading the issue now with this link.

I am particularly partial to my article entitled, "Talk Among Yourselves: Jump Starting Your Readers' Advisory." This is a brand new article; stuff you haven't heard or read by me before, and it is just a click away.

But if you also want to read the great Q&A I did with Kara Kohn, you have to download the PDF and go to page 12.

But you should download the entire issue anyway because there are a few articles about RA service.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

PLA 2016 Planning Tips for Readers' Advisors-- Think Outside the Box, Think UX [NOW WITH SLIDE ACCESS 4.11.16]

The Public Library Association 2016 conference is next week and many people are in the process of making their plans on which programs to attend.  While I am not going to PLA this year, I have been (and presented) before, so I know the joy and excitement of being at a Public Librarians Only conference. Everything is relevant to you. It is equal parts exhilarating and overwhelming.

One way to handle it is to use the "Tag" filter in the official list of programs to whittle it all down to just "Readers' Advisory." That alone gives you a full compliment of useful, engaging and varied programs.

However, I would like to argue for you to think a little outside the box this year. Use the tag-line for this year's conference as your inspiration:

I applaud this because I try to live this mantra every day. As I say in my talks, when I co-created the RA Department at the Berwyn Public Library in 2000 our goal from the start was to not only meet but EXCEED the needs and expectations of our community's leisure readers.  

Trying to "Be Extraordinary" is my personal motto which means that it also drives the content here on the blog.  As I have said before, I try to provide my readers with "next level" RA assistance.  Yes I write reviews and discuss the latest book news, but I am not [nor am I trying to be] the go-to place for those things.  Other people do that much better; Early Word for starters.

Here is an example. One of my current "next level" obsessions is taking a wider lens, outside the box look at RA. Yes I need to focus on helping specific readers, but overall RA is about patron engagement. This has led me to explore the world of User Experience or UX for short.

What is UX? Here is a link to a presentation entitled "Why UX in Libraries is a Thing Now." From that slide show:

I am not the only one who thinks that RA and UX are intimately intertwined. Take a look at this program from the PLA 2016 schedule: 
Steal This UX: Improving Your Collection With Content Strategy and User Testing
Saturday, April 9, 2016, 9:30 AM - 10:30 AM
Colorado Convention Center, Room 405-407 
Content strategy and user testing are buzzwords from the online realm, but these principles can be just as useful for practitioners of old-school collection development. Tear out some pages from the digital librarian’s playbook and learn how user interviews, evaluative research, A/B testing, and other fast, inexpensive UX techniques can revolutionize your approach to collection management. 
At the end of this session, participants will: 
1: Understand the basic principles of content strategy and user research.
2: Be able to identify myriad ways to put these methods into practice at your library.
3: Learn how to apply specific, scalable UX techniques to collection management. 
The session organizer(s) identified this session as appropriate for:Level 1: People with no previous knowledge of the topic. 
This session will have: Low interaction: single speaker/panel with Q&A at the end of the program 
Track: Invent
Tags: Collections/Tech Services, Collection Development, User Experience (UX)
Annabelle Mortensen, Collection Development Supervisor
Skokie Public Library, Skokie, IL
Stephanie Anderson, Head of Reader Services [Her title has changed to Assistant Director for Public Services]
Darien Library, Darien, CT 
Becky’s Note: Here is slide access added to this post on 4.11.16

But if you only use the "Readers' Advisory" tag to filter your PLA Programs, you would not know about this program. I asked Stephanie and Annabelle, who both have RA backgrounds, to explain why a library worker who focuses on serving leisure readers would benefit from this program. Here are their responses [edited by me with their permission]:
Annabelle: This program will help folks discover how UX concepts can help staff across the library, not just those who work with technology. Most of the rest of us are often left out of this training—we just don’t go to the meetings or programs where they’re discussed. (I’m just as guilty of this—in the past I’d only go to RA-track events and publisher book buzzes.) But when you look at RA and collection development through this lens, you begin seeing a number of possible applications to displays, booklists, advisory questionnaires, summer-reading planning, patron-driven acquisition, and more. It’s really about developing a user-centered mindset (which is what RA already is based on) and learning about tools that can help you even more with that process.
Stephanie: I think a lot of people working with collections and RA really want to try new things, but find themselves in a position or a department where they get some resistance to those new things. We are hoping our panel gives them the tools, the language, and the confidence to implement a lot of the cool new ideas they’re going to pick up at the conference.
Thanks guys. See, this is stuff you can use.

I am sure there are other programs that could and will be useful to the library worker who focuses on leisure readers. I am sure there are other tags or filtering methods you could use to identify these programs. I am highlighting this one specifically because I personally know these presenters and have worked with both of them in a professional capacity before, so I am confident in advocating for their program.

But I also want you to use this post as your own personal inspiration if you are attending PLA. Think outside the box and "Be Extraordinary" while you are in Denver. If it means going through the entire program guide to find that perfect program for you and your community's needs, then please, take the time. This is our conference. Public Libraries are the stars here. It maybe overwhelming but it is also a wonderful opportunity.

Also, if you learned something exciting at PLA that you want to share with my audience, don't forget that I am holding an open call for guest posts until 4/22.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Links, Tips and Takeaways from the March 15-16, 2016 CODES CONVO on Diversity With Bonus Comments by Becky

Right before I left on vacation, RUSA CODES hosted one of their email conversations for members. This time the topic was on Diversity in RA. You can click here to see the details about the topic itself.

Cindy Orr, the chairperson of the committee sent out the notes from the conversation to those  of usnsubscribed to list-serv and she gave me permission to share and highlight them here on RA for All. Thank you Cindy; in fact, thanks to everyone on the committee and those who participated for taking the time to have such an honest and open discussion about a sensitive topic.

You can click here to view a copy of the notes which include 9 pages of VERY useful information for anyone who works at any library helping any leisure readers. There is so much here that any library worker can use in the day to day work. Please click through.

Now on to my thoughts and opinions on the topic.  Warning, BEGIN RANT...

My overuse of the word any just above is on purpose. As someone who has blogged about “multicultural” books since I started this blog AND as a straight, white, suburban lady who reads and promotes books featuring characters who are nothing like me all the time, the problem I have had with discussions of diversity in literature and our role as RA library workers in it is that I was shocked by how many librarians thought they could not suggest diverse books to white patrons.

I guess I have more faith in humanity than I should have, but honestly, this part of the problem was shocking to me.

Heck the book I was the biggest evangelist for in 2015 was Delicious Foods by James Hannaham. I never once thought, “Hmmm maybe I should think about the fact that I am giving a book about African American crack addicts who are victims of modern slavery to that little old white lady.” I never thought this because the book is AMAZING. It is a book anyone who appreciates an original, heart-wrenching, and haunting story-- PERIOD. The fact that some librarians worry that a white lady in Nebraska won’t enjoy a good story about a black, crack addict, stuns me.

Click here for my full review. In it, I also make readalike suggestions that do not only care about race.

I have many more examples I could share with you, but that is not important here. What is important is that this RUSA moderated conversation allowed library people to honestly express their concern for promoting diverse books to all audiences.

As I told my neighbors in college who chose the women’s colleges over my co-ed one down the street-- the world is filled with both sexes. If I want to excel in the world, I need to be able to excel over men AND women. (And I did by the way, winning both prizes in my major). But why would I chose to eliminate one experience? Why would I not challenge myself to beat the guys at their own game? I needed to know them to work with them. Heck I am even happily married to one of them.

Same thing goes with reading and books. Books are a great way to experience the entire world and as many different viewpoints as possible without leaving your chair. We are very lucky to have so many diverse book options, but we need to make sure they are being promoted to the right reader.

I do not “warn” white people I am giving them a diverse book. Rather, I suggest a book that is the best match for that reader. I book talk it in a way that gives them an idea of what to expect which will probably get at the diversity if it is there. It is then up to the patron to take the book or not.  But give people a choice.  Some of my best hand selling successes are from booktalking Sally Hemmings by Barbara Chase-Ribould and The Round House by Louise Erdrich -- books about a black, slave woman and Native Americans to white and hispanic patrons.

But I also do not go out of my way to purposely suggest a diverse book to make a point. I am noticing some people are doing that now and I get upset about that too. But that is a whole different issue I am not touching right now.

What I do is make sure I am exposed to as many voices and authors as possible and then, if the story is right for the reader in front of me, I will suggest the best book for them.


I want to be clear I am not judging anyone who has had a hard time with suggesting diverse books. I am just working through my own shock at the scope of the problem.  I always thought it was more an issue of the diverse books not being promoted by publishers and/or not being reviewed, but it is so much deeper.

I am so thankful that we are having these difficult and complex conversations in an honest and open way as a profession.

Let’s keep it up.

If you don’t know where to get started in your promotion, personal reading, or collection development of diverse books, the notes from the convo are a great place to start.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Listeners’ Advisory: Webinar for Now and a Save the Date Announcement for Later

RA for All is back from vacation all revved up and ready to get back to helping you to help your leisure readers.  Today I want to put the focus on your audiobook patrons.

The rise in popularity of podcasts has also led to a resurgence in audio book consumption. Listeners’ Advisory is becoming an important skill that anyone who works with leisure readers needs to become better at.

Back in May of 2014, I discussed how NoveList created the first librarian centered audiobook listeners’ advisory resource in this post.

Then while I was on vacation this past week, they hosted the free webinar entitled, "Did You Hear That? It’s the Exploding World of Audiobooks and Listeners’ Advisory. You can watch the recording here.

One of the best things about this webcast can be found in the resource documents that NoveList has included here, especially the access to an exclusive Library Journal survey on audio books use in libraries.

Even if you do not watch the webinar, please take a look at the resources, I cannot stress enough how useful they are.  I have been home for 1 day, and I already directed a colleague to the Listen to a Book in 15 Minutes resource.

The emergence of audiobooks and listeners’ advisory as a top RA trend has been on our radar at ARRT also. In fact, I am on the planning team for an in person training event for ARRT that will be coinciding with the Audie Awards and BEA both here in Chicago.

As of right now I can confirm that I will be moderating a panel that includes someone who writes audiobook reviews for a library collection development audience, someone from NoveList, someone from the RUSA Listen List committee, a narrator, an audiobook producer, and a publisher.  All attendees will receive a free audiobook and a copy of Audio File magazine with their very reasonable registration fee.

I will have an official announcement soon, but the date and time have been confirmed so please save this date:

Monday May 9, 2016
9:30 am-12 pm
Downers Grove Public Library 

This program is a few days before BEA starts and the Downers Grove Library is steps from a train stop. If you haven’t made you plans yet and can come to Chicago a little bit early, please plan to do so. This is going to be a fun and useful program.

We can’t wait to help you to help your listeners.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Call for Guest Posts

RA for All is taking a much needed "Spring Break” this week.  So there will be no new posts from now until 3/28. However, I had a great idea to fill the space here all week.

I am holding the first ever public call for guest posts on RA for All.  Yes, I have had many guest posts over the years, but they were all solicited directly by me. However, one thing I have learned in the last 9 months of visiting many libraries and conferences and meeting hundreds of library workers is that many of you have great ideas to share with the wider library world.

And I have a platform where you can share them. So bring on your RA for All guest post ideas.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  • Send an email to bspratford [at] hotmail [dot] com with the subject line "Guest Post”
  • Please explain your idea in 300 words or less. All you need right now is an idea. Do not send me an entire post.
  • If you have a link to anything you have written be it an article, something from a website, even reviews or annotations you have written for your library, please include that.  If you have nothing to share with me, that is okay. Your idea statement is fine.
  • I will get back to you no matter what, but if I like your idea, I will send you the blogging requirements. The due date for submissions (once idea is accepted) will not be until early June and the posts will run periodically throughout the summer.
  • This window for this call for guest post submissions closes on Friday 4/22. 
You have a month everyone. Start sending me those ideas. I can’t wait to be inspired by all of you.

Back with regular blog posts on 3/28.

Friday, March 18, 2016

C2E2 Chicago's Comic Con Starts Today!

Since today is the start of C2E2 here in Chicago, I thought I would use this opportunity to talk about graphic novels and comics a bit.

But it is going to be a short post because the conference also brings into town my friend, Jack Phoenix, librarian, horror author, and comics lover.  And honestly, I want to spend more time with him than writing this post.

But thankfully he has one of my favorite graphic novel based websites.

Called, My Comic Memories, this site is Jack's memoir of his life through his comic books collection.  With each post he takes a single comic book, talks about what happens in it and why it is interesting, but then he shares why he has kept it and what part of his life it corresponds to.

Not only do I love the beautiful writing and real emotion he shares on this blog, but I also appreciate it as an exercise in RA. Jack is illustrating why the reasons we love a specific story, book, comic, etc... sometimes goes far beyond what is between the covers of the volume itself.

Use Jack as an example as you work matching patrons with books. Think outside the literal box. Listen to what they are saying about the feel of the book they are looking for. Ignore the plot. Listen for the adjectives and emotion. Understand WHY they love a story and then find them something else that is similar-- based on the feel NOT the plot.

Don’t forget to use the graphic novels tag to pull up everything I have ever written about graphic novels [70 posts to date].

Thursday, March 17, 2016

RA for All Roadshow is in Manteo, IL!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. This morning, I will be celebrating with my new friends at the Manteo Public Library at their in-service day.
  • 9:30 am to 10:50 am: RA for All: From Pages to Directors, this program is aimed at any staff member in the library who interacts with patrons. Being able to provide good RA service from any desk in the library will help staff communicate effectively and ensure satisfied patrons. Using her “Ten Rules of Basic RA Service" as a guide," Becky Spratford will show you how to help any patron find their next great read. It's not as hard as you think.
  • 11 am to 12:15 pm: Booktalking: Harnessing the Power of Sharing Books with Patrons: Booktalking is at the heart of what we do with patrons each and every day at the public library. Whether we are sharing books informally at the services desk, presenting a prepared list of books, or posting information online, talking about books is something we do each and every day. It is a core service, but it is also hard to teach. Booktalking is more of an art than a skill, but with the right guidance and some practice, it can go a long way toward engaging your patrons and re-energizing your staff. Join experienced Readers’ Advisory Becky Spratford as she shares the secret behind delivering great book talks, giving you tips and tricks you can begin using right away to hone your own skills. Rediscover the power and joy that comes from sharing books with patrons. 
  • 12:15 pm to 12:30 pm: Wrap Up: Creating Your Own Reader Profile: Becky will help you take what you have learned to craft your own personal reader profile and start you on your first RA journey-- suggesting a good book to a fellow staff member.
I can come to your library to inspire you to reach out to your readers and engage your staff to improve their own RA skills. I promise, it really works.  Contact me for available dates and details.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Takes of a Fifth Grade Book Club: Part 8-- Pages 489 to End

Part 8 of my fifth grade book club took on the last 100ish pages of the novel. Please refer to the other posts in this series and the discussion guide I compiled which includes a summary of ECHO.

It is with a bit of sadness that I report that we had our final meeting of the fifth grade lunch time book club this past Monday.

I will begin this final post with the regular report on how the discussion itself went, but then I will wrap it all up with a few lessons I learned that I feel are worth passing on to all of you.

  • I told the group that since we had now finished the book, I was going to start their book club just like I start my adult ones by asking them to vote- like, dislike, or so-so. The votes were 7 like, 0 dislike, and 1 so-so
    • I asked the so-so boy to go first and explain why he voted so-so. He said it was because the book made him cry.  In a good way, but he didn’t like having tears over the book.
    • I thanked him for being so honest.
    • Another participant shared that “I liked that I cried."
  • The kids were bursting with things to say now that the books was done, plus we brought pizza, so they were a bit excitable in general.  I just let them go.
  • I feel so bad for Elizabeth at the end of the book, and I didn’t like her at all before. She is stuck in Germany. (later in the book club the other parent drew a picture of what Germany was like post WWII and we talked about the divided city of Berlin. We explained how people in East Germany could not leave. The kids said, oh like in A Night Divided-- that author came to their school earlier in the year.)
  • This book was set during times of war and bad things happened but in the end, it was mostly happy.
  • I liked the ending
    • I thought it was too big a coincidence, but since it was the harmonica that brought them together, it was okay. There was a reason they ended up in the same symphony-- the harmonica brought them together.
    • I was very excited to see that the kids came together as adults at the end. I was especially happy for Friedrich. He had the toughest journey.
    • I liked how the harmonica actually saved Kenny’s life. It was better that it wasn’t one of the three kids whose life it saved. This made more sense. That would have been stupid.
    • But the harmonica did still save those kids. It started them on their paths to their careers. It also protected them in their times of great need.
    • The adults asked if the kids thought the ending came too quickly on the heels of the end of Ivy’s story. The kids were fine with it because time had passed between the last page of Ivy’s story and the first page of the 4th section.
  • More about the harmonica itself.
    • I liked that the harmonica was no longer playable. It was still in Kenny’s possession, but having stopped a bullet, it was unplayable now.
    • The destruction of the harmonica also broke the spell for the three girls from the fairy tale.
      • I liked that they got to go home and got real names.
      • I liked that they cared for Kenny when he was recovering.
    • I loved learning about how Otto created the special harmonica.
    • I went home a put a big red “M” on my harmonica so it could be just like the one in the book.
  • Were the coincidences in the book too big for you?
    • No because the book explained that the harmonica was magical and that it connected all who possessed it with a silver thread through time and space.
    • They were all together in Carnegie Hall at the end and the thread was there, connecting them. The harmonica was there in the audience with Kenny.
    • Three girls in the fairy tale, three “kids" together in the concert. I liked that.
    • I think with all the coincidences and connections made possible by the harmonica it was great that Elizabeth was Kenny’s nurse. I was starting to enjoy all the coincidences and waiting for more.
  • Predictions about what happens after the book:
    • Kenny and Ivy will get married
    • Elizabeth and Friedrich will be the only siblings not reunited. All the rest were, but their experiences were graver and harder to overcome.
  • I asked the kids to vote for the favorite character in the book.
    • Mike: 2 votes
    • Friedrich: 1
    • Frankie: 2 
    • Ivy: 1
    • Uncle Gunter: 1
    • Friedrich’s Dad: 1
    • And I said the harmonica was my favorite.  I was surprised no one else mentioned it.
  • The other parent said, the kids in this novel are vert forgiving. Could you be that forgiving?
    • Our problems are small compared to theirs
    • They had life and death situations to deal with. 
    • We all talked about how one of the messages of this novel is to not worry about small things, but fight larger injustices.
  • We ended by talking about the title. 
    • The kids’ stories still echoed through the harmonica.
    • The sisters were set free. No longer trapped as an echo in the instrument.
    • I would have liked to have had the three sisters there in the concert hall, but ending with their story was also good.
I want to thank the kids in our book club for always coming to our meetings prepared and ready to share and listen. They did a great job and had fun.

I really learned so much by leading this book club. Here are my biggest take-aways that I think are worth sharing with you:
  • My “group norms” work just as well with kids as adults.  On day one I told the kids one of the most important things about being in a book club was to make sure that they “share and listen” equally.  Yes we all want to hear your ideas, but we also want you to listen to your fellow classmates.  Throughout the multi-week discussion, the kids only needed to be reminded a few times that they needed to listen to each other [because they were having side conversations.] But the reminder, phrased in the same language as the norms we set out from day one, worked easily.
  • I have mentioned this in a previous post but leading a book group that was so different from the type of group I have led for years, really helped me to assess my own skills.  Not only was the age group a change. but doing a book in pieces was also new to me.  I HIGHLY SUGGEST EVERYONE WHO LEADS A BOOK CLUB TRY TO DO ONE THAT IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM THEIR NORMAL ONE AT LEAST ONCE EVERY FEW YEARS. Being forced out of my comfort zone was scary, but it also made me think about why and how I facilitate book discussions in a more conscious way than I have done in years. 
  • Kids are way more perceptive than you think. For example, they get the symbolism, they notice the foreshadowing, and they understand that the author is repeating themes to make a larger point.
  • Kids are way more willing to think outside the box for readalikes and...
  • Kids consider all media when making readalike connections. Movies, tv shows, video games, plays, etc... They see similarity everywhere and are not limited by a format.
  • More adult groups should consider discussing middle grade novels. I know a lot of adult groups do YA, but award winning middle grade novels, like Echo, would be great for discussion by adults.
I will probably lead the 6th grade book club next year, so until then it’s back to adult book clubs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Libraries and Self Published Authors: Part 5-- Connecting Self Published Authors and Libraries

As I proclaimed in my 2016 Reading Resolutions, this year I am going to make an effort to be more informed about self published authors. From that post:
Not only will I make sure I read a few self published titles in a variety of genres, but I will also be blogging about self published books and specifically how we can and should handle them in libraries.
You can read the entire series using this link.

One way for libraries to get involved with self published authors is to make connections with the authors in their communities. The Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author Project is an award winning program that does exactly this. I am proud to have been a judge for the very first competition. You can see the posts where I chronicled my involvement here.

You can go to their website for all of the details, but real quick here is how it works. Self published authors go to their local library and ask to be sponsored. The library worker does not need to have read the book or judge it worthy of nomination in any way. The library is simply the sponsor, connecting the author with the project. There are judges who use a standardized rubric to score the books themselves.

I love this program because one of its main goals is to connect libraries with the authors in their communities.

The other goal of Soon To Be Famous... is to let libraries flex their collective influence muscles for all to see.  From the about page:
The Soon to be Famous Illinois Author project is the brainchild of library marketing professionals who were inspired after listening to a presentation by brand expert and NYU professor David Vinjamuri, who spoke at the American Library Association’s 2013 annual conference about the importance of libraries in the era of e-books and self-publishing. He challenged libraries to wield their collective influence to lift a self-published author to success to create a measurable indicator of the power of libraries and librarians to affect books and reading. Currently, 32% of bestsellers on Amazon are self-published.
Readers know I love when library workers proclaim how awesome we are to the world. I love it so much I have made a career out of it.

You can see the goals working at their best right now as the third year's finalists were recently announced. From the official press release:


Announcing our 2016 Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author Project Finalists!

Our judges have read the books and written their reviews, and we’ve tallied up the scores. We are proud to introduce to you our 2016 finalists – then scroll down for your invitation to the big event when the winner will be announced!
Geralyn Hesslau Magrady grew up in Chicago and currently resides in Berwyn, IL. With a B.A. from Dominican University and M.Ed. from Northeastern Illinois University, she has been an English teacher for eighteen years and is currently at Fenwick High School in Oak Park. At her website, G-Lines, Geralyn shares her passion for writing through blog posts, personal essays, and photo-inspired poetry. Her work has been published on several literary websites, and LINES— is her first novel. Geralyn’s favorite authors include: Jack Kerouac, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Edith Wharton, and Toni Morrison. Favorite poets: Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Maya Angelou, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Favorite blessings: two teenage sons. Visit her website at: http://www.ghesslaumagrady.com
James Hosek was born in Chicago but grew up in the near western suburb of Stickney. He spent hours wandering the shelves of the Stickney-Forest View Public Library which helped to foster his love of books. One of his favorite authors was James Herriot.After graduating with B.S.Vet.Sci. and D.V.M. degrees from the University of Illinois, he did an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. During this time that he began writing science fiction stories and accumulating rejection letters. One of the first was from Stanley Schmidt, then Editor of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact Magazine, who, over the years. encouraged Hosek’s writing with brief notes and comments and eventually bought his first sale, a short story titled “Total Loss.” 
Jim currently has a house call practice on the north side of Chicago and is the owner of Merrick Animal Hospital in Brookfield, IL. Four years ago he self-published his first novel, A Really Good Day. His current book, Give a Dog a Bone, is his first mystery and the characters and patients his fictional veterinarian comes across are heavily inspired by his real life experiences. 
He is married and has two sons and two cats, Sonyonia and Hedwig. He is a member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and is a volunteer on the staff of the Nebula Awards Conference which is being held in Chicago this year. Favorite authors include Isaac Asimov, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Peter F. Hamilton, Tom Clancy, Orson Scott Card, and John Grisham. Apart from writing, he enjoys gardening, woodworking, hiking, and Dr. Who.
Amanda Meredith is an author and blogger from Illinois. She was born in Texas in 1985 but grew up in the Midwest. She married her high school sweetheart in 2003 and they settled in Central Illinois to raise their family. They are expecting their third child in August. 
Amanda self-published her first book in 2013 and has since published four more novels. She plans to release her first children’s picture book in 2016. 
From the author: “From an early age, I discovered an insatiable appetite for the written word. My first love was reading and I devoured practically every book I came across, a habit that continues to this day. But as I got older I found that I could create my own stories and soon realized that I LOVE to write. Romance, to be specific. 
I love the happily-ever-after that, I believe, everyone deserves. My stories aren’t the ‘stop and smell the roses’ type romances… while I believe everyone deserves happiness and true love, I know that sometimes you have to walk a hard road to find it. Those are the types of stories I like to write. The happily-ever-after that wasn’t found; it was earned. I work to earn mine on a daily basis and so do my characters. 
My other interests include horseback riding, hunting, fishing, playing guitar, being ridiculously goofy with my kids, and supporting a rather distracting addiction to Pinterest. I love to cook, which combined with my pinning addiction, leads to many experiments foisted on my unsuspecting husband and kids, with (mostly) good results. But sometimes I’m not so lucky and our two dogs get to try a home-cooked meal… and they never complain. ;)” 
Congratulations to our three finalists and THANK YOU to all the authors who submitted work for this year’s project.
Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 1 PM –  Join Bob Doyle, ILA Executive Director, Dee Brennan, RAILS Executive Director, and Michael Alan Peck, Master of Ceremonies and 2015 Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Winner, as we announce the 2016 Winner! All are invited to attend and show their support for our three finalists. We expect a little friendly rivalry between the Berwyn Public Library (Geralyn) and Stickney-Forest View Public Library (James) – but will central Illinois (Amanda) steal the spotlight?
If you want more information on how to start an author awards program at your library, you can buy the book that the Soon To Be Famous committee wrote on the topic. There is even a picture of me in there somewhere [from the first year’s winner announcement ceremony].

I do think this brings up a great place to start as libraries begin incorporating self published titles into our collections. Starting local makes sense.

Why not consider putting out a call to your local self published authors, make connections through local writers groups, and/or gather copies of local self published books to start a “Local Self Published Authors” collection at your library.

We have a lot to learn from each other, self published authors and libraries.  It is time we start talking to each other and work together to figure this all out because the self published phenomenon is not going away. Ignoring it is not a helpful strategy for you or your patrons.

Monday, March 14, 2016

What I’m Reading: Children of the Dark

Today I have an exciting review to share with you.  This is a book every public library needs to buy. I am not kidding here. If you have readers who enjoy classic Stephen King-- which is ALL of you-- buy this book. Here is the draft of my star review which appears in the 3/15/16 issue of Booklist

Children of the Dark.
Janz, Jonathan (author).
Mar. 2016. 398p. Sinister Grin, paperback, $16  (9781944044145)
REVIEW. First published March 15, 2016 (Booklist).
In the first lines of this chilling novel Will lets us know that he has a terrifying story to tell, “The week I saw seventeen people die didn’t begin with blood, monsters, or a sadistic serial killer. It all began with a baseball game.” And so, we readers wait, the tension builds relentlessly throughout the book, and all of those terrible things do eventually come to pass in perfect horror fashion. But first we are settled into Will’s life in small town Indiana. A local baseball star, he is also poor, with a drug addicted, single mom, and a six year old sister whom he adores. Soon this unlikely hero will lead the entire community into a battle for their lives. The strong narrative voice, a recently awoken ancient evil, and a terrifying serial killer with surprisingly strong ties to Will combine forces to deliver a story with an old school horror feel that is in no way derivative. Heart-pounding action, well developed characters (both good and evil), and just the right amount of gore drive this fast paced story to its unsettling conclusion. This is the perfect book for those who love classic Stephen King. Think Stand by Me meets Something Wicked This Way Comes with a generous helping of the pulp sensibility of Brian Keene and you have Janz, a horror storyteller on the rise.
I read a lot of horror books, and when it comes to newer voices, I always go in with a skeptical eye, meaning I was predisposed to not being impressed here. That fact makes how much I was blown away by this novel even more impressive. Janz has been receiving praise in the horror community for about a year, but now is the time for the wider world to start reading him.

Three Words That Describe This Book: strong narrative voice, well developed characters, awesome tension

Readalikes: As I said above, classic Stephen King and the Bradbury coming of age, small midwest town, horror classic Something Wicked This Way Comes are great options. But there is a bit of the more modern pulp mastery of a writer like Brian Keene here too.

Other books Children of the Dark reminded me of (with links to reviews) are:
All three of these critically acclaimed horror novels have strong a narrative voice, a coming of age theme, and wonder characterization, just like Janz’s novel.

This book comes out tomorrow. GO ORDER IT NOW.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Library Reads: April 2016

It’s the April 2016 Library Reads list.  This is also your monthly reminder that the long backlist of previous months lists make for perfect SURE BET recommendations. Simply click here to pull them all up and start suggesting a great read to your patrons.

Hint: the further back you go the better chance the book will be on the shelf. 

While I love getting excited about the new books as much as anyone, it is in using this resource’s backlist that I have had some of my best RA interactions. The titles are pre-screened and each book comes with its own little book talk. Because of Library Reads I have not only found people their next good read but I have also made lasting connections between patrons and their library.

Ahhh the power of RA.


Eligible: A Modern Retelling
of Pride and Prejudice

by Curtis Sittenfeld

Published:4/19/2016 by Random House
ISBN: 9781400068326
“Love, sex, and relationships in contemporary Cincinnati provide an incisive social commentary set in the framework of Pride and Prejudice. Sittenfeld’s inclusion of a Bachelor-like reality show is a brilliant parallel to the scrutiny placed on characters in the neighborhood balls of Jane Austen’s novel, and readers will have no question about the crass nature of the younger Bennets, or the pride—and prejudice—of the heroine.”
Leslie DeLooze, Richmond Memorial Library, Batavia, NY
Adobe Photoshop PDF

The Obsession

by Nora Roberts

Published: 4/12/2016 by Berkley
ISBN: 9780399175169
“Readers who love romantic thrillers will be mesmerized by the latest Roberts offering. The suspense kept me up all night! Naomi Carson, a successful young photographer, has moved across the country and fallen in love. She thinks she has escaped her past, but instead finds that the sins of her father have become an obsession. The serial killer premise makes it a tough read for the faint-hearted, but sticking with it leads to a thrilling conclusion.”
Marilyn Sieb, L. D. Fargo Public Library, Lake Mills, WI 


The Murder of Mary Russell:
A Novel of Suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes

by Laurie R. King

Published: 4/5/2016 by Bantam
ISBN: 9780804177900
“Worried about Mary Russell? Well, you should be. She’s opened her door to the wrong man and deeply troubling secrets are set to tumble out, rewriting her history and putting herself and the people she loves in a dangerous spot. Once again, King spins a tantalizing tale of deception and misdirection for her readers’ delight and scores a direct hit in her latest Russell-Holmes mystery.”
Deborah Walsh, Geneva Public Library District, Geneva, IL


‘Til Death Do Us Part

by Amanda Quick

Published: 4/19/2016 by Berkley
ISBN: 9780399174469
“Gothic atmosphere meets tender romance in Quick’s latest Victorian era tour de force. Calista Langley asks crime novelist Trent Hastings for assistance in unmasking a twisted secret admirer that seems to have singled her out, and the two become tangled up in more than just an investigation. Quick perfectly balances setting, characters, plot, and relationship development–the end result being a story that will delight her legion of fans, as well as earn her new ones.”
Sharon Layburn, South Huntington Public Library, Huntington Station, NY 


Lilac Girls: A Novel

by Martha Hall Kelly

Published: 4/5/2016 by Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9781101883075
“This is story of the Ravensbruck Rabbits: seventy-four women prisoners in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Using alternating first-person narratives, the characters relate their experiences from 1939 through 1959. Drawing upon a decade of research, Hall reconstructs what life was like in Ravensbruck. More than a war story, this is a tale of how the strength of women’s bonds can carry them through even the most difficult situations. Lilac Girls is a solid, compelling historical read.”
Andrea Larson, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville, IL 


The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts

by Joshua Hammer

Published: 4/19/2016 by Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781476777405
“For centuries, Arabic manuscripts were collected by private households in Mali, particularly Timbuktu: gilded manuscripts painted with real gold, showing vibrantly colored illustrations of nature. These highly valued manuscripts were handed down within families who acted as caretakers. As radicalized Muslim leaders came into power, the manuscripts were seen as corruptions of true Islam, requiring intervention. History and adventure at its best.”
Marika Zemke, Commerce Township Public Library, Commerce Township, MI


Every Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire

Published: 4/5/2016 by Tor.com
ISBN: 9780765385505
“What happens to children who find a doorway into a fantasy land, and then come back into the mundane world? It’s certainly not a happily ever after scenario for these children, but those that find their way to Eleanor West’s school are learning to cope. Shortly after Nancy comes to the school, a series of horrific events occur. It’s up to her and others at the school to figure out who is committing these atrocities. This book is so wonderfully written.”
Jennifer Kelley, Kershaw County Library, Camden, SC


Best of My Love

by Susan Mallery
Published: 4/26/2016 by HQN
ISBN: 9780373789764 

“Shelby has a plan to help herself overcome her relationship issues: asking Aiden to be her friend. Aiden agrees, because he realizes that he does not treat women very well and wants to learn how to treat them right, even though he doesn’t want to get married. The situation seems to work well for both Aiden and Shelby, until they realize they feel much more than friendship for each other. Mallery never fails to deliver a great story full of love and friendship. Another fantastic read.”
Jenelle Klavenga, Marshalltown Public Library, Marshalltown, IA 


A Murder in Time: A Novel

by Julie McElwain

Published: 4/11/2016 by Pegasus Books
ISBN: 9781605989747
“Kendra is a smart, confident protagonist who is familiar with the hustle it takes to stay afloat in a male-dominated profession. Thrown into a situation completely alien to her, she manages to assimilate to her surroundings, albeit roughly, while using her wits to catch a ruthless killer. She can be abrasive, and I found myself cringing, curling my toes, and muttering out loud. It will be fun to watch her mature in future books. McElwain has created a highly entertaining story.”
Randee J Bybee, Upland Public Library, Upland, CA


Tuesday Nights in 1980

by Molly Prentiss

Published: 4/5/2016 by Gallery/Scout Press
ISBN: 9781501121043
“Following the lives of three individuals in New York on the cusp of 1980, this book was structured in such a unique and original way. Lucy is in her early twenties, experiencing life in a big city; James who after college finds himself the reigning critic of the art world and Raul, escaping the post Peron Dirty War in Argentina will find himself the art world’s new favorite; these three will find their lives entwined in many ways. A tragic accident will change all these characters and others close to them. This is a wonderful book that I wasn’t ready to finish.”
Diane Scholl, Batavia Public Library, Batavia, IL

RA for All Roadshow: BRAND NEW Bridging the Physical Virtual Divide With NERTCL

This morning I am in Haverhill, MA delivering the keynote address for the New England Roundtable of Teen and Children’s Librarians (NERTCL) at their Spring Event. Click here for all the the details.

But why should all the rest of you who aren’t here care?  Because my talk is AWESOME. It is a brand new, totally revamped version of my popular Bridging the Physical Virtual divide talk.

Everyone can click here to access the slides, but they are much more useful when paired with the talk that goes with them. [wink, wink].

Don’t fret if you missed me today. I will presenting this talk in person again and as a webinar both in May.  Or you can always contact me to present this one to your group.  In keeping with the thesis of the talk, this one works in person AND online equally as well.

You can always contact me to talk about it. Just not right now, because I am about to get everyone at NERTCL pumped up for a full day of RA based learning.

Click here to access slides

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What I’m Reading: Series Round Up-- Career of Evil

Today I have quick review/appeal update on a series title. In general, I have decided to not review every title I read in on going established series, especially if there isn’t much change to note.  However, sometimes there is a reason to post something.

And that is what we have today with the the 3rd book in the Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling mystery series featuring British PI Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin, Career of Evil.  I reviewed the first two audios in this post, and that is where you can find the overall series appeal discussed. I again listened to this title.

The update on the appeal of Career of Evil is that for the first time  in the series, Strike and Robin take equal turns narrating the story. Now that Robin is a full blown detective herself, she is doing half the work, hence half the story telling.

But the even bigger change is the very dark turn the story takes into suspense territory.  There is a third narrator here-- our very nasty villain.  Yes the series has always been dark, violent, and gritty, but we open with a severed leg being delivered to Robin at work, and it only gets more intense from then on.  Robin is being stalked, innocent women are being killed, and we, the reader, get to see into the sick mind of the killer. on a regular basis  It is all tied to Strike’s history as a military policeman, however. He and Robin have to sort through a list of suspects who have a bone to pick with Strike.

Robin and Strike, and their personal lives play a huge part in the story and are also a big part of why you want to read the series. But, the mystery plot line is well told, extremely compelling, and with just the right amount of plot twists.

The mystery part is resolved, but the storyline that is Strike and Robin is left as a major, dangling cliffhanger. Rowling has us all hooked waiting for the next book once again.

I would also like to share another review of this book with everyone.  This one is from the December 2015, final meeting of the ARRT Crime Fiction genre study.  Chris book talked Career of Evil and it is included in this longer list from that meeting.

Notes on the Narration: I made a longer statement on this the first time I listened to the series.  The narration is still excellent. I hope Glenister stays throughout the duration of the series.

Three Words That Describe This Book: intense, character driven, compelling

Readalikes: I made some suggestions in my previous review of the first 2 titles in this series; however, I think if you like the turn the story has taken in this 3rd installment, than you should also try the intense, character driven suspense of Tana French. I have reviewed most of her novels on the blog here.

I would also suggest anything by Karin Slaughter. She writes gritty, intense, suspenseful mysteries that are fast paced and character driven, just like the Galbraith mysteries. Both series also appeal to men and women equally.

With a much lighter tone in terms of the mystery, but with plenty of complicated family and love relationships and great character development, Lisa Lutz’s Spellman Files series makes an excellent outside the box recommendation.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tales of a Fifth Grade Book Club: Part 7-- Echo Pages 401-488

Part 7 of my fifth grade book club took on a large portion of Part 3. Please refer to the other posts in this series and the discussion guide I compiled which includes a summary of ECHO.

This is our penultimate meeting and I think the kids could sense that we are almost done because they were a littlest rowdy today.  It was also the first warm day in months. Although later that evening, my son brought up book club saying, “that was a really good meeting today.” So what I thought was a bit scattered felt good to them, and that is what matters the most.
  • First thing someone said about this section-- People are racist! I think the kids hear about inequality and they know it happens but this section of the book, set in CA in 1942 hit a little close to home.
    • We talked about the Japanese internment and how Ivy has to go to the Americanization version of her school because she is Mexican even though her family has lived in America for over 100 years.
    • But Kenny (Japanese-American) and Fernando (Mexican-America) are fighting for America.
    • Later in the discussion the kids started talking about all the instances of inequality throughout the novel. We talked about how it is always seen through the kid’s eyes-- just like their eyes. We talked about how sometimes kids see injustice more clearly because they are not hindered by social pressure and they are not as tied to the way things have always been.
  • We talked about Mr. Ward-- the neighboring farm owner.  He is sad-mad-upset about his son dying.  He blames the Yamamoto’s for his son’s death at Pearl Harbor.  We talked about how we don’t like him but then compared him to Elizabeth from Part 1 and Mrs. S from part 2. We didn’t like them at all, but when we heard about the reason why they were mean, we had more sympathy.
  • We also spent some time talking about how much Ivy doesn’t know about everything that is going on. She doesn’t understand why she has to go to a different school, why the nice Yamamoto family had to be put in a camp. She wonders if they are spies. But she also is holding all of her questions in. She needs to ask someone and let out all of her anxiety.
    • The other parent told the group to use Ivy as an example of how not to be.  If you are confused about something, always ask your parents to explain. Don’t hold in all of those emotions. Talking about it will always help.
    • When Ivy asks about the Yamamoto’s her parents do explain what is going on.  Same with the school situation. They are not unwilling to explain, they are just preoccupied with some many things they don’t know Ivy has questions. She needs to ask.
    • The most awkward time she didn’t know something and made a mistake was when she asked her mom if they could get a gold star for their solider flag. Her mom was upset because that meant your solider was dead.
    • A few kids thought this scene was a foreshadowing that Fernando would die.
  • We started making a few more predictions for Ivy’s story
    • It is Christmas 1942 and Fernando’s letter says they think the war will be over soon. Unfortunately we know that it will not. The Lopez family is spending Christmas with hope that 1943 will be a good year, but we know that in terms of the war ending, it will not be what they think.
    • Mr Lopez may get too pushy about the split school. It could backfire. Remember when Friedrich’s dad got too pushy. He went to prison.  
    • A few kids are worried about what will happen when Kenny comes back which is due to happen next in the story. Most thought it would not be good.
    • Kenny and Mr Lopez will get along well.  Kenny will be sad that his family was forced out but happy to have Mr; Lopez keep the farm running until they are allowed home again.
    • But Kenny and Mr. Ward, those 2 the kids are worried about, rightfully so. Even the kids understand the hurt, sadness, and anger both will be bringing to any interaction. A fight was predicted, and the kids noted that if the police get involved, Kenny, as a Japanese American, will be treated unfairly.
    • Maybe Ivy will save the day with her harmonica!
  • Speaking about the harmonica, let’s talk about it more.
    • Ivy playing for the for the orchestra was amazing. She felt dirty and sick on page 462 because that’s what the regular school said about the kids at the Annex but then on page 470, a main school teacher used words like “beauty and light” to describe Ivy’s playing. The words we use matter. The harmonica brought Ivy what she needed to hear.
    • Teaching Susan is a nice way for Ivy to feel good about herself.
    • Will the kids get jealous of Ivy because she is so good? Will they be even meaner?
  • We talked about how Ivy is currently holding 3 families together-- her own, the Wards, and the Yamamotos.  That is a lot to carry for a young girl.  We are feeling like she is about to fall over with the burden.
    • Kids are not optimistic based on how so many bad things are piling up and how the other parts of the novel all ended with an ominous cliff hanger.
    • Maybe someone can have a happy ending. Please.....
  • As we were ending I reminded the kids that next time we would have all finished the book, so this was our last chance to make predictions about how it will end.
    • One kid said, I miss Mike, I hope he comes back at the end.
    • We talked about how old everyone is “now”- 1942.  Friedrich was 12 in 1933 so he is 21 and Mike was 12 in 1935 so he is 19. Ivy is 12. Otto is approximately 50.
    • How old will they each be when they get together, if they get together? 
    • The harmonica will bring them together. But how?
      • They will all meet in a magical forest with Otto and they will all be 12 again.
      • A forest will come into play when they meet somehow but they will be their own age.
      • They will all bond over the harmonica somewhere, somehow....I hope.
Only 1 meeting left.