Favourite reads of 2015 (so far!)

These are the books that have made it to my 5-star shelf on Goodreads this year.

Frances Hardinge – I am late discovering her, the first book of hers I read is the recently published “The Lie Tree“. Now I need to seek them ALL out! The two I’ve read (Lie Tree and Cuckoo Song) are a mix of historical/fantasy. Perfect for avid Year 9-10 readers who don’t mind things a bit weird. The main characters are girls deeply affected by what’s fair and right, they behave realistically (setting aside the fantasy elements of the stories!) so they’re not always 100% likeable. They are both stories that feature death and grief, so they have some dark and (slightly) scary moments. Both also have an interesting slant on matters of faith/belief and religion. Absolutely beautiful writing, in my opinion.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel – Winner of this year’s Arthur C Clarke award. I am recommending this to seniors particularly who are into Dystopian fiction. Nice alternative end-of-days sort of story for those (perhaps like me!?) who aren’t huge fans of The Road. It’s a short book, that weaves together the stories of several characters, after a global flu-like pandemic wipes out most of the population. Interestingly, there was an article in the NYT recently discussing how/whether the author’s gender makes a difference to elements of story/writing in this genre.

All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr – Pulitzer winner. I had been avoiding this for a while, thinking it might be one of those ‘worthy’ sort of titles – this is the problem with judging a book by it’s cover! Possibly my favourite read of the year. Mainly young (teen) characters, short chapters, it feels sort of compact in it’s settings and time-frame (for the most part, at least). Much more accessible text than what I was expecting. Am recommending it to everyone, will appeal to anyone who loved The Book Thief.

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby – hipster/arty/fandom types will love it. The kids in this story are all WAY cool, you sort of love and hate them at the same time for that. The family relationships in this story are so whacked out, you just want to get them all into therapy. Sad and funny sometimes too. Interesting themes about reality/perception, self image vs what other people see/think.

Vivian vs the apocalypse by Katie Coyle – another YA dystopian series, really looking forward to reading the next book in the series. Set during/after the (supposed) Rapture. It’s got betrayals, an awesome road trip, truth/religion stuff going on. Really good. Probably best suited to Y11 upwards.

The cure for dreaming by Cat Winters – published late 2014. Historical/fantasy again. Horrible father tries to hypnotize the bolshiness out of his headstrong daughter, but things go weird and instead she has visions of how things/people really are as opposed to how they purport to be. Bonus beautiful photographs from the time (pics of suffragists, ads etc).

What books have you loved this year?

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Thoughts about National Library’s Curriculum Service transformation

Late in 2014, the National Library announced a transformation of their Services to Schools Curriculum Service. At first, reaction following the announcement came mainly from school librarians – those whose Principal had passed along the news from National Library, or those subscribers to the NZ School Libraries listserv. In the days and weeks following the announcement, there has been much opposition voiced from all over – the SLANZA website has a good roundup of links for those who want to get up to speed.

I’m posting today with the letter I wrote to Peter Dunne on 13 February, to which I have not yet received a reply (other than an automated “we’ll get back to you” email).

Kia ora Mr Dunne

I am writing to address some of the points you made in your beehive.govt.nz release of 5 February 2015 regarding changes to the National Library’s Curriculum Service.

Far from being 3 tragi-comic voices in the wilderness as you imply, Ms Ardern and Messrs Hipkins and Robertson are speaking out as a result of concerns expressed to them by parents, teachers and librarians on behalf of the many students who stand to lose from these changes.

You write that the transformation will see more schools receiving an increased number of books from the National Library. At this stage, I can’t see that as anything more than conjecture. For many secondary schools, receiving an annual loan of 200 books comprising “high-interest” fiction and some non-fiction which will be aimed primarily at Year 9 & 10 students, represents a complete change to the way their teachers and librarians have used Curriculum Services to date i.e. to request, as and when needed, subject-specific books to support the research needs of senior students in particular, as they undertake specific topics of study throughout the year. Consequently, I believe many schools will decide not to opt in to the scheme. The result of the changes will be, in my opinion, that while some schools will receive an increased number of books, at the same time many schools will receive a smaller number of books from the National Library. It is naive and overly optimistic of the National Library to think that every school will embrace these changes. I will be interested to see the actual statistics on uptake and use of the transformed service when National Library next report on these.

I am not surprised to hear that the Ministry of Education supports the changes to National Library’s Curriculum Service. I hope you – and they – are now aware that many professional organisations whose members are stakeholders in the services National Library provides to schools (particularly the School Library Association, but also the PPTA, NZEI, and the NZ Principal’s Federation) have spoken out against the changes on behalf of their members, and the students they in turn represent.

So National Library will support topic requests by providing information delivered digitally rather than in print, as it is “up-to-date and in formats the current generation of New Zealand students need”. Unfortunately, only meeting these specific requests with digital content does not in fact match the needs of many of our most vulnerable students, who do not have the wherewithal to access digital content at home and at school, as they might with print materials. I am relieved to hear that the National Library will operate targeted programmes to assist these students, presumably where their school profile suggests extra support is needed. When and how will more detailed information be made available on these targeted programmes so that those affected can begin as soon as possible to manage the change process within their school?

Further to your comments about sharing materials between schools and teachers, can you advise how much of the digital content that National Library plans to provide (through curated web links presumably) is in fact freely available via the internet and therefore accessible by teachers, librarians and students already, and how much of it will be subscription (licensed) material purchased by the National Library for the purpose of further electronic distribution to schools? This raises the question of how National Library and schools will manage the DRM implications of sharing licensed or subscription material, and furthermore what delivery mechanisms will need to be put in place for making this content readily accessible by students? How quickly will Curriculum Services be able to provide this curated digital information? Because a good deal of our students’ learning happens through what is often a quite fluid process of research and inquiry, much of the work that teachers and school librarians do to help students locate and use digital resources happens “on the spot” at the moment a student finds they have a particular information need. Curriculum Service requests are of no use to them in that case.

You have written about the “wide consultation” undertaken as part of National Library’s 2012 review of Services to Schools. Teachers and librarians who were involved in the focus group meetings listed in the review document were explicit in their recommendation that National Library continue to provide topic-specific print resources, particularly to support rural and low decile schools, and other schools whose library budget does not otherwise allow their school to provide either print or eResources sufficient to meet the information needs of their teachers and students. I was shocked and baffled to find that the interview subjects of that 2012 review did not include a single currently practicing teacher or school librarian. Reaction from school librarians and teachers since the Services to Schools Transformation announcement has been overwhelmingly critical of the decision to cease supplying specific print materials on request from National Library’s large and very valuable collection, to meet the specific needs of learners. I am certain that if those in attendance at the 2012 focus group meetings had any inkling of the likelihood of losing this valuable service, they would have vociferously expressed their disapproval at that time, as they are now.

You imply in your release that opponents of these changes must be opponents of progress. Of course this is not such a simple black-and-white issue, and Labour are not at all attempting to keep Curriculum Services out of the 21st Century as you facetiously suggest. Rather, they recognise, as do teachers, parents and school library staff, that resourcing the curriculum should mean providing information in a range of formats, and at the time it is needed. There has never been any suggestion that National Library are expected “to purchase in advance hard copy books on all possible subjects”. National Library have in fact been doing an excellent job of purchasing books to meet the specific curriculum needs of teachers and their students up until now, and providing an excellent service of distributing those books to schools. This is not to say that some improvement to distribution processes and promotion of Curriculum Service’s print resources isn’t required – as it surely will be for the digital content they plan to provide, too – especially if, as it appears, one of their aims is to increase the numbers of teachers who access the collection.

Can you confirm whether the suggested savings of $.392m p.a. associated with the transformation include consideration of any new or increased costs of providing the ‘enhanced’ service e.g. staffing allocations for skilled reference librarians who will be locating and curating digital collections on a wide range of topics, suitable for a wide range of curriculum levels, accessible in a wide range of formats? Will these costs, and subscription and/or licencing costs of digital content simply replace the cost of print materials?

I remain unconvinced that the transformation of Curriculum Services will enhance what National Library provides schools, and I look forward to hearing your reply to the questions I have raised.

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Modern Authors With Longevity

I was intrigued by this post on Bookriot.  And thought, seeing as it is months since I put anything on this blog, that I might bring it to the attention of the 5 people who are still following along.  Sorry for abandoning you for so long.  I’d say posts might become more frequent but my busy life keeps interfering with my wish to have an active blog.  And the other contributor on here is in the same boat.  Damn that interesting life we keep leading!

Anyway over on Bookriot they have suggested the 10 authors who will still be read and revered in 100 years.  I was wondering if my list would agree with theirs, they seem to have a bent towards the USA and I’d like some others on there.  And I’d like to extend their list, while not arguing with the choices they have made, even though I haven’t heard of George Saunders and I can’t stand Juno Diaz’s work – I’ve tried, really I have.

Anyway I’d add to the list:

Mary Doria Russell – every book a winner.  She writes all kinds of things, history, science fiction, westerns and they are all thoughtful, beautifully written and take you on a journey to another place and time.  She is my favourite author overall amongst a plethora of others whom I also love.  She is my desert island author.

Ian McEwan – This guy is just so good.  He takes a topic and makes a story work around it.  I haven’t loved every book (I give you Solar) (and raise you Amsterdam) but when he gets it right I think he is unbeatable.

Patrick Ness – Oh yes you scoffers at YA literature, take this and shove it up your jumper, this is the best writer in the field and I can assure you that his books have as much appeal for adults as they do for kids.  He is a make you cry kind of guy, making you cry with relief when a character survives and howl as he kills a dog.

Tim Winton – every time I read one of his books I know I’m going to have attachment issues.  I’ll hate and love and care about the people I’m reading about.  I will become so involved in their lives that I will dream about them.  Realness is his thing, and for me that is so refreshing and it is all so unstilted that I can’t help getting caught up in his stories.  I’ve got the latest to read and I’m waiting for a chance to sit, do nothing but just read it.

Ann Patchett – she writes in the way that I’d like to talk.  State of Wonder is a treasure, but so is Bel Canto. She sees with a clear eye and she makes me totally connect with the ideas she is sharing.  I love the big ideas she puts into her novels.  Her essays are wonderful.  She is a real bookie and if she is recommending a book I know I will love it.

Kate Atkinson – I’m a little in love with Kate.  I love her very British way of seeing the world, the dark side of life as well as the bright.  She writes character so well, her latest book was so cleverly constructed it made me want to start it again immediately I had finished.  Her books are treasures and her Jackson Brodie the best of the British detectives and that is high praise indeed.

So, I could go on.  These are the grown up authors I love.  There are so many more.  But these are the top of the pops for me. Anyone want to add some more?

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Who should decide what kids read – kids I reckon

Here is a great article from The Guardian, called Who Decides What I Get To Read.  It is written by ABitCrazy a kid.  I think thats awesome.  There is a real place for the kids voice in a discussion like this.  It goes with Judy Blume’s comments here in The Telegraph.

I love Patrick Ness’s comments about how he read everything and everything as a kid.  One thing that makes me really uncomfortable at the moment is the compulsion that my students feel to constantly read series books.  So limiting!  Yesterday I took one of the Yr 10s who cannot cope if the next book in the series he is reading for a tour of the library to show him lots and lots of series he hasn’t ever read, and also to talk about how if you are waiting for the next book there are so many good stand alone books.

But back to the original article.  Lots of parents in the survey mentioned would buy more books if they had age recommendations on them.  I am so against this.  I signed up to No Age Banding when it first started ages ago, and I see age recommendations creeping onto books more and more often.  Severely limiting the appeal of a book.  I just can’t see a 14 year old wanting to read a book recommended to a 10 year and up audience.  Let kids choose what they want to read.  Wise librarians and booksellers who are wide and up to date in their reading can recommend books.  You don’t need a band on the spine.  Let kids choose for themselves.

I quite liked Kate De Goldi’s recommendations today in Booknotes Unbound.  A great big long list of books which I’m sure some conservative parents would take issue with but which really are awesome crossover reads, I’d add lots more recent books to the list, books like Broken by Daniel Clay, The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, anything by Matthew Quick, books by Sue Monk Kid, Karen Thompson’s Age of Miracles and a bunch of other stuff which is recent and full of awesome.

Let them read, let them read widely and stop judging what is good for them and what isn’t.  Oh and read Bugs!

That is my rant for this evening.

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The 40 Best YA Novels

Here is a list.  A really interesting list. From Rolling Stone Magazine no less.Image

Unfortunately it is horrible to view, but that is probably it’s only fault.  Some books I hadn’t heard of and will go hunting for.  Some books which are  books I’ve loved for years.  Check
it out here
!   Here is the blurb from the site.

In the past decade, young adult literature has gone from a loosely defined term describing books marketed to teenagers to a cultural force that has spawned such blockbuster hits as TwilightThe Hunger GamesDivergent and The Fault in Our Stars (all of which have been made into movies, with Fault hitting theaters on June 6th). Trying to decide on the most essential books in the genre is a bit like trying to empty the ocean using a thimble. We’ve parsed through hundreds of stories about dystopian societies, supernatural love triangles, awkward first crushes and many a mixed-tape featuring the Smiths to bring you this core collection of classic staples and overlooked gems. Consider it your summer reading list. By Anna Fitzpatrick

 

 

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Collection Development – know your users

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I have been shocked recently with the trend of school librarians seeking opinions about books and regularly asking for others opinions on books they are thinking of buying for their libraries on listserv and on social media.  I have always thought that one of the joys of running a library, especially one where you are so connected with your users, such as in a school library, that buying books which specifically appeal to your students is easy.  Why ask someone who doesn’t know your users?  Why ask someone who doesn’t work in a school at the same level as you?  Why are you so scared of buying something which you could easily send back if it doesn’t fit?  Yes budgets are tight.  Yes, sometimes you make a mistake? I’ve just finished a book which I should not have bought, thank goodness I read it before it hit the hands of a Yr 9 boy – far too much graphic sex.   But you have to have some confidence in yourself.  Decide that you know your existing stock, that you know what you need in the library, that you have great selection tools and do some research yourself.  That is what librarians do.  Don’t think that by posting on the listserv that you will get opinions from people which will match yours, you might get me, and I might tell you to go to a bookshop and have a look for yourself.  I might tell you to look at the blogs or at Goodreads to see what other people are saying about the books you are considering.  I might tell you that it is your job to know what will work for your students and staff.

Why are you so unwilling to take a punt on books which have been nominated for awards? Which have been compared to a heap of others which fit the same category of reader – junior fiction (if you are an intermediate school you are going to want those right) Senior Fiction is much more tricky I admit.  There are always some I don’t buy because they don’t fit (too girly or ugly cover so nobody will borrow it, we already have 16 of this kind of book and don’t need any more there are plenty of reasons a book won’t work for me, but I can tell by looking.  So can you!) but New Zealand kids need to read NZ books, they need to read the best of the bunch.  And I’m happily going to say that one of the best NZ kids books I read last year wasn’t on the list of NZ Post Books and I was gutted about that, but I can push that book to my kids and not everyone can be a finalist.  Kids need to read a variety of books and they don’t only need to read your taste.  Maybe you are someone who likes ‘lovely’ books.  Old fashioned charmers.  Well you can’t just buy ‘old fashioned charmers’ for your school library.  Peter Rabbit is all very well and good but your kids don’t live in England in the 1960s they live in NZ in the 2000s.  They are not you when you were a kid.  Read some new books.  Read what is on the lists.  Learn to love the modern.  Or you should consider looking for another job.

School librarians are hip, they are down with the cool kids, they love new, they love cool and they love kids and they most of all get kids.  If you get kids then you know what to buy them.  Stop asking the world to do your job.  Get on the blogs, follow cool school librarians from all over the world, look up reading lists, follow Zac HardingLorraine Orman and Bob Docherty, join Goodreads and look for other school librarians and see what they love.  Look at what is hot all around the world, what is winning awards, what are people raving about.  It is the joy of finding gems that you didn’t know about before by hunting around that makes me happy.

Mostly though, you should be a librarian.  Good at choosing, good at researching and good at reading books for kids!

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Tween Reading List – now thats handy!

tweensIt is booklist time of year again, one of my favourite times,  I keep adding to my most wanted in 2014 lists and finding new ways of spending the budget I want to have, not necessarily the budget I will have.

The ALSC – Association for Library Service to Children have put out a Tween Booklist.  You know those kids, the ones who look like teenagers, act like teenagers and are little kids inside even if they don’t realise it.  You can download the PDF in either black and white or colour which I think is just excellent and it makes good browsing.

Find it here.  While you are on their website check out some of the other fantastic things they have on there.  Very inspiring!

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