Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


Summer Reading Lists

The Wall Street Journal has stepped into the "bash current books for kids/ young adults" arena with its editorial, Literary Losers : Summer reading lists are filled with uninspired choices. (Why do they think that they have to compete with Slate?) How's this for a nice slam at librarians:

But there are consequences. "Child readers haven't cemented their tastes," says Ellen Fader, president of the Association for Library Services to Children, which does not recommend many classics on its Web site. "Adults serve as intermediar[ies] in introducing books to young people." Which may explain why we're raising a generation of cereal-box readers.

Author gets extra bonus points for using Fader's own words against her.

Shannon Hale takes the WSJ to task in a wonderful post that addresses reading for fun, different reading interests for different kids, and the odd notion that the only good book is an old book in her blog post, The Older The Better. Don't forget to read the comments, where one poster points out that any book boiled down to one sentence will appear to be bad/ depressing/ boring/ fluff.

Shanon and many of the commentators don't bash the older books; in point of fact, not only do some of them talk about particular older books that they loved, Shannon also says that she agrees that classics have a place on summer reading lists.

Summer reading lists are a tricky thing. I read constantly as a child, and while I participated each summer in the local library summer reading program, I read because I loved reading. It wasn't to get the trinket or invite to the end of summer pizza party. I read anything and everything, classics included, finding them thru gifts, books at home, books at the library. If a character in a book read something, I wanted to read it.

I think summer reading is important to show kids that reading isn't just for school. It can be fun; and I don't mean fun books, because a classic or a tearjerker can be fun reading. I mean, that it's something you do because you want to. It's not something that one "has" to do but rather something that one "wants" to do. And it's my belief that the more a kid reads for fun, the more they want to read; the more they want to read, the more books they will read; and so for the non-reader, a classic isn't a good place to start; especially if it's a classic that was not written for kids. (And, for the record, not very classic lover will love all classics. I adore Austen and Bronte, yet cannot finish a Dickens novel to save my life. Give the wrong classic to a kid, and they may be turned off all classics.)

With that in mind, I don't like summer reading lists that are "musts", because what one kid will read and love, another kid will read and hate. Nothing kills the joy of reading quicker than having to read a book you don't like. Summer is about building the joy of reading. The best mandatory summer reading lists I've seen are the ones that have pages and pages of options for kids. Some examples: here (pdf file) and here (pdf file).

At my library, we don't have any "must" books for summer reading; I cannot speak for those libraries who do require a certain book to be read for the program, except to say that I disagree with that philosophy.

At the library, we create summer reading lists with suggested titles related to the summer reading theme; and we also do other book lists during the year. When the list is in paper book mark form (as opposed to online), I'm limited to the number of titles (16 max) that can appear. As a general rule, I don't include classics. Not that I have anything against classics; I also don't include popular titles. The reason is the same for both: I don't think Harry Potter needs me to promote it to get kids reading it; and I don't think Little Women needs me to promote it to get kids reading it. I see a list as being about getting kids (and their parents) aware of titles that they otherwise wouldn't know about. As I read the editorial, I look at it from the other side: the belief that an omission means that I don't like the book or that I don't think the book is worth reading. Which, personally? I think is overreading suggested lists.

In a nutshell, what I consider when creating a list:
  • Find books for the theme of the list.
  • Does the book "need" promoting for it to find readers? If it's a classic or very popular, I'll leave it off (as I discuss above).
  • Have I covered all interests? Even with a theme, is there a mix of contemporary, science fiction, historical, sports? Because I tend to prefer certain books, have I inadvertently created a list that reflects only my likes? Do I need to expand beyond the books I know? What about nonfiction?
  • Is the list diverse? Have I unintentionally created a list where only certain people show up in the books? Will the kids looking at this list fail to find something that reflects their world?
  • Are all reading levels covered? Usually, the list is geared towards age of the child; so do I have books that cover the wide range of reading levels that may occur in one age group?
  • How many copies are available at the library? Will there be enough to meet the need created by the list and to do displays around the list? If the library doesn't have enough copies, can we get more copies? Is it still in print?

What about the classics?

The library owns them. There are lists out there that are specifically about classics, or what books every high school student should read, etc. In doing one on one readers advisory, as I learn a child's unique tastes, I will recommend certain classics. They aren't being ignored.

For those of you who put together lists, whether for the library or your blog, what do you consider when putting together lists? For those of you who use these lists, what do you assume a list means? Have I left anything off the above considerations that I should be thinking about?

Thanks to Jen Robinson for highlighting this post and editorial.

Cross posted at Tea Cozy.


  • At 12:57 PM, Blogger Tim said…

    Awesome post, Liz! I forwarded it to some people at my library...

  • At 1:53 PM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    Amen, amen, a thousand times amen. I love how the author managed the dazzling logical leap from "kids might as well read cereal boxes" to "this generation only reads cereal boxes". Cute.

    Once again, I am flabbergasted at how easy it is for doubtless well-intentioned adults to forget that they were kids once. Why is it so bad for a child to read something fluffy or easy when adults do it all the time? DaVinci Code, anyone? James Patterson? Romance novels? There's much to be said for letting a kid re-read a favorite book, or for letting them read below their supposed reading level -- especially for reluctant readers! For Pete's sake, let's let kids feel a sense of accomplishment when they read!

    Just as there's a place for non-literary popular titles in a well-balanced reading diet for grown-ups, there's room for sports books, princessy books, what-have-you books in a well-balanced reading diet for youth. Good job, WSJ, for Not Getting It. Again. I haven't forgotten your "What Are Your Children Reading" piece from last summer.

  • At 10:06 AM, Blogger Melissa Rabey said…

    One of my favorite singers is Dar Williams, who has written several songs promoting the good things about being a teenager. My favorite is "Teenagers, Kick Our Butts", because of this lyric:

    Teenagers, kick our butts, tell us what the future will bring
    Teenagers look at us, we have not solved everything

    We drink and smoke to numb our pain
    We read junk novels on the plane
    We use authority for show so we can be a little smarter

    Kids and teens are pretty damn smart. Why do adults not want to trust them to use that natual intelligence and pick out their own books?

    Now, I'm not denying the classics aren't important--there's several that I've loved. But you know how I became the reader that would pick up the classics? I read Nancy Drew voraciously when I first started reading, and then I started branching out. Like so many other kids, it was the fluff that got me hooked, so I would then move on to the meaty stuff.

  • At 11:38 AM, Blogger Anne said…

    that was a terrific piece in response to the WSJ editorial which was really so lame that perhaps it should have been ignored. Except that the opinions in it, badly expressed as they were, are quite prevalent sadly. thanks, well put!

  • At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was actually interviewed for that article, and was so excited to see my name in the WSJ. Until I read the article and then I was thrilled he HADN'T strangled me on my own words. I feel bad for those like Ellen Fader who he did. GAWD! It's been a month and I'm still seething.

  • At 1:36 PM, Blogger Liz B said…

    Anon, I'm sorry you got burnt. Paul Acampora did a follow up interview with Mary Burgess that you may want to read: http://acampora.livejournal.com/12349.html

    Frankly, I'm appalled that an intern was allowed to twist people's words. I'm left musing, what do they teach kids today? Anything goes?


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