Monday, November 17, 2014

YA Lit Symposium, Austin, TX

Over the weekend, I attended YALSA's Young Adult Literature Symposium in Austin, Texas.  It was my first time attending a YALSA conference and my first time in Texas, and I was very much looking forward to it.  

Plus I had some really good reading material for the flight:

The Blake School had generously and inadvertently paid for me to attend a pre-conference Friday afternoon, despite my not expressing any interest in any such pre-conference or intending to register for a pre-conference.  But hey, a session is a session, so after landing in Austin and getting lunch, I joined the already-in-progress "Practical Ideas to Amp Up Your YA Literature Programming."  Sadly, it was not a great session.  The presenters had apparently had great luck at their libraries with lots of arts and crafts programming inspired by Pinterest and Etsy.  They go through gallons of decoupage at these libraries, and while I'm thrilled for them (crafts are fun; I like crafts), I do not think the students at my school will be interesting in anything like "making" their own bookends:

A sample from a "Make Your Own Bookend" teen library program.

Uninspired, I left the $69 ticketed session hoping for better when the conference proper began Saturday morning.  I also skipped Friday night's opening reception boat cruise, because it was cold in Austin.  I even bought a new coat.  I was that cold.

But the hotel that hosted the conference was lovely--the Hyatt Regency, overlooking Lady Bird Lake (a Colorado River reservoir created by the construction of the Longhorn Dam in 1960) and nestled between the Congress Avenue Bridge (home to the U.S.'s largest urban bat population, whose nightly emergence from under the arches attracts thousands of tourists every summer; alas, the bats have already migrated to Mexico for the winter) and the South First Street Bridge, with easy walking access to downtown Austin and the trendy SoCo (South Congress) neighborhood.  But before I could get out and explore the city, I had to attend at least one more session!

My hotel room view of Lady Bird Lake and downtown Austin.

So I went to the Saturday morning session "YA Realness:  What Makes 'Contemporary Realism' Feel True to Readers?"  The influence of the success of John Green's books (particularly The Fault in Our Stars, of course) and of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park was fairly obvious, as the panel of authors discussed how they attempt to write authentically about diverse teen experiences.  Sara Zarr, Sara Ryan, Matt de la Pena, Jo Knowles, and Coe Booth all stressed their desire to include details, even mundane details, to create real worlds.  They spoke about intentionally challenging readers through the use of slang or dialectic, and the importance of including complicated relationships with flawed adult characters.  Many of these authors have felt pressured by publishers and editors to include romantic plots, even if their stories are not love stories.  All these authors feel like they've told their stories well when they hear from fans wanting to know, "What happens next?" because that means readers are picturing their characters as real people, alive in the world today.  They also stressed that writing YA means taking teens' needs and wants into consideration (teens are drawn to sadness, despair, and tragedy, they all agreed), despite the often contrary needs and wants of the adults in their lives (who tend to want teens to read "happy books").  Each author also spoke about the fine balance that can occur when they write about a character whose experience is different than their own, and their concerns about doing justice to that experience.  It was a good session, because it was great to hear authors speak so openly and passionately about their commitment to an authentic teen experience!

Then, I went out to play.

Angelina Eberly is my new hero.

They have really great statues in Austin.

Austin also has horses that sing in bands.

I had very good intentions of attending Saturday's 1:00pm session "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy and Sci Fi?" but my husband and I got lost in downtown Austin and I didn't make it back in time.  But I did eat a really good burrito:

A cayenne tortilla burrito from Freebirds World Burrito.  

I did make it back for the 3:30pm sessions, and attended "Using Multicultural YA Literature to Examine the Impact of Racism on the Lives of Teens of Color."  This lengthy-titled session was something of a disappointment, as the presenters were so concerned with making the session a "safe space" for discussion that, at well over an hour into the session, they had recommended a few books but hadn't actually talked about the real experiences of any teens of color and hadn't imparted any findings that were particularly new.  I ducked out early, and decided to catch the end of another 3:30pm session, "Who Gets to Tell Our Stories?  Authentic Portrayals of Trans* Youth in YA Fiction."  This session was a bit meatier, as two transgender teen authors (Katie Rain Hill and Arin Andrews) made up the panel.  Katie and Arin stressed the importance of libraries as a safe place with important resources, but emphasized a need for both openness (librarians should make sure to be available as allies) and privacy for teens who are still exploring their identities (consider putting resources online, make sure subject headings reflect GLBTQI* content).  The Blake School has an active, passionate community of students focused on issues of gender and sexuality, so it was good to hear confirmation from other trans* teens that we're on the right path.

Saturday evening was the BOOK BLITZ!!!  The highlight of the conference (in my opinion, anyway), the Book Blitz was a chance to get complimentary books, and to get them signed by the authors.  Each librarian was given a tote bag and six tickets; once the hall opened, you traded tickets for books.  Over forty authors awaited us when the doors opened, and if there's one thing librarians love, it's free books--especially if there's an opportunity to meet the authors.  I had no specific authors in mind when I entered the Book Blitz (I would have liked to get the memoirs by Katie Hill and Arin Andrews, but they were gone in the blink of eye), but I ended up quite satisfied with my haul.

Book Blitz
Book Blitz!!!!!

My new books.  I'm so proud.

After the Book Blitz, I took in some more Austin city culture:


The Austin city Museum of the Weird on East Sixth Street is highly educational.  Also, there's a bar called The Library:

You can't expect librarians to resist a bar actually called The Library, can you?

My final session was Sunday morning, "GenreQueer:  Smashing the Closet."  It seemed the closest thing to my missed session "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Sci Fi and Fantasy?" (which is a question we've had multiple students ask).  It did not reveal anything especially earth-shattering about the need for GLBTQI* teens to see themselves represented in books that take place in the past, present, and future, but the panel of authors spoke well about the issues, and author Malinda Lo in particular is a wonderful advocate for diverse YA literature.

I skipped the closing session with R.L. Stine so I could eat tacos and go to bookstores before the flight home.

The mole sauce at Guero's is excellent.

My husband waits impatiently for South Congress Books to open.

We visited South Congress Book and BookPeople.  South Congress Books is a small, independent, well-appointed and very charming little used bookstore, with an impressive selection of beautiful rare and collectible editions.  BookPeople is big and bright with two stories of new books, author events, and helpful booksellers anxious to put as many books as possible into your hands.  Go to Austin and shop at these bookstores.

The most interesting comment I heard about the state of young adult literature today was a brief conversation--and observation, really--that I overheard in the hotel lobby between an unknown author and a fellow librarian.  The author (who I failed to recognize) said to the librarian, "You all say that you want diverse books, but I'm told I can't get published if I don't have white characters."  That brief remark says so much about about the state of the book industry, the struggle that well-intentioned but struggling authors face, and the important role that librarians can play.  But try telling that to one of my favorite students, who's standing here as I type this, asking where are all the authors and characters of color in her favorite books?  

The theme of the 2014 YA Literature Symposium was "Keeping It Real:  Finding the True Teen Experience in YA Literature."  We have a long way to go before that "true teen experience" is truly reflected in the books on our shelves, but we're getting there.  

YALSA sells YALSA shot glasses, because young adult librarians are classy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fun Library Things Happening Lately

The new renovated library, now in it's second year, continues to be a destination for teachers and classes.  Sometimes they're doing research-related projects; sometimes they're just enjoying the new space and having fun.  Some highlights from the first quarter of the year include...

The freshmen seminar classes, which run during study halls for the first two weeks of the school year, are held in the Carlson Commons which connects the library upstairs to the science wing downstairs.  This year, each section conducted egg drops, using teamwork to build the best contraption that would keep an egg from breaking when it was dropped from the catwalk:

New 9th graders test the parachute method of egg protection.

A 9th grade team celebrates after its egg survives the drop.

The whiteboard paint on the walls of the quiet study rooms continue to be popular, with students using them more and more for homework rather than doodling, covering the walls with math equations or lines of the various languages they study:

Mandarin characters cover the study room walls as students work through a Chinese language assignment.

The Oscar Mayer Weinermobile was seen in the neighborhood and Lizz and I were lucky enough to be there when it passed by the school:

Lizz takes a picture of me taking a picture of the Weinermobile.
The Weinermobile in all its glory.

The Ancient Worlds class is one of our best customers, using the Commons for a Greco-Roman debate simulation and demonstrating ancient warfare techniques with yardsticks for swords in the library hallway:

Just like the ancient Greeks, students take turns debating important issues.

Mr. Cady directs a phalanx of Spartan warriors.

The World Cultures/ World History classes are also in the library almost every week--sometimes every day.  A recent assessment included points for creativity displayed during an Olympic Parade of Nations that started in the library, circled through the school hallways, and ended in the Danielson Room:

World History teacher Ms. Calderone acts as host nation and leads the procession through the Carlson Commons.
Cheering students representing their proud countries return to the library.

The Greek constituents bring up the rear, bearing Lizz's library-made paper torch.

Our current book display is a very topical exploration of ebola and other plagues and diseases:

And today, we have Karina Leppik, Blake graduate of the class of 1993 and current SOFIA mission director at NASA, speaking to the school today.  So of course we put up a quick space books display, and had Sean pose with it since it's also his birthday and Lizz got him a space hoodie as a gift:

Space hoodie, space books.
We're looking forward to many more fun times in the library as the year goes on.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Library Relay Races

The 2014-15 school year has started, and we've been busy!  We've even already started our now-annual field trips to the downtown central Hennepin County Library, and this year, to prep for these field trips, we did a "library relay race" activity with the ninth grade World Cultures/World Literature classes.  The goal was to have a practice session in a library before the field trip and its accompanying assignment, and to assess our ninth graders' library and research skills.

Lizz devised a series of activities for each group of students (four students per group) to perform.  Once a student completed their given activity, they would come to me, Lizz, or their teacher for judging.  If the activity had been successfully completed, the group would get a new task, and so on until the first group won and received an thrilling prize of candy.   

Activities included coming up with successful search terms for both a Google search and a library catalog search, finding books by call number and by subject, finding specific information in a book using the table of contents and the index, and finding and evaluating a database article.  For each activity, they had to relate the book or article to what they've been learning in class so far this year.  A few of the activities led to specific books that we wanted students to explore; this made it easy for us judges to know if the students had successfully followed directions--although we did have a lot of re-shelving to do between each set of relay races so the next groups could find the right books again!
Some activities required students to work together in teams and groups to come up with the best answers.

Some activities required students to find resources on their own, without help from peers or teachers.

World Cultures teacher Ms. Calderone judges a student's book selection.

We conducted these library relay races for every block of 9th grade World Cultures/ World History classes, all in one day.  It was very busy, a little hectic at times, but we got a very good sense of the areas in which students need to gain more skills.  And since the kids got to compete with each other for the glory of the win and a few pieces of candy, they deemed the activity "fun."  A few kids even thanked us, which is always a win. 

A ninth grade groups together works at the library catalog station.

Two groups of students--one looking for books in the stacks, the other
brainstorming search terms--race for the ultimate library relay prize. 

The teachers also agreed that the activities were helpful to both see where the students were at when it came to using library resources for research, and ensured that the students wouldn't be too lost and would have some context for the public library field trips.  All in all, a useful and entertaining addition to our library-classroom collaboration.

Ms. Youmans and a student, winning.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Downtown Central Library Field Trips

As a high school located in the heart of a city, we have all the resources of a major public library system at our fingertips to supplement and support our school library.  The best way we've taken advantage of this is to take our history students on research field trips to Hennepin County's Central Library in downtown Minneapolis.

Hennepin County's Minneapolis Central Library opened in 2006 and is super fancy. 
When school resumed after Spring Break, our ninth graders began their World Cultures history projects.  They could select any historical topic between the years 1500 and 1940, as long as it was from a non-U.S. point of view.  Topics included the Dutch tulip bubble of 1643, court life during the reign of King Louis XIV, the inventor of the mustard gas used during World War I, the science behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the history of the mafiosi in Italy, the disappearance of the USS Cyclops in the Bermuda Triangle, and the formation of the Mercedes-Benz company.  Since students were expected to work with both primary and secondary sources, we decided to introduce them to research at Hennepin County Library.

Over the course of two weeks, Lizz and I accompanied students and teaches on six separate trips to the downtown library branch.  For many of the ninth graders, this would be their first time using public transportation.  We herded the students across the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden by the Walker Art Center, over highway 394 on the Irene Hixon Whitney pedestrian bridge, and to the bus stop on the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Oak Grove Street.  For the most part, we could get a double-section (usually about 25 to 35 students) on a single bus, which didn't generally thrill the other passengers, but it's all part of the wonderful world of public transportation!

Walking through the Sculpture Garden
Crossing the bridge over the freeway.

Once on the bus, we stressed "bus etiquette":  more as far to the back as you can, fill in any empty seats, and accept that you will have to sit next to strangers!  We elected one kid each trip to pull the cord to signal our stop, and after a twenty-minute ride down Hennepin Avenue, we piled off the bus and into the library.

Our students on the bus to the library.
A Blake students makes the acquaintance of a young bus passenger.
Into the library!

The Minneapolis Central branch is very large; most students had not been there before.  We gave them a quick set of instructions:  most of the history materials are on the fourth floor, each student should leave with at least one book either checked out or on request from another library branch, and no coffee from the coffee shop until they found a good resource!  Let the research begin!

As the students searched for their topics, Lizz and I  and the teachers provided guidance on searching the catalog, using subject headings to find similar books, evaluating a book based on all the available information in the library catalog, and using the stacks (always a good time, pushing the buttons to make the bookshelves move!).  We also stressed the art of finding the best book available, not merely the top hit after a simple search.

A student looks in the moveable stacks for a book.
Students use the library's catalog stations to find resources.
Student and teacher evaluate a book together. 

We also helped several students check the status of their library accounts, and in some cases, get library cards for the first time.  One of our goals for the coming years is to make sure every student at the Upper School has a Hennepin County Library card, the better to access the many resources available.

A student gets a library card!

The field trips to the public library prove that research is an adventure, and that finding and using your resources correctly is the most important part of writing a research paper.  The field trips also allow our students a glimpse of the city that our school is part of--an important part of the outing since many of our students commute from the suburbs and rarely leave the school campus until they're juniors or seniors.  Also, libraries are just plain awesome and we love showing them off.  

Students waiting for instructions in the library lobby.
Visiting the coffee shop is a highlight of the library field trips.
Note Lizz, seated below the display case on the right, working with a student.    
Students wait near the library exit for the bus home.
A proud history teacher leads students back onto
the bus after another successful library field trip.
Goodbye, library, until next time!