Tuesday, January 26, 2010

And the Winners Are...

Last Monday, when most of us were off work, the American Library Association (ALA) announced the best books, audio books and videos of the year at its annual mid-winter meeting in Boston. Having attended several of these in person, I can tell you that the air is electric. It’s almost like attending the Academy Awards or an NFL playoff game. Everyone is rooting for their favorite. The committees that selected the winners are grinning from ear to ear, like they have the best secrets. (Which they do!)

There are many sites that list the best books, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I will direct you to ALA for the list. Note that there are many awards, not just the Newbery and Caldecott. This year YALSA added a nonfiction award. When you are ready to order from the award winning books, most book jobbers have already prepared a wish list. All you have to do is mark which books are appropriate for your library. I did notice that one of the jobbers identifies the Newbery Award Winner, When You Reach Me, as Young Adult. It is not YA. It is certainly acceptable for an elementary school. We are very conservative in Southern California and I would not be afraid to put it in my K-4 schools. (You will want to buy some new editions of A Wrinkle in Time to accompany it.)

In addition to ALA awards, I also look at the journal awards for best books. These include Publishers Weekly, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbons, Booklist Editor’s Choice, Horn Book Fanfare List, Kirkus Best Books for Children, Booklinks Lasting Connections, and of course, School Library Journal.

I also look to see what my colleagues think: Michael Cart, Patty Tjomland, Peggy Sharp, Judy Freeman and Kathy Baxter. Many of these literature consultants post their best lists on the book jobber websites. For example, you can see my Books and Boys list on Follett Titlewave under Expert Picks (under tab Essentials). PermaBound and Bound to Stay Bound are among many other book sellers who have lists from BER speakers or other literature experts. Check with your favorite jobber to see. If not, ask that they add them.

Finally, there are Notable Lists from ALA. Most of these are books and media that don’t win the “big awards,” but are certainly worthy of purchase. However, if a book/media won an award, it automatically becomes a notable as well. Many of these might even be your favorites. Let me close today with my favorites that didn’t make the final cut of ALA's Top Winners.

Some of my favorites for YA: If I Stay by Gayle Foreman, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming and Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson.

For Middle Grades: Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Perry, Burn my Heart by Beverley Naidoo, Sparrow Girl by Sara Pennypacker and Tsunami by Ed Young.

For Primary Grades: Chicken Little by Rebecca and Ed Emberley, Birds by Kevin Henkes, Pigs Make Me Sneeze by Mo Willems, and Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems. Be sure to pair Naked Mole Rat with Capstone's nonfiction title, The Naked Mole Rat by Jody Rake.

American Thriller- Jonathan Rand, Super Author

Sometimes we get lucky and our schools are offered free visits by authors. Recently I became aware of an author in this manner. You know the old saying “too good to be true?” I wondered about an author who volunteered to come to San Diego and give many- not just one- free author assemblies. Of course, we have much to offer here, but still.. As part of my “real job,” I like to hear them before I give my blessing.

Well known in Michigan, Jonathan Rand was fairly unknown to me. I’d seen some of his American Chillers series, as our cataloger brought them to me for an okay to add them to the district database. After a little research, the books seemed harmless to elementary to me. A little variety from R. L. Stine is also a good idea, I thought.

So I went to see him at one of our elementary schools. 4 classes of first and second graders were invited to sit in a fairly small area in the library. To make a long story short, Jonathan Rand had their attention from the second they walked in the door. I have never seen anything like it. Halfway through the time (about 25 minutes in), an act of nature occurred. We had a hailstorm at the beach, of all places. Even the teachers began to talk while he was talking. Quickly the storm stopped. Within seconds, Jonathan had the attention again. Not once, during that time did kids squirm, ask to leave or bother each other.

For 50 minutes, Jonathan Rand held their attention. He talked about writing. He talked about reading. He talked about the importance of school. He talked about his works. He involved the kids. It was amazing. He has a series, Freddy Fernortnor, for younger students (Interest Level Grades 1-3). Full of mystery, cliffhanging chapters and adventure, Freddy and his friends will keep young readers interested. His American Chillers (IL Grades 3-6) will keep older elementary students who like horror stories, scared without overdoing it.

Final verdict: Jonathan Rand’s free presentation was well worth attending. In fact, it was well worth paying for. Blessing given.

Check him out at his website AmericanChillers.com.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thank Goodness for Junior Library Guild

You know how sometimes you get a cold phone call and the person on the other end wants to send you a box of books? "Just keep the ones you want. We will pick up any that you don't want. You'll only be charged for what you keep." In the end, you keep them all because it just seems easier that way.

A couple of years ago, one of our principals wanted to fill some holes in his school library collection (and there were many). He answered "yes" when they called. What he got was an expensive box of 6 year old books. In a school district of over 180 schools, only a handful of the books were already in the district database. Not even considering his collection needs, I can tell you that if 200 schools haven't needed those books in 6 years, his school could probably do without them too.

Now I know that not all "we'll send you a box" companies send you old books. However, I have always been of the mind that I can choose what I need by myself, "thank you very much." So, of course, I also resisted Junior Library Guild. They send you books each month, kind of like a Book of the Month Club. You pay in advance, like a magazine. One day, while visiting one of my schools, I saw really new books that I had just learned about. "How did you get these? I didn't tell you about these yet." The sheepish reply was, "I know you don't like them, but I wanted to get my money spent. I bought JLG."

Well, for Pete's sake. I looked at the titles and there was nothing there that I wouldn't have chosen. Turns out JLG has spies- library spies. They have librarians like us who get advanced copies. They sometimes see what's coming out before I do! (Publishers also send me review and advance copies.)

So where am I going with this? On Monday, ALA announced the award winning books and media. So, like many of you, I checked our library, the Instructional Media Center, to see how many we had in our collection. When I pulled the books, I noticed a pattern. Almost all of the books that we had were Junior Library Guild Selections or they were ARCs or publisher review copies. Hmm. I thought. How about that? Now why is that?

First, I haven't had money to spend on our collection since last March. Just before the money that I had was swept, I renewed our subscription to JLG. If it weren't for JLG (and the publishers who want me to know about their books), I wouldn't have any of the award winning books. It was the best decision I have made for spending money on books. The money is spent, but the new titles keep rolling in.

Too many times my money has been saved for late releases and swept before I got a chance to spend it. Do yourself a favor. After you buy your ALA award winners, spend the rest of the money on a subscription to JLG. Keep the best new books coming into your library. JLG has my blessing.