10.06.2013

my favourite customers and two-way readers' advisory

The children's library where I work services a huge age-range of young people and their caregivers, from birth up to around age 12. I enjoy the full range - helping parents understand the importance of reading to their children, helping kids find fun books to read, finding material for school projects and reports - all of it. But what I love best is connecting avid young readers - of the age group known as "tweens" - with books they enjoy.

Wikipedia defines the tween demographic as ages 10-12, but tweens may be 9-13, or may even be as young as 7 or 8, depending on the person. Tweens are definitely not little kids, but neither are they teens, not only in age, but also in sensibility.

I love being around tweens. They are often actively exploring new likes and dislikes, trying on different selves to see what might fit. They are usually independent-minded, and although they may be socially self-conscious, they are seldom jaded. Tweens are usually more open to adults - and to the world in general - than many teens. I like being around teenagers, and I don't fear them the way many adults do, but interacting with tweens can be more satisfying.

In the library, as in much of life, tweens are often lost in a gap between children's programming and teen groups. Our library and others in the Mississauga system offer Lego Club, after-school homework groups, Robotics Club (in partnership with this organization), and a smattering of other tween activities, but there is much more focus on our younger customers. I've been keeping my eyes open for ways to improve tween programming.

* * * *

Over the summer, I was trying to find books for a frequent customer - a boy, a very strong reader, probably 11 or 12 years old. Anything I suggested, he had already read. I managed to find two books that he hadn't read yet, so when he left, I emailed staff for help. The next time I saw him, I was armed with the staff's list... and it turned out he had read all those books, too!

"You know what?" I said to him. "You are done with us. You are finished with the Junior collection. You need to go upstairs and find books from the Youth section."

He said he had already read several youth books, including the entire Hunger Games series. His all-time favourite book, he said, was a youth novel: The Maze Runner. I put it on hold for myself, and the next time I saw him, told him that he had recommended a book for me.

* * * *

A few weeks after that, I had a similar experience with another boy. He had read everything that appealed to him in our entire collection. This boy, however, was physically smaller than my other friend, and looked much younger. I just couldn't see him being comfortable in the Youth area. Then it came to me: I suggested he go upstairs, find some books... then bring them back to Children's to read. Ah-ha!

In our department, these boys and girls are the top dogs, the oldest and wisest. They chat with adult staff. The little kids ask them for help. But in the youth department, they are back to being little kids again.

This made me wonder if we could create a special space for tweens within the Children's department, or at least a special display of Youth material that is suitable for more mature tweens. I brought the idea to our Senior Librarian and Manager, who were very excited.

Now to see if we can make it happen.

37 comments:

johngoldfine said...

In the early 50s, the Edith C. Baker School library in Brookline Massachusetts was divided into two sections: Grades 1-4 and Grades 5-8.

We in 1-4 were told never to cross the line between the sections. Those books were too hard for us.

Due to a confusing mix-up in my 4th Grade year, I had an hour to kill every day before I could get on the right bus to take me home. Naturally I spent the time in the library, but...like the boys you describe I had read everything interesting in 1-4 already.

I don't have any kind of poker face, and the librarian must have seen me dragging around looking gloomy after a week or two. She called me over to her desk, asked what I liked to read, and suggested a series. I shook my head--yesterday's news.

She reached behind her for one of those Bobbs-Merrill orange-backed biographies of great Americans as children (Didn't Amy mention those once?) and asked me to read aloud to her.

Oh, yeah, I could read!

And that's how I got the run of 5-8 while still in 4.

laura k said...

So many people from older generations have memories of librarians and libraries being so harsh, even punitive. People sometimes ask why I never considered a librarian career earlier, but thank dog I didn't! I would not have enjoyed that environment.

I was lucky to have attended a very progressive elementary school. No one at school or home ever tried to prevent me from reading anything I wanted to read.

I don't know the series you're referring to. Is it pictured here?

impudent strumpet said...

When I was at that stage and age, I started reading classics. I didn't get everything out of them, but I was able to read them and expand my cultural knowledge and feel smart etc.

My library at the time had the classics section sort of flow smoothly out of the young adult section. I don't know if that was intentional or not, but it meant I literally walked right over from what I was reading before to what I read next.

johngoldfine said...

https://www.google.ca/search?q=bobbs-merrill+great+americans+as+children&rlz=1C1CHFX_enCA461CA461&es_sm=122&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=5rNRUpmWFfDlyAHQp4GgCg&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1066&bih=511&dpr=1#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=GWg8b1AGYNcU1M%3A%3BS0olg-DPIPiv_M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252F1.bp.blogspot.com%252F-PY7LOdesXc4%252FUjocLiZS8tI%252FAAAAAAAAAhE%252Fo4ztHejIcwg%252Fs1600%252FOrange%252Bbios.JPG%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Finkrethink.blogspot.com%252F%3B1600%3B1200

Those are them.

johngoldfine said...

http://onlineathens.com/stories/102103/boo_20031021014.shtml

The rundown on the 'orange biographies.'

impudent strumpet said...

Clickable link to the image John just posted

laura k said...

Thanks Imp. :)

So... classics. Like what? Do you remember any titles?

laura k said...

I'm curious because (a) different people have different definition of that word and (b) most libraries do not have a special section called "classics" anymore, because of the shifting definition of the term - and also because for some people, it has a negative connotation. Usually classics will be filed in with other fiction, alphabetically, sometimes with a special sticker.

johngoldfine said...

My absolute favorite tweener book: 'Understood Betsy' by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Jean and I re-reread it every few years.

My favorite 'classic' children's author: Frances Hodgson Burnett.

laura k said...

A favourite tween novel from 1916! Sounds somewhat like Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I wonder if any current tween would enjoy it.

I have so many loves for that age group, I couldn't choose one. I could make a top 10 or a top 20, that would be easier. Holes would make the top five.

johngoldfine said...

Never read 'Rebecca' but I'm not much of a fan of P.E.I.'s own beloved Anne.

'Betsy' is an altogether different kettle of fish.

johngoldfine said...

Dell Yearling reprinted UB back when I was teaching junior high, and I read it to my classes--but they had hearts of stone already, and none of them would ever admit to liking it. Maybe because Betsy was a nine-year old, still interested in dolls.

C'mon, Laura, humor me, and put it on your reading list!

laura k said...

I've never read any of those books, actually! Or if I did, I don't remember them at all. They just sound dreadful to me.

C'mon, Laura, humor me, and put it on your reading list!

OK! Why not?

laura k said...

It's available online.

James Redekop said...

Alan Alda was interviewed on the Scientific American podcast recently about his science popularization work. His best known project (apart from hosting TV shows like Scientific American Frontiers) has been The Flame Project, in which scientists make presentations explaining what a flame is, to be judged by 11-year-olds. It's an exercise in teaching communication to scientists.

One reaction from a judge which Alda loved was a kid who said, "It's nice to have jokes, but they have to make sure to have information as well. I mean, we're 11-year-olds. It's not like we're 7."


James Redekop said...

(I hope that last post got through properly -- I hate how Blogger handles you posting when you aren't logged in.)

Some of my reading history: the usual Lewis Carroll, JRR Tolkien, and CS Lewis books, then a bunch of Tom Swift-type stuff, the Prydain books and Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising. Then Sherlock Holmes, Isaac Asimov, and golden-age science fiction; followed by Ursula LeGuin & Harlan Ellison and the whole "Dangerous Visions" SF revolution. Mixed in were things like Watership Down, the Belgariad, and similar stuff.

Parallel to that, French immersion school had me reading Asterix, Tintin, Les Schtroumpfs, Lucky Luck, and other French comics/graphic novels. I didn't really start reading the English & Japanese ones until much later.

BTW, did you hear that there was a petition to ban Bone in a Minnesota library? Parents were objecting to the depiction of cigars and beer. The idea was rejected 10-to-1 by the library board.

laura k said...

Ah, are we talking about our favourite books when we were tweens? That's different. Mine was The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton. I read it constantly, was obsessed with the characters.

But I read tons of stuff, all over the map, from adult classics which I was too young to fully understand to Judy Blume.

I think I did hear that Bone was challenged. Right now Amulet has replaced Bone as the most asked-for junior graphic novel. Adventure Time is also very popular.

"It's nice to have jokes, but they have to make sure to have information as well. I mean, we're 11-year-olds. It's not like we're 7."

Nice! :)

impudent strumpet said...

By "classics", I was basically thinking of anything famous and old. In retrospect they don't have much else in common, but it made sense to my 11-year-old self.

That I can remember, I raed something Dickens (I think it was Oliver Twist), Gone with the Wind, Les Mis (in English), I tried to read Huckleberry Finn but I literally couldn't understand the dialect as written so that's one of the few books in my life I didn't finish. I also had 1984 in this category, even though it's completely different. There were a bunch of others too (this was a two or three year phase) but I don't remember many details. I didn't read Jane Austen at this point because my mother always talked about how boring it was, and then read it as an adult and discovered I enjoyed it.

laura k said...

Famous and old, that's as good a definition as any. Of course, "old" is relative, that's where the fun begins.

That's a great list, too - heady reading for a tween.

James Redekop said...

Old is relative indeed:

When I was 11, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was 76 years old.

For an 11-year-old today, Isaac Asimov's short story, "I, Robot", is 74 years old.

laura k said...

Then there are the condensed classics re-written for young readers. I think they're good introductions, but many people think they're Satan. Or at least condensed Satan.

laura k said...

It depends what one thinks is more important, preserving a work exactly as is, and only as is, or offering children more reading choices. It's not as if the original work doesn't still exist.

That's my pro-condensed classics argument, part 1.

laura k said...

It introduces children to books they may not be ready for, but may be interested enough to find and read one day.

That's part 2.

And... very few kids read them anyway, so the argument is mostly theoretical.

The end. :)

James Redekop said...

I had had some of the "Classics Illustrated" condensed graphic-novel re-tellings of canonical books growing up. Most of them weren't great, though -- dodgy art and overly-condensed text.

I wish I had had this one, though: The Raven illustrated by Gahan Wilson

laura k said...

I had many of those - I loved them. The quality of the art was completely irrelevant to me as a 10-year-old. And overly condensed text, how would I have known?

I read Don Quixote, The Three Musketeers, Les Miserables, and Cyrano De Bergerac in that form. Probably others, but those are the ones I remember.

James Redekop said...

I was probably pickier about the Classics Illustrated than most, growing up in a house with an English professor and an art historian.

On the other hand, Moby Dick can be pretty tedious in its original form...

James Redekop said...

Just remembered another one I read multiple times around that age: A Cricket in Times Square.

laura k said...

Did you care about the art then, or is that in retrospect?

These days kids might be more discriminating about graphic art because they're exposed to it more. At that point, the Classics Illustrated were the only comics I had ever seen! I had nothing to compare it to.

(I wonder if Amy is reading... :) )

James Redekop said...

I cared to some extent then. By that point I was already familiar with European artists like Uderzo, Herge, and Peyo -- admittedly, more cartoony than the CI books I had, but also much better drawn and more engaging.

Here's a page from the Moby Dick I had: lopsided characters, poor colour registration, etc.

On the other hand, in 1990 they re-did Moby Dick with art by the amazing Bill Sienkiewicz: absolutely gorgeous. Here's the cover.

The recent Classics Illustrateds have had a lot of excellent releases. They benefited enormously from the great Graphics Novel boom of the 80s.

laura k said...

I can't see publishers getting away with those crappy graphics these days.

James Redekop said...

I can't see publishers getting away with those crappy graphics these days.

There may be a few here 'n' there, but they'd never last. For all that the 40s are called "the Golden Age of Comics" and the 60s are "the Silver age", in many ways, right now surpasses them both.

BTW, Lori got me three of the volumes from this collection for my birthday.

laura k said...

Oh, beautiful! As you know, my gift to myself when I get a full-time librarian job is going to be a huge number of graphic novels. (After paying off debt, that is.) (Well, mostly after... :) )

Juna said...

I loved my Classics Illustrated editions of David Copperfield and Jane Eyre, which did nothing to spoil the joy of reading the novels! I have more mixed feelings about the Disney versions of various classics, such as "A Christmas Carol."

laura k said...

Juna, I had the same experience with Classics Illustrated - if anything, they piqued my interest. Disney, that is another story, since everything gets Disneyfied - neutered, made syrupy.

How do you feel about what's been happening to Jane Austen? Zombies, vampires, sequels, prequels, spinoffs, etc. etc.

impudent strumpet said...

Do you get some kind of training/briefing for readers' advisory, or some kind of reference tool that says "If people like X, they may like Y?" Or is each librarian left to figure it out for themselves? Because there are just so many books out there that it seems like even if someone worked diligently on it, it would be impossible to keep on top of them singlehandedly.

laura k said...

Great timing on this question, as I just attended a readers' advisory workshop yesterday. You're right, of course, it would be completely impossible for any one person to do this on her own.

My readers' advisory training so far has been:
- a unit in school, as part of the required reference course - brief, but an excellent introduction
- a training session when I was first hired
- a workshop given twice a year for new staff (what I did yesterday)
- ideas in staff meetings of how we can improve our RA
- and because I'm very interested in this aspect of librarianship, I attended a talk at the staff conference by a library/manager who has developed RA as her expertise. (Unfortunately, I found it overwhelming and intimidating.)

There are many great reference tools - both in print and online - for exactly what you're saying, finding "readalikes," as they are called.

Maybe I should write a post about this?

laura k said...

^^ I meant a post about Readers' Advisory tricks and tools.