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Selecting nominees for the Forest of Reading : getting involved one book at a time

30 Oct

Forest of reading Being on the selection committee of a literary prize is something that has always interested me. Perhaps what appealed to me was the power trip of having my opinion count for so much (pretentious? Yes, I know). The best way to remove pretension from book awards is having them be truly chosen by readers of a larger audience. The Ontario Library Association has an excellent example of a readers’ choice Book Award for young people called “the Forest of Reading”.  The Forest of Reading is broken down into different categories (the names of different tress) in terms of reading level and features Canadian authors.

Last February when I was attending the OLA’s SuperConference, I kept running into Céline Marcoux-Hamade, the head of French Services at the Toronto Public Library (probably my dream job!). She was impressed with my involvement in the conference (I think her words were that I was young and energetic) and so she invited me to join the selection committee for the French categories of the Forest of Reading. The French books are read by French Immersion and Francophone children alike and there is Le Prix Peuplier (Picture books), le Prix Tamarac Express (easy novels) and le Prix Tamarac (novels). Our job on the selection committee was to read during the spring all of the recently published books submitted by publishers (over a hundred titles) and then collectively determine which books would become the final ten nominated finalists for each category. It is now in the fall and winter that children all over the province will read the 10 nominated titles in order to vote on their favourite title. Province-wide, the votes are tallied up and the winner is determined in the spring.

I was ecstatic at the prospect of reading so many new children’s literature titles. When I opened the first delivery of books, I was like a child at Christmas but as the months went on and the boxes kept coming, the books piled up and I definitely started questioning my commitment. At one point I had to rebel for a month and read only adult fiction. The committee members were spread across the province and it helped a lot that we were sharing our opinions on a forum on the OLA website. I was reassured when others shared my opinions on certain titles and surprised when others praised books that I thought were mediocre or dismissed titles that I had really enjoyed.  Through the whole process we were very focused on “What will the kids like?”. We were after all selecting books that would be read throughout the province by kids from kindergarten to grade 6. It was important that I read the books through the eyes of a child. Since I continue to love children’s literature and I work with kids every day, I thought that this would not be that challenging but sometimes I really needed to keep my adult expectations in check. In the end the 10 titles for the three French categories were selected and although I must admit that I do not agree 100% with some of the nominated titles (I think some “better” books got left off the lists) that is the result of working collaboratively with a committee.

Charlotte Partout I am excited to introduce these titles to the kids in my two libraries and to see all of my hard reading pay off when they get passionate about the book that should win and hopefully in the process they will become aware of Canadian authors who they can continue to read after the contest is over. I am already organizing a school visit for Mireille Messier, one of my favourite children’s authors, who visited my library in New Brunswick and whose book Partout Charlotte is nominated for the Prix Peuplier!

I strongly encourage those passionate about promoting reading to get involved in a selection committee like the Forest of Reading. I recently went to a presentation presenting “new titles” and I found that I had already read them all!  For once in my life, I’m ahead of the curve!

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Hiatus and comeback!

11 Feb

As my regular readers have noticed, I’ve taken a little hiatus from my blog. This essentially corresponded to the time I left my position as the director of the Tracadie-Sheila Public Library in New Brunswick last September. I was extremely proud of the work I did at the Tracadie-Sheila Public Library and my decision to leave my position was bitter-sweet. On the bitter side, I was leaving an incredible library full of wonderful people to whom I’d grown extremely attached (patrons, staff, volunteers, library board members). I was also sad to leave behind projects that I cared passionately about such as our new library building project and our continuous efforts to create new and rewarding community partnerships. However, on the bright side, my decision to leave was based on a very happy development in my personal life (my engagement) and so part of me was definitely excited to relocate to Toronto.

Since I needed to relocate to Toronto, I got back into the full-swing of applying for library positions. This was a difficult period because I am definitely a perfectionist when it comes to applications and every time that I spent hours toiling over an application only to never even get an interview, it was like I’d lost a small piece of myself. After a few months, people said that it was because I hadn’t yet found the “right job for me”. In the end, this turned out to be true as at the end of August once “the right job for me” was posted it took me only 2 weeks total to send in my application, be contacted for an interview, have an interview, and be offered the position.

I now work for a Francophone school board where I am in charge of the libraries in two schools (a K-6 school and a middle school). This is a fantastic job because I have always been passionate about children’s librarianship. Being in a school library allows me to do story-time, teach information literacy, provide reader advisory and research and order books that kids will get excited to read.

Each Canadian province has different standards for what qualifications are needed for working in school libraries. In Ontario, most school boards have teacher-librarians in their schools; this position requires a teaching degree paired with a few courses in librarianship. When I went for my interview, I was told that my school board has not had teacher-librarians for over a decade, now all of the school libraries are run by library technicians. A part of me has issues with calling myself a library technician even though it is officially my job title. Having obtained a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, I tend to say that I’m a professional librarian who works in a school library (I was told by a friend not to say that I am a School Librarian because technically I’m not). Rather than feel limited by my job title, I use my professional knowledge and skills everyday to strive to ensure that I am creating the most positive library experience possible for these kids. Most of the kids at my schools are from recent immigrant families to Canada. The parents are often struggling to make a life for their family in Toronto and do not have the money to buy books nor do they visit regularly the public library with their children. Consequently, the library experience that I provide for these kids becomes their only exposure to libraries. I am very motivated by my goal to help kids discover a passion for reading that will translate into a life-long pursuit of learning whether they attend post-secondary education or not.

Last week, I attended the Saturday sessions of the OLA (Ontario Library Association) Super Conference in Toronto. This experience was extremely positive and encouraged me to get back into blogging because I realized how much amazing knowledge librarians share when they get together. The biblioblogosphere is an incredible place and I want to get back into the swing of things! (That and my dad kept asking me when I was going to post something new).

I have always been grateful to everyone who comments on my blog posts. So what do you think of the importance of job titles? How would you feel about taking on a non-professional position as long as you got to do something you love?

Canada Reads inspires the reader in all of us

7 Feb

Canada Reads is an annual competition where celebrities debate on the “best Canadian novel”. The goal of the Canada Reads debate is to put a spotlight on Canadian literature and, perhaps more importantly, it also ambitiously attempts to get Canadians to read more. It seems of course like a natural reaction for anyone who listens to an hour-long discussion/debate on the merits of a few specific books to then be enticed to go out and read them. The proof that Canada Reads truly does increase the readership of the selected titles is demonstrated by a noticeable increase in their book sales. Bookstores will usually jump on the promotional bandwagon and market these books as contestants on Canada Reads (in the bookstore where I used to work we would use special stickers to identify the Canada Reads titles). Equally from a public library perspective, the exposure creates a rush on these titles and consequently all of the copies in our provincial system are currently checked out and the reservation list grows longer as the debate intensifies.

Today was the first round of the three days of debates hosted by the amazing representative of culture in Canada Jian Ghomeshi. The five books voted to be included in this year’s competition and whose winner is supposed to represent the essential Canadian novel of the past 10 years are Essex County by Jeff Lemire, The Birth House by Ami McKay, The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou, Unless by Carol Shields, and The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. Now here I must shamefully admit that I have not yet read any of these five books. In fact prior to Canada Reads, I had never even heard of Essex County or The Best Laid Plans. This is particularly embarrassing considering that I’m a public librarian and that prior to my MLIS I worked in the book industry and have always had a keen interest in promoting Canadian literature.

I perhaps should not be too embarrassed though considering that the whole point of Canada Reads is to say to all Canadians “Wake up! Canadian authors produce amazing literature and you should read their books!”. Apparently librarians are not to be exempted from this wake-up call. As librarians we should not pretend that we know everything about popular books and authors or what people should be reading. We are often too guilty of reading only the genres that interest us or we simply regurgitate the recommendations that we’ve heard from others. What I love about Canada Reads is that it entices people to explore books outside of their regular reading habits (this year for the first time a graphic novel was included in the competition).

Tanya Abramovitch, director of the Eleanor London Côte Saint-Luc library gave the assignment last year to her students in McGill’s School of Information Studies Public Libraries’ course to read three books from a genre that they would not normally chose. I think that this assignment is a brilliant idea and that more librarians should be encouraged to read outside of their comfort zone. Canada Reads provides a cultural spotlight for Canadians to discover amazing titles and authors that they might not have otherwise read but that are worthy of our attention. Librarians need to be actively promoting Canada Reads as a way of tapping into the media attention surrounding these titles to increase readership. However, we cannot simply rely on Canada Reads; we need to be at the forefront exploring publishing catalogues, literary magazines like the Quill and Quire, websites like Goodreads, and our own library’s book stacks searching for the next great book to recommend.

I encourage everyone, even those not in Canada, to follow Canada Reads on the CBC Canada Reads website.

I also would really love if people posted below their own recommendation of a book they feel is worthy of a national literary competition.

Happy reading!

Hanging with a children’s author!

4 Nov

Tuesday my libPictures of Mireille Messierrary hosted a visit by the fantastic children’s author Mireille Messier. I am still on such a high from this awesome event. Here’s why…

The event itself was a huge success as it was attended by fifty-four grade 4 students from a local elementary school. Both Mireille and I were thrilled that the school opted to allow the students to walk approximately 15 minutes to the library instead of having them take the bus despite the chilly temperature. As a result the students arrived at the library bright-eyed and alert; they were consequently on their best behaviour and I believe that at one point or another during the presentation they all raised their hands to participate.

As a presenter, Mireille Messier was incredible. Her background in theatre studies and radio shone through as she engaged the members of her audience with her highly energetic and interactive presentation. Her main topic of discussion was “Where do authors get their great ideas?”.  In general, the students offered extremely creative and surprisingly mature answers when asked what might provide the inspiration for stories. One tiny boy boldly stated that authors could receive inspiration from landscapes. How insightful, it was very cute! Another fantastic exercise that Mireille did with the students was to show them all the same picture and then have them describe what they thought the corresponding story would be. The objective was to demonstrate that although we can be inspired by the same source, each individual has unique ideas. So AKA don’t copy other people’s ideas!

In addition to having a great turnout and being able to offer a fantastic and high quality library event, the coolest part of the author visit was hanging out with Mireille herself. It was planned by my regional office that I would pick up Mireille at the airport when she arrived in New Brunswick as she was kicking off her multi-library Communication Jeunesse tour at my library. I was also supposed to accompany her for lunch on Tuesday right before the presentation. I admit that I was slightly nervous about the prospect of entertaining someone I’d never met. What if she turned out to be a timid author who chose to write books because she was too shy to speak? (I’ve met a few of these types before). Boy was I worried for nothing! Mireille is the most friendly, warm, and interesting person! It was an absolute pleasure to spend so much time with her prior to her library visit. We discussed our love of Halloween, different educational systems, our families, and of course books! In fact, at lunch time we were discussing a certain topic and Mireille’s eyes got wide and she explained “That’s a great idea for a book!”. She then proceeded for the next few minutes to write furiously in her notebook so not to forget the idea. I guess I haven’t hung out with a lot of authors before but that was the first time that has ever happened to me. It was a bit startling but also very exciting. Mireille’s books are highly in demand by publishers since she is the only Franco-Ontarian author who writes elementary-age level books in French. Therefore I have no doubt that this idea born in a restaurant in Tracadie-Sheila will one day be published in a book. What a fun feeling it is to be included in the creative process of an author!

It’s on days like these that I truly appreciate how lucky I am to be a librarian!

Shameless plug to win free books

22 Oct

Every day at my library tons of situations arise that I believe merit interesting discourse in the biblioblogosphere.  Unfortunately tonight is not the night that I’ll be writing about all of those situations. Tonight I’m writing to shamelessly plug a picture of mine that I’ve entered in a contest to win books from Harper Collins. The premise of the contest is to get “busted” reading one of Harper Collins’ latest hot titles. In my picture I’m reading Alice Kuiper’s YA book The Worst Thing She Ever Did while riding my bike and I gave it the caption “I just can’t put down Alice Kuiper’s book”. It’s corny but the person whose pictures get the most “likes” on the Wordfest 2010 Facebook page wins the free books from Harper Collins. Considering that my library’s collection budget is reliant on fund-raising, I am hoping that I can win these books to add them to my library’s collection. Please visit the Wordfest 2010 Facebook page and vote for my picture; I’m pretty sure that you need to be signed into your Facebook account.

Thanks and happy reading!

Too many books to read!

11 Oct

For three years during my undergrad, my homework every day was to read amazing literature. I got my degree in French and Quebec Literature at Université Laval and I would easily read over 20 books in one semester as part of my required reading. I never once complained about all the books I had to read (although admittedly I did complain about the essays I had to write following my readings). Now that I am a librarian one might assume that I get to read all day. However as other librarians know this is unfortunately completely untrue. In fact it is extremely difficult to be a librarian when you are a huge fan of reading because every day you are surrounded by amazing books that are crying out to be read but you must concentrate on responsibilities such as serving users, organizing events, and promoting the library. Who has time to read?

The past few weeks, I have made more of a point to spend my free time reading certain books. I am running two Hackmatack books clubs for preteens (one in English and one in French). Obviously as the leader of the book club, I need to have read the books that we’ll be discussing. Also last week I attended the award ceremony for the Prix Littéraire Antoinine-Maillet Acadie-Vie, a literary award that recognizes outstanding literature by Acadian authors. I felt obligated to read the shortlisted nominated titles especially since I knew that I would be meeting the authors at the cocktail reception and I wanted to be able to say that I’d read their books. I was extremely pleased that Mme Françoise Enguehard won for her novel L’archipel du docteur Thomas. I found this novel to be beautifully written and I wholeheartedly agreed that it deserved to win the award!  Of course not all of my reading has been work related. One of my guilty pleasures was that I “had” to read Mini-Shopaholic, the new Sophie Kinsella novel as soon as my order arrived before shipping it off to the Regional Office to be catalogued. Luckily Sophie Kinsella is pure brain candy and I was able to finish it within a few days.

Often I have heard library school students and librarians lament about their lack of time to actually sit down and read. One of the best ways to keep reading is to join or run your own book club or have a reading buddy with whom you can share what you are reading. Despite our mountain of other responsibilities, I believe that reading a lot contributes to becoming a better librarian. The more books you have read the better you will be at readers’ advisory, an essential library service. Also, it helps to keep one grounded in what many people believe is one of the cornerstone responsibilities of libraries: the proliferation of a passion for reading.

Response to article “How to Raise Boys that Read”

26 Sep

The following blog post is my response to the article How to Raise Boys who Read by Thomas Spence published in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section. In this article, Spence comments on the tendency of publishers to promote “gross-out” books in an effort to get boys to read more. He argues against this current trend to “meet boys where they are” stating that these books do not support a valuable education of manners and taste and that ultimately “if you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far”.

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my huge passion for Children’s Literature. Before returning to McGill’s School of Information Studies, I was the educational representative for the only English bookstore in eastern Quebec and was often invited to give presentations to teachers on how to integrate literature into the ESL classroom. It was my job to know all the new titles from different publishing companies and anticipate which books would be

a) able to capture a student’s interest

b) appropriate for a wide range of different ESL reading levels

Through my meetings with teachers across the province of Quebec, I encountered all sorts of opinions on what kids should be reading. The challenge of getting certain kids to read book is doubled when that book is written in the child’s second language. Most educators were of the opinion that if a student could read a particular book in English then he/she should be reading that book. Popular titles were Captain Underpants, Garfield comics and the high interest/low reading level Stone Arch books from Capstone Publishing.

Once I even had a high school teacher ask me to recommend a book for hersecondary 3 (grade 10) class that had sex in it. This teacher told me that the year before for individual reading one girl’s book with a sex scene chapter had been passed around because everyone was so curious to read that particular chapter. She thought if they were interested in reading about sex, then that would be what she would give them. I recommended Noughts and Crosses by Marjorie Blackman, an extremely well-written story of passion using the typical literary motif of star-crossed lovers. In this case, I guess I was sharing Thomas Spence’s perspective in that I was careful not to recommend just any book with a sex scene. I felt Noughts and Crosses would contribute to the students’ education because in addition to having the hot and steamy forbidden sex it also touches on interesting themes for high school students such as loyalty, racism, and terrorism.

Now that I am the director of a public library, I am truly happy to see young people checking out whatever books will make them happy. One series of comics that is extremely popular at my library is Kidpaddle, the latest title in this collection is “Le retour de la momie qui pue  qui tue” (The Return of the mummy who stinks and kills), definitely the type of book that Spence would categorize as a “gross-out book” but the other day a boy around 10 years old came into the library and was so incredibly excited when I showed him that there was a new Kidpaddle book. His face lit up into a huge smile and he exclaimed to his mom “I haven’t read this one yet, I want to borrow this book!” The boy’s excitement to read this comic was the most wonderful reaction to a book I’d ever seen. It completely made my day!

So in conclusion, I’m still on the fence about Thomas Spence’s article. I understand and respect his opinion but at the same time, I really do not think that reading always has to be about learning. I am not convinced that boys would be better off if they were all reading Treasure Island as he suggests. I am an advocate of reading and books and so I will continue to be happy to provide boys with whatever reading they might want.