Thursday, August 1, 2013

Dad's Book Review: Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin

If you haven't noticed, I've been kind of slacking on my blog. I'm juggling so many other things- work, family, conference and committee involvement, podcasting, ballet- this blog is the one thing I can let drop. And I'm okay with that. But the blog slacking has gotten so extreme, I guess even my dad noticed. So he wrote a book review for me! Thanks, dad!

Earlier this year, I brought home a copy of 2012 Newbery Honor book, Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin, and my dad picked it up while he was visiting. I'm glad he did, because although I was riveted by this compelling work, I never ended up reviewing it myself-- so I really enjoyed my dad's thoughtful take on it. Without further ado, my dad's review: 

Sheinkin, Steve. Bomb: The Race to Build- and Steal- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon. 266 p. 2012. Flash Point. Hardcover $19.99. ISBN 9781596434875.

This is a well-written book and an important one. I grew up in the Cold War era so the bomb was a more or less constant threat. Today, young people have gone beyond learning to live with the bomb. The threat of nuclear war seems to be just background noise these days. Since the future lies with the decisions yet to be made and those decisions will be made by young readers the subject of this writing is of importance.

The book itself is three stories in one: the concept of the bomb, its production, and the theft of the technology by the Soviet Union. The mixing of these three stories requires shifting the narrative from one thread to another as they develop. The structure is apparent but not too distracting. Some of the stories of certain individuals were so dramatic, I found myself wanting to know their outcome but having to wait as I read through another part of the narrative. Fortunately, the author pretty much connected most everything so the reader understood what happened and how the various characters ended up. Some attention is required to track this kind of writing. The story is big enough that this type of presentation works.

Enough technical detail was included to understand how the bomb works but not overwhelm the average reader. The photographs were compelling and worth close examination. The seemingly casual handling of highly radioactive and dangerous material was remarkable. In those days, much was not understood about these materials and their effect on human health.

It is clear that technology cannot be contained or kept secret. That is what underlies the espionage part of the story. Moral issues on the part of scientists and spies alike were part of the story. It is remarkable so much of the Manhattan Project was kept secret and that so much of it eventually was stolen.

The brief conclusion reminds us that the bomb is part of our world today. It is a thought-provoking and dark conclusion. There are no clear answers and no clear path to a safe world, let alone a completely peaceful world. That is beyond the scope of this writing, but is the obvious next step to consider. This book encourages thinking in that direction and gives an understanding of a part of history that is closer to our daily life than most young people or most all of us care to think about.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Show Me the Awesome: Creating a Teen Blog for the Library

Banner created by John LeMasney
Today I'm participating in "Show Me the Awesome," a blog series that encourages librarians to share the exciting and innovative things they're doing for their libraries, their communities, and their profession. Visit Kelly, Liz, and Sophie for more details on this initiative, and be sure to search for the hashtag #30awesome on Twitter and Tumblr. 

I'm excited to tell you about the way I created an opportunity for my library's teens to earn volunteer service hours, gain real-world writing experience, and create a positive digital footprint-- by blogging.

The need
The idea was born from a community need. In my library's education-minded community, teens have a high demand for ways to earn service credit. Teens and their parents often inquire at the library’s reference desk about volunteer opportunities, but we weren't able to offer a year-round, experiential volunteer program for teens-- until now.

The solution 
Create a (mostly) virtual way for teens to earn volunteer service hours!

As my library's teen services librarian, I am privileged to lead a team of around 50 teens in creating the Mission Viejo Library Teen Voice, a blog where local teens write book reviews, enthuse about their favorite authors, make literary top ten lists, conduct author interviews, and recap author events.

I am so proud of what these teens have accomplished, and I want to shout it from the rooftops!

How did I make it happen?
The Mission Viejo Library Teen Voice is an outcome of my participation in the Eureka! Leadership Program, and is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian.

I recruited interested teens by reaching out to local schools and teen organizations, working with the City's public information specialist to issue a press release that got picked up by local media, and marketing within the library. I hosted a brainstorming meeting to introduce the blogging project to the teens and solicit their input about its content, look, and feel.

Over the next few months, I worked with the teens virtually to collect content for the blog, worked with a graphic designer (the amazing Elle Cardenas!) to develop a sharp, professional aesthetic that exudes youthful energy, and consulted with other departments in my organization to make sure the teen blog would support the mission and vision of my library and the City.

One of the reasons my library didn't have a regular teen volunteer program in the past was a lack of staff time and resources. Managing this blog does take up a good deal of my time, but I can do a lot of the work while multitasking-- editing and scheduling blog posts while I'm on the Reference Desk, for example. So far, this project is working out really well for the library and the teens.

Why it's good for the teens
Writing for the Mission Viejo Library Teen Voice is an opportunity for middle and high school students to earn volunteer service credit by sharing their enthusiasm for books and promoting teen literacy. Participating on the Teen Blog Team enables them to earn service credit on their own schedule and offers a real-world opportunity to sharpen their writing and critical thinking skills. It also empowers the teens to build their personal brand online and create a positive digital footprint that will impress colleges and future employers.

Plus, the teen bloggers are invited to participate in unique learning opportunities that help build their skills, like a personal branding workshop with a digital strategies expert, and a talk on social media by author and YouTube personality, Kaleb Nation, who made it big on the Internet at a young age.

Why it's good for the community
The teen blog provides a peer recommendation system for teen literature that the whole community can use. It also raises awareness within the community about the awesome things their local teens are doing.

Why it's good for the library
This project enhances community building for the library. To maximize the teens' opportunities to learn new skills and expand their creativity, I've worked to build partnerships between the library and local schools and other organizations that serve teens.

Sharing the awesome
As I mentioned earlier, I am bursting with pride over all the great content the Teen Blog Team has contributed so far. These teens are so smart and motivated, and they want to share their enthusiasm for books with the world. Will you do me a favor and help me reinforce the terrific work these teens are doing? Visit the Mission Viejo Library Teen Voice and comment on one of the posts. Share the blog with a friend or colleague. Please help me show off what these amazing teens are doing.

When I started this project, I honestly didn't know if I would get a positive response-- teens have so many other things to do, I wasn't sure if they'd be on board with blogging for the library. But they were! I have been continually amazed by their enthusiasm. This whole endeavor has been really rewarding for all of us so far. If you're thinking of starting a teen blogging project at your library, feel free to contact me with any questions!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Survey Results: YA Authors, Librarians, & Preferred Contact Methods

I was honored to be asked to present at the Southern California Library Cooperative's YA Workshop about connecting with YA authors through social media, interviewing, and podcasting. 

Before I talk about that, I want to give major kudos to Erica Cuyugan of Santa Monica Public Library and Ryan Gan of Orange Public Library, who did a fantastic job organizing the workshop. They kicked things off with an awesome author panel that included Jennifer BosworthAnn StamplerLissa PriceMeadow Griffin, and Cecil Castellucci

I loved hearing what these authors had to say about their writing processes, and was struck by how much they all expressed their love of libraries and willingness to partner with librarians to spread the joy of reading to kids and teens. Truly inspiring! 

The author panel was followed by librarian presentations, and to prepare for my portion of the workshop, I created a brief survey distributed via social media channels, asking YA authors a simple question: 

When a librarian wants to invite you to speak at their library, how do you prefer they first contact you? 

My survey was in no way scientific-- it was casual and anonymous, and I honestly can't be sure of who really answered. It was intended as a quick way to gather a snapshot of data. In any case, I received 32 responses, and the results were as follows: 

28 out of 32 authors who anonymously responded to the survey indicated that they prefer a direct email from librarians inquiring about potential library visits. 

Survey respondents were able to choose more than one option. The second most popular option, with 7 responses, was to email the author's publicist. It's worth noting that the majority of respondents who chose this option also indicated they would welcome a direct email. Only two respondents chose an email to their publicist as their sole preferred communication method.

The other communication methods generally accompanied the direct email option, indicating that many authors welcome contact through Twitter and Facebook, etc., but social media is probably not the most effective way to initiate the conversation. Only one respondent chose Twitter as their sole preferred communication method.

The breakdown of responses for communication methods beyond email look like this:

Facebook: 4
Twitter: 3
In person at a conference: 3
In person at a book signing: 2
Blog comment: 1

My personal theory is that librarians should create a presence on social media and interact with their favorite authors. Don't hesitate! Get to know publishers and publicists. Create those connections. When it comes to an in-depth conversation that's going to require some thought and planning, email is the best way to go-- but I believe your email is more likely to get noticed if the author or publicist already has a positive connection with you due to your social media presence.

In addition to asking the question about communication preferences in my survey for authors, I asked them to elaborate on their answers, and include any other information that would be useful for librarians to know regarding the coordination of author visits. These questions were optional, but many of the respondents took time to provide very thoughtful information. Here are the authors' anonymous comments:

Monday, February 4, 2013

What to Read When You're Sick of Being Sick

Sniffle, sneeze, cough. Like everyone, I'm sick. I've been sick for over a week now, and I'm sick of being sick. There are really only two bright sides to this situation:

1. Tea. Lots and lots and lots of tea. Piping hot tea, with copious amounts of lemon and honey. Ahhh.

2. A chance to indulge in some comfort reads. Between Nyquil and general exhaustion, I'm not altogether sharp enough to concentrate on a book I haven't read yet, so I love to re-read when I'm sick. I don't always have time to re-read entire books, but even just revisiting a few happy-making chapters cheers me up.

When I'm sick, I want to read something that will transport me to a different time or place, something with characters I can root for, and something with a certain amount of sweetness that just makes me smile.
The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale / Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace /
The Other Countess, by Eve Edwards / Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson /
Entwined, by Heather Dixon / The Dragonfly Pool, by Eva Ibbotson

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Introducing My Kids to a Classic: Richard Scarry

I gave my four-year-old his first Richard Scarry book last weekend, and as I'm sure you can guess, he loves it. He's obsessed! There's so much to look at! I bought him What Do People Do All Day? because I remember reading when I was little. It's funny how the illustration of pigs laying bricks and the cross-section of a ship can bring back an exact snapshot of a moment from my childhood.

Scarry, Richard. What Do People Do All Day? (Abridged). 64 p. 1968. Random House. Hardcover $14.00. ISBN 9780394818238.

I love the way this book enhances our daily walks to the park-- my son is now on the lookout for manhole covers, which he understands connect to the sewers, and he can tell you all about how the builders put a water heater in a new house. I also appreciate how the vignettes explaining various job functions demonstrate how we all do our part to contribute to society. This book gives my son and me a lot to talk about-- not just about the wide variety of jobs people do, but also about how we can all help each other by working together.

And my two-year-old daughter just loves the illustration of the ballerina cat. Because mommy takes ballet! And of course I'm every bit as graceful as that dancing cat... or at least my daughter thinks so. 

My only objection to this fine tome? No examination of the inner workings of the Busytown Library. Ah, well.

What was your favorite Richard Scarry book? 

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