School Is Where the Heart Is

What I said to the Virginia Association of School Librarians - Clinch Regional Conference

Signing books for librarians and their readers. 

Signing books for librarians and their readers. 

Last Saturday I was honored to speak to school librarians in Southwest Virginia. This year's theme is "The Library: The Heart of the School". I took the opportunity to connect with librarians on issues they all face like budget and time pressures, steeply curving technology, and dealing with struggling and troubled students (of which I was one). 

Pull-out quotes: 

We live in a world where it seems that we have all the information we could ever want or could have ever hoped to have practically at our fingertips. Of course, you librarians know that’s not exactly true. Our students still need good guidance in using the incredible resources available to us. 

Click the headphones icon to HEAR THE FULL SPEECH at SoundCloud. It's about 30 minutes long. (please forgive any sound quality issues)

Click the headphones icon to HEAR THE FULL SPEECH at SoundCloud. It's about 30 minutes long. (please forgive any sound quality issues)

Librarians - Media Specialists are required to know all this technology and guide students into this new world of education. 

Every time we discover something, we discover MORE. Every time we make an advance it turns into something bigger. Every time we think we know it all we discover that there’s even more to know. This is an amazing and rapidly expanding world and universe. And it just keeps expanding. It requires us to make a lot of choices.

The library is the "heart" not just because of the information that’s there, but because of what’s happening there. 

You as librarians are transitioning – slowly or rapidly, depending on demands – from being a keeper of information to being a traffic director for curious minds, from being an educator to being the enabler of the development of those young people who will eventually step out into the larger world. That is a whole-person endeavor. 

You’re facing budget issues – budgets that are shrinking or, at best, staying flat. And you’re being asked to do more with those budget, up to and including buying, enabling, and supporting technology. 

You are the go-to professionals in your schools. ... librarians often carry at least a part-time class load – often full time classes – and get to run a library in your spare time, as if it’s not a full-time job in itself.

The steep curve of our material and informational world is like a roller coaster that you ride on a daily basis, sometimes ahead of your students.

You’re required to focus on what’s new and next even before what’s “now” is fully mastered – and by the time you know the “old next”, the “new next” is already on top of you.

Because of these budget issues, school administrations and communities are looking to technology as a “cheaper” or budget-saving alternative to printed books and traditional libraries. This creates a real push-and-pull where our young learners and you librarians seem to be in the middle of a tug-o-war. 

The librarian is trying to teach and is expected to be a technology resource, but at the same time we need our kids to demonstrate and educate adults on how to use the tools. 

It’s a very difficult task to adapt rapidly enough and keep up with the private-sector resources that kids have access to and are bringing into schools every day.

People and organizations outside the school don’t have to go through a multi-level bureaucratic and budget process to sample, test, and implement these resources. So the librarian is left behind and struggling to catch up and keep up with what’s available outside the school. 

I sincerely hope that there will soon be a bridge between what you’re trying to do in the library to what’s available and happening in the “outside world”.

There is one thing that I see and that I love very much: even among all these mind-boggling changes and challenges, in every school I go to and every community I visit THE LIBRARY IS OPEN.

I grew up in a very tumultuous home ... where learning was not particularly valued. I came to school every day with a bad attitude, probably not enough sleep, not enough resources to concentrate and overcome the natural learning difficulties that I had. I was often marginalized as a reader and learner and as a “discipline problem”.

Some of my favorite people are librarians. They kept the doors open until I was ready to dive in.

Some of my favorite people are librarians. They kept the doors open until I was ready to dive in.

My life was changed by a dedicated teacher. It was like a light switch was turned on and a whole new world opened up to me when I was fifteen years old. 

I spoke recently at a jail for teen boys and explained my experience like this: “I was mad at my parents and I wanted out of that situation, but in response I was working on throwing away my education.” 

... it’s not just the good kids who are paying attention. You librarians matter to us – the reluctant and struggling kids – too. We’re watching and it makes a difference what you say and do.

“The Library: The Heart of the School.” What that means to me is that the “heart” is the place where all of the vital material flows through at one time or another. Information, educational materials, books, DVDs, laptop computers, concepts, programs, services, and even the school culture all pass through the library. That makes the library a vital organ with vibrant activity happening. 

I think it’s important to point out that even among us reluctant and struggling students, the library is still a SACRED place. I really believe that a kid’s attitude changes when they walk into a library. 

I believe that the heart BEAT of the library is the people, the students, the children and teens, the young learners – the compliant, the seekers, the freakers, the frightened, the lost. Everyone comes to the library eventually. That is your heart BEAT. 

If the library is the heart of the school and the people are the heartbeat, then what beats the heart? There is a power that keeps the life’s blood flowing through the school. There is a power that sets the pace of what happens, maintains the health of the library and therefore the health of the school. That power that beats the heart is the LIBRARIAN.

It doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen when you’re not there. It happens because YOU are there and you are dedicated to making sure that the heart beats and that the life’s blood flows. 

Your task is vital to the survival of our schools, to the development or our communities, even our nation and our world – by influencing the young people you serve with very few conditions on your relationship with them: “Behave yourself. Ask for help if you need it. Come and dive in.”

In a conditional world you have very generous terms with young readers. 

You have served more than my mind. You’ve served my spirit and you’ve served my heart. 
So, to me, the library is the heart of more than the school. And you are much more than librarians to me.

Thanks to the VA librarians for having me!

Rabble back! How are your schools fairing in the current budgetary and technological climates?

Reading Rabble Review: "Parker: The Story of an Apocalypse Survivor"

3 Rabbles for an interesting zombie story.

In a world devastated by plague, Parker has to fight everything from mutant vermin to the horrific, hissing 'things' that were once human.

Parker also looks out for other survivors, all the while trying to keep clear of the vicious, murdering road-gangs known as 'hogs'.

Then he saves the life of a young girl, Abigail - and finds that his life once again has purpose and meaning.

But with the odds hopelessly stacked against the mismatched pair, how can they possibly hope to survive...?

This week I thought I would throw a curve ball to everyone and do something different. I have been seeing these 'zombie apocalypse' stories for quite a few years now. I have never been a huge fan of the theme, but every once in awhile I like to take a chance with something new. This story came as a recommendation from amazon's YA listing and it wasn't a complete disappointment. 

The main character, Parker, is of course immune to the virus that wipes out the world. Leaving only 'Things' (zombies), and other survivors who embrace the chaos called 'Hogs', our hero must journey through the devastation of a post-apocalyptic world to find out what happened to his family. Does this theme sound familiar to anyone? Maybe that is the main problem that I have with this particular storyline, all of them have the same basic premise. There is no real surprise with this theme anymore. I have read a few of them and they all have the same plot. Different characters, different situations, but the same story.

Having said that, however, it does not take anything away from this particular story. The hero Parker is more real than in most of the post-apocalyptic stories that I have read. Most characters in this type of story tend to be extremely aggressive and out to kill the zombie characters in most graphic ways - hence the whole point of these types of stories. Parker, however, tends to be more hesitant to kill without reason, which makes him seem more human than most. To be sure, there is plenty of gore in this book, enough to satisfy everyone, just delivered with a little more thought than is true of most stories of this theme.

Although there was not much original about this story, it was still entertaining in its own way. The vocabulary was easy to read and the action was never dulled by too much drama. While the language was a little graphic at times it was situational and not excessive. I would recommend this particular book for the higher end of the YA scale, but most everyone will enjoy it including Reluctant Readers.

3 Rabbles with an R for Reluctant Readers for this story.

Rabble Back! Do you still like the post-apocalypse theme? Which are your favorites or were disappointments to you?



Reading Rabble Review The "Foundation" Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

5 Rabbles for THE Classic Sci-Fi Series

By Isaac Asimov

A landmark of science fiction's "Golden Age," Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy - which comprises the novels Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation - has long been regarded a visionary masterpiece whose astonishing historical scope perfectly conveys science fiction's sense of wonder. First published as a cycle of stories in the 1940s and '50s, Asimov's iconic trilogy has endured to become, like the author himself, a legend of science fiction. Set in the far future, Foundation envisions a Galactic Empire that has thrived for 12,000 years, but whose decline into an age of barbarism lasting some thirty millennia is imminent - if the predictions of renegade psycho-historian Hari Seldon are accurate. Hoping to shorten the interval of this impending new Dark Age, Seldon convinces the Empire's Commission of Public Safety to allow him to enact a diversionary plan - one full of surprising subterfuges and intrigues intended to create and protect a Foundation on which the future Empire will be erected. 

Foundation and Empire
By Isaac Asimov

I'd like to take a week to introduce one of the greatest Science Fiction stories ever created. Isaac Asimov is the indisputable godfather of Science Fiction. Writing stories way back in the 1940's and 50's, Asimov created story lines that would reflect far into the future. Most if not all stories of the same genre take their inspiration from this truly great groundbreaker. There have been so many reviews done about this original series that it would be presumptive of me to try to add to them. However, I would love to introduce the Reading Rabble to my all-time favorite series. If only one person reads and falls in love with the series I feel like I have done my job!

Never before or since has a science fiction series been lauded with so many awards as has this one. It began a long run of bestsellers by the author Isaac Asimov. The "Foundation" stories were originally created as a series of serials published in science fiction magazines. They were not released as standalone books for many years after. This was mostly to do with the fact that the genre was relatively new at that point and the most common outlet for these stories was in the 'pulp' magazines of the time. Granted, Asimov didn't invent the genre, stories from H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and other greats had been in circulation for decades, but with inspiration and talent Asimov and a few others took this science fiction genre to new heights.

Filled with great characters and addictive story lines, the "Foundation" books have delighted and thrilled readers for over 60 years. Many of the great literary characters of all time can be found in these novels. Hari Seldon, Salvor Hardin, Hober Mallow, Betya Darrell, and perhaps the greatest heroine of all Arcadia Darrell, who at the tender age of 15 saved the entire galaxy. These characters and too many others to list reverberate throughout history to become the standard to which almost all sci-fi writers aspire, longevity. 

Inspired by reading Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", Asimov set out to create the story of the fall of the Galactic Empire. These stories became so influential in the genre that most people began calling it 'Future History'. This trilogy tells the history of the Foundation throughout the first three centuries of its existence. Having developed the mathematics of humanity called 'Psycohistory', Hari Seldon was able to foresee the downfall of the Galactic Empire which had stood for 20,000 years. Wishing to preserve knowledge and shorten the inevitable dark ages, Seldon sets up a 'Scientific Foundation' at the edge of the galaxy with the initial goal of creating an Encyclopedia Galactica. The real goal was to not only to preserve knowledge but to advance it and create the nucleus for a second Galactic Empire.

These three important books are the nucleus for a whole series of books that followed and are just the beginning of the "Foundation" stories. Under intense pressure from both fans and publishers, Asimov went on to publish many many more books of both the Foundation and the Pre-Foundation era. These stories stretch out over a period of thousands of years and cover what has become known as the 'Future History of Mankind'. ALL of these books continue Asimov's outstanding story telling. ALL of them are well worth reading and I'm betting if you read these first three, you will not be able to resist reading all of them.

The goal of this review, however, is to introduce just the first three books. These are the originals and are without competition for greatness. The main purpose of reviewing these books, of course, is to encourage Reluctant Readers to give it a try. I can testify that Reluctant Readers will find these novels easy to read. I first read them as a young teen and have read them dozens of times since. They are never hard to read. The vocabulary is easy and the characters are likable and memorable. Lovers of science fiction in any form - film, comics, TV, games - will recognize a lot of origin stories and themes that have influenced today's entertainment. It's a chance to connect to the timelessness of truly great storytelling. 

I have enjoyed literally countless hours of escape reading these great stories and I know you will too!

5 Rabbles with an R is easy to award this most classic of science fiction series.

Time for the Rabble to sound off! Have you read this awesome series? Let us know what your favorite classic is!




Infographic: Teens' love affair with "real books"

Teens and paper: Star-crossed lovers of the digital age?

As a professional in the publishing industry - author, publisher, and school library consultant - I've been surprised by one fact of life among young readers: Kids don't care about e-books. 

According to a late 2013 poll, 62% of young readers still prefer paper books. Keep in mind two things: 1) This poll was with older teen and early-twenties readers, leaving out younger readers who are much less likely to read e-books; and 2) This was an online poll, netting young readers who are more likely to engage electronic reading content.

According to a late 2013 poll, 62% of young readers still prefer paper books. Keep in mind two things: 1) This poll was with older teen and early-twenties readers, leaving out younger readers who are much less likely to read e-books; and 2) This was an online poll, netting young readers who are more likely to engage electronic reading content.

How can this be?! Kids gobble up electronic media like it's going out of style (though we know it's here to stay - and grow). Figuring they had to compete spear-point-to-spear-point with streaming video, social media, circulating selfies, and online gaming many school librarians invested heavily early on. Spending thousands of dollars on e-books - some informational, but mostly popular titles - librarians did the download, presented the options to their students, and sat back. "If you download it, they will come," was the sentiment (and the sales pitch they got from vendors).

But, guess what - the kids did not dive head-first into e-book offerings. Some librarians have told me that they have to do regular refresher presentations on their e-book collection only to see a small and temporary spike in e-book usage. Then their kids go back to the printed page. Others have given up on the e-book option altogether and chosen instead to partner with their public libraries to deliver e-books only to the kids who really want them. Couple the soft reception by kids with the often confusing e-book licensing options and it's not wonder school librarians are shy about wading into e-book adoption.

My professional experience:

Teens at the Indianapolis Comic Con checking out paperbacks of The Delphi Trilogy and Seti's Charm.

Teens at the Indianapolis Comic Con checking out paperbacks of The Delphi Trilogy and Seti's Charm.

My own experience as an author and publisher bears out this non-trend. When we published my YA thriller The League of Delphi: Book I of The Delphi Trilogy in 2012, we intended to capitalize on the e-book tsunami that was flooding the book world. e-Book adoption and sales numbers were mouth-watering. At that time we decided to go ahead and publish a paperback book only as a "marketing piece" for the e-book, thinking that to have it in paper form would somehow underpin the e-book's legitimacy, but expecting sparse paperback sales. What did we find? To date, we have sold WAY MORE paperbacks than e-books to teens and adults alike. 

At conferences and libraries, I watch young readers pick up the books, read the backs, read a little of the insides, and stroke the cover with the palms of their hands. Typically, if someone asks if the books are also available as eBooks, it's an adult. Yes, a book is somehow important to a young reader. 

I have one anecdote and one theory about why this may be. 

My anecdote: 

I was meeting with a high school librarian who had spent over $3000 on ebooks only to see them sit and gather electronic dust. We were wondering aloud about this situation when I spotted her student library aid behind the desk, thumbing on his smart phone. A notion struck me. "Josh," I asked, "would you download an e-book to your phone?"

"No," he sneered, "I need that space for videos and games and stuff." 

(In case you're wondering, e-book usage numbers for pleasure reading are not staggeringly higher for schools that give each kid an electronic device.)

If it's on a shelf somewhere, why would a teen fill up their device with it? 

If it's on a shelf somewhere, why would a teen fill up their device with it? 

Kids see the space on their devices as limited and precious. Books exist somewhere that their other favorite media don't. If you can pick up a book from the shelf and read it then put it back without taking up bytes on your phone or tablet, why push out your favorite video?

But how to explain the astonishing rise in e-book sales and usage? This looks like the future of publishing and reading, spurring hand-to-hand combat between e-book behemoth and the so-called "legacy publishers" (you know the big names) over pricing, technology, delivery, licensing, etc. While the curve is not as steep as it was maybe two years ago, it's still a growing market with new e-book readers entering the market every day. But the vast majority of these e-book adopters and readers are adults. Which leads to ...

My theory: 

Young readers are having a different reading experience than adults. The word "experience" is key here. A book is, in a sense, a magical object. Young readers are indulging in - and maybe still learning to handle - the full experience of stepping into the world on the page. The physical book is a bridge into that world. There's still something very special about owning and holding a book. 

Books are powerful and magical objects. 

Books are powerful and magical objects

Adults, on the other hand, are consuming books and stories. I liken it to eating popcorn - one toss after another, a stream of consumption. Long-running series fiction is huge among adults - and the books are at least twice as long as young readers' fiction. You can't carry all those books with you. Romance and erotica are big in e-books. You don't want to carry all those books around with you. On the road, on the plane, on-the-go, anywhere/anytime access to the distraction of long-form content and story is a must for busy adults. e-Books solve a number of problems for the way adults read and consume books. 

I love that young readers still love paper books. Even though I was a reluctant reader as a kid, I've always put a lot of value on books (especially ones with pictures). A set of encyclopedias my parents bought for my older siblings when I was a baby came with a lot of bonuses, like a series of what I call "Little Scientist" books. Because there were a lot of rambunctious kids in our house, stuff naturally got scattered to the winds. I would find these little, hand-sized books - each filled with pictures, descriptions, and facts about birds, rocks, stars, trees - around the house and "rescue" them. I lined them up proudly on my dresser and considered them "MY BOOKS". 

In some cases, struggling readers respond to e-books like no other format. But it seems that it's not so much the format as the content that engages them. Attention and mentoring are huge, too (see my READER tips for helping your reluctant reader). Maybe the content of some newer-media books is especially attractive, so it seems like the medium is the answer, skewing some studies. Just a thought. Overall, though, for young readers it seems that content is king and for the time being, at least, paper is still the king's messenger. 

Don't get me wrong. The curve in education is definitely moving toward e-book adoption. Budgets - as well as our increasingly tech-centered world - are demanding it. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with that trend. I'm still fascinated by the concept of a paperless society. But some X-factor is missing to bridge young readers' hands-on experience into electronic book reading.

Should we try to influence an evolution or drive for a revolution? Likely, the market (in this case, young readers) will be the ones to find the bridge. Fortunate will be the content, device, and service providers who find themselves in the minds and hands of kids and teens when the shift truly happens.

Let's hear from you, Rabble. Do your young readers prefer e-books or good, old-fashioned paper? 

Reading Rabble Review: Children of the After Book 4 "Rebirth" By Jeremy Laszlo

4 Rabbles for a great finish to a gripping YA series!

Having located the City of Angels, Jack, Samantha, Will and Tammy plan to destroy the alien creation. Seeking revenge for all the damage done to their worlds, and all the lives lost to the invaders, the companions seek out those responsible. Fighting their way to the enemy, they discover the reason for the invasion, and the truth about both their past and their future. When face to face with the beings responsible for the apocalypse, can the children of the after prevail?

Reaching the end of this amazing and thrilling YA series, I'm both happy and sad. Happy because the 4th and final book in this series is truly enjoyable and a great finish. Sad because, of course, it's the end! I've become attached to these three heroes and their incredible journey and I'm left wanting more. That is the mark of a great book - how well you identify with the main character(s), and how much you will miss them.

This final installment had it all - fantasy, drama (in small amounts), and tons of exciting action! Using their newfound powers, our sibling heroes Jack, Samantha, and Will, along with their new friend Tammy, have made it to the final showdown with the alien masters. The alien city is a nearly impregnable fortress of danger and confusion. Using their powers to gain entry, they must now both defeat the enemy and rescue their people being held hostage. 

The action sequences in this book were outstanding! Since this is at its core a Sci-Fi adventure story, a certain amount of fantastical elements are present, but never at any point did I have the notion that any of this was out of the realm of possibility. That is the mark of a great Sci-Fi story - fantastic without the idea of impossibility ever coming into play. The characters use their powers in a most human fashion and with the awkwardness that both matches their young ages and lends belief to the story.

For those of you who haven't read this series, I will not be revealing any more of the plot. There cannot be any higher recommendation than that. I liked this series so much that I want everybody to read it. Therefore no spoilers will be found henceforth.

Reluctant Readers will truly enjoy this series! The characters are very easy to identify with and like. The vocabulary is easy to read and you will not get bogged down with any part of this story from beginning to end. As I have stated in previous reviews of this wonderful series, I wish there was a way to give more than one R for reluctant readers. I feel quite strongly that of all the books the Rouser has reviewed that this series will grab and hold even the most reluctant of readers.

4 Rabbles with an R is an easy rating to give this 4th and final book in the "Children of the After" series. However, seeing as how all 4 books received an enthusiastic 4 Rabbles, and finding myself feeling so strongly about how much Reluctant Readers will enjoy this whole series, I am going to do something we haven't done before here in the Reading Rabble Review. This series as a whole is going to receive a second rating.

A definite 5 Rabbles with an R is what I give the "Children of the After" Books for overall excellence and enjoyability. 

Rabble back! Have you been bowled over by any series you've read? Any of them get a bigger rating from you as a series than the individual books got?