books

Wonder how a book ends up on the shelf? Let me tell ya.

Child choosing a book off the shelfHave you ever wondered how books end up on the shelves in your library? There’s a whole process behind how librarians select books, and it’s not even a secret!

The Oakland Public Library spends approximately $2,000,000 on materials each year, which includes about 50,000 books. While libraries’ capacity for knowledge, information, and creativity is limitless, our buildings and shelf space are not. Every library practices regular weeding of collections for the simple reason that one can’t put new books on the shelves if there is no room.

I’d like to share with you a great example of how we keep our collection updated. 

A book on Fannie Lou Hamer was withdrawn from Elmhurst Branch. Here’s how that decision was made: The children’s librarian worked closely with classes coming in from neighborhood schools, and realized that the children asking for biographies were younger than the intended audience for some of the biographies she had on her shelf. The book that was withdrawn was a chapter book for readers in middle school, and she was fielding biography requests primarily from third to fifth graders. The children’s librarian had just purchased a phenomenal new title: Voice of Freedom, Fannie Lou Hamer, spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Published in 2015, Voice of Freedom was a Caldecott Honor book, a Robert F. Sibert Honor book, and the winner of the John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration

cover of voice of freedom by carole boston weatherford

Both the author and illustrator are African-American, one a longstanding author of high esteem among African-American writers of children’s books, the other a breathtaking newcomer who has since published another book--Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, written by Kwame Alexander—and contributed art to the book Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina. (Both of these books are widely held at OPL, and both are available from the Elmhurst Branch.)

cover of out of wonder by kwame alexander  cover of thirteen ways of looking at a black boy by tony medina

The Fannie Lou Hamer book that was discarded was of a different reading level than the children seeking biographies at Elmhurst, and was part of a corporate-issued educational series on history, written by David Rubel, a White author.

A large branch, for example, might keep multiple books on historical figures. Elmhurst, however, is one of OPL’s smallest branches, a tiny building that resembles a house nestled in the Elmhurst community. The Elmhurst children’s collection is about 1/7 the size of that of the Main Library Children’s Room. With such a small size and excellent new books coming in continuously, there’s generally only room for books that are in current demand. The Elmhurst children’s librarian determined that Voices of Freedom was a better fit for the children at Elmhurst seeking to learn about Fannie Lou Hamer than the book that was discarded. However, for those who do wish to read this book, it is currently available at the Brookfield Branch, Rockridge Branch, and there are three copies at the Main Library Children’s Room.

At OPL, children’s, teen, and adult librarians in each branch select the books for their communities. That means that the person choosing children’s books at every site is also the person who talks with neighbors, welcomes classrooms full of children, visits schools, researches books for local teachers, and sings songs with neighborhood toddlers. Librarians get to know their community as part of their job, and are the best people in the library system to choose the books for their site.

I train all our children’s librarians on selection, and build carts of titles for them to choose from each month. I consider every single children’s book being published each month, reading reviews and other information about the books on the site we order from. I divide them up by sections like the ones we use at OPL—board books, graphic novels, picture books, etc. Then I look for “highlights,” books that are special and our librarians should strongly consider purchasing. I highlight each and every title that features characters who are people of color, and I note when those titles have authors or illustrators who are people of color (we call these books “own voices” in children’s literature). I do a monthly presentation and printed list for children’s librarians of books I think are especially important to order, and this always includes titles that represent diversity. After orders are submitted, I go through each cart and make sure we are buying every excellent book that represents diversity--if not, I add them.

Woman reading a poetry book to children

OPL maintains bibliographies of recommended children’s books, and in the last couple years, we have created new lists of titles for a range of young readers: Great African-American, Asian-American, Latino, LGBTQ, Differently Abled, Multiracial, and Native American and First Nations Books for Children. When we update these lists, we also do a bulk order of titles on them so every branch can make sure they have the diverse books we recommend to kids. When we make bibliographies that are not centered in race and identity, such as Books for Third and Fourth Graders, we put physical copies of the books together and look at them in person to make sure we’re including primarily books with diverse authorship.

Even if Oakland were not among the most diverse cities in America, diversity would be a priority in our collections. Children’s librarians are trained to meet the standards set in the Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries, a set of guidelines published by ALSC, the Association of Library Service to Children. The first two tenets of these guidelines are:
1. Demonstrates respect for diversity and inclusion of cultural values, and continually develops cultural awareness and understanding of self and others.
2. Recognizes racism, ethnocentrism, classism, heterosexism, genderism, ableism, and other systems of discrimination and exclusion in the community and its institutions, including the library, and interrupts them by way of culturally competent services.

We talk often about the idea by Rudine Sims Bishop that children need “mirrors and windows” in books, and we strive to purchase books by people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and Native and First Nations people as much as possible.

And most importantly--we love getting suggestions! Does OPL not yet have your favorite book? Since the person who buys books for your local branch also works at that branch, you can suggest it the next time you visit, or Suggest a Purchase online. Let us know what we can buy for you!

DIA: Great Kids' Books with Multiracial Characters

This week is the library holiday with the longest name: Día de los Niños / Día de los Libros; Children's Day / Book Day. It's come to be called just DÍA!--Diversity In Action. Want to come party at the library? Click here!

A lot of people are talking about diversity in children's books right now, which makes me very happy. Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the nation, and every family in our city deserves to find books on our shelves with characters who look like them, talk like them, have seen and felt what they've seen and felt. 

If you're still searching for your book, the library's giving you a little help this week. Each day, we'll be pinning a new list of recommended children's books with characters of various racial backgrounds; characters who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender; and characters who live with disabilities.

You'll be able to find all of these books here at OPL; or, if you're taking the Birthday Party Pledge and promising to "give multicultural books as gifts to the children in [your] life for one year," take these lists to your local independent bookseller.

Today: a list of children's books with characters who are multiracial! I'm listing just a few here; for the complete list, click over to our Pinterest page.

Got little ones? Try Whoa, Baby, whoa! by Grace Nichols. This little guy gets around! Or, if you'd rather spend your days at an A's game than crawling the kitchen floor, pick up Take Me Out to the Yakyu by Aaron Meshon. Party girls can look for Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash / Marisol McDonald y la Fiesta Sin Igual, by Monica Brown. And for a story about the different kinds of families we have, check out Who's In My Family?: all about our families, by Robie Harris.

  

Did you know you can put books on hold before they hit our shelves? Get in line now for these next two. The first has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal: The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond, by Brenda Woods. Violet may be the first biracial character in children's literature to lighten her hair, but I can't vouch for that. If you're feeling something a bit heavier, try Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick; Zane visits the family of his late father, who was African-American, in New Orleans, and ends up facing one of the worst natural disasters in recent history. There's some fear and sadness and death, but it's a gripping story, and appropriate for grades four and up.

A few already on our shelves: first, Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi, which I ended up plowing through in one afternoon (and it's 300 pages). It's funny, exciting, fast-paced, and while definitely not for kids who are young and/or sensitive, not as gory as you might expect. Rabi, a baseball stats geek from a mixed white and Indian family, has to help an undocumented friend whose family has been deported to Mexico, and oh, by the way, there's a zombie apocalypse. Fun, thoughtful, and checked out almost everywhere, so you know it's good. 

 

Doodlebug: a novel in doodles, by Karen Romano Young, for your Wimpy Kid fan who likes a more substantial story. Includes a strong depiction of a multiracial family. And if fun and fluffy's what you want, go for Amy Hodgepodge, a series by Kim Wayans (yes, that Kim Wayans) about a girl who is African-American, Japanese, white, and Korean. Her latest adventure is Digging Up Trouble, and if you like it, there are more!

 

Older readers may want to dig into Mexican Whiteboy, by Matt de la Peña, in which a San Diego teen spends a summer with his dad's Mexican family. So hot when it first came out, it took me weeks to get it. (Related: check out de la Peña's powerful essay "Sometimes the 'Tough Teen' is Quietly Writing Stories," but only if you have some Kleenex handy.) Finally, one that I really enjoyed: Kekla Magoon's Camo Girl. Ella is biracial and has a skin condition that makes the colors of her face uneven; she faces bullying and growing up and away from her best friend, who is autistic.

Want even more kids' books with multiracial characters? Click over to Pinterest for the complete list. Oh, happy Día!

The Right Book for the Right Reader: Introductions

Greetings! Many of you already know me as Miss Amy, especially if you are under three feet tall and have attended a storytime at Montclair Branch, the Main Library Children's Room, or Eastmont Branch in the last six years. I'm one of your friendly children's librarians, and in this series I will discuss a topic that drives children's librarians and keeps us invested in our profession. A thing that keeps us hard at work, hour upon hour, day after day, and I'm not talking about googling "is Kadir Nelson married*"-- no, it's our guiding principle, the beacon we follow when all else is dim.

It is the concept of the right book for the right reader.

What does this mean?

Well, basically, the "right book for the right reader" means that for every person out there, there is a book that they will love so much that they will become convinced that reading is fun, and they will seek it out as an activity to engage in by choice. Children's librarians work with a lot of what we call "reluctant readers"-- kids who can read, but don't like to, and won't do it unless compelled to by a teacher, parent, or other adult. In theory, there is a book out there for every reader, no matter how reluctant, that they will love.

I'm not sure I believe in "the right book for the right reader."

I sure believe in matching everyone with the best books possible for their tastes; book + person matchmaking is one of my favorite tasks as a librarian. But I don't know if it's true that every single person would become a reader if they found just the right book. Some people don't like to read, and that's cool.

And yet for every child who comes to us with crossed arms, a stormy face, and mumbles of "have to read something before school starts," we start up the chase. It's kind of our white whale-- the right book for that reader may or may not be out there, but we'll pursue it until one or both of us dies from exhaustion or the kid's parents take them home.


A children's librarian perishes in pursuit of the perfect book for a child

I have a collection of memories that make me think this white whale exists-- times when I've seen a child (or adult) connect with a book in a way that changes everything. These are the stories I'll be sharing here, and my spyglass is trained to the sea for more**, so feel free to leave your own stories in the comments. What was the book that made you a reader? Mine was TROUBLE IN DEVIL'S BAYOU, which I remember looking at while lying on the living room floor at age three (or so they tell me) and suddenly all the words made sense. Yarrr, a fine book, that.

--Miss Amy

*Yes he is

**CONFESSION: I have never read MOBY DICK