On banning books, and Into the river by Ted Dawe

NZ Herald article

Like every other librarian and bookseller in the country, I’ve had to remove this book from our shelves today. It’s been done and I’m using this as an opportunity to finally getting around to reading it myself. The book is no longer “discoverable” in our school Library catalogue – the record has been hidden and the book can’t be requested, reserved or checked out.

Into the river has only been borrowed 6 times since it was purchased in 2013, it’s been read by 3 senior students and 3 staff (two of those were Librarians and one of those is me). It’s always been marked as senior fiction – meaning a student could only check it out if they were in Year 11 or above and because of the original R14 restriction a student also had to legally be 14 years or older.

Without having ever read the book I’ve grieved about this all day. I resent not being able to go out and buy this for my teenager should they wish to read it. No one is holding a gun to any teenager’s head and forcing them to read this book. What are the moral minority so afraid of? If their values are so so righteous and strong, then how is it they will be immediately eroded by exposure to ideas different and in opposition to their own?

I just want to share some thoughts and opinions of others who can articulate what I believe is so wrong with this kind of censorship and why this book is necessary. Both these articles were written in 2013 when the book first became controversial.

Blog Post from Emma Neale (Emma was one of the original editors of the book before it was published). She’s articulated what I have struggled to put into words today – mainly that it’s through literature that young people empathise and make sense of the world and more importantly our own society (and this isn’t always a pleasant experience).

From Bernard Beckett Beckett was a judge in the 2013 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. Reading his responses to the comments published below his post makes me want to rush out and read all his books….

I vividly remember the conversation I had with a teenager who had read this over the summer holidays between his 11th and 12th year at school. This was from a mature, thoughtful, articulate and avid reader. While I can’t remember word for word exactly what he said, it went a bit like this….”It was disturbing, and I felt uncomfortable reading it, almost guilty for how privileged and easy my life is…but the whole point of reading fiction is to see life through someone else’s eyes – I mean it would be boring if I just read about things that mirrored my own life“.

There are so many teenagers in our society whose lives are frighteningly different to our own. Different doesn’t make them less real or less valid and everyone’s stories deserve to be told.

Genrefication and avoiding ‘bias’ in collection development – is it possible to represent all interests?

This is me musing after the discussion today on the SLANZA listserv and following on from last weeks thought provoking thread there, about the reading (or non-reading) habits of teenagers.

Our Library collections have been lovingly built up by many librarians over many years, but declining issues in the fiction collection in the upper part of the school library and changes to the visiting and borrowing habits of classes demands a different strategy. Any changes we make in our libraries have to be with future readers in mind, not just those we have now. Similarly, philosophical changes aren’t a one size fits all fix. Genrefication is not the answer for every Library.

Collection development feels like an art as well as a science but so is how we organise our collection, especially if it is large and well established – I sometimes wonder if it would be easier when starting a new library collection from scratch?
So how does one achieve real balance in a collection? Is the answer to get more student input into book choices…but how do we do this when many senior students don’t even set foot in the library unless it is for a curriculum specific lesson or to study? How formulaic and specific can ones budget allocation/collection planning documents be, so that we force ourselves to be committed to a more diverse and ‘even’ book buying strategy across all genres (whether separated out or merged)?

It’s easy to underestimate how much prior understanding we librarian ‘experts’ have about books when we are browsing or looking at our shelves. We are familiar with both our own collections and the authors and series within them and it is like having secret knowledge e.g. we recognise that a specific author writes a specific kind of book (usually), but if the spine is unappealing or hasn’t been designed well and doesn’t indicate what’s inside, it’s not going to stand out to a student in an A-Z sequence as matching his or her favourite genre or style of book.

I’m trying to see our collection through a student’s eyes. Most of our readers come in and do not want to consult the library catalogue before choosing – ‘discovery’ and quality metadata are really valuable but of little use if not consulted properly. Displays only go part of the way too, as not all readers are coming up often or regularly enough to see them all – it’s serendipitous if they stumble across THE book in a display of genres or theme…this is despite promotions, emails, and toilet door marketing etc!

I’ve selected and purchased for our collections in the past by trying to provide more of the material that is in demand and I believe this is what the Librarians before me have done too. Girls have been the biggest and most avid group of readers in this part of the library hence the natural inclination and possible bias in purchasing more books for them. Girls do doubly well as many of them are also reading the books that boys would think are theirs alone e.g. Cherub, or Andy McNabb, whereas most boys at our school won’t read books they perceive are too feminine.

‘Bias’ – makes it sound as if I am saying our librarians have knowingly tried to reflect their own reading interests and preferences – this isn’t what I mean…but I’ve been thinking about how we can be unknowingly biased by tending to buy more books that match the needs of the biggest group of users especially when budgets are constrained (oiling the squeakiest wheel).

Does this have a self perpetuating biased effect on our collections? e.g. if in a co-ed library we buy more for the avid reading girls and subtly less for the boys (who in many ways are often ‘potential’ rather than ‘actual’ readers), and then build up a collection that over time appears to reflect the reading interests of that larger group…. you do end up with boys expressing the view that there isn’t as much for them to read that they can find easily (but just as problematic for girls who don’t want Cathy Hopkins, or Meg Cabot but prefer Annabel Pitcher and John Green or for kids with other specialised reading interests too).

Pulling out our ‘chicklit’ into it’s own genre did two things immediately – firstly, made all those books really easy to find for the girls who love a heady dose of BFFs, crushes and intoxicating romance (and 99% of our boys wouldn’t touch these books in a million years)… It also instantly made it look like there was far more on offer for our boys and the rest of our girl readers when so many ‘hidden gems’ came to light simply from having the distracting books around them taken away. Bear in mind that when I pulled out realistic and contemporary fiction from the main sequence – there were so many ‘oriented toward girl only readers’ aka chick-lit – that they skewed the appearance of the whole realistic/contemporary genre – it was literally a wall of spines in varying shades of pink – making it very difficult for boys to feel confident browsing in that area (the same thing had happened when we genrefied our Junior collection so I shouldn’t have been surprised by this). Separating these out made the realistic books seem more even and gender neutral.

When a collection is genrefied it is possible to target specific genres with a selection strategy or goal if you feel it is under represented (a goal for next year for instance for us, might be finding more series that fit with Cherub and other high octane authors). Similarly if you get the genre ‘wrong’ for a single title or series and wish you had put it somewhere else it is really easy to reallocate it to another one, giving that book a new chance of discovery.

The worst that can happen if genrefication should prove a failure is that if we go back to A-Z or a hybrid of the two philosophies, or look at something completely different based on feedback from students and teachers. I don’t think it will – I am filling more empty acrylic face out stands in the genrefied sections than in the general A-Z sequence and the genrefied sections look attractive, vibrant and appealing (backed up by anec-data from students and teachers – I’m trying to not look at and overanalyse the issue stats too soon).

I’ll add some pictures in the morning :)

#365PictureBooks No.50 The Beatles were fab (and they were funny)

“Q: How do you find all this business of having screaming girls following you all over the place?
George: Well, we feel flattered . . .
John: . . . and flattened.

When the Beatles burst onto the music scene in the early 1960s, they were just four unknown lads from Liverpool. But soon their off-the-charts talent and offbeat humor made them the most famous band on both sides of the Atlantic. Lively, informative text and expressive, quirky paintings chronicle the phenomenal rise of Beatlemania, showing how the Fab Four’s sense of humor helped the lads weather everything that was thrown their way—including jelly beans”. Publisher

I discovered this book on my quest for more picture book biographies to use with our PYP : How we express ourselves units of inquiry. I’ve been trying to widen the scope of our collection in the arts area by including books on the different types of art forms including music and dance.  This book is great introduction to one of the most well known rock and roll bands of all time for children, so you won’t find information here about their dabbling in drugs or spiritual awakening. There is plenty describing their early years, from first getting together in Liverpool and naming their band through to all the heady years of Beatlemania. The book describes how their quirky and intelligent sense of humour helped them cope with the rigours of new found fame and the pressures on their friendship. Interestingly, you can see how the older generation of the time would have found this type of humour silly but to me it seems very clever.

Photo source: http://www.stacyinnerst.com/stacyinnerst.com/SI_Beatles_Naming_the_Band.html

The full colour illustrations are outstanding and when I looked through the book I noticed these first before reading the text in a second sitting.  The cover with its sunny yellow cover almost commands the reader to pick this off the shelf. The book would be excellent shared between those of us who were alive when the Beatles were at their peak and a new generation of kids who are still hearing some of these songs today. Great to pair with a standard non-fiction informational text like the Story of rock and roll – picture book biographies like this one really bring the musicians to life. I think playing some of the songs before or after reading would help deepen the connections.

This picture book could also be used as part of a Unit on then and now – looking at the differences of 50 years ago and today, to show children how music and teenage life have changed between their grandparents era and theirs.

Bibliographic details:

The Beatles were fab (and they were funny) / Written by Kathleen Krull & Paul Brewer and illustrated by Stacy Innerst

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

40 pages

ISBN: 9780547509914

I borrowed this copy from Auckland Libraries but I have just ordered a copy for our school library.

#365PictureBooks No. 49 Thank you, Mr Falker by Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco is now one of America’s most loved children’s book creators, but once upon a time, she was a little girl named Trisha starting school. Trisha could paint and draw beautifully, but when she looked at words on a page, all she could see was jumble. It took a very special teacher to recognize little Trisha’s dyslexia: Mr. Falker, who encouraged her to overcome her reading disability. Patricia Polacco will never forget him, and neither will we. ” Publisher

I chose this book because I have just finished reading Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a tree and it is also Dyslexia Awareness Week here in New Zealand  16-22th March 2015.

Both of these books remind librarians and teachers that often, unless children are lucky enough to meet the right teacher or other adult who recognises that they are dyslexic and then get them the right reading help, then they can so easily ‘fall through the cracks’. This book is heart-wrenching, but one that will resonate with many teachers and librarians. The story is semi-autobiographical and because Patrica Polacco grew up in a different era her little self in the story is taunted with the “D word” – dumb. We don’t hear the word ‘dumb’ so often now, it’s not so politically correct, but there are plenty of other ways students can be made to feel different and the very opposite of smart. A book like this is wonderful for promoting empathy within a class and also provides a positive story for any student feeling they aren’t as smart as anyone else. The illustrations perfectly illustrate the frustration, embarrassment and shame of the young Patricia and I know many children will sadly identify with this.

Here is a video of the book being readaloud with subtitles

You can see/hear other great picture books being read aloud at the Storyline website here:http://www.storylineonline.net/

There are so many things we can do to help our dyslexic students and to do this we need to collaborate with teachers and learning support specialists. In the library we are trying to build our collection of dyslexia friendly titles published by Barrington Stoke and our collections of audiobooks – both on CD and digital. Most importantly we are trying to be part of the partnership between student, teacher, school and parents – with parents being an important advocate and voice for their own child. It’s all part of offering a student centric library service. We often work with children individually to help them choose books and to get their reading mileage up and this seems to work well as they aren’t influenced by their peers as they in a regular library session (there is no pressure to borrow the same books or to be made to feel ‘dumb’ when they choose easier books).

I met a young year seven student and his mother in the Library last night. She had heard we had audiobooks and wanted to know more about accessing them. It was wonderful seeing how excited the boy was when I showed him our OverDrive collection. He was delighted to not only find audio editions of popular current fiction, but also to be shown how he could download then change the settings on an ebook to make it more readable (sepia toned background, lighter text colour, font choices and he could make the text  as big as he liked). He could also borrow any book he liked and it’s absolutely private – no peer pressure! I also showed him how to turn on the accessibility options in the settings area of his ipad which meant he could highlight text in many apps including emails from his teacher and have them read aloud. Unfortunately they had to leave before I could also show them the collection of Barrington Stoke titles which I am pretty sure they don’t know about. I’m going to invite both student and Mum back to show them these and get feedback on the types of titles we need more of. We will need a bigger selection of titles so that children feel they can make valid personal choices about what they read, just like their peers when choosing from the whole library collection.

Both Thank you, Mr. Falker and Fish in a tree are essential school library purchases in my opinion.

Biographical details:

Thank you, Mr. Falker / by Patricia Polacco.

Published by Philomel, 2001.

48 pages.



Fish in a tree / by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015.





#365PictureBooks No. 48 Construction by Sally Sutton

Hoist the wood. Hoist the wood. Chain and hook and strap. Swing it round, then lower it down. Thonk! Clonk! Clap! Build the frame. Build the frame. Hammer all day long. Make the stairs and floors and walls. Bing! Bang! Bong!

I read this book to some classes with lots of wriggly, hot and bothered boys today and it was perfect. Everyone, both girls and boys, had stories to share about everything to do with building, construction, their experiences with people who wear fluro safety vests – most kids had some sort of experience with home renovations and some lived in suburbs where new public library buildings had recently opened. We talked very conversationally about our library building and the differences between a school library and a public one. Sometimes I really enjoy the library read aloud sessions where it is a little unplanned and casual, and we end up having open conversations. Both of Sally’s books in this series (Road works and Demolition) were checked out after this one was read and both by girls!

Bibliographic details:

Construction / Written by Sally Sutton and Illustrated by Brian Lovelock.

Published by Walker Books, 2014.


#365PictureBooks No. 47 Naked!

A hilarious new book about a boy who refuses to wear clothes, from comedian Michael Ian Black and illustrator Debbi Ridpath Ohi, the team that brought you I’m Bored, a New York Times Notable Children’s Book.

Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi, whose “smart cartoony artwork matches Black’s perfect comic timing” (The New York Times Book Review), have paired up again to showcase the antics of an adorable little boy who just doesn’t want to get dressed.

After his bath, the little boy begins his hilarious dash around the house – in the buff! Being naked is great. Running around, sliding down the stairs, eating cookies. Nothing could be better. Unless he had a cape..Publisher

This would be such a fun read aloud, even in a school library. I loved the time when my own children were toddlers and there was a little fun relaxed interlude of running around NAKED! after the bath and before being forced into into jammies. This book captures that interlude perfectly. The little child is delighting in his freedom but the look on the mothers face will be familiar to many parents…”I am going through all the steps until I get you into bed …aka I’m exhausted”! The comic style artwork of this is absolutely perfect with the style and pacing of the text.

Cute and funny and kids will love this!

Bibliographic details:

Naked! / Written by Michael Ian Black and Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2014.

40 pages.

ISBN 9781442467385

I borrowed this copy from Auckland Libraries.

#365PictureBooks no. 46 I and I : Bob Marley by Tony Medina

Brimming with imagination and insight, this biography of reggae legend Bob Marley features soulful, sun-drenched paintings that transport young readers to Marley’s homeland of Jamaica, while uniquely perceptive poems bring to life his journey from boy to icon“. Publisher

At first glance I thought this picture book featured the lyrics of Bob Marley, however reading it once I had arrived home from the Public Library, led to the delightful discovery that the author has written the story of the life of Bob Marley in free verse. I didn’t know much about Bob Marley before reading this book and I suspect many kids won’t know his name these days unless they are familiar with his enduring and very catchy lyrics.

For our students that inquire into different forms of artistic expression through their PYP : How we express ourselves unit of inquiry, music is one area I need to resource more fully. I’ve recently bought some multiple user ebooks on hip-hop because we had a hole in our collection in that subject and I can see some books on reggae would be a good addition too. I’ve had some interesting conversations with our Music and Performing arts specialists recently – one part of our teaching team that I think has been overlooked in our resourcing mix in the past. I think they deserve some resources that they can use to paint a very holistic picture of any artist – musical or visual – when they are teaching about styles and movements.

I love this…and when the verse is combined with the warm, ocherish, plump illustrations, the words and pictures paint a very vivid picture of the boy, the man and the musician.

Mama just a caramel country girl shy as can be

And Papa many many years older than she

Papa is a white man so I’ve been told

My face a map of Africa in Europe’s hold

My heart the island where he and she both meet…

From “My heart the Island”

I found this perceptive review from Elizabeth Bird at NY Public Library. (My goodness she can write – one of the best book reviewers out there imo)

Bibliographic details:

I and I : Bob Marley / Written by Tony Medina and illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson.

Published by Lee & Low Books, 2009.

48 pages.


This is available via back order on Wheelers – NZ $36.99, but I borrowed this copy from Auckland Libraries.


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