In her keynote address during Saturday’s Horn Book conference, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, the author of No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, told us a story about a process to “weed” books from the school library in New Mexico where she is a youth services librarian. She talked about how painful it is to let go of books that do not circulate, but are important to library collections and the value of making them available for that “one child.” All librarians have been there. Many times I’ve held on to Caddie Woodlawn and the Betsy and Tacy books that haven’t been checked out for years and take valuable space on our crowded shelves, but I want Caddie to be there so she can be found by just the right reader. Vaunda even admitted to being tempted to checking them out herself to improve their circulation numbers – a thought that’s crossed my mind!
Vaunda also spoke about libraries as places to affirm a vision of who we are. It made me think about Inly’s collection. It certainly reflects our curriculum and our school’s mission, but it was a good reminder to stand back and look again – to be sure it represents all of our students and gives them all a place to, as Vaunda said, “find a place for their feelings.”
One of the other speakers was Andrew Smith, the author of the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for his young adult novel, Grasshopper Jungle. I’ve read and heard rave reviews about Smith’s book for a while and intended to read it before Saturday, but then I started reading Smith’s more recent novel, 100 Sideways Miles and loved it. As I read that book, I kept thinking about how similar the relationship between Finn and Cade (the novel’s two main characters) is to the relationship between Theo and Boris in The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. In between sessions, I made my way over to Smith to ask him about it. He has not read The Goldfinch, but plans to – but in any case, it was fun to meet him. During his remarks, he talked about wanting his books to honestly reflect the lives of American teenagers. “I try,” he said to “give kids tools to navigate their world.” As you know if you’ve read any of Smith’s novels, some of his characters liberally use the “f-word.” Of course, some teachers and parents object. But he made a good point. First, he said, “how many times does the average high school kid hear that word in a day?” It does reflect their lives. Smith also said that there have been people who say that word “hurts” people. But, he asked, what about words like “fat, gay and stupid,” used in demeaning ways? Don’t those words have the power to hurt more? Worth thinking about….
I also participated in a breakout session called “The Class Gap: Money Matters.” The group was an interesting cross section of educators who work in both schools with financial resources and schools with many students who live in poverty. Some of the questions we addressed were: how does class appear in books? What language can we use to initiate an open discussion about class? What are our shared assumptions? Does a book reinforce or challenge our assumptions?” Hard stuff, but worth talking about. Overall, a really good and challenging day.
One more thing – a big pumpkin and a cute small child:
One of our parents grew this in their backyard, and it weighs more than an NFL linebacker!