A Rough Year for Reading in 2014, Reading Goals for 2015 & THANKS FOR READING MY BLOG!

While compiling my Best of 2014 lists for last year, I was disappointed by what I had read and reviewed, overall. Granted, it was a very tough year. I was helping my partially-healed daughter return to college after a serious injury. I was grieving the loss of my dream job with a literary agent while doing the hard work of taking library technology classes and working as a library substitute with the hopes of getting a job in a school. And working as a bookseller. The hard work paid off and I started my job as an elementary school librarian in May of 2014! I jumped into a position that had been vacant for almost 2 years, with library subs filling in most days. The library was stagnant, having had almost no book buying budget for at least a decade - the average publication date of the 14,000 books in my library is 1994!!!! The library had become a dump space for discontinued text books, broken projectors and boom boxes and even a (functioning, happily) portable record player and the previous librarian kept everything. I spent most of the summer sweating and hauling cart after cart of non-library materials out of the library, weeding the ancient collection, and de-cluttering every other inch of space while also working at the bookstore. Besides the portable record player, my best find was a pile of quarters at the bottom of a filing cabinet I was gleefully emptying of useless paperwork from 1988.

I started my first full year as an elementary school librarian on August 19, my 46th birthday, and I have been blissfully consumed by it ever since. Working with kids completely floats my boat (even if only 25% of them are reading at grade level) and I am lucky enough to have the BEST principal ever. She is forward thinking, leading the adoption of an experimental Project Based Learning curriculum last year, passionate about her work and dedicated to her students and staff. Best of all, she trusts me and supports me in ways that I did not experience in my dream job. I also happen to work with an incredible staff (including Raul, who reminds me to go home when he comes through the library to empty the trash and vacuum at 4pm) and creative, dedicated educators who are gently educating me (I am a terrible disciplinarian and have learned so much from them in a matter of months that I can already see how I am a better parent) and supporting me as I throw out crazy ideas left and right.

Feeling supported by my coworkers and wanting to support my students as much as possible, I wrote a grant proposal titled, "Building Literacy with Graphic Novels." My favorite part of being a children's bookseller was talking up a book I liked to a customer, child or adult. Now I get to do this over and over in my library with the added benefit of a captive audience, of sorts. My readers have nothing to lose - there is no money being spent on a book they might not like. Knowing that graphic novels are almost universally loved among kids (and myself), I began bringing in some of my personal collection to share with students who were excited about reading. It was risky and a few books lent out did not return, with a few more coming back pretty beat up. But it was worth it and it fueled my determination to apply for a grant for innovative uses of technology, among other things. In past years, this grant was given to librarians wanting to buy iPads for the kids to read e-books, so it felt like I risk to ask to buy something low-tech like a comic book made of paper.

The students at the school I work at are predominantly Hispanic and English Language Learners. I was able to find quite a bit of academic research supporting the use of graphic novels in teaching reading to English Language Learners as well as students reading below grade level. Most happily - and surprisingly - I won $5,000 for the exclusive purchase of graphic novels! This doubled my book budget for the school year. While $5,000 in books may sound like a lot, I was shocked (even after decades of selling books) to find that it really only purchases around 300 books. My hopes of acquiring one new book for each of the 700 students at my school was a bit off the mark. Of course, these are library bound books, making them more expensive than the deeply discounted kid's books you can buy online, but right around the same cover price of $17.00. So, it was no problem filling shopping carts at a few different distributor's websites with graphic novels that I have read and loved and know my students will, too. When I return to school next week after winter break, I have the arrival of $5,000 worth of graphic novels to look forward to as well as $3,000 worth of fiction. Then, best of all, I get to watch the faces on my students light up when they see all the new books on the shelves! Now, if I could only get the bulk of them to develop the stamina to read a book from cover to cover . . .

Circling back to my disappointment with what I read in 2014, I am approaching 2015 with a new sense of determination, direction and intention. I hope to get myself on a reading schedule, including doing some reading at work - kids need to see adults reading, with a book in the hand! You may be reading a book or the newspaper on your phone in front of your kids, but they might not necessarily know that's what you are doing instead of the million other things you can do on your phone. My job is informing my reading choices in new ways (I actually kind of like non-fiction now!) and I plan to read and review more narrative non-fiction (non-fiction picture books) and middle grade novels, while keeping a tabs on new developments in chapter books and graphic novels. I also hope to get around to reviewing the many, many books I have listened to in the past year. 

I want to end this look back at a challenging year on a note of gratitude. I am grateful that my daughter continues to heal and thrive and that she knows what she will be doing after she graduates from college in May of this year, on time despite missing a semester of school. I am grateful that the end of my dream job has led to a new career that feels like home and is deeply rewarding. I am grateful to all the publishers who continue bring wonderful, life-changing books to the shelves and send me review copies of these books and I am grateful that I have a blog to write for - writing brings me a lot of pleasure.

Finally, I am grateful to you, my readers, for your continued interest in making sure your children or the children in your lives have good books to read.

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