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The Very Hungry Caterpillar vs Frida: Viva la Vida: The Surge of Esoteric Subjects in Children’s Picture Books

Students and faculty often bring a children’s book up to me and ask me for what age it is suitable. This is one of the hardest questions to answer, particularly when a book appears to be written for a very young child but covers a complex subject.  One trend I’ve noticed in children’s picture book publishing is the surge of very specialized,  mature subjects- more mature than very hungry caterpillar characters, for sure. 
Frida: Viva la Vida: ND 259 .K33 B47

Frida: Viva la Vida: ND 259 .K33 B47

For example, recently, I checked out Frida: Viva la Vida by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. Bowker’s Books In Print lists this book as appropriate for ages 4 to 8.  Learning about famous artists is wonderful, but I had to wonder if an elementary student would enjoy reading this book. To understand Frida Kahlo’s artwork, which is very personal, one would need to understand the grief and frustration she felt over her husband’s extra-marital affairs (a topic covered in this picture book).  Mention of her sexuality was also worked, somehow, into the story.

Not out of an urge to censor, but out of sheer curiosity, I wonder how these type of books are being received by young children. What is their reaction? Are they bored to death? Do they even understand the topic? Does such specialized subject matter enlighten them and make them want to explore the topic more?

Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter: N 6537 .W28 R83 2006

Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter: N 6537 .W28 R83 2006

I’ve learned a lot over the last several years about people and subjects of which I’ve had little knowledge through these types of children’s picture books. Of course, I’m knocking on age forty, not age four. Maybe these books would be more appropriately categorized as “ageless” and, simply, for anyone who can appreciate them. Other recent examples of children’s picture books about not-your-usual kindergarten subjects include Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter by Susan Goldman Rubin,  Uncle Andy’s by James Warhola, and Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. I guess I’m most fascinated by how an author can take a subject, such as Jackson Pollock, and translate the “essence” of his life and work into a picture book appropriate for young children ages 4-8…according to Books in Print.

Action Jackson: ND 237 .P73 G74

Action Jackson: ND 237 .P73 G74

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Millions of Great Children’s Books…and a budget: Deciding what to Select

Gazillions of children’s and young adult books are published yearly. How to select the “best” in children’s books is often overwhelming. Thankfully, there are several trusted selection tools and resources which help me decide what to collect for our children’s collection.  I always keep in mind curriculum areas, such as science and math, regularly scouring  the book reviews in Science and Children (a journal for elementary science teachers) and Science Scope (a journal for middle school science teachers) for children’s books which integrate literature with science topics. I also keep in mind the genres which students in children’s literature classes are expected to be familiar (historical fiction, folktales, multicultural subjects, contemporary realistic, informational, fractured fairy tales, poetry, etc.). For these genres, specialized bibliographies in the library, such as Around the World with Historical Fiction and Folktales: Highly Recommended and Award-Winning Books, Grades K-8around, are very useful. 

Some of my favorite selection tools include monthly issues of book review sources such as The Horn Book, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, School Library Journal, The Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), and Kirkus Reviews which are shelved on the second floor of the Houston Cole Library in the current periodicals section. For young adult books, VOYA is an excellent book review source which also contains specialized bibliographies and interesting articles on young adult literature. Faculty, staff, and students at JSU are able to access The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal through our databases. To access the full text of these journals electronically, simply type in the title of the journal in our library catalog (limit your search to “journal title”) and click on a database link which will take you directly to full text access to these journals.   horn_book_thumb

I also peruse the children’s sections in bookstores to see what’s popular and whether there is a unique title I have missed. I enjoy looking at excellent bibliographies available on the Web. My favorite online bibliography is Planet Esme, maintained by Esme Codell, a children’s author and former school librarian. I really appreciate books recommended by faculty in the College of Education’s Curriculum and Instruction Department .  Professor Elizabeth Engley, Jennifer Strain, and Phyliss Taylor are experts at JSU in children’s literature.  

Many of the book review sources I rely heavily upon are maintained by divisions in the American Library Association (ALA). For young adult books, I turn to ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Their “Booklists and Awards” are excellent sources,  containing current lists such as “Teens Top Ten,” “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers,” “Great Graphic Novels for Teens,” and “Outstanding books for the College Bound.”

For Children’s picture books and chapter books for middle readers, I rely on ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). This is the ALA division which is responsible for awarding the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott awards, as well as many others. I order just about all of the books from their yearly “Notable Children’s Book Lists.”  This list includes all the ALA award winning books, as well as other high quality children’s books. The criteria used in deciding what makes a children’s book “notable” is defined on the ALSC Website as “Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.” A further breakdown on the selection process is provided on ALSC’s Notable Books criteria page

Finally, The Children’s Choice Book Awards and other State Children’s Choice Book Awards lists are essential selection tools. After all, wouldn’t the true experts on what constitutes a good children’s book be (duh!)  the children? In Alabama, the 2009 children’s choice book awards list can be found on Alabama’s Emphasis on Reading Website. One of my favorite picture books this year, A Visitor for Bear, made the K-1 children’s choice list. I concur with the young ones!

A Visitor for Bear: PZ 7 .B3814 Vis 2008

A Visitor for Bear: PZ 7 .B3814 Vis 2008

If you have a favorite resource for discovering new children’s and young adult books, please leave a comment and let me know. I also make selections by recommendations from faculty, staff, students, and their children. Let me know if there is a title which belongs in our collection. I am always on the lookout for recommendations!

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Featured Website of the Day: the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue

Among many of the faculty in our College of Education, the Online Writing Lab (OWL), created and maintained by the English Department at Purdue University, is considered to be one of the most reliable and accurate guides for citing sources in APA and MLA style.  During library instruction sessions, I usually recommend this online source to students.

Many citation style guides on the Internet are not accurate. I have found that many of our students have stumbled upon citation style generators which they absolutely love. These generators seem so convenient because they allow you to type in your citation information and they will automatically generate a citation in whatever style you request.  So what’s the trouble? They are not completely accurate. Furthermore, why not just take the time to LEARN how to cite a source properly?

The Online Writing Lab at Purdue covers most citation scenarios our students will encounter when writing their papers. The site is well-maintained and is very reputable. In addition, this site also contains excellent information on writing papers geared specifically towards ESL students, high school students, and professional writers.  This is definitely the cream of the crop when it comes to citation guide Websites.

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From “no guns” to “no hugs?”

Wow. I heard  a story on this morning’s The Today Show which seems rather disturbing. You hear so much about school violence and school bullying and then you hear that some schools are officially banning hugs. HUGS? Banning hugs?  Apparently, the new “high five” greeting has become the “hug” among today’s youth and some schools are reacting with heavy-handed policies.  Read about the story from the The Today Show website.

According to the news report, Amy Best, a sociologist at George Mason University, explores some of the reasons for this new form of teen affection. I suppose the schools’ concerns deal mostly with inappropriate touching issues.  However, greeting gestures change throughout time and across cultures.  At one time, a kiss on the cheek for a lady was an appropriate gesture. In some cultures, gregarious hugs are the warm way of  saying “how you doing, buddy?”  Today’s youth generation, from what I have observed, do seem to be more apt to hug and cling to each other than my generation which was cool, cold, and rather untouchable. When you hear so much about school violence, I kind of like to hear about teens being kind towards each other, especially boys. I think the “risks” of hugging in school are outweighed by the positives. Are we witnessing the rise of a new generation of  peace  loving, caring hipsters? That would be cool. I say “hug on!” birthdaybasher3

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Featured Book of the Day: Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

“Inidvidualism is being attacked in our Country today,” argued Michael Sanders of Academic Computer Services this morning.  As Mr. Sanders worked  diligently on the library scanner next to the reference desk, I was privy to his rants about the difficulty of being an individual in today’s society of spineless lemmings. Well…that’s not exactly what he said and I’m not sure what he was carrying on about but I have just the person, er…rat, to introduce to Mr. Sanders-someone who, with Mr. Sanders, will take on those who would deprive us of our individualism.  Introducing, Wilbur, the “Naked Mole Rat!” (applause).

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: PZ 7 .W65535 Nak 2009

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: PZ 7 .W65535 Nak 2009

Review from Amazon.com: From Booklist
Willems begins by giving us all the background we need about naked mole rats: “1. They are a little bit rat. 2. They are a little bit mole. 3. They are all naked.” All except Wilbur, an earnest dandy who can’t resist donning ties, jackets, pants, hats, or even entire superhero or astronaut getups. After all, the more outfits he has, the more he can pretend to be all sorts of different characters. Wilbur’s nude friends are appalled and complain to the colony ruler, who unexpectedly decrees that, from here on, their colony will be clothing-optional. Soon everyone is crazily clad and snapping up duds from Wilbur’s new clothing store. Willems’ art follows the simple style of his Elephant and Piggie books, and is dominated in color by (no surprise) naked-mole-rat pink. An ongoing horizontal line lends continuity to most of the pages, occasionally curving to add simple architecture to the scenes. But mostly it is Wilbur’s guileless observations that will have young readers feeling good about individual expression. Preschool-Grade 2.
–Daniel Kraus

Take a stand with JSU’s Mr. Sanders and Wilbur, the Naked Mole Rat- fight for your right to be an individual!  (applause).

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Research Tip of the Day: But my professor said “don’t use the Internet!”

As the Education Librarian, I spend most of my time trying to steer students towards the library databases to which we subscribe in order to find peer- reviewed journal articles. The Internet often gets ignored or, perhaps, even a bad rap, as we constantly warn students about our greatest concerns, notabaly the lack of peer reviewed, scholarly content, .com sites, and questionable authority. keithamber

This being said, I must confess that Google Scholar, in particular, is an extremely powerful search engine. When I have exhausted a search through our databases and feel like I have hit a dead end, I give Google Scholar a try and usually am able to eek out a few scholarly article citations that were not picked up in our databases. I use Google Scholar as a method to locate citations of scholarly articles and, then, search for the actual articles through our databases. Google Scholar is just one of the many Internet tools which helps me locate scholarly articles. Instead of telling our students not to use the Internet, we should be telling them how to use it as a method in locating scholarly literature and how they can then locate the actual articles through our databases in full text, in the library in print, or through our Interlibrary Loan system (if we do not subscribe to the journal).

“There ain’ t no such thing as a free lunch.” …but what about free research?

A growing number of scholarly articles are becomming available through “open access journals” which are freely accessible on the Web and are peer reviewed. There are some in the field of education, but more,  in the health sciences. Here is a link to 292 open access journals in the field of education from the “Directory of Open Access Journals.”  To read about selection criteria and quality control maintained by this site click on About DOAJ.  Additionally, there are 15 open access journals in sports science in this directory and 94 in library and information science.

Happy Searching!

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Featured Book of the Day

If Accelerated Reader fails to motivate…

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child
by Donalyn Miller
Review from Amazon.com: From Booklist 
Because she couldn’t find a book that showed her how to use her own love of books to imbue her elementary students with the same love, Miller, Teacher Magazine blogger, decided to write her own. She recalls her personal journey as a teacher and the surprise and disappointment of learning that book loving cannot be automatically passed on to students. No more having the whole class read the same novel. She gave her students questionnaires to determine their interests and personally selected stacks of books of possible interest to them, then allowed them to read independently—at least 40 books a school year. She recounts the experience of some students struggling and others exhilarated by the freedom to read. Miller’s tactics resulted in improvement in her students’ vocabulary, comprehension, and writing. She also saw students respect book suggestions that came from a reader’s passion rather than a teacher’s agenda. Miller includes reading lists, activities, questionnaires, and other resources. Although aimed at teachers, this book will also definitely appeal to parents interested in encouraging their children to read. –Vanessa Bush

The Book Whisperer: LB 1573 .M4938 2009

The Book Whisperer: LB 1573 .M4938 2009