The Swan Book and Racism in Book Reviews

A close up of a black swan's head, neck and shoulders. The bird is well lit so they feathers shine and look like scales. The bird's eye and beak are white. The background is a dark charcoal grey and the author's name and the title of the book are in red and orange overlaid on the picture.
Image description: A close up of a black swan’s head, neck and shoulders. The bird is well lit so they feathers shine and look like scales. The bird’s eye and beak are white. The background is a dark charcoal grey and the author’s name and the title of the book are in red and orange overlaid on the picture.

The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

From Goodreads: The Swan Book is set in the future, with Aboriginals still living under the Intervention in the north, in an environment fundamentally altered by climate change. It follows the life of a mute young woman called Oblivia, the victim of gang-rape by petrol-sniffing youths, from the displaced community where she lives in a hulk, in a swamp filled with rusting boats, and thousands of black swans, to her marriage to Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia, and her elevation to the position of First Lady, confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city.

I recently read a book and shared my thoughts about it on Instagram. I think this is an important conversation so I have put the review here too and edited it a bit to fit better with the blog.

I don’t normally post about books I’m currently reading, but we need to talk about racism and white supremacy in book reviews. The subject has come up several times recently on Instagram, but it’s by no means a new discussion. There is a lot of gate keeping and upholding of white supremacy in the publishing industry (and its review arm) and in libraries. I’ve seen it for years now in the library space, which is part of why, as a librarian, I started reviewing books here and on my blog that do not go through traditional channels.

But the conversation hit home with the book I just finished reading. I knew if I looked at reviews I would see white supremacy on full display. It scores in the low threes on GoodReads with quite a few obliviously (and overtly) racist one-star reviews.

The Swan Book is intense- it’s a dystopian, post apocalyptic story. The book is poetic-Wright is a brilliant writer as evidenced by the language and weaving in of her #ownvoices storytelling. The book is dense- each sentence is filled with imagery and requires thought to parse them. It also clearly has a lens on it that is very Indigenous/Australian Aboriginal and therefore probably not what most of us (white folks and Americans) are used to reading. It might take more focus than we are used to giving our fiction. This is no beach read.

But many of the reviews I read called out all those things and decided that they indicated, not a brilliant book written with an indigenous way of seeing, understanding, or interpreting the world, but as a bad book that was a word salad and too hard to understand or worse, there was no meaning.

But none of that is true. This book is brilliant and it is entirely possible that it is not written for you. It might not be the right book for you right now. It might never be the right book if you prefer light hearted fiction or despise dystopias. But to call it a mess and write it off with one star ratings when your dislike is clearly tied to white expectations of your world view being reflected, that is white supremacy at work. It’s the expectation that everything will be written with the white world view and white ease/comfort in mind.

I tried reading this not long after my first daughter was born. My mind was mush between lack of sleep, anxiety over being a new parent, and the newness of it all. I put the book down. Coming back to it now with years of parenting under my belt and a stronger reading practice I was captivated and blown away. It is stunning. It took me longer to get into it, to get the feel for how Wright uses an Aboriginal worldview to tell the story of Oblivia, a girl raped in her youth, promised to a man who becomes a world leader and also a sort of sellout.

The book handles trauma and its effect on our perceptions of reality and life but again with a very distinctly not-white view of time, space, history, future, and connection to the land. It also looks deeply at the impacts of climate change, colonialism, tokenism, and assimilation. And because of a fluidity between past, present, and future these things interlock on the page and flow together. It makes for a powerful reading experience if you put in the effort.

I hope more people read this and get outside themselves. I know I read to expand my world view not to limit it.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do read this book, please post a review of it on GoodReads and Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and will drown out the ignorant, racist reviews on those platforms.

Soft Censorship and White Supremacy

The JourneyThis is a bit of a long post and requires some context. Bear with me.

Last year the other librarian I worked with purchased the book The Journey by Francesca Sanna. The story follows a family from their home country, where a war has broken out and the father has died, to a new country. Along the way they encounter unfriendly border guards, a wall, a smuggler, and an ocean they must cross. It’s certainly a nod to Syrian refugees and North African refugees fleeing to Europe, but it’s also reminiscent of immigrants from Central America and Cuba. It’s not a warm fuzzy story, but it also isn’t without hope. It’s the kind of book that can open up conversations. Prior to this I had purchased a copy and read it to my daughter and we talked about a lot of things that are going on in the world right now.

While the book was being processed with another immigration story by a parent volunteer she raised concerns about both books being too scary for children and something she would never have shared with her own children. I came into the conversation late in the day and am unclear if she didn’t want us processing the books at all or if they needed to be put into a higher reading level section.

When I spoke to the parent I explained that I could respect that she would not want to choose to read the book to her children, but that I did want to (and had read) it to my child. My point being, there are families and teachers in our community that do want these types of books. She also kept fussing over the possibility that a parent who wouldn’t want it read to their child might still find it in their child’s backpack. So I explained that it was not appropriate to remove it from the shelf or hide it for those parents. It is a book that is written for children and is totally appropriate if you want to share those ideas with a child. Her own personal preference to shield her children from ugly truths about our world is her right, but it does not give me the right, as a librarian, to force other parents to make that choice by hiding or removing the book. Moreover our collection development policy allows us to purchase materials that support our curriculum, support our community and support literacy. This book hits all those points. The other librarian thanked me for talking to the parent volunteer.

I went ahead and processed the book and put it in the picture book section (a blue label). But I came in the following Friday morning to discover that the other librarian had changed it to a red label (early chapter book section). This made me extremely upset and uncomfortable and here is why:

  1. The color coding labels denote reading level not content. This book has a relatively low reading level and is clearly a picture book. The library does have a few red and yellow picture books, but they also have very high reading levels and are clearly written for older audiences (third grade and up).
  2. The (higher level) red and yellow picture books do not check out. They are up high on a shelf where the kids can’t reach them. They are tucked away. But mostly, by the time the kids can read chapter books, the teachers and parents do not want them to check out picture books and the kids have internalized that idea and almost never choose to read them.
  3. The picture book (blue) section has books that tackle slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, other immigration stories, gay families, residential schools and many other difficult, uncomfortable, and potentially controversial topics.
  4. The youngest patrons who check out books (Kindergarten and first grade) do not browse the shelves. The librarian pulls books and puts them out on the tables for them to select from. To keep this book out of those children’s hands is very easy: simply do not offer it as an option.
  5. Professional reviews of the book have placed this on many children’s literature award lists and note that the age range for the book can be as young as 3 up to about third grade.
  6. Finally, the other librarian consulted another non-librarian teacher about her opinion and made a decision based on that. She did not consult the upper school librarian. I also caught her consulting with an administrator who is the head of the diversity committee (and a not particularly woke white man). When I accidentally came upon them discussing the book they quickly hid it away, stopped talking, and he quietly slipped out of the library without saying a word to me.

With all those factors considered, they intentionally put a book that might make some families uncomfortable into a section where they know it probably won’t check out or be seen. This is called soft censorship. It’s not an outright ban of the book, but for all intents and purposes it renders the book unavailable. The library/school can still point at it say, “But it’s on our shelves! We’re not stopping kids from checking it out.” Yet, in reality, the patrons of the library, the target audience of that book, will never have meaningful or real access to it.

But here’s the thing with that kind of behavior and why I think I’m so uncomfortable with this whole situation. It’s white supremacy at work. Plain and simple. Those families that might be uncomfortable are going to primarily be white and immigration is almost never about white immigrants*, certainly not in this political climate we’re in. These books, and The Journey in particular, that make white families uncomfortable are about black and brown people. Hiding The Journey where children and families, for all intents and purposes, will not have access to it erases that difficult experience in favor of white children’s comfort. It places white children above black and brown children. Also this is how systems of oppression (i.e. white supremacy) work and are perpetuated, quietly and seemingly innocuously. As a librarian and a person fighting to stop white supremacy, I disagree with that soft censorship with every fiber of my being. It is wrong.

I went and spoke with the teacher the other librarian consulted and heard her piece. It was half the point I made to our parent volunteer. Not all families would talk about this topic with their child. I then explained the censorship issue with the book and she immediately told me that she agreed with the library/librarian standpoint, that it belongs in an accessible place on our shelves. I also consulted with the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. They were incredibly helpful and supportive and affirmed that I was right to call this soft censorship. They wrote a letter to the head of the Lower School supporting keeping the book in the picture book section (you can see this in my Instagram photo of the book).

Picture books can be read by children whose reading is fairly well developed, but in reality they are books that are meant to be shared between a fluent reader (often an adult) and a child. This is the kind of situation where an adult can read this book and help the child understand what is happening. If a family doesn’t want to have that conversation, they do not have to read the book (although I highly recommend they unpack that impulse and ensure it isn’t actually upholding white supremacy). Nothing in the library is required reading. But there are families who do want to have these conversations and need resources and the library is there for them. There are also classroom teachers who are having these conversations with their classes and the library is there for them too.

I quit that job last year for a number of reasons. One of the primary reasons was because of how my daughter was treated when we applied to the school compounded by the headmaster’s incredibly misogynistic response to my speaking publicly about the incident and how it made me feel. He took particular umbrage at the language I used. You can read more about that here and here if you are so inclined. But during the long conversation I had with him in which he tone policed me and said some truly appalling things, he also told me if I was upset about this I wasn’t entitled to make the call about this book. Not only did he show his complete ignorance about what my job title and position was, he also showed an ignorance that is common outside the library community about the function of the library as a line of defense against censorship and social justice. (Although his stance toward white supremacy is unsurprising considering his level of bigotry in the conversation.)

This is why it’s vitally important that people outside the library community know about soft censorship and how it works and one of the primary reasons I’m putting this out there. I also quit that job because I do not want to work in a place that is comfortable soft censoring materials. In this day and age that is particularly dangerous. We know that children internalize bias incredibly early and we as educators and parents need to be very intentional in addressing the inequalities in this world. We need kids who know what is going on in the world and learn compassion and empathy so we can strive toward a world with equity and freedom for all. We also need parents that are willing to break down systems of oppression. If we wait until white parents think they’re ready to handle the material, it’s too late. Way too late.

*This not entirely true. There are plenty of kids books about Irish or Italian immigrants in the 1800s. Yet, while they are now considered white they were not at the time, which means those children’s books are not accurately representing that immigration experience, but that’s for another day.

The importance of the self published book

I know I touched on this when I announced the theme for my 100 Day Project last summer, but I wanted to come back to it again.

While self-published and small press books can have their pitfalls (paperbacks have such a hard time standing out on library shelves!), I cannot stress enough the essential hole they fill. The traditional publishing industry has the poor judgement to not want to publish books about diverse people (claiming they won’t sell or the books don’t read authentically enough for white audiences) and the gatekeepers in the industry tend not to allow authors of color (or anything other than white, able bodied, cisgendered, usually female) into their industry.

I for one am tired of stories about the same quirky, upper middle class white girl. I am tired of the stories about white boys surviving.  I’m tired of families that look approximately like mine. I want variety in my reading. And, more and most importantly, I know there are kids out there desperate to see themselves in books. I was lucky enough that that quirky girl resembled me in a lot of ways. I never had trouble finding characters and people that looked like me. But I’ve heard countless stories of adults and children who, while they enjoyed some of the same characters I did, wished they shared more in common with them. They wished those characters looked like them.

If the traditional publishing industry isn’t going to give us those books and authors and illustrators, we need to set aside our preconceived notions about self published and small press books. We need to recognize that if our students and children can love Dragons Love Tacos 2 (a god awful sequel that looks hastily slapped together and weakly plotted, but published by a major publishing house) then they can love these books as much and probably more than those traditional books.

So, if you have any kind of buying power, either personal or institutional, look for small press and self published books. Seek them out. And buy them. Put them on your library or home bookshelves. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t buy books from big-name publishers. You will and you should (especially when they occasionally publish #ownvoices authors and illustrators). Just don’t let these be the only books you give to your students. Vote with your dollars and support small publishers and authors/illustrators working outside the traditional system.

I’m Still Learning

Today in my Feedly I read this thought-provoking article from the blog Reading While White. If you are white you need to hop over and read through it. The author, Elisa Gall, discusses troubling aspects of the traditional publishing industry including the publication of books about oppressed and marginalized people by white people as the industry’s answer to the call for more diversity. The article also calls out the fact that we’re seeing less “I don’t see color” arguments, but are seeing more people calling for books with what they call “casual diversity”. I’ve heard and used the term “incidental diversity”.

As I was reading, though, I was embarrassed to realize I am guilty of looking for those casual diversity books and naming some of the diversity I see in picture books as such. And from there I realized, as Gall points out, this is because I’m still looking at those books with a white lens. While I may never be able to remove that lens completely (or at all), I should not be looking for books that simply have brown or disabled or queer characters in circumstances or stories or places that are essentially white or able bodied or hetero. And if those characters can be swapped out for a white character, it may not be true diversity.

Now that being said, this does not mean we need one story to represent all black people (or all disabled people, etc.). Nor does it mean that a black and white character may not be able to be seen in a similar story. I think my own blindspot over this stemmed from my desire to see the abundance of stories that reflect me and my children available to children of color (and others). The problem with that is that I didn’t stop to examine whether or not those same stories would be applicable to those other children. In some cases they might be, but in many others they are not. It was a really good check on my privilege to read that article and realize how careful I need to be when reviewing books and a good reminder that I am not always the best person to be reviewing diverse content. I’m trying to use my gatekeeper status and the fact that white librarians might (sadly) be more likely to listen to my recommendations, but that doesn’t mean I will have the most accurate perception of how a book will work for an audience that isn’t white, cisgender, able-bodied, straight, and middle class.

I’m Over the Play Teepee Trend

This isn’t exactly a library related post, except I wouldn’t be surprised to see the trend start spilling over into children’s areas at libraries and into classrooms. I originally wrote and posted this on my personal blog, which primarily documents the homeschooling I do with my daughter. But it was just to important to pass up cross posting here, I think. If anything I have said here is problematic for marginalized people, please reach out to me so I can fix any problems. 

To be honest I was never comfortable with it, so to say I’m over it is a misrepresentation, but they’ve become ubiquitous. You can’t look through Pinterest or your Facebook feed without seeing a clean modern children’s play area set up with one: a play teepee. Meant to be twee little nests for children to hide away in, the reality of what they represent is quite insidious. When I look at them I see the worst of cultural appropriation, hurtful cultural stereotyping, Native erasure, and fetishizing.

Teepees, or tipis, are a real cultural object used as dwellings by several Native Nations, including the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota. They were and are real homes for real people and continue to be used ceremonially by many of these tribes too as they hold onto their traditional ways that have been forcibly erased. In reducing something that was integral to the cultures of these Nations to adorn your living room, we erase its cultural significance and history. These play teepees are generic, where the originals would not have been. Even the word itself “teepee” is a generic, Anglicization of the real term used for these dwellings, which comes to English from a Lakota word. Parents aren’t using these play tents as a way to talk to their children about the history or culture of the people they come from. We’re appropriating them as something cutesy for our playrooms.

Which leads to another piece of this trend, native erasure. The teepee is so often used as a generic symbol of all North American indigenous people. Except they were used by some Native Nations, not all. Moreover, teepees as a generic dwelling, have been used by other indigenous people in other places around the world. In pairing them with broader stereotyped depictions of “Indians” seen in popular culture and ignoring their cultural and historical importance, we reinforce those hurtful stereotypes that have allowed these people to be colonized and erased. It also reduces the cultures and people in the eyes of our children to something they can take from to make their homes and spaces more on trend and ultimately discard when no longer fashionable.

I also fear that this will encourage a resurgence in children “playing Indian”. The idea is still out there, even though I think most people see it as something kids did in the 50s and 60s. I see it depicted again and again in new children’s books and even in magazines and certainly at Halloween time. “Playing Indian” either includes fighting and villainizing the “Indians” or fetishizing them as the gentle, nature loving Native Americans. It’s all more stereotyping. But a stereotype of people who were exterminated by white settlers and government and continue to be marginalized.  Again neither villainizing nor fetishizing gets at the history of colonization of Native Nations, nor does it show our children that their cultures are not there for our taking.

Now I’m sure there are some people who want to argue that these play teepees honor the cultures they come from and I want to directly address that. You would only be honoring the culture if you were talking about their cultural and historical importance and, considering how generic the play teepees look, you aren’t. Just having it in your house does not impart the significance of the object if you do not give it the proper context. More importantly a big, non-Native company has taken this culturally significant object and turned it into something generic that they are now marketing and making money off of. None of those sales are going to benefit the Native Nations the object has come from (not that that would indicate any form of reverence, anyway). They have appropriated the teepee to make it into something they can sell stylish parents and make a quick buck. In no way does any of that honor a living culture.

If you have a teepee please consider opening a conversation with your child about what it is and remove it from your living room too. If you are considering buying one, don’t. Click through to the links below (also found in the links in the paragraph above) if you need more convincing. They are articles written by people more knowledgable than me as they are members of Native Nations. I will be writing letters to companies that sell them. A drop in the ocean to these companies, but if you agree and would like to join me, maybe we can make a difference.

Repost: Step away from the “Indian” costume! by Dr. Adrienne Keane, Cherokee, from her blog Native Appropriations

When Media Promotes Offensive Indian Stereotypes by Sarah Sunshine Manning from Indian Country Today

Lane Smith’s new picture book: There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry) by Dr. Debbie Reese, Nambe Owingeh, from her blog American Indians in Children’s Literature

Summer of Self Publishing and Small Presses

logo480wx640hLast summer I participated in The One Hundred Day Project with 100 Days of Diverse Books. This summer I wanted to do the project again, but with a different theme.

Over the last year I’ve been really attracted to small presses and self published books as a way to get more diversity into library (and home!) collections. This spring the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s blog posted some graphs created using the diversity statistics they collect each year. It shows a huge gap in #ownvoices for African American children’s books. If you haven’t seen these statistics, graphs, and commentary head over here to read it . Maya Christina Gonzales and her Reflection Press also used these statistics to great effect showing how many books would need to be published to have an equitable children’s publishing industry. If you haven’t seen or read about that, check it out hereZetta Elliott, who self publishes many of her phenomenal books, has also addressed the lack of diversity in the mainstream publishing industry. Between her advocacy for small press and self published books and Reflection Press’s project to quickly publish quality books to fill some of these needs and gaps, I started going out of my way to find self published children’s books.

I know there is a stigma against a lot of these books, and certainly there are terrible self published materials out there, but while some of them lack the slick covers, illustrations, and marketing of major publishers I found that my daughter and students didn’t mind them at all. In fact I think my daughter’s top three books are small or self published. Basically, kids don’t hold books to the same standards that adults do. That isn’t to say they can’t sniff out something that is too didactic or trying to push an agenda or that they don’t have standards of any kind. What kids are looking for is just different than what adults are looking for. There is a case and a place for having beautiful, amazing books that traditional publishers put out around children, but not at the expense and exclusion of giving them reflections of themselves and the world around them.

All this is to say that for my #100dayproject I will be reviewing a self published or small press title each day. It may take me more than 100 days, to be honest. Most of these are not available in my local library, so I have to buy them myself and that adds up. I’ve got a little stash right now and I’m also planning on rerunning blog posts from the past year or so where I have reviewed self published books. It can’t hurt to get more exposure for these titles. (To be clear, I don’t mind buying them! I want to buy self published and small press books, but it just adds up.) After these 100 (or so) days I’m going to keep on with this type of book. I will occasionally review the traditionally published book, but there are plenty of reviews and blogs out there dedicated to them so I want to call attention to books that might not otherwise get much press.

Obviously you can follow along here on the blog, I’ll be posting daily. You can also follow along on Instagram as I’ll be taking a picture each day to go with the post. I will also be sure to share the photo on Twitter when I post it. I’ll be using #100daysofselfpublishedkidlit. It’s long and cumbersome and leaves out the small press aspect, I know, but it is what it is.

Makerspace: Finding Connections

One of the science units in our second grade curriculum focuses on insects. Each student becomes an expert on one insect of their choosing. They read up about it, then they create a presentation that features the information they have gathered. The final piece of the project is creating a 3-dimensional model of their insect with their parents. While it has to be anatomically correct (three body parts, six legs, etc.), they have a lot of flexibility in how they make the model. They can use any kind of material from paper mache to Legos. Some families make enormous bugs others make tiny ones. Some look they were more a project of the parent than the student and some look like the parents weren’t involved at all. Either way it’s usually a lot of fun for the kids and even the adults.

Knowing that this project would be coming up in about a month and a half, I decided to offer two open days in the Makerspace over spring break. Families are welcome to stop in any time during the two Saturdays over spring break and use our space and materials. My husband and I will be there to help clean, welcome people, show people around, and provide snacks (snacks are a must in the Makerspace). Sometimes the project can be really overwhelming for parents who are short on time, don’t like mess, or may feel ill-equipped to get creative. And that is a big reason I decided to have these open days.

My point here is not that you should start an insect project in your school (although that would be pretty neat!), but that you should look for those small opportunities to bring in community members and tap into your curriculum. It will make your Makerspace more relevant and can help teachers begin to integrate the freer thinking of the makerspace into their teaching and curriculum. Next up for me, our first grade has free choice play at the end of most days, I want to schedule them to have free choice in the makerspace one or two days. I can set up stations so it ins’t a complete free-for-all, but still highlights some of the activities and things you can do in the makerspace.

Makerspace: I Want to be a YouTube Star

Forgive me, but I’m about to get a little passionate about kids and education. We recently had an author come visit our library (shout out to Bruce Hale, he was awesome and we have a lot of budding author/illustrators thanks to him!). He was really great with the kids and had lots of interaction with the audience and at one point asked what some of the kids in the audience wanted to be “when they grow up”. It’s a pretty traditional and mundane question and we got the range of answers: vet, doctor, lawyer, engineer, architect. But we also got a couple YouTube stars. That led to a couple chuckles and a lot of eye rolling from teachers.

I had forgotten that I had heard a rant about this a few months back. I cannot, for the life of me, remember where or who was ranting or anything beyond a collective hand wringing over “kids these days”. But I think we need to stop wringing our hands over this particular phenomenon and need to step up to harness this interest. (I have a lot of choice expletives about getting off kids backs when it comes to things adults deem unworthy, but I’ll spare you that rant for now.)

For starters, “YouTube star” is a pretty nebulous concept, especially for these kids. Why don’t we roll our eyes at lawyer? I mean for a third grader what the hell does being a lawyer mean? Nothing more or less than a YouTube star. It has very little meaning to them. Except it YouTube star DOES mean these kids want to be content creators. We love to spout off about how we’re teaching kids skills for jobs we can’t even imagine. One thing I think we can know about their futures is that they will need to be content creators. Be that writing, report making, building, or scientific research. They will be creating content of one kind or another. So all those potential YouTube stars have a head start over their peers in that they already want to be doing what they probably will be doing.

Instead of rolling our eyes, we need to be harnessing these kids’ energies and interests and showing them how to bring their ideas into the world. Teach them to record themselves, make podcasts, write scripts, sing, play instruments, draw and animate, and make technology a tool (e.g. stop fucking wringing your hands over kids using technology). Teach them to make things and sell them on Etsy. Help them find what they are good at and enjoy and then help them put it out there into the world. Encourage them to be creative. Certainly if you have a makerspace, this is where it comes in and plays a HUGE role in our children’s education. But even if you don’t, that’s okay. Providing them with the support and a few materials is better than all the eye rolling and hand wringing I see going on right now.

As a fairly creative kid I made all kinds of crap. From voice recordings on an old-ass tape recorder we had, to scripts for a TV show I performed in a box, to fully illustrated picture books, to weird “inventions” out of leftover foam, and comic books. I even sold them to my friends and family so I could go to the drugstore after school and buy comic books, candy, and makeup. There is no reason any of those projects couldn’t be updated with modern technology and put online. And no reason why we shouldn’t be encouraging our children to use their creative skills to make a few extra bucks to pay for fun little things. Why should be discourage our kids from doing these kinds of things? Because a few crusty, technology-phobic teachers think kids shouldn’t want to make money or create videos?

YouTube star is probably not a realistic life goal for most of our students, but let’s not lose sight of what these kids are really telling us. Instead of throwing up your hands, help them form that interest into something they can be proud of, even if that involves wacky videos posted to their YouTube channel.

The State of: the Easy Reader Collection

I’m back this October with numbers and ideas about our easy reader collection. I have a couple goals here. The first is obvious, I want to be aware of what kind of diversity is visible in our collection with the intent of making it a stronger, more diverse collection. The second, I would like to restructure the collection so it’s more of a learning-to-read collection. These books don’t check out very much and I would like to help boost their circulation by leveling them and marketing them as books to help kids learn to read.

Now, I despise book levels, but I think with this collection they might really help kids find just-right books. I think having a really basic level system with them will also make them more friendly to browse. Currently they’re crammed into some small book racks. It isn’t terrible, but it’s really hard to browse because they’re in there so tightly and they aren’t easy to see. Plus they’re about to explode out of their little corner. We also have some popular titles (In a Dark, Dark Room for example) in two places in the library- the easy reader shelf and the holiday collection- so I’m not worried about kids shying away from some fun classics because of a book level sticker on it.

Beyond this post with the statistics of the collection and thoughts on what we need to do to make the collection better, I’ll be reviewing books in the collection and new books that I want to buy for the collection. I will also be sharing information about what we are doing to level the collection. (Although that may take longer as we have a long list of projects going in the library.)

The Collection

There are approximately 260 books in the collection. A good number of them are checked out so I did a report that pulled up a list of books with the sublocation “Blue Easy Reader” in order to create the tallies. This may have missed a handful of titles that were not on the shelf and are not marked properly in the catalog (that kind of happens a lot, but I’m working on it). The collection seems fairly old with a handful of new books added over the past few years and it ranges in reading ability/reading level. There are a lot of different reading series, such as I Can Read and Ready to Read. Nearly all the books are fiction with our easy reader nonfiction sorted out into the regular nonfiction collection. If/when I start leveling the books I will pull the majority of easy reader nonfiction off those shelves and bring it back to this collection.

The Numbers

In creating these numbers I lumped series together. So Henry and Mudge has quite a few books in the series, but I only counted it once. Same with things like Poppleton and Amelia Bedelia.

Thoughts & Concerns

Well, we could certainly be doing better. There are actually more animal stories than there are stories about white kids. And those two categories make up the bulk of main characters. It doesn’t look much different than overall statistics of children’s literature or the other collections I have examined. I do worry that it’s going to be nearly impossible to find easy readers featuring Indian Americans and Native Americans and even Latino/as. If they’re already such a small part of what is being published they’re probably going to be even harder to find in easy reader format. But I will be looking and if you know of any, please, please, please let me know.

The one big surprise here was how many female authors there were in the collection. I do have to wonder if that has to do with the fact that women often get relegated to little kids and little kid stuff. I didn’t bother to look at the race/ethnicity of the authors. It’s nearly all white with a few exceptions.