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Author Archives:Kate Tigue

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YA: For Teens or Adults?

Young-adult-reading-library-bookOne of my favorite responsibilities as a youth services librarian is choosing new young adult books to purchase for the library’s expanding collection.  Young adult books (or YA as we say in the library world) is one of the most well-known and fastest growing literary genres in this decade. Most people learn about young adult books through the popular trend of adapting their plots for the silver screen. Recent films like Ready Player One, The Hunger Games trilogy, and The Fault in Our Stars have turned public interest to the books these movies are based on and sparked adult interest in books intended for adolescents.

“Young adult literature” is a rather amorphous term that is challenging to define and seems to change every few years. Originally, “YA” came into its own as a bonafide literary sub-genre sometime in the 1950s and 1960s, when novels intended for adults had realistic settings and focused on the issues adolescents were facing at the time.  J.D. Salinger probably didn’t intend for Catcher in the Rye to be a massive hit with teens when he published it in 1951 but it’s almost exclusively read as a part of high school curricula and categorized as YA in many library collections today.  

By the 1960s, authors were beginning to write specifically with a teen audience in mind. S.E. Hinton wrote her famous YA benchmark, The Outsiders, about teens in rural Oklahoma in 1965 when she was still in high school herself. Hinton cited her dissatisfaction with the state of literature that was considered appropriate for teens at the time as her main inspiration for writing her own YA novel.

Young adult literature really came into its own in the 70s and 80s. Many of the classics of that era are still influential for YA authors and readers today.  Books like Forever by Judy Blume and The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, took an unflinching look at the intense social drama and sex lives of high schoolers. More YA authors began to experiment with the thriller genre for teens, producing hits like The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney and the Remember Me trilogy by Christopher Pike.

In the past 20 years, young adult fantasy and science fiction novels have been a staple for readers, libraries, and bookstores. The popularity of series like Twilight and The Hunger Games brought young adult literature to the center stage and movie adaptations have drawn more public interest and more publishing dollars to the genre. YA literature has become so popular that adults are taking notice once again. Many libraries host  young adult books clubs for adults and we see as many adult patrons checking out YA books as we do teens.

I must confess I’m an adult reader of young adult literature. Part of it is professionally driven as I purchase all the YA books for the library’s collection and run the young adult book club, Books ‘n’ Bites, but it’s also rooted in personal enjoyment with a dash of escapism.  Because of the age of the protagonists, YA offers us a way to go back and remember that feeling of endless possibility before the permanence of adult choice and responsibility settles in.

One of the great joys of being the  facilitator of the Books ‘n’ Bites YA book club is listening to teens explore and critique  the tropes of young adult novels. Many of them love the emphasis on strong female characters and delight in the idea that young people’s actions can change and even save the world. However, they are equally critical of the romantic entanglements that seems to pop up in nearly every YA title. For example, we recently read Eliza and Her Monsters, a modern story of a creative high schooler who publishes her own enormously successful web comic. The titular character not only has to deal with the pressures of continuing to create under the spotlight of success, she also has to cope with living two separate lives: one online, on in the real world. Book club members thoroughly enjoyed those themes but were extremely critical of Eliza’s unhealthy and disturbing relationship with a new boy at her school who derails her success.

There are signs that YA publishing juggernaut is slowing down. A recent conversation with a coworker, a mother of two teens, reminded me of a cardinal truth of adolescents: as soon as adults catch on to something teens love, teens immediately reject it and move on to something else! My coworker’s daughters were already expressing their desire to read adult literature simply because they were sick of how formulaic and predictable YA books have become. In the last two years, books aimed at 18-24 year olds have been gaining popularity. This new sub-genre is called New Adult. Will New Adult experience the same explosion as YA has in the past 20 years? Maybe. Or maybe we’ll all remember that the only thing that marks a particular titles for a particular audience is marketing.

Kate Tigue is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Kate’s column in the July 5 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin

Newbury-Medal

The Battle for the Newbery Award

“If something bad is happening to a child in a book, that book will win the Newbery”, a veteran children’s librarian complained to me once. And I can’t deny it. Next week, the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) will announce the winner of the John Newbery Medal, a highly coveted award for best contribution to American children’s literature in the past year on Monday, February 12, 2018. The winner is selected by a committee of children’s librarians from across the country and broadcast at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference.

The original idea behind the Newbery medal was cited by Fred. G. Melcher as a way to boost publishers’ interest in producing children’s literature in the 1920s. At the time, there was a growing interest in stories for children that didn’t necessarily have a moral or didactic purpose. British authors like E. Nesbit (The Railway Children) and A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh) and Canadian author L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) had begun to whet the public’s appetite for more humorous, child-focused stories. The award was named for John Newbery, a prominent 18th century British publisher and called the “father of children’s literature” for publishing the first book directed at a juvenile audience, A Pretty Little Pocket-book.

Melcher himself was the editor of Publisher’s Weekly, an industry trade magazine, and was well-versed on how to utilize publicity to boost the sales and peak interest. Today, we’d say that he created “buzz” around children’s literature by creating an award for it and asking its largest buyers, children’s librarians, to form a committee of judges to grant the honor. Since 1922, members of ALSC, then called the Children’s Librarians’ Section of ALA, have met on a yearly basis to decide which meet the award criteria.

At first glance, the three criteria seem deceptively simple: the Newbery Award can be granted to an American author who has written the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature. The author must reside in the US and the book must be published in English by an American publisher. Seems pretty easy, right? Just pick the best book, right? Well, as the years have gone on and the committee structure has evolved, the three original criteria remain but definitions have been added in an attempt to tease out exactly what we mean by “distinguished”. What does it mean for a book to be the best? ALSC defines distinguished children’s literature as books that are marked by “eminence and distinction, noted for significant achievement, excellence in quality and are individually distinct”. I’m not sure if that makes things any clearer!

What has become clear in the past 20 years is a growing dissent among librarians about what kind of books SHOULD win the Newbery Medal. Many of us have observed that the Newbery Medal winners aren’t terribly popular with their intended audience: children! For those of us who work with kids on a regular basis, selling the most recent Newbery winners to kids as an enticing read is a real challenge. The settings and characters appear to be getting more and more obscure and the point of views are more seemingly adult rather than from a child’s perspective. This was not always the case. Many of us remember the golden era of the 1990s that produced classics like Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (1997), Number the Stars and The Giver both by Lois Lowry (1990 & 1994), and Holes by Louis Sachar (1999). All of these are staples in any children’s literature collection and are frequently requested by actual children!

The 2008 Newbery Committee selected Good Masters, Sweet Ladies: Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, a book that became a lightning rod for the controversy over “good books” winning instead of popular books. Schlitz’s book comprises of a series of individual narratives of fictional medieval village inhabitants, similar to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Certainly, this winner would qualify as “individually distinct” but left many librarians wondering if kids would be attracted to the subject matter.

Noted children’s literature scholar Anita Silvey wrote a controversial piece for School Library Journal, a popular review journal for school and public librarians, where she wondered whether the Newbery Award had lost touch with real kids. Silvey noted that many librarians, teachers, and book critics felt the same way, feelings that might possibly prevent them from purchasing the next Newbery winner. This seems to be antithetical to the original purpose of the award, to bolster public and professional interest in and sales of children’s literature. Finally, Silvey concluded that while the award’s selection criteria don’t include consideration of how children themselves would receive the winner, the concepts of popular books and quality literature should not be mutually exclusive.

I completely agree with Silvey’s point. I recently read last year’s winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and, while I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult reader, I was left scratching my head over what type of child I could actually convince to check it out of the library. The story focuses on a magical village at the age of the forest that requires one child to be set out in the woods as a sacrifice for the local witch. Barnhill’s clever narrative alternates between the witch and one of the children left out in the woods. It’s a wonderful book and I highly recommend it…to other adults. I don’t think many children would stick with the first half of the book which follows the witch and her philosophical musings on her life’s purpose, her role as a parent, and her own impending death. While many children certainly have some understanding of these topics, I don’t think they could relate to it from an adult perspective.

The Newbery Award is an amazing opportunity to drum up excitement over reading for children. The current digital era provides ton of distractions for kids and furthers the the desire for instant gratifications. This makes the challenge of finding good books akin to finding good-tasting healthy food kids will eat instead of junk. If children’s librarians, educators, and parents truly want reading to be a preferred activity for kids, we have to feed them a diet of great but palatable literature to make them want more. Given that over 20,000 children’s books are published in America annually, we should be able to expect that the highest literary achievement in that field can reward an author that combines both well-written, insightful thoughts wrapped in a story to which kids can connect. By the time you read this, the 2018 Newbery Award winner will have been announced. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.

Update: The 2018 Youth Media Awards were announced on Monday, February 12, 2018 at the ALA Midwinter Conference in Denver, Co. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is the recipient of this year’s John Newbery Medal.  More on the rest of the award winners here.

Kate Tigue is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library.  Read her column in the Thursday, February 15, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. 

FREE ebooks for kids!

Did you know the library subscribes to Tumblebooks?  Tumblebooks is a curated database of children’s e-books, available by subscription to elementary schools and public libraries.  Every Morrill Memorial Library cardholder may use their library card barcode to sign into Tumblebooks on their own personal computer or mobile device.  In addition, any library user may come into the Children’s Room to use the dedicated Tumblebooks station.  Tumblebooks offers kids more than just full color ebooks;  it also features read-alongs, games, puzzles, videos, and nonfiction books on interesting subjects.

Click here to access Tumblebooks on your computer at home with your library card.

To access Tumblebooks on your mobile device with your library card, click here. 

 

The Lost Art of Listening

Girl with HeadphonesScreen time. It’s the new buzzword in parental anxiety. Parents are constantly bombarded with advice and warnings regarding how much time their kids spend in front of the TV, computer, tablet, and phone. To be sure, our lives definitely revolve around screens. Even adults spend most of our working lives and leisure time (and all those “in between” times like waiting i line or at a doctor’s office) are spent in front of screens.

I think we can all appeal to common sense when it comes to limiting screen time. Rather than giving into hysteria or the latest trend, let’s acknowledge we all live in the 21st century and technology is deeply enmeshed in our individual lives and society at large. But we all know when enough is enough. Kids who are staring blankly at a TV or phone like zombies or refuse to go outside on a sunny day need a break. Adults who are constantly posting on social media or teens who can’t let go of the phone at the dinner table need a break. Even just feeling anxious can be a sign that a digital detox is a must.

To be sure, reading is a great antidote to an excess of screen time. Books fire the imagination, provide an escape from our realities, and stimulate our minds. We certainly encourage all families to come to the library to check out books for kids. But there are times as a parent when you need a break but don’t want to turn to screen for some much needed sanity. Maybe you have a child who talks non-stop in the car or a set of siblings who can’t stop arguing. Perhaps you have an only child who relies on you for interaction and you need a parental timeout! Whatever the situation, there other solutions than just toughing it out or calling in TV babysitter. We need to cultivate the lost art of listening.

My sanity as a mother relies on two very important types of media: music and podcasts. To be fair, we watch plenty of TV. At age 4, my daughter can already operate most iPhone apps better than I can. In order to get away from screens, music is my go-to. Even as a baby, my daughter has always gravitated towards music. Her first hand gesture involved waving her hand like a conductor in order to compel a willing grandparent to sing to her. We started off with kid’s classics like Raffi’s Singable Songs for the Very Young,  Little Seed which is Elizabeth Mitchell’s cover album of famous Woody Guthrie children’s songs, and Cedarmont Kids’ 100 Singalongs for Kids. All three of these albums contain wonderful kids’ music but you can only hear “The Wheels on the Bus” so many times before you start to lose your mind.

Wading into the world of pop music can be a minefield for parents but it’s necessary to expand kids’ musical horizons. Many parents test the waters with ubiquitous Kidz Bop compilations. The Kidz Bop brand touts that their music is “sung by kids for kids” and features up-to-the-minute, clean versions of current pop songs. Parents can listen to Top 40 hits without the worry of their children hearing explicit words or content. Library patrons can either borrow Kidz Bop CDs from the Children’s Room collection or stream various Kidz Bop compilations from Hoopla, the library’s digital streaming service.

Another route to listening to decent music with kids are soundtracks to popular children’s movies. Most parents know their children are obsessed with the Minions from the Despicable Me and Minions movie franchises. Those little yellow melodious henchmen will forever have a place in my heart for getting my daughter to listen to “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” by The Doors. I’m sure Jim Morrison never thought his music would reach a new audience via an animated film. Watching the film Sing also introduced us to the Beatles via Jennifer Hudson’s amazing performance of “Golden Slumber/Carry That Weight” as Meena, the elephant. We’ve since gone to explore the art of “the cover” by playing Lennon and McCartney’s original song, then listening to Jennifer Hudson’s version and then comparing them both to Ben Folds’ rendition of the Beatles’ classic from Abbey Road.

Podcasts for kids are also an option to keep up kids’ listening skills. Podcasts are downloadable audio files, usually on a particular topic or in a series. Adults have been obsessing over them ever since Serial but there are now tons of podcasts geared for children and family listening. My personal favorite is the simply titled Stories Podcast which features artfully narrated renditions of classic fairy tales and new stories, often peppered with original songs. It’s another great way to sneak in some literature into your kids’ media diets and could keep the whole family happy for a car ride or a rainy afternoon. Kids with a love of science might enjoy Brains On!, a podcast that features scientific exploration about the topics kids think about. Each episode is co-hosted by the child who poses the question for that week. If your family likes to ruminate about big ideas, Short & Curly might be a great listen. Each week poses real life ethical dilemmas for kids to consider and presents evidence from all sides of an issue. Similarly, there’s But Why?, a series devoted to answering kids’ favorite question.

Clearly, when we need a break from screens, listening to various types of media can provide great entertainment and information for children and families. Kids can learn new things and explore different subjects while parents get to keep their sanity while feeling good about expanding their family’s horizons and honing their listening skills. Sounds like a win-win for everyone!

Kate Tigue is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Mass. Read Kate’s column in the August 3rd edition of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Books in the Time of Exhaustion

Reading Mom to SleepEvery expectant mother goes through a period of anxiety when she imagines what life will be like after the baby arrives. Will anything be the same? It’s one of those rubicon moments that you can’t totally fathom until it happens. Most of us realize that life will never be the same once a child enters the picture but understanding the enormity and permanence of that change can take some time to process.

One of my chief worries during pregnancy about life as a new mom was wondering how I would keep reading. Compared to concerns about the baby’s health, it’s a little trivial but reading is my only lifelong hobby. I’ve never been dedicated to crafting or outdoor pursuits or any other recreational activity. Reading has been one of the constants in my life since childhood and the one thing I truly love to do. Like many moms-to-be, I was trying to figure out how I could hang on to some small part of myself during an intense life change.

Now that I’m almost four years into this parenting gig, I can say two things for sure: 1) I’m surviving and 2) I still read. Of course, my life looks very different to the one I lived before motherhood. Do I read as much or as often as I would like? No way. I used to be able to juggle reading multiple books without missing a plot point and could remember my place in all of them without deigning to use a bookmark. I used to read for hours at a time. I could read for more than twenty minutes without falling asleep. And I certainly never woke myself up by dropping a book on my own face. I don’t know that life anymore.

But I’ve made some adjustments and figured out how to keep reading as a parent. Here are my top tips to you keep reading when you feel like you’re too busy running after little ones or carting around older kids!

  • Lower your expectations: This is decent advice for all areas of life once a baby arrives on the scene. You will not be able to read like you once did. You may not be able to read every day. You may have to change what you read or when you read. If you expect your reading life to remain unchanged, you are wrong. Allow me to phrase it as our Disney overlords do: “Let it go! Let it goooo!”.
  • Get the right equipment: Buy an e-reader. I know many of you book traditionalists will roll your eyes or try to resist. But using an e-reader or a tablet is truly the most convenient way to read as a parent. Firstly, e-readers and tablets are extremely lightweight and allow you to read one-handed, a necessity when your baby won’t let you put him or her down. In addition, these devices have backlighting so you can comfortably read in the dark, perfect for late night feedings or marathon “will you stay with me until I fall asleep” sessions with older kids.
  • Change up your format: If you’re in the car a lot, either commuting to work or waiting for kids at activities, try books on CD or downloading e-audiobooks to your phone. You can turn your drive or wait into productive reading time! If you download or stream e-audiobooks on your phone, you can also make the most of nap time or housework and listen to a book with your headphones while you get things done. The library currently provides e-books and e-audiobooks through our Overdrive catalog and Hoopla streaming service.
  • Change your style: Maybe your tastes run toward Tolstoy or Dickens or sweeping fantasy sagas with hundreds of characters. You might need to consider shorter, lighter reading material. I’m not saying parenthood kills off your brain cells but it certainly consumes most of them and you may not be able to remember all the Game of Thrones plotlines as accurately as you did before kids. If reading has become a chore or too much a challenge, you won’t do it.
  • Give yourself a break and try something new. Maybe it’s time to explore some short story collections or tear through a fast-paced thriller. Maybe it’s time for something light, something that gives your brain a vacation. Or, perhaps, you can go with the kid theme and re-read some childhood favorites or read some of the recent Newbery Award winners. Reading kid-lit can also give you an idea of what your child might be reading in the future or give you ideas of books you can share together as they grow up. Whatever you do, put those parenting books down! They’ll only make you feel bad and you need a break from the anxiety of parenting small kids.
  • Set a goal: I have my husband to thank for this one. He’s a very disciplined person who finds it easier to create a habit by setting a hard and fast goal rather than just hoping he’ll read more. He reads ten pages from one novel in the morning and another ten at night. It’s not a huge commitment but this habit has allowed him to read twenty books a year, a feat for any parent. Setting a goal can keep you focused and force you to tae time for yourself as you develop a new reading habit.
  • Find an excuse: Many parents, especially moms, can feel guilty about taking any time for themselves. When you find yourself feeling guilty for taking time to read, remember that studies show children who SEE their parents reading usually become readers themselves and are more likely to engage in reading as a leisure activity as they get older. So by taking time to read, you are modeling the behavior you want your children to emulate.
  • Make it fun: Join a book club or an online reading group. This gives you an excuse to read, get out on your own (sans kids), or at least be social. If you can’t get out, try joining GoodReads or another online reading challenge. Even using Facebook to ask for book recommendations will generate some great feedback and inspire you to get back to reading. If reading becomes a conversation point or a social outlet, you’ll be dying to get into your next book.

To me, reading is as essential to me as breathing. It’s both my escape and my way to understand the world around me. It is my lifeline to the rest of the world when my everyday life feels consumed by making mac ‘n’ cheese and potty training. It gives me something interesting to talk about with my husband and other adults. It keeps me sane and I hope it’s something I can get my daughter to love. My little one isn’t reading yet but I can only hope she gets as much enjoyment out of books as I do. And the only way that will happening is if I keep on reading!

Kate Tigue is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library  in Norwood, Mass. Read her column in the May 11, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

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