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Author Archives:Kate Tigue

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Book Nutrition: Different Ways to Feed the Brain

Recently, the staff in the Children’s Room has been noticing a trend in children’s and young adult literature: lots of adults take out and read books traditionally written for young people. This is certainly because literature for kids is now being marketed more widely than ever before. Film producers and directors are mining the rich landscape of books aimed at children to find their next big hit on the silver screen. Some books almost seem to be written with the potential optioning of movie rights in mind. It’s no wonder with all that exposure that our collections in the Children’s room have received more adult attention.

We’ve also noticed authors blur the traditional boundaries between audience and genres. In years past, publishers would help authors focus on what group of people their books were for and in what specific genre their story ideas would fit. More than ever, book plots defy categorization and we end up reading reviews for the next “paranormal historical mystery with a dash of suspense.” These types of unique plots make for a more interesting read and attract more adult readers.

Most importantly, children’s librarians are starting to see a division in the tone of children’s literature. In prior decades, children’s books were written with kids in mind but an author’s prose and themes were often held to adult fiction standards. Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” explores a universal coming-of-age story, but well-written characters and fully developed motifs helped adults engage in this classic novel. In more recent times, there are definitely books that were published with a child audience in mind and speak to directly to how kids really feel and experience reality. Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series seems to mirror exactly how kids react when faced with tough ethical decisions. Children respond to Greg Heffley, the flawed main character – the book’s humor and lack of preachy adults to correct bad behavior. Many adults cringe at the lack of moral fiber in these titles but they have also turned so many children into readers that it’s hard to dismiss the power of reliability.

In contrast to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, books like Kate DiCamillo’s “Raymie Nightingale” and “Louisiana’s Way Home” are seemingly marketed to children but have an adult, reflective tone to the narrative. Both novels center around twelve year old girls who experience the loss of an adult family member and changes to the family structure while figuring out what it means to transition from the innocent world of childhood to the more challenging reality of adulthood. Both of these books are beautifully written with poignant characterization and dialogue, but I just don’t think most actual twelve year old girls can actually reflect on their circumstances as maturely as Raymie and Louisiana do. Many children experience the family difficulties both girls endure, but few are able to come to the self-possessed realizations and forgiveness both girls find at the end of their stories. Simply put, adult perspectives are masquerading as unrealistic growth in a juvenile protagonist. It should come as no surprise that both books received rave reviews and awards, but most kids bypass them and head straight to other series that meet them where they are.

There is nothing wrong with either approach in children’s literature, and they each serve a different function. Stories that reflect the true inner emotional life and secret wishes of children will always have a strong pull for most young readers. These books are the sweet treats of the book world; they are sugary, appealing, and go down easy for most kids. Books that have a little more emotional depth and meatier, more complex themes are the good nutrition we feed to kids to help their brains and moral imagination strengthen and grow. These stories stick with kids and are great for reading with others and re-reading as kids grow up. We are more forgiving with adult reading choices, and if we can understand the different purposes and audiences that children’s books can reach, we might be more understanding with kids as well.

Kate Tigue is the Head of Youth Services at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the November 29, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Make It! : Simple Instruments

Saturday, December 29, 2018
2:00 – 4:00 pm
Preschool and up
No registration

Join us for this laid-back STEM program where we explore how to make simple instruments.  We’ll provide the materials and some ideas, you provide the creativity! This is a great way for parents and kids to work together to create something new.

Yoga for Kids

Friday, December 28, 2018
3 – 7 Year Olds : 10:00 -10:45 am  (This session is FULL. Please call the library to be put on the waiting list)
8 – 12 Year Olds : 11:00 – 11:45 am
Registration required

Join certified yoga instructor Carolyn Bradley for some yoga during December Recess! Kids will learn some basic yoga poses, work on their balance and breathing all while having fun! Registration is required so please call the library at 781-769-0200 x225 or email us at norchild@minlib.net and indicate which session you wish to sign up for!

 

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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. 

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