We do love our lit, don't we? We have this thing where it's our job to read, but it's also our joy to read. As one of my favorite cookbook authors, Ina Garten, might say, how great is that? For many, youth literature is the gateway to the profession, a direction often inspired by a lifelong love for children's books, or maybe by an encounter with a transformational author or book. In the spirit of the holidays, these are a few of my favorite things…about lit.
Like many of you, I have a stack of YA and middle grade books on my nightstand, and hundreds more titles line bookshelves in my office, kitchen, and other nooks in my home. I tend to read in a rotation: a "grown-up" book, followed by a middle grade or YA book, and then back to an adult book, and at the same time, little by little, I'm usually reading a professional book—or maybe a cookbook. And then, with two young children at home, we read lots of picture books and board books daily.
Book Creators IRL.
After twenty-plus years of library and literature conferences, I still line up to meet favorite authors and pick up new titles. Reading the Twitter accounts, websites, and blogs of authors, illustrators, and other book people is a journey down a rabbit hole. The announcement of the ALA Youth Media Awards is circled on my calendar.
Among my favorite LIS courses to teach have always been the youth literature classes, or more accurately, the materials courses, which include formats besides print books, like periodicals, websites, audiobooks, reference sources, and more. My most memorable and enjoyable moments from those courses are easily book discussions. Desks and chairs huddled together, piles of books everywhere, and, on winter nights in Boston, snow falling in the darkness outside our classroom windows. Week after week, especially in my first semesters as a professor, I couldn't believe how lucky I was to support and guide these future librarians as they engaged in excited discussion about books and the children in whose hands they'd one day place them.
As I wrap up, I'll leave you with a few thoughts I'd offer my graduate students, adapted from my class welcome letters.
Throughout this course, you'll be asked to think, discuss, and write while keeping multiple perspectives in mind—that of yourself as a reader and your professional librarian self, working with young people. Consider:
(1) Your personal response and potentially, challenges to your reactions. For example, what do you think shapes your response to a book? Is this a new genre, format, or style of writing for you? Is the topic or author something or someone you like to read, or in your experience to date, don't prefer to read? Maybe you are noticing a changed interpretation as you reread a familiar book from a new lens or place in your life.
(2) Your professional opinion and evaluation of the potential appeal, content, value, and interest in these books and media for young adult (or child, or adolescent) readers. How does this selection reflect, not reflect, or contribute to what you have been learning about literature for young people, historically and today?
Though it's not a process without hurdles, my students tend to adopt this stance willingly, ready to work on adding a new layer of awareness and responsibility to their reading selves. For me, these notes remain a helpful reminder of the rationale for the rigor with which we read as librarians. (And I didn't even mention book reviews and other sources of information about evaluating books!)
We shift around, maybe not even knowingly at every moment, from personal reader to professional reader, critical evaluator, and recommender. As librarians, we are "into" books, but we're often outside of them too, sizing them up for potential readers other than ourselves. Our positions and perspectives on literature shift, evolve, jockey, and re-center, in a rhythm that is ours to find, and to love.