Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Mary E. Pearson, 2008, 265 pgs.

YA science fiction

In the not-so-distant future, seventeen-year-old Jenna wakes up from a year-long coma with all her memories gone. Her mom and dad will not talk about the accident that befell their “miracle child,” nor will they let her eat solid foods, leave the house, or go to school. Even her grandmother doesn’t seem to love her anymore. Jenna is dismayed by her condition and spends days watching childhood videos looking for clues about her former self. Her memories come back in fits and starts, and she begins asking her father hard questions. Before long, Jenna is revolted by the lengths her father and mother have gone to in order to save her destroyed body. This dystopian thriller will immerse high school students into issues of medical ethics as they discover along with Jenna the astonishing truth of her existence.


The Moon is Down

John Stienbeck, 1942, 112 p

This sincere short novel written as Allied propaganda during WWII was very popular in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. Stienbeck’s focus is on the psychological effects on people whose countries are occupied–from initial confusion to the formation of underground resistance movements. This is also a novel of ideas, what Stienbeck calls “a kind of celebration of the durability of democracy.” The characters are more allegorical than nuanced, and the setting is almost like a fairy tale. The “herd men” follow “the Leader” and invade a peaceful, snowy unnamed country.

My favorite image: the Nazi machine is a snake with only one head and of democracy is a snake with ten heads–if one is cut off, then the other nine will rise up and revolt in the name of freedom. I love the writing style because it is not ranting, formula propaganda, filled with crude stereotypes. It is instead a very sympathetic approach, which portrays the invaders as human beings, who are acting on orders, but who don’t understand why they are planning, patrolling, and killing (American critics hated this). The language is very plain and unadorned, and will not impede comprehension for most high school students. I would highly recommend using excerpts with a high school class during a WWII or propaganda unit.

Let kids use the Internet for non-school purposes

“Let kids use the Internet for non-school purposes,” from Doug Johnson’s school technology blog, Blue Skunk.

I totally agree with this view, though experience tells me it would be difficult to incorporate into and embrace in a school setting.

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen, 1813

A soap opera romance. Elizabeth Bennett lives with her mother, father, and 4 sisters in 19th century England. A respectable yet not wealthy family. Dad spends all his time isolated in his study and mom is a nervous needy wreck, caring only to have her 5 daughters well and properly married. Nobody seems to have a job or need of a job, and the sisters are simply waiting for a handsome, “amiable,” and wealthy man to ask their hands in marriage. Their society is mainly concerned with strict gender roles, impeccable manners, beauty, the keeping up of one’s reputation, severe class-consciousness, formal visits and dinners, precise etiquette, neighborhood gossip, traveling by horse and carriage, taking long meanders in the woods, holding fine parasols, writing and receiving scandalous letters, filling one’s dance card at the ball, and women visiting fine manors all over England with the aspiration of becoming the mistress of one.

The saving grace of this novel is the lively, playful, and intelligent narrator, Elizabeth, who speaks her mind freely—sometimes to the dismay of the proud and rich—and reflects deeply on her experiences and judgment of people’s characters. Midway through the book, she is forced to re-examine the characters of two men she has painfully misjudged, and in the process, she begins to change her views of the respectability of her family and the nature of her attraction to these men. The formal, antiquated style of the dialogue and narration takes some getting used to, but once it clicks for the reader, the plot and the pages go by quickly and fluidly.

Now I must read the version with the zombies and ninjas.

My preferred research methods (Portable MLIS, ch. 15)

Upon reading Powell’s (2008) overview of research methods, I have clear preferences. I would like the research I do during my MSLIS program and professionally to be applied research, specifically action research. I am very pragmatic, and have always preferred qualitative data to quantitative data, though I readily use “hard” data to spark my queries and support my findings. I am especially enamored of case study analysis, which I began learning about during my first masters program at Harvard Divinity School. This was in the context of a course in Jesuit (Catholic) morality and confessional theology, in which seminarians are trained to adhere to a specific method of hearing and responding to parishioners’ confessions called casuistry, or “case-based reasoning.” I have also applied case study work in my high school teaching, and looked to law school models of using case studies as an exemplary way for students to enter into the historical and cultural experiences of a people in a specific time and place.

Surveys are useful, but tend to be more flawed than practical in my experience. I have not yet attempted to facilitate a focus group, but I would love to do so. In terms of qualitative methods, I am drawn to phenomenology, which is concerned with participant perceptions, and to discourse analysis, which analyzes the spoken word. I have a colleague who is working towards her Ph.D. in Literacy, and she is doing incredible discourse analysis work on the language students use in her classroom. The audio tapes of her students speaking in class are enlightening to listen to and rewarding to analyze—which we did once during our humanities team summer retreat. These brief clips of classroom discussion, when transcribed, excerpted, and evaluated, provide an opportunity for teachers to think about the ways they are listening to their students, and consider whether they are missing, mishearing, or misinterpreting valuable student contributions during class. My colleague’s research is deeply enriching her understanding of her students’ ways of communicating, and subsequently improving her practice. This kind of practical research appeals greatly to me.

Powell, R. (2008). Research. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 87-97). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Readers Advisory is dreamy; I think I have chosen the right field (Portable MLIS, ch. 14)

This chapter makes me want to switch up my career plans and become a readers advisory department head at a large public library, but I will settle for becoming an excellent advisor for the adolescents in my school library instead. Mary Chelton (2008) here begins to answer my earlier question from chapter 9 about which reviews to trust and the need to go beyond Booklist and School Library Journal. Chelton writes with scorn about “youth services librarians enamored of literary award winners,” calling this an “inappropriate professional attitude” (p. 160). So where can librarians find more good lists of books, either topical, thematic, of readalike? She suggests the overall lists NoveList, Next Reads, and Bookletters, genre-based listservs such as DorothyL for mysteries, and Graphic Novels in Libraries .

What I really appreciate about this chapter is that Chelton is firm that readers advisory services are equally as important as reference services, and that librarians should never get away with “just [excusing] their own ignorance as if the fact that they don’t read a certain author or genre naturally means they cannot help anyone who does” (p. 161). This is a “patently false” myth, she writes, especially considering the many tools she lists for consultation.

I want to learn more about the theoretical foundations of RA services which posit that readers seek self-exploration first and literary aesthetics second (p. 160). Over the past few years, I have delved into a new-to-me genre of crime fiction, and I have been surprised to learn how diverse the reading experiences of these books can be. I have done a bunch of research to find out which authors appeal the most to me in terms of these “appeal characteristics”—plot pacing, depth of characterization, storyline layout, setting and mood (p. 161). I would like to become just as knowledgeable about other genres and subgenres, such as romance and science fiction, even if I am not personally attracted to them. I feel that if I do not commit to doing this, I will be doing a disservice to my students.

Chelton, M. K. (2008). Reader’s advisory services: How to help users find a “good book.” In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 87-97). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Effective and efficient searching (Portable MLIS, ch. 11)

Librarians must evaluate daily the findability, usability, and reliability of “a huge range” of information sources, says Weedman (2008, p. 113). I like her use of the word “document” to mean “all media that contain information,” including visual, audio, digital, and print media (p. 114). These are the documents within a library’s collection and those found through internet searches.

Now I know how designing a system is different from designing a collection. A system is not only about the documents, it is about designing storage and retrieval systems as well. It is about training my students to become skilled searchers of information, how to determine which sources are relevant out of the list of sources retrieved, and how to search within a website to see whether it is a credible source for academic research (this was well done in the pre-residency modules for this course).

I consider myself a skilled, patient, and thorough searcher, but it can still be overwhelming to consider having to learn the controlled and specialized vocabularies used in classification systems—such as subject headings in Library of Congress and Dewey systems, different search strategies and algorithms used by Google versus Yahoo, and emerging forms of social tagging on sites like Flickr. I am quite observant as to which keywords and synonyms may work, “how language is being used and how topics are combined” (p 122), and I know how to find sources using Boolean searches and the “pearl” technique mentioned in this course’s pre-residency module on searching. I do not, however, know how to search the inverted file for a database (p. 122). Yikes!

At this point in my life, thorough searches often take so much time that I feel I am no longer searching efficiently. However, I am confident that my MSLIS training and years of practice as a librarian will make me an excellent professional searcher and finder for my users and for myself.

Weedman, J. (2008). Information retrieval” Designing, querying, and evaluating information systems. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 87-97). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.