What if you were never allowed to go to school?

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What if you were never allowed to go to school? That is just one of the questions author Elizabeth Suneby posed to my fourth and fifth grade students during her visit to our school yesterday. Because, as she explained, there are sixty-nine million school-aged children worldwide who are denied an education due to poverty, political instability, war, natural disaster or tradition. A hefty topic to discuss with the nine to eleven year old set, but Liz captivated her audience with an interactive program well-suited to upper elementary school students.

If you have been following my blog, you might remember my April post about Liz’s book, Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education. Full disclosure, I was privy to it pre-pub due to the fact that Liz is my sister-in-law. But I can assure you my April review was unbiased and today’s post is as well.

Razia listens as her brothers study

Razia listens as her brothers study

This author visit was not the typical “this is the process an author follows to write a book”. There were no galleys, no examples of endless revisions and no book signings. In fact, she hardly spoke about herself at all. Because the topic of her most recent book is so powerful and so important, the visit was mainly devoted to what inspired her to write this fictionalized account of the building of the Zabuli Education Center, a free private school for girls, in the Afghan village of Deh’Subz, and the young girl who dreams of attending it.

Our students were well prepared for the visit. We had read and discussed the book, generated questions for the author and done some quick research about Afghanistan. Due to this preparation, they were an especially attentive audience because they brought their curiosity about a world where women wear burqas, girls are not permitted to go to school and female literacy hovers around 14%.

The wearing of burqas proved to be of particular interest. Neither the girls nor the boys could understand why a woman would be required to be covered and hidden in such a way. Liz had been able to borrow two burqas for willing volunteers to try on. She recruited one boy and one girl in each grade who shared what it felt like—hot, stuffy, claustrophobic, itchy, and virtually impossible to see out of. A hands-on experience that was truly an eye-opener.

Liz showed the students videos of the schoolgirls, the school and Razia Jan, its founder. The children were surprised to discover that while the homes have no electricity and little furniture, the school not only has desks, chairs and electricity, but also computers and Internet service.

The presentation ended with the question “How can YOU make a difference?”

The students left inspired and empowered. Ideas for fundraising percolated. A meeting was set up with the principal. I do believe these children will make a difference. Stay tuned.

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Readers’ Advisory

Readers’ Advisory—such an important facet of a school librarian’s job, yet one often neglected in the job description.

Just what is Readers’ Advisory? It is as simple as reversing the two words–advising readers (patrons) by suggesting titles in the collection that they will like based on a knowledge of the individual, his/her borrowing history and patterns, and an engaging interview to determine what it is he/she wants to read.

But, despite taking courses in the literature of children and young adults, when I studied for my Masters degree, there was no specific training on the process of advising, nor was it acknowledged as part of our role as School Library Media Specialist (still the official job title of many of us).

Let’s look at what the American Library Association (ALA) has to say.

On the ALA website, the heading of the Reader’s Advisory Wiki states, “Readers’ Advisory is a service provided by public libraries, typically.” Really, ALA? Have you spent time in a school library lately?

Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning, published in 1998 by the American Library Association and still the bible for budding school librarians, outlines our four roles. They are:

•    Teacher
•    Information Specialist
•    Instructional Partner
•    Program Manager

No mention of Readers’ Advisory, the hook that catches the students and keeps them coming back for more. Putting a book in the hands of a child and knowing that I have played a role in instilling his/her love of literature, both fiction and nonfiction as well as libraries, both school and public, is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

Readers’ Advisory is more important now than ever before. Competing media are drawing our children away from books. To keep them captivated we need to give them what they want.

This year I plan to focus my efforts on improving my advisory skill set. Looking at new releases with an eye on matching them up to a specific reader. Updating my “If you like…” bookmarks to reflect what my patrons are asking for now. (I’ll soon be creating one for “World According to Humphrey” fans. Can’t keep those books on the shelves.) Paying closer attention to what the students are recommending to each other. (The best Readers’ Advisory is often peer to peer.) Setting a book aside for a reader in anticipation of their next request. Networking with other school librarians to see what’s hot at their schools that I might be missing.

I’ll be looking at my circulation statistics at the end of the year to assess my success at this endeavor. Let’s see those books fly off the shelves!