Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Finding Meaning in I Am the Messenger

After picking up and putting down the weighty The Book Thief after noting to myself that I have to read it eventually (how often do you get to read a novel narrated by Death himself?), I was pushed by my YA lit group to read I Am the Messenger. Also by Marcus Zusak, Messenger is a far cry from Book Thief, and I've had plenty of reluctant readers pick it up and call it the best book they've ever read.

Messenger is a raw-boned and tough, but a little slapstick, too. Narrated with good-hearted attitude by the protagonist, a self-described loser who wanders through life and can't do anything right but simply be the youngest (illegal) cab-driver in the area.

Caught in the middle of the bank robbery, Ed does something completely out of character and heroic. Then he begins getting mysterious cards in the mail that send him to different locations.

He goes to each, and he finds that there's a job for him at each location; they are at times harrowing and at times sad.

Though his missions can seem a little contrived at times, the ending of this novel blew my mind. Strangely enough, some kids at my school are obsessed with the book but couldn't understand the ending at all. Hint: Read that section about the visitor carefully, and toss out any preconceptions about what a novelist can do!

The Web and Misinformation

THE other day I was reminded once again of what a font of misinformation the Web can be.

A student in my high school library declared that he "hated" the new healthcare plan passed by Congress and pushed by the White House.

Why? I asked. Because, of course, "Those poor women will get knocked up every week and get an abortion every week." And, apparently we now have a Communist system, like Russia. Doctors will go "bankrupt," like England, he told me.

Not everybody agrees on healthcare -- we all have our own opinion of the new legislation -- but I think any informed person can recognize the lack of facts here.

Where are you getting this, I asked? "The Internet," he replied, as if saying, Where else?

For more thoughts on this phenomenon, see this article, "Young Learners Need Librarians, Not Just Google," that was published in Forbes Magazine.

And then there's my op-ed that ran in the Los Angeles Times, "Saving the Google Students."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Map of Things to Come?

A new map -- here -- shows impending cuts to school libraries around the country. It comes at a time when my very own school district -- in Pasadena, Calif. -- has pink-slipped all of its librarians.

Studying this map, it's obvious that Pasadena stands out by choosing to get rid of middle and high school librarians. But any loss of a library is a problem. I know that everyone is blaming the increase of Internet use for districts' willingness to wipe out school libraries and/or librarians, but there's something else under the surface.

Reading, and the critical thinking that went along with it, was considered the bedrock of the educational experience back in my day. Building the relationship with a library was vital. I still remember what my elementary school library at Highland Oaks looked like. I remember exactly where I was sitting (and the way I was facing) when I read One Fish Two Fish by Dr. Seuss. The people at that school allowed us time to relax into the place, to play as we read, to love language.

Now, thanks to No Child Left Behind, it's all about teaching to the test. The "process" approach (the kind of project-based learning that has proved to be most successful in teaching) has been tossed aside. It's about pouring information into kids' minds so that they can test well right away. As my husband aptly points out, it's that kind of short-sighted, short-term thinking that has impacted journalism, with corporations' obsessions with quarterly profits. It might produce quick results, but it doesn't produce long-term gains or real quality.

So... research projects and independent reading aren't considered important in this quick-hit culture. We'll see soon enough if this approach works for the future -- my guess is that the positive results will be temporary. And when libraries, and the enthusiasms they spark, are lost, they're likely to be lost for good.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Welcome to Dig Me Out

Welcome to my blog, dedicated to books, Young Adult literature, and issues around libraries, education and technology.

Here is a piece from Sunday's Los Angeles Times about the importance of librarians to teach students digital literacy. It seems to have struck a bit of a nerve.

I'll be following this debate, so please keep coming back.