The books that most delight middle school and junior high readers often straddle a “Middle Kingdom” ranging from upper middle grade to YA. Each month, Bookology columnist Lisa Bullard will visit the Middle Kingdom by viewing it through the eyes of a teacher or librarian. Bookology is delighted to celebrate the work of these educators who have built vital book encampments in the transitional territory of early adolescence.
This journey takes us to Goldenview Middle School in Anchorage, Alaska, where Lisa talks with librarian Nicole Roohi.
Lisa: Nicole, thank you so much for inviting us to make this virtual visit to your school library! Our first question is, what are three to five things our blog readers should know about your community, school, or library/media center?
Nicole: Goldenview Middle School serves 700–800 seventh and eighth graders and is located in Anchorage, Alaska. The Anchorage School District is the most desegregated school district in the country, and because of that we have an incredible diversity in each classroom, in race, language, culture, and socio-economic status. The top three most diverse high schools in the country are in Anchorage, and six of the top seven most diverse middle schools are also here. Although Goldenview is not one of these six, it can’t help but be incredibly diverse as a result of being in this wonderful city.
Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often?
Nicole: Naturally, all the dystopian trilogies are topping our circulation list for the fall, followed by the movie tie-in books, so I’ll concentrate on the next most popular books after these usual suspects. That’s what makes it interesting, isn’t it? Intriguingly, The List by Siobhan Vivian was hands down the biggest single book in circulation this fall. I book talked it to one class, and then word of mouth made it spread like wildfire amongst the seventh graders. A few days later I noticed we had 14 holds on it, so I had to ILL several copies from other schools to fill the demand! The next four top books were Case File 13: Zombie Kid by J. Scott Savage, Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, Girl, Stolen by April Henry, and Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills.
Lisa: What book(s) do you personally love to place into students’ hands?
- Graceling (by Kristin Cashore) is a favorite, and is an easy sell 95% of the time.
- Ashfall (by Mike Mullin) is another easy sell, especially to boys. I like how the character matures.
- Some years, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer) is very popular, other years not. This year it is circulating because some girls have read I Will Always Write Back (by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch), or I Am Malala (by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb) and want something similar, so I put this in their hands.
- The Thief (by Megan Whalen Turner) and The Raven Boys (by Maggie Stiefvater) are two of my favorite fantasies but are harder to sell. Generally girls who love fantasy and romance will take them, and they come back gushing and tell their friends about them.
- We have a sizeable Native population here, so The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (by Sherman Alexie) is always popular; it’s one of my favorites and is one I love to show kids.
- Whale Talk (by Chris Crutcher) and Slam (by Nick Hornby) appeal to boys once I point them out to them.
- Finally, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and even the Ruby Oliver series (all by E. Lockhart) are ones I love to give out because they are, as my daughter calls them, subversive chick-lit. The girls get hooked on the romance and drama, but they are quite empowering too. Probably The Disreputable History is too empowering as the girls hate that Frankie loses her boyfriend in the end. I’m guessing high schoolers are much less disturbed by this ending.
Lisa: If you had a new staffer starting tomorrow, what piece of advice would you be sure to give them?
Nicole: Whenever I get a new library assistant, I tell them our first priority is service. Also, you have to love kids and books. If you do, then this is the best job in the school. What could be better than helping students and staff every day? We make their lives better and easier and more fun! The best thing about this job is personally delivering a book on hold to a student’s classroom and seeing the excited smile on their face.
Lisa: What do you like most about working with middle-schoolers?
Nicole: This age group is still young enough that they read all the time and homework doesn’t interfere too much, so we still work with books a lot. But they are finally old enough that they are thinking about the world around them and are trying to figure out what their place is in it and how they can make a difference. So we get to talk about how to make the world a better place and I can help them find resources for that too.
Lisa: Could you share some information about your most popular, successful, innovative program for promoting books and reading to middle schoolers?
Nicole: There are lots of ways we promote reading here. We just finished the Amazing Race, which is a district-wide reading competition among six of our middle schools. Last year several of the secondary librarians decided to genrefy our fiction sections to increase reading, and one of the things we did with that was to take our Amazing Race competition and turn it into a way to encourage our students to read in all seven genres. This year with all our students reading together, Goldenview read 3,268 hours in just 28 days! That is twice as much as we did last year.
We also have video announcements every morning, and I have been doing occasional recorded book talks for many years. However, last year we got a fantastic new announcements teacher, and we’ve worked together to improve the book talks. We now have Book Talk Tuesday every week, and the kids greatly look forward to it. They often sing the book talk jingle to me when I pass them in the hall.
Finally, I have for years created, curated, and updated a series of book pamphlets on different topics in our library. I have these on our circulation desk and students take these every day to help them find books of interest. Of course now that we’ve genrefied our fiction section, that helps them too!
Lisa: What do you want your students to remember about your library in ten years?
Nicole: In ten years I hope that my students still love to read. And I want them to see reading as a pathway to continue their education and growth for the rest of their lives. I very much would like to have them be strong public library users and supporters.