Middle Kingdom: Suzhou, China

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 month’s jour­ney takes us to Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou in Suzhou, Chi­na, where Lisa talks with Head of Libraries and Senior School Librar­i­an Leigh Collazo.

Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou

Lisa: Right off the bat, I’ll clar­i­fy for our read­ers that in this case, “col­lege” means some­thing oth­er than how we use the term in the Unit­ed States. Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou includes stu­dents ages 2 – 19. Leigh, what are three to five addi­tion­al things our blog read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty, school, or library/media center?

Leigh: Dul­wich Col­lege Lon­don was the first in our fran­chise, estab­lished in 1619. It has since expand­ed into Dul­wich Col­lege Inter­na­tion­al, which cur­rent­ly oper­ates five addi­tion­al schools and two inter­na­tion­al high schools in Asia.

Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou stu­dents and fac­ul­ty rep­re­sent over 40 nation­al­i­ties all over the world. Our largest groups come from UK, Korea, and the Unit­ed States. Our stu­dents are ages 2 – 19, sep­a­rat­ed into three schools: DUCKS (PreK‑1st grade), Junior School (grades 2 – 5), and Senior School (grades 6 – 12). We have about 900 total stu­dents across the three schools. Though we do have very nice board­ing facil­i­ties avail­able, the vast major­i­ty of our stu­dents live off-cam­pus with their families.

Lin­ger­ing Gar­den, Suzhou

Suzhou is a beau­ti­ful Chi­nese city! We are locat­ed about 50 miles from Shang­hai, which is easy to access via a 25-minute bul­let train ride. Often called the “Venice of Chi­na,” Suzhou is most famous for its UNESCO World Her­itage gar­dens, water towns, Bud­dhist tem­ples, pago­das, and net­work of canals run­ning through the city. All over the city, we see beau­ti­ful wil­low trees, col­or­ful flow­ers, and lots of sculp­tures. There is a large recre­ation­al lake with a board­walk with­in a five-minute walk from my front door. The weath­er here is very like that of north­ern Flori­da: hot and humid in the sum­mer, cool (but still humid) in the win­ter. We get lots of rain, but it is rarely cold enough to snow. There are many expats from all over the world in Suzhou; I’ve heard the fig­ures are as high as 10% for­eign­ers in this area, most­ly from Europe, Aus­tralia, and the USA.

We have two libraries at Dul­wich Col­lege, locat­ed in the Junior School and Senior School. We have full-time library employ­ees: two librar­i­ans (ful­ly-cer­ti­fied with MLS degrees), one library intern (who will receive her MLS this Decem­ber), and two library assis­tants. Togeth­er, our libraries boast a grow­ing col­lec­tion of 38,000 books and inter­na­tion­al news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. Our libraries are open from 7:50 am‑4:30 pm dai­ly. Both libraries have com­put­ers and iPads for stu­dents to use in the library. Both libraries have wire­less Inter­net, and Senior School stu­dents are also able to con­nect to the school’s VPN. We sub­scribe to many of the same data­bas­es I used in my Texas library — Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca, Peb­bleGo, JSTOR, Tum­ble­books, Brain­Pop, and Facts on File.


I think many peo­ple would be sur­prised to hear that I have had few dif­fi­cul­ties with Chi­nese gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship when pur­chas­ing library books. When we order (from the USA and UK), Cus­toms does inspect our pur­chas­es, but I have not had any books reject­ed. I am able to pur­chase the same books here that I was able to pur­chase in the USA, plus I can pur­chase books from Aus­tralia, UK, and Cana­da, too!

Lisa: What recent changes or new ele­ments are affect­ing the work you do with mid­dle school students?

Leigh: Last year was my first year at my school, and we spent a large part of the year gen­refy­ing the 15,000 fic­tion titles in our library. It’s been a huge hit with stu­dents and fac­ul­ty, and our over­all cir­cu­la­tion last year increased 89% over the pre­vi­ous school year.

This year, I am thrilled to tell you that we are adding Over­drive e‑books for all our Senior School stu­dents, which I expect to launch by the end of Sep­tem­ber. My library assis­tant has been work­ing on gen­refy­ing our 2,100-title Man­darin sec­tion, some­thing our stu­dents request­ed last year. We plan to gen­refy our Kore­an sec­tion this year as well, which is about 1,200 titles.

In Novem­ber, we are bring­ing illus­tra­tor Matthew Holm (Baby­mouse series, Squish series) to Suzhou to speak to our stu­dents. We also have slam poet Nick Toczek vis­it­ing in Novem­ber. All of our mid­dle school stu­dents will get the chance to hear them speak.

ph_Panda Older ReadersLast, we are par­tic­i­pat­ing in Bat­tle of the Books for the first time this year. We are using books on the Pan­da Old­er Read­ers Book List, plus sev­en more titles select­ed by par­tic­i­pat­ing librar­i­ans in the Shang­hai area. In March 2016, our stu­dents will com­pete against oth­er inter­na­tion­al schools from all over Shang­hai, Wuxi, Suzhou, and Kun­shan. They will also get to meet New­bery Award win­ning author Kwame Alexan­der at the competition.

Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often by your mid­dle school students?


  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • The Selec­tion by Kiera Cass
  • Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renée Russell
  • Half Bad by Sal­ly Green
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Pecu­liar Chil­dren by Ran­som Riggs

Lisa: What books do you per­son­al­ly love to place into mid­dle school stu­dents’ hands?


  • The One and Only Ivan by Kather­ine Applegate
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman
  • Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
  • Touch­ing Spir­it Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
  • The Seer and the Sword by Vic­to­ria Hanley

Lisa: If you had a new staffer start­ing tomor­row, what piece of advice would you be sure to give them? 


  1. Read the books! You can’t rec­om­mend them if you don’t read them.
  2. Be the weirdo. Be the crazy one who plays the spoons or break­dances or dec­o­rates the library with cat posters. Don’t be afraid to be your­self or be dif­fer­ent from the oth­er teach­ers. You are not them. You are you!

Lisa: What do you like most about work­ing with middle-schoolers?

Leigh: I love their ener­gy and their quirk­i­ness. They are old enough to do many things for them­selves, but they are still young enough to need guid­ance from trust­ed adults. I can joke around with mid­dle school stu­dents, and they (usu­al­ly!) get the jokes. Mid­dle school­ers can be chal­leng­ing some­times, but every day, they make me laugh, give me hope, and even help me see things in a dif­fer­ent way. Who else can say that about their job?


Lisa: Could you share some infor­ma­tion about your most popular/successful/innovative pro­gram for pro­mot­ing books and read­ing to mid­dle schoolers?

Leigh: I am a huge pro­po­nent of gen­refi­ca­tion of fic­tion sec­tions. Gen­refi­ca­tion bet­ter reflects the way stu­dents browse the library. Front-fac­ing library books (where the entire front cov­er is vis­i­ble) also real­ly helps stu­dents select books, as does mul­ti­ple themed book dis­plays. My favorite and most suc­cess­ful book pro­mo­tion tool is read­ing and book­talk­ing a LOT of titles. I book­talk all day long!

Lisa: How have books or oth­er things changed for mid­dle king­dom read­ers dur­ing your time as a librar­i­an?

Leigh: I start­ed work­ing as a librar­i­an in 2004. Since then, I’ve seen a huge increase in the num­ber and accep­tance of graph­ic nov­els. I’ve sep­a­rat­ed my graph­ic nov­els into their own sec­tion (rather than 741.5) since 2011. They were tak­ing over the 700 sec­tion! That said, I think graph­ic nov­els still have a long way to go before many peo­ple con­sid­er them “real reading.”

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments