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Skinny Dip with Phuoc Thi Minh Tran

Phuoc Thi Minh Tran

Phuoc Thi Minh Tran

We are pleased to Skin­ny Dip with Phuoc Thi Minh Tran this week. As a librar­i­an, author, sto­ry­teller, and moth­er, she adds her per­spec­tive to the rich­ly tex­tured quilt of books for chil­dren.

What’s the weird­est place you’ve ever read a book?

In the hos­pi­tal, I read my new­ly released book My First Book of Viet­namese Words : An ABC Rhyming Book of Lan­guage and Cul­ture to my 94-year-old father-in-law as a bed­time sto­ry. Every­thing was saf­fron yel­low that day from the hos­pi­tal gown to my father’s in-law ‘s jaun­dice  to  my book cov­er. It was weird and depress­ing. I read aloud page by page and I saw tears in his eyes, but his hap­py smile bright­ened the room. He told me that he loved my fam­i­ly and the chil­dren and he was always very proud of us. He passed away 10 days lat­er.

Which library springs to your mind when some­one says that word? What do you remem­ber most about it?

Alham­bra Civic Cen­ter Pub­lic Library in Cal­i­for­nia was the very first library I vis­it­ed in Amer­i­ca. These words still stuck with me until today “Rental Best Sell­er Books, $1 for 2‑week rental.“ I thought I would be charged for a library card and books, and I couldn’t afford it. I nev­er asked her any­thing due to my lan­guage bar­ri­er and my shy­ness. I left Cal­i­for­nia with­out hav­ing a library card and nev­er checked out a sin­gle book dur­ing my short stay there.

What’s your favorite form of exer­cise?

Storiga­mi. Fold­ing papers while telling a sto­ry because each fold has a twist and turn that mes­mer­izes the audi­ence and young­sters. My favorite storiga­mi is my “Jour­ney in Search for Free­dom.”

What’s is your favorite flower?

Def­i­nite­ly the lotus flower because the beau­ti­ful lotus flower grows in mud­dy water and ris­es above the sur­face to bloom. It is also the nation­al flower of Việt Nam.

Phuoc’s daugh­ter and sis­ter at a lotus pond dur­ing their short stay in Việt Nam

Have you trav­elled out­side your state? Which state draws you back? (How many states have you vis­it­ed?)

Cal­i­for­nia and Texas are the most loved states because our fam­i­lies live there. I have vis­it­ed Cal­i­for­nia, Texas, Wis­con­sin, Neva­da, Illi­nois, New Jer­sey, New York, Con­necti­cut, and Mis­souri. I live in Min­neso­ta.

Have you trav­eled out­side of the Unit­ed States? Which coun­try is your favorite to vis­it? Why?

Dubai. It was our very first fam­i­ly trip out of the coun­try  We had fun rid­ing the camel in the desert and vis­it­ing Burj Khal­i­fa, the world’s tallest build­ing.

Vietnamese Children's Favorite StoriesIf you could be grant­ed one wish, what would you wish for?

Be able to lis­ten to the ani­mals’ lan­guage like Da Trang in my book, Viet­namese Children’s Favorite Sto­ries.

If you had a choice, would you live under the ocean or in the out­er space, and why?

It would be under the ocean because the sea king­dom always amazes me. I imag­ine that I could swim along with the singing mer­maids, the giant thou­sand-years-old tur­tle, the Loch Ness mon­ster, and the great white shark, but I doubt it.  

What do you con­sid­er to be your best accom­plish­ment?

Rais­ing our chil­dren in a bilin­gual home.

Thank you, Phuoc, for shar­ing your expe­ri­ences with us. Dear read­ers, here is a video that express­es more of Phuoc’s insights about sto­ry­telling, includ­ing Da Trang’s abil­i­ty to lis­ten to the ani­mals, which Phuoc described as her wish.


Skinny Dip with Becky Kruger

Becky KrugerWe are so for­tu­nate to have ded­i­cat­ed and inspir­ing librar­i­an edu­ca­tors work­ing with chil­dren in many schools through­out our land. Becky Kruger not only serves as the librar­i­an at Ray Miller Ele­men­tary School in Mis­souri but she also helps orga­nize the annu­al Tru­man State Uni­ver­si­ty Chil­dren’s Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val.

Which book you read as a child has most influ­enced your life?

It is not so much that the sto­ry influ­enced my life – but the book that I remem­ber most from my child­hood is The Five Lit­tle Pep­pers and How They Grew. My Mom and Dad gave it to me for Christ­mas when I was in the 3rd grade and I still have it and trea­sure it!!

What’s your favorite form of exer­cise?

My favorite form of exer­cise is work­ing in my veg­etable and flower gar­dens!

Who’s at the top of your list of Most Admired Peo­ple?

The per­son that I admire most in this world is my daugh­ter. She is the most kind, car­ing, fun­ny, hard work­ing and intel­li­gent per­son that I have ever known. She nev­er ceas­es to amaze me.

 What for­eign lan­guage would you like to learn?

I wish that I could speak flu­ent Span­ish.

Do you keep your book­shelves in a par­tic­u­lar order?

I orga­nize my books by sub­ject (non-fic­tion) or author (fic­tion). I also group my children’s books togeth­er.

What’s your food weak­ness?

Dessert. Def­i­nite­ly dessert.

What’s your favorite flower?

I have nev­er met a flower that I didn’t love, but if I had to choose, I would say that peonies are prob­a­bly my favorite. It is unfor­tu­nate that they are so fleet­ing.

Copy­right Tere­sa Kasprzy­c­ka |

What’s your favorite word because you like the way it sounds?

I love words! Rather than name a favorite word, I would like to name a few books that I love because of the author’s use of words: Natal­ie Lloyd’s A Snick­er of Mag­ic and Kather­ine Hannigan’s Ida B. If you haven’t read them, you should!!

Do you read the end of a book first?

Nev­er!! But…I do have this very annoy­ing habit of skim­ming a few pages in advance when a book gets very sus­pense­ful, or I am wondering…is the dog going to die? Is she going to tell the secret? Are they going to move again? It is like I just have to know before I real­ly read it!! Ha! Does any­one else do that??

If you could be grant­ed one wish, what would you wish for?

I would wish that every per­son in this world had access to clean water and abun­dant, nutri­tious food and that we could all live in har­mo­ny. (If it is all in one sen­tence, can it count as one wish?)

Child drinking clean water

Copy­right: bor­gog­niels / 123RF Stock Pho­to


Skinny Dip with Kathleen Baxter

Kathleen Baxter and Pete Steiner

Kath­leen Bax­ter and Pete Stein­er, the grand­son of the real-life Cab Edwards in the Bet­sy-Tacy books

Kath­leen Bax­ter, a librar­i­an for more than 30 years, a nation­al­ly-known book­talk­er, a co-author of the won­der­ful Gotcha! resource books, is best known as the woman who has worked tire­less­ly to keep Maud Hart Lovelace’s books in print, there­by intro­duc­ing new gen­er­a­tions of read­ers to the Bet­sy-Tacy books and the oth­er cher­ished nov­els set in Deep Val­ley. Her most recent book, My Bet­sy-Tacy Mir­a­cle: a Lit­er­ary Pil­grim­age to Deep Val­ley, shares the charm­ing, true sto­ry of Kath­leen’s meet­ing and cor­re­spon­dence with the author Maud Hart Lovelace. 

What’s the weird­est place you’ve ever read a book? 

Exer­cise bike, maybe? 

Do you keep your book­shelves in a par­tic­u­lar order? 

Not real­ly, though some book­cas­es have some rhyme or rea­son to them. 

How many book­cas­es do you have in your house? 

At least ten.

What’s the pre­dom­i­nant col­or in your wardrobe? 

Black, prob­a­bly. 

Which library springs to your mind when some­one says that word? What do you remem­ber most about it? 

Anoka Coun­ty North­town, I worked there for 32 years. 

Which book you read as a child has most influ­enced your life? 

The Bet­sy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace

What’s your food weak­ness? 


What’s your favorite form of exer­cise? 

walk­ing, I guess

What do you con­sid­er to be your best accom­plish­ment? 

It astounds me that both my broth­er and I are in Who’s Who in Amer­i­ca and have been for years.

What’s your favorite flower?

lilacs and lilies of the val­ley

Have you trav­eled out­side of your state? Which state draws you back? (How many states have you vis­it­ed?) 

I love New York as well as the New Eng­land states. I have been to all the states but Hawaii and I turned down a chance to give a talk there because it would have been crazy to go on the sched­ule they gave me.

Have you trav­eled out­side of the Unit­ed States? Which coun­try is your favorite to vis­it? Why? 

Eng­land, Scot­land, Ire­land. I am an Anglophile to the core, love the Queen, love all things British. And my DNA comes back 97.2% British Isles and Ire­land, so that may have some­thing to do with it as well. 

What’s the last per­for­mance you saw at a the­ater? 

Assas­sins at The­ater Lat­te Da, two days in a row. I love Sond­heim. 

Who’s at the top of your list of Most Admired Peo­ple? 

Stephen Sond­heim is right there, for his sheer genius. I great­ly admire peo­ple who are unfail­ing­ly kind and gen­er­ous.

When you walk into a bak­ery, what are you most like­ly to choose from the bak­ery cas­es? 

sug­ary things

What are your favorite piz­za top­pings?

pep­per­oni and olives

Do you remem­ber your dreams?

Almost nev­er. 

If you could have din­ner with any­one from his­to­ry, who would you choose (don’t wor­ry about lan­guage dif­fer­ences.)

Maud Hart Lovelace

Do you read the end of a book first?


If you could be grant­ed one wish, what would you wish for? 

to be slen­der and only want to eat real­ly healthy food, and not miss any­thing. 


Skinny Dip with Cathy Camper

Cathy Camper

Are you fans of the Lowrid­ers graph­ic nov­els? We are! And we can’t wait for the next one. The author who thinks up those great sto­ries is Cathy Camper. We invit­ed her to Skin­ny Dip with the Bookol­o­gist … and she said yes! When we asked her point­ed ques­tions, here’s what she had to say.

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

Eat­ing cake for break­fast just like Two Bits in The Out­siders.

What’s your least favorite chore?

Mak­ing my stu­pid lunch. I work full-time and it’s nev­er-end­ing! I make my lunch, go to bed, go to work, eat my lunch, go home, and have to make my stu­pid lunch all over again.

When are you your most cre­ative?

When I have a lit­tle bit of some­thing with caf­feine, prefer­ably dark choco­late, maybe a small gulp of cof­fee, then go for a run or walk, or some mind­less activ­i­ty that allows me to day­dream. When the ideas start to come, I write them down imme­di­ate­ly.

Raul III, Jon Scieszka

Raul III, win­ner of the 2017 Pura Bel­pre award for illus­tra­tion, with Jon Sci­esz­ka and Cathy Camper at the Chron­i­cle Books booth at ALA in Chica­go, 2017

Best inven­tion in the last 200 years?

Indoor plumb­ing and clean water, in par­tic­u­lar, hot water WHENEVER you want a bath or show­er, and clean water when­ev­er you want a drink. I give great thanks for being born in a time and soci­ety where we have that lux­u­ry.

What’s your best con­tri­bu­tion to tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment?

I nev­er had kids. One less human.


Skinny Dip with Suzanne Costner

Suzanne Costner

Suzanne Cost­ner

We’re thrilled to Skin­ny Dip with out­stand­ing edu­ca­tor Suzanne Cost­ner, Thanks to Suzanne for answer our ques­tions dur­ing her very busy end-of-the-school-year hours.

Who was your favorite teacher in grades K‑7 and why?

My favorite teacher was Mrs. Hill in 4th grade. She read to us every day after lunch: Stu­art Lit­tle, Where the Red Fern Grows, James and the Giant Peach. She intro­duced us to so many awe­some writ­ers that I still go back and reread.

When did you first start read­ing books?

I can’t remem­ber a time that I didn’t read. I still have my first lit­tle cloth book that I chewed on as a baby. My grand­moth­er had a set of Dr. Seuss books on the shelf and read them to me when­ev­er I stayed with her. I was read­ing on my own before I start­ed kinder­garten.

Suzan­ne’s first book, a Real Cloth book.

Your favorite day­dream?

In my day­dream, I am liv­ing in a lit­tle cab­in in the woods with my dogs and my books. There is a lit­tle stream gur­gling along near­by and sun­light fil­ter­ing through the trees.

Din­ner par­ty at your favorite restau­rant with peo­ple liv­ing or dead: where is it and who’s on the guest list?

The Restau­rant at the End of the Uni­verse with C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursu­la K. Le Guin, Anne McCaf­frey, Andre Nor­ton, Isaac Asi­mov, and Lloyd Alexan­der. My sis­ter and my nieces would have to be there, too.

All-time favorite book?

The Princess Bride—chas­es, escapes, sword­fights, tor­ture, pirates, giants, mag­ic, true love…

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

My favorite lunch was a peanut but­ter sand­wich, and I always asked for “a lid on it,” because I didn’t like open-faced sand­wich­es.

What’s your least favorite chore?

It’s prob­a­bly laun­dry, because the wash­ing machine is in the base­ment and it means mul­ti­ple trips up and down the stairs.

What’s your favorite part of start­ing a new project?

Bounc­ing my ideas off my friends and hav­ing them sug­gest ways to make things even bet­ter.

Bare­foot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Bare­foot, and either read­ing a book or lis­ten­ing to an audio book.

Toy RocketWhen are you your most cre­ative?

When I am writ­ing grant appli­ca­tions to fund more STEM activ­i­ties for my stu­dents. I can think of all sorts of ways to tie rock­ets, robots, and gad­gets into lit­er­a­cy instruc­tion.

Your best mem­o­ry of your school library?

I was a library aide in mid­dle school and loved being in the library and help­ing to get the new books ready for the shelf. That “new book” smell when the box was opened should be a sig­na­ture per­fume or cologne.

Favorite fla­vor of ice cream?

O’Charley’s Caramel Pie ice cream from May­field Dairies (the best of both worlds)

What I'm reading nowBook on your bed­side table right now?

Astro­physics for Peo­ple in a Hur­ry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and The Unbreak­able Code by Jen­nifer Cham­b­liss Bert­man.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I have a brain that holds onto triv­ia, so I can come up with a song or movie quote for almost any occa­sion. Some­times at fam­i­ly din­ners we all just speak in movie quotes.

CowgirlYour favorite toy as a child …

I had a lit­tle wood­en rid­ing toy that looked like a giraffe. I rode it up and down the walk behind my grand­par­ents’ house. I also had a cow­girl out­fit, com­plete with boots and hat that I loved to wear.

Best inven­tion in the last 200 years?

Dig­i­tal books so that I can go on vaca­tion with­out tak­ing a sec­ond suit­case just for all my read­ing mate­r­i­al.

Favorite artist? Why?

I love space and stars, so Van Gogh’s Star­ry Night is my favorite paint­ing. I don’t real­ly have one favorite artist.

Which is worse: spi­ders or snakes?

Spi­ders — because my sis­ter Jamie hates them and I have to res­cue her from them.

What’s your best con­tri­bu­tion to tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment?

Recy­cling. espe­cial­ly trad­ing in books at the used book­store, or using CFL bulbs in my read­ing lamps.

Why do you feel hope­ful for humankind?

Because kids still fall in love with books. If they can lose them­selves in char­ac­ters and set­tings that are dif­fer­ent from their every­day world, then they can learn tol­er­ance and kind­ness.


Skinny Dip with Cynthia Grady

Cynthia GradyFor this inter­view, we vis­it with Cyn­thia Grady, author and librar­i­an, at her home in New Mex­i­co.

Which celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

Oh, most def­i­nite­ly Beat­rix Pot­ter. My ear­li­est lit­er­ary hero.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Back­man. I turned back to page 1 as soon as I fin­ished read­ing it.

 Whirley-Pop Hand Crank Popping MachineWhat’s your favorite late-night snack?

Pop­corn — fresh popped on the stove in a Whirley-Pop Hand Crank Pop­ping Machine –with lots of but­ter and salt. But I will pop it and eat it any­time.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

I wouldn’t call this my most cher­ished mem­o­ry exact­ly, but one that I’ve been revis­it­ing late­ly — is how a friend and I roamed sev­er­al neigh­bor­hoods, cross­ing streets we weren’t allowed to cross, by way of creeks and drainage pipes.  

Tea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Am I allowed to say Irish whiskey? Straight up? After that comes laven­der lemon­ade. Mmm­mm. Deli­cious.

Necco wafersWhat gives you shiv­ers?

The dark. Since age 3.

Your favorite can­dy as a kid …

Nec­cos — at the movies.

What’s the strangest tourist attrac­tion you’ve vis­it­ed?

The Muse­um of Ques­tion­able Med­ical Devices, now locat­ed with­in the Sci­ence Muse­um of Min­neso­ta. A fright­en­ing expe­ri­ence of med­ical quack­ery!

RabbitsBroth­er and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

Ah. I am num­ber six of nine chil­dren. Being the youngest of the first six, the eldest of the bot­tom four, and near­ly in the mid­dle over­all has shaped every sin­gle bit of my life, from my abil­i­ty to sleep any­where to my absolute love of silence.  Plus, I dis­play all of the char­ac­ter­is­tics on those birth order charts.

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

A house rab­bit or two.


Skinny Dip with Mélina Mangal

Mélina MangalFor this inter­view, we vis­it with Méli­na Man­gal, chil­dren’s book author and librar­i­an:

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

My favorite ANYTIME snack is white ched­dar pop­corn.  

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?  

Roam­ing through the north woods, climb­ing trees with my sis­ter and broth­ers.  I loved being out­doors so much.   

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

There are so many illus­tra­tors I admire, such as Leo and Diane Dil­lon, whose vast body of work has inspired sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions.  Also: the late Vera B. Williams, David Diaz, Cor­nelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, Pat Cum­mings, Maya Cristi­na Gon­za­lez.… I could go on! 

Melina Mangal's most admired illustrators

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

Sum­mer is my favorite sea­son.  I can work in the gar­den, swim out­side, bike every­where, and read in the back­yard ham­mock next to the apple tree.  

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

Def­i­nite­ly a morn­ing per­son.  I love to wake with the sun.

Broth­er and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

I have one old­er sis­ter and two younger broth­ers. Being in the mid­dle made me flex­i­ble and helps me lis­ten, medi­ate, and empathize.

Melina Mangal Books


Caps for Sale

Caps for SaleMy col­lege boy is home this week. So far his spring break has been spent fight­ing a doozy of a virus, lying about fever­ish and wan. Per­haps there is slight com­fort in Mom mak­ing tea and soup, vers­es the non-homi­ness of the dorm, I don’t know. He seems grate­ful. I asked if he want­ed some­thing to read and went to his book­shelves to see if there was some­thing light a98nd fun — an old favorite, per­haps — to while away the lan­guish­ing hours on the couch.

I’d imag­ined a nov­el he could lose him­self in—Swal­lows & Ama­zons or Har­ry Pot­ter, maybe, but I found myself flip­ping through pic­ture books. Most of the pic­ture books are in my office these days, but some of the extra spe­cial ones are kept on each of the kid­dos’ book­shelves. Caps for Sale: The Tale of a Ped­dler, Some Mon­keys and Their Mon­key Busi­ness by Esphyr Slo­bod­ki­na is one such pic­ture book for #1 Son.

Good­ness how he loved that book when he was a lit­tle boy! For awhile we had it per­pet­u­al­ly checked out from the library. I renewed and renewed until I could renew no more, then I found a sym­pa­thet­ic librar­i­an who checked it back in and let me check it right back out. She did this for us twice. Then I lost my nerve to ask for such spe­cial favors yet again and I bought the book.

I bet we read that book every day for over a year. It was before he was real­ly talk­ing — he called mon­keys key-keys and he thought they were hilar­i­ous. He’d shake his fin­ger, just like the ped­dler in absolute delight. “You mon­keys, you! You give me back my caps!” Then he’d shake both hands, again just like the ped­dler; then kick one foot against the couch when the ped­dler stamped his foot, and both feet when the ped­dler stamped both feet. Each time he’d make the mon­key reply “Tsz, tsz, tsz!” as well.

Caps for Sale

He liked to pile lay­ers of hats (or shirts or socks) on his head like the ped­dler stacked his caps, and he loved to throw them on the ground, which is how the ped­dler even­tu­al­ly gets the mon­keys to give back the caps they’ve stolen from his nap­ping head. I watched him re-enact the entire book once when he was sup­posed to be tak­ing a nap.

He learned sort­ing as he noticed the dif­fer­ent col­ors and pat­terns of the caps and how the ped­dler stacked them up to take his inven­to­ry under the tree. He did this with play­dough disk. “Caps!” he’d say when he made tall columns of red cir­cles, blue cir­cles, and yel­low cir­cles. I remem­ber think­ing this was uncom­mon­ly bril­liant for an under two-year-old.

I offered to read it to him this after­noon. He declined, but the smile was wide, if still weary, when I showed him the book. I left it next to the couch, just in case he starts to feel bet­ter and wants to revis­it it.


Middle Kingdom: Albuquerque, New Mexico

The books that most delight mid­dle school and junior high read­ers often strad­dle a “Mid­dle King­dom” rang­ing from upper mid­dle grade to YA. Bookol­o­gy colum­nist Lisa Bullard reg­u­lar­ly vis­its 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 Albu­querque Acad­e­my in Albu­querque, New Mex­i­co, where Lisa talks with librar­i­an Jade Valen­zuela.

Lisa: What are three to five things our blog read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty, school, or library/media cen­ter?

Jade ValenzuelaJade: Our school library is a large, mul­ti-func­tion­al space with over 140,000 items and is a place stu­dents can come before, dur­ing and after school to study or have class, and to just hang out!

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

Jade: New school sched­ule, imple­ment­ing a lap­top pro­gram at the school, using new tech­nolo­gies like LibGuides and dig­i­tal tools have changed the way I work with stu­dents, the lat­ter in a very pos­i­tive way.

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

Jade: Com­ic books like Fox­Trot by Bill Amend. In the past cou­ple of years, Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Rus­sell, Diver­gent by Veron­i­ca Roth, the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and Rick Rior­dan books. John Green, too.

Albquerque Academy reads

Lisa: What book(s) do you per­son­al­ly love to place into mid­dle school stu­dents’ hands?

Skulduggery PleasantJade: Skul­dug­gery Pleas­ant by Derek Landy – one of my per­son­al favorites that most kids haven’t heard of, but all love it after they read it. I love going through the shelves with stu­dents, talk­ing with them about what they have read and what they would like to read and then I offer sug­ges­tions based on what they say. It is a very per­son­al­ized process, and I just love to get stu­dents read­ing some­thing they are inter­est­ed in.

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

Jade: The ener­gy and enthu­si­asm. It can be exhaust­ing some­times, but I love see­ing them light up and get excit­ed about books and read­ing.

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

Jade: I do book­talks with mid­dle grades, so I meet with class­es and get to share books that I like and want to rec­om­mend. Our low­er divi­sion also brings stu­dents up to the library for Inde­pen­dent Read­ing hours, where stu­dents just pick books and sit and read, and I am avail­able to help them pick. Lots of books get checked out on these days! I also some­times do dis­plays to pro­mote books.

Albuquerque Academy Simms Library

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

Jade: I have def­i­nite­ly noticed a shift toward dig­i­tal media, not nec­es­sar­i­ly for read­ing, but just for every­thing – play­ing video games, watch­ing YouTube, etc., seems to have tak­en over for many stu­dents as their favorite hob­by. It is always inter­est­ing to me to see the trends, espe­cial­ly in my own com­mu­ni­ty. One year, man­ga may be all the rage, then dystopi­an, then real­is­tic. It is real­ly inter­est­ing and hard to pre­dict. Keeps me on my toes!

Lisa: What do you want your stu­dents to remem­ber about your library in ten years?

Jade: I want them to remem­ber it as a place they liked to come to, wel­com­ing and safe, where they could find what they need­ed, get help, and leave hap­py.


Middle Kingdom: Denver, Colorado

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 we’re vis­it­ing Den­ver Acad­e­my in Den­ver, Col­orado, where Lisa talks with librar­i­an Jolene Gutiér­rez.

Lisa: What are three to five things our blog read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty, school, or library/media cen­ter?

Jolene GutierrezJolene: I’m the librar­i­an at Den­ver Acad­e­my, a school for diverse learn­ers from ele­men­tary through high school.

  • Our school is locat­ed on 22 acres and we use the cam­pus as a learn­ing tool, from study­ing wildlife in our small pond to work­ing out math prob­lems in chalk on our side­walks.
  • Our cam­pus start­ed as a tuber­cu­lo­sis hos­pi­tal in the ear­ly 1900s, so we have some beau­ti­ful his­toric build­ings, includ­ing the Chapel where my main library is housed (I also run a small High School Media Cen­ter in anoth­er build­ing). The Chapel is 90 years old this year and is des­ig­nat­ed as an his­toric land­mark in the city of Den­ver. We’re work­ing on a grant appli­ca­tion that will help us to pre­serve and restore cer­tain parts of the build­ing, includ­ing the cop­per cupo­la and the zinc-camed win­dows. I’ve done a lot of research over the past few years and have pulled that infor­ma­tion togeth­er into a web­site that my stu­dents use to cre­ate pre­sen­ta­tions and tours of the Chapel for their par­ents.

Denver Academy Chapel

  • Our school is com­prised of diverse learn­ers, which can mean lots of things. Some of our stu­dents are diag­nosed with things like dyslex­ia or ADHD, and some have no diag­noses but do bet­ter with small­er class sizes. Either way, many of our stu­dents have strug­gled before com­ing to Den­ver Acad­e­my, and I think that their strug­gles and some of the pain they’ve expe­ri­enced make them some of the most com­pas­sion­ate, respect­ful kids I’ve ever met. There’s very lit­tle bul­ly­ing on our cam­pus because most of the stu­dents know the pain of being bul­lied or feel­ing “less than,” and they don’t want oth­ers to feel that way.
  • Our stu­dents are some of the most cre­ative peo­ple I’ve ever met. All of our stu­dents are bril­liant, and that bril­liance includes phe­nom­e­nal artists, gift­ed musi­cians, cre­ative writ­ers, and won­der­ful actors. Many of our alum­ni have gone on to make a liv­ing as actors, sculp­tors, and musi­cians.
  • Some peo­ple say our library and oth­er parts of our cam­pus are haunt­ed. A group of our teach­ers lead a “Haunt­ed Den­ver” class each year, and the ambiance of our Chapel library cou­pled with those ghost tales have inspired many stu­dent movies and sto­ries.

Denver Academy

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

Jolene: I start­ed work­ing in my library over 20 years ago when we weren’t auto­mat­ed and I was writ­ing out over­due notices by hand. The tech­no­log­i­cal changes in the last 20 years have trans­formed both the way I man­age my library and the skills my stu­dents need to have when they grad­u­ate from our school. I do my best to keep up with teach­ing them what they need to know today as well as giv­ing them the crit­i­cal think­ing skills they’ll need in the future (because I have no idea where we’ll be in anoth­er 20 years)!

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

Jolene: Dystopi­an fic­tion (espe­cial­ly that which has been made into movies like The Hunger Games, The Maze Run­ner, and The 5th Wave) has been very pop­u­lar this year, as have books by authors who’ve vis­it­ed our school recent­ly, includ­ing Avi’s Old Wolf and Bob­bie Pyron’s books Lucky Strike and The Dogs of Win­ter. And I know that’s six books, but I became a librar­i­an because I like words bet­ter than num­bers.

Denver Academy is reading

Lisa: What book(s) do you per­son­al­ly love to place into mid­dle school stu­dents’ hands?

Jolene: No spe­cif­ic titles; just the right book for each kid, includ­ing books that stu­dents love because they make the task of read­ing a lit­tle eas­i­er to tack­le:

  • Graph­ic nov­els are great for kids who have a tough time visu­al­iz­ing as they read because the pic­tures are pre-sup­plied. I also sug­gest graph­ic nov­els for the stu­dents who always ask for the nov­el­iza­tions of movies or books that movies are based on — these stu­dents may have issues with visu­al­iz­ing and pic­tur­ing things and might want to read about some­thing that they’ve seen visu­al­ly, like a movie. Movies are Cliff­s­Notes for kids who strug­gle with visu­al­iza­tion, and they often want to read some­thing they’ve already seen because they now have the images that go with the sto­ry.
  • Choose Your Own Adven­ture and sim­i­lar books are won­der­ful for reluc­tant read­ers because they get to feel like they’re cheat­ing at read­ing (so are graph­ic nov­els and non­fic­tion books with lots of pho­tos). Now that there are so many CYOA-ish book series out there, stu­dents can find both non­fic­tion and fic­tion books, and when I show stu­dents that they can skip around and not real­ly read the entire book, they get real­ly excit­ed and a lot of them actu­al­ly end up read­ing most of the book because they try to get a pos­i­tive end­ing to their sto­ry.
  • Series books give anx­ious stu­dents the answer to “What do I read next?” and help them to grow as a read­er as they work their way through each book in the series.
  • Audio books and/or large print books allow stu­dents who strug­gle with print oth­er options for access­ing books. If stu­dents have a learn­ing dif­fer­ence, they can work on grow­ing their read­ing and com­pre­hen­sion skills in a less intim­i­dat­ing man­ner with these resources.

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

Jolene: Some of our stu­dents don’t love books or read­ing, and that’s okay. We’re here to help them at least learn to like libraries and trust librar­i­ans. Teach­ing stu­dents to access libraries teach­es them a life skill. And once stu­dents begin to trust you, they may become more open to explor­ing books with you. There’s noth­ing more ful­fill­ing than find­ing the right book for a reluc­tant read­er. Often­times, there is that one mag­i­cal book that will unlock the world of read­ing for kids, and that is one of the most reward­ing parts of being a librar­i­an. If you can find that per­fect book, you can help change a life for­ev­er.

Denver Academy

Lisa: What do you want your stu­dents to remem­ber about your library in ten years?

Jolene: I want them to remem­ber the mag­ic of this space and the fun we’ve had here! I hope our library teach­es stu­dents the joy of learn­ing and books. I want our library to pro­vide some warm fuzzy mem­o­ries for stu­dents once they’re grown, and I hope my stu­dents’ good mem­o­ries of their library will cause them to be life­long library users.