Back to School: Day 1

Back to School 2015Hi, 久しぶり! Long time, no see.

We’re back to school today, and the weather was miserable. It’s hot and rainy, and by the time I made it to school, my shoes and socks were completely soaked through. My good slacks are  a little too long and dragged through puddles, so my pants were wet, too. I won’t even tell you what this humidity does to my hair.

But as I was crossing campus for the welcome assembly, one of my students – now a second grader – gestured for me to come share her umbrella so I wouldn’t get wet, and I remembered why I love my job.

Between the end of 2014-2015 and the beginning of 2015-2016, I’ve been alone in the library for seven weeks with no students, except a few stragglers who came in to borrow or return books for the summer. I accomplished a lot, and the library is much tidier, but honestly? I wasn’t really feeling it.

Back to School 2015Then a student called me over to crouch under her umbrella, and I was so happy. Our big yearly book order came  in at the beginning of the month, so I’ve been waiting for weeks to show my students all of the exciting new things we have in the library. I channeled that excitement into making displays and reorganizing the library to create a writing center and a graphic novel/comic book corner. (Unfortunately, those shelves haven’t arrived.)

I started off straightaway with a kindergarten class after lunch. I only have one class scheduled on Mondays, but I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids. I really admire their teacher’s classroom management, and her classes are always wonderfully polite. Even on the very first day, the only mishaps we had were from new students who just didn’t know the rules.

Well, and I chose a read-aloud book I really don’t like. Whoops. This is the last year I’m reading The Shelf Elf. I’ve asked on Storytime Underground for some other school library read-aloud suggestions so I don’t have to put myself through The Shelf Elf ever again. All of our other “library” books are about visiting a public library with a parent or caregiver: Lola at the LibraryDelilah D. at the Library, Curious George Visits the LibraryAmelia Bedelia’s First Library Card, and so on. (Except for Lola, none of these books really speak to me, either.)

Except for that, I’m excited about the lesson plans I’ve laid out for this year. I mean, how can you not be totally psyched about reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” out loud to your fourth and fifth graders? Or Mary Walker Wears the Pants to your second and third graders? What about When the Beat Was Born?

Maybe you didn’t know this, but I became a librarian almost by accident – and yet, I had never wanted anything in my life more than I wanted this job. I lucked out. I love my work, I love my coworkers. I love books, of course. Most of all, I love my students, and I’m so happy to have them back.

Back to School 2015

“Our School Community” was a project lead by the elementary art teacher with first grade students in 2013-2014. She kindly donated the completed artwork to the library.


Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year

Top Ten Tuesday

It’s a liiiiitle late for Christmas shopping – my friends/Japan family and I are having our Christmas dinner tonight, since half of us have work on Christmas Eve and Christmas – but just in case: here are my Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year.

I’m breaking the list into two: five books I want for myself, and five books I want for my library.

For My Personal Collection:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone 2014Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone “But Leslie, don’t you already have this? Isn’t it, like, your favorite book?”
    Yes, yes, I do. I have numerous copies, even, but I always want more, like the adorable new Bloomsbury paperback or this French paperback. I collect different editions of this book, but really, I wouldn’t mind if Santa would just bring my existing collection to Tokyo on his sleigh.
  2. Sacred High City, Sacred Low City: A Tale of Religious Sites in Two Tokyo Neighborhoods Living in Tokyo, I’ve developed a hobby bordering on a religious obsession with Shinto shrines, but most of my knowledge is informal, gleaned from what little I remember of undergrad and my limited ability to read the informational pamphlets the priests sometimes give me with my goshuinchō stamps. In 2015, I’d like to do a little more serious research, including this book.
  3. Critical Perspectives on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials While Harry Potter was my obsession, His Dark Materials changed me in quieter, deeper ways that I didn’t fully realize until I reread the trilogy after moving to Tokyo. I love books about books – at home, I have heaps of books with titles like The Psychology of Harry Potter and The World of The Golden Compassbut this is a more in-depth, scholarly (and thus, expensive) book that I haven’t had the chance to read yet and I would love to get deeper into this story.
  4. NimonaThe Magician’s Book I already have this one in ebook format, but I loved it so much that it would be an honor to have the print edition on my shelf beside my own Magician’s Book(s), The Golden Compass and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (mentioned above). 2014 was the Year of the Magician’s Book, and I’d love to hold the actual, you know, book.
  5. Nimona I read most of this comic free online, but I liked it so much that I want to hold it in my hands and hug it and keep it on my bookshelf and admire it forever. This one might also double-up and go in the secondary library collection, too, because it is just soo great. I haven’t cried over a webcomic since seventh grade.

For My Library Collection:

  1. Olivia Kidney and the…  There are a couple of these (Secret Beneath the City and Exit Academy), and I want them both for the library after a student came up with a copy of the first book, begging me for the rest of the series. I didn’t even know it was a series, but how do you say “no” to one of your best patrons – a girl who comes in every single day to borrow new books and help sticker and shelve for fun in her free time – when they’re just dying for the next book in their new favorite series?
  2. Blossoming Universe of Violet DiamondThe Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond I tried to order this with the last PTA batch, only to realize – d’oh! – it won’t be released until next year. Oops! But I do really, really want it. I’m trying to build a diverse collection. Many of my students are biracial/bicultural, and I think this is a story that would resonate with them, even if the specifics are different than their own situation – it’s a mirror and a window.
  3. The School for Good and Evil Soman Chainani was one of my Top Ten New-To-Me Authors of 2014, and I really want this book in the library collection. I know what my patrons like, and a certain faction of my patrons likes princesses – loves princesses, even. I think this book would support their interest while maybe subtly dismantling the “princess” archetype, where “princess” means “pretty and helpless.”
  4. Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile (Series) Some of my “reluctant” readers have finally branched out from Captain Underpants and started reading Jack Stalwart and Zac Power and asking for more. We don’t have more, is the thing. For some reason, my library collection is weirdly lacking in adventure stories. Here is a solution to that problem.
  5. My Mixed-up Berry Blue Summer I want this book for a bunch of reasons. For one thing, queer characters are underrepresented in my library collection, but And Tango Makes Three is one of the most popular titles. For another, it takes place in Vermont, which is where I grew up, and that’s cool. The students – all international – like asking about where the teachers are from. I tried to buy it last year, but it was “not a priority,” while none of my other fiction picks had any complaints. Hmm. Hopefully Santa can help me out here…

Judging a Book by its Cover: Hunger Games

China GlazeMarketing for The Hunger Games has always been a little strange to me. I mean, Capitol Couture is a thing that exists. There’s a line of Hunger Games tie-in/inspired nail polish, with names like Smoke & Ashes. I love nail polish, but that’s a little… aren’t the Capitol the bad guys? Don’t you remember that the “smoke and ashes” are from District 12, which the Capitol firebombed in retaliation?

I’m not going to lie. Those glitter polishes – Electrify and Luxe & Lush – are really pretty, but I kinda feel like the whole line is missing the point.

… which is kinda how I feel about some of these covers. I liked the original American hardcover. It doesn’t tell us too much about the book, but I think it fits the mood of the story – and by now, everyone knows about it, anyway, so it doesn’t really need to sell itself.

Hunger Games

My first run-in with unexpected covers was the Japanese edition. (You might have noticed a theme. This is because I live in Japan and I can’t resist browsing through bookstores.) I asked a coworker if she had read it, and she said the cover put her off. It “looked too much like an adventure anime” and she ignored it. I asked what she was talking about and she pulled up an image of the Japanese cover of The Hunger Games.

Hunger Games


While there are recognizable elements from the story – Katniss with her braid and bow, Peeta’s flaming cloak – it looks more like … Well, let’s be honest: It looks like an adventure anime.

I’m not sure if it’s significant, but the title goes for a straight transliteration of Hunger Games into Japanese syllabary as ハンガー•ゲームズ (Hāngā Gēmuzu).

Other Japanese covers I’ve, ahem, covered have gone instead with a translation: Etiquette & Espionage (ソフロニア嬢、空賊の秘宝を探る, Miss Sophronia and the Treasure of the Sky Pirates) and Among Others ( 図書室の魔法, Library-Room Magic). Although I won’t make too much of translation conventions, check out this fan essay about the intricacies of translating Lord of the Rings (指輪物語, Epic of the Ring) into Japanese.

For a story like Hunger Games, which explicitly takes place in what’s left of North America, the “foreign”-sounding connotations of a katakana title are apt. (It’s weird, reading the British editions, in a future where apparently the United States of America adopted metric before collapsing.) The cover, however, really doesn’t get the spirit of the story at all. It looks like the illustrator was given a description of the characters and a handful of keywords.

Hunger Games I mentioned reading a British edition in my library, and you’re looking at it. There’s also a cover with the same design, but with Katniss in the cut out HG, but the decision to give Peeta his own cover was just a cynical ploy to gain more boy readers, because “boys don’t read girl books.” Or something. (There’s nothing gendered about the original cover…)

I don’t have much else to say about this/these edition/s. It looks like a thriller, which I guess it is; it’s certainly a page-turner.

The Stephen King blurb definitely reinforces the thriller feel.

I just can’t get over Peeta here. He’s an important character, but Katniss is the narrator. I guess it could be argued that we’re seeing Peeta as Katniss sees him, through the lens of the Hunger Games, or something, but I’m leaning towards the “cynical ploy” assumption.

It’s not a bad design, but I think it’s going to become dated pretty quickly (illustration trends change fast) and it has none of the iconic staying power of the Mockingjay pin design versions, but at least it’s not as bad as the Japanese cover.

…or this Russian one.

Hunger Games

I have nothing to say. I’m not even 100% convinced that this is a real thing.


Last but not least, there’s this raver edition. This is the cover that inspired this post. It’s just so weird. I guess the “marketing to boys” thing with Peeta on the cover was going a little too well and someone in marketing decided to doll it up a bit to appeal to teenage girls? As if teenage girls weren’t already the fanbase. Maybe marketing was just giving the fans what they wanted.

I like the return to the Mockingjay pin design, and the graffitied look fits in well. I can imagine this stencil spray painted onto train tunnels and the sides of buildings all over Panem, just… not in lime green and hot pink.

I just can’t quite figure out where this design is going. Is it supposed to “match” the new Scholastic Classics pack? I don’t think The Hunger Games needs “hip” repackaging quite yet. It’s still selling well enough on it’s own, what with Mockingjay just out in theaters. (Well, not here.)

Judging a Book by its Cover: Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables While I am under the weather, go check out Book Riot‘s 3 on a YA Theme: Beautiful Editions of Anne of Green Gables.

I love seeing what a designer can do to breathe new life into an old story. Anne might not need refreshing, but believe me – kids are judgy about covers, probably even worse than adults. A stodgy, out of date look will almost guarantee a book won’t circulate, no matter how famous, how important, or how good.

I’d like to see more childhood classics get this treatment, and I’d like to see more of them in my library, so kids stop wrinkling their noses at A Wrinkle in Time without even reading the jacket copy.

Slice of Life: Writing Role Model

Slice of Life“Can we read your story?”

My students know that I’m a writer. The last week of NaNoWriMo is crunch time, and with December looming and fifteen thousand words between me and the fifty thousand word goal, I was getting desperate, squeezing in a few hundred words here, a page or two there during my lunch break. Some of my library regular saw me, and immediately bombarded me with questions: “What’s it about?” “Who is the main character?” “Can we read it?”

I told them it was about ghosts, the main character is a young widow, and no, you can’t read it. I was too embarrassed about the sloppiness of my handwriting… and my prose. So one of the girls kindly offered to loan me her personal copy of Writer’s Digest Guide to Good Writing during the editing stage.

I left my manuscript at home today, but I’ve already started a new story, and they were begging to read that, too. I like this story better, so I let them read a page from my notebook, the opening to a Sleeping Beauty retelling starring two mischievous twins. Five students clustered around my desk to share my notebook, and after that glimpse at my story, students were eager to share their own ideas: a story about a girl who finds out that she’s secretly a direct descendent of Leonardo da Vinci, a fantasy epic about a girl who can talk to animals who is adopted by the good queen but is secretly the daughter of the evil queen.

These were my usual suspects, and their enthusiasm during snack time brought over curious visitors, just there to drop off an overdue book or swap it out for something new to read. By the end of their twenty minute recess, I had copied out the URL for the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Project onto several sticky notes and had students asking me to run a Camp NaNoWriMo club in April 2015.

When I told them I finished my story over the weekend, one student said to me, “I hope it’s a best seller.” Another asked, “Can it be a 2016 Sakura Medal book?” Their excitement motivated me to keep writing, even when I was sick, even when I was slogging through. I want to give them back the same faith and enthusiasm, and the time and space to tell their own stories.

NaNoWriMo 2014 Winner

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2015

Top Ten TuesdayI am so behind the times. Ever since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published and then TSUBASA: RESERvoir CHRoNiCLES finished English-language serialization, I haven’t really kept up with what’s coming out next.

But since my job involves reading for Sakura Medal nominations, I should do a better job of following new releases. I just feel like there’s so much to read already, especially considering all the great stuff that came out during the great big reading gap of 2007-2013, when I just did not read much fiction – or anything at all, really.

But here are the books I’m looking forward to in 2015 – not for me, personally, but for my library collection.

  1. Listen, SlowlyListen, Slowly Every year, fifth grade starts off with a historical fiction reading and writing unit, and one of the books that leaves a lasting impression is Thanha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again. Now she has another novel, this one about a protagonist going the other way – from the USA to Vietnam – and I can’t wait to get it. At an international school, my students understand the push and pull between two (or more) countries and cultures and I want them to see that in our stories.
  2. Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk Liesl Shurtliff’s Rumplestiltskin retelling, Rump, is one of the most popular Sakura Medal books so far this year, based on student enthusiasm. It’s flying off the shelves, handed from one student to another, placed on my desk with an emphatic thwak to punctuate the statement, “This is so good!” How can I turn down another story in the same series?
  3. The Island of Dr. Libris Another Sakura Medal 2015 follow-up for another one of the most popular books so far this year, Escape from Dr. Lemoncello’s Library. I’ve tried to read Dr. Lemoncello about ten times now, but every time students see it on my desk, they want to take it home, and of course I won’t say “no.” This one is bound to please.
  4. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond (paperback) The hardcover was released this year in January, but the paperback comes out next month, and that’s the edition I’ll get for my library. I think this will be a great addition to our collection, and I can already think of students who might enjoy this story.
  5. Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile (paperback) My students love books like Jack Stalwart, so why not support their budding interest in action thrillers with an exciting story about a protagonist of color? This is another book that’s already out in hardcover, but I’m waiting for the paperback.
  6. The Honest Truth With The Fault in Our Stars hitting theaters here in February (yes, February 2015), I’m sure I’ll have students in the Elementary Library asking to read the book. Unfortunately, the book lives across campus in the high school library, but from the blurb, this could be a good readalike for my older students.
  7. R.S.V.P. My students love tales of best friendship. This sounds like it has potential for kids who are growing out of Critter Club but maybe aren’t quite ready for the secondary library’s Dear Dumb Diary series. It reminds me of the Beacon Street Girls books in the fifth grade classroom libraries.
  8. The Stolen Moon (and the already released first book in the series, The Lost Planet) Remember what I said about Jack Stalwart? Those same readers love Zac Power, too. This looks like it has strong readalike potential, and I know our library collection could use more action/adventure titles… in space!
  9. From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess There are two genres perennially popular with my students: epistolary novels, and princesses. As this seems to combine both of those interests in one series – by Princess Diaries author Megan Cabot, no less – I can already see it’s place on my library shelves… left open, because I have a feeling it will just always be checked out.
  10. The Sword of Summer Percy Jackson is still going strong, so a new book series by the same author featuring Norse gods is an obvious choice to add to the collection, especially for the kids who come in asking for Avengers books. With Age of Ultron coming out in April here (yes, April 2015), I’m sure I’ll have students asking, and while it’s not exactly the same, I think they’ll see the connection.

Judging a Book by its Cover: Sassy

Sassy For some of my students of a certain age, they love series chapter books. I probably shelve and reshelve more Rainbow Magic and Beast Quest and Geronimo Stilton books than everything else combined for this age range (Grade 2~5).

Some kids go in for fantasy – Rainbow MagicBeast Quest – but others like realistic fiction, like the Little Animal Ark books and Critter Club. Some combine their love of princess and cute animals with the Rescue Princesses books.

Judy Moody and Junie B. Jones go in and out daily, but Sassy sat on the “chapter books” shelf, mostly ignored, even while Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind is a huge hit with slightly older students. Every year, I have at least a handful who come in, clutching it to themselves, breathless, telling me ohmygoodnessit’sthebestbookeveryouhavetoreadit all in one breath.

So why not Sassy? It’s a heartwarming story about a quirky, adorable little girl and her family and her best friends – so, basically all of the things Junie B. Jones is about, or Judy Moody, and really what’s at the heart of the Rainbow Magic books, except they have wings.

6609765 Out of My Mind looks like this. In a Q&A on her website, Sharon Draper says that Melody’s race is intentionally left ambiguous.

We’ve all heard about the doll test, and a more recent study showed similar results. I do honestly believe that this is why Sassy books aren’t flying off the shelves with Junie B. Jones. (Can you imagine Junie B. and Sassy in a classroom together?)

Although this blog post at YASLA is about YA lit, it probably filters down to middle grade and even early chapter books. The Rainbow Magic fairies that my students love so much come in a variety of colors, but there’s not much/any diversity in shape, hair texture or style, clothing…  Junie B. goes home every day in kids’ backpacks, but Sassy is a tough sell.

So what do I do? I keep selling ’em. When younger students ask me for Dear Dumb Diary (a series that lives in the secondary library), I suggest Sassy as an alternative. I mention Sassy to the kids who read Out of My Mind and come back jumping up and down to tell me it’s soo great.  (They’re shelved in different areas of the library, so students wouldn’t necessarily find one with the other.)

It’s not just Sassy, either. As a librarian, I make a conscious effort to purchase, display, book talk, and share diverse books – not just during special theme months, but all of the time. I believe in the importance of diverse books, and I believe in the power of good books. I believe in windows and mirrors. It’s not enough to simply buy these books and let them gather dust on the shelves. It’s my job to put books in students hands, and help them find titles they might otherwise miss.