Archive for January 31, 2009

Who Needs A Librarian Anyway?

My local community is in a minor state of upset over a recent School Board decision to NOT replace a retiring elementary school librarian, who stepped down on January 30, 2009.

On a personal note, the retiring librarian in question, Nancy Smith, was the first school librarian in my community to reach out to me as an author. She was always supportive and enthusiastic. But not just to me. Nancy was (and still is) beloved by many students at Elsmere Elementary in Delmar, New York. Her daily presence has been a huge asset to that school, and she’s enriched the lives of countless students.

But times are hard. And budget cuts are necessary. So with Nancy’s impending retirement, the Board quietly decided that Elsmere could do without an everyday librarian. Instead, a revolving door of visiting librarians — or media specialists, if you prefer — from district schools have been told to fill in the gaps as best they can.

This issue goes beyond my little patch of earth here in Delmar, New York. It touches the core of the kinds of budgetary decisions that are going to be made in schools across the country. Many difficult cuts are ahead for all of us, with communities forced to make painful decisions. All of us will be asked to make sacrifices. Every school is going to wonder: Who needs a librarian anyway?

In dealing with this issue, Nancy helped steer a group of parents to a valuable resource: The AASL Crisis Toolkit. I recommend that you give it a look-see. It begins:

If you are looking at the AASL Crisis Toolkit, chances are your program is danger of being reduced or eliminated. This kit is designed to assist you as you build meaningful and effective support for saving your program. That means educating and rallying stakeholders to speak out on behalf of school libraries.

If cuts are not imminent, visit AASL’s School Library Program Health and Wellness page for prevention strategies. The ideal time to start advocacy efforts is before there is a crisis.

The kit is remarkably comprehensive, and includes topics such as “Crisis Planning,” “Crafting Messages,” “Getting People Involved,” “Research,” “Advocacy,” and more. There are also handy links to studies that have found correlations between library programs, media specialists, and test results.

In any event, none of this is easy, and none of it is clear. Except that this is only the tip of the iceberg. In an article by Jarrett Carroll, published in the January 28, 2009 issue of The Spotlight (our small, local paper), titled “Elsmere Won’t Hire Librarian,” there are many salient quotes (sorry, I can’t provide a link at this time):

A group of residents protested a move by the school district to not replace the elementary school librarian when the current one has retired — a move that district officials said is necessary as the school tries to rein in spending in the face of state aid cuts.

Commented Superintendent Michael Tebbano, in language that is going to become all too familiar:

“This is going to be a big crisis we’re trying to manage, and it’s going to get worse. Realistically, the $30,000 or so we save will not solve the fiscal crisis, but I do have a fiduciary responsibility to the district.”

The article continued:

Board of Education President James Lytle called the current economic crisis “the real deal,” and echoed Tebbano’s sentiments on the situation.

“I hope the parents and children of Elsmere give this a fair chance,” he said of the librarian situation. “I’m afraid, like what Mike said, this could be the first taste of what’s to come.”

– – – – –

Buckle in, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. Attend meetings, get informed. And if you believe in the value of school librarians, get prepared to answer the question: Who needs a librarian anyway? Answer it with facts. Answer it with passion. And most of all, get organized, and answer it with a chorus of voices. Tough times ahead.





2009 ALA Children’s Notable Books: Holy Wow!

The American Library Association website has put up a “Final – Uncorrected” list of 2009 Children’s Notable Books. I am honored and thrilled to see Six Innings on that list, amidst such spectacular company. Congratulations, all.

According to the site:

Each year a committee of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) identifies the best of the best in children’s books. According to the Notables Criteria, “notable” is defined as: Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.

My special thanks to the members of the 2009 Notable Children’s Books Committee: Caroline Ward, chair, The Ferguson Library, Stamford, Conn; Betty Carter,  Coppell, Texas; Elise DeGuiseppi, Pierce County Library System, Tacoma, Washington; Eliza T. Dresang, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington; Roxanne Hsu Feldman, The Dalton School, New York, N.Y.; Darwin L. Henderson, College of Education, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio; Barbara Immroth, School of Information, University of Texas, Austin, Texas; Kathleen Isaacs, Pasadena, Maryland; Marie Orlando, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, New York; Sally Anne Thompson, Paradise Valley, Arizona; Martha M. Walke, Children’s Literature New England, Inc., South Strafford, Vermont.

Really, I don’t know what to say. I am honored and appreciative. If I was Oprah, I’d buy you all brand new Honda Accords!

Failing that, there’s only this: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Fan Mail Wednesday #28 (Thursday Edition)

I read today that the U.S. Post Office lost $2.8 BILLION last year, and is on track to lose $6 BILLION this fiscal year. They are talking about eliminating a delivery day, possibly Tuesdays.

And yet Fan Mail Wednesday marches on (thanks largely to the internet)! So let’s roll up a sleeve, reach into the giant metal cage, and see what we’ve got this week . . .

Dear Mr. Preller,

My name is Sam and I am in third grade and I live in Missouri.  I  like playing soccer and reading books. I picked one of your books to do my book report on.  I had to do a mystery book.  I picked The Case of the Bicycle Bandit.  I picked this book because I like reading Jigsaw Jones books.

I like this book because I like bicycles.  I like all the characters but my favorite was Ralphie.  I like Ralphie because he likes Old Rusty. My favorite part of the book was when Jigsaw had the X-2000 and spied to look for Ralphie’s bike.  I liked when they fixed up Ralphie’s bike and painted it blue.

Thanks for writing this book.

Your Fan, Sam

I wrote back:

Dear Sam:

A few things in that book come from my childhood. I was the youngest of seven children, with four older brothers. We had a shed in the backyard, crowded with assorted old bicycles, parts of bicycles, rusty tires, broken chains, and spray-painted bicycle frames. My older brothers were always working on their bikes, improving them, putting on banana seats and chopper handlebars. My own bikes were often hand-me-downs, bikes I had inherited from my brothers. So that’s what I imagined Ralphie riding. And like Ralphie, I became very adept at slipping a greasy chain back onto the sprocket.

I thought of those old bikes when I had Jigsaw describe Ralphie’s bike, “Old Rusty,” on the first page of the book:

Old Rusty could shake and rattle. But it couldn’t roll. Not very well, anyway. Its tires were bent. Spokes were missing. The handlebars were twisted. The seat was ripped. The fenders rattled. The brakes squeaked. And worst of all, the chain kept falling off the whatchamacallit. After every block, Ralphie had to stop. He got off, turned the bicycle upside down, and carefully slipped the chain back onto the round thingy.

I’m glad you liked the part about the X-2000, with “special extender action.” I had a toy just like it when I was little. It was a periscope that extended out, and it even allowed me to peek around corners to spy on my family. I loved it. My brother Billy’s girlfriend, Janice, was not as thrilled, though I certainly was!

Thanks for your letter, Sam. And thanks for reading my book!


P.S. Just for fun, here’s an old photo of my family, from back around 1966 or so, before everyone’s hair grew long. I’m the youngest, sporting a clip-on bowtie. This must be Easter, because that’s the only time my father ever pulled out the camera.

This Week’s Greatest Thing Ever: Jackson Pollock

It’s Jackson Pollock’s birthday.

Check out this fabulous link below, scroll and dip and dive and swirl. Every time you click it changes color. So. Much. Fun.

For the record: I’ve got five kids here and me: two 4th-graders, two 2nd-graders, and a preschooler. They eat like rhinos and they frighten me.

Why You Should Always Check Your Children’s Homework

Snow Day today! I have to take off work, since Lisa is studying furiously for some kind of gigantic test — she’s about to become a certified nurse midwife with a job at highly-regarded Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, and this is her final hurdle. Lisa took her first nursing class (you must first have a nursing degree in order to become a midwife) when Gavin, age 9, was three months old. She’s like that turtle that wins the race, and finally she’s about to cross the finish line. It has been a long haul and I’m so proud of her. Amazing woman.

As a result, I’ve got Gavin and Mags today. Not sure what the weather will allow us to do. It could devolve into the dreaded “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” movie. But hopefully we’ll tramp around in the snow with Daisy, maybe some sledding, absolutely some hot chocolate, and of course I’ll have to haul out the manly snow plow!

In any event, an educator friend sent this along yesterday. Regardless of its (dubious?) veracity, it was too good not to share. Plus it fits into today’s snow shoveling theme.

It turns out that mommy isn’t a pole dancer. She works at Home Depot where she often sells snow shovels!