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Latest Forum Edition—Winter 2024

President's Message: My Conference Report Card

by Barb Fecteau

Barb Fecteau is the LMS at Beverly High School. She enjoys crochet and swimming, but rarely at the same time. She teaches in the school library program at Salem State University.

a stack of 4 pastel-colored books on a pink background with 70's-style letters reading Are You There God? It's me, FloridaThe best thing about being president of MSLA is the conferences. I mean, sure, in my last Forum article I said it was the collaboration, but I’m like the wind, baby. I change things up every time I am required to write 1000+ words about something!

If you think about it, conferences are just an amped-up, days-long buffet of forced collaboration. You’re squished in like sardines at some of those presentations. Which is actually more scary (Thanks, Covid.) and more fun (Hi, new friends!) than you would imagine. Now, I am talking about NATIONAL conferences here. Our MSLA conference runs like a Swiss watch with exactly the right amount of chairs in each room. (And you should register RIGHT NOW!) But a national conference can be a little overwhelming, and, in my experience, usually amazing.

Read More

Guided Inquiry Design at Boston Latin School

by Susan Harari

Susan Harari is the librarian at the Harry V. Keefe Library at Boston Latin School and the editor for the Youth Services Book Review.

The Guided Inquiry Design approach as structured by Dr. Leslie Maniotes offers an approach in which students immerse themselves in an information-rich prepared environment and develop creative inquiry projects based on their interests. As more schools around the Commonwealth develop these units (thanks in large part to workshops offered by the Massachusetts Library System in partnership with Dr. Maniotes), it seems like a great time to share our experiences at Boston Latin School, where we have invested deeply in developing several GID projects.

Read More

New Librarian Q&A: Wendy MacArthur

Wendy MacArthur is the Library Media Specialist at Hopkinton Middle School.

Camera angle from the ground looking up at 4 people looking down (presumably Wendy and her family) with the interior of what looks like the Eiffel Tower behind/above them.

1. How did you come to librarianship?

(Excluding my job as a library aide in 9th grade…) I quit my job in IT consulting when I had kids and focused everything on being a mom. I started volunteering at their elementary school’s library and fell in love. Encouraged by their amazing librarian, I pursued and attained a degree— a decision that ranks among the most rewarding in my life.

2. How would you explain the importance of your role to a nonlibrarian?

I have many roles, but for students I am a safe space and for teachers a useful resource and knowledgeable collaborator.

Within the library, I hope to give students a nurturing environment where they can authentically express themselves and feel acknowledged through engaging activities and diverse collections. When students get a great book, they flourish in reading, writing, and engagement.  

Read More

Eat This, Climb That, Go There: Picture Book Biographies 

by Jenny Arch

Jenny Arch is a children’s librarian at the South Hadley Public Library. Previously, she was a library media specialist at East Meadow School in Granby, a school librarian at the Michael E. Smith Middle School in South Hadley, and a children’s and adult services librarian at the Winchester Public Library and the Robbins Library in Arlington. 

Book Cover of All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimentel

Picture book biographies are an excellent way to learn about all kinds of people, from historical figures to those who are making a difference right now. They can make great read-alouds for elementary or even middle school classes, especially when introducing someone new, and many have additional back matter like timelines, photographs, further reading, and more.

As I made a list of some of my favorite picture book biographies from the past few years, I noticed that they clustered around certain topics: activism and civil rights, history, science, literature, food, and art. And this is by no means an exhaustive list! But if you’re looking to expand your biography collection, try a nonfiction read-aloud, or introduce a new unit, consider some of these titles. 

Read More

The Art of Controlling our Emotions within Collective Stress

by Anita Cellucci

Anita Cellucci is a past president of the MSLA and the K-12 Library Teacher and department head at Westborough High School.

“When soul is present in education, attention shifts. We concentrate on 

what has heart and meaning.” - Rachael Kessler

At this point in the school year, we begin to reflect on how the year has progressed and on how much there is still to do. This year, I have found this especially true as shifts in the weather have awakened a natural instinct of an internal call to go within, seeking to look inward and align with mindful intention. Winter's cold and darker days can sometimes bring out a scarcity mindset in those around us. Winter has the least amount of freedom of all the seasons and we feel this in our souls. This lack of freedom can manifest in ways that cause emotions to be stagnant and avoided. If we follow our natural instinct to listen we will hear that winter offers us the opportunity to pause to consider how to reawaken anything that has become dormant during these cold winter months. As librarians, we are placed to be keen on how this is manifesting in our students, our colleagues, our community and ourselves. 

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Comics in Focus: The Middle East, Muslims, and Jews

by Liza Halley

Liza Halley is the Library Teacher at Plympton Elementary School in Waltham, MA. She has loved graphic novels since reading Bone and Amulet with her son. She reads every graphic novel she can find, and is a big fan of Monstress, Hellboy, and SagaShe is a founder of the Boston Kids Comic Fest.

Given the events in the Middle East since the last forum article, I wanted to offer resources for you and your colleagues. These resources can be used to build knowledge, introduce topics, and offer educators resources that provide windows and mirrors into the experiences of Muslims and Jews.

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In Conversation: Reframing Adoption in Children’s Literature 

María Valiente and Carolina Ellis

María Valiente is the Upper Division Librarian and Carolina Ellis is the Lower Division Librarian. They both work at the Park School in Brookline, MA.

The authors stand in their library together smiling

How did your collection development project about the subject of adoption get started?

María Valiente: Coincidentally, we began working together in The Park School Library as colleagues in 2022. We connected over our lived experiences as adoptees and out of curiosity began reflecting on our collection of adoption literature. We asked ourselves what resources we had available for children and their families? What resources exist that we do not have yet?

Carolina Ellis: And since we both identify as TRAs—Trans Racial Adoptees, meaning our race does not match our adopted parents—we had a particular bond and that became a conversation and then a need for finding appropriate books and weeding misrepresented books, so we began scanning the shelves, pulling books, and sorting them into bins.

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Biographies and Autobiographies and Memoirs, Oh My!

by Gillian Bartoo

Gillian Bartoo is the Collections Management and Cataloging Librarian for the Cambridge Public Schools District.

First things first: definitions. What is a biography? A biography is a factual description of a person’s life or part of their life as supported by research and written by someone else. An autobiography is an account of a person’s life written by that person. A memoir is also written by the subject, but about a specific event or time in their life. Both are considered more subjective than biographies; they convey the events as the person experienced them and how they may feel about them upon reflection. There are also diaries and correspondence which may fall under the rubric of “autobiography.” 

book cover for Pura's Cuentos

In Dewey, the rule for biography classification is fairly straightforward: “Class biography of people associated with a specific subject with the subject…” (DDC 23, v. 3, p. 879) Dewey does not have a separate area that encompasses ALL biographies,except 920 for generalized collections of biographical entries that aren’t subject specific.

Once Dewey busted out from behind the walls of closed stack libraries to self-serve, open stacks, most people who just wanted to read a biography couldn’t find them very easily. Public libraries, mostly, began moving their biographical books into “Biography” sections to make browsing by this particular genre easier. Modern Dewey at least acknowledges this practice by offering the “option to Biography.” In modern, shared catalog records with classification, the Dewey cataloger always catalogs a book to the subject first, but then offers a “B” option as well. 

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President's Message: My Conference Report Card

by Barb Fecteau

Barb Fecteau is the LMS at Beverly High School. She enjoys crochet and swimming, but rarely at the same time. She teaches in the school library program at Salem State University.

The best thing about being president of MSLA is the conferences. I mean, sure, in my last Forum article I said it was the collaboration, but I’m like the wind, baby. I change things up every time I am required to write 1000+ words about something!

If you think about it, conferences are just an amped-up, days-long buffet of forced collaboration. You’re squished in like sardines at some of those presentations. Which is actually more scary (Thanks, Covid.) and more fun (Hi, new friends!) than you would imagine. Now, I am talking about NATIONAL conferences here. Our MSLA conference runs like a Swiss watch with exactly the right amount of chairs in each room. (And you should register RIGHT NOW!) But a national conference can be a little overwhelming, and, in my experience, usually amazing.

AASL took place back in October in Tampa, Florida. Yep—nothing like the welcoming arms of Florida for school librarians. This brings me to the first of the awesome library t-shirts I photographed:

a stack of 4 pastel-colored books on a pink background with 70's-style letters reading Are You There God? It's me, Florida 

Our organization was well represented. Jen Varney and I made it our mission to get everyone together at least once a day to check in and say hello.

10 people standing in 3 rows on stairs smiling with conference tags around their necks

Top Row: Barb Fecteau, Magenta Jasinski, Ariel Dagan, Deborah Solomon Middle Row: Jodi Slomsky, Jen Varney, Deeth Ellis Bottom Row: Daisy Magner, Laura D'Elia, Wendy Garland

And we had supper buddies each night!

 6 smiling people sitting around a restaurant table

But more about that later.  Conferences make me feel like I am about to become a whole new me. I feel like I am going to come back to my library and change everything for the better.

Spoiler: this never happens. 

But after AASL, I looked up a few articles about how to keep that post-conference momentum going and was given some solid advice. Caroline Ceniza-Levine said in Forbes that these seven steps could help me make the most of the experience:

1 - Follow up with fellow attendees - I checked to see if I could share the pictures I took of them for this article, does that count?

2 - Follow through with promises made - I made no promises.

3 - Create an action plan for next steps - Um…

4 - Create an accountability structure - Er…

5 - Share key takeaways with others - I’m doing it right now!!!

6 - Curate highlights on social media - Can we count the Forum as social media? (Editor’s Note: We have a Facebook page.)

7 - Book your next professional development activity - Phew!! MSLA, March 17 & 18!

Thanks to this article and the upcoming conference, I have a solid C-. Luckily, Forbes is just for Wall Street masters of the universe and the like. (Actually, those are great tips, thanks Caroline…) Though I did like Jane Cowell’s tips better, from “How to Get the Most Out of Library Conferences” for Medium

        • Meet one of the speakers - I introduced myself to all of the speakers to the point where I was embarrassed for myself. At least I didn’t come out and say, “Do you want to be pen pals?” which is always my initial instinct.
        • Connect with your peers - Yes! You saw the dinner picture and the meet up picture!
        • Attend the social events - Not only did Jen and I get to go to a fancy writer dinner, we also closed the place down at the closing celebration. I present evidence!

a strip of 3 Photo Booth photos of 6 people holding various props including silly sunglasses

It feels like I aced this one, until we look at her other two tips - 

        • Apply what you learn immediately - We will take a closer look below. It varies.
        • Talk to the vendors - Does taking their pens and notebooks and sometimes books and ALWAYS tote bags count?

(Actually, I always thought I was bothering vendors by talking to them about their products which I know I cannot afford. But someone [probably Jen Varney—she is so wise] set me straight. The vendors are in the library business and have probably seen it all. They have a fresh perspective that can really be helpful. And they know that many of us don’t have any money, but they also know that there are grants, there are sometimes gifts and there are sometimes school districts that are willing to pony up for the right resources.)

But I digress. What about me? How am I doing? I believe I can average these out to a C+. If I were in 10th grade, I would be grounded right now.

Ok, so “Apply what you learn immediately”— surely looking at the content I took in will turn the tide of this increasingly silly value judgment, no? Here are the inspiring sessions I attended and how I did, or did not, immediately use the information to inform my practice. Oh boy:


        • Death Becomes Them: The Curious Intersections of Death and Grief in Historical Children’s Literature from the Baldwin Library at the University of Florida - Don’t judge me! No children were harmed in this panel and it was very interesting to a historical children’s literature fan like me.
        • There’s a Primary Source for That!: Bring Your Library to Life with Primary Sources - Oh! I actually did start building a history lab using primary sources. (I was also inspired by another Forum article.) And I have been buying weird primary source cold war artifacts on eBay and telling my spouse that they are for “work.”
        • AASL Author Talk | Social Emotional Learning in the School Library - Well, since it was MSLA’s own Anita Cellucci who was presenting, surely you know how it went. I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats! Seriously, it is the book we need today and as soon as it is published, I will be socially and emotionally learning all over the place!
        • Spark Collaboration, Inquiry, and More with Infographics - I am still terrible at infographics, but I am trying. Canva pretends to want to help me, but I have some walls up. We’re working on it, Canva and I.
        • Show Off!: Using visual End of Year Reports for Advocacy - This one was amazing and I have started keeping track of all kinds of data that is going to make me look like a BOSS at the end of the year! (If only I can find a way to put it in an infographic…)
        • Right to Read Rally: Standing Together - This was more an ‘event that I will carry in my heart’ than ‘something to take back’. We had a parade where each state went up to show their support for the right to read. Please note our incredibly detailed and historically accurate poster that I created WITHOUT Canva.


a group of 11 people standing on a conference stage and smiling (perhaps laughing), as Barb holds up a home-made sign.   Barb's sign, which says Massachusetts in straight-lined bubble letters curving around a rudimentary drawing of a sailboat nearing a rock reading 1620; the sign looks like it was written on the back of a poster for something else


        • Starting this on Monday: Quick Ways to Build Reading Culture - Everything about this fell out of my head in mid-November. Mea culpa, and this is why I should write things down.
        • What's Love Got to Do With It? Why Reading Romance is Good for You and Your Students! - Game changer! My book club kids want to read romance all the time. This session taught me just from the write-up that “Romance is the most popular genre and a billion-dollar industry. Yet it suffers from stigma and students are shamed for this reading choice…you should embrace this genre that is both feminist and diverse.” Well, shut my mouth! Those little love bugs were right and I was wrong!
        • Flipping the Script on School Library Orientation - This is one where I basically went up to the presenter after and said, “Do you want to be my new best friend?” It was an inspiring look at how to get students looking at the library as a place of choices rather than a place of obligation. Have I actually managed to put it into practice in my own library? No, I have not… but do I fantasize about it when I can’t fall asleep and vow to do better? Absolutely!
        • Dynamic Shelving: Creating More Accessible, Engaging & Independently Browsable Library Collections via Non-Traditional Organization Techniques- This was a terrific presentation with a lot of out-of-the-gate tips that do not work with my low shelving and arthritic knees. See—this is not my fault!  I love the idea of front-facing books on my shelves, but it just won’t work for me. There is not a shelf higher than my second rib in the whole library. However, there were still some great ideas about displays that I did put into practice.

I think when we factor in the fact that I documented the top contenders in the best librarian t-shirts of 2023– 

4 T-shirts reading 1. My job is...Books (pink, Barbie-movie style lettering), 2. I survived reading banned books all I got was smarter (black with green, yellow, red lettering) 3. in my Librarian era (pink) 4. Mojo Dojo Biblioteca Library (pink Barbie-movie style writing)

I earned a solid B+. 

And when we look at collegiality, information, support and advocacy, AASL 2023 earned an overwhelming A+. (Not that grades matter or are anything other than arbitrary. But this is my metaphor and I’m sticking with it!)

I think MSLA member and Simmons student Magenta Jasinski summed it up best, “This was the most welcomed I’ve ever felt at a national conference and I loved getting to connect with some Mass. homies.”

So young and so wise—and they have great t-shirt game too!

Magenta is pictured smiling and wearing a t-shirt reading READ It's our only hope with a picture of Princess Leia on it


Ceniza-Levine, Caroline. “Pumped Up After A Conference Or Retreat? Continue The Momentum And Learning With These Seven Steps.” Forbes, 18 Sep. 2018, forbes.com/sites/carolinecenizalevine/2019/09/08/pumped-up-after-a-conference-or-retreat-continue-the-momentum-and-learning-with-these-seven-steps/?sh=6294903920bb. Accessed 14 January 2024. 

Cowell, June. “How to Get the Most Out of Library Conferences.” Medium, 7 July 2018, janecowell8.medium.com/how-to-get-the-most-out-of-library-conferences-dfe11b27ecfd. Accessed 14 January 2024.



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9 Feb 2024 2:28 PM Luke Steere (Administrator)
Guided Inquiry Design at Boston Latin School

by Susan Harari

Susan is the librarian at the Harry V. Keefe Library at Boston Latin School and the editor for the Youth Services Book Review.

The Guided Inquiry Design approach as structured by Dr. Leslie Maniotes offers an approach in which students immerse themselves in an information-rich prepared environment and develop creative inquiry projects based on their interests. As more schools around the Commonwealth develop these units (thanks in large part to workshops offered by the Massachusetts Library System in partnership with Dr. Maniotes), it seems like a great time to share our experiences at Boston Latin School, where we have invested deeply in developing several GID projects.

BLS 7th graders (which we call Class VI) recently completed their Guided Inquiry Design science projects, our fourth time through the framework since the unit's inception in 2020. Working closely with Dr. Maniotes, three middle school science teachers and I designed and carried out the program through the COVID quarantine and beyond. We chose the science project as our first GID collaboration because of the historic value BLS has placed on participation in the Massachusetts state science fair, our science department chair’s vision of creating deeply engaging science experiences for students, and the dynamic team of 7th grade teachers. Looking back over the mountains of lesson plans and documentation we produced, I feel awed by my team’s extraordinary creativity and proud of the positive impact these efforts have had on science education at BLS.

Students arrive at BLS with a high degree of variability in their science education. While some have had experience with investigation and experimental design, others have not. Although traditionally students had been encouraged to participate in the city and state science fair competition, not all students had an equal chance of qualifying. Our teachers (with support from their department head) wanted students to think like scientists and feel they were making a contribution to the world of knowledge, rather than choosing a project randomly from Science Buddies or depending heavily on family members for guidance and support. Coincidentally, their goals dovetailed with the Keefe Library’s hopes of developing a Guided Inquiry project that would tap into students’ authentic interests and support the teaching of information literacy skills. 

Following the GID protocol ensures student development of creative experiments and an understanding that these preliminary steps are essential to both the scientific process and as part of their overall evaluation for the project. The science team’s careful construction of the GID project follows this sequence:

    • Immerse: students considered six major areas of scientific investigation: biology, the solar system, chemistry, earth science, physics, and psychology. Next, they would inventory their own interests and follow a think / pair / share protocol to focus on an area. 
    • Explore: they learned to use the Gale databases to collect background information on potential topics within their area of focus.
    • Identify: they developed a testable hypothesis.
    • Gather: students learned about evaluating information sources and also how to cite sources.

Concurrently with the development of the 7th grade science project, we also embarked on an 8th grade GID civics project to meet the then new state mandate. Again, this unit reflects a collaborative effort between three social studies teachers and myself as librarian. The essential question posed by the project was: “How do citizens become engaged, informed participants in a democracy and become advocates for change in their communities?” We all agreed, given the current state of confusion over veracity in current events, that our Open phase would lean heavily into an investigation of what makes events newsworthy and understanding more about point of view and bias. This also allows us to introduce the concept of lateral reading, a more active and analytic approach to consuming news. As the students develop this skill, they’re also beginning to develop their own interests and expertise in what’s going on in Boston and Massachusetts, a critical first step in identifying a topic for their eventual projects. As they incorporate current event assignments into their coursework, they use their chosen articles in the Explore phase before choosing a main topic for their project (Identify).

BLS Seventh Graders investigate possible research questions.

More recently, we have also cooperatively developed GID projects for 9th grade history (the ancient world – now in its second year) and 10th grade English (speaking truth in memoir – its first year). For World History, the teachers (collaborating with my BLS colleague, Deeth Ellis) have focused on Identify as a top priority, with students practicing the development of a thesis statement. For English 10, students will spend time in Immerse and Explore, learning about the various forms memoir can take (story anthologies, autobiographical novel, and graphic novel) and how to express their personal emotional truths during Create.

In an 8th grade class at BLS, eighth graders narrow their topics to identify a focus.

Success in GID at BLS can be traced to three elements: open and enthusiastic cooperation between teachers and librarians, support from administrators, and alignment with institutional goals. All of our projects depended on the willingness of faculty to use their summer months to complete the two week workshop with Dr. Maniotes. Faculty receive a small stipend for their work and get to leave the training with a complete outline of the unit, complete with resources, graphic organizers, and sometimes even a pacing calendar. Administrative support from department heads (in the case of World History, even taking the GID class) proved critical to success. With department heads onboard, teachers could make room in their schedule for the complete GID paradigm and feel confident that their commitment and creativity would factor favorably into their evaluations. Finally, by aligning with institutional goals (participation in the state science fair, meeting DESE civics requirements), GID can be seen as a solution to addressing student needs, enhancing their engagement, and setting high expectations. By cycling through the GID process in successive years, we anticipate that the steps will become habits of practice (for educators) and habits of mind (for students) with specific skills, such as lateral reading and using Noodletools for citation and note taking, requiring little review.

GID does present manageable challenges, both for the library and for BLS. As faculty who develop the original projects move on or change grades, new members inherit GID units but didn’t have the opportunity to contribute to their development or to participate in the training sessions. How can we provide them with the background knowledge needed to guide students through the process? We are currently considering some kind of mini-PD that combines training for new faculty and reflection on existing projects with time for updates. Grades 7 and 8 at our school have no common planning slots within disciplines, so finding time to collaborate and evaluate has been challenging. As GID envisions librarians as equal partners, co-teaching the information literacy sections of the units requires flexibility and administrative support, as one of us has to be out of the library for multiple periods a day during the projects, especially during the Explore, Identify, and Gather stages. With the multiplying demands on curriculum and mandatory standardized tests competing for instructional time, everyone has to be on board with protecting essential steps in the GID process.

As educators embrace project-based learning, I sometimes feel that we concentrate too much on the product and not enough on the process it takes to reach it. If the investigatory phase becomes merely a way-station, rather than a stated goal, the library’s role can become invisible, especially problematic in a world in which AI can produce a pretty fair facsimile of student work. GID stresses the value of student choice in increasing engagement and the importance of following a universal research model on the way to a final project that is only the last stop on a fruitful journey.


New Librarian Q&A: Wendy MacArthur

Wendy MacArthur is the Library Media Specialist at Hopkinton Middle School.

1. How did you come to librarianship?

(Excluding my job as a library aide in 9th grade…) I quit my job in IT consulting when I had kids and focused everything on being a mom. I started volunteering at their elementary school’s library and fell in love. Encouraged by their amazing librarian, I pursued and attained a degree— a decision that ranks among the most rewarding in my life.

2. How would you explain the importance of your role to a nonlibrarian?

I have many roles, but for students I am a safe space and for teachers a useful resource and knowledgeable collaborator.

Within the library, I hope to give students a nurturing environment where they can authentically express themselves and feel acknowledged through engaging activities and diverse collections. When students get a great book, they flourish in reading, writing, and engagement.  

Adapting to the ever-changing educational landscape, I remain abreast of the latest trends and technologies. My commitment extends to collaborating with teachers, assisting them in integrating these advancements into their curriculum. By offering tools and lessons, I work with teachers to enhance their teaching capabilities and effectiveness.

3. What are you working on right now?

I’m currently working on a diversity audit of the library. The library at Hopkinton Middle School was closed for years. During this time, many books were given away or went missing in both the middle and high school. This caused obvious holes in the collection that need to be rectified.

4. What is going well?

I really enjoy the freedom I have as a flex schedule librarian. This allows me to spend quality time with students, engage in collaborative efforts with fellow teachers, be a part of the school’s and the district’s initiatives, and truly immerse myself in the workings of the library. I’ve never been busier or happier. There is no time to sit around and read (as one substitute thought I did!). Oh—and I helped get the district to pass a new book reconsideration policy and procedure!  

5. What is the most challenging thing so far?

Feeling the need to read EVERYTHING! Students are constantly asking if this book is any good or that book has BL (boy love) in it, what books have Muslim representation, or what books are similar to The Summer I Turned Pretty (I have 10 copies, and they are ALWAYS out!). I’ve started turning to ChatGPT for suggestions. It does a surprisingly good job at book suggestions. 

I am also struggling with a few outdated expectations of the library and its space. Many of these were formed over years of not having a librarian. But, I have a wonderful principal. We both agree on the vision for the library.

6.  What's the most unexpected thing about your new job?

The number of friends I’ve made in such a short time. And, the amount of support the staff has given me as the librarian. They were so happy to have one back in the school. I questioned if I was making the right move a few times during one of my practicums. But, I was made for this job, at this school, with my wonderful teachers and students!

7. What are you reading or watching?

I am currently reading books for the Mass Teen Choice Book Awards. There are so many great books that are on the long list this year. You will have to wait until the MSLA conference to find out the final list. But, personally, I’m reading and watching My Hero Academia with my 8th grader who is OBSESSED. And, I’m finally reading the Shatter Me series as so many students are asking for them in the middle school, and the reviews are ALL over the place for age range.

8. What do you hope the MA School Library Association can do for you?

As the only librarian in the school, I hope the MSLA can provide fellowship. I hope that it can be a place to look for suggestions, have thoughtful discussions, and lean on when times get rough.

Ask a Library Legend: What's the deal with "soft censorship"?

by Val Diggs

Coming soon! 

Eat This, Climb That, Go There: Picture Book Biographies 

by Jenny Arch

Jenny Arch is a children’s librarian at the South Hadley Public Library. Previously, she was a library media specialist at East Meadow School in Granby, a school librarian at the Michael E. Smith Middle School in South Hadley, and a children’s and adult services librarian at the Winchester Public Library and the Robbins Library in Arlington. 

Picture book biographies are an excellent way to learn about all kinds of people, from historical figures to those who are making a difference right now. They can make great read-alouds for elementary or even middle school classes, especially when introducing someone new, and many have additional back matter like timelines, photographs, further reading, and more.

As I made a list of some of my favorite picture book biographies from the past few years, I noticed that they clustered around certain topics: activism and civil rights, history, science, literature, food, and art. And this is by no means an exhaustive list! But if you’re looking to expand your biography collection, try a nonfiction read-aloud, or introduce a new unit, consider some of these titles. 

Food

Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat (2021) by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Giselle Potter introduces readers to the first saleswoman at the Seventh Street produce market in Los Angeles - and the reason that many people are familiar with now-common foods like mushrooms, kiwifruit, and tomatillos. Frieda’s open-minded, “Why not give something new a try?” attitude changed the landscape of American produce, and might even inspire readers to try a new food.

One food most readers won’t need special prodding to try is the chocolate chip cookie - but who invented it? In How the Cookie Crumbled: The True (and not so true) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie (2017) by Gilbert Ford, Ruth Wakefield takes center stage. Using a vivid and engaging mix of illustration styles, Ford asks readers to choose which theory they think is the most likely explanation for how the famous Toll House cookies came about. And if your sweet tooth has been whetted, try The Hole Story of the Doughnut (2016) by Pat Miller, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch.


.               

Activism

Massachusetts author Mara Rockliff is going to lead off this section as well, with Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott (2022), illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Georgia Gilmore may be less well known than Rosa Parks, but she supported the Montgomery bus boycott by making and selling her delicious food, and using the proceeds to pay for transportation costs and fines for those arrested. Christie’s full-bleed paintings are gorgeous; this is a perfect read-aloud, and not just for Black History Month. 


Annette Bay Pimentel has also written a number of quality picture book biographies, including All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything (2020), illustrated by Nabi H. Ali. What I love about All the Way to the Top is that it introduces the ADA in a way that kids can understand by centering a child’s perspective: they know what’s fair and what isn’t, and it makes sense that people would work to make things fair and accessible for everyone. Repetition is used effectively (“But...STOP” and “It’s GO time!”). Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins herself wrote the foreword.


Science

Speaking of unfairness, Mae Among the Stars (2018) by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington, treads the line between fiction and nonfiction, but I’m including it here because it’s well suited to even preschool readers: it’s a story of the prejudice and stereotypes astronaut Mae Jemison faced as a child, how her parents encouraged her, and how she succeeded.


There are many other wonderful books about women and space, including: 

  • The Spacesuit: How a Seamstress Helped Put Man on the Moon (2019) by Alison Donald, illustrated by Ariel Landy

  • Caroline’s Comets: A True Story (2020) by Emily Arnold McCully

  • The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of by Kirsten Larson (2023), illustrated by Katherine Roy

                                      

Outer space is big; viruses are small. But the scientists who develop them loom large in importance, from Jonas Salk (The Polio Pioneer (2020) by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Lisa Anchin) to Kati Karikó (Never Give Up: Dr. Kati Karikó and the Race for the Future of Vaccines (2023) by Debbie Dadey, illustrated by Juliana Oakley) to Anthony Fauci (Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor (2021) by Kate Messner, illustrated by Alexandra Bye). These books foreground the curiosity, dedication, and tenacity of the research scientists who developed vaccines; all three have extensive back matter for those who want to learn more.

                     

Literature

Felicita Sala’s dark, Gothic illustrations create the perfect mood for She Made A Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein (2018) by Lynn Fulton. Second- and third-graders were eager to hear the “monster book” last fall, and although there is some fictionalized dialogue, an author’s note includes more information and sources. 


On the brighter side, those who love Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins must not miss Just Like Beverly (2019) by Vicki Conrad, illustrated by David Hohn. As a child, Beverly loved stories but struggled to learn to read - then she grew up to write more than 40 books, definitively answering the question that loomed throughout her life: Where are the books for kids like me? Back matter includes a timeline, and even more information about Beverly Cleary’s life. 


Do you run a Mock Newbery or Mock Caldecott at your school? Do students know that the awards were named after real people? Michelle Markel has written a pair of books that tell the stories of John Newbery and Randolph Caldecott themselves in a lively and engaging fashion: Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books (2017), illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, and Tomfoolery!: Randolph Caldecott and the Rambunctious Coming-of-Age of Children’s Books (2023), illustrated by Barbara McClintock.


                              

And let’s not forget poetry! Maya’s Song (2022) by Renée Watson, illustrated by Bryan Collier, marries Watson’s free verse with Collier’s incomparable art to relate the key events in Maya Angelou’s life chronologically. Another spectacular collaboration featuring a Black poet is Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks (2020) by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Parts of Brooks’ poems are woven into the story of her life. Both books include timelines and other back matter.

               

I could go on and on about these 32-page marvels that introduce fascinating characters from different times, places, and specialities - artists, marathon runners, archaeologists, zookeepers, architects, even librarians. As much as we talk about mirrors and windows in fiction, these stories are often just as good - and true.

The Art of Controlling our Emotions within Collective Stress

by Anita Cellucci

Anita Cellucci is a past president of the MSLA and the K-12 Library Teacher and department head at Westborough High School.


“When soul is present in education, attention shifts. We concentrate on 

what has heart and meaning.” - Rachael Kessler


At this point in the school year, we begin to reflect on how the year has progressed and on how much there is still to do. This year, I have found this especially true as shifts in the weather have awakened a natural instinct of an internal call to go within, seeking to look inward and align with mindful intention. Winter's cold and darker days can sometimes bring out a scarcity mindset in those around us. Winter has the least amount of freedom of all the seasons and we feel this in our souls. This lack of freedom can manifest in ways that cause emotions to be stagnant and avoided. If we follow our natural instinct to listen we will hear that winter offers us the opportunity to pause to consider how to reawaken anything that has become dormant during these cold winter months. As librarians, we are placed to be keen on how this is manifesting in our students, our colleagues, our community and ourselves. 

In The Soul of Education, author Rachael Kessler explores the idea of the Seven Gateways to the soul in education and how these gateways offer entry points for students to feel nourished, “...encouraged, stimulated, inspired…” and to develop a sense of belonging within the school culture. They include honoring silence, finding meaning, the want of joy, a creative drive, an urge for transcendence, and a call for initiation. 

Source: Noetic.org 

Kessler's framework is theoretical, and is not rooted in any "religious or philosophical tradition" but instead seeks to "foster spiritual formation in our students while respecting the separation of church and state, [and] these gateways provide clues to the opportunities we can create," (16, Kessler).

As we all continue to move through the collective stress and trauma that is a result of a worldwide pandemic and conflicts we hear about in the news, it seems important to dive into these gateways as individuals, too. If we practice awareness, we can notice a collective emotional stress that has manifested in our schools. There is a tension between returning to the “way things were” before the pandemic and the reality of the impossibility to actually ever do so.  Things look and feel differently and yet, there is little to no conversation within our professional realm about the toll this is taking on all of our relationships.

When we bring soul into education, we are able to recognize the hearts of each other and see the suffering as well as the beauty. Mindfulness allows us to bring this awareness to light.

“The context and culture make a difference. Seeking to understand circumstances can be illuminating. Behaviors and values that appear clear-cut in one setting may lose their importance in another. One child’s profanity may be another child’s daily affectionate slang, one teacher’s prohibition may be another teacher’s pleasure, one parent’s rudeness may be expected assertion to another…Learn to withhold judgment and see actions and events only as part of a larger context” (65, Nagel, Ph.D.).

Although this quote is focused on our students, we can easily use the wisdom to think about our daily interactions with our colleagues. How often are we taking things personally and sitting with judgment instead of actively building a caring relationship? Can we offer ourselves and others a moment of pause. Perhaps even using the words, “let’s pause” to allow all involved to reflect on their feelings in the moment. We know when our students are dysregulated it manifests into undesirable behavior.  Perhaps offering this grace to our peers would help to build a more compassionate culture within our individual spaces with the hopes that it would ripple beyond. When we can open our vision beyond black and white, it is possible to widen our view. 

This practice must begin within self, a way to be present to our own emotions and examine why we are reacting with that emotion. This idea of pausing is something that allows us to be fully present, to appreciate the moment, to go deeper into knowing ourselves and what we may need in the moment. When we become adept at doing this, we are then able to allow space for the emotions of others. The practice of mindfulness will help you to get to the deep parts of self to understand your own challenges and also your deepest aspirations. Thich Nhat Hanh, poet, scholar, peace activist offers a short poem of mindful breathing in his book, The Art of Power

In, out 

Deep, slow 

Calm, ease 

Smile, release

Present moment, wonderful moment

This short mindfulness poem can be used to practice pausing and help to focus only on our breath (178, Nhat Hanh). We can also create a simple mantra to remind ourselves in the moment. This can be a personal word that instantly brings calm to the moment. A mantra can be just one line of this poem— “In, out” — and can have the desired effect with practice.

Students, educators, administrators and our collective community are all influenced by a collective awareness and consciousness. When the collective is out of balance, it is up to each of us to view this as an opportunity to contribute in a healthy and positive way; to reawaken the dormant by calling upon our soul skills in each moment. 

Works Cited

Kessler, Rachael. The Soul of Education: Helping Students Find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School. Princeton, ASCD, 2008.

---. "Welcoming Soul to Our Schools." Shift: At the Frontier of Consciousness, no. 19, Aug. 2008, noetic.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/S19_LivingDeeply_KESSLER_WelcomingSoulToOurSchools_lr.pdf. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.

Nagel, Greta K. The Tao of Teaching: The Special Meaning of the Tao Te Ching as Related to the Art and Pleasures of Teaching. New York City, Penguin, 1999.

Nhat Hanh, Thich. The Art of Power. New York City, HarperOne, 2008.

Comics in Focus: The Middle East, Muslims, and Jews

by Liza Halley

Liza Halley is the Library Teacher at Plympton Elementary School in Waltham, MA. She has loved graphic novels since reading Bone and Amulet with her son. She reads every graphic novel she can find-- and is a big fan of Monstress, Hellboy, and SagaShe is a founder of the Boston Kids Comic Fest.

Given the events in the Middle East since the last forum article, I wanted to offer resources for you and your colleagues. These resources can be used to build knowledge, introduce topics, and offer educators resources that provide windows and mirrors into the experiences of Muslims and Jews.

Book covers for the following books: The Arab of the Future, I was Their American Dream, A Game for Swallows, Green Almonds, Palestine, and Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

I want to start off by offering three reading lists on Google Slides for teachers and librarians: one related to living in the Middle East, one that offers comics that feature Muslim characters and one that offers comics featuring Jewish characters. All three are linked, and each reading list slide show is set in age order from youngest to oldest reader. The description of each book comes from the Minuteman Library catalog. I see these as a starting point for exploring resources that exist right now so that you can make decisions on what will be a good fit for your school community.

The Limits of Reading Lists

We are all super busy in our school libraries. I offer these lists as encouragement for your own reading or reading promotion. Trying to read as many of these books as possible is helpful to get a sense of how they might be helpful to your community. Reading lists are not comprehensive, but I have done my best to offer books that are well reviewed, current, and more recently published for the most part. Please contact me if you have any other books to recommend.

Middle East: the majority of the books in this collection are for high school readers, with some that can be accessed by middle school readers. Many of these books may be found solely in the adult section of public libraries; I have added the ones on the list that I have read and believe are accessible and important for many high school students to read and learn about life in the Middle East.

Books covers of the following books: Saving Sunshine, Squire, Muhammad Name: War Reporter, Lia's Mission, Huda F Are You?, and Welcome to the New World

Muslim and Jewish characters: Just as with reading lists related to African and Native American characters, I was hoping to find a mixture of books that touch on a range of experiences and from various genres– fantasy, realistic, sports, historical fiction. At this moment in time, the medium of sequential fiction and nonfiction offers some powerful, humorous reads; sadly these books do not reach as broad a range of experiences as I would hope for books that feature Muslim and Jewish characters. The publishing world of sequential storytelling (comics/graphic novels) is burgeoning with all types of stories and yet, like the rest of the publishing world, it lags behind in representing all voices. 

Book covers for the following books: Two Tribes, A Visit to Moscow, The Librarian of Auschwitz, Catherine's War, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, and Chunky Goes to Camp

Teaching Tools

Now let’s turn our attention to teaching with these graphic novels. I am going to offer a list of discussion questions that can be used in your lesson plans. The ideas I am offering are tools for you to incorporate to best meet the needs of your students. Think of them as jumping off points and tools for the moment. 

Art

  • How does the art in the comic connect to the message the author is trying to convey? (the use of color, the heaviness or lightness of the line, etc.)

  • When you look at the art in the comic, how do you feel? What emotions come to mind? Do you feel invited inside or like an outsider? Do you feel confused or clear? How does that connect to the story being conveyed?

  • Does the point of view remain constant or change? Is that important?

  • Think of the placement of word balloons? How does that impact your reading and understanding of the comic?

  • Look at the panels throughout the comic. How does the shape and size of the panels convey meaning and connect to the overall content in the comic?

Social Justice

  • In what ways are the characters in the comic free? 

  • In what ways are the characters in the comic oppressed?

  • In what ways do the characters in the comic create change for themselves or those around them?

  • Who is included and who is excluded in the comic?

  • What questions does this book raise for you?

  • What connections can you make in your own life while reading this book?

Short Lesson Ideas

  • Copy one page from the comic. Blank out the words in the speech bubbles and transition boxes. Ask students to fill in the words based on what they think is happening. Then read the original page in full. Discussion questions that could be included: What is similar and different to the words you wrote and to what the original text conveys? What in the art and the body language in the characters made you write what you did for dialogue?
  • Choose a page to read together. Ask students to continue the story with three to nine more panels of their own creation. 
  • Read the entire book together. Ask students to make a new one-page comic with however many panels you choose (e.g. 3, 6, 9) that continues the story several years later. Use small groups, pairs, and larger class discussions to talk about the students' comics once they are finished.
  • Visual representation in graphic novels offers students a wonderful opportunity to see themselves and also see people who are different from themselves. Using books from the book lists offered in this article,  begin a conversation about why it is important to see ourselves in books. Some teachers even create a character checklist (female, male, trans, animal, white, black, Asian, American Indian) and ask students to scan the selection of books for specific identities. Then, use the data to discuss who is included and who is excluded from the stories.

In closing, because we librarians are stewards of information, presenting it in diverse ways is important for our patrons. Graphic novels serve as a powerful tool for our school communities to gain knowledge, learn about each other’s experiences, and imagine the world in new ways. I hope you are able to use the books in the book lists offered to open doors of communication, to build empathy, and to challenge us to listen deeply. If you do end up using any of the books in your library classroom or if the teachers in your schools do, please reach out to share your experiences with me.


In Conversation: Reframing Adoption in Children’s Literature 

María Valiente and Carolina Ellis

María Valiente is the Upper Division Librarian and Carolina Ellis is the Lower Division Librarian. They both work at the Park School in Brookline MAEllis, at left, with Valiente.    

The authors stand in their library smiling

How did your collection development project about the subject of adoption get started?

María Valiente: Coincidentally, we began working together in The Park School Library as colleagues in 2022. We connected over our lived experiences as adoptees and out of curiosity began reflecting on our collection of adoption literature. We asked ourselves what resources we had available for children and their families? What resources exist that we do not have yet?

Carolina Ellis: And since we both identify as TRAs—Trans Racial Adoptees, meaning our race does not match our adopted parents—we had a particular bond and that became a conversation and then a need for finding appropriate books and weeding misrepresented books, so we began scanning the shelves, pulling books, and sorting them into bins.


How has adoption been presented in children’s books historically? Is this misrepresentation prevalent?

CE: Books written about adoption often fail to reckon with the complexities of the adoption process and the range of emotions that exist from joy to sadness. Historically, books about adoption or with adoptee characters have been written by- and center on the experiences of adoptive parents. The narrative of adoption is one of gratitude and eliminates the reality of the trauma a child experiences when they are separated from their biological mother.

MV: For transracial adoptees of a different race there is also the loss of culture, language, mirrors, and more with far fewer resources available to them and their families. 


What are some examples you can speak about?

CE: A classic example that we all grew up with is Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. For me, it painted the narrative that the physical mirror must be present in order to be a family. The constant searching that the baby bird does for his mother is triggering as most adoptees want to or do end up searching. There's also Jeanette Yoffe's What is Adoption which features strong and uncomfortable illustrations, painting a negative stereotype of birth mothers and/or families. Another classic is Stella Luna by Janell Cannon. This book not only emphasizes the idea of fitting in with a physical mirror but the need to share common interests with your family. Also, the book shows an unhealthy attachment relationship that many adoptees have of desperately wanting to fit in, including the strategy of changing who they are to do so. This promotes insecurity. Stella Luna frames biological vs. adoptive family systems pitted against each other.


Marí and I both recommend a few books. For the lower grades, one is The Eyes that Weave the World’s Wonders by Liz Kleinrock & Johanna Ho. This book comes out this week (January 2024) and we can’t say enough good things, the illustrations are top tier and adoptee author Liz Kleinrock writes from her own perspective, acknowledging the struggle of her biological parents while embracing her experiences with her adopted parents. There's also Being Adopted by Amy Wilkerson, which describes a realistic understanding of adoption and how it affects all, including birth mothers/families, something often left out. Wilkerson's book normalizes all the feelings, both good and bad that come with adoption, and she is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. The book includes a caregiver guide in the back.

Adoption is Both by Elena S. Hall also recognizes both ends of the feeling spectrum by repeating “both are true,” great for younger readers. Adoption is a Lifelong Journey is written by Kelly DiBenedetto and we like this book because it is written from the perspective of the adopted child, discussing what they need and how they might be feeling about their adoption. It paints all the layers of complexities that might come up for adoptees during their journey.


MV: Besides these examples, we noticed that in books written for middle grade readers and young adults, the adoption/orphan/foster care trope is a very popular storyline that has become sensationalized. While these stories are well-loved and not harmful per se, it is important to consider the support a child who has experienced family separation of some form may need when reading a book like Harry Potter, The Unwanteds, or The Giver. When looking at chapter books it can be harder to identify whether the narrative is inclusive of multiple perspectives. 


Keeping in mind publishing date, author positionality, and how the books prioritize subject's voices, different authors have helped us to build an adoptee-centered, and more child-centered, collection. Some of my favorite middle grade adoptee authors are Mariama J. Lockington, author of For Black Girls Like Me, and Mark Oshiro, author of You Only Live Once, David Bravo.

This past year some incredible YA books have been published including Monstrous, a graphic novel by Sarah Myers, and The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be by Shannon Gibney. Gibney has also co-edited an anthology titled, When We Become Ours with Nicole Chung that is the first of its kind encompassing a range of genres written by adoptee authors! Lastly, I want to recognize that the experiences of children in kinship care or the foster care system are seeking more authentic representation and own voices stories in publishing, and author Andrea Beatriz Arango, who was at one time a foster parent, writes incredible middle grade verse in Something Like Home.


Thank for these recommendations. What is next for your project? What are your future hopes and dreams for adoption in kidlit? What do you want educators to know? 

MV: I hope to see more middle grade and young adult authors writing their diverse experiences. There is still a big gap in the publishing industry, and it has been so joyful to now have books I wish I had had as a kid. Adoptees and children who have experienced family separation carry an invisible trauma that is not always known, and I hope teachers and educators will continue to learn about these identities to better support students with this experience. 

CEI hope that more books about adoptees' lived experiences are published. Any book about adoption is going to be triggering to adoptees, but it is my hope that it is not harmful, that it does not continue the white savior myth, that it includes racial mirrors, and that more people understand what it is.  We are not a monolith and we all have different lived experiences.  I want educators to know that adoption is trauma and it should not be ignored, it should be acknowledged and it needs to be understood, especially by educators.

Biographies and Autobiographies and Memoirs, Oh My!

by Gillian Bartoo

Gillian Bartoo is the Collections Management and Cataloging Librarian for the Cambridge Public Schools District.

First things first: definitions. What is a biography?  A biography is a factual description of a person’s life or part of their life as supported by research and written by someone else. An autobiography is an account of a person’s life written by that person. A memoir is also written by the subject, but about a specific event or time in their life. Both are considered more subjective than biographies; they convey the events as the person experienced them and how they may feel about them upon reflection. There are also diaries and correspondence which may fall under the rubric of “autobiography.” 

In Dewey, the rule for biography classification is fairly straightforward: “Class biography of people associated with a specific subject with the subject…” (DDC 23, v. 3, p. 879) Dewey does not have a separate area that encompasses ALL biographies, except 920 for generalized collections of biographical entries that aren’t subject specific.

Once Dewey busted out from behind the walls of closed stack libraries to self-serve, open stacks, most people who just wanted to read a biography couldn’t find them very easily. Public libraries, mostly, began moving their biographical books into “Biography” sections to make browsing by this particular genre easier. Modern Dewey at least acknowledges this practice by offering the “option to Biography.” In modern, shared catalog records with classification, the Dewey cataloger always catalogs a book to the subject first, but then offers a “B” option as well. 

You can see this on the verso page (back of the title page) of a book where the Cataloging-In-Publication (CIP) is printed. CIP data looks like an old fashioned catalog card and is printed on the verso of most hardcover books published in the US. (Consider this a big hint if you want to know what the suggested Dewey number of any book is – you don’t need to look it up. It’s right there in the book.) It’s at the bottom of the CIP block and looks something like this:

Classification : LCC PZ7.1.P5535 | DDC 020.92 ; B –dc23

book cover for Pura's CentsThe Dewey (DDC) suggested call number for the book above (Pura’s cuentos : how Pura Belpré reshaped libraries with her stories by Annette Bay Pimentel) is 020.92. The B that follows tells anyone with top-secret knowledge (that’s YOU now!) that this book can also be classified as a biography. From here on, you classify it according to your local rules on biographical classification. In Cambridge we use 920 with an author cutter for collective biographies and 921 with the subject’s whole surname. In this case: 921 BELPRE. You may use 92 or B or Bio or just the surname or some other system in your library. It’s fine. I’ve seen a bunch of different ways, sometimes even in the same library. emoji of face raising one eyebrow and straight mouth

A lot of times, biographies get mis-classified because the cataloger doesn’t know about or doesn’t see the B option. This gets exacerbated by your catalog software if it’s helpfully displaying the first listed call number for the book (always the subject number) but not the second suggested call number of B. (Yes, I’m side-eying you again, Destiny.)  It’s very hard when you’re trying to crank through a pile of new books to catch biographies. I did it myself the other day: the book was African icons: ten people who shaped history by Tracey Baptiste. Destiny threw the suggested subject number into the dialog blank (960.09/9) and I went with it. If I’d looked at the CIP data or the MARC record (or thought two seconds about it), I’d know that I had an option to put this in Biography. 

But I’m going to excuse myself because the book I cataloged right before that was: The wonders we seek : thirty incredible Muslims who helped shape the world by Saadia Faruqi and Aneesa Mumtaz (297.092) which did not give me the option to B. 

Why is that? I’m not sure. When a cataloger creates a record, it is for the whole book, and it is classified to the overall subject – not genre or curriculum subject. It may be that the original cataloger felt that the main subject of the book was Islam and not biographical information. Another book I cataloged in that pile was Kind like Marsha : learning from LGBTQ+ leaders by Sarah Praeger which was given a subject number of 306.76/092/2 with no option to B. After looking closely at the book I agreed as a cataloger that it should stay in 306.76. It was a very simple book with a sentence per page: “You can be [adjective] like [name].” There is a brief paragraph about each person mentioned at the end of the book. I felt that the whole book emphasized more the values of the LGBTQ+ community, movement, and history rather than biography. But both of these are judgment calls, and I will double-check with the librarian. They may feel it belongs in Biography. 

The takeaway from this for both you and me is: go through your cataloging pile before you start and separate out the biographies. If you do them all together, you are less likely to miss one. 

So what are you to do if you don’t have a cataloger around to explain the absolute absurdity of parsing books for children this closely? Put it where you want to. The glory of “local option” cataloging is that you can put it where you want it. (But see my Forum column “Why are all the civil rights books in the 300s instead of the 900s” for more about local options before you go totally rogue on your collection.)  

Personally, I harbor a strong dislike for separate Biography sections. I am a reader by subject, not genre, and that wall of books about EVERYBODY feels chaotic and impossible to manage. I want to go to my subject and see all the books on that subject in one place (ermmm ... theoretically, anyway) so that, even if I don’t find a biography, I’ll find something I want to read. Wouldn’t it kind of be cool to send a kid to the subject area they’re interested in and let them root around there so they don’t just grab any old thing (which inevitably ends up being “John Smith, inventor of the toothpick”, copyright 1964) in frustration?  

Shelving biographies by subject can also be frustrating because they’re usually cut by author rather than the subject’s name. This results in the Alexander Hamilton biographies being scattered throughout 973.4, generally a pretty large section in school libraries in Massachusetts. The obvious elegant solution to this is to use the subject’s surname as the cutter, that way all the biographies about the same person shelve nicely together. Make it even easier to find the biographies by slapping a Biography label or color code dot on them if you want.

Ultimately, because a Biography section pulled out of subject areas is really a local classification choice, give it a definition that makes sense to you. “Any nonfiction book that uses a person’s life or action to explain or illustrate the theme of the book” is generally what I use for PK-5. I’m stricter for Grades 6-12. I tend to stick to biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, and diaries, and let the other things such as correspondence, personal essays, and humor fall where they may. 

How do you handle Biography in your school? I’m always looking for better ways to hack Dewey, so if you’ve got a clever solution, let me know.

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