Understanding Sam and other books explaining autism to siblings

If you don’t already have a family member or close friend affected by autism, chances are you will in your lifetime.  Autism now affects 1 in 110 children (and 1 in 70 boys).

One issue that can often be overlooked is how siblings of a child with autism understand what their brother or sister has and how they can help.  Parents of newly diagnosed children are understandably overwhelmed and can find it hard to understand their child’s disorder, nevermind how to explain it to their other children.  While each child with autism is unique, and every family has its own dynamics, it is sometimes helpful to have resources to help jump start a conversation.

Here are five of my favorite books written for siblings of children with autism:

Takeaways from Trendspotting Ebooks Symposium

Highlights from CLC’s Trendspotting Symposium, Ebooks: Collections at the Crossroads, included a fiery, funny, and provoking talk by keynote speaker and library super geek, Eli Neiburger, and continued with a fascinating panel discussion that included Mr. Neiburger, the remarkable Barbara Genco, Harper Collins President of Sales Josh Marwell, and an exec from Overdrive, Mike Shontz (moderated by Kate Sheehan aka the Loose Cannon Librarian.)

Some takeaways:

  • Josh Marwell from Harper Collins said that the 26 checkout limit is NOT set in stone.  It is “a work in progress.”  (Also, bravo and major props to an HC man stepping into a roomful of wary librarians. That’s bravery.)
  • Dedicated ereaders (black and white devices whose sole purpose is to read ebooks) will be obsolete in a few years.  The future is in multifunction devices.
  • For libraries to adapt successfully in this brave new world of digital content, we need to Geek Up.  Libraries need to hire more geeks and train existing staff to be more geeky. That is, we must be comfortable navigating, creating, storing, archiving, and curating digital content.  And, we need to be able to confidently help our patrons do so as well.
  • It’s impossible to know what libraries and the ebook market will look like in 5, 10, 15 years.  But, as Barbara Genco put it, “we are beyond the tipping point.”  Ebooks and digital content are here to stay- and growing exponentially.  We need to dig in, learn, and experiment now- even if it’s scary and we aren’t exactly sure where we are going.
  • Librarians are really good at what we do- helping patrons, building collections, fostering community.  We are not so hot at marketing those value-added services and skills.  Even in the midst of being cut out of some of the digital community (ie, Kindle and Apple’s App Store) we can nevertheless put our awesome librarian skills to work.  We can be the learning labs in which our users play with content creation.  We can be the Genius Bar-like staff that assist them in creating their own stories, videos, apps, and photo collections.  We can be the storehouse, archive, and curators of this unique content.

In case you’d like to browse through the day’s tweets, there were two hashtags (one official, one grassroots): #clcebks and #clctrendspotting.

photo courtesy of Flickr user Pen Waggener

Book Review: Ophelia by Ingrid & Dieter Schubert

opheliaYou know those weird picture books?  You know the ones I mean- bizarre storyline, esoteric illustrations, unrelatable characters, not kid-friendly at all?  Usually it only takes a few pages in to discover a dud.  Sometimes, however, a weird picture book can mask itself as a benign, whimsical tale- perfect, you might think, for storytime.  In the case of Ophelia, it took me to nearly the last page to go, “Huh…..Wait, WHAT?”

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Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb, July 2009)

In Rebecca Stead’s first novel, First Light (2008), readers were introduced to a hidden world buried deep under the ice in Greenland when the lives of two kids collide.  Like First Light, Stead’s latest work brings together classic elements of a coming-of-age friendship story with a sci-fi twist.

Sixth-grader Miranda is a bonafide city kid.  A latchkey child who lives in Manhattan with her mom in a slighty run down apartment, in a neighborhood where bullies rule the sidewalks and a crazy guy sleeps under her mailbox.  Miranda and her best friend Sal know the rules of city living- when to switch sidewalks if they see a strange person; always having their apartment keys in hand before they get to the door; which pizza place has the best lunch deals.  Things seem pretty ordinary until the day Sal gets punched by a new kid.  This sets off a chain of events that involves a series of mysterious letters, the $20,000 Pyramid, Madeline L’Engle, and the prevention of a tragic death.

Yes, it sounds complicated.  And yes, there is a lot packed into When You Reach Me.  But it works.  The characters are so realistically grounded and believable that the sci-fi aspect seems almost secondary.  Stead understands and respects what it’s like to be a sixth grader and does a brilliant job of communicating the subtle shifts that mark those paths from childhood into adulthood.

Here’s a great example:  (n.b., this excerpt is from the advance reader’s copy):

Sometimes you never feel meaner than the moment you stop being mean.  It’s like how turning on a light makes you realize how dark the room had gotten.  And the way you usually act, the things you would have normally done, are like these ghosts that everyone can see but pretends not to. (pg 144)

I read this book almost a week ago, and I still find myself thinking about it during my daily commute, or while waiting in line at the grocery store.  It kinda gets under your skin and sticks with you.  I’d definitely recommend When You Reach Me to kids who aren’t into aliens and flying cars, but are longing for a little something extra in their realistic fiction.  It would also work well in a book group- it’s ripe for good discussion.

Wither Collection Development?

Perhaps the whole argument against centralized ordering is like beating a dead horse.  But I’m new and naive, so here goes.

Do any branch-level librarians in large systems still do collection development? I mean, you know, the kind of stuff we learned about, practiced, and wrote lengthy papers about in library school?

Sure, I weed. I revise. I get a monthly list from which I make selections. When I have the time, I read SLJ and Horn Book- but mostly for the articles. I read children’s literature blogs like Fuse to keep abreast of good, new stuff coming out. I listen to my community and try to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s needed, what’s hot, and what’s just about to break out as the “next big thing.” But where does all this knowledge go? Not far. I can email by superiors and request specific titles. But, depending on demand, funding, time of the year, etc., these titles may or may not show up on the next book order.

When the 57th child comes in and asks for the latest Warriors or the sequel to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I can no longer order a few extra copies on the spot.

Recently two local moms asked why my branch didn’t have more French-language picture books (French-speaking children being a significant percentage of the school kids in my area.) Try explaining to a patron the concept of centralized ordering and why I couldn’t simply say, “Sure, I’ll order a few copies.” The best I can offer is that I’ll send an email to the appropriate selectors or see what I can get on circuit.

While taking a course in children’s literature during library school, I asked my professor if working in a large urban library system in which books are ordered centrally would limit my skill set. I wondered if by working in a smaller system I would actually be getting more experience. The professor explained that working for a large system is a double-edged sword. We big city public librarians have access to many more resources, more funding, more collaboration. But I can’t say that I’m as yet convinced that it’s an even trade-off- at least in terms of collection development experience.

I realize that my responsibilities being what they are at the moment, I would not have the time to do proper collection development. Between the hours on the reference desk, my program schedule, fitting in outreach and class visits when possible, and maintaining an attractive and accessible collection, there isn’t much time left over to scour professional journals and select the best materials. For this, I am grateful for people who do that for me.

I like the idea of specialization. I like the idea that someone has a high level of expertise in a particular field or practice. Thus, the concept of a highly experienced reviewer and selector being responsible for the collection development of a particular user group is not a bad idea. I just wish that the specialists at the branch level could be a bit more responsive to the public needs. With even a meager paperback budget, branch specialists could have the ability to make a few necessary purchases per year. This would require both faith and responsibility. Faith- on the part of the administration to trust its professional staff to make decisions and utilize this budget for the good of the public. Responsibility- on the part of the professional staff to actually use the funds given and prove that such a responsibility is a necessary and vital part of good customer service.

Centralized ordering is the way of the future, I’m told.  It’s more efficient and much cheaper.  I tend to think the best solutions are ones that find a happy medium between two opposing viewpoints.  I just wish there was a way to have centralized ordering while retaining the ability to make branch level purchases on-the-fly.