The Questions Your Collection Provokes

My son is at an age when he wants the same book read over and over again. I love doing so with books that have a voice, rhyme, or best of all, humor. Titles like Sun: One in a Billion by Stacy McAnulty or The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka are a delight to read. Unfortunately, my son also likes a Star Wars book that reads like an encyclopedia – flat, turgid prose with uniform sentence structures, few adjectives, and the annoying repetition of the character’s name: Darth Vader is evil.  Darth Vader has a lightsaber. Ugh. Reading these unimaginative and factual sentences is hard to do on a first read; doing it, again and again, borders on torture with its sameness, blandness, utter lack of variance.

Of course, I’m exaggerating, but isn’t my tone of woe a considerable part of why you’re still reading this post? If my lines read like a metronome, you would have stopped after the third sentence. Unfortunately, many nonfiction books we have in our libraries and classrooms read just this way. You know the series I’m talking about: the ones on animals, natural disasters, or ancient civilizations: all churned out from a dull blueprint, the same unknown authors spewing out dry facts accompanied by unimaginative stock photos. So why do we have them? Often, it’s to reinforce the curriculum or because the books follow a hot trend: technology, diversity, nonfiction. We passively choose books because we want our library collections to support what students are or should be learning.

We do a quick series search and click to add to our list of books to order. I would think this method of collection development is in itself not engaging and done because it has to be done. (If you don’t spend the funds, you lose them!)

I propose a different approach to collection development that applies to purchasing and weeding (yes, getting rid of books is as important as buying new ones): thinking about the questions the book provokes. For example, you may have a nonfiction book on the sun that tells students all the facts they need to know: how far it is from earth (93 million miles), how long it takes the sun’s light to reach earth (eight minutes), and so on and so on. But will the book interest students to learn more about the sun and build background knowledge?  he book, Sun: One in a Billion, presents the sun as a show-off with a bit of an attitude. Still by personalizing the content, students identify more with the topic and can think of questions to ask the sun: Why is your name so simple compared to those of other stars? Why do you hide behind the moon? What causes you to spin?

An earlier post I did was about the common knowledge students should know. Libraries need to have books on vital topics in multiple subject areas, but what about specific ones? Should you have a book on the Gulf War? What about indigenous groups from the Pacific Islands? What about the battery? I think the answer depends on how the book is written and less on the content itself. Does the book provoke critical questions to connect students to broader curricular and life themes? Does the book make students wonder?  Spark their curiosity?

Does it make them want to open the book and read it?


Author: Leanne Ellis

I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. This is really good Leanne. I makes you think about how we are ordering our books for the students. When I order I always feel rushed to order and I end up reading the trade magazines, asking for recommendations, and scouring the catalogs for books. I am grateful for your insight. Thank you.

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