Documenting Our Dewey Ditch

When we officially decided to ditch the Dewey Decimal System, devising a new method of organizing was essential.  We knew we had to find a way to make non-fiction appealing to the eye, efficient to navigate, and easy to implement.  After scouring the internet for examples of high schools who had overhauled their non-fiction sections, I realized we might be one of the first.  I want to document our process in hopes of helping any librarian looking for tools and methods for genrefying non-fiction.

Studying Barnes & Noble
We spent a lot of time studying how Barnes & Noble organizes its store because students and faculty voiced shopping for non-fiction there, while avoiding it in our school library.  We wrote down all of their genre categories and combined categories into larger headings that matched our library’s collection and patron interests.  We learned that Barnes & Noble stocks multiple sections with the same titles, improving customers’ chances of finding a title.  We do not have this ability for most titles, so we had to ensure that our major categories were broad enough for students to intuitively navigate.  Our major categories were as follows:

  • Supernatural
  • Philosophy
  • Study Aids
  • Religion
  • Lifestyle & Relationships
  • Psychology & Sociology
  • Science & Technology
  • Animals & Nature
  • Arts & Culture
  • Poetry & Plays
  • Sports
  • Business & Economics
  • Politics & Social Issues
  • Military
  • History & Geography

Stacks on Stacks on Stacks
File_000 (19)
After creating our larger categories, we had to start reorganizing the books on the shelves.  To free up space on the shelves, though, we started by making giant piles of books all over the library’s floor.  We categorized each book into its corresponding, major genre.  Unlike Dewey, we did not put biographies and autobiographies into a separate section.  We felt students were more likely to know they wanted to read a sports biography or a memoir by someone suffering with depression than know the specific name of said person.  Therefore, embedding these personal stories within the various sections made biographies easier for students to locate while browsing.

Creating Sub-Categories

After all of our major categories were re-organized, we had to start making sub-categories.  We needed a way to narrow sections, making it easier to hone in on a specific title, while keeping them broad enough for multiple books to fall under the heading.  Our goal was to make sure there were at least 10-30 books in each section.  If the numbers seemed to climb, we knew we needed to sub-divide even further.  If the numbers were small, we knew we needed to combine sections.  Here is a link to our final list of categories.

Re-Labeling and Shelving
File_001 (8)
One of the reasons we wanted to reorganize our non-fiction was our hatred for shelving with decimals.  We wanted to create labels that made shelving easy at a glance, but also helped patrons browse.  In large font, we put the first letters of each major section, and then in smaller font underneath, we put the entire sub-category title.File_004 (2)

When re-shelving, we do not further organize the titles or authors by alphabetizing.  Instead, we simply ensure all of the subcategories remain together on the shelves.  We have found that scanning 20 titles is just as fast, when looking for a specific title, as searching for a lengthy decimal point.  It also has been easier to ensure titles are in the right spot, because one can see an out-of-place sticker at a glance when every book in a section has a matching label.

About Face
File_003 (7)
Prior to starting this process, we weeded a large amount of titles to free up space on the shelves.  Students voiced that one of the reasons they love Barnes & Noble is the amount of covers they see.  We put multiple titles on stands at the start of each section, which act as a visual marker for what types of books are in each section.  

File_000 (33).jpeg

We won’t lie, the process of changing was exhausting and mentally numbing at times.  However, we have seen so many great payoffs from implementing it!  It is my hope that our experience can encourage any intrigued librarians to take the plunge.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at

To read about why we took the plunge, click here.

Confession: I am a Public School Librarian, and I Abandoned Dewey

This blog is littered with confessions, many of which may make you feel I am inadequate to speak intelligently about organizing and peddling non-fiction in a high school library.  However, I would say my inadequacies (and the fact that I have not always been a librarian) make me the perfect person to speak about the need for a non-fiction revamp, for my confessions have led to honest conversations with students, problem solving, and a complete non-fiction overhaul that meant a total ditching of the Dewey Decimal System.  

Confession #1: The Dewey Decimal System never really made sense to me.  
I am a big picture person, so Dewey’s system of sub-categorizing any topic amazed me.  Though I could marvel at it, I couldn’t navigate it very well.  Too many titles felt like they belonged in multiple spots, so I found myself aimlessly wandering the non-fiction section.  These long hunts would usually result in me searching on the computer, and then returning to the stacks for a specific decimal point.  File_001 (5)

After voicing this to students, they echoed a common struggle.  They had received marvelous instruction on the system in prior grades and schools, but the many subcategories of topics proved too much to hold in long-term memory.  Many faculty and staff also voiced the same.  We were all confident in looking up a specific book in the online catalog and finding it on the shelves, but browsing for information we desired stumped us every time.  One student said, “We don’t like looking foolish, and walking back and forth in non-fiction is foolish… so we just don’t go back there.”  

File_003 (4)Confession #2: I don’t use books for research.
I am a lover of knowledge, and I self-declare as a lifelong learner.  I love reading non-fiction and talking about what I learn.  However, I will always turn to electronic sources when completing formal research.  I like that it’s faster.  I like that it’s current.  I like that it quickly links me to other valuable information.  I like that I can print and annotate.  All of these likes are harder to muster within book resources.  

Confession #3: I skillfully avoided shelving non-fiction.
File_002 (4)
There is something physically painful about staring at endless decimal points and trying to find the exact spot within a numerical timeline for a book about teenage pregnancy.  Shelving non-fiction took significant time, and I would offload that task to my library workers with boldness.  And they hated me for it.  One worker voiced cringing when people would check out non-fiction titles.  Why?  Because that meant we would eventually have to re-shelve them.  

With our Dewey confusion, our passion for perusing, and our disdain for shelving, we started the conversation about how to cure these issues with a change.  We started asking questions:

  1. Why do we like book stores more than libraries?
  2. Why does the non-fiction section overwhelm our patrons (and us)?
  3. How can one organize vast amounts of information in less specified, easy-to-locate ways?
  4. What if we abandon Dewey and create our own organizational system?

So we did.  We studied Barnes and Noble with a critical eye.  We pulled all of the books off the shelves.  We felt overwhelmed, but purposeful.  We saw immediate benefits and received countless sighs of relief.  

We ditched Dewey.  And we lived to tell about it!  

Our documented process will be in a blog-post to come!

Check out my post about the need for more modern non-fiction titles here.

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

Breaking News: I have a raging couple crush on Chip and Joanna Gaines.  The first time I watched their hit show Fixer Upper, my eyes took the shape of cute little emoji hearts, and I proceeded to binge-watch their show’s entire first season on Netflix.  Since that day, I have tried to peg why I find myself swooning over their endeavors, and I think I have honed in on the following:

  1. As a couple, they have fun with one another.  They seem to genuinely enjoy being around one another.  In a society riddled with divorce and independence, this is refreshing.
  2. As designers, their style could not be more in sync with my own tastes.  My friends mock me for the general lack of color in my life, so I love that Joanna leans toward my favorites: white, gray, and brown.
  3. As a concept, I love the hope represented in seeing something ugly transformed into something beautiful.  We are too quick to overlook potential based on our first impressions.  Their show challenges this tendency.

Naturally, when I found out Chip and Jo had released a biographical book, I waited until I acquired some Christmas cash from grandma and bought that book in a heartbeat.


In The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna recount their relationship’s ups and downs– from the moment they met in a tire shop to their present day of fame.  The book includes color photos from their childhoods, wedding, and family endeavors, but the Gaines’ story-telling abilities are what really paint pictures for readers.  I found myself laughing aloud, tearing up, and sighing from relief as I read their inspirational story.

Superlative Size-Up

Most Refreshing Couple Narrative

One of the best things about Chip and Joanna is the dynamic of their interactions.  Chip’s adventurous spirit and Joanna’s type-A responses come together to form such an endearing partnership.  Assuming a third party would retell their story, I worried that their unique characteristics would not shine through in their book.  I was wrong! The book reads like you are sitting across the table from these two as they recount their lives.  The editor alters the font so readers can know who is speaking when, and the book alternates back and forth between Chip and Jo.  This opens the narrative up for funny asides, interjections, and bantering, which is such a unique experience for readers!

Best Inspiration for Dreamers


Joanna reflects on the purpose of hardship.

Though rags to riches stories are often felt to be cliche, the story of the Gaines family is a refreshing voice clothed in humility.  They did not seek fame or fortune.  Instead, they sought to achieve their dreams by working hard, loving their hometown well, and always collaborating together.  This was never a get rich quick scheme, and that genuine heart shines through in their story.  Deep trust, humility, and unity carried them through hard times, and their raw honesty pushes readers to realize anything is possible.  This theme caused me to see the beauty in their show’s premise all the more, for their lives are living, breathing fixer uppers. 
Go buy Chip and Joanna Gaines’s book, The Magnolia Story, now!  Enter at your own risk, though.  Your eyes may turn into googly hearts.

Revamping Nonfiction: A Plea for Modern School Libraries

I used to be a self-proclaimed reader who respectfully abstained from nonfiction.  In elementary school, the nonfiction section was my go-to beeline spot during our library time.  Why?  Because that is where I could find informational books about dogs, which always had cute pictures of puppies.  As a child, the world feels even larger, and learning about my favorite aspects of this grand existence proved thrilling.  However, the thrill of a great puppy book waned as I aged.

As I grew older, my own story began to unfold.  With middle school and high school came all sorts of new insecurities, questions, dreams, etc.  The only thing I seemed to connect with, in hopes of understanding myself and the scary aspects of this world, was fiction.  I needed the power found in a story of another human, even if that human wasn’t  real at all.  

I will be completely honest, it wasn’t until adulthood that I realized that nonfiction books people read outside of school look totally different than the titles that lined the shelves of my high school.  I hadn’t realized that nonfiction books contained the stories of real humans, with real lives, with real hurts, and real triumphs.  I hadn’t realized that learning about science and history could keep me up at night when it wasn’t written in the form of a textbook.

So if I, a prior English teacher and current librarian, didn’t want to read my high school’s nonfiction and remained naive to the wonders awaiting discovery in Barnes and Noble’s nonfiction sections, how can I expect students to fall in love with nonfiction shelves that are all too similar to my high school’s ten years ago?

Libraries were once filled with a plethora of informational texts used for precise research.  These are not books intended for picking up and reading cover to cover, just as you wouldn’t engage with your college textbook in such a fashion.  As students now turn to the internet for scholarly research, modern libraries must find ways to overhaul their nonfiction sections and ignite a passion for lifelong learning among their students.  

Our nonfiction shelves should now be filled with titles that…

  • Push our students’ thinking about equality by developing empathy rather than informing students about race relations.
  • Empower students to take risks rather than just inform them about the products that resulted from those who have.
  • Inspire students with stories of overcoming rather than providing them with bulleted facts about celebrities.
  • Coach students in conquering issues like depression, loss, and rejection rather than provide them with WebMD-style facts about mental illness.
  • Provoke students to ask questions about the science behind their lives rather than inform them about scientific topics that must be weeded every year because they become outdated.
  • Encourage students to reflect upon the interconnections of history rather than telling them about isolated historic events.
  • Equip students to think critically about the movement of culture rather than listing the facts that define a generation.

The modern library must make moves toward providing titles that inspire young readers and young minds to be empathetic, problem-solving, active citizens in our modern society.  The modern library should strive to empower young minds to make sense of the mass amounts of information digested on a daily basis, rather than provide them with books filled with more facts.  

The modern library should be filled with students who are excited and drawn to the nonfiction shelves.

Ice Storm Reflecting

Trying to purchase a new game is hard enough, but things can really complicate your decision when the overhead lights of Wal-Mart keep flickering.  My friend Cassie and I were more than likely giggling in the game aisle, each with a movie from the five dollar DVD bin tucked snuggly under our arms when the lights officially gave way and the back-up generator loudly kicked on.  My dad popped around the corner, still calmly strolling, and said, “Girls, we may want to hit the road.  Looks like it’s getting icy out there.”

And that was the start of a beautiful two weeks off from school, hanging out with my dearest friend, not showering, yet sweating profusely by the fire.  189957_1002876154239_5114_n

She was (still is, as I type this–fingers-crossed!) scheduled to visit Bolivar for the weekend, but her trip is threatened by the ten-year-reunion-forecast of ice.  Last night, we reflected via FaceTime about the ten year anniversary of being snowed and iced in together.  Suddenly, she got pensive and said, “Amber, has anything really changed in ten years?  Have we changed…?”

We are both in our late twenties, finding ourselves still single and are uniquely not chasing the standard American dream, but we can’t deny the struggle that often arises with the temptation of comparison.  According to a lot of our high school friends, we’re a bit behind schedule.  According to me, we’re both cooking an entirely different meal than the rest of ‘em.  

I can’t speak for Cassie (well, I probably could… we know each other quite well… but I won’t), but I’m intrigued by her question.  I know I have changed in ten years… but how?

For starters, I now have bangs.  Confidence grew so I could finally realize I would never have Jennifer Aniston’s hair, and I should stop trying to cut my thick mane in hopes it would lay like hers.  Instead, I started embracing my inner rockstar, which stemmed from friends who pushed me to start playing shows.  In high school, I vomited right before I walked out on stage to sing in our talent show, now I’m eager for new opportunities to share music and can’t imagine life if it weren’t that way! Thank you Kate Nash for becoming the new Jennfier Aniston when I enter the salon–your hair suits me.  I’m still a creature of habit, though, so I haven’t gotten rid of the bang-look since college.

One thing I did shed in college, though, was my crippling struggle with anxiety.  In high school, I was fearful of anything and everything.  I hated trying new things, and the word “adventure” signified the worst possible idea anyone could have.  Now I wake up asking God to lead me in this grand adventure called life.

To celebrate my freedom from anxious control of my life, I traveled alone to meet Cassie in Sweden (and journey on to Scotland)1082148_10200422205819771_1726705821_o while she lived there for over a year.  I had never traveled outside of the continent, and I was nervous to say the least.  However, experiencing a new culture with amazing people, food, and sights was life-changing.  This was something high-school me would have never predicted Cassie and I would check-off as a pair, at least not without first getting permission from our parents and a lengthy list of directions from her father.

My family has also undergone restructuring.  I couldn’t have anticipated the phone call from my dad that signaled years of turmoil and stress between he and my mom.  Having your parents divorce wrecks your heart… even when you’re in your late twenties.  I had to find hope in being anchored to an eternal family with a Heavenly Father who never fails, while finding grace for earthly parents who do.  Those two years stretched me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.  

Couple handling the stress of my parents with finally processing some intense personal heartache that I had shoved aside for years, and you’ll find the recipe for strength-building.  God utilized these moments to show me my deeply-rooted struggle with people pleasing, and He was kind enough to lead me out of it.  It’s still a struggle, but I’m learning more and more to trust who He says I am, rather than pining for approval from others. 199539_1002877754279_8614_n I guess contentment with not posting anything on Facebook demonstrates that.  One aspect of ice storm 2007 involved documenting every second, I did that weird thing with my eyes hoping it would make me look more candid and appealing (Come on, press that Like button so high school me can feel loved!).  Cassie and I used to pose endless photos and post all of them on Facebook with creative captions… I wanted to be liked.  Recalling this helps me see how far I really have come.

I also own a dog.  Who isn’t a boxer named Elliott. So things change.  Plans change.  Our lives don’t always go how we think they will when we’re high school seniors dreaming about the future during our two weeks off from school (THAT WE DIDN’T HAVE TO MAKE UP).

I couldn’t have predicted this life, and I’m thankful.  

Looking forward to ice-storm 2027!

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

My friend Anna and I have ship-named ourselves A-Squared (A2 for short) because of our uncanny abilities to be thinking/doing/saying the same things at the same time.  We also have odd similarities and quirks and celebrity obsessions.  She is one of the few people I know who also beat the trend for twenty-somethings to be obsessed with Dolly Parton, and we both have the tendency to keep buying a lot of the same clothing item before we realize it (for her, it’s black dresses… for me, it’s denim shirts).  We also share another similar love: Gilmore Girls and all things Lauren Graham.  File_000.pngSo when I got this text from Anna (who tends to know about things years before I do), I drove 40 minutes to the nearest Barnes and Noble to purchase it.  The employee there, a pleasant young dude who was perplexed that the computer said there were 50 copies in the store but were nowhere to be seen, helped me track down a copy straight from a shipment box.  I started reading it while I pumped enough gas to get home.  I laughed out loud multiple times, and I only got through the introduction.

Lauren Graham writes autobiographically in Talking as Fast as I Can to explore a variety of topics relating to her career and thoughts about life.  The book is organized almost like a collection of essays, and lovers of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood will be pleased to find commentary of those experiences embedded throughout.  Graham’s humor and personality shine through her writing, further convincing me we’d be the best of friends.  Her courage to be herself was refreshing, and her unique critique and appreciation of Hollywood norms were also refreshing in a fast-paced, Snap-driven, show-me-the-best-side-of-yourself world.

Superlative Size Up

Best Author Asides
Lauren (oh, look at me referring to by her by first name, as if we’re friends, without even thinking about it.  Also… do you see what I’m doing here?)  includes commentary to her commentary with hilarious asides!  I think it is in these moments that her humor and personality really come through in the writing.  It makes you, as the reader, feel like you’re sitting down for coffee and really hearing the thoughts as they come to her, laughing as she tries to remember what she was actually trying to tell you.  You don’t care, because the aside became better than the main point anyway.  

Most Endearing Alter-Ego
Some of my friends say I’m like a grandma.  Turns out, I’m not the only one.  Lauren Graham spends an entire chapter exploring Old Lady Jackson, her more rigid, concerned alter-ego.  Sure, Graham is a hip TV star many people look up to, but she’s also afraid of the “old tindernet” and is worried about your tattoo choices.  I’ll admit, for one whole paragraph, I imagined she was sitting on the couch right next to me, ready to swat me if I didn’t take her advice.

Go buy Lauren Graham’s book, Talking as Fast as I Can, asap–and not on the Kindle version (the cover’s too cool to not own it in the flesh, and Old Lady Jackson would just be disappointed for you reading her advice on a blasted screen when she took the time to write it by hand).

Read my review of The Serpent King for another great book recommendation!

“YOU became a librarian… Why!?”

I taught English for five years, and I loved my job.  Sure, the grading was for the birds and classroom management was a personal struggle up until my last day, but I adored planning lessons and seeing kids engage with learning.  If you would have told me that in my sixth year, I’d move all of my things up the hall to take the reins as our school’s librarian, I would have laughed in your face… and maybe throat-punched you (playfully, of course).  

When I started telling people about the job switch, they were surprised and often disappointed.  “But you were such a great teacher!” many would exclaim, “Why would you give up the classroom to become a… librarian?”  The way they would pronounce my new job title made it feel poisonous.  I grew weary with talking about my career switch because the majority of people just couldn’t seem to understand why my new job was amazing.

After five months of experience nestled securely under my belt, a dear friend asked, “So tell me… what is your Top Five List of how this job is even more perfect for you than teaching?”  I felt conversationally refreshed!  So much so, that I want to document those things for you all too:

  1. I have time for problem solving.

One thing I loved about teaching is that I came across a lot of problems that beg for solving.  Kids don’t read enough.  Instruction isn’t as engaging as I’d like.  Hands-on learners feel neglected.  Medical, Medical (Read Lauren Graham’s new book to understand that).  One thing I hated about teaching is that I never felt like I had the time to devote to solving these problems.  Instead, I would learn just enough to patch the gaping hole and hope for triage.  Now, part of my job is to work at actively problem solving these issues with my amazing colleagues.  

  1. I have become the book go-to.

I was an English teacher, so naturally I loved reading.  But things are different when you’re an English teacher.  I had to pretend to like a lot of classic literature to save face… and people rarely dropped by my classroom to ask which Jane Austen book I thought they should read next (none… oh gosh, none). Now, though, students, colleagues, parents, administrators.. You name it… they all stop by and want to talk to me about books!  They ask for new recommendations, they talk about books they are currently reading, they ask to borrow books I buy.  It’s a dream-come-true for a book lover!

  1. I have so many students!

I am a raging extrovert, so most people laughed at first when they found out about my new job.  “You!?” they’d say surprisingly, “You are going to be in charge of shushing people!?”  Actually, no.  The modern library isn’t as quiet as you’d think!  It’s a collaborative space filled with critical thinking.  It’s a hang out.

 And that means I get to know so many more students than I did in my classroom.  I’ll admit, reading the writing of students and seeing the same sets of students day in and day out helped me build deeper relationships more quickly, but I worked primarily with seniors–so they abandoned me in pursuit of the “real world” right after I’d get to know them.  Now, I’m working with all grades, all walks of life, all abilities, ALL OF THE STUDENTS.  I love that.

  1. I get to utilize my creativity.

Lesson planning demands creativity, yes.  But it also had a way of squashing it for me at the same time.  I am a naturally creative person, and I need outlets for my random, spur-of-the-moment whims that sometimes turn into greatness.  When I taught, some days the closest thing I could get to this would be when I’d randomly yell at my kids, “I can’t be in this room any more!  Follow me!  We’re relocating to the commons.”  Now I have flexibility to chase the rabbit trails of my mind.  Sometimes that results in gift-wrapping books and increasing circulation.  Sometimes that results in humorous videos to promote specific titles.  Sometimes that looks like think tank sessions with students.  I am thankful that my new position cultivates this trait in me.

  1.  I still get to teach.

I teach one section of a course called Reading Cafe.  It is an elective for readers or students who desire to become self-proclaimed readers.  We drink coffee.  We read books.  We talk about books.  We attempt to spread the love of books.  It is a beautiful class, and it satisfies my desire to lesson plan and address an entire room of faces all at once.  Couple this course with the countless one-on-one conferences I have with students who use the library as a work-space and me as their critic, and my need to teach is satisfied.  I’m not just a librarian, and I don’t know that I’d want to be.  I think I will always be a teacher first.  But when I taught, I went home feeling drained most days.  I see now that the weariness was a direct result of the constraints of the job (standards, testing, time crunches, curriculum) limiting what I loved about the job (creativity, reading, dialogue with students, problem solving).
I would have never guessed Teacher-Librarian was my dream job.

No More Rose-olutions

I’m a romantic at heart, which explains my love of literature and Sandra Bullock.  However, my rose-colored glasses don’t only cause me to swoon at a well-crafted cheese-fest story, they also push me to create unrealistic vision for my life.  

House-hunting forced me to acknowledge this trait in myself.  I could impressively bypass a ldownloadarge hole in a wall and ignore sagging floors while I spoke about the holiday parties I would host and where the Christmas tree would find its home.  My expectations have a natural bent toward the unrealistic, and I’ve learned to take this into major consideration around this time as people broadcast their personal goals and aspirations for a new year.

If I’m not careful, I’ll make a list of rose-colored goals… Rose-olutions, if you will.

  1. Stop eating out… forever.
  2. Exercise every day in 2017.
  3. Star in a cover band.
  4. Read 1.2 billion books.
  5. Date Milo Ventimiglia… but as his 70s version of Jack in This Is Us.
  6. Become friends with Lauren Graham and go on one coffee date a week.
  7. Learn to sew.
  8. Sew toys for underprivileged kids in other countries.

See… it just gets out of hand.

So two years ago, I decided to focus on just one resolution that put to practice characteristics I want to grow in myself.  I wanted the goal to be a challenge, though not impossible, and I wanted it to have room for failure from which I could recover and grow (not abandon resolve altogether).

In 2014, I took a picture each day of something I was grateful for.  I wanted to instill a practice of sustained gratitude, even on bad days.  I can look through the album from that year and recall days that were hard, but all I see with my eyes are 365 blessings.  Forcing myself to seek out moments to photograph changed my perception.  I don’t have to take a picture every day to hunt for goodness in the day now.

In 2015, I wanted to read 50 books.  I love reading because it forces me to slow down and learn about other people, ideas, experiences, etc.  Before last year, though, I was averaging about 10 books a year.  I knew this was because I wasn’t reading outside of my comfort zones, and I wanted to live a life that broke through those once in awhile.  Now reading is embedded into my habits, and I don’t have to create a numbered goal this year–I know I’ll read more than 50.

This year, after watching an interview with Simon Sinek, I realized that I wanted to work on slowing down with relationships.  I am often selfish with my friends and family and am not always the greatest listener.  As a raging extrovert, I am guilty of being with amazing people but pondering the others whom I could
also be in contact with via text and media.  How do I push myself to value others and disconnect a bit?

Old fashioned letter writing.

This year, I’m aiming to write and mail a letter each week.  I want to slow down enough to invest time in penning my thoughts, addressing an envelope, and potentially never receiving a response.  

I don’t know what the outcome of this endeavor will be, but I hope to value others more genuinely and selflessly by the end of 2017.

So I challenge you to reorient your resolution-making practice this year.  Instead of casting your net wide and coming up empty-handed in a week or so when the results aren’t like you thought they’d be, or chocolate cake looks too darn good–well, I challenge you to zoom in on one characteristic you’d like to see in yourself and wring it out for all its worth.  Build a resolution around it.  Don’t just say, “I want to take risks.”  Make a resolution that will push you to practice.  Use the resolution as training wheels for this trait, knowing that on December 31, 2017, you’ll ride off into the new year without even knowing Mom and Dad are no longer holding the back of your seat.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

I’ll admit, I bypassed this novel multiple times due to the title.  I’m not fond of reptiles, especially those of the serpent variety, so reading a book about the king of such repulsive creatures really didn’t appeal.  However, I saw Jeff Zentner’s name appearing on so many “Best of” lists for 2016 that I shoved it in my bag as I fled the high school scene for Christmas break.

Guys, it’s not about snakes!  It’s about people.  Beautiful people.

Sure, there was the element of snake-handling File_000 (12).jpegin Dill’s father’s cult-like church, and Dill’s grandfather didn’t win any points with me by attaching snake skins to his clothes–but I was willing to overlook those reptilian elements.  And I’m glad I did, because this book was brilliant!

Zentner has a way of crafting believable, compelling characters, and I would say the appeal of this book is found in them more than the plot.  A fashionista teen blogger, a son of an imprisoned pastor, and a brave outcast seeking escape in fantasy novels all come together in one fascinating look at the unique difficulties southern small town life brings.  This book was not a page-turner for me, in terms of plot twists and action; instead, these three seniors in high school and their intertwining stories kept bringing me back to the book like new friends I wanted to know better.  Zentner pushes readers to think about a plethora of deep issues as he advances the plot, but not in a way that overwhelms. Instead, the reader is empowered to tackle the heavy with hope.

Superlative Size-Up

Best End-of-Chapter Sentences
Some authors leave each chapter ending with a cliffhanger, almost manipulating readers into continuing.  Jeff Zentner, a songwriter, left me sighing at the end of each chapter by ending with beautifully crafted sentences that allowed me to know characters better.  I haven’t really encountered this style before, and I loved it!  Here are just a few of my favorites:

Times are simpler when no one hates you because of your name and it doesn’t occur to you to be ashamed of it.

Nothing makes you feel more naked than someone identifying a desire you never knew you possessed.

She wore the sunset as a flaming crown.  Young and beautiful and luminous and alive, keeping the darkness at bay if only for that brief moment.

Character I’d Most Likely Take out for Coffee
Lydia Blankenship is a teenager who writes a wildly successful fashion blog called Dollywould.  As in Dolly Parton!  She is well-versed in sarcasm but is generous and kind.  She is unafraid to own her cutting-edge style, though it makes her a bit of an outcast in her rural town.  She interviews famous musicians and takes weekend shopping trips to Nashville.  She’s everything I wished I was as a teenager… and maybe I’m still a bit jealous of her as a grown adult.  

Buy The Serpent King Here!  If you’ve read it, what did you most admire about Zentner’s debut?  Comment and keep the conversation going!

Read on!


Escape from the Comfort Zone

As a high school librarian and previous English teacher, one of the most pressing and difficult tasks was as follows: breaking students out of their reading comfort zones.  This problem is not young-adult specific; adults struggle with reading ruts, too.  However, it is hard to see a library filled with fantastic options and students who won’t give great recommendations the time of day.  So how do we tackle this problem?  Personalization!  We all crave being known, so here are three personalization strategies I have seen work within my own library to break down barriers of reading comfort zones:

1.Hire Book Scouts
Observe the tendencies, interests, and goals of readers and find books that bridge the gap into other genres/topics.  Approach students with an empowering task: book scouting.  I frequently ask individual students to read books that I have not read but feel would act as comfort zone bridges for their interests.  If they agree to act as a book scout, I ask them to report back to me and tell me their thoughts.  Not only does this empower readers by giving them a sense of responsibility to the library, it also empowers them to know they can tackle unknown reads.  It also helps me learn the collection better!

2. Create Hidden-Cover Displays
Though we all have heard the cliche a thousand times, most of us are guilty of judging books by cover… or genrefication sticker… or author… or title font.  Often, we bypass books that we might have loved simply because they do not catch our attention.  However, if we can have a vested interest in a book before seeing its cover, we are more inclined to commit to trying something new.  So I wrap the books.  For Christmas, we gift wrapped books with Christmas tags like “To: A boy craving adventure” or “To: Someone who loves a plot twist.”  The catch? Students must check them out before they are allowed to unwrap.  Their personal investment increases the likelihood of them actually diving into the book they would have otherwise not picked up.

3. Use the Power of Recommendation
This Christmas, we put up a tree filled with blank ornaments and encouraged students and teachers to write a description of what they’re looking for in a book.  Once an ornament was filled out, any passerby was invited to sponsor a book check-out.  Example: one ornament read “I’m looking for a book series I will want to binge read.”  A student passed it and said, “I know one I couldn’t put down!  Give her these three!’  We then checked out that book series, and delivered it with a personal note to the ornament owner.  When things are personalized and handed to you, it is hard to not at least give them a try.  This ornament owner may not be a frequent visitor of the fantasy section like her book sponsor was, but she will be more likely to try the series due to the personal connection.