Teachers Write 6.30.16 Thursday Quick Write with Liz Garton Scanlon

Good morning, campers! It’s Thursday Quick-Write day, and Liz Garton Scanlon is your fabulous guest author. She’s written picture books like ALL THE WORLD and IN THE CANYON as well as the middle grade novel THE GREAT GOOD SUMMER, and today, she’s here to talk metaphors.

Saying More with Metaphors:

Using the Element of Surprise to Say Big Things

Metaphors and similes are such fun, accessible poetic devices to teach, and to use! And not just in poems, either. Literary comparisons allow writers of all stripes to crystallize images and drive home points, to make things even truer and more deeply understood than they previously were. Pretty powerful, huh?

Unfortunately, guess what else they’re good at? Becoming clichéd. Struck me like a bolt of lightning… you’re cute as a button… she’s an angel… I’m blind as a bat! It seems a shame to offer students this handy tool and, at the same time, walk them straight toward a significant pitfall!

The writing exercise offers writers a way to create fresh and wild metaphors, have a few laughs and, sometimes, discover new truths along the way.

Your assignment:

1. Brainstorm a list of emotional or physical states (jealousy, joy, fear, hunger, anger, excitement, worry, confidence, sadness, etc.) Put each word on a little slip of paper and have everyone in the group pick one. (If it’s just you, give yourself a nice choice of words or, better yet, have someone write them for you.)

2. Now, brainstorm a list of both natural and manmade objects (pillow, rock, waterfall, TV, table, blender, forest fire, river, puddle, book, bar of soap, etc.) Put each word on a little slip of paper and have everyone in the group pick one.

3. Each writer sets up their forced simile at the top of his or her page: Sadness is like a forest fire, jealousy is like a rock, worry is like a blender….

4. Now, take a few moments to make this TRUE. At first, many writers will say, “Nope. Impossible. Mine don’t go together.” But I like to compare this process to making a Venn diagram. The things you’re comparing don’t have to be identical – they just need to overlap a tiny bit! So, simply ask yourself, “What details do these things have in common?” That’s what will make this true! 


5. For example: Jealousy is like a rock. They’re both really hard things. They’re heavy so they’re hard to move out of the way. Some people think they’re ugly. OR: Worry is like a blender. It just goes round and round and round and chops up perfectly good ideas and good days.

6. After doing one round, mix up the papers and try it again. Before long you’ve revealed the endless opportunities for fresh and surprising and meaningful metaphors. Enjoy! And feel free to share one of your newly discovered metaphors in the comments if you’d like!

Teachers Write 6.29.16 – It’s Q & A Wednesday!

Got questions about writing?  Wednesday is Q and A Day at Teachers Write Virtual Summer Writing Camp, and we’ll have some great guest authors answering. Today’s official author guests are Jody Feldman and Sarah Albee (so this is an especially great day for questions that relate to nonfiction and informational writing!) but other authors always pop in as well, so ask away! You never know who might show up.

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Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  It’s fine to ask a general question or to direct one directly to a specific guest author. Our published author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can.

Guest authors – Even if today isn’t a day you specifically signed up to help out, feel free to answer any questions you’d like to talk about.  Just reply directly to the comment.

Note from Kate: I’ll try to be here for Q and A most Wednesdays, too. Please be patient with me if you’re a first-time commenter – it may take a little while for me to approve your comment so it appears.

Got questions? Fire away!

Teachers Write 6.28.16 Tuesday Quick-Write with Anne Marie Pace

Tuesday and Thursday are Quick-Write days at Teachers Write, so our guest authors will be coming by with some writing prompts to try out. Do as much or as little as you’d like with each mini-assignment, and feel free to bookmark those you’d like to use with students later on. Teachers Write posts don’t go anywhere after the summer ends. They’re always here for you to use and share with student writers. 

Ranger in Time -- Race to the South PoleBefore we start today’s quick-write, I’m going to toss around a little virtual confetti because today is release day for RANGER IN TIME: RACE TO THE SOUTH POLE! This is the fourth title in my Scholastic chapter book series about a time traveling search and rescue dog.

Ranger, the time-traveling golden retriever with search-and-rescue training, joins an early twentieth-century expedition journeying from New Zealand to Antarctica. He befriends Jack Nin, the stowaway turned cabin boy of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ship. They’re racing against a rival explorer to reach the South Pole, but with unstable ice, killer whales, and raging blizzards, the journey turns into a race against time… and a struggle to stay alive. 

I’d love it if you’d share this one with your students and help spread the word on social media today, too. Thanks! 


Now…on to your Tuesday Quick-Write! 

Our guest author today is Anne Marie Pace, who writes picture books for kids, including VAMPIRINA BALLERINA, which is in production as an animated series with Disney, and its sequel, VAMPIRINA BALLERINA HOSTS A SLEEPOVER. She’s with us today to talk about generating ideas.

100 Steps 

by Anne Marie Pace

Yesterday, Kate talked to you about having a writer’s notebook.  Today, I’m going to give you something to put in it.

I came up with the 100 Steps exercise for my picture book writing classes for adults to generate picture book ideas, but it’s very adaptable.

The idea behind 100 Steps is that every step you take puts you in a different spot than the one you were in before you took that step, and every different spot gives you a different perspective.  If you want to get technical, yes, I agree that whether I walk 99 or 101 steps south down the street I live on, I can still see Kristin’s car and that strange mailbox with the smashed-in side and the house where the lady with the corgi lives.  But at another level, at some point as you move towards something and away from others, something new comes into view and something else vanishes.  A tree seems taller or shorter. A house that seems grand at a distance suddenly comes into focus and seems more run-down when you see the unpainted siding or the cracked window that you couldn’t see from farther away.  You see the trail of ants but not their destination—and then suddenly you can see the anthill.


Your Assignment: Take your journal or notebook and your favorite writing implement (mine are Uniball Vision Elite BLX roller ball pens, but I digress).  Now walk 100 steps, preferably in a direction you don’t usually walk.  Take a side street or walk into your neighbor’s yard (assuming your neighbor is a friendly person who doesn’t own a vicious dog).  Remember — 100 steps, not 99 or 101.  

Stop.  (Obviously you can’t stop in the middle of a busy intersection, but try to plan your path so that you don’t have to.)

Observe.   What do you see? What do you hear?  What do you smell?  What random thoughts occur to you?

Take notes.  Jot everything down as fast as you can. Don’t think too hard—just take notes.  In ten minutes, you can probably fill a page or two with words and ideas.

Now find a comfortable place to sit.  Reread the notes you’ve taken and see what connections you draw between your various observations. You can even mark up the page if you like—maybe drawing circles around everything to do with nature and rectangles around man-made things, or making triangles around sights and ovals around sounds, or using dotted lines to connect all the notes you made about trains. 

Finally, pick one of the connections you’ve made and use that connection as a starting point for some writing.  I don’t know what you’ll want to write.  Maybe you’ll do a focused free-write on your connection. Maybe you’ll write a dialogue. Maybe you’ll start an essay or a poem or a picture book or a bit of description.

It doesn’t matter as long as it works for you. Feel free to share a snippet of your writing in the comments today if you’d like!

Teachers Write 6.27.16 Mini-Lesson Monday: What’s in Your Notebook?

Hi there! Happy Summer! And welcome to writing camp!

Teachers Write is a free virtual summer writing camp for teachers and librarians. Please click here to sign up if you’d like to join us and haven’t already registered. If you’re on Facebook & want to also join our group there – here’s the link. Then click “Join Group.” 

A quick note about blogging your Teachers Write experience: There will be daily opportunities for you to share and interact with one another in the comments section of each post. Often, our guest authors will stop by to be part of the conversation, too (though not always – some will be on deadline or traveling for book tours or research).  In addition to commenting, it’s great if you also want to set up a blog where you share all of your writing from this summer. One important request: Our guest authors have given permission for their lessons & prompts to be shared on the Teachers Write blog only. Please do not copy and paste any mini-lessons or writing prompts – publish only your own writing on your blog. If you’d like to reference the ideas shared here, providing a link is the best way to do that. Thanks!

Four quick things before we get started…

1. Teachers Write is an online summer writing camp with published author-mentors who donate their time to work with us. It’s free. There’s no charge to participate, but we do have a request. Kate, Jo, and Gae all have new books out or coming out this summer. Much of the time we’d normally spend on book promotion is going into Teachers Write instead, so we’d love it if you’d order or pre-order these: Kate’s THE SEVENTH WISH, Gae’s THE MEMORY OF THINGS, and Jo’s STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS.

The Seventh Wishmemorystillawork

That’ll run you about $45 total – which is the cheapest professional development around (and you get to keep the books!) We also ask that everyone try to buy at least one book written by one of our daily guest authors.  We don’t check on this – it’s all honor system – but if you can, we’d truly appreciate it if you’d support our books in this way. If you truly can’t swing the expense right now, we’d still love for you to participate and would ask that you support our books in other ways – by requesting them at your local library, borrowing them, and writing online reviews. Thanks!

2. Our weekly schedule will look like this:

Monday Mini-lesson, and a Monday Morning Warm-Up on Jo’s blog
Tuesday Quick-Write
Wednesday is Q and A day – authors will be here to answer your questions! We’ll have some other Wednesday features, too.
Thursday Quick-Write
Friday Feedback on Gae’s blog, and some great Friday features here, too.
Weekend free-for-all – Saturday & Sunday will feature great essays, writing prompts, and reflections from guest authors. They may or may not have an assignment attached, but you won’t want to miss them!
Sunday Check-In on Jen Vincent’s blog – a chance to check in with everyone, reflect on the week, and share encouragement.

3. I’ll be popping in to comment, and I know many of our guest authors will, too, but since this community has grown so much (we’re more than 2500 teacher-writers strong now!) you’ll also need to commit to supporting one another. When someone decides to be brave and share a bit of writing in the comments, or when someone asks for advice or feedback, please know that you are welcome (and encouraged!) to be mentors to one another as well. Watching this writing community grow is one of the best things about being part of Teachers Write.

4. The first time you comment, I will have to “approve” your comment before it appears. This is to prevent us all from being besieged by unpleasant rogue comments. So when you comment, it will not show up right away – sometimes, it may be later in the day when your comment appears. THIS IS OKAY. Please don’t post more than once. I’ll be on book tour or traveling for research much of June & July but promise to check in whenever I get wherever I’m going each night. Be patient with  me, okay? 🙂 

Now…let’s get started!

What’s in Your Notebook?

We talk a lot about writer’s notebooks with students, but sometimes, we don’t know quite what to tell them. What is a writer’s notebook anyway? What are you supposed to put in there? Sometimes, when kids struggle with this question, our first impulse is to give directions – assignments, even. And while it’s fine to provide “starter ideas,” a truly writer’s notebook should be more organic than that.

Writer’s notebooks are as unique as the people who own them, and there’s no one right way to use one. This can be an uncomfortable notion for writers of all ages who like to get things right. But with a little encouragement, a writer’s notebook really can become a great tool for experimenting, finding voice, collecting ideas, reflecting on one’s work, and a million other things. 


I have two notebooks with me as I write this blog post at Starbucks. Let’s take a look inside…

Here’s a page where I scribbled when I was out to dinner with a bunch of teachers & librarians in Dublin, Ohio and someone showed me a photo of a party her kid sent from college. Someone had blown up a large inflatable pool in the dorm room and filled it with water. I have no idea if I’ll ever use this in a book in any way, but I loved it and wanted to save it.


I often take research notes in my writer’s notebooks and then use other pages to organize. Here’s a timeline I made to help me organize historical details for RANGER IN TIME: ESCAPE FROM THE GREAT EARTHQUAKE, which comes out in June ’17. 


Sometimes I write questions at the top of a page in my notebook, so I can go back and scribble answers when I have the chance to interview an expert. Here’s one of those pages…


I keep a running list of ideas for future Ranger in Time books.

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Antarctic exploration is somewhere on that list, and that was the spark for the newest Ranger in Time book, RACE TO THE SOUTH POLE, which is about a Maori-Chinese boy who stows away on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova, as the crew tries to be the first to reach the South Pole. It comes out tomorrow!! (6/28)

Ranger in Time -- Race to the South Pole

Sometimes, I don’t know quite why I’m adding something to my notebook, but it simply seems worth exploring. One day, I was checking on a historical quote that I wanted to use, only to find that it was misattributed to that person who supposedly said it. This happens a lot, and it got me wondering who else’s famous quotes aren’t real quotes. So I made a list. I think this relates to a character in my novel in progress, but I’m not sure yet…


I wrote this on an airplane while I was talking with my friend Linda Urban about my work-in-progress. We were brainstorming this one character, and I was lamenting how overwhelming and big this novel felt. Linda said, “It is big, but you will find all the footholds.” I knew I’d need to remember that later, so I wrote it down along with my other notes.


Want to see what some other writers do in their notebooks?

From Erin Dionne: “A research list of the strongest natural, man-made, and imaginary metals. (The 15/30 was keeping track of how many days in a row I was working on preparing for this manuscript)”


From Deborah Underwood: “Page where I quickly captured an idea for the upcoming HERE COMES TEACHER CAT. (Most of my notebooks are filled with illegible scribbles and idea snippets; this is uncommonly readable!)”


From Donalyn Miller: “Notes on our family reading autobiographies.”


From Katie Carroll: “A very messy list of events that need to occur in my WIP and brainstorming some other things (generally bad stuff) that could happen along the way.”


From Stacy McAnulty: “Using my journal/notebook to work out plot revisions on a rough draft of a MG novel.”


From Jo Knowles: “From a pop-up workshop I attended this winter. My notebook is filled with these sorts of exercises, as well as notes from workshops I attend. I also use it to jot down notes and ideas for a WIP, or ideas for new stories.”


From Kara LaReau: “Diagram of train compartments copied from Murder on the Orient Express, with my characters’ names penciled in.”


From Kimberly Pauley: “This page is a character sketch.”


From Kari Anne Holt: “This is a very, very first draft of a poem from HOUSE ARREST. I wrote a lot of it longhand in spiral notebooks, because it felt easier (and more satisfying) to revise this way.”


From Melanie Conklin: “This is a page from inside the notebook for Counting Thyme. I make a mess, but you can pick out lines that are still in the book here.”


And finally, from Madelyn Rosenberg: “I tend to let my writing notebooks double as scrapbooks. Here’s a page from a notebook from the 1990s, when the eyebrows fell off of my Winnie-the-Pooh.”


You get the idea, right? You understand the writer’s notebook rules now? There are none.

Sometimes that can be scary, especially for those of us who like to know which hoops we’re supposed to jump through to do things the right way. But try to embrace the idea of your notebook as a place to play this summer. A place to explore ideas and collect things. Remember when you were a kid and you came home with a pocket full of rocks and twigs and crickets? Treat it like that.

Your Assignment: Finish this beginning. “This summer in my notebook, I want to…” 

Or don’t. You can write something else instead, if you’d like. Because that’s how notebooks work.

In the comments today, feel free to share a snippet of what you wrote, but please also write a few lines introducing yourself.  Let’s get to know one another – we’re going to be writing together for six weeks, starting right now!

Remember Who We Serve: Finding solutions, moving forward, and some food for thought

The Seventh WishI’ve been having an open conversation with an elementary librarian who emailed the week THE SEVENTH WISH came out to let me know that she had placed the book on her order list but removed it when she found out what it was about.

THE SEVENTH WISH earned a starred review from Kirkus, which called it “Hopeful, empathetic, and unusually enlightening.” The book is about lots of things – Irish dancing, ice fishing, magic, entomophagy, flour babies, and friendship. It’s also about the shattering effect our country’s opioid epidemic has on families.

 In response to that librarian’s original email, I wrote a blog post called “Remember Who We Serve: Some Thoughts on Book Selection and Omission,” which you can read here.  We’ve been talking back and forth since then via email and have shared much of our conversation at the link above. We have fundamental disagreements about what kinds of books belong in an elementary school library, but we’ve been voicing those respectfully, listening to one another, and trying to see if we might find some common ground. Along those lines, I asked for help from other K-5 librarians who do manage to offer a more diverse selection of books. How do they meet the needs of older readers and provide access to books that kids need without facing challenges from the parents of younger readers?

Many agree that the answer lies in education – explaining to parents that a library serves a wide range of readers, and while every parent has a right to guide their own children’s reading, none have the right to make those decisions for anyone else’s child. Teaching children how to select books for themselves is also key – advising them about how to choose an appropriate book and how to bring that book back if it turns out not to be the “just right” book they hoped it might be, so that they can choose something else.  Here’s a sampling of responses from teachers and librarians:


I have a letter that parents sign explaining that I am an avid reader and have a large and diverse classroom library. I suggest that they talk with their student often about what books they are reading. I don’t view it as a permission slip, more as an acknowledgment of awareness. 

-Kathryn Hoffman-Thompson


 I teach 6th grade. I simply say at Open House that the school library and my personal library contain a great many topics and reading levels, including mature or controversial topics. Please monitor your child’s reading choices and have discussions about topics that may concern you. I’ve never had a problem with this policy (so far).

-Nora Hill MacFarlane

(Note from Kate: I did something very similar to this when I taught middle school, and you can find that letter to parents here. Feel free to use it and adapt it to meet your needs.)


My grade 5 /6 library had some materials that were appropriate for students in grades 3-5 and some materials were appropriate for 6-8. I took great pains to let students know they had the right to read anything I had in our library, but that they should also consider what their families would allow them to read as well. 

Kathy Durham Aurigemma


I’ve had one parent question (about ROLLER GIRL). I was honest and said there are many things that their child will see and read after their time with me. They accepted my answer and I said that children have a natural inclination to self-censor themselves (which their 3rd grader did when she decided the book was too old for her. We then worked to find the right book for her 🙂

Your new book (The Seventh Wish) is on my shelf. And I have had two 4th graders reach for it. Neither had a complaint. One read it. The other self-censored and didn’t. She simply said with empathy, “I started to read it but my life isn’t the same so I’m bringing it back.” And that was it.

Lisa Berner


I teach a 4/5 blend with a reading range of 1st/2nd grade up to high school. At the beginning of the year, when I’m introducing the classroom library of over 1000 books and how to take care of it, we spend a fair amount of time talking about the whole “different rules at different houses” thing. I tell many personal stories in the classroom as both a way to teach and a way to connect with my students. 

During these talks and the library introduction, we discuss how to take care of books and what to do if students come across a book they think is a problem for any reason. I am up front with students and their families that there are books in the library that have words in them not all parents/families might want their kids reading. I share my expectation that, if they are offended or upset by anything they read in a book, or if an adult at home is concerned about content or language, they can come talk to me privately or email or call me and voice their concerns – no hard feelings, no harm, no foul. 

In the last five years, I have had a total of (maybe) five conversations about the reading material. The first was Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick. Most recently, a graphic novel about MLK that I didn’t preview and which contained some harsh language that was historically accurate, but wouldn’t be okay with many families. In this case, I was impressed with the way the family addressed it. They felt it was a non-issue BECAUSE it was historically accurate. 

I do also keep a shelf of “Mr. Kline’s Books,” which just require students to check out those books with me directly. These are books that are sometimes controversial at this level (The Hunger Games trilogy) and others that are meaningful in one way or another (autographed books, personal favorites that are hard-to-find, mentor texts that I use regularly).

Ultimately, I think it comes down to communication with both the students and their families. In K-1, the student connection may not be as easy to build, while kids learn more about what pushes the boundaries at home. However, open communication with home, perhaps even a survey asking if there is any specific material or content they would object to, would be a great way to start out the year.

Jason Kline


Jason’s thought about “material or content parents would object” to is a great one to lead us into the next part of the conversation. Should some books in an elementary school library have access that is limited to only certain grades? In certain cases – having a YA title like The Hunger Games available to 5th graders but not 2nd graders, for example – this seems to work well for some libraries. I know that when I taught 7th grade I carried a handful of books recommended for ages 14+, including Ellen Hopkins’ YA novels-in-verse, along with my professional books. Kids knew they were there and available, but when someone asked to check them out, I’d make sure the student knew that the books were meant for teen readers and dealt very frankly with difficult issues, and I’d ask the student two questions. First, “Does this sound like a book you’d like to read?” If the answer was yes, I’d ask, “Will your parents be okay with you reading it?” If the student said, yes, the book got signed out. If they said no or hesitated, I’d offer to send an email home to find out more. It worked out well. Those books were never challenged in my classroom library.

Here are some other educator’s thoughts on having a separate shelf for more mature readers:

 I kept a mature shelf in my classroom for my middle schoolers who were reading edgier YA. I also talked with parents about our library collection and the importance of access during parent meetings and conferences. If a book was off-level, I made sure to read it, so I could talk to students who were reading it and explain to questioning parents why the book was valuable.

Donalyn Miller


I have a mature readers sticker on books with heavier content that are recommended for 5th graders only. I’m thinking of some of the Holocaust and WW2 themed books including The Boy in the Wooden Box and Ashes by Kathryn Laskey. Crazy Lady by Jane Conley is another book with that sticker.  There aren’t many books that have these stickers, but they are a visible reminder for teachers and library staff to talk with the students before check out to make sure they are aware of the topic. It is especially helpful when we have high level readers in lower grades who want longer novels, but they may not be quite ready for these more mature themes. Communication with families and the use of these stickers has worked well for our school.

Tracy Lynn Scaglione


I feel like the issue is very different for school librarians than it is for teachers with classroom libraries. School librarians have much bigger collections and have to serve a wider school population. We don’t have the opportunity to know all of our parents, and we often have assistants and volunteers that check books out to kids and who might not always know if a book is appropriate for a certain age level when a kid comes up to the circulation desk. On the other hand, we have professional training in collection development and are (hopefully) protected by the school district’s collection development policy. In general, I think kids do self-censor themselves and tend to avoid books that they aren’t ready for, or turn them in once they figure it out. My biggest problem is usually 2-3 graders who have seen a movie like Hunger games and want the book. Also, it tends to be a thing with some 1-2 graders that they just want to check out the biggest book they can find! 😊I have a K-6 library and when I inherited it 4 yrs ago, I didn’t have Hunger Games, Maze Runner, or Divergent. These are really books most appropriate for middle schoolers and above, but I knew my 5-6 graders would want to read them. I created a 5-6 grade shelf for just a few books like that so I could have them In my collection. Mostly my criteria for those is just age appropriateness (sexual themes or violence being the major criteria, not social themes). I also have a rotating collection of books from the middle school that I bring in for the 6th graders throughout the year. The biggest benefit is that it increases circulation of the books when I put them on the 5-6 grade shelf since they are considered more mature! Also, if a younger kid comes in with a note from home I will let them take a 5-6 grade shelf book.

Rebecca Sofferman


I have a mature section, as well. I generally cultivate relationships with both students and their families, so if I think that their parent may have an objection to the material, I have the student go home and ask permission. I have only had a few parents deny their student access to some of my books. Generally, it is a concern about Harry Potter (magic) or topics that are too graphic (violence-they are worried that their student will have nightmares). Parents know their kids better than I do, so I completely respect their right to parent however they deem appropriate, but I am always very clear that I do not censor the books in my classroom. I read them, I learn from them, I share them, but I don’t censor them. They know that from day 1.

Susan MacKay-Logue


I teach 5/6 ELA to gifted students. I have a basket behind my desk labeled “Restricted” (borrowed from Harry Potter.) Students can browse the basket at any time but must get a parent permission slip signed granting permission to read books in basket. Form states book has “mature content and/or language.” There are about a dozen books in this basket. They either contain mild sexual content or a lot of strong cuss words. Of course parents can call me to discuss content, but none of them have. I just finished The Seventh Wish. Looking forward to sharing with my students. Might use as read aloud with my 6th graders. It will not go in restricted basket, but will be available to all. 

Jennie Bergen Albrecht


Jennie brings up an important distinction between books recommended for older readers (The Hunger Games, etc.) and books written for upper elementary audiences, like THE SEVENTH WISH. My personal concern about having a “restricted” shelf that includes age-appropriate but potentially controversial books is that it can serve to marginalize the kids whose families are represented in those stories. Some of the books I’ve heard about being quietly censored (NOT by the people quoted above)  include Laurel Snyder’s PENNY DREADFUL, a wonderful, funny, magical story in which one character happens to have two moms; Alex Gino’s GEORGE, a gentle, age-appropriate story about a transgender fourth grader; and Alex London’s book in the 39 CLUES series, MISSION HINDENBURG, which includes a gay character.


I wondered how these authors would feel, knowing that some librarians chose to put their books on a shelf where only some readers had access, so I reached out to ask. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation, shared with everyone’s permission:

Laurel Snyder:

I think that this kind of categorization is problematic because it tends to be so inexact. Not unlike Lexile numbers, you’ll find that the “mature” books don’t appeal to the older readers in so many cases. Penny Dreadful is a prime example of this. Because there happens to be a lesbian couple in the book, it gets shelved for “older readers.” But it’s a soft summery book about a girl moving to a new town, and trying to make friends, while *maybe* believing in magic wishing wells. It’s so totally a good book for an advanced younger reader. NOT a book for the kid who has already read Hunger Games.

Alex London:

When the mere existence of LGBT characters in books that would otherwise be in a collection makes those books “controversial” the message that sends to a young person is that the existence of LGBT people is controversial. The message this sends is that their cousins or uncles or moms or dads or brothers or sisters merely existing is controversial, or that their own existence, just as they are starting to realize it themselves, is controversial. And for an LGBT child, this message from an adult, from their school, is devastating. This is their community telling them they don’t deserve to exist, that at best, they should be kept away from normal people. That they are somehow wrong to even be. Shunning books where LGBT people exist from a community, shuns LGBT people from the community and this leads to bullying, this leads to suicide and to hate crimes. Saying these books do not belong says to LGBT children loud and clear that they do not belong. That isn’t library selection policy. That is child abuse. I repeat because I mean it and I did not misspeak: Homophobia, in word or deed or policy, is child abuse.

Laurel Snyder:

Yes, exactly. It’s NOT controversial. It’s like saying, “We’re going to put the books with Jews on the top shelf. Our families find Jews and Muslims confusing, and we prefer to leave it to parents to introduce those topics if they choose, so we’ll have a book ghetto on the top shelf here, and if kids want to read about Jews and Muslims, they can bring a letter from home.”

Alex London:

 I don’t think these librarians want to harm children but the signals they send when they make LGBT children “controversial” harms children in real and devastating ways.

Laurel Snyder:

Sex is sex. Not wanting SEX in the library is one thing. But not wanting to include a variety of family dynamics?

I get that they don’t want a third grader reading an adult book, maybe. Or a violent YA novel. This is why we suggest age ranges for books (though I don’t think they’re very imperfect). But to set apart an age-appropriate book… no. That bothers me.

Because there ARE gay kids in the school, and there ARE kids with gay parents in the school, and there ARE gay teachers in the school, and this is cruel to them.

Corey Ann Haydu:

My book (Rules for Stealing Stars) been challenged because of alcoholism, so I’ll speak to that since the voices speaking her on LGBTQIA challenges have been so excellent and made me think, too. With addiction books, I think there is a similar damage in placing them on shelves that are “other.” I want books that deal with addiction to be on the same shelves as books that deal with cancer. If a librarian wants ALL illness books in a separate area, It wouldn’t be my ideal, but it wouldn’t single out addiction as BAD, so I think I could live with that, if it’s the only way the book will be in the library at all. The work of recovery from addiction has so, so much to do with denial and shame, and that a library would add to that by singling out a book about that disease as different than any other disease is exactly why the issues are shame and denial and addiction are not getting solved still. I’m frustrated, and as the child of an alcoholic, personally hurt by adults who aren’t letting the thinking around addiction evolve. I really believe if we start treating addiction as a disease like cancer, and teaching that at a young age, we could see real change. If librarians are concerned with protecting children it is SO much safer to have a child feel they can speak up about their parent’s addiction and its effect on their lives. What’s not safe is kids struggling with HUGE issues as home being able to hide their truth and carry that burden all alone. Opening up conversation around things we find uncomfortable is how growth and acceptance happen. I would happily talk to any librarian about why a book with addiction should be shelved with all other books about illness.

Laurel Snyder:

This is so thoughtful. And makes so much sense. And really does highlight how much this isn’t an issue of what kids find scary, but what adults have decided kids should be protected from. Some kids are scared of snakes, but nobody would take out the snake books. Meanwhile, NO kid is scared of gay families. NONE. I’ve never met one. That’s just for parents.

Alex Gino:

It’s not my call whether she puts it on the shelf. It’s theirs. But I want them to know that I’m hurt and offended, and that more than that, they’re hurting their students. In the case of my book GEORGE, it’s a traditional middle grade story with no sex or violence. the only reason to withhold it is fear.

Laurel Snyder:

I once had a librarian tell me she didn’t share my books because she preferred to think that kids could experience divorce without it being painful. I think, even when topics ARE “painful” they should be available to everyone.

Alex Gino:

Kids who don’t have models for how to experience pain are less equipped for their own lives and then they can feel alone in it, ashamed of it. when of course pain is part of life.


I found this conversation to be an important one and think it’s worth thinking about what books, if any, we choose to share with only older readers in an elementary school library. In some cases where the book in question was truly written for older readers, it seems to me like a good solution. But in other cases, with books like THE SEVENTH WISH, GEORGE, 39 CLUES, RULES FOR STEALING STARS, and PENNY DREADFUL, it’s a little different. Those books are recommended for elementary readers by industry standard bearers like Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal. And in these cases, I think a librarian needs to take a hard look at why those books are being censored or restricted. In some situations, I fear, keeping those books from kids is directly feeding fear and bias. Many schools teach empathy, and that’s wonderful. But if you teach kids about treating all people with respect and fairness and kindness, and then fail to live that teaching in your own book selection policies, that’s problematic.

My only two truly significant book challenges in fifteen years of teaching middle school were to books about marginalized groups. One was the anthology AM I BLUE, which is a collection of stories about LGBT kids or kids with LGBT family members or friends. I’d shared Bruce Coville’s short story “Am I Blue,” which is wonderful, warm, funny story about a kid getting picked on because people think he might be gay. He’s not sure, and this story uses magical realism to take a gentle look at that process of questioning and at people’s biases. I loved it. The kids loved it. And a few wanted to check out the whole short story collection. One of the students who did that is a boy I thought might be asking those same questions about himself. His mother came in, furious that the book was included in my classroom library,  and I ended up in the principal’s office to defend it. The challenge ended the way most challenges did at my school. I told the parent,  “I’m sorry that your son brought home a book you felt was inappropriate. All you need to do is return it, and we’ll help him find something that you feel is more suitable.” The book stayed in my library, but I was so sad for that kid whose parents clearly disapproved of him even asking questions about who he might be. I so hoped he’d find other books to answer them. I should also add that the book in question was taken from my classroom library without being signed out, not long after that. I have no idea who took it, and I don’t care. Books disappear a lot in classroom libraries, and in my room, it happened most often to books with LGBT characters. I cheerfully replaced those books every time, knowing that they were in the hands of kids who needed them more than I needed the eight dollars it took to buy a new one.

My other book challenge was to the novel ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred Taylor, which is about racism in America during the Great Depression and won the Newbery Medal. A parent objected to me sharing this book aloud with my classes. I was confused. She came in for a conference so we could talk about it, but no matter how many questions I asked, I couldn’t understand her objections. Finally, as we both grew more frustrated, she said, “I don’t see why the kids should have to read about THOSE people.”

I was speechless for a moment. When I recovered, I said, “I feel like it’s important to share all kinds of stories with students because that’s how we learn and develop empathy for one another. It’s how we fight racism and other kinds of injustice. If you have further complaints about this book, you’ll need to share them with the administration along with the specific reasons for your objections.”  She opted not to pursue the book challenge.

This didn’t happen in the 1950s or 60s. It happened in the late 90s in Upstate New York. And it begs this question: if you’re willing to censor books about certain kinds of people because of community biases, are you willing to accommodate everyone’s objections to every book?  What happens when a parent objects to books with an LGBT character? What would happen if a parent objected to a book with characters who are black or Latino or Jewish or Muslim? I was attacked by a guy on Twitter a few years ago for recommending Hena Khan’s beautiful picture book GOLDEN DOMES AND SILVER LANTERNS: A MUSLIM BOOK OF COLORS. He was furious because I dared suggest that it was all right for children to read this lovely, gentle book about an Islamic family.

Discriminating against entire groups of people is never okay. Even when your particular community seems to find some kinds of discrimination more acceptable then others.

Someone else – and I can’t find the exact quote or source right now – made a comment on one of my posts this week that said, “Librarianship is not for the faint of heart.” I think that’s true. But there are many, many resources available to help librarian and teachers who wish to provide kids with access to books. Austin Dacey from the National Coalition Against Censorship provided me with these resources to share:

American Library Association guidelines, which encompass selection of classroom and library materials: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/challengedmaterials/preparation/workbook-selection-policy-writing

The National Council of Teachers of English guidelines for selection in the context of English Language Arts programs

For more in-depth reading, the ALA Policy Manual:

Also relevant, ALA statement on “diversity in collection development”:

Many, many thanks to all who have been involved in this conversation. It’s an important one to have – and to keep having – to make sure we’re really serving all of the kids in our care and providing access to the books they want to read as well as the books they need in order to live.

An Important Conversation about Elementary Library Book Selection & Omission

The Seventh WishEarlier this week, I wrote a blog post called “Remember Who We Serve: Some Thoughts on Book Selection and Omission,” which you can read here. I explained that after I was disinvited from a school visit in Vermont last week, another librarian from a different state contacted me to let me know that she loved my books but had removed THE SEVENTH WISH from her library’s order list because of its content.

THE SEVENTH WISH earned a starred review from Kirkus, which called it “Hopeful, empathetic, and unusually enlightening.” The book is about lots of things – Irish dancing, ice fishing, magic, entomophagy, flour babies, and friendship. It’s also about the shattering effect our country’s opioid epidemic has on families.

That librarian who removed the book from her order list responded to my blog post with a comment that made it clear she was upset, so I emailed and asked if she’d be open to talking more about this issue. She said yes, and we had a great phone conversation this past Saturday. I learned that she does indeed see the other side of the argument as well, but she still thinks kids’ innocence should be preserved longer by limiting access to some topics. She’s also under pressure from parents in her community to limit the kinds of books in her library.  The bottom line is, she feels like she can’t give elementary students access to a book like THE SEVENTH WISH without risking her job.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can all do a better job supporting librarians and teachers who want to provide kids more access to books but are worried about pushback, so I proposed that this librarian and I start a conversation and invite others to participate in that discussion, too. She and I have profound disagreements about what kinds of books belong in a K-5 library, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to disagree respectfully, listen to one another, and try to brainstorm solutions. We’ve been doing that for a few days now, writing back and forth via email, with the understanding that she remain anonymous. She’s worried about repercussions from her school for speaking out, and about personal attacks due to her views. I’m honoring that wish so that we’re able to share that conversation with you. So as you read the conversation, know that K is me, and L is the librarian with whom I’ve been sharing ideas this week. It’s a long conversation, but I wanted to share it all in a single blog post so that people who read it aren’t just getting bits and pieces. Here’s what we’ve been talking about… 

K: First of all, thanks for agreeing to have this open conversation. I’m a little nervous but also excited to be talking openly about our disagreements about elementary libraries, book selection, and access for students. I know that many K-5 librarians carry a wide range of books that we might consider “older” titles, mostly appropriate for 4th and 5th graders, while others, like you, are a lot more cautious out of concern that a very young student might bring home a book that’s meant for the older elementary readers. I know that you haven’t read THE SEVENTH WISH just yet (and I’m still hoping that will make a difference) but I know from your earlier email that you removed it from your library’s book order list when you learned that one of its themes was the effect our country’s heroin epidemic has on families, especially younger siblings. Could you talk a little about your immediate reaction to learning that and why it made you re-think your book order, even though my other books are popular in your library? 

L:  Thank you Kate for starting this discussion. I think it’s important for people to read and respect both sides of the issue, and I am very open to hearing what other educators have to say. As a parent of young children, I admit I am having a lot of trouble separating my personal and professional opinion on this one.

As I was reading about The Seventh Wish I noticed that it is marketed as a middle grade book. Where I live, middle grade is 6th – 8th. I will be the first one to donate a copy to our middle school library, but where I keep getting stuck is pushing a middle grade book into an elementary school library. Ranger in Time was the best seller at our most recent book fair so that gives you an idea of where my students are as far as their reading level both academically and emotionally. 

During our discussion, you mentioned one of her fears was that not having your new book on the shelf would be the same as saying that the life of a child with addiction in their family is inappropriate. I completely disagree. I don’t feel that way in the slightest. My heart breaks for children struggling with addiction in any way but my feelings are simply leaning in favor of keeping our youngest students (without this struggle) from growing up too quickly. How do I get the book to students who need it while protecting other kids who might suffer from reading it?

I have been teaching for almost 20 years, and I have had the privilege of teaching different levels. This has been wonderful for me as an educator as I’ve been able to see all ages and levels and get a fairly decent idea of how children at all age ranges react to and handle a variety of topics. Something that has always amazed me is the huge difference between fourth grade and sixth grade. The changes within those two years are incredible. The growth and maturity that take place really turns them into totally different students. As their bodies change, so do their minds about the opposite sex. Girls are no longer icky and most of the boys grow taller than me! It’s really fun to watch them change and mature. It’s also much easier to have well thought out conversations about really important topics. I find that in fourth grade conversations about tough topics need to begin, but I personally feel like there needs to be a line. I can control my ten-year-old and I can control what happens in my house, but I can’t speak for every parent out there.

Let me start by describing that usually happens in the school library vs. the public library. When I take my son to the public library, I’ll bring him there to look around and when we go to check out, I look and see what books he’s bringing home before he starts to read them. When he gets a book from the school library, he usually starts reading it before I even see it. The same goes for where I work. Students get their books and most start reading it right way before class is even over. Most often,  a book with mature content doesn’t even make it past the eyes of their parents first, if at all.  Years ago I let an older student check out Twilight and I had a parent incredibly angry at me because she had told her daughter she didn’t want her to read it. How was I supposed to know? That was between her and her daughter but of course that led to a bigger discussion about having something like that on the shelf.

Also, let’s not forget that all it takes is one parent to get angry enough to get my job taken away. I don’t know that any book takes precedence over a career I love and a job I need. So that is one part of my fear here. Students are checking out books with mine being the only supervision, and I can’t possibly know every parents wishes and concerns. That’s why I try to have something that just about any child could pick up off the shelf and the content would be O.K.  Every once in a while a second-grader will sneak by me with a book where I think the reading level is too difficult but luckily the content is still benign. It is my ultimate responsibility to balance student wishes and parent concerns. 

One of the biggest concerns throughout our fourth and fifth grade population is extreme anxiety. Disorders such as panic attacks, anxiety and even depression are on the rise for our youngest students, and I feel like it’s only gotten worse as the years go on. These students represent a much greater population in my area than those affected by drug abuse. I don’t know if it’s more technology or more television or what, but so many of our students’ greatest problems revolve around constant worries. Having a fourth-grade child puts me in direct contact with many other fourth-grade moms and we have the same discussions over and over. Why are our children up at night crying and worrying about things matter how safe we try to keep them? They worry about getting in trouble, things on the news, something happening to their loved ones, not making the team, or someone being mean to them. My own son’s list of fears always amazes me. He was reading Stuart Gibbs’ Spaced Out the other day and had to stop because he got scared of a giant robot arm on the moon. I have friends whose kids can’t watch the Avengers because it’s too scary, and I also know several children who read The Hunger Games without their parents’ knowledge and cried with nightmares for several days. My closest friend had to stop buying I Survived books for her son because he became terrified that a natural disaster was going to hit at any minute. Who am I to say what will or won’t upset someone’s child? It’s a huge burden that I take very seriously. A fourth grader is very fragile and their minds are just starting to open to the scary things in the world. They don’t quite have the maturity to know how to process it and deal with it. Thankfully I don’t live in a community where young kids are put in dangerous situations on a daily basis.

I know there are many places where this is different and perhaps that would change my thoughts dramatically. Drugs are a very scary thing and 4th and 5th grade is the point they should absolutely start to learn the dangers and saying no, but this is where the conversation should just begin to start. Our D.A.R.E. program starts in 5th grade led by a team of educated officers armed with the training and resources to thoughtfully present material and answer questions. Parents should continue the conversation if they feel it is right for their child. I don’t think that most fourth-graders, at least in my community, are ready to hear about heroin addiction and overdose on their own through a fiction book without parent guidance.

Why add one more fear to his or her brain that isn’t there? For what purpose? Yesterday you spoke about a student learning empathy for a child who is going through drug addiction and their family. Of course that would be extremely important, but what if it’s not something that is happening in their life right now?  If there was an overdose death in the community that affected our children then I think The Seventh Wish should be pulled out immediately, and I’m thankful it’s there. I guess I keep getting stuck on the idea of putting a new fear in an already fear-filled brain. What age is O.K? 10, 9, 8 years old?   

Yesterday, after my discussion with you, I carefully opened this topic with my son. We’ve talked about drugs before and peer pressure and the dangers, but we haven’t delved into heavy specifics. We were driving to the store and he asked me why I have been on my computer so much. I told him about what was going on with your book, and we started to have a little bit of a conversation about the dangers of drugs. He said, “I know drugs are bad. I would never do that. I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to get home so I can play in the sprinkler with Max” (his brother). I wondered if maybe I should have him read this book but then I have to ask, why? He just wants to play in the sprinkler with his brother. He doesn’t know anyone addicted to drugs and that’s luckily not part of his life for now.  Why do I want to give him something to fear? I know the types is questions I will get- Why are people doing drugs? What is heroin? Where do you get it? What does it look like? How does somebody die? What happens to their bodies? Could I take drugs by accident? What if someone makes me do it?  I’d be fueling anxiety for weeks. One thing we have certainly learned about a 10-year-old is that when you tell them something and you think they’re fine, the minute they are alone their brains work it out over and over again and they think about it, they analyze it, and they pick it apart trying to understand it.

I also shared your blog with several of my friends, some elementary school teachers, and parents on the baseball field yesterday. They all vehemently agreed with me that while a book like that would be important, they would not want it in the elementary school library. Parents want to feel like they can send their child to school and they will come home with something safe. Again this is the predominant thought in my community, and I am well aware it would be different for other towns. I’m not a book burner, I’m not an extreme conservative and I don’t support banning books at appropriate age levels. If a child wants to read about heroin with their parent’s permission then that’s completely fine with me. If that’s what their family wants to discuss then they should buy all means do it, but when it is my responsibility to assure parents that what I have on my shelves will keep their 10-year-old as anxiety free as I can, then these are the kinds of decisions I need to make.

I’ve read some of the comments on the blog where people are crying censorship and that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe there are some liberal communities out there that totally embrace telling their children every possible bad thing that could happen to them in their life, but once that innocence bubble is popped they can never unlearn those things or remove those images. I want some more hours of sprinklers, mud pies, and running around with light sabers. I know that it is a privilege that my son can have that kind of life, and I am well aware that there are communities where children are desperate for a book about finding their way through family addiction. This book would be a tremendous comfort for them and their friends.  Ultimately I think it’s each librarian’s prerogative to look at the demographic and what their greatest community need might be.  I just don’t see it here. While I’m certain there are families dealing with drugs, I believe that to be a very small minority in my particular town compared to the children suffering from anxiety. The students of my district and my own kids will have access to this book for sure in sixth grade. Can’t we let the fourth and fifth graders be free just a little longer?

K: I appreciate your willingness to engage in this conversation so thoughtfully. I feel like I addressed my thoughts on a lot of this in my earlier blog post that prompted this conversation, “Remember Who We Serve: Thoughts on book selection and omission,” so I’ll link to that for anyone who hasn’t seen it and just add a few more thoughts and questions to our conversation here. 

I think there’s a vast difference between a middle grade novel like THE SEVENTH WISH, which industry reviews like Kirkus and SLJ recommend for grades four and up and a book intended for teens, like THE HUNGER GAMES. But the books we’re talking about are intended for upper elementary readers. Even though they tackle tough subject matter, they do it in an age appropriate way.

I understand your concerns about kids and anxiety but wonder how you handle other scary topics in your school library. 

Do you carry the I Survived books, for example, since they are intended for your age group but can be scary for kids who worry about natural disasters?

Do you have any sad novels that deal with the death of a parent or other loved one? What about books where a family member has heart disease or cancer? 

I’m also curious how your library deals with books on other topics that can be controversial in some communities. Alex Gino’s award winning middle grade novel GEORGE, for example, is left out of some school libraries because it’s about a transgender fourth grader. What did you decide about that title in your school? 

Mostly, I’m wondering where you think we should draw that line. Is it our job as librarians and educators to protect kids from any books and ideas that might upset them? It seems to me that if we removed every potentially anxiety provoking book from the library, we’d be left with a mighty small collection that neglected the needs of many readers. 

I found your reflection on the privilege of having a protected community to be a thoughtful one.  “I know that it is a privilege that my son can have that kind of life, and I am well aware that there are communities where children are desperate for a book about finding their way through family addiction.” I agree with you on this, but I’d bet that even in your safe-feeling community, there are kids struggling and wondering and looking for a sign that they’re not alone. Those may very well not be the kids whose parents you were able to talk with on the baseball field or in the faculty room. They’re also kids who can’t always get to a public library with a family member. When I taught middle school, I know that for most of my students – more than half – the only books they encountered were the books our school librarian and I put in their hands and recommended. 

And this question… “Can’t we let the fourth and fifth graders be free just a little longer?” For me…as a parent, the answer to this question is absolutely yes. But as librarians, as teachers, as educators charged with providing access to books for all the kids – not just our own – I feel like our responsibilities are different. How can we better balance those two concerns – respecting parents’ rights to choose books for their own kids and making sure all our students have access to the books they want to read and the books they need? 

L:   The funny thing about this debate is that I agree with so many of your points. How do we responsibly choose books that will educate our students and add to the quality of their lives? I wish I had a perfect answer. This is something I struggle with every year. I think when I was younger, before I had my own kids and when I was willing to take on the world, I would have allowed almost anything of value into my classroom. Now, after years of teaching experience, multiple parent conversations, and becoming a mom myself, I’m just more cautious. These days I think about the parents and kids I serve, follow my instincts (right or wrong), and try to choose books that will help more than harm. I weigh the potential backlash of each book and when a book’s topic is something that I am struggling with putting out there, then I know it’s not right for my library.

I wish I had a more formulaic approach that it being simply a feeling that I have. But you are right- who assigned me judge and jury? Why is my opinion right or wrong? You write about it being our responsibility as educators to expose them to a broad range of topics. I disagree. On my first day of my first education class, the professor had written “In Loco Parentis” on the board. It was the first thing he taught us wide-eyed newbies. This Latin term means “in place of the parents” and in my classroom I try my best to take on the responsibility of parents in their absence. Do I often take the “better safe than sorry” approach? You betcha- just like I hope my kids’ teachers do. Also when I taught middle school these decisions didn’t weigh on me as heavily as they do with the younger grades.

You are spot on that we can’t possible remove every book with anxiety inducing topics. Death, cancer, autism, and divorce are all issues in books I have on my shelves. My star reader actually came to me one day a few weeks ago and asked if I had anything that “wasn’t so sad.” Since she was an advanced student, I realized I had been recommending many challenging (and sad) books. I felt terrible and directed her to DORK DIARIES. This poor child hadn’t laughed at a book in weeks and it was bothering her. So where do I draw the line? I suppose I try to determine if the material goes further than the MAJORITY might be emotionally ready for.  Does that exclude some children who could really use the book? Probably, but to help a few do I sacrifice many? I SURVIVED is a high interest series that boys, especially my reluctant readers, flock to. I know there are some students who find these books scary, but I think a discussion about something that happened in history might be more easily handled than heroin addiction.  I just hope that a child who might be scared by the first one they read won’t keep coming back for more in the series. I also know that more students are O.K. with these books than not O.K. 

I had a feeling you would ask me about GEORGE. When my son asked me last year what it meant to be gay I told him all about people having the right to love whomever they want. I even told him about the Supreme Court’s decision and reiterated that our family loves everyone no matter what their sexual orientation might be. He was fine with it and ran off to jump on the trampoline. Should I have called him back and said, “Now I would love for you to read GEORGE.”? He was great with the baby steps into the conversation of homosexuality and I didn’t feel a need to expand or confuse him. As he gets older and has more questions, I’ll put that book in his hands, but not now. I also know that if that book was displayed in his library he would have picked it up solely because the cover is appealing and he thinks George is a funny name. I’m glad they don’t have it there. I’m not ready for him to know more and if I’m not ready, the parents I work for certainly aren’t ready. Last year when DRAMA by Raina Telgemeir was all the rage, I caught students huddling in the corner and snickering at the part in the book where the boys reveals he likes other boys. It was very innocent and not mean spirited, but it was also a clear indicator that they are not emotionally ready for something delving deeper into the topic.

So again it comes down to what I can do to get these books into the hands of the right students and not the wrong ones. You are correct when you say that children in need of these books might not have access to the public library or parents willing to have thoughtful discussions.  Maybe I get the books and send out a notice to parents letting them know they are here if they need them. Perhaps I give a set to the guidance counselor who knows more than me who could be helped and leave it to her to decide who reads them.  Maybe I invite the author to talk to the parents about the book and let the parents decide. Am I taking away a teachable movement for other kids? Yes I am, but under the umbrella of “In Loco Parentis” is where I feel comfortable.

K: I understand your desire to parcel out information to your questioning son. We did that with both our kids when we started talking with them about things like sex – we’d answer the questions and offer more information as long as they seemed interested. When they left to play Legos or jump on the trampoline, we’d let it go and pick up the conversation another day. But I still feel like that’s a parenting issue rather than a school library one. You know your son. You don’t know every challenge or concern or question your students might be dealing with on any given day, even when you talk with a selection of their parents at your son’s baseball game. Not all the families are represented there. But I believe all of those kids should have the opportunity to see themselves in books in a school library – maybe especially kids whose lives are different from your son’s. 

The suicide rate for transgender youth is heartbreaking. 41% of transgender people will attempt suicide in their lives, compared to 4.6 per cent of the general population, according to this study from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute. Kids struggling with this need to feel less alone, and their classmates need to have empathy. Books are such a valuable way to do that. Instead of thinking, “Oh, that transgender kid is so WEIRD!” when a classmate is struggling, a reader might think, “Oh! I know somebody like that, because I met Melissa, the main character from GEORGE.”   While I can’t back this up with a research study, I’d be willing to bet that children who have access to more diverse books are kinder and less likely to engage in bullying. 

Might this book be challenged or questioned by a parent? Maybe, depending on where you live. But sometimes, I think our fears over this are bigger than the reality. The Maine teachers who just read THE SEVENTH WISH aloud with all of their school’s 5th and 6th graders sent home a letter beforehand, explaining that the book was about a family affected by heroin addiction. Do you know how many concerned parents wrote back to complain about the topic? Not a single one. But even when those phone calls do come – and I know how difficult they can be – I’d argue that kids’ lives and kinder communities are worth the fight. 

After I read your latest email this morning, I revisited the American Library Association Code of Ethics. Here’s what your professional organization has to say:


Since 1939, ALA has recognized the importance of codifying and making known to the public and the profession the ethical principles that guide librarians. The Code of Ethics will be seventy years old in 2009 and has evolved into a statement of eight principles that embody the ethical responsibilities of the profession. The Code was last revised in January 2008. 

The ALA Code of Ethics guides school librarians to:

  • Provide the highest level of service • Resist all efforts to censor library resources 
  • Respect intellectual property rights 
  • Treat coworkers with respect, fairness, and good faith
  • Distinguish between personal conviction and professional duties 
  • Not allow personal beliefs to interfere with provision of access to information


I understand that this is all easier said than done when one lives in a more conservative community. But I do strongly believe there are kids at your school who would benefit from a wider selection of books, even as the parents of other kids would like to keep those books unavailable to their own readers. Where does that leave a librarian, given the responsibilities ALA outlines above? 

Do you know if your school district has an official selection policy for school libraries? Most do, and I know that many librarians use that as backup when they’re working to ensure kids have access to books. It can help a lot when one is facing challenges from parents or administrators. 

L: I will certainly look more thoroughly into official policies about book selection. You are correct though – I suppose my biggest struggle is separating myself and my son from the parents and children where I work. Every night I look at him and imagine my students because my home looks similar to others here in our suburban town. That being said, there are books I put out that I know he would find worrisome but I do it any way because I can’t and don’t always go by him. Maybe I’m too close to this age group. Perhaps the 30+ people I asked this weekend are too close to this age group and community, but I this is where I work and live. This is the demographic I serve. I am sure there are communities where your book isn’t being marketed because the need might not be as great.

You ask me “What about the one student whose life will change because of these books?” I cannot risk the emotional well begin of K-3rd graders and take the privilege of those discussions away from their parents. I am very open to finding ways to getting your book and its message to my students and families that want to start the discussion, but I don’t feel comfortable deciding it for them. The library is open to all students ages 5-11 and our books need to reflect and respect those ages. Perhaps I can suggest your book for our 5th grade classroom library where I know no other younger student will have open access to it. Maybe I need to take some formal surveys and speak to administration to clarify their position and I am totally willing to do that. I also want to be clear that no parent or administrator has ever asked me to remove or limit a book in my current school (I’ve had different experiences in the past). Everything I write in this discussion is my opinion and does not reflect any one else in my district. 

I am getting nervous to publish this conversation because what I am reading in the comments makes me sound like I am some unreasonable book banning conservative and I’m not. People are pulling out tiny excerpts from what I have written and painting me in a light I am not at all comfortable with. I am simply a teacher that looks at her entire population and makes the best decision I can in everyone’s best interest. Everything I put into this library could possibly be read by any K-5 student and I take that responsibility very seriously. When I read the comments on your blog today from the two moms who are grateful for my decisions then I feel validated. Your blog is going to contain your fans that most certainly agree with you. The majority of teachers and parents might agree with me but they aren’t going to be out there writing about it.

Again, I really want to clarify that your book should be out there for students to read. 100% it should be on the shelf in upper grades, but when my littlest ones who tear through RANGER IN TIME automatically go to the stacks for the new Messner, what do I do?  Do I let them take it without saying a word that it’s not going to be what they think? They will want it simply because you are the author without even bothering to read the back. Do I ask for a note from home to read the book with the cute goldfish on the cover? 

One of the comments on your blog  (it was pretty mean) asked who do I think I am to decide what kids should be exposed to. I agree- who am I to decide what kids should be exposed to? Who am I to tell a parent that I don’t care what they want their child to know? Should I say that I’m going to put out everything and if they don’t like it too bad? There MUST be room for taking into account what a parent wants for their child’s school library where they aren’t there to help make the decisions. They count on me to make good choices. That’s why I try to rely on my parental instincts, but I’m open to delving deeper into trying to find out exactly what my parents expect and want. 

Good luck on your book tour. I look forward to new ideas you gather about this conversation.


That’s where we left our conversation, and we’d love it if you’d join us at this point. I suspect this librarian was correct in assuming that many of my blog readers agree with my passionate views on providing kids access to books. So for her, agreeing to a conversation here is a little like a Yankees fan agreeing to stand up and share ideas about their baseball team’s merit in the middle of a crowded Fenway Park. I’d love it if we could all keep that in mind. I would love for this conversation to continue in the spirited and passionate but also respectful tone that we’ve managed so far.

Most of all, I’d love to hear from other K-5 and K-6 librarians who might be able to help this librarian with her concerns. How do you manage these issues in your own library? How can she feel safer about putting books like THE SEVENTH WISH on library shelves so that readers who need them have access?

Please know that comments from first-time commenters have to be moderated before they appear. This feature is turned on because as a woman who shares opinions, I sometimes get random, hateful, misogynistic comments left on my educational blog posts, and I do not allow those comments to appear. I’m on book tour right now, so it may take a little while for your comment to be approved so that it appears, so please be patient with me. I promise I’ll check in whenever I can.

Finally, I’d appreciate it if comments left on this post are both respectful and productive. Feel free to disagree with both of us, but please do that without engaging in personal attacks. I’d love for this conversation to be one where both sides feel heard. More than anything else, I’d like to come up with some creative solutions that increase kids’ access to the books they need. I will be using some of the comments in a future blog post to continue this conversation. Thanks in advance for joining the conversation in that spirit.

The Seventh Wish Update: Some good news and a continuing conversation…

The Seventh WishToday, I received an email from South Burlington’s Chamberlin School principal Holly Rouelle, who told me that a decision has been made to carry THE SEVENTH WISH in her school library. She says the school never intended to censor the book, and that is great news in light of this week’s events.

In case you’re new to the story, my latest novel, THE SEVENTH WISH, is about a lot of things – Irish dancing, ice fishing, magic, entomophagy, flour babies, and friendship. It’s also about the effects of opioid addiction on families, especially younger siblings. On the day my book was released this week, I was disinvited from a school visit at Chamberlin on less than 24 hours notice. The librarian and principal told me they felt they hadn’t prepared their students well enough for that visit, given the sensitive subject matter, despite the fact that it was scheduled in January and a copy of the book was provided to them at that time. They also returned all of the copies of the book they’d purchased for the school library. You can read more about that situation in this post, and this one, about the heroic effects of the town’s public library and Phoenix Books to get books into the kids’ hands anyway.

So despite the cancelled visit, today’s email was very good news, and I’m pleased that the school has decided to make the book available to students and staff. I’m hoping I’ll still get to share my presentation with lots of Chamberlin readers at my rescheduled event at the Community Library, too, where there will be free books available for at least the first hundred kids who register. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no stranger to Chamberlin School – I’ve visited before and done multiple free Skype visits with readers here – and I’ve found the people who work at Chamberlin to be energetic, kind, caring advocates for kids. I do not believe at this point that the school is engaging in censorship of my book.

That said, I do know that our conversations here and in social media have reached far beyond Vermont, and I hope those conversations will continue because the quiet censorship that happens in some schools and libraries affects kids’ access to books in very real ways every day.

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post called “Remember Who We Serve: Some Thoughts on Book Selection and Omission,” which you can read here. I explained how another librarian from a different state contacted me after the Vermont incident to let me know that she loved my books but had removed THE SEVENTH WISH from her library’s order list because it’s about a family affected by our country’s opioid epidemic. She responded to the blog post with a comment, which I’m sharing here with her permission:

I am the librarian in question and I stand by what I wrote. The parents in my community trust me to stock the library with books that won’t cause their children with extreme anxiety. I think the public library should certainly carry this book and parents should go with their children to pick it out and read it together. In a school library, most students choose books without even showing their parents. What about the parent that will call me when their child is crying and scared because now they know something their parents didn’t want them exposed to?? I cannot be responsible for that. I would certainly recommend this book for a student that needs it, but I can’t put it out there on the shelf. What if an 8 year old checked it out? What would I say to their parents- “I’m sorry your child is confused and upset. You should talk to them about the dangers of drugs in between playing with My Little Pony.” I think people forget how young 10 years old really is. Why is there a constant push for them to be older and know everything? Even 12 years old is more emotionally stable and ready for these types of discussions. You can vilify me all you want to for my opinions but I know the parents of my students thank me.     

It was not my intent to vilify but to offer a different view of things. I honestly wanted to talk with her more after I saw this comment, so I emailed and asked if she’d be open to that. She said yes, and we had a good phone conversation this afternoon. I learned that she does indeed see the other side of the argument as well, but she still thinks kids’ innocence should be preserved longer by limiting access to some topics. She’s also under pressure from the parents in her community to limit the kinds of books in her library.  The bottom line is, she feels like she can’t give elementary students access to a book like THE SEVENTH WISH without risking her job.

I have a tremendous amount of empathy for librarians and teachers in situations like this. I taught middle school for fifteen years. I faced book challenges and angry parents, too. I remember the sick feeling I’d get in my stomach when I opened a parent email and found a complaint about a book in my classroom library. I was lucky to have supportive administrators. Not everyone does. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can all do a better job supporting librarians and teachers who want to provide kids more access to books but are worried about pushback, so I proposed that this librarian and I start a conversation about this. We have some real disagreements about what kinds of books belong in a K-5 library, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to disagree respectfully, listen to one another, and try to brainstorm solutions. So we’re going to try that, and we’re inviting you to join the conversation, too. 

As many of you know, I’m on book tour this month and leaving for Maine in the morning, but in between school events and bookstore signings, I’m going to be talking with her via email. Once we’ve had a chance to share some ideas back and forth, I’ll post the conversation here on my blog, and we’d love to hear from other people who care about kids and books, especially from other teachers and librarians who have found ways to deal with the particular challenges that face elementary school libraries with regard to book selection and access when there’s a wide age range of students. I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to have a spirited, passionate, respectful, problem-solving conversation. And I hope you’ll join us. 

Remember Who We Serve: Some thoughts on book selection and omission

My newest novel, THE SEVENTH WISH, is about a lot of things – Irish dancing, ice fishing, magic, entomophagy, flour babies, and friendship. It’s also about the effects of opioid addiction on families, especially younger siblings. On the day my book was released this week, I was disinvited from a school visit in Vermont on less than 24 hours notice. The librarian and principal told me they felt they hadn’t prepared their students well enough for that visit, despite the fact that it was scheduled in January and a copy of the book was provided to them at that time. They also returned all of the copies of the book they’d purchased for the school library. You can read more about that situation in this post, and this one, about the heroic effects of the town’s public library and an independent bookstore to get books into the kids’ hands anyway.

I’ve gotten lots of messages of support about this from people who agree that we need to share books like this with kids. But I also got an email this morning from a school librarian in another state, who said she wanted to offer me a different perspective on THE SEVENTH WISH.  She wrote:

As a huge super fan of yours I did want to offer a new perspective of The Seventh Wish. It was on my book order list before I even read what it was about. However, after reading the description, I too sadly had to remove it.

She says I’m one of the favorite authors in her K-5 library. They have all of my other books, and they fly off the shelves. But this one won’t be added to the collection. She continued:

It’s not that I don’t think heroin addiction is extremely important. Our community has faced its share of heartbreaking stories in regards to drug abuse but fourth and fifth graders are still so innocent to the sad drug world. Even two years from now when they’re in sixth grade this book will be a wonderful and important read but as a mother of a fourth grader, I would never give him a book about heroin because he doesn’t even know what that is. I just don’t think that at 10 years old he needs to worry about that on top of all of the other things he already worries about… For now, I just need the 10 and 11-year-olds biggest worry to be about friendships, summer camps, and maybe their first pimple or two.

This breaks my heart. As a writer. As an educator. As a parent. As someone who loves kids. It breaks my heart because I know this feeling so well. Those are all the things I want 10 and 11 year olds to worry about, too. But I don’t get to choose what those kids’ lives are like. None of us do.

We don’t serve only our own children. We don’t serve the children of some imaginary land where they are protected from the headlines. We serve real children in the real world. A world where nine-year-olds are learning how to administer Naloxone in the hopes that they’ll be able to save a family member from dying of an overdose. And whether you teach in a poor inner city school or a wealthy suburb, that world includes families that are shattered by opioid addiction right now. Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. It just makes those kids feel more alone.

When we choose books for school and classroom libraries, we need to remember who we serve. We serve the kids. All of them.

When we quietly censor books that deal with tough issues like heroin addiction or books like Alex Gino’s GEORGE, which is a wonderful story about a transgender fourth grader, we are hurting kids. Because no matter where we teach, we have students who are living these stories. When we say, “This book is inappropriate,” we’re telling those children, “Your situation…your family…your life is inappropriate.”  This is harmful. It directly hurts children. And that’s not what we do.

As Pernille Ripp pointed out so beautifully in this blog post, it is not our job to censor. It is not our job to keep books away from kids. It’s our job to make books available for the families who need them, to respect the rights of families to choose or not choose whatever books they want and need. But not to make those decisions for them without ever giving them a chance.

Instead of carefully erasing books that might be controversial, what if we did a better job educating our school families about what we do? When I taught middle school, I used to talk with families about why my classroom library was so diverse. I explained up front that it included titles they might not find appropriate for every single reader because my students were all wonderfully unique, with different lives and different needs. We talked about what that diverse book selection meant for families.

Kids, in general, do a fantastic job self-selecting books, and when they find they’ve picked up something they’re not ready for, they’re usually quick to put it down and ask for help choosing something else. As teachers and librarians, we’ll offer recommendations and steer kids toward books that are age-appropriate, and we encourage you to talk about books with your kids. We have multiple copies of many titles in our library.  Let us know if you’d like to check out two copies of a book so you can read together.  And if you find that your student has chosen a book that you think might not be the right book for him or her right now, talk about that, too.  

We respect your right to help your own child choose reading material, and we ask that you respect the rights of other parents to do the same.  If you object to your child reading a particular book, send it back to the library, and we’ll help your student find another selection.  We’ll put the first book back on the shelf because even though you don’t feel it’s the right book for your child right now, it may be the perfect book for someone else’s.

Teachers & librarians…please feel free to use any of this blog post about heading off book challenges if it’s helpful to you as you do your job.

And thank you so much for doing that job.  So many of you are fighting every single day to make sure kids have access to the books they want to read and the books they need to survive. Thank you for serving the kids. All of them.

Getting the books to the kids…

Yesterday, with less than 24 hours notice, I was disinvited from a Vermont school visit that had been planned since January. The reason? My book, THE SEVENTH WISH, deals with the effects of addiction on a younger sibling. I wrote about that here and have an update to share today. There’s more sad news but some happy news, too. 

This morning, when I stopped by Phoenix Books in Burlington, I learned that the school not only cancelled my visit but also returned all of the books it had ordered for the school library.

Every. Last. Copy.

So not only did those 4th and 5th graders not get the author visit they were promised. Now they won’t have access to the book at all. This is a school where some kids deal with addiction in their own families. I know from fifteen years of teaching that the right book can be a lifeline for kids in situations like that. The right book says, “It’s not your fault.”  It whispers, “You’re not alone. Be strong. It gets better.” I had so hoped The Seventh Wish would be that book for some kids. That’s why I wrote it. 

I had a wonderful time at my other school visits today, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids whose visit was cancelled. So I stopped by the Community Library in South Burlington, donated a copy of THE SEVENTH WISH, explained what had happened, and asked if the library might be willing to host me later this month so that families whose visit was cancelled could come. Children’s librarian Meg Paquette was wonderful. She whisked me into a back office, found a date for the event, and booked the space.

I’ll be speaking at the South Burlington Community Library on June 28th at 4pm. I know not all the kids will be able to make it, but I hope lots of them can come and hear the talk they missed today. I’ll be there with my writer’s notebooks, research notes, outlines, and messy, marked-up manuscript pages. We’ll play the word game Charlie’s family plays in the book. We’ll talk about fairy tale retellings and brainstorm some re-imaginings of Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella, too.

Bloomsbury is donating 20 copies of THE SEVENTH WISH to give away to readers at that event. That’s not enough to put a book into the hands of every reader who missed my author visit, but it’s a wonderful start.

Thanks to everyone who commented and offered support after reading my post yesterday. If you’d like to help get books into these kids’ hands, the Community Library has cheerfully offered to give copies away to kids at this event and beyond, as long as they last. Phoenix Books has offered to coordinate and get the books to the library. 


Call Phoenix Books at 802.448.3350 to order over the phone. Let them know the book is a donation to South Burlington Community Library.

You can also order online here. Just write “South Burlington Library Donation” in the comments field when you order.

Or if you’d like to have a book sent from another bookseller, you can have it mailed directly to the library at this address:

Community Library

540 Dorset St.

South Burlington, VT 05403

Attn: Meg Paquette

Finally, thanks to everyone who has reached out over this. I’ve never found myself in the middle of a book challenge before, and it’s a sad, strange place to be. But I’m so, so grateful for the outpouring of support from writers, teachers, librarians, administrators, and readers. Thanks especially to Donna MacDonald and Sharon Hayes, the librarians who welcomed me to Orchard Elementary and C.P. Smith school with kind words and big hugs today, and to those school communities whose open minds and hearts are so very much appreciated. 


Thanks to everyone who’s been offering public words of support about this book and to everyone who sent me quiet private message about how important it is. Those notes talked about family members who are addicts. They talked about parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, college roommates, and best friends who overdosed. They talked about children lost to opioid addiction and children struggling with a family member’s addiction right now. It’s all so real, and so scary, but that’s why we need to keep talking about it.

It would be wonderful to live in a world where not talking about a thing made it vanish or took away all of its power. But we don’t live in that world. This epidemic is fueled by silence and shame. And keeping kids from stories about the effect of addiction on families only makes that stigma worse. So I’m going to keep talking and keep writing. I’m going to keep working to get books into kids’ hands, and I hope you will, too. 



A blog post I never thought I’d be writing on book release day…

Judy Blume edited an anthology of writing by censored authors called PLACES I NEVER MEANT TO BE. It’s a great collection that I read years ago and hadn’t thought about in a while. But its title came crashing back to me today when I got an email from a school librarian disinviting me to her school tomorrow. This was one of my school visits for THE SEVENTH WISH book tour. It had been scheduled five months ago and was now cancelled on less then 24 hours notice.

The reason? One of my book’s themes is the impact drug addiction has on families.

This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone at the school, since the email I sent way back in January, offering the author visit began like this:

The Seventh WishTHE SEVENTH WISH is a book that uses magic to explore something many families are afraid to talk about with kids – addiction. I was floored a few years ago when a neighborhood friend told me that her beautiful, smart, joyful daughter was hooked on heroin. She got help and survived, and she is thriving now, but I still struggle to understand how it happened. And when I struggle, when something really scares me, I write.

THE SEVENTH WISH begins on the day Charlie Brennan goes ice fishing on her town’s cold winter lake, hoping the perch she reels in will help pay for a fancy Irish dancing solo dress. But when Charlie’s first catch of the day offers her a wish in exchange for its freedom, her world turns upside down. Charlie catches the fish again and again, but each time, her wishes go hilariously wrong. Just when things are finally starting to turn around, a family crisis with her older sister forces Charlie to accept the fact that some of the toughest challenges in life can’t be fixed by wishing.

So I was shocked when I got an email this afternoon, disinviting me to the school I was supposed to be visiting tomorrow morning. The fourth and fifth graders have all been told I was coming. They’ve read the early chapters of THE SEVENTH WISH together in their classes. Book order forms went home to families, letting them know about the author visit.

But now, that visit isn’t going to happen. I was told today that the principal felt the book and my presentation about the writing process behind it would generate many questions that they would not be able to adequately answer and discuss. I called and asked the school to reconsider because I desperately didn’t want to disappoint all those kids. I explained how the topic was handled in a sensitive, age appropriate way. I told them about reviews like these:

From Kirkus (Starred review)

As Charlie processes the changes in her life, her perspective shifts. Friends of all ages, old and new, support her. And she finds outlets in ice fishing and Irish dance. Most affecting, Charlie begins to understand the serenity prayer. Hopeful, empathetic, and unusually enlightening.”

From Publishers Weekly

“As she did in All the Answers, Messner lightens a heavy theme with a bit of magic (this time the talking fish rather than a talking pencil) while humanizing a growing epidemic and helping readers understand that even “good people make awful mistakes.” 

From School Library Journal

“A charming fantasy story with threads of several deep themes that could serve as the basis for thoughtful discussion.”

 From 5th grade teacher Melissa Guerrette:

“Sometimes I get the chance to read books ahead of their publication date. Once in a while, I read something that I know with my whole heart will be important for kids…too important to wait to share. This year that book was The Seventh Wish. All of our fifth graders read this together. By next week, all our sixth graders will have, too. The bravery and honesty of Kate Messner’s writing has stretched our hearts to let in Charlie and Abby and resulted in more understanding and empathy about the realities of addiction.”

None of it mattered. The school decided they hadn’t had time to prepare kids for the visit, despite the fact that it was confirmed back in January and a letter about the book’s content had gone home to families.

So I won’t be allowed to talk with those kids tomorrow. We won’t get to brainstorm new fairy tale retellings together. They won’t get to see my writer’s notebook or my messy rough drafts, or marked-up revision pages. They won’t hear Charlie’s hopeful story, even though I know there would be kids in the room who could use that hope. There are kids like that in every class I visit. Stories about families like theirs let them know they’re not alone.

I understand that school administrators are afraid to talk about tough issues sometimes. Authors are, too. But we’re not protecting kids when we keep them from stories that shine a light in the darker corners of their lives. We’re just leaving them alone in the dark.

So families… If your school is the one where my visit was cancelled, I’m sorry. Please know that I wanted to come so much. The school was going to order copies of the book so it would be available in the library after my visit, but I don’t know if that’s still going to happen. I’m going to drop by the public library in South Burlington tomorrow, though, to donate a copy. If you want to read it, it will be there for you. I’m so sorry I can’t be.


Updated 6/13: On Saturday, I received an email from South Burlington’s Chamberlin School principal Holly Rouelle, who told me that a decision has been made to carry THE SEVENTH WISH in her school library. She also sent home a note letting parents know about an upcoming event at the public library on June 28th.  In addition, I’ve offered to reschedule this free author-visit presentation in the fall and hope Chamberlin will take me up on that offer, once school is back in session and they’ve had a chance to prepare the students.