Part 1 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.
In addition to being a school librarian, you’re involved in a lot of different things books related, such as your blog, reviewing for SLJ and other things. How do you hope make a difference in all that you do?
Travis: First and foremost I’m looking to make an impact on the students in my school district, making sure we have for them the latest and greatest books, books that are interesting to them. Also, I want to work with students and teachers in our district, teaching information literacy skills. If I can, I’d also like to share some of those things with other people through my blog or with things that I write. I think that’s a cool way to spread the word a little bit and let people know what has worked for me, and that it might work for them too.
What is the “word” or message you want to spread?
Travis: As far as books go, the big thing I want to get across is that everything is reading. One of my favorite parts about the last 10 years or so is that a lot of things that people didn’t really consider reading before have become a lot more legitimate. Especially things like graphic novels and comic books. When I was in middle school, I hardly checked out any books from our school library because I was reading comic books, magazines and those sorts of things, but I was still reading. What you read today might get you interested in something else later. As long as you’re reading, it’s a good thing.
Tell me a little bit more about the idea that “everything is reading”.
Travis: A couple years back they started naming children’s literature ambassadors. The first year was Jon Scieszka and his big push throughout his career had been getting boys to read more. But I was so pumped up when he made his platform a push for giving kids choice and letting them choose books they’re interested in. Whether it’s a magazine, book, or even a website, all of that is reading. It might not be what has traditionally been considered reading but it really is.
Do you find sometimes that there is pushback from parents or others from some of these other things that in the past weren’t considered reading?
Travis: Sometimes, but I think it’s becoming less and less of an issue. If there‘s pushback, a lot of times it’s going to be with graphic novels and comic books. Sometimes at book fairs I’ll hear a parent say, “You can’t choose that because it’s not a book.” When that happens I try to explain that it is reading. A lot of times I just open the book up and flip through the pages with the parent to help show that there is reading involved here. I also think sometimes it can be important for a child to have more of a transition. They grow up on picture books, where pictures take up the entire page and tell the story. To then switch to text-only is a pretty abrupt switch.
How does reading help students get the skill sets they’ll need for the future?
Travis: Reading is the basis for everything. If a kid is a good reader and reads a lot, it’s just going to help them out in whatever they do. It’s the foundation for everything else.
What advice do you give parents, teachers or other librarians to help students get the latest and greatest books?
Travis: I think one thing that is important to keep in mind is to give students choice. In the Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, one of her big pushes is to let kids read what they want to read. In her classroom, she saw choice create great advances in her students’ interest in reading. It seems like common sense, but for awhile we were so bogged down in whether a book’s reading level was a little bit too high or low? So finding the latest and greatest book for a child is about finding something they’re interested in. For school librarians it means offering a really wide variety of books on a wide variety of topics. For parents I think it’s just important to remember to let kids read what they’re interested in. That might mean comic books. Sometimes it might be middle grade novels or a classic. I think it’s all legitimate.
Travis: Horror is always popular. Half-Minute Horrors is one I like to recommend. There’s a newer series by Patrick Carman called Skeleton Creek that’s been very popular for 5th and 6th grade. Nonfiction remains popular, especially with books that get more specific like visual encyclopedias.
In terms of fiction, sports remain really big. A lot of Tim Green books get checked out. One series that’s been really popular is the Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger. There’s also When You Reach Me and Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.
Lunch Lady and Baby Mouse definitely grab kids and have been really popular as well. Some of the lesser known graphic novels I like to recommend include Jellaby by Kean Soo and Mouse Guard by David Petersen. It’s a great time for books right now to be honest. There’s just tons of stuff coming out that is interesting and that kids are interested in picking up.
Watch for parts 2 (Collaboration and Helping Students Navigate Information Resources) and 3 (eBooks and eReaders in the School Library) of this interview to show up later this week.