Saturday, May 27, 2006

Gregor in Reverse

So this week I had to visit some schools to talk about the library and reading for the summer and all like that. I'm going to be straight up with you about visiting schools. It's not my favorite thing. The reason it's not my favorite thing is because often the teachers will want you to stand up in front of the class and give a presentation of some sort. And when you do that, you can see that the kids who already pay attention in class will continue to pay attention. The kids that don't usually engage with teachers who talk at them glaze over instantaneously. I hate that, because those glazers are my people. I don't want to be talked at either, so why should I blame them if they ignore me?

So my solution is that I have thrown that whole model of presenting out the window. I can tell some of the teachers would rather I not do that, but oh well. What I do instead is ask the kids about what they like to read, or what they hate to read, or what music they wish they could find in the library. I just chat with them. And I affirm whatever reading they are doing. If they're into reading Thrasher magazine, I ask them to recommend a good article they read recently and I promise to check it out. And I do. If they like reading Stephen King, I don't tell them they're too young for that (for which I've seen many a teacher glare at me and even intervene). I tag on some recommendations and let them know about things they may like, but I let them lead. And even the toughest crowds of kids respond to this, like magic. And when they do, some surprising things start coming out. For instance, this tough-looking quiet guy slumped at his chair in the back of one of the classes who didn't talk the whole hour finally raised his hand to tell us all about a book he had "found" where this guy woke up to find that he had turned into a bug, and how everyone treated this guy "whack." This quiet little burn-out-looking 6th grader is back there reading Kafka, people. And he told everyone about it, and when I asked him more questions, he gave a better interpretation of it than I could have given. I don't think he had any idea at all who the hell Kafka is, or that the book was "above his reading level," or whatever. It was awesome.

At one of the schools I went to, the group was so big that they provided me with a wireless microphone. Yikes. With the amount of time that I spend having the kids talk rather than me talking the whole time, I didn't want to have to run around all Phil Donahue style. So I asked anyone if they wanted to emcee and up popped this kid who was all too happy. He took the mike, and ran around with it, adding his own commentary as he went.

This kid was actually quite amazing. A true library-geek, he was very excited to have me there, and he told me all about how he planned to apply to work as a shelver at the library as soon as he was old enough. He had obviously read or was familiar with just about every fiction book available for his age group, because every time someone mentioned a book they liked, he came back with an enthusiastic comment ("didn't you love the part where...") or even a recommendation ("oh, you would LOVE Alex Ryder!"). I'm sure he could have run that entire discussion without me, just fine. As I watched this kid in action, my heart sort of went out to him. So many kids who read that much at that age tend to be pretty quiet about it. And those middle school years are not the highlight of self esteem for most, so that makes those bookish kids withdraw even more. This kid, however, had the double-stuff qualities of book-smarts PLUS oodles of confidence. He was geeky and completely loud and proud about it. In fact, it was kind of ridiculous how loud and proud he was. The confidence was crossing a line into arrogance in that little eleven-year-old body. And I could see that the other kids' reaction to this sort of smarts-plus-confidence might be something to the tune of oh-my-god-you-are-driving-us-crazy-will-you-just-SHUT-UP. It made me wonder what was in store for that kid. I really hoped that this enthusiasm for reading and talking to other people about it wasn't going to be systematically beaten out of him in the years to follow. On the other hand, I also hoped that this arrogance and Nellie Oleson style know-it-all-ness would not be allowed to rage on unchecked either. Because what was kind of funny/annoying behavior in a sixth grader could very well turn into that adult whose co-workers think oh-my-god-you-are-driving-us-crazy-will-you-just-SHUT-UP. You know, the sort that just bugs everyone. I just kept looking at him and hoping that he would wake up one day and retain his confidence, his book-love, AND have an added dose of mellow. Transformed OUT of bug form and into something less...whack.

Kiss the rings, I'm out.
Librarian Girl

1 comment:

Katie K said...

You are my hero for not doing the standard "Do you like dragons? Well if so, you should check out this book..." book talk! And here's hoping that kid grows out of the awkardness; I did! (Says the girl who dressed up like Lois Lowry for a book project in 7th grade. Yeah... I totally didn't get made of AT ALL for that one. Sigh.)