That Book Woman

that-book-womanCindy: All week I’ve been reading sad library news about the cuts coming down in the state of Michigan as our districts are looking to balance their budgets in the face of mid-year drastic cuts. Post after post talks of librarians being eliminated entirely from districts and replaced with volunteers or a single librarian serving K-12 or clerks holding down the fort alone. This after several years of cuts that have already been decimating our state’s school libraries, including the loss of Lynn’s position three years ago. These announcements have typically come in May as districts prepare the next year’s budgets, but this year the bad news is flooding in early and the losses have already taken effect or will be coming very soon.

We recently discovered That Book Woman by Heather Henson (Atheneum, 2008) and scheduled to blog it after our return from ALA when we would be feeling like the pack mule librarians of Kentucky hauling home our new supply of upcoming titles in the form of galleys. We also planned to tie in the illustrator, David Small, who we were sure would win a YALSA ALEX Award (he did–YAY!) Instead, this week’s news makes me focus on the women who risked so much to bring literacy, information and entertainment to patrons far from library buildings–some who didn’t even know at first that they desired to become patrons.

Yesterday I had a teen come to me clutching a library copy of Cut by Patricia McCormick asking how she could own it and the desperation in her eyes was clear even before, shaking, she whispered, “I think it’s helping me.” I know that librarians make a difference every day in helping to teach information literacy skills, in supplementing curriculum and advising teachers on ways to improve assignments and instruction, and in performing readers’ advisory, but… BUT. I wish the superintendents and the politicians and the number-crunchers could look into the eyes of a girl like that and tell her that there will no longer be a librarian to help her. There are kids in every school that need librarians. It is not a “cut” we can afford.

Lynn: We librarians love books about readers and the people who connect readers to books. Of course I couldn’t help but be moved by this story of a boy who changed his mind about “chicken scratch” and became a reader due to the selfless work of a Book Woman. Henson’s text and David Small’s evocative illustrations perfectly convey the spirits of that resentful boy and his little sister, “the readenest child you ever did see.” Modern day Book People aren’t paid in berries and recipes but they are still rewarded by knowing that they too have helped connect readers to books. In these dark days for school librarians and libraries, I am struggling to understand how to convey the critical importance of what we do. The love of reading isn’t assessed on a standardized test nor is the world-shaking power of finding just the right book for the right child. You can’t chart the spellbound silence of a class at a story hour. I could go on and on but the only place these things are measured are in hearts and minds.

I can only add my plea to Cindy’s and hope that legislators, administrators and tax payers will find a way to allow school librarians to serve children and spark the immeasurable power of reading.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

5 Comments on "That Book Woman"

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  1. angela.craft@gmail.com' Angela says:

    So…my plan of getting a library science degree when I can’t get a publishing job isn’t the soundest career move, is it?

    That being said, I definitely know two librarians who helped me a lot via books, and I still own one or two that made a huge difference in my life that I never would have found otherwise 🙂

  2. barbbenford@hartlandschools.us' Barb says:

    You have stated the case very well. I tried to impart to my superintendent the depth of my position but it seems you have to be there to really get it. I try to continue pressing on for as long as I have a library but there are days, like today, when I feel like I’ll never pass this way again. I won’t think negatively about next year. But I will continue to enjoy the rapt attention of my students while I can and impart as much information literacy as their eager brains can absorb.

  3. laurieab@gmail.com' LaurieA-B says:

    Thank you for this post. I hope Patricia McCormick reads it, too.

    You reminded me of a book I was delighted to find several years ago, Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky. I just picked it up from my shelves and noticed, which I hadn’t before, that it was written by Kathi Appelt, author of The Underneath.

    • Laurie, thanks for your post. I do plan to share the comments with Patricia McCormick and I bought Cut for the student. Thanks, too, for mentioning Appelt’s book. I own that one and we had planned to mention it in conjunction with this book but then went in the direction of library cuts instead. It is an inspirational nonfiction book on this same subject so thanks for posting about it.–Cindy

  4. lhhughs@comcast.net' Linda says:

    In 1961 Beverly Cleary published Emily’s Runaway Imagination about an Oregon girl in the 1920s who brings a library to her small town. Her longing to read Black Beauty and her desire to have a selection of books to read for herself and her townspeople is a delightful read. Too bad people with financial power can’t revisit books like this and the others that have mentioned. I discovered this book when a fourth grader in the Bronx (NY) chose it as one of her favorite books. I am eager to hear her talk about it next week.

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