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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Librarian's Perspective - Interview with Natalie Strange

Below is my interview with Natalie Strange, a media coordinator at Piney Grove Elementary School. Natalie was named the 2012 North Carolina Media Coordinator of the Year. (A well-deserved honor in my opinion.) Natalie engages students on so many levels through programs like Battle of the Books and  Everybody Reads. Her library (or media center) is a fun and exciting place of learning.

I asked Natalie these questions from a writer's perspective. I wanted to know her take on today's books and children's reading habits. But I think her answers apply not only to writers but also to parents. 

Natalie Strange - photo credit Kim Underwood WS/Forsyth County Schools

Approximately how many students do you have at your school and how large is your library? 
I have about 650 students and a collection of 15,000 books. 

What is your average circulation? 
We average 450 books a week. 

Which books or series are always in demand? 
I can't keep Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Lego, Star Wars, Super Hero, 39 Clues or Princess books on the shelves for long. Magic Tree House and Junie B Jones are always popular, too. Books that I feature for special events, like Battle of the Books titles or North Carolina Children's Book Award usually have high circulation counts, too. In non-fiction, animals are huge -- both wild animals (snakes are the most popular) and domestic (dogs and cats!). I must also mention books about popular teen stars: One Direction, Justin Bieber, etc. 

What does your non-fiction section mostly consist of? 
I have the most books in the 500's (Natural Science and Math). These include the ever popular wild animals, chemistry, physics, planets, and dinosaurs. Next would be Social Sciences (300s), including folk and fairy tales, and History/Geography (900s), with a large group of Biographies. 

How has common-core changed your library? 
To help support the common core, and our teachers, we have "genre-fied" the library, created genre sections for fiction and some non-fiction groups. Additionally, I've been combing through our books to align topics with grade-level appropriate materials. Some areas of study, especially in Science Essential Standards, are taught in several different grade levels. It is important to have resources appropriate for all of the ages that need access.

What kinds of picture books would you like to see more of for your students? 
Can a girl dream? I'd love to see more science themed picture books, especially ones that don't water the topics down so much that they are no longer quite true. I have a few books that claim to cover Newton's Laws in picture book format, but they tried to simplify the content so much that they give students and inaccurate perception. Of course, with a husband who is a high school physics teacher, I have a quick fact checker at my finger tips! My students love books that are funny or adventurous. They also seem to appreciate books that have a child's voice, rather than that of an adult. 

What kind of chapter books and middle grade books would you like to see? 
I'm a sucker for a good science fiction or fantasy book, especially ones with ties to folk and fairy tales. I'd also love to see a new problem solver/mystery book with a plucky, computer savvy hero. I get a little tired of books where a child is abandoned, neglected, and sick. Something more positive would be nice, especially if the students may be able to read about creative problem solving through an exciting clue hunt. 

What would interest reluctant readers?
I wish there were a quick answer to this one. It's helpful to have a wide selection of books that are written at a lower reading level, but appeal to older readers. Not many older students want to be seen with a book that would interest a 1st grader. My greatest success has been getting to know the readers and their individual interests. I think that many reluctant readers don't seem themselves in literature, don't see reading as fun, and don't think books are useful. Many of my reluctant readers are very pragmatic. If I can tie into something else they like to do, usually with non-fiction titles, I have more success.

Do you have any thing you would like authors to know about young readers? 
They are smarter than you think. These little Einsteins have access to all kinds of information that we never did. They have seen a wide spectrum of entertainments, but only a few have dug into any topic in depth. Because of instantaneous information, I think they believe that answers are easy to find. Sometimes students become bored or uninterested in a text when they cannot easily follow the plot or character's thought process. They may need a few more bread crumbs imbedded in the text. Books that combine different media experiences, like the 39 Clues, have a strong following. I think students are savvy enough to pursue stories that range across media platforms. Books are still a social experience for students. They love to share what they read with peers, but not as many as I'd like to believe are sharing their reading with their parents.