Over the past few years, in my role as an Elementary Literacy Coach, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Tinamarie Sheckells, the most amazing Elementary Librarian a School District could ever hope for. She is kind, brilliant, humble, and possesses a wealth of information (which you will see for yourself!)
In fact, I’ve yet to find a new Kidlit title that TS isn’t already familiar with! At the mere mention of a title, she can rattle off the author, illustrator, which schools have a copy, and give me a synopsis. I’ve made it my personal challenge to discover a newly published children’s book before she does. At this point, I might resort to fabricating a title and hoping she doesn’t fact-check me. (She will!)
Recently, I asked her how an author might go about getting their children’s book on every librarian’s “Must Immediately Curate for Our School Library Collection” list. I was asking for a friend, of course. I’m thrilled that TS graciously agreed to sit down with me and share some insights (and resources!) about her role as a librarian and how she builds school library collections.
KD: Let’s start with everyone’s burning question for all librarians. Do you have “The Dewey” memorized?
TS: I do! (She laughs.) Shelving books for years helps with that. But there are concerns with the Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC). Many schools (including ours!) and public libraries have moved away from the DDC and shifted to genrefying collections, which is much more user-friendly for students. There’s actually an initiative called “Ditching the Dewey” and it’s not just about the classification system itself.
“DDC is RIFE with Dewey’s personal biases and prejudices, as well as the social “mores” of the Victorian period. These biases are ingrained into the entire system, and that kind of thing causes irreparable harm to our communities now.”Kelsey Bogan “Don’t Shush Me” https://dontyoushushme.com/2020/12/04/ditching-dewey-1-dear-dewey-its-not-me-its-you/:
KD: Interesting! Thank you for sharing that link! Ok, let’s get to this interview’s “promise of the premise” – how do authors get their book(s) into a school librarian’s hands?
TS: In our school district, we have a comprehensive written policy that guides the selection of library books. In a general sense, librarians consult professional journal publications, national book awards, and also our patrons (staff and students) when considering the needs of the collection. I enjoy collaborating with teachers to ensure our library includes ample resources that align with the district’s curriculum. For example, First Grade has a Science Unit called Animal and Plant Defenses. The teachers and I work together to build “text sets” to include a combination of Fiction and Non-Fiction, articles, digital books, etc. to support the content. Building easily accessible text sets on a topic or big idea is one of the benefits of Ditching the Dewey. One of our biggest priorities is building a library collection that meets the needs of a broad and diverse community of students. I also have to admit that I frequent the Children’s Rooms at most of the local public libraries to see what they are offering their patrons. It gives me the opportunity to preview titles and talk with other colleagues in the field about what is current, trending, and popular with our young patrons and families.
KD: So, you’re saying “my friend” can’t just send you a copy of their book along with a persuasive essay stating the many reasons it should be added to the library and possibly throw in some museum passes for good measure?
TS: (winking) Unfortunately, no. My sincerest apologies to your friend.
KD: Bummer. In that case, tell me more about “consulting professional journal publications and book awards.”
TS: There are several school library-focused publications (School Library Journal, School Library Connection, We Need Diverse Books, Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Notable Children’s Books, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Best Books for Young Adults, and VOYA) that feature reviews from school librarians, educators, or others trained in children’s/young adult literature who can assess a book for its literary quality and potential appeal to K-12 students. There are also discipline-specific resources that review books for a more narrow audience.
As for book awards, we expand our lens beyond the well-known Caldecott/Newbery by considering other notable book awards such as Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (MCBA) (we have an MCBA section in our school libraries), Mass Teen Choice Book Award (MTCBA), Pura Belpré Book Award, Coretta Scott King Book Award, Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, Schneider Family Book Award, and the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal.
KD: What do you, personally, look for in children’s books?
TS: Representation of diverse points of view and varied perspectives/experiences, authority/authenticity, relevance/currency, creativity and artistry, match with curriculum content and student interests, and appropriate for the social-emotional and intellectual development of the students.
KD: Any advice for aspiring children’s authors?
TS: I’m very excited about a book I just discovered: 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing with Children’s Books co-authored by Melissa Stewart and Marlene Correia (Stenhouse, July 2021) Any writers who are interested in writing non-fiction texts for children will probably want to add it to their professional libraries! https://www.amazon.com/dp/1625314175?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details
My other suggestion for aspiring authors is to write stories that complement and support the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) work that teachers are implementing in their classrooms. Our Elementary level educators begin each school day with an SEL lesson, activity, and/or read-aloud. We have been stocking our libraries with “SEL” themed picture books. Aspiring authors should check out the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) website; it’s a wonderful curriculum framework for social-emotional learning. https://casel.org/fundamentals-of-sel/what-is-the-casel-framework/#relationship
KD: What are some of your all-time favorite books? Favorite authors?
TS: (casts a No! I can’t. I won’t! ‘You can’t make me do it‘ look!) I can’t pick favorites! It’s too challenging! I like too many! I’ll feel guilty about the ones I don’t mention!
KD: You gotta give me something to work with here, Sheckells. You’re a walking, talking library database. If not you, who can our readers rely on?
TS: (Sighs, but knows I won’t let her off the hook.) Ok, for read-alouds in general (mixed genres): Toys Go Out, Upside Down Magic, Wild Robot, and The Menagerie. I’d also add The One and Only Ivan, A Boy Called Bat, Touch Blue, Save Me a Seat, The Crossover, and Front Desk… the list really could go on!
Nonfiction Faves: If You Were the Moon, Crossings: Extraordinary Structures for Extraordinary Animals, If You Take Away the Otter, Snack Snooze Skedaddle How Animals Get Ready for Winter, Wait Rest Pause: Dormancy in Nature, What’s in Your Pocket: Collecting Nature’s Treasures
Picture Books: I can share what I’ve read recently (because it’s WAY too challenging to choose a favorite picture book!): A Big Mooncake for Little Star, The Magical Yet, Toys Meet Snow, Friends Are Friends Forever, The Color Monster, Berry Song, What Will You Be?, Not Quite Narwhal, Powwow Day, We Are Water Protectors, Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug, and Outside In.
KD: Oh my gosh, you weren’t kidding – you really can’t do it! I respectfully rescind my “favorite author” question.
TS: (breathing a sigh of relief) Thank you! I appreciate that.
KD: In terms of current affairs, what are your thoughts/feelings/opinions about all of this book-banning nonsense?
TS: It makes me very sad. The acquisition of knowledge supports and allows for our freedoms. All readers have the right to see themselves and their experiences reflected in books. These books offer a way for readers to experience the world, to gain an understanding of and appreciate others. I also think that creators, libraries, and schools need our support and advocacy. There is a Code of Ethics for Librarians (https://www.ala.org/tools/ethics). The second principle states, “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” Keywords, “…resist all efforts to censor”. Thankfully, there is a comprehensive process in regard to the reconsideration of materials. In our district, we have a policy that includes a school board-approved selection policy with both informal and formal reconsideration procedures.
KD: Surely, after reading this, swarms of Writer’s Rumpus readers will want to follow in your footsteps. Do tell, how does one become a Library Teacher?
KD: I planned to ask about your favorite part of being a Library Teacher, but knowing how challenging “favorites” are for you, I’m reframing the question: What do you enjoy most about your role?
TS: Hmmm, that sounds like a workaround to asking me for another favorite! It’s ok, this question is a little easier than naming a favorite book. Although my Teacher Educator License from DESE is for grades K – 12, what I love most about my job is working with Elementary-aged children. They are just so curious about the world. They make me smile every single day. (She says with a huge smile).
KD: Working with you as often as I do, I can say firsthand that your passion for children, books, and life in general is palpable. You’re also a very busy lady, so thank you very much for your time and for all of the incredible resources and information you provided here!
TS: That was very sweet, thank you so much! It was fun to talk with you about my work in Elementary Schools. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me for an interview before! WR is a great blog, I feel like I might become famous now.
KD: I guess anything is possible. But in the meantime, how does the saying go? I think it’s, “Don’t quit your day job.” You’re irreplaceable.