The Aftermath

I’m posting a series articles that I wrote for the Alaska Association of School Librarian’s newsletter about a conference I attended in Minneapolis the week before Thanksgiving.

This the last in a three part series about my experience as a first-time attendee at the ALAN Workshop.

So now what?  Attending the ALAN workshop was a highlight of my professional career, but how could I ride that wave of energy back to my school and become a better librarian?

I came home with three ideas I cannot wait to implement.

The first is simple, and already done.  I nominated Between Shades of Gray as a future Anchorage Reads title.  It is a work of historical fiction that appeals to both adults and teens.  The discussion potential is endless, and Ruta Sepetys has visited other communities who chose this title for their One Community, One Read program.  A movie adaptation (which is being renamed Ashes in the Snow for obvious reasons) is currently in production.

The second is a collaborative project with my high school’s You Are Not Alone club.  They call themselves “YANA” and campaign for suicide prevention in our building.  Patrick Ness’ speech gave me the idea to work with this group to create a list of common reasons that drive teens to consider suicide, and then create a list of books that feature characters facing (and overcoming) the same struggles.  I would also like to share portions of Patrick Ness’ speech with this group during one of their weekly lunch meetings.  When I finish this title list, I will be sure to share it here.

The last idea is still in a fuzzy phase, and is going to take some time to create and implement.

For my breakout session, I attended “To Ban or Not to Ban:  Leveraging Conversations about Censorship” by Nicole Amato, a 10th grade English teacher from Chicago.  She shared her inspirational Banned Books unit.

A word to the unwise:
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.
~from Ellen Hopkins’ poem Manifesto

The two essential questions of her unit are 1) who controls/influences language (and why), and 2) what happens to our education when an authority takes away our right to read?  Her unit is part research, part analysis, part argumentative.  Students start by exploring the history of censorship with the book 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature.  They also explore assumptions about teenagers (e.g., teenagers are easily influenced; as a result, teenagers will mimic what they read) through Socratic Seminar.  Next, the students choose a banned book to read.  At the end of the unit they present a paper that explores a history of the book’s censorship, an analysis of the contradictory/problematic reasons for banning the book, and an argument for (or against) keeping the book in the curriculum.

Fortunately for Amato, she has never had a parent or administrator challenge this unit.  She was inspired by a comment David Levithan made during NCTE:

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]As an author, I’m in the back, sending the supplies up. You are on the front lines. You have the power. ~David Levithan[/pullquote]

I’m not sure our district’s curriculum will allow time for English teachers to collaborate with me on the full unit, but I have a rough idea for a schoolwide reading program that could be implemented during Banned Books week next year.  I’m inspired!

It’s impossible to predict what other ideas and inspirations will surface thanks to my ALAN experience.  I highly recommend that you consider joining ALAN.  I would also like to express my gratitude to AkASL for the travel grant that made it possible for me to attend this conference.

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