I did not do a fantastic job tracking my reading in 2019, so it took all of January to research and get this reflective post in a row. So much math!
Here’s some highlights:
Here’s the nitty gritty:
What I Read in 2019
I cracked open the spines of 779 books last year! This is actually less than years prior. My vestibular disorder definitely took a toll on my reading life.
Obviously most of these were picture books. I was surprised I only read 24 manga/comics/graphic novels – usually I read much more in this format. Only print books for me – didn’t listen to audiobooks or read e-books.
For the rest of this post, I’ll only be discussing the 171 books I read that were intended for transitional readers and above.
Fantasy definitely dominated on my bookshelf. 2019 was a tough year personally and reading fantasy is my go-to coping method! Books with fantasy elements took up 35% of my stack. Nonfiction took up the least space – only 4%. I also read way more romance this year than ever before!
108 of the titles I read were books in a series; 63 were standalones. What can I say? I’m a serial reader. 😆
I kicked off 2019 by reading Gail Carson Levine’s new companion novel to Ella Enchanted and wrapped up the year with a ton of transitional chapter books. Princess Pulverizer was my favorite! Waaaay better than the Princess in Black series. IMHO.
Why did I read 1,006 pages about two white wizard dudes? Don’t get me wrong – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was really well done and a very richly imagined alternate history. I just kind of regret spending that much time on ONE book when there are so many books and so little time! In contrast, Dav Pilkey’s A Friend for Dragon came in at mere 64 pages.
Published in 1997, Ella Enchanted is one of my personal childhood favorites. I didn’t spend too much time down nostalgia lane last year though – most of the books I read were 2018/2019 releases. We finally got the conclusion to Neal Shusterman’s Scythe series! Stayed up all night to read The Toll. So many feelings. 😭
So many books touched my heart last year! So many compelling characters, so many unforgettable stories. It was really, really hard to narrow this down to just 3 titles!
I read A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger as part of work for a conference presentation early in 2019. The Why/What If/How system of inquiry has been a game-changer for me! I love approaching problems and reflecting on my practice with this mindset.
I read The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf in early fall and I’m still sobbing. This middle grade debut made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me clench my teeth and want to shake my fists. It deflated me like a popped balloon and yet filled my heart with hope. Talk about a roller coaster! The story begins with an empty chair that is soon filled by Ahmet, a refugee from Syria. Some of Ahmet’s classmates are curious. Some are nervous. And some are outright hostile. This book tackles a timely topic in such an honest and true-to-childhood way. I can picture this book sparking great conversations between readers and caregivers. Thank you Onjali Q. Raúf!
Speaking of timely topics and honest, authentic portrayals, I read Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee in December. The book starts with seventh-grade Mila getting an unwanted hug and soon turns into an uncomfortable exploration of our culture’s blatant disregard for young women’s feelings and voices and bodies. It took several days for me to finish because I felt sick to my stomach while reading. I was so worried, I actually had to skip to the end and make sure Mila was okay! (Spoiler alert: of course she’s okay. It’s middle grade fiction!) Dee masterfully takes on this tough topic in such an age-appropriate way. This is another book that I hope will empower children and caregivers to have difficult, important conversations.
Who I Read About in 2019
As I started writing this post, I got really curious about WHO was represented in the books I read… and WHO wrote those stories? For this section, I broke up the three anthologies and counted each story and contributing author separately. So although I read 171 books, I read 210 works, 203 of which were fictional stories.
Here’s what I found out:
I am really not an animal stories person. This is something I’m going to have to get over because I have a lot of young animal fiction fans at my new library and I want to connect with them!
Out of the 203 fictional stories I read, 66% featured main characters who presented/identified as female. This makes me especially happy given how much fantasy I read! Growing up I felt like strong female characters in scifi/fantasy were few and far between. Males took center stage in a less than a quarter of the stories. 11% featured POV chapters by both male and female characters. I separated the animal stories into either male or female based on pronouns.
Out of the 203 fictional stories I read, 41% contained MAIN CHARACTERS whom I read as diverse. Not a diverse best friend, not a diverse love interest, not a diverse next door neighbor. This means Pumpkin Heads is not included because the story centers around Josiah, a white cisgender male (despite the significant presence of Deja, his bisexual, African-American best friend and eventual love interest). Not that these side characters aren’t important or pivotal to the stories they appear in! I just wanted to track who was being put front and center.
Please note that being a cultural outsider, I could have misread or even completely missed representation. I did a lot of research and tried to make sure I was accurately applying labels, but I could have and probably did make some mistakes.
Looking at that perceived diverse representation in more detail:
Which cultures and people of color were represented? Following categories from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, here’s who I read about:
Please note that all of these categories cover a VERY wide and diverse geographic/cultural area. For example, the Asian/Asian Pacifics/Asian American category includes countries such as Iraq, India, China and Japan. For a feel of just how many identities these labels encapsulate, check out CCBC’s A Closer Look blog posts.
As you can see, I only read two stories last year about characters from First/Native Nations (and only one of those stories was written by an author who identified as American Indian). Even more shamefully, I didn’t even realize this reading gap until I started pulling together this post. How could this happen?
Well, First and Native Nations continue to be the most underrepresented group in children’s literature, as evidenced by CCBC statistics. Check out this data visualization by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen and illustrator David Huyck:
These books are easy to miss if you’re not on the lookout – and obviously I wasn’t looking.
Another important thing to note (and one so excellently depicted by the cracked mirror above) is that this representation was not necessarily good or accurate or well-informed. For example, I read an anthology collection of short stories called A Tyranny of Petticoats. Megan Schliesman asks some great questions about this book in her review over at Reading While White. In a collection that supposedly celebrates the American melting pot (a problematic metaphor in and of itself), many stories feature people of color… but only a few of those stories were written by people of color themselves. I learned a lot from this critique and the follow-up comments by both contributing authors and Diversity Jedi!
Who I Read Books and Stories By in 2019
Who were the creators behind the books and stories I read in 2019? This data is a little trickier to discover. Based on author bios, author websites, publisher websites, author notes and interviews, I read:
Almost three-quarters of what I read was written by authors who identified as female! ♀️💪
Regarding diverse creators:
These stats may not be completely accurate. There are many reasons why an author (particularly a queer author) may or may not choose to self-identify, as Danika Ellis discusses in this great post over at Book Riot. Speaking of creators coming out, 16 of the stories I read were penned by authors who openly identified as LGBTQIA creators.
Some of these diverse creators wrote fantasy, some of them wrote space odysseys. Some of them drew on their own lived experiences to share #ownvoices stories, some of them didn’t. And that’s great! Diverse authors shouldn’t be pressured by publishers to stick with “issues” stories. We need diverse realistic fiction, and we need diverse fantasy. And diverse romance. And diverse scifi. And so on.
Library Life & The Blurry Line
My personal reading is my own business, right? Wrong. When you’re a librarian, there’s a very blurry line between personal and professional reading. I know precious few librarians who have time built into their schedules to keep up with advisory. The books and blurbs I read on my own time become the stories I turn to when browsing the shelves with young patrons. They become the stories I highlight to fellow staff during morning huddles. The stories I read become the stories I share.
And I want to share diverse stories with my patrons! I want my colleagues to know about diverse books! Why? Who can say it better than Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop herself:
Side note: I am so excited for Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop to deliver the 2021 Children’s Literature Lecture Award!
My 2020 Reading Radar
- More diverse content by diverse creators! This year I want to be on the lookout for #ownvoices, stories about and by people from First/Native Nations and neurodiverse/disability representation. I’d also like to pay attention to religious representation, which I didn’t consistently track in 2019.
- More early readers and transitional chapter books! I haven’t taught kindergarten for six years and the early reader landscape has changed a lot since then. I spend a lot more time on the floor interacting with patrons at my new library (hooray!) and that means needing more Magic Treehouse read-alikes up my sleeve. I’m intending to read lots of Scholastic Acorn titles this year. Loving this new line!
- Speaking of spending more time on the floor, I’m getting the feeling that my new community has some really avid animal fiction fans. I’m going to give this subgenre an honest try and seek out some lesser-known titles so I can recommend something besides Puppy Place and Owl Diaries.
- Less books for adults! Adult literature is SO LONG and the print is SO SMALL! Unless if I can snag a Large Print copy, reading adult books is physically very challenging. My vestibular disorder seriously messes with my ability to track print sometimes. Which is why I’m looking at getting a tablet and reading…
- More e-books! Maybe? We’ll see how much the MacMillan embargo against libraries messes up with this plan.
- More nonfiction! I think turning to e-books will help a lot. It takes me FOREVER to read nonfiction because I like taking notes. I’m excited to find a good note-taking app. I think being able to highlight passages and take screenshots will really speed things up!
- More web content! I’m not sure how I would track this. I spend a lot of time these days reading web content from fellow creators with chronic illness and of course, all the library life blogs. Maybe I’ll share a round up of my favorite or the most thought-provoking posts I read each year?
- Speaking of web content… more professional reading! I’ve just been elected to the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy Steering Committee and I have A LOT of learning and reading to do. I’m really looking forward to exploring the ALSC Everyday Advocacy resources and NAEYC’s Build Your Advocacy Skills resource page. The Denver Metro Area Library Services for Children Journal Club is also kicking back into gear, so I expect I’ll be reading more research articles, too. All the professional reading this year!
- Catching up with 2019 hits I missed! So many great books, so little time. How did I miss Cindy Pon’s sequel to Want?! Makes me wonder what else I’ve missed – I need to go back and check on all the unfinished series I’ve started!
- Keeping up with 2020 releases! It’s an exciting looking year. My TBR pile is out of control. 😭
Here’s 3 great books I started reading in 2019 and still need to finish:
Here’s some books from 2019 I missed and can’t wait to catch up with:
And here’s some 2020 releases I can’t wait to get my hands on:
Keeping Myself Accountable
You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. How will I know if I’m keeping to my reading resolutions? And more importantly, how will I know if it’s reflected in my professional practice?
Last year I attended UW Madison iSchool’s Power Up: A Leadership Conference for Youth Services. I watched Katelyn Martens-Rodriguez present on how she plans and implements equitable and inclusive storytimes at the library. I was particularly inspired by how she keeps track of what she’s reading in storytime. She tracks all the things! Publish dates, diverse representation, diverse creators, fiction vs. nonfiction, even if the books depict breastfeeding. Whoah!
I’m challenging myself to do something similar in 2020. I’ll share these stats every month via Instagram. This will encourage me not only to keep track, but to reflect and course correct! I’m going to give more book love in general on social media, especially to IPOC creators. I’m also going to update my mental quick pick lists for poplar series readalikes and different genres in kidlit.
How will I find #ownvoices authors and books with diverse representation? Fortunately there are many folk who are doing hard work to promote and share these stories! Check out We Need Diverse Books and their great list of resources to find diverse reads. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center also has a Multicultural Literature Resources List.
I mentioned having a lot of catching up to do with books by and about First/Native Nations and the first place I’ll start is by checking out Dr. Debbie Reese and Dr. Jean Mendoza’s Best Books Lists at American Indians in Children’s Literature. I’ll also be looking at the recent American Indian Youth Literature Award winners. And speaking of award winners, I definitely need to hit up the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Winners as well.
I’ll stay on top of the latest and greatest in LatinX literature by following Latinxs in Kid Lit. This amazing team releases news every month about LatinX book deals, interviews authors and illustrators, shares teaching ideas and more. I’m especially excited to check out this amazing 2020 List of Titles By/For/About LatinX. Thank you Cindy Rodriguez and team!
Edith Campbell put together a super exciting list of 2020 Debut IPOC Authors over at Crazy Quilt Edi. There’s tons of great content on this site besides, but I’m really looking forward to the new IPOC release posts that Edi shares each month. One thing I love about Edi’s comprehensive list of Diversity Resources is that she also highlights publishers to know!
A new-to-me resource and one not mentioned on the WNDB Resource List is LGBTQ Reads. Run by author/blogger Dahlia Adler, LGBTQ Reads is a site dedicated to promoting curated LGBTQIAP+ literature for all ages. I can’t wait to explore it more!
Wow. That was one long post! Did anyone make it to the end besides me? 🤣 Thinking next year I’ll break it up into a series…
How was your 2019 year in reading? What are you looking forward to reading in 2020? What’s your favorite note-taking app? Would love to learn more in the comments below!