(New Edition) Master the Basics: English

I’m apparently behind on my publication of new materials, despite the inordinate amount of time I spend in bookstores. I have rather lame excuse for my inattention to this new edition…I was reading other books…for my Master’s degree.

Nevertheless, I am now aware that there is in fact a third edition to Master the Basics: English.  If by some chance, I am not the last person to be aware of this fact, I shall spread the word.

I wrote a blog post for the second edition of Master the Basics: English in December of 2012.  The third edition was published in September of 2013.

The third edition did not go through a major rewrite.  In fact,  it is nearly identical to the second edition.  There is, however, one new section: “Common Forms to Avoid”. This section goes through pronunciation and each of the parts of speech with advice on common errors that ESL/ELL students make.  This is very helpful for those students to curb major problem areas.  It is also helpful for native speakers to help them understand common errors and be ready to correct (and explain) those errors.

There is also a brand new yellow cover.  This now standardizes the Master the Basics covers and the 501 Verbs books.  They still only have Master the Basics for English, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, and English for Spanish Speakers.

The third edition also boasts it is fully recyclable and printed in the USA.

For more information on Master the Basics: English and other language guides by Barron’s, visit www.barronseduc.com.

Book Review: Dark Life

dark lifeI picked up Dark Life by Kat Falls at a Scholastic book fair while substitute teaching last spring.  I was intrigued by the description of the world and thought it would be interesting to read.    I greatly enjoyed it.

The Premise
A catastrophic series of earthquakes led to the ocean level rising so much it swallowed most of the low lands.  In fact, the book mentioned that the Statue of Liberty has collapsed into the ColdSleep Canyon (formerly the Hudson Canyon) and it cannot be found.  The entire East Coast as it is known today is gone.  As a result of a massive loss of dry land, giant “stack cities” were built to house the world’s population.  However, humans just weren’t meant to live in giant skyscrapers in apartments the size of a closet.  The apartments are so small in fact, that parents don’t have their children live with them past the age of six.  Kids grow up in boarding houses and parents come visit on the weekends where they can rent “quality rooms” aka a living room with a kitchenette.  A group of people decided that this just was not the way people were meant to live.  They realized the Earth still had all the same land (and more) than it did before…it just was covered in water.  And so, a territory was formed and pioneers embarked on a new frontier…the ocean floor.

The Plot: A Pioneer Story
Dark Life is your basic pioneer story.  People who are fed up with the current way of life and embarking on a new life in an unknown place.  There are a different set of challenges they face than those who live “topside” (or above the water’s surface), different predators, and they experience a different connection to nature.  One of these challenges is a band of outlaws who are threatening the Benthic Territory.  Dark Life‘s plot centers around this specific threat.

The Subplot: Government
There a subplot that weaves in about government responsibilities, government abuse of power, and citizens standing up for what they believe is right.  I don’t want to spoil this subplot too much, but I wanted to point out the threads of this subplot are intricately woven in as if this were a young adult novel or maybe even an adult novel.  Kat Falls has done a suburb job merging science fiction with history.

The Characters: Ty and Gemma
It comes as no surprise the main characters are teenagers and children (after all, it was published by Scholastic!).  However, Kat Falls purposely chose this age group because Dark Life isn’t just about living in on the ocean floor, it is about the long-term effects.  Ty is the first child to have been born subsea.  He has lived his entire life underwater, only spending a short amount of time above water.  Gemma lived topside and has come subsea to look for her brother.  She comes with rumors of “dark gifts” of the children of the sea.  Dark gifts that seem to have resulted from the immense water pressure.  She clings to the theory of their existence, despite Ty’s instance that the research doctor was a disproven quack.

The World: Benthic Territory
Kat Falls has created an excellent science fiction novel.  She has thought about the clothes they wear, the houses they live in, the food they eat, transportation, long-term effects, and how sustainable the subsea economy is.  These are all key elements to creating an effective science fiction novel.  Recently, my husband and I attended Detcon1, a science fiction convention in Detroit, Michigan.  One of the panels we saw was about this exact topic.  Successful science fiction lies in the coherence of the details.  And Kat Falls does not fall short on detail.

The Sequel: Rip Tide
I just found out when I went to Amazon to grab a book cover image that there is a sequel to Dark Life, titled Rip Tide!  I have added it to my wish list and will review it in the future.

Dark Life is an easy adult read; I read in a couple of hours.  However, for those it is grade-appropriate for, it may take a little longer.  Concepts such as bioluminescence, biosonar, and aqua architecture will take some time to understand.  However, a field trip to an aquarium either before or after this novel (I suggest before to draw students in!) would be excellent.  This novel would also work well in cross-curricular studies of oceanic life in science class.

Book Crawler: Keep Track of Your Own Library

Have you ever bought a book only to come home and find out you already had it?  No?  Well, then have you ever found a book in a series but you weren’t sure if you had it, passed it by, and then returned home only to find out you didn’t have it?  Still no?  Hmm, you must not be a bookworm or have your own physical library.

I have lots of books.  I have two encyclopedia sets (one Britannica one from the 70s and one called the Great Books of the Western World), a leather-bound book collection, mass market paperbacks from several favorite authors, popular fiction I’ve read, a lengthy “to read” shelf, textbooks from undergraduate and graduate school, textbooks for tutoring, graphic novels, etc.  My children’s books are currently in storage.  Like I said, I have lots of books.

I’ve always wanted to digitally keep track of my library; however, I did not have the funds to purchase card catalog software (though if I had, I would have years ago!).  Thankfully, I didn’t because I’ve found a smartphone app that scans the ISBN bar code of a book and populates an entry for me to keep track of each and every book (since it populates from WorldCat).  It’s called Book Crawler.

Book Crawler is available for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch ($1.99) and the Mac Desktop. The free/lite version of Book Crawler limits you to only 25 books.  I use Book Crawler on my iPhone and iPad.  The app is perfect; I can scan each book (that has a bar code, I will have to manually create new entries for all the leather-bound books and encyclopedia sets) and add any additional information I want to the entry.  I can add the price I paid for the book, whether I own it, the genre, have read it (and the date I read it or just put “a long time ago…”), have multiple editions of the same book, the medium (Kindle, paperback, hardcover, audio, etc.) plus several custom fields.  But what I REALLY like is the ability to classify the series it belongs to, including the order number.

I can delete any information that is populated from scanning the bar code and/or add any information.  This is great because sometimes the populated information isn’t specific enough for me or it doesn’t match others in the same series and thus, the database thinks this new book is a different series.  For example, one author I like to read is Debbie Macomber.  She has a series she calls “Dakota”.  Two of the books scanned with “Dakota” as the series, but another used “Buffalo Valley”.  It is a common reference to the series.  However, I wanted to keep the series name consistent, so I changed it to “Dakota”.

I like the ability to create Collections as well.  This allows me to separate my cookbooks.  Collections can be a smart list so I can specify a “Sparks Notes” Collection by publisher or content for my graphic novels.  I can also tag content in the books.  Right now I am not tagging content, mostly because of the sheer number of books and it’s not a priority.  But since I can go back and edit this, I may add tags in the future.

An excellent time-saving feature of Book Crawler is the ability to set defaults for my entries.  For example, if I am scanning all the books I own, I can set the default to of “Own” to on.  Why would it be anything else?  Perhaps you want to keep track of every book you ever read…including library books.  And since I’m scanning books I’ve already read, I’ve got that default set in the on position as well.  Lastly, since most of my books are paperback, I’ve got that default set to on as well.

When I first started scanning books using Book Crawler, I frequently got an error message that it couldn’t find the book.  I would have to manually enter the information in.  It quickly grew tedious and time-consuming on an iPhone to do so.  I have found three things that together solved the problem.  First, and most importantly, there is a difference between the UPC bar code on the back of the book and the ISBN bar code on the inside flap of a mass market paperback.  Book Crawler needs the ISBN bar code.  If there is no other bar code than the back of the book (like with a hard cover book), then chances are the ISBN bar code and the UPC bar code are intertwined.  Secondly, the default scanning program that Book Crawler uses is not that good.  It has trouble reading the ISBN bar codes.  Book Crawler recommends that you download pic2shop, a free bar code scanning program that integrates with Book Crawler.  I have found the recognition rate to be much higher.  Lastly, I have found that, on occasion, Book Crawler can take up to a minute to populate the entry with scanned information.  On the times the information is not found instantaneously, I begin filling out any information that I want that won’t be populated, like if I have read the book, how much I paid for it, etc.  Generally, after about 3 fields, the information is populated.

Now that I have Book Crawler running smoothly, I am excited to scan all my books.  I typically scan on my iPhone, however, if I want to use my iPad, the Book Crawler database does not automatically sync.  I have to back up the database to Dropbox (an excellent feature) on my iPhone and then download the backup on my iPad.  It takes a couple of minutes to do, but it’s not a big deal once I have it initially setup.

Book Crawler is essentially my own electronic card catalog for my own library!

Not So Good Lastest Trend: Spliting Young Adult Novels Into Two Movies

Earlier this month it was announced that Allegiant would be split into two movies.

Big shock?  Yeah not so much.

The splitting of the final book in a young adult series into two movies is a trend that legitimately started with the splitting of a large final book in a series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Film studios saw this extra cash flow and decided to capitalize on it.  The trend first spread to the Twilight saga with the final book Breaking Dawn and then on to the pretty small book of Mockingjay from the Hunger Games series as well as The Hobbit from the Lord of the Rings series before arriving at the Divergent series’ final book, Allegiant.

I completely understand the film studios reasons for wanting to split the movies.  Their job is to look at the bottom line.  They spend a little extra money to make basically a movie twice as long and then release Part 1 and Part 2 a year apart for huge profits.  And if they time the Blu-ray/DVD releases just right, they can capitalize on the profits of Part 1 just in time for the theatrical release of Part 2 and then capitalize on a combo pack at Christmas.  There is a good return on investment for them.

Doesn’t this make consumers just sound like dollar signs?  And before you rationalize that it’s okay because they’ll make up for it by having more time to stay “truer” to the book, you should remember: the studios only care about how much money they make.  They only care just enough about keep the integrity of the book intact to get you to spend money at the theaters and buy the Blu-Ray combo edition of the final movie and the collector’s editions of the whole series.  Because…well…profits.

However, there is something more important, more problematic, here than profit margin and keeping the integrity of the book intact.  In fact, we are seeing that the fluidity and conceptual understanding of story-telling is falling apart.   Let me explain…

A movie version of a book, at its essence, is a visual story.  Instead of seeing words on a page, audiences see pictures on a screen.  The author has chosen his or her way of telling the story.  Some authors choose to write the story in a single book.  Others have chosen to write trilogies or quadrilogies.  No matter what their choice is, the author has chosen the way he or she feels the elements of the story will fit into place.  By breaking up the last book into two movies, essentially, story elements are being awkwardly rearranged.  In other words, it’s like taking a 5-Act play and forcing the 5th act to be split into two acts.  It makes no (fluid or logical) sense.

And though I can accept a story being retold in different way, what really is at stake is the future of story-telling. I’m all for breaking up a final book into two movies if the content can support it.  However, we should not keep doing it because of a trend or for profit margins because then what we are really telling the next generation is that the elements of story-telling are not something worth treasuring.  Once we start losing the elements story-telling, we begin to lose elements of our humanity.

Summer Reading

Summer reading was never a difficult task for me.  In fact, I looked forward to summer vacation because it meant I finally had time to read the books I liked at my own pace.  However, I know not everyone is like me and it may be a struggle to get students to read during “vacation”.  But summer reading really isn’t optional.

Research shows that summer vacation often has a significant negative effect on student learning. Providing opportunities for students to read regularly during the summer can prevent documented reading achievement losses. The bottom line is that students who read during the summer do better in the fall. (ReadWriteThink.org)

The best way to encourage students to read over the summer is to make them want to read by making reading fun. Summer vacation is the perfect time to explore interests without the confines of a curriculum.  During the school year, education is regimented and, essentially, forced upon students.  Many students rebel and say they “hate” school, learning, and/or reading because they just do not like to be told what to do.  By framing summer reading in a context that feels student-chosen rather than force-upon, many struggles will dissipate.

Firstly, we need to answer the question: what is reading?  Is it only a book?  Summer reading can encompass magazines, blogs, comic books, manuals/directions, or anything with words.

Second, we need to establish sources of reading.  Students can read paper copies or digital copies on computers or mobile devices.  Students can borrow materials or purchase them.

Third, we need to consider content.  Summer reading should have no content restrictions, unless it is not age-appropriate.  Students should be allowed to read about cars, princesses, singing, sports, medicine, dancing, grilling, or whatever activity students find fun.  It is also a good time to disregard reading-level and let students read books below (and above) their reading level if they want.  (Remember: the goal is to encourage the student to want to read and to read!)

In English class, students have mostly read “literature”—books that are not popular fiction and rarely connect with students.  Students read for an academic purpose during the school year.  For summer reading, students should read for an enjoyment purpose.  Parents should not give their students quizzes or ask the student to write a paper after reading.  Instead, informal, old-fashioned conversation will yield the same outcome and increase confidence.  A good example of discussion is this: Ask why the student thought the main character was “stupid” instead of telling the student not to use that word.  Most likely, the student has a great explanation, but is just not using academic language.

So how can teachers and parents find the best summer reading for students?

Popular Recommendations—There are hundreds of summer reading lists available through Google searches.  The local librarian, an employee at the local bookstore, or the Top Books in for iBooks/Kindle/Nook will yield an even larger selection.  A popular TV show or movie “based on” or “inspired by” a book?  Pick up one of the books!  I found I loved reading Kathy Reichs’ books because my favorite TV show is Bones, which is inspired by her books.

Student/Friend Recommendations—Prior to the end school, students can write down what their favorite reading selections are.  The teacher can then compile the information into a list.  Students may be more apt to read a book a classmate thought was really good.

Form a Book Club—Perhaps reading a book as a group is best  because some students need the encouragement of others for the initial push into summer reading.  Friends from school, neighborhood kids, or a group at the library will work out well.  Groups can be of varying ages and give perspectives that students may not see otherwise.

Model Reading—Don’t just tell students to read this summer, show them!  Teachers should show students the reading that they have done for enjoyment.  Parents should read as well during the summer.  It might be worthwhile for a parent and student to read the same thing so they can discuss it together.  (Side Note—My mom did this with my brother and I when the first Harry Potter book was published.  It was so much more fun to be able to talk about the book with my mom and my brother.)

Reading Goals/Rewards—Some students need a little…motivation.  While the Six Flags® Read to Succeed Program® is closed for this summer, the idea remains the same.  Parents or teachers can create a set list of criteria that the reader must accomplish in order to obtain the goal.  Each level should be even more desirous than the previous.  The student can either “cash in” at a specific goal level and start over, or keep building until the ultimate prize.  For the Six Flags® program, it’s free tickets to ride the coasters for a day.  You could use gift cards, concert tickets, or whatever that “it” thing is that the reader wants at the moment.  For the Scholastic Summer Challenge 2013, it’s contributing the “World Record” of minutes read to try to reach the Moon.

Do Something—Don’t just read the book, do something with it.  Create something from the book, see a play, watch the movie (afterwards!), visit a museum with artifacts mentioned in the book, encourage someone else to read the book, etc.  The list is endless.

No matter how you approach summer reading, remember to keep track of the reading progress.  You can find printable summer reading logs through a Google search or by using a site like goodreads.com.

For more information and ideas for summer reading programs, books, and project ideas, see 5 Ways to Promote Summer Reading by TeachHub, Celebrate the first day of summer with summer reading by ReadWriteThink, and Summer Reading and Learning by National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Broadening Reading Horizons

I have a young tutoring student this summer who devours books above her reading level at speeds even I struggle to maintain.  It was quickly apparent that one of our goals, a reading workbook, was far too easy, despite it being for the grade she will be in this fall.

I realized I needed to approach reading exploration from another angle.  I did not want to give her long books in tiny print that may be at her reading level but have content that may not be suited for an elementary mind.

I came up with a project that I titled “Broaden Your Horizons” that still allowed her choose books that interested her, pulled in some interests of the Common Core standards, challenged her a bit, and were appropriate for her age.  I wrote a list of criteria that any book choice needs to adhere to one or more of the criteria.  Here’s the list:

  • 2 general fiction novels
  • 1 graphic novel
  • 2 non-fiction books — 1 biography & 1 true story (“based on a true story” ok)
  • 1 anthology
  • 1 book you think might be a little too hard
  • 1 book from the Choose Your Own Adventure series
  • 1 book from the Best American Series (any year, any type—short stories, essays, science and nature writing, nonrequired reading, sports writing, magazine writing, science writing, mystery stories, travel writing, etc.)
  • 1 book from the Myth-O-Mania series
  • 1 book from the Dear America series
  • 1 book you don’t think you’d like but seems like a book you might like
  • 1 book where there is a movie version—must watch the movie after reading the book and write 2-3 paragraphs about the similarities and differences between the two.

I had no problem explaining what an “anthology” was or why I picked these criteria.  We discussed the list to make sure she was comfortable with the list.  I told her books could count in more than one category, so for instance one of the books in a series could be a book she doesn’t think she’d like but it seems like she might.  I also gave her a list of questions to pick from and write a couple of sentences each day she reads in a reading journal.  I want her to think about the text, but not write a paper.

Here’s the part that stunned me: she had never heard of Choose Your Own Adventure books.  I only had 2 left from childhood because I had so many of them my mom said, “choose two to keep and the rest we’ll donate to other kids to read”.  My tutoring student loves playing Minecraft and other non-linear video games and had no idea that there was a book, let alone a series, that functioned in a non-linear form.  I had Hyperspace and Journey to the Year 3000 that I told her she could borrow.  She asked if she could practice reading aloud and start reading in tutoring instead of waiting until later.  Of course I said yes!

I specifically chose the Choose Your Own Adventure series to have her read a non-linear book.  I was taken aback by her excitement for the non-linear format.  She was able to interact with a book…something she knew to be linear and unchanging.  It was just like a video game…with words.

The entire point of my project idea was to show her different formats for content: a diary format, a non-linear format, and graphic novel format (which are different from comic books), as well as broaden her reading horizons to realize there are other types of books besides textbooks and fiction/”chapter books”.  I succeeded on my first day of the project and I cannot wait to see her broaden her reading horizons.

Which series was your favorite as a child?

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Shelfari: The Digital Bookshelf

Shelfari is a website that can create a digital bookshelf. It has the usual book sharing features of sharing with friends, discussion boards, groups, and posting to social media sites.

I admit, there are numerous apps and websites that catalog and display books as well as share opinions.  So what makes Shelfari so special?  Shelfari’s claim to fame is its digital bookshelf.  You can customize the look of the bookshelf, sort the books by different criteria, and embed the bookshelf into your blog.

shelfariI’ve actually had a Shelfari bookshelf embedded into a page on Teaching & Technology since the blog began.  The link to the bookshelf is on the right, titled Bookshelf.  I have purposely kept the focus of the bookshelf to books I have read and reviewed on Teaching & Technology or books I have read that are quite popular in the secondary schools where I have been teaching.

Most often my book choices come from my own interests, poking around a bookstore, hearing about the newest popular fiction titles, or reading the book for a class.  I still have more than enough books on my “to read” shelves (yes, the plural is intentional) and frequently am busy so I am not heavily involved in book communities.  I have poked around the communities for Shelfari and GoodReads (a post for another day) to help me decide which book to read first.

I really like the fact that I can embed the Shelfari bookshelf on my blog.  It syncs automatically with my account, so when I add a book to my “read” shelf on shelfari.com, it will automatically appear on the bookshelf on my blog.  Of course, when I created the widget for my blog I chose these settings, to make it easier on myself.  However, when creating the widget, you can restrict it to a specific tag, thus the bookshelf on your blog will only add books with the tag “blog”.  This allows you to be able to add all books for different purposes, yet control where they appear.

To add a book to the bookshelf, first you need to search for it on Shelfari’s website.  If the cover does not match the one you have, there is a menu near the bottom of the entry that says “Show other editions”.  This allows you to choose the exact edition/cover you have.  This may be important if you want to display the exact edition of Macbeth that you read.  I have the Folger Library Editions displayed because those are the ones I read, rather than the Kindle versions or the Penguin Classics.  This is also a nice feature if you want to display an original cover when the newest edition has the movie characters on it.

Once you click “Add”, you will have a pop-up menu that walks you through any and all notations you might want to do with the book.  You can rate it, write a (public) review, choose if have read it or not, some unique details about your own edition, and tag it.

Unfortunately, there is no app related to Shelfari.  It’s not necessary though as there are plenty available already.

Master the Basics: English

Learning a foreign language has been common in American high schools for quite some time.  I had always been drawn to the Spanish language.  But then again, I’m drawn to all languages as well as the concept of language itself.

When I was in middle school, many of my fellow students did not see the value in learning a foreign language.  We were suburban, middle-class Americans in the Midwest, specifically, suburban Detroit.  There was zero need for Spanish.  And while Canada was so close that we’d forget it was foreign country, Québec was too far away for French to be of any value.  So, people flipped a coin to decide if they should take two years of French or two years of Spanish.  But little did they know that among the “bonjour”s and “hola”s, they would end up learning about their own native American English.

That’s right; I’ve learned more about my own native language by studying a foreign language.  The first thing that smacked me over the head was tenses.  I thought there were three: past, present and future.  Turns out there are actually about 15 of the them and those so-called helping verbs and modals (could, would, should…) are actually changing the tense.  I had no idea just how many irregular, past tense verbs we had in English until one student complained of having to memorize 15 irregulars and the teacher demonstrated that English had over 200.

Plurals!  Spanish has two rules either add an “s” to a consonant or add an “es” to vowels.  This is the opposite of English.  English also has 8 or so rules, and rarely do they make any sense.

American English is a hybrid language.  We’ve stolen words from other languages.  We’ve changed the spelling or meaning of stolen words.  We’ve applied our own plural rules.  We’ve kept their plural rules.  We don’t pluralize “fish”.  The plural of box is boxes; however, the plural of ox is oxen.  Media and data are actually plural words— the singular forms are medium and datum.  And don’t even get me started on pronunciation…

How in the world do you even begin to explain this insanely complicated language to someone who can maybe sing along to the latest pop song or can watch a Hollywood movie in the theater with subtitles?  You can’t, at least, not without help.

Enter in Master the Basics: English (For students of English as a Second Language).  Although the term English as a Second Language (ESL) has become out-of-date in favor of the more accurate English Language Learner (ELL), the book will work for anyone studying English.  English is my native language and I still find it helpful.  Master the Basics: English is written by Jean Yates and published by Barron’s.  It retails for $14.99.  It is also available on Google Books for free.

I could go on and on about how well-written it is for ELL learners.  Several tutoring students I’ve taught who were at varying degrees of English proficiency could read and understand this book.  It is simplistic.  There aren’t colorful, distracting boxes and pictures competing for your attention.  There is one accent color—red—to aid in comprehension.  There are two tests, a pre-and post-test that are aligned with section numbers and skills to help the student know what particular grammar areas need to be focused on.

What I really, really love about this book is how helpful it can be to struggling students who natively speak English.  Master the Basics is a reference guide.  Pages 30-31 have all 8 plural rules together in a quick reference format.  There is a list of why the rules are what they are and how to apply them.  The book has a lot of why explanations.  Many students who struggle in school don’t struggle because they do not know how do something, rather they don’t know why.  Some people need that “why?” answer in order to engage certain sections of their brain.

The book’s preposition section contains graphical representations for common prepositions.  How do you explain what “behind” means?  The book shows the explanation with two simple chairs, ABC labels and arrows.  It also writes a sentence next to the graphic to help further understanding.  There are pages and pages of definitions for verbs with prepositions.  For example, what is the difference between “listening to” and “listening with?”  This book can explain that.

What is the difference between “say” and “tell?”  How do you know when you use “say” and when you use “tell”?  For many native English speakers, the answer is, “I just know.”  What’s even more problematic is that many native speakers cannot explain the difference to an ELL student.  For example, when Pedro says, “…and he says me…” and his new friend Johnny corrects him, “No no, it’s ‘..and he tells me’…”.  Pedro wants to know why he made the mistake.  Unfortunately, Johnny has no idea why it’s “tell” instead of “say”.  He just knows it’s wrong.

This book gives native speakers the quick answers to explain to ELL friends why their grammar is wrong.  This book gives teachers quick answers to explain to their diverse learners (thus, increasing classroom efficiency).  This book is cost-effective.  This book doesn’t look like an English textbook, nor does it look like English for Dummies®.  It’s a quick-reference, to-the-point, English essentials book that will teach anyone something he or she did not know about English.

If you haven’t guessed already, I HIGHLY recommend this book.

The End of the Public Library?

What do former First Lady Pat Nixon, former Michigan Gov. William Milliken, Astronaut Neil Armstrong, Isaac Asimov, Dr. Seuss, and E.B. White all have in common?

They wrote letters to the patrons of Troy Public Library in when it opened in 1971.  Marguerite Hart, the library’s first children’s librarian, wrote to numerous public officials and popular writers requesting letters of encouragement to the children at the library.

Thirty years later, my city’s public library is scheduled to close.  The threat of closure has survived two elections of misleading ballot information and smear campaigns.  City Council meetings ran past midnight with child after child pleading the city council not to close the library.  August 2nd, 2011, is its last chance.  This time the verbiage is clear: “The city is requesting a 0.7-mill property tax over five years, which will cost about $70 per home. If the millage is passed, the library will be able to stay open 55 hours a week,” (Pittman).  I’ve voted the past two times to keep the library open and I will vote the same way again.  In the last election the millage was voted down by 51% of voters.  The city is divided, full of misleading information.  The fog has cleared – and it is now or never.

One group, Safeguarding American Families” is so against raising taxes to pay for the library (even though he’s not even a Troy resident) that he posted signs all around Troy that say, “Vote to Close Troy Library — Book Burning Party Aug. 5,” (Laitner).  There is even a Facebook Page for it: Book Burning Party.  Although they claim there won’t be actual burning of books, its strong message still gets across.  Almost dangerously because it is so extreme, many people will vote yes to save the library because they are so against burning books.  Extremes put things into perspective, and I’m not sure just what Tom Ball’s objective is, but he is a radical progressive.

The argument against the millage isn’t that people want to close the library – but they feel the city is misappropriating money that it should use for the library.  I agree.  However, misappropriation of funds is a different issue entirely – one that should be addressed not with the library as a pawn.  For instance, “City Manager John Szerlag makes $247,500 in ‘pay and perks,’” (Laitner).  Does he really need “a $130,473 salary, and receives a $75,178 pension for prior service and gets a $5,100 car allowance,”?  Absolutely not.  Should the city force water restrictions on its residents when it operates an aquatic center?  Probably not.  But city politics is not a mountain I want to conquer.  I just want to keep the public library open.

Is the Troy Public library worth this fight, or is it somewhat antiquated?  How many universities still have libraries?  All of them.  Libraries adapt to changing technology and provide access to computer and internet for those who cannot afford it.  For parents who don’t have $149 to buy a kindle and more money for books on top of that price that they will be unable to sell at a garage sale or the higher amounts of money for a Nook, an iPad, or other eReaders, physical books at a public library is still the best choice.  The Troy Public Library not only has a large children’s and adult’s section, but a large number of CDs, DVDs, and video games that residents can borrow.  They have a small used book store in the basement of the Library where you can buy books for a couple bucks and the money goes towards the improvement of the library.  You can reserve conference rooms, grab a snack, or even have lunch.

Troy has already dropped its nature center from its budget.  It now operates under a nonprofit and functions as a park (the buildings have closed).  I used to volunteer there every Saturday when I was a kid.  In March, I helped make maple syrup.  I’ve laid down woodchips, cleaned animal tanks, hiked the trails, studied nature, and learned about various subjects.  The City has also dropped most the Troy Museum’s funding.  This is a wonderful, small village of buildings that have been moved from various locations in Troy and tells its history.  I can walk through a log cabin, a one-room school house, a wagon shop, and a church all within a few feet of each other.  In college, I interned at the museum one summer.

My childhood is tied to Troy – including the library.  I used to walk the mile or so from my house with my family to borrow books.  Of course, I took forever to choose a few books.  I still do, even when I go to Barnes & Noble.

The Troy Public Library is not antiquated and needs to stay open.  It’s currently defining the childhoods of the next generation.  And the last thing I want to teach them is that the fundamentals and the past don’t matter.  I enjoy reading a book on my iPad, but there is still just something so magical with picking up a paperback book, curling up, and getting ink on my fingers.




Pittman, Asija. “Troy library rediscovers letters that marked its beginning – dailytribune.com.” Daily Tribune : Breaking news coverage for southeastern Oakland County, Michigan. N.p., 6 July 2011. Web. 14 July 2011.

Laitner, Bill. “Plan for a book-burning party is the latest salvo in Troy library battle.” Detroit Free Press. N.p., 14 July 2011. Web. 14 July 2011.