Janet Luch & Mary Winningham

In Conversation

An introduction:

Elizabeth: I just realized that I should introduce myself. I am a school librarian at Avon Middle School South in Avon, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis. South is a middle school with 750 students that is culturally diverse. I was born in Oxford, England, and moved to Bethesda, Maryland, when I was four. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in fifth grade and did not become an avid reader until my own children were toddlers. I moved to Indiana in 1983 and have been happily married for 36 years. After volunteering in my son’s school library, I was encouraged to seek my Master’s Degree in Library Science and began my teaching career in 1999. I have two children, two grandsons and am the proud mom to a beagle and a black lab. I have been reviewing for about five years now and am on our State Reading program committee as well.

Janet Luch: I was born in Ohio and taught second grade there for a year before moving to Kansas. I taught primary math and science for about seven years. Finally, I moved to New York, where I taught mainly in the middle school and technology areas. I am now teaching at the college level. Along the way I earned a Master's Degree in Reading and a Master's degree in Educational Technology. My three children are now grown with families of their own and it is especially rewarding to watch my grandson as he grows and learns to enjoy books.

What made you want to become a reviewer for SLC?

Elizabeth: I have been a Media Specialist/ School Librarian for 19 years. I began reviewing about five to six years ago because I wanted to get involved and see what new materials and trends were being published. I also thought it would give me another way to bring the new literature to my own students.

Janet: I love to read books of nearly any type so being able to keep up with the latest published books and share them with my students was a perfect activity for me.

What do you like about it?

Elizabeth: I like that I can review when it is convenient with my work schedule and committee work. I like to read in spurts and we are provided books that are due at different times. I just start with the first due date and work my way through the books. I feel like Christmas comes with each new box of books. I find reviewing can be a challenge at times because I get wrapped up in the books and sometimes forget to think as a student when reviewing. Will the intended audience enjoy this? Just because I love it doesn’t always mean that 5th -9th graders will!

Janet: I agree, Elizabeth, that it is exciting to get the box of books in the mail. I look forward to seeing what types of books will be in the box. Like you, I sort the books by the date the reviews are due and read the books in that order. I, too, have found there is plenty of time to read and write the reviews without rushing. For me, the most challenging part is writing the review so that the reader knows just what the book is like and who might appreciate it. I want the reader to know the positive aspects of the book, any potential issues that may occur when reading the book, and the students who may enjoy reading it.

What books have been particularly impactful in your life and/or the lives of your students?

Elizabeth: I have also been reviewing for my State Book Award Program and therefore have read a great many new books. The books that I review are usually books that I highly recommend to my students or I am able to pass the ARC copy on to a student with a very specific interest or need.

Janet: The variety of books that I can show the students in my classes has been quite helpful. We can compare the illustrations, formatting of the text, topics, etc. I try to allow time to read at the end of each class, Students have reported that this time to read books they are unfamiliar with has changed their idea about reading and made them more willing to make time to read in their personal life. In addition, it helps them understand how important fostering a love for reading is for the students in their future classes.

Have you noticed any trends and/or changes in children's/YA book publishing over the time that you have been reviewing and/or working in the profession?

Elizabeth: Yes, I have noticed several changes and trends. One specific change that I think is hurting the 6th -9th readers is the sudden change to very juvenile covers. My middle school students will not pick up some great books because the covers show younger characters on the cover. Another trend is that many of the realistic fiction books are aimed at middle/high school girls. We need to get more non-sports books with strong male protagonist that are not like I funny or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Janet: For me, I think that Young Adult books are much more interesting than when I first began to review. The topics are ones that young people want to read about and the writing is usually superb. Having said that, I also notice that many of the college age students in my classes, both undergraduate and graduate, like to read Young Adult books probably for those same reasons.

What would you like to see more of in books published for this market?

Elizabeth: We need more diverse literature that shows strong protagonists from non-white cultures, where the characters are not in trouble with the law, and that have great storylines that will motive all students to be who they are and achieve their personal best. We need to provide students from all backgrounds with role models for them to emulate.

Janet: Those are good points, Elizabeth. I notice that there are stronger female characters in many children’s and Young Adult books now than in the past but that is often as far as diversity goes. I can sometimes find biographies that show diversity but not often fiction books that show various cultures or disabilities.

What motivates you in your work with books and students?

Elizabeth: My love of reading and wanting to help students succeed in life. When I was in fifth grade I could not read. I worked extremely hard, and went on to college and then Graduate school for my Master’s in Library Science. I love working with the struggling readers and helping them realize that they too can excel at whatever level they are at. Book Talks and recommendations are both areas I enjoy and spend time with my students. I have also developed a love for collection development because what is in the library is what can start students on the path to a lifetime of reading and learning.

Janet: I love to see the looks on students’ faces of any age when they have read a section of a book that they enjoy. They often come to class telling me about a book that they have particularly enjoyed. Even better, they share what they are reading with classmates before class, with their friends outside of class, and use ideas from what they have read in their writing.