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Friday, July 19, 2013

Summer Book List Drama

In case you missed it, here is a piece I wrote for Book Riot: "The Conversation We Should Really Be Having About Summer Reading List Errors." In it, I discuss a situation in which Long Island high school was recently singled out by the media for handing out a mistake-riddled summer reading list to its students - an issue about which I have mixed feelings.

(It was also a great excuse to unearth this gem of a kid's book list found in my library):

An excerpt from Book Riot:

"Yesterday, NBC New York posted an article that puts one unfortunate Long Island high school in the spotlight for handing out a summer reading list full of amusing but ultimately disturbing errors. (You can also see the originalNewsday article here, which shows the enthusiastic but mistake-riddled cover letter from the school.)
Here are some of the mistakes found on the book list (from NBCnewyork.com): “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ is misspelled as ‘The Great Gypsy.’ Author Emily Bronte is listed as ‘Bonte.’ George Orwell is called ‘Ornell,’ and Frederick Douglass is listed as ‘Douglas.’ Maya Angelou’s 1969 autobiography is referred to as ‘I Know Why Caged Birds Sing,’ and Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel, later made into a film, is listed as ‘The Lovely Bone.’”
Now, I realize that it’s easy to laugh (I mean, The Lovely Bone? C’mon, that’s HILARIOUS) and scoff and be outraged by this egregious display of ignorance and carelessness. However, there are other things at play here. First of all, I think it’s unfair of Newsday to single out Hempstead when the problem is not limited to just this school. (This doesn’t excuse the mistakes outright, but it’s wrong to vilify one school for an issue that faces many schools, especially without discussing some of the economic factors that might contribute to the difficulties they face.) I also honestly don’t see the errors as being totally life-ruining for students (and I was once a high school English teacher myself who expected a lot from my own students). Fortunately, many kids take advantage of their local libraries, where trained professionals are able to sort these problems out. Librarians to the rescue!
It is reasonable to hold educators up to higher standards, but the point in the article about the school not having a “stable administration” might be a good one. Are these faulty reading lists indicative of a larger problem within the educational system? With crazier and crazier demands being placed on teachers, who is actually writing these lists and letters in the first place? Is it the teachers themselves, or overworked paraprofessionals who might not have the same access to information nor the time to proofread for mistakes? Does it matter?"
I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. This is a recurrent problem at our library in NJ. In the past, we have notified the schools of the errors and the schools have given out the same lists verbatim (with the same errors) the following year. So we've given up. I agree that understaffing or overworking may play a part in what is perceived as carelessness, but I do thing that more attention needs to be paid. It's frustrating for the child who attempts to search for a book on his or her own only to get a "No titles found (0 hits)". We want children to feel confident in their ability to use the library, and some of these errors doom them to failure. Of course, librarians are usually and hopefully available to rectify the situation. Another problem we have is schools choosing books that were published 30 years ago (not classics) and/or books that very few libraries own. Also, despite our repeated attempts to communicate with the schools and get our hands on a copy of the list in advance, we did not see the lists until the students did. This means that we could not order extra copies in advance which is frustrating for us because it is frustrating for the many children who come in looking for the same copy of a book.

  2. In fairness, Gypsy and Douglas could have been autocorrect doing it's thing...

  3. Well said, Rita! I can overlook the occasional typo because, hey, we all make mstakes (heh). I also try to assume that list errors aren't due to outright dumbness (although sometimes they are), but rather in organizational practices where the documents are not being vetted and proofread by the right people before they are handed over to students. The major issue I have with lists is creative layouts that don't correspond, at least in a basic way, to how the library is laid out. These are the multitudes of lists I see where the TITLES are listed in alphabetical order, or they are listed (shudder) by Guided Reading level. Many parents are game about learning how to find things themselves, but they don't want it to become a day-long research excursion, and I don't blame them.

  4. I can't tell you how many times kids come in to the library with a homework assignment with many words misspelled. I ask them who wrote the assignment questions for them? answer: Their teacher. I have also been told by the kids when they have a book report that spelling doesn't count. I'm sorry there is something wrong with this

  5. I'm wondering if someone didn't scan and OCR a list they'd picked up elsewhere. You can get LOTS of mistakes that way, even scanning Times New Roman, much less any other font.

  6. Don;t get me started about educators and grammar/spelling errors. But I have to say, I just saw your piece on Book Riot, and way to go, girl! Had to reblog it.

    And Screwy Decimal is my new favorite blog...

  7. Don't get me started on educators and grammar/spelling errors. But I loved your piece on Book Riot. Had to reblog it!

    And "Screwy Decimal?" Best librarian blog title ever.