My oldest son attends our local elementary school, and my second is desperate to. He wants to hang out at the school all the time and do everything Big Brother is doing. Which, he can’t. 😦 So when he wanted to check out a book from the school library, I was a heartbeat away from explaining that, no, sweetie, you can’t, these are for the students, when the librarian declared, “Of course you can!”
That was when I met Kristen Zayon, librarian at Pearl Creek Elementary School. My younger kids and I have spent a lot of time in that library over the last couple years and I’ve never ever seen her send a child away without a book.
Then one day it occurred to me. I write kid lit. She works in a children’s library.
WAIT I HAVE QUESTIONS.
And, look at that! She has answers!
Jill: Hi! Who are you?
Kristen: My name is Kristen Zayon. I have a degree in business, but business didn’t really interest me. Once I got most of my kids in school, I started working as a kindergarten aide at my children’s school, and then a few hours here and there in the library. I had worked as a library aide in high school, and had loved it, and also have had a long love affair with books of all kinds. The librarian at Hunter at the time was Nicky Eiseman, and she all but insisted that I take children’s lit and library science so I could be an elementary librarian in the school district. I took the classes, and applied when there were openings. In the meantime, I worked as a library assistant at West Valley High School. I interviewed at Pearl Creek over the summer of 2013, and started that fall.
Jill: This year, you participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. How did that go? What success are you most proud of?
Kristen: With a full-time job and five kids at home, I didn’t write nearly as much as I wanted. I got a good start and figured out some important plot points, and in what direction I wanted my story to go. I finished a picture book I’d been working on (the writing part, not the art part!), edited it, and sent it off to some family members to review, so that was probably my biggest success.
Jill: I understand that, on top of NaNo, you were also teaching a short story creative writing group after school. How was that? What’s the best part of teaching writing to children?
Kristen: It’s a challenge teaching the after school group, because it’s so much more casual than the regular school setting. It’s harder keeping them on track, but I was really impressed with some of their ideas and the quality of the writing. I love the imagination that children bring to writing. That’s my struggle when I write. I feel that I’m technically an excellent writer, but coming up with the ideas – that’s another story. Kids don’t have that trouble.
Jill: Speaking of children, we hear a lot of statistics about how American pleasure reading is on the decline, about how a person’s reading for fun starts to decrease around age eight. Do you see this in your students? Are the older ones less enthusiastic about it than the youngsters? Is there a way to fight this trend, or do you think that’s unnecessary?
Kristen: It shocks me when I hear statistics showing that the majority of American adults haven’t read a single book for pleasure in the last year. It’s a disturbing trend, and I think it’s brought about by our modern focus on technology over all else. Most people would rather pick up a device than a book.
Really, the frontline of this battle is taking place with our children. It’s up to parents and educators to instill the love of reading in children in their tenderest years. I was reading to my children when they were infants, and I’ve never stopped. They see me consistently reading for pleasure as well.
There does seem to be a line of demarcation some time around 3rd grade when kids decide either “I’m a reader. I love books.” or “I don’t like reading.” It’s not true across the board, though. I have a number of 4th, 5th and 6th graders who check out piles of books. There’s a few girls in particular who are hard to recommend books for, because they’ve read them all!
Jill: Changing gears a little bit now, how does a book find its way into your library?
Kristen: I add about 600-700 books to the library collection per year. I learn about new books from a variety of sources. New books in popular series get added, I listen to student requests. I read magazines such as School Library Journal for reviews. I follow blogs. I follow authors, illustrators and publishers on Twitter. I try to balance fiction with non-fiction, and books for primary readers with books for intermediate readers.
Most of my books are ordered from Follett, a company that is linked with our library software. Those books come already covered, bar-coded and labeled. All I have to do is download the list into my system and stamp the books.
My next major supplier is Scholastic. These books are NOT barcoded, covered or labeled, so I have to add them to the system individually and cover, label and stamp each one. Obviously this is more time-consuming, but since I have book fair rewards to use at Scholastic, it’s worth it.
Jill: When ordering for the library, do you have a banned book list to consider? We understand that these sorts of things are necessary when stocking a children’s library in a public school, but have you ever come across a title that you really wanted but couldn’t get? Or the reverse, a title that you could order that you thought was completely inappropriate?
Kristen: There are no books explicitly banned in our school district. Elementary libraries in our district are limited in what we can have by policy based on age appropriateness. If a book is considered “young adult, ” K-6 schools are not allowed to have it. A lot of books are designated for 5th-8th grade, and in that case I will get those. But if a book is designated for 6th grade up, I usually pass.
I come across things now and again that I want to get for my library, but can’t because of the age designation. Two that I can remember recently were both non-fiction “The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club” by Phillip Hoose, and “The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia.” I felt both had a lot of important historical merit, but they were ranged for middle school and up. I haven’t read them, so I couldn’t say if the designation is appropriate.
There have been a few over the course of time that I felt might be a little much for elementary. One was “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier, which I liked, but it seemed to have some themes for which many K-3rd graders wouldn’t be ready. Of course it’s extremely popular!
Jill: What is the best part of your job?
Kristen: I often tell people I have the best job in the world; I get to interact with kids and read and explore books all day. Of course that’s not all I do, but they are the best parts of the job. Connecting a kid to the right book is so satisfying. Making a whole group of kids laugh with a funny story-telling session is wonderful. And now that I’ve been here through three school years, I’m getting to watch these students grow and change and mature right in front of my eyes and feel that I at least have some small part in it.
I have an acquaintance whose daughter is a student of mine. She’s a sixth grader this year. My friend approached me and said “she’s too shy to say so, but I wanted you to know that my daughter thinks you are the best librarian in the world. She just loves you!” When you get comments like that; that makes it all worthwhile!
Jill: In closing, what is your favorite book and why?
Kristen: You’re asking a librarian to pick one favorite book??? That’s hilarious! There are so many. I could probably narrow it down to a top twenty! But I guess if I had to choose just one, it would be “Little House in the Big Woods,” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When I was little, my older sister, Cindy, used to read that to me at night. She has a wonderful reading voice, and I just feel warm and cozy when I remember that. Every time I read that book, I’m six years old again. Maybe it was those moments with her that turned me in to a reader, so thanks Cindy!
And thank you, Kristen! I loved her thoughts on child literacy, and was fascinated to learn how a book hits her shelves. (She even let me peek over her shoulder while she was in the Follett site! She’s terrific!)
So while I have a librarian to pester, are there any other questions you readers think I’ve missed? Anything you’re dying to ask a children’s librarian? Let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer! Thanks for reading!