Author Spotlight

Perfect Mix: Writing Middle Grade Books While Working as a Middle School Librarian

If you would have told me six years ago that I would someday work in a public middle school library and love it and that I’d be the author of 11 children’s books, I’d have said you were crazy.

All right, at the time, I was the author of nine non-fiction middle grade children’s books with Mitchell Lane, so that part was not so unbelievable. I have since published two other books.

Actually, the books are the reason I was hired five years ago to work in the library at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School in Bluffton, Indiana. The principal at the time thought that my experience in writing children’s books for Grades 4-8 would help in working in the library.

Yes and no.

  • Yes, I could tell students what it was like to write books.
  • No, I had not read many fiction books for children at that point though I have since read hundreds.
  • Yes, I had previous library experience in working at the Circulation Desk of the library at Taylor University-Ft Wayne.
  • No, I had never purchased a book for a library.

It took me a couple of years to catch on to the rhythm and style of working in a middle school library in a public school. But it only took me a few months to realize my opportunity — and privilege — as an author of working with 400+ students.

As a lifelong book lover and mother of three grown children, I had naively thought every parent emphasized the importance of reading to their children. Sadly, that is not so.

To introduce students to books is such a thrill, I can hardly contain my excitement when a student with a bored expression says he needs a book to read during homeroom.

“Do you like Greek mythology?” I ask. This is a valid question due to Rick Riordan’s popular books. If the answer is yes or at least a shrug, I find the Riordan shelf in fiction and then take him to the non-fiction section to point out my three books on Greek gods–Hades, Hephaestus, Hermes.

When I show him my name on the covers, the student usually looks at me quizzically like I’m trying to fool him.

I then point out our biography section and my books on Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Big Time Rush. Still looks of disbelief on the student’s face, although if the student is female, she by now at least looks a little interested in the books. That’s my ultimate goal. The boys are also interested, they just don’t want to show it.

I then take the student to the cookbook section and point out my Recipe and Craft Guide to Indonesia and Now You’re Cooking: Cuba books. By now, the student is becoming familiar with the library and hopefully seeing that it is a friendly, interesting place with books he/she may not have imagined to be there.

As an author, there are other advantages to working in a library. I’ve learned students love to read scary books – lots of ghost story books are checked out. They love to read about freaky things – Guinness World Record Books are very popular! Sometimes they love the librarian.

note 1While I’ve not yet written a book about freaky things, it’s at the top of my to-write-about list. At this point I’m following Rick Riordan and Taylor Swift on social media to thank them for making me popular in my middle school library.

What personal advantage do you bring to your job in working with children and books?

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Our guest blogger today is Kayleen Reusser. Kayleen is the author of Cuba, Healthy Recipe from Latin America from Purple Toad Publishing and 10 other children’s books. Check out her website at website at www.KayleenR.com

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

2 comments

  1. Kelly Doolittle

    What a glorious job for you! As you say, we have a positives and negatives with what we bring to our jobs, but hopefully the positives come out on top! Something I was able to bring to my toddler and family storytimes was my guitar. The kids love the guitar and I use it every storytime for welcome and closing songs, and sometimes special songs in between. The coolest thing about this is, without working very hard at it 🙂 I’ve become a sort of superhero to some of the children. Their grownups tell me that at home they play “Librarian” and want to sit in the seat up front, and hold the book just so, and play the guitar – air guitar, of course, (until their parents sometimes break down and get them their own little guitar to learn on!) – and they are “Miss Kelly,” “doing storytime.” Usually, these are toddler to preschool aged girls, but I had my first report of a toddler boy who was doing this and I was completely thrilled. Their grownups and I always smile and laugh and say “Maybe [insert name] will be a future librarian!”

    Not every storytime turns out perfect, not every grownup or child is enchanted, but to get those responses from any of my audience brings me the greatest joy. It has it’s ups and downs – but I love my job!

    1. Kayleen Reusser

      Kelly, thanks for your comment! Your guitar sounds fun! I saw some inexpensive ones in the Oriental Trading Co catalog– 88 cents! Maybe you’d like to have a party and give each child their own! I’m actually dressing as Medusa for school students now to represent the Greek gods books I’ve written. If you want to follow me on Twitter, FB, you’ll see pics. I’d love to stay in contact w/ you to share more ideas.

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