For Librarians

A Passion for Literacy and Service, Knitted Together

Sabrina Carnesi is a middle school librarian with a passion for knitting. We met at a multicultural literature conference in Norfolk, Va., and when she started to tell me about her knitting program for students, I was utterly fascinated. You will be, too.

Tell me a little about your program.

The name of my student knitting circle is Knitting4Life. The rule for being a participating member in the circle is to knit four items of whatever project has been assigned: the first well-made item goes to the less fortunate; the second item goes to a friend; the third item goes to a family member; and the last to self. If the student does not have a friend or family member who can use the items, they are all contributed to someone in need.  Our first meeting was held in October 2009, at the beginning of my second year in the building.

What kinds of kids join your program? How do they grow in the program?


Most students come from various socioeconomic backgrounds with as varied a profile of personalities. (So far, the boys have not lasted too long, although they are made aware that there are male knitters in the world.) The circle seems to break everyone down to the same plane of existence, because each student depends on the other for their knitting survival. They have to help each other out with practicing their newly acquired skills. The loud aggressive girls learn how to speak softly. The quiet shy students learn to assert themselves. All the members come to realize that their skill is one that helps others across the age groups, because they work on projects used from infancy to adulthood.

When my first circle started, they were teased unmercifully by students calling them granny…until they produced their first hat… and their first scarf…then the requests rolled in to make them a hat or scarf too…and it became a status to wear a handmade hat by their new friend. Nowadays there’s no more name calling, but the requests definitely roll in.

K4L students at a daily knitting session

What is your own history with knitting?

My experience with knitting started in my grandmother’s house by simply observing and assisting in rolling the yarn that she got from her brother’s sheep. This yarn was seldom dyed or treated, but made the warmest hats and bed socks you can imagine. When I reached the magical age of 9, I made my first hand-sewn monstrosity that was referred to as a dress (I had to wear it in public too). I knew the knitting was soon coming and was absolutely delighted that my first knit project (a hat) was not as poorly made as my first dress. My grand also knew how to crochet, can veggies and fruit, and make potpourri from her rose petals and apple peelings and cores (from the apple tree in our yard, of course) and poor little me had to learn how to do it all.

Now almost 50 years later, I am so grateful for what my grandmother taught me. I even have my own sheep that I pay for the feeding of so I can now have winter hats and bed socks just like the ones I use to have as a little girl.

How / why did you decide to start this program?

Initially, I wanted to use the group as a catalyst to help change the culture of my school building. I observed many students, at that time, showing much interest in sporting elite brands but not harboring a sense of giving back to their community. As a child, I constantly saw adults in my hometown giving back. This was also something that was verbally communicated…that everyone, no matter how small or humble the talent, was responsible for using that talent to share with others.
What I soon came to understand was that many students didn’t realize they had something of value to share or give back. They underestimated the strength of their abilities and were more aware of their voids and weaknesses. My heart was so torn. As the school librarian, I used checkout time to have quick book chats and human interest chats about service empowerment…nothing overbearing… for example, I spoke to my cookbook squad about their love for cooking and how they could use that to help others. The more I spoke to the students one-on-one, the more I thought about what I could do personally. That’s when the idea of knitting came to mind.

What kind of community support do you get? What kind of support do you give back?

We have annual projects that we work on each year: children’s scarves for Christmas baskets at our town’s “Downtown Christmas Party” and preemie hats for NICUs in our two area hospitals. The preemie hats are our most popular projects, because no one believes that the hats were knitted by middle schoolers. I also like the circle to practice their technique on the baby hats, because if they can successfully make an infant hat, they can then make one for themselves.

My first community cheerleader was Sheila Reuben, the owner of one of our local knitting shops, the Village Stitchery. She allowed our girls to come to the shop and sit in the back room for a session. She also gave us leftover yarn and loads of yarn for give-away prices. Her own knitting circle started coming down to share their projects with my knitters. Word has gotten around and we are constantly finding bags of yarn left at our door with no name…just a bag of yarn.

A lot of people are going to think, knitting is really nice, but what does that have to do with literacy? How do you make that connection in your library?

When K4L knitters began to conduct research for new knitting patterns, they use both print and digital resources and communicate with each other via emails, text messaging and social networks.

A school library’s program is deeply entrenched in providing guidance for students to successfully access information for academic and personal needs. For academic purposes, the steps for accessing information and completing a final project are called the inquiry process. Knitters go through the same exact same steps for each new knitting project as students go through to complete a research project, from generating questions and collecting information, to organizing materials and evaluating the project. (For a complete list of how knitting develops research skills, read Carnesi’s article, A Common Chord in Our Beliefs, in Knowledge Quest, Journal of the American Association of School Librarians, starting on page 62.)

What hopes do you have for the future?

Members of the circle impact the lives of everyone around them with their skills. Parents come to me all the time with testimonies of how K4L has totally turned their child around as a person. What I wish for in the future, is that one day my older knitters that have gone on to high school will feel a need to start a Knitting4Life circle in their schools and pass the skill and service tradition on.

K4L also has a photo blog at http://cmsk4l.edublogs.org/research-skills-and-knitting/. You can also visit Carnesi’s main library web page at http://mariehollandlibrary.edublogs.org/.

Wendy Shang just may attempt her first knitting project for the holidays.

 

New Releases! November 2012

The temperatures are beginning to drop, the leaves are beginning to fall. Time to brew a steaming mug of tea or hot chocolate and curl up with your favorite book. Here are a few new ones to add to your list:

 

 

      Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney

Love is in the air—but what does that mean for Greg Heffley?  A Valentine’s Day dance at Greg’s middle school has turned his world    upside down. As Greg scrambles to find a date, he’s worried he’ll be left out in the cold on the big night. His best friend, Rowley, doesn’t have any prospects either, but that’s a small consolation.

An unexpected twist gives Greg a partner for the dance and leaves Rowley the odd man out. But a lot can happen in one night, and in the end, you never know who’s going to be lucky in love.

 

 

Divide and Conquer (Infinity Ring Series #2)  by Carrie Ryan

HISTORY UNDER ATTACK

Hundreds of ships carrying thousands of Viking warriors are attacking medieval Paris. The Parisians are fighting back, but they can only hold out for so long. And that’s bad news – especially since Dak has been captured and forced to work with the invading army while Sera and Riq defend Paris from within. No matter which side wins, the kids will lose . . . unless Dak can find an ally among some of history’s fiercest warriors.

 

 

 

  •   The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — The World of Hobbits by Paddy Kempshall
  •    Enter the amazing World of Hobbits. Packed with photos from the new film, this book will tell you all you need to know about these amazing creatures – their appearance, appetites, homes, friends, deadly foes and much more.

 

 

Have a wonderful November Everyone!!

 

 

Community-Building at KidLitCon 2012

KidLitosphere Conference

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to tell you about a beautiful fall day last week when kidlit bloggers came from all around the country to talk about their favorite subject: children’s and teen books. Along with librarians, authors, school teachers, agents, and publishers, three Mixed-Up Files members were there, too. Us, three that is.

Michelle Schusterman, Sayantani DasGupta, and Sheela Chari talk about community-building and the Mixed-Up Files at KidLitCon 2012

At this year’s KidLitCon held at the New York Public Library, Michelle, Sayantani, and I shared our experiences in community-building on the blog and off the blog, using our collective Mixed-Up Files experiences. Not only that, there was KidLit Jeopardy, live tweeting, and prizes we handed out to our Jeopardy winners and 3 tweeters in the audience chosen at random!

Books by Mixed_Up Files authors that we gave away at our presentation. All right!

We split our presentation into three parts – building, sustaining, and expanding your blogging community. Michelle started us off, using her previous experience as a founder of the group blog, YA Highway, to talk about how to build a blog, find friends instead of just followers, seek IRL or in-real-life interactions, and learn how to balance it all by finding the right methods of communication for yourself and taking time to unplug and recharge.

Over twitter, audience members in the room responded to our question:

What’s the best place for a meet-up? #mglitchat

 ‏@ohmiagarcia: cafe! Coffee is always a must.

 ‏@celialarsen: virtually: twitter; in person: a place that serves alcohol!

‏@SleepingAnna: depends on your group: living room to coffee shop to Skype!

‏@RobertFWalsh: Bill Gate’s basement. Failing that, his garage. (Note: I’m no longer welcome there.)

Next, I talked about sustaining a community – finding ways to keep your readers coming back. I focused on giveaways, something we’ve done frequently at the Mixed-Up Files, and shared two major ones: The Great Library Giveaway and Skype Author Visits. I talked about how giveaways, while fun, don’t always generate enough traffic on their own. But with some planning and innovation, and by looking at the big-picture, you can still have successful giveaways that benefit more than just the winner but the community, too. It was especially to nice to share the successes of the 2010 Library Giveaway, where we gave away 70 brand-new library books to a library in need.

Psst… we have a new goal this year of 100 – so if you are interested in donating a book or nominating a deserving library, details are at those afore highlighted links.

I also shared some of the joys and challenges of Skype visits – and even tried to enact a real-live Skype conversation with Elissa Cruz in front of everyone – but the technological gods were not on my side and the call didn’t go through. But never fear! We continued on gallantly!

During this part of the presentation we asked over twitter:

how do you get readers excited about a giveaway?#mglitchat

‏@celialarsen: post link to contest in various places, offer swag/book of choice.

@SleepingAnna: Get the readers excited about giveaway! Thru info and fun contest!

@LeeandLow: Re giveaways: “Don’t have to give things away. Good content has more reach than giveaways.”

‏@RobertFWalsh: Giveaways should involve George Clooney. Or tickets to a Notre Dame football game. (Hint: my wife suggested 1 of these)

Sayantani ended the last part of presentation with a look at diversity in blogging. She suggested that expanding a blog’s readership with an eye to diversity means paying attention to who writes for the blog, and what they write for the blog – including a diverse blend of interviews, booklists, and general posts focusing on issues such as gender or multiculturalism. This also means diversifying who is on your blogging team. She gave the example of the Mixed-Up Files application process, our methods for scheduling posts through a message forum and calendar, and stressed the need for a robust membership committee that doesn’t always agree on everything.

She also talked about diverse content and shared several booklists from our blog that cover a broad range of interests, from books for boys, books for girls, books about disability, strong girl characters, and books by debut authors.

During Sayantani’s section, we asked tweeters:

What does diversity in blogging mean to you?#mglitchat

@SleepingAnna: Variety of ages, professions, opinions, interests. Ex: food story time entry read by a cook!

Yin (Perrine Wynkel), via paper and pencil: Diversity engenders a collision of different perspectives and ideas, which increases the possibility of something new and exciting and fascinating being created – new avenues of thought.

All in all, we had a fantastic time at KidLitCon, meeting so many wonderful bloggers and children’s lit enthusiasts. We feel especially lucky to have the chance to share some of our blog’s successes and challenges. Thanks so much to everyone who came out to hear our presentation! And thank you to all the wonderful Mixed Up Files authors who donated their books for our giveaway! And for those of you who weren’t able to attend, here’s three of the Jeopardy questions we asked attendees — test your knowledge of all things Mixed Up Files and leave your thoughts below in the comments section! (answers in form of a question, please):

Jeopardy “Answer” 1: The name of the statue at the center of the mystery in “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”

Jeopardy “Answer” 2: The names of the two children in “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”

Jeopardy “Answer” 3: The day and time #MGLITCHAT convenes to talk about all things middle grade

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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Sheela Chari is the author of VANISHED (Disney Hyperion). You can watch her this morning on the TODAY Show with Al Roker.

Sayantani DasGupta is the co-author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales (Interlink, 1995), the author of a memoir on race and gender in medical education, and co-editor of an award winning collection of women’s illness narratives.  She likes to tweet, blog, and otherwise blather.

Michelle Schusterman  is the author of the I HEART BAND series (Penguin, 2014). She’s currently living in Queens, and she blogstweets, and Tumblrs.