Booktalking George, by Alex Gino: It kind of takes a village

When I started this blog, I was a public librarian with a clear mission for what I wanted to write about here. Now that I’m a school librarian who is settling into a whole new work culture, it’s become less apparent to me what I’m supposed to talk about on this blog, except to say, “This is really different from my last job and sometimes it feels like I have no idea what I am doing.” Though I have been a school librarian for almost 6 months, it somehow only feels like a couple of days. The newness has not worn off yet. Hence, the lack of blog posts.

I thought I would talk about how George, by Alex Gino, became a project that much of our Upper School became involved in: 2 sixth grade classes, me (the librarian), several teachers, and the school psychologist. It all started when the 5th and 6th grade teachers asked me to present some booktalks to their classes. First, I asked if I could include books that acknowledged the existence of gay and trans* people. This is what I mean when I say that I’m adjusting to a new work culture. I would have never asked if this was OK at the public library. It would never even occurred to me to do so. It was never an issue there, a place where I was heavily protected by the First Amendment and an environment that supported freedom of information. Schools, especially independent schools, are trickier places to navigate, especially for us rah-rah liberal librarians, and I felt compelled to ask permission. Luckily, the teachers were open to my book selections.

I presented several titles: Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (which none of them had really read, oddly enough. I know this is an obvious choice), Better Nate than Ever by Tim FederleThe Marvels by Brian Selznick (I showed this trailer), The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (another older title they hadn’t read), and George by Alex Gino. While we saw increased circulation on all the titles, George generated the most discussion. I couldn’t keep a copy on the shelves and students were constantly asking when they could get their hands on it.

Here’s how I booktalk George: I say that it’s funny that the book is called George, because it’s actually about a girl named Melissa. Melissa gets home from school every day and does some pretty stereotypically “girly” things: She reads magazines written for girls, puts on lip gloss, and combs her bangs down over her face. However, before her mom and brother come home, she must fix her hair, clean her face, and put the magazines back in their hiding place. You see, while Melissa has always known she is a girl, her family sees her as a boy named George.

This last line usually elicits a good deal of confusion, so I ask that if I said Melissa was trans, would they know what this means? When Melissa was born, she was assigned the male gender, but she never identified as such. The teachers and I found that while the students were certainly curious about trans* people, their only exposure to a trans person is Caitlyn Jenner. And while I’m grateful to Caitlyn for giving the students some sort of access point to discuss this topic, she’s certainly not the default experience.

When talking to the class, I referred to the author, Alex Gino, with the pronoun “they“. I explained that beyond she/her and he/him, there are a myriad of other pronouns, including they/them. I quickly realized that they had never heard of anything like this before. Caitlyn Jenner has exposed them to the idea of transitioning from one end of the gender binary to the other, but otherwise, they had no concept of people who exist in the middle (or outside the gender binary altogether).

I thought the booktalks would sort of be a one-off deal, but conversations around George kept sprouting up around the library and the classrooms. Students were asking me if I had anything else like George (I don’t, outside of a copy of Beyond Magenta in the inaccessible professional collection). I mentioned to Alex on Twitter that our students were obsessed with George and they suggested that we have a little Skype session to discuss how that was going. I appreciated this, as talking to kids about the book and trans-related issues was way harder than I had anticipated. They had questions and I had answers (or at least I thought I did), but how were we going to tackle all this in the limited time I, as the librarian, have with students?

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Out of the Public Library and into the School: Hey. I have a new job.

I somehow got it into my head that I’d never leave the public library system, that I’d be working for my current system until I retired. Through all the budget cuts and layoff scares, I fought so hard to keep my job. I spent every waking minute advocating for the library and desperately clinging onto this position. I was so busy and stressed and worried about losing my job and becoming unemployed that I never stopped to consider what I wanted for my own life. Now that my job is more secure than it’s been since I started over six years ago, I’m leaving.

It’s just time.

I was lucky to find a job in NYC. Recently, I’ve been wondering if I could afford to stay in one of the country’s most expensive cities. Though my family has been living in four out of the five boroughs (and surrounding areas; most of them are in Long Island now) for over 100 years, I feel like I don’t belong here anymore. It’s so hard to financially survive. My partner and I have been living paycheck to paycheck since forever. While this situation is not uncommon for your typical NYC resident, it has become exhausting and clearly unsustainable. I knew that I either a) had to make a big career change or b) leave NYC. Since most of my family lives in New York, I am glad I can stay. Seeing my father on a regular basis is very important to me.

As for my new job, I’m making what feels like a massive transition from the world of urban, public libraries to an urban, independent school library.

I’ve settled into a role as the resident know-it-all here, but soon, I’ll have to come to terms with a new environment, library mission, and set of coworkers. I imagine my first year will consist of observing and asking questions, rather than innovating and creating. Experienced public librarian, no longer. I am ready for n00b-dom. I am equal parts excited and terrified.

This blog will definitely still exist, though its tone and mission may shift a little or a lot.

I have less than a month left here in the Central Youth Wing. I’ll have three days off and then I’ll go straight into my new position. It’ll probably prove to be exhausting and overwhelming, but I’m ready.

Wish me luck.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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