Books Get Detention (and vice versa) by Elaine Fultz
Last Friday at the detention center, it was a full house. Twelve teenage guys sat in plastic molded chairs and listened, mostly, to what the Friday Library Lady (me) had to say about the books and magazines in this week’s rotating collection. As I handed over the WWE magazines to eager outstretched hands, I rolled my eyes at their enthusiasm. One young man abruptly asked if I was married. “What does that have to do with wrestling?” I countered. He persisted with the question so I pointed to my left ring finger and nodded. He said, “You hate wrestling because your husband loves it.” (My former third graders might have prefaced this conclusion with, “You have a text-to-self connection!”) We all laughed for different reasons. He thought he had me. Some of the others might have admired his swagger. I laughed because my husband is a nature-loving 5th grade teacher who loves his Red Sox, but who would rather spend hours watching birds than sports (if WWE wrestling even counts as a sport).
This seemingly odd group – one middle-aged librarian and a dozen detained teen boys – laughed together about wrestling magazines — magazines delivered to them by somebody who cares about their reading interests. Before the magazines, we talked about Repossessed by A. M. Jenkins, the Bluford series, and Simone Elkeles‘s books. These titles usually are co-booktalked since somebody usually enjoyed them the last time they were in juvie. Common occurrences: One, the same guys appear in detention week-to-week or month-to-month. Two, I bring similar books each time because there are some dependable interests with this audience, but somebody ALWAYS throws me with a unique request (Twilight and Tolkien, for example). Three, readers join in when I talk about a book because it’s one they enjoyed given the opportunity (and in this case, the Time) to read something they like.
Ever since I lost my job in the school library due to budget cuts, I miss the fun of sharing books with young people every single day. I miss Shannon rushing into the library each morning with yesterday’s book to tell me she finished it and to ask me what she should read next. I miss how five different fifth grade classes react to the same shared piece of writing in five different ways. I miss Tyler’s weekly Harry Potter updates. While he worked through the series, he would rush to me as each Tuesday library class time began with, “So I’m at the part where…”
So now I’m at the part where I work at the public library and spend most of the week in my office, but part of my job is to visit the detention center and to deliver books the teen boys might enjoy reading. This captive audience probably has no idea how much we need each other and these essential conversations about the books and magazines we like (and don’t like). Classroom, school library, public library, our own homes, the juvenile detention center — we book-loving nerds can (must!) share our passion for reading with kids in the most expected and unexpected places.
Elaine Fultz is currently the Teen Specialist at the Dayton Metro Library in Dayton, Ohio.