Alicia Abdul is co-librarian at Albany High School with Kristen Majkut. Abdul contributes to a personal blog titled Readers Be Advised on Wordpress and contributes to the Times Union's Books Blog while sitting on book award committees for the American Library Association's Young Adult Library Services division.
Favorite poet: Pablo Neruda. I wish I knew Spanish as a native language because I can only imagine how much more I would love his poetry. Rupi Kaur has taken it the next level with her heart and history (and the beautiful dresses) alongside her poetry she's making Insta-famous!
Favorite writers: Absolutely unequivocally Ruta Sepetys, but I enjoy Jeff Zentner, Erika Robuck,
Books that I must own because they're amazing: The Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga graphic novels series, The 57 Bus by by Dashka Slater, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.
Books as therapy, escape, and entertainment
By Alicia Abdul
What is uniquely special for librarians working in schools is that we aren’t just a student’s teacher for one year, but multiple years. It’s the greatest gift to be spectators and active participants in their learning and whether they’re four or 14, reading continues to be the tree that continually bears fruit. It’s what fills us up as educators, makes us proud as parents, and students recognize it as a gateway.
Students develop into readers over time. Some are learning English as a new language. Some weren’t readers growing up, or have lost interest over time. But that stops with us educators. We provide opportunities during the school year for students to connect with readers and artists through collaborating with other organizations or doing it on our own.
It started in March 2011 when Albany High School hosted New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins. Thus began our continued ambition to see the smiles and hear our students elated by the personal connections they made with writers. Since then we have hosted local and world-renowned authors and all bring their A-game because our students are their readers. They enjoy hearing from the students and demonstrate a genuine interest in understanding them. Students have beamed when an author made a comment on the shirt they were wearing.
One specific event evoked feelings of admiration when they were given the opportunity to take a photo with Holocaust survivor and Marion Blumenthal Lazan, author of Four Perfect Pebbles, after an emotional connection deepened their understanding of the atrocities of hate.
As readers, we turn to books as therapy, as escape, and as entertainment. Teens live vicariously through characters that are starkly different from who they are. Through reading, they are able to learn lessons that teach them how to be better members of society. They can reflect on themselves.
A month after All American Boys was published by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, we hosted Reynolds and the students’ immediate response was one of understanding. They “got” Reynolds and Reynolds “got” them. Seeing themselves in each other heightened this connection.
Albany High School students embrace Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan, author of "Four Perfect Pebbles" (Photo by Brooks Ginnan)
He posed real questions and wanted their honest answers, taking the time to listen to each one.
The days where we’ve hosted authors and illustrators leave us nourished. The book is not dead and neither is reading. It is alive and flourishing in our school library. The personal interactions with those in the business amplify the reading experience and encourage them in that journey.
We keep our calendar full with these opportunities to build new generations who smile at the mere sight of a book. We see students go from checking out one or two books to several dozen because they know they’re among reading friends.
Beverly Cleary said it best:
Written by Alicia Abdul, co-librarian at Albany High School with Kristen Majkut