MODESTO -- Dozens of tweens head to the Hanshaw Middle School library before school and at lunch to use the computers. Now there's another draw: books.
Grant money and a determined librarian restocked shelves at the south Modesto school with recent literature, best-sellers, easy reads and, for the first time in years, magazines.
"I look for things that are not going to sit on the shelf," said Jonathan Hunt, who divides his weeks between the libraries at Hanshaw and La Loma Junior High.
A sign of his success sits front and center: the slim pickings remaining on a new-books cart that initially held 400 volumes. Nearby, a sparse magazine rack displays well-thumbed copies of National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and less scholarly publications such as Car & Driver and Seventeen.
The mother lode of fresh ink came courtesy of a $5,000 grant from the Laura Bush Foundation and Target, the first books budget the Hanshaw library has had in five years.
Before the recession, which hit school funding in 2008-09, Modesto City Schools set aside $7 a student, about $6,500 for Hanshaw, for library books, Hunt said. That funding was cut, leaving $500 for office needs and $1,000 for software in the library budget.
Much of that goes for books anyway, said Hunt, a credentialed teacher with a master's degree in library science. He runs 25 library class sessions a week, tailoring the subject matter to teacher requests.
Staying current is crucial
Last week's lesson was on memoirs, with two readings of different biographical styles and an exercise writing their own six-word memoirs based on the book "I Can't Keep My Own Secrets." The book's examples ranged from from funny, "I was so much happier fat," to profound, "We're the family you gossip about."
All oozed adolescent anxiety, insight and painful honesty. The choice was right on, which is typical for Hunt, said Hanshaw English teacher Tanya Jackson.
"He is that bridge" from musty pages to meaty discussions, Jackson said. Staying current in literature and hewing to young-adult interests matter for her students, she said.
The minimal memoirs written by her eighth-graders started with prompts for adjectives, favorite things and experiences. "Fun, pretty, soccer, broke both wrists" was one result.
Other words penciled on papers: funny, short, nice, heartbroken, heart attack and cocaine, that last written in girlish scrawl about her brother's habit.
The memoirs offered a peek through home windows at a school where 98 percent of students are low income, 86 percent are Latino and 37 percent struggle to master English, a reality that makes inspirational books and the dreams of bubble-gum teen magazines all the more valued.
Something for everyone
Hunt said he looks for stories with elements of Latino culture, as well as popular titles such as "The Hunger Games" and the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series. He mixes in top nonfiction and award-winning young-adult literature.
Also on his shopping list are books that slow readers can enjoy and build skills by reading. Those include high-interest topics and the grown-up version of picture books graphic novels and manga, translated from Japanese but still read back page to front.
More than two-thirds of Hanshaw students scored below grade level in 2012 state reading tests. About one in 10, however, tested as advanced readers. The spread means Hunt has to know his audience and stretch library assets to have something on the shelves for everyone.
The most popular title? Teen magazine J-14, hands down, Hunt said, holding one so well read that the cover has fallen off and wraps the rumpled pages like a folder. He jokes about auctioning J-14 issues late in the school year, one page at a time, as a fund-
raiser for new books for next year.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter, @NanAustin, and visit www.modbee.com/education.