Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Oh, the drama

So I actually wrote this post months ago, right about my "Acting Up" club performed its first, um, performance: The Case of the President's Laser Protected Disappearing Time Machine. Yesterday, the Acting Club met again for the first time since the performance, and once again I found myself wondering why I didn't blog about the process. I think it was because we met on Fridays and afterwards, I always kind of wanted to die. Anyway, here are some observations that I noted after the first performance:

Usually, I come up with programs and then market them, but this program was actually the brainchild of two girls who come to the library every Friday to do things like check the circulation on their favorite sci-fi novels and research a family tree. And at first I kind of put them off, but they wore me down to the point that I put a handwritten sign-up sheet on the table, and told them we'd do it if they could get 10 kids to sign up. (That's the most I've ever had attend any of my brainchildren.)

There were 10 names in three days. Lesson learned.

Then I wanted to also attract kids who might not sign up for a drama club, so I created a poster that said "Don't worry--no one has to wear tights ..." and called the group the "Acting Up" club. I forgot that even middle school kids are developmentally unlikely to take things figuratively. Three boys reported for duty the first day and actually thought they were in the wrong place when someone said "drama club." They were like, "Hell no, we here to act up."

I made everything up as I went along, including rules, so we ended up with a three-part code:
  1. No flying kicks.
  1. No simulating sex with Beyonce.

  2. No questioning people's sexuality or gender.

I wanted to write one of those vote-for-who-did-it-surprise-ending-mysteries like Shear Madness or The Mystery of Edwin Drood. So I had the kids choose the setting and then the crime and then develop characters. And for setting they chose the Whitehouse, and then they wanted the crime to be the theft of the American flag from the oval office to protest the election of the first black President ... and I went upstairs and explained this to my boss, insisting that the whole thing wasn't a cover for my radical political organizing and it was all Their Idea. I admit I was a little relieved when the following week, they had changed their collective and mysterious mind and wanted the stolen item to be a time machine ... or a wheel of cheese.

Three weeks into the program, one of the stars of our play was kicked out of the library for a month. I tried to talk to him out front one day, but he just leaned against the bike rack and wouldn't look me in the eye. Apparently, he got all up in the face of one of the librarians, swearing, etc., and nothing I could do would get him reinstated until he'd done the time.

A week before the performance, while I was at ALA, one of the teen employees ran a last rehearsal, and every one of my kids showed up (including the kid who was in exile for awhile) and then every one of them got kicked out of the library. Yeah. For real.

On the day of the performance I baked 50 chocolate chip muffins (with the oven at 200 for the first 10 minutes because I'm scatterbrained); collected an assortment of hats, scarves, and props; said a prayer that the time machine would remain intact; and went to the library. Everything went swimmingly during our lightning-fast-top-secret-whispered rehearsal, except that The Scientist didn't show. I called his mom and she still had to pick him up for basketball practice.

It killed me, because this kid was brilliant. He designed the time machine, pronounced words like "perambulate" without flinching, and knew how to swear in Nigerian. But halfway through the second act, when I was in the middle of playing his role and mine (which was hard, because I kept having to change hats and switch which side of the table I was sitting on so I could interrogate myself), he showed! And the whole play stopped and the audience applauded and we went back to the beginning of Act II, and he got to take the time machine home with him.

So I'm uploading the script in case anyone really cares. I'm also mentally composing a list of things I learned that are hopefully transferrable, and I'll add that soon. I read/skimmed a number of books on teaching drama before I started the program, but I found that they were focused on the art of it, and I was just trying to get a show off the ground (art schmart). And in the end, I think I succeeded in that much. If nothing else, I made 50 muffins, right?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

From the cutting room floor

Just found this on K.L. Going's website: a deleted scene. Iggy learns about personal schoppers at Saks. So true: "The thing about robbers is they’re never around when you need them."


I'm always interested in how kids decide whether or not they're going to like a book. Obviously, cover art is criteria #1. Last night I was reading Saint Iggy while a bunch of kids at church were playing Around the World, having dance competitions, and waiting to sucker me into driving them home. And they stole the book from me when I was two pages from the end, still wondering if K.L. Going was going to be bold enough to go tragic, and they started reading it aloud to each other.

But even after reading a couple paragraphs, they still insisted they wouldn't read the book because it was fantasy. I explained to them that it was not fantasy, no one had special powers, and the colorful wings Iggy's wearing on the front of the novel are metaphorical. Still. They were having none of it.

And it reminded me of something a middle school librarian told me when I visited her library: books are status symbols. They're like accessories. And maybe that's why the kids wouldn't read Saint Iggy: because it looked like a fantasy, and therefore, even if it wasn't a fantasy novel, it would make them look like a fantasy reader.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into this? Anyway, I won't tell you how it ended, but I do highly recommend Saint Iggy. It's a bleak little Christmas story that would be a beautiful film shot on a handheld digital camera. Imagine a city in winter: cops, churches, high rises, abandonded-buildings-cum-crack-houses.

Iggy's on this quixotic quest to make an important contribution to society in time to save himself from being kicked out of school. But he gets entangled in the schemes of the local meth dealer, an idealistic law school drop-out, and a lovely, lonely rich woman who longs for her son like Iggy longs for his mother. (Don't worry: no Mrs. Robinson action.)

And since I'm on a meth-addicted mom kick, my next read is Harry Sue, which is just as good as she said it was.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


So I was reading Finding Lubchenko by Michael Simmons at the laundromat Sunday and it was so yawn. It was like reading a technical manual. It begins with an elaborate explanation of how the main character is boosting computers from his Dad's company, and continues with an elaborate explanation of how he gets entangled in an international bioterrorism plot. It's like explanations within explanations, and I'm like That's a plot? That's character development?

But today I was reading the new Horn Book on my break. Specifically, I was reading an interview with Jon Scieszka, and it was all about how we value the way girls read rather than the way boys read. Here's the quote that zinged me:

"That's a different way boys experience books, and part of why they enjoy nonfiction, certainly. There's something about boys amassing expertise and being in charge of that knowledge, whether it's about all the dinosaurs in the world or every kind of truck there is on the planet."

And I realized that Finding Lubchenko isn't a pathetic excuse for a narrative--it's a narrative that will resonate with people who are systems thinkers, who like order and control, who like to know why, and who like to categorize things and do them step-by-step, people who like to take things apart and then put them back together.

This describes many boys. So all the time I'm hearing about how boys are discriminated against when required reading is determined, and I theoretically agree, but I still don't admit the ways in which I participate in that discrimination, because it doesn't even occur to me. So now I admit it: I am biased against books that explain everything. There. I said it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Books that have been stolen in the last two months

Obviously, this list is not comprehensive, but I went looking for a couple books today--only to discover that (alas!) they had gone astray. Since we all know that "missing" status is one indicator of popularity, I figured this was worth sharing:

Suitcase, by Mildred Pitts Walter.
The Moves Make the Man, by Bruce Brooks.
The Skin I'm In, by Sharon Flake.
The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, by Walter Dean Myers.
Don't Let the Pigeons Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems.

I assume some of them were on summer reading lists--like The Greatest. But still.

And of course, the book Hold My Gold: the White Girls' Guide to the Hip-Hop World remains M.I.A., apparently never to be replaced. Sigh. Now how will I learn the correct translation of the following phrase?

    1 "Yo, less twiss a la."
    A. "Man, do I love Boca Burgers!"
    B. "I'd like a little less foam in my Grande skim latte."
    C. "Is that frozen yogurt fat-free?"
    D. "Hey! Let's roll a marijuana cigarette!"

Friday, September 07, 2007

Meg Murray gets a make-over, but not in a bad teen movie way

That reminds me: I saw Square Fish's new covers for the Time Quintet at ALA. I always pictured Megan as a pre-Paris Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, not a folk art angel. But I do like the old-fashioned Russian fairy tale quality of the new designs. Allegorical. Like iconography.

Troubling a star

Madeline L'Engle has died. Her Newbury winner, A Wrinkle in Time, was #22 on the ALA's list of 100 most frequently challenged books for 1990-2000. You have to admire an author who was simultaneously accused of promoting "religious themes" (usually code for Christian) and encouraging Satan-worship.

My favorite thing about L'Engel was that she had a few characters (Canon Tallis in particular) who made surprise appearances half-way through books in which you weren't expecting them. If you'd read one of her other books, you'd know who the strange man with no eyebrows was as soon as he hummed that familiar tune on the trans-Atlantic flight. Otherwise, you'd be just as creeped out as Adam Eddington.

I had always hoped there'd be another installment in the adventures of Vicky Austin and Adam Eddington. And what about true love for Poly O'Keefe? Is it unreasonable to hope for an unpublished manuscript?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Mmmmmmmm, delicious

Listen, I would never want to be a hater without offering a constructive alternative. And since I was definitely hating in my last post, here is a list of vampire books, with reasons why each of my selections is better than anything by Stephenie Meyer:

The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause. Because flawed, dangerous, and fragile vampires are much more alluring than ones made of unresistant metallic material that blinds you when the light hits it.

Sweetblood by Pete Hautman. Because people posing as Vampires can be more threatening than the real thing. (Plus this book relates a fascinating and possibly specious theory on the origin of the Vampire myth. Anyone interested in what happens when diabetes goes untreated?)

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. (Adult fiction, but the narrator is a teenager at the time when the story takes place.) Because the plot unfolds like those elaborate fortune tellers you used to make in middle school. And each time you lift a corner, you're in another splendid and sinister setting, from France to Romania to Istanbul.

Peeps, by Scott Westerfield. Because if you're going to make stuff up, you might as well go all the way and invent a new, urban flesh-eating creature that does what old fashioned vampires did: exorcise the writers' anxiety about sex.

Thirsty, by M.T. Anderson. Because nothing is more revolting than eating a helping of human flesh casserole and licking your own blood off your face.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Return of Alpahbet Salad!

I would like to congratulate myself. (You should try it. It's very satisfying). My librarian status is once again certified by a paycheck. I've also joined the Rhode Island Teen Book Award nominating committee. I'm going to be reading books for middle school students.

I don't know if the proceedings of this committee are supposed to be clandestine, but I intend to comment on my experience, because I think the world needs to know how New Moon by Stephenie Meyer could ever be nominated for a statewide award by librarians.

I can understand why teenage girls would vote for it, but how did it get nominated? Your intrepid reporter intends to investigate.

In case you haven't read it, here are my objections: Either Meyer doesn't know anything about Vampire lore or she just doesn't care. Instead of shriveling in the sun, her vampires radiate brilliant light. Her characters exhibit never-before-observed psychological phenomena (Caution: dating Vampires may cause you to hear voices during death-defying teenage hijinks), and worst of all, the book has a made-up Native American tribe! Of people who turn into werewolves!

I know it's fiction. You're allowed to make stuff up. But these are cheap tricks--like the one where the character wakes up at the end of the book and discovers it was all a dream.

And you can't just make up a Native American tribe, OK? Native Americans have been dehumanized enough in children's literature.