Friday, December 28, 2007


I'm proud to announce that my Kwanzaa display includes a number of titles from the incredibly thoughtful list at A Wrung Sponge. Incidentally, I've decided to add almost everything Kadir Nelson has illustrated to my collection of award winning picture books. He did win the Coretta Scott King Award last year, and Henry's Freedom Box has turned up on a number of Caldecott lists. I mean, how can you resist this face?

Children's Librarian Shout Out!

I saw Juno last night, and out of nowhere it got me with a children's librarian reference!

There's this rant about how cute jocks secretly want freaky girls with horn-rimmed glasses and goth make-up who want to grow up to be children's librarians. Children's librarians! How specific.

I cackled so loud the hecklers behind me told me to quiet down. Please. This from the guys who thought she was beating off with a pregnancy test.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

So much to live up to

My roommate alerted me to the fact that Sony has edited its e-book ad campaign. Slightly. So is this more or less offensive than the original?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pesticide for the lily complex

I'm sick of Christmas, so it's time for a review in honor of Kwanzaa! Sweet Thang, by newcomer Allison Whittenberg, wins the prize for most infuriating brat of the year. Tracy John, Charmaine Upshaw's little cousin, is a "turtle-necked, corduroy-pants-wearing, angel-faced little creep," but he's so adorable that no one believes Charmaine when she says he's a devil child. Plus, his buttery skin reminds Charmaine how dark she is, and, as she puts it: "the joys of black were not distributed equally. The near-whites like Tracy John and Dinah hogged them all" (59).

The babysitting scenes between these two are as funny as anything in a TV sitcom. My personal favorite is the time Charmaine is driven to stab Tracy John with a pen.

The romantic subplot is admittedly predictable: Charmaine crushes on the "African Greek God" Demetrius, but he prefers the light-skinned Lena Horne-look-alike, so Charmaine finally realizes he's using her to do his homework and switches her affections to a less attractive but more socially conscious classmate. But do tween girls ever really get sick of that plot?

Besides, the focus of the story is Charmaine's change-of-heart toward her cousin, and that transformation is more complicated and 100% in character.

The book has lots of other perks, too: funky 1970s patterns, homey dinner table conversations, and Charmaine's cutting ovservations. Oh, and Kwanzaa! As Charmaine prepares to emcee the Kwanzaa festival at her church, she makes personal connections to the principles of the holiday. And it's only a leeeeeeeeetle bit preachy. And you can forgive an author for wanting girls to get the moral of the story, right? Not to oversimplify things, but there are already too many girls out there trying to attain bizarre standards of beauty.

HTSMC Step 3: How about a little friendly competition?

I just couldn't leave that depressing post at the top of my page. So here are links to a brilliant way to teach Go using a 9X9 board instead of the whole 19X19 spread. For those who don't know, Go is a Japanese board game that's featured in the Manga and Anime series Hikaru No Go, which is surprisingly entertaining for a series about a 6th grader learning to play a board game.

If you have kids that like chess and kids that like Manga, this might be the perfect program. There are instructions for the capturing game on the Hikaru No Go DVD, but you can also find them here, here, and here. Making your own Go boards is quite a project. Or you could just make little 9X9 boards with markers and cardboard. Or buy the real thing. Want to beat the kids? Practice online. I'm going to try running a Go program over Christmas break ...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Punching the kids in the stomach

I've been lax in my reporting on the continued PPL fund-scrabbling. There isn't enough money to do what needs to be done, so here's the plan: eliminate the children's specialists in March. It's brilliant, really. I mean, which patrons are least likely to make the city and library feel their wrath? How bout school children? Sweet.

Apparently, the municipal library services board (without any power) was set up last year, and they've created this letter that people can sign and send to the mayor expressing their disapproval. You can pick up a copy of the letter at most branches (I think). Here are the facts in case anyone wants to pen his or her own:

At the 3 large branches, childrens services are offered by a children's librarian and a children's specialist (someone with loads of experience but no masters degree) , but at each of the 6 small branches, there is no separate children's librarian. There is one adult librarian and one children's specialist.

But after March, there will be just an adult librarian and a clerk working the circulation desk. Not only is that level of staffing (2 people!) ludicrous, but it precludes children's programming which requires the attention of the librarian.

The letter that the board has created points out that
  • only $100,000 are required to continue the specialist's positions to the end of the year.
  • PPL can't effectively fundraise, because people won't give their money unless they know it will go to the branches--not just some general fund.
  • the Mayor agreed "to serve as an honorary chair of a fund-raising appeal for the branches" last summer.
  • now is the time to raise funds!
If you would like to make a similar point to the Mayor, his address is

City Hall
25 Dorrance St.
Providence, RI

Enough hating

I think the reason How Ya Like Me Now, by Brendan Halpin, sat on the floor of my bedroom for 2 months was because it had a video game console on the front. At least I think that's a game console. Is that what you call that? You can see the problem.

But I'm so glad I finally ran out of books with angry female warriors on the cover, because How Ya Like Me Now was exactly what I needed: a smart book about a white suburban boy getting transplanted to a city, where he attends a business-like charter school with his cousin and avoids phone calls from his oxycotin-addicted Mom.

What's awesome about this book is the way it complicates the urban/suburban dichotomy (hey, remember this?). For example, Eddie is from the suburbs, but he's the one with a drug addict in the family. Alex lives in the city, but his school has better test scores. Plus, there's dialogue like this:
"Yo, Alex, man, we figured your cousin would be white, but Left Eye is literally white! Can't see his face next to a wall!"
"Kid could be completely invisible in a snow storm!" Savona added.
"Homeboy makes Michael Jackson look black!" Kelvin added (30).
I like how Eddie copes with the culture of an urban school, where, as a white person, he's in the minority. Like, instead of trying to crack on people, he affects a super proper way of talking: "I will now discontinue my fronting. I sincerely hope to hit that... as you may or may not be aware, I am the mack" (139).

But this book isn't, like, about race. It's more about the two cousins trying to get girls, finish their marketing project, beat each other at Madden, and keep their parents out of their business--especially Eddie's mom who's getting out of rehab and threatening to "be a family again." Ack! Now here's a book I could hand to any kid without embarassment. Finally!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Preaching to the choir

OK, so I tried to read Alan Lawrence Sitomer's Hip-Hop High School, and I admit the slang is pretty fresh, but who's the guy writing for? Check out this passage:
It's like I speak two languages. In my head I talk a normal king of English, but when I chat with my friends or any of my peers I rap to them in this kind of ghetto slang ... Like, I never say 'with.' I say 'wit.' And I don't say 'that." I say 'dat.' And I sort of slur my 'what's up' too and turn it into 'wazzup' ... if you talk too proper, you might get jumped by a crew of four or five. That's because people will think you're trying to act white (5).
So if Sitomer's writing for urban teens, why is he explaining code-switching like it's rocket science? Did the publishers make him put it in there for the white kids? Is he trying to reassure kids that everyone's doing it? Or is it just another example of YA writers forgetting who they're writing for?

It's like when writers explain how there are categories at school: jocks, geeks, preps, etc. Do they think they're writing for feral children? Who doesn't know about the categories? And on top of that, who actually makes up cute names for the categories? Sorry, Tina Fey, but that's such an adult thing. The only people we made up cute names for were the guys we had crushes on.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Happy Belated Santa Lucia Day!

Shockingly, this book is not in my collection! It is, as far as I know, the only children's book that features tomtens, which are Scandanavian gnome-ish creatures with red ski caps.

It isn't easy to find information about tomtens. Type it into Google and you know what you get? Knitting patterns. People think Scandanavia=wool sweaters the way they think Mexico=pinatas.

So now I'm all worked up, because how come brownies and elves and faeries and all manner of magical creatures are getting all this play in Holly Black books, and no one's writing about little men in wool sweaters who can't pronounce the letter J? Where is the Terry Pratchett of Scandanavia?
This all started because yesterday was Santa Lucia Day, which many girls of the 80s were introduced to via the Kirsten doll. I was going to make a list of recommended books with Scandanavian themes, but then we had a snowday, and then I got distacted by this awesome article about how Santa Lucia day is a beauty pageant in Sweden these days. Check this out:

"Staunchly opposed to privilege, Sweden has always sought to avoid ranking people, which is why beauty contests and ‘homecoming queen’ events are rare. The Lucia celebration, however, has been an exception."

Anyway, the list is still coming. Just you wait!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What's in a label?

Yesterday, I discovered to my chagrin that I may be part of the conspiracy to dumb down American kids so they won't be able to compete with Asian engineers.

As mentioned before, I'm weeding children's chapter books (a.k.a JFs), and yesterday I found myself moving a bunch of books to YA. Now, these books weren't circing in JF and they mostly had protagonists who were in their teens, so it seemed a sensible move, but at the same time, I remember reading some of these books as a child. Examples:

The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
The Moon by Night by Madeliene L'Engle
Songs of Faith by Angela Johnson
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

So I started to worry that I was dumbing down my JFs. But then it occured to me: are we still adjusting to the advent of YA as a category? Were these books originally categorized as children's books because the YA category was still in its development stages?

To answer that question I'd have to do, like, history and numbers. So I'm going to let the question just sort of float. But I also discovered that the blessed cataloging dept. has put the Lightning Thief in kids and The Titan's Curse in YA. They've put The Wee Free Men in YA and A Hat Full of Sky in kids. Not to mention the fact that I seem to have copies of Stargirl in every section of my library including the 100s.

At least I'm not the only one who's confused.

Damned by Faint Praise

One of my favorite words: Litotes:–noun, plural -tes. Rhetoric. understatement, esp. that in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary, as in "not bad at all."

I mention this because over at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, they're making a list of YA Books for Boys that deserve to be described as something other than "not strictly girl books."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Corporate Sponsored Storytimes?

OK, how weird is this: one of the moms at my storytime brought me these free Clorox Bleach Parent Newsletters. She thought I might want to hand them out as part of a storytime on sickness etiquette, like sneezing into your elbow. Apparently, she's on Clorox's mailing list and they send her free toilet brushes.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

HTSMC Step 2: Consult Drawing Books

I always hate it when people do all those one-word sentences like: Best. Idea. Ever. But I can think of only one way to describe Shojo Beat's Manga Artist Academy: Best. Manga. Drawing Book. Ever.

But I'm a little insecure, because I don't know if I should put a period between Drawing and Book.

Two things make this book different from the 1-2-3-learn-to-draw variety: First of all, it's written in Manga format. It reads right to left and follows a little panda through the adventure of creating a marketable Manga. It includes advice like this: "Love is the magical essence that eventually glues your audience to your work!" But it also gets into the nitty gritty of proportion, perspective, etc.

Second, it tells you how to develop your craft rather than how to draw a particular character by putting lines here, here, and here.

And that's why this book is my new secret Manga club cookbook. Today we started with the first piece of advice: "It's always good to have a role model in the beginning." In other words, copy the masters! So I photocopied a page of Manga and cut it into pieces, and I gave each kid a piece of the picture. Then I had them draw their piece at about four times the original size. We put all their pieces together and it looked ... pretty bad.

But what I like about projects like this is the element of tension: What is this actually a picture of? Will my piece fit with everyone else's? Will everyone laugh at me?

Actually, I always participate in these activities, so if anything gets laughed at, it's definitely my feeble efforts.