Friday, February 22, 2008

At Least Jezebel Agrees With Me

Here's someone else who challenges the idea that embedding advertising in a book makes it "more authentic." A more authentic what? Advertisement? Certainly not a more authentic narrative. What is the narrative? "Buy this to become the real you"?

A collector's item!

Someone spotted a very special Golden Compass bookmark in our library this week. It was innocently propped up in the bookmark dispenser, and had a very credible design of the golden compass on the front. But here's some of the text on the back (and I disciplined myself not to add commas where they were needed, so don't blame me for the inconsistent punctuation):
In Lyra's world, a person's soul lives on the outside of their body in the form of a daemon--a talking animal spirit that accompanies them through life, always close to its corporeal half. In our world the soul lives inside the body. It's the real you. In the real world demons try and get inside the body through lust, greed, lying, hatred, anger, etc. At death the soul will either go to perfect paradise where there is no suffering, loneliness, pain, or death, or it will go to a place called Hell. Forever. Demons want to take you to Hell and (in your mind) they will mock even the thought of each place.
If you want some for your library, be sure to click the image!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Am I a censor?

One of my favorite lessons in middle school health class was the one where we got to look for subliminal messages in magazine ads. Were there really faint images of skulls in the ice cubes of alcohol ads? I can't remember now. It was all sort of conspiracy theory, which only made me like it more. I felt like a character on X-files. Foolish alcohol companies! You can't trick me into drinking myself to death! I'm wise to your games, scum!

What will health teachers do now that subliminal messages are passe? Well, here's an idea. They can have kids read YA books and count the references to brand names. I'm not kidding. I knew that Faye Weldon had paved the way to hell with her Bulgari Connection* seven years ago. And now, just as Sex in the City has given us Gossip Girls, Bulgari Connection has given us Cathy's Book.** And yesterday the NYT ran an article on a new series for middle school girls that's designed to be a vehicle for advertisers (via Bookshelves of Doom.)

The best part is, the PR newswire story emphasizes the author's social conscious, because she cares about, like, global warming, and wants to help girls "go green." Gak! I'm choking on the bitter irony! Instead of holding large companies accountable for green house gasses, let's promote their products in kids books at the same time as we tell kids that it's their responsibility to stop the global warming!***

But I'm already wondering: is it censorship if I refuse to buy the MacKenzie Blue series? I'm serious. I don't want it in my library, but what if girls come in asking for it? I don't buy Disney books, although I put donated books in my collection. Should this be part of future collection development policies if I'm already intentionally avoiding commercialized books? Do we, as librarians, have a position on commercialization? I don't want to play big brother to the kids who use my library, but I also don't want to hand them over to advertisers as a captive audience.
* Here's a review, for what it's worth.
** It should be noted that the product placement was removed from the paperback edition. Why? This is purely speculation, but I'm wondering if advertisers are only interested in promoting their products in a book for a limited amount of time. How long before Cover Girl's lipslicks are replaced by another product? Then, do you replace the product placement? Or just stop paying for the partnership, leading publishers to remove the references?
*** While I'm being facetious, check out the clever comments on the BBC's website re: The Bulgari Connection.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The reason for the the season

So now that I'm a children's librarian, I feel effortlessly sanguine at the prospect of Valentines Day, because I know that the holiday is really about parents loving their children. Tortured affairs, highschool sweethearts, and secret admirers are all beside the point. And I have the book displays and storytime outlines to prove it.

Do you know how many books there are about parents loving their children even if their children are dirtbags? Mama, Do You Love Me?; I Love You Just the Way You Are; I Love You the Purplest; Love You Forever; Love You Like Crazy Cakes; Love You All Day Long; Guess How Much I Love You; Will You Take Care of Me; etc. etc. etc.

I've been reading books like that all week at my storytimes, and you know what? It doesn't work.

There's lots of professional literature about how storytime is a model for parents: here's how to read a book with your child! I've always been skeptical, because I feel that unless you're illiterate, you can figure this out for yourself. I think storytime is more about socialization and storytelling, but maybe that's just because I secretly wish I was a daytime TV star.

I'll reflect on the role of storytime more when I have something interesting to say. Right now, my thoughts are about as rich and complex as a monosyllable.

My point today is just that when I recommend books to parents, I'm thinking about what works at storytime, but that's not necessarily the best criteria. Storytime books need bang! wham! pow! pizzazz. But a parent who asks for a recommendation may be looking for something more cozy and reassuring. So I'm giving them Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus when they need one of those lovey-dovey ones I mentioned earlier.

Do writers imagine the setting in which their picture books are read? Are they considering the number of children who may be listening? Are they incorporating the performance aspect? Am I a diva? Probably. But this thinking gives me a new way to evaluate picture books that I might otherwise dismiss.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In the News

Forgot to link to the ProJo article on the fundraising forum yesterday.

Also, I was debating whether or not to react to the reaction to the rape in New Bedford. I hear that in some communities, the pitchfork-weilding citizenry are on the march. That's not happening in my neighborhood, maybe because no one's under the impression that it's particularly safe. So instead of commenting myself, I direct you to the most avant suggestion I've read so far.

Monday, February 11, 2008

"Funders don't want to fill your pail; they want to light your fire."

I went to the fundraising forum on my dinner break yesterday, and I really wish that what they'd handed me when I walked in was a glossary of terms as opposed to a chart about sustainable library funding.* The whole meeting reminded me of my days as an archivist (cue the harp music and image distortion), when I used to spend hours pouring over 18th century church records. You'd think that after all that pouring [CORRECTION: that should be poring, as one of my esteemed colleagues pointed out], I'd know the difference between a bequest and an endowment, but it's still sort of fuzzy.

But the meeting made me want to know. Here were two library directors, one from the Westerly Public Library and one from Hartford, who could rattle off fundraising strategies, statistics, and William Butler Yeats quotes with dazzling accuracy. They were passionate library advocates with tantalizing anecdotes that make you think, oh, if only I were so clever.

But enough gushing. As I was saying, fundraising is complicated, and has its own vocabulary. Fortunately, certain things transcend the vernacular, and here's what I took home:
  • "Library leadership needs to reach out to supporters." That's a quote from the director of the Hartford Public Library. She also said that she "put a public face on the library," making sure she was at the table when decisions were being made and partnering with organizations and individuals who could also be library advocates. Further, she recruited people to the development committee who she felt were "boundary spanners," as in people who could bring the gospel of library services to the people walking in darkness.
  • Every library is funded differently--in every city, in every state--so there's no one way to do funding. You have to employ a variety of strategies.
A few fun facts:
  • At the Westerly Public Library, they put a tip jar at the circulation desk for loose change, and they make $1,000 a year that way.
  • The Hartford Public Library has many funders who live outside the city. These people have some personal historical connection, and they care about the maintenance of the institution on principle.
There were about 25 people there, a couple library employees, two guys about my age who had a journalistic air about them, some recognizable PPL higher-ups, union peeps, and library reform stalwarts. I hardly think it attracted anyone besides the usual suspects, which is too bad, because I believe it would have been interesting to a wide variety of non-profit types.

I couldn't stay for the Q&A, but I walked out thinking, this totally confirmed what I think. Which may be a sign that I'm becoming sort of stuck in my position, which is: why doesn't PPL make more information available to its employees and the public? I know that there are some limitations on what you can or want to say when you're battling it out with the city. But I think PPL could do more to remind people how important the library is, or to warn them of threats to library services. Where's our "public face"?
*OK, I admit it: I really wish they'd handed me a cup of coffee and a nice glazed donut, but if it had to be a paper product ...

The Children's Book Hiatus Draws Near

OK, here's what I'm reading so far (but I reserve the right to weed):
So I've got sci-fi, horror, mystery, plus some "concrete realism," (or whatever the trendy word for grown-up realistic fiction is). I've got a couple of ideas for non-fiction, but I'm not ready to declare them.

But observe: all of these books were written by men! How did this happen? Help!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wait, there's more!

Everybody's ooooooh and aaaaaaah over the Manga Bibles, and now there's a Manga Mecha Bible! Mecha meaning, basically, there are giant robots in it. The best part of this post is the response from the publishers, including such gems as "Whether we succeed or fail is ultimately up to God’s providence."

There's also an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Dallas Middaugh critiques (and partially misrepresents) it, pointing out some common stereotypes (Manga=Porn), and giving us a peek at yet another Manga Bible published in Japan. (via Manga Blog.)

HTSMC Step 5: Make Dojinshi

This would have been more useful if I put it up earlier, but I didn't realize until last night that Fruits Basket revolves around the Chinese Zodiac, thus making it the perfect theme for my Manga club meeting on Chinese New Year!

For the uninitiated, Fruits Basket is about a girl who decides to live in a tent so that she won't have to inconvenience anyone even the teeniest bit after her mother dies. However, she is discovered by a family of boys who turn into animals of the Zodiac everytime they're hugged by members of the opposite sex. They invite the girl to keep house for them (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves much?) and help them keep their secret. If she doesn't keep the secret, her memory could be erased by the mysterious head of the family. Woo-ha-ha-ha!

So today at Manga Circle we will be discovering our own Chinese Zodiac alter-egos and writing Dojinshi (which I explain here). That's right: I'm going to have them write themselves into Fruits Basket. Ed Young has a really gorgeous picture book about the Legend of the Chinese Zodiac which focuses on the interaction between the cat and the rat, which is also essential to the plot of Fruits Basket. I'm using that to diagnose people.

I, by the way, was born in the year of the Boar. Some books say the year of the Pig, but I prefer Boar. It's more distinguished. I get along with Rabbits and Goats, but not other Boars. Grrrrr.

Wait, do boars growl? They don't just oink, do they? How embarassing.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bible Bashing

I've been wanting to post about the bizarre variety of teen Bibles on the market for ages, but I felt like I could never do it justice. Probably because most of what I want to say is self-evident. Like, OMG, they're totally just trying to make money, those filthy money-grubbing money-makers!

Well, yeah. Plus, the New Yorker already said it better.

But duty calls, because the Manga Bibles from Tyndale (Manga Messiah), Zondervan (Manga Bible Vol. 1-3)*, and Hodder and Stoughton** (Manga Bible NT Raw and Extreme) are finally in the hands of reviewers. Here are two astute reviews that came out this week, plus an older ComicMix review of Hodder and Stoughton's version which I particularly like:
"The Manga Bible could have taken some pointers from Osamu Tezuka’s eight-volume Buddha; that tells the life story of one religious figure at about sixteen times the length that The Manga Bible uses to cover several thousand years and two entire religions."
Of course, I think the problem isn't just the difference in length, it's the difference in purpose. NT Raw is propoganda. Buddah is something else.

And speaking of propoganda, Ekklesia noticed that the Manga Messiah rewrites the Gospel story to remove any anti-family themes. Who knew the Bible was anti-family? I mean, that could mess up the whole Christian right agenda!

Also fresh this week, there's an article on repackaging the Bible at the Sydney Morning Herald. Here's a squirm-worthy point: although there's plenty of money to translate the Bible into Manga, there are still indigenous people that don't have Bibles in their own languages. Apparently, sales of the kriol Holi Bailbul are just "modest."

Back to more lucrative schemes: Biblezines! I wonder if there are any libraries that actually subscribe to these. I can't guess what goes on in communities that put evolution warning stickers on their Biology textbooks. If I had to pick one, I would definitely go with REAL, which retells Bible stories in the "language of the streets."

If anyone is still reading, here's my original thought on the subject: These "Bibles" rip off both their text and their style from other, in a sense, cultures, in order to make money, thus performing a gross act of colonization in the literary criticism sense of the word. Neither Manga nor the Bible deserves this treatment.
*Actually, this one has been out for a while, but people are re-reviewing it with the newers ones.
**I guess this is related to Doubleday in the U.S.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The World Will End on October 23, 1962!!

Next week, I plan to conduct an informal poll among kids who come into my library to find out if they care about the cold war. I mean, it's history, so it doesn't necessarily matter if it's trendy or not. But to me, the cold war is like the scrunchie. There's no kitsch. No nostalgia. It's just outdated. Bolsheviks? Bomb shelters? Don't those words make you feel sort of ... embarassed?

I just read a book about the Cold War: Rex Zero and the End of the World, by Tim Wynne-Jones. I was hoping it would actually be about the apocalypse. Instead, it's about how when you're a kid, the world is scary because you only half-understand what you're hearing. Especially when some people are speaking in French and other people are beating you up because you say "garage" as though it rhymed with "carriage."

Rex Zero moves to a new neighborhood in Canada and makes friends with kids who believe that a circus panther is loose in the local park. They do lots of 1960s golden era stuff like ride their bikes and catch tadpoles in jars and buy rootbeer at the drug store, and sometimes, they worry about the A-Bomb and the H-Bomb. It's a solid book (summery mood, stuff happens, the title is totally superhero-esque), but I couldn't help comparing it to The Fire-Eaters, by David Almond.

The Fire-Eaters takes place during the same time period but is set in an old coal mining town in Ireland. And it's just soooooooooo much more disturbing. There's a black windswept coastline, a mysterious lingering illness, and a guy who sticks sharp metal things into his body. So in the end, when everyone gathers on the beach to have an end-of-the-world bonfire, you sort of wonder if something terrible is going to happen, even though, obviously, the world didn't actually end in the 60s.

But both of these books are part of a movement away from cozily reassuring historical fiction for kids. Though The Fire-Eaters is definitely eerier (say that out loud--it sounds weird), they both represent the kiddy paranoia that runs rampant on hot summer days when there's not enough to do and the news reports are bleak. And if the Horn Book award for Fiction is any indicator, carnival-esque historical kidlit is going to be the done thing. Marc Aronson said something similar in his January SLJ column. Make history scary! Give it teeth and claws! It's not just a reality check, it's a question of good taste. Without its urgency, recent history just sounds dated.