Tuesday, January 29, 2008

SLJ is reading my mind

What, am I their poster girl this month? Sorry, I'm just really into my professional literature. Anyway, there's an article about putting your list of YA-books-to-read aside, and reading something for adults. Which is what I've been casually planning to do for a while. So I'm declaring March Children's Book Hiatus Month, and I need suggestions for my adult reading pleasure. I'm particularly interested in stuff than came out this year and titles I can recommend to attractive guys who ask for reader's advisory. Just kidding. Sort of. I'm not above resorting to Novelist, but I like the personal touch. So, what's good?

Watch me relate everything back to high school

This month's SLJ editorial is on the library as a third space. Obviously this is a trend: emphasizing the physical character of the library since it's (often perceived to be) in competition with more disembodied resources (not that I'm naming any names, Google).

Which brings me back to my "the library is not your hangout place!" rant. I can only drool over images like the ones in Looks Like Teen Spirit (unfortunately, the pics aren't online), so I get angsty about one group of people's hanging-out affecting another person's hanging-out. But all these third space articles seem to suggest our only hope for survival is to encourage people to hang out.

The other thing that got me thinking about this is that I have an intern from a local high school "shadowing" me, and I wanted to give him some articles about the role of libraries in society. I was looking for my all-time favorite article about libraries: "Lock the Library! Rowdy Students Are Taking Over!" And that's when I discovered "Times Topics!"

So maybe everyone else was already aware that the NYTimes used, basically, subject headings, and that you could find a suite of articles on topics ranging from "Extraterrestrial Life" to "Lighthouses and Lightships" without even touching that maverick keyword search, but I was unaware.

This is particularly relevant for children's librarians, because newspaper articles are some of the most accessible resources for young readers. They're short and they have 8th grade reading levels, tops. But I also want to recommend, to all information professionals, the "Libraries and Librarians" topic, as it provides an interesting glimpse of the profile of librarians in the news.

In fact, from "Hip Shushers" to "Lock the Library," all the best articles are there. It's like one of those slideshows at the end of the school year, or summer camp. You know, with the Greenday song in the background and the pictures of the same four people over and over and the inside jokes that must all have happened while you were eating your lunch in the bathroom, not to mention the huge picture of someone's nostril. Why is there always a huge picture of someone's nostril?

Whatever. All I can say is, good times, good times.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What's Straighter Than a Pirate?

Today I offer two examples of the kind of prose I wish I could write:

(1)First, from Freak Show, by James St. James:
Although my sexuality is largely theoretical at this point, I hope that I don't actually LOOK gay--you know, all pursed and twittery with big, bulgy, "gay" eyes. It's a new school after all. I need to test the waters first before I break out the tiaras and leg warmers. I've given this a lot of thought, as you can imagine.

Don't worry.
It's totally masculine.
Swarthy, even.
Nobody will suspect a thing.
I'm going with the whole retro-newwave/Vivienne Westwood/pirate look. Fab, right? What's straighter than a pirate? ... I want the look to say: I'm not gay; I just flew in from Williamsburg. Where I had sex with girls! Many of them! The kind with boobs! So please don't punch me!
Yep, this is basically the story of a teenage drag queen taking a Florida school by storm. Billy Bloom weaves (embroiders?) a tale that's just too too to be true. But it's very detailed: from the composition of the spitballs hurled at him to the structural elements of the make-up he applies. The narrative is a little bit e.e.cummings, a little bit Perez Hilton, a dreamy meditation on the universe followed by Action! Action! Action! And I don't know if I've ever read a book that better captured the ostentatious moodiness of adolescence.

And the cover has an uncanny attraction for 9-year-old girls. I had to remove it from the clutches of more than one pre-pubescent.*

(2)Second, the Fine Lines feature at Jezebel. It revists 1980s teen novels like The Grounding of Group Six. This week the spotlight's on Jacob Have I Loved. But instead of being timely, I refer you to the analysis of Little House in the Big Woods (subtitled "I play with a pig bladder like it's a balloon!"):

Did you know that a black doctor saves the lives of the entire Ingalls family in Little House on the Prairie?

Es verdad. (There is also a not-particularly-sublimated gay sex scene in The Great Gatsby, but no one asked me about that.) I state this not because these are the most salient points at hand-or even points, really-but because I cannot figure out any other way to enter into a discussion of THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK OF OUR TIME.

It's like gushing over books, only with sophistication and maturity.

*I gave them Lily B. on the Brink of Cool as an alternatve. I haven't read it yet, but it's also pink.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Fundraiser, fundraiser, make me a match! Find me a find! Catch me a catch!

There's a pointed and well written letter to the editor in today's Providence Journal. Of course, I like the slant, since it's the same as mine. It also says that "The mayor, under the new agreement between the city and PPL, is expected to serve as the honorary chair of a new fundraiser for the library." Maybe by pretending this is going to happen, we can make it happen?

That actually worked for my sister when she wanted to get a cat. Instead of asking my mom for a cat, she started asking, "When we get a cat, what will we name it?" So I'm all for asking the city and PPL, "when we get a fundraiser, who will we appeal to?* how will we communicate with them? what information will we communicate in order to motivate them? and how will we establish accountability so the funds are used as advertised?"

Whether or not we can actually expect a fundraiser, it is in the memorandum of agreement between PPL and the city. Voila: "The Mayor of the City of Providence will serve as an honorary chair of a fundraising appeal for branch libraries and will identify and recruit an appropriate individual to serve as the other co-chair. The city and the PPL will agree on the use of the funds to be raised in this appeal based on the recommendation of the Library Partnership Advisory Committee. " Page 6, people.

At the community meetings last year, PPL administration talked about its fundraising efforts, but if you check the language above, it puts the mayor on the hook and PPL off--as far as fundraising for the branches goes--which is unfortunate, because I want everybody to be on the hook like it's a coat check. Just like I want everyone to have a website with lots and lots of information (I'm just dying to stalk the Library Partnership Advisory Board online...)

Anyway, here's a discussion question: What is PPL? A central library with branches? Or branches with a central headquarters?

Also, I'm not sure when Library Reform updated their webpage, but they did.** And it has a very scary picture of children with scissors and gluesticks covered by a big red X!!!

*I know, I know, it should actually read: "To whom will we appeal?" But I always feel snooty correcting my own grammar.
**Is it because I was an archivist that I get frustrated when things aren't dated?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Is it just me

Or is there something very romance novel about this cover?

What's the Native American equivalent of blacksploitation, anyway?

All I know is I have too many books about young white women being taken captive by American Indians. When girls check these out, I always try to talk them into checking out Saturnalia, too. Unfortunately, Saturnalia doesn't have as provocative a cover.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Just checking

So it's been fun checking in with the kiddie music blogosphere, especially the Lovely Miss Davis. She's got this list of, let's see, I want to get this right, ah yes, The Top 20 Kids Albums for Parents Who Can't Stand Kids Music, and #1 on her list is #2 on my list of most popular.

Being more expert-ish than me, she has an explanation for what makes this CD so seminal:
No! is important in that it's one of the first albums that effectively reached parents of our generation and got us excited about kids' music. It has served as an entry point for many families into the kindie-rock genre, and I consider it a landmark in the recent evolution of kids' music.
Phew! Good think I have it in my collection, huh?

Is it a boy or a girl?

In two days, my blog will be 9 months old, and even though I know that pregnancy actually lasts 9.5 months, the 9-month mark seems significant. In honor of the end of gestation, I am featuring a post from my first week of development, ambitiously titled "I Have an Idea for Jay-Z's Next Album." This ill-advised title is evidence that I'm still secretly competing with my friend who writes for Vibe.

It's a fairly one-sided competition.

Anyway, I bought a batch of CDs using the review resources in my word-to-Jay-Z post, and I'm now happy to report on which are the most popular:

1. Buzz, Buzz by Laurie Berkner. Laurie Berkner falls into the chipper folkie category, which makes her slightly less annoying than the robot children category.

2. No! by They Might Be Giants. Yes, there is a hipster parent contingent in my neighborhood.

3. Music for Little Ears: Authentic Lullabies from Around the World. This one, I love. It's soft, rhythmic, and takes you down deep. There are also English translations of all the songs.

And based on a recent surge, I expect great things from these in 2008:

1. Soy Una Pizza by Charlotte Diamond. OK, don't be scared by the cover. I know she's like "Hold still while I shove this pizza down your throat!" But she's actually very tame. The songs on this one are a perfect mix of the familiar and the predictable. Learn 'em in a snap whether you speak Spanish or not.

2. African Playground by Putumayo. It's African, it's playful, it's probably playing at a coffee store near you ... what's not to love?

And then there's my favorite, even if it's not exactly circing up a storm .... for future Broadway stars and aspiring Von Trapps ... introducing the charming, the endearing, the darling, the winking, only slightly wrinkled John Lithgow (!!) and his show-stopping pick-me-up: The Sunny Side of the Street. Real Broadway tunes discretely tailored for the petite.

It meets my top 3 criteria for good kids CDs: 1) no robot children, 2) clever lyrics--but not the kind that go over kids' heads, like this horrible offender, and 3) swinging sing-a-long-ability.

Let's see some jazz hands, people.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

HTSMC Step 4: Teaching Character Development

And by character development, I mean literary characters.

I don't mean it in the U.S. Army sense of the word.

Right. So I got this idea from my favorite Manga drawing book. The idea is that character development isn't static, so the best way to do it isn't by making a list of your characters' qualities or favorite after-school activitities.

Instead, you think about how your character would react in a situation, and that helps you to get to know your character the same way you would get to know a real person--actions speak louder than words and all that.

So now I'm starting each Manga meeting by giving the kids a prompt, like what would your character do
  • if a rock was falling on her head?
  • if someone unexpected declared his or her undying love?
  • if he was falsely accused of stealing something?
The kids are ridiculously creative. In reaction to the rock falling, we had characters deflecting rocks with their iron skulls, pulling someone else over to stand under the rock, and reaching above their heads to stop the rock with their bare hands. Oh, and one character just, you know, stepped out of the way.

The great thing about this, for me, is that I'm going to reuse the situations as prompts for my drama club. If I were to write an equation describing how this will affect my planning time, I would use division. But I can't be any more exact, because that would involve math.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Repeat After Me

So when I first flipped through Chicky Chicky Chook Chook, by Cathy MacLennan, I think my reaction was, well, it's no Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. The story of a bunch of chickens, bees, and kittens getting caught in a rainstorm is told in lines of rhymey-rhymey nonsense like "Fizzy, fizzy, buzz, buzz, fizz, fizz buzz."

But today at storyhour, I used the book to illustrate this week's pair of opposites: wet and dry, and it worked brilliantly thanks to a kid who talks to himself. I'm not kidding. He has this running commentary going through just about everything, and today, as soon as I read the first line ("Chicky, chicky, chook, chook") he repeated it to himself, and then all the other kids did, too.

So we read the whole book like a call-and-response poem, and between lines, I could have heard a pin drop! It reminded me of seeing this Hatian playwright's one-woman show in college. She explained how storytelling in her culture always includes reactions from the audience, and in fact, a story starts with the teller saying krik!, and the audience answering krak!*

I've had kids repeat one line in a book before, but never the whole book, and I really liked the way it flowed. The other thing I liked was that when we finished the book, the kids looked at the adults who brought them and were like, You hear me read that book? I read that!

So I'm making a list of other books that could work that way. There are a couple of train ones, plus Vroomaloom Zoom ... I'll put others in the comments as they occur to me.

If you're like, isn't that a book? The answer is, yes. By Edwidge Danticat.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


So much going on!

First of all, Mother Reader has the best coverage of the reaction to the Newbury, Caldecott, etc. Because of the snow day yesterday, I, to my profound embarassment, had to be informed of the winners by a dapper parent who was at my door when we opened, hoping to snatch my copies of the winners. I'm a little sad that Kadir Nelson didn't cash in, but I kind of like the Caldecott committee for picking such a genre-bender.

Second, the Daily Dose suggests you attend a Library Trustees Meeting. Sort of.

Third, I got an e-mail press release about the 2008 American Indian Youth Literature Award. The ALSC website hasn't been updated, but here are the winners, quoted directly from the press release (The YA title is no surprise--it's been showing up everywhere):
Picture Book
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridge. Cinco Puntos Press, 2006.
A beautifully inspired story of a friendship between Martha Tom, a Choctaw girl and Li' Mo, a slave boy and how their relationship brought wholeness and freedom to Mo's family and also to many slaves. Bridge's illustrations enhance the story by resonating the joy of friendship, the light of faith, and the leadership of children.

Middle School
Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond, by Joseph Medicine Crow. National Geographic, 2006.
This appealing autobiography of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow (Absarokee) is a winner with the young and old. The author recounts his adventures and training as a traditional Crow warrior and his service as a decorated World War II veteran. Walk, run and ride with him as you learn first-hand
about real-life on the Crow reservation before during and after encounters with newcomers. In a text that is not preachy, but and honest read, Joseph Medicine Crow tell how he over came many challenges to fulfill is role as Chief of the Crow Nation.

Young Adult
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Little Brown Publishers, 2007.
A realistic, bitter-sweet yet, humorous look at the life of Arnold, a Spokane Indian teenager making his way in life on the reservation while attending an all white high school. Alexie brings to life the challenges many young native people experience as they learn to navigate and balance Indian life in a modern world. Part autobiography, Alexie's Arnold reminds us of the complexities of coming of age, bigotry, bullies, loyalty to family and the meaning of love.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Patches for kids who smoke David Pelzer

You know when you get a reader's advisory question from a kid who obviously knows what he wants and isn't afraid to tell you when a book is a "no," and you still have to pull about 15 books of the shelf to get him to articulate exactly what he wants?

Those are my favorite. I just had a kid come in and ask me if I had any books like the David Pelzer books. So I took him over to YA and laid 15 books on the table (OK, really it was only 11) and he picked out four and told me exactly what he liked about them.

Since kids come in all the time for that David Pelzer deliciousness, I thought it was worth mentioning which books were take-homes:

Going, K.L. Saint Iggy. "Because his mom is addicted to Meth."
Rapp, Adam. Under the Wolf, Under the Dog. "Because the kids live on the streets."
Mickaelsen, Ben. Touching Spirit Bear.* "Because it goes through the juvenile justice system process."
Shaw, Susan. The Boy in the Basement. "Because it sounds a lot like A Child Called It."

I should note that Breathing Underwater, by Alex Flinn, Rules of Survival, by Nancy Werlin, and You Don't Know Me, by David Klass, were checked out, so it's possible those would have tempted him.

I also really wanted to figure out a way to give him a Jake Coburn or Kevin Brooks book, because, well, I just love them, but unfortunately, neither of those authors has written specifically about child abuse or homelessness, which seem to be the fascinations.

*I feel a little guilty about this one, because the Native American lore in it is totally lore, as in 100% bonafide made-up nonsense. But the book is really popular, so I just tell kids that the Native American stuff is made-up by crazy white people.

Speak of the Devil

Apparently, I am the devil. According to Wednesday's Projo article, "at the same time it is warning of the layoffs, the library has hired at least five librarians recently, angering the union that represents the library employees."

I'm pretty sure* that I'm one of those librarians, and I don't want to seem like a piker, so let me just point out that these librarians, with the exception of one, weren't hired to create new positions. They were hired to fill existing positions --they're not replacing the specialists.

Anyway, the specialists' positions are important, and it's a crime to terminate them. But PPL doesn't want to touch the endowment and the city hasn't done anything to raise funds. And no one else is doing anything because no one thinks they're really going to do anything. So of course everyone at the Childrens' Roundtable today was relating it to The Boy Who Cried Wolf, because we relate everything to picture books.

I don't have much to add to what I said last time, except that in one place, the article says the positions will end in March, and in another place, it says the money will run out in May. Oh, and the last press release on the PPL website is:
Providence Public Library Receives $106,230 Grant from The Champlin Foundations.

Oh yeah, and it sucks to read in the newspaper that you're getting fired, before you hear anything about it from your employer.

*Note that I said "pretty sure," because I don't want to be guilty of spreading disinformation. Since no one's officially informing us of anything, I don't know much of anything for a fact. How's that for a disclaimer?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

All things visual and sequential

Everyone's talking about the Cybils, and I was particularly interested in the Graphic Novels shortlist, since I'm busying selecting all things visual and sequential. I started with a list that a very skinny boy made for me in the middle of a dinner party. And since then, I've found a couple other pretty terrific selection tools, so I thought I'd share.

First of all, did everyone else already know that Diamond Bookshelf listed the top-selling Manga and other Graphic Novels every month? And here I was, thinking you needed to subscribe to ITV2.

But more importantly, look what's at Bookslut! An interview with Robin Brenner! About her new book Understanding Manga! So good, it's sure to make you love Manga more than penguins and giant robots, plus you'll get answers to questions like "Should manga get more of a free pass for gratuitous violence and sexism?"

Then there's the "17 Sensational, Free and Downloadable Graphic Novels" over at Daily Bits. These aren't graphic novels that are only available online, but rather novels that are also delivered in formats ranging from books to Sony Playstation Portables. What I'm saying is, you can get a sneak preview of stuff you might also be interested in collecting. Personally, I recommend Fables.

The Excelsior File reviewed some TOON offerings: graphic novles for early readers. My favorite year-end-best-of-thingy is a tie between the one at Warren Peace and the one at Popcultureshock (my fave category: "best use of animals"). Percocious Curmudgeon has a list of the most fun graphic novels (lots of stuff for kiddies), and Comics and More has a list of the worst.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Death of Sush

So today was one of those days when I got shushed by a patron. I definitely get shushed more than I shush, and it's also definitely generational.

In fact, last night I was having a heated conversation with one of our, er, regulars, and he said, "No offense, but the library is like my hang-out place." And I explained in super-fast lecture mode that the library isn't a hang-out place, it's a learning and thinking place, and I would not hesitate to kick him out if he prevented other people from learning and thinking.*

This kid was about 12, and his "hang-out place" comment got me thinking that maybe young people's perception of the library is truly different from their parents' and grandparents'**, and that's a good thing.

My mom recently sent me an article from the Boston Globe that would seem to support my theory. The article reports that 18- to 29-year-olds are more likely to use the library to solve problems than any other age group. I believe the article was based on a Pew study that my roommate passed on to me. The study is, in a word, awesome. And the Globe article points out that "young adults are the ones likely to have visited libraries as teens and seen their transformation into electronic information hubs."

In other words, they love us for our computers.

Or in other words, they don't think of us as a book morgue.

So I'm crossing my fingers that, maybe, in a few years, people will be so used to the bustle and noise of their friendly neighborhood internet-cafe-cum-free-videostore-with-books-on-the-side that they'll stop shushing me. Which would be great. Really. Thanks.

*It's possible some of you now think I'm a heinous bitch, but you probably don't work in an urban library. Yes, I hung out in the library when I was a teen, but I was actually looking at books and reading and stuff. Not sexually harassing middle school girls.

**Or maybe their homelives suck more.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Veronica Mars: Savior of the races?

OK, so I'm previewing TV shows (I love you Netflix!) to see what would be worth buying for the library. I got my first Veronica Mars installment this week, and I expected to be delighted (similiar setting to my beloved OC, but more crime-solving). But I was actually kind of disturbed.

In episode 1, Veronica cuts a black boy down from the flagpole where he's been duct taped by a local motorcycle gang, and the following week (or hour, in my case), she rescues the Latino leader of the biker gang from a chain gang. Or at least from cleaning up trash next to the highway.

And yeah, she's been kicked out of the white, upper class incrowd, but she was kicked out. She didn't, like, realize they were racist, classist meanies and then start sitting at another lunch table. And she totally still wants her ex. And she's dating a guy who owns a yacht.

I asked a teenage friend what she thought, and she said it was going to give white girls the idea that with a tazer and a dog named "backup," they could brave the mean streets of LA. It'd be like those kids who imitate the moves on the WWF and then kill each other in the living room. Scary.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Election Fever!

The Pheonix officially trashed my entire state this week. Not Rhode Island. My real state. I especially like this part:
[C]redit New Hampshire and Iowa for an almost pathological determination to take any steps necessary to maintain their privileged role. “This is their life,” says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "They’ll hold their contests right after July 4 the year before the election if they have to — they don’t care, as long as they’re first."
The article suggests it would be more fair to let other states have a crack at being first. But my point is: nothing short of total revolution will make this country's political process more fair. Who are we kidding? So why call off the carnival?

Anyway, mulling over carnivals and revolutions reminded me that there are a surprising number of books about kids running for president. My favorites are probably Tashijan's Vote for Larry, and Gutman's The Kid Who Ran for President.

And then there's the whole YA obsession with presidential offspring. Personally, I think it's all about the body guards. The uncontested champion in that arena is Ellen Emerson White's trilogy, but there's also First Boy, by Gary Schmidt, and First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, by Mitali Perkins.

OK, I'm starting to feel a display here. For books that are about the political process in the grass roots sense of the word, I like Amy Timberlake's That Lucy Moon Girl (there was a spiffy review of it on A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy) and my old fave, E.L. Konigburg's T-Back, T-shirt, Coat, and Suit.

And then when I throw in all the books about high school elections, not to mention the non-fiction books about actual elections, I think I could probably fill all my display areas. Yes! As long as I don't end up taking all the books home to see if they talk about the New Hampshire primary ...