Friday, June 26, 2009

Perfect introduction to libraries

Each year when I go to visit classrooms to talk up the public library and all of the services we offer, I draw up a master list of books that I'll book talk and a story book or two that I'll share.  I always start fresh at the beginning of the year, creating a new list, so that I'm not repeating any of the same material. This year, I discovered a fabulous gem.  How on earth did I miss this book when it first came out?  I have had so much fun reading this book with classes this year.

Young Beverly, a grey bearish kind of animal, is simply beside herself with pleasure at finally acquiring a library card of her very own.  With the assistance of the bird-like librarian Mrs. Del Rubio, she checks out a book on dinosaurs.  Beverly loves her selection, reading continuously throughout the week.  When the due-date on her book passes, Beverly begins to panic.  Her friends at school unhelpfully advise her that fines will almost certainly be assessed, "Oh, like a thousand dollars, I think" and one schoolmate even tells her that jailtime is a possibility.

After waking from a nightmare where she's threatened by a dinosaur (sporting red hair and cat eye glasses very similar to Mrs. Del Rubio's) growling, "Return meeeee!  I am overduuuuuuuuuue!" Beverly's mom reassures her that "Nobody ever went to jail for an overdue library book."

Happily, Mrs. Del Rubio is able to sort everything out, and Beverly meets Oliver, another dinosaur enthusiast at the library where they are able to start an after school Piedmont Dinosaur Club.

I love this book on so many different levels.  First of all, it describes how libraries work and what to expect in very simple, relatable terms:  
One must have a library card to check out books.  
Getting a library card requires filling out a form.
It does not take very long to acquire a library card.  
Books that are borrowed should be returned by the due date.  
Late books will have fines.  
Getting a fine on your library card is not an insurmountable problem. 
Libraries can be used as a social space to meet with friends.

It explains all of that, but it is also really very humorous!  The book is ideal for reading aloud.  The gouache and ink illustrations take up most of the page and the heavily bolded outlines of the pictures make it easy for children to see, even from a distance.  There's ample opportunity for using different voices for the various characters.  The comic timing of the book is genius.  Additionally, if one is running short on time, or faced with an antsy audience of preschoolers, the book can be ended a bit early, on the page where Beverly returns her book.  If  reading it with older groups of children, you can read all the way to the end where Beverly co-founds the Dinosaur Club.

Beverly's childlike blend of earnestness, enthusiasm and worry reminded me of the Frances books by Russell Hoban.  Librarians everywhere should have this in their arsenal of sure-fire, crowd-pleasing picture books.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

To ALA or not to ALA?

I've been heavily debating whether or not to go to the upcoming Annual American Library Association meeting in Chicago.

I love to travel. And I love conventions, but... after weighing the vacation time I'd have to burn up to go, plus the travel expense, plus finagling the time off with my work schedule (one of my coworkers at my branch is on a committee, and without subs available it's rather difficult to accommodate having both of us go) I reluctantly decided that it was not to be.

Cue several weeks of wistfully mooning about all the great stuff that I'll miss. Exhibits room! Free Galleys and ARCS! Hobnobbing with fellow librarians, friends from library school, now far-flung across the nation! Schmoozing with famous authors! Mo Willems! Lane Smith! Marla Frazee! Kadir Nelson! Bookcart Drillteam World Championships! Invigorating and inspiring workshops, chock full of info and new ideas to bring back to my branch. *sigh*

With the city budget crisis, furloughs for the city have finally been approved. It's a depressing thought, to be sure, that the libraries will be closed on alternate Fridays. But, I couldn't help but think that every cloud has a silver lining. With a furlough day on July 10th, suddenly flying out to Chicago looked a lot more do-able. It's pretty last minute, but I started putting plans in place to go for it.

Ah. Aha. Until yesterday... when it was announced that further negotiations with the city unions means that perhaps we won't be having furloughs after all. So. It's lucky I haven't registered for the conference yet, eh? Luckily, my flight and hotel were all refundable or at least can be credited for use at another time.

Chicago's been on my list of "places to visit" for a long while.
Ah well... perhaps I'll make it in 2013.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I am just returning from vacation, and haven't had the chance to update for a few days.
My trip consisted of planes, trains, automobiles and just about every airline travel mix-up that one can imagine.  It was a pleasure to see my family in Maine again, and be there for my younger sister's wedding.  But, my goodness, it is so very far away!  And it's good to be back.

I had the opportunity to mingle with my passel of nieces  and nephews who were all in fine form, and (not that I'm biased) possibly the cutest, funniest, smartest group of young folks you could ever know.

In the meantime, I direct your attention to the Los Angeles Public Library Kid's Path website, where kids are free to post their reviews of books read this summer.  Scroll down for a few of my favorites: "I thought that Kit Saves The Day was a little boring in the middle but the rest was fine."  Or this review of Five Silly Turkeys by Salina Yoon: "I think that's silly beacause the turkeys are doing silly thing. I like this book!!"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sweet summer reading

The book, about reality-tv star 19-year-old Jane Roberts certainly sounds like a semi-autobiographical journey for the author, the star of MTV's "reality" show, The Hills. Other than a few name changes I'm not sure how this is much different. I'd assumed that it would be pure fluff. The story was certainly enjoyable though and even a bit weightier than I had anticipated.

Naturally, the lion's share of the story centers around the social lives of Jane and her best friend Scarlett. They are both new to Los Angeles, starstruck and boy crazy. Despite being an attractive natural blonde, Jane considers herself a "plain Jane" while Scarlett is a confident brunette bombshell. Jane's just scored an internship with renowned event planner, Fiona Chen. Scarlett plans to coast through classes at USC while she decides what to do with herself. When Hollywood producer Trevor Lord starts talking to them in a nightclub, they initially assume that he's trying to hit on them... but eventually he convinces them to come for an audition for a new reality show filming Los Angeles. In the interview, the producers are impressed with the girls' natural good-looks and unaffected demeanor. Just like that, they are in!

With the cameras rolling, Jane and Scarlett are soon treated to a new luxury apartment and VIP lifestyle. I liked the behind-the-scenes reality behind "reality" tv... the awkwardness of being miked, the staged "spontaneous" scenes... it all rang very true.

Of course, everyone's wondering whether L.A. Candy was ghostwritten. (And wouldn't it be the ultimate irony if it was?) A careful inspection of my copy didn't seem to reveal anything in the fine print... maybe Lauren Conrad really did write this herself! I can't help but think of one of the episodes from the first season of The Hills where Lauren is called into her boss's office. Her boss asks her, "Can you write?" and she nervously replies, "Um... Yes?" There's an eerily similar scene in the book between the character Jane and her boss, event planner Fiona Chen. Her demanding and cold boss suddenly turns into a warm mentor when the cameras are rolling.

While the celebrities are all fictional, the names of many of the businesses and designer-name items in the book are not. The name-dropping and general tone strongly reminded me of Cecily von Ziegesar's Gossip Girls and It Girl series.

The story's somewhat of a cliffhanger ending leaves everything definitely very much unresolved. Fans of MTV's The Hills or the genre that I'd term "Chick Lit Jr." will definitely be clamoring for more. Fortunately for them, Conrad has signed a 3 book deal, so there are certain to be at least 2 more installments in the series.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Beautiful bugs

Insects Biggest! Littlest!
by Sandra Markle, photos by Dr. Simon Pollard

The cover of this book will grab you as surely that giant green praying mantis has grabbed the hapless spider it's eagerly shoving into it's maw. Inside, fairly simple text suitable for 2nd or 3rd grade readers details the lives of insects of various sizes.  Science terms and jargon are given parenthetical phonetic spellings to help readers sound out their pronuciation.  The photographs by Dr. Simon Pollard are truly the star attraction of this book.  The full-color close-up photos on each page are absolutely gorgeous.

The difference in scale is shown to best advantage in photos where other items are also pictured for reference.  For example, the nearly 2 ft. long Giant Stick Insect of Borneo is shown climbing a tree, dwarfing the nearby man's hand.  Also stunning is the photograph of the huge stag beetle on the final page, equal-sized to the human thumb it's firmly perched on.  The Minute Pirate Bug, on the other hand, is simply shown sitting on a leaf.  While we're told it's under an eighth of an inch long, it's difficult to judge the size based on the close-up photo.  The Raja Brooke Birdwing butterfly and the Western Pygmy Blue butterfly shown on successive pages appear on nearly the same scale, and it's only through the text that we know the former is nearly a foot across, the latter, merely half-an-inch.  

The one feature that would have made this book better for me, I would have loved, loved, loved an appendum with silhouettes displaying the subjects relative size, and unfortunately, there wasn't one.  There is however, a world map indicating all the various bugs native habitats, as well as a selected bibliography and a few websites.  Teachers and school librarians who are looking to freshen up their non-fiction shelves could do worse than this visually appealing photograhic journey.  For kids who like bugs this book is sure to be a hit.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mooning about

Larky Mavis 

The redheaded heroine of this folk-tale like story demonstrates her protective instincts while standing up for non-conformists and dreamers everywhere. Her tattered clothes with patches and holed toe socks perfectly illustrate the kind of carefree, ne’er do well existence that she leads.

Bold pen drawings paired with gentle washes of pastel watercolor match the tone of the rolling, lilting text. One day as Larky Mavis is “mooning about, mooning about” she finds a peanut in the road which appears to be “a little baby.” She nicknames him “Heart’s Delight.” The townspeople’s disapproval of her eccentricity grows stronger and stronger until finally Larky Mavis’s “child” is able to sprout wings and fly away like an angel, taking Larky Mavis with him to who knows where.

Interestingly, even after Larky Mavis makes her escape, the majority townspeople remain as judgmental and unimaginative as ever. One feels too, that the name “Larky Mavis” is some kind of appellation pinned on her by the townsfolk who misunderstand her. The ambiguous ending is likely create more questions than it answers. This book is a natural read-aloud. Younger children may appreciate the sensuous feeling of the words, but older children are sure to find much to discuss in the open-ended conclusion of the tale.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Comic book inspired fun

Action and adventure await Joshua Blevins.  His whole life he's been training for and dreaming of becoming a superhero... the small fact that he doesn't happen to have any superpowers isn't going to stop him.  Rejected from the superhero academy, his mentor, Captain Force, forges him a new identity, "Chance Fortune" whose (difficult to prove, and subtle) power is "good luck". 

Once he's at school, "Chance" spends a lot of time hoping desperately not to get caught.  Even as a "superhero" he's classed among those with lesser abilities.  He attempts to make up for this by suiting up with as many high-tech gadgets as allowed.  The students at Burlington Academy for the Superhuman spend a good deal of time in mock battles preparing themselves for their lives of crimefighting.  Chance is soon teamed with Psy-Chick, Gothika, Iron Maiden and Private Justice who find themselves squaring off against the school champions led by Superion, a real bully.  I was kind of reminded of the Harry Potter "purebloods vs. mudbloods" conflict.

This was a fun campy read.  Some of the battle sequences got a bit long, I thought, but on the whole, I very much enjoyed it.  It ends on a huge cliffhanger, a certain set-up for more in the series.  There is a sequel, Chance Fortune in the Shadow Zone.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Class Visits

I'm in that final flurry of trying to squeeze in as many school visits as possible before the end of the school year. I find visiting schools to be simultaneously thrilling and exhausting. It's wonderful to see kids and get them psyched up for Summer Reading Club. And besides that, they look up at you with such admiration, as if you were a rock star, or something. It's pretty cool. 

Here's a picture of me, in front of a marquee of a school on a visit last year.

If possible, I like to get classes to agree to a field trip to the library. It's one thing to hear me give a book talk, but I think it's quite another to be able to see everything for oneself.

Generally, I try to schedule class visits for the mornings when our library is closed to the public. That way, we can have the full run of the place. Ideally, I'll be able to get them library card applications a couple of weeks in advance of their visit.  First, I have them head upstairs to the community room where I give a short talk about how the library works. I answer questions, which usually the kids usually have a ton of. Some of the funniest questions I've fielded were from kids who couldn't wrap their heads around the idea that taking items out of the library was free. They were more used to the bookstore model, where your gift card has a certain dollar amount on it, and kept asking, "But how much money is on your library card before it runs out?"

Another time, I had a child ask me what would happen if someone stole a library book. My answer, "Kids! Don't steal. If you lose a book, you'll have to pay to replace it. But, everything at the library is free as long as you bring it back for other people to share it!"

If there's time, (there usually is) I read a story, and then we take a tour of the building. I have everyone walk by our used bookstore on the second floor, and then from the top of stairs, everyone has a chance to look around at dvd's, teen section and lots of computers.

Downstairs, I point out the the reference and circulation desks, and invite the kids to come over and say "hello" to me at the desk if they ever happen to be at our library after school. Then, I like to tell the class that we're going to see something now special and awesome... something that's really behind-the-scenes... the inside of the book drop! Once, I had a little girl ask me with no small degree of concern, "Will it be scary?"

I save the best for last, and take them over to the children's section. Here are the Caldecotts and Newberys, picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, non-fiction and more: alphabet and counting books, fairy tales. I also point out the statue of Donald Bruce Kaufman (whom the library is named for) that overlooks the children's area.

Before the kids get a chance to look around, I remind them of a few important rules: no yelling, no running, no fighting. Usually, there's a mad dash as kids splinter and look for everything and you try to help 5 kids at once. I break the group into 2 or 3 sections, and bring them over to show them how to look things up in the catalog, and demo how to look something up on one of our databases.  They love the kids catalog, especially the rampaging dinosaur.  Once, after showing them how to e-mail themselves articles from World Book, I had a wide-eyed kid tell me, "It makes homework so easy!  It's almost like you're cheating!"

At that point, I help them checkout books which is also usually hurried madness and I beg a clerk to help me.  If I have enough supplies, I'll give them a bunch of free bookmarks, info on upcoming programs, stickers and other good stuff.

Phew! Just a few weeks more... and then it's on to Summer Reading Club.  No rest for the wicked, so they say.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sweet Hen Story

Daisy Comes Home 

This is a classic journey adventure story where Daisy the hen accidentally (on purpose?) leaves home. Daisy learns how to defend herself out in the wild and uses those lessons to her advantage when she returns. Readers will root for the underdog, when all the other hens gang up on to pick upon Daisy, not allowing her to sleep with any kind of comfort. As anyone who has raised hens will know, this is another realistic touch.

Jan Brett altered the look of her traditionally busy borders that often tell a counterpoint to the main story. Here she uses two diagonal corner posts to frame the action of the main story. Each is beautifully detailed with designs based on Chinese weaving or pottery.
Mei-mei, the little girl, is a mother figure to her hens and the story has a very nice conversational tone. One of the most charming features of this book is that even though Daisy the hen may be anthropomorphic in her behavior and feelings, visually she keeps her hen-like qualities throughout. Daisy's face and body posture convey so much feeling, without ever seeming to step away from how a real hen would carry herself.

The watercolor and gouache paintings render incredibly rich colors and Brett provides a high level of detail. Alert readers will notice the animals from the signs of the Chinese Zodiac hidden amongst the green plateau-like hills in the background. This volume will be a welcome addition to the pantheon of books involving how to deal with school bullies. Brett certainly seems to owe a debt to The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack, but I saw a strong similarity to The Cow Who Fell in the Canal by Phyllis Krasilovsky as well. All the little details included in the illustrations make this a good choice for sharing one-on-one with a child.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Baby Signing Time

We recently had Etel Leit from Sign Shine give a presentation about Baby Sign Language at our branch.  What a phenomenal program!  My only regret was that I didn't get any pictures... the battery on my camera died.

Etel had a very relaxed and easy charm. After a quick introduction, she talked a little about the benefits of signing with babies. The idea of being able to communicate with a pre-verbal infant, months or even years before they can talk is so appealing. Even very small babies possess the gross motor skills to use a number of the signs she taught such as; more, milk, cat, bird, song, thank you, ready, wait, and baby.

The kids loved her songs, and the program flowed very nicely… simple words learned in one song were repeated in the next. Baby Signing Time, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, You Are My Sunshine, Brown Bear, Brown Bear and plenty of other children’s favorites were shared.

Although a lot of the show was directed towards entertaining kids, it was very educational for parents too. She had great insight on the kinds of things parents are eager to hear. She showed parents how using the sign for “wait… 2 seconds” to a toddler eager to break in on an adult conversation or phone call can actually be more effective than interrupting yourself to say, “Please don’t interrupt me.”  Being able to sign seems to ease the frustrations that a lot of toddlers feel when they are struggling to communicate with their caregivers.

I also liked that the signs were genuine American Sign Language signs.  I usually have a good-sized crowd for storytimes at the branch, but this was really a full house.  I'd love to have Etel back at our library, she was great!


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