Monday, August 31, 2009

Gruesome indeed!

The Brothers Gruesome

This gruesome story contains little to recommend it. One illustration depicts a grim brother toothily hanging on to a runaway pig in a position that looks nearly coital. Later the same pig is seen determinedly marching away with a neat portion cut out of his shoulder and a large knife tidily stuck in his haunch as one of the three monsters gleefully tracks him.

Although the illustrator's wife, Susan Elgar is the writer of this story, Drahos Zak is given top billing and holds the copyright to the work. Truly, this is a book designed for adults with a macabre sense of humor and an appreciation for meticulously detailed artwork. More than one author has complained about how adults often search (perhaps unwisely) for moral lessons in children's books, and while this book does speak to the perils of greed, it may be easier to see it as a whimsical indulgence on the part of the artist.

With its rough-hewn, stilted rhyming couplets, one wonders if this import may have lost something in the translation (it has the odd humored feel of the Eastern European) - until one realizes that the book is in fact, from Australia. This book may offer some titillating excitement for stout at heart youngsters in search of earthy humor. Keep the book away from younger children however, lest nightmares ensue. I give it 3 stars, as I predict readers will either love it, or hate it. It's out of print, so look for it in your local library.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer Reading Finale

The kids read, they weighed-in and they voted. They got exactly what they wanted. A totally ninja-themed end-of-summer party.

For some reason, I had imagined that hosting a ninja party would be a cinch. I'd planned on hitting the 99 cent store or perhaps a party goods store, going straight to the "ninja" aisle, and picking out a bunch of decorations to purchase with a donation from the library Friends' group. Alas, it was not to be so. I went to at least four different stores, and found absolutely nothing. Well, ninjas are supposed to be stealthy... I did find quite a lot of pirate decorations, though. I found Spongebob Squarepants dressed as a pirate, Mickey Mouse dressed as a pirate, sports pirates, sea pirates, party pirates. Pirates, apparently, do not lie low.

In the end I lit upon a far cheaper option than purchasing decorations... I printed out some ninja pictures from the internet and hung them up. I added some red and black crepe paper we had lying around. I think the black was left over from a black and orange set from Halloween, and the red came from a former Valentine's Day celebration.

I printed out the large ninja on the left using the rasterbator site. It creates an enlarged multi-page version of whichever image you upload. I created the flag of Japan by using an old poster. First, I hung it up with the plain back of the poster showing. Then I added a red construction paper circle. Easy.

We had the favorite food of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: pizza. And I handed out free paperback books (donated by the publisher) to all the kids who participated in the Read-a-Ton challenge this year.

I can hardly believe this was all only a week or so ago. The start of the school year is just around the corner. And! I'm now at a different branch! (but more about that in a later post...)

(My thanks to 100 Scope Notes for pointing me to for the cartoon image. It really is easy, and very fun to do)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

All the branches...

One thing that I enjoy about working for a very large urban system, is that we have so very many different locations. I've been to about 25% of our 72 branches. I've always thought it would be an interesting project to get out and visit Every Single Branch, No Exceptions. Our new City Librarian, Martin Gomez, has stated that he does want to get out there and do just that.

Then, I ran across Candace Ryan's blog Book, Booker, Bookest. She's highlighted a goodly number of Los Angeles Public branches (she visits other Southland libraries too.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Forest of Hands and Teeth review

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
by Carrie Ryan
Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Wow. Just, wow. This is zombie fiction, the way it should be written. The story starts out with a striking similarity to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, but quickly morphs into something else entirely. Mary hasn’t known any other world than her small village. The secretive religious order of the Sisterhood tightly circumscribes every detail of the villager’s lives in this last outpost of humanity. The villagers are told that only their obedience to the Sisterhood and their constant vigilance will keep them from being overrun by the Unconsecrated zombie hordes, just beyond the chain link fence.

When Mary loses both of her parents, and Travis, the boy she’s crushing on, doesn’t speak for her, her fate seems sealed. She’s forced to join the Sisterhood, whose only interest seems to be in quashing her dreams of rediscovering the ocean. It’s a grim world. As Mary says, “There are no second chances for the women of my village.”

As is the case in any good horror movie, tension mounts as the action telescopes down to a smaller and smaller cast of characters. When the village finally falls, only Mary and a small rag-tag crew manage to escape. One by one, they succumb to undead, forcing the friends to lay arms against each other before all are turned.

I’m not sure what the takeaway on all of this is, except that a world lousy with zombies doesn’t have room in it for a boy with a bum knee (not even a really cute boy.) And aside from being hunky (and bravely sacrificing himself towards the end) Travis isn’t really good for much. He’s pretty wishy-washy! He’s attracted to her friend, Cass, yet seems content to snuggle up with Mary when they end up isolated together. She could do a lot better. Mary is the one with the determination and the initiative to keep on struggling, no matter what.

There are a lot of unanswered questions by the end of the story… not quite in the same vein as Lois Lowry's The Giver, but enough for Ryan to mine for several more sequels at least. The sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves is being released in Spring of 2010. I can hardly wait.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Henna program

Low turn-out at one of our recent teen programs, and I reap the benefits.

For some reason, we had a pretty low turn-out at the henna workshop yesterday, and so the presenter had extra time to give me a temporary henna tattoo. Isn't it gorgeous? I'm loving it! I can't believe we didn't have more young adults show up for this awesome (free!) opportunity. What's the matter with these kids today, anyway? Gosh, I feel old, saying that.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Alligator Feltboard

Here's one of my favorite felt boards.

I drew and cut out all the pieces myself. I used a googly-eye for the alligator. And a bit of white felt for his teeth. I think he turned out great! The fish, I'm not quite as pleased with. I drew their features on using permanent marker, and I'm thinking I could have cut out fins and the like in a contrasting felt color, instead.

The song I sing for this one goes like so:

Five little fishies, swimming in the sea, teasing Mr. Alligator, "Can't catch me! Can't catch me!"

And along comes Mr. Alligator... jaws open wide! And SNAP! There's another fishie, deep inside...
(and so on, and so forth, until all the fish have been eaten)

I guess the more popular version of the song has "five little monkeys, sitting in a tree," but, I learned this with fish, so fish it is!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Grown-up reading (sorta)

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street

Davis' background as a journalist really shines through in this exhaustively researched look into the team behind Sesame Street. Spanning five years of interviews with cast and crew, Davis paints a painstaking picture of all the ins-and-outs, all the personalities, all the behind-the-scenes office politics that shaped this television institution. Pioneering the "edu-tainment" niche, Sesame Street was really the first children's show to take educational research seriously, incorporating PhDs on their staff and applying for educational grants to meet budgetary needs.

There's a lot of background info here... quite a lot on the earlier show, Captain Kangaroo. Warm and genial on screen, Bob Keeshan was a sometimes moody prankster on the set. A number of the writers and crew made the jump to Sesame Street when it started, and they brought lessons they learned from the Captain with them, mainly, that an ensemble cast would provide less headaches than a single, temperamental actor.

Jim Henson was probably the most widely celebrated Sesame Street contributor, with his furry, funny, wonderful Muppets. Davis also spotlights Children's Television Workshop founding member and Sesame producer, Joan Ganz Cooney and her struggles to be taken seriously in the "man's world" of television production in the late 60's and onward. I didn't know that Bob McGrath, one of the longest-running original cast members got his start as a Japanese pop-singing sensation! I was also unaware that Northern James Calloway, who played David on the show, had such a troubled history. Towards the end of his run on the show, his behavior became increasingly erratic as he struggled with manic-depression.

As I suspected, Sesame Street, especially in it's first decade on television, was a very collaborative effort. In the 1990's post-Barney era, the show floundered for a bit under new management, as the suits tried to micromanage the creative process, until finally hitting on a huge hit with Elmo. Considering the meticulous detail afforded to the early years of Sesame Street, I was a little surprised that even more energy wasn't expended in explaining the Elmo phenomenon but one can't blame Davis for running out of steam towards the end of this epic history. It feels odd to say it, but as long as the book was (and it is long) I did wish for a bit more info about most of the performers. Also, no mention of the Snuffleupagus controversy!

The final 100 pages are perhaps the saddest, beginning with the death of Will Lee, the actor who played the venerable corner-store owner, Mr. Hooper. From there, many of the other founding members passing, especially that of Henson, is covered in detail.

The book is being released in paperback this October.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pirates vs. Ninjas, Part III

During our most recent weekly Summer Reading Club meeting, I set our regulars to work on a puppet-making project.

For the pirates, we used this paper-bag project. I had some teen volunteers help me pre-cut the beards and mustaches. What I didn't expect was that most of the kids in our Summer Reading Club used multiple beards. These were some very hirsute pirates!

For the ninja puppets, I improvised something out of a toilet-paper tube. I wrapped it in black construction paper, added an oval for a face and a strip of white paper for a belt. The toughest part was probably the shuriken. I practiced drawing it a few times, and then cut it out. I glued it so that the pencil marks don't show.

I think he looks pretty sharp!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pirates vs. Ninjas, Part II

We've all been having a lot of fun with the "Pirates vs. Ninjas" contest I'm having at the library this summer.

Recently, we had a little sing-a-long, with verses that I mostly made up on the spot.

We alternated between pirates and ninjas.

It's to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It"

If you're a pirate and you know it, swab the deck! (make swabbing, mop-like motions)
If you're a pirate and you know it, swab the deck!
If you're a pirate and you know it, and you really want to show it,
If you're a pirate and you know it, swab the deck!

If you're a ninja and you know it, stay alert! (make spying motions)
If you're a ninja and you know it, stay alert!
If you're a ninja and you know it, and you really want to show it,
If you're a ninja and you know it, stay alert!

more pirate verses:

...walk the plank! (make jumping while holding your nose motions)
...get the gold! (make grabbing motions)

more ninja verses:

...sneak around! (make sneaking motions)
...battle crime! (make ninja motions)

This was really a lot of fun. I suppose I even could have had the kids help me improvise some more verses.
Each week the kids bring what they've been reading so that we can weigh it and keep track of how many pounds of books everyone's been reading. So far, ninjas have a pretty healthy lead. I've been exhorting them to start voting for pirates now, if they're going to; which only seems to incite the ninja fans to read more.


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