Friday, April 30, 2010

A study of the optimum distance between a library and a school

They're closing a number of schools in Providence, and I've been discussing with people how this might affect the libraries near the schools. Mount Pleasant, my humble library, is walking distance from two public elementary schools, two Catholic schools, one public high school, and one private high school. Of course, "walking distance" depends on the length of your legs and your walking tolerance, which depends on how often you are transported by minivan.

I once had a volunteer (pity her) take the NCES list of schools in Providence and map them, along with the public libraries, so I could figure out what schools were my responsibility.

[View Providence Schools in a larger map]

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Teen Urban Drama Preview!

I just got a batch of books from tech services that I'm excited to read and report on. Since their covers are so beautiful, I thought I'd share them with you, my darlings! All of these titles are street/urban/hip-hop/lit/books/drama. In other words, I don't know what to call them, but they meet the criteria that one woman asked for on the phone last week: "Something for my 14-year-old daughter with black people and drama."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Celebrate my Swedish heritage this week!

I guess you don't have to celebrate my Swedish heritage. You could celebrate yours (if you're lucky enough) or you could celebrate Astrid Lindgren's. I usually get worked up about my Swedishness around Santa Lucia day, but delightfully, the Tor blog is celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Moomins. What are the Moomins? I quote (from Tor):
"Well, they’re like white hippos. And they’re Finnish. They’re sort of like the Finnish version of Winnie the Pooh and all his friends. They sprung from the imagination of artist and writer Tove Jansson 65 years ago, and over time became a European phenomenon!"
Now, this is surely delightful, but the above does fail to mention that Tove Jansson was Swedish-Finnish. And that the Moomins look a bit like Jeff Smith's Bone. Other than that, yes. Go to Tor for re-reads and a chance to win the first four books in the series.

And that is not the only way you can celebrate Swedish children's literature. Oh no. You can get your hands on a copy of Kitty Crowther's Jack and Jim.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Singing your way through storytime

Have you ever sung a story to children? I have a 0-to-3-year-old story time with lots of pep, and it's hard to read a story to them without having at least a few of them run around making truck noises. There's also one who yells the last word I read on each page after I read it. But I kind of enjoy that. So one trick that I'm trying not to overuse is singing a story. I have a few books that are actually illustrations of songs, and whenever I read them, I sing each line. And it is pin drop silent.

It's really magic, and I'm a little afraid I just jinxed it by writing about it. But it has yet not to work, and it's a chance to showcase some books that are really the illustrator's show. And I don't think you need much musical ability to do it. I do a sort of whispery singing with long pauses between lines. It's a lullaby thing.

The books, after the jump.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Children's Librarian's Professional Development Calendar for May

It's conference month! Both RIEMA and RILA have conferences in May. Also, May 10-14 is Children's Book Week, which means we will learn what the Children's Choice winners are, and meanwhile you can check out the nominations.

There isn't too too much else going on, because the summer is fast approaching. And this summer, we'll have the first ever Youth RARI, so that's something to look forward to.

Mostly, I will spend the coming month planning the nitty gritty of summer reading and trying to wrap up the library floorplan redesign, because that was my big project for the winter. And it's no longer winter.

So here are the children's librarian professional development highlights for May (after the jump):

Jamie Greene Answers the Call

Yesterday, Jamie Greene, the president of RIEMA, spoke before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in Washington, D.C. about the importance of school libraries. I get shivers just thinking about it! I think most of us are comfortable speaking for ourselves--telling people what we do and why our libraries deserve support--but Jamie was willing to speak for all of us. It's a big responsibility, and she put so much work into preparing her message--as anyone who received her email dispatches knows.

So without further ado, here's what she said (skip to the 35:50 mark if you want to just hear her).

My favorite things:
  • When she say she's received her layoff notice. That brings the gravity.
  • When she says, "I asked my students to be the voice of students across the country." That's what makes Jamie such a great leader--she always includes people, seeks input, gathers people, data. She's a gatherer.
  • The battery image. That student is a genius! It's so sci-fi.
  • The way she finishes with specific steps. No wishy-washy suggestions. She has a plan.
Don't you feel like there should be clapping after she's done? If you feel like clapping, actually, contact Senator Reed and thank him for suggesting Jamie for the committee. And if you want more background for the thank you note, visit the ALA dispatch about Jamie's testimony.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day!

Three books the didn't exist last Earth Day! Three books I will be reading to kiddies large and small today:

OK Go by Carin Berger. This is the kind of picture book I like to give my very-very-very beginning readers who can't even read "beginning readers" except for possibly Pip and Otto. If you can read the words "stop," "go," and "OK," you can read most of this book, and you can have an adult look over your shoulder and read all the little fine print. The illustrations are intricately detailed and just weird enough that you can't figure them out at first glance, so the little ones like to sit and pour (pore?) over it. Which kind of pour? Anyway. What the illustrations actually contain: funny little creatures puffing around in contraptions that pollute. Then half way through, they switch to bikes and feet and other environmentally friendly forms of transportation.

Can white people be multicultural, too?

Talking about the Fuse #8 poll* this week got me clicking links and thinking about a project I started and abandoned--as I do many things. I was trying to compile a list of books in which white characters thought or talked or learned about their white identity. Although "multicultural" is often shorthand for "nonwhite," I think a truly multicultural collection also offers books which help white kids figure out how their skin color has affected their lives. Especially since studies show that white parents are the least likely to talk to their kids about race.

I think I got started on this project when I heard some kids in the library talking about so and so being "B" or "W," meaning white or black. The kids were shortening the words the way you do swear words, because they had got the message that they weren't supposed to talk about race. Don't get me wrong: most of the kids in my library don't mind labeling people, and the labels are usually black, white, Spanish or Chinese. Never mind that most of the Asians in this neighborhood are Cambodian or Laotian. But there are some white kids who treat race like a taboo subject. And I think they could use some books that talk about the entitlement and the guilt that can go along with being white.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hot Girl Review

Meet Kate, a girl who's a lot harder than her super vanilla name suggests. She's already been in and out of a gang, plus a couple foster homes, by the time the story starts. But she's trying to stay on track. The problem is, her brainy best friend is in South Africa for the summer, so she doesn't have any trustworthy people to hang with.

So she ends up hanging with Naleejah. Naleejah has Gucci bags, great hair, and lots of guys. Interestingly, Kate's not impressed by that. She spends most of the story being disgusted with Naleejah, but she can't quite extricate herself from the "friendship," because she keeps accepting Naleejah's offers to do her hair and let her borrow better clothes. Especially on days when she expects to see a certain guy.

So here's my question. I found the story to be a little didactic, but do I just need to get over that? I love YA books that are ambivalent about truth, that don't honor the authority of adults, and that raise more questions than they answer. But lots of tales of urban, African-American teens eschew ambivalence--this is something discussed in the Hornbook article, "And Stay Out of Trouble." So if an author sets out to write something between a cautionary tale and an inspirational story, should I evaluate the book on the basis of how well the author succeeds?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Grading Yourself with the Fuse #8 Poll

Elizabeth Bird has been laboring over the results of the 100 Best Children's Novels Poll and has finally put a nice bow on it. But the discussion continues. Lots of bloggers, starting I think with Teacherninja, have been reporting on the number of books on the list that they've read and giving themselves a grade. Meanwhile, Debbie Reese has begun the project of pointing out all the problematic portrayals of Native Americans in the novels.

This relates to a larger issue: the list has very few examples of books by or about people of color. This isn't really surprising, because lo these many years, books by and about white people have been getting published and winning Newbery awards and getting assigned by classroom teachers much more often than books (imagine all the unpublished--even unwritten ones!) by people of color. In fact, in the last issue of Hornbook, there was a wonderful article about being black and growing up reading books like The Secret Garden.

Also, the CCBC has been collecting data on the number of books by and about people of color that are published in the US, and it's distressing. Here's just a sample:


Total Number
of Books
Published (Est.)

Number of Books

African /
African Americans

American Indians

Asian Pacifics/
Asian Pacific Americans


ByAbout ByAbout ByAbout ByAbout
2007 5,000 3,000 77 150 6 44 56 68 42 59

So it's not surprising, to me, to find that most of the people who participated in Elizabeth Bird's poll have read and liked more books by and about white people. So--how helpful!--the Fuse #8 poll reveals the bias in our field. But it also reinforces it. At least it does if our response is to use it as an assessment tool rather than looking at it as an interesting snapshot.

Naturally, I have a solution. After the jump are all of the chapter books on the CCBC's 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know. There are ten. (How perfect!) So give yourself 10 points for each of the following that you have read. Now average that with your Fuse #8 grade. Now you have a grade which is adjusted for white bias. This is obviously mathematically suspect, but entertaining, no?

Hello, Marvelous World!

I've been reading a pretty sweet blog: White Readers Meet Black Authors. I mean, if you're white and you know that you usually read white authors, how can you resist a blog with this address:

That's how I found Wench, which I'm in the middle of. It focuses on the lives of four women, living in slavery in the South, who are forced to play the role of mistress with the white men who own them. The setting glistens hot on the page, and the characters have to make impossible choices: attempt to run away, abandoning their children and possibly endangering the lives of the slaves who remain behind? or stay in slavery, subjecting themselves to the abuse of the men and the venom of the women, hoping to convince the white men to set their children free?

Well. There's absolutely no possible transition after that. But more relevant-to-children's literature, White Readers Meet Black Authors today had a reminder about Marvelous World by Troy CLE. I ordered the first book back when Vibe magazine was calling it the black Harry Potter, and the author was already imagining the films. And then I thought it fizzled. Not so!

The series has continued, the new covers look great, and there's a book trailer!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Usurper of the Sun (Sort of) Book Review

I think I'm kind of not exactly going to finish Usurper of the Sun. Not because it's not good! And not because it's hard sci-fi!

OK, probably sort of because it's hard sci-fi. But I don't have a tiny brain, really. I think the questions the novel raises are interesting. For example: If you were going to try to communicate to aliens the concept of friendship, how would you do it? Forget about the technical aspects of sending out messages into the unknown. What images would you use? What if the aliens don't eat together? What if they don't communicate verbally? What if they don't use physical touch to show affection? What if they're like ants or microorganisms and their relationships aren't based on feelings? Tricky, huh?

So I learned a new word: Xenopsychology. Alien psychology.

But the book disappointed me in a way that has nothing to do with the genre or the quality of the writing. This was the first Haikasoru book that arrived, fully cataloged, at my library, and I was hoping it would appeal to teens. The blurb goes thus:
Aki Shiraishi is a high school student working in the astronomy club and one of the few witnesses to an amazing event—someone is building a tower on the planet Mercury. Soon, the Builders have constructed a ring around the sun, threatening the ecology of Earth with an immense shadow. Aki is inspired to pursue a career in science, and the truth. She must determine the purpose of the ring and the plans of its creators, as the survival of both species—humanity and the alien Builders—hangs in the balance.
You can understand why I thought it was going to focus on a teenager, right?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eisner Nominations for Kids and Teens

First of all, read this book, I beg you:
Second, the Eisner noms were announced--I'm a little late with this, but the winners won't be announced until July. Here are the kids and teens nominations (Bold titles are also on the 2010 GGNFT list):

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nice Stories

I tend to whip kids into a frenzy at my storytimes. I had the same tendency as a babysitter, camp counselor, and classroom teacher, where I learned that the first step in classroom management is managing yourself. I can't figure out, actually, how other people have quiet storytimes. Quiet 4-year-olds creep me out.

And I hate it when adults shush kids over and over, because it's so normal for kids to want to respond to a story by yelling out things like, "I have a pet fish, too!" I like to remind people that Shakespearean theater was punctuated by much less adorable outbursts.

But the problem with high-energy, all-singing, all-dancing storytimes is that I don't get to read the touching, quiet stories. My philosophy has been that those stories are great for intimate reading between parents and children but can't work in a group, in the middle of a one-room library, on a Monday night.

But lately, I've been challenging myself to read those stories, because I think I have to have faith in a good story--forget the finger games and the repeated lines and the instructions to study the illustrations closely so you can hear what the words aren't saying. If librarians won't believe in the power of bare tale-telling, who will?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Maybe it's just a phase

One of those why-boys-don't-read theories that circulates pretty widely is that boys prefer books that awards committees, librarians, and parents (possibly publishers) consider trashy. Books with less character development and more explosions and toilets.

So these books with crazy boy appeal are actually harder for boys to get their hands on, because awards committees, librarians, and parents (who shall henceforth be referred to as literary gatekeepers) are all like, "Oh no, dear, you don't want that nasty book about exploding flatulence, you want this nice book about making friends."

Boys come to the library looking for Captain Underpants and face a wall of Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody books.

But I just read an article that makes a good, related point: it's not really that girls like more sophisticated books. It's just that the literary gatekeepers of America have embraced trashy girl books while still looking down on trashy boy books.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why I'm no longer afraid of Naruto

When it comes to buying manga, for a long time I felt like I had to follow Maria Von Trapp and "start at the very beginning--it's a very good place to start." So I'd buy volumes 1-5 of Negima, Naruto, One Piece, etc.

And then all my readers hated me.

Most of the fans had already read the first 5 volumes, and if they hadn't, it's not like it took them very long to get to volume 6. But I just couldn't bear to spend three times as much money on Naruto as I did on other series. It's that classic librarian dilemma: give the people what they want or give the people choices. You know what I mean?

Anyway, the point is that story arcs are my new thing.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Comparing Sketchup and Floorplanner

Sometimes impressing people is the best approach to getting your way. You can measure, you can reason, you can provide data. But if you can show people a 3D model, they might just let you move all the furniture in the library. That's what happened to me.

(Actually, we had to move all the furniture, because G-Tech donated a block of children's computers, and they just wouldn't fit in our old space. But I still think the 3D model gave me a lot of credibility when I proposed a new layout.)

I used Floorplanner to do the 3D model, without really investigating my options. So I was wondering what else was out there, and guess what? Google has a similar program. Shocking, right?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Personification in Children's Books

A teacher came in yesterday and asked me for examples of personification in picture books. The idea is to teach 5th graders about literary special effects, like onomatopoeia, personification, simile, metaphor, etc. I was like, oh great idea no problem. Then I was like, huh.

It was one of those reference questions that's harder than it sounds. I couldn't specifically remember whether certain books attributed human qualities and actions to non-humans.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What your shelving style says about you

I've already thought a lot about how to catalog and shelve graphic novels--I even wrote a post about it for the YALSA blog. But my brother just pointed me to a series of articles on Popmatters that addresses this issue from the perspective of comics readers rather than librarians. (OK, so in the article below, the comics reader sat in on a discussion among librarians, so maybe it's more of a cross-section of perspectives.)

Peep this:
"Regardless of how to interpret different ways of categorizing comics in a library, what underlies such questions is how readers read, and what comics means to them. Do they follow writers (what one librarian at the session I was at called the “Neil Gaiman problem”)? Do they follow publishers (as above)? Do they follow pencilers (or some other artist)? Do they follow a particular character (what another librarian called the “Wolverine problem”)?

Problem Parents in YA Books

I read the New York Times article on problem parents in YA lit, plus the brouhaha on the blogosphere, and I think what we have here is a case of bad editing. The article makes many observations about how the roles of parents in YA novels has changed over time. But I have no idea what the point is.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Teen Furniture: Fewer Distractions

Now that I've got all the children's furniture out of my system, I've found a few teen furniture sites with products that make me really happy. First of all, 2Modern has the most comprehensive teen section, and it was there that I discovered Fatboy products.

See, I had already narrowed down the kind of furniture I was looking for to benches, like in museums and shoe stores. I think I sang the praises of benches earlier. And Fatboy has these modular bench-things that I love.