Thursday, June 24, 2010

My summer reading problem

Every year, the week before the summer reading program starts, I am a terrible person. Mostly to family members and my boyfriend. And close friends. I like to think I'm still civil, if not charming, to library patrons, wait staff, and other acquaintances. But the stress of planning events at the library makes me remarkably like a bad TV mom.

And this year, I made things worse by spending way too much time on the Martha Stewart website. I never thought it would come to that. But she has so many ideas for kids crafts! I must have printed out 20 pages! But everyone knows what too much Martha Stewart can do to a person. Fortunately, while looking for cupcake cookbooks in the adult section (it's for a teen program--really*), I found I Like You by Amy Sedaris.

Of course, I'd seen the book before, but I never really understood if it was a humor book or a guide to entertaining. And after reading some of it, I still don't understand. But it is so funny that I think it's the cure for too much Martha Stewart. So, if you're like me and you're planning a summer reading program and feeling stressed a la "what if no one comes?" then I highly recommend I Like You.

How can you resist advice like this: "Once they've been assessed, it's important to magnify your strengths and ignore your weaknesses. If you have thick ankles, wear pants. If you're boring, pick exciting music. If you are a lousy cook, order out. Never overreach to mask your weaknesses. There is nothing cute or adorable about noticeably reaching beyond your capabilities. Remember, the goal is to entertain, not overtain."

Doesn't that make you feel better?

*That was like me at K-mart yesterday, where I was buying those gosh darn silly bands** as prizes. The guy at the register was like, "We have these? Seriously? Where did you find them? Are you getting them for you or your kids?" I was like, "um, my kids?"

**Oh, excuse me, silly bandz.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rape Scenes

I was talking with my sister on the phone last night about rape scenes in books and whether or not they're exploitative. I had a friend in grad school who actually shut the book every time she came across a rape scene. I'm not that hard core, but I definitely sympathize with her stance. For one thing, I read for pleasure, mostly, so why read something so unsettling? Of course, we can't always look away from unsettling things. But there has to be a good reason to look, like a lesson learned or a better understanding of other people, or ourselves.

And then there's the more disturbing issue of rape scenes that aren't unsettling enough. I was reading a graphic novel yesterday that included two rape scenes. While they weren't graphic, something about the art was so pulpy--the woman's clothing clinging to her breasts in artistic shreds, her mouth a perfect "o"--that I couldn't get the images out of my head. They were sexy rape scenes. The more I thought about it, the more angry I was.

I had been considering the graphic novel for my YA section. I do include some books with sex and violence, as long as they are generally worthy and pass the no-false-advertising test. In other words, I'll put books with "graphic" material on the shelves as long as the description and packaging of the book warn readers that it's going to be that kind of book. And frankly, the book I was considering focused on a historical figure who was known for violence, so no false advertising, but ... still. No way can I do it. I didn't know I had this particular criteria for evaluating books, but there it is: no glorification of sexual violence.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Boys Detective Fiction

Do kids still read the Hardy Boys? I'm never sure about these genre things. Bizarrely, the Seventh Heaven paperbacks in my teen section still circulate, so I have a lot of faith in the staying power of series. I just read two mystery novels that feature tween detectives, both of which rely heavily on genre tropes, and one of which is a pastiche of boy detective series like the Hardy Boys.* What I'm wondering is whether kids will get the references, and whether they need to get them anyway.

The Brixton Brothers and the Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, by Mac Barnett and illustrated by the fantastic Adam Rex, is not about two brothers. It's about Steve Brixton and his best "chum" Dana, who really prefers not to get dragged into Steve's amateur detecting schemes. But Steve is obsessed with the Bailey Brothers' mystery series, so by the end of this action packed book (it includes a car chase and an escape from a sinking fishing vessel), Steve tells Dana they're going to have to call themselves "the Brixton Brothers" because it sounds better.

The best running joke in the book is that everyone believes Steve Brixton is a private detective hired by the evil "Mr. E" to help steal a national treasure--all because he follows the advice in his Bailey Brothers' Detective Handbook. Of course, the advice is ridiculous. Or at least written to help children "play" detective: "Shawn and Kevin love a good booby trap. Trapping a crook gives their knuckles a break. You can trap baddies just like the Bailey Brothers! Just make like Tarzan and dig a hole in the ground, then cover it with sticks and leaves. Crash! Your unsuspecting suspect will fall right in!"

The humor in the book is consistently on point. My favorite scene is when Steve dresses up as a sailor--including a striped shirt, fake mustache, and eye patch--to infiltrate a tough fisherman's bar. When he gets in the door, he notices everyone is wearing jeans and flannel shirts. But is he daunted? No. "Yes, Steve thought, catching his reflection in a gaudy mirror. He looked more like a sailor than anyone in the place!"

So my conclusion about whether or not kids'll get it?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Picture books that aren't meant to be read aloud

In the past, my friends and I have bemoaned summer reading lists, because they bring out the rigid, insistent side of so many parents. But this year, for the first time, I was in the position of helping create a summer reading list. And it was intoxicating. You start with a jumble of books you love, and then you start asking yourself: Do I have a few nonfiction titles for this age group? Are all these authors white (Ooops)? What about something in verse? How many copies of that book are in the system? And before you know it your list is twice as long as it should be. So then you start crossing things off, and then you start hating all the books on the list, and then you start adding things again. And it's fantastic.

The list is going home with the report cards of all the students at the 3 elementary schools closest to me. So the titles on the list will be popstars of my collection this summer. They will be coveted, anticipated, and considered "above" the rest of the collection. And while that means some other really wonderful books will be overlooked, it also means that some of my favorites will see super high circulation.

But you know which age group was the toughest one to pick books for? Second and third grade.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

In Which I check my Google Reader

And discover some wonderful things!

I'd like to say "Amen!" to this Huffington Post article about the myth of men not reading. I don't think you have to be a man to publish and select books that men will like. But if the population you serve includes, for example, Asian men in their early 20s living in urban areas, then you have to figure out what Asian men in their early 20s living in urban areas want to read. Probably not Anne Tyler, much as I love her. Sometimes you have to read stuff you're not interested in. That's why it's called your job and not something you do for fun. (via Guys Lit Wire)

And where was this list last year when I was seeking out books about the different ethnic populations in my neighborhood? It's wonderful! At this point, I actually have all the books on the Cambodian list, which makes me feel good about myself, but also sort of sad. But it's not cake to find children's books that represent South East Asian experiences, and then when you find them, you think, who wrote this? Is it accurate? So I'm very grateful for this list from the talkstory website, and I'm totally going to use the Hawaii part as a resource for one of my summer reading program activities. (via the YA YA YAs)

Finally, I was interested in the Chasing Ray review of Sources of Light, because although she doesn't take about white privilege specifically, I feel like she's alluding to it. So now I have to read this novel-about-Mississippi-during-the-civil-rights-movement and compare it to My Mother the Cheerleader, which has actually grown on me since I read it a year ago. And Summer of Kings, which I need to re-read after reading The Rock and the River, because they both have scenes in which characters discover radical Black Panther newspapers. I feel like there's an article in here somewhere.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Children's Librarian's Professional Development Calendar for June

A little late with this! This month it's all about starting the summer reading program with a bang. I can only think of two big library events this month, but they're big:

June 12: Youth Reading Across Rhode Island Kick-Off. 12-3 p.m. @ the Statehouse. Sponsored by OLIS, Rhode Island Center for the Book, and others. This year's book is Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise, which is an epistolary novel, so at my table I'll be doing a recycled stationary craft. Come visit me! Of course, there's also going to be a book giveaway, author talk, and live music.

June 25-29: ALA Annual Conference in D.C. I'm on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee. Although we don't vote at the meeting, we discuss all the titles that have been nominated so far, which means what I should really be doing right now is reading the stack of GN behind me ...

And other than that, it's all summer reading all the time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

RILA Conference reflections: Fat Lit

I didn't get to attend as much of the RILA conference as I wanted to, because my car got sick. But I did get to attend the Fat Lit workshop Thursday AM, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Lisa Pazer is going to present a complete version of her "Fat Lit" research at the Young Adult Literature Symposium, so I'm not going to steal her thunder (or her intellectual property). However, I do have some thoughts of my own.

Pazer, co-author of forthcoming Teenage Waistland, analyzed the plots of a number of books with overweight protagonists, from Precious to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, and measured how "fat-accepting" the narratives were. But then she took it in a direction I hadn't expected. She asked whether librarians had an obligation to seek out books that model healthy habits, as well as books that encourage a positive body image no matter what your weight. This is in light of the disturbing trend in obesity.

It was obvious she'd hit on a hot topic, and the discussion following her powerpoint ranged from rewarding children with cookies to hiding a body-image obsession behind a commitment to whole foods. Which brings me to revisit a book I reviewed on Good Reads a little while ago: Fat Cat by Robin Brande.