Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Review: Marvel Origin Story Picture Books

I picked up three of the Marvel Origin Story picture books at Borders for about $4.50 each. I figured they'd fall into the category of "books with high kid appeal and questionable literary merit." That said, don't ask me why Marvel picture books bother me less than Disney books. I never buy Disney books.

So I read them (The Mighty Thor, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Uncanny X-Men) and I thought they were solid choices. They're written like fables--all narrative and no dialog. I did feel like there was a huge missed opportunity there. I mean, these are stories from comic books. Why not add some word bubbles to the art? The readers would understand Spider-Man's character better if they got some of his witty banter.

Without the dialog, the characters seem very serious. There's a surprising lack of humor in the stories. But that's not exactly a complaint. You do get a sense of the epic-ness of these comics, which works particularly well with Thor's origin story.

The main thing Marvel got right was the amount of text on each page. Unless you're Patricia Polacco, you can't get away with too many words on the page anymore. At least, not if you want to appeal to 7-year-olds. These are the right length for read-alouds, even if they are 48 pages rather than 32 (wow, I just counted and that surprised me), except for maybe the X-men story. I feel like they could have cut that one off earlier. They tried to cram a lot in.

The way that these work well in a school is that they give you so many opportunities to talk about character traits. Again, the Peter Parker and Thor stories are all about how those characters developed into decent people who took responsibility for their actions, and for their community. Obviously, the Thor story also gives you an opportunity to talk about mythology. In case it isn't obvious, the X-men story is the weak link. I don't really know what you'd do with that. Science? Mutations? Tolerance? The story skims too much. It doesn't give you a lot to work with.

There's also a Captain America Origin Story, but I didn't find that at the Borders where I was shopping. I bought these partly because I already have Ralph Cosentino's picture books about Batman, Superman, and Wonderwoman. I love them, because the art has this really retro vibe. They capture the feeling I imagine 1940s kids having when they read the original Amazing Stories, etc. These Marvel Origin Stories are much better, in my opinion, than the easy readers Capstone is putting out there (although I may buy those, too).

And basically, I'm a fan of introducing kids to this American mythology. People try to say Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed are our mythology, but I believe it's comic books.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tween: it rhymes with scene!

As some of you know, I'm working as a consultant for two different libraries this summer. (What is this "vacation" of which you speak? We do not have this where I come from ...) At the Derry Public Library, in New Hampshire, part of what I did was look at their programming schedule, plus data from past programs, to identify gaps in service.

I discovered that there were 4 regular programs for kids between 0 and 5, but only the occasional program for kids 6 to 11. I'm surprised by the number of libraries at which this is true. Of course, there's a lot less competition when you're offering programs for 0- to 5-year-olds. While elementary school kids also have karate and piano lessons and homework and street gangs (not funny, but true), the only other demands on preschoolers' time are nap time, snack time, and play time.

But I think there are two other factors at play:
  1. There aren't the same tried-and-true formulas for working with kids in "middle childhood." You have to respond to the needs of your community and play to your strengths. You can't just look up a story time format in a book and execute a successful program. I'm not saying preschool story times aren't super important. They are super important! But, sorry. They're just not rocket science. It's really hard to fail with them. Whereas it's easy to fail with programs for older kids.
  2. Many libraries lump 6- to 8-year-olds and 9- to 11-year-olds into the same programs. You're not going to attract 9- to 11-year-olds that way. Maybe that used to work, but have you heard the maxim KAGOY? It stands for "Kids are getting older younger." Love it. Marketers have created this "tween" category, and there's no way we can go back to lumping those budding adolescents in with the kiddies. We've got to show that we "get" them and we welcome them.
In response to this, I have searched the Internet high and low for resources on programs and services for tweens. And I've found some real gems, so I thought I'd share:

Amanda Crowley's "What is a Tween?" website for the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Tween-friendly Programs from the ALSC's Kids@Your Library Publicity, Programming, and Promotion Tool Kit.

Joanna Axelrod's presentation to the California Library Association on a Tween 2011 Summer Reading Program [PPT].

Rita Solan's article on The Tween Market in the Michican Library Association Forum.

Brianne Wilkins Bester and Tiffany Pahman's "The Tween Scene" presentation [PPT] from the 2010 Ontario Library Superconference and "The Tween Scene: A year of programs for 10- to 15-year-olds" website.

Faris, C. (2009). Betwixt and Between: Tweens in the Library. Children & Libraries, 7(1), 43-5. Retrieved August 4, 2011, from

URI only Library/Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text (EBSCOhost).

Goodstein, A. (2008). What Would Madison Avenue Do?. School Library Journal, 54(5), 40-3. Retrieved August 4, 2011, from

URI only Library/Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text (EBSCOhost).

And of course, each of these has a bibliography so you can choose your own adventure!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Shopping at Borders

Too bad you can't combine the word "Borders" with "Apocalypse" or "Armageddon." That would have made a real snappy title for my post.

I went to Borders to see if the prices had gone down enough to compete with Amazon, and the answer is: nope. Most things are still 25% off, although "Literature" is 30% off. That's literature--not sci fi, graphic novels, or new fiction.

However, Borders is selling their fixtures--at least the store in North Attleboro is--for around $100 for a double sided bookstore shelf. They have end caps for $50 and tabletop displays for $25. You can only purchase the fixtures at certain times--til 5 p.m. on Sunday, and until 8 p.m. during the week, if I recall correctly.

I'm tempted by the fixtures, but all I bought today were some poster hangers. I have a vision for redecorating my library that involves hanging posters--not sticking them to the walls where they'll just look wrinkly, but hanging them a few inches away from the wall like banners.

So now I'm poster shopping, but instead of finding things I could actually use in my library, I keep focusing on things that are not actually for sale, like these mashups of movie posters and children's books ...

... or things that are not really intended for children, like these minimalist takes on classic kids titles.

Anyone have suggestions besides the ALA store?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I can read without moving my eyes!

Oh man, wait til the people who hate ebooks hear about this! They're all upset that we're dispensing with physical pages, the smell of new bindings, and the varieties of type face. Wait til they hear that we're dispensing with paragraphs and page layouts!

I just finished the third article in the Boston Globe's series about reading. There were three articles--the past, present, and future of reading--and the third one was by far the most interesting. Reporting on current reading research, the author proposed a way to deliver large amounts of text through small screens: Rapid Serial Visual Presentation or RSVP.

Basically, the words appear on the screen one after another and you just read them before they disappear. Sounds stressful, right? But there are some popular RSVP apps and extensions on the web, and their creators emphasize that you can read much faster this way.

I had to try it, so I downloaded this Firefox add-on. The tutorial gives you a pretty good idea of how it works.

I have to try it more, but what I immediate notice is that I don't like seeing the first half of some punctuation, like quotation marks or parenthesis, without seeing the other half. Also, I'm so used to line breaks being meaningful, like in poetry, that when I'm reading two or three words at once, I keep looking for significance in the groupings. But I'm intrigued!

Also, I've decided that I would like the next generation of ebook readers to work like snap bracelets: I want them to be flexible, so I can roll them up, but I also want to be able to hold them above my head with one hand while reading in bed, so then they would have to be rigid.

The Boston Globe article mentions some other interesting possibilities. It's definitely worth reading in its entirety.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Adult Lit: My Picks

The Atlantic has a little article on YA lit, including its popularity with "old adults" and the possibility of an imprint for "new adults" at St. Martins [via Bookshelves of Doom]. We all know I love the idea of books for twenty-somethings, so in honor of the discussion, here's a list of the books that sort of hit me in the face in my twenties. I read them and thought: this is my life.

*The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon. In which the son of a mobster briefly--for the summer after graduating from college--considers leaving the comfortable straight and narrow path his father has put him on.

*Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. When her father drags her to a new boarding school for her senior year, Blue van Meer is folded into a clique of cool students curated by a film teacher. But the film teacher is dead in the introduction, so obviously things go horribly wrong. Other books about academia/boarding school: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostokova, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, and On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

*Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I think this happens to everyone at some point in their twenties: you become involved with someone fascinating and magical but damaged, and eventually you want to escape, but feel obligated to stay. The protagonist of Norwegian Wood, Watanabe, gets involved with no less than 3 magical but damaged people.

*Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. A young reporter with a thing for her editor researches her Grandmother's story of what happened to her during the Holocaust. Part of a whole series of retold fairy tales. I also read Tam Lin by Pamela Dean and loved it.

*I Was Told There'd be Cake by Sloane Crosley. There are so many memoirs that qualify as new adult lit. I related to Crosely's tales of longing for coolness in New York--her sad wanderings through European cities and disappointments in apartment hunting--more than I wanted to. I also loved Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, although that might only resonate with people who grew up religious ... or in a historical reenactment? Other memoirs that come to mind: Tweak by Nic Sheff, Smashed by Koren Zailckas, A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown, and Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel.

*Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine. Ben is annoyed by the fortune cookie metaphor in the film that wins his girlfriend's Asian-American film festival, and she's annoyed when he hires a pert white girl who's "just his type" at the movie theater he manages. It's like he wants to ignore the fact that he's Asian--haven't we all wanted to ignore an important part of our identity? Other graphic novels: Life Sucks and La Perdida by Jessica Abel, Blankets by Craig Thompson, Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O'Malley.

*Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah. Right, so this doesn't exactly reflect my life, but it's an obvious pick: Winter Santiaga takes over the family business of drugs and violence when her Dad is locked up. It's a rags-to-riches-to-rags story, part wish fulfillment and part morality play. In fact, lots of urban fiction features protagonists crossing over to adulthood: Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree, Moth to a Flame by Ashley Antoinette, B-More Careful by Shannon Holmes, Harlem Girl Lost by Treasure E. Brown, and Criminal Minded by Tracy Brown, to name a few.

*The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The sequel just came out, so I guess most people know this is a story of what it might really be like if a bunch of disaffected high school students got access to a beautiful but weirdly hollow other world like Narnia.

*Where She Went by Gayle Foreman. Follow-up to what was certainly a YA novel. Concert cellist Mia and her ex-boyfriend, indie rocker frontman Adam, spend a night walking the streets of New York and untangling what happened between them. Two other series that follow their protagonists from teenhood to adulthood: (starting with) Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty and The President's Daughter by Ellen Emerson White. Arguably, also the Hunger Games?

*How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez. Works backwards from four sisters' early twenties to their arrival in the US--from the DR--in their teens. They're Dominican, not Mexican, but I still feel like if you loved reading The House on Mango Street in 10th grade, you'll love the vignettes about the Garcia Girls. Other stories of being between cultures: Brick Lane by Monica Ali, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Londonstani by Gautam Malkani, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

And I didn't even include historical fiction, the ouvre of the Brontes and Jane Austen, popular series like Sookie Stackhouse, Kalisha Buckhannon's books, stories by Karen Russell or Kelly Link, the Bell Jar, early Madeleine L'Engle, or Momofuku, which is a cook book but is also the story of one Dave Chang. But that's 10, which is a satisfying number.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Things I read this weekend

Jessica Lawlor is looking for books about twenty-somethings (we totally need a new section in the library!), and I have a suggestion: Girls in White Dresses, reviewed at Full Stop.

Local rag the Phoenix starts a library vs. kindle cage match. (Not much new here, but three people have now mentioned the article to me. I read it so I could discuss intelligently.)

No one's particularly impressed with the iriver. Which leads me to ponder, who do I trust least? Google or Amazon?

Will Khan Academy allow me to identify the math geniuses among my third graders?

Also, I read about Africa. Specifically, I read the work of three winners of the Caine Prize:

Local writer E.C. Osondu (he teaches at PC) reviews Binyavanga Wainaina's memoir for the Boston Globe.

That led me to Wainaina's 2005 essay, "How to Write About Africa." If you want a crash course in what not to look for when evaluating children's books about Africa, read it.

Then I read the story that won this year's Caine prize, "Hitting Budapest" by NoViolet Bulawayo. Recognize these children?