30 September 2009

Are you ready for the Cybils?

Somewhere between the Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards and the John Newbery Medal sits the Cybils. Now in its fourth year, the Cybils, or Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literacy Awards, aims to provide a service where popular meets literary. Any book published in English within the contest year is eligible, and any on-line reader/frequenter/passerby can nominate a book within a range of categories. Once nominations close, a group of panelists, selected from volunteers within the children's and YA blogging community, will read the books, discuss the blooks, blog about the books, and finally present the nominees which will then be read, discussed, and blogged by a group of judges. The entire process is transparent, with updates and progress provided on blogs. You can even follow them on Twitter. The final, triumphant results are announced in February. Last year's winners are here.

Nominations for this year's Cybils Awards open tomorrow, October 1, and will remain open until the 15th. If you have a favorite childrens or YA title, be sure to head on over to the Cybils website, read the nomination rules, and fire away. This is the one literary award where anyone who loves books for kids can be a part of the process.

26 September 2009

Can Lunch Lady meet these requirements?

Not to go on about it, but for anyone who might have wondered just what a professional librarian is supposed to be able to do, and why it's not just about loving books, the Association for Library Service to Children has updated their competency requirements. School Library Journal reported about the update earlier this week. Librarians serving children should be up to snuff on everything from Babar to Web 2.0.

I read this with interest, because just this morning I was thinking about the reasons I became a librarian in the first place. And in looking back on my decision, it was never about the books. It was never about being helpful, although there is an undeniable rush when I am able to connect a patron to exactly what they want. It's all about the information. I wanted a job where I could ferret around and learn stuff. And in that regard, librarianship has pretty much lived up to that criteria. Just this morning I learned, along with a patron, about making vegetarian smoothies. I'm pretty sure I'll never make one, but I now know where to look if I want to (Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko.) The reason I find book banning and challenges so troublesome is that they stop the flow of the information; the continuing process of daily learning, even if what you learn is not something you will personally adopt or absorb. In a world where everyone has an opinion, it's important to have a place where people--and more specifically, kids--can access information without being judged or questioned. It's a responsibility I take seriously.

So that's why I wanted to be a librarian, but to actually perform as a well-rounded professional, there's a whole bunch of other stuff I have to be able to do, from attending workshops to enduring an irate patron who is giving her local public servant a piece of her mind (I had that pleasure earlier this week.) And the ALSC has most kindly indentified all those necessary skills and put them in a handy document to remind me, and inform non-librarians, of just what it is I need to do. So if I get a little tetchy because it is suggested that anyone who is kid-savey and kind can be a librarian, just remember that my job is more than stacking bestsellers on a shelf.

23 September 2009

An Open Letter to Dan Gutman

Dear Mr. Gutman,

As I sit here, with the sun setting on the 2009 baseball season, hanging around and waiting for the Red Sox to clinch a postseason berth (magic number currently stands at 6,) my mind is wandering (it's not a very interesting game.) I have been following the adventures of Joe Stoshack since Honus, straight through to Ray, with various degrees of interest. I keep coming back to the series because: 1) I love baseball and 2) I love time travel stories. So what I want to know is this--when will we be able to read Ted and Me?

Seriously, I think Stosh needs to have an adventure with The Splended Splinter, The Kid, The Greatest Hitter Ever (er....evah!) He needs to meet the player who holds one of the few untouchable records left standing in this post-steroid error. He needs to meet a man who was willing to interrupt his Hall of Fame career not once, but twice, in order to serve his country. More importantly Stosh needs to meet a Red Sox player! He needs to visit that lyric little bandbox known as Fenway Park and stand in the shadow of the Green Monster. He simply hasn't lived as a baseball fan otherwise.

One of the things I admire about your series is how you always attempt to represent the ballplayers honestly, warts and all. I challenge you to find a subject as marvelously flawed and complex as Ted Williams. (You could probably sneak in a fly-fishing scene too, if you were so inclined.) If you are looking for larger than life, they don't get much larger than Teddy Ballgame.

Fenway Park will be celebrating it's 100th birthday in 2012. If you start writing now, you could have Ted and Me ready in time!

I'm looking forward to Roberto.


Elephants Cannot Dance. Says who?

Both Elephant and Piggie can dance in this cute promotional game. This is the sort of time waster that is allowed childrens librarians, because it is work related (wink, wink.) I like the Funky Trunky.

20 September 2009

Rave Review: Lunch Lady

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute
Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

The Punk Farm author and illustrator has created a silly and highly appealing superhero for young graphic novel readers. Each volume starts with a crime, foiled by a masked (and rubber-gloved) crusader who is none other than our intrepid heroine. The first volume, which involves a plot to replace all the teachers at school with cyborgs so that the kids will elect one particular teacher Most Popular, introduces the central characters: Lunch Lady, who is serving justice and serving lunch; Betty, who is also a lunch lady and fills the role of Q, devising new gadgets for Lunch Lady in the bowels of the Boiler Room (which can be secretly accessed through an entrance hidden behind the refrigerator;) The Breakfast Bunch--Hector, Terrance, and Dee Dee--a study group-cum-band of buddies who discover Lunch Lady's double life and try to help her, although as the series is continuing their assistance is actively discouraged by Lunch Lady; and Milmoe, the school bully who continuously picks on the Breakfast Bunch, although Dee Dee stands up to him on a number of occasions, while her more timid friends try to avoid trouble at all costs.

The humor in the books is both textual and visual. Lunch Lady often uses types of food as exclamations ("Sweet Potatoes!") and phrases like, "I'm on him like cheese on macaroni!" Images of Lunch Lady sneaking about like a ninja or delivering high-flying kicks while swinging fish-stick nun chucks and hurling chicken nugget bombs, have high goof-appeal. Some of Lunch Lady's other cool gadgets include a Spatu-copter, a Lunch Tray Laptop, Taco-Vision Night Goggles, and a Bananarang. The only color used is a hue of rubber-glove yellow, which is sometimes used in the background, in the action lines, or to accent Lunch Lady's costume.

My only complaint with the books, and this is a clear indication of my bias and bruised ego, is the use of evil librarians in Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians. The plot revolves around a coalition between the school and public librarians to destroy all copies of a new video game which is due to be released. Their plans are discovered by both the Breakfast Bunch and Lunch Lady who work separately to foil the librarians (who, by the way, had some nifty high-tech of their own. They would counter any attacks with, of course, books, that could project laser images of central characters. Thus, the "Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" attack projected a laser Aslan.) The librarians are not just out of touch in terms of their attitudes towards video games, but they are grumpy and belligerent towards their patrons. Dee Dee, who is an avid reader, seams to be one despite the librarians. At the end of the book, when Lunch Lady sets up the sort of reading/gaming program available at many libraries today, and the principal asks her if she would like to be the new school librarian--well! That's just beyond the pale. Because anyone can be a librarian, right, MLS not withstanding. It's a shame that librarians, a group still subject to unflattering stereotypes, were not at all redeeming (one of them spat out, "I prefer media specialist" in a most uncivil manner.) Here's hoping that in future books, a more positive librarian makes an appearance as a replacement for this band of criminals.

But, as I said, that is my only complaint. This is a fun series that will appeal to reluctant readers and fans of graphic novels equally. I look forward to the further adventures of Lunch Lady.

15 September 2009

Rave Review: Stitches

I was not originally going to write a review of this book (and whether this post proves to be a critique or a rambling observation still remains to be seen,) but, having just put it down, I wanted to say something about it. I could have quickly tweeted--"Just read 'Stitches' by David Small. Wow!"--and anyone interested who saw the tweet would have no doubt commented. But that didn't seem fair treatment to this unusual autobiography. 'Unusual' is really an understatement; "harrowing', 'dark', 'grizzly', 'bleak' might be more accurate descriptors. But I want to keep a book which is so reliant on the use of images from becoming bogged down with words. Also, anyone who is familiar with the bigger picture knows that David Small grew up to become a Caldecott Medal winner, married a fellow writer, wrote and illustrated the playful Imogene's Antlers, and--most importantly--survived the story within the pages of Stitches. His is ultimately a story of triumph! And yet.....well.....let's just say, thank goodness for catharsis.

Small starts his story when he is six, an age when the intense emotional repression in his family has become evident. He talks about the language used by his family; his father pummels a boxing bag, his mother slams doors, and his brother thrashes away at a drum kit. David's language is not art, as the reader would be forgiven for assuming, but illness. There is not much that David can do about it, but he is chronically ill. He is born with a sinus ailment, and his father's attempts to treat the respiratory problems with radiation will result in David developing cancer. And yet, ghastly as this is, the story that Small tells up to this point is unimaginable enough. He tells about his mother, born with her heart on the wrong side of her chest, which becomes a tragic allegory for her inability to communicate; he tells of vacations spent with a grandmother who's taciturn nature masks increasing insanity; and always there is the presence of an inexplicable, unfathomable rage which courses through the family.

And yet, as I read this book, I was struck by the fact that I could not hate these warped, disturbed people who raised David Small. This is a testament to his storytelling craft as well as the images he creates; his mother, for instance, is often portrayed with opaque, flashing glasses which prevent us from seeing her eyes. It is as if he is acknowledging that there was more going on than any child could understand. When I read Small's brief note at the end, in which he says that "maturity, reflection, and some family research" has led him to a new understanding of his mother, I felt vindicated as a judge of character. However, Small makes it quite clear that his parents damaged him immensely, and he judges them appropriately.

And, as mentioned, there is the big picture. In a recent issue of Publisher's Weekly, Small wrote a three page article about why he writes. That article, like this book, is presented graphically. He represents himself as Frankenstein, a monster made monstrous through no fault of his own. In that article he explains how the writing of Stitches has helped him feel much better, though he is Frankenstein still. And while the book does not end happily, it does end--which means that there is a survivor to tell the story. Small has illustrated picture books which have been at times exuberant (When Dinosaurs Came with Everything,) reflective (The Friend,) and celebratory (The Library.) As readers we do not always get the full story behind the creators of the books we love. With Stitches we are treated (if that could possibly be the correct word in this context) to a level of revelation beyond what most readers could imagine. Read this book, and marvel.

07 September 2009

"Last Newspaper Boy in America" book trailer and contest

Love the old-school announcer on the trailer!

06 September 2009

Book of the Week: My Uncle Emily

Here is a delicate treasure of a picture book. It's an enlightening vignette from the life of poet Emily Dickinson. Part fact, part fiction, the book details the tender relationship between young Thomas Glibert "Gib" Dickinson and his aunt. There's is a relationship of shared joys; gardens, black cake, and poetry. Uncle Emily says that poets "light lamps", and although Gib does not always understand what her poems mean, the questions which they raise in him do, indeed, light lamps for his young mind. When Uncle Emily sends him to school with a poem for her teacher, Gib's protective affection for his unique aunt gets him involved in a school yard fracas. Gib tries to hide the incident from Uncle Emily, fearing that it will upset her kind soul to know that he got in trouble on her account. But she knows him too well, and uses one of her own poems to light a lamp for Gib, so that he may find his way to tell the truth.

In many ways, this book is slightly inscrutable like a poem, yet lights a lamp all the same. The reader is plopped in the midst of Dickinson's life with little explanation of her place in literary history and almost no biographical details except for what relates to Gib. It must stand on its own, which it does superbly. It is a great read-aloud, with text that reads smoothly, even when incorporating old-fashion terminology like "peculiar old maid." NMD was fascinated by a double spread illustration of the miscreants stood in separate corners, dunce caps on their head, which seemed much more arcane than an aunt who was called "Uncle" as a family joke and always dressed in white. Nancy Carpenter's illustrations are reminiscent of the work of Barbara McClintock, evoking a distant time with authentic detail which always seems pretty even when portraying dissent. Yolen mentions in an author's note that the poem for the teacher is factual, while the fight between Gib and a taunting classmate is fictional. In that author's note she also mentions that young Gib died at the age of eight. Such a conclusion adds an air of melancholy and mortality that Emily Dickinson would--and did--make note of. This is a lovely book which will evoke interest in a sensitive, compelling poet, who always noticed the little details that other grown-ups missed.

04 September 2009

Rave Review: The Last Newspaper Boy in America

Before I start my review, I have two confessions. Confession No. 1: I know author Sue Corbett. Confession No. 2: I read all my newspapers on-line. Therefore, I am no doubt contributing to the demise of the printed press. However, it is not so much the death of the newspaper industry which is at the heart of this clever, engaging, and timely story. Rather, this is the story of Steele PA, a town that is dying and finds its fight for survival in the hands of one strong-willed paper boy. This is also the story of how a town is more than the sum of its parts. And, this is a story about paper clips.

The protagonist of the book is Wil David, a 12 year old boy who's family is at the heart of Steele; his great-grandfather founded the town when he invented a special type of hairpin and then built a factory to manufacture it at the start of the 20th century. Wil's family has also been responsible for delivering The Cooper County Caller to the good folks of Steele, a job which in itself has outlasted the hairpin factory. That is, until the publishers of The Caller feel that Steele is no longer a viable market and decides to cease delivery there. When Wil, who has no sooner taken over the job of paper boy from his elder brother Sonny, learns that he is soon to be unemployed, he takes it upon himself to reverse the decision. He's not called Wil of Steele for nothing. What starts as a campaign to save his job snowballs into a larger mission as Wil becomes caught up in the mystery of a fairground game laced with scandal, and the townsfolk try to decide what to do with the defunct hairpin factory.

The topic of dying towns has been covered before in children's literature--I think of Andrew Clements' Room One (2006,) for instance, where the inhabitants are faced with the prospect of busing their children far afield when keeping them in the one-room school house seems no longer viable. As in that book, a clever, observant boy helps to set up the solution. Because Wil himself is so focused on how the closure of the paper route will affect his own fortunes (he has plans to save for a laptop,) the enormity of the situation is not evident until about the middle of the book. As the bigger picture starts to take shape, Wil's plan to save not just his route, but Steele itself, becomes bolder.

This is one of those satisfying books where all the loose ends are tied up in a most pleasing manner. Wil is a big-hearted, believable character, surrounded by a supporting cast who, while not as clever or focused as he is, compliment him with strengths of their own. This is also a story told over various mediums: e-mail, fax, letter, even a school report, are used to move the narrative. And, of course, there are the newspapers--flung on porches each morning, consulted for jobs and news, making as well as bearing headlines. How Will galvanizes the people of Steele, propelling the action to is natural conclusion, is a feel-good story worthy of any publication.

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