Friday, April 30, 2010

Third time's the charm

I'm in heaven!!!!!! Check out the Newbery election results!

If you voted for me, thank you SO much! This is the third time I've been on the ballot, and last time (a couple years ago) I had the least number of votes of anyone on the ballot - so this has truly made my day, my year, and beyond.

And congratulations to all the others who have gotten elected to committees, boards, and offices. 2011/2012, here we come...

Channeling nervousness into a comic strip

Just experimenting with Bitstrips... it's kinda fun! Except I couldn't find a book in their gallery of objects, which seems a serious omission.

Review of Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

Jones, Diana Wynne. Enchanted Glass. Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2010.

As I read Enchanted Glass, I was struck by the phrase "field-of-care." Although it's never clearly defined to the reader, it can be understood by the context to be the magical territory over which a caretaker or custodian has responsibility, in order to ensure that magical doings are all on the up-and-up, supernatural forces remain in balance, and nasty creatures don't take over. This is a profoundly comforting thought - other folks, wise and experienced, are taking care of magical goings-on so that we don't have to.

When Andrew Hope inherits Melstone House from his grandfather Jocelyn Brandon, he also inherits the field-of-care all around the house and the town of Melton. Although Andrew grew up well aware of magic, and though his grandfather had taught him a lot about the mysteries of Melstone House when Andrew was a boy, Andrew doesn't realize he has a field-of-care to worry about. Unfortunately, this field-of-care is being threatened by a powerful and nefarious character named Mr. Brown, one of "those who do not use iron" and worse, he seems to be gunning for young Aidan, who has showed up on Andrew's doorstep after the death of his grandmother.

As Aidan's granny was also in charge of her own field-of-care, Aidan is also no stranger to magic and can both work a bit of his own and see magical ability in others. And there's a lot to see, as the land around Melstone House is awash with were-animals, giants, and any number of other folks who don't use iron. Even the ordinary people possess rather extraordinary talents. Aidan settles happily into life at Melstone House - or would, if King Oberon weren't trying to kill him.

Despite a plot that sounds rich with menace and thrills, this is more a pleasant and even relaxing stroll through a land imbued with magic, peopled by the kind of eccentric villagers that fans of British fiction relish - the stubborn and crotchety gardener, the opinionated and crotchety housekeeper, and so on. The matter-of-fact way the villagers accept the odd magic creeping about the corners of their very ordinary lives reminds me of Joan Aiken's Armitage stories.

The only really frustrating part of this book is how little is explained or delved into. I wanted to know much more about the powerful panes of colored glass, the magical "shed," the strange phenomenon of "counterparts," and so on. The book ends with a revelation that is rather an anticlimax, and then one assumes that everyone lives happily ever after (there is even a romance), but of course I hope there will be another book about Melstone House and Melton village.

Although not her best, this is still a must for all Diana Wynne Jones fans and for fans of British fantasy for young people. For grades 4 - 7.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review of Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors

Selfors, Suzanne. Smells Like Dog. Little, Brown, 2010 (May).

The title of this book, along with the cover art, might lead an unsuspecting reader to think this was one of those goofy books about strange dogs and bad smells, full of broad jokes and gross-out humor.

Actually, Smells Like Dog is a bit harder to pin down than that. There is in fact a smelly dog - named Dog - that drools and eats all manner of revolting objects. Dog does have one highly unlikely and happily redeeming talent, but our hero, young Homer Pudding, doesn't find this out right away. In fact, when Homer's beloved uncle and role model dies and leaves him only Dog, Homer is disappointed and puzzled. Why would his adventurous, treasure-seeking explorer uncle leave him a dog of such dubious quality?

This question, plus Homer's obsession with becoming an adventurer and his sister's equally strong determination to become a famous museum taxidermist, leads the siblings from their goat farm in a small town to the City. There they are ensnared by the evil Madame la Directeur and her minions, who want something Homer has. Luckily, Homer has met a few odd friends along the way - if he can trust them, they just might mean his salvation.

This book has a slightly wistful and almost hangdog tone to it. Homer is a plump and rather sad lad whose thoughts and dreams are never aimed at what is going on around him - his blazing desire to be an explorer is the only vivid thing about him. He is portrayed in a fairly realistic manner, as is most of his family, but the rest of the characters are both eccentric and exaggerated. A spunky 12-year-old girl lives in a hidden nook in a factory surrounded by soup cans; an inventor travels about in a tiny copter disguised as a cloud; and the villains are both outrageous and despicable.
The setting, with a goat farm juxtaposed against the nameless City, adds to the surreal quality. Where does this story take place? Somewhere almost, but not quite, real.

This combination of a not-quite-real feeling and the exaggerated situation and characters reminded me of several books, including The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and The Secret of Zoom by Lynne Jonell. It's not an out-and-out fantasy like Selfor's last book, Fortune's Magic Farm, but her knack for intriguingly bizarre characters is evident in both.

While I wasn't bowled over by this, mainly due to the odd tone, I enjoyed the imaginative adventure and the mild yet quirky humor. "A cloud with eyeballs" was a phrase that cracked me up early on - it's just so weird! I'd recommend this to fans of the books mentioned above and particularly to boys. For grades 4 - 6.

Past LA Public Library directors ponder our City's Priorities

Susan Kent and Fontayne Holmes, two of the Los Angeles Public Library's past City Librarians, wonder how LA can celebrate the Festival of Books with one hand and slice library hours and staff with the other. Read their article here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dispatch from the Dept. of Aging

It's spring and a geeky librarian's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of... Comic-Con!

It's this July in San Diego, people - practically right around the corner - and thus it is time to start seriously fretting about whether to cosplay or not to cosplay.

While a serious Fantasy and SF geek, I am not a regular comics reader and never have been. The characters I'd want to dress up as are all from books, TV, or films, and would either be unknown to most people or wildly inappropriate for a middle-aged person like me - or both! For example: Miss Europe of the Monster Blood Tattoo series by DM Cornish - love the series, am crazy about the costume, but would ANYone recognize me? No.
Any of the hot young pony-tailed students at the Marlovan Royal Academy in the Inda series by Sherwood Smith. Excellent non-revealing costumes and long hair! But there's that recognition problem again. Oh, and these characters are teenage boys. Hmm...
A Na'vi matriarch from Avatar! All I would need is a perfectly toned blue body, pointy ears, and yellow eyes. Yes! Alas, I am WAY too timid to EVER attempt this. EVER.

So I asked my 15-year-old daughter (who is going as Gaara from Naruto) whom it would be appropriate for me to cosplay. Without hesitating for a single second, she proclaimed:
"Professor McGonagall!" Which I must admit has some appeal. But am I really that old?
Next, I asked Rachel, young and eccentrically cool YA librarian at LAPL's Teen'scape Dept, whom she thought I should cosplay. "Someone age-appropriate," I suggested.
Her instantaneous answer? Frau Totenkinder from Willingham's Fables!!

Yes, I guess I really am that old.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Das Rheingold for kids

Los Angeles has Wagner Fever, with a variety of agencies and organizations partnering with the LA Opera to totally saturate LA with Ring-o-mania. You can see all the Ring operas, if you want - and you can also attend lectures, art exhibits, and much more.

If you can only attend one Ring event - and especially if you happen to have a young person in tow - then I highly recommend storytelling troupe We Tell Stories' version of "The Rhine's Gold." Yesterday's performance at Central Library kept a large audience of kids enthralled as four charismatic actors donned and doffed a variety of costumes as they told the story of the dwarf who steals the magical gold from the Rhine maidens and makes a ring from it, while Wotan and his wife and sister-in-law have problems with giants.

The props and costumes have a wonderfully crafty kid-appeal - the dwarf puppet is made out of a Converse hightop shoe, while a dragon has big DVD eyes. Kids from the audience are invited on-stage to flow like the Rhine River, to taunt the dwarf as Rhine maidens, to be Nibelungs bringing gold to Wotan, and even to have starring parts like Freya or a Giant. The actors are so personable and flexible that even the tongue-tied boy who played the Giant eventually felt so comfortable that his death scene brought down the house.

There are six more FREE performances at Los Angeles Public Library branches around the city. Go check one out! And the best thing? You'll know the story of Das Rheingold so well that you won't even need to sit through the hours-long opera! On the other hand, your child may insist on going to Die Walkure to find out what happens next...

Friday, April 23, 2010

I haven't met the Little Red Hen

Much as I appreciate the Little Red Hen's competence and independence, I can't say that I've ever met a chicken that even remotely resembles her.

Most chickens are a slightly appalling but ultimately appealing combination of the panic-stricken Henny Penny and the sweet Minerva Louise.

My hens aren't the sharpest crayons in the box (Hope can't figure out how to get out of the pen even after I've opened the gate wide and the other three have hopped gleefully out - she watches her friends through the chicken wire and moans mournfully until I usher her out), but this quality plus their dislike of my being in their close proximity (unless I'm feeding them) makes them very easy to herd.

Because I don't like to cause my hens any undo duress or stress, I've perfected an entirely silent method of getting them back in their pen. If they're silently thinking "Theskyisfalling, theskyisfalling, theskyisfalling," they're keeping it to themselves.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

New York City serves youth

In a recent post, I described, with a certain amount of envy, Brooklyn Public Library's Everyone Serves Youth program, in which every library staff member receives a mandatory half-day training on how and why to offer excellent customer service to children, teens, and families. Other library systems who offer staff training of this sort include Multnomah County Public Library, the District of Columbia Public Library, and the West Bloomfield Public Township Public Library.

One of my goals for the coming months (and, no doubt, years) is to work much more closely and effectively with our behemoth of a public school system, the Los Angeles Unified School District. Right now our children's and YA librarians visit their local schools, but with staff shortages this has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, and anyway, there are simply far too many schools for our librarians to visit even if we were fully staffed.

So of course the answer is to collaborate with LAUSD at a more systemwide and administrative level, and I have plenty of ideas and suggestions for how LAPL and LAUSD can start working together in big and small ways to serve the children, teens, and families of Los Angeles.

And here is some truly jaw-dropping inspiration:
New York City's Library Card Act!

This legislation requires all incoming Kindergartners, 6th-graders, and 9th-graders to receive library card applications at school.

This is an excellent example of City government, the Department of Education, and three different library systems coming together to not only acknowledge that access to public libraries is a key ingredient to student success, but also to make sure it happens.

No, it's not a total solution. But wow, it's sure a great start.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A weekend for book lovers

The annual Los Angeles Festival of Books takes place this weekend at UCLA, proving once again that Angelenos love the printed word. Plenty of authors will be hanging around booths and giving talks - get ready to meet some of your heroes.

And this Sunday afternoon at 3 pm, Santa Monica Public Library is hosting Deborah Heiligman, author of Printz honor-winning Charles and Emma, along with the narrator of the audiobook, Rosalyn Landor. For more information, check out SMPL's Facebook page.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review of The Dreamer by Pam Muňoz Ryan

Ryan, Pam Muňoz. The Dreamer. Illustrated by Peter Sis. Scholastic, 2010.

The Dreamer reminds a bit of Carver: a Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson, or rather, my reaction to it does. Carver so captivated me, treated its subject with such intimate respect, made George Washington Carver come alive for me in such a soul-shaking and immediate way that I fell in love. If I had given birth to a son after reading that book, I would have named him Carver Mitnick (so perhaps it's just as well I didn't, actually).

The Dreamer has the same effect on me. I am not well-acquainted with Pablo Neruda's work, so in fact I am probably missing an entire facet of this book. But the fact that I now want to go out and read every one of Pablo Neruda's poems is testimony to the power of Ryan's vision of young Neftalí, whose imagination leads him through life and shapes the strange and unique way he sees the world.

Neftalí's father is rigid and stern, his stepmother is kind but ineffectual, and his sister and brother are as fearful of their father as Neftalí is. Neftalí is shaped by his family, by his rainy Chilean home, by the lush forests in his land, by the people he meets and the objects all around him. Even everyday objects seem just as real and as full of meaning and worth as anything and anyone else - and this is something children (and apparently middle-aged librarians) can definitely understand. While Neftalí's vision of the world clearly demonstrates his almost fey creativity, he is clearly a very real boy, full of uncertainty and fear and a wish to please his father. The poet within him - no, the poet that is him - is always there, from the very beginning, making him vibrate with extra senses that allow him to experience and express the world like no one else. He is special - and the reader will both love him and identify with him.

Ryan achieves this through magic. How else to explain the way her simple, homey words and phrases, her unadorned descriptions, evoke a sort of trembling of the air around Neftalí, a feeling that he is somehow more present in the world than the rest of us? The sturdy, stocky size of this book with its widely-spaced lines feels comfortable in the hand, while Sis's delicate and evocative illustrations are almost eerily apt representations of Neftalí's state of mind.

Plenty of grown-ups have loved this book. Now we need to get it into the hands of the right kids. Those kids are out there, and it doesn't matter whether or not they have heard of Pablo Neruda, much less read his poems. Kids who live an intense life in their own minds will recognize Neftalí as a soul-mate.

Highly recommended for kids in grades 4 - 6, more or less.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sundays are fun days...

...for fantasy fans who want to find some excellent books to read!

Just a reminder that every Sunday, Charlotte of Charlotte's Library publishes links to middle-grade and YA SF and fantasy reviews all around the blogosphere. This is an amazing service that is sure to add books to your must-read list.

Charlotte also keeps us informed of new releases of titles in her favorite genre (and mine). What a resource!

Selena G, you are no Beezus

Even if you didn't have the expressive artwork of Louis Darling or Alan Tiegreen as a reference, I'm betting you would never have pictured Beezus of Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary as a lush and gorgeous teen, all shiny, bouncy hair and pneumatic lips.Am I right?

I must agree with Bookshelves of Doom that the new Ramona and Beezus movie is indeed a soul-sucking travesty of nightmarish proportions. At least judging by this movie trailer:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Review of Wild Things by Clay Carmichael

Carmichael, Clay. Wild Things. Front Street, 2009.

After her mentally unstable mother dies, 11-year-old Zoe goes to live with her Uncle Henry, who used to be a renowned surgeon but has become a wild-bearded, muttering, eccentric recluse and sculptor since his wife died of cancer.

Although Zoe's experiences with her mother's many temporary men have caused her to expect abandonment, Henry's gruff exterior hides a stalwart heart, a good sense of humor, and an artist's talent for observation and understanding, and Zoe is won over by Henry and his friends Fred, Bessie, and the Padre.

The only fly in the ointment is Zoe's classmate Hargrove, son of the mayor, who takes against her from the first. He and his awful father get involved with Zoe, a wild teen who has grown up nearby, and a tame white deer - with almost fatal consequences.

Zoe's voice, tough and knowing but also full of humor and curiosity, is so compelling that I was immediately hooked. Henry, gruff and complicated, is equally intriguing, and the two of them make a well-matched pair that readers will root for from the first. It's unusual for a children's book to focus almost entirely on the strong and important relationships a child has with the adults in her life, but that is this book's strength. Adults have such a huge influence over a child's life and so it's especially important for someone like Zoe, who has had such an unstable childhood, to be able to bond with some good 'uns.

Wil, the wild boy, is a mysterious force of nature and goodness, and he and his deer add a strange fey element to the story that somehow works, as do the sections featuring the point of view of a feral cat that lives nearby and slowly trusts Zoe even as she starts to trust Henry.

Less successful is the plot element featuring Hargrove. It is never clear why he seems to dislike her so much, and the idea of the tough boy who is really an artist and animal-lover (but whose bullying father would never accept this) feels a bit cliched. Also, we learn about his softer side via rather contrived overheard conversations, during which he is either talking to an animal or to his dad. It just feels too writerly and not at all like real life.

But it's only that last quibble that keeps this from being one of my favorite reads of the last few months. The relationships between Zoe, Henry, Fred, and Bessie, as well as a few ancillary characters, are just so fine and true. Highly recommended for grades 4 to 6.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review of The Shifter by Janice Hardy

Hardy, Janice. The Shifter. HarperCollins, 2009.

In 15-year-old Nya's world, injuries are treated not by doctors but by healers who can both mend wounds and take away pain with a special magical talent with which they are born. The pain they take away is then transferred to a stone called pynvium. This stone, once filled with pain, can be used to create weapons or other objects that use the stored pain to hurt or deter people.

Nya is a Taker - she can take away pain from people and even do some healing, although she hasn't been trained. But unlike her sister and the other healers, Nya can't transfer the pain into pynvium. Instead, she must transfer the pain into another person - which would make her a valuable weapon if the force occupying her small country of Geveg found out what she could do. But poverty, hardship, impending war, a strange lack of pynvium, and a bunch of healers going missing all compel Nya to do what she can for herself, her sister, and her country.

The care with which Nya's culture - its religion, its customs, and so on - are described reminds me of Tamora Pierce's fantasies. Nya's country is under hostile occupation, and this comes through on almost every page, whether Nya is shopping in the market or trying to save her sister from a despicable collaborator. If details about the countries around Geveg are a little vague, it is perfectly clear how Gevegians feel about the invaders who have killed them, stolen their property, and taken over their lives.

I remain fascinated by the central premise of the book - that pain won't disappear by itself (I assume) but must be actually taken out of the body. I can only assume that either the body won't heal on its own (a broken bone won't knit, say) in Nya's world, or else the people are used to healers magically healing them and taking away the pain that they've become intolerant of any pain and have forgotten that there is any other way to be healed. Even before doctors, we non-fantasy folks suffered through plenty of pain and injuries - couldn't Nya's people do the same? Why is there the need to take away pain magically? It seems to create more problems than it solves.

But this is the sort of thing I like to mull over, and I always appreciate a book that makes me think. The basic premise is a bit flawed, but absolutely intriguing. I do wish Hardy had made a bit more use of her fascinating setting - Geveg is composed of small islands linked by bridges, as we know from the map, but only the mention of boats and a storm lets us know that this is a coastal country. The islands are hardly mentioned at all.

Particularly for a first novel, this was a tight and well-thought-out story set in an intricate and intriguing world. I'm looking forward to the second in the series, due to come out this fall.

Recommended for grades 6 to 8.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Library Love from Kidlit Bloggers

In honor of National Library Week, bloggers from around the Kidlitosphere have been expressing their love of libraries, and I for one have been feeling it.

Shelli of Market My Words wrote this wonderful post, which includes why libraries are important, a contest, and links to lots of other posts about libraries.

Lee of I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? features a post written by LAPL's own Henry Gambill of the Palisades Branch.

Greg of The Happy Accident created a fun little Google movie about why libraries are important.

And Tina of Tales from the Rushmore Kid features me as her Librarian of the Day!

Children's Literature bloggers are wonderful people - here is my own Google movie about this community (sort of).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jules Feiffer, keeping it fresh

The annual Frances Clarke Sayers lecture, sponsored by UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, manages always to not just meet but exceed expectations. With past speakers including Lois Lowry, Virginia Hamilton, Linda Sue Park, and Brian Selznick (to name just a few of the 18 Sayers luminaries), that's not surprising - and so yesterday's afternoon with Jules Feiffer was the latest in a long line of satisfying Sayers events that stretches back to 1994.

I've made a Spring Resolution to lighten my written word count - my email messages, blog posts, and Powerpoint slides tend to look like I've spread the words on with a trowel, so thick and dense are my paragraphs. Even my bullet points can look like tracts. Here, then, are the personal highlights of the 2010 Sayers lecture, presented in concise (or at least not interminable) bullet points:
  • Two winners of the California Center for the Book's Letters About Literature contest read the letters they wrote to authors. 5th-grader Lara Bagdasarian's letter to Francisco Jimenez explained that The Circuit made her understand a bit better the demands her immigrant dad makes on her. 12-grader Michael Egan bared his fantasy-addled soul to Neil Gaiman, telling him that his poem "The Instructions" (recently made into a picture book of the same name and illustrated by Charles Vess) is a "genetic match to (his) childhood daydreams" of magical adventures. I wonder if young Michael has read Lev Grossman's The Magicians?
Oh dear, I'm not doing so well with the "concise bullet points," am I?
  • Susan Erickson gave a fond and funny tribute to Sid Fleischman, a past speaker at and frequent attendee of the Sayers lecture. He has another biography coming out posthumously this June! It's called Sir Charlie, about Charlie Chaplin - should be a winner, judging by his other biographies.
That's a bit better...
  • Despite technical difficulties - or maybe because of them - Jules Feiffer's presentation was fresh, engaging, and inspiring. He's a witty, warm speaker who manages to make a good connection with his audience.
  • He has always loved libraries for the "freedom of thought" they offer, which children can't always find at home
  • Feiffer took some illustrations of children's Bronx street chants to Ursula Nordstrom, who didn't publish them but did introduce him to Maurice Sendak. Feiffer also got to know Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson - but didn't publish a "real" picture book for kids until Meanwhile in 1997.
  • He did of course illustrate The Phantom Tollbooth - but, not knowing exactly what the heck he was doing, drew the illustrations on tracing paper! Needless to say, few original drawings remain.
  • When an audience member asked him if he knew early on that he had artistic talent, he told of a relative who often warned him not to place all his eggs in one basket. Well, Feiffer said, "I only have one basket - and I only have one egg!" I respectfully beg to differ.
  • A young girl in the audience showed Feiffer a drawing she made of a scene in The Phantom Tollbooth and asked if it was any good ("I like drawing but my friend is always better at it"). Feiffer said it was too bad she wasn't around back in 1961 - she could have illustrated the book herself. He asked if he could keep it - she said yes.
  • Feiffer draws (or paints) all his final drawings freehand, after doing many practice sketches in pencil or pen, trying to capture that "freedom of line" he enjoyed at age twelve.
  • Feiffer emphasized that his life has been full of doing stuff he hasn't done before and that he's not entirely sure he knows how to do - and it is obvious that as a result, he still finds his life engaging and joyful. This is someone who loves what he does, and knows how to share that feeling with others. The message I took away is that leaving your comfort zone on a fairly regular basis is essential to leading a fulfilling life.
  • There was some high-quality noshing afterward at the champagne reception, with artful little confections and dainty tea sandwiches, AND plenty of tables and chairs at which to eat them.
Hmm, that post was still a Wall of Words despite bullet points. Must try harder...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Skateboarder/Mom/Writer/Cow (yes - cow)

Barb Odanaka, author of Skateboard Mom and several other great picture books, loves to skateboard. And wear a cow costume. At the same time!

She also loves the library and thinks it's a scandal that starting April 11th, the Los Angeles Public Library will no longer be open Monday and Tuesday nights or any time Sunday. Not one to just sit around (obviously!), she has made the Friends of Children and Literature (FOCAL) the beneficiary of her next Mighty Mama Skate-O-Rama fundraiser (this May 9 in Simi Valley)! FOCAL is the Friends group of Central Library's Children's Literature department, so of course we are thrilled.

I don't skateboard but have always envied those who could. Thanks to this video, courtesy of the blog Yo! Venice!, I can almost imagine what it's like to skate at the Venice Skate Park. Awesome!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cows at the Library

This was the scene outside our Central Library yesterday - 2 cows (there was another one to the right of this photo) mooing and shaking their heavy heads on cue for a commercial. It was a nice relief from the Hideous Doings in our city government. And since the hours for the Los Angeles Public Library will be reduced starting next week, we need all moooooood enhancing we can get!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring into that brave new world

The Children's Literature Council of Southern CA is having its spring workshop on Saturday, May 1 from 9 am to 1 pm. Topic - "Old Passions - New Technologies: Children's and Young Adult Literature in a 2.0 World." I'll be a panelist, speaking about some of the unexpected joys of both blogging and blog-reading, as well as some ways 2.0 technology might be used to bring young people and reading together.

If you're reading this post, then you are already familiar with blogs to at least some degree, and I bet that if you aren't a member of Goodreads, you have at least heard of it. But there is always more to learn, and I'm really looking forward to my fellow panelists. I follow Greg Pincus' blog The Happy Accident, which has given me wonderful tips on using social networking, and I'm a dedicated member of Goodreads, so it will be exciting to hear from Elizabeth Khuri Chandler, co-founder of Goodreads. I'm also a member of JacketFlap, but in a very hands-off and desultory way, so I can't wait to find out how to maximize my membership from CEO Tracy Grand.

To register, please go to the Children's Literature Council website - and while you're there, roam around a bit and consider becoming a member. The annual awards gala, usually held in the fall, is always an event to remember.

It should be an instructive and energizing morning for all - I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Speak, Jules!

If you live in Southern California, get yourself over to UCLA this Sunday afternoon, April 11, at 4 pm for the 2010 Frances Clark Sayers lecture. The speaker will be...

Yes, he of Bark, George fame. How many hundreds of times have I read this book aloud to kids? Mr. Feiffer has written and/or illustrated plenty of other children's books as well, from picture books to novels.

Non-children's literature fanatics know him as a cartoonist, and he has also written plays. Oh, and his new autobiography, Backing into Forward, has been getting plenty of attention.

For just $20, you can hear Mr. Feiffer speak, have a chance to buy his books and get them autographed, and enjoy a champagne reception. What a bargain! To register, call 310-206-0375 or email

Sunday, April 4, 2010

PLA highlights part 3 - bits and pieces

Reinventing Your Teen Department
(Riverton Branch Library, Fremont County Library System, Wyoming):
  • If you're able to, move shelves and furniture around - freshens things up
  • Don't have enough shelving? Try putting manga, magazines, AV, etc, on carts - they're mobile and flexible.
  • Social networking - give teens in your community a survey to find out what they're using and why. MySpace? Facebook? Are they only texting on mobile devices, or are they accessing the Internet?
  • Also survey teens about tech use, favorite websites and games, what gaming system they use, whether they have computer/Internet access at home (see link at bottom for conference handouts, including sample survey)
  • If you add programs, services, equipment to teen area, prepare staff for possible increased foot traffic, noise, questions, etc. Train staff about teen basics.
  • Gaming - Riverton found that Wii not so popular with teens (more for kids and adults). Most popular systems are Xbox and Playstation 3.
  • If you offer games, be sure to have a clearly stated gaming philosophy/principle that you can articulate to staff, patrons, donors, admin, parents.
  • Some popular programs - make a zine; decorate canvas grocery bags;button-making; banned books bingo
Mourning the Loss: the Challenge of Change

Seeing as how LAPL is going to go through a heck of a lot of change in the next months and years, I was eager to hear real-life examples at this program. Alas, there was mostly generalizations along the lines of:
  • Accept that staff will feel anger and grief at first
  • Make sure staff feels able to make suggestions and give feedback
  • There will be an uncomfortable, chaotic time - "the wilderness" (yikes!)
  • Find the folks in your organization who are managing to make the changes work - figure out (ask them!) what they're doing and how it works; find the patterns; then use as a model for the rest of the staff
  • When you need folks to change their behavior - clarify measurable results, find the vital behaviors that will bring these about, and then figure out how to influence and motivate people to do these behaviors
  • There are personal, social, and structural reasons for both motivation and ability to do something - many factors may be involved
Pregnant/Parenting Teens: Promoting Library Services Among the Underserved

This was an awesome program, presented by Maryann Mori, director of the Waukee Public Library in Iowa. She was also the instructor of a great ALSC online course on Information Literacy for kids and teens that I just took.
  • Great way for YA and children's librarians to collaborate; YA librarians can do the footwork, make the connections, make presentations on services for teens, and children's librarians can do early literacy storytimes
  • These teens need education help, job info, entertainment, parenting skills, referral services, and someone to trust
  • Pregnant teens aren't even old enough to get their own library card - their parents must sign! Yet many have been kicked out of the house
  • They often haven't been successful in school and don't like to read
  • They can be wary and immature
  • Every Child Ready to Read storytimes are just right for parenting teens
  • Try a 4 session workshop (1 or 2 really isn't enough for the message to sink in). 1 - Intro; ECRR; stats about importance of reading to kids. 2 - Books for kids; choosing books; print motivation. 3 - Phonics awareness; vocabulary. 4 - Review; reading memories; encouragement
  • Why do it? It works; parents' attitudes about education improve; results in more reading for both generations; positively affects dropout rates; skills learned assist in other areas; improvements in parents' behavior; babies become kids with above-average reading levels
  • Makes clear to teens that the library has many resources for them - they are more likely to continue using the library (and will bring their babies!)
  • Before you get started, figure out - Who will do the presentations? Who will the audience be - moms alone? Moms and babies? Moms, dads, and babies? Who will you collaborate with? What kind of presentation? Will you lend books to organization? Will the presentations be at the library or the organization? How often will you give presentation?
  • It's great to have babies present - they can be distracting but are perfect examples of how great reading is for babies. They react perfectly on cue to books and songs!
Children's Book Buzz
  • Little, Brown, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Bloomsbury talked up some upcoming books for kids and teens
  • Can't wait for Grace Lin's Ling and Ting, Jane Yolen's Foiled (graphic novel!), Mark Haddon's Boom, and so much more!
  • I am desperate to have a Book Buzz at our children's and YA librarians' info meetings - how cool would that be! Library marketing people - would you like to come to L.A.?
I saw other programs and cruised the exhibits (but felt too ill to talk to anyone - the Doors song People are Strange kept going through my head, never a good sign.) All in all, it was a fine conference, even if I experienced it in a daze.

Handouts from many of the programs are available at the PLA website.

PLA highlights part 2 - Everyone Serves Youth

Do these scenarios sound familiar?

You're a YA librarian who has worked hard to attract teens to the library, putting in long hours of outreach to local schools and organizations, building up an awesome collection of books, movies, and music, and offering popular programs. The result? Teens are coming to and hanging out at the library like never before. Success!

But...! Your staff is rebelling. Attitudes among other librarians and clerks toward teens range from mild distaste to downright hostility. The security officer comes down hard on the teens, kicking them out of the library on a regular basis. How can you serve teens if they aren't welcome in your library?

Or maybe you're a children's librarian who has received a grant to put an early learning center in your children's area. It looks great - you have comfy seating, a colorful rug, bins of educational toys, easy puzzles, and puppets - and thanks to your outreach, families have begun flocking to the library. Success!

But...! With small children comes noise and mess, and the staff doesn't like it. Your supervisor has instructed all staff to shush all noise above a whisper and to admonish parents whose children run excitedly to the children's area. Clerks and librarians glare at moms who change their kids' diapers in the children's area, but what choice do they have? There is no changing table anywhere in your library, and your library administration is balking at putting one in. How can you say that your library welcomes families with young children when the staff and the policies seem so unfriendly?

These problems are not unusual, and so several library systems have implemented a training and service program called Everyone Serves Youth.

The idea behind Everyone Serves Youth is exactly that - that it's not just the children's and YA librarians who are responsible for serving youth. All staff comes in contact with youth and needs to know how to offer exemplary service with respect, empathy, and understanding.

Representatives from the Multnomah County Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, the District of Columbia Public Library, and the West Bloomfield Public Township Public Library gave presentations on how they adapted this program for their library systems with admirable results.

Some systems offer multiple types of mandatory workshops for different levels of staff. For instance, Multnomah requires ALL public staff to take Teens @ Your Library, a two hour class which covers everything from research on the teen brain to dealing with tough situations to positive ways to work with teens. Other courses include Our Commitment to Youth for Reference Staff and Our Commitment to Youth for Support Staff, which are an overview of Multnomah's services to youth from 0 to 18.

Brooklyn Public Library requires every single library employee, from librarians at all levels to support staff, security officers, and even janitors, to take a half-day course. The idea behind this is that "Children and teens deserve at least the equivalent, if not better, level of service we give to adults" and the goals of the workshop are to:
  • Encourage staff to develop mutual respect with and for youth
  • Increase the comfort level of staff when interacting with young people
  • Increase the comfort level of children and teens in interacting with us
  • Make all staff sensitive to the cultural diversity of the youngsters they serve.
The Brooklyn workshop curriculum includes the stages of youth development, behavior traits at different ages, how to figure out what kids need, how to concentrate on changing inappropriate youth behavior in a productive way, and much more.

This is so enticing to me - the idea of big library systems not just giving lip service to serving youth but actually making a REAL commitment to ensuring that every person in every branch has been trained and is on board.

It becomes particularly important at a time when, at the Los Angeles Public Library, a combination of a long-term hiring freeze and a huge early retirement incentive program has resulted in dozens of children's and YA librarian vacancies. If threatened lay-offs go through, we'll lose many more youth librarians.

Add that to the fact that two of our three main service focuses are directly linked to serving youth - reading readiness and student success. The third, technology for all, is of course also a part of youth services.

It's obvious to me that children's and YA librarians can't do it alone, not even with the full support of my own Youth Services office. We need the policies and training plans to be supported actively by administration and every part and person in our library system every step of the way.

It's a priority.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

PLA highlights part 1 - Active Learning Environments for Children

My first-ever Public Library Association conference started off on Tuesday with an all-day preconference called Active Learning Environments for Children, which presented successful models of all sorts, from very small and portable "spots" to amazingly sophisticated and expensive drool-worthy installations.

We have 10 branches with dedicated early literacy areas (the photo is of our Wilmington Branch) - but I would like to see at least a small early literacy area in every one of our 72 branches, plus Central Library.

Here are the highlights of the day - bits and pieces of inspiration and great ideas that I might be able to implement at the Los Angeles Public Library:
  • When planning early literacy areas, be purposeful and intentional. What is supposed to happen? What should the children and parents be learning? What will success look like?
  • Adult/child interaction is key. Early literacy centers in libraries shouldn't just be about keeping a toddler busy with toys while the parent reads a magazine (although nothing wrong with that once in a while!) - rather, adults should be given opportunities and ideas to interact with their children, which they can use at home and anywhere.
  • Evaluation of early learning centers can be difficult. There is much that can't be measured (for example, whether using these centers will result in higher reading levels when the child enters school). What we can measure - use patterns, attendance, circulation, satisfaction, parental participation, levels of community collaboration.
  • Hennepin County Library - They wanted to put early learning areas in existing small branches and didn't have much money, so they put Early Literacy Spots wherever they could find room - shelf ends, elevators, bathrooms, the sides of service desks - these would have small early learning activities for kids, with tips for parents on how to do them with their child. For example - photos of kids showing various emotions, with tips for parents on how to make this a fun learning experience.
  • More easy ideas from Hennepin County - put big A B C stickers on the floor, on stair risers, or all over the library. Parents can just sing the Abc song with their kids, or they can look around for things that start with those letters. Even tabletops can be used for tips and activities - just laminate the top.
  • Put large ruler against shelf ends, let kids measure themselves and various objects
  • Baltimore County Public Library - they put Early Literacy Activity Centers in all their branches. These had to easy, cheap, and self-service - because they have NO children's librarians! (horrified gasps from the packed room of children's librarians) They put some very basic equipment in each branch - a small table-top puppet theater, shelves with bins of toys and activities, signage indicating how parents can use materials - and rotated different materials from branch to branch so that every month or two, kids could play with new stuff. They had high praise for furniture from Community Playthings and also toys from Lakeshore Learning (we at LAPL use lots of Lakeshore materials in our ELF branches).
  • Great tips - label bins with pictures so it's easy to tell where to put stuff back; put up a sign saying kids can get a sticker at the info desk if they clean up!
  • Baltimore County does have two very elaborate installations (sort of a "village" within a library) called Storyville. Check out the website for info and a virtual tour. I would have LOVED this when I was the parent of small children.
Good ideas in a nutshell
  • Check out school readiness kits to preschool teachers and caregivers - filled with themed books, puppets, flannel stories, realis
  • Use self-service activity bins, labeled with photos, whenever possible. Fill with puzzles, realistic animals, color sorting activities, blocks, stacking toys, and much more
  • Small puppet theaters, with a small selection of puppets (eg some pig, bear, and girl puppets) and the books to go with them (3 little pigs; 3 bears)
  • Small space? Use end panels of shelving for magnetic board, posters, etc; maybe just fit in a bright activity rug, bin unit, small table, and mini puppet theater. Swap usages - ie baby/toddler/preschooler stuff during the day, then remove and stick in closet after school, and replace with games and other big kid stuff.
  • Dealing with mess - well-labeled bins with pix; good organization; kid or teen volunteers to help clean; make sure schedule and procedures for cleaning up are part of staff training
  • Okay to set limits on behavior - both parent and kids need to know the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Make the rules clear - kids over 3 may not scream or hit, for example.
Next up - highlights from Everyone Serves Youth, a way to make sure that ALL the staff at the library understands how and why to give kids, teens, and families excellent customer service.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review of Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve

I reviewed this title for the April issue of School Library Journal. Find the rest of the April reviews here.

VAN CLEVE, Kathleen. Drizzle. 358p. CIP. Dial. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3362-6. LC 2009023819.
Gr 4–6—Polly Peabody, 11, lives on an unusual rhubarb farm where it rains at exactly 1 p.m. every Monday, and some of the plants taste like chocolate. Like her parents and her grandmother before her, Polly loves the farm with all her soul. When Aunt Edith shows her a secret room, a library, filled with writhing ivy and bugs that fly in patterns that spell out words, she is thrilled. But then the weekly rain stops, plants start to die, Polly's older brother becomes ill, and Aunt Edith pressures Polly's dad to sell the property. Now Polly must interpret the farm's signs and symptoms to figure out both the problem and the solution. Why won't those insects just spell out what she needs to do rather than give her vague and puzzling hints? Polly's anxiety and lack of self-confidence—she is reading Emerson's "Self-Reliance"—keep her from making friends and dealing with a bully at school, although for readers, as for Polly, it's the stuff that happens on the farm that is most compelling. In general, Polly's insect and plant acquaintances are more developed than most of the humans, who never quite become convincing characters. However, Polly's gradual discovery of her own strange power and the joy she takes in her ability to help those she loves best is both entertaining and gratifying. Give this whimsical fantasy to fans of Ingrid Law's Savvy (Dial, 2008).—Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library

"Don't fire our favorite librarian!"

Amidst the slashing of library service hours and the threat of impending lay-offs, the Save the Los Angeles Public Library campaign continues. And of course it's not just library services that are being threatened by LA's budget crisis - all sorts of crucial services (and the employees who offer them) are on the chopping block.

The Los Angeles Times has an article today called "Impassioned Pleas to Save City Jobs." Below is an excerpt about our own Durant Branch children's librarian Hillary George.

Councilman Tom LaBonge said city employees facing layoffs have buttonholed him in the hallway. Last week he got a sheaf of drawings from elementary school children urging him not to fire their favorite librarian, Hillary George of the Will & Ariel Durant Branch Library in Hollywood.
"Ms. Hillary" appeared Wednesday before the council in a swishing lime skirt and bubble gum-sized pearls urging members to find a more "creative" solution. Of the 20 librarians on the layoff list so far, George said, she would be No. 12 in seniority.

"This has been a long drama, but it's just gotten a lot more dramatic," LaBonge said. "You can't save every job."
Those pressures have led to messy scenes that could play out again and again in the months ahead.

Go, Ms. Hillary!