Thursday, December 6, 2007

Stuck in the Middle

Well, something pretty big has been going on to keep me from posting recently (if anyone actually reads this.) And since my idea for this blog was to talk about the overlapping of my two "worlds"... my faith and my work... I guess it's kind of ironic that what's kept me so busy is a clashing of these two worlds. I guess it's also fair that I write about it here.

A picture book in the collection has been challenged. The title? King and King. You can use the brains I know God gave you to figure out that this book is being challenged due to it's discussion of homosexuality. This challenge began three months ago when I went full time as the head of the children's department and then exploded last week when the library board decided for the second time that the book should remain where it is with no labeling other than the subject heading in the item record in the catalog. Since then, we've gotten emails, phone calls, visits, multiple articles in the local paper, mentions and one on-air piece on the Philadelphia affiliates of the major networks, and an article in School Library Journal, the biggest professional article/book review resource in children's librarianship. It's been crazy.

So where do I stand in all this? Torn. Because personally, I do not believe in homosexuality, nor would I have bought this particular book. (It was donated over a year before I even began at the library, let alone began working in the children's department.) BUT professionally, I do not believe in censorship. There is a "Library Bill of Rights" adopted by the American Library Assocication. Read it... my job is to provide equal access to all types of information, regardless of the beliefs, background, etc of the patron, item in question or it's creator. My biggest concern has to be quality. Does that mean my personal biases don't affect purchases? Of course not, but once that item is in my collection, I have a duty to fight censorship. I could cite all the reasons why professionally, this book needs to stay where it is... it's not my place or any other librarian's to put a label on something. We are not the morality police; that is the parents' decision. And it should be the parents' decision. Don't even get me started on how this book is titled KING AND KING, with clearly labeled subject headings and how difficult is it to flip through a 32-40 page picture book to see what it's about before leaving the library. No, I'm certainly willing to offer opinions and advice, but public libraries are not school libraries. I do not have in loco parentis. I have a duty to give equal access to information. It's parents' responsibility to filter it.

So where does this leave me and what do I believe? I believe that Jesus wouldn't have censored the book had He been here. He hung out with the prostitutes, tax collectors and other socially outcast... and He loved on them, despite the fact that He did not agree with or support their behaviors. And let's face it, we're all sinners, so we all have sinful behavior. My mom has always told me to "love the sinner, hate the sin", and to those of you who believe I can't do both, I'd say check out the Bible where my Savior does just that. I believe that God has placed me in my position... well, the obvious... in less challenging times (and even in them), I simply love what I do. But I also believe that He has called me to be a peacemaker. He has put that thought into my head repeatedly the past week. Reading the comments from both extremes on the online article the past week has broken my heart. The back and forth hatred on both sides as well as at this family, which I know to be a loving, caring family, have broken my heart.

So how will I act? It doesn't matter to me what you believe. I may disagree with you. But I'm not going to treat you any differently at the library or even outside the library. To fellow Christians or any parents that read this... I say make this a teachable moment to your kids. That's what Jesus did. Look at all the parables. Those came from difficult situations and tough questions that Jesus turned into opportunities to explain that He knew differently. He didn't keep people naive or sheltered. He didn't blast down the opposing viewpoint in hate. He taught. He still loved. And that, my friends, is what I can only hope to do.

On a happier book note... Clementine is the cutest, laugh-out-loud funny book I've read in a long time! Watch out Ramona!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Making the Connection

So I stumbled upon another connection between faith and reading… thanks to God and the beautiful and talented Rachel for their insight. ;) Rachel is in charge of the children’s ministry at our church. She’s been working on a vision/five year plan for children’s ministry, and one of her ideas is to give kids the opportunity to use their gifts… passions/interests, musical or artistic talent, sports ability… in the church. I think it’s a great idea and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for this.

As we were talking, I got one of those “I’m going to use too many words to describe this, but help me work it out” thoughts, which Rachel so graciously went along with. In my job, I come across so many reluctant readers. Kids who only think of reading as the required kind. It’s not fun. They certainly wouldn’t do it for pleasure. On the other side, people who love reading can often point to some experience; they read a certain book or found books on a topic that they really care about, and so they began reading because they liked to. I remember reading the Anne of Green Gables series as a young girl and from then on, I was hooked. So when I am giving parents and kids book suggestions, I always ask questions about what the child is interested in… I want to find them that book that’s going to grab them and make them life-long readers. (Yes, I aim high ;) ) I want them to have that turning point experience in reading that makes it something they like, not something they’re required or told to do by an adult.

Here’s the connection. We had been talking in Bible study that night about how kids who grow up going to church sometimes experience a period of falling away, often in their late teens, but in the past, the majority comes back to the church. This isn’t the case anymore; more are staying away from the church. I was lucky enough to grow up in a supportive, loving Christian home, and I didn’t turn from my relationship with Christ during college, but it was certainly a growing period. I had to learn that my faith was my own, not my parents. I think Rachel’s idea of seeing kids use their gifts in church at a young age is an important step for kids to “own” their faith. We talk about spiritual gifts maybe around the teenage years, but sometimes not until we’re adults. I’m not saying we should determine spiritual gifts at 8 years of age, but we should ask what makes them excited? What do they love to do? What are their physical, artistic or musical talents? And then how can they use those gifts and talents and passions in the church. This isn’t the “cure-all”, but think how it could change individuals’ relationships with God and the church and give God glory if we grow up feeling like our gifts and talents are of use to God. It could be one of those turning point experiences that helps make their relationship with God that much more relevant. There are other ways of course, but it’s just a thought.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Children's Book Week

It's Children's Book Week, sponsored by the Children's Book Council, so I've been heavier than normal into children's books this week with additional storytimes, "favorite book character" contests, and to cap it all off at the end of the week, a packed-program (with both girls and boys)... A Wonderland Tea Party! Have I mentioned yet how much I love my job?? :) So in honor of CBW and having done a drop-by storytime of Miss Erin's favorites, I thought I'd start sharing some of my favorite picture books here.

I won't go as crazy with this list as I want to, so this time I'll just mention my two FAVORITE author/illustrators. (The themed lists will come soon, don't worry! Patrons have come in asking about the "secret" Big Boy and Girly Girl Book lists I've been creating... hilarious!) Any story by Mo Willems or Jarrett Krosoczka! These two are pure genius. They have so completely placed themselves in the minds of children!

Willems used to write for Sesame Street and is the author of the "Pigeon" books about a belligerent pigeon wanting to do things he isn't supposed to do... sound like any preschoolers you know? ;) And the ones I love even more, Knuffle Bunny and Knuffle Bunny, Too. (And they are pronounced KAnuffle Bunny, thank you very much!) about a young girl named Trixie and her favorite stuffed bunny.

Krosoczka (who's name I can spell without looking!) has written one of my all time favorite picture books (and future DreamWorks animated film!!!), Punk Farm, about a barnyard band that holds a concert when the farmer's asleep (I'll leave just what song they play in punk rock fashion a surprise!) The equally awesome sequel, Punk Farm on Tour, follows the band on its first tour. These two stories had every child, adult, and even my coworkers watching! Check out for the audio and "punkfarmspace"! Their books are just great for boys and girls, no matter the age. And the more fun you have with the reading, the more fun your audience will! I had one year olds rapt attention for Knuffle Bunny!

Okay, so I couldn't help myself... one more that I just read today. The Little Red Fish by Taeeun Yoo. This is a special book... red fabric cover, amazing pen and ink illustrations and Yoo's story of a small boy, JeJe, following his grandfather to work in a library and the ensuing imaginative adventure of following his red fish through stories is so sweet! AND it speaks of the amazingness that is reading, imagination and going to libraries... the coolest place on earth!! :)

So none of these (except maybe the last) has any deep meaning, but they're stories. Creative, hilarious, well-written and they entertain, pure and simple. If you don't have any children, nieces, nephews, cousins or friends with kids, check them out yourself ;) And I promise a mix... more substantial reading suggestions to come ;)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Jesus Loves the Little Children

So, there are two big passions in my life (besides exaggeration!)... God and children. Well, when it comes to kids, specifically literacy, although kids are great regardless of the setting. Such innocence and joy and honesty... those are traits I think adults could stand to take a lesson in from children!

I am in love with my Savior. He's my best friend, teacher, Father, the one who loves me longest and best. I love my job. I am also a children's librarian, or as my official title states, "Director of Youth Services" (*gag*) at a public library in the Lehigh Valley. (Kind of scary for a 24 year old!) So what am I doing here? Good question. I guess I'm trying to combine two of my favorite things. One of the things God has impressed upon me both in my relationship with Him and in my profession is the importance of sharing stories. Jesus was a storyteller. He told parables in order to teach.

One God/stories connection and what has helped make the Bible come alive to me is seeing it as a story... not that it's any less real, but rather that all of these smaller books of the Bible are interconnected and provide a big picture view of God. The same God created us, made a covenant promise with His chosen people, redeemed sinful man and will come again. It's not a bunch of random stories, but each fit into a larger story. That knowledge may not be the thing that speaks loudest to you, but it does to me. Another God/stories connection is that I know-- not just in my head, but have learned in my heart as well-- that God gives us our experiences to share with others. Our stories are meant to be shared. They encourage and inspire, they make us vulnerable and hold us accountable. Leonard Sweet says that "the future belongs to the storytellers and connectors". We all have stories. By sharing them, we're making connections to what God is teaching us as well as to other people.

The types of stories that I love the most are bildungsroman. Dorky English major term, but it basically means it's a "coming of age" story. I love stories where a character grows from beginning to end. A lot of young adult novels are like that. (Don't worry, I'll share my favorites to come.) But for starters think of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Frodo's story unravels in that trilogy. It inspires and teaches those who hear it. And like many stories in the bildingsroman genre, it also illustrates a important aspect of life... particularly to the Christian life. We are meant to lean on and learn from others on this journey. We are not meant to go this alone. We need a fellowship... a support system, friends, accountability partners, whatever you want to call it. Iron sharpens iron. Life is meant to be shared. Stories are a way to share. And more important than that, life is meant to glorify God. We can glorify Him in our stories by sharing with others how He is revealing Himself to us.

So I guess that's what I want to do. Share things God's teaching me. Share great stories I've read (not trying to sell them, but I will "sell" them ;)). Because when it comes down to it, reading is cool. And God's coolest. If you only like good books and don't know God or love God and don't read, well, I don't know what you'll find, but feel free to take what you will, make comments/share your thoughts, or stop reading ;)

That's good enough for the first post!