Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tis the Season!

... to have more than usual going on! Ha. Okay, I always say that. But with the holidays and different groups and different people celebrating, there's bound to be even MORE things going on! So I've been keeping busy. It's not just been the holidays though (don't ask me where I am on Christmas shopping... with only one week before Christmas!)

Since the beginning of December, I've roadtripped to see two crazy girls (with two other crazy girls) in New Jersey for a weekend, we got a new youth pastor at church (yay!), I had a blowout flat tire on the side of a major highway (and subsequently had to get FOUR new tires), planned a middle school Christmas party, had a middle school Christmas party, am preparing for various more Christmas celebrations to come, been asked out (then somewhat stalked) at the library, dressed as an elf and hosted Santa's visit to the library for 50 preschoolers, got a new haircut that many people have commented on (you never know till you make the change)... Rich Mastronardo's comment doesn't count..., had the BFC wide young adult coffeehouse, had a cold, gone to see the Nutcracker... and probably a few other things I've forgotten. That list probably bored you, but it explains why I haven't posted in a few weeks! Oh! And I read a really good elementary (4-5th grade) book... Newbery buzz... called Savvy by Ingrid Law! I'll try to write a review soon.

But I'm looking forward to celebrating the holiday and reflecting on what it's actually about... the birth of my Savior!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Journeying Prayer

I was just looking through one of my favorite books, Punk Monk by Andy Freeman, again and (re)struck by one of the sections.

The idea of our relationship with Christ being a “journey” is pretty well accepted by Christians. In one chapter, Freeman talks about journeying with God, journeying after God and journeying for God. Think of all the great epic stories in literature (or movies, although the book’s better!)… journeys are tough. We’re not staying at a resort. We’re roughing it. Journeys mean not taking the sissy way around, but instead, going THROUGH. Because the other side’s better. The other side’s where God wants us.

And for some reason (despite admitting intellectually otherwise), we struggle with the struggling. Don’t get me wrong, we may be able to admit God has a purpose, and we should work through our feelings to get to a place of peace and trust. But life is a journey, and that includes all the typical ups and downs of journey life. But thankfully, I have a hope for the other side.

Here’s A Journeying Prayer from Punk Monk:

Jesus, take me once again on a journey.
Take me to the city,
Take me to the valley and to the mountain,
Take me to the desert.
Take me to the place of wandering,
The place of hunger,
The place of solitude and of pain.
Take me to the place where You seem so far away
Yet only You are there.
Remove my crutches of possessions,
Remove the pillars of my faithless life,
Remove all the thumbs I suck.
And there in that place where nothing is left,
There refine my soul.

This is what happens when I’m home from church sick ;)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why I Do What I Do

I’ve had people ask. Honestly. Why do I do what I do? There are multiple reasons why I love it. Yes, I obviously need to pay bills somehow, and yes, I do love books. A lot. A LOT, a lot. And yes, there is something about me that likes that I am the one who’s allowed to make a lot of noise in the library. Because I do. Make a LOT of noise. Not gonna lie. And my boss actually lets me! Telling your kids to use "library voices" is apparently no longer a good idea! 0:) (But for the record, I am (relatively) quiet when a program's not going on.)

So… why do I love my job? The obvious answer. Simple really. Kids. I stinkin’ love working with kids. And the people who bring them in can be kind of cool, too! These kids make me smile and laugh out loud. Case in point, two boys singing (tone deaf) the Carpet Square Song on the top of their lungs, faster than me... just because they were so excited. Or who can keep a straight face when a two year old raises his hand in the middle of storytime and goes, “Miss Erin, I tooted.” Follwed by un-imitatable preschool giggle. I can’t! Or how preschoolers make friends... Girl 1: Do you want to be friends? Girl 2: Sure. Girl 1: What's your name? Hahaha! Kids keep me on my toes, give me a challenge, help me see things through a purer lens, and they are so honest, sometimes brutally so! Miss Erin, is it time for craft yet?

Plus, I can’t tell you how exciting it is for me to hear a kid who had previously hated reading talking to his friend about a book that he loved that I had recommended for him. I had one kindergartener bragging about the History of Poop book I showed him. (Yes, I buy books about poop.) Or when I see a certain little near-three year old getting into "the storytime swing of things" (Yes, Danielle!)… and that boy's smile is simply contagious! Seeing kids grow to love the library and see it as a “cool” place to be (because it’s not easy convincing kids that a building full of books can be fun!)... that makes my day :)

And those are just some of the reasons.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Civility in Civil Liberties

A lot of thoughts and emotions running through my head after the election. I don't want to start some huge political debate, but honestly, I wasn't satisfied with either of my choices. In the end, I voted for the person who had the most beliefs/stands in common... saving human life being the most important, and who I thought had more experience and was better equipped to lead our nation. Say all you want about Barack Obama being "change", but I haven't seen enough to prove that he's capable of carrying out anything he says he'll do. There are many other reasons, but those are the two main ones: more common beliefs and experience.

But, like many people, I think we saw the writing on the wall long before Election Day. I knew what would happen at the end of the day. Instead, the thing that I struggled with as the day went on (even the weeks prior) is just how uncivil we are in exercising our civil liberties. It made me so sad to hear conversations, see comments on Facebook or read/hear news on TV or online covering the election. People can be just plain horrible to each other! This country is founded on democracy. Choice. And whether I like it or not, agree with you or not, I have no right to rip you to shreds for your beliefs. I can kindly disagree. But as a Christian, I hold myself to a higher standard: to still love someone I disagree with on various issues. It's hypocritical of a Christian to talk about love, to talk about their moral decisions for voting... and then completely attack someone who believes differently. I am not saying that I choose to accept everyone else's beliefs. NO, I am very firm about what I believe and why. I will not even hide the fact that I disagree with someone. But I can tell someone that I disagree in a way that honors that individual as a person made in God's image. I don't want to make a broad generalization that everyone has acted horribly to each other, because there were definitely things I saw that spoke of the kindess of people. But I'd have to say from what I heard and saw the past few days/weeks, one side dominated the other.

And while I'm speaking of respect, I've been sad to see the way that President Bush has been ripped apart, as well. Whether you voted for him or not, still approve of him or not, he is our president. The same way that we need to respect and pray for Barack Obama, we need to respect our current president. We give one (hu)man way too much credit if we believe that this one man alone is the cause of all our nations problems, and on the flip side, we give one (hu)man way too much credit to believe he is the answer it to it all. I would believe this no matter who had won. These are men, albeit powerful men, but men. In my knowledge there has only been one time in history that God has walked this earth in human form.

So things may not have ended the way I'd have chosen, but I can choose how to respond... and I want to choose to love... and to pray and trust my God, Who's bigger than any one presidential election. He knows what He's doing even when I'm not clued in on the big picture.

Nothing about books, just something that's been on my heart the past few days.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dealing with Disappointment

So I recently read a book that I was really looking forward to reading. Graceling by Kristin Cashore. The story sounded right up my alley, early reviews were great, pretty high first printing for an unknown author's debut young adult book. I was so impatient and hoping this would be a new favorite, so I bought it the week it came out without having read it from work first.

So the review? Good idea for a story: Katsa lives in a seven kingdom region, the niece of one of the kings, and is "graced". A grace is basically a "super power"... and could be anything from cooking to fighting to swimming. Katsa has grown up believing her grace is killing, after she accidentally killed a man who tried to attack her as a child. It turns out that her grace is something entirely different. Since this is a coming of age story, Katsa grows, putting her foot down with her dominating uncle, sees who she really is, learns to let people in. The story is well-written, the characters developed, the dialog great. I loved how Katsa grows into her true grace. But what I didn't like was the unnecessary sexual relationship between the Katsa and another graceling from one of the other kingdoms, Prince Po. Loved his patience with her and her slowly letting her walls down in order to care about someone. Didn't think the way it played out was necessary... especially for a young adult novel.

So after all the anticipation of reading this story, despite the good writing and story in general, that one thing left me feeling disappointed. I know no book is perfect. Ahhh, but wait, there is ONE book that is! This weekend, a few days after finishing the book, I was at my church for a teacher training class. I've taught lessons for the small groups I've lead over the year and my work is kind of like teaching, but I know I'll never know everything. I always love learning new things, and I've had the guy teaching the class for adult electives in Sunday School before and he is one of the best teachers I've ever had. So anyway, I went to this class. As we're going through exercises of studying the Bible as a teacher, we talked about reading the Bible and examining the details... finding something new with every reading. We read different translations. And wouldn't you know it, during that class, something new popped out. The Bible never changes, but every time, I can find something new and exciting that God will show me inside His Word... if my heart's just open and available. So I know I already knew this, but during the class I was just struck... I can never be disappointed in God's Word. (Maybe disappointed in my reaction to His Word, but that's a whole other post!) Books I read for personal enjoyment, work, whatever... while they might somehow even minutely miss the mark for me, the Bible never will. Like it's true Author, it'll never disappoint. And for that, I'm eternally thankful.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Learning to Prioritize

A few days ago, I sat down to update my “to read” list. Now, I have a confession to make: my “to read” list is actually an Excel spreadsheet. When I began working at the library, the list of books I wanted to read grew from a memorable amount to ridiculous proportions. I started keeping a notebook of titles. But the longer that I was constantly exposed to books… shelving, talking to patrons, and ordering for the three youth collections… the longer the list got and I found myself adding titles that I had already listed pages before, forgetting this “little known gem” had already crossed my radar months earlier. Now, I add more books each month than I can read in the average month, so basically, I’ve come to realization that I will NEVER finish my “to read” list. At first, that realization was difficult to take (don’t laugh!)… I didn’t want to think I would never be able to catch up… to finish my list. And shhh, don’t tell anyone this, but Miss English Major-turned-Librarian actually read very little for a period of a few months! I had become so focused on the fact that I could never do it all that I was discouraged. But then I went to the other extreme... this insanity-induced idea that I could plow through the list. If I just read fast enough! And somewhere along the way it happened: reading became a chore, like the required reading in school. The concept that I had always spoken to kids and parents in the library about being against vehemently. So I kind of took that break and made some decisions. I can’t read everything. (duh.) I had to accept that. I have to choose… prioritize… which books I definitely need/want to read and which are just because everyone’s reading it or some other less-necessary-for-me-to-add-it-to-my-list reason. And the other thing I relearned was to make time for FUN reads. I need lighthearted books, I need adult brain-stimulating books… I need to be a well-rounded reader. If we don’t take time for fun, we’ll get burned out.

Okay, so you may be thinking that I’m putting WAY too much emphasis on books. (But there was an article I mentioned in this blog months ago on the very topic of children’s librarians needing to read for enjoyment, AND my favorite author, Shannon Hale just wrote an article on the same topic in School Library Journal.) But this book/reading concept has other life implications for me. It’s been a long few months for me. Work and outside work… life is busy. I'm okay with the busyness at work. I see my work as an opportunity to serve, but there are parameters put on it by my hours/schedule. Some days are busier than others, some times of the year are busier than others. But work's fine. Outside of work, I was running myself ragged. Seriously. I wasn’t home one night a week. There are SO many good things out there we can do with our time, but that doesn’t mean because it’s good, that it’s right to do. In what I like to call the “multiplicity effect”, as I’m working through some of this on my own with God, my pastor started a sermon series on Serving. He talked about how, in the Church, we are called to serve. But the phrase he kept saying every week is that we are to be human beings, not human doings. Wow. So you mean my constant pace wasn’t a good thing? ;) Just like with reading, I realized if I try to do too much, I’m going to burn out. I’m going to lose my passion for what it is I’m doing. And I need to give myself time to have a personal life (or enjoy the “light read”) every now and then. There are certain things I do that I LOVE to do and there are ones that God calls me to do. But I can’t do it all. Guilt is not a reason to do something. Even good intentions of helping others is not a good reason if it’s not what God has called me, personally, to do. So this has been good for me. Hard, but good. I’m learning how to say “no” (still). I’m learning that I can’t go at a constant pace (even when people say “Do it while you can. You’re young.”) I’m learning to pick and choose and do fewer things fully committed than a million things and be unable to give my best because I’m doing it out of guilt or because I’m so tired I can’t give my best. Getting back to the basics of why I loved something in the first place. And this is a good thing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


So I've wanted to read this for a LONG time. But after numerous recommendations and the kick in the backside of the movie coming out and January (and having a strict "must read book before seeing movie" policy), I moved Inkheart by Cornelia Funke to the top of the list.

GREAT idea! Great for kids (we have it labeled for 4-5th grade reading level, but can go either way depending on reading level or interest of your reader) and great for grown ups! Any booklover. Anyone who wants to see a warm, loving relationship between a father and child. And my librarian heart loves how well twelve year old Meggie and her "book doctor" father Mo treat books. They are cherished.

Meggie's only consistent factors in life are Mo and books. She loves both. She hasn't had a mother since she was three, and for some unknown reason, she and her father don't seem to stay in the same place for more than a year or two at a time. But all that changes when the mysterious Dustfinger arrives. She meets her book-collecting obsessed great aunt Elinor, her father is kidnapped, and Meggie finds out just how much her life mirrors the books she loves. And all of this mystery revolves around one seemingly ordinary book, Inkheart, the book within a book. Mo, also known as Silvertongue, has the fantastic (or devastating?) ability to read books to life... the characters literally come out of the pages as he reads them aloud. But he unwittingly brought some unsavory characters out of Inkheart, and it's up to Meggie, Mo, Elinor, Dustfinger and a few others to set things write... I mean right! Never thought reading aloud could be so dangerous, huh? Thankfully, I cannot read a story to life, or today the library would have been filled with snoring dirty pigs... among countless other characters!
For younger readers, there are some threats of violence to our heroes, but nothing graphic. It starts a little slow, but the story unfolds beautifully. I highly recommend it to booklovers and anyone with an imagination... anyone who ever wondered what would happen if Tinker Bell came out of the book...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You're Such a Knucklehead!

In the Scieszka household, that would be a compliment! So, after my whole "boys and books" post, I thought I would give a quick review of Jon Scieszka's autobiography (for kids... it's a whopping 106 pages): Knucklhead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka. In a word: hilarious. Seriously, I laughed out loud every single chapter. And at 2-3 pages per chapter, that's a lot of laughing!

I know I've mentioned Scieszka's perfect way of reaching reluctant boy readers, so I'll try to keep my fawning to a minimum. But this book is great, and it gives insight into how the man could have a crazy enough brain to think up the Stinky Cheese Man! The short chapters are a plus for reluctant readers, as are the laugh out loud funny stories of what it was like growing up with six boys in one house. To give you an idea, one chapter is called "Crossing Swords", and it describes what happens when you send multiple boys to use the bathroom at the same time. Oh yes, there's plenty of bodily function humor! There's also lighting things on fire, picking on the younger siblings, school trouble, and tales of brotherly "love". And there is love... you get the sense that the Scieszka parents cared about all six boys and taught them how to be pretty good kids, while at the same time, letting boys be boys. There's that fine line of teaching kids right and wrong behaviors, but also giving them room to be the way they were made to be. Loved it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

To Be a Boy, To Be a Reader

This is one of my “special interests” within my field. Ohhh, how I could go on and bore you with the statistics about boys and reading, but I think if you know enough boys, you can make the generalization yourself (and yes, it is only a generalization). But simply put, the majority of boys do not like to read. And trying to stay off my soapbox, reading (and reading well) affects more than just your language arts grade in school!

Here are some of the main problems with why boys don’t like to read as they get older:

Required reading: Whether clueless, well-intentioned but ill-equipped, or somewhere else on the motivational chart, many adults (teachers, parents and librarians) have a certain idea in mind when it comes to reading. A boy should be reading award winners, right? We can live in a dream world or we can see what boys really are reading and encourage that. Forcing a boy to read “good reading” or something that we would choose to read at their age is not going to help. It’s bad enough that you’re turning them from storytime with their friends and hearing picture books to reading picture-less books alone ;)

Expand your idea of what reading is, too. Recently, I had some mindless craft prep to do for a few hours in my office, so I tried to listen to a book on audio that I’d wanted to read for years. Oh, did that not work for me! My mind wanders during audios. And I also recently purchased a graphic novel written by Shannon Hale, one of my favorite authors. LOVE anything she writes, and this was good… but again, not my preferred style. But here’s the deal. Each reader has his or her own style. Listening to books on audio is actually a preferred format for boys. So are graphic novels (think comic books), magazines, reading things online, newspapers, and reading non-fiction. Boys like to learn why something is the way it is or how to do something. Jon Scieszka (whose name I can spell without looking it up!), the first/current National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, created an organization all about these differences: Guys Read. Check it out. I actually recommended his Time Warp Trio series to a mom of a very reluctant reader, and she came in today to say he loves it and reads it every night… he wants more of them!

So we have to watch “required reading” and expand our view of reading, two key factors in giving boys the room they need to grow to love reading. The third is modeling reader behavior. This is most important for parents, since you see your kids most often. Make the library a routine. Read at home. Especially dads. Dads, please, PLEASE, PLEASE… read in front of your kids! Show them that you read and that you see it as valuable. I’ve started a few programs at the library and they’ve been growing… slowly but surely, and it makes me love what I do all the more to see the changes! We have special Daddy and Me storytimes (no moms allowed!), and we recently began a Daddy Catchers program, where we pick one day a month to give dads a small thank you from a local business if we see them in the library with their kids. (A thank you, not a bribe.) And attendance of dads at programs as well as boys in elementary school age (the age they traditionally stop coming to library programs) has been on the rise. In fact, the most recent Daddy and Me and bedtime booktime storytimes were attended by more dads and boys than moms and girls! And I was thrilled!!

So I tried to be brief, but this is obviously a subject I’m passionate about. Trust me, I did restrain myself. I know these are generalizations, but see how they apply to your situation and use them if they help. I can’t stress how important engaging kids, but especially boys, in reading is!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart

Okay, loved that song as a child. But you know what? It's more than just a children's song.

I've noticed this over the years working with preschoolers. It doesn't matter what I'm singing... they don't even have to know the words... but the second Miss Erin starts going crazy, singing some song, they're mine. Singing gets them to that "happy place" where they just might actually pay attention to me as I try as much as possible to keep 15-20 preschooler's attention for a story. So back to the song...

It's not about a happy "place"... how I feel based on the externals. Call me a crazy former English Major, but I believe there's a semantic distinction between "happiness" and "joy"... well, at least I make the distinction for myself. Happiness is situational, depends on those externals, while joy is deeper. For me, true joy is from Christ. C.S. Lewis wrote about the difference in Surprised by Joy. So I know that while the crazy world around me might threaten my happiness, it cannot take my joy, because this world and its craziness is temporary, but my God is eternal. I know not everyone might believe it, but that's what I know to be true.

What does that mean in "real life"? It means that situations in my life can be difficult, and things may not be running smoothly... even chaotically at times, but that I can still have joy. This week, work was not easy. Nothing with my patrons. Kids can make me smile any day! I know I'm blessed to get to work with them. There were some other things going on. But despite that I still know that God has given me this job. There are so many reasons that I know this is where God has placed me, this is what He's wired me to do (at least for now), and I am thankful for it. I've been told by numerous people that I'm lucky, and I don't take it for granted. Not everyone even likes their job, let alone loves it. (Hey, you have to considering what librarians get paid!) And the rest of my life outside of work is at times, smooth, at other times... not so smooth... but as long as I keep my focus on the right place... on God... I have my joy. It's a fight some days when I lose that focus, but as another verse in the song says, He also gives me peace that passes understanding. It's all past understanding sometimes! But I'm no less thankful :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

To Twilight or Not to Twilight?

Okay, I've avoided it. A Breaking Dawn review. I've been sharing my thoughts in person, but it's hard to get it across in print (without lots and LOTS of words!)... but here we go!

You'd have to have been living under a rock not to have heard of the Twilight Saga and the fourth and (supposedly) final installment, Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer. You'll have to go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble for a summary, and I'll try to steer clear of spoilers (send me a message if you want more information), but I want to share my thoughts.

First, with the series as a whole, I am not, NOT, NOT a vampire story kind of girl! But I felt when it became popular with teenage girls a few years ago that I should read it. The story takes place in rainy Forks, Washington, where teenage Bella Swan moves to live with her father, the town police chief. She meets Edward and is immediately drawn to him. As you might know, Edward and his family are the stuff of folklores: vampires. But the Cullens (all seven of them) are "vegetarians"... they drink from animals, not humans. There's more supernatural characters and much more to the story, but that's the general plot of the series.

In it's favor, I did like the series overall. A fast read, getting millions of teens (mainly girls) to read. The story's entertaining. The caution: while we can all relate to Bella's clumsiness, trying to fit in and first love experience, she becomes rather obsessive about Edward. So as a parent, the best thing if you choose to let your daughter read this book (like any book they read), talk to them about the choices Bella makes. Best to read the books as well. Talking points: Bella's obsession with Edward, disobeys/lies to her parents, takes a lot of risks.

Now, specifically Breaking Dawn, the latest in the series. Honestly, not my favorite of the series. At a whopping 750 pages, it gets a little drawn out at times, and I found myself trying to remember what happened in the beginning of the book! Meyer takes the story places I didn't expect. Normally, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but this was a bit extreme. Teenage marriage, teenage pregnancy, obsessive/irrational behavior... and when Bella makes a certain long-awaited transformation (trying to keep spoilers to a minimum!), everything falls so neatly into place. A little unrealistic and a little unrelatedable. Even taking my faith out of the context, most professional reviews agreed that Bella became unrelatedable as a character. Fans have said they're choosing to remember it as a trilogy. While I think some have gone too far in attacking the author (because as an author, it's her right to decide the direction her story and characters will go), it's fair to say this book was not what I expected. There are good things about this last volume and I'm glad that I finished it to find out what happened to Edward and Bella, but it was certainly an interesting read!

So To Twilght or Not to Twilight? That's the question for parents. If you're getting your daughters or students asking about reading the series, I think you have to know about the fourth book. If you allow a girl to read the first three, chances are likely she'll get hooked, and then it could be difficult to not let her finish the series. Just my thoughts.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Crawling Out of My Summer Hole

Okay, I have to bite the bullet and just write, even though I'm not going to get everything in that I'd like to! It was a crazy summer... my first doing the Summer Reading Club programming on my own, not as the assistant. The summer is the busiest time for a public library children's program, so basically, everything else gets neglected! ;) Yeah, non-stop. But good :) It's just that Miss Erin was busy at work and busy outside of work, so there wasn't much time to write. And here's a little insight into my personality, but I'm definitely one of those "there's so much I want to write, could write, and where do I begin to write... that it's easier to just keep putting off. So yes, this post doesn't serve much point! But I will say that I'm going to get back into it!

A little teaser of what's ahead: reviews on the (in)famous Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer, Traction Man Was Here and its sequel Tractioin Man Meets Turbo Dog; maybe some information on my "special intestests": keeping boys reading and emergent literacy; and finally, some of the really cool things God has been teaching me the past few months. So check back soon! (I promise!)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I'm Alive!! Sort of...

So I haven't posted in two months. But while I may be a blogging slacker, the reason for the lack of posts is because I haven't had much opportunity to be a slacker "in the real world". I'll blame Summer Reading programs starting... love them, but they're a lot of work. Both mentally and physically exhausting! Throw in trying to juggle family, friends and youth group, a short stint house-sitting, and VBS this week after work... well, one thing God is reminding me of is that Miss Erin is not superhuman! I have to learn how to say "no", which is something I hate to do. I want to help where I can. I want to spend time with people that matter to me when possible. BUT too much of a go go and no rest attitude is going to take me nowhere but burnout-land. Quality over quantity. So that's been a challenge, but good.

And I have been reading! But not so much of my own choosing, which is why I may not have added any reviews. I have six book discussions this summer, but none of them were at the top of my long "to read" list. I'm currently reading Gregor the Overlander (not far enough for an opinion), but it seems like it might grab middle schoolers... especially boys. So far, it seems like a boy's version of Alice in Wonderland. Just substitute cats and rabbits for giant walking and talking cockroaches! The first high school book discussion is Sara Beth Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It. Interestingly described by one of my Teen Advisory Board members as "the apocalyptic Little House". It's the story of a teenage girl and her family's survival after a dense asteroid knocks the moon closer into the earth's orbit, wreaking natural disaster after natural disaster: tidal waves, tsunamis, earthquakes, airborne illness. Really makes you think and pulls you in for a quick read. A few grips were the way the author obviously has certain political leanings, which she is of course entitled to. It was just how bitterly she delivered them, and without the courage to name names, instead, only giving obvious descriptions. Probably laughing about her cleverness behind her hand. But it was just overkill and unnecessary. And her very obvious feelings towards Christians, evidenced by a rather slanted and unfavorable portrayal of a Christian friend. Otherwise, a quick, thought-provoking look at what if.

Friday, April 25, 2008

An Ode to National Poetry Month

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a huge poetry fan... I'm sorry, but Emily Dickinson bores me to tears. But there are exceptions and I'm learning to enjoy it more. In college, I learned to appreciate Elizabeth Barrett Browning, one-time national poet laureate Billy Collins, and of course, Shakespeare. Those loves all came though, because of a professor who was so enthusiastic and passionate about poetry that her passion was contagious... and she made it fun! I ended up taking her multiple times as an English major. She'd do crazy things like have us do debates over which couple in a Shakespeare play was the more realistically in love couple... a debate complete with a gauntlet throwing challenge and a judges panel, and one time, I even played some dead king and laid on a table some classmates carried to the door.

I still remember a Shel Silverstein poem, One Sister for Sale, that I memorized in grade school because I felt it "adequately described my pain as the oft-mistreated younger sister" *halo ding* Silverstein and the first/current National Children's Poet Laureate, Jack Prelutsky have humorous child poetry down to an artform. They, like my professor, have made poetry accessible to everyone, not just people who have a little more artistic appreciation than I do. I know my best friend reads these two to her third grade class and gets requests for more and more. I'm trying to take that knowledge... that it's how something is presented sometimes (Is there interest/passion on the part of the parent/teacher/librarian?) that can bring a "dull" subject alive... and apply it. Tomorrow, I'll be doing a magnetic poetry program with the teens at the library to celebrate National Poetry Month. They get free lunch; they just have to provide the imagination, as we use those magnetic poetry kits and try to come up with the best (or funniest) immortal lines.

In a different context, as a Christian, I'm made in God's image. He is the Creator, so therefore, I (supposedly!) have some creativity inside me, as well. As He's been showing me that fact, I've come to embrace my inner poet (ha!)... simply as a means of expressing myself... feelings, joy in nature, whatever strikes me. No, I will not share! But all of these random thoughts... I think the common thread is that, whether it's poetry, God or something else, something has to become real, and more than just a concept to us, before we can truly see it's beauty and value. So try out some poetry ;)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I Met Mo!!!

Yes, that Mo. Willems. Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny man. Only a few years into my professional career and I have met one of my favorite author/illustrators! And I may have been a little star struck (my friend Sam said I was a chicken), but I did actually speak with him! He was at the Kutztown Children's Literature Conference, along with Kate DiCamillo, Christopher Myers, and Eric Rohmann. They were each great, but Mo stole the show!

He gave a lot of food for thought (but in Mo Willems humor) about his role as author/illustrator and the audience's role as teachers/librarians. Other funny parts of his talk included a "readers theater" of Today I Will Fly, in which my friend thought he would get Mo-loving me up on stage by raising his own hand for me, but only succeeded in getting called on stage himself. When Mo was saying his work is about the story and the characters, not him, and so he gets his ego fed other ways... the one-time writer for Sesame Street then pointed out that Elmo is Spanish for "the Mo"! (He later clarified that no, he did not create Elmo.) He also taught the entire audience how to draw Pigeon. And during my one minute autograph session conversation with Mo, I shared that my four year olds loved the name Reginald von Hoobie Doobie from Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She was Extinct, and Mo shared that he uses the phrase "Hoobie Doobie" when he doesn't know the word for something. I'm going to start doing that ;)

All in all, pretty awesome day meeting people who work hard to bring quality work to children's literature. I love what I do :)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Oh My Darling Clementine!

I finished the newest Clementine book, Clementine's Letter, in a little over an hour. Okay, so it's a 2nd-3rd grade reading level, but even so, I couldn't put this book down and I literally laughed out loud numerous times. I would expect nothing less from this crazy, yet lovable third grader! The first two books, Clementine and The Talented Clementine, set some high standards, but once again, Sara Pennypacker delivers!

The letter in question is one Clementine writes to "recommend" her teacher for a chance to study in Egypt for a year. The entire class is asked to write letters why their teacher should be chosen from the three finalists, to be read in front of the judges at the state building. Clementine, however, does not want her teacher to leave, especially since she and her teacher are finally "in sink". I don't want to ruin all the fun, so you'll have to read it to find out if her teacher wins or not. But honestly, the trip there is worth it! Laugh out loud moments in every chapter, throughout the chapter. It reminds me of all those crazy conversations I've had with younger patrons where they just say something completely off-topic or short-and-simple true. Clementine's relationship with her parents, friends, neighbors, and the three year old brother whom she calls a different vegetable name every day (because the only thing worse than being named after a fruit is being named after a vegetable!) are so real. And there is one particularly sweet storyline involving Clementine and her dad writing a story. That part of the plot not only gives a wonderful (and in today's society, truly hopeful) picture of parent-child relationship, but it sets up the lesson Clementine learns: think before you act.

This series is great for fans (of any age) who loved Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, or Lois Lowry's Gooney books. Clementine and Ramona Quimby would be best friends... or possibly worst enemies... since they are so much alike. And Marla Frazee's illustrations are perfect! Clementine is now one of my favorite book characters of all time!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

He's Baaaaaack!!

Everyone's favorite belligerent pigeon that is! Yes, the one that wanted to ride the bus, stay up late and found a hot dog. And after a marketing gimmick that kept the nation in suspense (slight exaggeration), it was finally announced on the pigeon's birthday/the day the book was released that the demanding bird now wants a puppy! Yes, a puppy. I called it. Well, my guess was "a pet", but this is close enough.

Willems is one of my favorites, so I love everything he does. Knuffle Bunny is my favorite, but this newest pigeon book is great, too! It's one one-liner after another... find out how the pigeon mistakes puppies and plants. (What, you don't?) How he's wanted one for so long (or since last Tuesday). Or what happens when the pigeon finally comes face to face with one of those furry slobbering canines. On the simplest level, these stories will make kids laugh out loud... okay, so even adults! Adults will get the added humor of just how much this pigeon sounds like one of their children. You don't want me to be happy, do you? Kids will be laughing, parents will be getting the implied humor and maybe, just maybe, kids will learn a lesson. If they can recognize the absurdity of some of the pigeon's arguments, well... it could happen! But above all, just a funny story! I'll definitely be trying to figure out how to use it in a storytime!

I picked up the new Clementine book, Clementine's Letter, by Sara Pennypacker today, too. I can't wait to finish the third in this series about the crazy heir to Ramona Quimby's throne!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What Are You Broadcasting?

A idea has been repeating in my head over and over the past few weeks... God doesn't promise "easy"; He promises good. That's tough. I'm kind of conflicted. I'm not going to lie; I'd love if I got some of the things I've been wanting, when I want them, but that wouldn't be best. Because God is Father... that means He loves us, He disciplines us, but the image that He's been showing to me recently is that this means he is guiding me. He knows what's best for me and in what time. I can't get everything I want, when I want it. In fact, going back to the whole "easy" vs. good thing, I shouldn't. I think I've mentioned it before (and I doubt I'm alone on this) but my personal reaction to "easy"... when things are all going according to my wants... is to become complacent. No. I don't want that. It's a struggle between wanting my comfort zone and wanting to step out of it... wanting to turn my back on that safety so I rely more on God.

In Bible study, we finished a video of Louie Giglio (Passion Conferences). It is called "Hope", but ironically, he starts out seeming to offer very little. I family torn apart by a college student's tragic early death. But this one girl... this young girl... who didn't know God and, in her own words, "wasn't truly alive" until the final four months of her life has reached thousands. Her family isn't the same, her friends and the people who've apparently been watching her story online. Her atheist father recognized the change in her life that words and preaching couldn't. That's not to say we don't use words! But Louie's point at the end was that we will face struggle... but take heart, Christ has already overcome the world! (John 16:33) Our hope is in the cross. So prepare yourself for it, because it will come, and then when it does, use it. Grow from it. He pointed to this girl's story and others', and how they pointed to God in the midst of it. How they found joy and peace... only through Christ. Our struggles are real. They are raw. And I've learned that just because I finally get what I think God's trying to teach me, that doesn't mean *poof* He takes away the "problem". That might not be all He's got planned to use this situation for in my life or someone else's. I'm thinking of things that I have wrestled with God over... questions I've asked of Him... for years. But I've learned a lot, and I've been able to share with others. They can be used by God (if we allow ourselves to be used) to point to Him. Our struggles are a megaphone. Our stories are a megaphone. What are you broadcasting?

On a book note, I'm counting down the days (less than two!!!) until Mo Willems' new pigeon book is released! You can bet I'll be reviewing the as-yet unannounced title in the next few days! And I get to meet the author himself in just over 2 weeks!! :)

Monday, March 17, 2008

To Manga or Not to Manga?

My vote... NOT to manga! For those of you unaware or just not fully informed on what it is, manga is basically Japan's version of comic books. This is different from the graphic novel. I see graphic novels more as a story told through illustrations. I don't mind comics; I grew up reading them in the paper or the Garfield books. But the Japanese version known as manga has taken it a little too far.

I know, I know, kids love the stuff. And I also know that as a librarian, I want kids reading. I order books about bodily functions and magazines if it'll get kids reading. So for me to lean toward the no side means something. By all means, make your own decision, but please, please, please... review these books very carefully before letting your kids read them. There's a review site No Flying, No Tights that has reviews of different series. But go further. Skim through them. There are a few exceptions (Naruto, I believe is fairly safe.), but in large part, manga features characters in skin tight outfits running around doing who knows what. Before I took over collection development for the youth departments, the previous staff worker ordering young adult bought a lot of manga. She bought a series that "had good reviews"... turns out it's about a young girl turned into a sex slave and the pictures were very risque, who cares if they're illustrated and not "real". The director decided to put them on the shelves since we had purchased them and once we made the decision to order it, she didn't want to censor them.

I see young children back at the manga shelf, skimming through the books because the format is legitimately appealing, especially to a reluctant reader. It makes me cringe when they're anywhere near this particular series. If you want my professional advice, this is one genre I could do without. But make your own decision.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Things with Wheels

When it comes to purchasing books for boys, I will buy anything Thomas... as in the Tank Engine. I can't keep the books (or videos) on the shelves. The hardest thing a week ago was seeing one of my two year olds heartbroken face when, after 10 minutes of searching the different possible locations, we didn't find a single Thomas book in the place. Thomas had left the building. In large part due to Thomas, I can safely say out of all the "things that move", trains are the most popular. In general...not to stereotype, I know my boys... they like dinosaurs, gross things and things that move. I'll never forget when I got schooled on backhoes by a three year old! Boys also tend toward non-fiction. I could go on and on (trust me!) on the differences between boys and girls when it comes to reading.

So in honor of the boys, I wanted to share a great collection of books by Sarah Bridges. It's the Working Wheels series, and includes titles like I Drive a Train, I Drive a Semitruck, I Drive a Crain, I Drive a Street Sweeper, I Drive a Garbage Truck, and I Drive a Snow Plow, just to name a few. I got one or two to test them out on one of my more discriminating three year olds... the one who schooled me on backhoes. He started with I Drive a Backhoe. Not only did I get a thumbs up from him, but his mom, despite the fact that she ended up reading each book multiple times a day. Great for 3 years to young elementary school age, depending on interests and reading level.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Happy, HAPPY Birthday, Dr. Seuss!!

March 2nd. A date that means something to teachers and children's librarians across the country... it's the birthday of the one, the only, Theodor Geisel. You probably know him as "Dr. Seuss". The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, The Lorax, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I could go on, My Many Colored Days, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!, Gerald McBoing-Boing. There are too many titles to mention! TV movies and film versions for the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and now Horton Hears a Who. The website Seussville has interactive games, activity ideas and information on the life of Geisel and his work... and some pretty catchy background music too! Books he wrote but did not illustrate are under the name of Theo LeSieg (Geisel backwards).

The man's writing was new and I can comfortably make the claim that no one else has matched the depth of his creativity or made as much of an impact. His books open up children's imagination. Oobleck? A Lorax? He made up words. His rhyme scheme is consistent throughout his books (and a great way to introduce young children to poetry!) His stories had a political or social issue underneath all the wonderful imaginative chaos that is a Dr. Seuss story. Not to mention the staying power... what adult can't name a favorite Dr. Seuss book? I'd venture to say that most could recite a line or two as well!

The American Library Association created the Theodor Geisel Award for the best contribution to children's literature for beginning readers, and winners have included the wonderful Not a Box by Antoinette Portis and the amazing Mo Willems' There's a Bird on Your Head! Books that are about imagination, creativity, and getting kids to love to read! The National Education Association hosts Read Across America, celebrated annually on Dr. Seuss' birthday, and encourages birthday parties, events and other celebrations of the author and his work. Yesterday, I hosted a Dr.Seuss Birthday Party/Seussapolooza for 60+ people, dressed as Cat in the Hat (yes!), complete with Birthday cake, oobleck, Cat in the Hat hat craft and a speed reading contest for The Foot Book. We had to turn people away because of staffing/room limitations! Dr. Seuss is big. Lots of memories for adults. Lots of new experiences to wonderful worlds for children! Thank you, Dr. Seuss! And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hands Off!

I know... that perfectionist in you takes over. You see your child surrounded by craft supplies or have an art project to do and you just want to grab the crayons and scissors out of her hand. He's not cutting on the lines; she's not coloring in the lines. His giraffe looks more like a string bean.

Giraffe? Yes. In my preschool storytime for 4 year olds today, after reading a story called Giraffes Can't Dance, we were making giraffes that had pipe cleaner legs... able to dance! As the year has gone on, I've purposefully pre-made less and less of the craft for each of the age groups ahead of time. And today, I gave each child a piece of orange craft foam, showed them my sample, then told them they had to draw and cut out their own giraffes. And then I made one stipulation: no mom/dad/grandparent help. I've recognized over the year how adults just want to rush to do the work for their kids, whether it's instinct or perfectionism, or a child who says "I can't do it!". Not all parents do this, but a majority do. I know, occassionally kids need help with a craft, but in many cases, if you take a step back, encourage them, and show them how to move on from any mistakes (Thank You, God for erasers!), they'll get there. It may not be pretty. It probably won't be. But it'll be theirs. It'll spark their imagination. Trust me.

So in honor of using your imagination and encouraging your child to as well, some great picture books that celebrate and spark creativity, for your preschooler and yourself:
Crockett Johnson: The classic Harold and the Purple Crayon and its sequels, about Harold's adventures, created with only his imagination and a purple crayon.
Antoinette Portis: Not a Box, about a bunny who tells you why you're not just looking at a box, and the follow-up, Not a Stick, in which a pig tells you why he's not looking at a stick.
Peter Reynolds: The Dot, in which a child learns that just by making a dot in different ways he can be creative, and Ish, about a child who learns that drawing an object "ish-ly" is okay.
Maurice Sendak: Another classic, Where the Wild Things Are... Max puts on a wolf suit and finds the wild things. Imagination and dreaming at its wildest.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Story is Mystery

What makes a really good story? Well, isn't that a loaded question? In this case, I'm not making a distinction between fiction and non-fiction. I mean a story you could make up or a story of something that has happened to a friend. I'll give you some of what I look for...

As I've said before, I want a story that has character growth, change, depth. (Yes, there is a time and place and mood for pure laugh-out-loud funny or light reading, but go with me here.) Yes, I'm one of those people who don't (typically) like cliff-hanger endings. I like resolution. I'm learning to be a little flexible about that as real life and experiences show me that there's not always resolution. But I admit I prefer them. BUT, I like when there's something at the end that leaves the future up to the readers imagination or that there's hope or something positive. It might not be a "happy" ending, but there's the hint or promise of it. A little mystery can be good.

So here's where I try to sort out some muddled thoughts. God's really been impresing upon me the past few days that He is a mystery. In a good way, not in a frustrating way. I love that I can look at a piece of scripture that I've read 50 times before, and He'll show it to me in a new way. I love that I learn something about Him, and yet I know that there's a kabijillion (technical term) more things to learn. Part of the fun of relationships, whether it be parent, sibling, friend, boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse, is the discovery. Learning about who a person is and knowing that you'll never have them completely figured out. But God is like that times infinity. And in a good way. Admit it, there are things you find out (think back to a blind date) that you wish you never learned. But with God, the discoveries are always awesome. And there's still so much more to learn. Every day. How could that not be exciting?

He's taught me so much this week and blessed me in so many ways that my head's still spinning trying to make it come out clear. He gave me multiple opportunities, unsought, at work to talk about Him... patrons just coming up to me when we hadn't even been talking about God or I didn't say anything about my faith, and they began conversations about it. Timing in reading a book and watching a video (Awesome! Rob Bell's Everything is Spiritual... I'm buying it!) and conversations with multiple people at different times... all centering on the same topic. I love the "multiplicity effect"... when God hits me over the head from multiple (unconnected) sources so I can't ignore something. That's the God I believe in. That's the God that makes me smile and want to run after Him to keep uncovering the mystery. Even when I know I'll never know it all. In this case, I'm okay with not being a know-it-all.

Not to ruin the philosophical meanderings... but to be a good librarian, I feel like I should recommend a good book, since that was the point of this blog, too. So we'll go with mysteries. Check out Blue Balliet's Chasing Vermeer and Wright 3. Now that's a good mystery for kids. Gives them a bit of culture, too!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bye, Bye Comfort

Here's two often-repeated situations at the library:
1) A child comes to the circulation desk to check out, placing a stack of series books on the counter. It's more often little Johnny with a stack of Goosebumps than little Janie with Junie B. Jones, OR
2) A parent asks me for advice in what else his or her child can read, because the child is only reading fill-in-the-blank series.

Can you guess the problem? Comfort. We are creatures of habit. We hate stepping out of our comfort zones. Well, maybe I shouldn't generalize. But I know I am. While there are some really good series out there (ask me if you want to know), the majority of them recycle the same plot, simply changing characters names and the setting and antagonist just enough to make it sound like a different story. Reluctant readers, and even just younger readers in general (there are exceptions), find a series they like and stick with it till they've read every book before moving on. Sometimes, parents are just so thrilled their kid is reading that they don't care what it is. And while I am similarly excited to see little Johnny with a stack of 10 books to check out, I know that there are much better books... more challenging books... out there. Ideally, series are what we call a stepping stone: giving a younger reader the comfort to go the next step up.

Where is this going? I've just been recognizing (again) that I am a creature of habit when it comes to my faith. It's so easy to stay in my comfort zone. Like a child stuck reading a series, I don't intentionally seek out a challenge. Hopefully I'm open to an opportunity or challenge if it presents itself, but I don't intentionally seek it out. The book I'm reading, The Irresistable Revolution, was talking about that fact... we have very comfortable lives. It's kind of awesome how God works (God... awesome?? Go figure!) Because I can remember specific times in my life when, knowing my tendencies, I even just ask God to give me a heart that's unsatisfied with comfort. That's more of a prayer to change my attitude or my openness to change or challenge. Other times (fewer times), I have been so dissatisfied with my complacency that I ask God to shake me of my comfort... so that I'm forced to rely on Him completely.

Well, since my God is a faithful God, I can't remember a time when this prayer hasn't been answered. The first type (open my eyes/change my attitude) is more subtle, but the second ("shake me") usually results in some big potentially life change. Not to make it sound like God just gives us whatever we want, but He does have a sense of humor ;) Seriously, I think God honors our hearts to grow more dependent on Him and more in His likeness. I remember the second type of prayer being on my heart toward the end of the past summer and He delivered! Knocked me on my backside... I prayed for a challenge and within a day or two, He answered! Of course, it wasn't the challenge I was imagining. But you know what? In struggle, in pain... there is beauty. There is growth. There are blessings beyond your imagination. And most importantly, there is a God who wants to take you out of your comfort zone. It's not a once and done stepping out, but a constant decision. It's recognizing when you are in a rut or simply too comfortable and wanting something more. Most times, I haven't realized that's where I'm headed until I'm there. That's not to say comfort's bad, but think of what we could be missing out on if we just stick to one "series"?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's Exquisite

... that's fancy for wonderful!!!

Today was a lesson in patience, as no bookstores were open before work and I'm working longer hours in the beginning of the week before a retreat this weekend, so I had to wait until after work to pick up the newest Fancy Nancy book, Bonjour, Butterfly. I was asked by numerous moms through the day, "Did you get it yet??" (I wasn't sure if they meant me personally or if we had it in at the library already.) Adding to the impatience (in both a good and a bad way) was the following phone call from my best friend that went something like this:

"I'm standing in Barnes and Noble, holding a glittering yellow covered book."

I already wrote about how wonderful this series is a little over a week ago, but I had to add my official review: wonderful, adorable, fantastic and every fancy word I can't think of at the moment. I have to say, although nothing tops the original, this one ranks up there. I like it more than Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy! I love that the family is so central to this series. There'd be no story without Nancy's family, and that's true of each of the books in the series. This book finds Nancy upset that she can't go to her friend's butterfly-themed birthday party because her grandparents 50th anniversary party is the same day. Her parents deal with the situation, reinforce the family, and Nancy learns a lesson (as well as some French and oh-so-fancy words!) The glittery illustrations don't hurt either! The early readers are also out and good reads. Again, some great lessons as well as the girly-ness and fancy words (all explained for young readers). And the ending to Fancy Nancy and the Boy from Paris was pretty cute! Fancy Nancy's here to stay!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

POP Goes the Tire!

Thank God. Thank God for friends. Thank God for friends who don't think twice when you need help. Let me elaborate...

It had been a great day: Thursdays and the 2 year olds storytime is my absolute all time favorite. This is the first group of kids who've only ever had "Miss Erin" as their children's librarian, they stuck with me in my first year working with kids, they actually seem to enjoy coming to the library (dare I say it, they seem to think the library is a cool place!!), and mainly for the pure and simple reason that they are two years old and full of life and excitement and make me smile just by being their crazy two year old selves... I light up when I see them. I admit it, I get as giddy as a two year old. Literally. You wouldn't be able to tell me from my kids except for the height! And yesterday was one of those very special little boys' birthday. I made a big deal about it, giving him a sticker and letting him sit on my lap in my special rocking chair while everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to him. And to top it all off, the kids really got into the stories and the craft. So let's just say it was a fun day :)

Next stop, my weekly dinner with one of the best gifts God has given me: Megan. Our (hopefully) weekly dinner and the conversations inside Panera's walls mean so much. We can talk for hours. This woman is a gift and has gotten me through many challenges the past year. And don't worry, plenty of crazy hijinx and fun times as well! I had time to stop at Barnes & Noble first (always a dangerous/potentially expensive stop for me), and got into my car to head to Panera. Which is when I had my first ever flat tire... in nearly nine years of driving. I guess that's not too bad a record, right? Still slightly inconvenient.

Well for sake of brevity, being two girls with no clue as to how to change a tire and being closer to Megan's, we called her dad. He so graciously came to help with the situation. The situation being lug nuts that wouldn't come off at first, then a tire that wouldn't come off (tense ten minutes of "will it or won't it?"), then the spare was flat! No place was open at that point that could handle a Volkswagen (buy domestic!). So luckily, Rick had brought a tire pump and he inflated the spare. It seemed to hold the air, so we decided to risk trying to get my car home. He followed; Megan drove with me. These two saved me from this particular "first" experience alone. They helped without a second thought. They brushed off my apologies for the inconvenience. They remained calm and unworried which helped me do the same. I am grateful. But at this point, I need to thank the other One who kept me calm, even more than Megan and Rick... God. Because He's been working on me for years.

Here's my confession. In the past, I used to (still do) worry. But in the past, I used to worry a lot more and the situations could ruin my day worrying about them. Well, God has shown me over the years that it doesn't help. Scripture points to that (Matthew 6:25-24), and even more so, God has shown me by experience over the past few years. I still hit those times of worry or stress, don't get me wrong. But as I learn more about Him and as He proves Himself faithful, even when I am not (especially when I am not!)... why worry? Yes, address the situation head on, but do not let it rob you of living moments. Ironically, it's in seeing myself as just a tiny piece of a much bigger picture that has helped me in this fight with worry. We talked about that in Bible study a week ago: humility does not mean that you have a self-esteem issue. It's about seeing yourself in the right context and in comparison to God. 1) My life and worries are important to God, 2) there are countless other worries in the world and 3) He is God. Three very important thoughts. By keeping my focus on Him and not myself and remembering how He has provided and guided in the past, something as inconvenient as a flat tire and all the hassle it'll take to get life back to "normal" melts away. I have a God who provides and friends who love. Why worry?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

This One’s for the Girls… Older Girls!

From girly girl picture books to something for an older audience. The picture books were all about pink, frills and princesses. These titles are equally for the girls, but these heroines are feisty and adventurous. They’re tough, but caring; they struggle; they learn; they grow. Their stories are those “coming of age” ones I love so much. And two authors are must reads in this category.

Shannon Hale:
Her website has reading guides on each book and her blog is always interesting!
Princess Academy (Gr. 4 and up)- Do not be dissuaded by the word “princess” in the title. This is about a girl finding out who she is, her worth in her father’s eyes (allegory alert!), and much more. Love it!
Goose Girl (Gr. 6 and up)- This is a modern take on the Grimm fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she could become queen. Enna Burning and River Secrets (and a fourth on the way!) in the Bayern series round out the stories of Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee and her friends.
Book of a Thousand Days (Gr. 6 and up)- This is another retelling of a Grimm fairy tale. Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren are shut in a tower for seven years because the lady refuses to marry a man she despises. Eventually they escape, but the story’s just beginning.

Alison Croggon:
The Books of Pellinor (Gr. 6 and up)- I describe this to people as “the female version of the Lord of the Rings”. Croggon isn’t Tolkien, but she’s better than a lot of recent imitators. These books are more challenging, but it’s well worth the effort! Maerad of Pellinor discovers she’s a bard. What all that entails would be too difficult to summarize, but with the help of her mentor, Cadvan, Maerad begins to discover her calling. Like Frodo in TLotR, Maerad is the “Chosen One”. Yes, this is a battle between good and evil (the Light and Dark). Maerad faces many obstacles. What I love about this character is that Maerad uses these as growing opportunities. This story begins with The Naming and continues in The Riddle, The Crow (which focuses on a secondary character from the previous books), and will conclude in the fourth book, The Singing, to be released sometime in 2008.

These two women can write! They pull you into their character’s world. I’ve recommended these books, particularly the Shannon Hale ones, to readers from 4th grade to my mom’s age (love you mom!) and every single woman has told me they loved them!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This One's for the Girls!!

For any girly girls... whether you know one or you are one (I admit I am!) this is the news you've all been waiting for...

*drum roll*

Bonjour Butterfly, the third in the insanely popular Fancy Nancy series is arriving in bookstores (and libraries!) on February 5th! Not to brag, but I knew how popular this book was going to be from the first moment I laid eyes on it, weeks before it first became a New York Times bestseller. The first two books, Fancy Nancy and Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy, both stayed on that list forever. Along with the third picture book in the series, the author, Jane O'Connor is also releasing the Fancy Nancy early reader books. The first two are Fancy Nancy and the Boy from Paris and Fancy Nancy at the Museum. Fancy Nancy's Favorite Words: From Accessories to Zany is coming out April 22nd. The early readers look like a level 1 book, so they're for beginner readers... minimal words on the page. The picture books are geared toward the preschool to first grade crowd, but I know a certain 24 year old 3rd grade teacher who went nuts over this fancy little girl! And moms of my preschoolers love the books, too! This is not a book to grow bored with after repetitive (and it will be repetitive) readings. There's glitter on some of the pages!

If you've been there, done that with the Fancy Nancy, just ask for more... there are plenty more titles on the tip of my tongue! Pinkalicious and Purplicious, the Angelina Ballerina books, Do Princesses Really... books, the Priscilla books and Double Pink just to name a few!

Say It Like You Mean It

This is one of those times I'm sharing a personal story... something God showed me, as opposed to a book. But it does take place in library!

I worked this past Saturday. Saturdays have become the most insane day in the library. It's non-stop. It's also the day we're the most understaffed. We normally have a minimum of four staff on a Saturday, but that should be four circulation people. This past Saturday, when I had three back-to-back teen programs and was in the program room until 1:00, I was being counted as one of those four people working. There were frustrated patrons, there was a voices-raised altercation between two of my coworkers, we never had less than five people waiting to be checked out (often more) and a constant stream of books to check in, patrons needing reference help, and there were multiple times that a book had gone back on the shelf without being checked in... just slightly embarrassing. I didn't even have time to take a lunch break.

It would have been so easy to follow the crowd and be equally short-tempered with coworkers and patrons, giving in to the frustration of it all, or I could choose to fight the tide. And the crazy thing is... it worked! As I was efficiently moving patrons through the line or assisting them, I made an extra effort to smile at them, make small talk as I checked their items out, and smile and wish them a great weekend, making eye contact with them as I said it so they knew I meant it. I can tell you, it wasn't in my own strength! Only God could have helped me, because with all the factors and all the crazies (myself included), I know myself enough to know I could have easily given into the frustration. The cool thing is, I began to see people change as the afternoon went on. One of my coworker's mood improved dramatically, and I noticed patrons demeanors transform in front of me. When I smiled and looked them in the eyes, they'd cock their head at me kind of surprised, and you could just see the change over their expressioin. In most cases, frustration and impatience were replaced with good wishes in return. So by the end of the day, I was enjoying myself as much as any preschool storytime day (which are my all time favorite days!) And I know I'm not perfect or a saint, so it's something we are ALL capable of doing.

So the question I ask both you and myself is do you mean it when you smile at someone and tell them to have a nice day or when you ask how they're doing? The challenge I give to each of us is to do just that... mean it. I hope I'm seen as a pretty friendly person. Some days are easier than others. This may not always be a struggle. But I know that some days it is. We can't do it on our own. I know God honored my request on Saturday, and I don't want it to be just a one time thing.

Think about it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Stimulating the Adult Brain...

Sometimes (usually just prior to or post-preschool storytime) my coworkers make a joke about my energy level ("Do you ever slow down??") or my love of children's literature and how that's all I ever read. Well, the truth of it is, I love children's literature, so that's not that much of a problem for me. There are a lot of brilliant authors out there who write for a slightly younger audience, and are therefore ignored by the grownups with more money than whatever fits in a piggybank. I can give you a list of quality books written for children or young adults, but that are loved by people of any age.

That said, I read a recent article in School Library Journal. The suggestions didn't necessarily appeal to me personally, but the gist of the article was a good reminder... it's okay for me to put aside the kiddie lit (that I love) for a little adult brain stimulation now and then! And what do you know, within a few days, I stumbled across a book for... *gasp*... grownups that I really wanted to read.

It's called The Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne. I'm only a few chapters in, but it feels really good to read something that isn't a children's book! And it's certainly thought-provoking. This guy, a cofounder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia, a community of Believers living their faith in a practical "being the hands and feet of Jesus" kind of way, shares his journey. Stories like this make me want to get out there and DO something. But I've learned that my story doesn't have to mirror what I read in a book, fictional or true. Claiborne shares his story as a fellow traveler on a faith journey to discovering more about God and to living out the kingdom here on earth. He even states at one point his belief (and I agree) that "fewer things have more transformative power than people and stories".

So I guess that, even though I'm reading a "grown up book", I can't get away from the idea of story. Our stories, our life experiences, are given to us by God and they're given to us to share and to learn from. Just like stories in books... the good ones anyway, whether true or not, are opportunities for us to make connections and learn. We each have different stories; mine doesn't have to look like yours. And you don't have to get the same thing out of hearing another person's story as everyone else who hears it. So whether you like children's books or not, whether you like to read or not, just take a minute and think about story... not limiting it to something in print bound between paper or leather. Think about it as what challenges you, uncovers some truth, helps you grow, helps you connect in some way to the world in general or the people around you. Story is awesome. So go have coffee with a friend and share what's going on in your lives, take some time to yourself to think through your own story, or *gasp* pick up a good book (I'd be happy to give recommendations! ;) Seriously.) and get lost in story.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Library Thing!

Have you ever heard of This might be a librarian thing, but you can catalog your books. Okay, that definitely sounds librarian nerdy-ish, but I'm not talking about assigning Dewey. This helps you keep track of your books. If you're into books, this is a cool thing. No more forgetting what you own. You can list everything as you buy it. OR you can add books you don't own but want to read... so it functions as a reading wish list of sorts. OR a combination. Whatever works for you. OR you can use it for readers' advisory, which is why I'm sharing this information here (I know you were starting to wonder).

I have two accounts: a children's book list (picture books, chapter books and young adult books)- and regular adult books (fiction and non-fiction)- So if you're curious to find which books I love so much that I've bought... read reviews if I've had time to add them... check them out.

For those of you looking to use LibraryThing yourself, some cool selling features include the ability to tag (add keywords to) your books and see tag clouds (what type of books are represented most heavily in your library), see who else has them, join groups, see "special sauce recommendations", and much more. It's kind of fun to play around.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Best of the Best!

Okay, so it's been a little while. But I'm back in 2008... and feeling the need to share some of children's literature's best!

In big "library world" news, Monday was the announcement of the American Library Association's Youth Media Awards, which are often referred to as "the Academy Awards of children's books". There's the John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature, the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children, the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults, the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the outstanding book for beginning readers and the Alex Awards for the best adult books that appeal to teen audiences. I admit, I woke up early Monday morning, just to ensure I would get one of the limited number of live webcasts for the announcement. It's a bit of a personal challenge for children's librarians to already have the winners in the collection at the time the announcements are made. I am happy to report we had all Newbery and Caldecott medal and honor books, and most of the rest!

So what were the winners? Good Masters, Sweet Ladies by Laura Amy Schlitz won the Newbery and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick won the Caldecott. I actually read The Invention of Hugo Cabret in two days just last week, and I have to say, it was amazing! Completely original. Two days for the medal winner for best picture book, you wonder? That's the big news... the Caldecott usually goes to a picture book, which is on average 20-40 pages and has a minimal amount of text. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, at a whopping 533 pages, is a mixture of text, drawings by the author, and still images from the beginning of the film industry. And the amazing thing is that it switches between all three media seamlessly! It immediately became a favorite of mine (hard to do when I read literally hundreds of children's books a year!), both for the orginality AND the story of Hugo Cabret. I can't do it justice. Just know you don't need to be a kid to appreciate this story! So I'm surprised, yet thrilled it won!

So in addition to these awards, I wanted to share three authors with you who I like to call the "triumvirate of picture book authors". These men are my favorite. I've never met any of them (but will soon!) but will buy anything they ever write and I recommend them all the time! Jarrett J. Krosoczka, who wrote Punk Farm, Mo Willems of Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny fame, and Jon Scieszka, who wrote about the stinky cheese man and Time Warp Trio. Look at Punk Farm's "Farmspace" profile, check out Willem's blog, and just peruse Scieszka's entire website... particularly hysterical are his bio and FAQ pages! These men are equally capable of talking to a room full of professionals and parents as they are capturing the attention of a bunch of preschoolers! And yes, I can spell each of their names from memory ;)

Here ends the "best of the best" (in my humble opinion)... I guess I've done the overdone "look back on the previous year" thing. But trust me on the Krosoczka, Willems, Scieszka thing!! That'll make up for the boringness of the rest!