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!