Friday, October 17, 2014

What I've Been Reading Lately...

Blame the Odyssey audiobook award committee work, but I've been reading adult titles almost exclusively over the last few months. It's an antidote to all the children's books I've been listening to...

Since Mexico City, I've been all about suspense. I steeped myself in some Sarah Rayne (What Lies Beneath, House of the Lost, The Roots of Evil), F. G. Cottam (The Colony).

I read the wonderfully creepy and atmospheric Long Lankin in Washington, and also pretty much all of Sarah Waters in a big gulp. I had encounters with Affinity early on, and had avoided her, but I found Fingersmith and The Night Watch much more compelling, and The Paying Guests was a particular treat.

In Vienna, it was a British women's literature binge after a stop at W.H. Smith in Heathrow. I read Shopaholics to the Stars (which ends with a cliffhanger! more Becky Bloomwood stateside), The Third Wife (which was as terrific as I'd anticipated), and The One Plus One, which was an incredible feat of storytelling but seems to have lost its titular article in the U.S. edition. I adore JoJo Moyes' work and am thrilled her books are being reissued stateside with more neutral covers.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


We spent fall break in one of the world's most civilized cities.

There was reading material everywhere...

Cultural landmarks...
A cat cafĂ©...

A Vermeer...

...but there were still selfies!

(at the mumok modern art museum, but still!)

Friday, October 3, 2014

A scary October!

I spend way too much time looking at my calendar, and this month it's scaring me silly!

I'm the new sponsor for our school's Scholar's Bowl team and we're deep in the fall season -- I spent the two last Thursday evenings and all day Saturday with those terrific kids. I think I got some cred as coach when "A Modest Proposal" popped up in competition after I drilled them on it just last week. It's taking me way back to my own high school days, and I'm realizing how much participating in something which showcased my own strengths meant to me at that age. And at school, it's Homecoming week -- the kids (and faculty) here go all out.

I went as Coraline get up for costume day Wednesday and seeing who recognized "me" was very gratifying.

I have to make a dash up to DC this weekend for the Newseum Teacher Open House... come if you're in the area for an introduction to their great teacher resources and some superior swag.

Want to come to gorgeous Point Clear for our 2015 Alabama Library Association Conference next April? Program proposals are open...

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Paying Guests, and The Lodger

I lost most of the weekend to Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests. I'd been dying to dive in since I read the first chapter online. I think it is so difficult to do historical fiction well, but Waters always pulls it off. But WHO assigned the subject heading for this one? They are really far from the mark here.

I've often worried that we as librarians are too consumed with the new-new, without realizing that, for our patrons, more *is* new. The Paying Guests reminded me a lot of something on a similar theme, but in the public domain I'd read earlier, Marie Belloc Lowndes' The Lodger, about a couple of older people trying to hold body and soul together in the midst of a crime wave.

For something a century old, The Lodger more than holds up. The suspense keeps ratcheting, until the resolution,  if it can termed that, in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussand's wax museum. Two books on one theme, written a century apart, but both are terrific.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

IBBY, Part Four (Wrap-Up)

I wrote earlier that the Mexican speakers were not inhibited about being politically correct...Saturday's plenary session started with a panel that talked about the current emphasis on inculcating values through literature. The speakers asserted that racial and gender equality, values and virtues must be made explicit to make it into print. Would Crime and Punishment be published today? Today, the speaker suggested, you must empathize with the landlord.

Mexico was described as "in the midst of a boom of promoting reading with anti-pleasure tools." Another speaker tackled the emphasis on literal interpretation trumping aesthetic appreciation, citing a test his son was given on the poem "La Paloma" by Rafael Alberti  with very Accelerated Reader-type concerns like "how many times did the dove make a mistake?" The hollow rhetoric of slogans like "if you read, you are alive" and "I read, therefore I exist" were denounced as fallacious. Access to books and materials was described as more critical, and one speaker said movingly, "Reading cannot be a prescription, it must be a seduction."

I was especially interested in the presentation of two German studies surrounding ebooks. A 2012 ethnographic study interviewed 500 parents who were using ebooks, concluding that emedia does not replace but supplements print. It could, however, help reach underprivileged families by making material available, and ereading also tends to involve more fathers in reading aloud to children. A 2011 study was concerned with ereading and older pupils, and found that electronic formats were more attractive in the abstract to the students and increased their choice of longer books in particular. The speaker believed that sustaining the student's interest in reading involved more work and intervention on the part of the teacher. She concluded that the use of ereaders facilitates contact with books, sometimes even providing another, second chance to connect pupils with reading material, and that the electronic format's relevance to children's lives was important..

A practitioner breakout session followed, and the Mexican librarians I met were amazing committed and passionate about getting people in the communities they servev reading, and also particularly kind about translating their thoughts or those of their colleagues into English for those of us who didn't speak Spanish.

Saturday's concurrent session included a presentation from Ernie Bond and Patricia Dean of Salisbury University and their work identifying a wider spectrum of literature relating to environmental stewardship. They inaugurated the Green Earth Book Awards which focus on giving readers the license to do something and not just read about nature. The winners can be international, but must be distributed in U.S. Australia and France also have environmental book awards.
Bozena Kolman Finzgar, a Slovenian librarian, presented her unit using fairy tales to spark reading motivation and creativity. Her work with fifth graders centers around alternate re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood, including variations by the Brothers Grimm, and the French and Slovenian versions, as well as Toby Forward's The Wolf Story: What Really Happened to Little Red Riding Hood and Svetlana Mararovic's The Red Apple
Finzgar's library in Radovljica circulates an impressive 20 items per person per year and offers a program for "books on holiday," distributing reading materials at swimming pools, camps, and hotels.

Sophie Hallam of the Book Trust in the U.K. spoke about her M.A. dissertation work on Pop Up Profits CIC, a nonprofit working to improve literacy rooted in schools, communities, and public spaces. Pop Up uses a two-stage model, first introducing diverse and contemporary texts into schools prior to author visit outside classrooms. Then they work with families in the Islington and Camden communities, areas where as many as sixty percent of students are English language learners, to create visual and oral responses to those stories. This culminates in a two-day public festival with storytellers, poets, and artists. Hallam spoke of the importance of literacy practice in a third space and in using non-curricular texts, without learning objectives which eclipse enjoyment. The emphasis on reading for pleasure is important as U.K. students tend to see reading as a top-down, passive activity.

Beth Cox, also from England, had spoken earlier in the conference about Inclusive Minds, her consultancy which works with publishers like Child's Play to include images of differently abled children in picture book narratives in naturalistic ways.

The congress closed with two incredible events. The first was a performance by music students in the gorgeous art deco Palacio de Belles Artes. One symphony was specially commissioned for the conference and honored Malala Yousefi, who also shared a recorded video response to the congress and the performance. The closing ceremony was held at the Franz Meyer Museum, which had three special exhibits in conjunction with the Congress -- Fifty Mexican Illustrators, Drawing the World (my favorite), and a Nami Island Concourse exhibit.

The delegates from New Zealand made an enthusiastic pitch for the next biennial congress in Auckland, and as much as I dread the flight, it IS penciled in on my calendar.