Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I go to China (sort of)

I've been boring everyone to tears chattering about our holiday trip to China. We'd been gearing up for months, my husband learning a little Mandarin, me printing cards that said "I am vegetarian, I do not eat meat," and stockpiling granola bars and earplugs. We booked a package, because I thought I remembered hearing that if you went through an agent, you didn't need a visa, but the the travel agency sent us all sorts of information about its recommended visa company, so we filled out the very long applications. I printed it and filled it in by hand first, then was told by the visa company (we had to get a visa from the Chinese consulate in Houston, because we live in Alabama) it had to be typed, so I printed it, scanned it, used Adobe acrobat to fill in the blanks. nightmare. And we were flying out of San Francisco, so we had to supply all our domestic travel arrangements as well. And it was expensive. When the visa company charge went through on my credit card, I honestly thought someone had gotten hold of my number, we paid them that much for going to the consulate in Houston on our behalf.

School was a half-day Friday ( I love my new district!), and we flew out Saturday morning to San Francisco. We had a wonderful time there, visited friends, went to the SFMOMA, and had an anniversary dinner at Greens, which is one of my favorite places in the world. Monday, we left for the airport midday, to make sure Air China would seat us together. The flight was more than twelve hours, but we were terrifically excited, and I had a super-yummy sandwich from il Forniaio, so it passed quickly.

We landed in Beijing late on Christmas Day, and went to the immigration area, as one does, and the agent looked at my paperwork first. I was all set when he asked to see my passport again. There wasn't a problem with my visa, but there was one with my husband's. His visa was set to expire Dec. 31, 2012. Mine was expiring December 31, 2013. They were issued to the visa agency on the same date in November. It was obviously a clerical error, but there isn't any room for error there. My husband would have "to go back," I was fine to stay, in fact was encouraged to stay, but of course I didn't want to be on my own in Beijing and Shanghai.

They offered to send us to Hong Kong. Umm, we had no plans to go there, and how would we return? Eventually Air China found us seat on a flight leaving for Los Angeles. At this point, we were thrilled to just be together. But I had to"enter" China to leave again, and my husband wasn't allowed to, so we were separated. I browsed in the airport shops while my husband was being searched and questioned. His little bit of Mandarin came in handy, because the agents he was with didn't speak English. One agent asked him if he was on business or pleasure. They seemed very confused about why he was being deported.

I waited until the end of boarding, when I saw my husband being physically escorted on the plane. I wasn't going to leave without him. He had the seat directly in front of me -- we were both in middle seats, so just being able to see him was reassuring. Fourteen hours later, we were eating a tragic Christmas dinner in an LAX hotel restaurant. Today, we have tickets as far as Atlanta.

So no New Year's in Shanghai, no birthday dinner for me in San Francisco on the way back, and we're thousands of dollars out of pocket, but all I want to do is get home to spring our cat from the veterinarian where he's boarding, and read some books in my pjs. I don't think I'll be going back to Asia for a while.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Try just a little bit...

I managed a break from more academic reading yesterday to devour India Knight's Mutton. It's a charming installment in the life of Knight's heroine Clara, what can best be termed the cosmetic surgery flirtation. But what stopped me dead in my tracks? Its very lovely design.

The cover is embossed, with alligator skin, redolent of ancient reptiles and old bags (ahem), but the very sweet little cartoon is NOT textured. The endpapers are a charming floral print. The cost of such fripperies (which I use here, as I was told fifteen years ago to remove it from a feature story as it "wasn't a newspaper word." Obviously, the editor was mad because I sent her to her dictionary...) had to be mere pennies, but what a transformation into OBJECT! Give me books this lovely, and I'd never use a Kindle.

It didn't surprise me that it was from Penguin, as I have always been impressed with their design savvy. Anyone who can monetize the public domain through the aesthetic rocks in my estimation...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My year in consumer products

I started thinking about my year in technology, and I realized that most of the shifts I had experienced this year had little to do with digital technology…

Around the house

Cuisinart stick blender It’s compact to store, machine washable, and you can use it in glass and china vessels. I’ve made instant soup, milkshakes, and fluffy-beyond-belief mashed potatoes.

Skinny velveteen hangers They snap like matchsticks, but they do give you more room in your closet.

Barkeeper’s Friend A secret from the foods teacher at my former school. It kept her lab spic-and-span. No other gritty cleaner compares.

Allerpet C I still itch when I am around any furry animal but my own, but his weekly douse in this emollient enables me to snuggle my kitty without sniffling.

Beauty secrets

Argan oil I’m on the real stuff, not cut with inferior oils. Infinitely preferable to rubbing silicon on  your hair.

Gel nails You know a beauty trend is big when it hits The Wall Street Journal. I cannot express how these chemicals have changed my life. I feel so much more polished with polished nails.

Laser hair removal No more razors, ever. 

So much of this year was about replacing – a 3rd gen iPad to replace the 1st gen, a Motorola Xoom to replace my generic Android tablet, the new iPhone...nothing *new*.  I’m hoping next year will bring some gee-whiz, can’t-live-without gadget, but in the meantime, I take all this as proof our modern lives can still get better.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Best books of 2012

Glancing through my Shelfari, some themes emerge around my favorites of the books I've read this year. If not otherwise noted, they are 2012 titles.


NW by Zadie Smith
Explores choices and identity as two childhood friends' lives move in different directions. Lots of local color from one of the most vibrant parts of my very favorite city.

Incendiary (2005) by Chris Cleave
I read all three of Cleave's novels this year, but this was the only one which blew me away. It's about a terrorist attack at a soccer match, and it was published the week of the Tube bombings, so I think it got a little lost in the aftermath.

Capital by John Lanchester
A sprawling novel about the investment banking crisis and its impact on one suburban neighborhood. I was rather desperate to read it after I read a review that said if a woman wrote it, it would be dismissed as chic lit, but as it wasn't, it was probably headed for a Booker. I do not regret paying for the shipping from the UK one bit.

The Northern Clemency (2008) by Phillip Henscher
Another big sprawling novel, this one about Sheffield in the 1970s. A family saga worthy of Maeve Binchy.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets (2006) by Eva Rice
A fabulous historical novel with a country mouse cast among debutantes in 1950s England. Sadly, it is Rice's only book.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
Don't let the rather stupid cover art fool you, this book is a grown-up version of The Fault in Our Stars. Just where you think it CAN'T be going, it does, and Moyes carries it off.

Other Women (2005) Kirsty Crawford
Reminded me of Cathy Kelley -- the intersections of a trio of very different neighbors,  one of whom has just decamped to the county from London. A surprising twist at the end left me clinging to my copy all night until I could finish it.


My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
I heard about this one at the YA Lit Symposium, then got a copy at ALAN, where Backderf spoke. I am not into true crime AT ALL, but this is a gentle treatment of Dahmer's descent into isolation before he killed. And the illustrations are wonderfully 1970s in style, and drawn from Backderf's high school sketchbooks.

Little White Duck by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez
This memoir in graphic format was exceptional among the many, many books I read about China this year. I saw someone today on twitter say it was as narratively rich as many Newberies, and I agree.

Drama by Raina Telgmeier
I loved this glimpse behind the scenes at a production of a middle school musical. Telgmeier conveys the interpersonal angst of preteens so perfectly with her deft illustrations.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt (2011) by Caroline Preston
This Alex winner is charming, cobbling together text and ephemera for a vibrant sense of bohemian Paris in the 1920s.


Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
This was a banner year for middle grade readers. -- I'm thinking about See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles and Don't Feed the Boy by Irene Latham. But I think Liar & Spy transcends kidlit. It's as tight and as circular as When You Reach Me, but even better because it's not so strictly inter-textual. Everyone should read it.

Penelope by Rebecca Preston
Penelope is a Harvard freshman, and Preston nails all that entails in an idiosyncratic little novel.

Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived in That House (2010) by Meghan Daum
I read about Daum's work on The Billfold. She gives voice to the young women who seek to define themselves through their lifestyle with her peripatetic motion and palpable anxieties.


Money Boy (2011) by Paul Yee
I really, really wanted to know more about Chinese culture after reading this book. An immigrant boy whose parents discover his sexual orientation takes to the Toronto streets. The end is a little pat, but on the whole, I loved it.

The Fault on Our Stars by John Green
Did you hear it was Time's best book of the year? It feels a little bandwagon-y, but it is a great book. And it gets bonus points for excellent descriptions of Amsterdam.

Artichoke's Heart (2008) by Suzanne Supplee
I had somehow missed this sweet, funny, warm book. I heard Supplee speak and picked this one up just after, but I was thrilled it was already in the school collection so I don't have to surrender my copy. I loved Supplee's sense of place and the complexity of her characters.

A Plague Year (2011) by Edward Bloor
This account of the effects of methamphetamine on a Pennsylvania town is a hundred times better than anything else, nonfiction or fiction, I've read about addiction. It's downright eerie the way the characters start peeling off, joining the ranks of the pushers and users, and the violence escalates.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This is my favorite book of the year, hands down. I loved both the central characters, all the intrigue and most especially the World War II backdrop. I read the book the week it came out, then listened to the brilliant audio version. I want to give a copy to everyone I know, it's that good.
So -- not much nonfiction here. And nineteen books, like nineteen books in 2010, and seventeen in 2011. Telgmeier and Moyes recur from years past. I know what I like, as the saying goes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

An extraordinarily bookish November

I have been running around like crazy for the past month. First there was TASL, the Tennessee Association of School Librarian's conference, where I got to present a sold-out technology tools preconference and two concurrent sessions. For a state school library organization, I was really impressed with TASL's organization of the whole event -- the conference graphics, programs, and app (!), the swag in the bags, the locally sourced gifts in the speaker basket (including handmade marshmallows), the awards banquet -- even the pacing was perfect with half-hour breaks between sessions. I'm very impressed they pulled together this three-day event as well as a two-day summer camp. And the unticketed but seated membership luncheon with Claire Vanderpool was a very nice touch, too. I

Then I went to the YALSA Lit Symposium in St. Louis, and the sessions there were by far the freshest and the most applicable to my work as a teen librarian I have encountered in one place. The YA librarian rock star presenters, the dozens of authors, and plenty of time to catch up with the colleagues who have become dear friends made the whole thing downright magical. The awesome view of the landmark arch helped, too.

I was lucky enough to travel to the Lit Symposium and to ALAN with my very good friend Beck McDowell, whose debut novel This is Not a Drill had just been released by Penguin last month. This is Not A Drill is a classroom-based hostage drama featuring estranged teen tutors which unfolds in real-time. Confession: I am in the acknowledgements (blushes), but apart from that, it's a project I've been following for a while since I actually read it as a manuscript. It's zippy and layered, and I was super-gratified Beck's work was so well received by Kirkus and Booklist and the librarians at the Lit Symposium Book Blitz.

I got back from the Lit Symposium to find a letter notifying me I had been appointed to the USBBY Board of Directors (which means heading back to St. Louis, as they meet there next fall). I have always been a huge fan of IBBY, so working with the national affiliate is beyond thrilling. That group has two members each from NCTE, IRA, CBC and ALA, and I will be one of the two ALA appointees for the next two years. This might make up a little bit for my inferiority complex about never having been on a selection committee. 

Then I went to ALAN, my favorite annual YA literature infusion, which was in Las Vegas this time, possibly the least bookish city in the world, though I was tickled to see the awesome public library advertising in the airport.

As always, it turned me on to dozens of new titles and authors. I spent the holiday weekend reading through some of my ALAN box (My Friend Dahmer, Out of the Easy, Mexican Whiteboy and Personal Effects). I was a little tickled to see some recent favorites show up on the Kirkus 100 Best Children's Books of 2012 list. Some picks were predictable, so I was happy they shook it up with:

  • A Greyhound of a Girl I actually read Roddy Doyle's latest as an egalley, thought it was a novella rather than for younger readers, but it is sweet and haunting.
  • It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, a picture book biography of an Alabama artist with gorgeous folk art illustrations and a jewel palette. 
  • Little White Duck I found this in my run-up-to-China reading. It's a lovely comic, serial anecdotes about growing up during the Cultural Revolution.
  • The Impossible Rescue. I sometimes regret not racing more nonfiction. This is my favorite sort, tackling a historic effort with a sense of adventure and doom, can there be too many books about the Arctic with vintage photographs?

Frankly, I'm planning a bit of a reading and blogging hiatus as I enter serious dissertation-writing mode. The UNT Internal Review Board has approved my data collection and methodology, so now it's just a matter of writing something intelligible enough to get past my committee and the university reader. So keep your fingers crossed for me, as it's important I forgo what I want now for what I want most for a little bit.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tennessee me...

In addition to all the school week insanity, I am attempting to getting myself together to dart just up the road for the Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference Thursday and Friday. I will doing a technology tools preconference, then speaking about Google searching and ebooks. I'm also going to their awards banquet. Did I mention Claire Vanderpool willbe there?

For some illogical reason, I worry out of all proportion when I am presenting more locally....

Were I Jessica Hagy, it could be illustrated thusly (with the line never reaching the limit, as speaking nerves will never be eradicated altogether).

In the meantime, I keep humming The Secret Sisters' "Tennessee Me."

Hope to see some of you in the Volunteer State!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

News of note

The game-changer of the week is Amazon entering the education fray with its Whispernet Kindle management system for schools (and other organizations) -- while details surrounding the plan aren't too specific yet, I worry that this is very bad news indeed for many school libraries.

Speaking of those digital files, I spoke with journalist Liz Logan about ereading for an article for Ampily, NewsCorps' new education site about my ereader program at my other school, though that's not too explicitly stated. What a thrill to be quoted in an article with Jessamyn West!

In other news, I've been saying this FOR YEARS: AP classes are a scam.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Obligatory intellectual freedom post

It's the American Library Association's Banned Books Week. Intellectual freedom is one of my most heartfelt beliefs, something on which I have written and presented. And I was thrilled when my incredible instructional assistant suggested putting together a display for the event. She wrapped titles in brown paper and put incendiary objections on the front: "I am Satanic" for Harry Potter, "I am racist" for To Kill a Mockingbird (which the freshmen are reading, perfectly enough), "I am communist" for Animal Farm. It has been quite the topic of conversation as they rifle the shelf. My principal said it was "a principal's nightmare," just before suggesting we add The Bible. I was thrilled when SLJ featured Cassie's handiwork on its Facebook page.

The most perfect reaction, however, came from a ninth grader. Were we getting rid of those books? No, I told her, it was to raise awareness. Some people will complain about anything. She said she had something she wanted to request then. Fifty Shades of Gray. We won't be getting that one, I told her. Well, she said, I have another one. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I told her I would order that one. From Fifty Shades to Wimpy Kid in one fell swoop. Teenagers can be very funny.

I'm in Georgia for COMO's Youth Services preconference today, so I didn't put anything together for Banned Website Awareness, but over-filtering is less of an issue in my new district. The kids can get to email, twitter, facebook, but strangely, none of us can look at GoodReads. I still haven't figured that one out.

In other news, I was on Steve Thomas's Circulating Ideas podcast, which was a little thrill as I'm a fan.

Monday, September 24, 2012

That new iPhone

I preordered that new iPhone. It was sitting on my front porch waiting for me while I watched students with theirs on Friday. Little did I know, it would take me three days to get it operational, and I'm still double-phoning...

Friday: Backup and upgrade iPhone 4. Realize computer OS will not support requisite iTunes version for activating new computer. Worry.

Saturday: Backup iPhone 4 to iCloud. Not having a physical backup makes me queasy. This takes about two hours as computer must be 1. plugged in 2. locked and 3. connected to wifi.

Sunday: Restore iPhone 5 from iCloud backup. Find number in AT&T support forums to call and complete activation. Had lots of fun "finding my iPhone." It is gorgeous, faster, and feather-weight.

Note: When I got my iPhone 4, my original iPhone looked like it had been through the wars, and the display was beginning to deteriorate. More than two years later, my iPhone 4 looks mint.

I like all the new wrinkles, especially Passbook. It does look like this version of iOS is really dependent on Location Services for proper functioning. Like the iCloud backup, not something I'm crazy about, but I worry I won't be really using the device to its fullest without it.

In related news, my kitten seems to have broken my first-gen iPad. I think it took an especially vicious knock when he pushed it off the dining room table, and now the display is all mottled, so I will be using my backup, a Motorola Xoom, while I travel about and think about what I need in a tablet.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Discovery and voice

I just finished Rebecca Harrington's Penelope and want to tell everyone I know about it. The story of a Harvard freshman, it's pitch-perfect and laugh-out-loud funny. It instantly transports you back to the strange sociological splinter and stilted conversations of college.

I couldn't remember reading about the novel before I saw a copy, pink with a sweet H-crested waffle, in an airport bookstore Labor Day weekend. Which is unusual, considering the number of book reviews I scan. It was in PW, turns out...And then I discovered ex post facto Goodreads crowd-rates it at 3 stars. (And the reviews make me worry for humanity! Authors, stay away from there.) But I would argue it's a potential Alex title. I might suggest it.

All this goes to say that books remain highly individuated. I occasionally worry we are all whirling towards one Harry Potter and Game of Thrones fantastical vortex, but then something as quirky and charming as Penelope reminds me that realistic, deadpan voice still exists, even if not completely appreciated. And where were the recommender systems (or even standard review mechanisms) on this one?

Friday, September 7, 2012

A very busy fall

This morning I'm taking about Cataloging with my colleagues from Madison County. But in addition to still settling in at my new job, I have many things scribbled on the calendar for this fall.

Early in October, I'll be in Georgia speaking at COMO about Teens and Technology.

I will be presenting a preconference workshop and two concurrent sessions at TASL, the Tennessee Association of School Librarians.

Then in November, my work done, I'll get to enjoy my two favorite literature events, the third YALSA Literature Symposium in St. Louis...

.... and ALAN in Las Vegas.

Like Cathy Jo Nelson, I wish I could make it to the AASL Fall Forum in Greenville, SC, but the drive is epic, and I'm already planning to drive to Macon (5 1/2 hours) and St. Louis (6 hours).  I also wish I could make the School Library Journal Summit in Philadelphia, but I have been hearing great things about TASL for years, and they overlap this year in a most un-fortuitous way. And more and more emails are arriving referencing Midwinter...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Facebook is so very over

I know at least one person theorizing that Facebook's loss of popularity was directly related to its lackluster market performance. And I've overheard some interesting comments about that once-so-ubiquitous social networking site at school:

Girl, to another girl: He's not on Facebook. He has a girlfriend, so he said that he doesn't need it.

Interesting thinking, huh? And given the statistics about Facebook being named in divorce suits, not entirely inexplicable.

And what about the statistics about social network penetration and demographics? How reliable are they?

Eleventh grade girl: How do you get Facebook to stop sending you messages?

Twelfth grade girl: I don't know how we did that. I deleted mine.There's too much drama on there.

Eleventh grade girl: I have three. I forgot the passwords, so I made a new one. I don't have Internet at my house, anyway.

Twelfth grade girl: I don't have Internet at my house, either. I use my phone.

Eleventh grade girl: Look at how long it's been since I've been on here. It's the last day of school. "Here's to our crazy amazing summer! Ha." So, should I make another Facebook? It's tempting.

And just who's using Facebook? I think I know the answer.

Twelfth grade girl: What's my mama's Facebook password? She has pictures [of the student's baby] on her Facebook.

But this may be the best strategy yet:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Culture shock

It's taken some adjustment. Things are different at my new school. In both cases, the administration had established policies which really influence the tone of the library. It seems like I will have a lot more time to interact positively with students and teachers if I don't have to enforce policies I didn't put into place.

Where I am now, students can bring their book bags into the library and food and drink, too. There are no overdue fines (and hence no real emphasis on due dates). There are no costs associated with printing, and as a consequence, printing is not library-mediated.

There are generic logins on public machines so students search the Internet or for books immediately, without loading a profile to the local computer. There is a default printer, so I don't have to walk the kids through choosing the correct one, and the home page set on all the public machines is the library catalog. There is open wifi. Kids and their parents sign a usage agreement, and computer services actually gives them network access.

Other things are different, too. I'm currently suffering from a compulsion to lock everything up. But I look up and it's a whole different world. Students can get to email. Teachers ask students for their email, and they use it to communicate. Imagine that.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I've spent the week mostly offline, and I feel so out of things. I could spend all day today on the Internet, and still not be caught up...I guess that's the 21st century dilemma in a nutshell.

I finally hauled away the detritus from ten years at one school. I'm feeling great about the new librarian at my old school (someone whose work I thoroughly respected, too), which makes everything easier.

Some other things I've done this week:

Met many of my new colleagues from the school and district for a week of induction and preparation. They all have great energy.

Surveyed the library, poking into all the drawers and closets, found places for all my stuff, from my professional books to all the odds and ends I'd brought with me "just in case" I needed them.

Interfiled about 75% of the fiction paperbacks and hardbacks. There were basically three separate places any book could have been -- the main shelves, the shelves for required reading, or the five spinners for paperbacks. That seemed like too much to ask of teens... I sorted out the fiction and nonfiction, and am integrating the paperbacks with the rest of the collection to make things easier on myself, too. I've done fiction by authors J-Z and A-C, but need to reclassify all the nonfiction before I can interfile those...

I picked up lots of small pieces of random furniture and put it in a storage space. I can always grab it if need be, right?

Moved an empty bookcase, to the space where those spinners were, to display some of the really excellent new books. I'm using the YALSA Teen's Top Ten lists as a springboard, with those stickers on bookflags.

I had a desk moved into the main library. It was my initial impulse to leave the office as a sitting space, but I guess it is appropriate to have a desk since I do have a phone there...

I also moved the required reading. I never had to deal with this stuff before, it was in the English department's book room. I tried to create a curriculum collection, putting those paperbacks in a conference space with shelving that was used for periodical storage (necessitating getting rid of those news magazines).

Met with the wonderful former librarian who had spent 37 years at the school. She had given me a heads-up on the job, for which I am very grateful. She is going to be a tremendous resource in getting to know both the school and community.

School doesn't start until the 20th under the oppressive new state school calendar law, but there is an Open House Tuesday, when students will get their schedules. I have been trying to be all set for that, but have been grappling with rather basic things like bulletin board design (which I never had to do before, actually). Another confession: I keep forgetting about the wifi. I haven't checked it out at all. I'm that unused to being able to connect at school.

Anyway, I am really excited about everything on campus and can't wait to meet the other school librarians. It has been tiring, but altogether positive. I can't wait for school!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Getting more (p)interesting

I'll admit it: I didn't get Pinterest.

What was it for, exactly? At some point, I theorized that I could save clips of clothes I liked, to check to see if they'd gone on sale later, but by the time I got around to that, everything was out of stock. I experimented with using it for an online scrapbook. That was okay, but took WAY too long. Then, hearing that it drove tremendous amounts of web traffic, I posted all the Creative Commons pics I've used on my website (to no appreciable jump in page views). And according to that scary home page, we are obsessed with wedding swag, diabetic-inducing recipes, and inspirational quotes. So not my scene.

Not to mention the fact that practically nothing I wanted to pin was a discrete image. Thankfully, at our state tech conferencem Nikki Robertson showed us how to download and then upload a file and link back to it. That's cumbersome but better than searching for the perfect image for ten minutes only to find it would not appear on Pinterest.

Things go better when I started following enough people who were pinning enough cool stuff, but when I logged on this week, I saw a refinement that I LOVED.

It's Pinterest's Categories. I spent forever in there over the weekend, loving the Art and the DIY Crafts section, was a little surprised that Women's Fashion was much more R-rated than Tattoos. It was a perfect ethnographic experience. And it was intoxicating. In the Education area, I stumbled upon some bulletin board ideas. I had always hated that sort of thing, until I saw this adorable design that looked like a rack of mugs! All of the sudden, I HAD to create that bulletin board. And while Categories are not entirely foolproof -- there were some errant images in there, leading me to think that some machine intelligence is involved -- it is such a wonderful discovery mechanism.

I am spending almost all my free time trying to figure out how to organize the library at my new school.   I have been thinking about the collection in terms of the mess that was Pinterest. Perhaps I can highlight some of the collection just like that. I am really leaning towards genrification, at least for some sort of display. If that takes off, perhaps all of fiction will find Categories. Exciting!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Trend I love: reimagined classics

One of the first ARCs I dove into after ALA Annual was Francesca Segal's The Innocents, a translation of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence to the contemporary London Jewish milieu, More Anita Brookner than What Happened to Anna K.?, it was a lovely way to revisit some familiar characters and conflicts and feel that some behaviors are indeed universal across time and place. To be really successful, the writer and reader both have to be intimate with the source text.

It got me thinking about some other recent reads, like An Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi, which was a loving update of Mrs. Dalloway, complete with the heart-string tugging shell-shocked soldier, a symbol of generational waste.

And now I have order New Girl, a YA update of Rebecca. While I loved Brian James' The Heights and the homage to The Bell Jar in And Then Things Fall Apart by Ariana Tibensky, some reimagings detract. This week, Crys Hodgens reviews Falling for Hamlet, which I couldn't get into, but, frankly, is anything as ripe for an alternate point-of-view as Salinger?

My new job

While I was finishing packing to go to New York at the beginning of June, I got an email from a colleague with whom I'd been corresponding about the upcoming construction project at her school. She had decided to retire, and was I interested?

By the time I'd landed, I'd gotten emails from the principal and assistant principal. I'd be back on Tuesday, so perhaps a talk Wednesday? I printed out a list of interview questions I'd put together for a former assistant principal of mine who needed to hire a librarian.

I really intended to find someone good them initially. As when my colleague Carolyn Starkey left the school recently, I tried to get in touch with the better candidates I knew, but they either had positions or didn't want to make a change.

Meanwhile, the other district grew irresistible. I was particularly impressed with the principal and the vision he had for the library as a center of the entire community. It was obvious they were seeking someone exceptional who could really bring some fresh ideas to the project and the library. The district was a small, well-funded one with really progressive technology, I knew the instructional technology specialist through the Alabama Best Practices Center 21st Century Fellows. I'd had my eye on them for a while because the superintendent was my homeroom teacher in high school before she became principal at our neighborhood school. She had graciously written me a letter of recommendation when I applied to Buckhorn a decade before.

I began to realize much of the frustration I experienced in my job at Buckhorn was the result of the nature of the district. There are enormous schools and tiny ones, one school for one grade or eleven grades in one building, schools with resources (often federal) and those without. They are all the same under district policies. I often talk about how school libraries offer more autonomy than public libraries. I am learning that is doubly true in small districts.

After many weeks of conversations with the school and district administration there, I decided to take the job. I think the clincher were Madison County's response to the news of a 1:1 initiative and digital textbook program in the local schools. While I really don't think throwing $22 million at Pearson is the answer, I do feel as if I have to keep teaching with technology to keep up in the 21st century, and that was getting more and more difficult in year four without state funding.

I am interested in the experience from an academic point of view as well. After the demolition this winter, I won't have a real facility for eighteen months. How do I develop a program given those constraints? Will I be able to replicate my success in the different, more academically-oriented environment? What about working reference and readers' advisory without all my materials? And what about walking away from all the thousands of books I'd reviewed or bought myself? Also, as it isn't a strictly lateral move, I'll be getting a supplement to coordinate the librarians, which is something new there and new for me. How do I do that? And, perhaps most pressingly, would the other librarians resent me, the interloper?

Everyone I've met in the new district, librarians included, has been incredibly kind and welcoming, and even the school board policy manual is a refreshing work of common sense. I am worried about learning names and faces, and about the almost-an-hour drive there each way, and about my resulting carbon footprint. I keep thinking about books on tape, but know it will more likely be the righteous indignation and hypertension resulting from NPR. I feel guilty about leaving a more racially and economically diverse school for a more homogenous one. I worry that a district like this, where a good number of students are paying tuition, is too close to the sort of educational colonialism undermining public schools. I worry about community norms and intellectual freedom. But I was feeling the anxiety of a larger school with more subgroups, more transfer students, increased anonymity and animosity in both students and teachers. I am hoping this switch will be a balm to that and will enable me to focus on being a librarian.

(And, fingers crossed, this will be a great setting for my dissertation research.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Common sense & the Common Core

I spent much of last week at a curriculum alignment summit, mapping Language Arts resources in our state's lesson plan database to Alabama's College and Career-Ready Standards (built on top of the Common Core), when I read Melissa Jacobs Israel's piece in School Library Journal. It is an excellent discussion of what it is behind this much-ballyhooed change in English Language Arts standards and what we must hope to construct with what we have been given.

Because of the publisher's rhetoric about the increased demand for nonfiction, I too had previously thought of the Common Core in terms of the text exemplars. After all, I didn't want to be caught out without the appropriate resources to support instruction in my building. But as I spent time looking at the standards last week, it quickly became apparent that the objectives could be met using existing texts and even lessons. I think most of the Common Core involves teachers structuring assignments and asking probing questions to get students to stretch and to articulate their thinking. And by the end of the summit, pretty much every text was looking informational -- the suggested proficiencies for informational text overlapping nicely with those for literature. And anyone who ever read Amy Pattee's article "The Secret Source" will know that one reader's literature is another's informational text.

I like this Common
I do think there are things for school librarians to get excited about with the adoption of the Common Core. But it's not the new resources. It's opportunities for collaboration on the suggested range of research projects, small and large, a mandate to evaluate resources, use appropriate citation styles, integrate a range of types of text, and present work through multimedia and authentically produced products.

And, in other thoughts on the Common Core, I agree with Teri Lesene about "close reading really not being the same as re-engaging with the text." After all, it's a marked luxury when we, the people of the book, are given the opportunity to really practice deep reading.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

ALA Anaheim

The last time ALA was in Anaheim, I left mid-day Sunday to fly to San Antonio for ISTE (worst idea ever, for the record, don't do it). So I had sort-of dreaded going back, but even with the mile-long blocks and chain food, it was all good this year, probably because I didn't have to up-stakes mid-conference.

I don't bring a lot of paper home with me, since recycling seemed like the rule of the day after Council, but I am the kind of geek that would like to save everything. But this IS the 21st century, musn't it all available online somewhere? I did bring back some paper -- the resolution School Librarians and Libraries Are Critical To Educational Success, which it was thrilling to see supported by both academic and public librarians -- and the proposed changes to ALA Conference (think more closely located campus, everything captured electronically, with themed strands and fewer sessions at the same times). I also have some numbers I jotted down on attendance -- Anaheim 16,231 (11,850 + 5,381 exhibitors) versus New Orleans 18,061 (12,792 + 5,269 exhibitors). I know the treasurer gave use a three-year breakdown on figures including Exhibits Passes at Council II, but I think I recycled that document. I need to find it as it seems germane to #arcgate.

I have been under the weather with a post-conference bug, but my feed reader is dominated by one topic. I have only one thing to say about #arcgate. A few midwinters back, I had a couple of roommates. One was a school librarian, another a college student. Neither needed to be at Midwinter for committee work, but both came, taking days off work and school. To get ARCs.

They practically moved into the vendor booths for the duration, wrangling invitations from the publisher's reps and carrying away bags after bags of books (including a couple for me, which was kind as I was busy running from meeting to meeting). But as I drug myself out of bed at 6:45 one morning, I remember looking at their recumbent bodies and thinking this was not fair. But It's not fair in a human decency sort of way, but neither are many acts of discourtesy and rudeness that cannot be legislated against.

I think it's interesting how this is playing out. For the organization, isn't it all ultimately about attendance? That bottom-line metric used to negotiate everything from conference rates at hotels to, most relevantly, pricing for exhibits and sponsorships. And more exhibits only badge-holders figure increases that overall total. So even if you, as a librarian and active organizational member, are offended, I am not sure that selling an $25 exhibits-only pass to any random "blogger" is dissimilar to the organization in revenue terms. You, in your meetings, require all that AV set-up, and pitchers of ice water, and hard candies in dishes. And there seem to be too many options, too many half-empty rooms.

I took 17 ARCs during the exhibits opening Friday night, few enough to send in a box FedEx described as small, but enough to cost me $45 to ship. If my past pattern holds, I will buy about half of the titles. Which is much better odds than if I just see the book in a catalog. And, frankly, I buy almost all the books Little, Brown sends me, because they are particular in what they promote. And I've found once you read something, you want to be able to recommend it. So I do think ARCs are a good investment for publishers in terms of both selling books and generating buzz.

All told, I was in the exhibits those first 30 minutes and then for another half-hour on Sunday afternoon. On my second trip in, I got one other ARC. It was one I knew a friend particularly wanted, and the rather illustrious, Printz-honor winning author was standing right there to inscribe it for her. And there was no line. I had to get to a meeting.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Trend I love: historical fiction

I can really get into this trend for gritty and smart and suspenseful (if occasionally supernaturally-tinged) historical fiction. It's definitely the coming thing this fall:

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron (Scholastic, September 1)

The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper (Knopf, October 9)

and Libba Bray's The Diviners (Little Brown, September 18) , which more than lives up to the hype

of course all pre-saged by Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion, May 15), which was my go-to when teachers asked me what they should read over the summer.

Will it be enough to get the backlist moving? Judy Blundell and This Girl is Murder.... I'll have to compile a booklist, after Anaheim!

Friday, June 15, 2012

ASLA & AETC debrief

I just spent three days in Birmingham, or its outskirts -- Mountain Brook (for ASLA), Trussville (for AETC), and Inverness (to sleep). I was joined by eight other librarians from our district, which was an unprecedented turn-out for our group.

AASL President-elect Susan Ballard gave the ASLA keynote, and I stayed after for her session on positioning yourself and your program in the best possible light. She mentioned a continuum for collaboration that she used with each of her teachers, which completely inspired me to think about my own faculty in those terms. And I loved hearing Susan's voice, it transported me back to college in New Hampshire. Next, I went to a fascinating session on copyright law in the digital age, delivered by an attorney husband pressed into service. I think it's always good for librarians to get together to discuss copyright concerns. He did a good job of emphasizing Educational Fair Use permissions rather than being overly restrictive about possible infringement. Most of the audience had no idea that restaurants had to pay royalties when they aired television. We had a visit from the State Superintendent at lunch, and,  as with all conferences, the best part was the conversations with colleagues.

AETC was on the Hewitt-Trussvile campus, and both it and the Mountain Brook facilities make me realize how truly resource-poor my own system happens to be. I have come to grips with the fact that we will never have an auditorium, for example, or the state-of-the-art projection and audio systems in every classroom as in Trussville, which was a showplace the likes of which I had never seen. I left feeling both repelled and attracted by the opulence of it all. It reminded me of a visit to a city high school campus for a school concert, where parents and children alike were exclaiming So many stalls! Paper towels! Soap!

You don't have soap at your school? My husband asked when I told him about the oohing and ahhing. Well, the student bathrooms certainly tend not to. And the hand-dryers are not the super-efficient kind. But I actually think the physical plant is pretty sparkly considering the 1300 often slovenly children there everyday.


I write that to say that I find it all the more remarkable I am able to soldier on. Carolyn Starkey and I were given the 2012 Carrie R. Robinson award for Outstanding School Library Media Program, and Carolyn also took home the Ann Marie Pipkin award for technology innovation, which I got last year.

AETC was, as always, really well-coordinated by our state Department of Education Technology Initiatives. It is really energizing to see how many interesting things are going on around the state. Tuesday we went to the auditorium for the Marbury awards, then had Alan November for a keynote. He is always fascinating to hear, and I was thrilled that so many librarians from my district (five!) were there. My concurrent session on webtools was in the first set -- will post a complete version after I expand it for NAETC next week.

I always think it's a good strategy to choose sessions based on the presenter, and I pretty much stuck to sessions led by people I knew and liked. Most of the rooms were full to overflowing. I went to Carolyn Starkey's resource-rich session on the Common Core, then went early to snag a seat for a webtools one from Melissa Mann, an incredible elementary school special education teacher from my district. I ended the day with Leslie Fisher's iOS support group, which had me downloading new apps like crazy. I'm loving Calendars (which beautifully renders and makes fully workable GCal on iOS),

I started Thursday with Amanda Dykes' Google Docs presentation, which was delightfully pithy and informative. then I went to hear Patrick Crispen on social networking tools -- he was especially funny about Klout, before I had to skip a session to dial into a YALSA incoming chair conference call, I was able to pop into Nikki Robertson's crazy full Pinterest session for a little. I'm still not sure it's for me, but it's catnip to so many people, I have to respect it.

So now I've got lots to get together before NAETC and ALA next week, and some books I'm dying to read and also some things to figure out. Today I am meeting a former student for a girly lunch, and then tomorrow is museum-going, my absolute favorite thing to do. And I had entirely too much fun with the women from my district. I feel our librarian powers increasing.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Alabama & Anaheim

Things are going to get a little crazy here for a bit.

For the first time in my memory school went past Memorial Day, ending May 31. Graduation was June 1, and then I went to New York to visit friends, see some shows, do some shopping, and swing by the Javits Center for School Library Journal's Day of Dialog. It reminded me a lot of ALAN, an amazing parade of dazzling authors, including the up-and-comers. It was equally rapidly paced, contained in one room, and full of hyped-up book junkies. In other words, utterly recommendable. While I couldn't stay for BEA proper, because I am still in the middle of a muddle of projects, it was well worth the flying visit.

I'll be on the road again Tuesday, to ASLA. I am really looking forward to this year's program, put together by Elizabeth Hester.

Then there's AETC, our state educational technology then NAETC, the North Alabama regional variant.

Then there's Anaheim for ALA Annual.

And I've been to school three times already (or every school day I was in town), and I have to go back tomorrow.

Schoolteachers get summers off, right?