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Second Generation Librarian.

My mother and I across from what would eventually be my library school...This Mother’s Day, I wanted to thank my mom, Lynne, for encouraging me to enter this profession in the most public way possible. She’s a totally amazing librarian herself and has been in public and private libraries for probably more years than she’d care for me to share on the internet.  She originally went into this field to help people, all people, find the information they need. I grew up running around libraries, “flushing out patrons” at closing time and listening to her stories about crazy reference questions. I used to pretend that I worked at the same library she did and prompted her to play along. “Meg! What are you doing here?” she’d exclaim in our living room (which, thanks to my father, is actually a bit like a library). I’d pretend to be nonchalant “Oh… I just work here.” Then we’d do it all over again. This dream was interrupted by wanting to be a detective, a marine biologist, an anthropologist, a writer, a kindergarten teacher, until finally – panicking with English-majortitis, I thought more practically about job options. With my mom’s influence, I decided that I wanted to help people, too, particularly children, so here I am.

3 years ago this March, I started working as an intern at Bloomfield Township Public Library in the Children’s Department. She had recently retired from this particular library, but still worked occasionally as a substitute. We joked about now actually working at the same library… I was given the nickname Garza 2.0 the day I began that job. Inevitably, we worked a shift together and it was … well, it just seemed natural. “Meg! What are you doing here?!” “Oh… I just work here.”

Thank you, mom, or being amazing and supportive and for everything. Love, Megan

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Today was the first day of the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) – “Hooray!” says I and hundreds of other people who crowded into the Toronto Reference Library. I went to TCAF for the first time last year and was kind overwhelmed by everything to see (and buy!) during the second day of the festival. In the intervening year I’ve learned much more about the comic book world here in Toronto and this year I had An Agenda. On Saturday I went to a few panel discussions one of the “Perils of Autobiography” (featuring Tory Woollcott, Erika Moen, Marc Ellerby, Adam Cadwell, and Adam Bourret – awesome type people) and the other on the future of comics for kids called “Comics for Kids: What’s Next?” One of my professional goals for the year 2010 is to improve the scope and marketing of the graphic novel collection in my branch, so I felt like this would be an interesting place to get some new titles and selection guidelines.  The panel itself included: Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Frank Cammuso (Knights of the Lunch Table), Clayton Hamner (CTON’s Super A-maze-ing Year of Crazy Comics!), Karen Li (Editor, Kids Can Press),Eva Volin (Librarian), and Diana Maliszewski (Teacher), and moderated by Scott Robins, who blogs for the School Library Journal “Good Comics for Kids” blog. I did get some good suggestions for titles (despite my consumption of comics, most of them aren’t meant for kids… I need to read more!) but also some excellent points about promoting the comic book to parents, teachers and librarians and the future of the kids graphic novel. Here are some of the ones that stuck with me…

The creators say that we are in need of YA graphic novels! Non-superhero esque, that is. Eva Volin (the librarian on the panel) has the answers… of course the librarian has the answers. Check her out!

Even though it seems like graphic novels have generally been accepted into the greater canon of literary works in their own right, (see graphic novels receiving literary awards previously won by text-only books and a graphic novel presence on recommended reading lists), really we have to get more people to hop on the bandwagon

When your colleagues and customers are hopping on the bandwagon sometimes they do so with skewed views of comics. Graphic novels are NOT just a “gateway to ‘real reading'” as so many people think – they are a valid reading experience in and of themselves. Volin says that she’s actually counted the number of words in a graphic novel and a text-only novel of the same length and found them to be more or less of the same word count. Not to mention the visual literacy involved in reading graphic novels. Some panelists argued, truthfully, that people have no problem with kids reading picture books, which are essentially the same thing, so why all this resistance to comics books? Pictures help readers decode language so to integrate images and words for readers of a certain level, it does a lot more for them in terms of success in reading, rather than a text-only format. I would also argue that graphic novels do what picture books are meant to do, but on visual steroids. Yes – they also provide visual clues to what is going on in the text, but picture books have one image to illustrate what is being described in the text on that page. Graphic novels have, or should have, all sorts of imagery from which the reader can extrapolate meaning from the image alone. This is a wholly different skill that we need to cultivate in our readers.

Graphic novels, especially for children, are at risk of not being published as frequently because they are extremely expensive to publish and also because of scanlation, they are being ripped off via the internet so while they may have a lot of readership, it may have nothing to do with how many copies they actually sell. Stacy King, a YA novelist who also works as the marketing manager for Udon Publishing, (and a friend of mine), actually had to explain this phenomenon to me after the panel was over.  (And I apologize if I mess it up, now…) In the history of manga publishing, it used to be that you had these manga pages in Japanese that people would scan post online and then also have a translated file for each panel so you could read, look, and laugh along.  This became such a big thing with such a dedicated following that now manga lovers have the option of reading pre-translated works (put out by people like Udon). Hooray, right? Well, as the technology has advanced, so has the amount of scanned works that are ripped off as bit torrents and downloaded by children (and everyone else) everywhere! This is problematic for publishers, obviously, but it also is problematic for the creators who are sometimes contracted to write or draw a certain series of graphic novels, but because of the scanlation phenomenon, publishers may choose not continue to produce the work.  I think, this is very obviously where the library comes in. We need to advocate the true value of graphic novels to parents, teachers, and yes, other librarians in our community. We need to make sure we have a wide selection of graphic novels from the commercially popular to the quality (and yes, sometimes they are one and the same). We need to continue to market ourselves as a free service and tell our customers that they don’t need to be dependent on downloading to get what they want to read for free, because … we have it! We also need to teach our customers that downloading is illegal, and hurts a lot of people in the industry of creation. So, in conclusion – Hooray graphic novels! And I will get down off my soapbox, now.

(A big thanks to Toronto Comics Arts Festival (Christopher Butcher in particular), the panelists and moderator for making this possible.) 🙂

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Meghan Ball is, to put it bluntly, fat. Hugely fat. But despite this fact, she’s sometimes literally an invisible girl at her high school. People treat her either like part of the scenery or she’s the bullseye for horrific abuse. She copes with the sadness that these two unhappy poles bring her by binge eating until she passes out. Aimee Zorn is physically Meghan’s polar opposite. She’s the daughter of a single, absentee mother who (in her opinion) seems better at saving ne’er do wells and turning them into boyfriends than parenting a teenage girl. Likewise, she reacts to this strained relationship by writing poetry and starving herself. The two girls become unlikely friends while plotting to get even with the popular girl who has betrayed them both.

I’ll say this: This book had a lot of potential for me when I picked it up. It’s an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, it’s the subject of rave reviews on the interwebs, Robin McKinley, (a Newbery winner) called it “Brilliant.” … Unfortunately, Robin McKinley, ALA, the interwebs and I disagree. Or, more probably, we’re just not looking for the same things.

I expect books that involved eating disorders (for whatever age of reader) to give a realistic account of what it is to have an eating disorder and provide a story arc that addresses that issue in a plausible and satisfying manner. What may be satisfying to me, however, may be different from an unbiased reader. Yes, it’s personalizing a medium that’s meant to be read by everyone, not just people with eating disorders, so please take me my comments with a grain of salt. But overall, Looks just doesn’t do it for me.

George does an excellent job of creating a perfect WASPy high school hell, chock full of apathy from the students, teachers, and administrators. I’ve met a version of all the characters in real life, from Ms. Champoux the highschool administrator dreaming of a career in juvenile corrections, and J-Bar the bronzed horrible antagonist with a secretly soft heart for puppies and basketball, to Mr. Handsley the passionate teacher who believes in the protagonists, but ultimately is too non-conformist for his own good. Come to think of it – I enjoyed the peripheral characters more than the main ones. But even though Meghan and Aimee are more pitiable than likeable, their narratives are constructions of very authentic voices.

The whole idea of being seen or invisible in society with regard to appearance is a compelling issue in high school and beyond. I love that Meghan could literally get away with things most kids would think impossible, simply because of apathy, indifference or disgust on the part of her teachers and other students. While it seems that Aimee is trying to make herself literally disappear, she wanted very much to be seen and loved, like Meghan. She is seen by her classmates and by her family, but also like Meghan, she very rarely has the words to make herself understood or to communicate her needs outside of her poetry.

Other than the plot and the niceties revolving around the ideas incorporated into the text, I’m not as pleased with the book as most critics for the simple reason that I feel that almost nothing is resolved. It’s as if George cooks up a huge pot of pasta, lets it boil, then dumps it all over the floor and walks away.

I find the plot to be a bit predictable – perhaps I’m a bit too well-versed in the evils of adolescent girls. Aimee – an amateur poetess – joins the school’s literary magazine and meets Cara Roy, a beautiful, multi-talented golden girl who takes her under her wing. We learn that Cara and Meghan used to be best friends, then “something happened” during a summer in middle school to disband the friendship and make Meghan (and Cara) who she is today. Aimee opens up to Cara by sharing her poetry, one of which is about anorexia. Cara reveals that she used to be anorexic as a result of this same incident, although neither she or Meghan never intimates to Aimee what has happened. At this point, we can all see what’s coming – Cara betrays Aimee’s trust and creativity as well. Aimee turns to Meghan, who has been trying to warn her about Cara. They decide to make Cara pay for her wrongdoings. They get even.

There’s also the convenient sub-plot of Life at Home. Aimee hates her mom for being so busy and she misses Bill, the hippie poet who used to be her mom’s live-in boyfriend but has since moved on. She wishes he would be her father and support her interests and feed her lime Jell-O, but the professor of literature has other things on his plate besides the daughter of an ex-girlfriend. (Think Hippie Hank Moody). When Bill says that Aimee should rely on her mother for support, Aimee releases herself of her relationship with Bill not without effort, but not really with conflict either. Aimee’s relationship with her mom is no better. When her mother says that she’s proud of Aimee for being creative and writing her poetry, and that Bill would be proud of her, too, Aimee lies to her and manipulates her. I think this is supposed to be the turning point in their relationship, but it falls flat. The reader doesn’t actually meet Meghan’s family until she brings Aimee home one day. She has a kind of lovely, almost Stepford home. Her mother and her little brother Jesse stay at home and make play-doh and bread together. She does comment about her mother’s blithe denial of life and reality, but it’s never developed further.

The conflict with Cara and J-Bar is probably the most unsatisfactory of all. They work out a method of revenge that humiliates them both, but all the reader gets in the end is a final confrontation in which Meghan sticks up for Cara, but then Cara turns on both Meghan and Aimee saying “the two of you deserve each other.” Really, no one is satisfied. This is a prime opportunity for all of them to talk about what has happened either over the years or the past few weeks but instead it just becomes a one-sided confrontation. Nothing has changed and no one feels better for it.

Perhaps this was supposed to be the message – that sometimes life just doesn’t resolve itself. People stay angry, bad blood remains bad, and even prime opportunities for climax don’t result in denouement. But in the final and following chapter and narrative of the book – things seem to be … resolved. Aimee and Meghan are a unit. We are invited to look at them. How they are visible together. How they … eat lunch together? This brings the reader to the slight issue of the eating disorders. Won’t someone please think of the eating disorders? What happened to those pesky things? Aimee eats? In school? With Meghan? What about Meghan? Does she still eat herself unconscious? Eating disorders don’t spontaneously self-correct upon revenging yourself. Especially if it’s not revenge that’s fulfilling. Um, you guys … the kids are not alright!

Eating disorders are strange extra characters in this story. While Aimee and Meghan never actually admit to their disorders to their families or even each other, it’s abundantly apparent that they are effected by anorexia and binge eating disorder, respectively. There’s also the issue of Cara’s supposed anorexia, from which she is in recovery. Everything is dropped, never to return again. And yes – it’s not about the food but considering that certain other things were not really brought to conclusion, I can’t imagine how these intense emotions that are expressed through relationships with food would be changed. On the whole, while eating disorders provided a potentially intriguing backdrop for the anguished story of adolescent women, I feel in the end they were a clumsily used trope rather than the expressive vehicles they could have been.

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Isabelle Lee (age 13) is coping with the loss of her father and her mother’s grieving by falling into a pattern of bingeing and purging. When she’s caught by her 10 year old sister April (aka “Ape Face”) she is forced by her mother to go to “Group” – a small support group for young women with eating disorders. She’s staring at gross orange shag carpeting when Ashley Barnum, the most beautiful, popular girl in the 8th grade walks in and sits down. The two become unlikely friends as a result of their shared secret and soon begin engaging in symptoms together. Ashley is everything that Isabelle has ever aspired to be, and her friendship re-enforces Isabelle’s self-destructive behaviour. Can Isabelle remain true to herself, keep her friendship with Ashley and get well at the same time?

I admit – I had a very personal reaction to this book. At first, I thought that I would probably not recommend it for young women who struggle with eating disorders, since it might be seen as partially triggering. Isabelle and Amanda enumerate the “tips and tricks” of how to binge and purge more effectively throughout the book. Friend doesn’t pull any punches as far as illustrating how chaotic, desperate and horrifying binge eating can be, and for those empathetic readers who are going through the process of recovery themselves, it might be all too familiar. However, as I thought about it more, these passages, while powerful, might be considered almost superficial when considering the book’s larger message. Here’s why:

Perfect emphasizes that eating disorders are often caused by other emotions beyond a desire to be thin. Yes, Isabelle comments about her “fat” appearance, but it’s not really her main preoccupation. The death of her father, her mother’s grief, her feelings of alienation from her family are all much more present in the book than her desire to be thin. More importantly, the “fat” part of her concern is never present during any of the binge/purge scenes, which are mainly reactive to her feelings about her father. Ashley, too, while making the obligatory comments about her thighs while looking in her underwear, is symptomatic as a result of the absenteeism of her parents and her loneliness, rather than a fear of fat. While at first it bothered me that these reasons were “too facile” – that they didn’t really offer up the larger picture that some issues which lead to eating disorders are more vague and harder to pinpoint that absentee or deceased parents. Then I decided that this book is for pre-teens and I was reading too much into it with personal bias and maybe I should relax a little bit. ^^

While, as I mentioned before, Friend’s writing spares no expense in the description of the “gory details” of bingeing and purging, there was never any mention of the fact that Ashley or Isabelle gained or lost weight because of their symptoms. It’s given that Ashley looks gorgeous all the time, but Isabelle never comments on changes in her own weight. The fact that there is never any “positive” outcome of all their behaviours is another reason I think that this book is “safe for consumption,” if you will. Also, it’s interesting and gratifying to see an author writing about bulimia, rather than anorexia. One problem I have with the treatment of eating disorders in the media and society at large is that while people (in general) are perfectly happy to discuss restrictive behaviours and show endless pictures of emaciated models, no one seems to be willing to talk about bulimia or binge-eating disorder because, well, it’s messy. Hopefully, an increase in narratives like this will work to make this disorder less taboo and illustrate the prevalence of its effects on our culture.

Finally, Perfect spreads the same message I think we should all keep in mind – that eating disorders don’t only affect the people who “look like it.” They can also be wreaking havoc in the life of that quiet girl of average weight sitting in the corner of the cafeteria that never gets noticed.
Perfect by Natasha Friend

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In the process of learning to do baby storytime, I’ve learned that one sort of popular book for infants and young toddlers is simply a book that outlines the basic components of “baby’s day.” Briefly, this is because they can easily make connections between their lives and what is going on in the book. Waking up, eating, taking a bath – all familiar territory. This leaves their brains free to fire its synapses on drawing more connection between life and illustration – increasing vocabulary, reasoning power, etc. Okay, I’ll be honest – before I dig myself into a hole, I’m still getting the developmental hang of this. I promise I’ve read something somewhere authoritative, but basically all you need to know is that infants and toddlers enjoy books that reflect the events in their everyday lives very much. (A very good example of this for toddlers is Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora, or one of my faves, The Baby Goes Beep by Rebecca O’Connell.)
Twelve Book Cover
The book Twelve by Lauren Myracle, in my opinion, does something similar for tweens. They’re in a stage of developing autonomy, just like toddlers – and granted, it’s not like learning to walk and speak, but it’s literally growing a new body, maybe realizing that your ideas and values are different from your parents or your classmates, and other stuff that fuels the growing of blemishes, the writing of bad poetry and the need to be a total punk. Having a book reflect life experiences might be helpful getting through the day-t0-day drudgery of pumping endocrine systems, romance, school, parents, etc.

Twelve is actually a sequel to the book Eleven (bien sur) which introduces us to Winifred “Winnie” Perry, your typical suburban American pre-teenager. Winnie is fairly average: she’s pretty, not wildly intelligent, but smart enough to do well in school (though the academic aspect of her life is barely mentioned). She is, however, incredibly insightful and self-aware for a 12 year old. She analyzes her relationships with her various friends, her family, and her body like a pro, although sometimes she is extremely embarrassed by all three. You can also tell that despite the embarrassment factor, Winnie truly loves and enjoys her family. Her parents are down-to-earth and supportive, and her equally self-aware older sister Sandra is a teen, yes, but a good role model for Winnie. Who, in turn, is a wonderful big sister to 6 year old Ty. She even lets him try on her bras!

From Winnie’s narration at the beginning of the book, if we haven’t read Eleven (and we didn’t), we can assume that during the past year, her best friend, Amanda, has jilted her for the more popular, fashion and girly Gail. Through this social turmoil Winnie struck up a friendship with Dinah, who seems less mature and more fragile than Amanda, but is kinder and a more devoted friend to Winnie. During the course of Twelve, Winnie develops breasts, graduates from sixth grade, gets her ears pierced, attends sleepover summer camp, goes skinny-dipping, starts her period, learns to use tampons, enters the world of junior high school and *gasp* meets a guy! Changing personalities, evolving friendships, developing bodies, and how to be a good person while worrying what the world thinks of you all figure prominently in this novel, as they do in most lives at that age. Sometimes I thought “This is Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret for the digital native age!” but it’s sweet and funny in its own right. Looking back at my own life at that age, (and the sometime trauma it caused me), I was at times very touched by Winnie’s successes, failures and commentary. For a reader who is the same age as Winnie, her experiences will also serve to normalize the sometimes difficult, humiliating, and joyous process of growing up for tweens.

The flow of the book takes the reader from Winnie’s twelfth to thirteenth birthdays. Since Winnie’s birthday is in March, the natural storyline of the book goes from the end of one year of school through the summer and up until the spring of the next year at school. The story itself is not quite a story, it’s more of an internal monologue that can jump hours or days at a time, analyzing all the new life experiences that Winnie’s 12th year has brought her. The novel seems like it’s more of a stream of consciousness or a bulleted list of events than an actual plot.

The setting also tends to change quite a bit and so do the people. There are a lot of characters in this novel, some of which are permanent, some fleeting, some are prevalent in some chapters  of her life (harhar) and completely absent in others. A few provide interesting information about Winnie as a character, but most just seem to be window dressing for the scene. For instance, Winnie meets a whole cabin of girls at Camp Winding Gap, but we as readers hardly ever get to know them and they disappear with in the span of a few pages.  While reading, I was put-off by this laundry list of places and people, each with their own little crisis or situation. When were any of these things going to become really consequential? Amanda, Winnie’s former best friend, returns for a summer of friendship at camp, then all but disappears when Winnie starts school in the fall, only to re-emerge as a goth in the sequel, Thirteen (shhhh!). Except for perfunctory comparisons to Dinah, Amanda is essentially dead to us as readers. Meanwhile, she’s seamlessly replaced by a girl named Cinnamon, who then becomes a friend-fixture in the rest of the novel and the sequel. Perhaps my initially adverse reaction was personal: I like follow-up. I like plot. But, looking back on my own years, I realized that perhaps this is how the book mimics life. The year that bridges elementary and middle or junior high school is one of changing peer groups, schools, and general upheaval. People come and go, we’re introduced to new characters every day, and while there might be story arcs like camp, finding partners, school… it’s just illustrative of a time of great change in our lives. A staggering work of literary genius, perhaps it’s not. But it is a lovely alternative recommendation for the pre-gossip girl in your life.

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I have to admit, I avoided this movie like the plague. I loved this book so much as a child, and at first, I was saddened to see it become one in a line of children’s picture books turned into movies. Not even the awards would sway me. But my friend had mentioned that it was a very good movie and I respect his opinion about stuff. And things. So about half a year late and what will probably amount to several dollars short, I’m semi-live blogging Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Whelp, first thing, the premise really isn’t anything like the book (by Judi and Ron Barrett). BUT given the sort of anecdotal slow start to the book (after a flying pancake incident, Grandpa tells a tall bedtime tale), despite my die-hard love of the picture book… I sort of understand. Not everything translates to the big screen.

Instead we get the story of Flint Lockwood, an imaginative inventor (with spray-on shoes) who, when faced with the collapse of the local sardine industry, and the surplus of sardines this creates, decides to make a machine that mutates water into food.

This is working for me b/c it involves the basic kids’ movie character formula:

  • Goofy dreamer hero who thinks bigger and has high hopes for improving the world he lives in.
  • Cute funny animal sidekick with hilarious sounding vocoder. Or excuse me “monkey thought translator.”
  • Father who doesn’t quite get where he’s coming from, and tends to make fishing metaphors. And an encouraging, understanding, sweet, yet deceased mother for added sympathy.
  • Evil politician (voiced by the illustrious Bruce Campbell)
  • Super spunky intelligent female meteorologist/weather girl hopeful!

And we have more or less than our cast of characters! Other noteworthy characters are Baby Brent, former mascot of Baby Brent sardines, who is still living large off of his sardine fame and the overly buff, under-shorted cop voiced by Mr. T. Oh! Looked at imdb and apparently the talking monkey is voiced by… Neil Patrick Harris?!?!

Well. They find out the food machines finally works and there’s a delightful “Sunshine, Lollipops” montage. But there remains the chance that … the FOOD MIGHT OVER-MUTATE! The mayor, who has been trying to find a way to pull the town out of the sardine-slump it has been in, decides to make the city into a food theme-park. Unfortunately the food machine is sort of at odds with his father’s connection to the fishing industry (he owns a tackle store), and without his mother to mediate the father and son dynamic, misunderstandings arise.

Fortunately they kept one of my favourite food descriptions from the book: A Jell-O setting in the west. 😀 This time it’s used as a backdrop to a hilarious date with Flint and Sam. She admits she used to be a nerd and they almost kiss… then his cellphone rings. Awww.

What’s this? A little bit of environmental allegory! The more food they ask the machine to create, the more the microwave mutation process corrupts! This is actually a better plot structure than the book, since there’s really no rhyme or reason presented in the book about how or why the food starts to grow bigger. Flint realizes this, but is pushed by the mayor to keep on producing so he’ll make money, and never having been accepted in the town before, Flint is reluctant to stop making the food.

Fortunately, Sam (the weather woman) is much more proactive than Flint and realizes what’s going on and tries to warn everyone. Unfortunately, Flint doesn’t listen to her Post spaghetti twister, Flint is devastated by the destruction his invention has caused and throws himself away. Fortunately, his father brings him his lab coat again and encourages him to do his best and fix things. Father son conflict solved!!!

Okay, now the plot starts to happen in earnest, so the following are just my reactions to what’s going on on the screen. I haven’t quite figured out this “live-blogging” thing after all, haha:

  • And another one of my favourite illustrations form the book! Noodle on a guy’s head! And pancake on the school!
  • Sam and Flint (and Brent and Steve the monkey) go to shut down the machine with the kill code. They find that the machine is actually inside a meatball (ohboy) and has genetically mutated the food into SUPER food, so it tries to attack them. I raise an eyebrow at that one, but …
  • Hahaha… Flint loses the kill code in a sight gag and has to call his father for help. His father was all “What do I have to do?” and Flint says “Just go into my computer and email a file to my cell phone” “……… all right.” Oh, the digital native generation and their parents.
  • Ooh! A Foodnami! Oh. Right. “Foodvalanche.” Hm. I prefer “foodnami” but whatever.
  • Creepy mutated man-eating chickens! This is kind of like Food Inc. for kids.
  • [Montage of giant food hitting the world’s most famous landmarks. Fortune cookie on the Great Wall of China says “You are about to be crushed by a giant corn.” Hey guys, EAR of corn.]
  • Did that anchor man just say “What the what?” a Liz Lemon-ism amidst large amounts of food! How … appropriate.
  • Gummi-bears that are giant, evil and animated are terrifying. Fortunately, the monkey loves gummi bears.
  • “Sorry friend, the kitchen’s closed.”<sigh>
  • OMG INTERNET MEME JOKE! His dad emailed him a LOLcat instead of the kill code. Truly, a sign of the times. But wait – how will he save the day?
  • Ah. His spray-on shoes, formerly an invention of shame! Food mutator machine killer! Woo-hoo!
  • Everyone think’s Flint is dead, but he’s saved by a pack of one of his mutated creature things!
  • Haaaaaaa Sam just stuck the monkey thought translator on his father so he could make an “I’m proud of you, son” speech. And they kiss!


I liked how the movie put the food more solidly in the real world. In the book, the people of Chewandswallow could simply run away from their culinary misfortunes by sailing over many seas, etc. on their boats, facing only the predicament of assimilation into a food-purchasing world. After seeing District 9, I wonder what the people of the supermarket world would do seeing a city’s worth of people arrive overseas with pizza/swiss cheese, PB and J sailboats. Probably nothing good, I’m sure.

In the movie, however, the food was problematic to not only the town, but to the whole world (see Eiffel Tower BLT). This also fit into the environmentalist undertones that the movie suggested. Namely, we shouldn’t try to manipulate nature into doing something it’s not supposed to do, lest it result in… mutated food of death. And what happens in just one part of the world effects the globe as a whole. I did think the food with malicious intent was a bit much, but it made the climax extra-exciting so it served its purpose I’m sure. Kids won’t be decapitating gummi bears heedlessly after seeing that, haha.

All in all, not really like the book (it did say “inspired”) but the screenwriters (Phil Lord and Chris Miller) definitely have produced a script that keeps the interesting parts of the plot alive, while adding topical bits that relate to the issues the kids of the world face today – the environment, economic collapse (Sardines are gross!), and hopelessly computer-illiterate parents, for example. Win!

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9:07 a.m.: Go to deliver my books to the Ontario Early Years program that’s in my branch every Wednesday. The ECE coordinator tells me that 1) The keys for our cupboards are missing. And this is okay because she has her own (howdidthathappeniwonder?!?! 0_0) but someone has been rifling through her cupboards “looking for something.” I will have to take this up w/ management, but… remember that to-do list?

9:30 a.m.: Hunker down with the final throes of the FLD report – make it coherent, add some pictures and send. ZOOM…

10:03 a.m.: Month end-report and statistics. This requires looking at calendars and spreadsheets. I … do not like this. I manage to get all of the programs entered (20 or so to Teens 1 and Adults 3… jeesh) and start tabulating the stats. I also get the main points of my month end report bulleted. Sound-proofing, Cabinet Security and Winter 2010 registration and programs… it’s going to be a scorchin’ good read!

11:10 a.m.: All that staring at spreadsheets and now I have to get my storytime ready for Ontario Early Years in… 4 minutes!

My what? Oh right – break it down:

So we have a partnership w/ Ontario Early Years (OEY) so they offer a drop-in play based program for children 0-5 years and their caregivers. They provide a wealth of information about child care, health, development, literacy, etc. We provide the space and a liaison (yours truly) to lead circle time for 15 minutes every Wednesday. This is a pretty sweet deal as far as I’m concerned, but it’s incredibly difficult to entertain many children that literally range from lap babies to JK’ers looking for a fun day out of school. It’s also my number one source of baby hugs!

11:15 a.m.: Go into OEY and rock their little socks off! A good time was had by all.
We read:
On the First Day of Winter by Denise Fleming
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
10 Rubber Ducks
(oh yes, they’re learning about numbers).

11:30 a.m.: Baby-hugged and back at statistics and emails. Which are far less interesting.

12:00 p.m. Lunchtime!

1:00 p.m.: Information Desk time! I spent a good 10-15 minutes on the phone trying to direct a customer how to access a downloadable audiobook on our website – really difficult to coordinate over the phone! She finally gets to where she needs to be – literally clicking “Click here to Download”, but then her computer has some kind of connectivity error?! Yeargh.

3:05 p.m.: Back to the safety of my office where I have the BEST intentions of hunkering down and finishing my month-end report but then, but then BUT THEN I see that the Summer 2010 (yes we program this early) draft has come out. And proofreading is due soon! This means looking at more and further spreadsheets. Both computer generated, and human-inputted (word? ohwell) So in order to proofread I have to look at the information generated by our online-registeration system, a spreadsheet that the librarians all over the system use to schedule programs, and the Outlook Room Booking calendar for our branch.

3:58 p.m.: It appears as though someone has changed the curriculum-based (ohgod I will explain that later) programs around for our branch and the person all happens to be “not me.” This being the case, I’m not quite sure how I’m expected to proof-read, since I don’t know which way is up or down or where my butt is. Will have to figure this out. But the good news is – the programs I’ve contracted are looking good. FTW.

4:02 p.m.: SPREADSHEETS. SO MANY SPREADSHEETS. I’m trying to make all of them match what we have on the online-registration document. This is “tedious” to say the least.

4:48 p.m.: Finally have located and identified my programming ass from my programming elbows. It’s all looking good up in my various spreadsheets. I turn back to Month End Report and other spreadsheets… but … nope. It’s too late. I’m out!

Well that was my fairly boring, administratively laden and tedious day. Now I have to go back and blog about yesterday!

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Today I woke up and looked at ye olde Twitter feed and what should happen to appear? The announcement that Round 4 of Library Day in the Life is starting! Ahem: “Yippee-skippee!” as they say. So, fellow librarians and students of information science: tag yer blogs w/ librarydayinthelife or use the hash tag #libday4 on the Twitterz and let’s git r’ done!

I had the good fortune of being off-desk all day (I know, I know, practically unheard of in public libraries!) so I tried to take advantage of that and try to finish things that need doing so I could try to relax the rest of the week. So this was my to-do list for the day:

  • Call about preschool about class visit (52 kids!) on Friday. Incidentally, I got an email saying that they aren’t coming due to “rescheduling.” Considering that they said they were coming last, oh Thursday and could we have a room and program for them, I’m considering it a good thing. Even though I like the preschool set… jeesh. Short notice and a whoooole lot of munchkins. I wonder what the collective noun for that would be?
  • Call doctoral student about workshop re: infant speech development and infant/caregiver communication. If you’re in the GTA and interested, I can pass on some information.
  • Write report for Family Literacy Day events and Month-End report.
  • Tabulate programming and display statistics
  • Make a list of partnership opportunities for programming in my catchment of Markham.
  • Storytime rhymes/songs for Week 3: Phonological Awareness
  • Make subject headings for Kid’s Databases
  • March break publicity
  • Outreach materials for this week: Info on Tumblebooks for parents and teachers. I have 2 outreach visits for Family Literacy Day, which is January 27, 2010.

So I’m not going to lie – some things came up. I got through… well, I got through everything that was truly going-to-come-down-on-my-head-tomorrow kind of urgent, but otherwise… FTF, to do list. I’m disappointed because my kick-off for round 4 is totally a “Let me tell you about how I didn’t do anything!” entry, but this week’ll be exciting! I promise. I have 3 storytimes, 2 outreach visits, and I’m planning to retro-blog (is that even a word? Well now it is…) about Saturday and Sunday because – hey – that’s when my week began. And as a result, I’m a bit fried. Oh! But there was a fire alarm today. And we had to evacuate alllllll of the students out of the library. They were… not so pleased to go outside. Because it’s finals week. Fortunately, (or unfortunately as the case may be), the alarm stopped just as we had told about 1/3 of the lower level to leave. Then we had to go around and tell them “Just kiddin’ guys!” Which I always love, because you look like an alarmist and next time chances are they won’t leave…

Me to Disgruntled Student (avec sheepish grin): “Err, sorry. It’s all clear. Carry on, guys.”
Disgruntled Student: “Man. Seriously?! I don’t even WANNA carry on, now!”

Me neither, buddy, me neither…

More tomorrow! With added and further energy!

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So, 15-20 min. after getting all of the kids together, reading books, jumping around, and saying goodbye, I’m pumped on adrenaline and sweaty and embarrassingly out of breath. This is where also I run into the other stumbling block in the process besides actually making the mini-mes sit down: Parents are usually thrilled that we offer such a service, but I inevitably get the question “when do we have to come for you to do this again?” Explaining the spontaneous nature of the “on-demand” story time, how it differs from scheduled story times, and the reasons behind offering the service is quite difficult.

And it’s not all spontaneous fun and impromptu games – we do have a quota to fill. 20 Storytimes On Demand per month. Eeeesh. At my branch, besides myself, we have one full-time information associate, and two part-time information associates dedicated to Children’s Services. This usually means that the information associates do one on-demand per shift and I help out and even though the quota seems lofty, we’ve able to not only meet, but exceed it on several occasions.

While this is probably mainly to ensure that all of the branches are pulling equal weight on this new service endeavour, I’m not sure if we as a public service institution should be putting a number on services. What happens to the value of a particular service, (especially one so reliant on enthusiasm as story times), if we institute limits based on quantity and not quality? Or at least not one that’s so high that we’re scraping to find appropriate books to read and children for whom to read. Thennn there’s all of the implications for desk time, break time, etc. whew! That being said, we’re still in discussion as to what is the best practice for this service and what is most profitable in terms of customer experience and our service mandates.

There’s also the question as to whether this is, as librarians, what we should be focusing our energy on doing. When I was home for the holidays, my parents had their annual Librarian Spaghetti Dinner (I’m a second generation librarian) and we had a bunch of awesome librarians over for carbs and wine. One of the lovely ladies and gentlemen to grace our table was my former boss at Bloomfield Township Public Library, who I love, adore and use as a model for the way a department should be managed.  I’ve told her a bit about these storytimes on demand, and while she’s not an “old-school” librarian by any means, she was a bit hesitant about whether or not the service actually fit into a model of library service. Her (very good) point was that as librarians, we are not there for entertainment purposes, but to serve our communities by providing information-based services (including storytimes) rather than song and dance routines. (I do apologize if I’m paraphrasing awfully – I was a few glasses of wine into dinner when I had this conversation).

So is it “Do the storytime and they will come?” or “They will come, so do the storytime?”

My answer would be a bit of both. (I know, I know, do I ever have an opinion that isn’t based on compromise?) True: We provide scheduled storytimes and it is in our best interest to focus our energies on ensuring that these are of the highest quality and truly promote reading and literacy awareness because we have the education and the knowledge to make them of greater value than a simple “song-and-dance.” Also true: The nature of libraries and the services provided therein are changing and we have to be willing to try new things. (Please note: I do not believe that “relevancy” is an issue when it comes to early literacy – but … that’s another blog post in itself). And we can use our statistics for on-demand as feedback for how we could schedule our “official” storytimes to better serve our community. Basically, it’s my belief that these traditional and informal programs can coexist and possibly even help us to improve library services with reasonable expectations and best practices in place of course. 🙂

As a children’s librarian, I believe that education about literacy and promotion of reading and books is a fundamental part of my job and I should try to do that however and whenever possible. This is especially crucial in terms of school-age kids: We have a whole curriculum for storytimes specifically for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, but beyond age 5 the children in my system are so overly-scheduled that they usually participate solely in the educational programs at the library rather than good, old-fashioned, free storytimes. So, realistically speaking, there’s little demand, but it doesn’t mean it’s not important! And perhaps these brief quick-and-dirty storytimes aren’t the most fulfilling pedagogically speaking, but if I can randomly squeeze in 15 more minutes of book-time into the day for these kids, why not? Moral of the story(time): I can’t make parents bring their kids to storytime, but I sure as hell can bring the storytime to the kids.

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I think that I’ve mentioned MPL’s “out in the open” policy with regard to storytimes before: namely, all of our storytimes are to be delivered in open space in the library, rather than behind closed doors, in order to promote our services to newcomers, new users, and customers who are otherwise unaware of programs provided by the library. This has been met with a good deal of success so far, actually, one of the main problems is that we sometimes have more people than the open space in the children’s department can accommodate!

In addition to this change in our storytime philosophy, we’ve also started offering “Storytimes On Demand.” Quite literally, going out and offering storytimes to the people as they’re in the library. We’ve been offering story times on-demand since the beginning of 2009, so this is more or less still a relatively new service for us and I find we’re still trying to work out best practices in terms of delivery: a several stories or just one? 15 minutes or five? In its inception, I provided these services when there we had reached “critical mass” in the children’s department, sometimes giving a storytime on the fly to more than 30 people. And subsequently, the spontaneous story times were a bit longer (about 15 minutes) to compensate for the time it took to gather a decent sized crowd in one location and get all of the kids settled.

One issue we’ve come across is competition from the toy collection that we’ve recently added to each branch at MPL. Being the sort of library diva that I am, storytimes on demand usually fed my need to be centre-stage and to make babies happy, etc. but it was a little nerve-wracking to walk around to the groups of children who were happily running up and down the ramp, jumping around our story nook, playing with cars and legos, and savagely beating each other with cloth blocks and try to peddle books as a more worthwhile activity.

Imagine this if you will: It’s Saturday afternoon, the children’s department is so busy it’s become a sentient, writhing being in its own right. I grab some books and slowly shuffle up to a group of kids gleefully destroying MPL property and their oblivious parents. “Uhm, hey kids – do you want to listen to a story?” (no response.) “Hey, uh… HEYYY YOU GUYYYYSSSS.” (everyone freezes. I’m painfully reminded of my nerd-dom as a zygote). <breathes through mouth and reflexively pushes now non-existent glasses up nose> “Who … uh… who wants to read stories with me? It’ll be fun! Storytime! C’mon!”

At this point, a couple of things can happen:

1) The parents think that I will be putting on a storytime and am asking them to move out of the way and they’re confused and sometimes upset. Or the parents think that I’m asking them if they’ve come for a storytime, and they’re confused. By the time I finish explaining what it is that I’m doing and start the actual storytime, I’ve probably screwed up the break schedule back on desk.

2) The parents are absent and the kids throw blocks at me and say “NOOOOOOOO that’s BOOOORRRRRING!”

3) The parents are enthusiastic and present, but the kids are having a better time playing so they throw blocks at me and say “NOOOOOOOO that’s BOOOORRRRRING!” and then either their parents politely say “Thanks, but no thanks,” or their parents force them to listen and they cry.

4) Everyone is delighted and on board and we have a really awesome time. 😀

Once everyone is settled, (I usually try to collect as many kinder as possible), I read one to three books and do like a “greatest hits” rhyme/song set list and say “goodbye.”

Say goodbye with your feet,

Say goodbye with your knees

Say goodbye with your bottom

Say goodbye with your tummy

Say goodbye with your elbows

Say goodbye with your hair

And say goodbye with your hands! Bye, bye, bye!

(Continued in Part 2…)

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