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GARZ4LIB

Second Generation Librarian.

Stanford Wong book coverI was disinterested in reading grown-up things today. So, I decided to peruse the recently returned carts outside the office and happily came up with one of my favourites, Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee. I re-read a bit of it and thought I’d like to re-endorse it as one of the best children’s books I’ve read all year. Stanford Wong, basketball genius and also “the only dumb Chinese kid in America” (his words), finds out that he’s failing English and therefore will not be allowed to be on any basketball team the following year. Since he’s flunking, he has to give give up the opportunity to go to a prestigious basketball camp AND he’s forced to accept tutoring from his ultimate nemesis, Millicent Min. To make matters worse, his beloved grandmother, Yin-Yin may be sent to a retirement home and his parents won’t stop fighting! In a single summer, Stanford is forced to turn his academic career around while balancing basketball, friends, family, and … girls. Well, just one girl. Writing it out, the plot sounds relatively banal, but in reality, Yee’s character development and writing style make the book really funny and warm. The kind of thing that makes you want to both cheer and cry at the same time, even! It’s great. Nonsequitor WARNING: This book WILL make you want to eat dim sum like nobody’s business. I’m not even joking.

Something that is interesting about Yee’s plot structure is that there are no true antagonists in the traditional sense of the word. Really, Stanford’s worse enemy and best friend in the book seems to be himself, as is the case with so many kids at that age. Sure, there’s Millicent Min, the uber-nerd who seems to perturb Stanford every chance she gets. But the reader can see that Stanford, while annoyed with her, truly deep-down has a fondness for her that transcends their outwardly differing world views; a fondness that is finally realized in the denouement of the book. Also looming large on the “conflict” side of the line are the seemingly disapproving parental units, but Stanford’s need for acceptance bleeds through so strongly that the reader cannot help but understand that while his parents stress him out with their expectations and their own problems that he really cares for them and they for him.

Finally, there’s Digger, the tough, bullying, self-imposed “leader” of the Roadrunners (Stanford’s basketball gang) who actually IS an antagonist, but since he’s on the basketball team he sort of has the sense of “the positive aspect of Stanford’s life” even though he’s a major stress on the team and in the novel. Digger seems, at first glance, to be a classic antagonist in the novel: rich, strong, handsome, brutish and conniving. But part of his character development that makes him, in my eyes, a pitiable character, is the physical abuse he suffers at the hands of his rich, strong, handsome, brutish and conniving father. This abuse is possibly the only aspect of the book that really bothers me: It’s always alluded to, but never fully addressed… and also never fully resolved. Instead, towards the end he’s awkwardly villified and as part of a final conflict resolution, Stanford and the other Roadrunners walk away from him and are subsequently a lot less cool, but much more better off. [Oh – SPOILER ALERT I suppose… but you knew it would happen. This is, after all, tween fiction.] Yes, this teaches good life lessons to adolescent boys (money and popularity are not as good as friends and being kind, etc.) but the adult in me (yes, there is a little bit of one) really felt badly for this kid who tries to buy friends and bully and blackmail them into staying in the friendship. I thought it was fairly irresponsible of Yee as an author to touch on such a serious topic and then never brings it into the plot more fully, or resolve it. I ended up wondering about Digger’s safety, especially since his group of friends, who really could have helped him, have deserted him.

The other protagonists in the book are simply delightful. My particular favourite are the pair of grandmothers, Maddie and Yin-Yin (Millicent’s and Stanford’s, respectively), who have been best friends since they were girls and “when they get together, they don’t sound like grandmas, they sound like normal people.” They are hilarious, kind and caring – the kind of grandmas anyone would be proud to call their own. Also, the remainder of Stanford’s basketball team, Tico, Stretch, and Gus are in my opinion, the sweetest group of adolescent boys ever to have dribbled a basketball across the pages of fiction. There’s a scene during which Stretch and Stanford watch Sesame Street together. Simply precious. It should be noted that Yee wrote Stanford Wong for her daughter, Kate, to make her try to like tweenage boys, so… maybe not the most realistic depiction in the world… but what’reyougonnado?

The best part is, if you end up liking Stanford Wong, it’s a series! Well, a series… of… perspective, if you will. Yee writes about all the occurances of one summer (of flunking, winning, and moving) from the perspective of three different people in this series of books. Millicent Min, Girl Genius and So Totally Emily Ebers are the other two installments told from the perspectives of Millicent Min (girl genius) and Emily Ebers, Stanford’s “girlfriend.” So – I will leave you with that. Stanford Wong may flunk big time, but his story does not. And now, I’m going on vacation! Hurray!

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So… I’m taking a break from the Twilight book report. I’ve been rereading New Moon and Eclipse in the process – and the more I read of the “saga” and also criticism about said saga, I find myself becoming lost about how I’d like to present what I want to say. And – I realize that… it sounds kind of stupidly self-serious to say I need to take the time to think about the formulation of an argument about Twilight of all things, but quite frankly I’m a little overwhelmed with those tomes of vampiric banality. Hm. That phrase might be a review in itself. But, I realize that I really haven’t written anything for awhile so I thought I’d take a little break and focus on books that are actually meant for, you know, children…


**SPOILER ALERT**

Girl (one Bella Swan) moves away from her emotionally needy, child-like, yet perceptive mother in sunny Arizona to live with her quiet, introverted father, Charlie, who lives in the Pacific Northwest. The weather is terrible, she hates it. Blah, blah, blah. I felt as though Meyer goes through a lot of trouble to really drive home how “normal” Bella is. “Hey, look, kids! She’s a REAL LIVE TEENAGER TYPE PERSON!” The beginning of the novel is made up of many excruciating pages of text in which Meyer painstakingly enumerates the minutiae of Bella’s everyday existence. Her sweatpants. Her intellect. Her insecurities. Her food preferences. Her quiet, awkward -yet-loving relationship with Charlie. Her inability to accept presents (???). Her clumsiness. We get it, Steph, “Bella” is spelled B-O-R-I-N-G. Or it was, until …

She begins school and notices a group of beautiful teenagers, the Cullens, who don’t eat and keep to themselves. One of them, Edward, appears not to be able to stand her. This DEVASTATES her. Why? The reader isn’t sure. She’s used to being a relative outcast, but she seems generally well-accepted in this new school. She’s smart, she’s capable (physical prowess notwithstanding), she’s pretty. But we get it, rejection from hot guys is hard. Fact of teen life, right?

Edward disappears for quite awhile from school and when he comes back he suddenly takes a special interest in Bella – giving her rides to school, questioning her incessantly, etc. He even saves her miraculously from potential physical harm during an out-of-town shopping trip (rape is generally implied, later confirmed) after which he takes the stunned Bella to a very expensive Italian restaurant. It’s all very mysterious and romantic. Then, during a weekend trip to the local Native American reservation, her old friend Jacob Black (remember that name, ladies and gentlemen) tells her about the Quileute (Jacob’s tribe) legends regarding “the cold ones,” and their antagonistic relationship with the Quileutes’ wolf-spirit forefathers. She puts two and two together and then: OMG, you guys, Edward Cullen is totes a vampire, amirite?!? 😀

It turns out there isn’t just ONE vampire there’s seven. The Cullen family consists of Carlisle, Esmé, Rosalie, Edward, Emmett, Jasper, and Alice. The Cullens have a unique world view from most vampires – they’re “vegetarians,” meaning they only feed on animal blood, even though it’s generally a poor substitute for human blood. Subsequently, Meyer goes about deconstructing all of the old vampire legends: destroyed by sunlight, silver bullets, and stakes through the heart. Basically anything that makes it more difficult for this romance to be a reality. In fact, she incorporates attributes to her breed of vamp that makes them even more sexy! Their beauty, for one thing: they’re just so brilliantly beautiful that they can’t go out during the day because then everyone would KNOW something was wrong. But that’s not all, folks! Some vampires have special “talents,” and it just so happens that the Cullen family has three such vampires: Edward can read minds (except Bella’s), Jasper can influence moods, and Alice can read futures based on decisions as they are made. So they are breathtakingly beautiful, harmless vampires that have a stable home life, supportive vampire role-models, not to mention extraordinary talents, (even for a vampire). Oh, and did I mention they’re pretty? Because they are.

So girl meets vampire. Vampire meets girl. They are in so. Much. Love. They kiss, he spends the night in her bed watching her sleep, he straps her on his back and takes her on runs through the countryside. It’s awesome. She’s generally accepted as part of the family and everything is great UNTIL:

They’re playing baseball (the great American pass-time, why not?) and suddenly Alice sees another coven of vampires coming towards them. They see Bella, normal human teenager girl hanging out with a bunch of vampires, and all hell breaks loose. One of them, James, tracks Bella, despite her best efforts, to her childhood home in Arizona. For a minute it looks like Bella’s going to bite it (oh, pun intended) but of course Edward saves the day just in time. Hooray! So Bella’s got a broken leg but also a boyyyyfriend. 😀 The End. Of Book 1.

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I’ve been getting requests for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga since it came out. I was really surprised at the series’ popularity with everyone under the sun – First it was the teens … then adults … then … kids. Some parents were quite proud that their children were reading such long books; their kids were avid readers and chose to challenge themselves by reading longer and more difficult works of literature. Or conversely, children who were previously reluctant readers were influenced enough by the subject matter , or peer-pressure, to try to read the four bulky volumes. While I question the logic that length = quality of content, this pride is by no means a crime! Kids wanting to read is a great thing! And then, as it happens with these things, I inevitably got the question as to whether or not the Twilight saga was “appropriate” for children.

“Appropriate.” Such a dangerous word when it comes to children and literature. Is it too violent? Too sexual? Too profane? All of these are parental concerns, naturally, but taken too far can be … limiting to a child. Exposure to different viewpoints via literature is a powerful experience, and something I personally wouldn’t deny a child without good reason. On the other hand, reading material meant for more mature audiences (even the difference between children and teenagers) is a delicate balance when you’re young, but ultimately, I find it hard to prescribe censorship of any literature. A book might be perfectly acceptable in my opinion, but I’m a 20-something, idealistic, extremely liberal woman with no religious affiliation or children of my own. So, what’s acceptable for me, might not be so for the parent at the other end of the sociopolitical spectrum. Overall, it’s my opinion that parents need to read what their children read – especially in the case of these so-called “controversial” texts – so they can be aware of issues that may come up and address them if necessary.

So is Twilight “appropriate?” Having previously vowed a life of Twilight-celibacy, I wasn’t in a good position to answer such a question. Well, abstinence-only sex-ed doesn’t work, and neither does a life un-touched by Twilight, especially when you work with kids in a library. So, I read it. I read the whole thing. Why? So I could write a BOOK REPORT on it. It’s forthcoming, probably in several instalments… 🙂 What I plan to do is give summaries of each book (with as much brevity as can be expected) and then let the criticizing (for better or worse) begin. Stay tuned!

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Before I start this post (two days retroactively) – I should explain my wonky work schedule. We’re scheduled on 2-week cycles. On Week 1, I work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, have Thursday and Friday off, and then work Saturday and Sunday. On Week 2, I work Monday through Friday. “Wait a minute, Megan,” you might say, “Doesn’t this mean you work Saturday through Friday between the two weeks?” And I would answer – “Why yes, you observant soul, that would be correct.”

By this point in the week, my brain is mush, my fuse is non-existent, and I sometimes feel as though I scare my co-workers by deviating from my usual even keel with wacky mood swings and bleak muttering. It’s a challenge to get through the most simple of to-do lists, and just as difficult to interact with customers with and expression that doesn’t resemble a snarl. So this is the premise for my day…

Email, email, email. Not unlike the Little Engine that Could I look at my to-do list and begin muttering “I think I can!”

Finish month end report – attempt to re-read it, give up, spell check and send.

Story time project work. Read articles about dialogic reading and phonological awareness. Try to put it in a format that will easily fit into the flow of story time. Write learning objectives and metrics. Get stumped on the metrics since the same people will not be returning to story time each week. Make the executive decision to stop thinking about it.

Update collection profiles and chide myself on coll.dev.fail.

Go to buy batteries for the digital camera. Buy guessing game supplies for the Summer Reading club. Next week is “Guess how much pasta is in the jar!”

Lunch

I get to the information desk. The internet is slow. Customers are angry. Whoo!

I try to keep a certain amount of glee from my voice when making the “library will be closing in 30 minutes” announcement.

I am the proud owner of a brand new, 3 day weekend! 🙂 The end.

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12:55 p.m.: Listened to Rage Against the Machine on the way in to work today. This may not have been the best decision I could have made because afterward I was ornery… Will try to listen to something a little lighter next time.

1:00 – 5:00 p.m.:

  • Sent off emails regarding drama drama.
  • Worked on Story Time project assignments – ensuring the babies of Markham Public Library get all their 6 early literacy skill goodness per 8-week story time serving
  • Children’s Department Meeting – first one since… last year. A lot of minutiae to cover.

Dinner – fritatta and veggies, which in turn made me all bloaty.

6:00 p.m.: Begin my stint at the infodesk upstairs.
7:05 p.m.: Tweenage gamers take over all the computers up here and are engaged in an epic battle on the interwebs.

Other than the epic battle – my infodesk experience was relatively uneventful. Surreptitiously work on email and Winter programming. Stress about Winter Programming. Attempt to alleviate stress by social networking.

8:55 p.m.: Antsy because it is five minutes to close, I have a party to get to in Toronto and I work tomorrow morning.

9:00 p.m.: Get out of Markham like a bat out of hell.

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This day was brought to you by the letter <scream>.

9:00 a.m.: Mercifully short atrium meeting followed by the realization that there the only two people scheduled this morning, (as far as info staff goes), are Catherine and myself.

9:30 a.m.: Library opens   x . x <- the emoticon for f#@$ed.

10:06 a.m.: A group of waterlogged 2-3 year olds with 4 harried-looking camp counselors come in to the library and ask if they can have a room. All of our rooms are booked. They head for the children’s area. They are awfully cute.

10: 13 a.m.: A group of waterlogged 2-3 year olds with 4 harried-looking camp counselors come in to the library and ask if they can have a room. All of our rooms are booked. They head for the children’s area. They are awfully cute.

That was not a typo.

10:17 a.m.: A brief walk around the children’s department reveals that unbeknownst to me yet another group of older campers from the community centre has also snuck in, bored teen counselors in tow. They are hunkered down in the story nook playing with texture toys meant for babies. I see that the baskets that I bought to contain said toys yesterday are already broken. Note to self: Never go to the dollar store for things that need to stand up to a department full of kids.

10:30 a.m.: Thankfully our Musical Theatre camp instructor, Crystal, says that the teeny-tiny people can use the meeting room for their lunch 11:30. Otherwise they were going to eat in the children’s department, which would most likely have resulted in a good solid talking-to from maintenance.

11:30 a.m.: Crystal seems to have forgotten our agreement.

(It’s okay – she’s directing a cast of 20 children in a production of Mamma Mia! by herself. She’s allowed. 🙂 )

11:32 a.m.: I reconcile the room situation and stall for time so the room can be cleaned up. To do this means a story time for 54 children. We read Wiggle, by Doreen Cronin (one of my all-time favourite large-group-zomg story time books)  and Let’s Go Visiting by Sue Williams (sequel to I Went Walking). The former is extensible from age 2 until 6 years at the outside. The latter two books are for younger children (I’d say 5 and under, depending on how you read them). I opened, as I usually do, with “Shake Your Sillies Out” and closed with “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” The sound of 54 small children shouting “HOORAY” is really quite something… In addition, because it was raining, I sang “Mr. Sun” and another song about rain. It’s a good one because it allows kids to make noise, even if they don’t want to sing along. Goes like this:

A Little Drop of Rain
(To the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”)
A little drop of rain hits the ground      (slap thigh or ground w/ one hand)
Then another drop of rain hits the ground      (slap thigh or ground w/ other hand)
Then another and another and another and another
(Slap ground w/ alternating hands as fast as you can in time with “anothers”)
And another drop of rain hits the ground!
SPLASH! (Slap ground with both hands)

11:40 a.m.: Kidlets into lunch. Whew.

11:50 a.m.: Realize that I’ve been scheduled for lunch at 1:00 and have story time at 1:30. Catherine will be alone for an hour if I go for lunch at 12:00. She says it’s okay. I don’t think she is serious.

11:53 p.m.: Go in the borrower’s services (that’s Markham-ese for “circ”) department’s workspace and see the veritable Fort Knox of courier boxes that have come in. I briefly wish for an iPhone and a twitpic account.

12:00 p.m.: Standard reference (haha) lunch.

1:00 p.m.: Start cleaning up for Baby Goose.

1:30 p.m.: My last Wednesday afternoon Baby Goose of the summer – and possibly ever. In the fall we’ll be doing Baby Goose in the mornings only, which is not the most convenient thing in the world. My little guys Ryan, Alex, and Vincent showed up to the story time! They’ve also been coming to the story time since they were about 3 months old. Now they’re all starting to crawl and sit up and babble. Awww  …

2:00 p.m.: I admit our discontinuation of afternoon Baby Goose to parents and get complaints, albeit understanding complaints. More evals this time – continuous comments about the space – I’ve been consistently getting numbers of over 60 for Wednesday afternoons. It’s a squeeze.

4:10 p.m.: More cute kids from Stonebridge P.S. recognize me from Summer Reading Club promotions. Vincent and Raymond (grade 3 and 4, respectively) kind of act like I’m a rockstar… and subsequently feed my ego and re-affirm my belief in the importance of what I do. Now if they could just stop in every day 50 min. before I leave and 5 seconds before I go off the deep end, I’ll be set! Maybe I could pay them in stickers…

5:20 p.m.: Run screaming from the building.

Make record time home (I <3 the 407.), begin blogging, and pick up husbandito from the train.

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9:00 a.m.: Atrium Meeting – Sit around and discuss reference vs. directional questions for Survey Week in August. Have a heated discussion over whether or not to have a room bookings calendar at all access points AND the maintenance closet, or just in one place. In retrospect, I am not sure who won that argument. I hope it was me.

9:25 a.m.: Courier box mystery solved. No comment on Summer Camp communication <grumble grumble>…

10:30 a.m.: Last Tuesday morning Baby Goose story time of the summer! <sniff sniff> Also last Baby Goose time EVER for some of my bébés due to maternity leaves ending. 🙁 I took a picture with Hannah, who’s been coming to Baby Goose since she was 3 months (or so) old! I can’t believe how much she’s grown since January. It’s sad that I won’t be able to accommodate an evening BG in my schedule to keep kids like her coming to the library for story time. Her mom actually writes a really awesome blog about all kinds of parenting. It’s very organized and well-written and focuses on every aspect of baby-dom: food, toys, books of course, and even diapers!  While I’m not ready to personally use any of her wonderful advice (my husbandito just breathed a sigh of relief) I find it really useful to stay up to date on parenting issues as the main purveyor of baby time at the library.

11:00 a.m.: Reading my comment forms from Baby Goose all 4 of them out of 60 – who the hell gave me a 3 in all categories???

11:30 a.m.: TRIUMPHED over the drama drama for Winter 2010 situation! Whoo! I now can rest slightly easier knowing that kids in Markham will be able to take drama classes this winter. Also it was the only responsibility I had for W10, so it would have been a total FAIL if I had come up empty-handed.

12:00 p.m.: Totally typical lunch of cucumber/cream cheese bagel

1:00 – 5:00 p.m.: Refdesk.

Drive home and run.

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Today I joined Library Day in the Life – which is sort of a library blog aggregator… with a twist. Basically you add your name to this list of other librarians (word to the wise, right-click and select “add row” rather than putz around for 10 minutes trying to change the table properties like SOME people – me – will start you on the road to success) then you write a post every day in your blog and tag it librarydayinthelife. Whoo!

Today was basically like being stuck in the doldrums on the open sea of the library.

I had a few things that I really needed to do today – the most arduous of which is to seek out a drama program for the Winter 2010 season (yes we’re planning already). But none of those things got accomplished due to some last minute trouble-shooting regarding room set-ups for Musical Theatre summer camp, mysterious lingering courier boxes that may be essential to running camps next week, and… other stuff. I also had a program to do tonight: “Spy Kids Week” for the Summer Reading Club. So I just forgot about doing all of the “grown-up stuff” (how I think of administrative work) and got straight to the emergencies and Spy Kids. Basically I had planned for kids to make code wheels, invisible ink, and “spy-dentity” cards. Originally it started off as a one-hour sit-down program, but I modified it to a drop-in program at the last minute because most of the other branches are using volunteers to run the program. The following are lessons learned:

1) There are 3 kinds of ways to make invisible ink. Lemon juice, Lemon juice and baking soda, and baking soda and water. Lemon juice works the best, but lemon juice and baking soda gets the best reaction. However since the kids had done it before, they remained unimpressed. Especially because I refused to use a “heat source” to develop the ink and went for the less library-liable version of painting over the dried ink with grape juice. Some kids said they would have preferred to drink the grape juice. I would have let them, except that I bought it over 3 weeks ago and it had been opened and possibly fermented. Or maybe I should’ve let them drink it… hm. Either way, next time I will bring in a hair dryer or something.

2) For some reason, I find that explaining the concept of code-wheels to other people is next to impossible. Go ahead and try it! I either end up sounding like it’s quantum physics or just sound like an idiot. I should have guessed when a librarian from another branch called me to ask me how to put it together and “what it was supposed to do” and I couldn’t really explain it to her. Blank stares ensued tonight… They did like the fact that it spun, though…one little boy thought it was a clock. With letters. I did not correct him, but hey, he was 4 and by far my most enthusiastic participant. Code wheels will not survive this iteration of the program, although I do love the idea of making your own code…

3) Kids do not understand what “Alias” means. They do not understand what “Agent number” means. I said “Just make it up!” They looked at me like I was a lunatic. Or like they were humouring me. Except for the little 4-year-old boy who said “I’m SPIDERMAN!” He was pretty awesome. Some kids even asked me what they were supposed to put for “Name.” Next time I make an identity card project I will just put their pictures next to a fancy seal and call it a day.

Meanwhile, back at the info desk – the entire library was being staffed by two people. So when all this was said and done we all looked like info-zombies. I suggested that we close the library due to the fact that none of the librarians could think straight. Somehow we muddled through the last half hour, eyes slightly glazed. Think I also got the courier boxes straightened out, but only time will tell. Why ARE there mysterious courier boxes in the program room closet?!?! The saga continues…

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o_0 – I haven’t had time (or a will) to write for a looong time! There are many things have happened in the meantime many, many things, events, etc. have happened at my library. Will try to write on all of them soon. Summer Reading Club, story time revamping, website facelift, more babies, OH MY.