Monday, September 24, 2007

In Which I Scuff My Toe And Look at the Ground

So. I have an announcement.

Here's what happened:

Some months ago, I got a warm and informed e-mail from someone who asked if I wanted a paid weekly blogging gig.

What I felt like I honestly should say: "Um... are you sure you want me?? Because there are all these really fantastic kidlit bloggers out there [and you know I could link to way more, too] who are incredible writers and also post reliably, like, all the time. Here, let me give you some names..."

What I did say: "Sure!"

What happened after that: Nothing, for a while. And then, some more e-mails, culminating in the launch of a raft of new blogs at's site for parents. Including one by me with the highly descriptive title Librarian Mom. My first post went live today.

I'm linking to it even though some of the layout is still a bit rough, because...well, because I'm happy about it and wanted to tell people.

I'll be cross-posting some posts from the new blog on this one, though the intended audience is somewhat different: the general book-friendly parenting public, as opposed to the kind of obsessive kidlit hounds (like me!) whose idea of fun is a rousing evening spent debating the relative merits of A Little Princess and The Secret Garden (ah! a post I haven't written yet!)*. I'm also going to focus over there on books for kids between the ages of 3 and 13, so ruminations on the far ends of the kid/teen lit spectrum will end up at this site.

Anyway. I would love to have visitors from those among you who are still reading this blog after what's been a rather fallow summer. Even if you just click over because you're curious to see a photo of me with what appears to be a halo emanating from the back of my head. (It was originally snapped against a background of kitchen cabinets, and transformed by the photoshop wizards at Scholastic.)

Now that I have a new library job, along with this new blogging one, my brain is buzzing with ideas for things to write about, and I'm looking forward to writing about them here and there and...well, not quite everywhere. Yet.

*Though actually, when you get talking kids' media with many parents who don't on the surface appear to be that involved with the genre, you find hidden pockets of obsession: I once heard a volunteer mom at my old job riff for a good twenty minutes on the themes and idiosyncrasies of the "Arthur" TV shows and how they compared with the books. So, you never know.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cheese Balls and Tshuvah

Tonight marks the start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. This is the first year in almost a decade that I haven't had the Jewish holidays off work, and I'm thinking wistfully of the holiday book collection at my old job and wishing I could get my hands on some of them now, to share with my daughter and to think about myself.

The central concept of Yom Kippur is tshuvah. Though tshuvah is generally translated as "repentance," it literally means "turning": turning from sin--however you define that, whether it be hurtful behavior or not living up to one's own potential--to something better. Trying, and failing, and apologizing to whoever you hurt, and trying to make restitution if you can, and then getting back on that horse and trying again.

This is a concept that even--or maybe, especially--young kids can understand, and there are several decent children's books on the topic. One perennial favorite is Gershon's Monster, by that doyen of Jewish holiday books (and Anansi stories, while he's at it) Eric Kimmel. Instead of repenting or apologizing for any of his little thoughtless acts, Gershon sweeps them up and puts them in the cellar. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, he tosses them all into the sea. Eventually all the un-dealt-with sins become a huge monster that threaten what is dearest and most precious to him. There are echoes of King Lear and other old, dark tales in this simple story, but it never seemed to bother the enraptured kids who sought the book out by name even in the off-season. I think they recognized the power and truth behind it. Or maybe they just liked the big scary monster, as illustrated by Caldecott Honor medalist Jon Muth.

Jacqueline Jules's The Hardest Word is more nakedly didactic, but still enjoyable. The Ziz (an imaginary huge bird creature that apparently has its origins in Jewish mythology), after destroying a vegetable garden, must do repentance by finding and saying the very hardest word of all. Any guesses what it is? (hint: it starts with an "S.") Kids enjoy this one, too, and can identify with the well-meaning but hapless Ziz.

For my money, though, the best book about tshuvah is a title doesn't even refer to Yom Kippur, or to Judaism at all. In Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, by Kevin Henkes, Lilly goes through all the important steps of true repentance after drawing a mean picture of her teacher, Mr. Slinger, in a burst of temper: She owns up to what she did, she feels true remorse, she makes restitution by drawing a nicer picture and writing a story and bringing in home-baked cheese balls, and she apologizes in person. She even does the hardest thing of all, which is to confront the evidence of her wrongdoing when Mr. Slinger gently brings out the dreaded picture and asks what she thinks he should do with it.

I'll be thinking of Lilly tomorrow night when the final shofar blast sounds and everyone cheers, and then the whole congregation--like Mr. Slinger's class--eats some tasty snacks. Tshuvah like hers deserves a celebration.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What to Do with the Babies-O at Story Time

My new job, as new jobs tend to, involves doing some stuff I've never done before. Among other things, I'll be creating and performing a weekly story time for babies/toddlers (take your pick of terms) aged 12-24 months.

Now, I adore this age group. Back in my distant youth, I even taught toddlers full-time, at a childcare center. But I have to admit that after nine years of mostly dealing with elementary-aged kids, I'm daunted at the prospect of keeping the attention of preverbal crowd, even with parents in the mix.

I'm going to stick to mostly songs and finger plays, and just slip a couple of books in each week. I spent a fair bit of work time in the past week flipping through picture books, immediately discarding anything that had more than four or five words on a page.

One side-effect of all this planning is that is What'll I Do With the Baby-O? by Jane Cobb has become my new favorite book in the world. I've been shamelessly cribbing from Cobb's preschool story time resource book I'm a Little Teapot! for the last several years, and now she has once again saved my bacon. Or my little piggies. Or my thumbkins. Whatever. In any case, Baby-O is a treasure trove of songs, finger plays, bouncy rhymes, and simple circle games for the very youngest storytime-goers.

Cobb lays out step-by-step outlines of a few sample story times for babies and for toddlers, and even includes suggestions for low-key informational asides to make to parents in between songs: "When you bounce your baby to the beat of the rhyme, you're helping her absorb rhythms and language with her whole body"-- that kind of thing. The accompanying CD, which I've been listening to somewhat obsessively on my commute, provides sung/spoken versions of 35 of songs. It's a teaching CD, so the versions are pretty bare-bones, but some of them are very sticky and I was surprised at how many were new to me and how many were quite lovely. I've found myself singing her version of "Mr. Moon/T'was On a Summer's Evening" at odd moments, hoping to find someone to sing it with as a harmonized round as Cobb demonstrates on the CD.

(Does it count as bragging if I mention that Cobb is not only Canadian, but a librarian at the Vancouver Public Library?)

What'll I Do With the Baby-O? doesn't seem to be available yet through Amazon. But it can be purchased through its publisher, Black Sheep Press. Independent bookstores may also be able to order it. If you do any programming for this age group, it's more than worth the list price, even with international postage.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Moving: In Praise of Bibliotherapy

I've been pretty cagey about it on this blog--at first because I hadn't given notice at work yet, and then because things were so frantic there was no chance to sit down and write a substantive and literary post about it--but we've spent the summer moving to Vancouver. That's Vancouver, Canada. We have a new home, with new jobs and new school, in a new city, in a new country.

It hasn't been a painless move for any of us. I'm probably the most jazzed about being in a new place (all those British editions!), and my just-turned-7-year-old daughter is easily the least enthusiastic. And why shouldn't she be? She had a nice life, good friends, great school, comfy (if somewhat snug) home. She didn't ask to move. But she had to, anyway, just because her parents got this crazy idea in their heads.

Just before the end of the school year, I snagged a copy of Alexander, Who's Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move, by Judith Viorst, at my school's used book sale. I thought the book might be too blatantly bibliotherapeutic for my kid--that she might feel emotionally manipulated, or put on the spot--but I gave it to her anyway in early July, and she's glommed onto it. Not every day, but once every week or two, all summer and now into the fall, she asks for it for her bedtime story.

Even though it's about a boy and she's a very girly girl, even though he has siblings and she doesn't, even though she's only moved a hundred-some miles from her old home, not a thousand miles as in the book, this story speaks to her. She likes the humor; she likes the eponymous refrain; she likes the litany of people and things that Alexander is going to miss; she loves the variety of places where the hero contemplates hiding (at the friendly neighbors'; behind the clothes racks at the cleaners'; inside the pickle barrel at the market). And I think she likes the hope held out in the end, that there can be new things to love in the new place where you live.

It calms her and makes her laugh, knowing that someone else, somewhere, has been through the same thing that she's going through, and felt the same things, and that there's a story about it. And it doesn't hurt that it's a decent, funny, well-written one, at that.

Here are a couple more good books about moving, that focus especially on friendship:

The Shelf-Paper Jungle
, by Diana Engel. (o/p, alas.) When Frannie has to move away from her best friend, the two create a huge mural on a roll of shelf paper, dive into their creation and have one last adventure together, then cut it in half and each take a portion.

Ira Says Goodbye, by Bernard Waber. In this book, it's the hero's best friend, Reggie, who's moving away. Ira acts like he doesn't care, but at the last minute he's able to say goodbye to Reggie.

Anyone have any other suggestions?