Shhh! Librarian Secrets

Our jobs are not as quiet as you think…

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Last week, I was asked to represent the library at a local middle school career fair. I was excited to have an opportunity to talk about my job, which people tend to have a lot of misconceptions about. In typical librarian fashion, I even made a handout.

The problem was the kids didn’t even come to my table, except for the few who hoped to score a free pen. It didn’t help that I was right in front of two police officers and a mother-daughter auto mechanic team. Yeah, I wouldn’t have chosen my table either.

Since I didn’t get to answer any questions at the career fair, here are some I wish I had been asked:

Do you read books all day? I wish. Seriously. Other than picture books, which I read constantly to prepare for storytimes, and middle grade books, which I have to read for the three book clubs I run, the only time I get to read for myself is at 3am when I have insomnia. So, while I do sometimes read books all night, I don’t get to sit at a quiet desk and read books by the hour, while shushing anyone who happens to speak above a whisper.

Do you shush people? Never! Actually, that’s not entirely true. When I do storytimes, I sometimes ask the kids to “make the sound of a waterfall.” But technically, they are shushing themselves.

What DO you do all day, since you’re not reading or shushing people? Ever so many things. This week, I have: read to three classes of second and third graders; taught a drop-in ukulele class for adults (in the library!); performed storytimes at three preschools and an infant daycare; led two book club meetings (one for middle schoolers, and one for parents and kids); taught a parenting class on the importance of talking, reading, and singing with your baby; and led two library storytimes (one for babies, and one for all ages). And it’s only Wednesday. When I am at the desk, I am mostly planning storytimes, in between helping patrons find books, or helping them find information on the Internet, print resumes or tax forms, fill out job applications, or download an ebook or audiobook. I should also mention that I am only part time, so some of my coworkers do a whole lot more.

5. What do you like about being a public librarian? The endless variety. Because I work with the public, especially kids, every day is completely new and different. When I’m at the library, I literally never know who is going to walk through the door of the library, or what questions or needs they will have. I get to work with people of all ages, from babies to seniors, and as libraries have evolved into centers of lifelong learning, all of the jobs in the library have evolved too. I have coworkers who lead or organize classes on painting, gardening, and cooking, as well as science workshops for kids, 3D printing classes, mental health programs, and community discussions on important local issues. We all also do a lot of outreach, bringing library services like storytimes, books, Internet instruction, and music, to local daycares, youth detention facilities, schools, senior facilities, and even beaches.

Also, showing up at a preschool and being mobbed by a bunch of four year-olds screaming, “The liberium is here!” is pretty awesome too.

6. What is the most challenging part of your job? Although working with the public does bring all of the variety I mentioned above, some of that variety includes some difficult personalities and behaviors. The vast majority of our patrons are wonderful (some of them even bring us cookies!), but occasionally we work with people who are struggling with mental illness (although most of these are more frightened than frightening), or people who are frustrated and wanting to lash out, or people who are just abusive and mean, or creepy. Very rarely, we even have to call the police.

Oh, and also, there’s the weeding, the real dirty little secret of libraries, especially small ones: we simply don’t have enough room on the shelves for every book, so some of them have to go. Some days, I can channel my inner Marie Kondo and callously pull dozens of books that are out-of-date, disgusting, or haven’t been checked out (much less sparked joy) since the last century. But I’ll admit that in the past, I have secretly checked out a book I liked, just to increase its circulation numbers and save it from execution.

Are libraries dying out? Not at all. They are evolving. Libraries have always been places where the information and media of the day is housed and shared, whether that be in the form of papyrus scrolls, like the lost Library of Alexandria (sigh), or downloadable ebooks and Internet hotspots (yes, we circulate those, as well as laptops).

The traditional idea of libraries as an equalizer, where people of all backgrounds and income levels can access resources for education and advancement, is still true. It’s just that now the resources include computers and high speed Internet. Even though a man once literally scoffed at me for saying that not everyone has Internet access in their home, our library computers are always occupied. And we are in the tech-saturated Bay Area. In rural areas, libraries are often the only place where people have access to high speed Internet. The FCC recently claimed that 24.7 million Americans live where broadband is unavailable. An independent study by Microsoft concluded that number was closer to 163 million. Yet, in a world where most job listings and applications are online (not to mention resources and tools for homework, and applications for affordable housing and federal benefits), not having access to the Internet can have a huge impact on your life.

Luckily, libraries around the country are working hard to bridge the gap between the digital haves and have-nots. They are also giving people the ability to check out more than ever before: tools, and ukuleles, and video games; prom dresses, cooking utensils, toys, and Halloween costumes. Many libraries let you borrow e-books and audiobooks, or print tickets to museums, without even leaving your house.

It’s an exciting time to be a librarian, and I’m thrilled to be along for the ride.

True Confessions: Why I Hate Arranging Forced Book Marriages

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There’s a sad but predictable ritual I go through at least once a week at the library. It usually goes like this: a parent (usually a mom) drags a kid to my desk and says, “Can you recommend some books for my child?”

Usually the kid in question is staring fixedly at the floor.  I try to be cheerful. “What kinds of books do you like?” I’ll ask. Or “What’s a book you enjoyed recently?”

The kid usually gives me a deer-in-the-headlights look, as if he’s never heard of a book before, much less read one. The mom will often supply an answer, “You liked that Percy Jackson book, remember?” The kid will nod obediently. And then we’ll all trudge over to the shelves, where I’ll do my best to talk up several other books that might appeal to a Percy Jackson fan.

Usually the kid will show little interest in any of my recommendations. He never signed up for this embarrassing public matchmaking service, and even though he liked Percy Jackson, none of these books ARE Percy Jackson. They may have shiny covers and nice personalities, but they are all total strangers and so am I.

On the rare occasion that a book does catch the poor kid’s fancy, often his mom will disapprove. “I’d rather he read a ‘real book,'” she’ll say, pursing her lips at the graphic novel I just put in his hands. Or, “That one looks too easy.”

One time, I managed to hook a boy with a nonfiction book about a zoo veterinarian, only to have his mom say, “I think he’d prefer a novel.” Another time, a mom told me she wanted her daughter to “fall in love with a book,” then spent the next twenty minutes criticizing every book her daughter opened, while yelling “Hurry up!” and “You can only take one!” I’ve never actually hit someone over the head with a library book before, but I can’t say I’ve never been tempted.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE recommending books to people, especially kids. But it’s a very different situation when a child or a teen comes to me of their own volition to ask for a suggestion. Those usually lead to amazing conversations: their faces light up as they share their favorite reading adventures, and they eagerly accept my shiny new books as if I had just handed them a big box of chocolates.

Arranged book marriages, on the other hand, are a depressing enterprise for everyone involved. That’s why I was thrilled to hear Young Adult author Kwame Alexander say in a recent interview, “Books are like amusement parks, and sometimes you gotta let kids choose the rides.” Although he admitted his own daughter threw that quote back at him when he tried to dictate her reading choices on vacation. (You can read the full story here: http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/06/28/kwame-alexander-summer-reading)

I get it: I have two kids of my own, and I want them to love books the same way that I love them, and even to love the same books that I do.  For the most part, they do, although I have more luck with the books I read aloud to them.  Otherwise, my only hope is to keep bringing books home and leaving them in places where they might be discovered (I find that the backseat of the car is one of the best locations for a bored kid to meet a lonely but fascinating library book).

And that’s my main advice to parents of reluctant readers (or even avid readers who are caught in that mourning period between series): please, yes, ask librarians, teachers, friends, and book lovers of all kinds for recommendations, but do it on your own.  Then bring two or three books home and leave them–no pressure–for your kids to stumble upon, open, and hopefully, if all goes well, find a match. Or ask them if they’ve heard of any books they might be interested in.

Above all, let your kids choose the ride. When I was in library school, I did a survey of kids who read above grade level to see if there were any trends in the kinds of books they read. The only thing they had in common: they all read voraciously, both above and below their reading level.  They might read Tolkien one day, and Dr. Seuss the next.  Being a book lover does not mean that you only read challenging, educational books. And encouraging your child to love books means letting them choose what books to love, even if those books seem silly or gross or “too easy,” or if they just want to read the same one over and over again.

Also, embrace other reading experiences. One of the best new publishing trends is the boom in graphic novels and audiobooks. Not only are graphic novels and comic books more appealing and less intimidating for many reluctant readers, they often feature harder, less familiar vocabulary than regular books, while providing illustrations to help kids decipher the new words.  And studies on the science of reading have concluded that listening to a book on audio involves most of the same processes in the brain as physically reading it.

For some kids, ebooks are less daunting: they can adjust the font-size and easily look up unfamiliar words.  They are also perfect for reading late at night without having to turn the light on, or hunt for where you left off (I became a Kindle convert as an adult when I developed chronic insomnia).

And, the number one piece of parenting advice I will offer (while usually forgetting to follow it myself) is stay calmSadly, nagging and obsessing over how much or what your kids reads is probably going to put reading in the same category as liver and turnips: something they know may be good for them, but they’ll never choose it voluntarily. Your best bet, after leaving books lying temptingly around the house, is to curl up with a good book yourself and just relax.

 

 

 

In the Night Kitchen: A Storytime in Honor of Maurice Sendak

Today, Friday, June 10, would have been Maurice Sendak’s 88th birthday.  So this week I did an all-Sendak storytime.

Here is what we read:

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Where the Wild Things Are

Of course, I had to include the story of Max and his adventures as King of All Wild Things. I was surprised by how many of the kids hadn’t read this book yet, but they were mesmerized.  They especially enjoyed roaring and gnashing their teeth like wild things, and the silly chant I threw in for the “wild rumpus” pages (something like, “Ung-ga-da, ding-ga-da, ding-ga-da.”  I made it up as I went along).  My copy was immediately snatched up.

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Pierre

I remember the day my son’s teacher read this to the class in Kindergarten (unbeknownst to me), and how he came home saying, “I don’t care!” in reply to everything I said, until I could totally understand why Pierre’s parents left him alone in a neighborhood where hungry lions occasionally wander through.  For a long time this was my son’s favorite book.  The kids at storytime loved it too, eagerly chiming in on all the “I don’t cares!”  A couple of them looked shocked when Pierre (still insisting he doesn’t care) got eaten by the lion, then relieved when he emerged again intact.  But they were all clamoring to check it out in the end.

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Outside Over There

This story has always reminded me of the movie Labyrinth, although I’ve never actually checked to see if there’s a connection.  It’s the story of Ida, who is left in charge of her baby sister, but fails to see the goblins sneaking in through the window to steal the baby away, and leaving a baby made of ice in her place.  Ida has to use her wits and her wonderhorn to rescue her sister from becoming a goblin bride Outside Over There.  There is something so wonderfully bizarre and otherworldly about this book.  It makes me think of the old collection of Andersen’s fairy tales I used to read over and over, feeling equally disturbed and fascinated.  My storytime group was equally entranced, and there were quite a few hands reaching for it when it was over.

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In the Night Kitchen

This was one of my favorite books as a kid: the story of Mickey, who falls out of bed into the night kitchen, and is nearly baked in a cake by the enormous bakers who cook there.  Instead he builds a plane out of bread dough and flies into the Milky Way to find the missing ingredient: milk!  I was wondering if anyone would comment on Mickey’s nudity, but no one did (I don’t remember noticing it when I was a kid either).  A couple of kids were arguing over who would get to check this one out too.

SONGS:

There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

I have an old lady puppet that the kids love to “feed.”  I do have her “die” at the end, but then we take her to the hospital and revive and pump her stomach, which always gets a laugh.

Home Again

I wrote this song a few months ago.  It’s based on several Sendak books, including Where the Wild Things Are, Outside Over There, and We are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy.

Home Again
Darling, when you feel afraid,
For you can plainly see,
The world is full of monsters
Who look just like you and me.

Just jump aboard your tiny boat
Follow the falling star.
And sail away through night and day,
To where the wild things are.

And you will dance and then
Let the wild rumpus begin.
But I will love you best of all
When you come home again.

And darling, when the goblins come,
And no one seems to care,
Climb out your bedroom window
Into outside over there.

Bring your horn, and play a jig,
And charm them with a song.
They’ll set you free, and you will soon be
Home where you belong.

And you will dance and then,
Let the wild rumpus begin.
But I will love you best of all,
When you come home again.

When the moon is in a fit,
And you are in the dumps,
Lost in the rye with one black eye,
And diamonds are all trumps.

I will come and buy you bread,
One loaf or maybe two.
And I will bring you up
Cause happy endings can come true.

And we will dance and then,
Let the wild rumpus begin.
And I will love you best of all
Until the very end.

CRAFT: Wild Thing Feet

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Wild Thing Feet by Evie

I stole this craft idea from AlphaMom.com: http://alphamom.com/family-fun/activities/where-the-wild-things-are-monster-activities-for-kids/

I precut the feet (in a variety of sizes to accommodate different kids), then gave them supplies to decorate them.

What are your favorite Maurice Sendak books?

 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: Picture Books about Big Machines

It’s been a while since I’ve done a write-up about a storytime, but I just did two with a construction equipment theme that were both a lot of fun.  The first was a family storytime, for a wide variety of ages. The second was a preschool storytime, although most of the kids were actually under the age of 3.

Here are the books I read for both:

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Go! Go! Go! STOP by Charise Mericle Harper

I liked this one so much, I actually read it for Musical Storytime as well.  Little Green knows only one word, “GO!”  When he shouts it out to the busy machines working on the new bridge, it motivates them to work faster and faster.  But then things get out of control.  Luckily, just then, Little Red rolls into town and shouts the only word he knows, “STOP!”  It takes a while for Little Green and Little Red to figure out how to work together, but when they do, they help the machines get the bridge built.  There are lots of opportunities for the kids to shout (and whisper), “GO!” and “STOP!” throughout the book, which they loved.  It also provides a great way to model to parents how to use prominent repeated words in the text to help kids make the connection between print and spoken words.  This would work really well for a color theme as well.

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Bulldozer’s Big Day by Candace Fleming; illustrated by Eric Rohmann

Bulldozer is so excited about inviting his friends to his party.  But each time he rolls up to a big machine he knows and ask them what day it is, they answer that it is a scooping day, a mixing day, a scraping day, or whatever kind of day it usually is when they are working.  Bulldozer is sad, until the crane announces that it’s a “lifting day,” and lifts up an enormous birthday cake.  Fun book for kids to try to name each type of big machine, and demonstrate what each one does.  This would also work for a birthday theme.

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Build, Dogs, Build by James Horvath

A crew of dogs tear down an old building and construct a new one from beginning to end.  LOTS of different types of construction equipment in this one, and funny details hidden in the colorful illustrations.  The kids especially enjoyed looking for Jinx the cat on each page.  Great for both dog fans and construction lovers.

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The Construction Crew by Lynn Meltzer by Carrie Eko-Burgess

Another picture book that follows the construction of a house from beginning to end, with rhyming text that asks kids, “What do we need?” for each step of the process, starting with the wrecking ball to tear down the old building and ending with the moving truck to help the new family move in.  Even the adults loved this one.

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What Can a Crane Pick Up? by Rececca Kai Dotlich; illustrated by Mike Lowery

I did this one for Musical Storytime as well.  It’s a rhyming book that describes all of the many things a crane can lift, including multiple trucks, a submarine, library books, another crane, boxes of underwear, and even you!  Quirky and fun.

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I’m Dirty  by Kate and Jim McMullan

Another book by the team behind I Stink, this book introduces a mud-loving backhoe who cleans up a lot full of garbage and abandoned junk, counting what he picks up as he goes: including four cat-clawed couches, and two tossed-out toilet seats.  The kids enjoyed “eww”-ing at the pictures of trash and mud.

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20 Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street by Mike Lee; illustrated by Kurt Cyrus

Cute counting book about an ice cream truck that breaks down in the middle of the street, causing a traffic jam of big trucks.  No one knows what to do, until the boy narrating the story suggests that the crane truck can save the day.  The kids liked the big truck illustrations, and of course, any book with ice cream is always a hit.

SONGS:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Traffic Light

I did this one to go along with Go! Go! Go! Stop! to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Traffic Light,
Twinkle, Twinkle, Traffic Light,
Shining on the corner bright.
Red means STOP! (hold out hands in “STOP” motion)
Green means GO! (run in place fast)
Yellow means YOU’D BETTER GO SLOW! (run in place slowly)
Twinkle, Twinkle, Traffic Light,
Shining on the corner bright.

Bouncing Up and Down in My Little Red Wagon

This is a great song for babies on up.  Older kids like coming up with silly “tools” to fix the wagon, like a pickle or a rhinoceros.  The ukulele chords alternate between C and G7, so it is very easy to play too:

Bouncing up and down in my little red wagon.
Bouncing up and down in my little red wagon.
Bouncing up and down in my little red wagon.
Won’t you be my darlin’.

One wheel’s off and the axle’s broken… (lean to one side)

Joey’s going to fix it with his hammer…

Bouncing up and down in my little red wagon…

Repeat, asking kids who would like to fix the wagon, and what tool they would use.

CRAFT:

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Sadly, it was too crazy on Wednesday night for me to get a picture of the kids’ finished crafts, but I did my own version of this Crane Craft I found from the DeKalb Public Library. Instead of popsicle sticks, I cut up drinking straws, and had the kids thread a piece of yarn through them to attach to the arm of their crane.  It was a bit tricky for the toddlers, who needed their parents’ help, but they all seemed to enjoy it.

 

HANDOUT

Our library system encourages librarians to create a handout for storytimes, listing all of the books and songs, as well as literacy tips for parents.  I don’t usually do one for my Family Storytimes, since I often have to adjust my book selections on the fly depending on what age kids show up.  But here is the handout I used this week for Preschool Storytime: May 25 Pre K Storytime (Larsen, Ashley)

 

Kid Picks

Since I’m always trying to find new books for storytime, I often test out new titles on my own kids.  My son, at 11, mostly wants to read books on his own now, although my husband and I still read aloud to him at bedtime when he’s not caught up in a novel (right now, my husband is reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy with him. I am anxious for them to finish, because then I will get to share The Restaurant at the End of the Universe).

My six year-old daughter has a love/hate relationship with having a librarian mom.  On the one hand, she loves books, so she likes when I bring them home.  On the other hand, she’s always been dismayed that she can’t keep them all.  With both of my kids, I have been guilty of returning books to the library before they were ready to part with them, so I understand why she gets upset.  Occasionally she’ll become so attached to a particular book that  I’ll buy her a copy of her own.  That was the case with her latest favorite, Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson.

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My daughter loves everything about this book: the illustrations (which she talks about at length), the story, the whole package.  She asks for it at bedtime every night.  She brings it in the car to read for herself.  She lies on her bed and pores over every page.  Rarely has she fallen so hard for a book.

And I get it.  It’s a great book.  I think I picked it up originally because it was on a list of the best picture books of 2014.   It’s about a family of puppies: Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La, and Gaston.  They are all adorable, except Gaston does not look like his poodle siblings.  He also struggles to sip (never slobber!), and yip (never yap!), and all the other proper things their mother encourages them to do, although he always tries the hardest.

Then one day the poodles meet a family of bulldog pups at the park.  Or at least three of the pups (Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno) look like bulldogs (and a lot like Gaston).  The fourth, Antoinette, looks like a little white poodle.   Gaston and Antoinette realize there’s been a mix-up.  The two families reluctantly arrange a swap.  Now everyone looks alike, but no one is happy.  Gaston finds the bulldog family too “brutish and brawny.”  Antoinette can’t stand being proper.  The next morning they all race back to the park, where the two mothers announce that they have made a terrible mistake.  Antoinette and Gaston return to the families they love, and later, when they grow up and have puppies of their own, they teach them be whatever they want to be.

All in all, it’s a wonderful story about the true meaning of family.  The illustrations are adorable (there’s a reason my daughter loves them), and the writing is perfect for reading aloud. I always wonder which of the current picture books will become classics, like Corduroy or Harry, the Dirty Dog–books that my kids will remember fondly enough to want to read to their own kids.  I’m sure this one will be on my daughter’s list.

As for my son, his current book obsession is the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children books by Ransom Riggs.  He tore through them in less than a week, pleading with me to check them all out because he didn’t want to wait even a day between books.  I haven’t read them yet myself, although he’s told me enough of the plot that I know it’s a fantasy/sci-fi series about a group of kids with bizarre talents and attributes.  The author based the book and the characters on creepy antique photographs of children (I love that idea).  I’ve promised my son that I will read them soon.

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So those are my kids’ current book recommendations.  What current books do you think will stand the test of time?

You Be the Judge: the Irma Black Award and the Cook Prize

My friend Sue Beckmeyer, who is the instructional media specialist at the K-8 school my kids attend, recently told me about two children’s book awards that are voted on by elementary school students: the Irma Black Award and the Cook Prize.  Both of these awards were created by the Center for Children’s Literature at the Bank Street College of Education in New York.

I was excited to learn about the awards because I read to two classes of second graders every other week, and they LOVE to vote for their favorites.  Sue was especially excited about the Cook Prize because it focuses on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) related picture books, which are a big part of the new Common Core curriculum.  She asked me to share the books with the third and fourth grade classes, and collect their votes.  Here are the books:

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Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark; illustrated by April Chu

This is a fascinating story about a brilliant mathematician who was a century ahead of her time.  Ada Byron Lovelace was the daughter of the notorious poet, Lord Byron, although she barely knew her father.  Her childhood was devoted to math and invention, especially after a bout of measles left her crippled for several years.  As a teenager, she met the famous inventor, Charles Babbage, who showed her his plans to build a “Thinking Machine,” essentially the first computer.  Lovelace recognized that the thinking machine would need detailed instructions to run, and so she set out to write them.  Even though Babbage never built the actual machine, Lovelace’s code is still considered the world’s first computer program.  The two third grade classes I shared this with so far were intrigued by the idea of a computer program that predated computers, and this one got a large number of votes, mostly from girls.

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High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs by Lisa Kahn Schnell; illustrated by Alan Marks

This was the favorite by far of both classes I have read to.  It describes the annual event in Delaware Bay, when millions of horseshoe crabs crawl ashore to lay their eggs in the sand, followed by millions of hungry sea birds.  The kids loved the diagram of the very alien-looking crabs on the inside cover, and seemed really intrigued by the radio tags, and the goopy green eggs.  Nature writing at its best.

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Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled all of France by Mara Rockliff; illustrated by Iocapo Bruno

This was the most challenging of the three books in terms of the concepts it was trying to convey, but it’s a great story.  It describes Benjamin Franklin’s trip to Paris to garner the support of the French aristocracy during the American Revolution.  While in Paris, he found that everyone was abuzz with news of a man named Dr. Mesmer.  Dr. Mesmer claimed to possess a mysterious force that could make people experience strange sensations, or even cure them of various ailments.  But when Dr. Mesmer tried his powers on Franklin, nothing happened.  Franklin suspected that the force was in the patient’s mind.  In order to test his theory, he enlisted the help of Mesmer’s assistant, asking him to use his powers on people who were blindfolded.  As he suspected, when the patient could no longer see Mesmer’s assistant, they would experience sensations even when he was no longer in the room, or feel heat in a different part of the body than he was targeting.  Mesmer was disgraced, but Franklin’s experiments led to the discovery of the placebo effect, which has been an important tool in modern medicine.  The book design and illustrations are eye-catching, and the text includes side bars outlining the different parts of the scientific method Franklin employed.  This book got a number of votes as well.

The Irma Black Award

On Wednesday, I got to share the finalists for the Irma Black Award with two classes of second graders.  This award is chosen by first and second graders, and is for the best read-aloud picture books.  Here are the four finalists:

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You Can Do It, Bert by Ole Konnecke

This is the shortest of the four finalists: a cute book about a bird bracing himself to try something new.  He walks out to the edge of his branch, then back again, then has a snack, then finally jumps…down into the water.  The kids liked the surprise that instead of learning to fly, Bert is taking his first plunge from the high dive.  This one got several votes.

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It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee

I love Jon Agee, especially because he did an excellent author visit to the school when my son was in second grade.  My favorite books of his are My Rhinoceros and Milo’s Hat Trick.  In this rhyming story, the Wimbledon family keeps getting woken up by the antics of their dog, Stanley, who howls at the moon, makes catfish stew, fixes their old TV, and finally launches their whole house to the moon.  The kids loved that the space poodle Stanley meets up with showed up on the TV earlier in the book.  This one got several votes as well.

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Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

I was happy to see this one on the list, because it is one of my daughter’s favorites.  The kids were intrigued from the moment they noticed the discrepancy between the book’s title (Red) and the clearly blue crayon on the cover.  The story is about a crayon who is labelled “Red,” but somehow can’t figure out how to draw anything red.  Everyone has a theory: he needs to try harder, his label’s too tight, he’s not warm enough.  But nothing helps.  Until one day, a new crayon asks him to draw a blue ocean for her boat, and he discovers he is really good…at being blue.  This was the second most popular book in both classes.

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Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy

This was the clear favorite for both classes (and my favorite as well).  Ragweed the dog explains how to be a farm dog by taking you on a tour of the farm.  Along the way, he explains the jobs of the other animals: the rooster wakes the farmer.  That’s his job.  That’s not your job.  You will really, really want to wake the farmer, but don’t wake the farmer.  If you do wake the farmer, you can get a biscuit just to go away.  Every animal has a different job that Ragweed finds appealing, but Ragweed’s job is still the best.  His job is: to get biscuits!  The kids especially love the part where Ragweed says if you eat grass, you won’t get a biscuit.  “But you will throw up a biscuit, and you can eat that one again.”  This one is a blast to read aloud, and a hit for all ages.

I really enjoyed reading both the Irma Black and the Cook Prize finalists to the different classes, and am looking forward to trying out the Cook Prize voting with fourth graders this week to see if they make different choices.  Voting for both awards ends on April 17.  There’s a convenient form for online voting on the Bank Street web site.

UPDATE: I finished reading the Cook Prize finalists to the third and fourth grade classes yesterday.  Although all three books got votes, the fourth graders seemed to prefer Mesmerized.  The third graders tended to prefer High Tide for Horseshoe CrabsAda Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine was a close second for both grades.  The teachers were impressed with all three books, and so was I.  Even though I read them to five classes, I enjoyed reading them each time.  They are a nice mix of science, history, and nature, and all three are very well written.  Kudos to Bank Street for their selections!

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: The results are in!  The winner of the Cook Prize was Mesmerized, the book that the fourth graders preferred.  And It’s Only Stanley won the Irma Black Award. This wasn’t the favorite of the second grade, but it did get several votes, and I’m happy to see Jon Agee receive a prestigious award.

 

 

Where the Wild Things Are: A Song for Maurice Sendak

 

wild

I’ve been thinking a lot about Maurice Sendak lately.

Years ago, I read a book by Alison Lurie called Don’t Tell the Grown-ups: the Subversive Power of Children’s Literature.  Lurie’s central point was that the best and most memorable children’s books are the unconventional ones, usually featuring mischievous characters who don’t follow the rules.  While the book focused more on older authors, like Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, and Mark Twain, I think Maurice Sendak fits the bill.

As I kid, one of my favorite books was In the Night Kitchen, which I think was the only Sendak book I actually owned.  I couldn’t tell you exactly why I was so drawn to it.  (Oddly, I don’t even think I noticed or cared that Mickey was naked. I remember being surprised years later, when a coworker in my first library job mentioned that someone had drawn pants on him in one of our copies.)  The book was deliciously creepy (literally), with the three giant smiling cooks threatening to cook Mickey in the batter.  The text and illustrations had a surreal quality that both troubled and appealed to me, and so I read it over and over again.

Later on, I stumbled upon Where the Wild Things Are in our local library. I loved the idea of sailing away to that island of the wild things, which I found both frightening and fascinating.  I stared at those illustrations for hours.  And, of course, the idea that you could enjoy your time being “King of the Wild Things” and still come home for a hot supper was deeply reassuring.  (I love the story of how Sendak had to fight his editor to use the word “hot” instead of “warm,” because the editor thought “hot” sounded too dangerous).

From Sendak, I developed an appetite for Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury, and Hans Christian Andersen (whose stories were often grimmer than the Brothers Grimm).  While the message from the adult world at large was “There’s no such thing as monsters,” these authors delighted in saying, “Oh, monsters definitely do exist, and aren’t they awesome?” or even “Monsters definitely do exist, and the scariest ones are people.”  They provided a safe, often even funny way to confront the nightmares, which was far more reassuring than being told that there was nothing to be afraid of.

So, in honor of Maurice Sendak, and all of his weird, wonderful, terrifying, mesmerizing books, I wrote this song, which I’m calling Home Again.  I hope you enjoy it (click on the triangle to hear the song):

Home Again
Darling, when you feel afraid,
For you can plainly see,
The world is full of monsters
Who look just like you and me.

Just jump aboard your tiny boat
Follow the falling star.
And sail away through night and day,
To where the wild things are.

And you will dance and then
Let the wild rumpus begin.
But I will love you best of all
When you come home again.

And darling, when the goblins come,
And no one seems to care,
Climb out your bedroom window
Into outside over there.

Bring your horn, and play a jig,
And charm them with a song.
They’ll set you free, and you will soon be
Home where you belong.

And you will dance and then,
Let the wild rumpus begin.
But I will love you best of all,
When you come home again.

When the moon is in a fit,
And you are in the dumps,
Lost in the rye with one black eye,
And diamonds are all trumps.

I will come and buy you bread,
One loaf or maybe two.
And I will bring you up
Cause happy endings can come true.

And we will dance and then,
Let the wild rumpus begin.
And I will love you best of all
Until the very end.