Sunday, November 30, 2008

Random Quote Sunday: Keyboard Aggression

Ah the start of the holiday season...where some people seem to think it is to the benefit of the library staff that they bring their overstressed child in to scream hysterically. And you wonder why I wear a knitted headband (hides the earplugs).

Me to coworker:
"You're typing in a really frustrated manner."
(I couldn't see her, just could hear her typing...)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hopped up on Wool Fumes and Girl Scout Cookies

Welcome to anyone wandering over from the Lime and Violet show notes (wow...I made the show notes). And don't worry, I still have a ridiculous amount of knitting left to do for Christmas. I just have the bags done.

I had a small adventure yesterday. One of my local yarn stores (if you count a 40 minute drive local) was having her holiday open house. Katherine always has delightful stuff and her store atmosphere is warm and welcoming. AND it was my first day off in two weeks. Guess what went on my calendar in capital letters.

Only, I didn't much like the prospect of driving down alone. I put out an email to the local yarn mavens, who amazingly all avoided the temptation. Thus with only one seat taken in the car by someone it's best I not write about at length, I started calling the kids from the knitting group I ran at the library earlier this year. In short order I was supplied with a backseat full of giggly girls.

I picked the girls up first and tossed a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints into the back seat. There would be snacks when we got there but I figured cookies for the road was worth the vacuuming that would need to be done. And we were off! It's a lovely drive between La Crosse and Viroqua, especially with a sunset out the rearview mirror (which I kept checking to make no one was actually strangling each other).

We got to the store and the girls were given a couple of ettiquette points--this being their first trip into a "real" yarn store. We swept in and they were almost instantly overwhelmed. Here was not just one or two aisles of yarn, most of it being of the acrylic or fun fur variety (although I have to say Hobby Lobby has a pretty sweet collection of dishcloth cotton). Here were walls and walls of wool--in far more varities than I'd brought them to see from my stash.

I let the girls browse for a little while and ask questions and then lured them away from the snack table. I told them they each could spend $10 on yarn or supplies and I'd pay for it. Now--it was browsing with a purpose.

There was a lot of education going on--why was this yarn so much more than that yarn? What was so special about a $50/skein of yarn with bison wool in it? Why was there balls of fiber on the wall? Could you knit with that?

I let everyone browse for about an hour--and then it was time to check out so we could get back at a reasonable time. Stuffed further with cheese and crackers, the girls hugged their purchases and we headed to the car. You'd think they'd have been quieter on the ride home. Nope! Much giggling ensued. Little Brunette cast on a number of stitches with the yarn and needles she'd gotten (green wool with purple knitting needles) and knitted aimlessly. Little Blonde had gotten a boucle that I imagine will be a hat the next time I see her. And the Little Redhead found red handspun that she couldn't live without.

I got some handdyed sock yarn and needles to finish Christmas projects--which I had best go and do since it's one of my days off.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who Am I? Blog Analyzer

Stealing unabashedly from Random Musings of the Desert (Congrats on your anniversary!)

Typeanalyzer--Provides a Meyer-Briggs analysis of my Blog

"ESTP - The Doers
The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.
The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time."

(Hmm---anyone surprised at this result?)

GenderAnalyzer--Is a man or a woman writing this blog?

Believes I'm "gender neutral" though more likely male. Hmmm....this after all the blogs about my hair and my knitting and hedgehogs.

Blog Readability Test-- What kind of vocabulary and reading level should you have to read this blog?

blog readability test

(I wonder what they base this on?)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Boogie Boogie Hedgehog....

Ah the things people are willing to put music too....

Consider this your moment of ridiculousness for this week.

(Thanks Jill)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

It used to be that day at school where you got out of class and there was a ceremony and you didn't necessarily understand all of what was going on but you stood up next to your grandmother and thought about the grandfather who had served both in WWII and Korea.

Today, I honor specifically three veterans of Iraq. The Tech Sargent-- who voluntarily served two tours; AD's husband--who was wounded while serving and who is still working to regain full health; and the 2nd LT--who just emailed me to tell me he's headed home in a week!!!

Please take a moment today to think of those who are serving and who have served, and also of their families.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

On a November Afternoon

The weather was a dreary harbinger of more days to come, gray and overcast. There were moments of precipitation and times where peering out the window made me wonder if it was smoke, wind, snow, or just imagination blowing past.

There was a lot of be done--piles of housework, freelance work, and Christmas knitting all waiting. There were many books to be read, a number of which would need review upon completion. The tea had long since gone cold. There was only a weak half cup left anyway and that was from a couple of hours ago.

I would just read one chapter. A treat to myself before I settled into the things that needed be done this dim November day. Already I'd acknowledged ruefully that I was getting ready physically for winter. A quick trip to the post officer earlier in the day had found me fully accepting of the fact that it was 36 degrees--and this felt "warm."

I sat in the almost rocking chair, staring out at the gray. Trying to reconcile with myself the muted feelings of the weather and the very real to do list waiting. And finally, like sinking into the comfort of a blanket I refused to acknowledge I needed, I crawled back into the book. Just one more sub-section, I promised. One more essay.

And here among the pages I found someone who understood. Whose experiences were far different from my own--whose life bore little resemblance to my own--but who understood. Who empathized unapologetically with why half of my den resembled a yarn store. Who didn't think it strange or a waste of time to hand craft a good half of my Christmas gifts, even if that meant the knowledge that I would be quite frantically knitting right up until Christmas Eve or Day (depending on what time on Christmas Day I would see the recipient).

I tried to break the spell. I got up and did a sinkload of dishes. I took a hot shower. And then crept again to the chair and the book. Promising myself just a few minutes more.

As a result, it's now evening, my to do list still stretches before me. As night comes early, it's been dark for a couple of hours now. I have a fresh cup of tea now and wet hair because it takes forever to dry. Closing the book after finishing the last page was a little bit saddening, but the sadness that comes when a good friend must leave after a satisfactory visit. I know I'll have the chance to visit again.

Such is the contentment after finishing Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's latest work Free-Range Knitter: The Yarn Harlot Writes Again.

Book Review: Robe of Skulls by Vivian French

The Robe of Skulls
Vivian French

Vivian French is currently best known among the little girls of La Crosse Public Library's Children's Room as the author of the incredibly popular Tiara Club series. These are short chapter books about a boarding school for princesses, with a dose of manners and friendship and mean girls tossed in. I recommend them to parents moving out of the Disney princess phase because, occasionally too insipid for words or not, good manners are a focus. Also, at the end of the day the friends are friends again...though one always hopes the more passive of the bad twins will shake off the more active of the pair and turn into a decent person.

Anyway, Tiara Club aside (apologies--I've read about a half dozen of those books), French's new book came out recently and I was torn. The reviews were pretty positive--the cover I found a turn off. (Madame Director and I do not agree on the cover.) So it followed me home and landed in the wicker basket that houses library books at Chez Hedgehog (if they go anywhere else they get lost among my books).

The tale is a lightly romping fractured fairy tale. An "evil" but aging sorceress, who seems to mostly be permanently bad-tempered, desires a stunning new dress. But how will she pay for it? At the same time a young girl is trying to escape an evil step-father and step-sister and the younger of twin boy princes is trying to determine his own independence. It's a toss up of "because a, then b" and "then x happened, which was good--well yes, but it's also bad." There's a troll servant but he's a pathetic comic creature that one pities and chuckles at rather than fears.

What I noticed the most was consistency of author's voice. And to some degree that's not a compliment. It was immediately apparent to me that I was reading the same writer behind the Tiara Club series and I'd hoped for something a little more mature. Other than the length and breaking out from the repetitive storyline, I'm not sure I got it. And while I can easily sell sparkly pink covers to our rising seven year olds, handing them a book with skulls on the cover general results in "ewwww, I don't wanna read that..."

Overall it's a light amusing read that I put on hold for Patron Age 9 who just came by and told me she's reading magic books now (magic being chapter books with a light sprinkling of fairy godmothers and kittens that transform into princes). It was a little too cute for me, but may just appeal to the alternative princess readers.

Other Recommendations for the Growing Princesses:

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rest in Peace, Dr. Crichton

As the United States waited in line in what will be forever known as a historic presidential election, we also saw the passing of one of our great authors. Michael Crichton, best known for his work on Jurassic Park and as the creator of ER, passed away on November 4, 2008. (New York Times; CNN )

Crichton was one of my preferred authors in high school and into college. His books had depth and research to them that appealed to a young teenager who didn't really go for the whole "coming of age" books. Perhaps I was most impressed by his bibliographies--tucked in the back to remind us that these well crafted stories did not merely come out of his imaginings but also out of meticulous research.

My favorite of his works is Timeline, which offers the supposition that we might one day be able to create an ability to move through time and witness for ourselves great events of the past. That the chosen destination of his characters was the medieval time period might have had something to do with why I was half-frantic to grab a copy.

Crichton wrote fiction in an informational way well based in research and non-fiction tomes but with the liveliness and story that captivated readers. Here was not just information about how one could possibly find a way to recreate dinosaurs after finding mosquitoes in petrified tree sap0--here was the idea that we could do it, and thoughts on how it might turn out if we did. Crichton had an amazing imagination for what humans might be capable of creating and a strong sense of the pragmatic as he showed how it might very likely go wrong.

I had the pleasure of using Crichton's Timeline, paired alongside Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, for a honors student conference round table in Chicago in 2001. The argument I was presenting was that these were two authors we would teach our children and grandchildren. Some of Crichton's "outlandish" ideas we might bring forth as sparking research and awareness. Though Crichton may not have liked the idea, he might one day be required reading. And I can only think that those students will enjoy his stories better than I enjoyed some of the tomes I was required to read in the name of "good literature."

This weekend, in memory of Dr. Crichton, I think I might revisit Timeline. Thank you sir, for the stories.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Book Review: The Youngest Templar

The Youngest Templar (Book 1)
Michael Spradlin

Tristan was an abandoned foundling raised at a monastery and taken as a squire by the Knights Templar. Caught in the midst of the Third Crusade, he faces battle before being entrusted with one of the greatest treasures of the Knights, which he must attempt return safely to England.

I had to speed read through this one as my intrepid cataloger needed to know whether or not it was supposed to go in Teen or Juvenile Fiction. Fortunately, it reads very fast.

Though the protagonist is fifteen, the book is written for the ten-twelve year old boy range. Tristan is young and eager, and also interested in his own mysterious past. Spradlin suggests that he's a son either of nobility or aristocracy and him having the knowledge of his birth seems to be a threat to someone--possibly King Richard.

Blending in characters from Robin Hood (I confess I missed the first reference to Friar Tuck), Spradlin gives a dose of history without getting too deeply or dryly into the subject. The difficulties of having noble warriors who believed themselves answerable not to their kings but only to Rome is touched on, and Spradlin does a credible job of giving the background of the Templars in a manageable format. One understands how a young boy, sheltered in a monastery, could be swept up on this chance to see action and fight for the church who had raised him.

Spradlin also makes the Templars' enemies very human and, while not going into graphic detail, does not shy away from the realities that wars and battles are deadly. It's done in a thoughtful manner which will remind readers that there are human faces, brilliant planners and leaders, and different ideas on the otherside of the battleground.

When I read this I immediately knew to whom I would suggest it. There is one of the home schooling families whose elder son has often asked me for reading recommendations. He's gotten through Madeline L'Engle and it's been a stretch trying to locate fiction that I really thought he would really enjoy and find the characters relateable. When I saw him last week I pounced and recommended this new title. It's on hold for him (of course it was checked out) and he promises me an opinion.

In the interim, I'm looking forward to the next volume of this adventure.

Monday, November 03, 2008

My Version of Storytime

Every week on Wednesday I head to storytime. It's challenging, rewarding, occasionally makes me want to tear my hair out, and is one element I have a lot of control over.

And chances are good that many traditional children's librarians will tell you I'm doing it wrong. Generally speaking, I don't do a craft every week, show a video, drag out new fingerplays, wear an apron, use handpuppets, make extensive use of feltboards, hand out a song sheet, give out a take home activity/sheet, or have a snack.

Why is this?

First, you have to keep in mind my audience. Though billed as a "pre-school" storytime, I have children from four months through five years. Most of the kids are in the two to five year range. Because this is our one storytime that doesn't require sign up, I get different kids every week. Grandma brings her visiting grandchildren, parents who are in the building on a random Wednesday, everyone comes by. Such is not to say I don't see several of the same kids week to week--my core group is about 7 children--but today I had 16 kids, at least six of whom I'd never seen before. Not being able to plan for specific age, ability, and numbers changes a lot of how one plans storytime. However, I'd probably only modify it heavily if I took on an 18 month and younger group.

So what do I do?

We start every week with a talk about the weather. What color is the sky? How does it feel outside? Did you wear a sweater? It's something almost every child will respond to you about--even if they don't know you. It's subjective to each child and allows personality. It's also a sneaky way to introduce vocabulary (words like overcast, foggy, muggy, and dreary).

Next I ask the kids what they think we might be reading about--based on the covers of the books. I always bring in more books than we have time to read so they have some options to take home. Usually a few of those books do follow them out of the room. I do this to encourage observation of the book covers that are in the room. I usually pull for a casual theme (cats, pigs, astronauts) and while they're quick to catch the theme, often they'll go for the details as well.

Note: Yes, I'm asking a lot of questions but if you ask a kid a question, he/she's going to give you an answer. (Thank you Laura Numeroff)

Welcome Song: We sing the same song every week, and the majority of the regulars sing along. We wave hands and arms on the first two rounds and then the third round of the song gets changed up. Most popularly of late we've been waving our feet.

Read Books 1 and 2, possible rhyme or song in between.

Stretch Break: "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" --gets the kids up and moving, can be repeated at various speeds, most of the kids can sing it with you--all of the adults can. (And should.) If they are still squirmy a round of "Noble Duke of York" helps also.

Books 3 and 4, possible rhyme or song in between

Hand stamps

Announcements are fit in somewhere, either after book 3 or before/during hand stamps.

And this takes 35-40 minutes.

A lot of the reason it takes me so long is that I prefer to engage in a lot of dialogic reading. Before we even open the book, I'll ask questions. My kids have quickly grasped that there is the title and author on the cover of the book and I've said the words "the illustrator, the person who drew the pictures, is..." more times than I'd care to count. One of my favorite "break up the monotony" tricks is to pick up a book incorrectly and to ask if we're ready to read.

(Book is Upside-Down and Backwards)
"Are we ready to read?"
"No? Why not? What's wrong with the book?" (Identify it as upsidedown)
(Book is Backwards)
"Now are we ready? No? What's wrong?"
(Book is front ways but again, upside down)

This can easily go one for several questions. But I can sneak in the fact that an English language book opens to the left and pages turn from the right to the left hand side. The letters are upside down. The kids may recognize that it's not correct but not know why, and it's my job to fill in the blanks. You can also make sure they're not totally onto the game by asking with a book that IS correct and then go through the "Are the letters right side up? Does a book open this way ?"

Once we get into the book I will continue to ask questions or invite other responses. "How do you think the pigeon feels?" (We heard that a lot last Tuesday--I read all Mo Willem books for storytime) "What color is the....?" "What is he holding?"

or one of my more recent favorites "What do you see?" This works best one small group days where I can ask them to come up and tell/show me/us what they see on the page. On an intricate page, that can be a lot! Each kid wants to identify something different. Whatever they say they see, I reaffirm it, repeating it back to them in a positive manner. This means that sometimes I'm saying utterly ridiculous things that aren't what an adult would identify in a picture at all (e.g. a round shape sticking out of the water--I recognize it as the pig's belly in a swimsuit but to Patron Age 2.5 it's an Easter egg).

It sounds very simple, and it is. There's just enough structure that the kids have a general idea of what we'll do each week. And a clean simple format like this allows me to add things in without it becoming overwhelming to the parents or the children (or me). Adding in traditional songs like Wheels on the Bus or Pattycake allow the parents to take the song home with them. I prefer to keep flannel boards and fingerplays to a minimum. The kids don't usually remember the fingerplay three minutes after we've finished it so I'd rather look for an effective book than an ineffective rhyme. Flannel boards are similar fun--occasionally. And while a craft is a wonderful addition--I've also been in complete burnout because of trying to come up with crafts that will go together quickly and might actually make it home.

I do like to focus a little more on early literacy and that's where a lot of what I DO do comes in. Asking questions, introducing them to words like author and illustrator, talking about how to hold a book. Bringing in strange vocabulary and encourage the kids to read wordless books. It's different from any other children's librarian I know and different from how my coworkers do it but so far, the kids seem to enjoy it.

So feel free to join us on Wednesday morning and welcome to storytime.

Today, we're going to read stories.

One More In Early = One Less in Line Tomorrow

After seeing the Incredibly-Patient-Mother off last Tuesday, I headed to City Hall to get my vote in. As we're facing a 14 hour day at the library tomorrow (for which, thankfully, I'll only be present for about ten hours of...), and since I usually have at least an hour long meeting first thing--it definitely behooved me not to make the day any fuller than it needed to be.

I was surprised and pleased at how easy it was. I work at a public library and a number of the staff had been through training to take voter registration--so registering was as simple as tracking down Our Lady in Charge of Circulation. I'd changed my driver's license in early September so as to be able to vote in this election. I stopped in at City Hall and within about ten minutes everything was done. My vote had been cast for the next President.

If you have gone early or voted absentee--great. If you haven't, please make sure to get out tomorrow and vote. We're a democracy, not an oligarchy.

I'll catch you on Wednesday if I'm still standing.