Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cleaning Out the Closet Programs

Most (not all) children's rooms have a back closet stuffed with supplies. There's a little of this and that left over from all kinds of programs before. Some glitter, paper in weird colors, tissue paper, two dozen 5 mm dowel rods, enough glitter glue to decorate a building, that kind of stuff just piles up if you don't drag it out occasionally

I've been trying, this year, to figure out some programs that allow me to use up leftovers without having to purchase a lot of additional things. I haven't made it anywhere near through our backlog yet (especially of tissue paper, we may NEVER run out) but I'm working on it.

This summer, our theme was "Be Creative." This translated to a focus on art, music and dance for the summer, with some theater and gardening thrown in for good measure. I opted to focus on "colors" because it was vague enough to let me pull out a bunch of cheerful crafts without getting too bogged down.

Supplies Needed:

Tissue Paper
Pipe Cleaners
"Stuff to decorate" (can be just about anything but make sure it's light)
Butcher paper
Glue/Glue Sticks (I prefer glue)
Styrofoam Cups
Masking Tape
Paint Brushes (little ones, preferably old ones that you can then throw away)

Craft One: Tissue paper butterflies

Precut the butterflies out, if possible, and provide decorations (markers, stickers, etc) and pipe cleaners.
Ask the kids to choose a pipe cleaner middle and decorate the wings. These look lovely hung up in windows.

Craft Two: Tissue paper flowers

Precut rectangles of tissue paper (about 4x8 inches) and have them stacked up. Pick up four or five layers, bind the center with a pipe cleaner. Cut the petals in decorative shapes, fluff them apart. Add decorations as desired. (These also wrap nicely into headpieces as the base is then all pipe cleaners.)

Craft Three: Mural
Have a general idea sketched out on some butcher paper and ask the kids to help you fill it in with all the decorations you would like: markers, tissue paper, feathers, anything that won't fall off when you hang it up. And by general idea I mean abstract shapes--not a farm scene. For whatever reason though, kids liked making "clothes" out of the tissue paper.

Craft Four: Instruments

Ahead of time, put beans, beads, any small thing you have in the back that you can stand the site of any more 9and will rattle) into styrofoam cups. Tape two cups open ends together (now it's a shaker!) Use tissue paper (told you we had a lot) cut in small squares and lots of glue and layer the tissue paper all over the cups. Should get a stained glass effect.

Tomorrow I'm doing another "what's in the back room" program with fairies as the theme.

Colored paper
Dowel Rods (leftovers from another program, straws or popsicle sticks work too)
All the glitter glue in Wisconsin
Leftover tissue paper squares and flowers (I don't know where the precut flowers came from
Flat "angel" cut outs (from my mom's cleaning out) (wings plus a skirt cut out = fairy to me!)
Magnet pieces

Craft one: Wands
If I could guarantee 10 year olds, I'd make them cut out their own wand shapes. Since I can't, I used the die cutter and colored paper and tada--52 stars (none of them yellow). Glue two stars together with dowel rod in the middle and you have a wand. The fairies tomorrow can decorate, add ribbon, write their fairy name on it...all sorts of things.

Craft two: Headdresses
See Tissue paper flowers above, adding in ribbon and a base circlet of pipe cleaners. I'm actually not doing this one tomorrow, I decided two crafts was enough

Craft Three: Make your own fairy magnet
We had the magnets and ornaments, so the girls will get to design their own flower fairy friend. Once they are done decorating, we'll write their fairy name on the back (I'm using this Fairy Name Generator) and add a magnet so it can go on the fridge.

Wish me luck and not bringing any of this stuff back with me!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Review: NERDS by Michael Buckley

by Michael Buckley

Buckley's pretty well known for his charming Sisters Grimm series, which brings to life the rather frightening reality that fairy tale characters live in a small town in upstate New York. So it was with high anticipation that I grabbed NERDS off the shelf.

Meet Jackson Jones, your typical super-popular star athlete at the middle school. Kids want to be like him or at least in his circle of friends, even adults emulate him. Charm and style and amazing skill at football should see him through fifth grade trials, tribulations, and time spent picking on geeks and nerds, right?

That is--until a fatal dental appointment--where Jackson learns he has an unusual number of teeth and is slapped into braces and headgear. Highly magnetized headgear. Instantly gone is his popularity

But then he begins to notice something about the classmates he picked on before. When he follows them, he stumbles upon a secret world of spies, missions, and a very unusual Lunch Lady.

Inadvertently joining the team, Jackson has to prove himself to teammates who hate him, deal with super special braces, and try not to flunk out of fifth grade--oh, and save the world from a supreme evil doer and his hired assassin (who is also in fifth grade).

Buckley provides a very realistic hero in the stereotypical popular boy who has fallen from grace. Jackson sees himself as a good kid and is startled to realize he is a bully. A little self-realization and sadness and growth comes but not one of those sudden 180 turn arounds. At random the reader does have to provide retina scans and pass other security clearances...with a typical does of tween humor.

First in a series, this is another one to keep high on the ordering list and make sure it's face out on the shelves. The guy taking my order at the sub shop the other day grabbed it off the counter for a quick perusal--so I think we can safely say the cover appeals to all ages.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hedgehogs in the News: 5 Star Rating

Thanks to Jennie, who tweeted me this too adorable story!!

Hoglets born in hotel reception

Mama Hedgehog had good taste!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Where's the Literacy???

At work, we have a number of professional subscriptions, including to Book Links. Skimming through the latest issue (Oct 2009) I came across an article about Family Literacy that floored me.

One of the suggestions was a Family Literacy Night at the Library. I was excited at the prospect of getting some new ideas to add to my storytime, where the parents are continually hearing me harp about early literacy techniques, methods and reasoning.

I was stunned when I read the "schedule for the evening" , for after the introduction, the first activity suggested was watching a fifteen minute movie.

I have nothing against movies in general. I don't have anything against developing a good picture book into a good short film*. We show features length movies occasionally at the public library where I work during the summer, on no school days, at most perhaps 8-10 per year (probably fewer) and very occasionally use them in our storytimes.

But your first action on a literacy night is to show a movie???? This just seems incredibly counter-intuitive to me. What about literacy games? Story boxes? Doing a short skit with two staff members and some puppets or stuffed animals modeling reading as a family. If a "gentle call to family reading" is desired, why not actually read a book together?

The rest of the evening is a story-teller or librarian doing a read-aloud, passing out a "goody bag of resources" and time for questions. In my experience, once I've turned on a film, that's it. The kids' brains are gone and they aren't interested at the end of the movie in a live person doing something. This is precisely why the day after getting my braces, I read two stories before I turned on a book-based film in my storytime. At the very least, wouldn't you wait until the end when attention spans are lost or going?

Of an hour of the proposed program, twenty minutes is spent in some manner of reading, though most of the story-tellers I know tend not to actually use books or use them scantly, which doesn't model good reading together. So it is quite possible to do an entire evening without ever actually opening a book. How does this promote family literacy?

I recognize there are many kinds of literacy, particularly when one delves into the myriad segments of information literacy. But when working with younger children we tend to err on the side of the physical reading of books. There are so many games, activities, and take home ideas that are available that you can develop while the parents are actually there with their children. And if they've come, they are there to get some early literacy and family literacy ideas.

Why would you waste fifteen precious minutes on a video?

* I particularly am looking forward to seeing Mo Willem's Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Meet the Parents: Regency Romance Series

Welcome back to another round of the Regency series:
* Starting off
* Meet the man
* Pretty Lady
*Who Do I Read 1

Since someone had to give birth to these paragons of virtue, troubled souls, wicked but utterly reformable rakes, and innocent but oh so wise maidens (and occasionally widows), we must as matter of course have parents.


Now then, in all the really good novels, they kill off the mother. Perhaps it's a throwback to the classic fairytales or perhaps it's just the reality that childred, especially girls, with mothers often have relationships with those mothers and don't tend to be quite so prone to running away, having strange romances, etc etc. So please, do consider abolishing the mother before you start the first page.

Mother often died early, perhaps even in childbirth. This is not necessarily unrealistic, many women did die at that time from giving birth. And all of their children apparently promptly grew up to star in Regency Romances. If the mother dies, it allows one to make her a sainted creature, fondly remembered and loved and without any flaws a woman who had to survive the teenage years of her child.

But sometimes you need the mother to live.

If it's the girl's mother:

If she survives the father (killing him off, also popular) often she's useless and all burden of supporting the family, being an active character etc falls upon the daughter about whom the story is written. Mother is often relegated to having trunks of beautifully made clothing that can be remade for the daughter to wear when snaring the noble who'll be her husband by the end of the book. Said noble then gets mother and other siblings as new dependents.

Other mother daughter options to consider:
* Mother ignores daughter in favor of another child: either a boy or a much more beautiful sister
* Mother is the grasping mushroom type trying to buy her daughter a title she doesn't want
* Mother is running around with all sorts of inappropriate men, which embarrasses virginal daughter

It's very very helpful is the girl's mother was disowned by her gentry/noble family for marrying the girl's father, reconciliations between grandchildren/grandparents are very popular.

And, occasionally, mother is a pretty regular normal decent parent with a pretty normal relationship with her daughter.

If it's the guy's mother:
* She was the only one who loved him but died early because his father was cruel to her
* She abandoned him at a young age to run off with her lover
* She had him with her lover but he's been acknowledged/raised as the heir
* She is vitriolic and plans to rule his house forever and has to be thrown out.

Those are the extremes. Usually the guys have much better mothers and much better and more realistic relationships with their mothers, the moms mostly having the role of complaining about them not being married and providing grandchildren.


Fathers are more likely to be alive for the girls. If they have died, they've left massive of debts behind so their daughters are impoverished (the charming gamester dad or poor cleric dad) or they've left them as heiresses with bad guardians.

For your heroine, her Father

* raised her like the son he never had but hates her for being female and/or for behaving like a boy.
* ignored her, hated her for being female.
* is the vague professorial type who educated her too well for men.
* has remarried and the woman he's married is awful for variety of reasons

For your hero, his father
* hates him for surviving his older brothers, or being wife's ill-begotten child, or being born at all (take your pick)
* loves him and thinks his being a rake is perfectly marvelous
* is dead and was horribly mean, causing the hero never to want children or get married.
* is dead and was wonderful, in which case he only gets mentioned in passing.

Occasionally both parents are still alive and do seem to have a good relationship with their child. More often these are his parents and then they are either wonderful people who have a lovely marriage or they are cold, harsh aristocrats who sneer upon anyone except a frigid girl like themselves and who hate each other.

(At least I'm giving you a variety of options...cut them all up, draw them out of a hat, and go.)

Ah but we can't forget remarriages, now can we.


These poor women are, ninety percent of the time, bad mean evil women. They resent daughters and sons of first marriages, they are grasping, money grubbers.

Generally it is the heroine's father who has remarried. Those women, often younger than sainted dead mother would be, always want to marry off the daughter as fast as possible in hopes the daughter won't require any more money from their fathers. If the father has remarried the stepmother wants the son/heir to die so her children can inherit or some other random and strange thing.

Such it is, it comes as a pleasant surprise when there is a healthy relationship between stepmother and hero/ine. The best example I can give is Julia Quinn's book The Viscount Who Loved Me.


Stepfathers are rare. Sometimes the mother has remarried before she goes off to sainted death and now the stepfather is selling the heroine off to the highest bidder or one of his old cronies. Sometimes the mother is still alive and this same situation is happening. Rarely do they just portion off the daughter and let her marry some nice man.

But then, that wouldn't make a good story now would it.

Siblings and other relatives on the way soon!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Academic Disconnect: Whither Public Professors?

A strange fact about my graduate library education recently struck me: none of the professors I had were public librarians.

The tenured professors were from academic or school media. The majority were from academic libraries, though from what memory serves at least one of them had pretty much only ever taught library science and theory without ever having actually done the everyday work of applying the theories she'd helped to create.

I took a variety of classes over those 4 semesters, several with adjuncts. The closest I came to a public librarian was Gary Wasdin*, but he was on the research division side and the Director of the Office of Staff Development at NYPL. While I was in class with him, he was the Director of the Library at New School and I see he's gone on to the Uni of Alabama. This is not to say I begrudge Gary what he's done and is doing, and certainly I learned a whole lot from him by virtue of the fact he was actually IN the library field doing library things...I'm just pointing out how far even that was.

The MLS has a lot of theory and general preparation from the profession as a whole, at least, it's supposed to, along with potentially allowing specialization in a certain kind of library. But in retrospect, my head is reeling that none of those people I worked most closely with to prepare myself had any experience with the work that I actually do everyday. While I'll be the first to argue that the basic skills do translate across all kinds of libraries: budgeting, collection development, outreach, marketing, management...there are things that one learns really only by having worked in the public library. For example, it's one of the only types of libraries that sees patrons from every single age bracket. Most others have a slightly narrower audience than birth to death and all education levels.

Public libraries are a large enough group that they have their own association, conferences, tracks at bigger conferences, and are in the headlines everyday. We're a site for self-education, continuing education, the foundations of children's information literacy before they hit those school media specialists. But these librarians do not seem to be the ones getting to the classrooms. I wonder why this is? Do they not want to teach, seeing it as a part of academia and an academic's job? Are they shot down by LIS programs because they aren't academics? Is it not conducive because grad classes are in the evenings and that's busy time for most public libraries? Has this changed drastically in the past five years and now public librarians are everywhere?

With the increased desire for specialization I wonder if future graduates will have any opportunity to move beyond the divison/library-type where their first job lies. But if they aren't prepared for public libraries, and aren't working with public librarians, how will they be ready for those first jobs?

I wonder if a LIS school would consider me experienced enough to start teaching....

*btw...if that somehow manages to get Gary's attention: Hi! Greetings from one of your former St. John's students. I had you for intro and summer management. Skinny light brunette with waist length hair.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Who Do You Love? Part 1: Regency Romance Series

A commenter asked for some reading recommendations. If you're just getting into historical fiction and regencies, it can be a bit daunting to face the romance section in your local library or bookstore and try to pick out the ones that are interesting and amusing over those that might be to prurient or insipid or "Please tell me that isn't REALLY Fabio on the cover...."

My author suggestions will mostly come from the longer types of romances, those running about 350 pages. This is not to imply that there are not many valuable authors in 180-220 page category, but I read those by the pound. I don't tend to grab a particular author (with one notable exception), I grab a publisher and put everything the library has on hold, ten books at a time.

Those publishers are:

Signet Regency
Zebra Regency
Fawcett (Coventry Romances or Crest or something other of that nature)

They aren't the only ones but those are the most prominent amongst the 40 or so I just had a quick look at in the living room. You'll get to where you recognize the cover formatting, more than anything else.

I don't read the Harlequin Historicals. I have read a few and they were decent, but there seemed to be a focus on getting a sex scene into what was a relatively short story. When 1-5 pages has to be sacrificed to the obligatory "then they went to bed together" with all of the accompanying euphemisms, it annoys me.

So, onto those author suggestions.

Georgette Heyer: Heyer gave us Regency Romance and so no list should begin without her name. She's known for her historical descriptions, her inclusion of detail, and her fine style. Her books tend to read like the shorter Regencies but be of the length of the longer ones. I've only read a couple of hers but more are definitely on my list. These are ones, I'm told, that have convinced skeptical male readers that there might be more to these books than petticoats, balls, and "purple patches."

Julia Quinn: Quinn is my absolute favorite and I back that with my checkbook, having bought every single one of her titles, a couple of them more than once when my copies went missing. She is witty, her characters have depth, and she tends to break out of the oh-so-typical formulas that I am gently mocking. She spins new twists with a wonderfully ironic sense of humor. I recommend starting with The Duke and I and reading through the Bridgerton series. Those are, in my humble opinion, her best work.

Eloisa James: James is a tenured Shakespeare professor and a NYT best-selling author of romance. It somehow was a surprise to me, when I heard her speak, for her to point out that she writes about marriage. Not about engagements and happy endings that stop at a march down the aisle, but what happens five, ten, fifteen years later, when things have gone awry from misunderstanding, people growing and changing, miscommunications, etc. Her books are well-researched and rich in detail. Jemma is her most vibrant character, but certainly not the only one with whom one can or wants to identify. I would say start with either Duchess in Love or An Affair Before Christmas.

Celeste Bradley: Bradley was recommended to me by a dear friend in Chicago. Upon discovering that the other read historical romance, she and I went through author names until we found ones we'd not heard before. Bradley writes strong heroines, active women, and for that I grab everything with her name on it eagerly. Her books are also humorous, often I chuckle aloud at a description or turn of phrase. Witty dialogue, fun characters, and she tends to write in groups of three or four, which make for a pleasant, but not overwhelming cluster of books to take on for a trip, weekend, or however long. Best to start though with The Pretender. I read the books out of order, but it's helpful to get them in sequence.

Michelle Martin: Here is the exception to the short-Regency author rule. Martin wrote The Hampshire Hoyden, a book known between the Incredibly-Patient-Mother and Sibling-the-Elder and I for having made all three of us cry for laughing so hard. It's out of print, so you'll need to look for a used copy and they aren't the easiest to come by. I have one and no, you may not borrow it. Her others are amusing but not as good, in my opinion.

I have another half dozen authors to suggest, but I'll leave you with these for the interim.

**Note: Some people like to know in advance, all but the Heyer books (and Martin's) have sex scenes in them and some of those are pre-marital. None of them tend to put dialogue in those scenes that "can't be missed or you'll never understand the rest of the book." As a result, once I've read how an author does the scene once, I usually can skip right over them in the rest of the books. They are there but they aren't obnoxious. And with rare exceptions, all of their books meet the no-sex-in-the-first-100-pages rule.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Book Review: White Witch by Janet Graber

The White Witch
Janet Graber

There just aren't enough good plague books for kids. Fortunately, Graber steps up to the plate, addressing a devastating point in history and confronting the belief system of the time.

In a small English village, Gwen has a reputation of being a witch because of her pale coloring and ability to commune with animals. While she doesn't seem to be albino, she has light hair and skin and the village people both respect and fear her.

Her father, a trader, brings news of the plague from London and warns the villagers that they must not allow the refugees fleeing the city to come down the river and dock with them. Believing that God will protect them and choosing to believe the illness a sign of retribution for sinfulness, they choose to ignore his warning.

Gwen's father knows they will blame her for the illness. He hides her in a secret room in the church, formerly used to hide riches, and leaves the village, promising to return. Time passes and refugees, rats, and ultimately the plague arrive. Gwen watches as people flee or die, with deaths outpacing the rate the bodies can be buried.

Silence falls on the village, and then one of the villagers returns from hiding in the woods, a young woman who knows where Gwen is hiding.

Gwen risks getting the plague herself to help her friend, even when she knows it means losing the boy she loves to that friend. But those aren't the only villagers around, and now Gwen faces a witchcraft trial.

While not making inappropriately light of the death and the superstitions that surrounded healing and people who were different, Graber presents an interesting glimpse of a time not often addressed in children's literature. A thoughtful read.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

On the Flip Side

No, I'm not dead, just buried. Freelance work seriously picked up and then I went home for six days. Now I've returned and started to make sense of the disaster zone also known as my desk at work, and have hope that the living room floor will be reclaimed within the next 72 hours. And so I get back to my writing, yours obediently.

I had the chance, early in the month, to attend Wisconsin Sheep and Wool. It was a bit of a drive but the day was lovely and I was on a mission. At the Jefferson Fairgrounds I found two large buildings full of vendors with all manner of woolly goodness. That I succumbed only to some beautiful pale seafoam green alpaca, some tweedy alpaca, two skeins of coarser but delicious Icelandic wool and a couple of bars of soap should be applauded. Apparently I'm now collecting bars of great handmade soap, but at least it gets used and cleanliness/godliness and all that.

Also I met some sheep. There were a lot of sheep that looked like ones that I imagine in my head when I think of those wool-providing creatures. Then there were the ones as pictured here, who looked a lot more like goats that someone stuffed into a woolly pillow. Doesn't that look like a fluffy Alpine to you?

The majority of the sheep were friendly and happy to discover whether or not I tasted like a salt lick. Fingers are always an acceptable nibbling treat.

I finished my first ever pair of socks! It came about entirely as a coping method one day, when I had so much running about in my brain that I quite literally could not do anything else. I sat and knit just plain stitches, one after the other, around in a very small circle. 52 stitches per row. Who knows how many rows because I didn't count. Just one more needle, one more row. My brain ran on at insane miles per hour and my physical self worked stitch after stitch.


They haven't been blocked yet. The yarn is Sanguine Gryphon Eidos in Alcibiades using the numbers/pattern from the Tsock Tsarina's Tsock 101 Kit for those of the knitterly persuasion playing along.

And then it was back to Queens for two days of Indian summer and the first chills of fall. I stayed with the Brunette and Husband and new roommate. The Actor convinced me that singing for Rock Band, in public, was somehow acceptable. I made my way through Evanescence and No Doubt before it was decided that my rock repertoire was rather limited. (I knew this, they didn't believe me. When Rock Band comes out with the 24 Italian Songs and Arias for Medium-High Voice version, call me.)

The Blonde, Brunette, Husband and I went apple picking upstate, in/near Warwick, NY. It's a combination apple picking, rose garden (small but great colors), winery, and homemade donuts place. We stood for over 40 minutes waiting in line for fresh donuts and agreed that it was a form of unusual punishment to wait and be able to see and smell hot donuts but not buy nor taste lest our tongues be burnt. But warm apple cider donuts and great wine, as well as quite abundant apples, made it well worth the trip. (The two bottles of wine survived the plane trip home!!!)

Me in the obligatory "put your head in the cutout" --as required by the Blonde.

Finally, I headed into the City to meet up with My-Friend-the-Lawyer (who these days is more like My-Friend-the-Student, but he's almost done with that) and eat amazing Lebanese food at Naya. The desserts were incredible.

So that's where I've been.