Friday, April 30, 2010

Kids Knitting: Into the Sunshine...

Tuesday was the last knitting session at LPL for my kids. Here's a picture from our Library Flickr account.

I started a child focused knitting group here nearly two and a half years ago for a number of reasons, my own knitting compulsion not being the least of them. It was a small group at first: four or five knitters. Things waxed and waned and when I regularly had six, we counted it a success.

Now, I consistently have a dozen to fifteen. Most of the knitters are home-schooled. Only one is in high school, the rest are late elementary through middle school. Though one boy has been valiantly with me from the beginning, it was primarily girls. This last session two more boys have consistently joined us, though others have flitted in and out.

Over time, things evolved, as they do in all classrooms. I started bringing in piles of books to recommend to them-- with most of the books heading directly towards the checkout afterwards. I led two sessions of advanced knitting techniques so that they were confident to pick up patterns on their own and tackle lace without fear. I held a contest and was stunned by their creativity. I taught them how to make needles and stitch markers, and why putting a piece of yarn in bleach can help you determine what it's made of--which is good when you've lost the ball band. I introduced them to Ravelry and we took a field trip far far away to the land of Upstairs Adult Non-Fiction so they could see where the adult knitting books were, as most of my knitters are far beyond the basic how-to-knit books they mass produce for kids, though the Scrapbooker (non-fiction selector) has added what more difficult material she could find.

And with the understanding of their parents that it was NOT A LIBRARY RELATED/CONDONED/SUPPORTED FUNCTION: I took a six of them to a yarn store. Seeing their eyes pop as they contemplated all the delicious options was priceless.

And they grew--both in skill as knitters and vertically as children are wont to do. From slowly suffering through the knit stitch, the first cast on, the first finished square to the projects currently in progress: two sweaters, three pairs of fingerless gloves, two scarves, three pairs of socks, a couple of bags, and I'm not sure what else... They've made Christmas and birthday gifts, knit for new babies and grandparents, but mostly for themselves. I've hopefully taught them it's not wrong to devote time to making something beautiful for yourself. They're more confident in their craft, even if they are still hoping that I'll fix all the mistakes and help them figure out what happened when it's all gone wrong. 

I'm grateful for the trust of their parents. Children often express themselves more easily when adults aren't present and while I was always in the room, I was their Fearless Leader, so often I didn't count as they discussed school, siblings, and life. Parents were supportive as I suggested a social networking site for knitters and cases of new books for their kids to read and talked endlessly about yarn, knitting techniques, knitting books, knitting humor. They brought the kids in week after week after week and let me teach, coach, cajole, and shove.

I'm grateful to the kids for their enthusiasm and determination. I ripped out their knitting numerous times and said "Okay, do it again." I lured book review after opinion out of them, endlessly asking what they were reading. I challenged them to think beyond squares and garter stitch. And I learned more techniques than I can begin to count when--faced with a question or idea--I had to say "Sure, we'll start that next week." so that I could frantically run home and find instructions on how one did whatever "that" was.  

So why end now? Because while it hasn't died a slow death, things have changed, parents do get tired, and I'd like to see what else we can offer elementary/middle school students. I'm ending with a group of now confident knitters and things have evolved to needing just a minute of my help--and then a lot of socializing while they knit. Certainly they're welcome to come to the library to do that, and I've told them that this ending doesn't mean they can't ask for help or book suggestions. I certainly hope they do continue to come and find me.

It also means my hobby can moreso retreat to being that, rather than a work obligation, which will be nice.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why I Won't Use Your Website to Purchase Books From...

I was recently pointed towards a distributor that was said to work with a number of small presses, with the suggestion that I might find some new and exciting things there that I was missing when I was ordering books.

I'm all for new resources, certainly I haven't figured out everything there is to know about collection development, and so I shuffled over and signed up for an account.

Issue Number 1:  The signature on my work email includes the name of my library. Now, granted, there is both a La Crosse Public and a La Crosse County system, but it's very clearly specified in the email I sent requesting an account where I belong. So when I got my sign in confirmation and logged in to be welcomed as La Crosse County, I was a little thrown. As there was no where for me to fix this problem, I needed to contact Customer Service again.

Issue Number 2: There are two options of finding materials on this site: search through their "topical lists" which included selection by library shows (in case you wanted to see what they took to Florida), monthly themes (XYZ History, etc), and "New titles" or a Known Item search of the catalog, where you toss in a title/ISBN/etc to see if they have it.

Issue Number 3: I looked at the "what's new in Children's" which took me to 15 (at the time) pages of things to scroll through without any sorting options.  Fiction, non fiction, picture books, grade levels I assume from birth through middle school. And it's a bizarre mix of things I'm seeing in the review catalogs, things I've never heard of, things from big presses, reprints...etc. And when I looked under what was new for YA, I got a Dinosaur non-fiction book that would be great for a fourth grader. Our definitions of YA must be different. 

I emailed about the incorrect library system and I mentioned that I was having a really hard time finding any way to browse through the materials. I'd been told there wasn't a print catalog of new things, but there wasn't a good electronic one that grouped things well either. Generally speaking, I don't usually take an hour or eight to wade through 15 pages of materials that may or may not be remotely applicable when I'm looking for new books. I have so many catalogs and publishers materials that are pushed to me, I only go out and search when it's something I'm getting asked for a lot: e.g. more Star Wars books. 

The email I got in return, while bright and chipper, caused a *facepalm* with a potential side of *headdesk*. I quote:

"Once you get the basic understanding of the advanced search, most people find our website very simple to use."

Hello huge barrier and condescension. I know, I'm a librarian, we're all about mastering the advanced search, demonstrating our GoogleFu, whipping through full text queries at the speed of a flying internet. I've also spent enough years mucking around with Access to set up a pretty decent SQL query when one is called for, so I grasp how to add parameters to my searches.  

Their advanced search involves selecting options, one at a time, and then running a search. "Grade Level" = "Type in level here" (one at a time only please), Homosexual Content = yes/no, Height = enter parameter (in case I only want short books?). The "Intellect" option threw me---( people only books?) but was for YA, Adult, child, etc..

Yes...I could enter all of these... and I tried a search for English/Fiction/K-8. Over 1200 results, which are only sorted by title. And I can't narrow the query from there, I'd need to back out to the Advanced Search page and hone again. I can't select more than one format at a time. etc...etc..

So, again, I don't think I'll be ordering from them. When I can't find a way to get to your materials in a way that works for me, the end user...

Library lessons to be learned from this kids? 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Top 100 Chapter Books

I participated in Betsy Bird's Top 100 Chapter books poll. She pulled a couple of my comments for Matilda, Ranger's Apprentice, and Boxcar Children. :) 

Which ones have I read? Probably fewer than you'd think... See the bold below. 

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967)
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980) [Technically I remember the IPM reading this aloud]
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983)
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950
94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935)
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978)
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985)
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999) [I had to check and see titles, I stopped at book 3]
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)
84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)
80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)
77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelae (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart ( 2007)
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)
65. Ballet Shoes - Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959)
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)
46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961) [Never cried...I think we lost too many dogs growing up]
45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)
34. The Watson's Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)
30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)
27. Alice I and II - Carroll (1865/72)
26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)
22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightening Thief - Riordan (2005)
20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911)
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 - Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952)


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Welcome Writer Beware Readers!

If you've clicked over from the Writer Beware Blog--Welcome!

If you're a regular reader--I've written a guest post about my book selection process for my public library at Writer Beware Blogs!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Hedgehogs in the News: Slimhogs!

JennieLaw sent this on! (Thanks Jennie)

The pudgyhogs of before went on a diet. Now they can show off their new slim spring figures!

Diet success hedgehogs released into the wild

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Egypt: Days -2 to 0

I left La Crosse on Saturday morning and headed for New York. Got to see the Brunette and Husband. Attempted to locate new reading material for the Brunette before he left for his next work trip (he's picky). Met up with M on Sunday evening. Monday, M and I walked up and down Manhattan, trying on hats, futilely searching for interesting silver, and shunning the spring fashions that were just starting to make their appearance.  I'd been able to leave my heavy coat in Queens and wore only a light fleece. In January!

After one more meal we headed to the airport. Security was pretty standard, nothing I hadn't expected. I'd now gone through two sets of airport security with knitting needles and no questions. For the curious, I was flying with KnitPicks Wooden 4" Double-Pointed Needles, or as I prefer to call them, oversized painted toothpicks. I cast on a project immediately after getting through security in La Crosse and through 4 airports no one even asked what I was making. I did, of course, have extras in my checked luggage. 

We boarded and were happy to find that we had a set of three seats to ourselves. After a first round of airplane food, we read, listened to music, I did a minimal amount of knitting, we talked...the usual airplane time passing tricks. And we tried, pretty much unsuccessfully, to sleep. This was abnormal for me. I've been known to fall asleep before take off.  

Arriving in Paris at something like 4 a.m. Eastern Time, 9 a.m local, we hustled down the concourse and on to our next gate. I was bleary and my brain wasn't registering what was said to me in English, let alone polite French, but eventually I gathered I needed to also shed my jacket (not just my shoes) and got my carry-on bag rummaged through again. We had coffee and muffins and eventually we shuttled out to our plane, where we boarded and waited for a couple of hours. No particular reason was given, so we all just hung out and eventually they said sit down we're leaving. It was a full flight this time and we were seated next to a man heading to work on the oil rigs.

We'd left New York in the dark Monday and arrived well after dark in Cairo on Tuesday, total travel time about 16 hours I think? Whatever time it was, I was wiped. We shuttled to the airport, got our passports stamped, and started the search for our luggage. I also flagged down the car service meeting us. Luggage in hand we were passed through a couple of people to our personal car.

We hurtled towards Cairo, the guide accompanying our driver chattering a mile a minute about what we were passing and offering to set up various tours for us, which we politely said we'd consider. We arrived relatively quickly on Zamalek, an island in the middle of the Nile River, which is the richest area of Cairo and where our hotel was located. Zamalek is a warren of one way streets, abrupt turns, and triple parked cars, as well as the home of most of the embassies, including the one for the US.

M and I stayed at the President Hotel, which, we were told, is primarily a Canadian/European travelers hotel. Our room was relatively spacious, with a desk and a "comfortable" chair besides the twin beds with bedside tables. There was a mini fridge that we didn't use, and a TV where we kept up on world happenings, mostly the earthquake in Haiti and the Senate race in the US. It was clean though slightly worn and we were very careful about using bottled water to wash our faces, brush our teeth etc. Our room had a view over the courtyard of the Chinese Embassy next door.

Now local, I phoned our tour guide arranger Mohammed, who joined us at our hotel to review the plans for the next four days. My one page of details and scribbled notes became the basis of all reminders and my travel journal. He also took us to buy water and sandwiches from one of the local delis. Fed and through showers, we adjourned to bed. Cairo continued it's noise, the noise pollution of car horns, sirens, etc, said to make the city 8x as loud as a city of equivalent size.

We would sleep through a light rain and awaken at 4:30 a.m. to the pre-dawn call to prayer.

Monday, April 05, 2010

In Which I Ramble About Content, Shiny Packages, and My Love of Books

Many of my social networks seethed this week with conversation about Saturday's initial deliveries of iPads. Debates swarmed about the viability of buying one, whether or not it was worth it, how one could possibly get by without it, and of course the initial debates of what it might be used for in libraries and whether or not we should be investing in them. I know NCSU has some coming, I'm sure they aren't alone.

Though upon Apple's initial announcement I was mildly intrigued, increasingly I am less charmed. A lot of it falls into what others have said: we don't see a specific purpose for it. A laptop, I understand. A smart phone, I comprehend. An mp3 player, I'm permanently attached to when I'm traveling. That the majority of the utilities of these has been rolled into one for those using an iPhone, I grasp--particularly when hanging out with My-Friend-the-Laywer.

Part of it, too, for me is a little whiplash against consumerism. A lot of new and exciting tools and software have come at us in the past decade, the past five years even. Ten years ago I had a desktop computer. Now I have a digital camera, cell phone with full keypad and internet, two laptops (for my freelance stuff, they aren't really "mine"), a desktop computer, and an mp3 player. Do I really need one more thing that needs to be charged, updated, where did I put the special screen cover and personal bag as I'll need to carry it in something bigger than my purse?

I think one of the things that bothers me is that we're increasingly buying packages without content. And that is what troubles me most about the Ipad. I'm not entirely clear on what it comes preloaded with but from the sounds of it, it doesn't appear to be much. One can purchase any number of things to play and run on it, assuming of course that said things are sanctioned by Apple (at least until someone hacks it, which I anticipate to happen very soon if it hasn't already), but it still strikes me as a watered down laptop that doesn't have a full keyboard, on which I can't multitask or do anything requiring Flash and for which I would end up paying yet more monthly subscription fees to somebody.

I certainly have any number of purchased items for which their purpose is to work with other content that I purchase separately. My DVD player is an excellent example of this. It serves no purpose other than to play DVDs I pop into it. It doesn't record, transfer, any of those things. But it has a specific purpose in my life that I can identify and a boatload of content here at Chez Hedgehog to use with it, without further expense on my part.

I like purchasing content in final form. Owning a copy of that content. I have a suspicion that's part of the reason I own so many books. When I buy them, I've bought them, I've paid for the final format, it's mine and there I have it. I don't need a secondary device to access the content, certainly not a proprietary one. My DVDs will play on any of my computers as well as my DVD player. I can also lend them to a friend without losing my proprietary gadget.

I was home on Friday and I spent nearly the entire day away from "screens"--computer screens, television screens, even my phone. Of course, there was some email that needed to be answered and I did that, but otherwise it was an incredibly peaceful day of me and the cat and a thunderstorm. I did radical things like brew endless pots of tea and read books I already owned.

I'm usually in front of some sort of computer screen 8-10 hours a day. Work puts me in front of a screen a minimum of 6-8 hours a day. Add any time spent on freelance or personal stuff, on my phone texting, clicking the TV on to catch an episode of Good Eats or Bones, and my sporadic addiction to games like Peggle or BubbleTown and suddenly it's been 12 hours. And in a way all too familiar to those who do it too, I'm exhausted. I'm always multi-screen-tasking, even now I have six tabs open in Firefox.  Being able to step away, to not feel plugged in to one of my own gadgets, was a pleasant change. I think that's one of the reasons I've felt so anti-ereader. I can certainly see a purpose and no doubt the next time I move someone will lecture me about how much lighter and easier it would be to move me were I to shed the 7 packed bookshelves. But I like the option to disconnect. I like having something that doesn't require charging. (*insert side comment about the fact that I knit and that doesn't require batteries either, nor "added content" once I've bought the yarn and needles*/end blogjack)

Ten years ago, I had one gadget that needed a subscription, plugged in, that I purchased a lot of content, etc. Now, I have at least six (eight if you add in the TV and DVD player). I think we're swinging back towards fewer devices, with the iPhone probably the best example of leading the way--combining web, phone, and music--which are the big three I think. And I'm skeptical of first generation just about anything....

But I don't think I'm alone in wanting to own the content I've purchased, wanting to focus my purchases on tools that are useful and not just objects that require more purchases and cash outlay, and a move from proprietary to cross platform. And if record circulation numbers at my library are any indication, I'm not the only one who still likes reading in book format.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Book Review: Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland

Disclosure: I received an Advanced Reader's Copy of this book via LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for reviewing it on LibraryThing.

Eye of the Red Tsar
Sam Eastland

What if what we know about the Romanov's death was wrong? What if the government itself didn't know the truth? Who would they ask? Who could they trust? And if you found the most trusted and most feared adviser to the Tsar back from Siberia, what might he uncover?

The good:

Eastland creates and interesting premise of a top advisor/spy/investigator to the Tsar who, after the Revolution, was exiled to Siberia and is brought back to solve the mystery of what happened when the Romanovs disappeared. Told in a blend of flashbacks and present day, it gives a humanity to the Tsar and his family, a glimpse inside times just prior to the Revolution. 

There's a decent level of intensity that keeps one going through the book--it was a surprisingly quick read. I got through it in an evening. I was slightly disappointed by the ending, though I could comprehend it. 

The bad:

I had an ARC so I won't comment on the layout other than there were a lot of errors hopefully corrected before final print.

The history was imaginative. There was enough historically inaccurate that I was unsure how much to actually believe, and would err on the side of fiction rather than fact.

It could easily stand alone as a book, and I was disappointed to see that the author intends for it to be a series. A lot of what I enjoyed were the flashback sequences and I don't think those would successfully hold up through more books. We've explored them, we understand the main character's angst and what he's been through. Reliving them over in future books would be less effective.

 Final Thoughts: If you're up for suspense and willing to set aside the blatant historical inaccuracies, it's an interesting read.  

Happy Easter

Wishing you and your families a Happy and Blessed Easter!

Gypsy and I will be taking in the sunshine, ham and chocolate. 

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Egypt: The Pre-Show

Ha...and you thought there would be pictures of my trip to Egypt. Yes yes, they are forthcoming.  But to answer a few questions ahead of time:

M and I went to Egypt together in January. We went for the brilliant reason of "Because it is Tuesday." This is an excellent reason for just about anything, I suggest you make use of it.

We traveled with Air France Holidays. Our vacation package included round trip airfare from JFK through Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris to Cairo, ground transportation to and from our hotel in Cairo, and hotel accommodations. Through a friend of mine here in La Crosse, who used to go to Egypt every couple of years, and a professor in Minnesota, I obtained the phone number for a gentleman at Wings Tours. He and I communicated mostly via email, which was helpful considering the eight hour time difference. I gave him a wish list of things we wanted to do and he filled gaps with recommendations and arranged for a driver and personal tour guides for our days in Cairo. I cannot speak highly enough of our tour guide in Cairo or of our driver.

It was just the two of us, no big tour group, which I loved. We could set our own speed, ask a million questions, decide between us on meals without it being a production. I may never get on a tour bus ever again.  :)

I know it's been a while getting this up. February kind of exploded in my face and suddenly it's April and I have the 4th Annual Knitting in Public Day next week.  Bear with me.

Oh's a picture of a Pyramid: