Mar 31, 2011

#TheList, No. 575: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Back in the days of my reading the Baby-Sitters Club (best series ever?), I only pulled myself away from the girls and their discoveries of secret passages in the midst of baby-sitting (seriously, best series ever) for a few books.  E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one such book.

For the longest time I tried to remember what this book was without googling "kids run away to museum."  For one, that's the coward's way of finding stuff.  But the real reason was I didn't want to then reread the book and be disappointed by warped memories of its mystery.  

But thanks to my need to read through the entire 1001 books on "the List," I inadvertently stumbled across it.  My predictions were right.  Sort of.

The "mystery" aspect of the book doesn't actually exist.  There's no crime, there's just a statue without an origin and a woman who knows its background.  No criminal activity or anything of that nature exists.  But it turns out that that wasn't the reason why I loved this book.  In my apparently now feeble 23 year old mind, I mixed up this story with one about children who get locked in a wax museum.  Now THAT one had the mystery/thriller aspect I was so fondly remembering.  But I digress.

The reason I loved the book was the relationship between the brother and sister.  Claudia and Jamie's constant bickering is hilarious, yet so realistic.  From her corrections of his grammar and his refusals to let her spend their limited funds, the extravagant setting of the museum is almost unnecessary for the story to work.  Well, aside from the fact that that's where the statue they obsess over is located.  But the dynamic between the two main characters carries the story completely.  The title may focus on Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but it's the children's story, not hers.

Mar 28, 2011

ABC easy as 1 2 3...

How hard is it to alphabetize? Seriously.  We all learned the alphabet when we were little.  And if on the offchance you don't have the capability to put things into alphabetical order, don't be the person in charge of putting titles in order.  It's that simple.

I can see how alphabetizing terms like "E.T." and "Enchanted" could maybe give you trouble for 4 seconds (E.T. would go before because the period after E makes it a separate word), but when I'm looking through the Free Movies A-L category OnDemand and Tarzan is in the mix there's a problem.  Idiots.

Gale databases list all of their entries in alphabetical order by first name and it drives me insane.  Who does that? Was teaching children to alphabetize incorrectly the trendy thing to do at one point?  

Also, articles aren't supposed to be included in the alphabetizing process.  They go at the end of the title, right after a comma.  When I'm procrastinating and looking at episode recaps on The A.V. Club, I should not have to look to the Ts for The Big Bang Theory.  It should be Big Bang Theory, The.  

And this is why librarians need to exist.  To save the masses from poor alphabetization. 

Mar 23, 2011

Review: I Am Number Four

It's been said before, but the story behind this book is more interesting than the actual plot.  James Frey of A Million Little Pieces infamy is the "author" of the Lorien Legacies series.  I say "author" because he actually runs what my friend Talya and many others refer to as a sweatshop of writers who are cranking out stories for him. 

This book is okay...not great.  The film rights to the novel were purchased a year before the book was published, which is a pretty clear indication of what went wrong.  The book is specifically written to be turned into a movie, so it completely lacks the substance books should have.  I should have known what I was getting into upon seeing this on the inside cover:

"Number Four is a hero for the generation." - Michael Bay

Of course Michael Bay would like this.  It's full of unnecessary explosions, fires, and random backstory interjected as needed.  

The premise is interesting though.  A group of 9 children (referred to by numbers 1-9, hence this book's title) flee from the planet Lorien when it is defeated by the Mogadorians.  They escape to earth, but are still being hunted.  They have an enchantment placed on them so they can only be killed in numerical order and when one dies, a scar appears on the others' ankle.  Pretty neat? I thought so.  

But in trying to create the next Harry Potter-like craze, he completely fails.  The book tries too hard to reestablish the now well-known trio, create a Malfoy-enemy out of the high school QB, and it even throws in some significant scars for good measure.  But HP doesn't work because it's a formula (which I won't deny), it works because it has heart.  I am Number Four completely misses the mark.  It's scattered all over the place, there's no emotional grasp and again, Michael Bay endorsed yeah.  It's entertaining for sure, but it's not going to become a huge phenomenon.  

If casting Dianna Agron as the female lead in the movie can't make this a popular series, then it's most likely going nowhere fast.  The sequel is supposed to come out in August of this year.  I'm a sucker for sequels so I'll probably read it at some point, but I'm not anxiously counting down the days like I've done for other books....aka Harry Potter.

Mar 16, 2011

#TheList, No. 670: The Giver

I was at a party on Saturday and one of my friends asked me "what's your favorite dystopian novel?"  Yes, I have friends who begin conversations in such a manner.  You should be so lucky. 

I had actually finished rereading The Giver that morning.  I've always considered that to be my favorite dystopian, but having only read it once way back in the 5th grade, it was possible that my favorable memories of Jonas and Gabriel would be completely wrong.  But no, it was still just as amazing as it was in Mr. Brewster's class.  Honestly, in that class we read the BEST books.  I'm pretty sure all but one are on the 1001 books list and I'm super pumped about revisiting them. 

I've heard some complaints about the religious undertones of The Giver, but honestly you can stretch a religious connection to just about anything.  I'm not denying that it's in there (the names are pretty obvious), but I think there's a lot more to the book than just a religious connection. 

What I Absolutely Love About The Giver:

1.  Jonas' realization that there's so much more than "Sameness" and his struggle to determine if having choices would be a positive or a negative is powerful.  Not only does it reflect how children his age start to think independently, but it progresses at a seemingly natural pace.  He doesn't suddenly realize how messed up his society is; it's a gradual understanding.
2.  The sled as a symbol of both pleasure and pain is so perfectly executed (I think).  The sled makes him happy when he receives his first memory, but when he receives the memory of breaking a bone it brings him pain.  And yet, at the end when he actually sleds down a hill it's nothing short of joyous, so the potential pain makes it worthwhile.

3.  There is just enough drama for the novel.  There's nothing unnecessary throughout the novel, unlike some books today that feel the need to weigh down the pages with silly love triangles in hopes of taking the Twilight route and selling some Team Insert Name Here t-shirts (I'm looking at you, The Hunger Games).
4.  Lois Lowry rocks.  That's not actually specific to The Giver...her Anastasia Krupnik series got me through some tough times as a kid. 

5.  It makes me think about the movie Pleasantville.  The way Toby Maguire's character teaches the sitcom people about the world outside Pleasantville is what I imagine Jonas' character doing when he reaches "Elsewhere."  Granted, Elsewhere is already a world with color and already possesses the memories he received from the Giver, but I imagine he'll have to teach someone...most likely Gabriel.  Or they might have  just died.  That's the fun thing about ambiguous endings: anything's possible.

Mar 15, 2011

So You're Gonna Be a Librarian?

I've already mentioned the usual responses I get to my wanting to be a librarian.  But every now and then I get strange, strange reactions.

I work at a law firm right now, which is on the other side of the spectrum in terms of my life goals.  But I like it and it pays the bills, so it works.  In my office, there's an 87 year old attorney who comes in periodically to play solitaire and reminisce about the time he sat at a table with Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe (true story!).  He has provided 2 of these strange reactions:

The first was his desire to publish a picture book detailing the life of an Indian Chief he has named Wolfman.  Now, he has the story all planned out.  He tells me that Wolfman was born before the Pilgrims arrived and that his birthday was on the first Thanksgiving.  Yes, you read that correctly.  He has named the chief Wolfman.  He's got big plans for this book; he's thinking he should turn it into a series so "the kids can use it for all their reports and fun time reading."  Apparently, my being a librarian-in-training means that I can get this book published for him and he constantly yells at me for having not found him an illustrator yet.  Yes, this man still practices law. 

The other reaction he's given me just makes me laugh...even more so than Wolfman.  "There's no such thing as a children's librarian!"  Oh boy.  So, after showing him how to turn on his computer, something I do on a weekly basis, I pulled up a bunch of websites and showed him children's libraries, libraries with children's rooms, school libraries (also a myth), etc. etc.  He still doesn't believe me. 

Oh well.  The man is utterly adorable and while racist in the way that only old people can be, he's still got a good heart.  I'm going to go look for an illustrator now so he doesn't yell at me tomorrow when I show him how to turn the light on in his office. 

Mar 13, 2011

The Kids Are Alright, Challenged Picture Books, Pt 2

I've never understood people (homophobes?  "traditionalists"?) with the burning need to remove all gay literature from the hands of children.  I mean, give them whatever you want them to read when at home (and to those kids: good luck), but to try to keep it away from the public?  Argh! 

7. Heather has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman, Diane Souza
Not really why it's controversial, but look at the cover.  Like I've said before, how atrocious is that?  It looks like the dog is about to attack the happy, unsuspecting Heather. Oh well.  Newman wrote this book after talking with a woman who just had a baby with her partner.  The woman was upset that there were no children's books about their type of family, so Newman wrote one.  She naturally had to self-publish the book because no publisher wanted to be the one to take that risk.  

If that wasn't a clue, events in Portland and NYC helped make  it clear that this book was controversial.  At an anti-gay campaign, the book (along with Daddy's Roommate) was used as evidence of "the militant homosexual agenda."  Yikes.  The Rainbow Curriculum in NYC also created a huge stir in this book's controversial legacy.  The RC was implemented to encourage respect and tolerance for various family types.  Unfortunately, these books were removed from the RC because parents believed first graders had no business learning about homosexual families.  This book became number 9 on the ALA's Most Challenged Books from 1990-1999. This book was also banned from hundreds of libraries, but (yay!) librarians were the strongest defenders of keeping it on the shelves and were ultimately successful. 

6. Daddy's Roommate, by Michael Willhoite
I like this book a lot because it's told from the viewpoint of the child and it explicitly states that the Dad and his Roommate are gay.  Other people were not so pleased with this fact.  Willhoite set out to write a book for "an ignored audience: the children of gay parents."  It was listed as number 2 on the ALA's Most Challenged Books from 1990-1999.  It was included in the Portland anti-gay campaign as part of the militant gay agenda.  It's been censored, burned, and checked out of libraries by parents with no intentions of returning it. Of course, the national attention these actions brought to the book only brought it more publicity and it remains in libraries today.  

Allegedly in 1995 Sarah Palin tried to have this book banned from her town's library when she was the mayor of Wasilla.  Despite having never read the book, she decided that it didn't belong in the library. She, of course, denied this ever happened.  Yeah, I'm sure.   

5.  And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, Henry Cole 
It's a true story! Roy and Silo of the Central Park Zoo, male penguins who fell in love in 1998 (yes, they were in love, deal with it), hatched an extra egg and that baby, Tango, became their daughter.  People weren't too crazy about it in real life (even though I don't know how you can possibly be mad at penguins,) so they naturally weren't happy when it became a picture book in 2005. 

Roy and Silo broke up in 2005.  Since then, Silo pulled an Anne Heche and has taken up with a girl.  Protesters used this fact as a reason for the book being of a homosexual agenda because the book doesn't address how Silo later entered a "normal" heterosexual relationship.  Not only are they upset that this book promotes homosexual families, but it also champions homosexual behavior in animals which is apparently a huge no-no.

Many, many parents have requested that this book be removed from libraries or placed in a restricted section.  In a school near Washington, D.C., there was a request for the book to be held in a special "alternative families" section.  Parents wanted children to need parental permission to check out the book at an elementary school in Shiloh, IL.  It's number 4 on the ALA's Most Challenged Books from 2000-2009.
Sidenote: Tango is currently dancing with another female penguin.

Mar 11, 2011

Heather Has Two Mommies

I'd heard about this controversial picture book for years now, but had never actually read it.  Well last night during a Skype session with my younger siblings, I decided to do an impromptu reading of it.  They were not as amused as I was of the notion of reading a bedtime story to 18 and 16 year old kiddos. 

The story is cute.  Little Heather's favorite number is 2.  She has 2 of this, 2 of that, and holy moly she has 2 moms.  Fancy that.  She then goes to a playgroup where the sitter has all of the children draw their families, because every family is different and "the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other."  It's a very simple story that doesn't really focus on the fact that there are lesbians about.  Technically, it's only implied that they're lesbians; the story doesn't actually label them as such.  I like it and it truly is a groundbreaking book.  

The problem: the illustrations are horrific!!  Seriously, what is going on in that cover?  The dog (wolf??) looks like it's about to eat the poor girl!  If you cover the title and show this to a kid, they'll assume it's Little Red Riding Hood.  The drawings within the book don't get much better.  But despite the terrible artwork, this book isn't going anywhere and that makes me happy.  Go lesbians!

Mar 10, 2011

Security Guards Judge Me

I'm used to setting off alarms on occasion (set one off at Shaws last is that even possible?), but in the past two months I have successfully set off the alarm at the library during every single visit.  It's reached the point where I'm probably as recognizable to the security guard as the "Nazi Woman" who marches around the premises.  Our encounters have become entirely predictable: "Oh, it's you," followed by a quick raise of the eyebrows when looking at what I've recently checked out of the children's section.  Sigh.  

This past visit my New Kids on the Block DVD evoked a derisive shake of the head, but the copy of Daddy's Roommate got a sassy exclamation of "What the heeeelll?"  Seriously.

I could just tell her that I'm a Children's Services Librarian student, but these heartwarming encounters I'm having on a fairly regular basis really just tickle me.  Sometimes I feel like I should remind her that librarian professionals aren't supposed to be judgmental about what patrons check out, but at the same time I really can't wait to hear what she says next.  Her reactions are a lot more fun than the guy who once laughed at me  for checking out Paula Abdul's Greatest Hits CD. 

Mar 4, 2011

Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

I once did a presentation for a Criticism of Children's Literature class that heavily relied on the panopticon and its implications in/on everyday life.  Quick recap: the panopticon is a 1785 circular prison building design from the mind of Jeremy Bentham.  There's a watchtower in the middle so prisoners always have the sense of being watched.  The feeling this creates is why Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me" exists.

For me, everything is panoptical, but even more so in the lives of children.  Think about it.  Parents threaten their kids with the "eyes in the back of their heads," they use Santa Clause and those super scary Elf on a Shelf dolls to keep kids behaving in December, and they sometimes keep cameras hidden in teddy bears.  Kids are always under surveillance! 

The use of the panopticon in E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is the reason why I really liked this book, even if she explicitly states that the boarding school Frankie attends is a panopticon twenty too many times. 

The story is about rebellion and lashing out at the panoptical society that Ms. Landau-Banks realizes controls the students' every move.  Under the guise of their leader she secretly takes over a secret society, The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, in order to challenge the administration and launch discussions among the students.  She causes the Basset Hounds to play witty pranks on the school's campus, but her plans go slightly astray because nobody really understands their true purpose.

Unfortunately, Frankie also takes charge of the secret society to impress her boyfriend and his friends.  There's a lot of feminist discussion throughout the novel, which is great because it gives Frankie potential for a place on the list of kickass female characters that have become popular in recent years (Katniss from The Hunger Games, anyone?).  But the fact that her initial goal is to win over her boyfriend takes away some of her feminist edge and makes me sad, even though I know this storyline adds to the whole idea that the panopticon is inescapable.  She assumes he can always see her so she does things to impress him, even though (duh!) she's achieving these pranks under the name of his best friend.  Oh well.

The story is funny, Frankie's pranks are ridiculous, yet witty, and there are occasional funky narration shifts that work well with the panoptical subject matter.  That is, the narrator is the guard in the watchtower and randomly addresses the reader because like panopticon prisoners, the reader is always susceptible to being watched.  I like it and it's definitely worth reading.  The novel could also serve as a great way for library teachers to collaborate with ELA and history subject teachers for a lesson on Bentham's panopticon and evidence of the panopticon in modern society. 

On a slightly panoptical related note, I'm in love with this entry on Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" song/music video.  Read it.  It's awesome.

Mar 3, 2011

Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

At least the cake on the cover looks delicious in this Aimee Bender novel.  I've never had lemon cake before and really I want nothing more than to have some right now.  But that's only one of two things I actually liked about this novel.

I picked up The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake because it was recently named an Alex Award winner, meaning that it's an adult book young adults will enjoy.  I can definitely understand why young adults may like this read.  One, the cover is awesome and we all know we judge books on their covers, don't deny it.  Two, it's full of teen angst.  Three, it's got that young adult experimental-type quotation marks are for wusses form that frustrates me to no end. 

Basically we follow Rose from when she's 8 years old and realizes she can taste the feelings of the people who make her food.  That's the second of two things I actually liked about the book.  The premise seemed original and I was intrigued as to what Bender would do with the story.  

But she does nothing, because the remaining 46 chapters are completely generic.  It's just a bland story of a family with a stereotypically depressed mother unhappy with her marriage, but with a questionable love for her son that would give Freud plenty to write about.  Meh.  And really, there's no excuse for not using quotation marks in this novel.  If there's a reason for it, like in Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now, it's appropriate (more on that later, that book is on the 1001 Children's Books list).  But when it looks like it's just to make the book more artsy, it's annoying.  

If the novel wasn't so heavily focused on the family, there's a chance it could have been more interesting.  If you want a good story about food, pick up Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France, instead.  It's far more interesting and entertaining than this piece. 

Mar 1, 2011


According to the Facebook, it's International Hug a Librarian day!!! So get on it and give us some hugs!