My first book recommendation for 2016

On a scale of emotional reading rated 1-10, I’m in the neighborhood of a 10 when it comes to getting ‘feels’ about books. I want a book to make me feel something. I don’t even mind if it’s anger or confusion, but I need to feel some sort of emotion when I’m reading. This goes for books I read for pleasure and books I read to my storytimers (at times, these categories overlap, of course). If I feel happy when I’m reading a picture book, it will come through to my littlest ones in my programs. If I’m feeling sad, it comes through as well. I try to avoid the sad books in storytime. But, sometimes those sad books are so beautiful that I do a mini book talk to the parents and grandparents of my storytimers while the kids are choosing their books for the week. I have several parents who ask me for recommendations for books for their children and some who I just sort of butt in and say, “Have you guys read this yet? I think you’ll like it!” and they tend to placate me by taking it and checking it out.

I’ve mentioned before that I process all the new books that come into my library, so I have a chance to read the new picture books before I put them out on the shelf. I also read the publisher magazines to get a feel for what’s coming my way. That way, I can also get my name on the hold list to ensure I get a copy of a certain book if I know I definitely want it at my branch. This scenario happened last week with a book I’ve been awaiting arrival for a few weeks. It’s my favorite book of the year so far and I think it’s definitely setting the bar super high for children’s books this year. I know this is only March, but this book is outstanding.

But: It will make you cry. This is where my hesitance to read it at storytime comes in. I don’t want to cry in front of my little preschoolers and I don’t want them or their parents crying, either. It could really bring down the storytime. I’m not sure how we’d go from bawling about this book to singing a nursery rhyme or doing a craft. So, this book (while SPECTACULAR) is not on my list for storytime. However, I’ve been recommending it to some of my favorite families and the feedback has been good, except that they’ve all cried and haven’t necessarily made it through the entire book with the kids because the kids start crying because their parent/grandparent is crying and they don’t fully understand why.

Still, all this goes to give you fair warning if you read this book you will have feels. All the feels. But, it will stick with you and be beautiful. So, without further ado, I recommend to you the new picture book “Ida, Always” by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso:

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This is inspired by a true story of a bear friendship and is the story of Gus and Ida, who live in a zoo in a big city. They are the best of friends, but one day Ida gets sick and Gus has to learn to deal with the changes that illness bring to his small world. (It makes me tear up to even remember the storyline.)  Gus and Ida are so wonderful and lovable. Levis describes the pain of illness and loss with gentleness, but without glossing over the confusion, helplessness, and anger that you feel when you’re losing someone you love and you can’t do anything about it. This such a beautifully written and illustrated book and I wish everyone would read it.

It’s too early to make ponderings about Caldecott and Newbery for next year, but this is hard to beat, I feel. So good. Just keep the tissues nearby.

 

 

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Last Stop on Market Street

There is a really great movement in the librarian world happening right now calling on publishers to publish more diverse books, basically meaning we want more books whose main characters aren’t always white.  We want books that better represent the communities that we serve every day. It’s a movement that’s been picking up steam in the last couple of years and hopefully will continue to do so. There is a strong need for children and adults to “see” themselves in the books they are reading. It’s important for teens and early chapter books as well, but especially important for children’s picture books since they are showing you that the child/all characters are white in the illustrations in the book. Granted, a lot of children’s book authors bypass this entire topic by having the story told by or featuring animals like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Arthur the Aardvark, or Peppa Pig. But, for those who choose to use humans, many librarians are hoping for a shift toward a selection of books whose characters better represent our country’s diversity.

Which brings me to another recommendation for a children’s book: “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt De La Peña and Christian Robinson is a gem of a children’s book. I highly recommend it. It features a grandmother and grandson relationship (which is wonderful for my particular community where many grandparents are the legal guardians of their grandkids) and the family is black. While the majority of my community members are of Hispanic descent, not black, it’s still a nice change from having everyone be white all the time in all the books the kids have access to in the library. Back to the story line: Every Sunday, Grandma and her grandson leave church and take the bus to the soup kitchen across town where they volunteer. The grandson is tired of taking the bus and wants them to get a car and buy new gadgets and wants to live in a nicer place and Grandma is such a beautiful character and the descriptions of the interactions she and her grandson have are so beautifully written. You can hear her laugh, you can hear the wisdom come through the dialogue. It’s just so great. She shows her grandson all the beauty that surrounds him. It’s a great inter-generational story as well as being classified as a “diverse” book. I particularly liked it and loved reading it to my storytimers because of all the ways it connects to many of their everyday lives:

A) The bus is a major mode of transportation in my community.
B) the aforementioned reality of grandparents being a huge part of the kids’ lives, and sometimes the main adult role models for kids in my community.
C) The book doesn’t only feature a black family, but the characters the family meets and interacts with on the bus are also wonderfully diverse. There’s the first tattooed man I’ve ever seen in a children’s book, for instance! And my community is chock-full of tattooed folks, so the kids are well-acquainted with seeing people inked up. The soup kitchen illustrations include homeless people, the streets include graffiti, etc. It’s a book based more in the reality of my community than many of the books that are published in picture book format.

Having characters in their book look more like the people they see each day is so wonderful. The kids were enthralled by the book. The other two books I read for storytime were a bit of a dud, and I was worried about this one because I was reading it last and I thought maybe their attention spans would be gone, but they were absolutely focused on the pictures and the story. It really connected, and I was soooo glad!

Here is a link to the campaign website for the We Need Diverse Books movement. http://weneeddiversebooks.org/ It’s not just librarians, there are teachers and parents and social workers and all sorts of people involved, but the librarians are loud and proud and since that’s my little corner of the world, that’s sort of who I associate this movement with. It’s a fantastic movement and long overdue. Having books that showcase aspects of all the different lives that humans experience, whether living with a disability, being part of a mixed-race family, being part of an LGBT family, having picture books translated into new languages and shared across the globe for all kids to experience…it’s all so important and so needed. Children are able to learn and grow and understand so much more than they are often given credit for and I think sometimes people feel like “children don’t see race”. This isn’t true. Children see it and of course they know when the characters in their books never ever look like them or like their family. And it’s not much to ask to want publishers to publish books from authors who write from diverse perspectives. It’s not asking them to STOP publishing authors who focus on traditional or white families; it’s just asking that the publishing industry’s scope for children’s materials be widened to allow for more stories to be told and shared, because the diversity and wider scope of content and viewpoints benefit us all.

I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face.

This morning’s story time was nice! My story time crowds have shrunk significantly over the summer. I used to get between 20-30 children at my story time during the school year and into the early summer, but these last few weeks I’ve been getting less than 10. At first, I was worried about this, thinking that I didn’t really know how to work with such a small group. I had a few issues with attention spans over the last few weeks, so I’ve been adding more actions and more movement activities to try to keep their focus. But, I’ve also been able to actually get through three stories. I used to only try to get through two, because it took so long for the 25 children to make their crafts after story time ended that I would often have parents and caregivers still there long after the program was supposed to be over. But, today I had 18 people total, and about half were kids. And today turned out to be one of my favorite story times! I felt like the kids were interested in all the books, they were excited to sing the songs and do the movement activities I had planned. It was great! I’m definitely warming up to these smaller groups, now.

I know that some children’s librarians don’t use themes for their story times, but I still find it helps me to narrow down my book selection and songs and movement activities if I have a topic. Sometimes it’s not very easy to think of a topic and I’ve had some topics with some real duds, book-wise. But today’s theme was Back to School, because the city’s public schools begin tomorrow. Several of my families are enrolling their kids in preschool for the first time and I have one family who is starting homeschooling tomorrow, so it was a topic that the kids were familiar with and thinking about on their own.

I chose the theme not only for its timeliness, but also the GREAT selection of books from which to choose. I literally had dozens of books on the subject just in my branch library. There were three books I read for the kids today, but one specifically that I loved and that they seemed to like, so I thought I’d give it a shout-out on this humble blog. I love the Pout-Pout Fish and there’s a book about the Pout-Pout Fish going to school.

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Pout-Pout goes to school and he doesn’t like it at all. He feels like he can’t learn the things he’s supposed to learn, he’s a “fish out of water” (excuse the pun), and he decides to give up. He starts to leave and his teacher comes and finds him and tells him that he is smart and he can do it and he does belong at school. Also, she tells him that he’s not expected to know things that he hasn’t yet learned. It was cute and the kids seemed to like it, too. It really kept their attention. I don’t know how many of the kids are anxious about starting school (even if it’s a year or two away), but I think most people at some point in their lives feel a little nervous about starting new things. It’s a great book for anybody starting any new endeavor, I think. A Pout-Pout Fish book is always a good idea!

You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?

Each Wednesday morning I have a preschool storytime. I have a core group of families who tend to show up. It has fluctuated quite a bit over this summer. This was the first summer my library system elected to continue storytime after April. They used to always stop storytime for the summer and pick up again in August. They didn’t like to have the children’s librarians running the summer reading program and still doing storytimes at the same time, I guess. But, they decided that the community was in need of continuous storytimes, so here we are. Initially, my attendance stayed pretty high, but it’s steadily decreased. Today was the smallest storytime I’ve had since I started doing them last year. I had 5 preschoolers and 1 infant. I was doing a circus theme and they loved my “circus big top” (a white bed sheet, because the parachute I had asked to borrow from another library has never shown up.) They enjoyed the first book, Song of the Circus by Lois Duncan (Yep, that Lois Duncan! The same one who writes thrillers.). They enjoyed the songs and movement activities. And then, I tried something I’ve only tried one other time (another very small storytime crowd, come to think of it): I read them a Dr. Seuss book.

I like Dr. Seuss, but he has been troublesome for me in the world of storytimes. The first time I tried to read a Dr. Seuss book for storytime, it was MLK Jr. Day and I read the story of the Sneetches. I love that story. The few children who were at the storytime chimed in with their comments about how terribly treated some of the Sneetches were and how silly it all was that if you have a star on your belly you get to do things that others cannot. It worked as I had hoped it would for that particular theme.

However. There was a father who asked to see the Dr. Seuss book during craft time and then proceeded to tell me how Dr. Seuss was not a good role model for children because he was anti-Semetic and that he doesn’t read Dr. Seuss to his children and believed I should no longer read Dr. Seuss in storytimes.

Well… I’ve never found any reliable sources claiming that Dr. Seuss was anything other than supportive of Jews. In fact, during WWII, he criticized the US for its treatment of Jews and was very solidly anti-Hitler. He did agree with the Japanese internment camps during WWII, which was a moral blunder, but he later seemed to see the error of his ways in the writing of Horton Hears a Who, written about the occupation of Japan after WWII and which he dedicated to a close friend of his from Japan. At any rate, I don’t know where this father got his opinion. Certainly, everyone is entitled to decide whether to read certain books to their children or not, but he stopped bringing his kids to storytime after that. If I’m honest, it was not much of a loss. The fellow was rather off-putting in a general way, although his kids were great. Despite one parent’s problem with an author or a children’s book, I would not stop reading said author aloud to children. That’s not the point of a public library, those sorts of stipulations would be appropriate in a non-public library…like in your own home.

Still, I haven’t given Dr. Seuss a try in storytime since then and that was nearly six months ago. But, today I decided to give it another go because If I Ran the Circus  is SO good. It was a big, fat, flop. I think it was too long. Dr. Seuss is definitely wordy. My kids today ranged from about 2-5 and I think Dr. Seuss just dragged on a bit too much. It’s nonsense words went over a lot of their heads. There were a few giggles, but there was a lot more talking amongst themselves and not paying attention. Usually these kids pay attention. So, I was sort of disappointed. I asked them questions about the story when I finished and they could hardly tell me anything about it. It wasn’t good. Maybe it needs an older crowd. Maybe his books are just too long for this age group. Maybe it just wasn’t a day for Dr. Seuss and storytime. Or maybe Dr. Seuss and storytime are not that great of a match here. It’s a shame, really. I’ll probably try him again sometime, but I need to find a way to bring the kids into participating with the story more. Maybe just The Cat in the Hat (although, I really don’t like that one much), or something that they might have been introduced to previously. I don’t know. I’m afraid Dr. Seuss will just go back on the shelf for a while.

I’ll give him three chances, but not another chance for a while. Not only because of the reception he received, but also because it’s a lot of work to read a Dr. Seuss book aloud and not stumble over the nonsense words or the tongue twisters! I practiced reading this book three times before I actually read it to them this morning. It’s tough! I know some people think reading Seuss to kids isn’t good because of all his nonsense words, but I disagree. Even the two-year-old today laughed at some of the nonsense words. They know, even at that young age, that the words are goofy. They know ‘eyeses’ and ‘shouldsters’ aren’t the correct words for the body parts, even if they don’t know that there’s not a planet called “Foon”. It’s all good, but maybe not always the best for a storytime setting? Sigh. I don’t know. It’s a situation where I want it to work and don’t want to give up on it, but its a disappointment each time I try.

In the meanwhile, try reading this aloud without stuttering or stopping or having a brain-jolt at the tongue-twisting turning of phrases of old Theo Geisel:

“When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles
and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles…
…they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle
bottle paddle battle.”
Dr. Seuss, Fox in Socks

I have one particular girl in storytime who loves to clap when the story is over. Several of the parents have taken to clapping when the story is over, too… I don’t know how to handle it, so I usually just sort of move quickly on to the next thing we’re doing. But today, after getting through all the tongue twisters without stumbling or messing up the Seussian rhythm I was all like:

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I’m waiting on the day

Today was a dance storytime. I had decided to introduce the preschoolers to some of my favorite songs, so I made a mix of several (clean) songs from Jackson 5, Paul Simon, Van Halen, Aretha Franklin, James Taylor and many others. I think I wore them out! We danced much of the time and there were some that were a bit too intimidated by the dancing to really let loose, but I had a few who were really going for it. I hope to bring more music and dance into this particular group’s storytime because I think they’d benefit from it.

Other than that, my boss left for vacation halfway through today, which leaves me in charge of the branch. It’s not tough. Personnel stuff is usually the most annoying things for managers, I think. We are a small branch, so just three other staff members to oversee, plus my teens for Summer Reading. My teenage Summer Reading Volunteers are the highlight of my day sometimes. They’re freaking awesome! Optimistic, happy to help, good at their jobs, and generally upbeat and reliable. Everything I like in a person I’m supposed to be supervising. I have three guys and one young lady and they are fun and fantastic. They’ve made my first attempt at running SRP infinitely easier.

A perk of being a public librarian is the ease with which I can get movies, music, and books! I’m currently listening to John Mayer’s cd “Paradise Valley” and it’s good, I think. I like John Mayer. You don’t hear much from him any more these days. In fact, I saw him playing guitar next to Ed Sheeran on an awards performance earlier this year and they didn’t even put his name up on the screen as being on stage. It was sort of crazy, I thought. I know he hasn’t had a hit for a while, but I feel like his guitar-playing style is distinct enough to be recognizable and wouldn’t you give the dude some credit for playing guitar when he’s got a little solo riff alongside another guitar player? Anyhow, I’m enjoying this cd. It’s sort of folksy and probably less radio-friendly than his earlier stuff. But, I prefer this to some of his earlier stuff. Its nice when you, as a fan, can grow alongside musicians you enjoy. I feel the same way about Weezer. I like everything they’ve done. I have friends who loved them in the 1990s and then couldn’t stand them in the 2000s because the sound changed too much for them. I like them. Still. Everything they’ve done, I’ve enjoyed the music for what it is. It’s probably the only part of my life that has any sort of resemblance to loyalty and commitment. I can take the music with me no matter where I go and remember where I’ve been and dream of where I’m hoping I end up. It’s convenient. So, thank you for the music, to all the musicians and wonderful songwriters of all the music I love and the music that I’m destined to enjoy in the future. Cheers to you all.