Friday, September 30, 2011


          I love working at a school where a heavy tome like the one you see above, on ETIQUETTE of all things, actually checks out. Not only that, but it was returned in perfect condition, despite its unwieldy size. You could kill somebody with that.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


          Yesterday an English teacher who has 7th and 9th grade classes sent this request to the Teacher Librarian and me:

"I wonder if you can help me with our writing unit. We are finding examples of descriptive writing as a class. I would like students to note the unique styles different authors use while articulating through the same stylistic devices. Would either of you be able to pull some books/pages for me to introduce strong description? They will be reading a page--not a whole novel/book. I would love to have 10 books to use for an activity. I plan to have them do a Gallery Walk, where they read and discuss the style and impression."

          The Librarian found some examples online, citing passages from picture books, since students could easily read an entire picture book and talk about the descriptions.
          As soon as I read the English teacher's request, some of my favorite authors' names had started popping into my head, so I began pulling books and putting post-it notes on pages with good description. This is what I came up with. Of course, these are examples of what I PERSONALLY consider quality literature. Incidentally, I haven't actually read Kerouac, but I know some of our kids dig him, so I found a passage I liked.

The following excerpt is from Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, their buds testing the air like snails' eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.
     In the one instant before they come apart they are like the peonies in the front garden at Mr. Kinnear's, that first day, only those were white. Nancy was cutting them. She wore a pale dress with pink rosebuds and a triple-flounced skirt, and a straw bonnet that hid her face. She carried a flat basket, to put the flowers in; she bent from the hips like a lady, holding her waist straight. When she heard us and turned to look, she put her hand up to her throat as if startled.

The following excerpt is from The Rose and the Beast: fairy tales retold by Francesca Lia Block

She came that night like every girl's worst fear, dazzling frost star ice queen. Tall and with that long silver blond hair and a flawless face, a perfect body in white crushed velvet and a diamond snowflake tiara. The boys and girls parted to let her through--they had all instantaneously given up on him when they saw her.
     I felt almost--relieved. Like that first night with him but different. Relieved because what I dreaded most in the whole world was going to happen and I wouldn't have to live with it anymore--the fear.
     There is the relief of finally not being alone and the relief of being alone when no one can take anything away from you. Here she was, my beautiful fear. Shiny as crystal lace frost.

The following excerpt is from The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

     Behind one door, Tom Skelton, aged thirteen, stopped and listened.
     The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats.
     Tom Skelton shivered. Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows' Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.

The following excerpt is from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil.

The following excerpt is from Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson

     The forest was heavy with rain and the trees were absolutely motionless. Everything had withered and died, but right down on the ground the late autumn's secret garden was growing with great vigour straight out of the mouldering earth, a strange vegetation of shiny puffed-up plants that had nothing at all to do with summer. The late blueberry sprigs were yellowish-green and the cranberries as dark as blood. Hidden lichens and mosses began to grow, and they grew like a big soft carpet until they took over the whole forest. There were strong new colours everywhere, and red rowan berries were shining all over the place. But the bracken had turned black.

The following excerpt is from Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac

     Those afternoons, those lazy afternoons, when I used to sit, or lie down, on Desolation Peak, sometimes on the alpine grass, hundreds of miles of snowcovered rock all around, looming Mount Hozomeen on my north, vast snowy Jack to the south, the encharmed picture of the lake below to the west and the snowy hump of Mt. Baker beyond, and to the east the rilled and ridged monstrosities humping to the Cascade Ridge, and after that first time suddenly realizing "It's me that's changed and done all this and come and gone and complained and hurt and joyed and yelled, not the Void" and so that every time I thought of the void I'd be looking at Mt. Hozomeen (...) Stark naked rock, pinnacles and thousand feet high protruding from immense timbered shoulders, and the green pointy-fir snake of my own (Starvation) ridge wriggling to it, to its awful vaulty blue smokebody rock...

The following excerpt is from Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan

(NOTE: these aren't typos, Kiernan's style is to sometimes smear her adjectives/adverbs together for effect)

Alice Sprinkle has hands like a bricklayer, sturdylong fingers and calluses and muscle, all the white and inconsequential scars that come from twenty years spent climbing around in limestone quarries, shale quarries, road cuts. Scars and the damage the sun does to a woman's skin, the fine wrinkles and her nails thick and nubby, a fresh Band-Aid wrapped around her left index finger; Chance smiles politely at her across the cluttered kitchen table and pours Alice another cup of coffee.
     "I just can't see any reason for it, Chance," Alice says and sighs, lifts her grayblue china cup and blows hard on the steaming black liquid inside. Breath to send tiny ripples across the dark surface, and "It's a goddamned, stupid waste," she says.
     "You really don't have to keep saying that," Chance says quietly, trying to sound confident, trying to sound like she doesn't know she's losing this argument again, and she drinks her own coffee, scaldingquick mouthful and a glance out the kitchen window at the summer night filling up the backyard. July night full of crickets and the metronome cicada thrum, a little cooler now because of the thunderstorms this afternoon, and the grass out there will still be wet, the soil underfoot still damp.

The following excerpt is from The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli

Luscious rose brittles capture the light in air bubbles that seem to move on a sunny day. They line the outer walls. Bright red buttery caramels form a cornice on every window. Palest of jellied gumdrops stick up in cone-shaped mounds along the roof. I know they are delicious, though I do not indulge myself. Their sight is enough of a pleasure. The entire log house is decorated with candies. I've achieved a harmony of lights and darks that would bring a flush to my Asa's face. I know that. Or maybe I just fool myself into believing that.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


The swamp in my coffee cup bubbles and festers with mysterious gasses...
          So this is what happens when you leave Cup O' Noodles residue in a coffee cup at work over a four-day weekend. What kind of chemical reaction was going on, to make that horrid bubble?! I may never look at Cup O' Noodles the same way again.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BANNED BOOKS WEEK 2011 : 10 stupid reasons to ban a book

Ten most stupid reasons to ban a book, #s 1-5

Ten most stupid reasons to ban a book, #s 6-10

          Another little display I did for the upcoming (September 24-October 1) Banned Books Week is something I got from ALA's website, which has lots of great info and ideas. Here's the list they provide:

Ten most farfetched (silliest, irrational, illogical) reasons to ban a book.
  1. “Encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” ( A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstien)
  2. “It caused a wave of rapes.” ( Arabian Nights, or Thousand and One Nights, anonymous)
  3. “If there is a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?” ( Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown)
  4. “Tarzan was ‘living in sin’ with Jane.” ( Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs)
  5. “It is a real ‘downer.’” ( Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank)
  6. “The basket carried by Little Red Riding Hood contained a bottle of wine, which condones the use of alcohol.” ( Little Red Riding Hood, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm K. Grimm)
  7. “One bunny is white and the other is black and this ‘brainwashes’ readers into accepting miscegenation.” ( The Rabbit’s Wedding, by Garth Williams)
  8. “It is a religious book and public funds should not be used to purchase religious books.” ( Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, by Walter A. Elwell, ed.)
  9. “A female dog is called a bitch.” ( My Friend Flicka, by Mary O’Hara)
  10. “An unofficial version of the story of Noah’s Ark will confuse children.” ( Many Waters, by Madeleine C. L’Engle)
          I just edited things a little to suit me, such as changing it from "silliest" to "most stupid" because I think that's funnier, and let's call a spade a spade, right? 
          Plus I removed their #2 and replaced it with "Homosexual penguins," from And Tango Makes Three. Partly because I wanted a gay book on the list, and partly because I found "a wave of rapes" to be a little harsh. Yes, I self-censored. So sue me because I didn't want to sit and stare for weeks at the phrase, "It caused a wave of rapes." I'd rather stare at gay penguins. They're adorable.
          If you would like to see the page from ALA's site where they provide this list and other activity/display ideas, go HERE.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

BULLETIN BOARDS & DISPLAY : Banned Books Week 2011!

          Every year this is one of my favorite noteable occasions to decorate for. To see last year's displays, go HERE.
          This time I had this sudden idea to wrap our cylindrical glass display case in black butcher paper and cut out little peep-holes so the students could actually lift flaps to reveal the controversial books.
          It took a little work positioning the shelves inside the case so they lined up just right with the 5 peep-holes, but I was very happy with the result. It's INTERACTIVE, dude! I reinforced the peep flaps with packaging tape so they wouldn't get instantly shredded.
Just what is going on here?!
          What's really cool is that as soon as I got the display together, students instantly started lifting flaps and talking about the books, and wondering why people would object to them and try to make them unavailable to anyone else.

"Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself." -Potter Stewart

Why, look who we have here! It's The Giver, and Anne Frank!
          On the back of the display case is a locking door, but although I covered it in black paper, I purposely left it UNlocked, and put this on it:

"A library is a key to intellectual freedom..."
          Plenty of kids started immediately opening it and grabbing the challenged and banned books to check out.

Wow, look at all the enticing contraband!

          On the big bulletin board I did a variation of the same thing I did last year with my "unlock your mind" theme, and my "Banned Books Week Made Simple" cartoon.

"Unlock your mind... Banned Books Week!"

          And last but not least, I printed out the ALA's packet of info on the most frequently challenged or banned books from 2010-2011, put it in a 3-ring binder, and displayed it on the corner shelves at the circ counter, surrounded by some of the books that are always under fire. Every time a kid asks about the (so-called) REASONS for the challenges and bannings, I direct them to the folder and they eagerly flip through it, and read some of it out loud to their friends in outrage and indignation. I love it! 

"Read an 'endangered' book today!"
           The packet is totally free to download/print from ALA's website:
To get this awesome and useful pdf from ALA, go HERE

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

COMING SOON: September - December

The "coming attractions" board behind the circulation desk
          In case anyone is wondering which teen and YA series are popular around here, this is our latest "Coming soon..." board with the upcoming releases our students are peeing their pants in excitement about.
          As you'll see below, the two obvious trends in popular teen/YA fiction are 1) authors who probably don't really write their own books anymore because their names are so bankable anything with their name on it will sell, and 2) "tangential" series fiction, which is confusing to library workers because the same author will have 2 series going that look the same but they're not.

Here's the run-down of upcoming series fiction:

September 19th: James Patterson's & Ned Rust's Daniel X: Game Over, which is #4 in the "Daniel X" series. The title makes you think it's the last in the series but we've been tricked by teen series before, like Eragon, which was supposed to be a trilogy but turned into a 4-book sequence.

September 20th: Heather Brewer's First Kill, first in the "Slayer Chronicles," which is kind of a tangential series to her super popular "Vladimir Tod" series, only this time it's told from the vampire SLAYER'S viewpoint. Necessary? Not sure, but the kids will want to read it.

October 11th: James Dashner's The Death Cure, 3rd and supposedly final in the "Maze Runner" trilogy. Like I said, we've been tricked by "trilogies" before, so if this dystopian series continues to make money, the publisher might pressure Mr. Dashner into making a four or five-book "trilogy."

November 15th: Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever, #6 in the "Wimpy Kid" series. It's like the new "Captain Underpants" or something. Ugh.

December 5th: James Patterson's & Jill Dembowski's The Fire, #3 in the "Witch & Wizard" series. Patterson. Hmph. Sick o' him. He's juggling too many plates and they're gonna start crashing. Besides, so much of his stuff is written WITH other writers, how much of it is he even really doing these days? I think he's just a brand, now. Maybe James Patterson doesn't even EXIST, like Franklin W. Dixon or Carolyn Keene. Have you ever seen him in person? I haven't. He's an urban legend. Nobody can write that many books.

December 6th: Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare, #2 in "The Infernal Devices" series. This is a tangential/simultaneous series (like Heather Brewer's above) that co-exists with Clare's continuing "Mortal Instruments" series. Clare is actually writing the two series at the same time. Both take place in the same fantasy world, but along different timelines. Confused? Read the author's explanation of this HERE. I haven't made up my mind yet if I find that impressive or annoying.

Here's a few other bonus upcoming releases we also have posted behind the counter:

October 4th: Rick Riordan's Son of Neptune, #2 in the "Heroes of Olympus" series. It's like a whole sequel series to the "Percy Jackson" series, about the next group of young kids at Camp Half-Blood. Not quite as annoying as a tangential series, but I still have to keep explaining it to students.

November 4th: Christopher Paolini's Inheritance, #4 in the Eragon, or "Inheritance" series. Which was supposed to be a trilogy.

Monday, September 5, 2011

THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW: a wee book review

     It's been a long time since I first read this. It was one of the first free Kindle downloads I selected. When I was a kid, I remember my dad reading this short story out loud to my friends and me on Halloween night, and he would smoke his pipe with cherry-flavored tobacco and blow smoke rings.
     As an adult, this story fell pretty flat for me, but maybe that's because my dad is several states away, and I couldn't smell that tobacco or watch the smoke rings.
     I had totally forgotten, or maybe just somehow missed it as a kid, that Irving makes it pretty clear that the Headless Horseman is most likely just Brom Bones playing a prank on Ichabod. And even mentions rumors in Sleepy Hollow that the former schoolmaster is later seen in other cities, having moved on, probably from shame.
     What a letdown!
I was way more scared by the Headless Horseman episode of Scooby Doo than by Irving's short story.

     The "legend" doesn't even have the ghostly horseman wearing or carrying a jack-o-lantern in place of a head. The legend is that the horseman carries his own head with him. It describes Ichabod's one encounter with the "horseman," where the horseman throws his "head" at Ichabod. But the next morning, it turns out not to be a head, but a PUMPKIN found smashed at the scene.
     Before that, the author describes Brom Bones as being quite the prankster, and how he and his pals are always pulling pranks on people. It also sets up the rivalry between Brom and Ichabod for Katrina's affections.
     So it's pretty obvious that it was really just Brom with a pumpkin, which in the dark of night the terrified Ichabod thought was a human head.  :(
     If I remember correctly, I think in both the old Disney animated version and the Johnny Depp movie, there's a SECOND encounter with the Horseman, in which it's obviously a real specter. Now I'm dying to watch the old animated one again, which I haven't seen in ages.
There's that Scooby Doo Horseman! SO SCARY!!!

     Another bone I have to pick with the original story is that Ichabod isn't even likable. He's kind of an opportunist and a lech. He's a total pig when there's food around, which is described in supposedly humorous detail. But I just found him kind of gross. In those days the tradition in small villages was that the schoolmaster didn't have a permanent home, and the village folk would take turns putting him up for the night and feeding him. I guess in exchange for him teaching their stupid country bumpkin kids. So Ichabod is basically a freeloader.
     The mood of the story didn't seem eerie or ghostly to me, it seemed more like a piece of slightly weird Americana. Mostly weird because of how "sleepy" the people in Sleepy Hollow are, and how they walk around as if in a supernatural daze, or something. But they're all happy and content. Where's the terrifying ghoul on the black horse with the flaming jack-o-lantern head? The concept of that is so awesome, I feel like Irving squandered a great idea.
     I almost never say this, but in this case I think the movies (both of them) are better than the original story!

P.S.- That last statement does not include the Scooby Doo TV episode. Although it was pretty cool at the time.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

LIBRARY PRODUCT OF THE MONTH: Double-decker book display stand!

The clever double-decker book display stand is the one on the LEFT, obviously. I mean, DUH.
          Oh my god, I was SO excited when we saw these listed in a library catalog. (I think Demco, but maybe Highsmith) The description said you can use them to display thematically linked titles together, but oh there's so much MORE you can do...
          I hadn't quite figured out how to put them to use, so when somebody donated some of these No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books, as soon as I got them processed I ran and grabbed one of the handy-dandy double-decker book display stands.
          I don't care that those particular books are probably not the most enticing reads for teens, don't they LOOK nice when displayed thusly? How does that one stick up higher than the others?! Is it LEVITATING?! It's like magic!

There it is from the back! What a sneaky scamp that double-decker book display stand is!
          There is one slight problem: if someone actually picks up the book on the lower part of the double-decker stand, the weight of the book on the upper part tips the whole thing over backwards. This might cause some alarm and shame, especially from some of our more timid students. In a way, this almost makes the stand BETTER, though.
          If it's a nice kid who inadvertently tips the stand over, I will tell them it's no big deal and just fix it myself. If it happens to a CRAPPY kid, I will yell, "WHY WERE YOU TOUCHING THAT?!" and write them a detention for their clumsy destructiveness.
          Actually, even with both books in place, it's kind of tricky to get the balance right so it doesn't topple over. I'm willing to accept this minor flaw, though, in a product that doubles as a clever display and a sly trap for the unwary.