Friday, July 29, 2011

SRP One World Many Stories Christmas In July

To be a children's librarian it does not hurt to be wired a little bit differently then the average person. As a matter of fact, it is an added bonus. With summer reading programs ending, it seemed that there should be a "big" surprise finale. After all, if there are no surprises, or big "Ta Da" a the end, then the program is very boring. Who needs the same old same old when do something a little off beat is always fun to try, at least once. This one may take the cake for being the craziest. However, it works well with children of all ages. Including the adults. Get on a Santa hat, gloves and scarf, we are celebrating Christmas in July!

Young children who participate in this program will either admonish the librarian that it isn't Christmas or will giggle delightfully that there is a nut in the library who thinks it's Christmas. Either way, it's a good thing. Parents will either hate the librarian for the reminder that Christmas is not that far off. (As of today it is only 148 days till Christmas 2011.) On the other hand, parents might be grateful for the reminder and begin their shopping today. This year's theme is a great way to celebrate Christmas in July because of the many different ways the story of Christmas is told and celebrated in various countries and cultures. Along with that are the many different foods and pastries that can be brought out to share.

Let's first look at wonderful tales that can help with setting the tone for the programs For example, dePaola's The Legend of the Poinsettia , Augustin's Antonella and Her Santa Claus,and Robbins' Baboushka and the Three Kings. Of course, any combination of Christmas stories told around the world will do well, and these books are solid brain ticklers to be reminded of favorites, old and new. Once the title have been selected, time to move on to the next step. Which is Christmas games that can involve Christmas greetings in different languages, Christmas stocking hunt, or musical chairs with Christmas songs. Last but not least, add a little bit of Christmas treats, Craft with Santa in a bathing suite and the program is set to go. All that's needed to add are children and laughs.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wordless Picture Books Speak Volumes!

As a great admirer of picture books, the opportunity to enjoy a good wordless book is never passed up. Easy reading? Absolutely! How can this be if there are no words? Good question and the best answer is: the imagination is stimulated to become a tool that can generate words, stories and action. Precisely what picture books demand of their viewers. It's a unique opportunity to collaborate with the author on a story that was meant for just the two of you. How cool is that!

One of the best wordless picture books for 2011 is Barbara Lehman's The Secret Box. It's a wonderful tale about a timeless treasure that is hidden in the attic of an old home. Readers are introduced to the first person to hide the box in the first few pages. As time goes on, new occupants of the home find the box and discover the treasure map left behind. A magical and wonderful trip ensue for the three friends who have found the secret box. The right thing to do is to return the box to its original hiding place for new occupants of the house to enjoy the same magic. The artwork is simple, warm and inviting. The stories that will come out of the box will vary with each reader, but they will all be fascinating to hear.

For story time programs with a little kick, this book does especially well with a small group of children, no more than six. Give each child a number, in this case 1-6. The child who has number one, they will begin the story in their own words. The next child, number two, will continue telling the story with the second page, and this continues on until number six. Then the children start over in taking turns in telling the story. This is a wonderful way to not only stir the imagination, but also encourage the children to listen to the story, as well as look at the details of the artwork. If the children are old enough, test them to see if they remember the parts of their shared story by randomly going back to a page to ask, "What did we say happened with our friend in the picture?"

Older children can benefit from wordless books too. A clever way to make it interesting is to add music to the storytime/interactive program. Ahead of time, choose several music cds that vary in style, and a mix of vocal and instrumental. When the program begins, let the children not only tell the story, but experiment with different music cds to find the "right" music for the pictures. Write down the songs they choose and the story they spun. Once this is done, burn the songs in page order to a disc. At the next get together, tell the children you have a wonderful new story to tell them. Pull out the book, play the CD and read the "children's" story. To go the extra mile, have the authors sign their work. Place the music cd along with a player, headphone and book in an area where other patrons may want to hear the budding storytellers' story. What better marketing can you get for the library with this project?

Of course this can be done with any good wordless picture book. Below is a list of good titles to choose from to create a personal storytime with children.

Polo and the Magic Flute Regis Faller
South Patrick McDonnel
Wave Suzy Lee
Museum Trip Barbara Lehman
Flotsam David Wiesner
Jack and the Night Visitors Paul Schories
Sidewalk Circus Paul Fleischman
Yellow Balloon Charlotte Dematons
Tuba Lessons T.C. Bartlett
Good Dog, Carl Alexandra Day

Monday, July 25, 2011

Darker Times : YA Fiction Mirroring Reality?

Over the past several years, there has been a wave of Young Adult titles that have had darker plots. Many of these titles have become favorites among teens, and may quite possibly stand the test of time becoming classics in their own rights. A classic YA title, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, is probably one of the first novels for teens that explored gangs, loyalty and death in a profound manner. Teens gravitated to the characters not because they knew someone just like PonyBoy but because their authentic voices touched a nerve. Which ultimately led teens to not only explore "real" issues but to discuss them with each other. The book was written in 1967, a very turbulent time socially for America. Today's economic and social times are troublesome in their own way. Yet instead of one book that stands out as the voice of the dark side, there are several that are getting teens to talk about tough life issues. Is it a sign of the times? Or is it just a fad that YA authors and publishers are going through?

The Hunger Games Trilogy brings to life a kill-or-be-killed reality show. Throughout the trilogy, Katniss comes to realize that she and her fellow citizens of District 13 are nothing more than pawns in a political game of power and control. The citizens have lost power and control while government officials, even those who seem to be ideal, manipulate power for their own gains. Its a frightening look at how a government can become so powerful that survival comes down to a daily quest between life and death. The response from most teens who have read this trilogy is that Katniss is so real for them, yet they wonder if they could possess the same nerves of steel to survive.

James Patterson's Series Maximum Ride offers readers a world where a gang of teens who are 98% human and 2% bird, escape from the lab called "School" to make it on their own. Unfortunately, The Erasers, FBI and the entire world seems bent on tracking them down and destroying them. The appeal of the book is that Max and her friends continually escape from their enemies and find their way to freedom.

In yet another series, Books of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau, young characters deal with darkness and secrecy on a day to day basis. Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet have recently been assigned eye-opening jobs in the City of Ember. Doon is assigned as a pipeworker. Lina is a messenger. As Doon repairs the plumbing in the tunnels under the city, Lina learns of some unsettling secrets. Together they piece together the puzzle of what lies above them. The key theme that continues on through the tale is survival and trust. The teens are resilient and independent, perhaps the two "worst" qualities in the eyes of The Builders. Yet it is their resilient nature that takes them out of the darkness, which ultimately saves them.

In each of these series, the tone is the same. There is distrust, secrecy and the realization that in order to survive even the toughest situations it is better to trust gut instincts than to hope that those in "charge" have the best intentions. Which begs the question: Are teen readers looking for these tales because it's an escape or for something that helps them cope with today's reality? The political news of the day is filled with uncertainty. Healthcare, unemployment, taxes and foreclosures are just a few of the issues that teens are facing in their own neighborhoods and homes. Is it any wonder that titles that depict government control, secrecy and escape to a "worse off" place have become so popular. Literature has often painted a picture of the good and bad in society. It demands of the reader to ask questions and seek better solutions. In the dystopian and post-apocalyptic worlds, the less than ideal settings provide a glimpse at what may lie ahead for our society. Teens gravitate towards these stories not because they see themselves living in these worlds. Rather, it's a testimony to how the human spirit survives in spite of the obstacles placed before them. In a strange way, these dark novels may offer hope that survival is not only a valid option but the only option for the young citizens of dystopian worlds.

One other point to consider when looking at the "darker" plots. Dystopian plots are often involved with conspiracy and secrecy. The protagonists are often seeking truth and coming to terms with how those truths shape their worlds. In their own lives, teens often feel sheltered from the truth and complex issues. In these novels, the teens not only demand the truth, they get what they desire, the truth. Teens don't want to be treated as if they can't handle complex issues, rather they are looking for ways to learn how to face the challenge. These novels do just that and more. They can open the channels of communication in which teens can discuss issues that are important to them.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Problem with Hollywood and Young Adult Novels

There is something to be said about characters who have become so familiar with readers that they have become "real". That is why Percy Jackson, Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), have become successful series. Each of these characters, with their likeable, quirky personalities have found their way into the hearts and minds of readers. They are a reminder that anyone can be a hero in their own way. The consequence of this is that the demand for these stories continues to grows because the time spent with these loveable "people" never seems long enough. Time just flies by when they are around. Which is a good thing. However, the not so good consequence of this is that Hollywood tries to force the characters and their adventures onto the silver screen.

The theme for Summer Reading Program for teens "You Are Here", is appropriate when reading the series mentioned above. Each of these series take readers to another place and time that is new, exciting and vastly different from the world that teens are familiar with daily. By placing the reader squarely in the middle of New York City battling ancient Greek mythological monsters, or playing a game of Quidditch along side Harry or getting caught in a survival of the fittest game against Katniss, each of these situations challenges the reader to put themselves in the character's shoes. In the mind's eye the action is exciting and real enough to smell, see and feel everything that the characters are experiencing. Questions come up such as, would the readers make the same decisions that the character made or could a better solution be found? The ultimate question comes down to whether the ride with the characters was satisfying or is there a desire for more stories and adventures? If the story is really good, and with all three of these series it is, the answer is YES, then the trip is worth it and more please. Having said this, who needs the silver screen to help with the imagery?

Reading demands that teens actively turn on their imagination and drift into another time and place. While Percy, Harry and Katniss have the lasting power in books, they also share something else in common. They are all, or soon will be, on the silver screen. Hollywood has taken popular book titles and turned them into movies for years. From a reader's point of view this could be the WORST thing to happen for an author and the beloved characters. Sure, this means that the book is a huge commercial success once it is picked to go on the big screen. However, at what price is it worth the "prestige"? Granted the Harry Potter films remained true to Rowling's work, the same can not be said for Percy Jackson. A serious mistake was made when they omitted Clarrise in the movie. Seriously, she plays such a huge role in the first book that it was hard to believe that she never appeared in the movie. Not even once. As for the Hunger Games, who knows what Hollywood will drop from the plot. It is almost enough incentive to say "pass" when the movie comes out.

The argument can be made that the movie versions of the book can inspire teens to read the books. In some cases, that may very well be true. Although, there is a risk that the difference between the book and the film may be enough to disappoint the reader. The silver screen robs the reader of the joy of stirring the imagination. What's there to imagine what Katniss looks like in her "fire" outfit when the image is right there on the screen? Imaginations need to be exercised on a regular basis. This is precisely why reading is so important. A healthy dose of imaginations prepares the mind to think outside the box and dream of creative ideas. The silver screen may have its uses, but nothing beats a healthy imagination fed by good stories. Perhaps, instead of grabbing every young adult novel and turning into a movie, Hollywood should consider using their own creativity to come up with stories.

As everyone will be clamoring for tickets to see the midnight showing of the last Harry Potter film, this blogger will be safe at home reading the next book of the Kane Chronicles. As each page is turned, fingers will be crossed in hopes that Hollywood leaves this series alone and allow teens to exercise their minds to explore, imagine and enjoy Riordian's tale.