Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks for Libraries

This should be a quick but useful entry today. As today is a day of thanks here in the United States, it would seem very un-holiday like to not say anything about libraries and why there is much to give thanks for libraries, small or large. Before heading off to big family dinners or waiting for the clock to strike at midnight for the Black Friday shopping frenzy to begin, here is a the top ten reasons to be thankful for libraries. 10. Libraries offer a wonderful and safe place for children to visit after school, on weekends or on family program nights. Suffice it to say, it's a little bit safer than the mall and it's a little easier on mom and dad's pocket books too! 9. Libraries are places where everyone is welcomed and no one is excluded. Whatever the need, be it for education or entertainment, no one is denied access. 8. Librarians are great resources for helping in finding the exact information that is needed. Not quite sure where to find the famous quote written by Einstein about God and Science? Librarians know where to find it and verify if it's correct. 7. Without libraries, great works of literature might never have been discovered or preserved. Can you imagine a life without the great works of Shakespeare, Austen or Twain? Neither can we! 6. Libraries are the first place where toddlers can dissever the joy of reading together. Storytimes are excellent opportunities to introduce children to soil groups and wells reading. Sharing Stories is always a good thing. 5. Books are the records of civilization. Who better to preserve the stories of who we are and where we've been. Fiction or non-fiction every book holds the key to our past, present and future. Without libraries histories would be lost. 4. Libraries offer the tools and resources needed to rebuild a career or helping someone get back on their feet. In hard economic times libraries offer the "hope" that things can get better. 3. Librareis offer a unique opportunity for anyone to self-educate themselves. It is the first DIY institution. 2. Librarians often find themselves between wanting to give more and not having enough funds to get the job done. Yet, it is amazing that librarians have found ways to do more with less. 1. If it wren't for libraries, there wouldn't be a bright future for children who dare to dream. Every child that walks into the door of a library is one who aspires to do great things. Some wish to be doctors, some firemen and some even think it might be cool to be a librarian. Whatever their dreams, they find the means to make it possible by reading books, finding answers and exploring bookshelves loaded with books waiting to be discovered. If reading this seems a little over the top, we beg to differ. We know it's true at least for one little girl. She became Mrs. Nowc Librarian at large.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Library World vs. The Real World: Stopping the Insanity

The library world is sometimes a strange world indeed. If someone were to ask what drives a person into the library profession the answer is usually summed up in one word: insanity. Why? This is a world where the professionals who love their jobs day in and day out are almost always justifying the existence of the library, the education level requirements of the profession and always the budget/salaries for the libraries and librarians. It seems that the world outside the library does not fully understand or care about libraries. Why is that? Advocates of libraries are very passionate about their belief that knowledge is power and that power should be accessed by all. Thus, this is where the insanity comes to play. Every day, every season, every year, libraries promote themselves as the free resource for every community. The library is the place where the community learns and grows together. The library is a valued part of our world. Yet, every day, every season, every year it's the same response. Yes, libraries are wonderful but we can get everything we need from our electronic devices in just a couple of clicks. After all these years, the internet still gets the upper hand and libraries are struggling to keep up. If as a profession, librarians are still struggling with the same questions, perhaps its time to look at what drives the idea that everything is at one's finger tips via the internet. While internet access has become easier to come into daily living wherever one goes, the library profession still laments over the digital divide debate. The same debate that began when the internet was exploding is still with us twenty years later. Again, see the insanity? It's creepier than a science fiction novel of a warped home world that is stuck in the same time loop. If libraries don't get away from the their "world", it may be doomsday for libraries. However, it doesn't have to be. The printing press revolutionized the way people gained access to information. The only two obstacles to overcome was reading and affordability. With the advent of mass printing, newspapers, pamphlets and other similar materials could be distributed widely. Here we have the market places of ideas coming to fruition. Everyone can participate in the debate and share their own insights. Notice what were the barriers in the beginning. The ability to read and to afford the books. What was the answer to providing access to all? Libraries. All be it, they were privatized but it answered the need of accessibility. Today, access to information can be provided through digital devices. The obstacles are the same as they were hundreds of years ago. Seekers of information need to know how to read which includes retrieval skills and have the ability to pay for digital resources. Thus we have the problems of the digital divide. So if libraries are still trying to justify their existence than would it be reasonable to assume that if in the past twenty years the obstacle of digital divide has not been solved yet then has it brought on the demise of one of the greatest institution of a free, civilized society? This may come a day too late or just at the nick of time but perhaps the only way to prove libraries viability in society is to solve the digital divide riddle. The old saying that knowledge is power has become more important in this generations than in any other before. The vehicle to obtaining knowledge has become expensive, much like the first books were too expensive for the common folks. Computers are a plenty in our nation, but not everyone has the means to use their equipment in a productive way. For example, a student may go to a good high school in the suburbs, own a laptop and have a few cool video games but does not have access to the internet at home. One might argue that the solution is to provide everything that is needed to gain access to information to every household. That's like saying to make sure everyone has a nice lawn, drop off a lawn mower and gardening tools to every home and magically everyone will have great landscape. No that's not the answer. Maybe the answer is this, if libraries do not begin to teach information retrieval survival skills, not only will the community around them suffer but the library will as well. The jobs of tomorrow will require technical knowledge of using a computer (for example, turning it on and off or clicking on various icons to navigate between programs). Not only that, the high end earners will be the ones who can effectively retrieve information and apply the information to their work environment. If libraries are following the tired old rule of leading the patron to how to get information but not how analyze it then that is a grave mistake. As educators of the community at large, it is the libraries responsibility to provide the best resources for their community to thrive in an ever changing world. It is with great disappointment that the digital divide has been discussed at lengths with no measurable progress. If libraries are going to help the world deal with change, then it's time to step out of the library world and into the real world. It is not longer acceptable to be passionate about libraries and the profession Its time for action. What can librarians do to reach out to patrons who are stuck in between the digital divide? One solution, go where the people congregate. If patrons are not viewing the library as the place to get answers, then it's time for librarians to wear walking shoes and lead patrons back to the library. Now more than ever we need a Pied Piper who lures all children, young an old, back to the bookshelves Even if it's a virtual bookshelf access remotely with an iPad. Stopping the insanity of looking at the same debates without seeking real life solutions is going to take many steps to find a workable solution. The institution of the library is worth every step to preserve it for this generations and many more to come.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Celebrity & Children's Books: The Bad and The Ugly

This is the time when the bitter news must be given to the celebrities that their talents for writing children's books is less then stellar. Regardless of what their devoted fans and family say, their works deserve the "thumbs down" award. Most of these celebrities must already know this or at least their publishers do, because the fact is, they haven't written another children's book. Thank goodness for a little common sense that comes along once in a blue moon. However, there is a confession that needs to be addressed here. The theme of the past couple of entries was inspired by an author who recently wrote a children's book and, for the love of the written word, especially as it pertains to children, they shouldn't have gone down that road. Madonna's list of tomes is a questionable coffee table book about sex and children's books. A pretty odd mix but other to be sure. However, the one thing the Material Girl excels at is marketing herself as controversial. Which is probably why she decided to write for children Although she claims that her daughter was her inspiration, some readers don't buy that line. Madonna failed at her attempts because she did what so many other celebrities do, write for herself but not for her audience. In the case of, The Four English Roses basically comes off as shallow, preachy book about accepting others. It's The Title should have been "don't hate me because I'm beautiful." Young readers didn't find it appealing. Which shouldn't surpassing, writing pop songs is more her style. Fast, good beat and no substance. That's her trademark. It works well with music but not so much with books. The wonderfully talented Billy Crystal tried his hand at writing a children's book and failed. His inspiration? Becoming a grandfather. I Already Knew I Loved You could be appropriately re-titled I Already Knew This Would Be An Awful Children's Book. Children can relate to having a grandparent and love having them around. However, seeing things through the eyes of their grandparents is not what children understand. Their world revolves around them and how they see the world. Asking them to see the world through the lens of an old person, you might as well be asking them to know what it's like to experience life as a dog. They haven't got a clue. Crystal would have been a better success if he stepped out of his shoes and thought about writing from the perspective of his grandchild. Movie legend John Travolta was inspired at one point to pen a book on his son's first experience with planes. One Way Night Coach: A Tale For All Ages is really a tale that should have been shared with just Travolta and his son. The rest of the world should not have been burdened with a tale so bad. Travolta's love of planes and the joy he gets from his child's first experience does not translate well to readers of any age. All three of the books just listed had one thing in common: they had good intentions. Or at least it seemed like a good intention in the beginning. A couple of weeks ago, Rush Limbaugh's attempt at children's book hit the bookstores. Unlike the previous books, this book is written for tweens, children who are too old for picture books but not in high school yet. The tough years of being in between a kid and a teen. Which makes this market hard to make a connection. Mr. Limbaugh has good intentions for his book, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, however, it failed. It had such great potential only to let down the readers. The absolute sad fact about this endeavor is that Simon & Schuster, Rush and all of his devoted fans will probably see to it that a sequel is written. That is too bad because another book like this one is sure to turn children off from history and reading. Because this is a recent release, and the likely hood of a sequel to be published, it seems appropriate to give the review a little extra attention. There are three major problems with Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims. Actually more like five, but three of the worst offenses will be discussed. Dittoheads out there who may be reading this blog, a moment of your time to review the facts presented here before blowing up and labeling the blogger a liberal, over-educated Rush/Conservative talk show hater. (Actually, Limbaugh's show is good and entertaining. His talent shines through at the microphone.) First, time travel is very difficult to master without messing up key elements like continuity. This book misses the mark on so many occasions it's amazing the editors didn't catch it. One example of this is when Mr. Revere and his companion Tommy are on the Mayflower and decide to jump three months ahead to the tail end of the Mayflower's long, harsh journey. They are still smelling nice, their clothes are still fresh yet everyone else has been through the wear and tear of the journey. No one asks where these two have been? No one wonders why they don't look as worn as they everyone else? Really? There are other "holes" in his time traveling that run a list too long to post here but suffice it to say, there are easier ways of introducing history to children without using time travel. Second, the dialogue is so stiff and forced that it isn't natural. As a matter of fact, at points it is similar to reading an over the top and overly rated play. How does Rush Revere know that William Bradford was so confident about his journey to the New World and his success? Children reading this book will know that they are being talked down to and lectured. It is that blatantly obvious. It's beaten over the readers' heads so many times, it's better to put the book down and get a lecture from grandpa instead. Give credit where credit is due, Limbaugh gets the historical facts right. There is no disputing that. It's true that the Pilgrims were heroic in their journey to this great land. However, Mr. Limbaugh's desire to portray their bravery and struggles is lost because he tried too hard. Again just as time travel is hard to master so is writing a story to convey the depth of historical significance and sacrifice to give a lasting impression. It can be done but those who do it best are able to so by weaving the story around the reader's mind and heart. Third, the illustration of Rush Revere look like they have been photoshopped into the scenes. The character is more illuminated than the rest of the scene giving it an eerie feel. Which brings up the point of "cute" in jokes like being a spokes person for a ice tea company and substitute teaching on the side. Even going so far as to praise Rush Revere for the great advice he gives to William Bradford and suggesting he have a radio talk show. If the book actually did half of what Limbaugh had intended this could have easily been overlooked. Having said that, the gimmicks are cheap, not to mention forming the book around the icon of Mr. Limbaugh's Two If By Tea Brand is a terrible idea. Marketing to adults through their children is questionable judgment on Rush's part to say the least. He may not care that the general public believes he's arrogant but this latest endeavor magnifies his personality. So much so that it seems that his ego is bigger than life. That's okay, he's accomplished quite a bit in his lifetime. He deserves the accolades he has received. On top of that, he has overcome many obstacles as well. However, he certainly does not succeed at everything and this book proves it. This book definitely goes into the Bad and Ugly category of why celebrities should not write for children.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Celebrity Children's Book Authors: The Good

There are so few celebrities who understand and excel at writing books for children. Very few. As discussed in the last blog, celebrities all think that writing for a child is an easy endeavor. It really isn't for so many reasons that were already discussed and won't lament on them again now. The clues that were left last time of which celebrity's books are very good were dead give aways, weren't they? The actress who came from a famous family and did quite well in films herself is none other than Jamie Lee Curtis. The actor who has done so many genres, from drama to comedy and everything in between is John Lithgow. However there is one more that many may have forgotten his works but he can be seen in a classic TV show but that will be discovered later. One of the nicest surprise when Jamie Lee Curtis' first children's book hit the shelves was that publisher found the right illustrator to make her book come alive. Laura Cornell's use of warm soft colors gently lures readers to spend time with the chubby faced characters. Curtis gets the voice of a little girl's view of the world just right. For example in When I was Little, the narrator details all the ways ways that she changed from crying all the time as a baby to not knowing she was a girl to completing big girl tasks all by herself. Curtis and Cornell did it again in, Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born is a sweet tale of adoption, based on the author's own family experience. In both books, the readers celebrates the little moments in life that are simple yet big in the eyes of a child. John Lithgow is a complete joy to watch on the screen, be it the silver one or the tube. His talents extend into writing as well. What makes his books so captivating is that the joy he has for music, words, learning and his dogs is contagious. It coms bursting through the pages. With his first book The Remarkable Farkle McBride, Lithgow introduces readers to a lovable character who knows exactly what he likes and works to make the music just right. In Mahalia Mouse Goes to College, there is a point where every reader, even one with the hardest of heart, celebrates in Mahalia's achievement. In I've Got Two Dogs, there is no other way to describe this book but a love ballad to his Fanny and Blue. At the very last page, the reader realizes they love Fanny and Blue too! When a reader steps into Lithgow's world, whether it be with Farkle, Mihalia Mouse or his two dogs they are in for a treat. One never knows where he may lead the reader, but who cares! It's so worth it! Now to unveil the TV legend who wrote a clever children's book that should really be on every child's bookshelf or at the very least in every public library's children's area. Can you recall an old TV sitcom of an unlikely family living in the neighborhood? A kind of bumbling yet lovable gigantic creature that usually only made an appearance at Halloween? The King Who Rained is a remarkable book about how some words sound the same but don't have the same meaning. Fred Gwynne, who is also known as Herman Munster of The Munsters TV series, creatively captured what children must be thinking when they hear the homophones. The quirky and silly pictures not only drive home what the true meaning of the word in a delightfully silly fashion. These authors have mastered the art of storytelling to the young. Their works are fun, fill young minds with wonderful images and dares them to continue reading. Who could resist that combination of wit and charm? Only readers with the coldest of hearts and have no clue about children. Which leads to the next step in the review of celebrity books... the bad. That is for another discussion. For now, it's best to revel in the good books For they only come once in a great while.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Celebrity Authors and Children's Literautre

For the record, Children's Literature is a fine art. It looks easy. It reads easy. However it is rare that anyone can someone can come along and produce a masterpiece. At the very best, a fine piece of work that stands the test of time. Publishers like to promote well known celebrities as authors thinking that this is a goldmine of an opportunity to cash in on sales. While it's true in the first shout out of the book and publishing date, most consumers are curious and want to take a peek at what the book is like. They may even venture out to buy it if they are fans of the author. Which makes pre-sales rise pretty quickly. Okay, so the publisher makes a few extra bucks on the "fame" of the author but what is painfully obvious is the reader is left with a crappy book. Maybe "crappy" is too harsh a phrase. Perhaps a better phrase would be quickly read, quickly forgotten. This week the theme of this blog is exploring the good, bad and the ugly of celebrity children's authors. First it would be important to point out what makes a good children's book. Every children's book must have illustrations that flow with the text. This seems easy to do but ask any illustrator and writer it takes time to get it perfect. The ultimate magic comes when you can not have the words without the picture and vice versa. They become as it were mirror images to each other. Secondly, never take your audience for granted. Eric Carle, well-known children's author and illustrator, once stated that he never underestimated the mind of a child. He's right. A child's mind is complex and simple all at the same time. When trying to tap into their imagination to help them dream or learn, the author has to find the right words to convey the complex yet simple without "dumbing" it down for the child. Children know when they are being talked down to or treated as if they are simpleton. The result is that they will turn off to reading the book. Bad news for the author and for that matter the publisher. Third, the plot of the story has to be the right combination of fiction and reality. For example, Plots that take the child to another place or time must be consistent with that place and time. Plots that feature good and evil must make it clear who the hero is and who is the villain. Plots which talk about events that shape every child's life should touch the child's mind with a "Aha" moment and they see themselves in that situation. Finally, the magic of the book must bring the reader back again and again and again. How many times have you seen a child read Green Eggs and Ham, only to realize they have memorized the book forward and backwards? It's that magic that lets the child experience the fun one more time and they never grow tired of it. It's the same thing with books that become a series. The young reader has to connect with the character in order to want to visit with him or her in another book. That is not as easy as it seems. With the foundation set forth here for important criteria in Children's books, it will be easier to discuss why author's make the cut and why others do not. It may be quite a shocker for some of the authors to find out that their books do not stand up to the test of great or even good Children's literature. Avid fans of books for the young ones can't really fault them. Frankly, it should be the editors and publishers who should have stopped them in their tracks from writing the books in the beginning. However, there should be applause for those editors and publishers who have unveiled noteworthy works from celebrities that were wonderful surprises. These will be the treasures that will be explored first. Which author's work will be explored first? Here's a helpful hint: one came from a famous Hollywood family and the other has starred in some many genres it's hard to say which they are best at. However, both authors have made the good list for children's books for different reasons. Try guessing who it is until next time. As we all know, the author must keep a title suspense to keep the reader's coming back