Monday, November 3, 2014

What Comes First: Chicken or the Egg? Book Before the Movie?

 While this isn't exactly a question posed since the beginning of time, it is one that evokes a heated response among avid readers. As both a librarian and a passionate reader, I find myself planted firmly on the fence here for several reasons.

1. I won't even begin a debate on which medium is best for storytelling. Both have their merits and limitations. (Though if pressed, I'd pick a book for my taste.)

2. While I suspect that book readers go to see the movie version at a higher rate than movie-first goers reach for the book after seeing a film they enjoy, both routes promote books.

3. Movies bring beloved characters to life in a new way for a reader.

4. Books take you deeper into a world you enjoyed in a film.

What I will concede however, is the advantage books appear to have in film making of late, especially Young Adult titles. The latest batch of book-to-film releases include beloved favorites and newer titles that don't shy away from asking life's tough questions.

There's more happening here than studios wanting a solid return on their investment. (Though with comic book franchise films that is most definitely the case.) I have to believe that someone is reading these stories and recognizing what made these books bestsellers. The best art, in any medium, informs and entertains seamlessly.

For those of you who haven't picked up a YA book in years, I recommend you take a peak into this very popular (and profitable) genre. 

The Harry Potter series is still one of my favorite reads of all time (We named the dog Weasley!). And while I didn't enjoy the films nearly as much as the books, my husband and I are planning a visit to the studio where they made the movies when we visit England next year.

I enjoy the Hunger Games movies thus far, but was disappointed by the Divergent film.

As for John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, I intentionally passed on seeing the film because the book was so emotionally satisfying I didn't want to lose that feeling inside me. My Husky readers still tell me I should see it and perhaps someday I will.

At the end of the day any reading is good reading and I won't judge the road that leads a student to a book. Luckily, all the roads are good right now.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What Dreams May Come-Creating the Perfect Library Space

The Kansas City Public Library

I found this picture last week and I can't stop looking at it. For me books are magical all by themselves, but to see them like this gives reading a whole new look. I'm inspired  that the design is made up of books and not cell phones, tablets or a Kindle. If that labels me old-fashioned, then I guess I am.

One thing that is vital to creating a thriving and used library is a dedication to not only design, but redesign as times, trends and patron interests evolve. Here at HHS, we are nearing completion of a makeover in the Library Media Center that includes new tables, chairs, couches, more student use devices and of course books, in both print and e-format. 

We are excited beyond belief and to watch the students' reactions to the changes has added to the experience. Kids notice everything!

The best libraries are adaptable. Our goal hasn't changed with the times. A library is a space for the discovery of information, ideas and stories. We just have more ways than ever to go about doing it. 

Once we have all the new additions practically perfect in every way, I'll post pictures. 

You're going to like the way we look!   

Friday, January 31, 2014

Weeding Books: Getting Your Hands Dirty in the Name of Progress

Before you panic- this is NOT a picture from HHS!

Any good library will update its book collection periodically. We call this weeding. Here at HHS we are beginning the lengthy process of weeding the Non-Fiction section. There are a variety of reasons we take books out of the collection-
  • Outdated (happens often in Science & Technology sections)
  • Damage beyond repair (sad but true, backpacks are often unkind to books)
  • Low circulation (due largely to curriculum changes over the years)
As an avid reader and writer, it pains me to see books go, but when we clear space, the good materials we have remaining get more use.

Libraries are still fighting against the image of our services and offerings as being out-dated and unnecessary in the digital age.  To talk about weeding books appears, on the surface, to only perpetuate that image. Dynamic environments are in constant states of evaluation and adaptation. These processes move with more accuracy and speed when they're directed by trained and dedicated library staff. (I could name a couple people off the top of my head.)   

Even with budget cuts, I honestly believe this is an exciting time to work in a library.  Here at HHS, we're expanding our collection to include e-books for the first time. Our fiction section is the most current in the district and will be growing when our Spring book order arrives.  By far the most exciting news is that our reading-for-pleasure population continues to grow.

In addition to improving our collection, we're redecorating the LMC. The first wave of new furniture has arrived and hopefully by the end of February we'll be done with our beautification process. Please come by and visit us!

All of this just goes to show you, if you build it with teens in mind, they will come!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Art of War

Last week Ms. Morse, one of our Social Studies teachers, asked if the Library Media Center had room to display some of the class projects that were overtaking her room. Naturally I said yes. She brought them down today and I am a bit awestruck by the scope and creativity of the projects. Her students are finishing their unit on the Civil War and she managed to design a project that enabled students to express their knowledge of the complexities surrounding the causes of the war in a simplified way.

Without further ado, I present Setting the Table For the Civil War.

The kids had key figures sitting at their tables.

They added biographical info and the person's own words.

And a heavy dose of individuality.

I love the juxaposition of formality and manners of a table setting intertwinded with the brutality of the war to come.  

A detailed look at one of the dinner guests.

History was my favorite subject in school and I'm an avid reader of historical fiction. I've always believed that quality historical fiction can bring to life the events and facts of the past in a way most textbooks cannot. With that in mind, I'd like to recommend my top five novels set in or around the Civil War.

1) March by Geraldine Brooks. This is quite simply one of the most beautiful written books I've ever read in terms of language. It's as close to poetry as one can get in a novel and stirs your soul with every sentence. But don't just take my word for it, the Pulitzer Prize committee awarded it their top honor in 2006. The slim novel follows the deployment of Mr. March (yes, the father of the famous March sisters from Little Women) as he faces the harrowing and dangerous realities of war, fear and limitations of racial equality in a world that does not appear as ready for it as he would like to believe. 

2) Widow of the South by Robert Hicks. This is not a story for delicate constitutions. A plantation is taken over as a make-shift field hospital for the Confederates before and after a devastating and distasterous battle against the Union in Tennessee.  Based on a true story, the novel explores the gory (literally) details of medical practices and suffering on the battlefield. I could not put it down.

3) The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus. This a long, yet delightful narrative that follows the marriage and life of a very young women who marries and aged Confederate veteran. The narrative voice is addictive and you will hang on her every word. They made a TV movie out of  it years ago that did the novel justice. 

4) Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. The haunting journey of a solider who walks away from the war in order to return to his beloved. I stress the walking part because that is not a fast mode of movement and at times the novel can be slow, but it's well worth your perseverance. Like any good war story there is unspeakable brutality and glimmers of beauty, generosity and bravery that restores your faith in the goodness of men. The movie won Renee Zwelliger an Oscar.

5) Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. No I'm not kidding. If you love the film, treat yourself to the book, they are quite different. What I think GWTW does best is show the reader the utter destruction of the South; its land, its people and its culture. And the love story isn't half bad either considering how flawed Scarlett and Rhett are. I toured the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta a few years ago and saw the very spot she typed the novel. Fun fact- she has an Arizona connection, her cousin was none other than Doc Holiday and it is presumed that Ashely Wilkes was based on him. 

Sadly, there aren't exactly happy endings in stories set around wars but by creating a character a reader can relate to, he can, ever so briefly, step back in time. It's important to know where we've been in order that we don't end up places we don't want to. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Librarians in the Media

Subway Sriracha chicken Melt

There's a saying that goes All publicity is good publicity. In the worlds of entertainment, big business and politics I would add the word free to that sentence. Libraries and librarians are generally not publicity seekers. This has worked for and against us. While most people support libraries and the services they provide, librarians are often seen as stodgy spinsters who are obsessed with rules and silence.

The new Subway ad for its Sriracha Chicken Melt depends on this rigid stereotype as the perfect compare/contrast for the spicy excitement of the sandwich. Because, I must assume, some ad executive easily sold the concept that a sriracha sandwich will make even the most dull people feel like they've added some spice to their life.

On one hand I'm thrilled to see a library setting (If you haven't seen it, watch the movie The Day After Tomorrow where people take refuge in the New York Public library when the polar ice caps melt- they are quite literally saved by literature!) but on the other I'm a bit miffed at the portrayal of librarians in the commercial.

And yeah, I'm miffed that they're eating in the library too- I can't lie! (You just know she's going to spill sauce on the carpet or worse, a book.)

So let's set the record straight here and now. Librarians are dynamic and exciting people. We are on the front line of technology integration and education. We don't sit at the circulation desk with our heads in the clouds. Instead we travel to other worlds and serve as guides to assist patrons on their own journeys. Through books and the internet, there's no place we haven't been to.

We're brave. We have to be as first adopters of new devices, software and interfaces.

We're patient. We have to be as we teach you to use new devices, software and interfaces.

We're flexible. A library is a busy place. Librarians have to be able to shift gears instantly.

And we're super cool. As evidence I submit this photo from Heroes and Villains Day.

Jedi Mrs. Treude and Sith Master Mrs. Pilarski

The Force of good librarianship is with you here at HHS.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Banned Books: In the Hand of the Beholder

Welcome to the American Library Association's annual Banned Book week where we celebrate what it means to read in the United States!

In preparing for this post I looked up the 2012 Top Ten Challenged Books and was surprised to discover Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series at the top of the list. With titles like Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy Part 1: The Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets (Pt.1) I can't fault people for being skeptical or concerned but given that the first book came out in 1997, I expected a more current title, with more graphic content (as compelling as nasal secretions are, we all know stickier situations exist).

Confession time- this librarian banned Captain Underpants in our home. Back in the day (early 2000's) when I read to my boys every night, I brought home one of the books because I knew they were popular, especially with boys. (Boogers!) I read one chapter and stopped. It wasn't that I minded the potty humor (As the mom of two boys how could I not?) but I hated the way the adults and kids spoke to one another. Neither side had respect for the other and that's what I wanted banned from the house.

Pilkey is a hugely successful author both commercially and critically, his picture book The Paperboy was a Caldecott Honor Book. His books continue to be favorites of school-age readers which shows me that had I been willing to finish reading an entire book of his, I might have read more. You could call what I did censorship, but I'd prefer to call it parenting.

The books that continue to be challenged (like The Hunger Games, To Kill A Mockingbird and most recently Ralph Ellison's classic Invisible Man) are as popular and relevant as ever. Why? It's quite simple- people connect to the characters and story. As a writer it's my job to create characters that readers can relate to and root for. It's the level of connection that creates bestsellers or classics. Captain Underpants makes kids laugh and gets reluctant readers to enjoy, perhaps for the first time, a chapter book. Is that a bad thing?

Books are a form of art and art is subjective, but all art tells a story. Sadly many of the stories about the human condition involve pain, war, death and a host of other upsetting topics. Keep in mind that where there's darkness, light will follow.

Parents should feel comfortable being informed and involved in  media choices for their own children. Just remember, the book that offends you might very well be a life-saver for someone else.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

So Long, Farewell

August 2013 was a rough month in the book world with the passing of Elizabeth Peters on August 8 and Elmore Leonard on August 20. While they aren't necessarily household names for high school library patrons, I guarantee you they are for many adult readers and writers of all levels.

I've spent the past twenty-four years reading Elizabeth Peters' books. Her Amelia Peabody mystery series is my favorite of all. Set in the late 1880's, the books follow the hijinks of the Emerson family who are Victorian Egyptologists. The books combined my love of historical fiction, Egypt and memorable characters. I'm actually not a big mystery fan, believe it or not, I just like to show up to see what crazy shenanigans will occur.(I am never disappointed on this front.)

All writers are avid readers themselves. There are times when I read for fun and times when I read for the study of craft, but any time I read I pay attention to how drawn I feel to the characters. There's nothing better than when books feel like friends. Series books, so popular in Young Adult fiction now, are the best at evoking that level of intimacy.

Speaking of drawing in readers, everyone who has taken a creative writing class in the last twenty years has read Elmore Leonard's famous 10 Rules for Writing. Writers like to joke that there aren't any rules for writing, but Leonard knew differently. His tips are the ones I most often see quoted and referenced by writers of all genres. They are-

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 
  6.  Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

I've never read Leonard's crime fiction, but his words influence me as a writer. I suspect that many YA authors whose work sits on the shelves were likewise mentored by Leonard.

The way we're reading is changing, but the end product, the words on the page, is still the same. Only the right words will keep us engaged.

That's the power of great writing- words never die.