Friday, October 29, 2010

Hop Into My Dream Reading Room

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is "What is the one bookish thing you would love to have, no matter the cost?"  

I would like a reading room that:
  • is sound proof to the rest of the house
  • has a lot of natural light
  • has a comfy reading chair. I like the sedan in this photo!
  • a huge bookcase for my growing collection of books
  • and a really bright, adjustable lamp.
There would be a desk for my computer, a small stereo and ...

the new nook color! I may have to seriously consider this e-reader. 

If you're stopping by from the Hop, hi! What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

What is a children's book? What exactly constitutes a children's book? Before you continue reading I'd like you to take a moment and list three attributes that you think are essential to children's literature. I'm not asking for what makes "good"children's lit but rather just what makes a book a kids book.

Here are my off-the-cuff conclusions:
  • The writing style must be geared for children. It must be at a level which they can read and understand.
  • The text must engage children with a subject or theme in some way that it highlights the interests of children regarding the subject.
  • The entire book (its format, images and print) must acknowledge the psychological and developmental needs of the intended reader age group.
I realize the first and last points are similar but it was hard to define children's lit. In fact, I don't think I can come up with any more "must have" attributes.

Are there attributes that, under no circumstances, could (or should) never be found in a children's book?

Excepting the logical opposites to my three criteria above, my answer (for now) is no. I think that every issue- social, political, etc. - can be broken down (I don't really like this phrase) in such a way that kids can digest it. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron attempts to do this. It takes some real life issues and scrutinizes them under kid-savvy glasses.

Have you ever encountered a children's book that made you wonder why it's considered a children's book? The Higher Power of Lucky is one of these children's books that makes me wonder at the definition. It seems that many "children's" movies are geared for adults and so are some books.

It was C.S. Lewis who said, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." 

And I agree. I think this book is one which may be enjoyed at all ages - a sign of a really good book in my opinion.

Now, The Higher Power of Lucky created quite a stir after it received the Newberry Medal. Librarians were banning it. People were trash talking it. And as is usual, people doing so were often ignorant of the book's message. People were getting hung up on the use of the word "scrotum" on page one (a poor dog is bitten there) and were uncomfortable with young children knowing this word and what it meant.

Personally, I am in favor of teaching children about their bodies and that of the opposite sex. We do not live in the dark ages. Knowledge is paramount to raising healthy well-adjusted people. But at what age to we "reveal" these secrets (that aren't really secrets at all because kids have bodies, too)? When is it age appropriate? I'm not talking about having an in-depth sex-talk with your 3rd grader. But if Lucky, the ten-year-old protag, like most kids her age, is simply growing up and learning about genitalia by incidental means, is it not a good time to be straight forward about the subject instead of being secretive and making the child feel uncomfortable because the adults are talking about something (s)he's not supposed to know? But sex education is not at all what this book is about.

Lucky lives with her Guardian, her out-of-the-picture father's first wife, because her mother has died. Lucky deals with insecurity about her Guardian's affection for her, about (her town) Hard Pan's ability to survive poverty, and about her self-worth. She seeks to create a "higher power" for herself to guard against the day she might hit "rock-bottom" like many of the inhabitants of Hard Pan.

Lucky's best friend, Lincoln, offers a different perspective on the issues surrounding her. He always has a listening ear and some insightful comment to make. He helps Lucky figure out her place in the confusing world of adults. But things come to a head for Lucky and she decides to take matters into her own hands, ultimately leading to an epiphany.

I did like this book. But a part of me knew that if I read it as a child I would not have thought much of it. The text is very well written, beautifully so, while still at a child's level. But some of the themes are so deep that I know I would have missed them and probably thought the book was boring. Besides Lucky running away, there was not much adventure. And I'm sure I would have thought the supporting characters were annoying instead of cute like I do now. This story is a quest for personal enlightenment and growth - not necessarily something kids eat up. However, many kids do like the text. I guess what I'm saying is, it's very literary for a 9 year old.

Is this book for adults? Definitely.
Is this book for kids? Yes and no. I don't say "no" because of the controversy but rather because of the heavy themes.

Tell me, what do you think makes a kids book a kids book? And if you've read it, is The Higher Power of Lucky a kids book? An adult book? Both?

Publisher: Atheneum, 2006     Pages: 134     Source: Purchased on Amazon
Rating: 4 Stars     Recommended Age: 9 and up

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Feeling Fuzzy

I'm not sure it's a good idea to post under the influence of pain killers... but I thought I'd let y'all know I got my wisdom teeth removed and am taking some time off from the blog as a result. Whenever I get sick I always hope it means I'll have time to read. But I am soooo tired I can barely focus on the page. So, not much reading going on at The Prairie Library. The procedure went well so I'll be up and around before too long! In the mean time, happy reading!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Short Story Saturday: "Something Sweet"

The past two Short Story Saturdays have featured the writings of dead white guys. This week is going to be very different in that we will be reading a short story by a woman and an amateur writer. Reading amateur writing is a hit and miss experience for me (well, so is reading "professional writing!"). However, I really enjoyed this story when I found it. I hope you will, too!

"Autumn / Something Sweet / ...Oh, who knows?" was written by Linda Foster and posted May 28, 2010 on Scribophile which is a website that encourages people to write and critique each other's work. The story should take about 10 minutes to read. I don't personally know Linda. I found her story by chance.

--------------------- Spoiler Alert! ---------------------

This short story is exactly what I think of when I think "short story." It is very short, just over 1,000 words, and spends a great deal of time building up to a revelation. I don't know about you guys, but I did not see the end coming.

An important aspect of short stories is diction or word choice. "Something Sweet" requires very careful diction so as not to reveal the surprise until just the right moment. Linda creates action, suspense and setting by focusing on the man's emotions: "With concerted effort, I waited patiently for her to work her way to where I was stationed, near to the back of the store" (emphasis added). His reactions are almost stereotypically vulgar - the ogling and desire - and exactly the kind of attention we suspect this cougar wants.

But what do we know? This woman isn't on the prowl - she's just shopping. And this man isn't hitting on every skirt in the store - he's really just a Teddy Bear! What does this Teddy tell us about humanity? This story reveals how being single is just as normal as being in a hot-and-heavy relationship. Our culture bombards us with messages of romance - soap opera romances, the ideal marriage, the celebrity affairs, passion here, passion there, passion on every channel - but these passionate moments are brief and not the pinnacle of life, or are they?

Love is the greatest thing about life. But what about the rest of life? What about those less-passionate days. Aren't they just as important? What about single people? They lead interesting lives, too. What about the day you climbed that mountain, got that promotion, took that chance that turned out. Or what about that time you made someone's day, received a pat on the back or bought that great bargain? These are the small victories that make every day special.

Love takes many forms. Here we have a passionate woman, living her life passionately - just not the Hollywood version. Her apartment may be messy and maybe she's not a great cook. But she's not in an abusive relationship. She's not wallowing in loneliness. She does have a job and supports herself. And she seems happy.

I hope "Something Sweet" made you smile. Tell me what you thought and happy reading!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Librarian Offline: Are Your Posts Forgotten?

For one of my MLIS classes this semester I read the article “The Web Means the End of Forgetting” by Jeffrey Rosen which appeared in The New York Times Magazine on July 25, 2010. As users of social networking sites, the article should interest book bloggers. The article raises many interesting ideas about an individual’s privacy online and how one’s online reputation affects the real world.

So, you’ve set up of your Twitter account and have a Facebook account, too. And you blog regularly. You have set your privacy controls to limit who can see what. But...

Did you know that the Library of Congress keeps every tweet?

Did you know that a Facebook friend can post a picture of you without your permission and that anyone who is friends with your friend can download that picture and do whatever he/she wants with it?

Did you know that …“75 percent of U.S. recruiters and human-resource professionals report that their companies require them to do online research about candidates, and many use a range of sites when scrutinizing applicants -- including search engines, social-networking sites, photo- and video-sharing sites, personal Web sites and blogs, Twitter and online-gaming sites. Seventy percent of U.S. recruiters report that they have rejected candidates because of information found online…(Rosen).”

The article brings up a question that my classmates have been discussing – is there such a thing as an “off-duty” persona? Librarians are public servants, often in the public eye and know their patrons personally. They are frequently approached in grocery stores and in their homes about library issues. This being the case, Librarians often feel as though they are “on” all the time – constantly watched, constantly scrutinized. Of course, this perception of being “on” changes from person to person and community to community.

There are social websites such as Second Life which have become popular for librarians to hang out on. Many librarians blog about their work places, too. And a few, just a few, have come under fire for speaking their minds about their workplaces. Some librarians have been told to cease blogging about their library or they will be fired (instances of this are explored in Marilyn Johnson’s This Book is Overdue!). This is odd since the library is usually the protector of free speech.

But these scenarios raise the question: Is perfectly legal, off-duty activity our employer's business? Are we not entitled to a private life?

People deserve second chances if for no other reason than that we are human. We make mistakes but we also learn from them and change. In order to get a second chance we need people to forgive us our foolishness. And forgiveness requires a measure of forgetfulness.

The article suggests that online content is not easily forgotten. Once someone puts up a negative tweet about you it is out there forever. Once you post an embarrassing picture of yourself it is, potentially, out there forever. Go to Google now and look up “drunken pirate” and you’ll find the infamous MySpace photo of Stacy Snyder who was denied her teaching degree as a result of this photo. Is her perfectly legal off-duty activity her university’s business? Regardless of how you feel about her activity, doesn’t she deserve a second chance? Shouldn’t she be able to wipe the slate clean and start over? Think about employers who Google her (or you) – will they be willing to overlook her (or your) online reputation?

Think critically about yourself. What political groups are you affiliated with? What religion? What’s your stance on issue “X” that you vocally blogged about? What pictures did you post from last summer? Now what will future employers, who hire experts to identify you online, think about your online reputation?

The article mentions law experts who think individuals should have more privacy protection online so that hiring and firing is not based on online gossip or an embarrassing photo that was only intended to be shared with friends. One expert suggests that individuals should be able to file for “reputation bankruptcy” which would clean the slate every decade much like consumer-reporting agencies. Consumer-reporting agencies are required to give you one free credit report each year. Wouldn’t it be nice if social networking sites sent you a report each year, letting you know where pictures of you are and what comments were made about you, so you had a chance to refute those comments or delete tags of you in photos?

Our world is increasingly shrinking into a global village. It doesn’t matter if you have an account on these websites if others who know you, and post things about you, do. Privacy issues are and will continue to be an area of debate. What can we do if our reputations are largely out of our hands? As the article suggests, show empathy and cut people some slack when you see a tarnished online reputation of someone else.

The Web Means the End of Forgetting” New York Times Magazine, The (NY) - Sunday, July 25, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Dystopian literature is a unique genre. It is often a subcategory of fantasy or science fiction which is right up my alley. I’ve always been drawn to “make believe” since I was a kid. It was a place where you could be more and do more. Add a backwards society on top of that other-worldly experience and you’ve got yourself one unique dystopia. In Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker, The Island of Doctor Moreau meets Pirates of the Caribbean to explore a bleak future of an unprepared people.

In Nailer’s world, the oil is gone and the “accelerated age” with it. With the addition of severe global warming, North America as we know it is forever altered. We find Nailer, a teenage boy on the light crew, stripping grounded oil tankers of wiring and staples by shimmying through ducts. When he finds a grounded clipper ship, a fast high-tech boat owned by the wealthiest “swanks,” Nailer thinks he’s struck the luckiest scavenge strike of all time. But its cargo proves to be even more valuable than the ship and extremely dangerous.

Nailer is faced with many moral and ethical dilemmas. As is the case is real life, answers are not always clear cut. What if no one would ever know about your decisions? What if you could help someone but it meant betraying someone you cared for? Nailer’s belief in loyalty, trust and family is constantly challenged. Through swamps and shanties, over ocean in luxury boats that fly, Nailer scavenges for a new life out of the rubble around him.

There was a lot of action going on but not enough focus on any one theme or relationship. I could appreciate the writing but the third person narration was a little flat for me. I was never caught up in the read or held on edge. I could see what was coming and the journey wasn’t interesting enough to make up for my foreknowledge. That being said, I do think young teenagers, especially boys, might be drawn to this book. It’s a rough and violent world Nailer lives in so be ready for a colorful cast and carnage. Although not particularly memorable for me, Ship Breaker was a fast and fun read.

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2010     Pages: 326     Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 3 Stars     Recommended Age: 14 and up