tight times.

During theĀ  course of my library work not too long ago, I came across a book illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman that was in a sad state of disrepair. Since I love Trina’s illustrations, I promptly looked to see if I could replace it, and, as is my wont, went on a spree of buying replacements for any other shabby titles by her, as well as buying any available titles that we didn’t currently own.

One of those arrived the other day–Tight Times, written by Barbara Shook Hazen. It was published originally in 1979, but the story of a little boy who can’t have a dog because his father just lost his job is suddenly, achingly relevant again for children today.

The writing is lovely and spare, and the pictures work beautifully with the text, such as when the young narrator tells us that after he got home from work, Daddy made them each special drinks, the picture shows us his covered in whipped cream, while Daddy’s is in an old fashioned glass.

I think that sometimes my ear and eye are so focused on picture books that I can use in storytime, I sometimes overlook books like this one. It’s a sad read with a realistically happy ending, so give it to your 1st-3rd graders who are clear-eyed realists, and it just might help them feel a bit better about Daddy losing his job.*

I suppose now I have to be on the look-out for books to help kids with Daddy’s possible future drinking problem.

*This book is also cited in may “how to write” books, and my coworker told me she found an instance of where it was used to teach the concept of inference, so it’s quite a versatile and concept rich little piece of work. All hail the concise power of a picture book!

magic under glass.

So, I read the book. It was enjoyable–pretty standard fantasy setting, characters, and magic.

The pacing was sort of wonky, though. The slow, luxurious unfurling of the first chapter led me to believe that the rest of the book would unfold in a similarly Rebecca-esque way, but no–after that first chapter, everything moved rather speedily and somewhat goofily along.

While I did enjoy the gothic/Victorian feel and the Jane Eyre echoes, they were a bit…oh, inelegant, I suppose? Still, much better allusion work than the Wuthering Heights shout-outs that littered The Twilight Saga (anyone know how I can code in a sparkly font for when I type that title?).

All in all it was an okay fantasy that you could easily tear through in a couple of sittings.

As for the cover, now that the dust has settled, I’m actually more disturbed by the length of that girl’s torso than I am by the inaccuracy of her skin color. Is it just me or is her torso impossibly long??

6 by 6.

The Johnson County Library has an excellent program called 6 by 6. The objective is to permeate all of their children’s programming (and even their library spaces) with ways to help kids master the six early literacy skills that they should learn by six years old to help them become successful readers for life. JoCo is doing some amazing stuff–they have videos up of nursery rhymes and fingerplays, they are using twitter to keep in touch with their patrons (I found out about the videos via my sister via twitter), and they have wonderful spaces that reinforce the concepts that are being presented during storytimes and other library events for kids. I couldn’t be more pleased that my nephew gets to use the Johnson County Library, and I hope that all residents of that area are utilizing this excellent resource.

I actually witnessed a nursery rhyme time at one of the branches* and I was very impressed. The librarian used slides to great effect, displaying the rhymes she was using up on a big screen so everyone could read along, and the music was integrated with the display. Pretty glitch free, too, which is admirable (and the fear of a technical fail is something that gives me pause about using slides in my own storytimes, but it is something I want to utilize eventually).

I can’t say enough good things about this early childhood literacy program. The mission, the storytimes, and the marketing (check out their twitter avatar for gosh sake’s, so cute!) are all being done extremely well. Go take a look around the 6 by 6 site and I guarantee you’ll find something awesome. I just looked at this page and got chills, people. Chills!

So good work, Johnson County Library!

Does your library or a library you know of have a similar program? Please let me know!

*Blue Valley Branch. *waves*

more from ain’t love a kick in the head.

Blake stared at Lisette from across the room. He was mesmerized by the long, graceful curve of her neck, the way her nostrils flared as she worked, the way her lips moved as she read a passage in her book silently to herself…

He desperately wanted to be alone with her, but after the scene at the stables he was reluctant to stir up any trouble. What if she never spoke to him again? He would sooner die than go without hearing the sound of her voice. Oh, how its tones spurred his heart into throes of joy. He stamped his foot in frustration, causing the teacher to look at him askance. What had Lisette said to him–that she would never date someone so flighty?

“I want to fall in love with someone grounded–someone stable,” she had said. “I’ve spent my entire life moving around because of my Dad’s jobs. I want to be with someone that I can depend on.”

He tossed his head, trying to cast her voice out of her mind.

how it all began.

It all began with a monster.

Lovable, furry old Grover, to be precise. He was afraid, you see–afraid of the monster at the end of the book.I wasn’t afraid, though.

To a certain extent all reading is interactive, but this book was, and is, particularly so. Grover ignores the fourth wall and speaks directly to the heart of every little child who is powerless in the world. When you read this book, you can decide Grover’s fate. You have the power to turn a page that is made entirely out of a brick wall.

This book is the one I remember having read to me as a child. I’m sure there were others, but this is the one that shines most brightly in my memory. I’ve begun taking it out to read to school groups and I was relieved to learn that it has lost not of its charm over the years. I love hamming up Grover’s reactions in the book and pulling the children into the sturm und drang of his dire situation. I love teaching them the definition of the word “embarrassed” in a fun way.

(The sequel with Elmo, however? Well. I’m certainly no advocate of book burning, but if I were, that would be the first one on the fire.)

* * *

In the fourth grade, I fell in love with fantasy/science fiction after reading A Wrinkle in Time. I loved that the main character, Meg, was a plain, lonely, smart girl, much like myself. I loved the literary humor in the names of the three women. I longed for an Aunt Beast of my own–someone safe, who loved me for who I was, who demanded no more and no less of me than what I was capable of, and who pushed me to realize exactly how much I could do. I loved Calvin, and dreamed that some day someone would notice that I, too, had beautiful qualities behind a less than conventionally beautiful exterior.

What books turned you into a reader?