May the Fourth Be With You: 2013

May 4th is on a Saturday next year and so help me, I’ll be planning and implementing a large scale, fun for the whole family “May the Fourth Be With You” Star Wars nerdamondium party that will be so awesome I may just explode.

Other libraries have done it with much success. You can get free cosplay storm troopers etc from your local branch of the 501st legion which is really the thing that’s going to make the party. The idea is to have a wide range of activities that would appeal to all ages, bringing in families as well as single adults. Additional ideas include:

Do you think you’d have a Star Wars party at your library?

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

In 2012, A Wrinkle in Time will be fifty years old, and I’ll be one of many people celebrating this marvelous, mind-bending, heart opening piece of children’s literature.

It’s been a dark and stormy week here in a Chicago, which makes it a perfect time to reminisce about this, one of my favorite books of all time.

It was 1988. I was in the fourth grade, I had English class with Mrs. Sandoval. I loved her name–it was pronounced “Sanduhvall” (rhymed with fall)–but when I saw it, I always imagined an oval shaped sand box. I loved her eloquent speeches, her expressive reading voice, her slightly bohemian clothing, and her ginger hair. I loved her classroom, full of books and rich with new ideas and words. One of her rules was to “finish assignments within the allotted time.” I had no idea what “allotted” meant or that it was an actual word, and I, in my over-read fourth grade know-it-all-ness, asked her, “Are you sure you don’t mean ‘allowed’?” She kindly said no, allotted is the word she meant to use, and she gave me the dictionary so I could look it up–and so began my love of dictionaries.

We read so many good books in that class, including A Cricket in Times Square and Charlotte’s Web. Half-way through the year our class reading assignment was A Wrinkle in Time. The edition we read had this amazing, wackadoodle, good show sir worthy cover:Isn’t that insane? It completely blew my nine year old mind. The wings for arms, the creepy red-eyed disapproving turtle face, the mountains…several kids in my class mumbled and groaned their displeasure when they saw the book (actually, they hated every book, and I hated them with equal fervor), but I could hardly wait to start reading.

And that opening line! Who else could get away with using that line outside of the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest? Madeline, that’s who.

Here’s a synopsis from the publisher’s page, and the synopsis I remember from my youth, for you sad, sad people who haven’t read this book yet:

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

I immediately loved and identified with Meg Murray. Like Meg, I was an ugly duckling who had to protect herself and a younger brother from the cruelty of other children. I admired Meg’s hot-headedness and her willingness to stand up for herself and her beliefs. When I was faced with bullies, I tended to hang my head and wish for them to go away. I wished I had Meg’s foolhardy bravery and determination (I developed it as an adult, much to the chagrin of some of my friends, family and colleagues) instead of my low self-esteem and self-hatred.

I loved other characters, too: Charles Wallace, Mrs. Murray, the Ws, and I loved loved LOVED Calvin O’Keefe. What dorky, awkward girl didn’t love charming, awkward Calvin? He’s like the proto-Rory* (maybe that’s why I love Rory so much…) I loved to hate IT and its creepy, pulsing brain-ness, and the man with red eyes. I loved how Mr. Murray was real and flawed and yet Meg still loved him. (I myself had a real and flawed father who was proving to be less and less loveable every day, but that’s another story for another time).

I wanted to live in that rambling old farmhouse and eat tomato sandwiches and have an attic bedroom and a dog named Fortinbras. I was fascinated by how they made hot cocoa with milk, since I was used to powdered hot chocolate made with boiling water, usually in the microwave. I was as amazed at the mundane day to day details as I was at the time and space traveling aspects. This book was everything I needed and wanted.

I loved this book so much that not even hearing my fellow students reading aloud in their plodding monotones could hurt the story. While they stumbled along I was reading ahead, silently, desperately wishing to reach the end while simultaneously wanting the book to go on forever.

I cried when Meg saved her brother by loving him. I had never felt love like that from anyone, and I didn’t think I ever would. I couldn’t think of anyone in my life who would risk so much to save me, and I felt miserable, yet strangely elated—if brassy, bitchy, mousy, insecure Meg could find love, didn’t that mean that someday I could, too? I wished, that when I was cold and alone and scared, that I could crawl into the warm, loving arms of an Aunt Beast.

When I re-read this book, I experience my own wrinkle in time. I am simultaneously an adult, identifying a bit more with the adult characters in the novel, finding myself somewhat exasperated with Meg’s behavior, and a child, thrilling to the romance, danger, and overwhelming love of the novel the same as I did the first time I read it.

Someone recently told me that they’ve never read Wrinkle, yet they really enjoyed When You Reach Me. I said, I’m glad you enjoyed the book, but you only had half the experience.

You should fix that. Right now.

Especially if it’s a dark and stormy night as you read this.

if you liked “not just cute”…

…here is another child development/early childhood blog that you might find interesting and useful: Janet Lansbury, Elevating Childcare (and, yes, she is somewhat related to Angela Lansbury).  Here’s her introduction/description:

Raising a child is one the most important and challenging jobs we will ever have. It brings a considerable amount of joy. It can also be confusing, discouraging and haphazard. My goal is to provide clarity, inspiration (and maybe a smile or two) by sharing insights I’ve gained through my parenting classes, my experiences as a mother, and studies with my friend and mentor Magda Gerber. This blog is dedicated to her memory.


summer reading.

I have a complex relationship with the institution of summer reading. I never participated in summer reading as a child, which may explain my lack of zealous enthusiasm for it. I do see its value, and I do love that it gets kids into the library, but there is something about the entire exercise that ultimately leaves me feeling a bit letdown.

I’m trying to make the summer reading program experience a bit more worthwhile for our youngest patrons. What does that mean? Well, it means I created a summer reading log for pre-readers (at my library, four months – Kindergarten and by request*) that demands a bit more from the people who use it: summerpreread3

Previous logs for pre-readers involved little more than listing titles read. With this log (based in part on a version the Bartlett Public Library produced) I’ve asked that the parent or adult reading to the child take the time to incorporate activities that will help their child master the six early literacy skills.

I don’t think asking parents to interact with their children while they read will place an undue stress on them. In fact, I might just be giving them a more precise vocabulary and concise description for things they are already doing with their children. But for the parent that is unaware of how much these simple activities and interactions can help their child, I think that this simple little summer reading log could provide valuable information and service.

I have high expectations of myself as a librarian, and I also have high expectations of the parents of the children that I serve. I believe that if people are shown that a summer reading program can be more than getting free toys and a free book, they will find more value in it. I want my summer reading program to be more about the process rather than the prize. I do not think that this is a philosophy that other librarians share. If they do, I surely would like to hear about it. I feel like the cheese, standing alone,  starting to stink.

What are your thoughts about summer reading? Is it all about the number of people you get in the door, or is it about the experience itself? Or somewhere in the middle?

*By request means that if there is a person of any age who feels that the pre-reader program best meets their needs, they are welcome to sign up for it. I mostly think that this will apply to older children/adults with developmental delays.

Miss Julie

tight times.

During the  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!