Good Book Days and Boston

One of my favorite parts of being a librarian is seeing when someone finds the book that they’ve wanted and needed. As an educator, I adore seeing how there isn’t just one place that a person can learn. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen kids falling in love with science and put the right books into the best hands.

Scholastic Book Fairs have a magic about them, the ones I attended in elementary school were held in the library. Weeks before, I’d fill out my form, debating which books I wanted and then they’d arrive, beautiful new books. Then I’d wander around the school library staring at all the other books, the erasers, the pens and pencils, the bookmarks, there waiting for me to choose them. Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to stand behind the register at a book fair and watch kids have that same experience. The shapes of the erasers have changed from fruits to smartphones and video game controllers, but the love of finding just that one is still there. I was impressed by how easy it was to come in and run the fair as well as how reasonable the prices were for books, 1 to 3 dollars for new paperbacks. The range of options from encyclopedias to every genre and pens that lit up or allowed secret writing.  I know I was tempted by the Star Wars’ stickers and three dollars for the new Misty Copeland autobiography, but this time left with nothing for myself other than the joy of seeing kids buying what they wanted from the fair.

The second book day was an aftereffect of the Lewes Library preparing to move. Over the past few months, I’ve been helping Maureen, the head of Youth Services to weed the children’s library in preparation for shifting to the new space. I’ve found this a fascinating process of looking at what books don’t make sense to keep because they’re out of date nonfiction ones, there are multiple copies or they haven’t been taken out recently. Yesterday all thirty boxes of books ranging from board books to juvenile nonfiction were piled on tables and educators in the area were given a chance to take what they needed. In the course of the afternoon, teachers left with boxes and bags full of free books to help new families, fill classroom libraries and preschool libraries. It was wonderful to wander among them and see some of the kids who came along and recommend books I knew were good. Everything was free which made it even better as the teachers realized how these books could help their kids and then there would be space for newer copies and better editions in the library. At the end of the day, there were only eight boxes left which will find better homes and a few came home with me. I didn’t have a copy of The Queen of Attolia and picture books to send to my nephew.

Last week, I went to Boston as I’m planning on moving there in the near future. Southern Delaware is wonderful but there’s an energy in the Boston area along with many friends that will help me to do all that I want to do. Many of my favorite moments in Boston came from being in a place where people were excited to learn and share the joy of knowing something new. At the New England Aquarium, I heard kids and parents pulling each other to different exhibits and talked with a woman who loves her membership to the Aquarium. She was talking about the fur seals and how well she knew all of them. As I wandered into the bookstores and the gorgeous main Cambridge Public Library branch, I was reminded of the energy that comes from being in a place where everyone is looking at the world around them with the mixture that comes from the past and future alongside each other. Below is the wonderful Greenway carousel which was inspired by children’s drawings and connects science and fun.

2016-04-12 15.53.49

One of the unexpected highlights of the trip was walking around Boston Common and seeing the preparations for the marathon, the booths waiting and what would be the starting line lying on the ground. Boston is a great city and one I plan on exploring more. As I keep looking for jobs, my net is still open wide and if a school or a library comes together in another city, I’ll grab it, but I’m planning on finding a way to live in the Boston area.

 

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Where I don’t have to explain: Yuletide and Chessiecon

As I look forward into this new year, I keep thinking about how powerful it is to have places where I don’t have to explain what I love or why. I’m lucky that for me, most of the times when I have to explain are related to my hobbies but there are times I find myself defending online life, young adult literature and that genre media has value. This is tiring but I feel that its important especially for young people, being told that something that fills you with creativity doesn’t matter can be crushing. As a librarian, I strive to provide this for my patrons whenever I can, taking on the role of explaining to adults that this is why fandom matters.

In my personal life, I miss being close to people of like minds and find myself happiest when I find these connections. In the next year, I’m hoping to move to a part of the country where I don’t have to explain as much and so I can be an advocate for young people feeling as if their likes aren’t seen.

In November and December, I had two experiences where I didn’t have to explain myself that revitalized me. One happens every year, Yuletide, the multi-fandom fanfic exchange that occurs every holiday season, this was my fifth year writing in it and its become a big part of my holidays. The main reason I love it so much is that every story is written as a gift to a stranger in a fandom that’s shared by writer and giftee. This shared knowledge allows for stories that might not normally be written and when the archive is open and all the authors are anonymous, new fandoms are discovered. Every year that I’ve done Yuletide, I’ve stretched myself in terms of my writing as I examine a form of media I love from another angle and find others who adore the same characters and worlds.

After Thanksgiving, I went to Chessiecon, a science fiction/fantasy convention and as soon as I walked in the hotel door, I began to smile. Around me were all the signs of modern fandom; clothing, jewelry, costumes, small and large markers saying I love this world. I was slightly nervous as I’d never attended this con before but I knew that I would meet friends and one of my favorite authors was there. Once I was settled, I sat down to hear first Seanan McGuire and later Tamora Pierce read and answer questions from their fans. Among all these strangers were words and worlds created by authors who cared and I loved it. Later, I met up with my friends and throughout the con there were these moments of sharing and discovering fandoms. A step that’s often present of explaining the love for something was gone because the question was a matter of which fandom and which part and what do you create? I discovered authors, artists and heard discussions that wouldn’t feel out of place in the librarian community.

Yesterday, the Youth Media Awards were announced at ALA Midwinter and as the winners were a diverse mixture, I’ve thought of panels I attended at Chessiecon. One of the best panels was about diversity in young fiction with a focus and to begin with, the authors came from a mix of ethnicities and discussed that there are its important to use all types of diversity and make certain every character feels like a true person. At the moment, I’m dipping in and out of a wonderful anthology of ya lit about girls being engineers that was edited by one of the speakers called Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets and so far all the stories are great. Another panel that was intriguing but didn’t work as well as I think was expected was about young adult literature and what does it mean and how is it changing? The highlight of this entire panel was hearing Tamora Pierce talking about the history of young adult literature as she’s experienced it. It was a big reminder of how many of these distinctions are created publishers and that authors don’t have as much choice as it might seem. Another panel that has been in my mind due to discussions around Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was about the idea of a Mary Sue. Much of what came out of that panel was that Mary Sue is an awkward label, that has outgrown its origins within the Star Trek fandom and the part that matters is to create well rounded and complicated characters.

I hope in the next year to find places where I can be among people that I don’t have to explain and where I can discover new angles on the world. A reason I’m a librarian and active in fandom is because in both places, there’s a joy in sharing what’s loved and an openness in finding something new that someone else loves.

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Rehoboth Film Festival

The film festival was quieter for me this year than others partly because there wasn’t the big tent and also not as many films caught my eye. I ended up seeing five films with three of them I would highly recommend, one that left me thoughtful and a last that I didn’t like.

Unlikely Heroes is a movie that is appropriate for the holiday and incredibly powerful. Its set in Switzerland over the holiday season with a story line that seems trite but never falls into that trap. What happens is Sabine, a prosperous but sad Swiss woman ends up volunteering to help a home for asylum seekers over the holidays. The plan is to put on a play and it ends up being the story of William Tell, the great Swiss hero. The power in this movie comes because every single character is respected and their story taken seriously. There are no true heroes or villains, there’s simply the world in all its complexity as well as the power of theater.

Unlikely Heroes trailer

Landfill Harmonic is a story about musicians who live next to a landfill called Catuera and the film is about the instruments made from recycled materials, the children and their community. Here on their website, there’s detailed information as well as a link to the orchestra’s website which is in Spanish. The movie follows them over the course of a number of years and is a great reminder of the power of music.

The third film that I enjoyed was called Passion of Augustine, a slow moving and lovely story of a convent school in Quebec during the 1960s with a focus on music. This is a story all about girls and women who are trying to figure out how to do their best by each other while working within a shifting time when what it means to be a nun is changing. The way the relationships between the students and the nuns felt familiar to me from my experience at an all woman’s college and as a teacher. This film doesn’t back away from how trapped by society women were in the 1960s.

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine on the other hand was well made film that I found frustrating. Alex Gibney, the film maker narrates and talks about trying to understand Jobs who created devices with such power for connection and isolation. The parts of the documentary that are a biography are fascinating, I enjoyed the range of people that Gibney talked to and learning more of Jobs’ life.

What I found less satisfying was that he started out intrigued by why so many young people mourned him as if he was a friend and asked what’s the power of these devices? Yet the film itself didn’t actually interview many of the young people who’s lives are intimately involved with Apple instead he spoke to Sherry Turkle and those of his generation who knew Jobs. Then he made pronouncements and thought more about his own connection while using video of young mourners from youtube or other places to be the only way those voices came through. It was a very personal documentary and his own meditations on Apple devices were beautifully presented and if he hadn’t asked a question he didn’t answer, I wouldn’t have felt frustrated. I’d be curious to discuss this film with other people to know what came through to them.

The Grandad, an Icelandic film was disappointing for me. It was one of those films that couldn’t seem to decide on its tone. Was it a comedy that made constant jokes about prostate cancer or a serious drama about a man growing older? There were parts of it that almost worked for me, but none of it really held together. The way it was filmed showed off Iceland which is a beautiful place that I wish to go someday. I wonder if some of the issues I had with the tone came from differences of humor from Iceland to the US. I enjoy watching films from other countries and sometimes it happens that they don’t work for me, but I experienced them and caught a glimpse of a place I don’t know.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/104290479″>Afinn ( The Grandad) Trailer</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/gudni”>Gudni Halldorsson</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Overall it was a different feeling for the Film Festival, there were more days and venues. Some of them worked and others didn’t. I still had wonderful unexpected conversations and came across movies that touched me but not as many as in other years.

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Books, reaching out and learning

Life for me has been full with substituting and fact-checking, both of them are constantly teaching me new information about kids and the world out there. My last fact-checking job ended up being more emotionally draining as I was working on a book about Yemen, which has amazing history and so much turmoil. I’m glad to have learned what I did so I can better understand what’s happening but searching through images for illustrations was difficult. The juxtaposition of beautiful buildings and then rubble of the same area captured the damage being done left me shaken and scared for everyone who lived there. In terms of the substituting, every day is different, which is exciting but tiring as I want to be a good teacher and para for these kids though I’m only there for one or maybe two days. When I connect and see that I’ve helped a student understand is wonderful but other days, I wonder if I made any difference. Most days are a mixture of seeing what’s possible in a great classroom and not knowing all of the context to be as much help as I could be.

I’m also doing what I can to become more involved with ALA by volunteering for some committees. ALA is so important and daunting to me, that I’m trying to put myself out there and do what I can to support all libraries and find where I best fit within ALA.

What I finished reading

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I love Rowell’s books and Carry On was fantastic as she really understands what it is about the Chosen One stories and fantasy that draw people in and how to turn it all on its head. This is a book about two boys who take control of their story even though the story isn’t encouraging them to and their friends who are along with them. I would recommend this book to everyone who loves Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but wishes for more.

What I’m currently reading

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. I always enjoy Riordan’s books and this one isn’t disappointing, he’s got a great ear for dialogue, action and how kids behave. I appreciate that he’s gotten much better about putting diversity into his casts and understanding that diversity covers a wide range from being homeless to being Deaf.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. At this point, I’m not terribly far into this book and I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. I enjoy the setting and the main character has a good voice but so far, she seems fairly passive. I’m hoping more will happen as so far, there’s not much of a conflict or romance, but I like the author’s style.

What I’m reading next

One of the books I’m reading next is for Yuletide so I’m not going to list it but I’m looking forward to it. Yuletide is a wonderful fanfiction exchange that’s tied to small fandoms and is a major part of my holiday season. I love writing for other people and how Yuletide always ends up stretching my sense of what I think I can write. I also have the newest Jonathan Stroud Lockwood and Company book to read, which should be fun and creepy. The Rehoboth Film Festival is coming up next week, so far this year I’m not seeing a huge amount of films, I know there will be one or two that really stick with me.

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Unexpected Connections through fact-checking

The kind of fact-checking I do where I sit at my computer and research for reference books can be fairly lonely work.  I’ve rarely come across many other people who know too much about fact-checking, whenever I meet someone I find myself reminded of other experiences of mine with places not everyone knows such as my small all woman’s college or New Zealand. There’s this moment of mentioning something like that where I don’t expect any reaction except curiosity, which can be nice as I can talk about what I love. The best though is when another person says, ‘Yes, I know about there or that.’ Suddenly I realized I’ve found another connection to one of the many communities I’m a part of and it has me beaming. This happens more quickly online where you can search out your people but in person, there’s still a great rush to that moment of connection.

In the last two months, I had two wonderful connections where I met someone who had worked in fact-checking and I was struck by how through this unexpected job, I’ve acquired another community of people. The first meeting happened when I was in the midst of pursuing my other profession, at an interview for a school librarian job. I arrived at the school early and started to talk with the administrative assistant who had fact-checked for her local paper. We had this lovely conversation about how when you’re fact-checking, you start out learning the sources you need and then they become comfortable and in her case, people she knew. For me, its been more learning the ins and outs of various sites particularly government then sometimes finding a whole other realm is needed. I had to do this with my latest job that was taking on a book about a foreign country, all my knowledge of United States government sites wouldn’t work, I needed to make sense of another government. I loved that discovery aspect which was something she shared as well, the joy of finding what you need.

Then the second conversation happened at a family party where I was actually working on my fact-checking while all the cooking was being done. Once I reached a finishing point, I met a cousin of my sister-in-law who turns out to be a librarian who has also worked as a fact-checker. His fact-checking was from a different angle as he worked on copy that was connected to historical collectibles. He also gave me hope that I would find the library where I fit as it took him a couple of variations on the library world before he found a job that worked for him. I appreciated that reminder as I keep myself open with substituting, fact-checking and applying to various library jobs, but it can get hard at times.

Next week, I’m going to get a chance to do one of my favorite local library activities as I’m running the first story time in the Lewes Children’s garden on Monday. This story time is wonderful as its set in this beautiful vegetable garden run by Lewes in Bloom on the edge of Stango Park. That means that families bring picnics with them as there are always lots of vegetables, everyone goes home with something fresh along with the fun of hearing a story outside. The focus will be on strawberries as a local jam maker will be there, I only hope that the weather isn’t too hot.

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ALA Midwinter

Since leaving Chicago, there’s been a great deal of snow in many places. In some ways, that’s been wonderful, as after I left Chicago, I went to visit friends and stayed inside just reading. Sadly though where I live in Delaware, a lot of snow isn’t the norm and its made life a complicated. This has made substituting a little confusing but workable. I’ve been thinking a lot about Midwinter since leaving and now feel ready to write up my thoughts.

My Midwinter this year felt as if it was all about connections across the library world and the various worlds that I inhabit from seeing my childhood on stage with LeVar Burton’s speech to talking classics at an exhibit booth. One of my absolute favorite parts of Midwinter or Annual is the exhibit hall, because its possible to understand how diverse and huge libraries truly are. It feels like every time I go to a conference, the diversity of people and interests is brought more to the fore and it makes me happy. This year it was made explicit in wonderful ways such as the Day of Diversity, I wasn’t able to attend any of the events but followed a number of attendees on Twitter. A favorite panel that I went to combined a lot of my loves and why I enjoy the exhibit hall since I hadn’t planned on going to it but found myself sitting there. This was the Dark Fantasy panel at the Pop Top Stage which featured Fonda Lee, Ken Liu, Auden D. Johnson and Sabaa Tahir, which was thoughtful about why we read fantasy, what makes fantasy dark, how nice it is to have a fandom and how the authors write. It felt hopeful to hear authors comfortably discussing fandom, how its working within their lives and how they hope their works will fit into fandom. Also to hear them talking about the role of diversity especially within fantasy worlds. All of their books are high in my to be read pile.

Seeing LeVar Burton on Sunday morning was a powerful reminder of why I’ve chosen to be a librarian as he’s proof of the reach of books and reading. He spoke about his mentors from his mother to Alex Haley to Fred Rogers, through them it was possible to see how he grew and changed through his life and is still learning. Part of his talk was presenting a new book that he’s written called The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. Its an amazing book about dealing with loss and how depression can hit everyone and to hear it read by him was a gift. I found his reading and talk inspiring as he spoke about how he’s still learning and finding ways to make sure that children everywhere have access to books. During the question period, every person spoke about how he inspired them and taught them from helping with a second language to seeing some of their own life reflected up on Reading Rainbow. When I left, it was with the reminder that touching someone’s life can be done in a lot of ways and as a librarian, I can open doors.

It felt like perfect timing that after hearing him speak, I went to the ALA Joblist Open House which was one of the biggest I’ve been to in my three years of conferences. The set up was more relaxed as well since the libraries were at small tables which made it easier to talk and not feel as if there was such a clear line in the form of a large table. That can be intimidating at times as I’ve found myself not always at ease to approach but with this set up, it felt informal and welcoming. I had a great number of wonderful conversations and again was struck by the simple diversity of what a library can mean from academic libraries to independent schools.

Speaking of school libraries, another strange intersection was when Carney Sandoe, the independent school job agency I’m connected to had a booth next to YALSA and there was also a booth of wonderful child friendly furniture. This meant that after I volunteered at the YALSA booth, which is always a pleasure to interact with fellow youth librarians, I could talk to my Carney Sandoe connection. After that I walked one more booth over to pick up a catalog full of furniture possibilities for the new Lewes’ library children’s section. Moments like that are why I adore the exhibit hall, how sometimes just by chance, disparate elements of my library experience are suddenly right next to each other.

I ended Midwinter with the Morris’ awards which were slightly subdued due to weather so only four out of ten authors were actually present. The rest of them had video presentations which were fascinating. A lot of my reading directly after Midwinter on the train to Michigan was from the Morris and Nonfiction awards. I’m going to end by recommending a few of the books that have truly stood out to me of the ones I’ve read so far from my Midwinter haul. All links go to my Goodreads’ reviews.

The Story of Owen and its sequel Prairie Fire. Owen’s world is one of the finest alternate histories that I’ve read with dragons inserted in such a way that the process of history all makes sense. These books remind me of when I read Seraphina and how I wanted to give a copy to everyone I knew. That’s how I feel about these because the characters are complex and real, the setting is fascinating and the language of the writing is beautiful.

Tommy: The Gun that Changed America was an interesting read about gun violence and gun control in American history. Before reading this book, I hadn’t realized how many gun laws were tied to particular issues with gangsters and times of violence. An aspect that impressed me a great deal about this book was how the back was organized to make it easy for the readers to find and understand the sources used. Its something I would like to see done more often as it makes the idea of reading a bibliography less daunting when the author presents the sources under useful headings.

The Port Chicago 50 about a time when racism in the armed forces put a number of men behind bars. This is one of those books that wasn’t easy to read because it deals honestly with the segregation and racism that went on during World War II and the cost of it to America. A cost that we’re still paying the price of and dealing with. An aspect of this book that has stayed with me is how its a reminder that history is never a simple starting point, the discrimination during World War II helped to give tools that made it possible for the Civil Rights Movement to achieve what it did. Also that the tools of change haven’t altered that much through the decades.

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Upgrading and new angles

I’ve begun this new year with the sense of upgrading as I prepare to head to Chicago for ALA Midwinter with a new phone and shoes, which allow me to clear away what isn’t working. As I improve what I can, I have a moment to reflect on what’s been coming together for me and what is to come. A major theme in my last couple of months has been the chance to approach the world from new angles. ALA Midwinter will be another wonderful opportunity to do that and if any of my fellow librarians who follow me across social media will be there, drop me a line on whatever platform works best for you and let’s see about meeting.

In November, the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival was held and I had the chance to experience a number of films where I as an American wasn’t the primary audience. This is one of my favorite parts of going to film festivals and reading books that focus on experiences outside of my own. I saw two films that stuck with me and that I’ve been recommending since November which I want to mention here.

The first one is Lilting, a beautiful and complex film about the death of a young man and how his mother and his partner try to process it through difficulties of language and experience. I recently discovered through NPR that this film was actually financed by Film London’s Microwave Project that works to promote diverse films.

 

The other film that stayed with me was about Simon Bolivar and called The Liberator, its a glorious, epic movie, but what made such an impression to me was how little I knew. So much of the history it was assumed that the audience simply knew in the same way that would be true for an American watching a film like Lincoln. I love coming out of a film with a desire to learn more and see how much I don’t know and I look forward to reading more about Simon Bolivar.

 

I’ve also fact-checked a few more books and along the way found some great resources. I love fact-checking because it gives me a chance to go down fascinating research pathways that are incredibly site specific and find ways to learn the information from the primary sources. A type of site that I’m always happy to find are tribal websites for Native American tribes such as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which allow me to find their history without the bias that comes from an outside source. For a book, I was able to explore the journals of all the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, they’re posted here by the University of Nebraska. The internet provides wonderful examples of ways to connect to the original sources as much as possible which in terms of history is key as history is constantly being reexamined.

The other area of my life that has provided some new angles is that I’ve begun to work part time as a substitute teacher in the local school district. My first assignment sent me into an elementary school classroom which is a world I’m not completely familiar with. It turned out to be exciting and I realized that it was a place that I understood better than I realized. I found that from storytimes, I had a good sense of how to keep busy children on topic and that the rushing and then pause of the day felt like when I had worked as a school librarian. I’m eager to go into more classrooms and perhaps a few libraries since teaching has always been a part of my life. One reason is because that sense of helping a child or a patron understand something they hadn’t before never ever gets old. The moment that happened in the classroom was teaching a young boy how sentences fit together into paragraphs.

I know that in Chicago, there will be many moments of finding unexpected ways to look at what it means to be a librarian and a reader. An added benefit is that I’ll be traveling by train and so will see the country from a new angle.

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