29 May 2012

Shelf Shopping and why I should do it more

In the three years I've been in the library biz, I've all but abandoned shelf shopping (it's like window shopping, only better, because it's books).  Now I choose books based on reviews in professional magazines like School Library JournalBookList, etc., as well as various book blogs (similar to this one, only WAY cooler) like Stacked. Admittedly, most of the books on my to-read list are YA, but I'm a YA librarian (a fact that will change in about a month...more to come on that later), so it makes sense that I'd read what my patrons are reading.  Because of all these recommendations, I rarely wander the shelves and displays at the library, looking for something to read.  However, a few weeks ago, I was forced to shelf shop for the first time in a very long time.  I say "forced" like it was torture.  Well, truthfully, it was and it wasn't.  The good news is, on that trip, I ended up getting a great audiobook.  The bad news is, I tried it again this last week and the results were so terrible, I abandoned the book and am now afraid of shelf shopping again. Crap.
I've forgotten what shelf shopping is like.  On the one hand, it's like an adventure: you have no idea what you're going to end up with, you just head into the stacks and keep looking until you find a book that intrigues you.  Often, your decision is based on cover art and the teaser (the summary on the inside dust-cover or on the back), and even as you leave, you have no idea whether you'll love the book or hate it.  It's exciting and exhilarating and, quite frankly, now that I've been on the other side, scarier than a Friday the 13th movie.
Until recently, I'd forgotten the power of cover art.  Now, when I get a book, I look at it and decide whether the cover art fits with what I already know about the book, and as I read the book, I look at the cover art and decide whether or not the cover art adds to the book or doesn't fit.  It has literally been years since I grabbed a book that I knew nothing about and decided whether or not to read it based on the cover art.  The same goes for the teaser: by the time I get a book, I've usually read a professional review or two, and/or had it recommended to me by at least one other librarian.  When I get a book and read the summary, I immediately look for the "hook" in the summary - something that will catch a new reader's attention - and as I'm reading, I try to figure out which kids would benefit from reading the hook, and which kids wouldn't.
Now that my shelf-shopping muscles have atrophied, going to the library to look for a book takes on a whole new level of...gahhh.  I look at the covers of books way too long, trying to find hidden clues about the book, and I read the teaser 18 bazillion times wondering why there's so little information!  Clearly, my job has dimmed the magic of finding books. And that's sad, because, well, I'm a librarian, and I'm all about the book magic.  So I've decided I need to get the magic back.
So now I have to start thinking about shelf-shopping like a patron.  Being a librarian, I'm not afraid of libraries, I can usually figure out where things are pretty easily on my own, etc.  So my comfort level in libraries made it easier for me to be a shelf shopper - I loved wandering the stacks, looking at the displays, trying to find that next great read about who knows what.  In fact, I used to follow the library volunteers when the were shelving and try to grab books that had just been turned in.  I figured if someone else checked it out, it had to be good (incidentally, that's how I first came across Danielle Steele.  At age 13. Wowza.).  But not all library patrons are comfortable in the library, and not everyone has the time to wander the stacks and go on a book safari.  So if I were a patron, making a quick stop to find a book, or maybe I'm not terribly comfortable finding books in the library and, like my sister, am afraid that wandering the stacks would get me lost in the labyrinth of the library, causing the secret library cult to come out and force me to join, making me a crazy library nerd (no joke, she thinks we have secret handshakes and take blood oaths), how would I pick a book?
And as a librarian, how do I make sure the people who aren't book-finding-pros find books?
Well, for all of you non-book sleuths out there, here are my suggestions:

  1. Don't be in a hurry.  Give yourself some time to look at books, read the teasers, etc.  But if you are in a hurry, just head for the new book display or...
  2. Ask someone who works in the library for a recommendation.  Most people who work in libraries are readers, and they might have a suggestion or two.  Be prepared though, they won't just look at you and say "read this".  If they're worth their salt, they'll ask you about other books you've enjoyed or the genre/type of book you're looking for.
  3. If you're looking for a particular genre, look for the genre stickers on the books (something I used to HATE but now love), or...
  4. Use the OPAC - online catalog.  You can search for books by genre, author, similar author and similar title.  If you just finished reading Old Yeller and loved it?  Search for other books by Fred Gipson, or type in "Old Yeller" and then find the "similar titles" tab and click there.  This will give you a list of books that are similar either in genre or writing style.  This is also something you can do from home, when you have time.  AND you can put books on hold, so that they're ready the second you walk in the door! Yeay!
So what have I learned?  For one, I know that I need to practice my shelf shopping skillz.  I shouldn't be afraid to shelf shop! My insider knowledge of books has made me too critical of cover art and teasers.  I don't know if I'll ever be able to look at books with a non-librarian eye ever again, but I'm going to try.  With that, I bid you adieu and am headed to the library to just wander.

Happy reading!

28 May 2012

Impartial Witness by Charles Todd

An Impartial Witness
Charles Todd
Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Audiobooks America 2010

As a librarian, my list of "must reads" is always longer than Crystal Gale's hair, so it's rare for me to just grab a book at the library.  However, two weeks ago I had to make an emergency trip to Denver, and none of my requested audio books were in yet, so I decided to pick one off the shelf.  Two things happened: one, I perused books on the shelf and chose a book based on cover art and the short summaries you find either on the back or on the inside of the dust jacket.  I'll explore this topic in more depth later.  Two, I found a great book by an author I'd never heard of that I really enjoyed.
The book I chose was An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd.  It's a Bess Crawford mystery, and now that I've finished it, I know that there are actually multiple books in the series, and An Impartial Witness is the second of the series, and the newest of the series will be out next week.  The Bess Crawford mysteries are historical mysteries, set in England during World War I. Bess is a very strong female - she's a field nurse for the military and she was an "army brat" of sorts, growing up in India where her father was a high-ranking officer (I can't ever keep military ranks straight, and since I listened to the audio book, there's no way I'm going to figure out his rank, sorry) in the British military. In all of the mysteries, Bess doesn't go looking for trouble, but she definitely doesn't know how to leave trouble alone once it finds her - a fact that is eluded to often in An Impartial Witness.
The book starts out with Bess treating a severely burned pilot who keeps a picture of his wife near him at all times.  After transporting the man to a hospital in England, Bess takes a train to London for a few days leave before she must return to the front.  As she's walking through the train station, she sees the woman from the photograph - the pilot's wife - but this woman is utterly despondent as she bids farewell to a different soldier.  A few weeks later, Bess finds out that the woman was brutally murdered later on that same day.  When Bess volunteers to help Scotland Yard with the investigation, she's caught up in the mystery and nearly gets herself killed a few times.
I loved that the book had a historical element to it that added to the "intrigue", however on the same note, I'm not too sure of the historical accuracy of the book.  For example, the book takes place in 1917, and Bess has her own motorcar that she drives around like it's no big deal.  That seems odd to me - but I wasn't alive in 1917, so maybe women were driving quite a bit back then.  Also, I love that Todd has created a very strong female character who doesn't back down just because she's a female, but I was surprised at the fact that no one objected to her nosing around all the time.  In the end, the flaws didn't outweigh the enjoyment I had listening to the book - Rosalyn Landor did a great job with voices and keeping the pace quick enough so that it wasn't boring.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, mysteries and strong female characters, but I wouldn't recommend it to readers who are particular about details.  There's nothing terribly risque in the novel, so it could be HS appropriate, but the historical references and vocabulary would make it difficult for a reluctant reader or MS reader to follow.

15 May 2012

Article Review - TIME Magazine and Parental Guilt

Courtesy of Time.com

I've never blogged about a newspaper/magazine article before, but the cover of last week’s TIME magazine sparked such a discussion, that I was not only intrigued, I couldn’t wait to read the article.  The only problem is, now that I've read the article, I REALLY don't know what to think. I was offended by the cover for oh-so-many reasons, and now that I've read the article, I'm even MORE offended by the cover and a little confused.
For the record, I do not have children.  So if the fact that I am going to comment on what I know about breastfeeding and raising children without any first-hand experience (other than helping to raise my nieces, nephews, etc.) will offend you, thanks for stopping by, but you should probably stop reading now.
Let’s start with the cover, since it’s the what got me going.  My brain tells me that the cover is meant to be shocking.  TIME has done this in the past (here’s the cover that creeped me out so much I tore it off the magazine), and because the article is technically about extreme parenting, the cover should be extreme right?  The only problem is that in this case, the cover feeds into some misconceptions about breastfeeding.  Last week Facebook, Twitter and my RSS feed were absolutely buzzing over the cover – even before people read the article.  Comments ranged from breastfeeding a 3-year-old borders on child abuse and she’s too sexy to be a breast-feeding mom to that kid is totally going to show off this picture when he’s high school and his buddies are going to be jealous.  I’d say 90 percent of the comments were, in my humble opinion, asinine and uninformed.  Regardless of the shocking nature of the cover, I have to say I think TIME took it too far, only because I think this cover will now be fuel for the idea that breastfeeding is “weird”, even though all obstetricians out there would say that breastfeeding is beneficial.  And I doubt that most moms breastfeed their children using a stepstool.  Just sayin.
However, what REALLY bothered me about the cover was the caption: “Are you Mom enough?” It suggests that mothers who aren’t willing to go to extremes – like breastfeeding to the age of 3 or older – for their children are terrible mothers.  And that, even though I’m not a mom, offends me right straight down to my core.  I know some women who were able to breastfeed their children for over a year, and I commend them for that.  I also know women who wanted to breastfeed for longer than they were able and were absolutely tormented by their inability.  We’re talking 2am bawling phone calls about being inadequate mothers simply because they couldn’t produce enough milk.  I also know mothers who physically can’t breastfeed – take, for example, my dear friend Adi, who just adopted a sweet little girl.  Is Adi to believe she’s not “mom enough” because after years of trying to get pregnant, she now has a beautiful daughter she can’t breastfeed? 
Sorry TIME, but I think the cover takes it a little too far to the extreme.  I truly believe the article would have been well read and copies would have sold even if the cover hadn’t been so provocative.

Now for the actual article itself.  For one, it's really not about breastfeeding at all.  It's about Dr. Bill Sears and attachment parenting.  Yes, breastfeeding is an important tenant of the attachment parenting movement, but it’s not the only tenant, AND it’s barely mentioned in the article! The article actually focuses more on sacrificing for one’s children and the author seems to take more issue with the idea of co-sleeping.  In fact, it’s pretty clear that the author thinks Dr. Bill is crazy and attachment parenting is extreme, even though Dr. Bill even says himself that parents should do the best they can with what they have.
From what I know about attachment parenting, I think the ideas are great, but just like anything associated with parenting, it can lead to massive amounts of parental guilt.  I think that’s what bothers me the most about this article and the cover.  I have seen moms racked with guilt over things like letting their kids watch TV or have chocolate after dinner. TIME attempts to address this with a little inset about “detachment fathering”, but unfortunately, this little snippet angered me just as much as everything else.  The author, Nathan Thornburg, is basically telling dad’s that it’s OK not to feel guilty if you don’t do as much as your child’s mother because attachment parenting really is all about ‘attachment mothering’.  I agree with the idea that parents need to work to “distance themselves from the expectations set by everyone from Sears to your peers in mommy-and-me-yoga”, but I don’t agree with the idea that it’s ok to slack off as a parent because “children can – and often do – get by without a father in their lives at all”. That’s a steaming load of crap if I do say so myself.
In the end, I think TIME intended to bring light to a new trend in our society, but all they’ve successfully done is add to the unbelievable guilt that parents face each and every day.  Usually, I can stomach what TIME puts out there – mostly because I’m aware of the slant they put on things.  However, this slant is too much for me. I think of all the amazing moms that I know out there and my heart breaks for them - reading a magazine shouldn't add to guilt feelings!  So TIME, in my humble opinion, you really missed the mark on this one.

11 May 2012

126 pages to go...

I haven't been terribly busy writing reviews lately because I'm nearly finished with a 835 page book (that I will definitely review because it's AWESOME).

However here are a few books that I've started and am still working on that you might want to pick up in the mean time...

Raised Right: How I Untangled my Faith from my Politics by Alisa Harris

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The Beauty of Different: Observations of a Confident Misfit by Karen Walrond

Impartial Witness by Charles Todd (the audiobook is GREAT)

I'm currently reading all of these, though admittedly I'm really only paying attention to one of them.

Lunch with the book thieves

This week at school we have not only celebrated/honored Teacher appreciation week, we've also celebrated/honored National Children's Mental Health Awareness Week.  The theme for this year's NCMHAW is "Heroes for Hope" - an effort to honor the adults who care about young people and help them emotionally work through trying times and encourage them as they grow into mentally healthy adults.
This year - especially this spring - has been very trying mentally and emotionally for our school, but we've come through it with flying colors.  We have proved that as a school community we are strong, we care for each other, and we can succeed and flourish even when things are terribly difficult.
So today was a special day at school - it was Super Hero Day!  There are many people out and about sporting Batman t-shirts, Superman capes, etc. etc.  Originally, I was planning to come to school dressed as the library ninja that I am - I thought it would be cool to sport my "other uniform" at school.  However, something amazing happened yesterday at lunch that caused me to completely abandon the library ninja and spend about 50 minutes last night creating super hero costumes for myself and four of my students.
I have a group of students who come in and have lunch with me every day.  To an outsider, they would probably be considered "book nerds", but to me, they're awesome.  Its a group of girls who are unique, intelligent, funny (sometimes ridiculous) and caring.  Last year we met after school as a book club.  This year, after school didn't work so great for me because of my athletic director duties, so a few of the girls started coming in for lunch a couple days a week, and now it's a daily thing.
We talk about any and everything.  Today, the main topic of discussion was the very controversial cover of TIME magazine.  They don't know much about breastfeeding, so we talked about what each of us knew, someone jumped on a computer and googled it, and we discussed what we thought about breastfeeding and the cover as well. Our discussions have ranged from the deep and intellectual (how do we make education better) to the downright silly (how do we survive the zombie apocalypse).  Yesterday they came in wondering why today was deemed "Super Hero Day".  So I explained it to them, and we talked about who the "heroes" in our world are.  One of them said I was her hero because I'd introduced her to so many books that had helped her see the world differently (*sniff* is someone cutting onions in here?!?). The girls joked about dressing up as me, and one girl asked me "What does a book super hero look like?"
My response was oh so intelligent: "Uh, I dunno."
So we stared talking about what she would look like, and someone said she looks like the book or character that has most inspired her.
In case I haven't said it eighty million times, one of my favorite books ever written is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  And yes, the entire lunch group has read the book and five out of six loved it.  So long discussion short, we decided to come to school as:

The Book Thieves!

You might be asking yourself, what exactly a "Book Thief" is, and how in the world someone named "thief" could be a hero.  We talked about this yesterday and again today.  The Book Thief is about Death, and his experience following a little girl named Liesel Memminger and his various encounters with her throughout WWII.  So our "super powers" as Book Thieves is the ability to see people as they truly are - just like Death can.  One of my girls also noted that this fits in well with NCMHAW because if we can/could see people as they truly are, we would be more able/willing to help them if they need it.
You might also be wondering about our costumes.  Lemme 'splain.  See, the cover art (er, one of the covers) features white on black dominoes, so we decided to put dominoes on our shirts.  Originally, we were going to do white on black dominoes, but half the girls didn't have white t-shirts, so we switched the colors.  The capes are a)awesome and b) to represent the different colors each person sees when Death comes to collect them (pg 4).
 As my time here winds down and comes to an end, days like today are extra special.  I know that I will miss the staff and the students here immensely.  I will miss these young women who make me laugh, drive me crazy and help me be the best teacher I can be each and every day. My office is littered with their books, lunch sacks and the sweet little notes they leave regularly on my desk/computer...

and when I have moved to be with my guy and am (fingers crossed) working in another library, I won't forget the day I was able to be a super hero with some of the brightest students around. I'm blessed. Really, truly and deeply blessed.

01 May 2012

If Julie Andrews had been a librarian...

Today I read a post by "The Mighty Little Librarian" Tiffany Whitehead about the power of recommending books to kids.  She apparently has the same super power that I strive for: the ability to recommend the perfect book to each and every reader.  While I don't do it as well as she does, I do know that my students have learned to trust me and my knowledge of YA lit. And I also agree with her about the responsibility school librarians have to stay up with trends and popular books in the world of YA lit.
Here's her post - take a gander at it, she really knows what she's talking about:

The Power to Recommend

Her post got me thinking about my job (again) and what I do every day.  More than recommending books to students, I love love love it when a student comes in and says "I loved that book!" or even "I hated that book" because it gives me a chance to get to know my students more.  Being out of the classroom, I no longer have the opportunity to get to know students as well, so these interactions make my day each and every day.
But recommending books isn't the only thing I love about my job.  I love lots of things about my job (don't worry, there are things I hate too, but Julie Andrews never sang a song "These are a few of my most hated things", so there won't be a post about that...).  When you add my love of my job to my love of all things Sound of Music, you come up with the following song:

Research on laptops and sparkly brand new books
Prezi and Wordle and novels on new Nooks
Meeting with book club and writing reviews,
This is why library peeps do what we do!

And THAT took me about 30 minutes to come up with, so that's all you get.  It's just further proof that I was never meant to be a rockstar.

If you've ever wondered why someone would ever become a librarian, please see my recent post about what librarians actually do every day, and realize that those of us who work in libraries do it not (just) because we're book nerds, but because we love books, reading, information and finding ways to connect our patrons - in my case students and teachers - with the books and information they need.