Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Personal Book Acquisition

Back in the day, I was an avid book hoarder. The sight of a book store sent me in to rhapsody. Or to the checkout counter. Whichever was closer. If I saw a book I liked, I felt a need to have a copy for my very own. Whenever I moved, which was too often, people groaned thinking about the weight of all those books. Then I went to library school, had more firsthand experience with inter library loan and became an advocate for sharing.

Around the same time I became a fan of the TLC show Clean Sweep. This show helped me to see that I was keeping far too much stuff for all the wrong reasons. Peter Walsh made a huge impact on my thinking about what is really essential in my life. I have him to thank for the many wonderful benefits of reducing clutter in my life. Peter is mentioned in our home whenever someone needs a little help letting go. We look upon him as practically a family member. I purged, gave away and donated many, many books. Inter library loan was my new modus operandi and I have used the service liberally.

Funny how life changes, though. Lately, I have gone back on the book buying band wagon. This time, there is a difference. No longer do I buy every book I see. No, this time my book buying habits are more difficult to regulate. I no longer just buy books, I buy signed books. Discovering the joy of the book signing has been a blessing and a curse. Frankly I buy the books so that I can have 30 seconds of face time with the authors I love. Not that they really get much out of a line of people who demand their signatures for every sort of oddly spelled names saying “Oh, I loved your book.” I do it for me. While it may not mean much, I do get to say thank you. That’s something Mom always told me was important. It’s something that I feel deeply. Somehow the signed book makes me feel that much more connected.

Funny, the very fact that the author is a master at aligning words to create a magical connection of heart and spirit does not seem to be enough for me. I guess I want authors to know that I, the reader, exist. I want them to know that their work matters to me. It matters enough to me to stand in long lines, in hot rooms, with my bag either falling off my shoulder or cutting into it. It matters enough to me to hold a heavy stack of books in my arms, nearly motionless to have the opportunity to tell my name, to smile insipidly and make an impression so weak that it is near meaningless. So what drives me to do it? Ask the hundreds of other people who stand in those same lines the question. I’m too weak to answer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Teaching Folktales

Part of the curriculum for our small charges includes teaching about folktales. Trying to teach about folktales is not the same thing as reading them. What exactly do we want 5 and 6 year olds to remember about folktales? Is the ability to tell particular tales the most important aspect? Is it the fact that they can identify different sorts of folktales – creationist, por quoi tales, trickster tales, tall tales etc.? Moreover, how to select which folktales will be used for these lessons?

The Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Framework defines folktales as:

Folktale: a short narrative handed down through oral tradition, with various tellers and groups modifying it, so that it acquired cumulative authorship. Most folktales eventually move from oral tradition to written form.

This week I tried something new to illustrate the idea of how folktales develop. I chose a student to be the storyteller. The student stood up next to me. Then I told a story, really a number of facts about a colorful aunt I had. The storyteller then had to retell the story to the class. We had three or four people try their hand at retelling it. The results were hilarious and sometimes heartwarming. Needless to say, the story took on a life of its own. Sometimes the changes were unintentional, but several of the students were natural embellishers. I took care to mention that these acts of omission or clear fabrication were part of the process a story had to go through to become folklore.

To me, hearing the story of my aunt who lived in a lemon grove, turn into a story about my father who lived in a lemon, was shear magic.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

RISD Alumni Art Sale

Yesterday I hoofed it on over to the RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) Alumni Art Sale held at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Always a feast for the eyes, these sales delight and inspire. My objective in going yesterday was to visit Grace Lin and get my hands on a signed copy of her book Where the Mountain meets the Moon. The book has been getting good reviews and I have wanted to read it, but I was pretty sure I could get a specially signed copy if I waited. I intend to wrap it and put it under the tree for myself. Then I will read in between the holidays and the beginning of the new year.

If you are not familiar with Grace Lin, you are missing out on a gem. Her work is fresh and empowering. Her website and blog are among my favorites to follow. Grace has a voice which is so friendly and warm that you really feel like you know her. This tone is one of the reasons her books have such appeal. Don’t miss out any longer. To view her blog, see a trailer for the book, as well as her interview on the Today Show, go to:

Yesterday I tried to behave myself. I really did. The first time I saw Grace at a RISD Almuni Art Sale, I charged the booth she shares with Anna Altieri and simply gushed “I’m a fan!” at which my preteen child nearly died of embarrassment. I didn’t know enough to stop. “I follow your blogs” I continued. I was on a roll. Grace was charming and didn’t seem to think my behavior as outrageous as my companion did. She simply smiled and asked me if I was a librarian. How did she know? While I was thinking she was not only a wonderful author/illustrator but also somewhat of a mystic, my child informed me that it was as if I had the word LIBRARIAN stamped across my forehead.

Yesterday I managed to browse peacefully, request my books quietly and slyly mention that I do follow her blogs and enjoy them. I bought the aforementioned Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Robert’s Snow and Lissy’s Friends, complete with Lissy doll. I intend to use Lissy’s Friends at school to accompany my origami lessons.

Here's the inside of my book bag.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

One Week Later

My rough draft

One week after I completed the NANOWRIMO challenge of 50,000 words in the month of November, I look back with awe. It changed my thinking about books in general and writing them in particular.

Reading the advice of others is confusing. Some say that after you have written the rough draft you should put your manuscript away. Some say it should be at least a week. Others frame it in terms of months. It is true that some people dive right into the job of revisions. Who is to say which way will yield better results?

I had the fortitude to leave the manuscript alone for 5 week days, but yesterday I peeked at it. Suddenly, I had a new idea which will make many changes neccesary, but has really invigorated me and I'm ready to dive back into the story. Should I or shouldn't I start right back in on it? I haven't decided yet.