Too Many Books?

I don’t know what is going on but right now I am in the middle of reading four, count them, FOUR books!  I have never been the type to read multiple books at one time.  I am normally in the mindset that if I want to pick up another book then I have no desire to complete the book I put down.  But here I am.

Eventually….a blog post will ensue.  But for now, until last pages are turned and bookmarks are removed, I thought I would give you a little taste of my New York.  You will have to cut me a break because I have no Reid here to take stunning photos.  All I have is an iphone app that attempts to make my flimsy pictures better.

Central Park

Outside Penn Station, view of the Empire State Building

Paper Mache Sheep Sculptures at Times Square

aka. the only tolerable thing located in Times Square


As much as this city has to offer, this is my favorite thing to do.

Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 1:37 am  Comments (2)  

Lessons of a China Rabbit

Kate DiCalimo is the “it girl” of the children’s lit world and I must admit that I have not read anything since the release of Because of Winn Dixie and my next best encounter with her was dramatically pressing the power off button to my DVD player an hour into the atrocity that is The Tale of Despereaux film.

A copy of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane ended up on my desk last week.  I schlepped this and a number of other books  to Jersey City to one of my schools.  Per usual, the PATH train was incapable of functioning properly (my secret hypothesis as to why each and every New Yorker loathes New Jersey) so I picked up this book.  Number one reason why:  little trim size, big font, even bigger margins.  Therefore I could possibly finish it by the time this silly train got its act together.  Candlewick sure does know how to sell a novella for the price of a novel.  Alas, I did not finish it in my thirty minute train ride which means I was forced to sneak it into my purse because there was no way I was not finishing this beautiful book.

This book is why people work so hard to share the pleasures of children’s books to adults.  This book about a china rabbit is so stunningly, intimately, human.  It spans the gap, that we so love to stretch to its limits, between childhood and adulthood.  It’s a person book.  A love book. A resilience book. Almost everything I have to say about it reveals too much, for, indeed, it is very short but I will say that it supports a concept that everyone can grow from knowing, no matter their age.  In fact, it is a book about growing in itself.  And I am in no way ashamed that I was seen shedding a few tears on the 4 train while holding its painted white rabbit cover.

 

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 4:50 am  Comments (1)  

More Of The Same

Unsurprisingly, I am gravely behind on everything associated with 12 and up kids.  That is one thing about my job that is limiting…plenty of picturebooks, plenty of early chapter books, but very little teen melodrama, dystopias, or good old-fashioned battle scenes.  And now that I have paid my debt to society in the sum of $25.00 to the Brooklyn Public Library, I can check books out again and catch up on some over due teenage shenanigans.  Which, hopefully, I will not return overdue.  First stop; the City of Bones.

Cassandra Clare’s series, “The Mortal Instruments” has been creating buzz for a while now.  In fact, she just released her prequel series called “The Infernal Devices.” But since I am so far behind, I just now picked up the book first released, “City of Bones.”  It will be interesting to see if I pick up the others.

Simon & Schuster is obviously selling to a specific demographic with its shiny city sprawl and shirtless, faceless boy cover art.  And what could be more perfectly placed across the boy’s chest but a glowing review by Stephenie Meyer! At least once you open the book the female heroine, Clary, is slightly less of a wimp than Twilight’s Bella.  Alas, she does show some pretty lame similarities, socially awkward, uncoordinated, and consistently relying on male power figures.  In fact the only other female characters in this book are either comatose, shell-like vessels for male controlled demons, or a hyper sexualized teenager who distributes no power despite her position as a warrior…oh yeah…and she also cooks for everybody.  But Clary does defy some male commands based on her own needs and not “in the name of love” so that’s a step in the right direction…an itty-bitty baby step but at least a step.

Clare (so weird how close the author’s last name is to that main character’s name…eh?  Freud would have had a field day with this one) does create some interesting lore for the now common characters of vampires, werewolves, and the like.  She creates a whole world within our own, just beyond “mundane” sight.  Golly mundane sounds a lot like muggles, don’t it?

Where I really get heated is in regards to the twisty plot that, I’m guessing, is supposed to keep you guessing but was completely and ridiculously predictable no matter how outrageous the next development was.  (Spoiler!) For Christ sake, stealing a major plot point from STAR WARS is not creative in the least!  I actually had a moment where I thought…I am way to smart to be reading this book.  And the only other book that I have read in the last ten years that made me feel that way was written by the glowing reviewer herself.  Needless to say, I should have listened to all of the signs Simon & Schuster was shoving in my consumerist face and moved on to the next one.

Published in: on January 24, 2011 at 11:04 pm  Comments (1)  

Michael Kors loves Steampunk

If you have ever been in New York during the holiday season then you know about the extravagant stunning window displays on 5th Avenue.  I did not.  But now I do!  And you are thinking….Kristin, Christmas is over…why is this even remotely relevant.  Well, if you recall a certain past post, one of the earliest in fact, about my love of steampunk, these windows will become pretty darn relevant.

Fashion meets young adult trends!  Lets just hope that next year’s is not about vampires.

Published in: on January 20, 2011 at 1:03 am  Comments (1)  

The Subtle Book

 

This entry is long overdue but New York has been busy, the holidays were crazy, and even at this moment my cat is brushing up against my face, pawing the keyboards and demanding for attention.  How is a gal supposed to have a hobby in all of this mess?  My point is that I HAVE been reading…I just haven’t been doing the writing part so much.  So I’m doing it.  Right this second. Fur in my mouth.

Amidst all the chaos of living in a giant, loud, people all up in your business city I immediately turned to a books that are comforting.  Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” was a series that I devoured growing up and going back to them was a complete pleasure.  I really thought that after all of my education…all this deconstruction, feminist, Marxist, Freudian and you-name-it theory study…I would be navigating the many possibilities that Pullman offers a reader.  Hell no.  I was getting wrapped up in it as if I were a kid again.  All I wanted to know was who was good and who was bad and what was going to happen next as I twisted through Pullman’s tricky plot devices.  I couldn’t’ get enough of it.  Once I finished I realized I had not really thought about the book at all, at least not in the terms that I’m used to.  And you know what?  It was beautiful.  It was magical.  It was what made me love reading in the first place.  It was what we dream of kids experiencing when we hand them books.

It is also a place of fragility.  A book and all of the millions of ideas those pages represent become part of you.  It is within that absence of thought that a book can create ideas that you bring into your own world.  The conscious reader will question, confront, and come to their own conclusions but as I seeped into Pullman’s world I accepted it all as normal and internalized that normality.  It is this fragile moment that makes so many people scared of books.  Why “Go Ask Alice” was banned in school libraries and “Harry Potter” burned to cinders.  But it is also why studying children’s literature is so important.  Children’s books can create these magical delicate moments, can open a mind just as easily as it can close it.  They are the creators of worlds.

 

 

Published in: on January 5, 2011 at 3:21 am  Comments (2)  

The Things We Carry

Today I read this poem with a 6-year-old boy:

Skin Stealer by Shel Silverstein

This evening I unzipped my skin

And carefully unscrewed my head,

Exactly as I always do

When I prepare myself for bed.

And while I slept a coo-coo came

As naked as could be

And put on the skin

And screwed on the head

That once belonged to me.

Now wearing my feet

He runs through the street

In a most disgraceful way,

Doin’ things and sayin’ things

I’d never do or say.

Ticklin’ the children

And kickin’ the men

And dancin’ the ladies away.

So if he makes your bright eyes cry

Or makes your poor head spin,

That scoundrel you see

Is not really me –

He’s the coo-coo

Who’s wearing my skin.


He thought it was the funniest thing in the world.  Meanwhile I am sitting there with my mouth agape.  Did I mention that it is also coupled with this image (forgive the crap image quality).

I uncomfortably hurried on to the next poem in Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic and it wasn’t until my long train ride back into Manhattan that I realized how completely ridiculous I was being.  In fact, I, too, remember thinking this poem was funny when I was kid.  But as an adult I find it uncomfortable, disturbing, and morally problematic.

We are all carrying pasts in our pockets and these pasts inform every single moment of our day.  They inform which brand of toothpaste you trust and buy, how you react to meeting a new person, and, even, how you read a text.  Each of our pasts are different and a child’s past, a much smaller and typically more protected past, is going to inform what they read.  A child reads things differently than, say, me, a 26-year-old adult with a history of lying, deceptive…well…men.  I don’t see the coo coo man as lighthearted and by no means jovial…I see it as an excuse for awful heartbreaking behavior.  But this is all because of my weighty pockets filled with a very specific past.  So I reacted to it.  I turned the page. I asked no questions.  I potentially stifled a kid’s enjoyment.  A kid whose pockets were filled with a completely different past that found joy in the coo coo man and his silly trickster ways.

I have thought about this subject time and time again in a classroom setting and today I realized how incredibly easy it is to get trapped in our adultness; to think that what we find valuable is valuable.  But we know nothing about childhood…no matter how good our memory…and what we should value is the child’s sense of value.  Let them play, let them think, let them laugh, and you just sit there, not turning the page.

Published in: on October 15, 2010 at 1:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Learning How to Donate

Believe it or not, kiddos, people other than my mother have been complaining about my gross lack of updating.  Who knew?  But lets face it, a brand new city, a brand new job, and the last days of summer weather is not a good combo for book reading.  Yet, you should be happy to note that I am in possession of a Brooklyn Public Library card and have already amassed $10.00 in fees…so, I’m trying.

My new job has me currently running around to 6 schools in hopes of getting our programming up and running beautifully.  I, of course, immediately flock to the cart of books that each school has for the volunteers to read to their kids.  Most of our books arrive in our schools via donation so it is unsurprising to see a smattering of outdated, drab picturebooks and the classics like Berenstain Bears, several copies of Goodnight Moon, a handful of Dahl books, and oh yeah, books about trucks…cause boys apparently only like trucks?  Honestly, an overall unimpressive collection.  We are trying to get modern kids excited about books here people.  And the thing is…that I get it.  When I moved to NYC I donated 3 boxes of books…none of which were my favorites, they were the equivalent to Berenstain Bears – momentarily entertaining but forgettable.  Those are the kinds of books we part with and, therefore, those are the kind of books those who need the most aid receive.  And we walk away, feeling like we did something good.

I have grand plans of books lists and donation drives but…well…when they say beggars can’t be choosers they mean it.  But I do think this experience has made me think more about how I go about donating to charities and how my $12.00 for a new amazing book or my sacrifice of my own copy is really such a tiny easy thing for me to do.

 

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 2:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Well, Everyone Else Seems to Love it But….

Have I distracted you enough?  Have you noticed my complete LACK of reading children’s books in the last month?  Lets face it, it has been a complete lack of reading in general. Oh yeah, it might be because of this giant move to New York.  Between packing boxes, agonizing over which books to bring into my small new apartment, unpacking boxes, wondering around Brooklyn, and starting my new job I have managed to not only purchase a book but also read it.

Luckily, Suzanne Collins was there to motivate me out of my slump with her finale to her three-part series, Mockingjay.  Unfortunately, the anticipated sequel to Hunger Games and Catching Fire left me kind of….meh?  Complete with shoulder shrugs and squinty face.

Don’t get me wrong, this book has got some killer plot ideas (no pun intended…well maybe a little bit) but for me, plot means nothing when the writing is lacking and I, as a result, am distanced from the characters.  And that means a lot because I loved these characters in the other two books, I felt connected and informed.  I don’t know if Collins was on some rushed deadline or what but her prose is sorely lacking in Mockingjay.  In fact, there is this particularly awful bit where the first person narrator slips into a third person narration and whether it is done in some attempt of dramatic effect or not it is extremely off-putting and feels out of character for Katniss.

I will also note that Collins had quite a challenge with Katniss.  It is hard to connect a reader to someone who is slowly losing their grasp on their ability to deal with emotions in general.  It is emotions, these fundamental aspects of all humanity, that are common links between characters and audiences and when they are not present (other than simple lines like “Later, the human feelings will come”) because your character can’t even process them it is hard to get connected.  In the same breath, I think it is interesting to present such a character and I may have been thinking a lot more about that if the first half of this book hadn’t disconnected me.

The prose also has a static feel, as if Collins completely relied on her engaging plot to suffice.  There is little description of reoccurring characters (I had no idea what Gale or Finnick looked liked other than ‘handsome’).  And you know what, I can’t blame her for thinking that way.  The gigantic fandom of the Twilight series has proved that it is plot, not prose, that matters to most readers and it seems, at least in the case of Mockingjay, that Collins has joined in.

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 1:58 pm  Comments (2)  

How Do You Know?

I have been interviewing for some positions in New York where I would be working with local kids to enhance their love of reading.  Sounds pretty great, right?  Fingers, toes, arms, legs, and eyes crossed.  But my experience running to and from Boston and New York and wandering around Brooklyn for hours has got me thinking a lot about what books I would want to introduce to the kids of these neighborhoods.  Needless to say, most of these kids are getting an academic experience that weakly reflects their own life.  They are reading books about white kids, about economically comfortable worlds, and the books that do represent minorities are usually minorities functioning within majorities, none of which are representations of the neighborhoods I would be working with in New York City.

When thinking about books for early readers with a broader concept of race and class there are two ways to think about it.  1) The idealist position where race and class are constructed as obsolete 2) A representation of race and class differs from the stereotypical representations (white/wealthy).

While I love option number one, we are just not culturally there yet and the selections of books are few and far between.  Vera B. Williams’ “More, More, More, Said the Baby” does a really great job at this, representing multicultural families who act almost exactly the same.


I truly think there would be more on this list if class was taken out of the equation.  Oh-so-many books that represent minorities as the norm are coupled with environments that are full of stuff.  Lots of toys, lots of comfy furniture, lots of space; aka lots of markers of class.  Examples:  Molly Bang’s “Ten, Nine, Eight” and Susan Meyers’ “Everywhere Babies”

This leaves me to mostly work within option number two which, luckily, is full of possibilities.  I immediately turn to my 2009 obsession:  Jacqueline Woodson.  She has written novels and picturebooks that have truly enriched the discussion of race and class in children’s literature.  Her picturebook “Visiting Day” tells the story of a young girl who is cared for by her Grandmother and their visit to her father in jail and “Our Gracie Aunt” deals with two children who are  sent to their Aunt’s home by a social worker since their mother is no longer able to care of them.  Both are lovingly told and openly accept the narratives and the characters as they are.  These are stories that are rarely told but commonly experienced and offer an opportunity for a child to see a true reflection of their life AND if the child does not have those experiences the books offer a position of acceptance, or normality, of such situations.

One issue I do have with “Visiting Day” is the representation of all of the police force outside and inside the jail as white, grimacing men.  It visually creates a line between the races that I think works negatively.  But is this is an honest representation?  I am a white girl from suburbia after all.  Do I have a right to seek this idealistic approach?  Would a child find fallacy in a multiracial police force?

It is empowering to see what kind of work a book can do and I am beginning to feel the pressure of the complexities that arise and the compromises that must be made when you are putting together a book list for 75 children in a school where over 8 nationalities are represented.  It really is all so exciting.

Geez.  And I don’t even have the job yet.

Published in: on August 17, 2010 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Was Made for Summer

A dear dear friend of mine (who also happens to be the biggest blog lurking addict I know) says she loves getting little snippits of blogger’s real life.  Most likely the people checking this blog are quite familiar with my real life cause they are my pals but why not think positively about some advantageous child lit lover stumbling upon my little world and loving it.  I see no harm in that.  In fact, I see only glory and a stroked ego and I never say no to such things.  So, since I have been busy in New York doing job interviews, I don’t have any child lit genius to drop on you today so here is what my last three weeks have been like:

(Plus, let’s face it, my mom is gonna dig this.  And based on my comments counter, she is my biggest fan.  Gotta please the fans.)

Deer Island

The first touch of summer ocean.

Brighton, MA

Yep.  You guessed it.  That’s me.  On a skateboard.  Pretty stoked about it.

Boston Harbor

Pre-yoga stretches by the waterfront

Plymouth Harbor

Where running, jumping, underwater swimming, and a puppy birthday party ensued.

Preparing for the epic Arboretum water balloon fight.

Summer never felt so good.

Photos by Reid Haithcock and (Beloved Boston Newcomer) Angela Owens

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 8:59 pm  Comments (1)