Bubblegum Flavored Gender, Sex, and Romance

Absolutely, Positively Not by Larochelle
A perky book about coming out. Seriously. Steven's best friend Rachel already knew, and his parents just tell him not to tell the other parent. But basically it all works out okay, and he even finds a support group. It's nice to see some bubblegum fiction for gay teens.

The Breakup Bible by Kantor
Why was I drawn to this book about what it feels like to be broken up with cold, left hanging with no explanation, and then find that one's boyfriend has taken up with someone else on the staff of the school paper? I don't know, but it worked for me. The cover is pink, and this is book 2 of the bubblegum reviews in this post, though the protagonist Jen does come to terms well with her new assessment of her ex-boyfriend. He is, in fact, a jerk. Convenient that he is... the real heartbreaks are over people who *are* worth it. Anyhow, this is another 1-hour teen fic romp if you're in the mood for hetero romance.


Parrotfish by Wittlinger

Or maybe you're looking for something a little more transsexual... Though the tone is heavier as Angela changes her name to Grady and his gender to Male, the basic bubblegum principles of this post continue to operate. Parents are upset, but Dad comes around quickly, and Mom starts calling him Grady within a few short weeks or less. Geeky Sebastien asks Angela out to the dance, but is cool when Grady replies that he doesn't date girls. My personal favorite portion of this was the clueless father who forces the entire family to enact 19th century Christmas traditions for the entire neighborhood to see each year, entirely missing the irony of the power plant worth of Christmas lights and lawn ornamentation that stands between then 19th century scene inside and the neighborhood onlookers. Ever wondered how hard it would be to be transsexual? Ever wondered how hard it would be to be the neighborhood freak whose father thinks he's Santa Claus? Now you can experience two for one!

Someday This Pain....

I hope that someday the pain of reading <span style="font-style:italic;">Someday This Pain will be Useful to You by Peter Cameron will be useful to me. I found this on the Horn Book Fanfare list, and picked it up with high expectations. The opening did not disappoint... our protagonist James and his sister Gillian are rich Manhattan kids whose mother is off in Las Vegas on her third honeymoon when suddenly their mother comes back. This is not like the ending of the Cat in the Hat though. Instead, it's the start of a story about James' depressed mother dealing with the fact that her marriage lasted only days until her husband snuck off with her credit cards to the casino for some gambling and lap dances. The first few chapters are great. Then the novel loses steam. This is very much like Catcher in the Rye, but James is less appealing than Holden. Enormous amounts of inner monologue seem overblown for a character with a pretty desolate emotional life, as he proves when he stalks and sexually harrasses his coworker through an online site. Similarly, entire therapy sessions are recounted in toto, which does not substitute for plot. I kept expecting the therapist to diagnose him with mild autism, Aspberger's, or a personality disorder, and frankly I was disappointed when she didn't.

I did read the book all the way through, which is probably why the above is so full of vitriol. When I do finish a book and I feel that, like this book, it has led me on a pointless wander, I get irked. Ah, the many opportunities that books give me to know more about myself as a reader... Kate the Irkable.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This is a newfangled graphic novel with an satisfying story. Hugo Cabret is an orphan who has been abandoned by his drunkard uncle. Hugo hides in the train station, continuing to do his uncle's job of winding the station clocks. He also works on the automaton that he rescued from the rubble of the museum where his father was killed in a fire. The boy has become convinced that, if he can fix the clockwork man whose mechanical hand holds a pen poised over paper, he will find a message from his father. What he finds instead is more complex and leads him on a goose-chase through movie history that ends when our orphan protagonist finds a home with a once-famous filmmaker. The reader has a rare treat in the cinematic complexity of the book, which shifts between textual narrative and black-and-white movie stills reminiscent of silent movies. Indeed, there is some true film history buried in the fictional story.

I found myself wondering about the paper that this required. Even though I appreciated many of the expressive images, there would have been other ways of conveying some of the moods without flipping through so many film stills. There was an eco-friendly designer whose major treatise on design was printed on readily biodegradable paper; at 534 pages, this book could use some environmental friendliness. From a design standpoint, far too many of the book's images are marred or partially obscured by the gutter created by the binding.

Admittedly, fragility is not becoming in a children's book, and this is a solidly children's title; the illustrations are often literal depictions of what is happening. All in all, I enjoyed this greatly, but wished for... more. More surprises in the overall effect of the story, more care in the book design, more impressive art.

A fantasy trilogy to be reckoned with...

The Magic or Madness series by Justine Larbalestier
Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons, and Magic's Child

Any book reviewer knows that talking about trilogies is tricky... How much does it matter if you've read the other books? What will you lose if you treat them as one enormous narrative rather than three distinct books? So the short answer is, you could read these separately, but you won't want to once you start the first.

Reason is the child of Sarafina, who has kept them on the run all of their lives from Reason's grandmother, Esmerelda. Esmerelda is magic, uses magic, and drained young Sarafina of her magic as a child. This is a world where people who are born magic but die young, and the choice is this: either they use their magic and live to maybe 30 (unless they feed off the young) or they don't use it and go insane. The story begins when Sarafina has finally succumbed to all her years of resisting magic by losing her mind. Reason, who was raised to believe in science, logic, and above all math, has landed at Esmerelda's house, thanks to the Australian child welfare system.

But Reason doesn't plan to stay, not even after she meets Tom, a boy her age, whom her grandmother has taken in along with his family. Reason is guarded, and Esmerelda told Tom not to tell Reason about magic, and so much of the tension in the first book is watching how little these characters actually say to one another about what is happening.

The entire trilogy takes place over the course of a few weeks, as Reason's plans to leave are complicated when she discovers a magic door in the back of her grandmother's house that transports her instantly from Sydney to New York City and from summer to winter. The combination of Aussie teen slang and New York misunderstandings is amusing but never slapstick. Larbalestier has created a robust and contemporary fantasy setting that is entrancing without being flighty or etherial and well worth the 3-book reading.

The rest of my Thanksgiving break reading

What I've been reading most, lately, are IMLS grant guidelines, my own draft of a grant, my own abstract for a paper that I'll be presenting in January, my own draft of what I thought was the same paper but actually turns out to be quite different than I expected, and my own journal. I keep journals in 3-ring binders, and I look at the pages twice; once when I write them and once when I revisit them to put them in the binder, usually 1-3 months later. It helps me remember what I've actually been doing, where I've actually been, and keeps me from setting unbelievably unrealistic goals for myself.

Now on to the really fun and juicy stuff that I read over Thanksgiving break but haven't yet blogged...


Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst

The Wild is a mass of green vines that lives under Julie's bed. Her mother, Rapunzel, and other fairy tale characters want to keep it that way, and keep the wild from trapping them in their old stories and making them play out the same scenarios again and again. Until, one day, the Wild gets loose and starts to expand again, taking over familiar landscape in Julie's Massachusetts town. Her mother and grandmother are among the first to be re-assimilated into the Wild, which seems to have vicious plans of its own for those it captures. Julie is thrown into multiple tales, but she learns to survive because, as some of the more helpful people-becoming-characters tell her, she will keep her memories of her real life so long as none of the stories that she enters in to ever comes to a logical end. When she's pulled into the tale of Snow White, she's almost gone for good. Even though 7th grade is less appealing on many levels than the Wild, Julie fights the good fight and saves the world from becoming an endless mass of repeating tales.

My favorite quote from the book (with spoilers):
"On the other side of the door was the real world, with all its embarrassments, disappointments, and losses. In here was happily ever after. Here was the father she'd always dreamed of having. Yes, he was the Wild's puppet, but he was here. She had a chance to make up for all those lost years. If she stayed with him, she would always have a role, the prince's daughter. The future wouldn't be a scary unknown. [...] And yet...five hundred years ago, Mom had chosen the real world over the Wild, and Dad had sacrificed himself to give it to her. [...] Julie felt as if she'd swallowed a tornado, and it was churning inside her, tearing her up." (pgs 243-244)


The Faerie Path
by Frewin Jones

Anita discovers that she is really Tania, the lost faerie princess of 7 sisters. What at first seems like a dream when she is hospitalized after a boating accident just won't end. The faerie kingdom was plunged into a gloomy twilight for the 500 years of her disappearance, and no one wants to see her go missing again. However, Tania/Anita is eager to get back to her real world parents and tell them she's okay.

The book is great for a frilly escape, complete with romance and a deceptively charming villain. There are some problems with the logic, like the insertion of reincarnation as the explanation for her 16-year-old current life and the 500-year gap since she went missing. The ending is also mildly annoying in that it's all set up for the sequel... I always feel like I've been had when I read an ending like that. After 200+ pages of sticking with you, don't I, the reader, get an ending of my own? Complaints aside, this was great fun, and I'd recommend it for a holiday.


Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson

Okay, first... this book is scary! I was scared when the kid was just lost in the underground river under an enormous mountain with a dead body. You'd think it would get really scary when he meets a live guy who has been there for 3 years and seems to have some screws loose. But no, the scary part is when his mother is tied up on her bed by a bunch of guys who are eager for the treasure lost in the mountain. She's helpless and unable to contact anyone who might legitimately want to rescue her son, Tom. I was glad I held back from giving this one as a gift to my friend's son Isaac, because I think it's really too scary for somebody 8 years old. The protagonist is 11, and I think an adventuresome 11-year-old could handle it, especially if they're slightly desensitized to violence already. This is a great read, but if you're like me you'll have to finish reading it all at once in order to go to bed without nightmares.

On Me as a Reader, and The Game by Diana Wynne Jones

Part of why I keep this blog is my fascination with the process of reading, how reading engrosses readers, how I see myself in books (and assume others do the same). My interest in reading was cemented at a young age; my mother told me that, when I was about 6 or 7, I told her I wanted to be a reader when I grew up. Not a writer, mind you, but a reader. I did get interested in writing later, but in truth if someone would pay me to read all day, I'd do it. I'm good at it. I'm observant and easily hit fiction speeds of well over 100 pages per hour. Admittedly, as I write this, I see that my careers to date--librarian, professor--may be as close as I'll ever come to well-paid work that requires me to read.

My reading preferences change continuously, but occasionally I find a book that reminds me that there are landmarks in my tastes, like the following 2007 release....


The Game by Diana Wynne Jones

Whenever I see a new book by Diana Wynne Jones (despite her being one of my favorite authors, I always refer to her by her entire tripartite name--I'll use DWJ for brevity here), I am eager to dive in and just read. If you haven't read her work, I recommend Howl's Moving Castle for starters, The Lives of Christopher Chant next, and then what I consider to be her crowning achievement, The Dark Lord of Derkholm. She's so good at handling multiple characters in succinct language that you feel as if you have distinctive portraits rather than a crowd. And when she turns her formidable powers to multiple worlds, and the effects are stunning.

For me, there are few let-downs in DWJ's oeuvre, and when I find one, it usually tells me more about my taste than it does about her writing. I found one in Dogsbody, in which an apparently everyday dog turns out to actually be the star Sirius sent to earth on a quest. My disappointment stemmed from having to let go of the humorous pleasure of the everyday dog character and instead see him in a cosmic role. The Game held a similar disappointment.

First, let me say that the opening is great fun, as the protagonist, orphan-girl Hayley, is kicked out of her grandmother's house for mysterious reasons after frolicking in a parallel universe called the Mythosphere with a musician she calls Flute. The outcast Hayley is sent to Ireland, where she first meets her enormous brood of aunts and cousins. DWJ handles this with graceful aplomb. The mass of cousins blur a bit, but the aunts are utterly distinct, and the two cousins who become Hayley's closets allies, Harmony and Troy, are crisply drawn. The Game is led by eldest cousin Harmony and played among the children, who enter the Mythosphere unbeknownst to their aunts or grandparents, to retrieve golden apples, stars from Orion's belt, and other magical objects.

For me, the let-down comes because Hayley is not really a little girl at all, but a comet, Hayley's Comet I suppose, in the mythosphere. The years she spent at her grandparents' house (her grandfather is Atlas) were in fact eons, which explains for Hayley why her grandmother's discipline felt so unendingly confining.

The book is well-written, and especially fun to read for fans of Greek mythology, although Baba Yaga makes an appearance as do other characters from folklore. What I learn from this let-down experience, and that of Dogsbody, is something about myself. As a fantasy reader, I want my protagonist to be an ordinary person (or dog) in extraordinary circumstances. I want the magic to be near them, around them, even part of them, but I don't want dogs and little girls to turn out to be stars and comets. I find it revealing myself to realize that I lose interest once the protagonist could not, by any stretch of improbability, be "me." The puzzle doesn't seem worth solving if I have to sit back and watch a supernatural protagonist solve her troubles using levels of capability well beyond that of mere mortals.

It's more than disappointing, though, because I end up feeling deceived. I came to like the character under false pretenses, and once the trick is revealed, reading the rest of the book is more of a mechanical who-fits-where in mythology than it is a revealing and meaningful journey. After all, can stars and comets grow and learn like people? Is it any wonder that Hayley is able to rescue her parents, Merope and Sisyphus, from Jupiter's traps? She's a comet... what can't they do???

I prefer my protagonists to be more real than exceptional, more human than supernatural, and more flawed and capable of growth than remote and perfect.

2 great books, 2 duds

Bloom by Elizabeth Scott
It's as though this book opens after all the typical YA romance books end. Lauren has the great football-player boyfriend and the popular best friend, but her life feels hollow. Until Evan comes back to town, Evan who was briefly a trial step-sibling thanks to one of Lauren's father's ill-advised bouts of shacking up with girlfriends. Evan knows her past, and what's more he makes her weak in the knees. Watching her weakness is part of the fun here, including that weakness that keeps her from breaking up with her official boyfriend like she should. It makes her more human that she can't bear to face her own feelings directly, and not until Evan's mother points out that her two-timing behavior is "just like your father" does Lauren realize that she has to make things right. Evan takes her as she is in the end, which makes this a satisfying story of a girl who seeks substance, hesitates when she finds it, but survives despite her own mistakes.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
This is the most engrossing piece of children's fiction I've read in a long time. Reynie Muldoon is a gifted child and an orphan who opts to take some "special tests" administered by a nameless organization. Of course, they're recruiting a team of 4 brilliant children in order to save the world from a villain who uses the school he calls the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened to do his evil work. The real thrills come not in the derring-do of our child heroes in the last chapters of the story, but along the way. For instance, during the tests, the 4 kids who will become our world-saving team each finds his/her own inimitable way to solve the puzzles set out before them. For example, while Sticky actually knows all the answers to one of the written tests, Raynie figures out that the test is in a kind of code and deciphers it that way. Similarly, there are physical challeges which Kate aces through her acrobatic prowess (she was raised in the circus) and Constance simply refuses to engage in that Raynie and Sticky navigate by finding loopholes in the instructions. It's rare that a book is so good that I refuse to give away the ending on my blog; usually I'm thinking more of my own record keeping than of my blog readers' pleasure. On this one, though, I'm going to be pretty circumspect. If you like puzzle books and mental challenges, this one's a must-read.


***duds below***

The following books were duds for me, this holiday reading spree. This is not to say that they are bad books, and in point of fact I didn't finish either of them, so my opinion probably shouldn't even be counted. However, I do like to keep track of what I read or try to read, so I'm recording my ill-informed reactions here. And now for my personal holiday duds:

Muddle Earth by Stewart and Riddell
I put this one down just now, after 2 days of making myself pick it up. If I were in the mood for a fantasy spoof with Monty Python humor, I'd read it, but I'm not. The one criticism I do have is that there are all these "secrets" that characters are constantly about to blurt out before being interrupted by other characters. And no one ever follows up... But it's clearly got some great humor, and I think if I were 11 I'd be absolutely sold. Still, it's my Thanksgiving and I get to read what I want. :P


Nacky Pratcher... by Jeffrey Kluger

It's possible that I'll want to give this one another shot... the BCCB gave it a star, after all, so it may be a Blue Ribbons contender for next year. For now, though, I'm putting it down. The tone is small-town, twee, and numbingly sincere in its cuteness. Not my style for now at least. Holidays are about escape reading! That book just makes me feel like I'm stuck at a family holiday gathering listening to pointless stories. I know, I know, some of you are thinking "Kate, I'm shocked that a storyteller like yourself doesn't appreciate her own family stories!" Well, all I can say is that narratives don't really make it out alive from a dysfunctional/alcoholic and other drugs/attention deficit disorder family like mine. The shreds of story that survive are typically nonsensical to outsiders and painful to insiders. You'll just have to trust me on this one.

Slam by Nick Hornby

I love Hornby's writing in general, and I learned why in the jacket flap copy of this book where a New Yorker reviewer called him "the maestro of the male confessional." That's why.

That said, this is not his best effort. Sam unwittingly becomes a 16-year-old father, just like his 32-year-old mother did in her time. The portrayal of the situation is realistic, with Sam spacing out when things get too emotionally tricky. However, the narrative itself invokes skater Tony Hawk and time travel in ways that are amusing for awhile, but ultimately distracting. I found the narrative really dragging when, after Sam has flashed forward to the future, we then arrive at that future and plod through the events again, albeit with a wiser Sam. The time travel felt like a device to show that he had grown rather than an organic component of the story. However, Sam's obsession with that incessant quotation from Tony Hawk's autobiography were convincing, reflecting the power of adolescent obsession.

I'd recommend it for Hornby (and male confessional) fans, but not for the general reader. If you're starting with Hornby, read About a Boy or High Fidelity instead.

2 new YA novels

I know, dear readers, that most of you who read me read because, well, you want good reads. I know because you've told me, so this one's for you:


Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

This princess book is as cool and refreshing as its chick-lit counterparts are pink and frothy. Miri is a mountain girl who, along with all the other girls of the proper age in her village, are forced to attend Princess Academy. The Prince needs a bride, and his advisors have augured that she will come from Mount Eskel. Miri and her compatriots are treated like backwards idiots by the woman who runs the academy. Fortunately, they band together and outwit their oppressor. Unfortunately, bandits come to the mountain, and the princesses-in-training face mortal danger. All ends well in this magical story because Miri discovers the secrets of Mount Eskel's single export, linder stone, which in addition to being strong, light, and beautiful, is also capable of carrying the mountain dweller's thoughts to one another over long distances. Strongly recommended escapist reading for the holidays.


The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda
Leo inherits a music box from his Great Aunt Bethany along with explicit instructions about how to let it play. As he examines the box, he is struck by the impossibly intricate detail of the paintings on the box. Fortunately for the reader (but unfortunately for Leo), his cousin Mimi breaks the rules, and the two of them find themselves in the land of Rondo, where Langlanders like himself are considered characters of old folk stories. The Blue Queen holds Mimi's dog Mutt ransom, and their perilous quest to her castle is plagued with uncertainty as they struggle to determine whom they can trust of those who offer to help. The world of Rondo is brought to a twee and creepy kind of life with such details as the "dots," little gingerbread men who swarm like cockroaches on any unattended food. Sequels are sure to follow, and Rodda's next efforts will certainly be worth reading.

History and What Makes You Not a Buddhist

What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse

A guide to Buddhism for Westerners that's chock full of very hip, timely examples that will date the book within a year. Until I finished the book and was ready to drop it like a hot potato with its judgmental ending metaphor--that not believing the 4 noble truths is like reading a medicine bottle and not taking the medicine--I had not noticed the implicit judgment in the title itself. It actually tells the reader up front that you are not a Buddhist. This guy is to Pema Chodoron like kayaking the Colorado River rapids are to canoeing on a placid lake. I don't trust his take on emotions. I find this with a lot of men who write about Buddhism. They treat emotions like annoying children that just need discipline rather than potential sources of wisdom.

History: A Very Short Introduction by John Arnold

This couldn't be shorter, but it's chock full of good insights about why and how to do history. My favorite story within the book was about the multiple versions of Sojourner Truth's famous Ain't I a Woman speech, which appeared in both standard English and dialect versions. The dialect version captured the public imagination, but historians believe the standard version was more likely to be her actual voice. This begs all sorts of interesting questions about the appearance of authenticity and the question of accuracy. My favorite metaphor was that of history as a "foreign land," because I think this is how I orient myself to my historical work. I look at the past for moments when things changed, and then try to understand as best I can what happened in the "country" of the past such that the shift I've identified occurred.

Storytelling and a novel

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
Pink believes that the world of work is undergoing a shift, as we enter a "new age" that will require more right-brained work, as opposed to traditional left-brained approaches. He says that "high concept" and "high touch" skills are outstripping analytical thinking in the changing occupational landscape.

"High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new. High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interactions, to find joy in one's self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuite of purpose and meaning." (p. 2-3)

All good things, I think. And it's a fun roller-coaster of an argument, zipping from laughing clubs to video games. I think it's right that the best librarians have empathy with their clientele. But it's a slick little book that really doesn't offer much beyond general economics to back up Pink's main argument, that the work world is changing. It also takes for granted a level of wealth/consumerism and therefore luxury lifestyle that isn't the case for all people.

Of all he wrote, I most enjoyed (and xeroxed for possible future use in the storytelling class) the chapter on Story. He gives a snappy and pretty right-on summary of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces:
"The hero's journey has three main parts: Departure, Initiation, and Return. The hero hears a call, refuses it at first, and then crosses the threshold into a new world. During Initiation, he faces stiff challenges and stares into the abyss. But along the way--usually with the help of mentors who give the hero a divine gift--he transforms and becomes at one with his new self. Then he returns, becoming the master of two worlds, committed to improving each." (p. 103)

Some of his story exercises are good enough that I'm going to adapt them to the storytelling class, probably as forum postings. "Write a mini-saga" (p. 117-118) is one of those (thanks Carol T. for pointing this one out!) and "Play the Cartoon Captions Game" (p. 202) is another.


My Summer of Southern Discomfort by Stephanie Gayle
It has been years since I picked a book by its jacket description from the new book shelves of the public library and took it home to see what I could see. This was a lovely read, great for bedtime except for a few gruesome bits. Natalie is a lawyer who, after a devastating affair and professional betrayal, transplants herself from New York to Macon, GA. She makes all the wrong moves socially, as a nervous northerner who considers all smalltalk invasive. She works for the DA on a capital case which shakes her to the core, as she is opposed to capital punishment. There's a love interest, but the book focuses on her own process of coming to understand the Southern culture and the specific people around her.

I liked this description of the guy who will become her love interest:
"He is thirty-three, thus age appropriate, and one handsome Gentile: blond hair, blue eyes, and a great smile. Unfortunately, he is plagued by a need to make sure that everything is operating as it should. I cannot remember a time I felt things were operating as they should." (p. 16)
I occasionally fall victim to that same plague.

things I read in summer 2003

I've had many unsuccessful attempts to track what I was reading. Among them, a little notebook covered with fish. These entries are from there...

The Lovely Bones by Sebold
Haunting story (literally) narrated by the ghost of a girl raped and killed in the opening scene. The rest is her view from heaven...
"A fourteen, my sister sailed away from me into a place I'd never been. In the walls of my sex there was horror and blood, in the walls of hers there were windows." (p 125)
Anyone who has even had a friend who told them about sexual trauma can relate to an aspect of this quote.
Great last line: "I wish you all a long and happy life."

Straight Man by Russo
College professor in a small town, only moderately successful, starts talking out loud by accident, when he thinks he's not speaking. People talk back. He melts down slowly, until one day he threatens to kill a duck a day until he has a budget for the English department.

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore
(I hope she will write more novels...)
Small, elegantly written book, interweaves a story of a present-day marriage in trouble with past recollections of a girlhood friendship. Amazing use of imagery, of prose as poetry. Set in a French Canadian town called Horsehearts.

Articles on storytelling, storytimes

"Storytime Model for Large Groups" by Amanda Williams, in Children and Libraries v5 n2, p. 27
Pithy article that gives a template for best practices in such storytimes, based on her dissertation work, which in turn was based on about interviews with practicing librarians. What she writes holds true in my experience, but it's one of those dogged old difficulties with programming: the joy is in the spectacular presence of one's self with one's audience. Boiling this down into a template of best practices drains all that interactive joy, even when Williams spells out that this is a "guide" and needs adjustment for specific situations. Good article, very helpful for new practitioners especially and for those without a performance background who might feel overwhelmed with large groups. And yet the heart of the storyhour, its basis in storytelling practices of audience interaction even when the materials themselves are entirely print-based and no actual storytelling is occurring, is missing from this piece.

"The Digital and Traditional Storytimes Research Project" by Lauren Collen, Children and Libraries v4 n3, p. 8
I wrote about this one before, but it belongs here too because, like the article above, it's missing fundamental ideas about storytelling that make the storytime what it is. In this case, there's an egregious gap in the comparative methodology, so that children being read a story by an adult in the front of the room (visually interacting with a real person) are compared to children sitting along side an adult looking at a screen (interacting with a screen). You could make an argument that the 2nd version decenters the classroom, as it were, but I think it's deceptive to say that. Of course children talk less to the screen, as the finding indicate. A screen doesn't talk back, and so is inherently less interactive for preschoolers than a live person talking to them. Again, useful for days and a really important beginning in the literature of children and media in storyhours, but it's missing an understanding of storytelling.

"Using technology for storytelling: tools for children" by Lesley Farmer in New Review of Children's Literature and Librarianship v10n2, p155 (based in the UK)
Nice list of tools and lesson plans, but the word "storytelling" is never defined. Yes, narrative is good for children (p.1), but what does children's own storytelling have to do with that? There are tons of questions to be asked about how, when, and most especially why children need digital storytelling. There are excellent arguments for this, that include going beyond the consumer-level attitude towards technology and towards producer-level knowledge, making children writers as well as readers of online texts. But those arguments aren't made here, so it reads as another in a long line of "cool" ideas without pedagogical justification.

"The Enchanted Imagination: Storytelling's Power to Entrance Listeners" by Brian Sturm, School Library Media Reseach v2, 1999
This article is outstanding in that is complements writings by storytellers about best practices in that artform with research on why elements like visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning are relevant to this oral art form. Sturm's claim that listeners experience an altered state of consciousness is interesting and the research is persuasive, although I wonder how those who say we are "always telling stories" would respond. It raises questions too about how cultural expectations of attentiveness during story and other performances (theater, music, etc.) contribute to the experience of states of consciousness. If the researcher was looking for d-ASC (discrete altered states of consciousness) and the people are expecting the same at such events, then while it's still a compelling paper it's perhaps less surprising than it might be. Since no differentiation was made by age, this leaves many questions about how children are enculturated into such events.

I know others will argue that storytelling is the most natural method of communication, and to be honest I ride the fence on this one. Is it nature or nurture, and what does it mean if it's one or the other? Or both? I don't think understanding a storytelling performance requires nearly the same level of enculturation as, say, understanding a Beethoven symphony performance (don't clap at the ends of movements!).

Shirley Brice Heath in "What No Bedtime Story Means" found that there were different cultural norms concerning how books were read to children, how adults interacted with children about books, in different home-based cultural settings.

However, Sturm said he meant to raise questions, and he does so while also presenting some really striking findings about the "reader response" of storytelling audiences.

Agassiz in The Metaphysical Club


The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand

Subtitle is "A Story of Ideas in America," and indeed that's what it is, a big honking book, some of which I skimmed. The most interesting bits to me relate to my own research, including the resurgence of John Dewey's ideas after the demise of the cold war (discussed in the conclusion) and chapter 6, which is devoted to William James' involvement with Louis Agassiz. Here's the most compelling bit about Agassiz, who I'm curious about because of Caroline Hewins' Agassiz nature study club, founded in about 1878. Basically, I'm interested in the intersection of the growth of scientific ideas with the growth of children's literature in the late 19th century, which nonfiction books were strongly promoted by librarians as the best reading for children (I presented on aspects of this topic twice last year in different venues, once at the Education in Print Culture conf. in Madison and once at the Children's Lit. Assn. conf.). (It's my blog, I can abbreviate if I want to...)

Menand is contrasting Darwin with Agassiz, and comes up with a great succinct description of the ontological problems with Agassiz's work. (Agassiz was also profoundly racist, which was another of his problems.):
"When we look as Agassiz's work we think we are seeing a confusion between science and belief. But what we are really seeing is a disjunction between those things. This is what Asa Gray had meant when he said that Agassiz had no scientific explanation for the phenomena he observed; for Agassiz had only his observations on one side and his theory on the other. His science wasn't theoretical and his theory wasn't scientific. His ideas are edifices perched on top of mountains of data. Darwin's ideas are devices for generating data. Darwing' theory opens possibilities for inquiry; Agassiz closes them." (p. 141)

Hewins was of her time, and certainly ascribe to the Victorian idea of the finite, knowable universe, which is consonant with Agassiz's ideas. Agassiz was also a rock star at the time, giving sold-out lectures in Boston to thousands... who can blame a children's librarian of the 1870s for getting caught up in the frenzy?

reading for the Gryphon award

Here I am, posting in a potentially controversial matter, as I keep track of what I read and yet also take part in the Gryphon Award selection. So let me disclaim: I'll be writing about books that are some of the many, many contenders. I won't be writing about all the books I read. In other words, friends and publishers, I won't be giving away secrets here.

That said, I've enjoyed reading...
Becoming Teddy Roosevelt by Claudia Mills
The protagonist is a kid who has little money but big ambitions to play the saxophone. In 4th grade, the music instructor has given kids the option to buy or rent instruments, but our hero can afford neither. Meanwhile, he and his classmates are assigned "famous people in history" about whom they must complete a report and as whom they must dress up and attend a tea party. Surprisingly, after much complaining, the kids actually get into the idea.

The most poignant moments are when the main character notes all the videogames and other things his well-off best friend owns, because he does so without sentimentality or raging envy. The prose suggests that this is the way it is, he has less money than his friend, and that creates an obstacle for things like playing saxophone. All ends well, as it usually does with school-based middle-grade short novels.

Pierce article and re-reading

"When Girls Go Wrong" by Jennifer Burek Pierce, in LQ v77 n3
Pierce does a smashing job of simply, clearly, and concisely situation historical observations from an array of sources within larger social questions about how reading fit into young peoples' ways of spending time. She's critical of librarians' claims that they could keep girls "safe" in libraries, but at the same time situates those criticisms within a cultural context.

In concrete terms, this article shows me that examining the rhetoric of librarians' surveys of children is a great direction for future research.

Eclectic Goddess

When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone
Not a scintillating read, but synthesizes much scholarship about cultures in which a goddess was worshiped as the creator of the world.

The Tenth Power by Kate Constable
Another goddess story... this is the 3rd in a series of YA novels about a girl who is raised in a magic-singing goddess-worshiping society. Unfortunately, she loses her magical powers, travels across the land, and realizes that magic-singing is only one of the many powers that people on her world have. One of ten, in fact. Fortunately, in this one she saves the world. The series is fun, not the best fantasy ever, but reasonably entertaining reads.

Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah
This contains a story I love: Fatima the Spinner. Absolute ruin befalls her three times, but out of each of her recoveries she gains skills that make her unique, until she pleases the Emperor of China by making him a tent. Thanks to Anna Z. for telling it ably and powerfully in class several years ago.

Books about children's culture

That I in no way have time to read right now, what with all the other projects I have cooking. But I borrowed them with the idea that I would eventually look at storytellign in public libraries as one instance of the culture of children's public spaces. Lots of ways I could frame this: culture of arts experiences for children, culture of literary experiences for children, or as part of children in public. When do children get to be part of the public?

Books include:
Habermas (good old Habermas) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
Derevenski, Children and Material Culture (coming out of archaeology)
Cross, The Cute and the Cool (contemporary pop culture)
Michell and Reid-Walsh, Researching Children's Popular Culture
Valentine, Public Space and the Culture of Childhood (contemporary UK)

just before the semester starts

Here's what I've been/am reading at the bittersweet end of the summer:

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd
Memoir of a Southern Baptist preacher's wife who starts to see that the feminine and more specifically women in general are left out, excluded, even denigrated by her all-male-god religion up to this point in her life. And then she starts to radically re-envision her relationship to the church, to the divine, to the world. Parts read like a feminism primer, but she doesn't bog down too much in definitions. This book made me appreciate both the era in which I came of age (thank you 1960s/70s feminists!!!) and my own early feisty intuition (at the age of 13) that there was something deeply amiss about the use of the pronoun "He" to refer to God in the Christian tradition.

And I came to that book via my new favorite book...

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I'm not alone in loving this book, but I do truly love it. It's another memoir, but this one of a woman who comes to a turning point in her life after a messy and nasty divorce when the pieces fall into place for her to spend a year traveling to Italy (Eat), India (Pray), and Indonesia (Love). I won't give too much away on this one. Please just go read it.

One quote: "Heck Groceries, you have the capacity to someday love the whole world. It's your destiny. Don't laugh." -Richard from Texas

The Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac
I'm teaching this one this fall, and it's a good elementary and middle-grades read for kids who want scary stories but aren't ready for adult horror. Bruchac draws on his Native American heritage and on research he has done about other groups to craft a tale that incorporates Native legends but uses an entirely contemporary setting, with a main character who is a Native American child (you don't find out she's a girl until some pages into the book). Though I'm a fan of story, I'm not always a fan of the trope of inserting a traditional story into a novel, and indeed the opening is slowed down significantly by a detour retelling of the Skeleton Man legend. (I've heard it told as the Skeleton Woman by Janice Del Negro.)

posting my quiz results

I'm still new enough to blogging that I haven't done any track back thingys. Here are my quiz results, thanks to http://bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com/bookshelves_of_doom/







badge Which PLAIN Jane Are You?

Theatre Jane





If life were a giant Technicolor musical at all times, you'd be pretty psyched. You take the phrase "all the world's a stage" pretty literally.






Take This Quiz More Quizzes

advice for academia

I've spent much of the summer thinking about, reflecting on, and even worrying about the next steps in my career. Finishing the Ph.D. was wonderful and slightly disorienting, just like all big changes.

Two books that I appreciate knowing about but am not reading in full:

Caplan, Paula J. Lifting a Ton of Feathers: A Woman's Guide to Surviving in the Academic World
This book cites tons of research, much of it so very depressing. Great resource, but not the right read for me right now.

Maack and Passet. Aspirations and Mentoring in an Academic Environment: Women Faculty in Library and Information Science.
This one is more fruitful reading for me, and if it weren't so expensive I'd have already bought a copy. As it is, I know I'll be referring to it again because it's so specific to my field.

A memoir, advice for the office, Buddhism, and a novel

It's Easier Than You Think by Sylvia Boorstein
Nothing like rushing through the end of a book on Buddhism so that you can get it "done" and write the blog and get on with your life.... not exactly mindful presence, is it? Boorstein is brilliant in her accessibility. I love her laid-back style, her ease and grace as she talks about how to handle the most difficult things there are using Buddhist principles of mindfulness and compassion.


Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office 101, by Lois P. Frankel

Okay, there was definitely useful advice in this book. The one I'm not taking is to only focus on one goal at a time, because I need to turn the book back in to the library. I'm taking notes here. These are not just for me, but also for my many female students.
--Make a list of the rules of the game at your workplace... observe
--"If you find yourself the only person in a room who disagrees with the consensus It can't be done and think, But I could make it happen, an alarm should go off that you're being naive." (p. 31)
--Sharing too much personal information. This includes bursting into tears in a meeting, in your professor's office, in any setting where you should maintain a professional demeanor.
--Acquiescing to Bullies. Bullies may be ubiquitous, but this does not mean you have to give in. "I feel I'm not being heard" is one tactic, as is focusing on problem solving rather than looking back to the past. Know what your goals are in having any particular conversation.
--Decorating your office like your living room. See Dolores Umbridge in the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
--Making miracles... don't promise deliverables no human could deliver
--Viewing men in authority as "father figures." Ask why you're giving up your power.
--Ignoring the quid pro quo. Be mindful of the exchanges you're engaged in, and both give and take.
--Letting people waste your time. Set boundaries about how much time you have, be clear about your schedule, and end conversations politely but firmly.
--Give feedback effectively: describe the problem, explain how you see the situation and elicit the other person's view, show that you've heard and specify what you want now, make the consequences clear.
--Internalizing girlhood messages about "nice" being more important that Respect.
--Don't assume others know more. Ask "why do you recommend that?" or "How do you know that?"
--Don't tolerate inappropriate behavior. If you can, address it at the time. If you can't, then address it clearly later.
--Speak up! You can support what's been said, ask a question, or offer an opinion. Be part of the conversation.


The Commitment by Dan Savage

A memoir of deciding, ultimately, not to get married as a gay couple in a world in which marriage isn't legal. Savage has written a longstanding sex column, and this memoir delves into his family life. He and Terry have an adopted son, D. J., who at 6 doesn't believe in marriage. But he wants his daddies to stay together. Dan's mom wants them to get married. The most revealing part of the book is when Savage argues that straight people get to be married and still do whatever they want (divorces, threesomes, open marriages... two of the three are in the minority among hetero marriages), while gay people are expected to be absolute paragons of monogamous virtue. Savage has a point, and he unveils many of the assumptions about marriage in general through this arguments.


The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

I read this 10 years ago and it absolutely floored me, rocked my world, brought me to tears. This time through, I didn't finish it. What changed? Me, I suppose... the book is probably the same one I borrowed a decade ago. Maybe I'm just too into nonfiction right now, or maybe I'm just more into the ideas that Gilligan outlined in The Birth of Pleasure. Gilligan analyzes this book, which is why I picked it up again. The other one she analyzes in the same vein is The English Patient. This experience makes me not want to read it.

Storytelling books, teaching storytelling performance

Each of these books spends some time on storytelling performance...

The Way of the Storyteller by Ruth Sawyer
Talks about vocal technique in the chapter "A Technique to Abolish Technique" (p. 131-151). This title more or less captures the attitude that has traditionally been part of children's librarianship in regards to storytelling. The storyteller effaces herself in favor of the tale. And while I see the wisdom in foregrounding the tale over the teller, especially for beginning storytellers, it's an attitude that certainly predates the feminist revolution. For that reason alone, it deserves rethinking.

Olcott had a similar quote in one of her articles:
"The more informal the story hour, the greater the lack of selfconsciousness
(sic) on the part of the children, and this is to be aimed at, as a perfect
effacement of self makes a receptive audience."
from Olcott, Work with Children at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, p70.

However, Sawyer does also talk about the quality of the voice and connects this so musical training, say8ing that it is important to "acquire a listening ear." (p. 132) She advocates proper diaphragmatic breathing, relaxing the vocal muscles. Exercises she mentions include: panting, then speaking A-I-O-U in rhythm and in a natural pitch for your voice, and playing with chest/head voice. (p. 133-140)

Sawyer writes that stories should seem natural: "...that perfect art of seeming improvisation" (p. 142) so that "there may be no distraction of revealed technique." (p. 144) The method she advocates to achieve this end is "That of learning incident by incident, or picture by picture. Never word by word." (p. 142)

She is especially disparaging of anything that appears to be "mechanical" or "mechanically acquired."

Where does that leave the professor of storytelling, whose students demand some mechanics as crutches, so that they know what they should do?


Creative Storytelling by Maguire
In the chapter on "Telling Stories, Maguire has a section on "Using vocal tone, pace and rhythm to stimulate the listener's interest." It is telling (little joke there) that this follows sections on choosing the right time and place for storytelling. That's how I was taught too: that the time and place, even the arrangement of the audience, have a potentially magical power to create a good storytelling experience for the audience. And they do--I believe they do from my experience. But what about performance?

Maguire divides his advice into a handful of bullet points, some of which sound much like Sawyer:
--Speak in low, modulated tones--common error is using a voice that is too high
--Vary the rhythm of your delivery--action passages should be spirited, a low voice is effective for dramatic events, speed up near the end
--Use pauses for special effect--power of the pause to lend drama and energy
--Be flexible with vocabulary--look up synonyms for common words, let certain phrases reflect characterization
--Allow gestures to come naturally--and yet he says to make the gesture before or at the same time as the words it relates to
--Relax, breathe easily, and feel your voice--he references Sawyer here on diaphragm breathing

He mentions Sawyer and Ramon Ross's Storyteller as 2 good sources on the topic. The Ross is available at the CCB: S.808.543 R733s1996


Tell Me a Tale by Bruchac
In the chapter "Sharing" Bruchac has a section on "The Act of Storytelling."
It boils down to a few questions: "Why do I want to tell this story? What do I like about it? If someone asked me what the story is about, could I explain it? Can I really see this story when I tell it?"(p. 94)

"Memorizing a story word-for-word is not the way that professional storytellers do it. Instead, they know the heart of the story and then tell it in their own words. Try to see your story as you tell it." (p. 94) [pretty cryptic advice there!]

He does give some good tips:
-Use pauses for suspense and count the seconds in the silence. It gives listeners time to absorb.
-Speak clearly, don't mumble or speak too softly.
-Speak from the diaphragm, and project to the back of the room.
-Use your own voice, don't imitate.
-Think about tone, pitch, volume and emotional qualities (sad, happy, frightened). Think carefully about making up voices for each character--this can be very tricky.
-Gestures and body movement shouldn't be overdone


Improving Your Storytelling by Lipman
(need to get this at work and look at his tips)
Several sections are relevant: In chpt 1, "The Variety of Expression, all of Chpt 4 "Kinesthetic Imagery and Characterization," and chpt 11 which looks like it's about staging, and all of section 4, chpts 15-17: "Your Voice," "Performance Anxiety," and "Your Support Team."

Wow, this looks like actual fun to read. I'm considering taking it on my trip. If I replace the MacDonald with Haven and Ducey and use Lipman as the second text, will I totally freak my students out???


Crash Course in Storytelling by Haven and Ducey
Chpt 10 is "Owner's Manual," all about use of voice, body, etc. using the metaphor of a car. The section on voice cover pace (which they call "rate"), pitch, and volume with less judgment than the Sawyer and other older texts. The section on Gesture and Movement has some great what-to-avoid tips. Probably the best section I've seen.


The Storyteller's Start-Up Book by MacDonald
(need to also get this one at work)
You'd think I have this one memorized already, but I don't. In fact, this is because there is almost nothing in this entire book about performance. I am ready to switch to another main text for the storytelling class.

primary sources back to uiuc library

It's tough letting go of these, but they're all owned by UIUC, so I can get them again if needed

-Book Culture and Character, by J. N. Larned, 1906
A much looser sense of what is acceptable reading than in earlier works. Even the title of that chapter, "Hints as to Reading," is gentler than what came before.

-References to books in the Cleveland Public Library, intended to aid the third grade teachers of the Cleveland Public Schools, compiled by May H. Prentice of the Cleveland Normal School, published by Cleveland Public Library, sometime in the 1890s--LJ contained announcements of this. This was the first time I saw evidence of this fine-grained level of age grading in a public library resource. Opens with a quote: "The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught as that every child should be given the wish to learn. [...] Sir John Lubbock, in Pleasures of Life p. 184" [I don't know any more about Lubbock or this source at the moment.]

-List of Books to be Read by First Year Students, by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Training School for Children’s Libraries. 1912. 7 pages long, probably worth copying to keep this list.

-List of Students in the Training School for Childrens Librarians Since its Organization together with the positions held by them, by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, 1910. Also worth copying.

-Stepping Away from Tradition: Children's Books of the Twenties and Thirties, ed. by Sybille A. Jagusch, contains an essay "The Leadership Network in Children' Librarianship: A Remembrance" by Mildred Batchelder. 1984. (this copy is falling apart) Also contains an essay by Tebbel.

-The Children's Library by Sophy H. Powell, 1917

-Libraries and Schools by S. S. Green, 1883 publisher Leypoldt (multiple essays, several cited in dissertation)

-Public Libraries in America by Wm Fletcher, 1894

-Classics of American Librarianship: The Relationship Between the Library and the Public Schools, ed. Arthur E. Bostwick, H. W. Wilson. Includes Stearn's 1894 Report on Reading for the Young.

-How the Other Half Lives by Jacob A. Riis.

-Statistics of Public Libraries in the United States, 1884-85, by U.S.--Bureau of Education, Washington Government Printing Office 1886.

-Samuel Swett Green, A Biography by Robert Kendall Shaw, American Library Pioneers series, Chicago: ALA, 1926.

-Caroline M. Hewins Her Book, containing A Mid-Century Child and Her Books by Caroline M. Hewins and Caroline M. Hewins and Books for Children by Jennie D. Lindquist. Boston: Horn Book, 1954.

-American Library Pioneers/Pioneering Leaders in Librarianship ed. by Emily Miller Danton. Includes Hewins and Sanders

-Public, Society, and School Libraries in the United States with Library Statistics and Legislation of the Various States. United States Bureau of Education, 1897.

19th century reading advice

Quotes from a few titles I'm going through as I revise a book chapter, due Aug. 1:

How to Read by Amelie V. Petit, 1878


Reading should be done in an orderly manner: "A confused jumble of unclassified books, however large the collection, is not properly a library; neither is a confused jumble of unclassified knowledge an education." (p. 2)

Reading requires work: "While the cream of literature undoubtedly rises to the surface, it must be worked over and over by the intellect before it yields its best, most desirable product." (p. 20)

Fiction should be only one part of a varied course of reading: "We advise the reader to intersperse with them [books of fiction] books of travel, biography, history, and poetry, relating to their authors, or the country wherein the scene of the story is laid."
(list of recommended books follows, with explicit mention that these are a good course of reading for the young)
"A professed novel-reader will say, 'What a meager list, when there are so many hundred fine stories unmentioned.' We grant this true; but no person who does not wish to almost utterly wreck his intellect, and destroy all zest for real life, will need farther reading of novels." (p. 57)


Books and Reading by Noah Porter, 1871

chpt 7, the moral influence of books and reading--the reading of fiction
In discussing which books are bad... starts on p. 72-73 with a long quote about noticing the ill effects and influence of reading something bad.
"The ground of moral exposure is not the fact that evil is painted, nor that it is painted boldly; but it is in the manner in which it is represented,--whether with fidelity to the ordinances of nature, or falsely to her eternal laws as written on the heart of man." (p. 83)
Follows with examples from Milton, where Satan is depicted in unflattering terms, vs. Byron's depiction of Lucifer "who discourses atheism and blasphemy with such specious and passionate force that the trusting reader's faith in God and conscience is shaken and confounded, and it is well if, with heated brain and unbelieving heart, or passionate and despairing scorn, he does not plunge himself into some rash act of passion or crime [...]" (p. 84)

About the influence of reading on the imagination: "The imagination forms and controls the conscience so far as it form and enforces the ideals of what we can and ought to become. The ideal which it actually forms and enforces must inevitably raise us upward or drag us downward."

About mass-market books:
"There is a very abundant class of writings that are sometimes denominated cheap literature, which, only by courtesy, deserve to be called literature at all. It is a class somewhat miscellaneous and comprehensive, consisting as it does of novels, novelettes, journals, and newspapers, in which so-called stories abound. Of many of these productions nothing worse can be said--though that is bad enough--than that they are utterly frivolous and vapid, that they while away the time, and interest the feelings, but neither elevate the tastes nor brighten the life. [...] They are make to take and make to sell, and they both take and sell, because they humor what their readers like[...] Much of this sort of literature is open to the more serious objection tha tit stimulates and inflames the passions, ignores or mislead the conscience, and studiously presents views of life that are fundamentally false." (p. 97-98)


The Librarian of the Sunday School by Elizabeth Louisa Foote, 1897

Discussing what kind of books belong in these libraries, gives an example of one library:
"The South Congregational church of New Britain, Conn., in a little pamphlet on its Sunday school library, states its govening principle to be the admission of 'books which inculcate, directly or indirectly, moral or religious truth, and also those which contribute to a knowledge of Church history or minister to the upbuilding of character.'"

Blubber by Judy Blume, The Olympains Book 2 by Rick Riordan

Blubber by Judy Blume
I re-read this classic on my trip to Minneapolis in part because I've decided to teach it this fall, inspired by Betty Bush. It's a novel about teasing among children, definitely, but it's also a novel about growing up. Not coming of age, but embarking on those first steps towards maturity that involve taking responsibility for one's actions. At one point, protagonist Jill and best friend Tracy are talking about the tooth fairy. They are aware, however subtly, that childhood is drawing to a close:

"...How much do you think it's worth?"
"I'm not sure," I told her. "Last time I got a quarter."
"If I were you I'd try for more. We haven't got that many baby teeth left." (p. 66)

Another passage: Jill really is a jerk to victim-of-teasing Linda and to her brother Kenny all at once, when they are at a bar mitzvah. Kenny has a habit of reciting facts, and Jill, his sister, is getting annoyed:

"...For instance, Louis XIV of France was born with two teeth."
"Nobody's intersted, Kenny!" I said.
"I am," Linda told us. (p. 114)

Note the teeth theme... Not an accident, as the main teasing incidents of the book revolve around eating and weight, and tooth are such a visceral sign of childhood passing.

One last thing. Blume, in this book about misbehaving girls, references the first major misbehaving girl in children's literature, the ground breaking and controversial Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh:

"I wish our school could do a play like the one in Harriet the Spy where everybody pretends to be a different vegetable. I would like to play the onion. I'd roll around the floor the way Harriet did in the book. I wonder if there really are schools where they do that kind of thing?" (p. 150)


The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
To my eye, Riordan is 2 for 2 in his series about ADD kids who actually turn out to be the half-blood children of mortals and Greek gods. Percy, our hero, is the son of Poseidon, and this volume not only continues the saga of The Lightening Thief, but ends with a major cliffhanger. Fun, light, but adventuresome enough to be summer page turners.

What Research Ideas Mean

I have odd dreams. More than once, I've dreamed something so narrative and elaborate that I was convinced it was a full-blown novel waiting to happen. I did write it out (100 pages) and found that it needed more editing than I expected. At about this time, I began work on the Ph.D., and creative writing projects fell by the wayside.

I still have odd dreams, but now they are about research. I've woken up in the night with ideas for 3 or more papers at once. Last night, there were 5 ideas for small-to-medium research projects involving methodology other than history (surveys, focus groups, interviews).

The humbling truth of the matter is, however elated I am at 3am, each of these ideas to grow into a paper would need substantial. In fact, I've decided to post a list of the steps needed:

1) Is it worth it? (in the cold light of day)
2) Why do I care?
3) Who is my audience, and why would they care?
4) Is it feasible?
5) What else is out there on this topic? on similar topics? What will be my lit review?
6) What 3 journals could I send it to?

The good news is, once I've written these answers out, I should be able to turn to #s 2 and 3 to refuel my motivation for the project when it is low. I've been reading a blog called Zen Habits, and motivation is one of the things the author addressed yesterday in this post.


It's also possible that step #5 should be #2 or even #0, depending on the subject area. Having finished the diss and facing the wide world of all that is possible, I am continually branching out into new areas in my head without having done the depth of research I need to make a start there. It's a shame you can't get a Ph.D. in Everything, so all the basic work is done! Alas...


And I've missed some steps, even on the projects I've already committed myself to doing. Last night, I realized that I needed to start looking at the Journal of Women's History and other sources for papers on women and work, especially feminized professions, for one of the projects I have coming out of my dissertation.

One last thing: I'm posting this because I've been spending some summertime in the blogosphere, and just can't find the kind of academic-productivity-tips-and-tricks blog that I wish were out there. It would be Emith Toth's Ms. Mentor's Impeccable Advice... book, but in blog form. I'd love to find something like that...

The Rules by Cynthia Lord

ah, one children's book I read on vacation, borrowed from Isaac, my friend Ruth's son....

The Rules by Cynthia Lord
Catherine does all she can to take care of her autistic brother David, including creating a series of rules for him to follow. Rules like "don't take your pants off" and "no toys in the fish tank." Each chapter is given a rule as a heading. Catherine is frustrated because her social life is majorly hampered... Not only does she get teased a lot because of her brother's strange ways, but she's also expected to babysit him constantly by her mother who runs a business from her. Her father is checked out, basically home to sleep and otherwise on the run from the overwhelming responsibility of their son. Catherine is a fun character who is reasonably believable, if a bit precocious. But what good children's book protagonist isn't, really? Definitely recommended summer reading.

anthropology, psychology

Two wonderful books:

A Thrice Told Tale by Margery Wolf
Wolf juxtaposes a fiction story she wrote in the 50s about an experience she had while traveling to do fieldwork with her anthropologist husband, the fieldnotes made about this same incident, and the article she wrote for an anthropological journal about the incident. All to the end of debunking the idea that "postmodernism" in terms of mulitple voices and texts is somehow a new phenomenon. She also points out that it is only those who have had the most power who find multi-vocality to be a new phenomenon, because they've never had to modulate their way of speaking like those with less power. She also questions the postmodern idea that the project of representation should be abandoned. As I write that, I realized I'm overstating the case, and Wolf does this a bit too, but many of her points are valid. The most interesting bits, however, are the fictional story and the article (the field notes are predictably tedious) and even comparing those 2 first-and-last versions is worthwhile.

The Birth of Pleasure by Carol Gilligan
This is a book that I swallowed whole, that I ate up from beginning to end. Gilligan has become a sophisticated writer, and her psychological findings are presented using interesting juxtapositions. The entire book is framed by the myth of Eros and Psyche, the conclusion of which (for those of you who aren't teaching storytelling every year) is the birth of the daughter Pleasure. Gilligan unravels the metaphorical meanings in some familiar and some new way, in order to demonstrate that it's only through seeing each other fully that men and women can create relationships that move beyond the constraints of patriarchal struggles.

While many people have long said that gender bias hurts us all, Gilligan proposes that girls get slammed in middle school and boys get slammed in kindergarten. Boys therefore have few tools to resist their enculturation into stereotypical roles. Girls can resist, and they remember the devastation better because they were older. But Gilligan gives evidence from her research on interactions between 4-5 yr old boys and their fathers that boys are equally devastated by having to hide parts of themselves.

Coming soon, another boring post on the books I'm getting rid of post-dissertation....

The Nurture Assumption

Judith Rich Harris, The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do
Harris, former writer of psychology textbooks, uses her unusual vantage point to write a book questioning all the emphasis placed on "nurture" in ideas about childrearing. Essentially, she asks: what if "nature" has a much bigger role than we are willing to admit? If so, the emphasis on proper childrearing is simply an effort to control the uncontrollable. Children will be who they will be, and beyond certain basics, childrearing practices may not in fact have much influence. She also claims that parents and others with a vested interest in children's development underemphasize the influence of children's peer groups and siblings as compared with adult influence. Again, this error reflects a deep wish to control who children become.

In light of Harris' arguments, ideas about childrearing and controlling children's behavior, especially what they read as reading was the media of the day, seem entirely coherent with attitudes today.

In fact, Harris is good at pointing out the imbalance, the implicit "nurture assumption" inherent in many professionals' attitudes about children. She is less good at bringing her readers to a new balance herself, but this is nevertheless a valuable book. I'm not sure it's crucial enough that I should teach it, but I will included it in recommended lists for my children's literature classes.

More Books Back to UIUC

So many books, so much time they took...

-White, A Historical Introduction to Library Education (kept TofC and a xeroxed section of pages related to youth services work)
-Hopkins, History of the YMCA in North America
-Macleod, Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870-1920. Useful because it gave me background on Ernest Seton Thompson, who spoke to the first class of children's librarian trainees (along with John Dewey, Jane Addams, and others). (xeroxing TofC and a few select pages re discouragement of fiction reading in 1870s)

Histories of the Kindergarten Movement
-Ross, The Kindergarten Crusade
-Liebschner, A Child's Work: Freedom and Play in Froebel's Educational Theory and Practice
-Shapiro, Child's Garden. This was another book I encountered early in the process. Lots of stickies to remove, but ultimately all I really want to keep is the TofC.

Other Social Movements Related to Childhood:
-Cavallo, Muscles and Morals: Organized Playgrounds and Urban Reform, 1880-1920.
-Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement, 1890-1914.
-Lynn and Wright, The Big Little School: Sunday Child of American Protestantism
-Boylan, Sunday School: The Formation of an American Institution, 1790-1880.
-Dunning, The Sunday-School Library (primary source)
-Foote, The Librarian of the Sunday School (primary source)
-Tolman, Libraries and Lyceums (1937(?) thesis facsimilie)
-Bode, The American Lyceum: Town Meeting of the Mind
-Stoddard, The American Lyceum

Schools and Educational Movements
-Ross, G. Stanley Hall: The Psychologist as Prophet (biography)
-Martin, The Education of John Dewey (biography)
-Davis, American Heroine (biography of Jane Addams)
-Linn, Jane Addams: A Biography
-Gutek, Pestalozzi and Education
-Sugg, Motherteacher: The Feminization of American Education
-Perlmann and Margo, Women's Work?: American Schoolteachers, 1650-1920
-Holmes and Weiss, Lives of Women Public Schoolteachers
-Ogren, The American State Normal School
-Herbst, And Sadly Teach
-Ensign, Compulsory School Attendance and Child Labor (reprints of primary sources)

Four Sources Worth Revisiting:
-Tyack, Turning Points in American Educational History (reprints of primary sources with interpretation)
-Tyack and Hansot, Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in America, 1820-1980 (interesting set-up of theoretical approach in intro)
-Cremin, The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876-1957
-Kaestle and Vinovskis, Education and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century Massachusetts (strong basis in statistical evidence, interesting methodology)

Life in Books

I've read two extraordinary books over the past week, books that have helped me put some of the recent tumult in my life into perspective. They are also scholarly reflections, written by women whose work in the academy has transformed their ways of looking at their own lives.

Bateson, Mary Catherine. Composing a Life.
Bateson, daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, draws on the tradition of ethnography to create this detailed narrative of central themes in the lives of five women. She looks at women's work in an era when feminist ideals were at their height but women's realities were (as they are now) still often at odds with the concepts of equality. She sees lives as processes of negotiation. The chapter "Opening to the World" might be an excellent reading to include as part of the personal narrative portion of the storytelling class. (starts p. 56)

A few quotes....

Related to storytelling and narrative as the basis upon which we shape our lives:
--"Composing a life involves a continual reimagining of the future and reinterpretation of the past to give meaning to the present, remembering best those events that prefigured what followed, forgetting those that proved to have no meaning within the narrative." (p. 29)
--"Storytelling is fundamental to the human search for meaning, whether we tell tales of the creation of the earth or of our own early choices." (p. 34)

Why feminism is still necessary:
--"...two kinds of vulnerability that women raised in our society tend to have. The first is the quality of self-sacrifice, a learned willingness to set their own interests aside and be used and even used up by the community. [...] The second kind of vulnerability trained into women is a readiness to believe messages of disdain and derogation." (p. 54)

On nurturing, caring:
"To be nurturant is not always to concur and comfort, to stroke and flatter and appease; often, it requires offering a caring version of the truth, grounded in reality. Self-care should include the cold shower as well as the scented tub. Real caring requires setting priorities and limits. Even the hard choices of triage have their own tenderness." She goes on to describe how many folktales reward the kind stranger, but that the mythological Psyche provides another model. While searching for Eros, Psyche must resist the cries of others. Bateson writes: "If she is to find her beloved, she must harden herself against inappropriate impulses to help and nurture" (emphasis is mine). (p. 155)

On commitment:
"It may be worthwhile to invest time and resources passionately in support of a cause, but it is wiser to avoid burning bridges or putting on blinkers as the tokens of commitment. A degree of caution need not be equivalent to disloyalty; blindness is not a virtue." (p. 188)
"Today I am unwilling to work from a position of dependent trust, and I believe the capacity to be self-supporting is a precondition to genuine partnership and responsible participation." (p. 189)


Tompkins, Jane. A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned
Strangely, I skipped the childhood portion of this memoir. I'll come back to it, I'm sure, but my main interest this week was in reading the memoir of an academically successful woman. In the end, she critiques the education system "as it is" because it "...fails to help its students find out why they are and where in the world their talents might best be employed...." (p. 217)

I thought how my undergrad education was all passionate self-exploration, and my graduate education (the master's at least) was all learning about the children's departments of public libraries, the place where I thought my talents would be best employed. How rare a creature I may be, one who was able to have all the passion of her early work and the practicality of later work. Unfortunately, Tompkins leaves no room for a oddity such as myself--she tries to "see" the university as a whole, but she is navel-gazing even when she gets beyond the narrow confines of her departmental work. She does not look beyond Duke, does not imagine that there are places (New College and many others) where students do take responsibility for their own education and have at least the opportunity to imagine how they may use it to make the world a better place.

I found myself thinking that she underestimates the disorientation of being young. Even with intellectual passion in full-flower, I did not have the faintest clue about where to place my passions in practical terms--where to get a job. All I knew was what my parents did. I knew early that my father's work (science) was not for me, and, when I considered teaching, my mother (a teacher) told me that I lacked the necessary patience for the work (a cruel thing to say to a young girl searching for a purpose).

I found libraries by pure chance, though looking back it seems predestined. I think the best education in the world cannot prepare a child to become a flourishing adult, to create a place for themselves that is appropriate, meaningful, sustaning, and allows for inventiveness.

Bateson's book, by portraying the paths of women who are praised for their improvisatory lives, is ultimately the most inspiring. It's as though Tompkins collapses under the weight of her own critical theory, failing to find a way to celebrate those that, despite systems that suppress their creativity, nonetheless create a life for themselves out of the brutal pieces that comprise their history. We survive and thrive without perfect educations, without supportive families, seemingly without anything but the wind and the rain, but still some of us do take up the task of composing our lives with relish.

Shelf 2: Books back to UIUC

This is the shelf on women's history, gender history...

General Women's History
-Lerner, Gerda, The Woman in American History
-Lerner, The Majority Finds its Past (edited collection)
These might be useful as I look forward to making an article for the Journal of Women's History, or maybe not... I need to see what they're publishing now to know more, Lerner is, I assume, deep background due to the age of her work.

-Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America
-Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: "Women's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835.
-Hays, The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. Covers too wide a time to be deeply useful to me, but interesting arguments that echo some of what Alma has written and suggested that I read.

-Matthaei, An Economic History of Women in America. This was a major point of reference in writing the dissertation, as background to arguments I wanted to to make about how childhood became important.
-Kessler-Harris, Out to Work. Never did get much into this one...

-Scott, Anne Firor. Natural Allies: Women's Associations in American History. Chpt 6 "Inventing 'Progressivism:' Municipal Housekeeping" was the one that caught my eye.

Teaching and Other Professional Histories
-Prentice and Theobald, Women Who Taught: Perspectives on the History of Women and Teaching. Might be more to be gained here, especially from the 1st chapter. Lots of it sounds familiar, which could be a GOOD thing for the prospective J. of Women's Hist. paper, because I can point out the demand-side and supply-side arguments all miss the agency-side, that women were agents actively making their inroads into previously male-dominated professions.

Literacy-Specific
-Gere, Anne Ruggles Intimate Practices: Litearcy and Cultural Work in U. S. Women's Clubs, 1880-1920. Interestingly enough, I feel compelled to look at this book again, at the same time that I remember vaguely thinking that it was squarely outside of the scope of the diss. Probably because I'm so intent on looking at women's professional work. I'd like to find a way to take this into account, somehow, without overgeneralizing about "all women."

Okay, enough again! I realized I forgot to count 2 shelves, so even though I just knocked another one off, I still have 7, maybe 8 more shelves to go. Nevertheless, I am making progress.

Books that are going back to UIUC

There are some important books that are now going to leave my bookshelves, because it's time to turn them in and make the U of I library happy again. I have put my dissertation, in full, up on my website: www.katemcdowell.com, linked from "projects," in case you're curious.

This post is more shorthand for myself than news for my readers, but I promise to make the next post interesting to others....

3 major works on Progressive Era history:
-Wiebe The Search for Order
-Hofstadter The Age of Reform
-McGerr A Fierce Discontent

-Glanz Bureaucracy and Professionalism

On Children/Childhood:
-Heininger, ed. A Century of Childhood 1820-1920. Broad overview in intro of Rousseau/Locke influencing Protestant ideas about children, moving from born damned to born innocent, and therefore the responsiblity to raise them well
-Graff, Conflicting Paths: Growing Up in America. Graff argues, using a series of case studies, that childhood in the 19th century was more diverse than at any time before or since, especially in how those children (male, female, black, white, poor, middle-class, rich) came to have education or not, and how they moved from childhood to adulthood. (xerox intro)
-Meckel, Save the Babies: American Public Health Reform and the Prevention of Infant Mortality, 1850-1929.
-Calvert, Children in the House: The Material Culture of Early Childhood, 1600-1900. This would certainly be a useful resource for exploration of the material culture of public library children's spaces and other cultural artifacts related to children's reading. I'm xeroxing part iii, which covers 1830-1900.
-Beisel, Imperiled Innocents: Anthony Comstock and Family Reproduction in Victorian America. This was one of the first books I read in the dissertation process, and I really ate it up because it made sense out of the fear of reading that I found in librarians' writings regarding what might cause harm to children. Since then, it has become a background text, but I'm still grateful for its role as an early anchor in my work. I'm removing an inordinate number of sticky notes from this title....
-Ferguson, Growing Pains: Children in the Industrial Age, 1850-1890. This is less directly connected to the industrial revolution than I had hoped. It's more an attempt to do what Mintz does in Huck's Raft, but for a smaller span of years. Again another Twayne Publishers title.

Immigrant Children
-Berrol, Growing Up American: Immigrant Children in America, Then and Now. Twayne History of American Childhood series, 1995. Overview, but not in-depth, b/c time span is too broad and book is 130p.
-Higham, Send These to Me: Immigrants in Urban American. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

Institutions for Children: Asylums, Orphanages, Reform Schools
-Dulberger, "Mother Donit fore the Best:" Correspondence of a Nineteenth-Century Orphan Asylum. Much of this is primary source material, and it feeds into my curiosity about asylums, orphanages, and reform schools in terms of what libraries they had and what books they contained. Further research!
-Brenzel, Daughters of the State: A Social Potrait of the First Reform School for Girls in North American, 1856-1905. Again, like Dulberger, this connects to that to-be-pursued interest about books in institutions for children.
-Cmiel, A Home of Another Kind: One Chicago Orphanage and the Tangle of Child Welfare. As above, linked to those interests. Of the 3 books, this was the one that I enjoyed reading most, and I'll xerox several chapters.
-Ashby, Endangered Children: Dependency, Neglect, and Abuse in American History. Twayne History of American Childhood series, 1997. This provided great background info on the Children's Aid Society in Boston. Xeroxing at least 1 chapter.

-Renier, From Virtue to Character: American Childhood, 1775-1850. Twayne History of American Childhood series, 1996. Especially Chpt 5: Forming Character (to xerox).

This did give me a simple but clear idea: Find out more about the Twayne History of American Childhood series, not only titles but also who is editing now, and think about how to aim my dissertation toward being a book in this series. If that's not the right series, find another publisher that might be closer.

That's one shelf down! Now I only have about 5 shelves of books to go.

Back to fiction for youth adults... Vail and Oates

Rachel Vail, You, Maybe: The Profound Assymetry of Love in High School
Yes, another novel of high-school love. Rachel Vail came along right before the recent explosion of chick lit (back in 1999--I remember her Friendship Ring series causing a splash). What's good about Vail is her ability to go deeper than most into the psychology of young characters' decisions about their lives. In this book, Josie first scorns the attentions of high-school-god Carson Gold, then craves them, and finally we see her internal dialog as she starts to blame herself for every crappy thing he does to her. It's eerily familiar reading, and yet Vail keeps it fresh by showing Josie's step-by-step loss of self. The plot is predictable, but aren't so many high school romance books, really? (Vail's subtitle seems to acknowledge this book as one in an established genre.) Carson likes her less as her independent attitude evaporates, and dumps her just as she has all but fully conformed to his social groups' expectations. And, of course, Josie really is better off without him, her friends take her back... all in all a decent and quick read. The best I would hope for this is that teen readers might see that maintaining independence takes skill, not just attitude and quirky clothes. This remains true after high school as well....

Joyce Carol Oates, After the Wreck I Picked Myself Up, Spread my Wings, and Flew Away
The back cover blurb implies that this is a romance, but it's far more confused than that as a book. Jenna finds herself in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of her head. Her mother (and the other driver) died in a head-on collision on a bridge near NYC, and while Jenna survived, it takes a long time for her to understand what's going on. Oates captures this disorientation perfectly, in fragmented prose that swerves between realities. Jenna's father has been absent for several years, is now married with a "new family," and is basically a self-centered jerk, as becomes evidence in his hospital visit. However, even self-centered jerks wish to help someone as wrecked as Jenna has become, and he's clearly distraught when she refuses to come live with him, choosing instead to go to her mother's sister's home. She becomes addicted to painkiller drugs given to her at the hospital, and continues to seek the solace of medication. At her new school, she is so unassertive that most people don't even know her name. She does meet a boy, Crow, who helps her when she has fallen down, and eventually he helps her to overcome her fear of bridges, but the romantic fondness that Jenna feels does not blossom into something more. What I like best about Oates' writing is the prose itself, which captures the brokenness of Jenna's world. It's a quick read for its length, which is about 300 pgs.

Aristotle's Poetics

Can't say as I ever thought I'd be seriously considering teaching a bit of Aristotle, much less the very text in which he describes women as inferior (and slaves as worthless... it was another time, long ago). But I am. Considering it.

http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.1.1.html
Parts I through IX make a handy intro to a totally different way of thinking about storytelling than a public library story hour, an intro that also takes seriously the idea of story writing, not only performance, as part of this task.

Children's Cultural Spaces

I requested the book Learning to Curse for Greenblatt's essay "Towards a Poetics of Culture," with the idea of finding inroads to literary/anthropological ways of addressing children's public culture, and specifically of addressing the public library story hour as an instance of that culture...

That, dear readers, is where I'm heading right now with research, historical and otherwise. I'm about to post a note on the GSLIS board asking folks to relate their memories of public library story hours or any childhood experiences in libraries or museums that they remember.

Do you have such memories? What's most vivid to you about those experiences? Would you post here, in response, or perhaps even be willing to let me informally inteview you at some point? I'm not at a formal stage of interviewing or focus groups, but I may hold a tea in the Center for Children's Books at some point this summer as a way of jumpstarting this conversation.

After all, folks in Library and Info Sci School are likely to have had *something* that spurred them to read as children. So what of those cultural experiences designed with that express intent?

Doubtless these ideas will develop further over time, but this is a start.

as the books come due...

and I am trying to clean out the bookshelves of library titles post-dissertation, I'm realizing that this blog has to become way less entertaining and way more practical for awhile. So it will, with apologies to my loyal readers. I'll try to throw in tidbits for you, but my need to record what I've read is taking precedence for the moment.

Recently Read Things:

--Several articles on children's interactions with an online storytelling environment in Portugal: http://gaips.inesc-id.pt/gaips/shared/docs/Prada02Teatrix.pdf
This was the better one of the two, but both articles begged the question: why create a computer program to do something kids can do just as easily with a dress-up box? Is it to direct them toward acting out particular stories? It inevitably does this, which raises questions about which stories are selected and how children are enculturated.

--Illick, American Childhoods
This was one of many titles of its ilk that I read parts of and cited in the diss. It is divided into chapters that reflect the different "paths" (to quote Harvey Graff) that children may take through childhood: American Indian, European, African American, Urban Middle-Class, Urban Working-Class. It's the kind of book that is better than so many others in terms of adding specificity to scholarship on each of these forms of childhood, and yet still manages to generalize wildly about each of these groups. Is it fair to critique it for doing so? I'm not sure. It's more the product of the confusing multi-cultural project of representing more groups in historical scholarship while retaining the idea that it's possible to know something meaningful about each of these groups, as a group.

He does mention, in the section on middle-class childhood, the 19thc invention of the birthday party and of Christmas as a child's holiday, which he dates to 1893 and cites Clement along with a 1984 doctoral diss by Calvert from U. of Penn titled To Be a Child: An Analysis of the Artifacts of Childhood (sounds interesting). I'm sure the book How Old Are You gets into the birthday party thing in more detail.

--Welter, Barbara. Dimity Convictions
This was the book CJ steered me towards as a good starting point for 19thc history of women. I'm still not sure why this one struck her as important, though it was a good read. I found the chapter on "The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820-1860" to be useful in thinking about how the cultural role of women resonated with, informed, and even created to some degree the cultural role of the children's librarian. But there were other histories in this area I liked more... I'll have to blog them...

That's all for now. I have a stack at the office that will be getting the same treatment.