Digital Storytelling

I've been fortunate to have a great RA this semester. Recently she requested some sources on digital storytelling. The titles of the books appear related to the topic as I understand it, but the subjects are wide-ranging and not especially useful to the particular aspects of digital storytelling that interest me...

Technologies for Interactive Digital Storytelling and Entertainment, Gobel et al.

(conference proceedings)
This was the most promising of the bunch, with an article by Kibbat, Harald titled "Oral Tradition versus Digital Storytelling: On Educational Effects of Middle European Folk Tales and Their Value for Digital Storytelling," p. 292-296. But wait, that's a mighty tight page range for such an expansive title, and sure enough the piece is by a storyteller who offers his opinion that these digital tools might be good for retelling folk tales. No argument from me, but neither is there enough depth or substance here to warrant more than a cursory citation. Hey, at least he's making the connection to what has been traditionally known as "storytelling."

The next books don't really even do that....

Digital Storytelling by McClean,
subtitle: The Narrative Power of Visual Effects in Film. That's probably enough said... this is a book about movie making.

Storytelling Online by Shani Orgad,
but again, wait for the subtitle: Talking Breast Cancer on the Internet. It's about sharing stories, valuable and important stories, but it's not about storytelling as an art form.


Digital Storytelling: Creating an eStory by Howell

The lower-case "e" makes me a little nuts, but basically this is one of those rapidly-dated books on how to use software to do digital storytelling. It's the one of the four I'm hanging on to for the spring 409 (storytelling) courses, just in case it provides useful answers to questions that arise. It's also the kind of book that just begs this big question: why make a *book* out of this? Why not make a website??

letting books and even projects go

If I had time to write that paper I wanted to write about the history of how food production is portrayed in children's literature, I'd go back to these sources:

Stoll, The Fruits of Natural Advantage: Making the Industrial Countryside in California
Recommended by L. B-K. who would know!

Iatridis, Teaching Science to Children (2nd ed., 1993)
Has a heavy focus on evaluative criteria and a very lightweight scope and intellectual depth. For example, "evolution" does not appear in the index.

Finishing the Ph.D., there seemed to be a scarcity of topics. Now I'm finding such abundance that I'm actually giving projects away to others. I recently handed off a whole folder of database search printouts to a deserving doctoral student. If I can't do it, then I hope somebody will tackle this project sometime.

I'm on two other tracks right now: children as readers from 1890-1930 and evolution in children's books from the same period.

Castle Blair by Flora L. Shaw

Written at the urging of John Ruskin, recommended as exemplary fiction for children by Minerva Sanders in her 1890 Reading of the Young report because it depicted real children, Shaw's book is an interesting puzzle to me. It certainly fits the idea that approved children's fiction was written from any perspective but that of lower-class children. These children are the heirs and heiresses to an Irish estate.

They also have little inherent moral sense, especially the eldest boy, Murtagh, whose temper almost causes him to have the estate manager killed by one of his non-wealthy friends.

The poor children are there for the amusement of the rich children. They even tell Teresa at one point. Murtagh declares that they will "protect" her, and his sister Winnie agrees, saying: "Why, ye live on our land, don't you? So we're bound to protect you even if we didn't want to." (p. 55)

I'll be thinking about this one for awhile... there could be a paper in this, if I wanted to pursue it, following up on the book chapter about how adult approval of fiction for children correlated with the social class of the children depicted in the story.

?




You Are a Question Mark



You seek knowledge and insight in every form possible. You love learning.

And while you know a lot, you don't act like a know it all. You're open to learning you're wrong.



You ask a lot of questions, collect a lot of data, and always dig deep to find out more.

You're naturally curious and inquisitive. You jump to ask a question when the opportunity arises.



Your friends see you as interesting, insightful, and thought provoking.

(But they're not always up for the intense inquisitions that you love!)



You excel in: Higher education



You get along best with: The Comma

Ah, Goodreads has it figured out!

They let me blog my reviews with a quick copy-and-paste:

Playing with Matches Playing with Matches by Brian Katcher


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
High school is actually like this... Leon is kind of a geek, and he's attracted to a girl (especially attracted to her shapely butt) who has massive facial burns. But then a "regulation hottie" (please watch Mean Girls if this doesn't register) shows interest in him, and he does the wrong thing. He ditches facial-burns Melody, then gets dragged around by hottie Amy until he realizes he really loved Melody. He tries to get her back, and she flatly refuses. The ending is ambiguous, but Leon may have a shot again. Good read, and new as of July 2008.



Out of the Wild Out of the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst


My review


rating: 2 of 5 stars
Durst's first, Into the Wild, is much better. This time, the fairy-tale "wild" takes over the world, and Julie Marchen (daughter of Rapunzel who escaped) has to save the world from the wild. It's a little Dark Crystal, in that good and bad merge to make a new middle ground. I preferred the first book because the wild was so evil and the plot was just stronger all around.



Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools by Philip Caveney


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sebastien is a lousy jester, not funny at all. However, his exploits as he travels to offer his services to a far away kingdom are plenty funny. His cynical buffalope companion Max and their traveling companion Captain Cornelius Drummel are hillarious, improbable, and although some of their exploits bring to mind video game fights, there's enough flair and daring to make this an enjoyable fantasy romp. This is sure to be the first of a series, and less completely absurd than Terry Pratchett often is. It would be a 3.5 if I could give that, but I still recommend it as fun reading.


View all my reviews.

Diamonds in the Shadow Diamonds in the Shadow by Caroline B. Cooney


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
Spooky, creepy book about a groups of Africans who come to America. When housing arrangements fall through, their sponsoring church asks one family to take the Africans in, and all appears to be well as the mother, father, son and daughter make themselves at home. But they're not who they appear to be.



Cooney's fabulous The Face on the Milk Carton is now a creepy classic, and this book once again shows why she's the horror author for the middle-school set.


View all my reviews.

What will Goodreads mean...

What does it mean to keep a reading blog when you're also on Goodreads? I'm still convinced that these notes to my self are extremely helpful, and I am also aware that some at-home viewers may benefit from seeing my beyond-the-classroom reading habits and thoughts.

They may function in complementary ways. For instance, I'm sitting here with a pile of 10 books that I've read, and they aren't all worth a big review. Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, for example, was a fine read but I don't really need to blog it, since it's out there all over the place.

Newer things, though, I almost feel I should blog, but then again not all of them seem worth the effort. Making this commitment to track my reading with a blog has been most valuable, and I've really held to it for a long time now. At the same time that I want to see what my friends are reading, I also know that Goodreads will dilute my focus on children's/young adult books in favor of adult books because, let's face it, most of my friends are adults (chronologically).

A quote from one of my summer reads, again about solitude:

"I often feel exhausted, but it is not my work that tires (work is a rest); it is the effort of pushing away the lives and needs of others before I can come to the work with any freshness and zest." --May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude, p. 13

Sarton is a rebel; she dares to speak what others would label "selfish." She names a dynamic that is real, but that people (and especially women) so rarely name, the effort that is needed to create space for solitude. That effort can be tangible or metaphorical, but it is effort either way.

Laughing out loud...

I'm reading Lucky by Rachel Vail, and just came across this line:

"[S]he'd been obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I couldn't get through at all; it just seemed like long stretches of weather punctuated by Pa making another chair." (p. 153)

Weather... another chair! Do not misunderstand, I loved these books myself, but that is a priceless perspective. Weather. Another chair.

Rumi and Rilke

I've been delving slightly and slowly into both of these poets' writings. So far my favorite from Rumi is a poem called Green Ears in The Essential Rumi. It's a long poem, and I'll give a few short quotes:

"...Manyness/ is having sixty different emotions./Unity is peace, and silence." (p. 241)

"This present thirst is your real intelligence,/not the back-and-forth, mercurial brightness,/Discursiveness dies and gets up in the grave.//This contemplative joy does not./Scholarly knowledge is a vertito, an exhausted famousness./Listening is better." (p. 242)

"Love is the falconer, your king." (p. 243)


Rilke's book Letters to a Young Poet is astonishing. To collect quotes would be to xerox almost the whole thing. It is his celebration of solitude that I find most compelling. But still, a few quotes:

"Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast." (p. 24)

"...the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other." (p. 78)

"We are solitary. We can delude ourselves about this and act as if it were not true. That is all. But how much better it is to recognize that we are alonge; yes, even to begin from this realization. It will, of course, make us dizzy; for all points that our eyes used to rest on are taken away from us, there is no longer anything near us, and everything far away in infinitely far. [...] We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it." (p. 87-88)

Toby Tyler

Toby Tyler by James Otis
This comes up in children's reading evidence as a popular book in the 1920s. Adults talk about it as a "dime novel alternative." It's one of those classic books that talk constantly about how immoral the character is for running away to the circus and how much he regrets it, while reveling in the circus atmosphere, the monkeys, horses, elephants, circus freak show performers... Toby is indeed a bad and remorseful boy who, at the end of the book, happily rejoins the minister who took him in when his parents died. But along the way, you get an adventuresome ride through circus life.

This was first published in 1880, but the edition I have is 1923, and there are "shadow" illustrations at the bottom and side margins of many pages, in a mustard yellow color that belie the tension in the text. While the text is all about Toby's remorse, the illustrations show circus performer, animal and human, in exciting costumes and doing daring tricks. Nowhere is Toby's sorrowful face portrayed in the illustrations.

For future reference


Dority, Rethinking Information Work: Career Fuide for Librarians and Other Professionals

A good book to refer students to when they are facing big career decisions in LIS. Which seemingly everyone is as soon as they graduate, so it's practically universally useful.

McCarty, Willard, Humanities Computing
The SHARP newsletter reviewed this very favorably. This would be a great reference point for when the History of Children as Readers project is ready to go digital (or at least to proposal) for an NEH grant.


Books for the Fantasy Lit and Media Bibliography of suggested further reading:

Westfahl, Gary et al. Foods of the Gods: Eating and the Eaten in Fantasy and Science Fiction. University of Georgia Press: Athens and London, 1996.

Harrigan, Pat and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media. MIT Press: Cambridge, 2007.

quotes and novels

First, a quote I found in the gift shop of the Bodleian library of Oxford:

"'Tis the good reader that makes the book good."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Which is precisely why I'm researching the history of children as readers. I also went back to my old pal Roland Barthes, to see if I could scare up any good quotes about reading....

"If a book bores me, I have the courage, or cowardice, to drop it. [...] So if I read a book, it's because I want to."
--Roland Barthes, from The Grain of the Voice p. 220

Go Roland! I also searched for some quotes, and liked this one:

What do we ever get nowadays from reading to equal the excitement and the revelation in those first fourteen years?
--Greene, Graham, from Oxford Reference Online

Now to novels:

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

If addiction is the disease of our time, then Dessen's novel is very timely. It contains the usual introspection of her female protagonists. Ruby is saved from the memories of her alcoholic mother by helping someone else, who in the end will be her boyfriend. There are dark parts, but it's all smoothed out, as is characteristic of Dessen's enjoyable writing. I'd question how much sympathy a kid who had actually lived in Ruby's circumstances would have for Ruby, especially the aspect of the novel which includes Ruby being taken in by her (now wealthy) older sister, who married the founder of a social networking site. At over 400 pages, this is a commitment, but one I wasn't sorry to make.

Peeled by Joan Bauer

If you know Squashed, Rules of the Road, or any other of Bauer's works, then you know that she basically writes one very, very appealing story over and over again. This is no exception. Young girl and budding journalist joins small-town fight against fake "paranormal" events that are being staged by a big-town developer. And wins. Bauer is always a treat, even if her plots and characters are always similar. What she writes, she writes so well.

Ever by Gail Carson Levine
My favorite by Levine remains Dave at Night, which was pre-Ella Enchanted and so pre-Disney and princess books in her writing career. However, Ever is a good yarn. The questions it raises have to do with belief and religion. Olus, god of the winds, falls in love with a mortal girl, Kezi. Unfortunately, Kezi has just forfeited her life to save her aunt according to the laws of the god she and her family worships. We never meet this god, but we meet other gods and a spooky land of the dead inside a volcano. We are more told than shown that things are not as they appear, but when you're dealing with a heavy topic like religion, making the attempt to open the discussion at all in books for children is a good thing. The best sparkly romantic moments are when Kezi, herself a dancer, is flying on Olus' winds.

Additions to 409 bibliography

The Story Factor by Annette Simmons
This deserves a place on the bibliography, but not on the reading list, for LIS409 Storytelling. It's a business book with one good idea, which is a list of six types of stories that you need to know how to tell in order to have influence: stories of 1) who am I, 2) why am I here, 3) the vision, 4) teaching, 5) values-in-action, and 6) I know what you are thinking. This reference came to me from a student who used this framework to analyze the stories told by presidential candidates. Her paper, with edits, would be as solid as this book. It's not a bad book, but like so many business-oriented books for the mass market, it oversimplifies. While the categories are useful starting points, greater explanation and analysis would be needed for the reader to gain real skills in the use of storytelling in business.

If I add this one, I really need to add or assign a chapter/article by Julian Orr about how storytelling in business actually works.

Welcome to the Wisdom of the World by Joan Chittister
The book works from a refreshing concept, that of looking at the core concepts of world religions and retelling stories from each tradition that illustrates those concepts. It is also packaged as a quick self-help reference guide to world religions, and as such has the usual problem of stripping each tradition of its cultural context. Every concept has its failing, and trying to make wisdom so accessible poses real challenges. However, it's a great starting point for further research when students are interested in religious stories.

Ursula K. Le Guin (and Voices for 409)

These three books share a world as a setting, and have a few characters in common, but they are not a conventional series like the Harry Potter books or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The relationship is a bit like that of The Hobbit to The Fellowship of the Ring. We begin with a story of Orrec Caspro as a boy, but years are lost between the first and second books; the next book shows him as an accomplished and renowned poet. It's like The Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones, which skips Christopher Chant's middle years entirely, showing him only as boy and then as master.

Gifts
High on desolate, rocky hills live lonely peoples whose supernatural gifts allow them to unmake, sicken, or injure one another. These small bands do constant battle for the scant resources that are there. Orrec and Gry have been friends all their lives, and they hope to marry, but their families each have planned other marriages in order to increase their wealth. Orrec struggles with blindness that his father imposes on him to keep him from "harming" others with his "great power." In fact, Orrec has not inherited the power, and the blindfold is a ruse to intimidate others who might take his land or livestock. Gry brings Orrec a guide dog, trains him up with the power of animal calling that she has inherited. However, she refuses to use that power to call animals to the hunt, as she is expected to do. In the end, Orrec sheds his blindfold, and the two of them leave the Uplands for adventures unknown.

Voices
This would be a great novel to read in 409, Storytelling. It has so many elements that are inherent to the course, including an understanding of stories as a deep part of cultural heritage and therefore enmeshed at times in cultural conflicts. An occupying army keeps the people of Ansul down and and drives their literary heritage underground. The invader culture is oral-only and despises books. In the house of Galvamand, there is a female heroine, 17-year-old Memer, who guards the treasure of her house along with her elderly master, the oldest man of the house. While women were free in Ansul before, the invaders force women to hide, and so Memer spends many of her days disguised as a boy. Orrec and Gry figure into the story as wandering storytellers; Orrec Caspro has become a famous poet in the years since Gifts. This is the best of the three books in this new series.

Powers
Gavir was raised a slave, and knows no other life, until one day his sister is killed by a cruel and heartless son of the household where he is slave. This sparks a journey of insanity, escaping to the forest, to a wild hermit, then a band of brothers, then a forest city, back to the marsh people from which he came, and finally to the north, to a free city and to the university where Orrec Caspro resides and teaches. This is a slow-going book, and one that requires faith in Le Guin's storytelling, but it is worth it in the end.

Story Proof and Storytime

Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story by Kendall Haven

Here's how I can imagine discussing this one in 409:

--Chapters 1, 2, and 7: all are about the definition of "story," including pitfalls of previous overly broad definitions.

--Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6: all are about the way the human mind is set up to use story.

--Chapters 8, 9, and 10: 8 is anecdotes, 9 is research results, 10 is concluding inspirations.

Haven is redundant in a way that is probably reinforcing in the oral, but drags in the written version. I wished several times that chapter 7 followed chapter 2; he doesn't give enough sense of why the brain science is compelling before spilling the beans on what he thinks a story actually *is.* When that's the main point of a book, you want to know it up front.

Too many of the chapters are full of long paragraphs quoted from other research, strung together by bare connective tissue that is less an argument and more a "see this, and this too" kind of structure.

This is, however, fresh and needed. There's nothing else out there that even attempts to be this synthetic. I don't think this avoids the pitfall of being a dissertation; in fact, large chunks read like an enthusiastic lit review. But the effort is valiant, and the research connections are so worthwhile. Despite flaws in the writing style, librarians need this book to justify so much of their creative programming and to inspire them to think beyond the things they've already seen. For working professionals, the chapter of anecdotal evidence is a must-read.


Storytime by Lawrence R. Sipe


This is, as the foreword implies, a master taxonomy of research pertaining to young children's reading. It starts with children, moves to texts, and basically maps out an enormous landscape of literature on these topics. Though well-written, this too at times reads like a lit review. However, it tells us why we should care, while also telling who else has cared for the very specific reasons that we might care about young children's reading patterns. This is a solid foundation for justifying playing with stories...

Top 10 fantasy titles for 2008, from Booklist

And yet another source of info on fantasy books...

http://www.booklistonline.com/default.aspx?page=show_product&pid=2719491

Quick list of the titles:
1. Book of a Thousand Days
2. Tunnels : Book 1
3. Cherry Heaven
4. The Golden Dreams of Carlo Chuchio
5. Red Spikes
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
7. Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat
8. Powers
9. Exodus
10. The Land of the Silver Apples

I just finished Powers by Le Guin, and I'll blog that loosely-connected trilogy separately.

Evolution as the link between arts and sciences

The NY Times has a great article on an interdisciplinary program that involves the serious use of methods from the humanities to investigate scientific topics. What's remarkable is that this program aims for a true balance between the fields, not the borrowing of humanities by the sciences of which I have heard complaints from some humanities-oriented colleagues.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/27/science/27angi.html?ex=1369540800&en=c3fe7f93a9bff8b5&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

I'm interested because of the example given in the article of evolutionary studies program that involves a "crossover approach" by David Sloan Wilson, author of Evolution for Everybody. He points out that Darwin's data were qualitative.

This could link to my research on evolution for children, 1882-1914 or so.

American Indians in Children's Literature: Meyer's Twilight: second post

An interesting post about the depictions of Native Americans in the fantasy/vampire novel Twilight by Stephanie Meyers, a book that will be on the reading list for LIS590VV, Fantasy Literature and Media for Youth....

American Indians in Children's Literature: Meyer's Twilight: second post

Fantasies featuring storytelling

Is storytelling always this pervasive in fantasy literature, or is it just my reading lately? I'm musing on what a research question about the function of storytelling and/or portrayal of storytellers in fantasy might become....

The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech
A fun and funny fantasy about 2 children who find a mysterious royal pouch, and are eventually taken to the Castle to be the king's tasters (in case of poisoning). This has Creech's characteristic light and quirky feel, which is nicely suited to the fairy-tale setting. The only hiccup comes at the end of the book, which felt precisely one chapter too long. But otherwise, it was a fine read, and features a Wordsmith who is the castle's designated storyteller. He weaves tales out of the elements that his royal audience chooses for each evening.


The Giver by Lois Lowry

is really about The Receiver, Jonas, whose whole world changes when he is assigned to apprentice with the elder that he will come to know at The Giver. This was a smash hit when it came out, dystopian in a way that really resonated with young readers, perhaps because the book is set in a repressive society where adults keep the truth of such matters as "releasing" people from the community well-hidden from child eyes. Story and history feature prominently.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E. L. Konigsburg
It's another mixed-up tale from Konigsberg, this one set between the worlds of a young newcomer to the town of Malo, Florida, one Amadeo Kaplan. Amadeo befriends William Wilcox, and the two become engaged in a mystery when Amadeo helps William and his mother with the arrangement for his eccentric neighbor's estate sale. The neighbor, Mrs. Zender, is self-centered and obnoxious, which makes her fascinating to the polite Amadeo. In a refreshing turn, she is not redeemed in the end, and the tangled matter of the provenance of a certain piece of art in her collection leads the young protagonist all the way back to Nazi Germany. If it sounds contrived that all these pieces should wrap up so neatly, that's because it feels contrived at points. However, it's Konigsburg's style to mix things up, and if the sorting out is a bit stretched, it's still a fun tale.

Does Snogging Count as Kissing by Helen Salter
If you like the other snogging books (Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging) you'll like this one as well, which is chick-lit light for the middle-school set. It can be a little depressing to remember exactly how middle-school really was, and Salter's writing is so accurate as to be uncomfortable. However, it's also smart and funny, as we follow Holly from her boyless existence to a newfound maturity, courtesy of a few well-timed snogging sessions.

Short blurbs on books about children/YAs and technology

Goodstein, Anastasia. Totally Wired.
Written in an easy-to-read journalistic style, Goodstein covers all the essentials of teen technology use for bewildered parents (or librarians). Though parts are redundant with Harris (see below), both are of use to future youth services librarians. Chapters 1-4 deal with teens, and then chapters 5-7 address what adults can or should do about all the things teens are doing. Mostly, Goodstein calls for understanding, relating contemporary tech activities such as IMing to her own 80s-era teen experiences such as 3-way calling.

I Found It on the Internet. Harris, France Jacobson.
Though it's short, the book is worth reading as written, in 3 parts, one at a time. Part 1 parallels the first 4 chapters of Goodstein. Part 2 is a little different, in that it lumps all the dangers-and-dark-sides together. Part 3 is for adults, and would go well as a parallel reading to Goodstein's chapters 5-7. Although the writing is more laden, the audience for this book is more directly youth services librarians; Harris spells out her best recommendations and practices in useful ways. Though the more metaphorically-minded will extrapolate some of the same conclusions from Goodstein, Harris is well worth a read.

Sex, Brains, and Video Games. Pierce, Jennifer Burek.
Similar topic, yet another kind of approach. Pierce's audience is also librarians, and her book does a great job of situating current media practices in light of historical development in librarianship, going all the way back to the beginning. The book delivers what the title says, synthesizing research in three somewhat disparate areas for consumption by librarians serving teens.

4 YA Novels

How does a professor have time to read 4 novels at the end of the school year??? By getting very sick for over a week, that's how! While able to do nothing else, I read these 4 great books, and I do think they helped my immune system.

Frannie in Pieces by Delia Ephron
(Related to Nora Ephron?) Frannie's life is shattered when her father dies. She begins to pull herself back together when she finds a box with her name on it filled with a handmade puzzle that her father created, apparently as her birthday gift before he died. Since he was never on time with gifts, and he died a week before her birthday, this makes her suspicious but not suspicious enough to unravel the mystery of the puzzle's origin, not until the end of the book. In the middle, Frannie's mom sends her off to be a counselor at summer camp. She's put in charge of arts and crafts, and has the kids make an enormous mural of all the household items that, in small print, say they can kill you. The head counselor puts as stop to this... Frannie is whiny and difficult, regressing from her 15 years to more like 7 at times, but the story is well written and well worth reading.


Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Dashti is a mucker; she knows songs of simple healing. But she has no way to make a living, and so becomes the maid for Lady Saren of the gentry. Unfortunately, both are locked away in a tower for 7 years to rot. Fortunately, they get out in fewer than 7 years, but not before Hale details the aching isolation of the prison tower. All ends well, especially for Dashti. If you're a fantasy fan and haven't read Hale, run don't walk to pick up The Princess Academy. Then, if you're up for more, this would be a nice second course.

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor by Jaclyn Moriarty
Who is the audience for this book? The publisher says 14 and up, but one of the characters is in 2nd grade (many others are adults). The spell book belongs to Listen, who is related to the Zing Family, holders of the Zing Family Secret, by her father's girlfriend, Marbie Zing. The book is a series of mysteries to be unraveled, and I hate to give too much away. This Australian import makes up in meticulousness what it lacks in compelling plot, although there is sufficient suspense to keep the reader going. If you're a Westing Game fan, this is worth a try, and frankly there's little else out there with which it can be productively compared.

Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs

As if high school weren't hard enough, Phoebe's mother has to go and fall in love with a Greek, as in a man who lives in Greece, and has the nerve to insist that they move to his Greek island in one month. Move away from southern California and all Phoebe's friends, away from the memories of her father who died six years before. And that's not all... once she gets there, Phoebe is told that she's going to an exclusive school with (did you see this coming?) the offspring of the Greek gods. There's a lot of this Greek-god-offspring business going around, what with the successful series beginning with Lightning Thief by Riordan. Needless to say, Phoebe quickly meets a young male god who catches her eye... predictability aside, this one is worth it; it's a great light beach read pitched just right for YA romance fans.

Children and Gender in Libraries, 1876-1900

So way back when, in the late 1870s and early 1880, Caroline Hewins made lists. She made lists of books for boys and girls in her library in Hartford, Connecticut. She even marked them with special symbols for whether they would appeal to boys, girls, or both. Others in librarianship also talked about reading and gender, including Lutie Stearns, who was concerned with girls' reading of romance stories, a position that fit with her own activism and feminism. There were a smattering of others too, some of whom did not come from such progressive perspectives.

If I were going to write the paper I've had in my mind for some time on what gender means in these book recommendations, what it says about the children and about the books, then I would use these books to launch that project:

Women's Education in the United States, 1780-1840, by Margaret A. Nash (2005)
This book would be a great way to get a feel for at least some women's lived gender context, and it's supposedly the flat-out best history on this topic available.

How Young Ladies Became Girls: The Victorian Origins of American Girlhood by Jane H. Hunter (2002)
Looks like I'll be copying the chapters on diaries and on reading out of this one, and thanks to A.P. for citing this in one of her recent articles. There's a ton to draw from here in understanding librarians' recommendations.

Two Delicious YA Novels and a Fairy-Tale Fantasy

Good Enough by Paula Yoo
Is it ever good enough for Patti's parents? She and the other Korean American kids in her church youth group have it bad, with parents who crave to send them to HarvardYalePrinceton. Patti loves music, and she begins to take control of her life when it occurs to her that her viola-playing days are over as soon as she hits college. But her music teacher thinks she could make it in to Julliard. It's a tough and also touching novel, as Patti struggles under the breakneck pace of her school work and extra-curricular obligations while also trying to get to know Ben, the attractive new boy from youth orchestra. This one is a sure hit for anyone burdened with high-pressure parents, now or in the past.

Funny aside: this made me remember 1991 or so, when I had a boyfriend pierce a second hole in my ear. When my father saw the little black rose stud I had in that new hole, he was furious, and yelled at me that I'd "never be a dean at Harvard" now that I had ruined my ear forever. Just your average laid back family....

If this sounds familiar, go now and get Good Enough. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll be mouth-wateringly hungry for Korean food by the end.


Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Audrey doesn't wait when Evan calls her, and so the hit song that launches Evan's band to fame and Audrey's life into a publicity nightmare is born. This one is satisfying on every level; Audrey is no angel, but she is a believable character with a ton of strength and self-possession that any teenage girl would envy.

Favorite quote, from meeting in principal's office:
"'So,' Mr. Rice said as he dank back down, 'there have been some developments recently, Audrey, and I've called your parents in so we could discuss the appropriate course of action in order to insure the best educational experience for you.'
If you don't speak Adult, allow me to translate that sentence: 'You're fucking up and making us all look back. Stop doing that so I can have an easier day at work.'"


The Secret History of Tom Trueheart by Ian Beck
The Trueheart family has six brothers, all of them named Jack (in some form) and a seventh brother named Tom. When his six brothers go missing in the land of stories, Tom sets out to find them. His mother stays behind, presumably wringing her hands. The logic of this fantasy land seems inherently flawed; the Jacks go off to their stories after, presumably, many such adventures, but this time they all come home with princess wives... so how exactly did that work before? I might have been more willing to live with it if the women in the story weren't cardboard characters. The gender imbalances read as if the feminist movement never happened. This simplistic novel makes me long for the days of fractured tales that were funny instead of serious and makes the need for stories with strong female leads clearer than ever. All that said, serious fans of fairy tale fantasy will want to read this one, because there will be sequels, and, I predict, a movie. If your young reader is just moving up from the Spiderwick Chronicles and you've got a good dialog going about gender stereotypes, this might be the next book to read.

Food in Children's Science Trade Books

Previously, I mentioned that there were some problems even with well-reviewed books for children on food. Here are some examples....

Apples and How They Grow by Laura Driscoll, illus. Tammy Smith
(All Aboard Science Reader, Level 1) [BCCB-Ad, 2003]
On p. 31, the apple is picked as if in an orchard, and eaten by the person who picks it. Lacking is any mention of typical food transport.

The Pumpkin Patch by Elizabeth King
[BCCB-R, 1990]
This also lacks transport information, but reasonably so; the book is the story of visiting a pumpkin patch in the fall. Mechanized farming is clearly in evidence in the early pages of the book, which is a major plus.

Pumpkins by Ken Robbins
[BCCB-R, 2006]
Aesthetically, Robbins' books are very sleek and pleasing. Informationally, they make all the standard omissions. No pesticides, migrant workers, or transport are shown in the making of these pumpkins.

Apples by Ken Robbins
[BCCB-R, 2002]
Again gorgeous pictures, some of which borrow the white background style of DK Inc. (which are in turn reminiscent of Apple commercials, the computer company not the fruit). However, p. 22 shows the only machinery, and that's a 100-year-old apple press. There's a glimpse of the bucket that telephone repair people stand in on the page on pruning, p. 9, which suggests there must be a truck beneath.

Wheat: The Golden Harvest by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
[BCCB-R, 1987]
Does show pictures of mechanized farming, a combine, a grain elevator, and grain silos backlit by a sunset. Mentions transport in the text, but focuses on the loaves of home baked bread in the end. Needless to say, most wheat ends its trip in a factory setting and is make into food products there.

Corn Belt Harvest by Raymond Bial
[BCCB-Ad, 1991]
Describes and shows images of corn transport via train. Bial also ends the corn production with a livestock scene rather than a less typical corn-on-the-cob scene. I appreciate his acknowledgment that most corn in the U.S. does go to feed livestock.

Apples and Oranges

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman

This picture book, with endpapers that show a map of the world, details exactly what level of continental hopping would be required to get all the ingredients for an apple pie if we had to do the traveling ourselves each time we wanted to bake one. It's an eye-opening tour of food origins for the young, and stands out among many books on food production for children that elide or obscure what really goes on. As I've said before, to read children's nonfiction on food, you might think it was all organic, local, and paid good wages to harvesters.

An Orange in January by Dianna Hutts Aston, illus. by Julie Maren

Another rarity in that this book tells the true, if rosy, story of how oranges comes to be available in January, including all the transportation necessary to make it so. The orange does, unfortunately, seem to come from a mythical land of goodness and sunshine. No mention is made of the harvesting laborers, but at least they are shown and do have brown skin, which is closer to accurate than it might be. Despite its shortcomings, this is indeed a much more accurate book than most.

Narrative across media, narrative within folklore

Eight Words for the Study of Expressive Culture by Feintuch (ed.)

The words are: group, art, text, genre, performance, context, tradition, and identity. Of the eight essays, those on Group and Genre seemed most compelling. Group (by Dorothy Noyes) gets into the complexities of defining who is in and out of a group, using the example of an Italian street festival in Philadelphia. Genre (by Rudier Harris-Lopez) touches on the emergence of folk texts in new media and therefore overlaps with my wishes to investigate digital storytelling. It would be good to read with one or both of the below chapters.


Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling by Ryan (ed.)

This is based in literary theory, but has 2 essays of use to thinking about new forms of fantasy media. They're back-to-back in the book, and read very well together.

"Will New Media Produce New Narratives?" by Marie-Laure Ryan offers a typology of narratives in various kinds of media, trying to establish what sorts of stories are told when different constraints operate. She creates a 4-part scheme, cross-classifying "internal/external involvement" and "exploratory/ontological involvement" to get at what interactivity the reader has with the narrative form.

"Quest Games as Post-Narrative Discourse" by Espen Aarseth argues that game theorists are turning to narrative theory only because there's nothing better out there yet. Illustrated liberally with examples from specific games, Aarseth's ultimate argument is that the "quest" is the real motivation in gaming, and that narrative theory should be abandoned and quest theory developed to discover what games mean. This leaves open many interesting questions, including whether good old Vladimir Propp or Joseph Campbell would be of use in understanding game quests or not. Is the major connection between fantasy literature and fantasy gaming the centrality of the quest?

Napoli, Reeve, Eddy, and Cohen

Jacalyn Eddy, Bookwomen
Since I'll be referring to this book for years to come, I'll just note a few most useful and surprising highlights.
--"To accept the traditional narrative that women were merely forced into unwanted careers, however, simplifies a complex phenomenon." (p. 6)
--Gives good overview of first publishing houses to have children's imprints, starting with MacMillan and Doubleday (p. 131)
--Eddy's arguments about the child guidance movement echo Ehrenreich's arguments about "experts" and the masculinization of women's traditional realms of knowledge. (p. 110-111)

Donna Jo Napoli, The Prince of the Pond
Napoli retells the frog prince from the view of a young female frog with whom the frog prince has a family before his eventual transformation back into a human. Napoli is always good at getting to the bones of the tales she retells. The opening has remarkable resemblances to some of the dialogue between Robin and Kermit in Henson's version of the frog prince, but this could be mere coincidence. After all, Henson stayed with the traditional plot for his television short story, while Napoli completely rewrites the tale from a fresh perspective. Verb tense changes from past to present for the first time on p. 270, exemplifying the skillful and purposive use of this technically wrong but here extremely effective switch. Note the changes back and forth from this point to the end, used to draw the reader more completely in to the action.

Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines
Tom only meets Katherine Valentine and her famous father briefly, but that encounter shapes the rest of this tale of survival among a world of cities that are engaged in a Municipal Darwinism struggle to eat or be eaten. Reeve's tale is brilliant in places in that he takes conventions and twists them slightly. This alternative vision of a future in which today's distant past is more distant still is tantalizing, offering great opportunities to speculate about what lasts, what matters.

Amy Cohen, The Late Bloomer's Revolution
This is a funny and somewhat quiet memoir of a woman whose life is not going according to plan. She remains her own wry and self-conscious self throughout, but near the end of the book she shows perspective on her own situation that suggests she's seeing past the stereotypical benchmarks of success as the only way to measure the worth of her life. Probably the most fun part (and also painful) is when she learns to ride a bike for the first time in her life in her mid-30s, to much falling and disheveling of her helmet. Thank goodness she wore one. Although this doesn't plumb the depths of some memoirs (I'm thinking of Wells' Glass Castle), it's a good read about breaking out of neurosis and fears and stepping toward self acceptance.

Fantasy and fantasy graphic novel test-drives

I'm playing around with what I'll teach in fall, which now has changed to include the fantasy class (590VV) on-campus and the youth services class (506LE) via LEEP. Just thought some of you might want to know that I'll have a section of 506. I'm thinking about writing a paper that will draw on the 590VV class, looking at the major awards and what recent trends (Harry Potter etc.) and tensions (religious objections) as well as new awards (Printz) have done to the "population" of fantasy books that inhabit that select and magical land of Newbery winners.

It would also be great to explore how fantasy as a genre is specializing even further into sub-genres in light of the "long tail" phenomenon, or technological changes in the ability to profit from making small numbers of many distinct things available to small number of customers. The idea comes from: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html
and author Anderson's main argument centers on books. Refreshing!

So what follows are my thoughts on 3 graphic novels and one novel...

Snow, Fire, and Sword by Sophie Masson
First, a novel. This is set in a fictional land, but clearly modeled after Indonesia. Competing religious groups and political purposes have led to a neglect of the magical spirits that once commanded worship, so when a malignant force gathers, the humans have little hope but two children who are unusually poised to save the world. This may sound familiar, but the descriptions, settings, and even some of the fantasy conceptualization in this book are fresh to me and I suspect will be fresh to many of my students as well. One of the unusual elements is that the three elements the children Adi and Dewi must gather--snow, fire, and sword--are not singular people or objects. Instead, different people and things can fulfill these roles, but they are still scarce and the uncertainty of whether the children have found the right elements to bring together keeps the suspense palpable.

A clearly post-9-11 quote that nonetheless blends seamlessly in the book:
"The unknown enemy, striking unpredictably from the shadows, will always strike more terror into human hearts than the declared one, facing you on the battlefield. Those ruthless and clever enough, who care nothing for the honor of the world or for the normal concerns of humanity, will always know how to use not only real weapons but also the paralyzing one of sheer terror." (p. 299)

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley
When a graphic novel has a narrative structure like a novel, with a satisfying resolution at the end, I'm all there. Maus, Maus II, and even the Owly books (more below) I am fully down with. I'm also a big fan of nonfiction graphic novels liek Pedro and Me, Stuck Rubber Baby, Persepolis, etc. Castle Waiting is not structured like a novel, however, despite clear efforts by its publishers and Jane Yolen to market it as such. There's a storyline in the beginning that's a fractured sleeping beauty, but that narrative trails off, and we end up following the stories of a woman who is a nun in the unusual Solicitine order, an order made up of bearded women. The escape from the circus is fun, but that storyline drags when the nuns decide to buy the local mill. The bearded ladies and the utopian feminist undertones are enjoyable but ham-fisted, leaving little to the imagination. I'm glad I read it, but I think it has structural problems as a story that make me wonder about Yolen's prefatory endorsement.


Meridian: Flying Solo by Barbara Kesel et al.

This comic-turned-graphic-novels is feminist in overt story content, but has lots of little oddities that make me wonder about how deeply the creators have thought through the limits of gender stereotyping. The drawings are still of a stereotyped kind of female beauty, and the heroine is given mysterious (and traditionally feminine) powers to restore and heal. While celebrating traditional feminine strengths is a good idea in my book, coupling this with wispy outfits on a supermodel feels jarring to me.

Even now, as I write about it, I feel how torn I am about this one. It's a great example of comics rewritten as graphic novels, and one strength is the authorial commentary throughout that mentions the initial serial publication as well as the new form. But, for me personally, some serial narrative forms just drives me nuts... I never feel like I'm getting enough of the story or the "real" story. I had the same reaction to the Sandman series, and I also feel the same way about other serial fiction like A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Spiderwick Chrnoicles. When I know they story is always going to continue, and then I feel like I'm being sold books, not told a story. All this despite the strong endorsement from no flying no tights. It occurs to me that McCloud's Understanding Comics does a great job of decoding the semiotics of the genre for new readers, but doesn't much address the overall serial narrative structure of comics. He's more interested in what comics can do than what specific iterations actually accomplish, which may explain this somewhat.

The bearded nuns of Castle Waiting seem like my new best friends in comparison to the scantily clad and busty heroine of this story. Fantasy is a tough genre whatever narrative form it takes, because there's so much borrowing and reborrowing from each other and from folklore. Making something enthralling and fresh takes a lot, and there's something about this title that makes me think there were too many cooks in the kitchen and the result is a slightly confused menu.

Owly: Just a Little Blue by Andy Runton
This is a story entirely without words, a tale about Owly's life in the forest with his friend the worm and their friend the butterfly, as they try and try to build a good birdhouse for a family of bluebirds. The poignancy is astonishing given the simplicity of the black-and-white drawings that use a few easily interpreted symbols instead of words. While too complex for little kids, it seems that it might be able to be understood or at least deciphered by people who don't speak English--thanks YLIG folks for leading me to this one and for the idea in this last sentence.

Fantasies and other random amusements

Next fall, I'll be teaching a course on Fantasy Books and Media for Youth. This means that I am trying out lots of recent fantasies to see what I want to teach. Of course, I'm also thinking about the children's lit and young adult lit classes at GSLIS and doing my best to avoid overlap in specific books if not specific authors. I'm already amassing a long list of 25+ books I want to teach, and sometime soon I'll have to fine-tune it as I turn in my texts for fall.


The Imp That Ate My Homework by Laurence Yep

I'm searching for two things that I hoped to find in this book, fantasies for younger readers and fantasies that representing something other than a purely Western set of imagery or magical elements. Lewis and L'Engle have pretty much covered the Christian fantasy approach, and many other books by White writers either consciously or unconsciously base their books on Arthurian legends or other European myths and legends.

Yep brings a great perspective as a Chinese immigrant, and his story is based on the idea that the man character's grandfather is actually Chung Kuei, the old enemy of the imp that was recently released from an ancient vase. However, the actual mechanics of how this works in the story feel, well, mechanical and even contrived at times. The grandfather explains what's going on to his grandson, but it's all in this stilted "let me explain to you how this legendary Chinese character works" sort of format. Appropriate, perhaps, to the grandson's ignorant state, but it's just not very fun to read. At other points, Yep seems to be trying too hard for laughs.

In all fairness, I think covering both of the bases I mentioned above and doing it really well would be extremely difficult. Yep doesn't quite make it, but he's still in the running for inclusion on my syllabus, even if I end up going with a different book.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Tally lives in a dystopian fantasy world where everyone is considered ugly until they turn 16 and become breathtakingly gorgeous through a series of operations. Of course, there's a sinister side to this transformation, as Tally finds out when her friend Shay runs off to the wilds to escape it. Tally is recruited by Special Circumstances agents to get Shay back and destroy the village of escapees in the mountains. Then she finds out there's an even more sinister side; the doctors who make you pretty also selectively destroy parts of your brain. The story is a harrowing ride, and both fascinating and disgusting by turns, and it's a strong contender for inclusion on my syllabus, but it depends a bit on how many dystopian books I find I have on the list.


The Spiderwick Chronicles by DiTerlizzi and Black
Okay, we'll probably end up reading this along with Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortuate Events, because they're popular and successful and fun... but it doesn't mean I have to love them. Actually, I'm much more fond of Snicket than of this series, in great part because almost nothing actually happens in the first book. It's as though the entire thing is a set up to get you reading the next book, which I suppose is fun if you're in 4th grade and eager to collect the whole series (and have the money, they're not really that cheap), but I found it tedious.

The one up side, and this is probably what I'll want to talk about in class, is the fakelore book design. There are manufactured artifacts thoroughout the book, like a letter from the authors about meeting the protagonists as though there were real people and supposed documents from and about fairies and other creatures. There are also design elements that are pretty clever, like the appearance of fairy-shaped dots between the chapter sections starting about midway through the book.

This is a series that's deliberately stoking the fires of it-could-be-real with its fake artifacts, and that's interesting to me as a literary trend. It takes advantage of the recent passion for memoir, but also continues the semi-documentary tradition in recent years in children's nonfiction. Dorling Kindersley has made this into a marketing empire. Now that kids have outstanding photos in their true books, why wouldn't they want a little pretend truth in their fiction books?


Disenchanted Princess by Linker and We Are So Crashing Your Bar Mitzvah!!! by Rosenbloom

Can you say Rich Kids? Princess is about Hollywood-dwelling West Deschanel who is sent by the courts to live with her poor aunt in Arkansas, thanks to her father's prison sentence. She's too posh for words, and her Arkansas relatives are just hicks, except the one hot foster kid who lives with them. He's black, which isn't explained very well when we first meet him and so has to be addressed with heavy-handed prose later, and their one near-sex scene is just lackluster in the writing. West doesn't adjust much except at the end, when she "adjusts" all at once in a very deux-ex-machina finale.

Rosenbloom's book is better than this, although again it deals with extremely rich kids, this time NYC Jewish kids. Stacy and Lydia just got back from being at camp, where they managed to join the extremely cool group. They want to carry their coolness into eighth grade, but are thwarted when their third best friend, Kelly, turns out to have not only gotten hot over the summer, but also has already been recruited by the popular clique. Stacy and Lydia are not so lucky. The religious focus is light, but Judaism at least brings in some believable moral dilemmas, and the characters' emotional states are so true to eighth grade that it's almost painful to read. Rosenbloom pulls it off, though, and manages to be hilariously embarrassing, superficial in a fun way, but also have some ethics to the story as well. This is the second in the series, and I'd prefer to have started with the first one.

Preschool to the Rescue!

Yesterday I gave a talk to 60 preschool teachers in Danville, and it was a fabulous event. I was their last speaker of the day, which suited me just fine since I had some interactive components planned and I always enjoy the challenge of firing up an audience. I brought them books that I knew they could use as read-alouds in their preschool classrooms, and tied it to the very concrete things that children are interested in, such as animals, food, trucks, dinosaurs, big things and small things and differences in size... actually, that last idea deserves some expansion and explanation, and maybe even a paper. We talked about humor for preschoolers, and especially the kind where it's funny because the kid knows better than the book. For instance, many books use the trope of having an animal make the wrong noises, and preschoolers love this because they know it's wrong, so it's both funny and empowering.

It felt so extraordinarily practical and meaningful to be back in front of preschool teachers, a place I used to occupy on a regular basis at Urbana Free. I have got to find ways to move more deeply into early literacy issues in my research. What I have so far from the talk are the makings of a rock-solid bibliographic essay. What I need is either a literary or social approach that will let me push this toward peer-reviewed scholarship.

Newbery Honors are Okay.

Yeah, just okay. Not bad at all, but not the best ever either. It all depends on the year, I suppose...

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
The setting, a free village in Canada populated by former slaves who have escaped from America, is extraordinary. Curtis must have researched the dickens out of this location and these free Canadian communities. Protagonist Elijah was born into freedom, which makes him an unusually naive character when he comes to interface with the wider world. This takes 3/4 of the book to happen, however, and though it's a nice meander, the page count is mighty high by the time the main action of the plot ensues. Still, Curtis takes on the topic of slavery like no one yet has in children's literature, and his naive protagonist is the perfect character to have encounter the brutality of slavery. And it is brutal, to the tune of brief nightmare-inducing images of a man who was tortured, mutilated in a way that I wish I could get out of my mind, and hung. Yet it is true, in the sense that historical fiction when well-researched can be true, and I can only hope it will cause young readers of any color to think about the great fortune that they were not born into such a horrific system.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
Another nice wandering book, this time in a Vietnam-War-Era classroom. Holling Hoodhood likes baseball, acts in a Shakespeare play, gets to know his teacher, has mild adventures with the class pet... I can see how you could get sentimentally attached to this book if it was set in your childhood era. As for me, it was an okay read. I nearly put it down after a few chapters, but didn't yet have the 3rd Newbery winner, so I kept going and I'm not sorry I did. But it's not the kind of fresh, ground-breaking book that you'd hope would receive a national honor.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodsoon
On the up side, Woodson edits herself well, and the length of the book is about half that of the previous two under-edited tomes. The story also features a white boy who has been adopted and raised by a black family, which causes all sorts of stir in protagonist Frannie's all-black school into which he is deposited. The tension between the bully and the new kid is adeptly depicted. The tie that connects Franny and the new kid who calls himself Jesus (not the Latino pronunciation, but the Christ pronunciation) is that they both know sign langauge. Jesus doesn't remember how he learned it, but Frannie's older brother is Deaf, so she uses it to communicate with him all the time. Woodson is another author who is just plain good at what she does, and her books are worth reading for that reason alone. They are always emotionally expressive and feel very accurate to my remembered childhood experiences, even though she and I don't share a skin color. The cultural details are not those from my childhood, but the emotional details truly resonate for me. Read her stuff if this sounds good to you, because she's well worth reading. I'm not convinced that this is her best book ever, but it's good and if these themes sound appealing, then you'll likely enjoy it.

Ah, the good old days of vacation reading....

I remember winter break as if it were only yesterday. Actually, it technically ended day before yesterday. For me, it ended after Jan. 1, when I had to start cranking out my paper for the ALISE conference.

Here's some of what I read in those now bygone days...

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
An old man, now in a nursing home, flashes back to his younger days when he ran away and became a circus vet, met the love of his life, and witnessed a gruesome murder. This is a good read, page-turning, and heartbreaking in places but ultimately hopeful. Hopeful because we don't have to give up dignity, even if our circumstances seem wretched.



Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

You can see why women's self-help gurus of today might want to trace their origins back to this vaunted little tome. A couple of quotes:

On honesty: "I find that I am shedding hypocrisy in human relationships. What a rest that will be! The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere." (p. 32)

"We are all, in the last analysis, alone. And this basic state of solitude is not something we have any choice about." (p. 41)

"The sunrise shell [a perfect, matched pairing] has the eternal validity of all beautiful and fleeting things." (p. 76)

On unstoppable change:
"Intermittency--an impossible lesson for humans beings to learn. How can one learn to live through the ebb-tides of one's existence? How can one learn to take the trough of the wave?" (p. 109)

I don't know, but as we do survive it, I'm hopeful that there must be some way that we can learn to take it.



A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

I am a lazy Francophile. I love French stuff, French language, movies, food, when I happen to come across it, but I rarely seek it out deliberately. This book was an exception, and it was a pleasure to read. Mayle immerses the reader in the practical side of life in Provence, which is to say that there is much about FOOD. I love food, love eating it, love reading about it, and I swear just thinking about that delicious food in Provence made everything I ate this holiday season taste better. It certainly inspired me to get back to my favorite everyday creative activity: cooking. No special quotes to keep from this one, just a lovely lilting read.

Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins

I skimmed the above book at rapid-fire pace today, and here's what I came away with:

Jenkins is all about how multiple forms of media allow consumers to become participants. He wrote chapters on the group that tried to sleuth out how each season of Survivor would end by analyzing the footage frame-by-frame, the American Idol participatory phenomenon, and the Matrix with its "transmedia storytelling" through 3 movies, games, and websites. Jenkins writes: "Transmedia storytelling is the art of world making." And I think of all those fantasy novelists who have always been involved with world making, but their worlds were specific to the medium of print. Except when there were also role playing games... "Transmedia storytelling" is an interesting idea, and one I imagine I'll be mulling over for awhile.

Finally, he has a chapter on Harry Potter, which I know I'll be assigning to my students for next fall, because it's all about children as writers, not just readers. In the chapter "Why Heather Can't Write" (a play on the old Why Johnny Can't Read), Jenkins details the creation of a fake newspaper for Hogwarts by a homeschooled middle-schooler in Mississippi which then became a major hub of fan fiction, or stories written by fans to extend the world of the book or books. Harry Potter "fan fic" has been written for and by readers of all ages on many different websites. Heather had an edge as a site for kids because her goals were essentially educational, to get children like herself deeply involved with reading and writing. And then Warner Bros. and Scholastic attacked, which went badly; 1,500 people signed a petition to get them to leave her site alone. The corporate media withdrew, realizing they were attacking the heart of their own fan base. Jenkins also gets into the right-wing reactions to Harry Potter in this chapter, but that part of the story was less exciting (and more familiar) to me than the part that emphasized children as producers of media.

I'd recommend this to anybody engaged in thinking about media or storytelling, especially those who want a clear overview of the academic debates that preceded his approach.

Sherman Alexie, Circadian Rhythms

(nothing so fun as catching typos like "Alexia" for "Alexie" in posts that are months old... long-time GSLISers will know why I made the error....)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
What they're saying is true, this is a beautiful book. From the scene where Junior's new friend Gordy tells him that books and learning should give him a "metaphorical boner" to the scene where his mom rejects the gift of a pow-wow dancing outfit from the white man Ted (not that Ted fully understands that his hand-outs are being scoffed at, but all the folks on the res do), this book is outstanding. Alexie shows the frustration of being the only "Indian" at his high school besides the mascot. There's a section from this that I'll be reading to my storytelling classes this spring to spark discussions about cultural ownership.

Two quotes, both relevant to storytelling in different ways:
"So Coach and I sat awake all night.
We told each other many stories.
But I never repeat those stories.
That night belongs to just me and my coach." (p. 149)

"'It looks more like Sioux to me,' my mother said. 'Maybe Oglala. Maybe, I'm not an expert. Your anthropologist wasn't much of an expert, either. He got this way wrong.'
We all just sat there in silence as Ted mulled that over.
Then he packed his outfit back into the suitcase, hurried over to his waiting car, and sped away.
For about two minutes, we all sat quiet. Who knew what to say? And then my mother started laughing.
And that set us all off.
Two thousand Indians laughed at the same time." (p. 165-166)


Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream by Jennifer Ackerman

Do any of you have trouble sleeping like I do? Here's an interesting quote from this book, which is a very accessible synthesis of much recent research regarding our human bodies:
"In other cultures, such as the !Kung of Botswana, the Efe of the Congo, or the Gebusi of New Guinea, any one at all might be awake now [in the middle of the night]. In traditional, non-Western societies, social activity and frequent interruptions are often embedded in a night's sleep, say Carol Worthman, an anthropologist at Emory University. When Worthman conducted the first study of sleep patterns across a wide variety of traditional cultures, she discovered that the Western model of a habitual bedtime and a single spell of solitary sleep is rare indeed." (p. 176)

On p. 177, she talks about an historical study that found that in medieval Western societies, sleep often came in 2 sessions, "first sleep" and "second" or "morning sleep." Then Ackerman describes a contemporary study where subjects lived for one month in light conditions like those of a medieval winter in northern Europe, darkness from 6pm to 8am. "...[E]ventually, then fell into a pattern of two distinct periods, sleeping for four hours, from 8pm to midnight, awakening from REM sleep and staying awake for a couple of hours in quiet, 'nonanxious' rest, then falling back asleep at 2am for another four hours, until waking at 6am to start the day." (p. 177)

It's reassuring to someone who has frequent bouts of insomnia that come on about 4 hours after I've gone to sleep to read that I may be more normal than not.

Great Reading, Not-So-Great Holidays

This is not the place to complain, but the holidays could have been better this year. Fortunately, I devoted much of my time to the escapist reading of these great books:


Rita Gelman, Tales of a Female Nomad

Not the best written book in the world, in that there's not a strong narrative binding her wanderings together, but I was in the mood to read about someone else's wandering and it was perfect for that. Gelman has built a life around moving from place to place while also making deep attachments while she's in a place. Her tricks for gaining entree include wearing the local dress and cooking with the groups of women, wherever groups of women are cooking. The author is made of iron, which I envy, but when all's said and done I'd rather be an armchair traveler. She takes us to Mexico, Nicaragua in the '80s, Bali for 8 years, New Zealand, and on various trips back to the states as she maintains ties to her own family even as she builds deep relationships elsewhere. I respect her ability to notice when she is getting too comfortable and move herself on to more experiences. I hope I can do the same in my own way, with my own learning.


Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

This, on the other hand, is one of the best written books of the year. Junior is a bright kid stuck at a reservation school until he decides to transfer to the white high school, where the only other American Indian is the mascott. Never too reverent, this is a fresh take on identity politics. Highlights include the metaphorical boner over learning and the refusal of Junior's mom to take part in billionaire white-guy Ted's "generous" gift of Junior's recently deceased grandmother's pow wow dancing outfit. Just go read it already.


Pope, Eliz., The Perilous Gard

In this book, the fairies aren't little people, they're pagans and druids who took to dwelling under the earth when Christianity conquered England. They're not precisely human, however, and it takes all that our heroine Kate Sutton can muster to save her beloved from their All Hallow's Eve rite of human sacrifice.

Amy Saltzman, Downshifting
If I ever write career advice nonfiction, remind me not to include so much about the '80s that the book is hopelessly dated even a decade later. The premise is interesting: you don't have to leave your career to achieve balance, you just have to learn to set limits. However, I found the examples of corporate execs who downshifted to academia to be laughable... they're certainly not at the U of I. Most of the book consists of stories of individuals who have adjusted their careers in various ways to achieve balance in their lives. Worth browsing through, but not thorough reading.

Giving up one of many possible paths

I went and saw The Golden Compass on the big screen this week. It was fun, but I echo the comments of others who told me it would be pretty disorienting without the book. I really enjoy the villification of religion, simply because it's such a refreshing change of pace from fantasies where the good is implicitly God.

But the point of mentioning Pullman was actually to segue to multiple universes... if I could be all the researchers I want to be, if I could follow every passion, then I would certainly devote some time to trying to scare up the existence and contents of libraries that were in reform schools for kids in the 19th century. The 1876 report Public Libraries in the U.S. has some great leads in this regard. And I found these books....

--Schlossmann, Steven L., Love and the American Delinquent: The Theory and Practice of "Progressive" Juvenile Justice, 1825-1920
--Clapp, Elizabeth J., Mothers of all Children: Women Reformers and the Rise of Juvenile Courts in Progressive Era America
--Brenzel, Barbara, Daughters of the State: A Social Portrait of the First Reform School for Girls in North America, 1856-1905

If I could be all things, I'd pursue this. But for now I'm officially letting this possible project drop and instead pursuing other things. Like my presentation/article on the unspoken influence of women serving children in the devleopment of professional librarianship, 1876-1900. Did you know they were the first to systematically use national surveys to ascertain the state of library practices? I know, geeky but scintillating stuff.


An interesting book of children's writings, which I'm going to hold on to for the moment:
--Dulberger, Judith A., "Mother Donit fore the Best:" Correspondence of a Nineteenth-Century Orphan Asylum
but it Has No Index!!! Ack! I'm throwing a Lack-of-Index fit right now!!!!!