Saturday, October 13, 2018

Divine Providence

We hit the road early today so we could spend the day in Providence, Rhode Island. Every year, the Lincoln School holds a Children's Book Festival, and they always have wonderful authors and illustrators there. This year we went specifically for David Weisner and Kevin Henkes. The school had a little photo booth set up, so I got this picture of me and John:

I have always loved Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, so I brought that along for him to sign. I also brought two books from the school library that are now extra-special.I also brought along a couple of his books from the school library, and I told him that I use his books when I teach about Visual Literacy, and he said it sounded like a good project. Proud librarian moment!

David Wiesner had the longest line while we were there. We brought a couple books we already had, and I also got the school library's copy of Flotsam signed, but I bought the graphic novel Fish Girl as a treat for myself. Fish Girl is kind of like a modern version of The Little Mermaid, and I have that mermaid obsession, which I am seeking treatment for (not really though).

After we got all our books signed, we walked around a little, but the morning was pretty rainy and chilly. We did find a little playground, and had fun walking on wobbly rope bridges together:

Then we grabbed some lunch a Luxe Burger Bar in downtown Providence. I had the most amazing burger: it had the regular lettuce and tomatoes but it also had creamy goat cheese, caramelized onions, bacon jam, onion rings, and wasabi mayonnaise. I don't know if I'll ever have a burger as good as that one. I also had a Roadsmary's Baby pumpkin ale with a cinnamon-sugar rim.

On our drive home, we took a little detour to Danvers, MA to see the old Danvers Lunatic Asylum. The asylum opened in 1878, and was in operation until 1992. The property was sold in 2005, and much of the original building was demolished in 2007. However, since it is on the Register of Historic Places, it has been revamped and is now an apartment building.


The Gothic style "castle on the hill" inspired HP Lovecraft's horror stories as well as Arkham Asylum in the Batman Universe. (Arkham Asylum is where the Joker ends up, and meets Harley Quinn.)

This facility, which once utilized straitjackets and lobotomy surgeries, is now the centerpiece of upscale apartment living, and it has cheerful flowers planted out front; however, visitors should take a little walk.  .  .

Just two minutes down the road is the old cemetery, in which the remains of many patients who were 'treated' at the hospital now rest. It seems to be pretty well maintained, and some of the graves are marked with simple name plaques. However, the names of all those who died during their stay are listed on three monuments.

So, a day of children's books, playgrounds, pumpkin ale and asylums.  .  .sounds like a pretty good day.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Focusing on the Positive

I've been awake for 16 hours now. I had a terrible night's sleep, fueled by weird anxiety dreams and a mind that would not turn off.

When I got up this morning I watched an episode of Supernatural, a show on Netflix an 8th grader told me about. I am really enjoying it, because it focuses on urban legends and well-known horror tropes. This morning's episode focused on the Hook Handed Killer that preys on teenagers in cars, which coincidentally is the urban legend I speak about in the Scary Stories documentary.

I know that the first year of a job is the hardest. I am still getting used to a new school with new staff members and new students. I am adjusting to a fixed schedule with much longer days than my previous position. And all this comes with added responsibilities. Sometimes it's overwhelming.

I am using all my spare time in school to weed the collection. It's very exhausting and time consuming, but any librarian knows the sense of triumph and relief we feel when we dispose of unwanted books or technology that take up valuable space. So far I've withdrawn three book trucks, one media cart, and three big boxes full of books and VHS tapes.

So for now, I comfort myself with the knowledge that I am working really hard and I try to think about the good things:

I got hugs this morning as students walked down the halls to their classrooms.

My 8th grade class started doing their presentations on Visual Literacy, using the Whole Book Approach to facilitate discussions about picture books. One group did Where the Wild Things Are, and I had never noticed before how the moon changes shape throughout the story. It is full at the beginning and end, but when Max is in the land of the Wild Things, it is a crescent moon with pointed ends, mirroring the claws and teeth of the beasts.

One student decided to present by himself, and he chose The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He pointed out that the caterpillar eats his way through all the food, crossing over the gutter, and simultaneously passes into a new phase of life.

I do not often give full credit on assignments, but all the presenters today got 10/10 because I was genuinely impressed with their insights.

So tomorrow I'm off to the Rhode Island Children's Book Festival- hopefully it will be a good day for a road trip.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Scary Stories Documentary

On Saturday, Eric and I ventured into Salem, MA to see the documentary film I am in. We had no idea how crazy the traffic would be! I know that Salem gets busy in October, but it was only the 6th. I had hoped to visit a few of the filming locations for Hocus Pocus, but the streets were mobbed. We did drive by the historic Ropes Mansion, which was used as Allison's home. There were tons of people out front, taking selfies.

A few years ago, we drove into Salem during the summer so that my interview (as a children's literature scholar and librarian) could be filmed. I never knew how complicated making a film was until that point. When I arrived, I had to be wired with a microphone (but of course the wires couldn't be showing) and they had to get the lighting just right (which wasn't easy because too much light made my face look very white, but not enough light made my dark hair blend in with the wooden wall behind me). 

In the first trailer for the documentary, I was shown discussing folktales and myths, and the banning of the Scary Stories books. I figured in the years since then, maybe the filmmaker would have so much more material that my measly interview wouldn't be necessary. I told myself that even if I was cut out, that I wouldn't mind because it was still a unique experience.

Yesterday as we sat in the movie screening room at the Peabody Essex Museum, I was surprised to see my face on screen not once, but twice! The first little snippet was me talking about the haunting illustrations by Stephen Gammell, particularly this one:

The second clip from my interview is my analysis of the urban legend about the teenage boy and girl in the car, and they hear a radio bulletin about an escaped murderer with a hook for a hand. The girl becomes frightened, and begs the boy to take her home. He does reluctantly, and when he steps out to open the door for her, he finds a hook on the car door handle. 

An alternate version of this story is featured in one of my favorite movies Adventures in Babysitting (and it's worth noting that babysitters also have a prominent place in urban legends)

Stories such as this function as a warning to young people about societal expectations and monitoring their behavior (two teens, alone in a car could lead to sex); the other popular urban legend about a teenager in a car is the one in which a girl is driving and a car follows her, flashing its lights at her, leading her to pull into a gas station and scream for help. The gas station attendant calls the police, and a murderer is discovered to be hiding in her backseat.

I really enjoyed the documentary itself, not just because I happen to be in it. It brought up some really interesting interpretations of the tales that I had never considered. I was extra excited because I ordered these books for my new library, and they had just arrived on Friday afternoon, so now when I go to promote them to the kids, I will have some fresh ideas in my head.

After the film, we got a drink at Notch, a micro brewery. It was pretty good, but we wish they'd had more food to offer because we were really hungry by that point. 

I don't think the doc is available for purchase yet, but I will be keeping tabs on it as it continues to be shown at more screenings.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Beetlejuice dollhouse update

I've blogged about my Beetlejuice dollhouse before. In fact, there are more than a few posts dedicated it, beginning from when I found the dollhouse at Goodwill and paid $1 for it, and the evolution of it from generic 'haunted house' to what it has become.

I love to make my dollhouses and miniature scenes based on books/stories/movies that are important to me, and Beetlejuice has been my favorite 'horror' movie since I was little.

Since I bought the dollhouse at Goodwill for a buck, it was basically just a structure. It didn't have any of the building components like window frames or doors. I was able to make the windows by using upcycled clear plastic from containers (like take-out ones that I kept and washed) and some popsicle sticks.

Finding doors the right size for the openings was a challenge because I didn't have the ones that were meant to be with the dollhouse kit, and the nice quality ones that are stocked at places like Hobby Lobby were not the right size. (I really don't have the tools or expertise to resize the opening in a kit that's already assembled and on it's way to being completed.) The upstairs door from Adam's office was attached to the exterior rather than sitting flush in the opening. It's not ideal, but it doesn't look awful.

Trying to get a front door has been more difficult. The dollhouse is meant to have double doors, but I couldn't find any double doors the right size. I had some cardboard ones installed for a bit, but they looked terrible.

Then yesterday, the Goddess of Free Stuff smiled on me again!

I picked up a huge stash of Barbie stuff from the side of the road, including a nice Barbie house and a whole bag of dolls, accessories and other assorted plastic do-dads.

In the bag, was this random pink and white plastic door:

It's the perfect height for the house! I just need to add some trim around the sides to hide the gap.
Apparently, it's supposed to be part of a fairy door kit:
It looks even better painted red, like the house in the movie:

I wish it was a double door, like the house in the movie, but I can't complain about the price.

I also bought some mini purple lights and a tiny Beetlejuice Living Doll box (Ebay impulse buy) because I can never resist a little dose of metafiction.

There is also a tiny Coke can in Lydia room because:

The Beetlejuice house is looking pretty good!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Little Women, Big Thoughts

Today I had new food to feed my appetite for Little Women (the story by Louisa May Alcott, not tiny little ladies).  . .wait, I've used that joke before.  .  .

I had the day off from work, and my wonderful husband also arranged to take a day off, so we planned a little date. We drove all the way to Methuen, MA because that's the only theater we could find that was showing the new modern adaptation of the book. I had to see it on opening day because I'm a little obsessed with this story, and I've been waiting over a year now. I liked the PBS mini-series, but it left me hungry for more.

Of course, no film rendition will ever take the place of the 1994 one starring Winona Ryder and Christian Bale because that's the movie I saw in the theater when I was in middle school, shortly after I read the book.

So without further adieu, let's dive right in-

                                              **********SPOILERS AHEAD**********

I was very relieved to see that although this new movie is a modernized version, that everything was tastefully updated. For example, Meg wouldn't attend a "coming out" debutante party in 2018, but she would attend a prom. It would have been easy to steep the sisters in modern technology, but that would have cheapened it. I was glad to see that Jo was writing in a paper journal, instead of blogging or vlogging. And I really loved the camera shots that captured Beth's love of playing the piano; it wouldn't have had the same effect if she was a DJ or singing songs with an acoustic guitar in a coffee shop.

My husband has never read the book, but he has seen the 1994 movie more times than he ever thought he would, and offered the insight that this new movie not only honors the tent-poles of the text, but also seems to pay homage to the previous generation's film. It makes perfect sense, because women my age saw the 1994 movie when we were young, and now we are the age where we would be accompanying our own children to see a film based on a beloved story. For example, the part where Jo accidentally scorches Meg's hair is in the text, and is a pretty funny part in the 1994 movie. The modern film-maker could have chosen to have Jo coloring Meg's hair, and the attempt goes horribly wrong, but the scene still revolved around a regular old curling iron, and it played much like the 1994 one. 

Similarly, when Meg is at the prom and feels self-conscious after drinking and kissing a boy she barely knows, she wipes her lipstick off with her fingers, much like the part in the 1994 movie where Meg (played wonderfully by Trini Alvarado) carefully uses the lace edge of her handkerchief to remove the lip color she allowed the other girls to put on her. And the girl who plays young Amy bears a striking resemblance to little Kirsten Dunst.

Obviously, some things had to be updated in order to make the story believable in a modern setting. Beth doesn't get scarlet fever, she is diagnosed with leukemia. Jo doesn't go to New York to be a governess, she enters the writing program at Columbia University.

The actors who portrayed Brooke and Freddy Bhaer (as they are called) were very pleasant to look at, but the actor who played Laurie annoyed me. Although the character of Laurie is playful and kind of a show-off, this actor came off as flamboyant and hipster. I think Christian Bale has more charm in his pinky finger than this other guy has in his whole screen presence.

In case you're wondering about the Mad Woman in the Attic, she's alive and well.  .  .

No, not that one, the one created by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, circa 1979. Gilbert and Gubar wrote that 19th century literature contains only two types of women: the madwoman in the attic (a la Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre) and the angel of the household (a la Beth in Little Women). In Alcott's text, Beth is the only sister that does not marry, or have any romantic prospects at all. While Meg is married and having children, Jo is striking out on her own in New York, meeting the man she wil eventually marry and Amy is traipsing around France with her longtime childhood crush Laurie, whom she will eventually marry. In this modern version, I could not help but notice that Beth is almost always dressed in blue, and even the light in her hospital room is blue-ish. Light blue is the color of the Mother Mary, and so Beth continues to be shrouded in the image of a Virgin.

She's even wearing a little gold cross necklace

So despite Jo's fiery red Converse sneakers, and the short dresses, this story continues to exemplify a second generation feminist interpretation of a 19th century story!

It's pretty funny, because just this week I was talking about Little Women with the 8th graders I teach. This week is Banned Books week, so I was telling them about how Little Women was first published, some people thought it was too radical (a woman writer? Meg burning the jelly?! what the what?!) but now it is sometimes criticized for not being feminist enough (even rebellious Jo eventually settles down and marries and has children).

I know I am picking apart the movie, but overall I did enjoy it. I think I would like to own this version, and I could even see it in the theater again. I might have to see it in the theater again because I have to wait over a year until the next Little Women film comes out (supposedly it has Meryl Streep, Emma Watson and Bob Odenkirk in it).

I guess for now, I'll have to rely on my trusty DVD's and collection of Little Women books to get me through. As I watch the 1994 movie, I'll rest my teacup on my side table and reread my thoughts on Transcendentalism in the March marriages.  .  .

I guess I really am obsessed.  .  .

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Year of the Unicorn

Just a quick update from the New Job Home Front:

Open House went well. I saw alot of students (even some of the 8th graders) come in and show off the library to their parents. Also, this happened:

Today was  PJ Day. I paid $1 to wear my new unicorn pj pants  and my new unicorn TIE DYE shirt:

Today I got locked in the staff bathroom at work. The handle fell off inside, so first I tried to turn the little bolt/screw thingy to see if I could undo the lock. That didn't work, so instead I had to bang on the door as loudly as possible until one of the 1st grade teachers down the hall came to rescue me. I went to the office to let them know, went back to the library to make a warning sign for the door, and as I approached it, I heard someone else banging on it and shouting "Let me out!" At least it wasn't just me.

The thing that made my day was a hug from a student. He likes science and science fiction, so last class when we talked about A Wrinkle in Time and tesseracts, he was loving it. I'm really glad that I found a way to connect with him, but it also is a reminder to me to incorporate more STEM STEAM STREAM books and activities into my library lessons.

I guess between both these pics, it's fair to call this year the Year of the Unicorn.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen

I just read the best historical fiction novel! I have always loved historical fiction, but I also love film history. And I also love dogs, because what kind of person doesn't love dogs?

Candace Fleming's account of Strongheart, the dog film star of the 1920's, reads quickly and easily.

The story is told mostly through text, but the pencil drawings by Eric Rohmann are evocative, and really tug at the heartstrings. Furthermore, the sequences of black and white illustrations that do not have any text in them makes the reader feel like she is watching a silent movie.

Like many film stars, past and present, his career was not without scandal. A couple claimed that he attacked and "tried to eat" their daughter; they had orchestrated the whole event in order to sue the film studio. Strongheart's name was cleared, and he went on to make more films.

Because he was such a celebrity, his name and visage became a brand, marketing to dog owners and film-goers alike. His name appeared on dog food, dog training schools, even household groceries like lettuce:

He even had a famous romance, with another dog. Jule, a female German Shepherd, was discovered in a nationwide search to find a 'leading lady' for America's four-legged film star. They did have puppies together, and the family bloodline is still in tact today.

In 1929, Strongheart accidentally came into contact with a hot studio light while filming and was badly burned. He never fully recovered, and he died a few months afterwards.

Sadly, only one film of Strongheart's remains now; the others have all been lost. There is a version of The Return of Boston Blackie available for free on Youtube, if you're interested:

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves dog stories, or is interested in film, or anyone who enjoys novels with illustrations that assist in telling the story.