Thursday, August 27, 2015

Throwback Thursday Post: Meeting Raina Telgemeier (Three Times in Three Different Places)

My first year at grad school, I was able to attend the annual Horn Book awards in Boston.  I'd still be able to attend now, but back then I was able to attend for free. One of the authors there that year accepting an award was Raina Telgemeier. I didn't know much about her at first, and then I glimpsed the graphic novel adaptations of The Babysitters Club, and I realized I had heard about them before.

The book which won her the award was her autobiographical account of her childhood and teen years spent dealing with her dental woes (as well as sibling squabbling, mean girls at school, and an earthquake). I bought the book, and got it signed by her, but it wasn't until the next day or so that I sat down to read it.

That book instantly became a favorite. Everything about it was relatable in some way.

When I got my job at the school, I promoted it to any kid who'd listen to me. It had been shelved in the health section (because of all the dental-related content) and I ended up switching it to the graphic novel section, and displaying it often. Its popularity soared, and we've had to buy several additional copies and replacements. We even have the book translated into French. We've purchased her other books, including Drama and the companion to Smile, titled Sisters, And more than the books, I've now attended three of Raina's signings: Boston, MA, Portland, ME and Montreal, Canada.

me and Raina in October 2012 in Portland, Maine

Today I saw on my Facebook feed that there is a collector's edition of Smile available, so I know it's going on my "to buy" list. I'll need something to tide me over until her next novel, Ghosts, is released next fall.

Some people might wonder why I'd bother seeing an author more than once, but each event was its own adventure, and even though she talked about Smile each time, there were different anecdotes and tidbits she shared, and audience members ask (some) different questions each time. I have my own, well-read copy of Smile that I take to each signing, so it's been signed three separate times now.

EVERYONE who reads this should go check out Raina's page, if you don't already know of her"

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Questions Regarding Maker Spaces

I'm full of energy now because I attended a two day workshop on Maker Spaces.

For anyone who's not sure what that means, a maker space is simply a place where people gather to share resources and knowledge, work on projects either as a group or independently, network, build and create.

The concept isn't new; people with common interests have always joined together in groups to connect and share and learn from each other. But maker space in libraries have become a recent fixture (I don't want to say "trend" because I hope that they will continue to evolve, not just enjoy a brief bout of popularity). At this workshop, a couple of my peers said that although they were excited about installing a maker space in our school, they didn't understand why it should be in the library.

This is a struggle that I know almost every librarian copes with; despite our efforts to modernize and stay current, both with our collections and our services and outreach, many people still have an outdated view of the library space and the role of the librarian. The library is no longer a quiet, musty building and librarians are no longer old spinsters. 

Libraries have always fostered the growth of knowledge, and for a long time, reading was one of the only ways to attain higher learning. But that's no longer the case. 

Reading will never become obsolete, and neither will books while we're on subject. But there are so many other methods and tools at our disposal now to enhance our learning processes. I love working in a school library because it allows me to play so many roles. Some of them are easier, like the librarian or the teacher or even just a listener. I also get to be in a student role, during workshops,seminars, or sometimes even just having a colleague (or a kid!) demonstrate something for me that I didn't know how to do. Being a student isn't always easy though, because unfortunately I always strive for the A+, and anything that falls short of that grade, or my own expectations automatically earns a big ol' F in my head.

Anyways, like I was saying, the role of the librarian has evolved and we don't just recommend books anymore, we facilitate learning in as many ways as we possibly can. In our school library, we strive to provide our students with a variety of options for any kind of learning. We have books, (duh) and they are all issued Ipads, which are a valuable learning tool, But rather than just talk about research skills, we have a weekly trivia question which they can choose to answer, and they're allowed to use any resources they wish to in order to find the correct answer. 

In general, I feel that I'm pretty laid back when it comes to the students. As long as they are being safe and respectful (of each other, staff and the library space itself) they are welcome. My only other request of them is to be productive, in any way. My pet peeve is when a student comes in and just wanders around aimlessly because he/she doesn't feel like being in study hall. They are welcome to read (books,magazines,comic books are options), work on the computers, play board games (or cards or chess), answer the weekly trivia question, or use the art stuff (crayons,colored pencils). Sometimes a student who's having a rough time might come in and ask to sit with the bunnies (we have two), and that's OK too because the students should always feel safe and supported, and I like the idea of libraries as sanctuaries. Having a maker space in the library is another option to help the students learn: from us, from the projects, from each other and from themselves. Maker spaces are also another option to encourage productivity, and might help students who enjoy the library environment, but have trouble settling down or committing to one of the other options.

So I'm all jazzed now about the prospect of a maker space, but I didn't foresee the overwhelming number of questions that arise once this idea was put forth:

-will the maker space be a permanent fixture, as in a room that's designated for that purpose, or should it be more flexible, like a table in a corner that can be moved in order to accommodate whatever activity/project is planned

-should the space be open all day, so that students are free to come in on their own time and work/play/create/build/design, or should it be the responsibility of a staff member to sign out the space for his or her class, and entire classes use the space together?

-should we provide directions to the young makers? either in spoken or written form? Or should we allow them the freedom to devise their own designs and methods?

-Most of us agree that the process of making should be emphasized more than the finished product, but should there be any way for students to display or present the finished products? Or will  knowing that the finished products will be displayed create undue stress and anxiety and competition among the students?

These are the BIG questions, bigger than trying to gain support from staff members/administrators/parents, bigger than trying to obtain adequate funding to keep the space stocked and functional, even bigger than my struggle to get people to refer to me as Ms. rather than Mrs.

I love to make things. I'm excited to make a space for other people to make things. But first, I need to make up my mind on how we're going to make this place for people make things.

"That's the trouble. I can't make up my mind. I haven't got a brain."

Friday, August 21, 2015

Working on my new Haunted Dollhouse

So months ago, I got this dollhouse at Goodwill for a buck.

I knew I wanted to do another haunted dollhouse (the first one I did is no longer w/ me-
 had to leave it behind when I moved) but I couldn't decide how I wanted it  to look.
I don't want it to be a hokey kind of haunted house with mummies and vampires, but I wanted it to look like an old abandoned house that is the subject of local lore. You know, the kind of creepy old house that kids dare each other to go into, and that everyone swears they know someone who's seen a face in the window.

I finally got the paint last night: I am going to use a crackle glaze, and gray acrylic over that. 
The house didn't have any of the trim or window frames with it, so I'll have to figure something out for that stuff.  I'm much better at doing the interiors of my dollhouses, so the exteriors are always a s̶t̶r̶u̶g̶g̶l̶e̶ challenge.

Now that the Halloween stuff has started appearing in some stores, I feel more inspired. Creepy dollhouses are always fun because of their muted horror. Most of the time they are pastel colored, with smiling dolls and interiors that we wouldn't mind living in ourselves, although those can be equally as horrifying if they are in certain contexts- like The Lovely Bones.

The Lovely Bones is an adult book, but let's not forget Betty Ren Wrght's classic The Dollhouse Murders, in which a family of dolls re-enact a brutal murder in order to solve a mystery that's plagued the family for decades.

As if dolls acting out a murder in a work of children's fiction isn't creepy enough for ya, how about the real-life dollhouses of Frances Glessner Lee, who built 1:12 scale dioramas of real crime scenes. They are used as training tools for forensic investigators.

Here's a site with more info on ol' Frances:

Although I've never recreated an actual crime in my own work, I did construct a roombox inspired by The Silence of the Lambs after a friend joked about the possibility.  . .I was pretty excited to find that tiny bottle of lotion (to place in the basket).

Friday, August 7, 2015

Good Night, JD

I received a bit of sad news last night. JD the cat has died.

For most people, that sentence doesn't carry much meaning, other than a feline has ceased to live. However, for people familiar with Portsmouth, NH, and more specifically Strawbery Banke museum, it's the end of an era.

JD the cat was a staple of Strawbery Banke. He wasn't owned by the museum; he was owned by a local family who had adopted him years ago. Or, rather, maybe he adopted them? You know what they say about cats. We don't adopt them, they adopt us. And JD was like one of those crazy cat ladies who wants to adopt every cat she sees, except he was a cat. He wanted to adopt everyone.

His family named him JD, short for John Doe, because he'd been a stray with no identity. But "no identity" does not mean no personality.

JD could be seen somewhere around the museum on most days. He especially liked the catnip crop in the garden.

I was lucky enough to be visited by him more than a couple times in the two years I worked at the museum. I remember one time in particular when I was role-playing in Abbott (the 1940's grocery store), and he crept past me as I opened the door to sweep. I politely rounded him up, and gave him a nice pat to show him there were no hard feelings. Not two minutes later, he snuck right back in other entrance!

He was very adept at that, and he had no regard for employees chasing him or security systems, and was caught more than once sleeping on the antique beds.

He became so well-known that there was a children's book written about him! And little plush black cats sold in the gift shop.

Here's an article about the book from Foster's:

The first book proved to be successful, and inspired another book starring him.

In the mornings, he could be seen strolling through the parking lot toward the front gate. And in the evening, he could be seen sauntering away, like he had punched in for a day's work, and was going home to unwind.

We were passing by the museum just a couple days ago, and we noticed him sleeping in the catnip. I'm glad we paused to say hello to him, and give him a friendly pet on the head.

So as a small tribute to the cat with no identity, but tons of personality, here's a photo I took a couple years ago, when I started working at the museum.

 So long, JD. You left us with a legacy.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Another Children's Lit. Adventure

Last weekend, we ventured up to Littleton, New Hampshire. Aside from being home to the world's longest candy counter, the town is also the birthplace of Eleanor Hodgson Porter.

The Pollyanna statue outside the Littleton library

Porter is best known for penning Pollyanna, the story of an orphan girl whose remarkably optimistic outlook on life radiates outward, impacting everyone she meets in her new hometown. Her stodgy Aunt Polly, a reluctant guardian, is transformed into a caring and warm woman who allows herself to open up to love she previously resisted, both from her sunny niece and a former beau.

Even if one hasn't read the novel, anyone who's seen the 1960 Disney classic starring Hayley Mills already knows this. Of course, as with any Disney movie, there are significant differences between it and the original text.

I can often remember when I discovered the differences between Disney adaptations and the tales they're based on; I still remember how horrified I was when I read what really happens to the little mermaid. Although the Disney film Pollyanna is 'inspired by' rather than 'based on' Porter's novel, I think the spirit of Pollyanna transcends the textual contentions and comes through in the music, colors and All-American tone that is the hallmark of post-war Disney. And the ingenue Hayley Mills is incomparable, which is why I never understood Disney's reasons for re-making The Parent Trap.

Although Littleton doesn't offer much more as a tribute to Porter than a statue (no preserved home or museum of literary artifacts to peruse), it's worth a day trip to say you've been in The Glad Town.