Thursday, January 28, 2016

Art Journal from Discarded Books

Since we're trying to push the Makerspace movement in our library, I've been trying to think of crafts and challenges that we can present to students that are easily accessible and cost minimal. One project that I've been interested in doing for a long time is making an art journal out of a discarded book. And on Tuesday, we traveled to four schools to look at their makerspaces and learning commons so I guess I felt inspired to start a new project.

I chose my discarded book from our heap- I mean, our neatly organized shelf in the back room because it's blue (my favorite color) and because it was a biography of Amelia Earhart, someone who has always fascinated me.

I'm really interested in the concept of constructing by way of deconstructing. It seems anachronistic, and it makes me a little uncomfortable to think of about putting Derrida before Saussure, but that's just my inner literary theorist screaming out to me from deep inside.  .  .I try to keep her in a dark hole in the corner of my mind, but she's loud and her voice echoes.  .  .


First, I removed some chunks of the pages because as you add materials to an art journal, it tends to swell up, so you need the extra room inside the spine so it doesn't explode.

 This is the outside of it so far.

A while ago, I saw a technique on Pinterest for adding texture for scrapbooking and journaling which involved paper weaving, and we had some old strips of paper left over from a Christmas craft, so I tried that.

I wasn't exactly sure what I should be doing on the inside though. I'm not very good at painting or drawing, and it's difficult to write alot on pages that are already covered in text. (Of course, you can use gesso to hide the book's text, but it takes alot more time to coat each page in gesso and wait for it to dry. So I looked up some writing/drawing prompts to get some ideas. One of the first prompts I attempted was "Draw your inner critic." I've always had an image of what it would look like, so I tried to recreate it with Sharpie markers:

 And that led to the idea of doing a black-out poem, which is exactly what it sounds like. You take a book page, and choose which words to black out. The words that are left form a free verse poem. Another example of constructing by way of deconstructing.

I really enjoyed doing the black-out poem, and one of the pages that I looked at next led to imagine a steampunk story. The Lockheed Electra was the type of aircraft that Earhart flew, and the name seemed perfect for a steampunk heroine:

Lock: mechanical device used to secure valued items. Can be a physical object or a metaphor.

heed: pay attention to

Electra: one of the most popular characters in Greek tragedies, namesake of the Electra complex in psychology, which is the psychosexual competition she engages in with her mother in order to claim the attention of her father. That type of phallocentrism reeks of Victorian gender politics, and the Victorian era is the major inspiration for steampunk subculture.

Instead of blacking out words I didn't want, I enclosed the words I did want in bronze marker, and drew arrows to connect them and give it an industrial feel. But I used bright pink to represent the heroine, as well as the symbols for gender. And the background is a crudely drawn clock with its numbers slipping away, because the struggle of Woman is timeless.

 I was pretty amazed at how much I got out of that one journal page.

And last night as I was trying to figure out what to do next in my little journal, I was spotted by the baby. He wanted to color too, so I let him have a page to himself.

And then last night I was rummaging through my hoarders' stash- I mean my craft supplies that are neatly packaged into labeled containers, I found a few illustrated pages from an old Alice in Wonderland book that I had saved from one of the book mobiles that I made a couple years ago.

One of the prompts I liked alot was to dedicate a page to your favorite fairy tale.  I must emphasize that my drawing skills are really poor, so the original pencil sketch of the little mermaid was laughable. I laughed. My co-worker laughed when I showed her. Even a sixth grade laughed at my lack of talent. Mermaids are supposed to be breathtaking and beautiful, and mine looked like that crude imposter that Robert Ripley stitched together. 

But, it looks a little more recognizable now:

It's still a work in progress, but really, what isn't?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Oops, I did it again

I saw it at Goodwill, and I have very poor impulse control when it comes to discount books. Even though I binged on it, I still don't feel like I've had enough JP.

I will say that although I liked this book quite a bit, I found the character of Charlotte to be a little less sympathetic than perhaps she is intended to be. The reason for an author to employ multiple characters' POV's is so that the reader can get the whole picture and gain insight into each character, but I didn't find her all that relatable, and I found myself looking more forward to the chapter that were voiced by Amelia, her teenage daughter.

Teen characters often feel more real to me; maybe it's because I work in a middle school. Or maybe it's because I remember being a teen, whereas I am still in the process of being an adult, and it's easier to understand something that's already happened versus something that's still happening.

Or maybe it's because teens are desperately trying to figure out who they are, which is a painfully honest process, and as adult we've already figured it out, but we'd rather lie about it.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

More Mini Madness

The mini gods have been good to me lately. By mini gods, I mean the powers that make accessories and supplies for my dollhouse hobby accessible and on sale, not tiny deities/idols. Christmas is always the best time of year for this particular hobby because one of the most popular seasonal purchases is tree ornaments- which are often miniature sized items. Every year as soon as the Hallmark wish book is released, I scour the pages to see if there's anything I absolutely must purchase. Usually, I don't see any must-haves, but I find alot of other cute things that I wouldn't mind having, and then I wait until Christmas is over and they get discounted.

This little rack, with baking accessories hanging from it is a Hallmark ornament from the wish book

The little chair that's painted like an elf is an ornament that I found at a Goodwill, and the box of treats on the table is a Hallmark mini ornament 

and this little mug of hot chocolate by the bed is another Hallmark mini ornament

I was happy enough with those recent finds, which are all benefiting Santa Clause's home. Santa made out like a bandit this year! I just got this house out of storage (aka my parents' basement) in November, and it required some repairs. In about two months, the house was repaired, on display with the landscaping, and more accessories were added.

Santa always had just a radio, but now he has a TV too

And best of all, he got a new lady! This doll was actually an ornament that I found at Goodwill. She was very sad looking, with bright yellow hair and an ugly over-sized red velvet bonnet on top of it. I peeled off the hat, and painted her hair white. 

And then yesterday, I was perusing the clearance aisle at Walmart and I spotted a Bratz doll accessory set. I don't care for those dolls, but they looked very Harry Potter-esque. I couldn't resist. So now the Odd Shoppe also has some new goodies.

Looks like Scabbers/Wormtail/Peter Pettigrew might be trying ro stow away in a Slytherin student's knapsack

The pumpkin w/ the witch hat is actually an eraser that I bought at a Scholastic Books warehouse sale

the Bratz doll hat and scarf

looks like the shop's purveyor, Bartina Bogtrotter, claimed the scarf for herself.

So I hope you enjoyed this latest documentation of my incredible nerdiness. In case you require further proof of it, one of my New Year's resolutions is to enter one of my creations in a dollhouse show.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Horror in the Library

This is the Choose Your Own Adventure story that my 5th grade library class authored

Friday, January 15, 2016

Diaries (and Madwomen) in the Attic

So after the winner of the 2016 Scott O'Dell award was announced, I immediately put the book on ILL request for myself. It arrived very quickly (and I had to finish another book before I got too deep into this one) and I'm impressed with it.

The Scott O'Dell award is an award given annually for meritorious historical fiction written for children or young adults, and the award was established by the author Scott O'Dell in order to encourage more authors to focus on historical fiction.

I love historical fiction because it combines two of my passions. The 2016 winner, The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, at first appears to be a cliche in the genre. The protagonist Joan lives a life of drudgery, missing her dead mother and working hard for her cruel father. She decides to run away to reclaim her life. The outline might be very basic, but the character of Joan is well developed and very relatable.When I read a review on Roger Sutton's blog, he likened her to the beloved Anne Shirley, and the resemblance in her attitude and her narrative voice is unmistakable.

A common tool in historical fiction is to write the book as a diary, which makes alot of sense when you consider it. If we read a story about the past, we are observing it, watching it through a window constructed of words that opens to another time period. Even if everything in the story is perfect: setting, character development, tone, historical accuracy, we are still observing it. There's a passivity assumed because even if the story WAS real, it happened in a time before our own. When an author constructs a historical fiction as a diary, we feel more engaged. We're not just watching a story unfold, we are being told a story. It's as if the character has chosen to reveal the story to us, they are speaking to us and we are actively listening in order to show our appreciation for the privilege. It's as though we ventured up to an old dusty attic, opened a trunk, and unearthed a treasure.

I think what captured me as a reader is Joan's love for Jane Eyre. Not only has it always been one of my favorites, but there is a deeper textual significance that comes with the recurring Jane Eyre references. On page 30, Joan confides in her diary her dismay about her reflection in the mirror: "the darker it is the prettier I look." I'm certain that this is a common sentiment that most females think to themselves, whether they are 14, or 24 or 34, but that thought resonates in the greater context of the Jane Eyre theme. The less light there is, the less we're able to see and decipher: not only our environment or others, but also ourselves.

I'm not sure whether it's author intention or reader interpretation at work here, but it's impossible for me to ignore the very apparent angel/monster binary which characterizes Victorian texts.

Of course I am referencing Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's foundational feminist criticism piece "The Madwoman in the Attic" here; Gilbert and Gubar argue that female authors and characters from this time period are constructed as angels or monsters, the exemplary Bertha Mason (in Jane Eyre) giving the essay its title. Angels are constructed when a female is domestic and pure and good, like Jane, or Beth in Little Women. A monster is constructed when a woman rejects the Cult of Domesticity, like Bertha. She is violent and unchaste, guarding deep secrets and most troubling of all, she is uncontrollable.

After she runs away, Joan takes a position as a maid for a wealthy Jewish family. Her position encompasses the Cult of Domesticity and should signify 'angel', but the details of her life and her thoughts about herself, revealed in her diary, complicate this one dimensional descriptor. Indeed, as Joan is considering her countenance in the mirror, she observes that she sees the madwoman in Jane Eyre: the girl she sees herself to be is the built-in foil to the girl the reader comes to know through her writing, illustrating perfectly the point that that the angel and the madwoman are not necessarily two distinct entities, but two halves of a whole.

I think my literary theory professors from college and graduate school would be pretty proud of the way I have come to embrace this bit of structuralism. I became so enamored with this theory and this particular essay that I bought this pin, which is always on my purse. 

It's not a warning. It's not a disclaimer. It's an assertion. Gilbert and Gubar write that women we must work to kill off the angel and the monster because neither are accurate representations of women.

But I don't want to kill the madwoman. And I don't want to kill the madwomen.

They write the best diaries.

Monday, January 11, 2016

ALA in Boston

I feel so fortunate that I was able to attend the ALA Midwinter meeting in Boston this past Friday.

I'm not sure how many public librarians are able to attend ALA conferences regularly; my guess is that the privilege is mostly given to Library Directors or Branch Managers or Heads of Departments. It's certainly not cheap to go and the only reason I was able to attend is because the conference was in Boston, which is an easy day's drive to and from. I was only able to go for one day out of the four, but that itself was a triumph because school library employees often don't have the funding for extensive trips, even if they are for professional development.

It was wonderful to be back in Boston again, even if I was just in the convention center all day. I commuted to Boston 2-3 times a week for two years as I completed my Master's in Children's Literature, and I don't regret it. In fact, it's like the city was welcoming me back, because one of the first people I saw at the conference waved at me. I knew she looked familiar, and as it turns out, she is also a Simmons alum.

At the end of the day, on the drive home, my husband asked me what the highlight of my day was and I think those first few moments in the unconference session were the highlight. After I said hello to Tahleen and touched base with her, I went and joined a group of librarians who were discussing how their locations cope with diminished support staff. We also discussed many other topics, like how to advocate for ourselves when we need more funding, more positions added, etc. Just speaking with others who struggle with similar issues as we do in our school library, and having something to contribute to the conversation (and keeping that dreaded imposter syndrome at bay) was enough to make me happy I'd gone.

After the unconference, I spent a half an hour trying to figure out how to get to the next session I wanted to attend. When I realized it meant taking a shuttle across the city, I decided to find a session in the convention center to attend in order to maximize my time there. I paid $8.00 for a garden salad, one of the things I do NOT miss about being in the city is the overpriced food, and then waited a little until my next session.

I decided to attend a workshop on Summer Reading Programs because right now we are hoping to promote summer reading options more. This workshop seemed directed towards public libraries, who are open all summer, but I wanted to get some insight for ideas they've used because we might be able to adapt them into something we can promote in June, and then in September finish with the promotion using a theme or incentive.

Afterwards, I made my way to the ballroom for the Author Forum. My husband was pretty jealous when I told him that documentary genius Ken Burns was one of the authors I saw speak. Burns has his first children's book coming out this year. The topic of the book, the Presidents, doesn't seem particularly fresh, but I'm hoping that Burns will infuse some of his trademark stylistic tricks into his text.

I left the Author Forum a few minutes early because I wanted to be in the exhibit hall as soon as it opened. I knew I wouldn't have much time to score the swag. I had about 40 minutes in the exhibit hall, and I grabbed as many posters, stickers, bookmarks and ARC's as I could hold. I also managed to get a free Berenstain Bears book, and got it signed by author Mike Berenstain (son of Stan and Jan, the creators). My husband was also a little jealous about that.

So now I'm sitting here, trying to sort through the swag and organize it.

One of the ARC's that I'm excited to delve into is this one:

A dystopian retelling of Peter Pan. The cover art is very Steampunk, which I don't think is a coincidence considering the most recent film adaptation of Peter Pan also had a steampunk motif.

 Captain Hook, looking very steamy

I hope to be reviewing some of the ARC's that I snagged in the near future.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Terminally Unique

That's a term used in AA to describe an addict's belief that he or she is different than everyone else. For years, I thought that I was superior because I eschewed the kinds of books that sentimental women devour. I don't mind sentimental stories in young adult books, because if the emotions felt by the characters come across as intense or melodramatic, it's a good thing. It's an accurate motif for adolescence because that's what adolescence is. But grown ups are supposed to be more practical, and I simply can't abide by stories in which grown women weep and moan about like lovesick teenage girls.

But it's only been about three weeks since my last Picoult post, and I'm at it again.

I picked this book up for free a while back, and since I read the other three books I was part-way through over the holiday break, I figured I might as well see what this one's about. So I'm a few pages in and one of the characters is described as "sitting with a reference desk around her waist like a hoop skirt", and my thought process goes something like this: "Reference desk? So she's a librarian. How coo- damn it! DAMN YOU, JODI PICOULT! You've done it again, and drawn me into your stories like their New England settings and your heart-wrenchingly accurate descriptions of mothers and their children and now this character's a librarian so there's an even stronger connection. There's no way out now."

And if the character's profession wasn't 
enough of a taste, she had me hooked with this passage:

"Librarians were on par with God- who else could be bothered with, and better yet, know the answer to so many different kinds of questions? Knowledge was power, but a good librarian did not hoard the gift. She taught others how to find, where to look, how to see."

I feel like if I ever meet Jodi Picoult, it's going to be a face off, with dramatic music piped in from somewhere unknown and cinematic close-ups of my facial expressions as I encounter the writer who dares to draw me into her well-written stories, with her maternal love narratives and New Hampshire tributes and librarian flattery.  .  .

Or, it might look something like this: