Saturday, February 27, 2016

New Art Journal

I recently completed my first art journal. It was a fun learning experience, and since I was prepping a bunch of books for an upcoming event, during which the students can make art journals if they wish to, I saved one for myself. I wouldn't usually recommend a picture book for this kind of art project because when so many of the pages are illustrated, it's a shame to tear them out or cover them up. In fact, with all the other books I've been prepping, I tore out and saved many of the illustrations to use in future projects. Not because they aren't nice to look at, just because the intention of this project if to make your own art, not just look at another artists's work.

Anyways, I saved this particular book for myself because it was over-sized, and I decided I'd like bigger pages to work with, and also because I fell in love with the beautiful winter scene on the end pages.

Additionally, there are some beautiful doublespread illustrations inside, and I did keep a couple of those. I thought they'd be fun to alter: adding in dialogue bubbles or drawing in my own characters. 

I added some pages inside that were from an old calendar. I thought this beautiful scene was reminiscent of Spring, which provides a nice contrast to the endpages.

I also added a couple pages from a withdrawn atlas. I chose three state maps to represent the three states I've lived in.

And of course I included one page of tie dye.

I love making these art journals from discarded books. If the book was especially well-loved, then I like to keep the library markings inside, kind of like a badge of honor.

Another reason I chose this book is because it's a retelling of one of my favorite stories, which is usually told in the form of a ballet production. So you can probably guess what story it is now- a ballet story that takes place in the winter time, and here's a snippet of the text to help you out some more.  .  .

But do you know who the famous illustrator is behind this book? Not to fret, there's a big clue in this double-spread illustration:

I'll have to think of something really fun to do on that page.  .  .

Thursday, February 25, 2016

La Libraire de Belle

The new dollhouse on display in the library is La Libraire de Belle, or for those of you who do not know francais,  Belle's Bookshop.

I think I got inspired to do this after one of my many viewings of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I knew before I started that I'd have to find the perfect Belle doll: the right size (about 1:12 scale) and also a quality item (porcelain, not plastic, and nicely painted/dressed). I found one on Ebay and as soon as I received her, I set about making her bookshop.

The shop is constructed from a Greenleaf Dollhouses kit, the Primrose. It's a small one that can be used an addition to their Laurel kit, but it can also be its own entity. It was small and affordable and even the name of the kit matched the Beauty and the Beast theme.

In order to decide what I wanted the shop to look like, I watched the movie. ALOT. The opening scene takes place in the town's market, and all the buildings are stone and brick in the classic European Tudor style of architecture.

I used egg crate, torn into pieces, for the faux stone finish on the exterior. Then I added dimension with chalk and paint. I used a semi-dark stain on the wooden shingles and the window frames.

I painted the interior gray, but I didn't bother doing stonework on the inside because I didn't want the walls to show much. I wanted to fill in inside with tall bookshelves.

I think most of the stuff inside was found at thrift stores, including Mrs. Potts. She is actually one of those collectible Squinkies. Chip, and the other dishes on the table, are part of  Disney miniature tea set.

Lumiere and Cogsworth are pvc figurines.

Belle's gown is a scrapbooking sticker, the mirror on the table is a jewelry charm, and the enchanted rose in the glass dome is from a Hot Topic necklace.

This is probably the best result I've ever had from making a kit. I would like to add some more details to the outside scenery, maybe some sheep and a fountain. And more than anything else, I wish I had a 1:12 Gaston.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Note from Picoult!

So I've been at it again. Last Saturday I was in a Goodwill, all the way up in Augusta, and I was perusing the bookshelves, looking for a new book to read.  I found a stash of JP books, and I picked Harvesting the Heart because it's about a woman who enters into motherhood, very unexpectedly, and what she finds out about herself as a result.

Like I've written before, one of the reasons I became such a quick convert to her books is because Picoult has the knack for writing about maternal relationship with honesty and insight, and just enough sentiment for my taste.

This book  is eerie in its resemblance to my own experiences with pregnancy and motherhood. I couldn't get over it. The more I read, the more it seemed like this thrift store paperback was actually a sacred prophecy that I had no idea existed but was destined to fulfill.

I'm not going to divulge all the individual similarities between Paige, the character, and myself; there were some moments in the text that were a little painful to read because they recalled some not-so-happy memories of my own. One of the best things about reading a story is that it allows you experience the action from a distance, and whenever it gets too intense you can simply close the book and walk away. This security is a luxury rarely afforded in real life. Especially a pregnancy- it's not like you can take a break from being pregnant. This reading experience is something I am going to hold close to myself, because sometime guarding a secret is better than telling it. 

After reading over 400 pages of similarities between myself a literary character that was created over 20 years ago, I was given a final nod that I was not simply over-relating:

"It's my day off from class; finally I'm getting my degree. Simmons College."

Getting accepted to Simmons College is what brought me to New England!

Because I had such an intense reading experience, I felt I had to share it with someone. Who better to share this with than Jodi Picoult herself? So last night, around 11:00, I sat in bed, typing out a long, heartfelt email to her, thanking her for this story and for the careful attention to creating the character of Paige. I shared some of the reasons I connected so closely with this narrative, and felt sated in my need to discuss this with someone.

Within minutes, there was a response from her in my inbox!

Again, I'm not going to share what she wrote because it's something I want to enjoy in my own mind, but the email was sincere and definitely provided a happy ending to the whole experience.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gotta Love a Man with Eyeliner

For my next pre-code film choice, I again relied on a YouTube recommendation. Night Work (1930) had a still of a bunch of babies as the preview image, so I was curious as to how the tots fit into the story.

As it turns out, the story is a romantic comedy about Willie, a lowly department store clerk who unwittingly sponsors a orphaned boy. He wants to continue being the boy's benefactor, because he has eyes for the pretty nurse, but the weekly cost of his new ward is more than his humble salary allows. With a little ingenuity, and the help from his gum-chomping pal Aggie, he finds a way to keep up his charade.  .  .because of course the pretty nurse assumes him to be a wealthy businessman.

The leading actor is Eddie Quillan, who links this blog post to yesterday's in that he later went on to star in The Grapes of Wrath (1940) alongside Jane Darwell. Quillan's career began in vaudeville and in silent films. He does resemble The Tramp, but with a baby face.

Gotta love a man with eyeliner

He had alot of secondary roles in films, and made many appearances on various TV sitcoms, including Little House on the Prairie. He's not a household name, but his career lasted alot longer than the actress who plays his love interest in this movie.

I couldn't find out much about Sally Starr (the movie actress, not the TV cowgirl). Apparently, she bean her career on Broadway, went to Hollywood and signed a contract with MGM in 1929, and her last movie was in 1938. There's been very little written or made public about her personal life, but she lived until 1996, so I guess we are to assume that following the end of her Hollywood career (either from circumstance or personal choice) she made a decision to live a quiet life. There were some typical publicity shots, from Broadway and Hollywood, available of Starr online, but considering her quiet exit from the silver screen, this photo seemed most appropriate:

As for the movie, it was probably my favorite one this week, and in a while. The story line, and humor, could've easily been translated into a modern romantic comedy which made it very easy to watch. I think one of the only scenes which really marked it as pre-code is a humorous one in which Aggie must pretend to be a mannequin (to avoid being caught in the men's back room, and subsequently fired), and the boss comes in and demands that Willie undress the dummy. It's about as scandalous as watching Robin Williams strip repetitively in Mrs. Doubtfire, but a scene involving a man undressing a woman, and having it suggested that he take off her bloomers, probably couldn't have gotten past the censors had it been proposed a decade later.

I'll definitely be looking for more pre-code romantic comedies to watch, but even more so, I'll be on the lookout for information about Sally Starr. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wednesday, with Ginger Ale and Beetlejuice Cameo

Yesterday morning I decided to watch Ladies of the Big House (1931).

Again, I didn't recognize any of the major players, but discovering new ones to research and look for in the future is part of the fun.

The story line was pretty straightforward, and enjoyable to watch. A newlywed couple is framed for murder by the woman's no-good, gangster ex-boyfriend. She is sentenced to life in prison, but her husband is sentenced to death.  The action starts out pretty early, and most of the film is spent trying to figure out what the fate of this innocent couple is going to be. Since the husband is in solitary confinement, most of their time in prison is shown by depicting Kathleen's experience in women's prison, and her interactions with the other inmates.

The first actress I recognized was in a bit part, but the actress is hardly a bit actress. Jane Darwell began acting in pictures before they had sound, and her career led her to appear alongside the singing and dancing Shirley Temple, in the technicolor spectacle Gone With with the Wind, winning an Oscar for her role in The Grapes of Wrath all the way until Walt Disney's record-setting hit Mary Poppins. 

She's not a glamorous young starlet, but her movie career didn't begin until she was 33 years old, and it was still quite prestigious, so let's give her her dues.

I didn't recognize the actress in the lead, Sylvia Sidney, by name or by face, and she pretty much looked like most of the other young ingenues from the pre-code era.

However, I did a little research on her, I was pleasantly surprised to find that she plays a wonderful character in one of my favorite movies. Apparently, Sidney's husky voice became her trademark, and her husky voice is attributed to her lifelong smoking habit. With this little bit of trivia, it seems appropriate that she came to play Juno, the caseworker in Beetlejuice.

So there was the update on my first February Break Challenge.

Unfortunately, the Grilled Cheese Challenge is already defunct. I got hit with a nasty virus, which had me nursing ginger ale for a couple of days, and destroyed my appetite.

But my craft challenge is still alive; today I went over to a friend's house so she could help me figure out the sewing machine we purchased for the library. I brought 3 old shirts along, and made them into reusable shopping bags. I've made these before, but I always hand-stitched them. Now that I know how to work a machine, I could make more in much less time.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday, Monday

So here's an update on the challenges I wrote about in my last post.

1) The pre-code film I decided to try is The Widow from Chicago (1930). It came up on my YouTube recommendations and I wanted to watch a movie without any actors I knew of. I didn't recognize the starring actress Alice White from any other movies, which isn't surprising because according to some quick research I did, she left movies in 1931 seeking to improve her acting abilities. She did return a couple years later, but a scandal (or some sources say, a series of scandals) marred her reputation and led to her only being cast in supporting roles and bit parts. There aren't many details about the nature of these scandals, except they involved more than a few men. Despite her short-lived film career, she does have a star on the Walk of Fame.


Despite the leading actress's modern anonymity, it didn't take long for me to recognize one of the other actors, Edward G. Robinson. Robinson's distinctive voice and and mug established him as one of the most famous actors of the Golden Age, often portraying gangsters and tough guys, with a career spanning 50 years.

One of the reasons I chose to watch this movie was because of its length: 62 minutes. That's a pretty short movie, and I figured that if it was a bad one, at least I wouldn't have to suffer long. The reason for the short duration is because apparently, this movie had been filmed as a musical. However, audiences in 1930 weren't receptive to musicals so right before its national release, the film makers decided to cut all the musical numbers and promote it as a gangster movie.

I really can't imagine this story as a musical so that was probably a good choice. Let's leave the singing and tap dancing to guys that can pull it off:

 In Europe, where musicals had never faltered in their appeal, the movie was released in its original format. However, this full version of the film appears to be lost.

2) Last night I made a grilled cheese sandwich using goat cheese and balsamic strawberry jam. The strawberries lend some sweetness to the tartness of the goat cheese- pretty tasty.

3) I am almost finished with the canvas I was working on, but I need to buy some spray paint. I'm currently working on something using an old wine bottle.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

My February Break Challenge(s)

It's that time of year again- February break! I start counting down to this week of winter wonder as soon as Christmas break ends. Don't get me wrong, Christmas break is wonderful. I love decorating my home and baking and spending time with my family, but it always goes by too quickly because it was spent shopping, wrapping, returning, baking, decorating, and driving. February break is MINE. I get the house to myself! My husband's school doesn't have their break until the week after, and the baby will be in daycare (because they charge us the full price anyways) so I get an entire week at home by myself.

In order to make sure that this break doesn't pass in a blur of sleep and sweatpants, I decided to extend some challenges to myself:

1) I am going to watch a new pre-code movie everyday.

2) I am going to make a new kind of grilled cheese sandwich everyday.

3) I am going to make some kind of art/craft each day.

Break week hasn't officially begun yet because I always have weekends off, but I wanted to get a jump start on these challenges.

1) I watched Hot Pepper (1933) which stars Lupe Velez. My first Velez film. I can see why she was so popular in the persona she embraced, but the movie bored me. The ongoing feud between Quirt (Edmund Lowe) and Flagg (Victor McLaglen) became redundant after only a few minutes. There were some funny quips, mostly from Lowe's wiseguy character, but I think the part which really illustrates its pre-code character is when Pepper (Velez) is running away from Flagg up the stairs; she knows he won't make her leave his home without clothes on so as she flees up the stairs, she slowly sheds her clothing, sending one piece at a time down the banister.
It's worth noting that on this promotional poster, Pepper has red hair. Velez of course was Mexican, and brunette. It could be an artistic decision to make the illustration match a pepper, or it could be a blatant attempt to Anglicize the actress, and make her sex appeal more palatable to American audiences. 

2) Last night I made myself a grilled cheese which had cheddar, cream cheese, chopped jalapenos and red pepper jelly. It was delicious.

, 3) I'm currently working on an idea for a canvas that I saw online, but I need to buy more materials.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Velveteen Rabbit Read Aloud

Today I got to continue one of my favorite traditions at work. The Velveteen Rabbit Read Aloud. It started my first year at YMS when one of the fifth grade teachers came to the library, trying to organize something to accompany her reading assignment about love. I suggested The Velveteen Rabbit as a good example of what Love means and it developed into a read aloud.

I think read alouds go by the wayside after children learn how to read; we tend to assume that we only need to read TO them when they don't know how to read, and once they know how, they'll want to read on their own. But this assumption is underestimating the books we read and also ourselves as readers; we don't read books just because we want to know the story the words are forming, we read books because we want to connect with others. Books become popular because people read them and TALK about them.

Furthermore, read alouds allow kids to experience a text without alot of expectations or demands. I think most people enjoy a story more when they can sit back, and allow the words being spoken to wash over them, and let their imaginations paint the story in their minds rather than trying to remember passages or think about how they're going to analyze it in a future assignment.

I love doing read alouds with middle schoolers. I don't believe in talking down to kids, and with this age group I don't even need to pretend. The fifth grade teacher concluded the read aloud by discussing the concept of vulnerability, and how sometimes in order to love and be loved, you need to be willing to take a risk and accept that you might get hurt. I love that this age group is old enough to pay attention to the story, and old enough to understand the concept of vulnerability, but still young enough to enjoy a story about a toy that comes to life without an eye-rolling.

And of course I brought in a couple visual aides. My own trusty companion Mr. Raccoon.

It's funny to think of a 30-something woman still toting around a stuffed toy, but I like showing the kids how much of an impact this story has on me, and I also like showing them that being a grown up doesn't mean leaving everything you loved as a kid behind.

I also show them the first photo of Mr. Raccoon, and how new he looked.

Me, one week old

Like the Velveteen Rabbit, his fur is shabby and whiskers have been loved off. 
His tail has become unsewn and his nose is worn with kisses.

But it doesn't matter.

"Once you are Real, you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

my son, one day old

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Another Entry in the Ol' Art Journal

I've been fascinated by zodiac signs for as long as I can remember. Today I was turning some more discarded library books into potential art journals, and I had to keep the section about my own sign, the Cancer. I also decided to use the rubber stamp kit I got at Michael's a while back (on clearance for $2!)

I love the characterizations of "strong personalities, deep understanding, warm sympathy, and individuality", and considering that I have a degree in Children's Literature and I work in a school library, the part about Cancer women being interested in literature in particular was fun to read.

I'm not sure how I feel about that last part though, about the violent death.  .  .

Maybe that could be translated into going out in a blaze of glory?

Because ALL school librarians who build dollhouses and watch pre-code films and keep blogs are destined for glory.

Friday, February 5, 2016

review of Night World (1932)

Well, I've been awake since about 4 am, and after I got up and dressed and packed my stuff up and made myself a cup of tea, my husband informed me that both our schools were closed for the day. Damn. Usually I sleep in on a snow day. But as long as I was up, I decided to take advantage of the extra time.

I looked up another pre-code movie that's available for viewing on YouTube. I ended up choosing Night World (1932). I picked this one because the cast included some very well known actors, like Boris Karloff. Karloff is of course known for his role as the monster in the classic Frankenstein films.

Now you probably recognize him

Also in the mix were Hedda Hopper, who is better known for her Hollywood gossip column, and George Reft, who became known for his gangster roles. And actress Louise Beavers appears as the maid, which is not surprising considering she built her career on playing maids and mammies. Let
's put a pin in that for now though, because a discussion of race relations in 1930's Hollywood is much too big a topic for this little post.  Lastly, it featured an early musical number directed by Busby Berekely. Berkeley's numbers were known for using large numbers of showgirls, dancing in complicated patterns that when combined with the camerawork and cinematography of the era, created a kaleidoscope effect. The lavishness of these numbers represent the Golden Age of musicals.

Among Judy Garland enthusiasts, Berkeley is known as one of her most infamous antagonists; he was purported to be incredibly demanding taskmaster who expected nothing less than perfection, not just in the performances from but in the actresses themselves. It's kind of offensive when one considers his expectation because he really utilized the showgirls as props, rather than individuals, inferring that they're more useful as objects rather than people. Here's a brief sample of typical Berkeley:

Also typical of a pre-code film, and typical of Berkely, there is some sexual innuendo in the little diddy. The girls are all in a conga line, doing little jumps, like  a ballet saute, and as they move toward the camera, they move their legs further and further apart, suggesting the loose sexual morals of the nightclub culture.

Overall, I wasn't really impressed with the film. It was interesting to see the famous actors in a film that none of them are really known for, and maybe the storyline could have worked if the film had been longer. Basically, the entire story takes place in a nightclub in which many people from different walks of life interact: showgirls, gangsters, socialites. They all have their own stories, but in a film that's only about an hour long, none of the characters have enough time to develop, so their stories get pushed aside in order to move the action along.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

good girl special girl my girl

I was touring another middle school's library recently, and of course I checked out their Horror section. I spotted a book cover that caught my interest, and made a mental note to ILL it for myself.

I love the cover, but everytime I say the title (to myself or aloud), I have to say it like Marge Simpson says it in that Treehouse of Horror episode in which Ned Flanders is the unquestioned lord and master of the world)

Anyways.  .  .

The book takes place in the 1960's, and centers on a teenage girl named Bliss. Her hippie mother has been disowned by her wealthy, proper grandmother and she is sent to a boarding school to get a good, and godly, education.

My first comment on this book is just about the typographic presentation; I really enjoy seeing a break from the usual fonts in the books I read, and I think too many authors/designers underestimate how much a font can add to the book's overall impact on the reader. But considering that Myracle was the first author to write a novel entirely in Instant Messenger format, it's not surprising that she would recognize the value of differentiating the voice of the narrator from the mysterious voice she's hearing in one of the school buildings- the voice that likes to talk about flesh and blood and bones.  .  .

I was already enjoying the story, and then on page 48, Bliss informs the reader that she's eager to continue reading Jane Eyre because she's "just discovered the existence of the madwoman in the attic".

She's baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack.  .   .

That mad woman in the attic seems to permeate my reading experience as of late. Recently I wrote about how this theory was a thread in The Hired Girl, this year's Scott O'
Dell award winner, and now here's another historical fiction story that uses that allusion, and I certainly don't believe the Jane Eyre reference is a coincidence. There must be a reason why Lauren Myracle chose to include that literary allusion, and there must be a reason why Bliss is enjoying that story unfolding before her.  .  .

I'm assuming that with her love and tolerance mindset (for example, she cannot comprehend why some people are not in favor of integrating schools: "It's confusing to me that visible wickedness- because that's what racism is, wickedness- is in some ways harder to fight than whiffs of blood and bones.") is going to be an angel, and there's some madwoman waiting in the wings.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Review: Evil Librarian

I specifically requested this book to purchase for our library because I don't think there are enough books about libraries and librarians. It's so wonderfully meta to have a book about a librarian, in a library, that's been read (and reviewed) by the librarian who will then be checking out to patrons who use the library. I want to display this book prominently because I love the cover:

I requested this book because it seemed like a good addition for our Horror collection, which has always been kind of my pet project. If I had my way, I'd have an entire room filled with horror books, decorated with ghosts and gravestones and black lights- the whole shebang. But the more of this book I read, I'm not sure I'd shelve it with the horror.

There's not really anything horrifying in it- unless a reader is very religious and is uncomfortable reading about devils and demons. I ended up putting it in our YA collection. I really enjoyed the main character's, Cynthia's, narrative voice because not only is she a believable teen but she also seems to be kind of mocking typical horror stories with her flippant attitude towards the central conflict: the fact that the new (very attractive) librarian is actually a demon from Hell in disguise who is planning to suck the life out of the students.

For example this excerpt: "And so yeah, demons and death and scary terrible terrifying things waiting around every corner, sure, and, for some of us, impossible journeys to some hellish underworld on the agenda very, very soon. Whatever. .  .  .And so for now I am listening to my favorite songs and dreaming impossible dreams and ignoring the reality of the swiftly approaching future as much as I possibly can."

She's acknowledging this scenario and simultaneously remarking how ridiculous it is and in the same breath informing us that she has other concerns right now, and I find the passage a very truthful account of a typical teen's thought process. Maybe it would be stereotypical if this was a realistic fiction book, but because the plot is so ridiculous already, and the character is aware of it, it doesn't come across as cliche but perfectly in line with the book's tone.

I have to admit that I also fell under the spell of the (very attractive) librarian Mr. Gabriel. The author's choice of surname for him is obviously appropriate, because Gabriel is one of the most famous seraphim, so the contrast of a demon having an angelic name is enjoyable. Mr. Gabriel isn't really described in detail, at least not in his human form, except that he is young and very attractive and has glittering eyes. I also enjoyed this because it allowed me to create my own handsome, young librarian construct in my mind's eye. Something along these lines:

He also had that irresistible quality that I love in my literary and film characters: the incredible acumen to see right through whatever facade you're attempting to present, combined with the haughty confidence to say exactly what he knows you're trying to hide. I love that quality in fictional characters- but if I encounter a real person with that gift it's a lot less fun. Anyways, when the character exposition is executed well, it's easy to see why Cynthia's best friend Annie might become entranced by him.

Truthfully, I was hoping there would be a little more library humor because it seems like this book is intended especially for librarians to enjoy, and there's always more than enough territory about how librarians are often thought to be old/unattractive/mean or that we're Type A control freaks who will reduce an adult to tears over a creased page.   . .I think the closest inference to this type of humor is when they realize that Mr. Gabriel is a demon and confront him, making the accusation "You're not human!" and he replies: "Strangely, the job description did not specify that as a requirement."

It's good to know that even if a demon steals my soul, that I cannot be fired. 

I knew I joined the union for a reason.

Any ways, I recommend checking this book out. I also recommend checking out attractive librarians, but I don't think you can take those home with you most of the time.