Friday, October 20, 2017

It Started with a Smile

I recently read two new graphic novels: Awkward and Brave. Both of these stories feature the same group of characters in a middle school setting, and I started thinking about all the graphic novels that have come out in the past few years that focus on the middle school experience. Although these two stories are not true in the way that a memoir is, they were so authentically written that I am sure the author Svetlana Chmakova, must have tapped into her own memories at least a little bit.

Since Raina Telgemeier's book Smile was published seven years ago, there has been a wave of read-alikes flooding the publisher magazines and bookshelves. I do not mean "read alike" in a negative sense, I mean that in a good way because these books were obviously needed! Not just by current middle schoolers, but by readers my own age who are still reflecting back on our own school experiences.

Let's take a quick look at some of these books:

Smile was released in 2010, and Telgemeier penned a companion to it which was published in 2014. Both books depict Raina's childhood and adolescence, although Smile deals with dental drama and social challenges whereas the companion is more about her family.

Like Smile, Cece Bell's El Deafo (2014) follows the main character as she navigates childhood and adolescence with a physical challenge; in this case, her hearing loss. Her hearing loss affects her school work and development, and wearing cumbersome hearing aids impedes her social life.

In 2015, readers got a look into the underground sport of roller derby through Victoria Jamieson's Roller Girl. Jamieson herself maintains a not-so-secret identity as Winnie the Pow in her local roller derby league.


Sunny Side Up is Jennifer Holm's 2015 story based on true events in her childhood involving her older brother's struggle with drugs. The conflict of loving someone, yet also hating them sometimes because of the hurt they cause, is presented realistically, yet sensitively and in an age appropriate way. This year's sequel, Swing It Sunny, picks up where the story left off.

This year also introduced me to the graphic novel Real Friends by Shannon Hale (illustrated by LeYuen Pham). Like Sunny and Raina, young Shannon also suffered with difficult family issues, and endured more than her fair share of bullying and social alienation. I blogged about this book last June, when I first read it.

Next on my reading list are:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hello, Winnie the Pooh

I'm all excited for the movie Goodbye, Christopher Robin, and my friend just told me that there is a Pooh hiking trail in Barrington, NH, so yesterday we went to check it out.

It was a beautiful day for a hike!

The trail is well marked with reflectors on trees, plaques that show illustrations and quotes from the books, and of course the characters' houses.

The first site you see is the door that leads to Christopher Robin's house:

Not long after that is Rabbit's House:

And of course John had to see if Piglet was home:

We knocked, but he didn't answer.

Of course, my favorite Pooh character is Eeyore, and I was glad to see that his house was still standing, so we posed for a picture inside:

The last house you'll find belongs to the Man himself, and there are a couple jars of Hunny waiting for him when he returns:

The little hike only took us about 30 minutes, and John enjoyed looking for the little houses.

Now I just need to make sure I get to see the movie sometime soon! 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

So when we traveled down to Florida, I made it a point to visit Diagon Alley. Years ago, we visited Hogsmeade and it was wonderful. I wish we had been able to see Diagon Alley in the daylight, but we went for the  Halloween event (because that ticket was a little bit cheaper than a regular price one) so it was already evening.

The benefit to this is that it was definitely less crowded! We managed to get on the Escape from Gringotts ride within ten minutes of walking through the gate, and since most of the park go-ers were there for the haunted maze stuff, there were very few people to compete with for photos and good views. Seeing the streets of Diagon Alley lit up on a rainy autumn night was kind of magical:

The merchandise at the Universal Studios parks costs an arm and a leg, so I didn't buy any souvenirs. But we did indulge in a glass of butterbeer, and share a Cauldron Cake from Sugarplums Sweet Shop.

Being in Diagon Alley inspired me to work more on my Harry Potter themed used bookstore dollhouse, so when I got home I carved out some time and created a banner that shows all four Hogwarts houses:

The little flags were cut out from some packaging for the human-sized decorations that recently went up in the library.

I also found a lost owl in my stash of supplies, and he found a home perched on one of the flower boxes:

Now that I've been to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley in Orlando, and Platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross Station, I think the last big Harry Potter place on my bucket list is the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London. But at least for a little while, my Harry Potter fandom bug is satisfied.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Kathleen Glasgow Book Signing

Well, my last post was about an author signing, but I actually went a different author signing less than a week before I met Caitlin Doughty. I was equally excited about this one- especially because it required going all the way down to Orlando, Florida!

Just kidding. I didn't go all the way to Florida for a book signing (but I might sometime in the future.  .  .)

We went down there to see family, take our son to Disneyworld for the first time (with his cousins, who were also going for the first time) and of course I had to go to Diagon Alley (but more on that later).

The first day we were down there, we decided to explore a museum in Orlando, and I also visited the Orlando Public Library.

That library was AMAZING! I didn't really get to explore it because it was closed off except for the area with the author event, but next time I go to Florida I'm going to make a point to visit and look around more.

I went there specifically to see author Kathleen Glasgow speak about her YA book Girl in Pieces. I read that book last year, and as soon as I was done, I started going back to re-read some of the passages.

I wrote her an email about why her book means so much to me, and she was nice enough to write back. I love it when authors respond to their fans!

I started following her on Instagram, and a couple months ago, I saw an advertisement for the event. Since we were already planning to be near Orlando that weekend, it just worked out.

She was appearing with another YA author, Jenny Torres Sanchez. I hadn't heard of Sanchez before, but I'm going to check out her books now. She read an excerpt from Because of the Sun, which focuses on a teen girl who is grieving the death of her abusive mother, and the complexity of that love/hate relationship. It sounds like the type of book (mental and emotional struggles) that I often like.

Glasgow and Sanchez discussed current issues in YA literature, and hit hard on the point that all teens deserve to have a book in which they can see themselves. Of course, not every teen can relate to every story, but that just means that we need to advocate for diversity in YA literature. Not just diversity of people: race, sexuality, religion, culture, gender identity, etc. but also a range of stories and experiences.

I'm not a teen anymore, but I saw part of my story reflected in Girl in Pieces. I have seen parts of myself reflected in lots of books, ranging from classics to contemporary middle grade to graphic novels and YA.

The original copy of Girl in Pieces I read was an inter-library loan book, so I was glad to purchase one for myself and have her sign it after the event.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Caitlin Doughty (AT LAST!)

I've been a Caitlin Doughty fangirl ever since I read her first book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes back in 2014. I was visiting some former co-workers at the Portsmouth Public Library, and I saw it on the display in the non-fiction section, so I made a note to myself to ILL it. The book is about Doughty's life, and her devotion to death. She has worked in a crematory, as a funeral director, and a mortician. In fact, one of her blog posts inspired one of my blog posts earlier this year.

I've always had an interest in forensic science, but I know that most of the stuff on TV is either not real, or very dramatized . I've also always had a preoccupation with Victorian death; mourning jewelry, post-mortem photography, cemeteries from the era, et cetera. I started following her blog, and her YouTube series "Ask a Mortician", as well as her social media. I was hoping that when her second book was published, that she would go on a tour and make it over to the East Coast at some point (she resides in Los Angeles).

I was right! She had an appearance scheduled at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA! As soon as I saw it advertised on Facebook, I tried to get tickets. BUT, they sold out in record time. I put myself on the wait list, and then finally last week I got an email stating that some new tickets were now available, and I was lucky enough to snag one for myself. So last night, I finally got to meet Caitlin Doughty! I wore my skeleton earrings and my skeleton t-shirt for the occasion. 

Doughty has become an advocate for death positivity, and a revolutionary in her industry. She strives to create change in her business by speaking and writing about different cultural beliefs and practices surrounding death. For example, in the US there are very strict standards for opening a funeral home, one being that the mortician must be certified in embalming. But that is kind of discriminatory, because many cultures/religions do not believe in embalming their dead. That standard keeps people from entering the industry who might offer a more appropriate service to those types of cultures and communities.

Similarly, Doughty believes in keeping the process as natural and organic as possible. There is no health or safety reason a body must be embalmed; it has simply become a standard practice. There is also no reason why we must bury the dead in expensive coffins, or purchase headstones. Her own business, Undertaking LA, offers natural burials.

She also helps grieving families advocate for their rights. The rise of the medical industry, and the funeral industry, gradually stripped us of our ways of caring for the dead in our own ways. It used to be a family's own discretion if they wanted to wash the body at home, or possibly have a photographer come so that a mourning mother might have a portrait of her child to cherish, or have a wake in the home for a couple of days following a death, but we have forgotten those ways. Now we leave it to "the professionals", from transporting to washing to memorializing to burying (or cremating). And unfortunately those two industries have convinced us that their way is the only way.

And one of the most interesting tidbits I learned about her is that she is leading the way for more women to enter her industry. Years ago, she was in talks with a major tv network to have her own series about what the life of funeral director/mortician is like. One of the things that turned her off from the idea was how silly they envisioned it; they wanted her to pick up as blind date in a hearse, take the date to an abandoned asylum to go ghost hunting, etc. That's not what her business is actually about. Also, the network told her that she needed a male co-host for the series. When she asked why, they said "Well, we need an expert." She replied "Well, I AM the expert." And then they told her that they didn't think anyone would watch a show about forensics and funerals if it was just a woman hosting it. So she never got her TV series, but it did lead to her side career of writing.

I just started reading her new book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, so I'll have to review it at a later point. But for now, enjoy the photo of Caitlin admiring my skeleton t-shirt. He has his hand in the hair, and it reads "Slap me some skin!"

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Sanctity of Little Women

There are some books that I can never turn my back on. Even if I already have several copies of it, I have to just keep accumulating them because the story is so significant to me. Little Women is one of those books.

I recently sorted through a large pile of books that were donated to the library, and there was a perma-bound edition of Little Women in there. The library didn't need another copy, and I already own many copies and versions of the book, but I couldn't leave it. Besides, I justify it because I didn't have a copy with that cover art.

I love the bubble-gum pink color, and the black and white etching illustration because we always think that black and white equates simplicity, but the pattern at the hem of the dress is very detailed, and it symbolizes the complexities of womanhood, sisterhood, love, marriage and other themes are are central to the story.

And then just yesterday, I was at my local library and there were a couple books I grabbed from the free book cart:

The first one is a 1950's abridged version, and I am always a sucker for vintage books. But the other book is very significant because it proves a reality that I blogged about not too long ago. In that post, I wrote about how one woman was confused by the fact that Beth didn't die in the version of Little Women that she read with her daughter. The explanation is simple; the woman was clearly reading a publication that was only Little Women, the first book, and did not contain the second book Good Wives, which was published a year afterwards. Although most modern publications combine the two stories, clearly there are still some versions that separate the volumes. And the book with purple cover is obviously a modern book, but it specifically says that it is Book Two: Good Wives

If a reader was new to this story, she might wonder why the book begins with Meg's wedding.

Just for fun, here's a couple other copies of Little Women that line my shelves:

Gotta love the vintage copies!

Both of these editions have the same illustrations by Louis Jambor, but the covers are different.

An older version of just the second volume- I found it at a thrift store.

The book on the left is very special to me; it's the first Little Women book I ever read. Obviously, it's a very shortened version of the story, which is based on the 1994 film, but it is what began my love for this story.  I was sick in bed, so I spent the days reading it. I remember I finally convinced my mom to take me to see the movie in the theater, and just as I was putting my coat on, the doctor called, saying that my strep throat test was positive. So I had to get back in bed, and wait until I was better to see the movie. UGH! I was so mad.

The book on the right is another film adaptation, for even younger readers.

I guess I just can't say no to this story.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Rockin' Out

Labor Day is the official end to summer. I just wanted to spend it with my two loves, and I also wanted to do/see something new, so I turned to my new best friend Atlas Obscura for some ideas for cheap (or better yet, FREE) daytrips. We decided to go see the Madison Boulder, which is the largest glacial erratic (piece of rock that was carried by glacial ice) in New England. It's 83 feet long, 23 feet high (above the ground), 37 feet wide and weighs approximately 5,000 tons. The land that surrounds it was acquired by the state in 1946. Here's a photo of us in front of it, just so you can get an idea of its size:

The park is about 17 acres, and there are paths winding through the mossy woods that are perfect for wandering and walking. Pets are permitted, but I didn't think my cats and rabbits would have cared to come along.

My husband snapped this picture of me and my son as we stopped to look over a creek, and I love that we're both wearing tie dye.

I'm sad that summer is over, but road trips in the fall are always the best.

Friday, September 1, 2017

For Madeline

Three years ago today is burned into my brain.

I try to keep this blog more professional than personal, so I've never written about this before.

However, the library profession is dedicated to promoting knowledge in all forms. Anything that can help anyone understand, or feel understood, is worth writing and reading.

I spent that afternoon with a friend, helping her clear out her grandparents' home. The house had an amazing assortment of items that had not been claimed by the family, the antique brokers, estate sale shoppers, and yard sale pickers, so she invited us to come over and pick out things that we might like for our newly purchased home. It was a great time, and after we all went for pizza. That night, I was looking for something in the garage, when Eric shouted to me that my dad was on the phone. That's when I found out.

Just earlier that day, I had been scrolling through my Facebook feed, and I clicked on the photos you were uploading. You were celebrating a friend's birthday, and you were posting pictures that are not unusual for a 20 year old. I specifically remember thinking how much I liked your lipstick color, and how it made your smile look so bright.

At first I could not believe it. I thought "No, it's just someone that looks like her. Someone with a similar name. Someone with the same kind of car. It must be a mistake."  And then I thought that maybe there was another type of miscommunication; maybe you were in an accident, and you were badly hurt, but still with us.

It just didn't seem possible. You're 20 years old: having fun with friends, posting goofy pics. Just a few months beforehand, I hugged you goodbye as we walked out the bowling alley benefit, for my cousin on the other side of the family.  A couple years before that, you were at my wedding. When you were a little girl, I played Barbie's with you in your basement, and we somehow combined The Little Mermaid with an Austin Powers storyline.

I saw you in the hospital, when you were just a couple hours old.  My brother and I weren't allowed in, so your mom brought you into the hallway so we could see you. I always used to tease you that we listened to "Whoomp, There It Is" on repeat as we drove your sister to meet you.

You were the first newborn baby I'd ever seen before. The second newborn I would see would be my son. I wanted to honor you, so I took your initials M and J, and reversed them. You are Madeline Joan. He is John Matthew.

We planted sunflowers in our front yard. I have visited your headstone, but I much prefer to think of you while I look at those flowers. They are so vibrant, and full of life right now, and that's how I like to think of you.

I do not know the person that made this short film, but he did a wonderful job. If you ever met her, you should watch it so that you can see her face again. If you've never met her, or heard of her until now, then you can still watch it. I'm sure the creator would enjoy knowing how far his film has reached. And I know it makes all of us who miss her feel a little closer.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Birthplace of the Babe

The last post I'll write about my trip. It's suiting, because when we decided to move to Maryland in 2007, I told my now-husband that I had found the first place I wanted to visit down there. He was wary, probably because he thought it was going to be a dollhouse shop or something, but he was pretty happy when I told him our first tourist stop would be the home where George Herman Ruth was born in 1895.

My husband and son in front of the home's outside plaque

I'm not a "sports person" really, but I was always fascinated with the mythos of Babe Ruth. My dad was responsible for my learning about him, and the biopic starring John Goodman came out when I was a kid, and most people my age can quote lines from The Sandlot, so it wasn't long before I was checking out biographies about him from the local library. My dad once told me Babe Ruth had a connection to my high school- apparently, he played in an exhibition game in Rochester, NY, and while visiting the city he ate alot of Zweigle's hot dogs (a local brand, which is far superior to any other weiner), and the Zweigle girls attended Nazareth Academy. .  .I was never sure how factual this story was. The part about the exhibition game is true, and indeed there was a student who graduated from Nazareth in 1929 who had the last name Zweigle, and the Zweigle's company did have a Facebook post last year claiming that during his visit, the Babe was hospitalized after eating too many hot dogs (and drinking too much pop). So I guess my dad's story does check out!

My love of the Babe continues to this day; in grad school I took a course on American Consumerism and Leisure, and one of our texts was about the history of baseball. I turned right to the chapter about Babe Ruth, and the resurrection of the sport following the World Series scandal in 1919.

He's a prime example of our collective "American Dream"; the Horatio Alger type of parable which teaches us that natural talent and hard work can take someone from the humblest of roots and propel them to legendary status.

That type of narrative happens in sports, but it also happens in Hollywood and politics: three cultural institutes that define us.

Anyways, we hadn't visited the Babe Ruth Birthplace in about a decade, but we were happy to see it again.

The museum is the restored row house where he was born in an upstairs bedroom. And of course, there are a number of his original possessions on display there including uniforms, signed baseballs, a brick from the building that was once his father's saloon, toiletry sets, and his kimono from when he visited Japan.

Now we get ready to say good-bye to summer, and see what the fall brings.