Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Compass Controversy

Maybe you too have gotten a forwarded e-mail something like the one below?

The Golden Compass, a new movie targeted at children, will be released December 7, 2007. This movie is based on a the first book of a trilogy by atheist Philip Pullman. In the final book a boy and girl kill God so they can do as they please. Pullman left little doubt about his intentions when he said in a 2003 interview that "My books are about killing God."

The movie is a watered down version of the first book and is designed to be very attractive in the hope unsuspecting parents will take their children to see the movie and that the children will want the books for Christmas.

The movie has a well known cast, including Nicole Kidman, Kevin Bacon, and Sam Elliott. It will probably be advertised extensively, so it is crucial that we get the word out to warn parents to avoid this movie.
I was sent this by a very well-intentioned, devout acquaintance who, naturally, hadn't read the book, or ever heard of Philip Pullman before this campaign.

When The Golden Compass first came out (in 1995), I read it and was blown away. I had previously read Pullman's Sally Lockhart trilogy (for YAs), and was impressed by the depth and quality of the writing, by the issues raised and the knowledge of history Pullman displayed. I devoured The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass minutes after publication. I distinctly remember having to put The Amber Spyglass down for a while towards the end -- I needed time to take in everything that was happening, and what it all might mean. It's that powerful.

Because of the upcoming film, and the religious campaign against it, several articles and interviews have been published recently. In Sunday's Boston Globe article, a Catholic theologian describes a deeply religious series that reflects unorthodox theologies within the Church itself.
The book's concept of God, in fact, is what makes Pullman's work so threatening. His trilogy is not filled with attacks on Christianity, but with attacks on authorities who claim access to one true interpretation of a religion. Pullman's work is filled with the feminist and liberation strands of Catholic theology that have sustained my own faith, and which threaten the power structure of the church. Pullman's work is not anti-Christian, but anti-orthodox.
The Atlantic brings up a paradox my library colleagues and I have pondered for years:
Four years ago, before anyone worried about marketing a movie, Pullman wondered why his books hadn’t attracted as much controversy as the Harry Potter series.
We've come up with the answer too -- His Dark Materials is just too literary and too complex to come to the attention of your average book-banning activist.

Adult fans read the books because of the religious critique; good adolescent readers love them for the armored bears, the imperfect heroes & multi-layered villains, and brave, loyal Lyra doggedly pursuing her her Quest. She's out to save her best friend, after all, not the world.

I almost never recommend The Golden Compass to students younger than about 12. We have a high school teacher who is teaching it to a literature class of 10th grade boys. The movie may well be "watered down" for the younger set, but never fear! Even if parents are "tricked" into buying the books as Christmas gifts, only the strongest readers will actually get through them.

Whatever your take on Pullman's theology, you owe it to yourself to read all three books in
His Dark Materials, or better yet, read it with your teen. Talk, question, and decide for yourselves whether this is a threatening attack on all you believe, or an inspiring, thought-provoking masterpiece.

Watch a video of Philip Pullman giving a talk at a New York Barnes & Noble branch.

If you prefer to listen to The Golden Compass on CD, go ahead! This is hands-down absolutely the best audiobook I've ever heard.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Recently Read:
Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent

“Joseph, the Ethnic Sandwich” is the title of our 8th-grade protagonist’s second essay for his "Tracing Your Past: A Heritage Essay" assignment. The first one was about an Olympic gold medalist from Korea, Joseph’s “grandfather,” and a prize-winning piece of total fiction. Joseph Calderaro, 100% Italian on the inside and 100% Korean on the outside, was adopted as an infant by his New Jersey Italian family. This end-of-year assignment, and the arrival of a Korean family to town, push Joseph to an Internet search for his birthmother, and his family to a new level of understanding about identity, ancestors and belonging. Joseph, an adopted Korean-Italian drummer-comic book junkie-funny guy, is “One hunk of Joseph slapped between a slice of Italian bread and a mound of Korean sticky rice.” And as his dad, and eventually Joseph, figures out, “Maybe that’s not such a bad combination.”

Kimchi & Calamari
is told in Joseph’s voice, and a strong, real voice it is. 8th grade isn’t the first time Joseph’s thought about his genetic origins, but his parents, so rooted are they in their Italian-American heritage, have never given him an opening. Joseph is a realistic adopted “everykid” -- he longs to know more about MBA (“me before America”), while being exactly who he is and affirming that he is a permanent and real member of his ‘real,’ not by birth, family.

Recommended for readers 4th-9th grade, and all adopted teens.

For more, visit the author's website.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Librarian is a Cool Job for the 21st Century

Venerable personal finance advisor Kiplinger.com includes Librarian as one of its "7 Top Jobs for 2007," right up there with several medical careers, college administrator and landscape architect. It's not often that the "experts" are so clued in!
Forget about the image of librarian as mousy bookworm. Today's librarian is a high-tech information sleuth, a master of mining cool databases (well beyond Google) to unearth the desired nuggets. Plus you'll probably have regular hours and good job security.
And generally work with other smart, interesting people. What's not to like?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reading Across Borders Book #5
The Last Dragon

If it didn't say so right on the book, I would never have guessed that Silvana De Mari's The Last Dragon was originally published in Italian. The translation is that well done.

At first, the star of The Last Dragon is little Yorsh, a very young elf born into a world where elves are loathed, oppressed and hunted. All alone after rising floodwaters destroy his village, he is found and grudgingly cared for by two humans, a woman and a hunter, also fugitives. Escaping the town dungeons, Yorsh finds a carved rune that seems say he is destined to save the world by finding the world's 'last dragon.'

It all sounds like a hundred fantasies already read. The Last Dragon, though, has several unexpected twists, sorrow, action, humor, actors known but not immediately recognized, and many likeable characters. A definite recommendation for junior high and high school lovers of fantasy and/or romance.

More about the Reading Across Borders challenge.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

En Route to the Library-on-a-Camel's-Back

The Paideia Library's donation to the Camel Bookmobile is on its way. You can see below some of the wonderful books that went in the box.

I learned that indeed, there is a special rate for sending books overseas, in an M-bag. The box of books goes into a special canvas bag with destination labels inside and outside, and 11 lbs. goes for only $11.55! (it probably goes over by trans-Atlantic turtle, but it does get there eventually). Not all countries accept M-bags (Kenya does), so check before you box up books for overseas shipping. This is a great discovery -- I'm very pleased to have found a home for extra copies of books that the Padeia community has enjoyed.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Nom de Plume for March 17

Should you feel a burning need to write under another name next Saturday (or do anything else incognito), find your very own "little people" moniker with this Leprechaun Name generator.

Leprechaun Name

Your Leprechaun Name is
Sneaky O'Grady
Get Your Leprechaun Name at Quizopolis.com

Sincerely yours,
Cabbage Lips O'Grady

Reading Across Borders Book #4:
The Shadow of the Wind

I bought this title for our library a couple of years ago, though I don't remember why (except that it sounded good, and it was on the New York Times bestseller list for a while, deservedly so). Browsing the shelves for a Reader's Advisory consultation with a student last week, I saw it again and decided to give it a go.

The Shadow of the Wind is the first novel by Carlos Ruis Zafón, originally published in Spain (in Spanish, naturally) in 2001, and was a word-of-mouth bestseller. It is a literary mystery, set in post-Civil War Barcelona. Unlike the "mystery and detective" genre that I race through for plot and entertainment, this novel uses the unknowns at the center of the story as a device to pursue character study, civilization, the role of literature, the nature of writing as an art, family secrets and post-war societal changes. And the Barcelona details are rich and colorful. The cartoon at right is a pretty good plot summary.

About halfway through I had figured out "who dunnit," and was a little disappointed that it had been so obvious. But, whodunnit isn't the point at all, in fact, it becomes irrelevant in the context of why, the characters' lives, what happened before, and what will happen in their futures. This is a gorgeous read, and beautifully translated. Whether you are a fan of mysteries, or shun them in preference to "literature," you will find The Shadow of the Wind to be a satisfying excursion.

Find this book in the Paideia Library, at your local public library or bookstore.
Thanks to Unshelved for the cartoon (published yesterday, March 11. How's that for synchronicity?).

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

No More Snakes . . .

From time to time, out of curiosity, I check the stats on this site, and I feel really guilty about all the people who get here via a Google search, hoping for information on the care and keeping of python reticulatus.

So, I've changed the URL of this site to The Reticulated Pi-Thon (http://reticulatedpithon.blogspot.com). It loses the wordplay a bit, however, before we cheered "Go Pythons!" we cheered "Go 3.14159 26535 89793 . . ."

Anybody out there who may have subscribed to or bookmarked the site, adjust your information.

And thanks for reading.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ninjas are Everywhere!

Last fall, I learned a bit more about ninjitsu techniques than I wanted -- some details are better left unknown. Yuk. But I certainly will remember the ninja research paper!

And now, more ninjitsu in the library . . .

create your own at fodey.com

And, on YouTube

Can't wait for Episode 2.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Library on Four Legs

Have you ever benefited from a bookmobile? In my small Alabama town, the bookmobile came from the county seat (17 miles away) once a week in the summer, and it was a big deal to be able to browse and check out new reading (at 12, I confess, it was often the Harlequin Omnibus -- three in one volume!)

Now imagine living in the dry bush in Africa, and the bookmobile coming, not in a van, but on the back of a camel. The is the setting of a new novel by author Masha Hamilton, and she didn't make it up. There is a real Camel Bookmobile, operating in northeastern Kenya near the border with troubled Somalia. And they take donations, through a Camel Book Drive coordinated by Ms. Hamilton. Most popular? Children's storybooks, followed by general fiction and non-fiction. English is one of Kenya's main languages; the bookmobile carries books in Swahili and English.

What a cool project for a child looking to clear out a bookshelf of wonderful but outgrown books! Or a book club, or school service group. Don't let postage worries stop you -- send shipments by economy book rate, and the Post Office says it will cost $11.55 for the first eleven pounds, and $1.05 for each pound thereafter. The address, photos and additional information are posted at the Camel Book Drive website.

Compared to spending $$ on New York Times ads, this is a fabulous way to publicize a new novel and do good at the same time. The Paideia Library will be sending a box soon.

Oh, and The Camel Bookmobile is to be released in April 2007.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What Do You Think?

Also at YouTube

Do you 2.0?
Why not?

Reading Across Borders Book #3
The Pull of the Ocean

Did you ever read a rave-reviewed, award-winning book and feel really stupid because you just don't get it? That's how I'm feeling about this little book by Jean-Claude Mourlevat. It's translated from French (thereby qualifying for the challenge), and won France's Prix Sorcieres (an annual prize for children's literature) in 2000. It's not bad, it's quite OK, but I just didn't finish it with the Wow! that I'd expect from a star.

The seven sons of a rough, brutish farmer & his wife run away from home one night. Yann, the youngest, is mysterious, all-knowing, mute and tiny -- at 10 he is only two feet tall. The other six are three pairs of twins. The story is told in retrospect, through the accumulated accounts of each brother, their parents, and various other participants and witnesses. At the end, Yann has disappeared for good. Was he a real boy? or a fairy tale character?

Oh well. A book for every reader, a reader for every book. To be fair, check the links below for reviews from others who got the Wow! that I missed:

School Library Journal
Amoxcalli (a book blog)
The Philadelphia Enquirer online

Monday, February 12, 2007

Reading Across Borders Book #2
Far and Beyon'

I finished my second qualifying Reading Across Borders challenge book this weekend. Far and Beyon' is the first novel by Unity Dow, the first female High Court Judge ever appointed in Botswana. Before this position, she practiced as an activist attorney focused on legal rights for women and children. The main characters in the novel are Mara, a traditional woman who has just lost two sons to AIDS; her son Stan, who seems to be adopting the white culture and values of a benevolent schoolteacher; and her daughter Mosa, who rails against the opression of women in the traditional ways, but who also wants to stand strong as a black Botswanan woman. The book really becomes Mosa's story about halfway through.

This novel is not great literature, though the story is compelling. The writing is flat and preachy in sections, and lawyer speeches poorly disguised as conversations between a teenaged brother and sister. Still, it's worth reading for the stark yet hopeful portrait of life in Botswana, a much less rosy picture than that of Alexander McCall Smith's Mma Ramotswe novels (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and sequels, which I've thoroughly enjoyed). Given the author's credentials, I'm sure the facts are accurate, and the situations endured by the girls and women are true-to-life. The novel is also a good companion to a wonderful YA novel, Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton, which tells of the debilitating shame and secrecy surrounding HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Please Bury Me in the Library

Please bury me in the library
In the clean, well-lighted stacks

Of Novels, History, Poetry,

Right next to the Paperbacks,

Where the Kids' Books dance

With True Romance

And the Dictionary dozes.

Please bury me in the library

With a dozen long-stemmed proses.

Way back by a rack of Magazines,

I won't be sad too often,

If they bury me in the library

With Bookworms in my coffin.

from Please Bury me in the Library,
a picture book of poetry by J. Patrick Lewis
illustrated by Kyle M. Stone

Friday, February 2, 2007

Alphabet Soup!

Isn't it cool? These images were created at ImageChef.com -- there are lots of other customizable image generator choices. Go wild!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Why the Internet Needs Librarians More Than Ever

From an essay at Degree Tutor: #9 of 33 Reasons Why Librarians and Librarians are Still Important
In fact, technology is revealing that the real work of librarians is not just placing books on bookshelves. Rather, their work involves guiding and educating visitors on how to find information, regardless of whether it is in book or digital form. Technology provides better access to information, but it is a more complex tool, often requiring specialized know-how. This is a librarian’s specialty, as they dedicate themselves to learning the most advanced techniques to help visitors access information effectively. It’s in their job description.

Give us librarians our props already! Read all 33 reasons, so you don't have to ask the question ever again.

Thanks to Joyce Valenza's NeverEnding Search for the link.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Great Graphic Novels

In case you didn't know, the "graphic" part means pictures, not explicit. Some people call them "comics" but we're not talkin' your average Snoopy or Superman here.

The American Library Association has released its first list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens. At the top are these 10: links go to various reviews and other information sources

Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You
Reading Across Borders - Book #1

I've just finished reading my first book for the Reading Across Borders challenge! Anybody who's seen my "Reading Soon" list will know that I've been meaning to get to this one for several months, so thanks go to the challenge for finally getting it off the stack.

This is the slightly fictionalized story of Jeanne, small daughter of a privileged Tutsi family in Kibungo, Rwanda. She was 8 years old when her family was murdered by Hutu gangs (some of them their own neighbors) in the 1994 Rwandan genocide rampage (perhaps 1 million people killed, in just 100 days). Jeanne saw with her own eyes her mother and older brother being killed with machetes and clubs; she heard a first-hand account of her father and little sister's deaths.

Through luck and determination, Jeanne survived the massacre time, and eventually came to be adopted by a German family in Cologne. The novel was written by Jeanne's new mom, as a way of processing Jeanne's overwhelming grief and guilt, to honor her daughter's first family, and to highlight this under-reported time in our modern history. The title comes from a tale told by Jeanne's grandmother, of a wise king of Africa who persevered on a seemingly endless quest, and honored a difficult promise. His courage, determination and faith were rewarded by the King of Heaven.

At the end of reading, I am thoughtful, and I want to learn more. The writing is straightforward, neither lyrical nor flat -- we notice the story rather than the style. The translation is so good that it's not obviously translated. While not likely to fly off the shelves, this is a very engaging and important read, and I will definitely be recommending it.

For more information and reviews, see here, and the author's website. The Wikipedia article on the Rwandan genocide is here.

Librarians to a T

From an interview with New York Times technology columnist David Pogue:

He said that, like teachers, librarians seem to dedicate their lives to helping others, primarily for the joy and satisfaction of it, with little or no possibility for fame or fortune.


Friday, January 19, 2007

The Reading Across Borders Challenge

If you're an enthusiastic reader, there are hundreds of websites written by smart readers with lots to share. One site is Kate's Book Blog, written by a woman in Toronto. Her 2007 reading resolution is to read more international fiction, especially works translated into English from other languages. Hence, Kate's Reading Across Borders Challenge.
The idea is to determine which countries or regions tend to dominate your reading and to commit to reading a number of books over the course of 2007 which take you beyond those countries or regions.
Combining the challenge and the job, I resolve to read fiction and narrative non-fiction of interest to teens, from Africa, Latin American, South and East Asia (or translated books from anywhere for YAs).

What would be on your challenge reading list?

The first few on my list:
An Innocent Soldier (Josef Holub, translated from Czech?) YA
Kartography (Kamila Shamsie, Pakistan)
Swimming in the Monsoon Sea (Shyam Selvadurai, Sri Lanka) YA

Others I've already read and recommend to anyone willing to take up the challenge:
Belgium - Kipling's Choice. Geert Spillebeen. translated from Flemish (?) YA
Canada - Monkey Beach. Eden Robinson.
Central Asia/Kazakhstan - The Day Lasts a Thousand Years. Chingiz Aitmatov, translated from Russian
Australia - I Am the Messenger. Markus Zusak (marketed in the US as YA)
Botswana - The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. Alexander McCall Smith
Russia (Soviet Union) - The Master and Margarita. Mikhail Bulgakov. translated from Russian

For more international reading suggestions, check out Around the World in 100 Books.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Banish Boring Barcodes?

Wouldn't it be cool to have customized art barcodes on all our library materials? Think of the possibilities -- the school logo with a barcode incorporated, or different barcode styles for different book genres.

I've never really thought about it (just like 99% of the world), but libraries really are one of the only users who re-use barcodes, over and over again. Barcode Revolution, the Japanese group responsible for these samples, hasn't thought of us, but there's no reason that they couldn't (and no reason that Sagebrush or any of the other library automation suppliers couldn't jump on this in a heartbeat.) Third-party suppliers could probably write up a software plug-in fairly quickly too. All other things being relatively equal, I'd go for a system with cute barcode capability. Wouldn't you?

Thanks to Librarian in Black for the pointer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

"See You in the Funny Pages": Unshelved

Librarians take their "Reader's Advisory" roles seriously!

I've just discovered Unshelved, said to be the only regular comic strip set in a public library. Given that this is a pretty specific niche, I don't doubt it. And I like it! Maybe you will too.

Click on the picture to see it full-sized.

ps -- I forgot -- there's another library-related comic strip at Turn the Page.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Books: The 'Ultimate Dumpees'

link to info at Amazon.com
I love this quote, from an abundance of katherines, the new YA novel by award-winning author John Greene. In it, burned-out child prodigy Colin is devastated by his most recent lost love, the 19th Katherine to have gone out with and then broken up with him since 3rd grade. Colin become obsessed with developing a mathematical theorem involving Dumpers (people like Katherines) and Dumpees (people like himself), to predict the course of a any relationship. The Theorem isn't working out.

The reading quieted his brain a little. Without Katherine and without the Theorem and without his hopes of mattering, he had very little. But he always had books. Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they'll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they
always love you back.

How true. And how wonderful!

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Search the World's Libraries with WorldCat

After you've checked the Paideia Library catalog (whether for a specific item, or for anything we may have on your topic), don't go directly to a bookstore -- try a search with WorldCat. This is a project of the venerable OCLC, one of the pioneers in computerized library catalogs.

Click on any of the results that look promising, and you'll find a box to enter your zip code. WorldCat will show you which nearby public and/or university libraries own the item you need. Maybe the Atlanta-Fulton County or DeKalb libraries, or Emory, Georgia State or Agnes Scott. Try it for yourself in the search box below. Have fun with it!


Search for an item in libraries near you:

When Sailing the High Seas, Avoid Indonesia

I'm reading through a stack of new-ish books, prepping for some booktalks in the coming weeks. In one of the novels I read yesterday, a survival/adventure called Red Sea, a 14-year-old girl is left to captain a sailboat to safety after modern-day pirates attack them, killing her stepfather and critically wounding her mother.

Today, I stumbled across a list called 50 Things to Do With Google Maps Mashups (a mashup is an online service or information source created by combining the power of two separate Internet sources, like a list of houses for sale with a mapping service). And wouldn't you know, somebody out there has combined 2006 data from the International Piracy Reporting Center with Google maps, to create a "Live Piracy Map" of high risk areas. Two attempted and two actual pirate attacks in the Red Sea in 2006, but oh, my. The Indonesian archipelago is the winner by a mile. Who knew?