Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things
(to think about, library-wise)

Tons of ideas, inspirations and news pop up every week, too many to write about but good enough to tell others about. Now that Google has deleted the "share" function of Google Reader (which I used to share these interesting tidbits, in the "Keeping Current" sidebar widget), they're all running around in my head (and staying open in dozens of Firefox tabs :-)

Instead, I'm just going to throw out the links with a few comments. If these questions go around in your head too, let me know what you're thinking!

About Information Literacy

"Technology should be taught with inconsequential content . That way, when there's important content, the technology will be transparent."
?? This makes so much sense, but it's contrary what we've been doing, which is to teach about databases, efficient searching, etc., when students have a pressing "need to know" (the research has been assigned and they have a chosen topic) so the skills are immediately relevant. When there are limited opportunities to work with students on their research skills, should I focus on low-stakes-relevant-later or high-stakes-relevant-now presentation times? Should there be a short-term class in Information Literacy skills that's not tied to course content and assignments?

Why Kids Can't Search (Clive Thompson op-ed on
Because they've never been taught to search well, they just figure it out on their own. Where can schools find time in the day to teach content AND skills, especially if they don't overlap?

About eBooks

Renting Out the Library (on Digital Public Library of America blog)
A different model of acquiring digital content for library loaning, based on the old Blockbuster model -- instead of paying for digital media up front for a set price, pay a royalty for each loan. Publishers then benefit from increased circulations, instead of griping about lost revenues.

This Deal is Getting Worse All the Time (at Library Renewal)
Why I'm uneasy about providing ebooks through another third-party vendor. They control who, when and what, instead of this library) and the terms can change at any time.
But -- (an aside musing) -- why are libraries, this one included, ok with providing periodical content to patrons through an annually renewable subscription with a third-party vendor? All our databases, ProQuest, SIRS, CQ Researcher, JSTOR, are provided through this model. Are we just used to it? Are books intrinsically different to journal articles?

Douglas County [Colorado] Public Library system has created its own ebook collection and loaning system completely independent of OverDrive, 3M or other middle-man distributor, using Adobe Content Server software. I would love to be able to set up a consortium like this for school libraries statewide. We buy the ebooks, we protect the files from piracy, we loan them out to our students. Why not?

About Other Stuff

This book is on the suggested reading list at It's a huge collection of exercises, techniques and strategies for developing creative thinking -- because the author believes that creative thinking CAN be developed. If you're really good at thinking inside all the corners of your box (like me), but find it harder to look outside of it, check this book out.

Libraries as Places of Idea Creation (not just Idea Storage & Retrieval)
"Throughout history libraries have been highly effective as what we might call idea storehouses. Universities and schools have been highly effective as idea communicators. But, particularly at a time when many are questioning the relevance of libraries (thinking in terms of the ‘storehouse’ model), might we develop libraries further as idea factories? The place you go to generate ideas in the first place?"

Libraries as Hackerspaces (an NPR Weekend Edition story)
"We see the library as not being in the book business, but being in the learning business and the exploration business and the expand-your-mind business," he says. "We feel this is really in that spirit, that we provide a resource to the community that individuals would not be able to have access to on their own." If you have a woodshop and a 3D printer, but nobody's using your resources to discover and use information, are you still a library? Where is the line between being a place of information/idea creation, and being a computer lab, or Kinko's?

World Book Night (Sydney got an notice through Sherman Alexie's email list)
50,00 people distributing 20 books each, all on one night (April 23, 2012), to promote reading. Wonder if we could organize a student group to distribute one of these titles? Where would be a good place, with non- or light readers, where we could distribute 20 copies? So many great titles (the library has all but one or two), which would we choose?

Junior High Book Club
This is exciting, and from the brain of the fabulous Greg Changnon. In January, he and I will kick off a reading club for the voracious 7th & 8th grade readers. The first selection is likely to be Cherie Priest's Boneshaker (go, steampunk!)

Move Over, Edward, Things Are Really Really Bad Here.
"Dystopia is the New Paranormal" - dystopian YA novels jumping to the big screen soon, and may get a new readership with all the publicity. Some moms and I were amused by a certain (adorable) group of girls' passion for the "I'm inexplicably in love with a tormented fallen angel boy who thinks I'm hot but who won't hurt me" genre. Yes, "paranormal romance" is an actual category on But the fallen angels haven't followed the vampires all the way to Hollywood yet, and may be forever stalled by the bow-wielding Katniss and friends.

Enjoy your December holiday, and maybe your neighbors' holidays too! One can never have too many holidays.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Steampunk? It's an increasingly popular fiction genre with many variations, and it's even a fashion/lifestyle in certain mod circles. Here's an elegant definition from steampunk author Cherie Priest:
An aesthetic movement based around the science fiction of a future that never happened.
Wikipedia's definition is less elegant, but more descriptive:
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually Victorian-era Britain or "Wild West"-era United States—that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc.
Whereas typical dystopian YA lit takes place in our future world after cataclysmic war, natural disaster or society gone wrong (The Hunger Games, the Uglies quartet, The Forest of Hands and Teeth), steampunk is often set in a "what if" kind of historical past -- as in, "what if Queen Victoria had been assassinated and Prince Albert became king?" or "what if the British had sent troops to support the South in the Civil War?" The feature that makes steampunk unique is that much of the speculation centers on the odd, but plausible, technologies developed in these alternate timelines: steam-driven motorcycles, genetically-altered creatures, monster-creating viruses, realization of Babbage's "difference engine" (computer) by the turn of the 20th century. The unexpected speculative details laid over a framework of a familiar historical structure keeps readers' minds working to construct the unique steampunk world created by each author.

Looking for something new and different? Need something novel for holiday giving? Below are some of the steampunk novels in the Paideia Library that challenge the imagination and set readers on their own journeys of "what if?"

Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan - As World War I breaks out between the clockwork & iron Mechanicals of the Austria-Hungarian forces, and the Darwinist British, who fly and fight with genetically engineered creatures, Deryn masquerades as a boy to achieve her dream of becoming an aeronaut. Behemoth and Goliath complete the trilogy.

Cherie Priest's Boneshaker & Dreadnought - Sixteen years after the Boneshaker incident of 1863, which destroyed downtown Seattle and released a zombie-making gas, the machine inventor's widow has to cross the safety wall into the City in pursuit of their son, who's determined to discover his father's true story. Meanwhile, 20 years into the Civil War, nurse Mercy Lynch travels cross country via dirigible, steamship and rail to see her injured father on the West Coast, but she'll have to survive Union intrigue, Confederate opposition, and a zombified Mexican army if she's to make it to Tacoma on the steam-engine Dreadnought alive.

The Girl with the Steel Corset by Kady Cross. Ever think you'd imagine a Victorian-era cross between X-Men: Origins and a Harlequin Romance?? Me either, but amazingly enough, it works. Fired from her position as lady's maid, Finley joins handsome heir Griffin King and his band of other strangely gifted teens to investigate a series of crimes committed by clockwork automatons.

The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. Investigating a series of attacks on young women during the early years of King Albert's reign, famed explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton and peculiar poet Algernon Charles Swinburne discover that their London of steam-driven technology and eugenically created animals should never have existed at all. The Burton & Swinburne trilogy also includes The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, and Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon.

Soulless, and the rest of Gail Carriger's tongue-in-cheek Parasol Protectorate series. A total guilty pleasure, this series is breathless (sometimes steamy) Victorian romance mixed with mystery, supernatural creatures and paranormal London steampunk technology. To her family's utter dismay, society-born Alexia Tarabotti is too strong-minded to attract suitors, too "Italian" for beauty, and has no soul to boot. Soulless 'preternaturals' have the singular ability to neutralize supernatural powers, which comes in handy when Alexia attracts the murderous attention of a rogue vampire, and the romantic attention of the unpolished, powerful and magnetic werewolf, Lord Conall Maccon.

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials trilogy) by Philip Pullman. Yep, The Golden Compass qualifies as steampunk. Think about it -- alternate worlds/history, odd but plausible technology, realistic settings and matter-of-fact techno-magic (the alethiometer? scientific explanation of the soul? experimental theology?). Lyra Belacqua's quest to rescue her friend Roger from soul-destroying experiments in the Far North is still captivating, and is the beginning of a trilogy that explores the nature of love, humanity, madness, original sin and Heaven itself.

I've just noticed in making this list that steampunk has a generous share of spunky, strong women. Maybe that goes along with the alternate history thing, for it certainly turns around the stereotype of 19th century womanhood.

On my list to read over the December break is Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding, one of School Library Journal's "Best Books of 2011." Airships, bounty hunters, sky pirates and an armored golem -- sounds like fun!

This list is only scratching the surface; there's more YA steampunk in the Paideia Library (listed below) and much, much more targeted for the adult reading market.

Are you into steampunk? What have you read that you'd recommend for our junior high and high school collection?


Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories
ed. by Kelly Link & Gavin Grant

Kenneth Oppel's Matt Cruse airship trilogy - Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding

The Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve

Fever Crumb and sequels by Philip Reeve

Scarlet Traces, a graphic novel by Ian Edginton

This post on The Book Smuggler blog reviews several more titles. At the bottom you'll find links to blog posts and articles for further reading, and links to websites for exploring Steampunk-as-lifestyle. Membership in the Victorian Steampunk Society, anyone?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wednesday Website:
Harvard's Mathematics in Movies

Math is cool. The real life situations that can be explored, described and understood with mathematical concepts are amazing to me. One of my cousins did a dissertation on fractals, an old boyfriend did his on representation theory. I have another cousin who's a global expert on algorithms, music and artificial intelligence. He designs and teaches computerized instruments that can hear music and jam along with a band, kind of like a robot that can play improv jazz (or bluegrass). I mean, how cool is that?

Nobody should hate math, even if the details of how to do it are hard or confusing (as for me), or you don't especially like to do it. You can appreciate math, whether or not it's a favorite subject.

Happily for all of us, the Department of Mathematics at Harvard created Mathematics in Movies, a webpage with a large collection of movie clips with some sort of math content. Of course there are scenes from math-themed movies like Stand and Deliver (gigolo algebra! who knew), but Kumar's "root 3" poem from the stoner slapstick Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanomo Bay is awesomely effective in getting the girl (watch it here).

And remember, mathematical thinking doesn't have to include numbers. Check out Pinocchio's math logic in definitely not rejecting the possibility that he doesn't not have any idea where Shrek might be!

Intrigued? Check out some of the many "teach yourself" style math books we have in the Library.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hacking High School

Is "hacking high school" a good thing or a bad thing? When I was in school, "hack" was usually a bad thing, like a dull, boring journalist, or breaking into somebody else's computer -- unless it was a good thing, like an amazingly clever MIT student prank.

Today, hack has several positive connotations, including the idea of achieving a goal (beating your videogame?) by circumventing the rules or following a non-traditional path.

In a guest post on the New York Times Learning Network, 19-year-old Dale Stephens, founder of, advocates "hacking," or taking charge of one's own education.
The reality is that school and dropping out are not the only two options. You can hack your education. That means breaking some rules. It may also mean annoying some people. But most important, it means creating options and opportunities for yourself where it seems none exist.
The late Steve Jobs is today's iconic un-college graduate. He dropped out of Reed College after 6 months because he didn't think it was worth his parents' money. What Steve Jobs didn't drop out of, though, was following his curiosity and feeding his passion for learning. He hacked a college-level education by going to classes that interested him, even when they seemed to have no practical application.

Now more than ever, any student can learn almost anything with a self-directed study plan. Thanks to school and public libraries, it's always been possible to enrich a class you're taking in school, or to learn something not offered in high school, but the 21st century student has practically unlimited resources at hand. In addition to books and DVDs and audios, there is free information through the Internet (as long as you filter carefully for reliability), there are free online classes offered by great universities, there are online tutorials, TED talk videos, textbooks and how-to videos everywhere, for everything under the sun.

Even an awesome school like Paideia (ok, I am biased, but shouldn't I be?) doesn't have in-depth courses in all the topics that teens can be passionate about, but we can encourage students, formally through independent study, or informally, by supporting the curiosity of students in "hacking" high school.

Last year I wrote about Open Culture, a fabulous website that pulls together links to "the best free cultural & educational media on the web." This site could be subtitled "The Official Un-College Bookstore."

Want to learn Japanese but your school doesn't teach it? There are widgets, podcasts, free software, a Facebook page, and even websites that will connect you to a Japanese speaker for real-time conversational practice. Borrow books on language and culture from your school or public library. YouTube videos can show you how to fold origami, or a traditional gift wrap.

Want to learn to code Javascript and develop dynamic websites, but your school doesn't teach computer programming? Watch online videos from Harvard computer science courses, and go through four Javascript courses at Code Academy. Buy or borrow O'Reilly Media's series of Javascript manuals, from beginning to advanced. Find and join an online forum, and ask questions of with expert professionals. Or, focus on programming in C (also a Harvard Extension course), then take Stanford University's Developing Apps for iOS, and start writing and selling iPhone apps.

There's nothing stopping anybody from hacking an awesome education. All it takes is curiosity (and a free public library card). But, professor and researcher Michael Wesch warns,
I think there's the potential now for a kind of curiosity gap. Consider how much further ahead a curious student will be, compared with a student who lacks curiosity, in an environment in which he or she can reach out and grab new knowledge anytime, anywhere on all kinds of devices. If you’re a curious person, you’ll learn and grow; if you’re not, you could just drift along while others race ahead.
No way am I saying school is irrelevant. Even in this hyper-connected century, school can be an invaluable place for students to learn and grow, AND follow their curiosity. Why? Because schools are full of adults who have learned, who know how to learn, and who have chosen to spend their days helping students learn. Libraries are incredible sources of information in all kinds of media, but without a guide (librarian) for finding, evaluating and understanding, it can be really hard to discern signal from noise, much less process the signal into meaning.

We, the adults in schools, can encourage students to hack as much of their learning as possible. Who knows what will be career-worthy in 2015? Curiosity, drive and knowing how to learn is always going to be a valuable job & career skill, whether it's in college, graduate school, or the school of hard knocks.
So school can’t just stop at helping students get to the signal amid all the noise but also want to figure out what to do with the signal once they’ve found it –[schools should] help them be curious and excited about where the signal can take them. news
Curious? Want to follow your interests? Come see me in the library!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One Reason Why 1876 Was a Fantastic Year

Well, yes, it was the Centennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, but that never helped anyone find Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf in the library. While a librarian at Amherst College, Melvil Dewey patented and unveiled his system for classifying "all the world's knowledge" into ten main groups, with an infinite possibility of divisions within. A Decimal system! The Dewey Decimal System! (who knew it was patented? Not I.)

This is a pretty nifty system, which guides catalogers in assigning a number/shelf address to any item and ensuring that it will end up next to or near similar items with similar subject matters. All the American poetry is together! All the cookbooks are in a row! In the 1960s, many college libraries converted to the Library of Congress classification, but even in the 21st century, most public and school libraries in the United States still organize their material collections with Dewey numbers. Librarians can always help if you don't know exactly what the Dewey system is, or how it works (if you're curious you can go to the Wikipedia article, which explains it nicely), but it sure is handy.

Or if you'd rather see what finding Beowulf might be like in a library without Mr. Dewey's invention, jump into "The Confusing Library", a vintage sketch from The Two Ronnies. Note that Melvil Dewey was a librarian, not an architect :-)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

No Biking in the Library
(except on November 15)

November 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm,
in the Junior High & High School Library

An exciting evening event in the library is coming up in about two weeks. On a Tuesday evening, award-winning author (and Paideia parent) Melissa Fay Greene will read from and talk about her latest book, No Biking in the House Without a Helmet.

The New York Times
“It’s time for a laugh-out-loud selection … No Biking in the House Without a Helmet is a chance to revel in the joy that one wonderful writer takes in this messy, exhausting, life-changing process of parenthood."

Melissa and her husband are the parents of six sons and three daughters, and much of No Biking in the House chronicles the joys and chaos of growing from four to nine children through international adoption. If it's one thing a mother of four teenage boys ought to be good at, it's picking her battles -- hence the "without a helmet" clause. Even the best mom can't control everything (especially after the fact)!

With a crazy book tour schedule as well as a, shall we say, FULL home life, it took a while to coordinate with Melissa for this evening. As it is, I'm pleased that it will fall in the middle of National Adoption Month, a fine time to celebrate Paideia families of all stories and sizes.

Melissa Fay Greene is the author of several other acclaimed works of non-fiction, including two National Book Award finalists (Praying for Sheetrock and The Temple Bombing, about the historic bombing in Atlanta), There Is No Me Without You and Last Man Out (a New York Times Notable Book), and a contributing writer to numerous national publications (a piece on adopting from Africa is here on the All Things Considered website.)

Copies of No Biking in the House Without a Helmet will be available that evening for $26 (through Decatur bookstore Little Shop of Stories). A dessert reception and book signing will be held after Melissa's talk.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Classic Novels and Movies Collide in the eBook realm

These days I fear I dream about eBooks and how to include them in our Library offerings (actually, I don't fear it, I've really dreamed it. Yikes!) The vendor and platform market is in major flux, and I feel like Indiana Jones on a precipice with a herd of wildebeasts rushing towards, wanting to jump but having no clue which way to go (better than an army of ravenous red ants, but only a little bit). It's not the time to invest thousands of $$$ in one vendor, to find that in 6 months the subscription fee triples, and there's no 'ownership' of or rights to transfer eBooks we think we've 'bought.' Oi, these are good times to be a copyright lawyer!

I've begun to include classic (public domain) novels converted to eBooks (including Kindle and iBook readable formats) in our Surpass WebSafari catalog (search for keyword 'electronic books') -- the idea is, if a student is looking for Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone (taught every so often by Joseph Cullen), the eBook version will be listed in the catalog alongside the print version. There are dozens of iPads circulating around the high school, with numerous other eReader capable laptops & Kindles owned by or checked out by students. Our fabulous technology staffer Lauri Lee has created a spreadsheet of all high school textbooks with "E" options, which has made it simple to identify this semester's texts that are in the public domain, and available for free download.

If you don't yet know about Project Gutenberg, you should investigate now. Back in grad school, I heard Michael Hart speak about his endeavor to 'digitalize' all the world's public domain documents, and I'm now seeing this labor of dedication becoming useful to everyday students at Paideia School.

I believe that technology can give us ways to loan electronic books to users while still respecting the copyright owner's right for deserved gain/remuneration. We're just not quite there yet without hitching our wagons to a major vendor. Stay tuned -- this is important, and lord knows, with all the Kindle Touch and Fires destined for holiday giving, it's imminent.

Until then -- the inspiration for this post:

Two Princeton academics have launched a new eBook imprint that ties public domain eBooks and current movies. Scarlet Oak Press is making enhanced eBook editions of major films based on classic books that are coming out this fall and winter.

The enhanced editions include original introductions, an annotated study guide, maps and illustrations, as well as what Scarlet Oak Press is calling a “page-to-screen history.” This includes: 'The Three Musketeers' and 'The Best of Sherlock Holmes: Stories and Novels' both of which are coming out as films this fall, and Jules Verne‘s 'The Mysterious Island', Edgar Rice Burroughs ‘ A Princess of Mars,' which is the basis for Disney’s 'John Carter' and Edgar Allen Poe‘s 'Raven: Dark Tales from Poe.' All of the titles are $.99 in the Kindle store.
Or, if you want to sample the original novels before paying for "enhanced" versions, click on the links in the paragraph above for the Project Gutenberg downloadable ebooks (though 99¢ is a pretty reasonable gamble). I plan to dive into The Scarlet Pimpernel this weekend. Happy discovery!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

So Much More

This morning, a student sent me an e-mail with a link to a series of mysterious and beautiful incidents happening in Scottish libraries this year. An anonymous (and very talented) artist has left intricately detailed paper sculptures in at least seven libraries, along with notes of encouragement and support. The first sculpture, found in the National Poetry Library, was left with this note:
... We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books… a book is so much more than pages full of words.… This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. a gesture (poetic maybe?)
Though the word library has "book" at its very heart (liber = "book" in Latin), any library worth its salt is all about content rather than containers. A library's mission is to provide information/knowledge/content to its patrons, and the best way to do that is to collect and store the information in containers that patrons can use. The 21st century has swept in with a monumental shift in preferred containers - as digital books on CD-ROM, then as online texts that lived on the Internet. The current wave is bringing in digital texts that arrive through the Internet, but that live on and are accessed through devices that don't have to be connected in order to be read (Kindle, iPad/Pod/Phone).

I think that the discomfort of the "digital immigrant" population's resistance to the ever shortening tether to the Almighty Screen (my bias shines through, doesn't it??) is at its heart a worry about the quality of online content. Librarians and teachers fuss about the shallowness of content and how easy it is for users to find mediocre information online; on the other hand, we happily offer periodical databases and online journals and downloadable unabridged novels.

My struggle with the Almighty Screen is ongoing. I use and teach with a computer all day, the Internet is a go-to for all kinds of questions, deep and otherwise, and I LOVE my iPad. About half of my summer books got read as Kindle books, iBooks, or ePub books borrowed/downloaded from the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library. And yet I read with concern (with a Kindle app on my iPad) the huge volume of research data collected in Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, which very clearly demonstrates that the nature of electronic reading fundamentally changes our neurological pathways, and exercises very different areas of the brain than does print-on-paper reading. Carr argues that the medium IS the message, that the device determines how information is packaged and delivered. For every gain (ease and wealth of information, available to everyone, quickly) there is a loss or trade-off (we don't pay attention very well or for very long any more). Rolling the newspaper, a novel, an encyclopedia, your diary, the postal service, the typewriter, the television, the radio, and the video game console all into one portable device means potential for knowledge and potential for distraction everywhere, all the time, just a click or a flick away.

So many things are different and scary when content is separated from container. For librarians there are practical challenges -- how do we describe and store information for easy retrieval (ie, catalog) when it's not in a fixed container? How do we help people find and make sense of information when they don't have to come to the library for the container? How do we justify spending a large percentage of annual budgets to collect information that is available only as long as we pay the vendor and the electricity bill? How will artists create art out of books, if there are no books?

The Kindle experiment last spring gave rise to my "content not container" philosophy, and -- contrary to trends in many other excellent school libraries -- we're not going into the business of loaning eReaders. We will be looking to start loaning content for our students and faculty to read via their container of choice - be it a Kindle, an iPad, a Nook or a Netbook. I am looking forward to's upcoming launch of their library-loanable Kindle books (I like the way Amazon's Kindle app makes their Amazon-only books readable on many devices other than just Kindles).

The criteria for choosing the content will be the same as ever -- high-quality content that meets the personal and educational information needs of the Paideia community. Fiction, non-fiction, audiobooks, eBooks, print books too. And our daily work will remain the same -- to teach (guide, lead, coach, accompany) students and faculty to find, evaluate and use the desired information. Some things don't have to change.

Libraries are, and should always be, so much more than than buildings full of book.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Read This Book:
Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

The first several times I saw reviews of this book, I thought it sounded interesting but didn't put it on the library order list. Why? Just another mythological fantasy, strong female character, there are a million of them. I passed it by.

A few weeks ago another review came my way, and this time I decided to forge ahead and read it. I'm glad I did.

Guardian of the Dead is by a New Zealander, and is firmly placed in current day New Zealand. Ellie Spencer is spending her senior year in a boarding school in Christchurch (South Island) while her parents enjoy a year-long trip around the world. She's got a solid friendship with popular golden boy Kevin, a crush on a mysterious misfit, and a black belt in tae kwon do ( though with no time to practice in boarding school, she's gained a few pounds).

One of the really neat aspects of the book is the blending of European faerie traditions (the action gets going when Ellie becomes involved with a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream) and native New Zealand Maori creation mythology. Familiar, yet new and unknown, the author provides an afterword with more information about Maori tradition, her sources, and the ways in which she was faithful to and strayed from the recorded stories. Story is a big part of the novel, not just cultural traditions, but each individual's personal story -- who they are, what they've done, and how they frame this to themselves and others. Recognizing her ability to shape her own story gives Ellie the insight to make her way through the challenges presented by the opposing powers.

Ellie is utterly normal, admirable, appealing but not perfect. She's tall so she slouches, she's broken more than a few school rules but that's not the defining part of her character. She compares herself unfavorably to more perfectly gorgeous girls, but she's not down on herself because of it. She's a loyal friend but not a doormat. She's strong, and she knows it. As she discovers her magical powers (of course there are magical powers!) she learns that there are right and wrong ways to use them, and she sticks to her moral compass as her powers grow.

There were several times when I thought I knew where the plot was headed, only to be surprised by the appearance of strange and unfamiliar characters, a twist or new development that took the novel off in a different direction. Even the North Island ending, with overt elements of Greek mythology (Hades and Persephone, Orpheus and Eurydice), wasn't at all what I anticipated, but it's completely true to the rest of the story.

Something that, to me, makes this novel even better is that the characters are a mix of races and backgrounds, not as token elements but as a feature of contemporary life. There is discussion of race, of passing (as European) or not, of discrimination against the Maori. Ellie's mom is a cancer survivor (hence the celebratory world trip), but it's not a book about cancer. Her older sister in Melbourne is lesbian, her parents are not entirely comfortable with this, but it's not a book about gay rights. It's just how the world is, and it feels right to have it reflected in this way.

Guardian of the Dead has won a ton of awards, Antipodean as well as American. If you like slightly creepy urban fantasy, reworkings of classical and world mythology, a touch of romance, or just like to explore other cultures through literature, Guardian of the Dead is a worthwhile investment of your reading time.

Monday, June 6, 2011

More Reading Recommendations

The Elementary Summer Reading List is now online. Whether you're looking for picture books for your babysitting clients, great gifts for little ones, or wanting to catch up on great children's novels you might have missed, the Elementary list is for more than just the K-6 set. Click on the cover image to download the PDF edition of the Elementary list now.

There is no way that any one list (or even three awesome annotated school lists) can include all the good books that are worth reading over a summer. Even the big name lists don't all agree! So in the event that you are still looking for reading suggestions, you may enjoy the articles below:

The Stars of Modern SF Writers Pick the Best Science Fiction (in The Guardian)

Summer Fiction: Around the World in 24 Books (in The Telegraph)

Books to Bury Yourself In (in The New York Times)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Summer Reading Lists Are Out

Seems like I say the same thing every year ("gosh, can't believe it's time already . . ."). So with no further ado, the Elementary, Junior High and High School summer reading lists have all either been distributed (current K-6th graders) or mailed (7th-11th graders, and all new students). They should have hit mailboxes by yesterday, or possibly as late as today.

* Each reading list link will download a full-size PDF of the booklet

A word about our summer reading "requirement" -- yes, we absolutely require summer reading, but we don't specify what must be read. The reading lists for all levels are for guidance, entertainment, education, but not limitation -- there are so many good books that a student might not find on her own, and the lists include hundreds, if not thousands of recommendations. There are also too many zillions of good books to fit them all into one 40 page booklet, so the odds are good that a student will have one or more books on his "must read" list that isn't in the booklet. No problem! Does it have words? Ideas? A more or less sustained narrative? Then it probably counts. If in doubt, e-mail me or Natalie with your question, or ask your teacher.

To support and encourage students in finding a reading passion, we open the collection for summer checkouts at the end of each school year. Families may check out up to 40 books, which will all be due when school starts back in the fall. Because of the number of materials and the length of the summer, we require a parent to be responsible for the books and check them out on parent accounts. Elementary students must come in with a parent, while high school and junior high students may select and check out books on their parent's account as long as they have permission from the parent (a note, e-mail or phone call to me works).

Come on in and choose a stack. If you're overwhelmed or stumped for choices, arrange for a "Personal Consultation" with a librarian -- it's sort of like having a Personal Shopper for books, only it's free!

ps -- the downloadable Elementary list will be ready next week.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Prepare for the Zombocalypse!

Well, folks. It's official -- the CDC has issued its preparedness checklist for the Zombie Apocalypse. Personally, I've never quite "gotten" the zombie thing -- they're dead AND rotting, their dinner choices are parts that most Westerners don't eat anymore, their conversational skills are nil, and they're not even into fashion, ice cream or good books. At least vampires can clean up and retract their fangs . . .

But I digress. It's true about the CDC's preparation advice. From the CDC Social Media blog:
There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.
Turns out, all the steps folks should take to prepare for Zombocalypse are the same things we should do to prepare for a tornado, hurricane, or flood. Who knew, a little pre-planning can kill multiple natural disaster birds with one stone!

Of course, if you want to study up on all the ways a zombie invasion could come about, we've got plenty of choices here in the library (mostly in the fiction section . . ).


And if you want to cover all the possibilities:

If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.

Meet you at the mailbox.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Books, Altered - Now Showing in the Library

It was great timing. Elizabeth Lide's Drawing and Design art class mounted a display of their Altered Books projects the week before the 40th Anniversary book release party here in the library. Books everywhere!

A few students used outdated Encyclopedia Britannica volumes (we recently got a newer edition), and incorporated the volumes' content (trees, in the T volume, and a bridge in the B volume) into the artwork.

Other pieces were created from baby board books, a telephone book, and a hardback copy of Where the Wild Things Are.

Wild things



One student altered a collection of paper plates with recipe pages from an international cookbook, overlaid with hand-cut block prints, culminating with a meal of international foods from the represented countries.

A final piece defies attempts at photography. Called Shadow Puppets, it's an interactive work created from a deconstructed board book overlaid with translucent vellum. In order to see the work (images of various hand puppet shapes, including the beloved two-fingered long ear bunny rabbit), the viewer has to slide a dark background behind each shape. And magically, the shadow puppets appear.

For inspiration on creating altered book art, visit the links in this post from the DeKalb County Public Library ("Can't Do That With An eBook") featuring Atlanta artist Brian Dettmer, and Part II. A CBS piece on Dettmer aired just last night -- watch the 2.5 minute clip here.

For techniques and inspiration for creating art from a variety of objects, check this book out of our library:

Altered Art: Techniques for Creating Altered Books, Boxes, Cards and More by Terry Taylor.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Room of Their Own

Something I've been thinking about doing for a while, but was finally spurred on to do this week when an entire JH class, starting a writing unit on graphic narratives, came in to check out graphic novels.

Though it's quite possible to give Dewey or Library of Congress call numbers to every single item in a library and line them up consecutively on the shelves, there are all kinds of ways to organize library materials that make more sense: for example, by format (having different sections & call numbers for DVDs, audio books, and print books); by genre/subject (B for Biography, V for Videos, Dewey numbers for Non-Fiction); or by size (a special Oversize section for those pesky tall books). The danger lies in having so many separate sections that the library becomes too much like a bookstore, all higgledy-piggledy and hard to find things in.

Graphic novels are usually classified with the Dewey Decimal number 741.5 (Drawing and decorative arts->Cartoons, caricatures, comics), together with books on how to draw comics, analyze comics, the history of comics, and comic strip collections (like Snoopy and Garfield). Readers who love graphic novels are intrigued by the format and will read broadly across subject areas -- biography, fiction, fantasy, history. Since we have a pretty decent-sized collection that's growing in popularity, it was time to pull the graphic narratives into a separate and easy-to-find area.

This corner in the magazine/reading/coffee table area of the library is high visibility and gets a lot of browsing, so even more students may now be hooked by the allure of graphic novels.

Whether you're a fan of graphic novels, or just curious, come by to browse the collection, or check this list to see what we've got for you.

ps -- for the time being, I'm going to leave the call numbers as they are. Coming up with a new section designation and printing new spine labels is a project for later, when this new section is settled.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kindles in the Library, Redux

Finally, a compelling reason (for me, at least) to have library-owned Kindles to loan.

Back in February, the Library got its first Kindle eReader. I played with it for a few days, and was underwhelmed (lots of thoughts, written up in this post). Since then, two teachers and one student have "test-read," with mixed reactions. I'm not sure what it says that none of the three actually finished the book that was requested and loaded on the Kindle for them.

For both teachers/adults -- one was reading a book to prep for class, the other was reading a novel for fun at the beach -- the biggest frustration with the electronic device was the inability to flip back and forth through the pages, or to create a visual memory of how far along in the book a certain scene takes place. Taking notes isn't really that easy either. The student said he got used to it and liked it a lot, but didn't have much time for pleasure reading during the semester. I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that eReaders really are best as "personal electronics," and that it still makes more sense for libraries to loan content rather than devices.

And then last week, a student asked for an audiobook of Makes Me Wanna' Holler, a non-fiction title he is reading in class. Sure! we have audiobooks, specifically for students who learn as well or better through their ears than eyes. Only not this one, and it's apparently not available on CD (or even, only on cassette, used. Even worse, the cassette edition is abridged. Even if I were to buy it, which I didn't want to do, it would be of limited value. The teacher came to ask how we can support this student. Think think, ponder ponder. The Kindle was sitting on my desk, just returned from its spring break checkout. Eureka!! (or, like DUH) What about the Kindle text-to-speech function I'd heard about? How good/awful is it? Could this be an option?

A quick check confirmed that the needed book was "text-to-speech enabled" (some copyright holders have demanded disabling of this function, concerned about potential impact to audiobook sales). Note sent to the next teacher on the Kindle test-drive list explaining the delay (gulp, it's the Headmaster.) Book purchased, downloaded and device ready to be checked out by break. The Kindle has a jack for headphones, and after class (the one reading the book), this student was already so enthusiastic he asked if we had his lit book on audio! Downloaded and ready by the end of the day. So now the one Kindle is helping this student in two classes, and providing something that the print editions of both books just can't do.

Having a computer read out loud to you is not the greatest aesthetic experience with a book. There's even inadvertent humor involved -- when it comes to tricky stuff (as in ALL the cuss words), I'm told the Kindle just spells them out! I bet that was a lively discussion at the product development meetings.

Still, text-to-speech is high-level value added in my opinion, making the Kindle more than just another way to read a book. (Paul B., the Library's second Kindle will be here later this week, and you're still first on the list.) I'm also going to participate in the Technology department's new iPad test program -- with a less expensive, refurbished 1st generation iPad (w/o cameras) -- to see if offers value to students in a library-relevant way. Brief research indicated that iBook can be set up as a text-to-speech device for Apple bookstore ebooks, though the Kindle reader app doesn't have the function. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Waiting for a Hero?

John & Sydney's class came on a library field trip this morning to explore The Hero's Journey. They had talked some about Joseph Campbell's archetype in relation to their lit book, Jim the Boy, and how Jim's coming of age might fit the Hero's Journey pattern.

We gathered in the video room to watch the clips below, and talk about what they knew about the Hero's Journey. It's kind of like junior high, really -- the call (finishing 6th grade), crossing the threshhold of no-return, a series of trials and tests (mostly tests, one student insisted), and the return (finishing 8th grade) as a changed person, who brings benefit to the community. We also talked about favorite books & movies that illustrate this pattern (The Hunger Games, The Lightning Thief, Spiderman) -- it's fun to realize that a book you know and love fits into "real" literature discussions.

The first 1:40 of the clip below is a very funny, very quick introduction to all 12 of Campbell's steps in the journey. We didn't watch the rest, but it's worthwhile if you have time.

After the videos and discussion, I talked a bunch of novels from the collection that I think fit the Hero's Journey archetype in significant ways. Not every story has all 12 elements, and not every element is literally applied (some journeys are mental or emotional, some epic battles are against oneself, not a physical enemy). Oh, and not every hero is male, or straight, or human!

Students were encouraged to check out one or more of these books for spring break reading, and challenged to think about which elements of the Hero's Journey they could identify in the novel, and why I might have chosen it for this theme.

Links go to the novel's page in the Paideia Library catalog.

Set in a Different World (or a far, far away time)

Set in Our World (more or less)
Lastly, here's a 7 minute movie created by high school students that also illustrates (with humor) Joseph Campbell's heroic journey. Beware the watchdog!!

Oh, and how could I leave out the sourcebook? Joseph Campbell's groundbreaking study of world mythology, The Hero with A Thousand Faces.