Saturday, January 23, 2016

#1Lib1Ref, Wikipedia and Me

I love Wikipedia.  For a long time librarians were supposed to ban the online user-edited encyclopedia (maybe we still are), but man, it's just too useful.  What we have to teach our students is that, just as with all tertiary sources, researchers have to move beyond the encyclopedia's text, mine it for clues and get closer to the primary source of the information.  Just as with revenge, Wikipedia is a great place to start, but not a place to stay.

Ok, so I love Wikipedia, and here's an example of why.  At the beginning of this January short term, Catharine came in looking for books of Greek mythology.  Her class was reading Yeats' sonnet "Leda and the Swan," and Catharine wanted to find an "original" version of the myth to add to the discussion.  We headed over to the 200s "religion" area on the shelf and checked book after book in vain. The few that mentioned Leda didn't tell the story at all.  Ovid's two lines also weren't satisfactory.

As so often I do when I need context and clues for a search, I checked into good ol' Wikipedia, which has a substantial article on "Leda and the Swan," but it's all about depictions of the myth in art and poetry.  The article mentions "many versions of the story," but didn't point to any of them. I scanned the whole article, but no luck.  No links, no pointers to any actual sources for the myth. Aargh.

At the end of the second paragraph, though, the sentence "Thanks to the literary renditions of Ovid and Fulgentius it was a well-known myth through the Middle Ages . . ." held the clue I needed!  I did a web search for Fulgentius and Leda, and came up with Fulgentius the Mythographer, a 1971 translation from Latin with citations and commentary, of the five known works of Fulgentius, and on page 78 begins "The Fable of the Swan and Leda."  A couple of screenshots later (we librarians have our ways to get the info to our people), and I get to present Catharine with what she'd come for.  Yippee!!

About a week later, I heard about Wikipedia's 15th Anniversary project #1Lib1Ref, which is asking librarians around the world to add one reference, a citation to a reliable source, that backs up a statement in any Wikipedia article.  Participating was a no-brainer -- I already had the goods! So as of right now, the 3rd footnote in the article (near the end of that second paragraph) is the addition of yours truly.  And a link to another source, attributed to Latin writer Hyginus, in the External Links section.  Cool, huh?

 Are you a Wikipedia fan or a skeptic?   Have you ever edited a Wikipedia article?  What do you think of the #1Lib1Ref project?  Comments welcome!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Awards Time Again (and I Got One Right!):
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

After the National Book Award for young readers shortlist was announced last fall, I had a plan to read all three before the final Winner was announced.  I read Bone Gap, and loved it.  I read Nimona, and liked it a lot.  I've renewed Challenger Deep from the public library 3 times (yep, I often borrow a book from the public library before deciding whether to buy it for Paideia or not. My tax dollars at work!) and am still working my way through it.  It's quite good (I think), but incredibly intense -- while I'm reading it I feel like my head's swimming and kind of lost.  Given that the narrator, 15-year-old Caden Bosch, is awash in the first onset of schizophrenia, that's probably a good and intended thing, but I'm finding it tough going.  I'll let you know when I finish!

In fact, the National Book Award folks decided that Challenger Deep, by established and talented author Neal Shusterman was the best of the crop, and gave it the 2015 Award for Young People's Literature.  On the other hand, on Monday morning Bone Gap, by author Laura Ruby,  was given the 2016 Printz Award (technically, the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, quite a mouthful).  Yay for me!!

Bone Gap is a story of love lost and found, and about the difference between being being visible and being truly seen.   A mysterious young Polish woman suddenly appears in the O'Sullivan brothers' barn one night, bruised and silent.  For a while, Roza lives with them, healing herself and caring for them, as friend and confidant to spacey Finn, and eventually as fiancee to serious, responsible Sean.  And then she disappears, stolen right in front of Finn -- but he can't come up with enough details about the man who took her for anyone to believe him.   The only way to make things right again is for Finn to find Roza himself.

Bone Gap is a fine example of rural magical realism -- characters and situations that are real enough, but that tilt over into the otherworldly before tilting right back into real again.  Corn that murmers secrets and a boy who can hear them.   A barn that produces not only Roza, but later on a magnificent black horse that seems to know things, and can run on and on in the night.  A boy with arms too long, a girl who looks like a bee.   Is it magic or is it allegory?  In the end, the ability to look through the stories everyone knows, to see a person for who and how she truly is and not what she looks like, is what makes relationships real, and rescues joy from its dark captor and brings it back to Bone Gap.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Clean Sweep 2015:
Dorothy Allison at Paideia in October

Gosh, it's just become 2016, and there are a bunch of things I meant to write about way back in 2015 that never made it to the blog. Do you ever get paralyzed by having too much going on in your head at the same time, so nothing ever makes its way out?  Kind of like a logjam in timber territory.

So here we go -- making a clean sweep of 2015, and onward with 2016!


Back in October, acclaimed author Dorothy Allison spent time with classes, and gave two talks in the theater (a morning talk/reading at a student assembly, and an evening reading for the public).   My notes are something like this:
- a compelling speaker,  teenagers actually paid attention for an hour.  Many (including me) were leaning forward to catch every word.
- she definitely goes for shock value; topics & vocabulary not used in public often (even at Paideia!!)
- Allison spoke directly to the students (flattery ;-)
- she's very funny
If Dorothy Allison wrote poetry, she'd be a slam champion!  The roots of her writing are definitely in storytelling and performance, which comes through brilliantly when she's on stage.  I went to elementary and junior high school in northeast Alabama, and felt as though Allison could have been one of the girls I went to school with -- maybe my best friend, maybe an academic competitior, maybe (in honesty) one of the girls the others talked mean about.  Somebody I knew.  Whatever it is, she is able to really connect with her audience. Oh, and she's got a killer smile!

There were significant differences between morning and evening talks:
• in the morning she kept coming back to the idea that "all writing is about revenge"
• in the evening the theme was more about "grace & glory," growth and acceptance

I mention this because it came up later in the week when we met with our advisee groups to discuss Allison's visit.  My tiny group of four 9th graders met with Magnus' larger group for better discussion dynamics.  We started with sharing reactions to the assembly -- the "shock value" was definitely noticed -- and discussed the value of talking about stressful events.  Does writing or talking about such events cause greater stress by re-living it over and over, or does it release stress by processing and controlling it?   A couple of students got stuck on the notions of anger and revenge and had negative reactions to the author, so I was glad I'd attended both and could talk about the wider, gentler themes of the evening talk.

So what did Allison mean by "revenge is a good place to start, but not a place to stay?"  In her introduction to the anniversary edition of her short story collection Trash, Allison writes that sometimes she wrote for revenge, sometimes out of rage, sometimes to refute other authors' stories of ignorant poor Southerners, of stupid, morally deficient white trash -- but also that "I grew up [while] writing these stories. I made peace with my family. I forgave myself and some of the people I had held in such contempt . . . in large part through the writing of these stories."

We talked about writing prompts & catalysts,  then moved to personal writing, writing for an audience.  Teenagers write ALL the time, for all kinds of audiences -- Facebook, Instagram captions, Twitter, lit papers,  test essays.   Do they think of who's likely to be reading their words while they're transmitting what's in their heads into a public statement?  Should they?

We have these Dorothy Allison books (2 novels and the short story collection) in the Paideia Library.

The morning after Dorothy Allison's visit to Paideia, an 11th grader, slightly out of breath, came into the library before school to check out Bastard Out of Carolina.  "Are they all gone?  Is there a copy left?" she asked.   She'd spent 3 hours listening to Allison the day before -- in her lit class where the author spoke just to her class, then in the high school assembly, and then in the junior/senior gathering with the author after the all-school event.  The student was blown away.  Me too.