Jenny's Library

Archive for January 2014

Craft time again!

Today’s craft is another step by step one and…well, it doesn’t really have a name. I use it when we are reading stories about colors.  It’s a raincloud with a rainbow sort of, um, falling from it.  It doesn’t make much sense, but it looks cool and is fun to make and gives kids and parents a chance to sort and talk about colors.

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Materials needed for each child:

sheet of white construction paper

about 15 cotton balls

construction paper strips, about 1 by 9 inches, in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple

scissors

glue bottle

pencil

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Step 1: Draw a cloud on the white paper.*

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Step 2: Cut out cloud.*

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Step 3: Glue colored strips onto the bottom of the cloud.

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Step 4: Glue cotton balls onto the cloud.

Done!

*I will usually do step one for the kids by drawing a cloud template onto card stock, cutting it out, and then having volunteers trace it onto the right number of sheets.  You can also have the volunteers cut out the clouds too.

cover image for Balloons Over BroadwayBalloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

Tony Sarg always loved puppets, even when he was a small boy.  When he grew up and moved to New York City, he made his living creating them for plays, musicals, and even store windows.  Then in 1924 Macy’s department store was so impressed with the window displays Sarg made that they asked him to help put on a holiday parade.  But Tony Sarg knew that for his marionettes to be seen by huge crowds standing on sidewalks, he would need to come up with something new, something BIG.

I’malways full of love for well written and illustrated non-fiction picture books, but this one is particularly wonderful.  Much has been made of the illustrations, and rightfully so.  Sweet’s use of mixed media is not only beautiful and appropriate to the topic, each style is put to the best use for illuminating different aspects of the story.  The text remains clear and understandable, but doesn’t shy away from evocative phrases like “They shimmied and swayed through the canyons of New York City” or unfamiliar words, such as “articulate.”  The scope of the book is perfect as well, it includes enough about Sarg’s childhood to help kids relate, but remains focused enough on a specific achievement to keep readers engaged.

cover image for Five Silly TurkeysCover image for Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving

Five Silly Turkeys by Salina Yoon

Babies and toddlers are sure to love the shiny, crinkly feathers that stick out from each page, but there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the rhymes or illustrations inside.

Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly and James Dean

Like a lot of cheap paperback spin-offs of popular picture book series, the quality of this title doesn’t quite match the original books. While the illustrator is the same, the authors are not, and it shows.  It’s also a fairly typical holiday book, and repeats all of the same myths about Thanksgiving.

cover image for If You Could Be MineIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Sahar was six when she told her mother that she wanted to marry her best friend, Nasrin.  Maman told Sahar to not to talk about such things, that the girls could always be best friends, but to marry would be a sin.  But Sahar’s love for Nasrin wasn’t something that she could outgrow or forget.  So Sahar and Nasrin hide how they feel from everyone but each other.

How long can two teenage girls kiss and profess their love in secret? And what choice do they have in a country where being discovered means jail or death?

There are a great number of things that I love about this book.  The first is, of course, the subject matter, and how it’s handled.  If You Could Be Mine is a story about first love, and what it’s like to fear losing it.  It’s also a story about identity and relationships, and the extent to which we are shaped by who we love, and what parts of ourselves we are willing to give up for that love.  And, of course, it’s also a story about what it’s like to be different in a culture that rejects those differences, often violently.  The book handles all of these topics with grace, and in particular does a wonderful job of showing that American views on sexuality and gender are not the only way of looking at things.

The second is that the rhythm and language used feels different from what I’m used to; which makes sense, considering that the book takes place in Iran.  There is something about it that doesn’t quite match the typical cadences of American speech and writing.  Neither does it feel like Farazin is trying too hard to capture the different rhythms of Farsi, it all flows very naturally. Nothing about feels off or wrong, it’s just different, and in a way that clearly communicates that this is Iran, not America – without framing the people and culture in the book as exotic or lesser.  (Although keep in mind that I’m hardly an expert on this topic.  I could be very wrong here.)

cover image for The Letter QThe Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to Their Younger Selves edited by Sarah Moon

Just as the title says, this is a series of short letters (and a few comics) written by queer writers and addressed to the teens they used to be.  The intended audience actually consists of teens today (of course) and the letters reflect that in they way they consider how things have changed – and haven’t changed – for queer youth over the past several decades (or more).

There is an overall  “it gets better” tone to the book,  what with the letters being written by successful writers and all, but it thankfully lacks the condescension that can sometimes creep in when telling kids to hang in there.  Instead, a sense of wonder permeates the letters, as the writers reflect on the dreams they had when they were young, and marvel at how excited (or possibly disappointed) their younger selves would be to see what they will become.  The letters also cover a wide range of experiences and life paths and acknowledge that the teen years do not have a monopoly on pain, nor does adulthood have a monopoly on joy.  Thus presenting queer youth with roadmaps for the future and into a world in which they are not alone.

cover image for The ClearingThe Clearing by Heather Davis

Amy moved to the country and in with Aunt Mae to get away from the her past, specifically: an abusive boyfriend.  Henry fears the future – and what his brother’s death will do to his mother and grandfather.  They live in the same town, yet it’s impossible that they would ever meet, as Amy lives in the 21st century and Henry is stuck in 1944.  But something happened the day the letter came to Henry’s house, and now his family – what’s left of it – lives in a never-ending summer.  When Amy crosses through the fog and into Henry’s life, he begins to think that maybe it’s time to face the future after all.  And Amy starts to think that maybe she’s strong enough to face her past as well.

This was an odd book, but not a disappointing one.  I found myself asking “what? how? why?” a lot when it came to Henry’s predicament, but the main characters complimented each other well, and the ending was satisfying without being…well, any more credulous than the premise.  I’m not sure how strongly I would recommend this specific book, or who I would suggest it to, but I am interested in reading more by this author.

cover image for JaranJaran by Kate Elliot

As the younger sister and only living relative of Charles Sorenson, a duke in the alien Chapalli Empire, Tess is heir to wealth and power.  But this is not the life she wants, so when she finds herself stranded on a planet outside of Chapalli control, she finds it tempting to take her time returning home, and enjoy life with the Jaran, the nomadic people who find her and take her in.  Except that Tess’ own arrival via a Chapalli spaceship is proof of their disregard for the treaty that places the planet Rhui out of their control, and she fears the Chapalli may have plans for Rhui, ones with dire consequences for both her brother and the Jaran.

Jaran is a very different kind of science fiction, one focused on empires and culture and not just aliens and changes in technology.  It also manages to look at these themes from both an intimate and wide angle perspective.  I definitely recommend it; I enjoyed it and look forward to reading the rest of the series.  But there were parts of it (mostly concerning the romance between Ilya and Tess) that would have had me worried if I didn’t already trust the author, so that might be useful to keep in mind.

cover image for Up CloseUp Close by Gay Wegerif

Brightly colored shapes make faces that (with a turn of the page) belong to one animal or another.  It’s a cute book,  but I’m not sure how well it works for toddlers.  My guess is that older babies/younger toddlers may have a hard time recognizing the shapes as faces, and that even those old enough to play along with the guessing game the book sets up (“I see your round snout. You are are…”) will not have enough clues to make the connections that are needed.  I’d need to read it to some kids to be sure though.

That said, it is very cute (did I mention that already?) and clever and I’m definitely interested in the author’s other books.

cover image for Colors inside pages of Colors

Colors by Xavier Deneux

There is no shortage of concept board books out there, but Deneux’s manages to memorable despite the odds. Bright,bold colors and shapes are balanced by cute characters and smooth edges and textures. Each double page spread also features a raised image on one side and a corresponding hollow in the other, giving this book added interest for little fingers.  Even better, Deneux manages to add in a few surprises that expand on the pattern he’s created rather than breaking it, thus keeping the topic fresh while still being consistent enough for the book’s target audience.

cover image for Baby Giggles cover image for Hello Winter

Baby Giggles by Rachael Hale

Quick, snappy rhymes and adorable babies doing baby things – and demonstrating a nice range of emotions.  I can see why the author/photographer has gotten the recognition she has, I just wish the the babies themselves were as diverse as their expressions.  I don’t know if Hale’s other board books are any better, but fifteen out of the sixteen photographs in this one were of white babies (as far as I could tell).

Hello Winter by Sanrio Company

This is pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be: Hello Kitty doing wintery things and saying “hello” to things like snow and ice skating.  It’s really meant to appeal to adult fans of Hello Kitty, but it works well enough for toddlers.

cover image for Mommy! Mommy!Mommy! Mommy! by Taro Gomi

Two little chicks search for their mother. Mommy! Mommy! Is she behind the bush? Beside the fence?  There she is.

Simple, yet full of personality, Taro Gomi’s books are always a delight.

I have a little something different for you all today – a craft!

(Don’t get too excited, it’s meant for four year olds.)

Back when I first started doing preschool story times on a regular basis (about two and a half years ago now) I quickly realized that explaining that day’s craft to a room full of parents and very young children that had already been sitting and listening to me talk for, like, forever was not going to be the best of ideas.

My solution to the problem was to create samples of not only the finished craft, but also of each key stage of the craft.  Then I also made BIG signs that said “step 1” etc. and set it all up in order on a table at the edge of the room.*

Well, I took pictures of a few of these as I was setting them up, so I thought I’d share one of them with you today.  Today’s craft is “paperbag schoolhouse” – which I learned from my mom (she teaches kindergarten).

materials for paper bag schoolhouse

First you need your materials.  For each child you will need:

1 paper bag

1 newspaper sheet

1 black crayon

1 red crayon

1 piece of red construction paper, about 6 by 6 inches

You will also need a stapler and staples, but those can be shared.

paper bag school house step 1paper bag school house step 2

Step 1: Draw the door and windows.  Children will likely need help with this, but kids that are already practicing writing letters and learning their shapes should be able to follow instructions (“draw a rectangle here”).  It won’t look exactly like mine – but it shouldn’t!

Step 2: Color the schoolhouse red. It helps to use old crayons and take the paper off so they can use the side of the crayon rather than the tip.

paper bag school house step 3

Step 3: Fold the red paper in half (if your paper is a rectangle and not a square, fold it like a hot dog bun).  Draw roof tiles, if you wish.

paper bag school house step 4paper bag school house step 5

Step 4: Crumple the newspaper up and put it in the bag/schoolhouse.

Step 5: Fold the top of the bag down, put the roof on top, and then staple it all together.

Done!

*I did this for maybe 6 months with all my story time crafts, and then gradually started doing crafts that are more artistic and imaginative, which I like better anyway.  There are still a few crafts that I do each year that are “follow the steps” like this one (this one being one of them) and when we do them, I bring out the samples and the signs again.

cover image for The Weight of WaterThe Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

Back in Poland, Kasienka had friends, a home, good grades, and both parents.  Now in England, she is an outsider, assumed behind in her studies because she doesn’t speak the language well, and lives in a barren, ramshackle apartment with a mother who refuses to believe that her husband has left her.

Told in verse, Kasienka’s story is honest and poignant.  A quick and easy read, it nevertheless covers a wide variety of topics, from friendship and bullying to keeping secrets from one’s parents.  Unlike some novels told in verse, the poems themselves feel both natural and like something a twelve year old might write.

cover image for Girl at SeaGirl at Sea by Maureen Johnson

For a brief few years of her childhood, Clio’s family was rich.  Her dad designed a board game (with Clio’s help) that became an instant hit, and before she knew it she and her father were off traveling the world.  But sound decisions had never been her father’s strength, a flaw that Clio learned the hard way when the money quickly ran out.  Now seventeen, Clio prefers her quiet life at home with her mother (divorced) and looks forward to spending as much of her summer break with her crush as possible.  But Clio’s mother has other plans – ones that involve Clio traveling once again with her father.  Clio’s father has plans as well – and that’s never a good sign.

Although Girl at Sea is a bit uneven and unpolished, it’s much better than it sounds like it ought to be.  Mainly because the conflict is not really at all about the money that was lost, but about the fact that it was lost because Clio’s father lacks basic adulting skills, and the more immediate consequences that had for Clio, as a minor in his care.

cover image for Star Wars: Jedi AcademyStar Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

His whole life, Roan has looked forward to becoming a starfighter pilot, just like his father and older brother.  That means attending Pilot Academy Middle School.  So when Roan receives his rejection letter (recommended alternative school: Tatooine Agriculture Academy) he’s sure that he’s DOOMED to be nothing but a failure.  Until he receives a letter from the Jedi Academy in Coruscant as well, this one inviting him to enroll.  Is it possible that Roan has what it takes to be a Jedi?  And can learning to use the force replace his old dreams of being a pilot?

As ridiculous and hilarious as it sounds, this twist on the classic school story is sure to delight a great many pre-teen Star Wars fans.  It’s not nearly as clever or funny as Brown’s other Star Wars books, mostly because it repeats tropes and cliches rather than presenting them with twists, but it should keep it’s target audience entertained.

The arguments against authors listing which of their works are eligible for awards confuse the hell out of me.

I’m sure a certain amount of that is me not understanding where the people making such arguments are coming from, but I also feel like there’s a lot of assumptions in many of those arguments about how people come to be Readers of the genre.  Not people who simply read books in the genre, but people who read enough and care enough that they would be willing to pay money to vote on an award.  So this post isn’t so much an argument for authors doing anything in particular as it is an attempt to banish those assumptions.

Point the First:

To say that “speculative fiction has always had a very permeable barrier between fan and pro” (as Martin Lewis does in his post on the topic)  is not only understating the case, but describes the dynamic in a way that does nothing to illuminate how fan-author interactions actually work in a world in which the internet exists.

I’ve mentioned before that the internet is the reason that I started reading science fiction and fantasy again, after having stopped in my teens.

This is an exaggeration, of course, as I never really stopped reading speculative fiction entirely.  What actually happened is that it ceased to be the bulk of what I read, and instead became something I occasionally read, often with a significant amount of caution.  The reason for this being that every bookstore that I walked into was happy to promote works by male authors that wrote about manly men who did manly things (which tended to include treating women like shit), and appeared utterly oblivious to the fact that women read and wrote in this genre as well. Even worse, as I transitioned from children’s books to adult books, it became increasingly difficult to avoid stumbling across books that, quite frankly, were deeply NOT FUN because of the way they depicted gender and adult relationships.  A problem made worse by the way that female writers were marginalized by the publishers and bookstores, because, in the absence of any sort of feminist analysis in reviews and promotional materials, my best bet at avoiding those books was to look for the female authors that were so hard to find.

It’s also more accurate to say that the internet is how I began to find adult speculative fiction.  I was working in a bookstore and reading all kinds of teen and middle grade speculative fiction when I first began seriously using the internet as a tool for finding books.  This was back in the mid oughts, when people outside of young adult literature were beginning to notice that young adult fiction had really taken off.  Right in the middle of Harry Potter Midnight Magic Parties (I worked two of them).

What’s is true and important about this story is that despite always being a reader, despite having read The Lord of the Rings in elementary school, despite reading middle grade and young adult speculative fiction at the time, I didn’t start looking for adult speculative fiction on purpose. I stumbled across it.

I’d just began watching Criminal Minds, of all things, having caught some episodes in reruns over the summer.  Curious to see if anyone else had thought about how the show played with gender, I typed a few words into google and stumbled across Elizabeth Bear’s livejournal.  I started out reading her posts about Criminal Minds, and ended up reading her books.  I also found other people to talk about books with!  People who listened to what I said and didn’t try to tell me that what I really needed to do was read [author that I’ve tried and whose books left me feeling slightly ill]. It was amazing and, I have to admit, slightly life-changing.

What’s is true and important about this story is that I found Bear’s books because she talked about them, not because other people did.

I found joy in reading adult speculative fiction again because that barrier that Lewis mentioned is permeable, not despite it.  My first experiences with discussing adult speculative fiction in a way that did not make me feel small or silenced involved authors discussing their own works.  So this idea that authors discussing their own works taints the discussion by definition is not one that I understand.  It can certainly happen – and does happen often. But I also honestly cannot imagine finding speculative fiction nearly as interesting without having access to essays and posts and tweets about it – about their own work even – by women like Amal El-Mohtar, Kate Elliot, Kameron Hurley, Sylvia Kelso, Lois McMaster Bujold, N.K. Jemison…and well, you get the idea.

Now, I’m not saying this dynamic doesn’t change at all when one is talking about awards – the power differential matters a lot more, for starters – I’m just trying to explain why “awards are for readers and not authors” is not an argument that makes sense to me.  Not just because these aren’t clear distinctions, but because my experience has been that my options as a reader are improved when authors have more options as well.

Point the Second:

Anyone who thinks that every author who posts an eligibility list is “lobbying for awards” (as Martin Lewis calls it) or “self-pimpage” (as Adam Roberts does*) doesn’t understand how imposter syndrome works.  (I’m guessing they also aren’t reading the twitter feeds of the women who are talking about this.)  I can’t think of a time that I’ve submitted my art somewhere because I thought it was the best or expected it to get chosen.  I submit it for the same reason I attempted rock climbing and hiking Angel’s Landing, even though I knew I’d chicken out of both: because there’s more value in failing than there is in never trying.

My guess is that for a lot of the authors making these posts – women in particular – they are not so much about trying to convince readers to nominate and vote for them as it is an attempt to remind readers who are about to get busy talking about all the usual names that they still exist and would you please remember to read me too?  They are lobbying for themselves, yes, but it would be more accurate to say that they are lobbying to be read and discussed, to be considered rather than forgotten.

You can see this dynamic happening in the discussions on twitter, where an author will say something about not being sure about if they should put up such a post, and other people – readers and writers both, and often women – will rush in to encourage them to do so.  The value of those posts is as much in that exchange as it is in the posts themselves.

Point the Third:

To me, Amal El-Mohtar’s argument about diversity isn’t really about who is getting nominated for this specific round of the Hugos, etc.  It’s about how people see themselves and the choices they make because of that.

I tried out for the soccer team my first year of college, despite being far too out of shape to have a chance. On the first day, when we were doing timed laps and I was not only the last person in, but struggling to make it to the end of the run long after everyone else was done, the rest of the women trying out began cheering me on.  One of the senior team members jogged back onto to track and ran the rest of the way with me, making sure I didn’t give up.  I didn’t make the soccer team.  I didn’t even make it to the end of try-outs.  But I carried that moment with me for the rest of my time at school. The knowledge that the women around me wanted me to do well kept me going far beyond that one run.

Roberts may see people in an arms race and trying to “level the playing field.”  I see people helping each other, affirming that they want others to do well.

This discussion isn’t just about authors, either. It’s also about readers like me. And whether the books I read and like deserve to be part of the discussion, to be considered or not.  About whether my opinions have merit, or whether I should leave the serious discussions to the people that can be more “objective.”  To the people who were part of the discussions back in the good old days when awards were about merit – and I didn’t even bother reading adult speculative fiction because I had no idea how to find books that didn’t insult me.

Conclusion:

There’s been a lot of changes to publishing in the last few decades, and I don’t doubt that their impact on awards hasn’t been entirely positive.  The problem is that these changes have been also useful for a lot of readers like myself.  There seems to me to be a lot of focus on judging authors actions in reaction to these changes rather than actually looking at the system as a whole.  There also seem to be a lot of potentially good arguments about wanting to focus on literature being sidetracked by the assumption that the status quo is neutral. Not to mention the implication that those of us who appreciate reminders, or can’t devote enough time to keep track of this all by ourselves, are somehow polluting the process by participating. Which leaves me feeling like I’m being told it would have been better if I’d never joined the discussion – and a lot of other people whom I disagree with, but who I suspect have good ideas, sounding rather defeated.

It would be nice if we could move the discussion past this, but I admit that I’m not sure how to do that.**

*Am I the only one who went O.o at that phrasing?  Perhaps it’s just the experience of coming to this as a woman, and therefore as someone who runs the risk of being called a “whore” in the literal sense, but that…was really not the way to convince the people who are in favor of eligibility posts that you aren’t being blind to how differing experience and privilege affects how people approach this issue.

** I do want to give props to the people who have put together the Hugo Award Eligible Art(ists) tumblr.  I don’t think that I’m ever going to be against artists talking about their own work in their own space, but as a reader and fan this kind of project is really what I find to be most useful.  It’s also a good example of how focusing only on what authors should and shouldn’t do is really limiting our discussion – and consequently our solutions as well.